At All Costs: A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novel
Jane stood beside her sister as they waited for Darcy’s carriage. After the morning’s service with its interesting interruption, it had been decided that an afternoon near the stream at the bottom of the hill, not far from Willow Hall and in the direction of Aldwood Abbey, would be just the thing. Each group of people had hurried off to their respective homes to divest of their fine clothing in favour of something more conducive to walking and sitting under trees while eating a light picnic. It was to be nothing formal, Mrs. Abbot had instructed, just a time of refreshment and pleasure. She would even bring the children.
Darcy had insisted that he would supply transportation for Miss Elizabeth and Miss Bennet, and so the two ladies stood waiting for him.
“It still amazes me,” said Jane. She was speaking, of course, of Lady Catherine’s appearance at the church. It had been the topic of conversation ever since the service had ended. Jane leaned against the window frame in the sitting room. “I thought our family was the only one to have such silly women.” A small smile pulled at her lips. “Can you not see Mama doing the same?”
Elizabeth chuckled lightly. “I can, but it would have been a much bigger to do with fluttering fans and fainting.”
Jane giggled at the image, then tipped her head and said as she saw the smile fade from Elizabeth’s face. “We shall both have relations that do not approve of us.” She reached out and took Elizabeth’s hand. “Promise me that you will not let this affect you too greatly. Mr. Darcy loves you, and that is what is most important.”
“But to be the cause of a breach such as this,” said Elizabeth.
“No,” Jane said firmly. “This breach is not your doing. It is Lady Catherine’s choice. You no more forced her to be unreasonable than I have been the cause of Miss Bingley’s scheming.”
Elizabeth gave Jane a grateful smile.
“It is true.” Jane stood up straight and, releasing Elizabeth’s hand, straightened her skirts and checked her bonnet as a carriage came into view. “You cannot believe I would have contrived to make Miss Bingley dislike me and cause me sorrow for these many months, can you?”
“Of course not.” Elizabeth followed Jane from the room.
“And you did not decide when Mr. Darcy came to Hertfordshire that you would ensnare him with the intent of displeasing his family, did you?”
“I did not even like him!”
Jane smiled. “Precisely. And I am certain that you did not bat your lashes and simper when you were in Kent to draw his attentions and lead him on down a merry path.” She had paused just outside the door before they were to descend the steps. “I believe a sound refusal of an offer of marriage would be proof enough of that.”
“I should think,” agreed Elizabeth.
“And after refusing him, did you arrange to meet him here in Derbyshire and expect him to renew his addresses?”
“I did not. I had hoped that should we meet it would be as friends, but I would not have blamed him for hating me after how I had abused him.”
“Then, you can see how this is not your doing?” Jane lifted a brow in question and then, with a smile, turned to greet Mr. Bingley. She knew what Elizabeth was like when she got the idea in her head that she might be the cause of someone she loved being unhappy. A small crease would form between her brows, and her lips would purse while she looked unseeingly at some object and tried to reason out how she could fix whatever wrong had been done. However, as quick-witted as her dear sister was, there were times when she was quite dull. It was usually just a momentary lack of judgment and clear thinking unless she stubbornly refused to listen to reason — which, thankfully, she did not seem determined to do at present. Elizabeth’s error with the man currently helping her into the carriage was likely the reason. Ever since her return from Kent, there had been a wiser air to Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy would be good for her sister. His steadying influence would draw her along where their father could not.
“Are you well?” asked Bingley.
“I beg your pardon,” said Jane, her cheeks coloring at having been caught woolgathering, “I am well. I was just lost in thought.”
“Pleasant thoughts, I hope,” he replied with a smile.
Jane assured him that they were. “I was merely thinking how good Mr. Darcy will be for my sister.” The admission was barely louder than a whisper.
Bingley nodded his agreement. “And she will be good for him,” he added in a whisper as he helped her into the carriage where she took a seat on the bench with Elizabeth and Georgiana.
“I feel I must once again apologize for my aunt,” said Darcy as the carriage began moving.
“If we are to take the role of bearer of all the ills of our relations, then you might have the driver stop near the deeper end of the river, and I shall cast myself into it,” said Bingley with a playful smile. “Did I tell you that my loving sisters treated Miss Bennet very ill when Miss Bennet was in town?”
“No,” said Georgiana, eagerly, earning a glare from her brother.
“Well, she did. Miss Bennet was kind enough to call on them, and they repaid her kindness by not telling me about her call and then waiting an inexcusable length of time before returning the call.”
Georgiana gave a little gasp.
“Precisely,” said Bingley, crossing his arms in front of his chest. “Miss Bennet was, of course, left to think we were no longer friends.” He smiled. “Which, I assure, you is not the case.” Jane blushed prettily and looked away.
Georgiana’s eyes grew wide, and she leaned forward toward Bingley. “Are you more than friends?” she asked in a whisper.
“Georgiana,” snapped Darcy.
Georgiana immediately apologized for the impertinence.
“See,” said Bingley, with a wink at Georgiana. “If anyone is to be found guilty of having ill-behaved relations, it is me. Caroline would never have responded to a reminder so well.” He then leaned toward Georgiana and whispered, “I believe, we are.”
“You are quite impossible yourself,” Darcy chided Bingley.
“Do not worry on my account,” said Jane softly. “I am not offended, nor am I unacquainted with sisters who do as they wish instead of as they should. I have four such sisters.”
“The three youngest are the worst for it,” Jane added quickly, “but none of them do as I would think they should, and do you know why?”
Georgiana shook her head.
