These Three Remain
To my husband,
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love.
But the greatest of these is love.
Her Infinite Variety
“Heigh-up, there!” James the coachman’s voice rang out in its familiar timbre, urging the team pulling Darcy’s traveling coach to put to in their harnesses and take them through the tollgate out of London and on to the road to Kent. Darcy relaxed into the green velvet squabs as the coach was pulled smoothly forward under James’s expert whip. He flicked a glance at his cousin, who sat opposite him with his nose buried in the Post. The Peninsular War was heating up once more, with General Wellesley, now Earl of Wellington, again laying siege to Badajoz. This third siege of that crucial ciudad had commenced only a week before, and reports of the action were just arriving in London to fill the papers and the populace with new hopes and fears.
“Did you see this, Fitz?” Richard turned the paper over and vigorously poked a finger at one of the reports.
“Yes, one of the many articles I read while waiting for you to present yourself this morning.” Darcy’s lips twisted in sarcasm. Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam had arrived at Erewile House, Darcy’s London home, the night before in order for them to get an early start on their yearly spring visit to their aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. But as chance would have it, his friend Dyfed Brougham had “dropped by,” and the evening had stretched into the wee hours of the morning. Richard had been correspondingly late in arising, setting their journey back a considerable number of hours.
“Lie low, men. A jaw-me-dead is on the horizon…” Richard drew his hand across his brow as if to shield himself from the expected verbal ice shower.
“And you would deserve it,” Darcy shot back with a snort.
“But I would then make plea to your kind and beneficent nature —” Richard continued. Darcy snorted again but couldn’t suppress a smile. “— and place the blame entirely upon your friend.”
Darcy laughed outright at that. “My friend? Dy hardly spoke to me once he saw you in the room.”
“He was attentive; was he not?”
“An amiable gentleman, indeed, and well informed! I had always rated him a care-for-naught and a prime rattle. Never could understand your partiality for him, Fitz. Not your sort.”
“He was not like that at university. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“So you say.” Fitzwilliam shrugged his shoulders and settled back into the comfort of the coach’s cushions. “And I can almost believe you after last night. Could not understand before why you gave him leave to call on Georgiana while we are on pilgrimage to Rosings; but it was a shrewd decision, I will grant you now.”
Darcy nodded. “Yes, Brougham’s approval will count for much when Georgiana makes her curtsy next year.”
“Oh, that too, I’ll be bound,” Richard agreed. Darcy looked questioningly at his cousin, who in response, laid the newspaper down upon his lap. “You have not noticed how easy Georgiana is with Brougham? He makes her smile in a trice, and they can talk for hours, or would if propriety did not dictate otherwise. Aside from ourselves, I have never known Georgiana to be comfortable in male company, especially since —” Richard suddenly clamped his lips together. A moment of awkward silence passed. “But your friend has managed it, managed it quite well…” His voice trailed off at the frown that had begun to crease Darcy’s brow. “Truly, you had not noticed?”
“Nothing untoward, Richard! Nothing that would be considered a particular notice of Georgiana on Brougham’s part.” Darcy bristled, assuring his cousin and himself in the same breath of the utter nonsense of the implications underlying Fitzwilliam’s observations. “Nor, on Georgiana’s part, an affection beyond that for a friend of the family.”
“Of course ‘nothing untoward,’ Fitz! Good Lord!” Fitzwilliam made a strategic withdrawal back behind the Post. Darcy sighed lightly and closed his eyes. The last two months had not been the most agreeable of his life, and his preoccupations could easily have blinded him to what Fitzwilliam was intimating. But surely he was making much out of mere commonplaces! Dy had been kind to Georgiana, yes! More than kind, actually, with his silence on that matter of Georgiana’s undue interest in Wilberforce’s theological fusillade, which he had surprised her perusing the day of their reacquaintance and which she had, most unfortunately, dropped upon his foot. It was simply a matter of Dy’s debt of friendship to himself and the fact of his irrepressible address and nice manners. If his sister had remained immune to Dy’s engaging person, Darcy would have more cause for concern.
