Rivals & Rascals
by Maggie (Zevin)
August 5, 1812
As is true of most young ladies of her station, Georgiana Darcy led a confined life. Yet, never had she felt so confined as she had at the present moment - trapped inside a slow moving carriage with Caroline Bingley as her sole companion. The previous part of the journey had been tolerable because Mr. Bingley had shared the carriage with Georgiana and his sister, Caroline. However, when they started the last leg of their journey, Mr. Bingley had informed the two ladies that he would be joining the Hursts' carriage so that the two ladies could rest undisturbed.
After Mr. Bingley departed the carriage, Miss Bingley had closed her eyes for a while, to Georgiana's relief. Georgiana closed her own eyes and her thoughts turned to her favorite subject, Mozart. Georgiana's music teacher was from Vienna and she was a distant relation of Mozart's widow. She had met Mozart once several years from his death. "He was quite small and his face was unremarkable," she had told Georgiana, "but he had the most beautiful hands I have ever seen." Georgiana hummed phrases from the Marriage of Figaro to herself while she pictured what it would have been like to be caressed by those beautiful hands.
Her pleasant reverie was disturbed by the sound of Miss Bingley clearing her throat. "Dearest, Georgiana, I cannot tell you how I have longed to have an intimate conversation with you."
Georgiana bit her lip and remained silent. She lay still as if asleep.
"When I received the invitation to Pemberley, I was thrilled at the prospect of spending an extended amount of time with you in close quarters."
Georgiana smiled weakly and clasped her arms across her chest.
"I know we have always been great friends," continued Miss Bingley, "but I can tell you confidentially, dearest Georgiana, that I have been hoping that we can become more than friends."
Miss Bingley paused and leaned forward until her face was inches away from Georgiana's. "For the truth is, I have always longed to have a sister."
"But Miss Bingley," Georgiana said in a faltering voice, "you have a sister."
"Oh, yes," Caroline waved her hand dismissively. 'Louisa. What I mean to say, dearest Georgiana, is that I have always longed to have you for a sister."
"Ever since you learned of my brother's income," thought Georgiana. She said nothing, however, as she always did when she was unable to think of anything polite to say. Georgiana, being somewhat rebellious of nature, often had to hide her true thoughts behind a mask of timidity. She had been pretending to be timid for so long, in fact, that shyness had become an intrinsic part of her character.
"You are everything I should wish for in a sister," continued Miss Bingley. "Elegant, accomplished, well bred. I cannot tell you, Dear, how I have been pining for such company. I must confess, that even in the height of London society, one seldom meets with such rewarding companions. And outside, of London, well, I shudder to recollect the sorts of people that I had to socialize with when we stayed in the country. Why, only last fall when my brother and I were briefly residing in Hertfordshire, we met the most dreadful family of five unmarried sisters. They were common country girls of little beauty, few accomplishments, no fashion, and, except for the eldest sister, disgraceful manners."
For the first time, Georgiana took an interest in Miss Bingley's topic of conversation. Her brother had stayed with the Bingleys during their residence in Hertfordshire. She knew from his letters that he had become acquainted with a family of five sisters. Of the family in general, he said very little. But of one of the sisters, he had written what was, for him, a great deal.
Georgiana had committed her brother's descriptions of the lady in question to heart. Her close attention to those references was due to the unprecedented occurrence of his mentioning any lady not of her acquaintance in his letters. He had written:
"Yesterday, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, a young lady of our recent acquaintance, came to nurse one of her sisters who fell ill here while calling on Mr. Bingley's sisters. She has been asked to remain at Netherfield until her sister is well enough to be removed. She shows much devotion to her sister. I am reminded of your own devotion to me, Sweet Georgie."
In his next letter he wrote, "Even though her duties to her sister have left her little opportunity for rest, Miss Elizabeth Bennet is remarkably lively. She shows an infectious delight in many things, including books, music, and long walks."
"Are you referring to the Bennet family?" Georgiana asked softly.
