Here is the third installment of my new variation When Pride Prevails. As those of you who are following along know, Darcy’s situation is uncomfortable to say the least. We should be on more familiar territory now as the characters prepare for the Meryton Assembly. Hope you enjoy this twist on the original. If you haven’t read any of it yet, you’ll need to read the Prologue first, then Chapter 1.
~ Chapter 2 ~
It was the afternoon of the Meryton Assembly. Bingley’s brother-in-law, Mr. Hurst, was sleeping in an armchair with his mouth open, punctuating their conversation with an occasional snore. Bingley’s two sisters, Louisa Hurst and Caroline Bingley, were looking as if they would rather be in London. Darcy was wondering if he could excuse himself, claiming his was fatigued from the long journey. Meanwhile Bingley was talking enthusiastically about the Assembly.
“I think you will enjoy it, Darcy. It’s a pity we haven’t had the chance to tailor some new clothes for you, but I’m sure what you have is more than adequate for a country Assembly. They won’t be as fastidious as they are in Town.”
“I really have no desire to attend the village dance, Bingley.” Darcy all but growled the words. If he had arrived just one day later, he would not have been compelled to be part of this ridiculous charade.
“I agree with you entirely, Mr. Darcy.” Miss Bingley’s voice was distinctly nasal. “I don’t see why Charles is so insistent that we attend.”
Bingley’s cheerful disposition remained unchanged in the face of such opposition. He had been thrilled he had managed to convince Darcy to stay with him at Netherfield, and nothing Darcy or his sister Caroline could say could dampen his spirits.
“But, Caroline, there is no purpose in having an estate if you refuse to establish yourself in the neighbourhood. It is part of my duty as a gentleman – and yours as a lady – to take your place among your equals. If you do not wish to do that, why did you insist on me leasing an estate? You can’t have your cake and eat it, Caroline. Just say the word and I will give up the lease, return to London, and abandon the idea of a country living once and for all.”
“But Mr. Darcy doesn’t seem to think it’s necessary, Charles, and he knows better than you do what gentlemen ought and ought not to do. Isn’t that so, Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy cleared his throat. The fact that he didn’t want to go to the dance had no bearing at all on Miss Bingley’s situation.
“I am sorry to disappoint you, Miss Bingley, but your brother is perfectly right. As landowners, it is your duty to interact with other landowners in the surrounding areas. You will also have the responsibility of seeing to your tenants and helping the poor. It is what well-bred young ladies who live in the country are taught to do from childhood. Georgiana was expected to do the rounds when she came home from school, from a very young age.”
The memory of young Georgiana coming home during the holidays wrenched at him, particularly now, after her letter. He had not seen her for so long. If only he could see her and explain to her that she was not to blame for anything that had happened. Her only fault was that she had been too young to know better. Unfortunately, it was not an option. The moment Miss Darcy of Pemberley arrived in Netherfield, his identity would be uncovered. It was beyond endurance. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, cautioning himself to be patient.
Miss Bingley’s groan of protest broke into his thoughts and he opened his eyes to find her pouting. “I have never understood this strange custom. Surely we can send the servants to enquire after the tenants and the sick. Why do we have to do it ourselves?”
This was the problem with not being born a gentlewoman. Other ladies knew what was expected, but Miss Bingley was always questioning the most obvious things. The two Bingley sisters had been to the best academy money could buy, and had attended the best finishing schools. They behaved like proper young ladies, and had all the accomplishments they needed, yet there were always unspoken rules that
would distinguish them from those who had been born to this life. They were traditions handed down from one generation to the other. Even the best Ladies’ Academies did not adequately make up for that.
“It is an unwritten code of conduct, Miss Bingley – one of those things you are expected to know if you are bred to this position.”
The situation was different in Bingley’s case. Young boys were sent away to school at an early age and learned much about being a gentleman – apart from running an estate— at school. Bingley had attended Eton and that had equipped him well enough.
Miss Bingley pouted again. “Very well. You have convinced me that it is our duty to visit the poor. But that does not mean I have to attend the Assembly and expose myself to a crowd of unwashed nobodies, surely? We will be expected to dance with every uncouth gentleman in the neighbourhood.”
“And to look as if we enjoyed it,” added her sister Louisa.
Darcy would not have worded it quite this way, but he did agree with Caroline in principle. He disliked balls at the best of times, and to be forced to attend a room full of women thrusting their daughters at him was his idea of a nightmare. He was entirely in charity with Miss Bingley about this, at least.
“I see your point, Miss Bingley. I have never understood the appeal of these occasions. It would have been better for all of us if we had postponed our arrival.”
Bingley rounded on him.
