Disclaimer: I do not own any characters. They are all the creation of Jane Austen. Except a few, which are from my own imagination, but you will know which they are.
Plot: What if the Bennets had been wealthy? Would that have changed anything? Or everything, perhaps...
A/N: Thanks to all those who reviewed! This one is dedicated to Leaseablue, the first reviewer of Chapter 2. As I have said before, feel free to point out anything I have got wrong, so that I can correct it. Someone asked me whether the Bennets are already acquainted with the Darcys. For the sake of this story, I'm relying on the fact that neither the Darcys not the Bennets spend a great deal of time in town, so until now have avoided meeting each other.
Please read and review! :)
"A friend loveth at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."
Chapter 3 - First Impressions
"Georgiana Darcy. You are in great trouble!" Elizabeth and her father looked around to find the source of the deep voice, and caught sight of a man approaching them.
Elizabeth did not believe she had ever met a man quite so tall, nor one who radiated power as much as the man making their way towards them at that moment, and she was immediately intrigued. She studied the expression on his face, looking for the anger which was so evident in his voice, but found nothing but the deepest concern, which warmed her towards him slightly.
"Brother, I..." Georgiana began, but one look from him silenced her. Elizabeth observed him carefully. That was not anger, but disappointment.
"Georgiana," began he, "I do not wish to hear your excuses. I had no desire of leaving you alone, while I walked. We are not in Pemberley now. We are in London. It is not safe. Despite this, I agreed to the plan upon your insistence, along with the repeated reassurances from our uncle and cousin. However, the single thing which I had asked from you was not to move from the bench. Yet you did so." As she went to speak, he raised a hand. "No, do not. You have disappointed me, Georgiana," he finished, quietly, and despite the grim situation, Elizabeth could not help but rejoice at her previous assessment having been proved correct.
Only after he had finished speaking did he seem to catch sight of the expression on Georgiana's face. Tears had welled up in her eyes, and she seemed to be fighting not to let them fall. He sighed heavily, and took Georgiana in his arms, and she responded by clinging to him firmly, and the love they shared caused both Elizabeth and Lord Ashford to smile.
"Georgiana," her brother said, more softly. "When I looked across the lake and found that the bench was empty, you cannot imagine the way I felt. You are all I have, dear. I cannot lose you."
"But brother, I would not disobey you. You must know that. It is simply that my bonnet got blown off, and these kind people retrieved it for me, but then we started conversing and..." She continued to ramble on in this manner, but her brother had only now caught sight of Elizabeth and Lord Ashford. He frowned, and to Elizabeth's surprise, his frown was directed towards herself and her father.
"Georgiana, perhaps you would do me the honour of introducing me to your newest acquaintances?" Although his words were polite, the sarcasm was apparent in his tone. For the first time since he had arrived, however, Georgiana gave a small smile.
"This is Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her father, Mr. Thomas Bennet. And this is my brother, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Pemberley."
Elizabeth curtseyed as her name was mentioned, while Lord Ashford held out a hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. Darcy," said he.
However, all Mr. Darcy deigned to do was look upon them and raise the corner of his mouth in disgust. His scowl deepened when he caught sight of the picnic basket, and he turned back to his sister. "You should not be talking to people outside your own company, Georgiana, and those with whom you are not intimately acquainted."
Elizabeth parted her lips slightly, astonished at the slight of herself and her father. Georgiana, too, seemed to have noticed her brother's impolite behaviour, as she looked apologetically towards Elizabeth and Lord Ashford. Her father seemed not to take offence, as he let his hand fall back gracefully. Not willing to let such an insult pass without notice, however, Elizabeth spoke.
"I believe, sir, that when a hand is offered, the accepted mode of conduct shake it," she said, taking care not to seem rude. "The alternative may be to appear impolite, and after all, I am sure you would not wish that!"