No, his concern had been with his own peace after returning from his ill-fated trip to Oxfordshire in search of “The Woman” who would serve as a proper wife. The events at Norwycke Castle had so disgusted and appalled him that upon his return to London he had forsworn any further ventures into the marriage mart in the foreseeable future. Instead, he had plunged himself into family and business concerns, as well as the more agreeable social obligations of an unattached male of his station. The first of those family concerns had been the highly disagreeable task of apprising his cousin D’Arcy of the behavior of his fiancée, Lady Felicia Lowden, at Norwycke. D’Arcy’s face had gone black with rage, but to his credit and Darcy’s relief, he had not demanded recompense from his messenger. Rather, he placed the blame where it lay and immediately consulted with his father, Lord Matlock, on how the engagement might be broken. Two weeks later a notice appeared in the Post in which Lady Felicia “regretfully” exercised her prerogative. The gossip was, of course, intolerable, but far better gossip now than the inevitable scandal later. The Darcy and Fitzwilliam families breathed a collective sigh of relief, while the de Bourgh branch contented itself with a long letter expressing satisfaction with the validation of previously unspoken doubts on the suitability of a connection in that quarter held from the beginning.
Georgiana, the dear girl, had refrained from pressing him for the details of his time at Lord Sayre’s. She had made it her purpose to ensure his comfort at home and, with Brougham’s connivance, to reinsert him into his usual social rounds. Within a fortnight of his return, Darcy was squiring her to concerts, recitals, and art exhibitions, while Dy dragged him to Jackson’s Parlour, his fencing master’s establishment, several assemblies, and a few nights before, a highly illegal prizefight. Between Dy’s satirical humor and his unerring nose for the intriguing, and Georgiana’s quietly expressed love, Darcy began to feel more himself. Occasional, dark prickings of his conscience did trouble him. The revelation of the true depths of his hatred for George Wickham, who had so nearly ruined his sister and poisoned Elizabeth against him was nearly as shocking to his understanding as was how close he had come to surrendering to Lady Sylvanie Sayre’s passionately offered temptations. But as Richard had predicted, much of it seemed now only a bad dream, and he was finding it easier to excuse or ignore those uncomfortable memories.
Alas, that did not mean all was well. On the contrary, one of the problems he had hoped to have done with reared its head again almost upon his return to London; for he had not been in Town two days before his friend Charles Bingley ran him to ground. Bingley’s joy at his return was so sincere, and his simple, unaffected nature such a wonderful contrast to those with whom Darcy had dealt the previous week, that an invitation to spend an evening dining en famille was accepted with alacrity. But Darcy and Georgiana had barely been relieved of their wraps and coats before Charles’s sister Miss Caroline Bingley had swooped upon him to whisper in agonized tones that she could decently avoid a visit from Miss Jane Bennet no longer; and having committed to a visit on Saturday, she urgently requested any advice he might have for her in this distasteful matter.
Glancing a moment into her disingenuous eyes, he had replied that he could not imagine her requiring any direction of his and assured her of his confidence in her ability to depress the pretensions of so unsophisticated a young woman as Miss Bennet. Her love for Bingley he might doubt, but of Miss Bennet’s understanding he was certain. Treated to an appearance of the imperious Caroline, she would know the acquaintance severed. But the damage had been done. He had spent the rest of the evening in frank discomfort, trying vainly to exorcise the bright and pleasing shade of Elizabeth Bennet that Miss Bingley’s plea had conjured from his mind’s eye and from among the company in which he had so often observed her.
And now Darcy and Fitzwilliam were on their way to Aunt Catherine’s. The ritual visit had begun when Darcy was a child in the company of his parents and Richard, whose fractious nature mysteriously underwent an incomplete but notable transformation when he was in Mr. Darcy’s company. Then it had been his father and Richard. Now, of course, he and his cousin had stepped into his father’s role as adviser to Lady Catherine. It required both of them; and even then, Darcy was not confident that their suggestions were taken as seriously as his father’s had been. No, his aunt’s welcome had little to do with the maintenance or profitability of Rosings and more, much more, to do with her expectations of him in regard to her daughter, Anne. He very sincerely pitied his cousin Anne and wished her well in health and situation, but he did not so pity her that he was in any way willing to provide her a means of escape through an offer of marriage. Aunt Catherine might smile and hint until Doomsday, but —