The blurb for this story can be found here.
Once he had broken his fast the following morning, Darcy repaired to his study where he found it difficult to settle, eyeing the small pile of still unopened post on his blotter unenthusiastically. Arriving as it had before word of his departure reached some ears, he toyed with relegating it to the hearth. He knew it was an approach favoured by his cousin, most particularly in relation to any letter bearing their Aunt Catherine’s hand!
His gaze drifted to the silver salver beside the post. He had been back little more than four and twenty hours before calling cards were being handed in by those acquaintance anxious to reinstate their connection with him. Lifting the card on the top, he studied the embossed name thoughtfully, then turned it over to read the few words penned on the reverse.
Latimer was keen to see him, and Darcy suspected the purpose behind his prompt presentation of his card: his daughter must remain unshackled. Then, he released a huff of breath. What did is signify? Was this not precisely what he sought?
Richard had the right of it. He was a single man in want of a wife. Miss Latimer would suffice as well as any other – was she not well educated, of impeccable lineage and with naught but the common civilities to say for herself? She would suit him very well.
Pushing aside the distaste he felt for himself, Darcy dropped Latimer’s card onto the desk and began sifting through the post to determine if aught might warrant his attention. A letter from his aforementioned aunt soon came to light, and Darcy almost laughed out loud. He could have predicted it; his letter advising his aunt of his proposed itinerary had told her pointedly that personal letters would not be forwarded. How like Lady Catherine to ignore such an edict! He cast a regretful glance towards the empty hearth before breaking the seal, but just then a quick rap came on the door as Bingley’s head peered around it, and Darcy happily tossed the letter aside and got to his feet.
‘Good morning, Darcy! I cannot tell you how splendid it was to see you returned last night!’ Bingley walked across the room and shook the proffered hand, beaming widely. ‘Pagett will berate me, I am certain, for in my eagerness to see you, I dodged around his stately progress!’
Darcy laughed, waving his friend into a seat. ‘You look in fine spirits. Are you well?’
Bingley leaned back in his seat, crossing his legs at the ankles. ‘I shall not complain; though I would berate the length of your absence! You were missed beyond measure, and it is not only I who delights in your return. It was merely a spark of ingenuity which permitted my escape from Hurst’s house without Caroline attached to my coat tails!’
So Miss Bingley remained at home. Darcy almost shrugged. Though he had forsaken love, he was not quite so desperate!
‘We have much to catch up on, Bingley. Will you join us, take up your usual rooms?’
There was silence for a moment and then, to Darcy’s surprise, his friend leapt from his seat and walked over to the window.
He frowned. ‘There is no obligation – do not feel under duress.’
Bingley swung around. ‘No – no, it is nothing of the sort. I am merely-‘ he ran a hand through his unruly hair.
‘You wished to speak to me – you are troubled?’
Bingley stared at Darcy for a second, his air unusually serious. ‘I have long reflected in your absence on the correct direction to follow – yet always I desired your counsel, and thus my deliberations have come to naught.’ He waved a hand at the painting of Pemberley above the mantel as he walked back across the room. ‘I have been considering my estate. I am a poor tenant of it. Should I give it up?’
‘And what then? You were determined to purchase and not leave it to the next generation, were you not?’
‘Indeed.’ Bingley sighed as he sank back into his chair. ‘I did like Netherfield, very much. But I do wonder if its attraction became enhanced by the local populace.’
Darcy swallowed uncomfortably. He had long owned his responsibility in separating his friend from Elizabeth’s sister, though he had shared it with no one. ‘Then, perhaps,’ he hesitated, unsure of his motive. ‘Should you not relinquish the lease, seek an establishment elsewhere?’
‘Well, there is the rub of it.’ Bingley ran a hand through his hair again. ‘I must now consider my sisters’ needs; all my sisters’ needs. I have deliberated long and hard, yet I have failed to reach a conclusion which delivers satisfaction for all.’
Darcy leaned back in his seat and studied his friend’s conflicted countenance. ‘Perhaps you should air your dilemma – oft, one finds speaking of something encourages a solution to present itself?’
‘If only it were so simple,’ Bingley grimaced. ‘But I value your suggestion; indeed, I cannot tell you how comforting it is to have you sat behind your desk once more! Well, here it is: the twins have completed their formal education under their governess and are presently awaiting entrance into the same seminary Louisa and Caroline attended in London, where they will duly receive the finishing touches to their accomplishments.’ Bingley laughed ruefully. ‘Though I believe they will present a greater challenge to their tutors than my other sisters!’
