“How dull this place is, so far away from any true entertainment.” Caroline stated to her sister as the party entered the assembly room in Meryton. “Everyone we know would outright laugh at the thought of attending such a function.”
“Caroline, hush. You know we need to assist Charles in making his way at an estate. If you embarrass our brother, we will be required to leave here, and Mr Darcy will go along his way elsewhere. If you are so keen on capturing the gentleman, you had best accept that it will be done here, in this backwards community.”
The sisters and Mr Hurst followed behind Bingley and Darcy. The latter of the gentlemen was not pleased to be at the gathering, though the thought of being at Netherfield with Miss Bingley was not an acceptable alternative. Looking around the room, he was reminded of country dances he had attended when he was at Pemberley. Usually he was too busy to attend, but he had allowed a few evenings passed with his own neighbors. His biggest problem was that he did not know how to speak with anyone who was not already known to him. Darcy had always been shy and being in the presence of unknown people made him unable to speak coherently.
An older gentleman approached them, shaking hands with Bingley. “How pleasant it is to have you attend our assembly. You will find many young ladies available to keep you dancing all night, if that is your wish.”
“Sir William, it is an honor to visit with all of you once again. Might I introduce my closest friend, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy? Darcy, this is Sir William Lucas, the local magistrate. His family owns Lucas Lodge, which is located on the other side of Longbourn, which shares its border on the east side of Netherfield.”
“Mr Darcy, it is an honor sir, a true honor, to have someone such as yourself in our midst tonight. I have seen your name whenever I visit London, and you are highly sought after to be a guest. Your uncle is the Earl of Matlock, is he not?”
Darcy nodded his head. “Indeed, he is my mother’s brother.”
Seeing that the gentleman had nothing more to say, Sir William turned towards the neighbors that were near. “Ah, yes, here are the Bennets of Longbourn. Their daughters are some of the finest young ladies in all of Hertfordshire.”
Not wishing to be introduced to a family with daughters of an eligible, for he had endured more than his share of fortune hunters, glanced around as he was introduced to the Bennet ladies.
There were more introductions made before the dancing began. Not known to dance with those with whom he was not familiar, and not wanting to stand up with either of the Bingley sisters, Darcy made his way to one corner of the room, blending into the surroundings.
From his location, Darcy watched Bingley ask for the hand of a pretty blonde lady who appeared to be near twenty, for the next dance. Seeing the look in his friend’s eyes, it was obvious that this was Bingley’s newest love. She was a classic beauty, with blue eyes and a shy smile. The young lady stood with another young lady, whose looks were nearly the opposite. Dark chocolate curls framed her face, and her eyes appeared to be dark, with a sparkle in them as she spoke with the first lady. The dark-haired lady had a better figure, at least in Darcy’s preference. He preferred curves on a female, not the flat figures that were coveted by society. To Darcy, someone in the top rung of society was jealous over not having a curvy figure, so declared curves to be unbecoming.
After several moments of woolgathering, a grating voice brought him back to his situation. Caroline Bingley was near an alcove in the wall, speaking to her sister. “But Mr Darcy should have requested dances with me. He knows me, and it would be proper. Why would he not secure at least one set from me?”
“Sister, you should accept the truth. Mr Darcy does not wish to marry you. I beg you to look elsewhere.” Louisa kept her voice low, pleading with her sister.
“He could not find a better person to be his wife. And he would make his best friend is brother. Certainly, that will be a reason to choose me. I am determined that he will ask for my hand before he leaves Netherfield, even if I have to force the situation.”
“You cannot be serious, Caroline. Please, do not do anything that will cause harm to our brother. Charles has a difficult enough time learning how to be master of an estate. Mr Darcy is here to assist our brother, not become engaged to you.”
“I will succeed, Louisa. With or without your assistance, I will become Mrs Darcy. And when I do, I will see that you are never invited to visit my homes.”
The ladies made their way in the opposite direction of where Darcy was hidden. A shudder went through him at what he had just overheard. He would need to speak to Bingley and make certain his friend was aware of Miss Bingley’s intention, and Darcy’s intention being the opposite.
It was not long before he air was too stuffy for Darcy and he made his way to the door. Outside, the gentleman walked around for a few moments, before he came across one of the young ladies also outside. It was the dark-haired beauty, she seemed to be crying. Something drew Darcy to step closer, yet he was hidden behind the bushes.