Miss Bingley was surprised that Georgiana had heard of the Bennets. She was rather pleased, however, that Georgiana had connected the name Bennet with her description of common country girls with little to recommend them.
"Yes. Did your brother mention that family? I am afraid he found them most vexing company. We avoided them as much as we could, but the two oldest sisters, in particular, seemed to fling themselves constantly in our company."
"Yes, he mentioned them."
"Did your brother happen to mention Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" Miss Bingley inquired in an indifferent manner.
Georgiana hesitated, not wanting to reveal her brother's private communications to Miss Bingley. Still, Elizabeth Bennet was a topic she was eager to learn more about. She could see little harm in confirming that her brother had mentioned Miss Elizabeth.
"Yes, he did."
"I hope your brother's description of Miss Elizabeth's manners was not too unflattering." Miss Bingley said in a manner that was patently insincere. "I believe he was quite displeased with her. She stayed at Netherfield a few days on the pretext of nursing her sister who fell ill while visiting my sister and I. We were, of course, perfectly capable of nursing her ourselves. We were all quite appalled at Miss Elizabeth's shocking manners and conceited independence. I remember Mr. Darcy remarking once that he would not wish you to behave in the wild manner that Miss Elizabeth Bennet did. I know that your brother was quite relieved to part from her company, once her sister recovered and she no longer excuse had an excuse to stay."
Georgiana fidgeted. She sensed Miss Bingley's jealousy towards Miss Bennet. She did not want to further violate her brother's privacy, but she found Miss Bingley's proprietary air towards her brother so offensive that she could not control the impulse to speak out.
"I am surprised to hear that, Miss Bingley. My brother's letters did not convey that he was in any way displeased with Miss Elizabeth Bennet's company. In fact, I got the distinct impression that he admired her."
With that Georgiana, sheltered a yawn with her hand and leaned back against the cushions. "If you will excuse me, Miss Bingley, I believe I will rest now." Georgiana closed her eyes and returned to thoughts of Mozart.
A carriage pulled up to Pemberley later that morning. Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam were both on hand to greet it, having been forewarned by a footman of its arrival. Darcy glanced at his cousin as he opened the carriage door. The colonel knew that Darcy was silently reminding him of his promise to hand Miss Bingley down. Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped forward and a large figure flung itself at him from the interior of the carriage. The colonel staggered under the weight and tried to stay upright. He steadied himself just in time and glared at the gentleman who had nearly felled him.
"Good God, Hurst. What are you about?"
Hurst smiled a bit sheepishly. A slightly foul order emanated from him. "Sorry. There's a man. Had a bit of trouble navigating, you know."
Colonel Fitzwilliam glanced at Darcy who was occupied in handing Mrs. Hurst down from the carriage. Charles Bingley hopped nimbly out of the carriage after his sister. Unlike the Hursts, who looked both quite done in after their long journey, Bingley looked remarkably refreshed. He clapped first Darcy and then Fitzwilliam on the back and launched into an exuberant monologue concerning the inn they had stayed at the previous evening.
Darcy's worry at seeing no sign of Georgiana's carriage caused him to interrupt his friend.
"Where is the other carriage?"
"They were right behind us. They should arrive momentarily. Ah, there they are." Bingley spoke with a flourish that almost knocked Darcy's hat off as the carriage appeared at the end of the drive. Muttering something about refreshments, Mr. Hurst grabbed his wife's arm and tottered towards the front steps of the manor. The three remaining gentleman waited silently for the carriage.
Fifteen minutes later, everyone had gathered in the front sitting room. Georgiana Darcy was doing her best to pour tea. She was not used to pouring tea for seven people. The teapot was so heavy, she feared losing control of it entirely.
When she had poured the last cup, Georgiana glanced at the three people across the table from her. Hurst was noisily eating iced lemon cake, oblivious to all else. Louisa Hurst and Caroline Bingley had their heads close together. Although they were doing their best to keep their voices low, it was apparent that they were doing some sort of inventory of the contents of the room. Georgiana was relieved to see that their guests were all occupied.
