This is the final chapter in the story. Thanks so much for all of your kind reviews - I know I didn't get to thanking you for each of them last round, but I adore every one of you for taking the time to respond.
Enjoy the last chapter - I hope it doesn't leave anything wanting!
It is Friday. The morning is bright and cold and I rise to put on my new blue silk gown. My expectations for another letter from Fitzwilliam are high; it has been nearly two weeks since his last arrived.
There will be no letter today, however, for the gentleman himself is standing there as I walk into the breakfast room. And with such a smile! He holds out his hands; I take them.
"Fitzwilliam?" I smile. He kisses my forehead, but does not speak for a moment. To encourage his affection, I rest my head on his shoulder.
I feel his firm stance soften; he holds me close. "I am so happy," he whispers. "Dear sister, I have not been this happy."
This admission brings tears to my eyes. He rubs my back and I pull away to look at him. His eyes are wet, but he is not embarrassed. "Everything is settled?" I ask, smiling as I squeeze his hands.
"Yes," he replies. "We are to be married alongside Bingley and Miss Bennet at the end of November. If you like it, you will come to Netherfield in a few weeks' time-"
"Fitzwilliam, I do not care about your plans for me," I reply. "I will do and be whatever or where ever you wish; you have only need to say. But I do want to hear all about it." I pull him toward the table and sit him down at his place. Then I fire off questions – What did you say? How did you ask? Where were you? How did you come so quickly to an understanding?
He laughs – something which my brother has not done in quite some time. "Dear girl, these are questions best asked of Miss Bennet herself. Why do you not write her?"
"Would she wish it of me?" I ask, a little astonished.
"Silly question," he replies. "When I left her she asked me to bring you this." He pulls a piece of paper from his breast pocket and hands it to me. I read what she has written in flowing hand:
My dear Miss Darcy,
Today I send your brother home to you quite unwillingly. Though I know he goes to a lady he very much adores I cannot help but be a little jealous and hope for his safe and speedy return. Mr. Darcy assures me that you will come to Netherfield to stay for a fortnight before the wedding. I hope you will allow me to introduce you to my sisters Mary and Kitty, who are about your age, and I should like to spend much time with you myself.
Miss Darcy, I hope with all my heart that you approve of your brother's choice and that I shall meet every expectation you have in a sister. Please write to me, if you like, and I look forward to seeing you very soon at Longbourn.
Very truly yours,
About a month later, after I have written to Miss Bennet and she back to me, and my brother and I have called upon her and her aunt and uncle in Gracechurch street while she was in London, and she repaid the visit, we are on our way to Longbourn. We traveled this morning first to Netherfield and stayed there only long enough to change horses and clothes. As we pull into the drive, I see Miss Bennet's home, and note the way that Fitzwilliam smiles and relaxes, as though what lies inside the stone walls is the key to all his happiness.
Longbourn House, I judge, is little more than half the size of Netherfield Park; however there is a kind-looking older gentleman standing out front, ready to greet us, who I assume is Mr. Bennet.
My brother hands me down and introduces me to Elizabeth's father. "I am very pleased to meet you, Miss Darcy," he says to me. "Your brother speaks very highly, and very often, of you."
Amazingly I find something to say, when ordinarily I would be embarrassed into silence. "Your daughter speaks the same way of you, sir."
Mr. Bennet smirks and tosses a glance in the direction of the house. "You are very welcome, Miss Darcy." I nod quietly and smile as he turns to my brother to welcome him. We then go into the house, as it is rather cold outside. There, Miss Elizabeth Bennet greets me warmly and I am able to sit between my brother and his fiancée in the Bennet's drawing room.
"I hope your journey into Hertfordshire went well," she begins.
"It did," I confirm, without much else to say. "Thank you."
"When did you arrive at Netherfield?"
A little embarrassed by my eagerness to see Miss Bennet again, I hesitate to answer. Fitzwilliam encourages my response with a kind look. "Little more than an hour ago," I say, my cheeks a flush.
Miss Bennet smiles. "I hope your brother did not rush you, for I should have to punish him if he did. Really, Mr. Darcy, you ought to know by now never to rush a young lady."
I am a little struck dumb by her playful teasing, even though it is good-natured. As I look to my brother, however, I see no offense, just a look on his face that I have not seen before. I do not know what it is, but I am certain he is not displeased. Still I feel I must defend him.
"It was rather the reverse, Miss Bennet. Please do not scold him. It is I who did the rushing."