Hearing someone walking fast towards the young lady, Darcy recognized the second lady as one of the daughters of Sir William Lucas. He knew that staying there, overhearing the conversation between the ladies, was not the sort of thing he should do, but he could not help himself from a desire to learn what was causing the younger lady pain.
“Lizzy, what are you doing out here? My brother said he saw you appeared to be upset when he saw you. What has happened?”
“Oh, Charlotte, do not fret for me. I am simply feeling sorry for myself.”
“And why would you feel sorry for yourself?” Charlotte inquired.
“Mamma and Papa informed me today that the heir to Longbourn, a Mr Collins, is planning to arrive here in less than a month. It is his goal to marry one of us sisters, and Mamma has decided it would be me to be sacrificed.”
“It could not be so terrible, Lizzy. Just think, if Mr Collins is to inherit the estate, you would be able to remain in your home for the rest of your life. You love Longbourn, and I can see you as the mistress of the estate. You should be celebrating such good fortune. For me, having a home of my own and not be a burden on my family would be a blessing.”
“From what Papa knows of the man, he is a fool. He met Mr Collins several years ago, when Mr Collins’ father passed away. Papa said the son was much like the father, and there was little good to say about the father.”
Charlotte shook her head. “I am certain you father is exaggerating Mr Collins’ qualities. What profession does the man hold?”
“He is a clergyman. Papa says that Mr Collins holds the living at a place called Hunsford, which is connected to the estate of Rosings Park in Kent.”
“That is an honorable profession. Certainly, it is worth learning more about him before you make a decision whether to accept him.”
Lizzy shook her head. “You do not understand, Charlotte. Mamma says that I will marry him, there is no choice to be made. If I do not marry him, I will be forbidden to live at Longbourn any longer. She is determined that I am the only one who could marry him, even though Mary would be better equipped to be the wife of a clergyman. Mary always has a book of sermons in her hands.”
“What was your father’s decision? He is the one who determines who you marry.”
“Papa will never go against Mamma, as he would have to come from his bookroom. You know my parents rarely speak to each other, and Papa loves to have peace in the house. When Mamma is displeased, everyone within five miles knows to stay away from the manor house.”
Charlotte felt sorry for her friend, yet she was also envious of her, as she was considered on the shelf as Charlotte was seven and twenty, with no prospects of marriage. “Well, let us see what happens when the man arrives. Perhaps he would prefer Mary over you.”
“You know that Jane and I have sworn to only marry for the deepest love. Marrying someone we do not love is too difficult to even think, for we could never find happiness in such a relationship.”
“As you well know, I am not a romantic, Lizzy. If it were me in your situation, I would be grateful and accept without a moment of hesitation.”
Lizzy felt guilty, knowing how her elder friend was tortured over being a burden to her family. She had no dowry, as her father’s knighthood came after he had done a service to the crown. There was very little left of their family fortune, which came from selling the mercantile shop in Meryton the family had owned. After the purchase of the estate they lived at, and Sir William’s spending to improve his family’s status, left very little left, and it was used to give Charlotte’s brother a proper education.
“Well, let us return to the assembly and worry about Mr Collins when the man arrives. No need to fret over things right now.”
The younger lady nodded her head before the two ladies joined arms and returned to the party.
Darcy could not determine why he had been drawn to the conversation, but he wished to know the young lady known as Lizzy. He had been pulled towards her from the moment he first saw her, as if they were magnetically connected. And hearing the news of Mr Collins, Darcy was shocked. Rosings Park was the home of his mother’s sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and her daughter, Anne de Bourgh. He had seen the clergyman when Darcy had last been to visit his aunt and cousin, and Collins was not someone the gentleman from Derbyshire would not wish on anyone.
“Well, time will tell if it is the same man. If he is the man, I would not wish for the young lady to be forced to marry him, for he is truly abominable.” Darcy said to himself. Finally, he decided to return to the assembly, before Caroline Bingley decided to come searching for him. There would be no accusations of a compromise if Miss Bingley were to force herself upon him.
Bingley and Darcy were enjoying a glass of port in the game room of Netherfield after they returned from the assembly. Darcy decided to have a talk with his friend about what he had overheard from the Bingley sisters.
“You realize that nothing your sisters could do would force me to offer for Miss Bingley’s hand, do you not?”
“I am aware of your opinion of my sister, Darce. To be honest, I could not blame you. Caroline is not someone with whom I would want to burden my friend. Why do you bring up such a topic?”
Darcy took another sip from his glass before speaking. “I overheard your sisters speaking tonight, and Miss Bingley is determined to become my wife, and she even spoke of an attempt to compromise me. She could run naked in front of me and I would not make her an offer.”
