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Here is chapter 2, all refreshed and ready for you. If you missed chapter 1, you can find it here.
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Elizabeth was to travel first to London, where she and her companions would stay with her aunt and uncle Gardiner for a night, then on to Kent. Sir William Lucas was eager to see his eldest daughter, Charlotte, well situated with her new husband. His younger daughter, Miss Maria Lucas, was to stay with the Collinses as well, and Sir William would return home after just a week.
They arrived at Gracechurch Street, where Elizabeth’s aunt and uncle and their children, as well as her dear sister Jane, were on hand to greet the party. After having some tea and some refreshments, the adults went out to do some shopping as a way to pass the day. Later they would be going to the theater.
That evening, as the group made their way into one of London’s most popular playhouses, they came face to face with the one person they had least expected to see – Charles Bingley. Mr. Bingley and Mr. Darcy had been standing to one side of the lobby with Mr. Hurst, waiting for Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst. While Mr. Gardiner went to the window to purchase their tickets, the rest of his party moved to the same side of the lobby in order to keep open the path to the door. Jane bumped into a gentleman, gently apologizing, when the man turned around with a gasp.
The two spoke at the same time, blushes covering their faces.
“How are you?” asked Mr. Bingley.
“I am well, sir,” she responded softly. “May I introduce you and your party to the rest of mine?”
Seeing his nod, she began, “Sir William Lucas you know, of course, and his daughter, Miss Lucas.”
Bingley bowed to them both with a delighted smile on his face. “Indeed! It is so good to see you both!”
Smiling, Jane continued, “My aunt, Mrs. Edward Gardiner. I have been staying with her and my uncle since January. Mr. Gardiner is at the ticket window.”
At this, Bingley startled, but quickly recovered himself, declaring that he was pleased to make her aunt’s acquaintance.
Finally, Miss Bennet said as she gestured to Elizabeth, “My sister you also know, of course.” Bingley smiled at her, stating, “Yes, I do. How have you been, Miss Elizabeth? It has been so long since I have seen my Hertfordshire friends. Why, it’s been more than three months! Not since the twenty-sixth of November, when we were all dancing together at Netherfield!”
“You are correct, sir.”
Elizabeth smiled, then looked pointedly at her sister.
Bingley performed introductions for his party before turning to his friend and asking, “I say, Darcy, is there not room enough for Miss Bennet’s party to join us in your box? Surely we can all squeeze quite comfortably together. What say you? And you, Mrs. Gardiner?”
Darcy jumped a little at being addressed, as his attention was entirely on Elizabeth. “Yes, we can; what an excellent idea, Bingley!”
Being behind his friend, Darcy had been able to observe the onset of the encounter, including the look of absolute joy on Miss Bennet’s face and the quick change of her expression to one of sorrow. He was astounded. Miss Bingley had assured him that Miss Bennet had no feelings for her brother, but from what he had just seen, she most certainly did. Combined with the observations he had made of his friend this past week, he was certain he had made a grave error in any advice that separated the two.
All thoughts of Bingley and Miss Bennet flew out of his head, though, the second he realized that beside Miss Bennet was the witty and vivacious Miss Elizabeth. Darcy was awestruck with the beautiful vision she presented in a light purple gown that fit her like a glove. He surreptitiously examined her figure, his eye drawn to the perfectly colored lilac blossoms woven into her hair, before looking into her eyes. What he saw there both astonished and excited him, giving him hope that had previously not existed.
Is that what I see when she looks at me? he thought. Could it truly be admiration? Darcy was overwhelmed, both by her presence and the emotion he saw. He had left Hertfordshire for two main reasons: because he admired her, and because he felt she was not an acceptable choice for his wife. There were other reasons, of course. For one thing she had defended his greatest enemy, George Wickham, with vigor. He was unsure of her feelings for the blackguard. It pained him to think she thought more highly of his adversary than she did of himself, because it did appear she did not think well of him last fall. She had brought up her new acquaintance with the man during their one dance together, defending him most vigorously and probing insistently into Darcy’s own character. She had said things that made him think she believed whatever story Wickham told, and that she held Darcy responsible for the man’s situation.
In truth, she had no reason to think well of him then. His behavior, he had come to realize, was less than gentlemanly. In the quiet of his sitting room, as he relaxed before bed, he remembered his time in Meryton and was able to examine his actions in retrospect. He recalled the things he said to Miss Bingley when he first met Elizabeth, about her not being a beauty. He implied to his friends that he thought less of her for walking three miles along dirty lanes and fields to tend to her ill sister. He sat with her for thirty minutes, never speaking a word, on her last day at Netherfield, because he was afraid of raising her expectations. Worst of all, upon the occasion of his first opportunity to be introduced to her, he insulted her within her hearing. That embarrassed him the most. He had been raised to be better than that. Weeks of reflection showed him he did not deserve her good opinion, because he gave offense to her at every turn.
Despite this knowledge, the intervening time had only increased his feelings toward her. Seeing the look she gave him tonight, and knowing her generous nature, he began to hope her opinion of him had changed. Realizing that all along he had wanted a courtship with this wonderful woman, he had begun to question his reasons for not asking for one.
Her family’s behavior was definitely not that of refined society. Her younger sisters and mother were loud, brash, and unchecked. Her father was indolent, mocking, and sarcastic. He would rather sit along the wall at the Netherfield ball and laugh at his daughters’ behaviors than take the trouble to correct them, and when he did finally make an effort with his middle daughter, it was very badly done. However, if Elizabeth were to accept him, he would be marrying her, not her relations. The knowledge that Pemberley was days away from Longbourn, and visits from the Bennets to the Darcy estate would be few and far between, negated even more of that argument.
Another problem was her dowry, which was very little. However, Darcy was a wealthy man. In the five years since his father’s passing, he had greatly increased his yearly income. Unlike his father and other of that generation, Darcy saw the future in the boundless proliferation of manufacturing and machines, and had chosen to invest in carefully scrutinized inventions and businesses. Every quarter saw an increase. With his income, and the potential for exponentially more, lack of a dowry was no stumbling block to a union with Miss Elizabeth.
Then, there was the lady herself. Besides her appeal physically, she was intelligent. She was well-read and not afraid to argue her position on any number of issues. She challenged him, which no other woman of his acquaintance had ever done that he could recall. She never fawned over him. He was doubly glad of this, for he hated that above all else. She was always graceful and polite; even when Miss Bingley insulted her, Miss Elizabeth answered with grace and forbearance. She could play the pianoforte and sing, and he had watched as she expertly embroidered handkerchiefs and other items. Her manners and accomplishments were not lacking. She would be an excellent wife in all ways.
All these thoughts flew through Darcy’s head as he bowed and greeted each member of her party. He was surprised to learn the fashionable couple accompanying the Misses Bennet – Mr. Gardiner had rejoined his party in the middle of Bingley’s introductions to his sisters – was their relatives from Gracechurch Street. He had not thought poorly about tradesmen in general, although while at Netherfield, Miss Bingley attempted to keep the party entertained with speculation about this pair in particular. Darcy was happy to see they were graceful, elegant people. From the conversation he was witnessing, they also seemed to be well-informed. Certainly there was nothing to be ashamed of there. This felt to him like another nail in the coffin of his arguments against a union with the most fascinating lady he had ever met.
To be continued …