"It is true, Miss Bennet," replies my brother, who embarrasses me by continuing, "I rather suspect she had some encouragement from a visitor to her chamber at Netherfield."
Elizabeth smiles gleefully. "And how is Miss Bingley today?"
I cannot help but return her smile. "I thought she said she had a headache," I reply.
"I dare say she does," says Elizabeth quickly. "Mrs. Bennet is visiting Netherfield with Jane and Kitty."
I want to laugh but am not entirely certain whether it should be appropriate in the presence of Mrs. Bennet's husband. I sneak a glance at him. He is smirking, and from this, there is only one thing that I can conclude.
The Bennets are going to take some getting used to.
The next four weeks are a whirlwind. I cry at my brother's wedding and vastly enjoy my time with Kitty Bennet. The time spent with her is like none I have ever spent. I have never had the benefit of a friend my own age. When my brother and new sister arrive at Longbourn to collect me on their way to Pemberley from London, they are both glowing, refuse to stay long, and promise to invite Kitty to Pemberley in a few months. We promise to write faithfully when we part and Mr. Bennet kisses my hand affectionately.
When we reach Derbyshire, my brother announces that the Beresfords will be coming to visit us the next week, to meet the new Mrs. Darcy. It is quiet at Pemberley until that day, and then a mass of activity takes place to welcome the Beresfords.
Mr. and Mrs. Beresford have brought their sons Henry, George, and David. David is lately engaged to Miss Emily Appletoft, who has joined us as well.
I am more than pleased to see Mr. Henry Beresford again, and during the evening on which they arrive, he does not leave my side. There is not much to know about me, but Mr. Beresford talks about his family, which by my measure, is rather large – beyond those he has brought with him, he has a grandfather still living, and aunts, uncles, and cousins too numerous to recall. Since David, his second youngest brother, is to be married in a months' time, he muses that soon enough he will be able to add sister to the list.
"Elizabeth, of course, is my only sister," I say, "though she herself has four of them."
"Mrs. Darcy, you mean?" he asks, looking in her direction. "She is a lovely woman, and it is clear your brother is happy. You must be pleased with his choice."
"Very much," I say. "Though I am the only one of my family who has always been so."
Mr. Beresford laughs – a delightful sound, low and gentle and melodic. I smile and look down and know I am blushing like an idiot. "It is unfortunate that we cannot always choose our relatives," he says.
"Yes," I agree. "But Fitzwilliam has done very well, I think, in choosing my sister. I only hope I can do so well for him."
Mr. Beresford smiles at me but says nothing. Later in the evening he encourages conversation from me with his two brothers, who are very cheerful young men, and Miss Appletoft. I like her, as well, and find her relatively easy to converse with. Elizabeth smiles at me several times – an affectionate, proud smile that she has, no doubt, adopted from my brother. I see Fitzwilliam glance my way on a few occasions as well during the course of the evening, and also has his protective eye trained on his friend Mr. Beresford, who occasionally glances his way with an amused expression on his face.
I finally retire to my rooms to prepare for bed, but am too excited to sleep. I knock on Elizabeth's chamber door. She is not in bed yet, and invites me in.
"Did you enjoy yourself this evening, Georgiana?" she asks me while brushing her hair.
I giggle a little. "I think it is obvious that I did."
"Yes," she laughs. "And I think Mr. Henry Beresford did, as well. Tell me, did you like his brothers?"
"Oh, they were very kind," I say. "I had a very nice conversation with Miss Appletoft, as well." But I am not thinking about Miss Appletoft, or about her fiancé. My head is full of Mr. Henry Beresford. I sigh, flopping down on Elizabeth's chaise. "I will not be able to sleep tonight."
"The Beresfords will be here all week," she replied. "You will see Mr. Beresford tomorrow. Do not be too anxious."
"I could have talked with him all night long," I reply, not really listening to Elizabeth.
"I think the feeling is mutual, Georgiana." Elizabeth looks at me, her expression serious. "But do take care, my dear sister. I know what you are thinking – when I was your age I had the same thought about a young man or two."
"You must not say that, Elizabeth," I tell her, feeling chirpy. "You have only ever had eyes for my brother; admit it."
"I will not!" she declares with a laugh. "I hate to break your heart, but my feelings for your brother when I first met him were much different than they are now."
"Oh, do be serious, Lizzy," I say, admonishing her a little. "I know you have not always got on as well as you ought to have, but you must have liked him from the very beginning."
