Always finding horseback to be much more efficient than a carriage in good weather to reunite him quickly with his beloved bride, Bingley returned from an errand in Meryton. He was not far out of the village, when he noticed a figure standing off the road, leaning against a tree.
She straightened up when she saw him and turned, like she was calling to someone. Bingley quickly recognized his sister-in-law as he rode up, and stopped his horse in front of her, and was immediately concerned.
“Miss Catherine, pray, what are you doing out here all alone?”
Kitty’s face betrayed her. She was flustered and looked around awkwardly.
“Mr. Bingley, I am not alone, for Lydia is not far behind.”
She glanced behind her, toward the wood. Bingley listened to her words, but read her face.
“Then I will wait for her with you. You should not part like that, Kitty, you have been forewarned by your father.”
“Lydia is… gathering some flowers, and I had no interest… She might be a while. You should not bother yourself, Mr. Bingley. She could be quite some time. I do not mind the wait.” She tried to stay calm, but her voice rose with every word.
Bingley’s pulse quickened, and his mind raced. He jumped down from his horse, and looked Kitty straight in the face while handing her the reins.
“Stay here. Do not stir from this spot.”
Elizabeth lay on her bed, trying to read. The appalling event, now over a month behind her. Jane had been very distressed by Elizabeth’s situation indeed, but was in not agreement with Elizabeth on the most important point. Jane explained that she knew the feeling of family disapproval, to a much lesser extent, but urged Elizabeth not to make such a sacrifice of self, based on the wishes of those so wholly unconnected to her.
What Elizabeth could not fully articulate, was that she did not see herself so much as self-sacrificing, as self-preserving. She never encountered a person of such importance as Lady Catherine, and even though she was never in awe or impressed by the woman, the very fact that she could crush anyone upon will—Elizabeth, Charlotte, Mr. Collins or any human being in her path, left Elizabeth wondering if she would want to put herself in any sort of position to be belittled in that manner again.
More questions came to mind on the heels of her thoughts. Does she have any desire to move into such a sphere? Would she be happy being Mistress of such an immense estate as Pemberley? Would she be able to turn her mind to the things that actually pleased her, or would she be distracted with strict traditions, and required civilities paid to those she knew would have laughed at her before she so advantageously acquired the Darcy name? Could the feelings that she had for Mr. Darcy overcome those other feelings that wanted to keep her safe and clear of any such persons? Was it not so much that he would eventually resent her, but would she resent him? She did not know anymore.
Jane told her that if she truly loved Mr. Darcy, then none of this should matter. And that is when it hit Elizabeth. It mattered! Her love was not enough. She was selfish. And she felt even more unequal to Mr. Darcy because of it.
Everything was upside-down. Nothing was clear anymore. She tried to remember their last night at Rosings when he asked to see her alone at Hunsford, but it was clouded in her mind. She could not recall her heart, only fleeting feelings. Part of her wondered if she once again spent more time in his presence—would she be able to ascertain once and for all if she truly loved him enough. But to put that man through anymore was out of the question. She answered her own question by having to ask it in the first place. He loved her more, so he deserved more.
Mary entered Elizabeth’s room, and Elizabeth looked up from her book.
“Why is Lydia crying in her room?” Mary asked.
“I do not know, and do not think I care to know—it is Lydia after all. But I did hear her arguing with Kitty when they came in. They will make up. They always do.” Elizabeth smiled slightly, and then looked concerned. “I thought you were going to practice for a half hour longer.”
“I was, but Mr. Bingley came by unexpectedly, and is in the study with Father. He interrupted father’s meeting with the new curate, Mr. Walsh. Mr. Walsh waited for fifteen minutes, but had another appointment.”
Elizabeth, who was reclining reading a book, sat up.
“Is Jane here?”
“No. Just Mr. Bingley.”
Elizabeth was more than curious. She closed her book.
“What were his looks, Mary? Was he himself, or did he seem concerned?”
“No, Mary… Mr. Bingley.”
“Oh. He actually seemed quite distracted and unhappy,” Mary answered.
Immediately concerned for Jane, Elizabeth stood up.
“How long ago did he arrive, Mary?”
“About twenty minutes ago.”