“I would have thought you would know better than to encourage my sister, Darcy. You are supposed to set an example of good breeding. Put yourself in my position. What would you do if you were master of Netherfield?”
Darcy thought of the endless Assemblies and dances he had been obliged to attend when he was at Pemberley.
He sighed. “Once again, Bingley, I would have to agree with you. I spoke out of turn. I am simply expressing my own disgust at the idea. Your duty requires—”
“Confound it, Darcy. This is not only about duty. It is the polite thing to do and you know it. It will actually be a pleasure to make the acquaintance of a room full of strangers who are intent on welcoming me to the neighbourhood. I have already met some of the gentlemen, and they have all been very genteel and kind. I want to become part of the community.”
That was what Darcy had always liked about Bingley – his willingness to throw himself wholeheartedly into any scheme he decided on. His perpetual good humour and eagerness to please those around him formed a frequent contrast to Darcy’s own reticence to engage with strangers.
He might admire Bingley, but that did not mean Darcy was obliged to follow suite. He had been reluctant to come in the first place. He was not going to be dragged into this particular scheme.
“If you will forgive me, Bingley, but, while I commend your enthusiasm, I must refuse to accompany you. I have no intention of establishing myself in Meryton – far from it – and under the circumstances I do not wish to appear in public. I agree that your sisters have to accompany you, but you do not need me.”
Miss Bingley shot him a resentful look. He ignored it. He had simply told the truth. She would have to embrace her new role or find herself snubbed by her neighbours. He hoped she understood the consequences.
“Oh, no, Darcy. You’re not wriggling out of this one. What was the point of coming here from your exile in Cornwall if you plan to be a recluse?”
He should not have listened to Bingley’s persuasions in the first place and agreed to come to Netherfield. Bingley had taken advantage of Darcy’s distress at receiving his sister’s letter and had finally convinced him coming to Netherfield was the wisest course of action. Darcy didn’t doubt his decision to leave Cornwell, but he should have come up with a better location, somewhere where Bingley wouldn’t badger him into being sociable.
“A recluse, Darcy. The whole reason you came here was to start mingling in society again.”
Darcy vision of retiring early and having an evening to himself was looking less and less likely. “I don’t suppose you will let me off if I promise to attend the next social occasion?”
“No, I will not. I’ve always been your social conscience, Darcy. You must allow me to be your guide about this.”
Darcy had to acknowledge this was true. It was the reason they had become friends in the first place. At Eton, Darcy had given consequence to Bingley, who was considered an upstart because of his links with trade. In return, Bingley had guided Darcy through the bewildering complexities of social interaction. Bingley always knew what to do in awkward situations, while Darcy, being naturally reserved, found himself often giving offence without intending to. He did not like hypocrisy, and was sometimes too honest for his own good. Bingley had taught him to navigate his way without compromising his integrity and helped him through many uncomfortable encounters.
“Besides, how do you think it will look, if words spread that you were an eligible young man staying in Netherfield, but you didn’t bother to attend the Assembly? I can assure you, it will give rise to a great deal of speculation and curiosity. People will want to know if you are hiding something. No, Darcy, if you really wish to avoid being the object of gossip, you have to make yourself as unnoticeable as possible. You don’t want to stick out like a sore thumb.”
That clinched it. The last thing he wanted was to have people asking questions about him.
“Very well. You win. I will attend the Meryton Assembly.”
Miss Bingley tittered. “Thank heavens! Now Louisa and I will have someone to dance with.”
Darcy wished Miss Bingley did not take for granted that he intended to dance, but he simply bowed and resigned himself to the inevitable.
“I will be happy to dance with both of you, providing there is a decent orchestra. I cannot abide dancing if the musicians are bad.”
Miss Bingley gave him a coy look. “Oh, fie, Mr. Darcy! I now know you are not serious about dancing with us, sir! You know there is no chance at all that there will be good musicians at a provincial assembly. You must not make good music a condition for dancing, or you will not dance at all.”
Darcy thought that it would be the best thing that could possibly happen, but he knew Miss Bingley was too bothersome to allow him that possibility. Besides, he was not such a killjoy as to refuse to dance completely at a country ball.
“Very well, Miss Bingley, I promise to dance with you and Mrs. Hurst, but no one else.”
Miss Bingley looked triumphant and Mrs. Hurst looked satisfied.
Meanwhile, Mr. Hurst, hearing the name, woke up briefly. “What–? Oh, it’s you, Darcy,” he said, then promptly went back to sleep.