This caught the gentleman's attention, and he looked at her, a deep scowl on his face. "I make it a habit not to allow the opinions of others to rule my actions. Such behaviour can lead to vanity being injured, and surely I do not wish that," said he, just as bitingly as Elizabeth had, just a few minutes previously, although as soon as he had finished, he seemed somewhat chagrined, as if wishing he had not spoken at all.
Elizabeth, angry that he had not acknowledged his mistake, was just about to retort, when her father caught sight of her stance and quickly interrupted.
"Well, sir, it is getting close to noon. I believe it is time for my daughter and I to take our leave. Take care, Miss Darcy, Mr. Darcy." Lord Ashford smiled, and although Elizabeth was irked at not being able to voice her opinion, she admitted it was, most likely, for the best that she did not speak to that infuriating man at the moment.
"Goodbye, Miss Darcy. It was wonderful conversing with you," she said, not holding her brother's behaviour against the girl. "Perhaps we shall meet again in this park. I must own, it is my first time visiting, but my father has told me such stories that this park has become quite a favourite of mine."
"I would love to meet you again, Miss Bennet. Goodbye," replied the young lady, with a shy smile. The look on Mr. Darcy's face seemed to suggest that he did not share his sister's opinions, but he nodded in farewell, seemingly glad that they were finally leaving, and the Bennets gathered their belongings and set off on their walk back to Ashford House.
The walk back was spent in silence, and when they arrived, upon finding that the rest of the family would not be joining them until lunch, they decided to retreat to the library. They selected their books and were reading , until Elizabeth decided that she could not hold it in any longer.
"The nerve of that man! Did you see the way he snubbed you, father? Downright refused to shake your hand! Who does he think he is? And you did not let me say anything! How could you have been so calm, father?"
As she finished, she snapped her book shut and looked toward her father, demanding an explanation.
"You forget, my dear, that he was worried for his sister," said Lord Ashford simply, closing his own book to face his daughter, but Elizabeth could not accept this as an answer.
"Why should that allow him to treat us the way he did?" she asked, vehemently. He sighed.
"You may not understand the sentiments, Elizabeth, but I shall tell you my take on the matter, so that you may at least be able to sympathise," he said, quietly. "You saw how concerned Mr. Darcy was when he first greeted his sister, and the tenderness with which he comforted her. The age difference between the siblings, alone, must mean that he is more of a father to Miss Darcy than a brother, and if that is the case, then I can certainly justify his reaction, having five daughters of my own."
He stood and went to sit next to his daughter, taking her hands into his own. "Lord forbid, if any such thing should happen to you or your sisters, then I would immediately jump to the worst conclusion. Perhaps I would not immediately shun a person, without garnering any evidence of their guilt. But that is the way I would react. Love manifests itself differently in different people, and it just so happened that in Mr. Darcy, it comes in the form of reserve and an unwillingness to trust. For that is all it was. He was reluctant to further his acquaintance with us, on the basis that he believed it was our intention to cause harm to his sister. We cannot despise him for that, can we?"
Elizabeth gave his hand a small squeeze. "No, I suppose we cannot, Papa. You are right, as always," said she.
"And should we decide to take this opinion, his actions make him seem like a good man. Indeed, it would almost seem like you were at fault, for having spoken to him so vehemently. What consumed you, my dear?"
Her father had a way of making Elizabeth feel ashamed of her actions, without intending to. Perhaps it was the way he laid the facts straight, and allowed her to make her own judgement. Whatever it was, Elizabeth found she could not answer the question he had asked.
Lord Ashford, for his part, knew that his daughter was a great studier of character, and so how she had been so blunt with a person she had just met was a mystery to him. Despite his curiosity, he could see the turmoil which his question was causing her. Taking pity on his daughter, he answered for her.
"It must be your mother's influence. Her brother advised me when we married to not get her angry, for her ire was hotter than the sun itself. I must say I laughed at first, but four and twenty years of experience have taught me not to take Edward Gardiner's word lightly again!"
The laughter which ensued was reward enough.