Her attention next turned to her brother sitting next to her. He was sipping his tea with a faraway look in his eye. "How did you and Cousin Richard occupy yourselves last evening?" she inquired softly.
"We did nothing out of the ordinary."
Georgiana smiled fondly. "You played billiards half the night, I suppose."
"No, we retired early, in fact."
"I can scarcely believe that," Georgiana said with a smile and turned towards her cousin sitting on her other side. "Come, Cousin Richard, tell me, which one of you was the winner? You are both brilliant at billiards, but poor at losing." Although her tone was warm and teasing, she noticed that both Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam had stiffened noticeably and exchanged fleeting wary glances.
"Not Mr. Darcy, surely," Miss Bingley had been straining her ears to catch what Georgiana had been saying to the two men. "I am sure Mr. Darcy never loses at anything, and if he did, I am sure he would lose most gracefully."
Georgiana paid little attention to Miss Bingley. She was too busy studying her brother and her cousin. "Oh, dear," thought Georgiana, "whatever is the matter?" She had noticed earlier that they seemed rather at odds with each other. She had resorted to teasing them to try to lighten up the mood. She did not want to question them further before their guests.
"More tea, anyone?" she asked hopefully.
When they finished their tea, Darcy stood up and beckoned gently to Georgiana.
"Come, my dear, I have a surprise for you."
Caroline looked up with interest. "Oh, how I adore surprises."
The colonel moved quickly towards Miss Bingley and stretched out his hand to assist her in rising. Caroline accepted his assistance reluctantly.
The Colonel leaned towards Miss Bingley and spoke in a low voice. "Miss Bingley, please join me in the garden for a walk. I have something to discuss with you that concerns us both."
Miss Bingley looked down her long nose at him.
"I barely know you, sir. I can think of no matter that concerns us both."
The colonel did his best to disguise his annoyance at Miss Bingley's condescending tone. He lowered his voice even further so that Miss Bingley had to lean forward to hear him.
"The matter that I speak of concerns Mr. Darcy." He paused, "And a certain young lady."
He had Miss Bingley's full attention now. "A young lady?'
The colonel nodded and leaned in closer. "A Miss Elizabeth Bennet, to be precise. "
Miss Bingley grabbed the colonel's arm with a muscular strength that caught him off guard. "By all means, Colonel Fitzwilliam, let us tour the gardens."
As Georgiana and Darcy approached the blue parlor, Darcy suddenly spun around and blocked Georgiana's view of the room. "Close your eyes, Georgie."
Georgiana obediently closed her eyes. Darcy guided her slowly into the room.
"Now, you may open them."
There, before her was the most beautiful piano she had ever seen. Its polished surface gleamed. She gasped with delight, prompting Darcy to smile.
"Thank you, thank you." She stretched on her toes and kissed her brother. Georgiana rushed over to the piano and caressed the ivory keys.
"You are much too good to me."
"Happy belated birthday. Play something for me?"
Georgiana sat down and played something that was complicated and airy all at once. Darcy recognized it as the piece that Elizabeth had played and sung in Hunsford the night before his disastrous proposal. Georgiana looked up and noticed her brother's tense expression.
"What is wrong? You do not like this piece? I know I do not do it justice."
Darcy sank down on the piano bench beside his sister.
"No, you play it beautifully. I have something on my mind, that is all." Darcy laid his right hand on the keys and Georgiana laid her small hand on top of his.
"Please tell me what is troubling you, Brother."
Darcy looked at Georgiana's hand on his. He moved his hand beneath hers to the palm up position and entwined his fingers with hers.
"Do you recall my once mentioning a Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
"How odd that he mentions her now after months of silence," thought Georgiana. She nodded and lightly squeezed her brother's hand. "You met her in Hertfordshire, did you not?"
