Content Harry Potter Jane Austen by Pamela St Vines
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Chapter Six - Of Fits and Fashions
Irish Fashions, That Is


I believe I have been very rude; but really Miss Fairfax has done her hair in so odd a way -- so very odd a way -- that I
cannot keep my eyes from her. I never saw any thing so outre! Those curls! This must be a fancy of her own. I see
nobody else looking like her! I must go and ask her whether it is an Irish fashion. Shall I? Yes, I will -- I declare I will --


Frank Churchill to Emma Woodhouse in
Jane Austen's, Emma, Chapter 26


From Chapter Five:

Gesturing to the note in his hand, Darcy rose and explained, "Excuse me, gentlemen, but I have been invited to tea with my sister. Could you please direct me to her rooms?"

Bingley and Hurst exchanged a laugh.

"Just head towards the guest wing and ask any servant," Bingley advised. "They all know the way."


****


Bingley was correct of course. The first servant Darcy encountered barely contained her smile at the request and led him directly to Georgiana's sitting room. Darcy's disappointment at finding his sister alone was quickly forgotten in the joy of witnessing her delight in her surroundings. Georgiana was brimming with enthusiasm for her quarters and jabbered away totally devoid of the extreme self-consciousness, which had crippled her of late. Not since their father's passing had Darcy seen her in such a state of excitement and now after the devastating events of last summer-- Darcy had not yet found the right opportunity to tell Elizabeth of Georgiana's narrow escape from what would have been a disastrous elopement, but even without knowing the source of his sister's distress, Elizabeth had somehow managed to successfully revive her spirits. Georgiana insisted upon showing her brother everything, even requiring Darcy to read the titles of the books carefully arranged on the shelves.

"I can certainly understand why you are so pleased, Georgiana," Darcy said when the tour was completed. "Everything appears to have been thoughtfully chosen to accommodate your tastes and habits. I must say that I am impressed since you were not previously acquainted with either of the Miss Bennets and Mrs. Hurst does not know you very well."

"It is wonderful, is it not?" Georgiana said with a giggle. "I feel as if I could never thank the ladies enough--of course, Mrs. Hurst whispered that it was all Miss Elizabeth Bennet's idea--but I must also thank you, Brother, for Miss Elizabeth insisted that you played an important part in this."

"Although it is very gracious of her to include me," Darcy said with some surprise, "Miss Elizabeth is entirely mistaken. I am afraid that I had nothing to do with this."

"It is you who are mistaken, dearest," Elizabeth said from the open doorway. "It was only because of all the lovely things you had told me of your sister that we knew what would please her."

Darcy crossed to take her hand as Elizabeth continued, "You are very fortunate, Miss Darcy. My father dotes on me, but I do not think he knows me half so well. Of course, in all fairness to Papa, perhaps that is because he has five daughters and a wife to keep straight, while your brother has only had you--until now, of course," she added smiling up at Darcy.

"Yes, and I fear that you will be far more demanding of me, my love," Darcy replied with amusement.

"I daresay you are right, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth allowed with a mischievous grin, "however, you have only yourself to blame, sir."

Georgiana giggled to see her sedate older brother teasing and being teased in turn while Darcy demanded with a grin, "And how is that, my dear Miss Bennet?"

"Why because you have showered me with such constant attention and admiration, sir, that I fear I am already grown quite accustomed to it," she answered with a smile. "I begin to dread the trial it will be when matters of business come between us."

Remembering his own irritation when Elizabeth had insisted upon accompanying Georgiana upstairs, Darcy gave her hand a gentle squeeze as he answered quite seriously. "What you say in jest is quite true, dearest. It will be a trial when responsibilities intrude upon our time together. I found myself missing you just as desperately when you came upstairs with the ladies earlier as I did when I was in London."

Seeing his sister's blush, Darcy turned to include her in their conversation. "Pray forgive me, Georgiana. I did not mean to embarrass you, but I fear you will have to grow accustomed to my sentimentality. There is much talk of fortune and position in relation to marriage, but I have never desired a union based solely upon such things. It seemed pointless to join myself for life to someone I could easily live without. I had despaired of ever finding a woman who would interest me for a week much less a lifetime. However, Miss Bennet captured my attention at our first meeting, and I must say that every time I am in her presence, I find her more fascinating still. It is my earnest hope that you will become good friends as you are the two I hold dearest in the world."

