Sorry for the delay in uploading, life has been quite hectic.
After this chapter, there will only be one more chapter and then an epilogue, just so you know.
As always, all reviews are welcome. :)
"Jane - Miss Bennet - wants to speak to you." Georgiana looked up just as quickly as Lizzy did beside her. They had been sitting with her brother; Lizzy had tried talking to him - had told him that he had to get better. It had had no effect of course, but they had still tried, Georgiana was sure that they would keep continuing to until he recovered. For he would recover - he had to. "Both of you." Mr Bingley clarified. It was almost the first time Georgie had heard him speak since he had come back with Richard and her brother.
Georgiana had hardly any time to think about that though, because Lizzy had set off immediately - Georgie had to walk fast to keep up.
Jane had disappeared with Bingley, shortly after they had been reunited, and found their way to one of the sitting rooms - Georgie had suggested it, and promised to send a chaperone to meet them there. The two had needed to talk to each other, that much was evident, and she had immediately felt that she and Elizabeth were very much in the way. There had been nothing for them to do but let them go and return to her brother's side.
The doctor had arrived, as he had promised, but he had had little news to impart. That her brother's condition had not deteriorated was a relief to him, but beyond that he could give no good news. They simply had to wait and see if he would wake.
"Come in, make yourselves comfortable." Jane's voice was as mild and kind as it ever was, but still Georgiana felt as though the other woman was, ever so slightly out of sorts. But it was only after they had sat that she spoke. "Oh! I hardly know what to tell you - how to tell you..."
"Well - start at the beginning, and we can make our way from there." Lizzy's teasing did not sound quite so easy as it normally did.
Jane hesitated for a moment, but quickly gathered her courage. "Mr Wickham is dead." Jane paused after the pronouncement. Georgiana felt certain she should feel something at that, but she couldn't make herself, ever since arriving here, her uneasiness with her memories of this place - her memories of him - had been so tempered with her worry and fear for her brother that she had hardly had time to attend to them. She hadn't even thought to ask Richard what had happened to him. "Mr Bingley shot him - and he subsequently died."
"Mr Bingley?!" The words came from Lizzy - Georgiana still couldn't quite get her mind around the previous fact. George Wickham was dead. Georgiana no longer cared for him - she had quite got over that. But the thought still rocked her to the core. He had been supposed to be sent away - to have gone somewhere where he couldn't hurt anyone anymore - to Australia or the Americas or something... He wasn't supposed to be dead.
"He had Mr Darcy at gunpoint - so Charles really had no choice - Mr Wickham was threatening to kill Mr Darcy. Their negotiations all went wrong - Mr Darcy was refusing to give in - and Mr Bingley said he was right on that point - that Wickham was not a man who could be easily dealt with - but..."
The three lapsed into silence, none of them feeling equal to talk.
"But... You do not blame Mr Bingley, do you Lizzy? Only he feels that he should be blamed, and I thought that might be punishment enough..."
"Blame him?" Lizzy sounded as shocked as Georgie could admit she was feeling - although her thoughts were reeling madly from place to place. "He saved Mr Darcy's life - how could I blame him?"
The next few days passed with alarming rapidity, the first evening the three Bennets had all returned to their rented rooms - but the nights following, Georgie had somehow persuaded them to stay in the same house instead. With each day that passed Lizzy felt the increasing pressure to return home - she dreaded her mother's reaction if they were to miss much of the Christmas festivities - but so too she felt unable to tear herself from Mr Darcy's side - hoping that each moment he might wake, and fearing that each instead would be his last.
But Mr Bennet stood firm to his resolve - no doubt fearing Mrs Bennets reaction were he to not - and a clear six days after their arrival in Ramsgate the three Bennets set off back to Longbourn. Lizzy had extracted a promise from Georgiana that she would write the moment something happened to her brother - that Lizzy would be alerted at the first possible moment. But still it was with a heavy heart that she left Mr Darcy's side.
Jane, for her part, was little happier about her separation from Mr Bingley - although she bore it with more composure. Charles was better now than he was when she had arrived - he was happier, and was taking more. When she had first talked to him he had barely even attended to Mr Darcy because he had been so ashamed - so sure that Mr Darcy would consider it an imposition because of what he had done. Jane would have been more concerned by it had he been any less though - so perhaps she shouldn't judge him for his regret. But she had done her best to remind Mr Bingley that he had tried to save Mr Wickham's life - and that he almost certainly had saved Mr Darcy's.
And more, every time she saw Mr Darcy lying in that bed with both Georgiana and Lizzy watching him so anxiously, she couldn't help but be so thankful that Mr Bingley was well that she could hardly blame him for anything.
Mrs Bennet, of course, was far less pleased with their return than they might have expected. They had no sooner made it through the door when she determined that not only had then returned home far later than she had expected them - causing her undue stress, she was sure - but also that both of her elder daughters had returned without being engaged. For what, she had questioned, had been them going so far at all, if they could not even manage that?