"Yes," Darcy paused. "And again, in Kent. She is a good friend of the wife of the rector at Rosings. She was visiting her friend while I was visiting our aunt. They dined with us at Rosings several times. The reason I mention Miss Bennet now is that she is here."
"Here in Pemberley?" asked Georgiana in amazement.
"No, actually, in Lambton. She is visiting the village with her aunt and uncle. Her aunt, it seems, grew up in Lambton. I thought we might visit them tomorrow and invite them to dine with us."
"Yes, of course. Do you know for certain that they have already arrived in Lambton?"
"They were touring the grounds of Pemberley yesterday and Fitzwilliam and I ran into them unexpectedly." Darcy's face darkened slightly.
Georgiana pondered this in silence. "If Miss Bennet was in Kent while you were there, then she must have met Cousin Richard as well?"
Darcy's face darkened further and he scowled slightly. "Yes," he replied rather sharply.
"Ah," thought Georgiana. She immediately rose from the piano bench. She glanced out the window and saw her cousin and Miss Bingley in the garden.
Georgiana decided to act quickly while their cousin was occupied. "Let us go pay our visit now. If Miss Bennet's aunt is from Lambton, they must have many people to visit. We should make our invitation now before all of their engagements are fixed."
"You are not too tired from your long journey?" Darcy queried solicitously.
"Oh no, not all. I would love to go to Lambton now. Nothing would please me more."
Darcy was momentarily taken aback by Georgiana's eagerness. Still, her desire to go to Lambton straight away meshed perfectly with his own wishes.
"Well then, Georgie. Let us go to Lambton!"
While Darcy and Georgiana had been conversing in private, the colonel had been strolling amongst the flower beds with Miss Bingley on his arm. He had not spoken since they left the house. He could feel Miss Bingley's impatience by the way she spastically clutched his arm.
Finally, the colonel halted in front of a bench and gestured for Miss Bingley to sit down. She sat down and arranged her skirts around her with all the hauteur of a duchess.
"Miss Bingley, I must ask your assistance in a most delicate matter." He paused for a moment to build suspense. "I understand that you have made the acquaintance of Miss Elizabeth Bennet?"
Miss Bingley nodded and the look in her eyes sharpened.
"I must ask you to keep what I tell you next in strict confidence, Miss Bingley." She tilted her head in an imperious gesture of acquiescence.
"I have made Miss Bennet's acquaintance myself and I tell you, in confidence, that I am fond of the lady." He paused. "More than fond."
Miss Bingley spine stiffened, but she said nothing.
"Unfortunately, I believe that my cousin, Mr. Darcy is not entirely immune to Miss Bennet's charms himself. Although, I believe the lady cares for me, I am concerned that if he should propose to her, he will succeed. He is, as you may have heard, a man of immense wealth, while I myself am a second son of modest means."
The colonel glanced at Miss Bingley, pleased to see he had her undivided attention. "Not only do I wish to wed Miss Bennet, I am concerned that marriage between her and my cousin would be a mistake. Their situations in life are so different, I feel they would make each other quite miserable. My own aspirations aside, I believe a match between my cousin and Miss Bennet must be prevented for Darcy's own sake. Do you not agree?"
Miss Bingley nodded her head so vigorously that a saffron colored feather flew off her bonnet. The colonel retrieved the feather and handed it to her.
"Miss Bennet is far away in Hertfordshire. If you are so fond of her, Colonel, I am surprised that you have removed yourself to Derbyshire, at such a distance from the lady."
"You do not know then, Miss Bingley. Miss Bennet is staying at an Inn not five miles from Pembeley." He let this sink in for a moment. "She and her aunt and uncle visited here yesterday. I understand that my cousin plans to ask them to dine with us here, shortly."
Miss Bingley looked distressed at this news.