Both ladies beamed at him as Elizabeth answered softly, "I believe we shall."

With the arrival of tea their conversation turned to lighter topics. Elizabeth asked several questions about Pemberley and Georgiana was soon regaling her with tales of the various inhabitants of the great estate. Darcy contributed little to the conversation, delighted by Georgiana's lack of reserve with Elizabeth. When it was time to dress for dinner, Darcy insisted upon escorting Elizabeth to her door. She and Jane were to return to Longbourn after dinner and Darcy felt that he must have a moment of private conversation with her if he were to survive the night.

"Thank you for making Georgiana so happy," he said as they walked slowly down the passageway. "I have not seen her so ebullient in such a long time."

"You are most welcome," Elizabeth replied. "I must confess that my initial thoughts were of you, Fitzwilliam. I wanted to alleviate your anxieties for your sister's comfort among so many strangers, but now that I know her-- Miss Darcy is a very sweet girl, and I see that it will not be difficult to regard her as another sister for her own sake. I only hope Miss Darcy will not be overwhelmed by her introduction to my large, noisy family. Then all will be well."

"Hearing her chatter on today, I believe Georgiana will be able to hold her own with your younger sisters," Darcy said with a chuckle.

"I was thinking that she and Kitty might get on very well," Elizabeth said hesitantly. "After all, they are close in age and not too dissimilar in temperament--that is, if you would not object."

"Why would you think I might object?" Darcy asked, guiding her to the nearest window seat. "Please tell me you are not still worried about my opinion of your family, Elizabeth. After what went on here yesterday, I can hardly uphold my family as superior to yours in any way."

Seeing her blanche, Darcy clasped Elizabeth's hand tightly in his own. "I apologize for distressing you, my love. I did not mean to bring it up so abruptly. Bingley and Hurst told me of Lady Catherine's visit."

"Please forgive me, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth said with stricken eyes. "I fear I have placed a wedge between you and--"

"You must not apologize to me, dearest," Darcy stopped her. "It is I who must apologize to you. I deeply regret my absence. Dealing with my aunt should have been my unpleasant duty--and mine alone. Lady Catherine is completely devoid of tact, even under the best of circumstances, and I can well imagine her displeasure at our news."

Darcy gently raised her chin until Elizabeth's eyes met his own before continuing, "According to Bingley and Hurst you behaved with great dignity, and if you did offend Lady Catherine, it was only in defense of my honor. Thank you, my love. I have been on my own for so long that I would not have expected it of you, but I am most grateful."

"Then you are not disappointed in me?" she asked softly.

"Disappointed--hardly," Darcy said lifting her hand to his lips. "I am pleased and proud that so fine a lady has agreed to become my wife."

"I love you, Lizzy," he added in a whisper, "and as long as I have you and Georgiana, I need no other family."

"You will always have my heart," she murmured into his chest as Darcy drew her close.

They sat in silence for a moment, and then resumed their slow walk down the corridor. When they arrived at Elizabeth's door, Darcy kissed her hand again.

"I know it is impolite to rush a lady, but please dress quickly, dearest," he said. "I am already dreading your departure for Longbourn this evening."

"I shall be happy to oblige you, dear sir," Elizabeth responded with a radiant smile, "as I, too, dread our parting."


****



Mrs. Annesley and Georgiana were quietly occupied in Georgiana's sitting room the following morning when a servant delivered a message saying that the gentlemen hoped Mrs. Annesley might be free to join them in Mr. Bingley's study. Neither lady was surprised by the request. Placing his sister's comfort before his own had long been Darcy's custom, so he had discussed the matter with Georgiana as a matter of course, before requesting her companion make the journey to Ireland. Any anxieties Georgiana may have felt as to Mrs. Annesley's absence were as nothing compared to the comfort of knowing that she would be spared Caroline Bingley's company for the foreseeable future. Although Georgiana had politely endured the woman's flattery and fawning attentions, she had never been fooled into believing that Miss Bingley had any sincere regard for herself--nor for her brother although becoming his wife was assuredly Miss Bingley's aim.