Downstairs, Elizabeth paced in the vestibule. How much longer could they be?
Finally the door opened, and Bingley stepped out with her father not far behind. The gentlemen shook hands. Upon seeing Elizabeth, Bingley came toward her. His face was cautious, but he smiled.
“Elizabeth, I am happy to see you. I was going to search you out.”
Elizabeth did her best to read his face, but it was a puzzle to her.
“I will need to leave Hertfordshire for a few days on business, and would like you to come and stay with Jane for the duration. Would that be possible?”
“Certainly, Mr. Bingley. When are you leaving?” she asked in surprise.
“This afternoon. And please, call me ‘Charles’—remember we are brother and sister now.”
Elizabeth smiled, and made a mental note, once again, to use his Christian name.
“May I send our carriage for you at four?” he inquired.
“Of course, but is everything all right? Is there something I should know?”
Bingley looked at her like he was about to divulge something, but then he changed his mind.
“Just sudden business in town. I need to take my leave, Miss Elizabeth. The carriage will be sent at four.”
The gentleman bowed and was out the door swiftly.
Elizabeth stood alone for a while before she resolved to see her father. He had immediately closed the door after he shook hands with Bingley.
She knocked upon his door.
“Father, it is me,” Elizabeth called through the door.
“Not now, Lizzie.”
“Please, Papa, I need to see you.”
A few moments passed before he answered.
“Very well then, Lizzie.”
Elizabeth entered to find Mr. Bennet sitting behind his desk, with his chin resting between his thumb and forefinger—seemingly lost in thought. He looked over at Elizabeth when she entered. She closed the door and walked over to the chair nearest him, and sat.
“I am to go to Jane.”
“Yes. I know.”
“What else do you know, Father?”
Mr. Bennet looked at his favorite. “I am not at liberty to say, my dear. Go stay with Jane, and all will be right.”
This was not right! Elizabeth did not think it right to keep something of importance from her.
“Father, you know me. I am not squeamish. I can help you with your burden.”
Mr. Bennet smiled. “Ah, you are my dear girl, Lizzy. This is not a burden I can share, or wish to. Please believe me when I say that there is nothing to worry about. All will be right soon enough.”
He looked into her eyes. “Now, go pack. Kiss Jane for me, and tell her that she is dearly missed.”
Elizabeth did not want to leave.
“Off you go, Lizzy.”
Realizing that he would not give in, Elizabeth stood up, but left her father with no doubt of how she felt.
Bingley was gone by the time Elizabeth arrived at Netherfield, and Jane was in low spirits, and Elizabeth could not add to them with any mention of what she had seen at Longbourn. Caroline and Louisa could also see that their new sister was in need of distraction.
“Dearest Jane, when Mr. Hurst and I were first married, I too, loathed to part from him. It is very natural to feel this way,” Louisa tenderly offered.
“Besides, you have already been parted before for two days,” Caroline added, “This should not be as difficult. Your new husband has very important business matters to deal with at all times, Jane. This is part of being his wife,” Caroline offered, not so tenderly.
Elizabeth could not help but look up at Jane, when Caroline spoke.
“Mr. Bingley has left you before this?” Elizabeth tried to ask without shock.
Jane met Elizabeth’s eyes, and tried her best to keep her voice light and even.
“Yes, while we were in Bath, something came up very suddenly, and he had to leave for two days.”
Elizabeth tried to hide her shock.
“Like I said, you have married a very important and busy man, Jane. Charles, like any gentleman with considerable wealth, may be needed at a moment’s notice, and cannot help it,” explained Caroline.
“He left you alone in Bath?” Elizabeth could not hide her shock anymore.
“For heaven’s sake, no!” Caroline chided. “Who do you think our brother is? A monster?”
“Caroline and I came to stay with her. Charles arranged it all,” Louisa added, trying to diffuse any tension.
“Yes,” Jane assured. “Louisa and Caroline came to me, and kept me quite occupied.”
“I just rave about the Roman baths!” effused Caroline. “I swear that I still feel the benefits of them. My skin is quite brilliant!”
The Bingley sisters went on to talk of all the advantages that one could receive from the Roman baths and Bath in general, as Elizabeth looked at Jane questioning, and Jane tried not to look affected.