For once in his life, it seemed, Mr Bennet actually stepped in, and drew his wife into conversation allowing both of his elder daughters to escape to their rooms. And then they were flung full force into the social whirl that Mrs Bennet had organised for Christmas - the Gardiners were to be shown the best of Longbourn's society it seemed, regardless of their feelings on it. Jane and Lizzy both bore it as well as they could, although it was obvious enough to any who cared to look that their hearts were not in it.
Relief came at last on Christmas Eve, when to the great surprise of almost every member of Longbourn, Mr Bingley appeared, bedraggled and coated in dirt, having galloped up the drive and practically run to their front door. Hill, when the door was opened, had almost considered asking the gentleman to remove his boots so as to not track dirt through the house, but instead she quickly showed him through to morning room where the Bennets and Gardiners had largely been congregated. If she had any worries about the state of the room she was about to enter, or of the chaise should Mr Bingley sit on it, she showed no signs.
"I apologise for arriving in such an untoward manner." Mr Bingley said the words hastily, but they were little marked by most of the occupants. Lizzy and Jane were both so surprised that they could hardly keep their own countenances let alone act as politely as they ought. "I promised Miss Darcy that I would deliver this letter as soon as I possibly could, and I thought I could best honour that... Well..."
Still he lingered in the doorway, but no one would think to invite him to sit. The letter he held in his hand was barely attended - except by the eldest of the Gardiner children, who gently pried it from the elder man's grasp and took it to Elizabeth, to whom it was addressed.
"And Mr Darcy..." Mrs Bennet spoke then, with much the same intonation as she might have brought up Netherfield park before it was let. "Was he...?"
"Recovered." The reply was prompt - it had that at least to its favour. "He is quite well - or soon shall be the doctor says. He was certainly back in his normal humour - although I expect he shall be expected to rest a great deal - to recover."
Lizzy had barely remained standing during the speech, one hand holding her against her chair, and the other squeezing Jane's for comfort; her relief had her turning pale in shock. Mr Bingley and Jane both looked to her with worry and compassion, but Mrs Bennet must not have realised for she carried on.
"Well then, shall you come in? It seems like it has been a very long time since you were last here. Perhaps you shall come for dinner?"
Mr Bingley, with all the tact he could muster did his best to simultaneously accept every offer and extract himself from Longbourn. He was to away to Netherfield, to make himself presentable and inform his servants of his arrival. His sisters, he assured them, were expected later in the day.
The joy that pervaded Loungbourn from that moment seemed infectious. Lizzy laughed merrily at this and that, and Jane smiled her sweet smile that was impossible to not return. It seemed to Mrs Gardiner that she had hardly realised the shadow upon the house until it had gone. She had had a strange Christmas - the Bennets were all the same, and yet so different. Lydia and Kitty seemed to think more - Lydia listened as well as speaking, while Kitty made an effort with her young cousins. Mary practiced the piano more than ever, but her music was improved and pleasant. Although she still read, her aunt had spied her read a novel among her normal religious tomes.
Mr Bingley called daily, and he and Jane would often walk out, chaperoned by Elizabeth most often. Miss Bingley and her sister, frequently remained at Netherfield - were Mr Bingley to be believed, his younger sister had grown quite ill from travelling in such a winter month.
It was on one of these such days that Mrs Gardiner and her children walked out with them - for the children had been getting restless cooped up indoors, and had jumped on the opportunity of a long ramble so fast, that the eldest Bennets had been unable to refuse them. It was simply odd, that when Mrs Gardiner had gathered her things, she had returned to find that Lizzy had been having a quiet conversation with Mr Bingley. Her niece smiled at her as she appeared though and immediately drew her into conversation, so Mrs Gardiner didn't think too much of it.
It was only later that she began to be suspicious, when, every time her children began to slow down or ran off course, Elizabeth slowed with them or pointed out another point of interest where they were. And Jane and Mr Bingley who had been conversing together anyway slowly drifted further and further away, until at one point Mrs Gardiner realised she couldn't see the pair at all and she wasn't entirely sure how long ago that had occurred. In short, the entire event had been done highly indecorously.
Then again, she didn't suppose that Mr Bingley could have had a moment alone with Jane as things were at Longbourn, even had he requested it.
Her planned rebukes might have been stronger had they not shortly come across her niece and Mr Bingley who had stopped on the path, seemingly with the intention of meeting them. Jane's evident happiness was matched only by Mr Bingley's and Mrs Gardiner honestly couldn't have been happier for either.
It was to the surprise of no one that the engagement was met by approval by all relevant parts. Jane still worried about her fiancé - he was more solemn now. He was still perfectly amiable in every way and wonderful to all those he was not close with. But when it was only the two of them, she could see that Wickham's death still affected him - and always would. But there was no way she could take that burden away from him, so she contented herself that she would always be there - and always be willing to listen.