As for Mrs. Annesley, once informed of the situation with Mr. Bingley's sister, she had fully expected that their journey to Ireland would begin as soon as possible. The good woman smiled at the prospect of seeing her sister again. Her own happiness in the plan had initially been somewhat diminished by concern for Miss Darcy. Having a sincere regard for the girl, Mrs. Annesley had been anxious regarding her charge's response to the changes that would be occasioned by her brother's marriage and her own simultaneous departure. However, meeting Miss Bennet and observing her consideration of Miss Darcy had allayed those anxieties and increased the older woman's already considerable respect for her employer. Mrs. Annesley was now eagerly anticipating their departure, having full confidence that Mr. Darcy's marriage would greatly increase his sister's happiness.

With Darcy and Hurst looking on, Bingley apprised Mrs. Annesley of their plans. "First of all, I would like to thank you for agreeing to assist us in this delicate matter. It is our proposal that you depart for Cardiff on Monday morning. As Miss Bingley is--not herself at present, we have chosen Cardiff over Liverpool or Bristol. There will be less chance of my sister encountering anyone of her acquaintance there should your crossing be delayed, which might be upsetting for her. You will travel in my coach under the protection of Mr. Hopkins, and he will remain with you in Cardiff until you actually set sail."

The very respectable Mr. Hopkins had been in the service of the Darcy family for many years, and Mrs. Annesley was vastly relieved to know that he would be accompanying her on the first leg of what would surely be a trying journey.

"That is excellent news," she replied. "Although I do not anticipate any complications, I shall be glad of Mr. Hopkins' assistance and his company. My relations will be available for any aid we require in Ireland and I am confident that I can easily arrange the rest of our journey when we reach Dublin. Please try not to worry, Mr. Bingley. I shall see your sister safely to Mrs. Wexler's."

The gentlemen all expressed their thanks and Bingley reviewed the financial arrangements he had made. Due to Caroline's "instability" he would be entrusting Mrs. Annesley with the funds for their journey as well as some personal correspondence for his aunt. Mrs. Annesley nodded her understanding.

"I believe you have thought of nearly everything, gentlemen," she said, "except for my introduction to Miss Bingley. We must have the opportunity for a proper conversation before setting out together."

Bingley frantically looked to his companions for assistance, as he feared that such a meeting would cause Mrs. Annesley to retract her agreement to the plan. It was not an unreasonable request, and having a better knowledge of the woman's character, Darcy had expected no less of her. He merely nodded his agreement to Bingley with a slight shrug of apology.

Hurst, however, shared Bingley's apprehension. Seeing his brother's desperate glance, Hurst took a deep breath and attempted to dissuade her.

"I fear that in her present state," he began, "Miss Bingley may not be the most agreeable traveling companion. Perhaps it would be best if your introduction were delayed--"

"Until we were on our way?" Mrs. Annesley finished with a raised eyebrow. "I hardly think that would be proper, gentlemen."

"Of course, you are correct," Hurst quickly retreated, perceiving that on this point of propriety she would not yield. "I apologize for suggesting it, madam. We are somewhat beyond our depth in this situation and are eager that no further unpleasantness mar this happy time for Mr. Darcy and his bride."

Satisfied that she had carried her point, Mrs. Annesley nodded her acceptance of his apology and then proceeded to reassure them. "I do understand that this is not a journey of your sister's design or instigation, gentlemen, and I assume that Mr. Darcy has vouched for my discretion, else you would not have sought my assistance."

"Yes, of course," Bingley replied, having recovered the power of speech.

"Then may I assure you that I am also not one to be turned aside from a duty I have undertaken merely because it proves to be unpleasant," Mrs. Annesley said firmly. "I realize your sister may not be amenable to idle pleasantries at this time. Indeed from what I have been told of her current state, it may be beyond Miss Bingley's power to exert herself to be nominally polite. However, my conduct is determined by my own sense of decorum and, therefore, I must insist upon being introduced to your sister properly before our departure."