“For the same reason your brother does not do as you would always wish he would. He is not you.” She smiled at Mr. Darcy, who had inclined his head in acceptance of her argument. “And yes, I also believe we are more than friends,” she whispered to Georgiana, “which, I suspect, was exactly the thing Miss Bingley wished to prevent by her behaviour.”
Georgiana opened her mouth and then with a glance at her brother closed it again.
“What is it?” Jane encouraged her. “You may ask if I give you permission. May she not, Mr. Darcy?”
“It is impertinent,” explained Georgiana.
“I am not a stranger to impertinence either,” assured Jane. “Remember, I have four younger sisters,” she whispered. “And we are to be sisters in a roundabout way.” Jane looked to Mr. Darcy. “May she ask?”
“You are certain you wish it?”
“I am not unaware of what sort of box I might be opening,” Jane assured.
“Very well, then you may ask, Georgiana.” Darcy held up a finger. “But, Miss Bennet may choose not to answer if she wishes.”
Georgiana’s head bobbed her agreement. “I was merely curious about Captain Harris. He has called on you so many times that I thought perhaps…” her voice trailed off.
Jane smiled. “You thought I preferred him?”
“I did not.” She drew a deep breath. “Since last September, I have not preferred any gentleman above Mr. Bingley.” Her cheeks, she knew, were a brilliant shade of red as she looked at Mr. Darcy. “I may not have been obvious in my preference — in fact, a friend, in concern for my happiness told me I should not be so cautious — I, however, did not listen. It is not an error I will make a second time.”
“Which is how it should be with errors.” Darcy’s smile was understanding and perhaps a bit sheepish. “We should strive only to make them once if we must make them at all.”
“Indeed,” said Jane.
The carriage rolled along for a few turns of the wheels in relative silence as conversation naturally took a respite.
“We will have to walk from here,” said Darcy as the vehicle began to slow. “It is not very far, however.”
The passengers disembarked, and as the men saw to the baskets, Georgiana, Jane, and Elizabeth joined arms and walked on ahead.
“I am glad you do not prefer Captain Harris,” said Georgiana. “Mr. Bingley is a much finer choice.”
“You,” Jane began and then stopped.
“Yes?” prompted Georgiana.
“You have never…” Jane was not certain how to ask what she wished to know.
“Miss Bingley wrote a letter,” said Elizabeth, looking at Jane, who nodded that that was the topic she was trying to broach. “In this letter, she insinuated that your brother hoped to see an arrangement between yourself and Mr. Bingley.”
Georgiana’s eyes grew wide, and her mouth dropped open. She looked first to Elizabeth and then to Jane. “Mr. Bingley and me?” She shook her head. “Oh, you will not cause me an ounce of pain!” she cried. “I assure you, I see him as nothing more than another brother.”
Jane sighed in relief. “I had thought it might be another ploy of hers, but I had to be certain.”
“I should not say it,” said Georgiana with a glance over her shoulder towards her brother, “but I do not like Miss Bingley, and she does not truly like me. She likes my brother because of his money. I do not think she is capable of liking anyone but herself. I am certainly glad Miss Elizabeth will be my sister and not her.” Her face pinched as if in pain. “I am sorry that she will be yours.” Her eyes grew wide as if realizing she had misspoken. “That is if you marry Mr. Bingley.”
Elizabeth laughed. “If she does not marry him, I shall be very surprised.”
“He has only to ask me,” whispered Jane.
Georgiana glanced over her shoulder again. “I also do not like Captain Harris.”
Jane’s brows furrowed. “You do not?”
Georgiana shook her head. “He talks too much. I prefer quiet to excessive conversation.”
Jane had to agree with that assessment. It was something she had also noticed.
“And I know my brother would scold me for this, and rightly, so, but Captain Harris was about three years ago nearly engaged to a lady.” She glanced again at her brother. “The lady disappeared, and her father was found dead.”
This information was shocking to both Elizabeth and Jane.
“It was so long ago now that no one speaks of it, but at the time, I heard the maids whispering that Captain Harris had some part in it.”
“Captain Harris?” Elizabeth asked in surprise.
Georgiana nodded. “No one was sorry the lady’s father died. He was not kind to any of his servants, nor was he kind to his daughter. They say he wished to break her heart so he sent her away and when Captain Harris called and found out that she was gone, he strangled her father in a fit of rage. It is only a story, of course, and likely not a whit of it is true, but I have never felt completely at ease around him.”
“He seems so pleasant,” said Jane. “I cannot imagine him being violent.”
Georgiana shrugged. “He is pleasant, and as I said, the story is likely just the work of someone’s imagination. But I do not like him and am glad you are not going to marry him.”
Jane smiled. “Well, I have to agree with that last bit. I am glad that I am not marrying him either for my heart would have never been truly happy.”
This statement turned the conversation toward love and what each lady thought was important in a match.
More in the Willow Hall Romance Series
A Pride and Prejudice Prequel ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 1
Events from the past combined with threats in the present threaten to tear Lucy and Philip apart unless Darcy can help his friends save their blossoming love and rid Lucy of her uncle once and for all.Click cover image to find that book in your favorite store.
Click cover image to find this book in your favorite store.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella ~ Willow Hall Romance, Book 2
When Fitzwilliam Darcy bought Willow Hall, he thought he was helping a friend escape an untenable situation. Little did he know he was purchasing a second chance for his own happiness.
Click cover image to find this book in your favorite store.
A Pride and Prejudice Variation Novella, Willow Hall Romance Book 3
Lydia Bennet only meant to surprise her sisters and enjoy some fun. She thought she had planned well enough to avoid any disagreeable consequence, but she did not. However, when plans go awry, the results, much like the lady who made them, can be very unexpected.