Rivals & Rascals
by Maggie (Zevin)
August 7, 1812
Traveling in the Darcy's carriage turned out to be far less awkward than Elizabeth had anticipated. No one made further inquiries regarding the nature of the business that had called Elizabeth home. Although, she was extremely curious to know why her companions were traveling so suddenly to Hertfordshire themselves, she felt that it was not courteous to question them since she had refused to provide similar information herself. She had hoped that they would volunteer the purpose for their travels but they did not.
Miss Darcy, Mr. Bingley and Elizabeth talked casually of this and that. Initially, they talked largely of inconsequential things, such as heat and the sheep and church spires they passed. Their conversation eventually drifted to the arts. Elizabeth and Georgiana soon discovered that they shared similar tastes in literature and drama, in addition to music. Georgiana had read almost as many books and seen far more plays than Elizabeth had. What surprised Elizabeth even more was that Georgiana had not been sheltered in the content of her reading, and had read a number of books that many people of society would find inappropriate for young ladies. Mr. Bingley, as Elizabeth had earlier suspected, did not have much patience for reading or much aptitude for appreciating the distinction in various musical or dramatic performances, but he seemed to enjoy hearing others talk about such things. He frequently interjected the ladies' conversation with comments, such as: "I will be sure to read that book, you make it sound so intriguing. I know I would enjoy it."
Throughout this conversation, Mr. Darcy, who was seated across from his sister and next to Mr. Bingley, was primarily silent but seemed to be listening intently. He occasionally made little murmurs of acquiescence or dissent during the discussion of a specific literary or dramatic works, but he always seemed to stay on the outskirts of the conversation. Elizabeth tried to avoid meeting his gaze, but every now and then, her eyes would search his out as if they were drawn to his as of a will of their own. His eyes did not have the soft, open look she had been fearful of encountering; instead, his look was polite but guarded.
Although Mr. Darcy's restraint was exactly what Elizabeth had wished for when she agreed to join them in their travels, as dusk approached, she found herself perversely wishing for Mr. Darcy's guard to slip. She wanted, once more, to glimpse the strong emotions that she sensed lurked behind his shuttered gaze. This never happened.
Just before dark descended, the carriage pulled up at their destination, a very elegant looking establishment that had a discreet sign, advertising "Accommodations for Fine Gentlemen and Ladies." Darcy helped his sister down from carriage, leaving Mr. Bingley to assist Elizabeth down.
Once they were inside the cream colored sitting room of their suite of rooms, Mr. Darcy offered Miss Bennet a glass of the port that was awaiting them on the sideboard. Elizabeth refused and said she believed that she would retire immediately. Something that might have been disappointment showed briefly in Darcy's expression.
"Very well, Miss Bennet. I hope that you do not mind sharing a room with my sister. There are no other suitable rooms available, but the room is quite spacious."
Elizabeth assured him that she did not mind in the least. Georgiana, being very familiar with the inn, pointed out the door to their room and informed Elizabeth that she would join her soon.
"I bid you good night, Miss Bennet," Darcy said with a formal bow.
As Elizabeth bid him good night in return, her eyes, once again, met his almost involuntarily. This time, however, she caught Darcy completely off guard. Although he said nothing to her, his look was passionate and silently expressed what he had spoken to her in Kent. Those words came back to her with full force.
"You must allow me to tell you how ardently I admire and love you."
Elizabeth felt as dismayed by this silent expression of love as she had by the earlier spoken one, but for entirely different reasons. She turned abruptly away and hurried towards the room that Georgiana had pointed out as theirs. In her haste to escape Mr. Darcy's presence, she had neglected to bring a candle to light her way. The bedroom as she entered it was as dim and gloomy as the remainder of her life promised to be.
Elizabeth and Georgiana lay together in bed. The experience was entirely new for Georgiana, and she had no idea how to behave in this novel situation. She decided it was best to lay as far as possible from Elizabeth. Elizabeth looked over at the girl and smiled despite her dark mood. Georgiana was lying so close to the edge of the bed that she looked in danger of tumbling off.
"Miss Darcy, please move away from the edge of the bed; I fear your brother would never forgive me if I allowed you to fall onto the floor. Do not worry, I do not bite or scratch."
Georgiana spun around to face Elizabeth, an alarmed look on her face. "Oh no, Miss Bennet, I did not mean to imply that you would. It is just that I have never shared a bed with anyone before."
"I am sorry to have caused you discomfort. Perhaps, if we ask the innkeeper, they could bring up a cot for me to sleep on, there is plenty of room here in which to set one up; or if there are extra blankets, I could make up a pallet on the floor. I am quite comfortable sleeping anywhere."