Mrs. Annesley's firm grasp of the situation encouraged Bingley and Hurst. Darcy had obviously prepared her well for dealing with Caroline at her most unpleasant.

"Yes, of course, we must introduce you," Bingley agreed politely. "Forgive us for suggesting otherwise. As Miss Bingley's maid will make all her preparations, I plan to wait and inform my sister of her imminenet departure tomorrow afternoon. Perhaps, I might introduce you tomorrow evening after she has had the opportunity to--accept my decision."

With that settled, all was arranged. Bingley breathed a sigh of relief as he settled back at his desk after the others had withdrawn. Although he did not relish the prospect of informing Caroline of his decision, it would all be over soon and the morning's discussion with Mrs. Annesley had given Bingley confidence that she was well chosen for the task. He hoped rather than believed that Caroline would take advantage of this as an opportunity to improve her character. However, there was comfort in knowing that he would have done his best to aid her.


****


Darcy felt some trepidation as he and Georgiana approached Longbourn that afternoon. While he had every confidence that the Bennets would welcome his sister whole-heartedly, Darcy was far less certain of Georgiana's reaction to Elizabeth's relations. He was delighted by the sudden re-emergence of the happy, chatty little sister he had thought lost long ago, and Darcy could not help but worry that she would shrink back into shyness among the lively and numerous Bennets.

Darcy's worry only increased when Georgiana's timidity returned during the introductions. However, a glance from Elizabeth stopped him from intervening to shield her as was his wont, and Mrs. Bennet quickly bustled Georgiana over to join Kitty and Lydia who were occupied at the corner table--Kitty with her sketch book and Lydia trimming a new bonnet. Darcy was left to join Elizabeth by the fire, hoping his sister would be happy in the company of her companions. Despite his determination to watch over her, Darcy was soon deep in discussion with Mr. Bennet over his planned improvements for the stables at Pemberley.

Elizabeth silently blessed her father for distracting Darcy from his worries, even as she kept a watchful eye on the trio in the corner. To her great satisfaction, Kitty and Georgiana were soon deep in discussion of Kitty's sketches, and Elizabeth was delighted when her soon-to-be sister actually giggled at something Lydia had said. So engrossed was Darcy in his conversation with Mr. Bennet that he almost started when Kitty's voice reminded him that Georgiana was also present.

"May I take Miss Darcy out to see the puppies in the stable, Mama?" Kitty inquired.

"Why certainly, child," her mother answered, "if she wishes to see them. Not everyone shares your passion for animals, Kitty. Would you like to see the puppies, Miss Darcy? Please do not feel you must go out just to oblige Kitty."

"Oh, yes, please," Georgiana answered with a smile. "I adore animals. I miss ours so when we are in town."

Knowing of Elizabeth's hopes that Georgiana and Kitty would become fast friends, Jane slyly intervened when Lydia moved as if to follow them. "I believe you mentioned a cousin who is a colonel, Mr. Darcy. Pray may we expect the pleasure of meeting him this week?"

Being much more interested in officers than in puppies, Lydia settled back into her chair as she eagerly awaited Darcy's reply. Elizabeth smiled in satisfaction as the animated chatter of the other two girls faded down the passageway. Darcy discreetly squeezed her hand in gratitude even as he answered that his cousin would indeed be coming for the wedding.

By the end of the afternoon, the girls had obtained the necessary permissions for Georgiana to stay the night and a servant was dispatched to Netherfield to fetch her things. Darcy was delighted, not only by his sister's happiness, but also by the opportunity this plan afforded him to remain at Longbourn for dinner. He had been prepared to sacrifice time with Elizabeth for his sister's comfort while in Hertfordshire, but Darcy preferred spending every possible minute at Longbourn.