With that matter settled, all that was left was for everyone to decide was how Mr. Darcy was to be introduced. After several minutes’ discussion, they all agreed that Mr. Darcy’s first name, Fitzwilliam, was too distinctive and could be found far too easily in Debrett’s Peerage. Darcy would rather not have added even more subterfuge to his disguise by changing his name, but he was only too aware of the consequences of revealing his identity. In the end, he compromised by taking up one of his middle names. Of those three names, Frederick, George and John, John was deemed the best.
“John is a very respectable name, Mr. Darcy. It is not grand, of course, like ‘Fitzwilliam,’ which has a ring to it, but it is a good, solid English name and nothing to be ashamed of.”
“More to the point,” said Darcy, gravely, “it will not reveal who I am. George was my father’s name, so it will inevitably lead to Pemberley, but John Darcy could be anyone. It is a common name.”
“I only hope I do not forget and reveal your name by accident,” said Miss Bingley.
“If you do, I will be out of here and back to Cornwall in no time. I cannot emphasize how crucial it is to keep this secret.”
“Of course, Mr. John Darcy,” said Miss Bingley, “but we will have to practice it all the time, to grow accustomed to it.”
“We had better wake up Mr. Hurst and let him know what we have decided.”
It took some time to rouse Mr. Hurst well enough to make sure he understood the importance of sticking to Darcy’s new identity.
“Good,” said Bingley, smiling in delight. “We have resolved all our problems. I only hope there will be some pretty young ladies I can dance with.”
Darcy was by no means as delighted as Bingley was, but it occurred to him that it might work to his advantage. No doubt Georgiana – as a young lady who undoubtedly enjoyed the idea of attending a dance – would be happy to know that he was taking part in some of the more trivial aspects of society.
With the excuse of wanting to give instructions to the valet he and Bingley shared about his clothes for the evening, Darcy withdrew to his chamber. Shutting the door behind him, he sat down at the escritoire in his room and wrote to his sister.
I have now arrived at Netherfield from Cornwall. Netherfield is a large estate east of the small town of Meryton. Bingley is very pleased with it. I have been helping him go through the books, which are in a bit of a muddle. He has a good head for figures, but he has no experience in estate business, so we have spent some time cloistered with his man of business in order to make some sense of what he can expect from the property.
Bingley’s new residence is very fine, Georgiana. You would like it. It is not as big as Pemberley, but it is very well situated and the rooms are very well furnished. The furnishings are much more modern, of course, than those at Pemberley. There are no heavy shells or fish-scale carvings anywhere in sight, you may be relieved to know, and as a result the rooms are far more bright and airy. If I wasn’t so attached to those old relics, I would have them removed and replaced with lighter pieces. However, I must admit that the parlor, which was done in Hope’s Egyptian style, is not at all to my taste. Caroline Bingley had those furnishings brought from London, and I have yet to come to terms with winged sphinxes, lions and Egyptian gods occupying the same room as I do.
I am growing accustomed to being here, away from my ancient castle, as you call it. It is so strange to be among friends again. I am happy to break my isolation, but I fear I have become a curmudgeon and I’m no longer fit for company. I am not as used to the demands of constantly keeping up small talk and looking for entertainment. I admit I find it makes my head hurt. I will get accustomed to it again, no doubt, but at times I yearn to have the house to myself.
Nevertheless, you will be pleased to hear, I will be going to the local Assembly at Meryton, and I intend to dance at least with Miss Bingley and her sister. I warn you, however, I will not dance with anyone else.
My wound no longer pains me at all – not even the long journey affected it. I am very glad to be back in lush, quiet hills of this part of England, with its stately oaks and cultivated fields. Cornwall has its own brand of beauty, but it is more harsh and unforgiving, though in many ways, I have come to like the tors and vales of the wild country.
The autumn colours are growing beautiful. The vibrant hues here remind me of the harvest season at Pemberley. I look towards the north sometimes and imagine myself taking the carriage up the Great North Road to Pemberley. I long to see it, my dear sister, as I long to see you.
I am eagerly awaiting your news. You are my link to Pemberley and your stories of the servants’ antics and the details of your life there make me feel that I am still there.
Your brother William
Darcy read over the letter and sealed it. Aware of servants’ inclination to gossip, he did not send the letter to Georgiana directly. Instead, he addressed it to plain Mr. Richard Fitzwilliam at the inn in Lambton, Derbyshire. Satisfied that if Bingley franked it no one could trace it to him, he rang for the footman and had the letter sent express. He disliked this subterfuge, but there was no avoiding it.
Hopefully, the letter should convince Georgiana that all was well, and there would be no more desperate letters from her.
I hope you enjoyed this chapter. I’ll be posting the next chapter next Tuesday, so keep a lookout for it.