Georgiana sat up in bed, looking more alarmed than she had before. "Please, Miss Bennet, do not even speak of such a thing. I do not mind at all sharing the bed with you. In fact, I have been looking forward to it all afternoon. I always imagined if I had a sister, we would share a bed like this and we could whisper together for hours before falling asleep."
The longing in Georgiana's voice touched Elizabeth. "Well then, if we are going to whisper together in bed, you must move a little closer to the middle. Otherwise, I will hear less than half of you say and our conversation will be very odd indeed."
Georgiana laughed softly and lay back down. She rolled slightly away from the edge of the bed. "And may we call each other by our first names? I have been wanting to do so since I first met you."
"Yes, indeed." Elizabeth responded. "We can hardly whisper silly nothings together in bed and call each other Miss Bennet and Miss Darcy. After all sisters would never do such a thing. It would be most improper."
Georgiana laughed again and Elizabeth briefly laughed with her. Elizabeth's heart felt lighter than it had in days. She did not comprehend the full nature or extent of what she felt for Mr. Darcy or Colonel Fitzwilliam or what they felt for her; those feelings were too complex and too removed from her everyday emotions to be recognizable. But the warm but slightly giddy feeling she felt laughing at some private joke with someone of her own sex was wonderfully familiar to her. It felt like home. She realized that, as hard as life seemed right now, how fortunate she was to have so many sisters. It was ironic that she should think this now when it was one of her sisters that was the cause of her misfortune, but if she had no sisters at all, how much worse life would be. She had always had Jane to soothe and comfort her, and the company of her three younger sisters, although maddening at times, had brought her much joy over the years. She remembered how Lydia and Kitty would throw their heads back and shriek with sheer happiness when she pushed them on the swing, and how Mary's eyes would light up when anyone complimented her on her playing.
She looked over at Georgiana who was smiling shyly at her in the flickering candlelight. Elizabeth thought of how hard it must be for Georgiana to go through life with not even one sister. She did not seem to have even a close female friend near her own age. Elizabeth realized, in particular, how hard it must have been for her to go through the experience she had gone through with Wickham last summer without a sister to confide in. Elizabeth determined to put her own troubles aside for the night and give Georgiana some of the sisterly companionship that she seemed to crave. Elizabeth was desirous of such companionship herself; in the candlelight, Georgiana's blonde hair and sweet expression reminded her so much of Jane.
"I am glad of your company, Georgiana. I must confess I am missing my sisters dreadfully, especially my sister Jane. You remind me of her a bit. She, too, has fair hair and brown eyes and she has your same sweet nature."
Georgiana blushed with the compliment. "I wish that were true, but it is not. Oh no, I did not mean your sister, I am sure she is sweet natured, but I am nothing of the sort. I can be very stubborn and selfish, really, although I am trying to improve."
"Is that so? What was the last selfish thing that you did?" Elizabeth asked with a teasing lilt to her voice.
Georgiana furrowed her brow; Elizabeth thought she looked remarkably like her brother when she did so. "It was very selfish. This morning as we were traveling, I saw the hot air balloon in the air this morning out the carriage window. I watched it until it disappeared and I never said a word about it to either my brother or Mr. Bingley."
"They both looked so wretched at the time, I thought they would be unimpressed with the sight. I could not bear for them to spoil my pleasure by not enjoying it. I feel so terribly mean spirited for not saying anything."
"I might have done the same thing under similar circumstances. I do not believe there is anything wrong with savoring a wondrous sight on your own if you feel that others will not appreciate it."
Georgiana moved a little closer to Elizabeth, "I am so glad that you understand. It was on my conscience all day. But I should not burden you with my worries when you have troubles of your own. "
Elizabeth grimaced. "I do not want to think of my own troubles at this moment, much less speak of them. I would prefer to speak of other people's worries. It is so much easier to think about other people's problems than our own, is it not?"
"Yes, I suppose that is true. Unless you care about the people who have troubles and then their miseries are yours."
Elizabeth sighed. "I was just wondering what you said about your brother and Mr. Bingley. Why were they so wretched this morning?"
Georgiana looked uneasy and bit her lower lip slightly. "They did not confide in me, but I feel sure that your sudden departure was behind it. It was clear to all of us that something disastrous must have happened to make you leave so abruptly, and your aunt told Mr. Bingley that you had received distressing news from home. And it is plain to see that Mr. Bingley, has strong feelings for your sister. He has been in great agitation ever since he returned from Lambton. And my brother.." Georgiana paused, she hoped that her brother could forgive her for what she was about to say; but she felt that it must be said.