Elizabeth laughs again, to my astonishment. "Absolutely not! And why should we have got on from the start? There is no reason to always be agreeing with your brother, you know. What would vex him, then?"
Elizabeth's chin is turned up and she is grinning, and I suspect she has had more wine than she ought to have had. I smile back at her. "Do you mean to tell me you did not like him?"
"No, no, no," she says, waving her hand. "I disliked him. A lot. I even promised my father that I would never dance with him."
"But why ever?" I ask, folding my legs up into my chest and wrapping my arms around them. "I have never known a young lady to not be enamored of Fitzwilliam from the moment she laid eyes on him."
She smiles wider. "Well, he is very handsome, Georgiana."
"And very rich, as Miss Bingley would point out."
"Yes," she giggles. "But no, I did not like him. He slighted me, you know," my sister states, raising her eyebrow and shaking her hairbrush at me. "I am quite surprised you did not have this story from my mother when you stayed at Longbourn after our wedding." And she then begins to detail my brother's first foray into Hertfordshire society.
"But he is not like that," I tell her, as if she needs to know it. "It is only he is uncomfortable around strangers. And," I admit, almost holding my breath, "at that time he did tend to be a little proud."
"A little, Georgiana?" laughs Elizabeth, getting up to finish brushing her hair. I blush and bite my lip. I am so happy that he met her, and though I would wish to at this moment, I cannot even begin to express myself, so I remain silent. She sighs as she sits down at her dressing table, and continues her tale. "And then, you know, Mr. Wickham came into the neighborhood and filled my head with lies that I found all too easy to believe, for more reasons than one."
I become somber for a moment. "Lies roll easily off Mr. Wickham's tongue," I say slowly. And then I realize exactly what Elizabeth has just told me. "You believed his lies?"
"Yes." Then she turns around and looks me in the eye, her face so serious that I would think her suddenly sober if she were not flailing the hairbrush again. "He came into town dressed handsomely in a red coat and a charming smile and had all of Meryton swooning at his very presence. And when the subject of Mr. Darcy came up between us, he wasted no time in informing me – and later, everyone else – that he had been very ill-used by your brother; that he was denied a living willed him by your father." She turns around and pulls the brush slowly through her hair again. "And I believed every word he said – so much so that I laid the accusations at Fitzwilliam's door when we met in Kent."
I am a little shocked. If someone as intelligent and sensible as Elizabeth could be fooled by Wickham, then perhaps I am not quite so silly as I had thought. As if she can sense my thoughts, Elizabeth sets down her brush and moves to sit next to me. "He did the same thing to you that he did to me, with the same objective – revenge upon your brother. He saw in you a young girl in need of attention and affection and that is what he gave to you, with the intention of taking your fortune in return. Had you not been shy or modest he would have found something else in you to exploit." She focuses on braiding her hair for a moment, and when she has tied the ribbon around the end of her braid she turns back to me. "I was mortified to know the truth, but at least, dear Georgiana, I did not lose my heart to him."
"My heart is not lost," I assure her, and then smile as my thoughts turn toward Mr. Beresford again. "Not yet."
She smiles. "Do you know what the worst part was about his running away with Lydia?"
"You were unable to attend your sister's wedding?"
She laughs outright. "That was a blessing!" she says. "But no. The worst part was that my holiday was cut short and I was just starting to fall in love with your brother." She rises and kisses my forehead as I laugh back at her. "Now, go to bed. It is late and I am sure you will have pleasant dreams tonight."
I rise and kiss her cheek. "Thank you, Lizzy." She hugs me and wishes me good night, and I do the same. I shut her chamber door and pause in the hallway to sigh and smile to myself a little, and hear Fitzwilliam entering her chamber though the door to his own.
"Did Georgiana come to discuss Mr. Beresford with you?" I hear him ask his wife.
"Oh, yes," she says. "Her head is quite full of him right now."
"I heard you talking about me, my love," comes my brother's strong voice, "and about my old friend."
"Yes?" says Elizabeth. "And do you always eavesdrop on ladies' conversations?"
"Absolutely. How else would I know what was going on in my own house?"
"You are being silly."
There is a pause. "Madam," I hear from my amused brother, "you are tipsy."
"Yes," she rejoins, "and what do you plan to do about it, sir?"
I wait, but that is the last I hear from them. I slip away to dream about Mr. Beresford.
(c) 2009 J. H. Thompson