After breakfast the next morning, Jane accepted an offer to take a turn in the garden with her sister. Once they were a safe distance from the house and any servants, Elizabeth, who walked arm and arm with Jane, stopped. She turned to look Jane in the face.
“Janie, tell me your troubles, for I told you all of mine. Let us not keep things from each other again,” she urged.
“I do not know what to say, Lizzie,” she confessed.
“Are you worried about your husband?”
“I do not know.”
“Did he explain to you why he had to leave you in Bath?”
Jane’s head ducked. She took a moment, and then looked back up at Elizabeth.
“He only said that it was urgent business, and that he would ride to Bristol, where his attorney would meet him to take care of it.”
“The timing was not desirable, but these things do happen, Jane. But your Mr. Bingley is a very devoted man. I am certain that it was pure torture for him to leave you.”
Jane blushed and smiled, as she remembered his passionate goodbye. “Yes, he did leave quite reluctantly.”
“Then why all this?” Elizabeth motioned to her face. “Why do you seem so morose that he is off again? Your husband will have to travel on business from time to time.”
Elizabeth did not have the heart to tell Jane, that she felt it was not business business he was about. It seemed of some delicacy and urgency that involved the Bennets in some manner. Elizabeth burned with curiosity, but would not distress Jane further.
Jane looked down once again.
“Caroline is right that I should expect Charles to travel and take care of business. It’s just that…” Jane stopped, and looked back into Elizabeth’s eyes.
“When we arrived back at Netherfield, I heard quite by mistake that Charles had been here.”
Elizabeth let the words sink in.
“Here… being Netherfield?”
“Yes. He did not go to Bristol like he said, Lizzy. Well, at least I cannot imagine how he could have. He came to Netherfield for one night, yet he never revealed that to me. He maintained that he stayed the entire time in Bristol, which is in the opposite direction. I cannot account for it.”
“Are you certain the servant was right?”
“She did not know I overheard. She was discussing his unexpected visit with another maid while I walked nearby. She said that he showed up quite unexpectedly, he ate hastily in the kitchen, changed horses, and was off again, only to return a few hours later to sleep. He ordered everyone to not speak of his being here, as he did not want anyone in the neighborhood to learn of it.”
He left early the next morning, only taking a little breakfast Cook had packed for him.”
“And you are sure they were not discussing another time when this happened?”
“I am certain. For they wondered out loud about me, and surmised I was the reason he was in such a hurry to get back.”
Elizabeth did not know what to think. She was certain, however, that Bingley was still to be trusted. She took Jane’s arm again and hooked hers around it.
“Jane. He loves you. To the point of distraction! He would never want to hurt you. There must be a very good reason to leave you out of this. Please think on that.”
Jane looked at Elizabeth with appreciation.
“I am trying.”
A letter arrived for Elizabeth at Longbourn. She and Georgiana had been faithful correspondents. Georgiana was finished with her studies, and was to go back to Pemberley for the summer months. She despaired, because her brother would be traveling on business for three weeks in June and July, and she could not think of a better companion than Elizabeth. Georgiana begged her in the most fervent manner, to come and stay with her during that time.
Elizabeth’s head reeled at the thought of being in his house. The mere notion was insupportable. She could not ask him not to call on her, not to see her, yet travel over one hundred miles to spend weeks on his property with his sister. It would be cruel and unfeeling. Yet, he must know that Georgiana would be asking her to come. And he would not be there. How could she even entertain the thought?
It was impossible for Elizabeth to reply right away. She wanted to get Jane’s feelings on the subject, and possibly, her aunt’s, but she already knew what their advice would be. She tried to think of anyone who would advise her not to go, and could think of no one… except Lady Catherine. And for the first time since Hunsford, Elizabeth found humor where that great lady was concerned. She laughed at the thought of what Lady Catherine would do if she were shown the invitation. She remembered how screwed and pinched her face became when Elizabeth refused to not engage herself to Mr. Darcy, and she hoped that the great lady’s face would freeze permanently like that, to save her time and effort in the future.
