Darcy paced in his chamber trying to calm his mind. He couldn't stop his mind from thinking of Caroline's lies. He was horrified thinking there was even the smallest chance that Elizabeth believed any part of that letter. Could Elizabeth really believe he would use her that way? Did she believe that he was only seeking out her company as a means to pass his time in Hertfordshire?
And what of Jane Bennet? If she put her trust in Caroline's words rather than Bingley's feelings... Charles would be devastated at the loss of her regard.
Darcy took a deep breath and walked back to his window. He and Bingley would have to find a way to convince both Elizabeth and Jane that Caroline's pernicious letter was false!
Bingley sat in his chair by the fire in his room with thoughts similar to Darcy's. How could Caroline so maliciously mislead Jane into believing he could be so easily swayed? How could she impugn Darcy's honor by implying that he would ever misuse a lady? And the most important question weighing on his mind, what were he and Darcy to do? How could they possibly withdraw the question regarding their feelings toward the Bennet sisters?
Realizing these thoughts were leading him nowhere, Bingley stood and began walking to Darcy's chamber. He had always turned to his friend when in great need of advice, why not now? Perhaps together they could find a plan to recover the ladies good opinion and also discuss the best way to stem the tide of Caroline's vicious behavior before she lashed out in a more devious manner.
In their room, preparing for bed Jane turned to Elizabeth, "Lizzy, do you truly believe Mr. Bingley's affection is…?"
Elizabeth looked at her sister; Jane was obviously distressed at the notion that Mr. Bingley may lose interest in her. Jane may have a shy and sweet countenance but those who truly knew her well, could easily how deeply she felt. "What I truly believe is that Caroline Bingley would not do anything without some selfish motivation."
"Lizzy!" Jane looked at her, shocked. As much as Jane hoped Caroline's letter was wrong, she hadn't thought it was written with intent to deceive.
Elizabeth waited for Jane's desire to instantly refuse the possibility to pass before she continued, "But, I also think that given our situation it would be foolish to believe the letter to be completely fabricated. We must tread lightly, Jane, or wind up being whispered about over card tables across Meryton!"
Though Elizabeth had spoken her piece with a kind tone, Jane felt a stab of pain to her heart. She hoped there was a perfectly reasonable explanation but Jane could see that either Caroline was lying or Mr. Bingley was not steady in his affections. "Oh Lizzy, I cannot see a way to make myself understand this without thinking ill of someone!"
Elizabeth rushed over to embrace Jane tightly. Seeing her dear sister this upset caused a wave of anger to wash over Elizabeth. Either way this situation was looked at Jane would be hurt. And while Elizabeth was not a stranger to disillusionment, Jane always tried to see only the good in people.
After a long night of pointless discussion the only thing that Bingley and Darcy had decided was that they were not going to allow Caroline's lies to take a deeper hold. Beyond the each man had no notion of what to do, besides talk to the ladies and hope that the depth of their sincerity was both seen and believed.
Darcy was quite anxious to see Elizabeth and begin rectifying the possible damage. So he paced the entryway waiting for Bingley to ready himself. Just as Darcy was about to ask the servant to hurry Bingley along, his friend appeared. "How long have you been waiting, Darcy?"
"Long enough. Shall we go?" Darcy answered, impatiently.
Bingley nodded and walked out with him. Once they were both mounted atop their horses, Bingley turned slightly, "I still have not the slightest idea what I shall do about Caroline, Darcy."
Darcy gave his friend a sympathetic look, "That is a difficulty, to be sure."
Bingley nodded and looked ahead, "Do I allow this to go unchecked or do I confront her? What would you do, if this something Georgiana had done, Darcy?"
Darcy paused trying to imagine his kind and innocent sister doing something so petty. "That would depend on if I believed my confrontation would lead to her further rebellion."
Bingley's eyes clouded with concern, "What do you mean?"
Darcy took a steadying breath. "If you were to confront Caroline, she would know that the Bennets had told us the contents of her letter."
Bingley nodded, signaling Darcy to continue. "Do you believe that Caroline would stop at one failed attempt to drive a wedge between ourselves and the Bennet sisters?"
They rode on for several moments in quiet contemplation. Bingley thinking about how best to handle Caroline. Darcy preparing himself for his conversation with Elizabeth.
Bingley interrupted this quiet, "I think I shall wait to write Caroline. Allowing her to believe her plat was successful."
"I think that would be best. Let us focus instead on reassuring the ladies before we anger Caroline."
At Longbourn the Bennets had been gathered for breakfast when Mr. Collins entered with a nervous air about him. "Good morning. I wish for the opportunity to speak with Miss Mary alone at a convenient time."
Mrs. Bennet stared in shock momentarily, before looking about the room and standing up hastily. "Of course, come along girls. Mr. Bennet."
She sent her husband a meaningful glare. He rose slowly from his seat and exited to his study without saying a word.
Mary looked at ease with the development, at least to Elizabeth as she closed the door leaving Mary alone with Mr. Collins, more than likely to except his obvious proposal of matrimony.
While Kitty and Lydia tried to listen to what was being said Jane and Elizabeth excused themselves for a walk in order to escape their mother's effusive praise of Mary's good fortune.
Once outside, Jane and Elizabeth began laughing and Elizabeth said, "Mr. Collins wasted no time in transferring his affections!"