****


After seeing Georgiana happily settled in Kitty's room for the night, Elizabeth retired to her own chamber; however, sleep eluded her. Perhaps it was merely excitement over the wedding, or perhaps it was anxiety over the changes that would follow--leaving her family and her beloved Longbourn. After considerable tossing and turning, Elizabeth rose and stirred the fire back to life. She then relit her candle and curled up under the covers with a book. Her eyes did not grow heavy, but so engrossed was she, that Elizabeth jumped when her reading was interrupted by a soft knock at her door. Expecting it to be one of her parents urging her to rest, Elizabeth was surprised to find Georgiana standing outside her room. She motioned for the girl to come inside and then quietly closed the door behind her.

"Are you ill, Miss Darcy?" Elizabeth inquired.

"No," Georgiana said. "I am sorry. I did not mean to worry you. I am well--only--I could not sleep. It has been such a happy day, but now I feel a little anxious and sad."

"Pray what has distressed you?" Elizabeth asked. "Please come get under the quilts and tell me how I may help."

When they were both settled into Elizabeth's bed, Elizabeth looked at her young guest and gently asked, "Did one of my sisters do something to offend or worry you?"

"Oh, no," Georgiana replied, "your sisters have been most kind--especially Miss Kitty. I like her very much."

"I am glad to hear it," Elizabeth said with a smile. "I had especially hoped the two of you would become friends. Kitty is often lost within the middle of our large family. I think she has longed for a particular friend."

"As have I," Georgiana replied softly. "I waited until she was asleep because I wanted the chance to speak with you privately, Miss Bennet."

"As we are to be sisters in a seven night, I think you might call me Elizabeth--particularly in such a setting as this," Elizabeth said with a smile.

Georgiana smiled with pleasure. "I would like that very much, Elizabeth," she whispered shyly, "and I hope that you will address me as Georgiana. I have often longed for a sister, but I will confess that I was anxious when Fitzwilliam told me he was getting married. I was afraid that you would be--"

The girl broke off in embarrassment, but she had not offended Elizabeth.

"Like Miss Bingley," Elizabeth whispered mischievously.

"Yes," Georgiana replied with a giggle and a blush. "Someone like that--Fitzwilliam has always attracted the attention of women that I would not care to consider my acquaintances, much less my relations. Thank you for rescuing him, Elizabeth. He is quite changed by his affection for you."

"I realize our acquaintance is brief, but I do love him dearly," Elizabeth said forcing Georgiana to meet her eyes. "I was fully prepared to love you if only for his sake, Georgiana, but now that we have met, I consider myself blessed to be gaining such a sister. I do not mean to pry as to the cause of your distress this evening, but if I may assist you in any way, you only have to ask."

After much hesitation, Georgiana finally began, "I almost made a terrible mistake last summer, Miss--Elizabeth. Has my brother spoken of it to you?"

"No," Elizabeth assured her. "Fitzwilliam has said nothing directly, but I do know that he has been worried over your lack of spirits."

"Dear Fitzwilliam," Georgiana said with a sigh. "He is the very best of brothers. I was sad when our father died, but I never worried over what would become of me. Fitzwilliam has watched over me all my life, and I knew that he would continue to take care of me. If Fitzwilliam has told you nothing of my unhappy experience, it is only out of a desire to protect me, but I think you must know, Elizabeth. If we are to truly be sisters, then I must tell you of Mr. Wickham."

Georgiana lapsed into silence and Elizabeth squeezed her hand.

"You may speak to me of anything, Georgiana," she whispered, "but do not feel that you must confide in me. I would not wish to pry."

"I never thought that you would," Georgiana replied, "but I think it is important that you know--and I hope you will be able to understand."

Georgiana drew a deep breath and began her tale, "Mr. Wickham is the son of our father's late steward--"

Once she had begun, Georgiana did not stop until she had told Elizabeth everything about George Wickham and his attempt to lure her into an elopement. She spoke of his charm, her confusion and the constant pressure from her companion Mrs. Young to accept him.

"There were so many evidences of their prior acquaintace; yet I did not see it. Mrs. Young kept telling me what a fine gentleman he was and how lucky I was-- I shudder to think what might have happened, had Fitzwilliam not come to visit," Georgiana concluded. "I had never seen him so distraught, not even when our father died, and he has been so unlike himself ever since--until he met you-- I hope that you can still love me a little, Elizabeth, now that you know what trouble I have caused my brother."