Elizabeth put Georgiana’s letter away and lost herself on the pianoforte. It was an exercise she used often to either clear her head, or to cloud it, so she might not dwell on other things. She played for two hours before she was called to dinner.
The next day, and strangely coincidentally, Elizabeth received a letter from Mrs. Gardiner, informing her that they finally had settled on going to the peak district in Derbyshire next month, and asked if Elizabeth would join them, as previously discussed. It was as if her aunt and Georgiana put their heads together to plan this. Elizabeth could travel with the Gardiners, and be with them for the first week to see the sites, and then she could go to Georgiana the day that her brother left.
Elizabeth did not even want to think his name, let alone read it, or say it out loud. Her heart ached; it pulsed when a ghost of a thought of him passed through her mind. The pain of being separated from him was constantly with her, but she kept telling herself that it was not enough. It was not enough to face the alternative.
Meryton was all upturned with news, and it involved Wickham once again. Elizabeth had managed to avoid the gentleman all together, or most likely the opposite. He had not called at Longbourn since before the wedding, and Elizabeth knew whom she had to thank for that. She heard not what transpired between the two, but Wickham did not dare show his face at Longbourn, though Kitty and Lydia did speak of seeing him in town, and at other gatherings where other officers were present. Gatherings which Elizabeth artfully avoided.
Wickham was gone. He was there one day. No trace of him the next. And no one who knew anything spoke of it. The speaking, instead, was left to the ignorant and the ill informed. So, of course, the rumors ran unrestrained and were believed most willingly and without reserve.
The rumors were, that Wickham was suddenly transferred to a regiment in the north. But there were other whispers that he was sent to America to fight in the brewing war, another placing him at the losing end of a duel, and even one that he was off to marry a rich widow in Scotland. But he was gone, and many a shopkeeper came forth to claim that he owed them this and that amount, and how he had trifled with some of their daughters.
Soon, the town that had previously raved about the charming and captivating Wickham, found him to be quite the blight on society. Elizabeth, who had not ventured into Meryton since her return, smiled widely, and immediately felt that it was easier for her to breathe, and Hertfordshire in general, felt more like home again.
As happy as Elizabeth was, Lydia became suddenly impossible. She lay about the parlor, and in her room crying for no apparent reason, other than the regiment was to be soon transferred to Brighton. No one except her mama paid much attention to her, although it was hard to ignore the louder wails. Elizabeth was certain that her father smiled more than he had previously, and she was even more certain that Lydia’s sobs brought on some of his grins.
The noise got even worse, when Lydia was invited by the young wife of Colonel Forster to be her personal companion at Brighton for the summer. Mr. Bennet flatly refused to let her go, and no matter how much Lydia or Mrs. Bennet pleaded, and called him cruel and unfair, he did not relent. Elizabeth was surprised at his resolve, and very pleased with his decision, but unlike her father, she had no study to retreat to. So, she found herself more and more at Netherfield.
The sisters-in-law were now gone, which made Netherfield even more desirable, and there were many nights where Elizabeth would stay over. Jane had a room made up just for her, and Elizabeth started to consider it more her home than Longbourn. For Jane was home. Her only home.
After much deliberation and re-deliberation, Elizabeth had finally accepted both the Gardiner’s, and Georgiana’s invitations. She had no other recourse. No excuses. She would travel in one week, and even though she would not be seeing him in actual form, she knew she would be seeing him at every turn, and in everything at Pemberley. She felt like an intruder already…
The peak district was more beautiful than Elizabeth had imagined. She had seen illustrations and a painting or two, but the great rocks and landscapes pleased her immensely. Her aunt was sure that Elizabeth would break her neck, since her niece did come across some amazing views by climbing on top of a few manageable but precarious boulders.
In the past, running had given her the feeling of flying, but from up there, Elizabeth had the vantage point. She could look down below, the wind blowing her face and her frock furiously, and everything else seemed insignificant. None of her troubles could rise up this high, Elizabeth mused, and her relations had to beg her to come down, so they could breathe once again, and then continue their journey.
Lambton was a little village just over five miles from the Pemberley estate, in Derbyshire. Since the weather had been unseasonably dry, the roads were in excellent condition, and Elizabeth and the Gardiners arrived in Lambton one day ahead of schedule.
