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Bingley crossed the room quickly and, taking Darcy by the shoulders, led him back to his chair. “Sit,” he said.
Darcy sighed and did as instructed.
“There is no reason for us to part,” Bingley reiterated as he handed Darcy a refreshed glass of brandy.
“No,” Bingley cut Darcy off. “Duty be hanged.” He dropped into his chair. There was absolutely no way while the sun still shone that he was going to lay aside his own chance at happiness with Miss Bennet, but it was equally unlikely that he was going to let a man who was more brother than friend walk out of his life. How would he be able to be completely happy if he knew he was the cause of such pain to Darcy?
“Your family ─”
“No,” Bingley cut in again. “My family, just like yours, expects me to marry well, and I shall.” He smirked. “It shall, perhaps not be as well as certain members of my family would wish, but it is I who has to live with my choice of bride, not them. At least, I hope Caroline does not always live with me.” He shuddered. She would be the next problem he would have to sort out.
“My family expects…” Darcy attempted to speak once again only to find Bingley talking over him once more.
“I know what your family expects.”
He had heard his friend wax eloquent on it many times — usually when explaining why he could not consider this or that lady whom Bingley had suggested. They were all excellent ladies. Very pleasant. Not at all stuffy and overbearing. But, none had interested Darcy in the least. Indeed, even some of the stuffier well-positioned ladies Bingley had mentioned in passing had never gotten more than a sigh and a reluctant agreement to consider them if it became necessary.
Bingley’s brows drew together, and a small smile played at his lips. None of them had ever flustered Darcy as much as Miss Elizabeth had. She had drawn him out, caused him to debate, and even to dance. And now she was the one woman that Darcy would regret all his life if he did not pursue and win her.
With a most serious look on his face, Bingley sat forward in his chair, leaning toward his friend. “What would happen if you did not fulfill your family’s expectations? Would you be cut off? Disinherited? Shunned by society? What would the consequences be?” He asked.
Darcy shrugged and sipped his drink. “I suppose it would cause a family rift.”
“Meaning you would have fewer functions to attend because they would not invite you?”
Darcy nodded. “Yes, there is that.”
“Who would refuse to see you?”
Darcy drew a deep breath. “I cannot say with any certainty who would do so besides Aunt Catherine.”
“But,” Bingley persisted. “She will be displeased no matter who you marry unless it is her daughter. You have said so yourself. Do you intend to marry your cousin?”
“No, I have no desire to marry Anne.”
“Then marrying Miss Elizabeth would be no different than if you married some duke’s daughter.” Bingley cocked his head to the side and settled back in his chair.
“It might make it more challenging for Georgiana when she comes out if my connections are not of the first circles.”
Bingley shrugged. “Will she not still have her thirty thousand?”
“Of course, she will.”
“Will your family’s ties to the land and aristocracy not still be of long standing?”
Darcy shook his head. “That is a foolish question. How would my heritage change?”
Bingley smiled. “I do not know, but you seem to think that marrying a gentleman’s daughter will somehow change how a prospective husband will view Georgiana.” He shrugged, rose from his chair, and paced to the window before presenting his next argument. “Actually, I am rather surprised that you would even consider a gentleman who offered for your sister only because she would be a feather in his societal cap.”
Darcy’s head pulled back, and he blinked.
Bingley smiled. The comment had done its work. It had startled his friend and would hopefully get him to begin to see duty for what it was ─ a weight that could drag a person down into wretchedness. Perhaps Darcy would consider such a fate for himself, but he would never do so for his sister.
“You must consider her happiness,” Bingley continued, leaning against the bookshelf that was near the window. “I know people often think of me as obtuse — do not deny it,” he challenged as Darcy opened his mouth to speak. “To be fair, I often am. I am not as quick to catch on to things as some, but I am not oblivious to the world around me. I do spend time in observation and contemplation.” He smirked. “Not as much as you, my friend, but I do practice the skills occasionally.”
“You know I care for Georgiana, although not as my sister would wish for me to care for her,” Bingley said.
Again Darcy chuckled, and Bingley joined him. They knew that Caroline wished for not just one connection to the Darcy family through marrying Darcy herself. She also wanted her brother to marry Darcy’s sister. To her, there was no better way to ensure they had risen above their roots in trade than to secure ties to the aristocracy and ancient lands and money.
“I care for her as a brother might care for her. I would not wish to see her harmed in any fashion.” Bingley came back to where Darcy still sat swirling and occasionally sipping his drink. “She still feels the weight of disappointing you, Darcy. I can see it in her eyes when she looks at you when you are unaware.” Darcy had shared with him about Georgiana’s ordeal with Wickham at Ramsgate.
“But she has not disappointed me. I have failed her.” Darcy’s brows furrowed, and he shook his head.
“Yet, she perceives she has disappointed you, and it still plays upon her spirit. Imagine how her spirit would suffer if she were to learn you had given up happiness for her. You know as well as I that she would never be happy no matter the match you might make for her.” He shrugged. “And what match will you make for her? Will it be one of duty and obligation, or do you wish for her to find felicity and love? And with time, might you not grow to resent the fact that you gave up the possibility of your own felicity for your sister?”
Darcy gaped at his friend. “I had not thought of it in those terms. But, I fear, it does not matter. Miss Elizabeth would not have me anyway.”