Darcy smiled, but did not interrupt. He had heard sufficient tales from Bingley of the twins’ exploits to understand he made no exaggeration.
‘So,’ his friend continued, ‘they will be here in Town whilst being tutored and thus residing in Grosvenor Street. The former is what feeds my disquiet; the latter does likewise to my sisters.’
Bingley sighed. ‘I am reluctant to place Olivia and Viola in an establishment renowned for turning young girls into what my other sisters have become. I cannot bear to think of their merry natures being crushed or their joy of life constrained into oppressive formality, though I suppose it is almost inevitable.’
With Bingley’s countenance expressive of his concern, Darcy knew not what to say by way of comfort.
‘But can you imagine, Darcy, how the thought of having the twins in their home for any duration is being received by the Hursts and Caroline, let alone my younger sisters themselves?’
‘And Netherfield? Should you return, take up residence, it is conveniently situated from Town and the perfect home for the girls when not being prepared for the demands of formal society. But what of Julia? She is full young yet, is she not?’
‘Indeed.’ Bingley nodded. ‘She will return to Scarborough to complete her formal education at home, by which time I am certain Cousin Margaret will be well once more. As for Netherfield… though it would serve the twins well when they are not under tuition, Caroline would, as a consequence, have to return to run the household. I am certain you can imagine how they all feel on such a matter!’
Darcy sighed. He fully comprehended his friend’s difficulty. Though he had rarely been in company with the twins, Miss Bingley had made no secret of her dislike of her younger half-sisters when they had made a brief appearance at Netherfield, and she frequently complained of them to her brother in Darcy’s presence. As for Miss Bingley’s liking or otherwise for Hertfordshire, he doubted it had undergone much alteration since she left with such obvious satisfaction in the year eleven.
‘It would seem the stability of a home with you at Netherfield must be preferable for the younger girls, and being cooped up in a town house in London is unlikely to satisfy any of the family. In Hertfordshire there are ample opportunities to partake of the country pursuits. Would not the size of the property secure Miss Bingley some solitude?’
Bingley threw his friend a keen glance. ‘Caroline could allocate a part of the house to the twins and keep to as many other rooms as she wished, you mean?’
Precisely. Darcy shook his head. ‘Not at all.’
Bingley sat up slowly in his seat. ‘I do not know if it will answer, but it does offer a more palatable solution than we have at present. Besides, I do wonder…’ he met Darcy’s gaze. ‘I do think I ought to pay a visit… to Netherfield.’ He fixed his friend with a determined stare. ‘I can avoid it no longer; I must speak of it. You recall the Bennet family and my… tendresse for the eldest daughter?’
Reluctantly, Darcy nodded, trying to ignore the tension seeping into his shoulders. He had suspected the matter may resurface once returned to Bingley’s company; he would not let it affect him.
‘Well, then. I will own I fear bringing unease upon the lady. You said Miss Bennet was indifferent to me. My removing myself from the neighbourhood must have brought considerable relief at the time. If I now return, will she fear I might renew my attentions? I would not wish that upon her.’
Darcy stirred uncomfortably in his seat. ‘You assume she remains at home, Bingley. It is nigh on two years since your brief sojourn in Hertfordshire. The lady may well have found an establishment.’
Bingley slumped back in his seat, his skin paling. Was it as Darcy had feared? Did his friend still remain affected, even after all this time?
Yet he, Darcy, had recovered from his foolish admiration for the lady’s sister, had he not, and had sworn to think on her no more? Thus, the sooner his friend made a decision on the property, the better for all.
‘Then shall we not go directly?’
Bingley looked up, startled. ‘Now? This very day?’
“Why ever not?’ Darcy glanced at the clock on the mantel. ‘It is a ride of but a few hours and the weather holds fair. We could stay overnight, assess the estate on the morrow, and be gone from the neighbourhood within four and twenty hours. If you are at leisure?’
With a rueful smile, Bingley got to his feet. ‘I am at leisure all too often, my friend; all too often!’
Returning to Hertfordshire had never been part of Darcy’s expectation, least of all so soon after his return! With determination, however, he got to his feet. The sooner the visit was paid, the better, and what finer evidence could there be to reassure himself his distance this past year had been the effective cure for putting the past firmly where it belonged?
Chapter Four can be found here!
Copyright © Cassandra Grafton 2016