Elizabeth was not expected at Pemberley until the day after next, which made Mrs. Gardiner pleased, since she wanted to show Elizabeth the town where she grew up.
The morning after arriving, Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth left Mr. Gardiner to some paperwork, and the two ladies went out to explore. They stopped at a coffee shop and watched as people went by, and Mrs. Gardiner amused Elizabeth with lively stories of her girlhood. Elizabeth remembered meeting her aunt when Mrs. Gardiner was Miss Stevens, and only seventeen. Elizabeth thought she was the most beautiful thing she had ever beheld, and all these years, and four children later, she was barely altered. Elizabeth thought it might not be sound, but she secretly thought that the women who were least altered by the years, were the ones who were the happiest in their marriages. Her dear aunt was all the proof that Elizabeth needed.
Elizabeth had only one errand in the village. She had a gift of new music for Georgiana, and wanted to buy some pretty ribbon to tie it up with. They visited the milliner, and Elizabeth found the perfect ribbon. Her aunt ran into an old friend, and after introductions, she encouraged Elizabeth to go on to the next shop, and she would soon catch up.
Having stopped to admire some lovely fabric in the dressmaker’s window, Elizabeth stood with her back to the street. She thought about stepping in and looking at it more closely. The color would go well with Mary’s complexion. She was about to turn to go in when a nearby conversation, and two very familiar voices caught her ear. She suddenly straightened up, and became motionless as she listened.
“Brother, is it set in your mind that you must leave first thing tomorrow? I am certain that Miss Elizabeth would like to see you before you go. For she is your friend, too.”
Elizabeth took in a sudden breath, and stepped closer to the window, her heart and mind racing wildly. She could now see their reflections in the window. Mr. Darcy had his sister’s arm, and was carrying packages in the other.
“I am afraid I am set, Georgiana. I need to get an early start,” was his reply.
His low, dulcet voice caused her physical pain, and she drew one arm around her middle.
“But will she think it rude not to see you at all? For I think she plans to leave the day before you get back. It is a pity she could not arrive until this evening,” Georgiana lamented.
Elizabeth could see his face from the side, and something washed across it briefly, though she could not name it.
Darcy turned bodily to look at his sister, facing Elizabeth’s back. Elizabeth prayed that the back of her bonnet and simple blue frock, would not register in his mind from the corner of his eye. For she was certain she had worn this same dress during her stay at Netherfield, and on her walk in Kent that one perfect morning, so long ago now.
His full reflection was more vivid then her clouded memory. How handsome and tall he was. How sweet his smile when he looked at his sister. How distressing to be so close with no recourse! She held her middle even tighter.
“Georgiana, why do you not let Miss Bennet decide? Make certain that she knows when I return, and ask if she will stay to see me. Let her know that I would be most pleased to see her, but will understand if she cannot change her plans.”
Georgiana smiled and nodded at his suggestion.
“I will be certain to tell her, Fitzwilliam. I hope that she will be pleased with the new pianoforte you gave me. I am in a flutter to show it to her, and all of Pemberley! Thank you, brother, for thinking of her, for there is no one else I would rather spend three whole weeks with… besides you.”
Elizabeth took in another breath. He was getting lightheaded.
Darcy laughed. “I am quite honored to be included in that very exclusive list. But may I ask why I am second?”
Georgiana smiled teasingly at her brother. “That is because I spent over a month with you and your broken ankle. Neither of you were the jolliest of companions, but I have to admit, you have improved along with your ankle.”
Darcy laughed again. “And blood is supposed to be thicker than water…”
And with that, Georgiana gave him a kiss on his cheek. Their carriage pulled up at that moment, and Elizabeth managed to get even closer to the window, still watching the reflection, still holding where she ached, and trying not to be noticed at the same time.
Mr. Darcy helped his sister into the carriage and hopped in after her. Elizabeth strained to see his image in the window one more time before he disappeared. Her heart crashed in her chest as he disappeared into the carriage, and the door closed. She did not move until the carriage pulled away, and she turned and walked quickly in the opposite direction. Her head full of the conversation she had just overheard, and her body somehow able to move forward although it was slowly coming apart.
