Author's Note: In this story, the only angst is how it takes Darcy to propose and Lizzy to answer. Set in Derbyshire and London, with only nominal scenes at Longbourn, its based on the premise that Jane joins her and the Gardiners on their travels, everything goes AU from the moment they arrive at Longbourn. Lydia does not go to Brighton, the Bingley siblings do not join Charles and Darcy at Pemberley. As always my influences at the book and the Andrew Davies 1995 adaptation. Same posting schedule as QofE. Enjoy.
Till You Or Jane Return...
As Kitty went ahead with the young Gardiners inside, Jane and Elizabeth stayed to walk in with their Aunt and Uncle. The conversation they hoped to concern them was the delights of travelling that was to avail them all the coming next weeks. Both Jane and Lizzy had been looking forward to this trip since their father decided to refuse Lydia's request to go to Brighton. As a result of their persuasion, Lydia had been inconsolable since.
"I am afraid I have some bad news," their Uncle began as they neared the boundaries of the pebbled driveway. "My business cannot allow me to go away for as long as we planned. We can only travel as far Derbyshire."
That last word ran through both his nieces thoughts and minds with the same level of disappointment, although Elizabeth's had an underlying if somewhat fleeting dread at the possibilities such a trip to the county of her Aunt's birth might bring. However, she attempted to reveal little of it, and the slight hesitation that her voice carried on her query of "but Derbyshire has many beauties, has it not?" That was only noticed by Jane.
"Indeed," Aunt Gardiner answered readily, her enthusiasm for the county showing, "to me, Derbyshire is the best of all counties. You will judge for yourself if Chatsworth is not the equal of Blenhiem. And surely the Southern counties have nothing to compare to the wild and untamed beauty of the peaks."
A discussion on this topic ensued, mostly contributed by Jane and the Gardiners with Elizabeth entering no more than a partial word or two into the conversation. Any utterance on her part was confined to dispersing suspicions that her disappointment on not going to the lakes was nothing worse than her sisters. The reality however was quite different.
No sooner than Derbyshire entered the conversation than had Elizabeth formed the thought that a visit to the part of the county which her Aunt hailed from would soon be brought to air, and the revelation of the impossibility that any reasonable excuse could prevent it on her part.
The event that they would soon be in that part of the country where he might be was all that could concern her present thoughts and the worry that someone might guess either correctly or incorrectly the import of her silence kept her ever more anxious to delay such an occasion.
Jane was perhaps the only one whose previous knowledge of her sister enabled her to determine the reason for her sister's lack of lively conversation for the majority of that one evening they were to spend at Longbourn before parting on the morrow. She resolved on speaking to her sister upon the instant that they retired for the night.
"The news that we only travel to Derbyshire distresses you, does it not, Lizzy?" Jane began as soon as they were in the comfort and privacy of Elizabeth's bedroom.
"Distress is perhaps too strong a word," Elizabeth replied as she sat down upon the bed opposite her sister.
"But you do wonder if the trip will bring us into contact with him?"
"I confess that I do." Elizabeth sighed. "Why do I even think it? He will still be in Town."
Jane looked at her sister carefully. "Has your opinion of him changed?"
"Who could doubt such an opinion, formed on impartial foundations in the first place, would alter upon hearing the truth? My hatred of him is gone, it went a long time ago. Yet I still cannot think of him without wondering at why I thought myself a judge of character, when I was so blind as to not see the goodness in him."
She paused an then added in less wistful tones, "now, when I look back over our acquaintance, I see the things I could not detect before, due to my prejudice. The moments when all I saw was arrogance, I now only see reserve. He said to me once that he never performs to strangers, I always wondered what he meant until now."
Jane sat amazed. She had rarely seen her sister in such a state of self-doubt. Hesitantly, she asked the question she had been pondering on due to this revelation. "If you had seen this before, would you have said yes when he proposed?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "Jane, rest easy on that score. I do not regret that I refused him then, I only regret some of my past behaviour towards him. His proposal to me was completely still what I thought it to be when I heard it and until I hear otherwise I will not be swayed in that opinion. I still wish to marry for love. I'm sure if we meet in Derbyshire it will be as nothing more than indifferent or common acquaintances."
Little did Elizabeth realise how soon those words were to be tested and discarded.
Darcy looked up from his book as a knock upon his study door disturbed his reading. It opened to admit his friend. "Bingley, what brings you here at this time of night?"
"I have some news," his friend replied, taking the offered chair near him. "The party of guests to Pemberley is going to be short of three."
"Three?" Darcy queried in puzzlement, his mind still partly on the book that had occupied his attention for the last hour. He looked at his friend to find a smile on his face. The smile, usually such a common expression of Bingley's face, had been absent ever since they left... Hertfordshire. Darcy inwardly groaned. He had to tell him.
"Louisa has decided to visit some relatives of Hurst's in Bath and is dragging Caroline and her husband along with her."
Darcy produced the first smile that he had had in weeks. "Charles, may I be frank with you, regardless of the fact that they are related to you?"
His friend readily nodded.
"Thank god!" Darcy uttered as his friend also broke into another grin. Mr Bingley had always regretted introducing Caroline to his best friend. It had forced Darcy to retreat even more into his reserved persona because of her efforts to attract him. Not to mention the effect on Georgiana.
Georgiana. Charles Bingley had to admit that he had enjoyed her company these past weeks when Caroline had left the two of them alone. But, he was not attracted to her. In fact her features and manners had if anything only served to remind him of a certain lady that resided in Meryton...
But to resume. He was also aware that Miss Darcy was still very much a young girl, even if she behaved in a manner far above her sixteen years. He knew perfectly that the only reason Darcy let the two of them be in company together was because he knew that he could trust his friend not to fall for Miss Darcy. Both his friend and Col. Fitzwilliam wanted her to be at least three years older before they presented her before London's Society, even if Caroline Bingley wanted to imagine her fantasies.
Darcy inwardly thanked the convenient relatives that saw fit to invite Louisa Hurst and company to Bath. Georgiana he knew would likewise be relieved. He had seen quite plainly through Miss Bingley's attempts to match make her brother to Georgie and he had been thankful that her success was limited, due his friend's understanding of Georgiana's situation.
It had taken a lot for Darcy to realise that confidence in his friend was vital after the aftermath of Hunsford. So he had sat Bingley down one night and told him of Wickham. His friend took it well and from that night Darcy had yet another ally in his cause to help his most beloved sister to come through her troubles.
The only thing that stood between him and Bingley was the one thing that Darcy was now beginning to regret. That was the fact he had kept secret Miss Bennet's presence from Bingley whilst they were both in London. After seeing Elizabeth- she was still Elizabeth in his mind, despite her refusal -Darcy had become convinced that he had been wrong in his judgement of Miss Jane Bennet's feelings for his friend. If her sister was sure of the affection, then so must he be.
Yet Darcy feared to tell him. He knew that Charles would resent him for keeping him from Miss Bennet, whom he had grieved for ever since they left Netherfield. Yet Darcy knew also that the confession had to be made. He would never have a hope of happiness if he did not.