"My brother has strong feelings for you, Elizabeth. I have never seen him like this before; he was so happy when he was with you in Lambton and in Pemberley. When you left, he was in a monstrous state. I believe he even scared Miss Bingley away with his black mood."
Elizabeth's heart started pounding loudly in her chest; she felt that Georgiana could surely hear it. She latched onto Georgina's statement about Miss Bingley. "I can scarcely imagine that Mr. Darcy could do anything that would frighten Miss Bingley away. Where did she go? I have been wondering what happened to her and the Hursts."
Georgiana looked intently at Elizabeth. "They went to Scotland, but I do not want to talk about Miss Bingley. There! I told you I was selfish. I want to talk about you and my brother. Oh Elizabeth, I do not want to add to your worries. But, I am convinced my brother could assist you; no matter what it is that troubles you, he could things better. He is so terribly kind and sweet natured. You have no idea. He is more like you describe your sister Jane than I am. Something terrible happened to me last summer, and if it had not been for my brother, I could not have survived it."
Georgiana realized that she was babbling, but she could not stop herself.
"Please, Elizabeth, please confide in my brother. I am convinced you would be glad for it and it would such a comfort to him to be of assistance to you. He cares for you so much. He would do anything for you, I am sure of it."
Elizabeth turned her face into the pillow for a moment. Georgiana had not told her anything that she had not already gathered herself, but to hear Mr. Darcy's sister speak of his feelings for her out loud was almost unbearable. She realized, however, that Georgiana was right; she must confide everything to Mr. Darcy. Not that it would bring any solace to her or to him, but because it would spare him and Georgiana future pain. She knew that the truth about Lydia would eventually become known to them, and it would happen sooner rather than later if they stayed at Netherfield for any length of time. She could not bear for Georgiana or her brother to hear the news from a stranger. It was better that she tell Mr. Darcy so he could break the news gently to his sister. She also felt that it was better that Mr. Darcy hear the news of her conditional engagement directly from her, although how she was going to broach the subject with him, she did not know.
She turned back to Georgiana. "You are right, I will talk to your brother tomorrow. Do you think I would have an opportunity to converse with him for a few moments alone with him in the morning?"
"Oh yes, that can be accomplished very easily. Mr. Bingley is a very late riser, and I can stay out of your way before breakfast."
"Oh Elizabeth, I am so glad that we are friends. If there is anything I can do to help you myself, you have only to ask me."
Elizabeth reached out and impulsively squeezed Georgiana's hand. Elizabeth was almost tempted to tell her everything, but she felt that fairness demanded that she tell Mr. Darcy first and give him the opportunity to determine when and how to break the news to his sister.
"Now," said Elizabeth, "I believe we must make some effort to sleep. Sometimes, my sister Jane and I sing softly to each other in bed to make ourselves sleepy. Would you sing a song for me?"
Georgiana softly sang about two canaries who became separated and searched far and wide for each other. It was a sweet song with a repetitious chorus; Elizabeth was fast asleep before the last verse.
Bingley snored with the same degree of energy that he did everything else. On the other occasion in which Darcy had had to share a room with Bingley, he had been entertained by the enthusiastic bursts of sound erupting from his sleeping friend. Tonight, however, he was not amused. Putting on his dressing gown, he grabbed a candle and walked into the sitting room. He sat down at the writing desk and stared at the bottle of ink there. Owing to the fact that he had left Pemberley so quickly, he had several letters to write to steward but he could not concentrate on business. He stood up again and began to pace the room. His pacing took him near the door of the room that his sister was sharing with Elizabeth Bennet. He heard the soft murmur of feminine voices coming from their room. He walked quickly to the other side of the room before he succumbed to the temptation to eavesdrop.
He stood in front of the mantle and stared at the bonnet lying there. It was Elizabeth's bonnet; lying neatly inside the bonnet were a pair of thin cotton gloves. He picked one up and held it in his hands. The glove looked so small resting in his hand. For many months now, Elizabeth held such a large place in his heart and mind that he often forgot how small and delicate she actually was. He stared at the glove for a few moments before placing it back inside the bonnet.
He sat back down at the writing desk and took up the quill pen. He put the pen to paper and paused; he looked over at Elizabeth's bonnet. Then, bending his head over the paper, he swiftly filled a sheet of paper. When he was finished, he carefully folded the paper in half.
He walked over to Elizabeth's bonnet, and carefully deposited the letter in the bonnet underneath the pair of gloves. Then he went back to bed.
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