Georgiana had kissed her brother early the next morning and made him promise to write her, as he was already assured of her faithful letters. Darcy assured her that she would be a wonderful hostess and bid her a sad farewell. For he did not want to leave, but knew he must, if Elizabeth was to come to Pemberley.
Elizabeth waited in her private room at the inn. She knew he was gone by now, but he lingered in her head and refused to leave. It was his idea for her to come to Pemberley! What was she supposed to do with that information? Was it simply because she would be a good companion for Georgiana, or was there more to it? Her heart told her it was the latter. He wanted her to stay to see him when he returned. He was leaving it up to her. And she had no idea what she would do.
That same carriage that took him away yesterday was sent to Lambton to retrieve Elizabeth and her things. Her aunt embraced her and made her promise to write before they were to pick her up again on their way back.
As the carriage approached Pemberley, Elizabeth could not help but be amazed at the picture before her. She had not prepared herself for something this size and this pleasing. Even though it was immense, it did not compete with the landscape. It complimented it, perfectly. The lines of the great house did not cut; they flowed. The sandstone exterior blended with its surroundings seamlessly, picking up the different shades and hues from the ground, trees and the hills behind it. Elizabeth was certain that she had never seen a home so happily situated.
Georgiana met Elizabeth as she pulled up, without ceremony, but with great affection—exactly as Elizabeth would have wished it. The two embraced and made their way into the great house arm in arm. Georgiana first showed Elizabeth up to her room. It was elegant without imposing. It was refined, but also comfortable. Elizabeth assured Georgiana that she had never seen a more pleasant and beautiful guest suite, much to Georgiana’s delight.
She was taken on a brief tour before lunch was served. The house, so far, was similar to Elizabeth’s room in feel. Elegant, but not overpowering. It was exquisite, but not grandiose. Elizabeth admired the sunny rooms, and thought of the stark contrast between them and the dark, heavy dungeons that Lady Catherine lived in.
Georgiana had ordered a fitting lunch, and Elizabeth could not help but smile as she watched Georgiana try to interact with the servants with authority, but failing and apologizing and blushing in turn. She could tell her friend was very uncomfortable being the hostess, but she was trying very hard.
Elizabeth assured Georgiana that she was less a guest, and more an honorary sister for the next three weeks, and wanted to be treated as such. So, they were to call each other by their Christian names, and would have to eventually quarrel over a bonnet. Elizabeth would help Georgiana with the menus, and Georgiana was not to worry about protocol in front of Elizabeth—that was to be saved for real guests. Elizabeth then entertained Georgiana with stories of her four sisters, and what it was like to grow up in the midst of them all.
The first week went by rather quickly. The two were barely parted. It took three days to fully explore the interior of the great house and the next few were spent surveying the exterior. Georgiana was not a great walker, but she was a horsewoman, and managed to get a very reluctant Elizabeth on a horse by the end of the week.
Mrs. Reynolds, the housekeeper, was friendly and very helpful. She had been running Pemberley since Mrs. Darcy passed away some years before, and looked after Georgiana as if she was her own. She knew every corner of that house, every piece of silver, every ancestral portrait, and how everything was to be done. She was pleasant company, and could be talked into joining Elizabeth and Georgiana for one half hour after dinner each night.
Evenings were spent either playing games or at the pianoforte. Unlike Mary, Georgiana was thrilled at Elizabeth’s marked improvement. She could not hold back her ardent amazement when she heard her play.
“Elizabeth! What has come over you? You play like an angel!” she enthused.
Elizabeth laughed and commented that she did not know that angels cared for Schubert.
“Really, Elizabeth, what has possessed you?”
“Let me ask you something first, Georgiana. What do you do, when you want to forget your troubles?”
Georgiana looked up at her knowingly. “I understand,” she said with a hint of sadness in her voice.
“What does not kill us, makes us better pianoforte players. Is that what they say?”
Elizabeth got a smile out of her young friend, and she started to play something less dissonant, for Georgiana’s sake.
The second week slowed down a little bit, and Elizabeth was able to spend some time in Pemberley’s tremendous library. Elizabeth had never seen anything like it. Ancient books mixed with modern ones all grouped by category, and then alphabetically within their categories. She did not know where to begin. Georgiana explained that it has been the work of many generations, and that her father added to it his entire life, and now her brother does the same.