Jane smiled sweetly, "Would you have preferred he remain attached to you, Lizzy?"
"God Lord, no! I would have refused him instantly and then imagine the affect that would have on our mother's poor nerves!"
They were still giggling at the situation when they saw Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy riding in their direction. "Oh dear!"
Elizabeth saw them at the same time and stilled. She had not thought the gentlemen would return so soon. She had hoped with a little more time Jane would be in better spirits and have the ability to greet Mr. Bingley with more composure. Not to mention, allowing her more time to distance herself from Mr. Darcy.
Darcy saw Elizabeth standing with her sister just outside Longbourn's gardens and smiled at him and Bingley's good fortune. Instead of having to propose walking out, after tedious small talk, in order to have some semblance of a private conversation, they merely had to join the ladies. "Well, Bingley, it would seem we are in luck."
Bingley sighed but had a small smile about his lips, "Let's hope it continues."
The dismounted and tied their horses' reigns to a nearby low hanging branch. And turned to greet the approaching ladies. "Good morning, Miss Elizabeth." Darcy said quietly, willing her to meet his gaze.
"Mr. Darcy." She said quietly.
Bingley was already quietly talking to Jane a few feet away and facing away from them. Allowing Darcy to take a small step forward, commanding Elizabeth's full attention, since she tried to focus on Jane.
Elizabeth swallowed and cast about for something to say. "We had not expected to see you again today, sir."
Darcy sighed, wishing him and Elizabeth had the same easy manners as Bingley and Jane but he understood that they were both not as open with their thought and feelings. Which would make gaining Elizabeth's trust so much more difficult, but that much more valued. "We felt we must come after the full content of Miss Bingley's letter came to light."
Elizabeth gasped. "What do you mean, sir?"
Darcy took another step toward her, this time invading her personal space. He was close enough to smell the faint scent of lavender coming off of Elizabeth. "While you chose to divulge the warning Miss Bingley gave to Miss Bennet about her brother, your sister told Mr. Bingley about his sister's warning to you about me."
When what Mr. Darcy had just said sank in, Elizabeth could not repress a laugh from bursting forth.
"May I ask what you find so amusing, Miss Elizabeth?" Darcy asked exasperated. Elizabeth's reactions would never cease to amaze him.
Still laughing slightly, "Of course, Jane would put her concerns for me before her own, I should have known. And of course, through my attempts to ease her worry, I revealed what was said of Mr. Bingley!"
Darcy fought his own smile now. It was true, if any outsider had been privy to all sides of this tale, it would most certainly be a comedic play. But he must resist the laughter of it all. "Did it not occur to you, Miss Bennet, to confide in me about the role I played in Miss Bingley's warning?"
Elizabeth could hear the seriousness in his question and stopped laughing. When she looked at is dark eyes, she felt her heart stutter. "Is it not improper for a lady to question a gentlemen's intention openly, Mr. Darcy?"
At her impish question Darcy burst out laughing, he glanced over to see Bingley giving him a questioning look. He gave his friend an almost invisible shake of his head to indicate his assistance was not needed. "To be clear, Miss Elizabeth, you would not question my intentions toward yourself but you will question my history with Mr. Wickham? Quite publicly, I might add."
Elizabeth blushed, remembering how she taunted Mr. Darcy at the ball. "I was trying to discover you true character-"
"But my intentions toward you have to do with my character as well. With more impact to you personally. Why would you not demand my defense in this respect as well?"
Darcy looked at Elizabeth with a smile. He realized he was provoking her but he knew it was the surest course to ensure an honest response. When Elizabeth was knee deep in a heated discussion she had less time to form a polite but misdirecting answer. Darcy was not interested in being placated.
Elizabeth squared he shoulders and retorted, "Surely, if your intentions were dishonorable, Mr. Darcy, you would not admit it! So what would my questioning them accomplish?"
Darcy smiled, this was exactly what he had hoped would come from starting this line of conversation. "Do you believe my intentions to be dishonorable?"
"I have no notion of what your intentions are, Mr. Darcy, let alone if they are or are not honorable."
Darcy could not stop himself from grasping Elizabeth's hand, "Miss Elizabeth, allow me to tell you that I have no wish to toy with your affections. My only desire is to give you the opportunity to see for yourself how ardently I admire you. I hope after a time you will come to care about me, as well."
Elizabeth stood in shocked silence. Was Mr. Darcy proposing to her?
Darcy could see the question in Elizabeth's eyes. "No, I am not yet publicly declaring myself, Miss Elizabeth. Perhaps you and I could consider this me removing the doubt of my motivation, in order to allow you the time to grow accustomed to me without the worry of being misled."
Elizabeth nodded mutely, staring at Mr. Darcy like he had sprouted wings. She couldn't deny that he had been lately more attentive, almost warm in her company. And it was true that she had even begun to enjoy their conversations. But she hadn't let herself consider that he had grown this attached to her.
Sensing that Elizabeth would need a few more moments to regain her composure, Darcy politely offered her his arm. "Miss Elizabeth, may I have the honor of escorting you home?"
Author's Note: Well, I have good news. I messed my knee up and the doctors have told me to stay off it as much as possible… which means more time to write!
Review, and if ya have a suggestion let me know.
Also, I didn't have Jane and Elizabeth tell each other about what they said because they both can sometimes be some what private…