Elizabeth had been careful to maintain a calm demeanor throughout Georgiana's account, lest the uncertain girl misinterpret her shock and outrage as displeasure with herself. Seeing that Georgiana had now talked herself out, Elizabeth hastened to reassure her.

"Dearest Georgiana, you must not blame yourself," Elizabeth gently chided. "You were taken advantage of by a life long acquaintance--a man whom you believed to be a sincere friend of your family--not to mention Mrs. Young who had deceived your brother into believing she was trustworthy. The shame is theirs and I know that your brother would agree with me."

"Do you really think so?" Georgiana whispered.

"I am confident of it," Elizabeth reassured her. "Fitzwilliam always speaks of you with great pride and affection. Remember your excitement over your rooms at Netherfield. Those rooms are a reflection of how your brother sees you. Everything was chosen based on his recollections and remarks. He is not disappointed in you, my dear, but knowing how seriously your brother takes his responsibilities, I would imagine that he has been torturing himself over how he failed to protect you--"

"While I have been wretched over disappointing him," Georgiana concluded, feeling the truth of Elizabeth's assertion. How like Fitzwilliam to blame himself entirely-- It explained so much.

"Exactly," Elizabeth continued. "I will not say, 'Think on this no more,' as that is a wholly unreasonable expectation, but I hope that you will come to me--or your brother--if you find yourself worrying over Mr. Wickham--or anything else."

"I will," Georgiana said softly. "Thank you, Elizabeth. I have wanted to speak of this, but there has been no one in whom I could confide. Fitzwilliam becomes so upset at the thought of Mr. Wickham, and my aunt tries to pretend it did not happen."

"Thank you for trusting me," Elizabeth said, "and should your anxiety over this return, I shall be delighted to remind you that you were not at fault, dear girl. You were naive, which is exactly what well brought up young ladies are supposed to be. That is why they must be so carefully chaperoned. I am very sorry that you had to learn such a lesson at such a young age, but I am grateful that you are here with me now--safe and whole.

"And I assure you," Elizabeth continued with a grin, "that you will not be taking any more journeys to Ramsgate without your brother and me as traveling companions--at least not until you are well married, young lady."

The teasing tone in which this was uttered had the desired effect. Georgiana giggled.

"I think I shall like having a sister very much," she said with a smile, "and I do want you to look out for me, Elizabeth. I have been worried ever since--about making an even bigger mistake. Fitzwilliam has told me that I could not have a better guide than you as I move into a broader society. He trusts you implicitly. I do not mean to be a bother--"

"You are not and will not be a bother," Elizabeth stopped her. "I am honored that you would wish for my advice and I shall try to not be too free with it. In truth, it will be a refreshing change to have a younger sister who actually desires my counsel."

Georgiana giggled as Elizabeth blew out the candle. Her earlier unrest forgotten, Elizabeth drifted off shortly after she had determined that Georgiana was sleeping peacefully beside her.


****


Bingley was not by nature inclined to procrastinate. However, he had determined that he would delay informing Caroline of her trip to Ireland as long as possible, and had, therefore, decided to speak with her on Sunday. Bingley's sole motivation in waiting was to lessen the time everyone else would have to endure her displeasure. It also seemed ideal timing as the Darcys were engaged to spend the entire afternoon at Longbourn. Although Caroline was sequestered in the family wing, Bingley and the Hursts assumed that her reaction to the news might well be heard throughout the house, but they dared to hope that Caroline's wrath would subside to an ignorable volume by the time Darcy and Georgiana returned. Prior experience with a displeased Caroline also caused her relations to justifiably fear that she might become somewhat violent. It was, therefore, decided that Bingley and Hurst would inform Caroline of her travel plans while Louisa entertained Mrs. Annesley in the farthest reaches of the house.

"Ireland," Caroline shrieked, turning over the nearest chair. "No, indeed! You are insane if you think I am traveling to Ireland now. The season will soon begin and I must be there. Just send me back to London. I will happily agree to that as I cannot wait to quit this dreadful place."