“Fitzwilliam rarely goes anywhere without bringing back books for this collection,” Georgiana enthused.
Elizabeth looked over at Georgiana. The notion of Mr. Darcy thoughtfully adding to generations and generations of collecting made her smile. How much time she would like to spend in a library of this caliber.
“So, where should we start? I think that I am in the mood for a play. A comedy. Should we read Shakespeare?” She thumbed through several volumes and pulled one out. “How about ‘Love’s Labour’s Lost’?”
The pair took turns reading, and the day passed pleasantly and effortlessly.
One evening, after the two played duets until they were fatigued, they reclined on the same couch, and Elizabeth held Georgiana’s head in her lap.
“So, my dear Georgiana, when will you come out? I am sure that you are quite anxious about it—either in anticipation or dread,” Elizabeth asked half teasing.
Georgiana did not say anything right away.
“I suppose I must, but Fitzwilliam is waiting until I feel… ready.”
Elizabeth bent down her head. “And why should you not feel ready? You are lovely, accomplished and wealthy. Those are three things every lady wishes for… and suitors as well,” she added smiling, still teasing a bit.
Georgiana sat up and looked seriously into Elizabeth’s eyes.
“Elizabeth, how would I be able to tell who only likes me for my fortune?”
Elizabeth could see the true concern in her eyes. And fully knowing of her young friend’s experience with Wickham, she smiled warmly at her.
“Well, I do not have that problem myself, Georgiana,” she said smiling.
“How lovely to not have anything in the way. I mean, if someone claims to loves you, Elizabeth, there is nothing to make you doubt it. You will be sure that you will be loved… just as you are.”
Elizabeth felt her words fully and did not have a response, though her ache pulsed and pounded within her.
“I do not know how I will be able to tell,” said a sad Georgiana.
Elizabeth leaned closer to her friend. “I can imagine that you simply need to take your time, to get to know any gentleman’s true character before you made a decision about him.”
“How long does it take to get to know a gentleman’s true character?”
“Well, I think that matters. But you need to watch and see how he behaves around others. If possible, see how he treats his own family.”
Something played across Georgiana’s face, and she thought for a moment.
“Elizabeth, I gave my brother permission to tell you why he was so upset that day we took a walk… He did tell you, did he not?”
“Yes, he did.” Elizabeth tried to read Georgiana’s face.
“I am glad you know.” She took a brave breath. "For you might be able to understand why I do not necessarily want to be out in society. And now you know that my brother is not cruel. He was so concerned about me seeing… him again. And he was none too happy about you being out there alone. But I do not blame you for not getting into our carriage. Fitzwilliam had never spoken to me like that before. I must have cried for an hour before he could calm me down.”
“I am glad that I understand everything now as well. I see clearly that your brother never meant to be cruel.” How she understood that. How she knew how truly good he was. And how she wished that she had the capability to love him as he deserved—where nothing else would matter. Where the world would be damned. Love the poets and Shakespeare wrote about. Elizabeth’s ache radiated out even further.
“But how can I ever go out into society, Elizabeth? I was such a stupid girl. No one can truly want me—just me. Even if I found someone who was not concerned about my fortune, how could he still care for me if he knew… what happened?”
Elizabeth was not expecting the depth of that question.
“Georgiana, you attached yourself to a man who claimed he loved you. There is no shame in that. Anyone who hears your story, will understand that you were manipulated by a man who is a master of it. I should know, I have seen him at work. He is truly charming and comes across as very sincere.” Elizabeth grabbed Georgiana’s hand. “He had me, and our entire village believing his lies. You were a child when he imposed on you. I wish I had that excuse. Believe me when I say you are innocent, and anyone who does not understand that, is not worthy of you.”
Georgiana could not be more grateful to hear those kind words. She leaned in and embraced Elizabeth.
“I am so glad you are come, Elizabeth. I am now afraid of when you leave. What will I do without you?”
Georgiana put her head on Elizabeth’s shoulder and nestled in, taking her hand once again. And Elizabeth too, wondered what she would do when she left, as she held her dear Georgiana.