"I am remarkably glad you are visiting Permberley at this time. My cousin has always admired you greatly." The Colonel fervently hoped that Miss Bingley did not note the strained caliber of his voice as he spoke. "Although, I believe he has some slight preference towards Miss Bennet at present, I also believe that he could easily be persuaded of your superior charms. If you play your cards right." The Colonel paused again to allow the bile that was settling in his throat to settle.
Miss Bingley waved the feather in her hand frantically. Her eyes were shining and her lips were open and moving slightly. If the colonel did not already have a deeply embedded dislike of the lady, he might have found her excitement rather appealing. As it was, he thought she looked rather like a grounded trout.
"We must proceed carefully, Miss Bingley. There is much at stake. I know my cousin well. If he thought we were plotting a match between the two of you or plotting to keep him apart from Miss Bennet, he would be exceedingly angry. Neither one of us would likely be welcome at Pemberley again."
The colonel observed Miss Bingley out of the corner of his eye. She was listening avidly. "If you will forgive the liberty, Miss Bingley, I would like to give you some advice regarding Darcy. The way to attach his attentions is to initially keep a distance. Act disinterested. Talk to everyone except for him. Do not act jealous if he pays some attention to Miss Bennet. Praise her yourself. You will appear generous. Encourage him to spend time with her, for if he does, I believe he will soon see that you are a superior match for him. I have observed Miss Bennet's interactions with my cousin. She shows no preference for his company, and never defers to his opinions. I believe that is how he came to be attracted to her."
Miss Bingley contemplated what she had just heard. She had carefully observed Mr. Darcy's interactions with Miss Bennet. She realized reluctantly that the colonel was right. Miss Bennet never sat near Darcy nor did she seek him out. She never seemed envious when Miss Bingley tried to monopolize his attentions. On those rare occasions when Miss Bennet did converse with him, she was generally impertinent, bordering on uncivil.
Miss Bingley looked through her eyelashes at the Colonel. "Your plan has some merit, I believe, Sir. Perhaps I should stir up his jealousy, as well. Should I flirt with other men in Mr. Darcy's presence?"
"A little flirtation may help…" He stopped talked abruptly when he realized that Miss Bingley was tickling his hand with her feather. "On second thought, I think it is best that we act friendly towards each other, but not flirtatious. After all, we would not want either Miss Bennet or Mr. Darcy to get the wrong idea."
"And how long should I pretend to be indifferent and distant?" asked Miss Bingley.
The colonel stroked his chin. "At least a few days, I should say. Catch him by surprise, make him unsure of your affections. Then you can slowly…." The Colonel paused looked for the right words, "make it clear where your affections lie. Perhaps we can determine when the time is right as we go along."
Miss Bingley rose from the bench. "Very well, Colonel Fitzwilliam. I agree to your scheme." She walked majestically towards the house.
Colonel Fitzwilliam ran his hand down his face. He had done what he thought was in Darcy's best interest. The only way he could think of to convince Caroline to loosen her clutches on Darcy for a time was to convince her that it was the best way to win him. He was doing Darcy a favor, he rationalized. The idea, however, that he was, at least ostensibly, in cahoots with Caroline Bingley was distasteful to him. It made him feel disloyal to both Darcy and Elizabeth, although he couldn't see how the scheme could harm either one of them.
The colonel strode back towards the front of the house just in time to see Georgiana and Darcy disappearing inside a carriage. The carriage was starting off down the drive by the time the colonel reached the footman who had seen them off.
"Do you know where Mr. And Miss Darcy are heading?" asked the colonel, trying to keep his irritation in check.
"Off to Lambton, Sir. To see you a young lady, I believe, Sir." Replied the footman with a cheeky grin.
The colonel did not bother to hide his annoyance. He knit his brows and glared at the footman. That unfortunate man interpreted the colonel's anger as directed at him for his impertinence in mentioning a young lady.
"I beg pardon, Sir. I meant no offense. Please do not tell Mr. Darcy about this, Sir."
The colonel had no idea what the footman was talking about. He nodded at the footman in a distracted manner as he watched the carriage disappear from view.
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