"I am afraid that alternative is not open to you, Caroline," Bingley replied, "unless you are ready to severe all ties--and I do mean all ties--with your family. You will either spend a year with our Aunt Wexler or we will no longer consider you a part of our family. Please consider this carefully for should you choose that path, there will be no turning back."

"A year," Caroline wailed. "I cannot believe you would be so cruel. I did nothing but write a letter, and it caused no harm. How can you choose someone like Eliza Bennet over your own sister? She is nobody!"

"On the contrary," Hurst objected in obvious irritation, "Miss Elizabeth is a lady, a neighbor and soon to be the wife of Bingley's dearest friend."

"Your behavior was abominable, Caroline," Bingley scolded, "and I will not have you ruin my friendship with Darcy or this family's reputation. I believe being with our Aunt Wexler will do you good, and you need time to recover from your obsession with Darcy, which is why I have stipulated a year. Should you return to England before a year has passed or engage in any correspondence designed to create difficulties for any of the Darcys, then you will be cast out of the family and forfeit any further financial support from either of us."

"But surely Louisa has not agreed to this," Caroline insisted. "Where is she? I want to see my sister."

"I assure you, Miss Bingley, that my wife and I are in full agreement with Bingley," Hurst said firmly. "Louisa is not present because she has felt the brunt of your temper far too often and preferred not to be a party to this particular discussion. She will of course see you before you leave and looks forward to corresponding with you while you are away."

Caroline gaped at the men in disbelief. She had initially believed this to be some sort of cruel charade to further punish her, but they appeared to be quite serious.

"Do you really expect me to simply leave and go to Ireland without a protest?" she asked.

"I do," Bingley replied, "if you expect any further financial support or recognition of our relationship from me."

"But--but that means I have no choice," Caroline said flatly, her rage having given way to shock.

"We have made every arrangement possible for your comfort," Bingley hastened to assure her. "Miss Darcy's companion, a very respectable widow named Mrs. Annesley, will accompany you all the way to our aunt's, and I have secured your maid's agreement to continue in your service. You will all leave for Cardiff in the morning under the protection of Darcy's man Hopkins and sail from there as soon as weather permits."

Caroline sat in stunned silence, unable to grasp the reality that her brother would not yield. Bingley had chided her for indecorous behavior in the past, even going so far as to withhold her allowance on rare occasions, but Caroline had always been able to wear him down. That would not be possible from Ireland. Bingley and Hurst exchanged a glance confirming their shared opinion that it would be best to leave her while Caroline was relatively calm.

"We will leave you to your preparations then," Hurst said as the two men edged toward the door.

"Yes," Bingley agreed. "Monique will be up directly to begin packing your things, and I shall return with Mrs. Annesley this evening so that you might be properly introduced."

After locking the door behind them, Bingley turned to Hurst and said, "Well, that went rather well."

"I am afraid it went too well," Hurst replied. "I find it difficult to believe that Caroline will accept your terms so easily. It is wholly unlike her."

Both men jumped at the sudden sound of breaking china followed by a scream of, "Ireland!"

"Ah," Hurst said feeling strangely relieved, "that was more the reaction I was expecting."

The afternoon was punctuated with such noises emanating from the family wing. Understanding that her mistress would eventually wear herself out, Monique decided that she would wait until the evening to pack the personal articles Miss Bingley kept in her room, and start with her clothing. Monique had considered quitting her post when Miss Bingley's disgrace began; however, good positions were not so easy to come by, and Mr. Bingley had offered the maid additional compensation if she would stay the year in Ireland with his sister. Having no close relations whom she would be leaving behind, the girl had decided that she could last another year with Miss Bingley.

"Surviving a year in Ireland with Miss Bingley will be the easy part," Monique thought as she walked up the stairs after dinner to being packing the trunks. "It is getting her there that will be difficult."

There was a loud crash from within just as Monique reached for the knob to the service door to her mistress's quarters. The girl shrugged and retreated toward the back stairs. There was plenty of time yet and she could use a cup of tea while she waited for her mistress to settle down.


Copyright 2008 Pamela St Vines
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