Dinner at the Bingleys’ was an interesting affair. Elizabeth sat between Georgiana and Mr. Bingley and greatly enjoyed speaking with both of them. Miss Bingley and Darcy sat on the other side of the table. Even more so than in the past, Elizabeth could not help but notice how much attention Miss Bingley paid to Darcy. At one point Miss Bingley was so bold as to put her hand on his wrist as she laughed at something he had said. Elizabeth was gladdened to see that Darcy moved his hand away slightly to break the contact, which made Miss Bingley scowl.
“So, Mrs. Darcy,” Miss Bingley said, “I trust that you are prepared for the task of managing Pemberley? It is such a fine estate and there will be so very many tasks that require your attention.”
Darcy spoke before Elizabeth had a chance to respond. “I trust Elizabeth’s judgment and ability. I know that she will learn quickly.”
“Let us hope that nothing too formidable happens while she is learning,” said Miss Bingley with exaggerated concern. “It would be terrible if something were to happen to Pemberley.”
“Pemberley has weathered many things,” said Darcy, straining to keep his voice light and his growing anger from showing though. “I do not suspect that Elizabeth’s taking some time to learn how things are done will cause any ruin to come to the estate. Besides, I shall be there as well if she needs assistance.”
This was the first time that Darcy mentioned a willingness to help her, and Elizabeth inwardly sighed in relief. Of course Darcy would not let any harm come to Pemberley, but to hear him say so aloud was reassuring. It made Elizabeth feel slightly less pressured to do everything perfectly from the start—not that she would not still aim for perfection, of course.
“It shall be interesting, to say the least,” sniffed Miss Bingley.
Georgiana saw the need to steer the conversation in a different direction, so she complimented Miss Bingley’s dress. That led to an exhaustive description of how and where the dress was made, where the fabric came from, and how hard Miss Bingley had had to work to find the appropriate shoes to wear with it. Elizabeth normally would not have been relieved for such a conversation, but it was substantially better than being interrogated. She thought once again about Georgiana’s easy grace in changing the discussion, and she was grateful to have such an ally.
Elizabeth took the opportunity to speak with Mr. Bingley. “It is unfortunate that you did not receive word of Father’s death,” she said. “We were in need of friends during that dark time.”
“I recall when I lost my father,” Bingley said. “I know what a trying time it is.”
“Jane, especially, was hard hit. And now she has to care for my mother and my silly sisters by herself.”
It was not subtle, but Elizabeth did not care.
“Oh!” said Bingley. He seemed to Elizabeth to be trying to remain calm and failing badly. “How is your sister? That is, how are all of your sisters?”
“The youngest three are as they ever were. As I said, Jane suffered heavily the loss of our father.”
“Certainly there must be suitors lining up for her,” he said.
“Not at present. Even if there were, I know that Jane’s heart belongs to one man alone.”
Even Mr. Bingley could not miss the meaning of that. “Do you think she would still have me?” he whispered. “After I left so very suddenly?”
“I believe that she would, although you would not be remiss in a hearty apology.”
Bingley’s eyes shined and he smiled radiantly at Elizabeth. “Mrs. Darcy, this is the best news you could have given me. I have missed her ever so much since my departure.”
“She waits for you,” said Elizabeth. “But you had better hurry, as she does not know you are coming for her.”
Elizabeth, of all people, knew the strain of receiving an unwanted marriage proposal and believing it the only option. She did not want Jane to have to go through that because she was not yet aware of Mr. Bingley’s feelings.
“What are you two talking about down there?” Caroline said from the other end of the table.
“Caroline, Mrs. Darcy has given me the finest news. Miss Bennet still esteems me!”
Miss Bingley’s eyes narrowed to a glare as she looked at Elizabeth. Elizabeth did not care in the slightest.
“So what will you do with this information?” asked Darcy with a smile.
Bingley returned the smile. “I leave for Netherfield in the morning,” he said.
Elizabeth never would have imagined that a dinner with Miss Bingley could make her so happy, but this was the most fortuitous evening she could remember. She only wished she could be with Jane when Mr. Bingley asked her to be his bride. Elizabeth’s heart ached as she longed for her sister, but if all went according to plan, she might see Jane sooner than she had expected. Soon Elizabeth would leave for Pemberley with her husband. The only direction to look was forward.