Elizabeth had never felt as truly desperate as she did in that moment. The very idea of marrying Mr. Rowe left her feeling ill, both in body and mind; she knew she could never love him, and she suspected her problems would be much greater than just a lack of love. But as Mr. Collins’ wedding moved ever closer, it was beginning to look like she would have to agree to Mr. Rowe’s proposal for the good of her family. It pained Elizabeth to even consider it, but her family needed to survive. As the wife of a butcher, she would be well-positioned to help them maintain themselves.
If only Bingley had proposed to Jane! she thought for what must have been the sixth time in the past hour. Bingley’s proposal would be a joyous event regardless of the circumstances, but considering the current situation it would be an absolute saving gift.
Elizabeth thought once again of asking Jane to write to Caroline Bingley, but she dismissed that thought exactly as she had dismissed it every time it had occurred to her previously. Then Elizabeth got an idea. It could not be said to be a good idea, but it lately seemed that she was bereft of those anyway; it at least seemed to be a less bad idea than some of her other options.
Elizabeth sat down at her desk and quickly composed a letter to Caroline Bingley, informing her of the death of their father. And then, before her courage could desert her, she signed Jane’s name to it. Elizabeth hoped that Bingley would be back at Netherfield by the time Jane found out about it, and that Jane would understand why Elizabeth had done it. She felt terribly guilty for what she was doing, but she was desperate.
She sealed the letter and rushed out the door to post it before she lost her nerve. Once the deed was done, her guilt began in earnest.
Please, let this risk work—let it save us.
Georgiana was playing the piano forte and Darcy was trying as hard as he could not to think about Elizabeth Bennet when Miss Caroline Bingley was announced. Georgiana and Darcy shared a glance; neither of them was particularly fond of their guest, but it would be improper not to receive her.
“Oh, my dear Georgiana!” Miss Bingley cried as she swept into the room on a wave of expensive fabric. She rushed over and hugged Georgiana, who returned her embrace as politely as she could manage. “Why do you never come to call? It is not so far, and I would love to have you for tea.”
“Pardon me, Miss Bingley, but I have been working on a very difficult new piece of music, and I must admit I have been dreadfully remiss in my social calls,” replied Georgiana, and Darcy was impressed with his younger sister’s poise.
“Perhaps we can all dine together soon,” said Miss Bingley. “Oh, if only Charles had not run off on his little hunting trip, what a fair party the four of us should make!”
“Do sit, please, Miss Bingley,” Darcy said.
“Thank you, Mr. Darcy. You are always so very gallant,” Miss Bingley said, with a smile that tried to be fetching but just looked desperate. “Well!” she said, and it became clear she had some piece of news that she was anxious to share. “You will not believe from whom I have had a letter!”
She paused, and Darcy realized she was waiting for him to guess at the sender. “I cannot imagine. Please do tell us,” he said, mostly just to speed the conversation along.
“From Miss Jane Bennet, of all people!”
Darcy tried not to show too much interest, although he was anxious to hear why Jane wrote.
“It seems her father passed away not a fortnight after we took our leave from Netherfield! Is that not terrible? Miss Lucas told Charles that their estate is entailed. Whatever shall they do?”
Miss Bingley certainly did not act like it was terrible news as she relayed the information. She wore a smirk on her face that infuriated Darcy. Elizabeth had lost her beloved father, and Miss Bingley was treating the entire situation as if it was nothing more than foolish gossip.
“How horrible!” Georgiana said, showing far more concern than Miss Bingley. “Is there nowhere they can go?”
“Oh, they have relatives who will take them in, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley dismissively. “If they cannot find anywhere else, perhaps they can stay with their lawyer uncle in Cheapside.” She giggled behind her gloved hand and it took every ounce of restraint Darcy possessed not to throw her out of his house at that very moment.
He stood up and began to pace once again. He had never paced so much in his life as he had in the past week. “How very tragic for them.”
“Such a shock!” said Miss Bingley, who was still enjoying the situation far more than she should be.
All Darcy could think of was how distraught Elizabeth would be. And who else in that silly household would be able to manage what needed to be done? He suspected Elizabeth must be quite overwhelmed. He made a quick decision, which was not at all like him; but this situation certainly demanded a fast response.
“I feel I should return and offer any help they might require,” he said.
Miss Bingley’s head turned sharply and she stared at him. “You do? Whatever would make you think such an odd thing? You barely know the family.”
“But I do know them, and this is a particularly unfortunate situation. They do not have a brother on whom they can rely during this difficult time. Offering to assist in any way possible is only chivalrous.”
Miss Bingley did not look convinced. “But certainly there are people in that dusty heap they call Meryton who are better equipped and inclined to provide that assistance. Honestly, Darcy, you are not making any sense at all.”
Darcy knew his reasoning was flimsy, and he knew his continued attempts to explain it would become thinner and thinner, so he did not even try. “Miss Bingley, I have an immense favor to ask you.”
She looked offended. “Mr. Darcy, you may be resolved to run about the countryside to help these foolish women, but I have no intention of returning with you!”
“And I would never dream of imposing on you in such a manner.” That much, at least, was the complete truth. “Rather, I was hoping to secure your permission to lodge at Netherfield.”
Miss Bingley did not look happy about the request, but she could not think of a reason to deny it. “If you must go, at least you should have the comforts of Netherfield,” she conceded.
“I am forever grateful for your assistance in this,” said Darcy with a small bow. “I will leave as soon as I am packed.”
He looked at Georgiana for confirmation she would be able to spare him for the duration; she smiled and nodded slightly. Darcy might have thought his torments were his alone, but his sister knew him well enough she could nearly read his mind. It would not surprise him if she suspected he had unfinished business, nor that she hoped finishing it would bring him a measure of peace.
Darcy realized he had never written his intended letter to Bingley. “I regret that I have to request one more thing of you, Miss Bingley,” he said. “Would you be so good as to write to your brother and let him know of my intentions?” He suspected that knowing Jane Bennet was in distress would be enough to make Bingley cut his trip short.
Miss Bingley shared his suspicion. “Of course, Mr. Darcy,” she said with a tight smile. It was a letter she had no intention of writing.