His friend choked on his drink. “Believe me, Darce, I would never force you to marry Caroline. And I will speak with her tomorrow, making sure that a compromise would do her no good.”
“Thank you. I am grateful for your assistance.”
“What did you think of Miss Bennet? Is she not an angel? I danced with her twice tonight and wished I could have spent the entire night dancing with her. Such a kind young lady, and beautiful. I could not ask for a more perfect lady.”
With Bingley’s record of falling in and out of love, Darcy was used to him speaking of his newest angel being the one Bingley could see himself marrying. But as his friend, Darcy listened to the besotted fool ramble on of every feature of Miss Jane Bennet.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy woke early the following morning, as was normal for him. A ride across the countryside would be a welcome diversion and allow him to have the exercise that he craved.
When he had knocked on the door of his sister’s rooms, her maid stated that Georgiana was sleeping and did not wish to be disturbed until after noon. Darcy had informed the maid that his sister would need to meet with him when he returned, and insisted Georgiana be awaken in an hour.
The gentleman was frustrated with his sister’s behavior. She had refused to spend any time with the Bingley’s the day before, claiming a headache and fatigue. But Darcy would ensure that his sister used some of the education she had been given and be courteous to their hosts.
As he was riding, he viewed a young lady in a blue gown, walking towards the hill that was near the border of Netherfield’s property. Darcy tried to remember the name of the estate. Then he realized who the young lady was. The dark haired beauty from the assembly. The young lady who was fretting over possibly marrying his aunt’s clergyman. He wondered if he should tell her what sort of man Mr Collins was, always groveling at Lady Catherine’s feet, doing exactly what she said. But if he told her…was her name Liza, or Lizzy…yes, Lizzy, he would have to explain how he knew of her situation. The last thing Darcy wished to do was to tell a stranger that he had overheard a private conversation she had with her friend.
Watching her for a little longer, he noticed she took a path that went up the hill. At the top, there appeared to be an overturned tree lying on its side, on which the young lady sat. Finally shaking himself from his woolgathering, Darcy turned the horse and headed back to the stables.
The gentleman made his way up the stairs to his rooms, and his valet, Matthews, came to assist him. Matthews had been with Darcy since the young man attended the university and was a devoted valet. Once Matthews had assisted his master with his preparations for the day, Darcy made his way down the hall to his sister’s rooms.
Mrs Younge answered the door. “Mr Darcy, I am afraid that your sister is not ready. She was displeased to be forced to wake earlier than she had wished, and nothing is going as she had planned. We are doing the best that we can to meet your deadline.”
“I will wait for my sister in the sitting room attached to the bedchamber.” Darcy insisted, which caused Mrs Younge to step back to allow him to enter the room.
~~ ** ~~
“You should have left me to sleep. I do not want to be here, you know that I do not want to be around these people.” Georgiana fumed at her brother’s demands for her to spend more time with their hosts.
“You are here, so I insist you behave appropriately. Whether you approve of my friend and his family or not, we are guests in their home. I expect you to behave in a manner that you were taught.” Darcy and his sister were in the garden set furthest from the manor house.
“I will not. I will treat them appropriately for who they are. Being from trade, their money is still new, and they are beneath us in status. How can you be friends of someone such as the Bingleys? Father would be disappointed to see you be friends with the children of a tradesman.”
“Father’s opinion does not matter, as he has been gone for many years. Times are changing, and I am doing what I can to keep up with those changes. Besides, Bingley did me a good turn when we were in university and I owe him.”
Georgiana was displeased with her brother. “Why do I need to be here? You could have allowed me the trip to Ramsgate, as you promised to consider.”
As she spoke, the tip of her walking boots dislodged a stone on the ground. The stone was unusual, so the girl reached down and picked it up to get a better look.
Darcy noticed his sister had something in her hand and stepped closer to Georgiana. “What do you have there?”
“Just a stone, but there is something familiar about it.”
Leaning forward, Darcy recognized the stone. “It is from Derbyshire. It is called blue john. I wonder how it came to be here.”
“Who cares? It is a worthless stone. You are such a tyrant. By treating me as a child, you are ruining my life.” She prepared to throw the stone at a nearby water fountain.
Before she was able to release her grip, Darcy’s hand clasped over her hand. Suddenly, there was a violent flash of light come from the stone, coursing through their hands, causing the siblings to flung apart.
Several moments passed before either of them sat up. Darcy looked around, shaking his head. “What happened?” His voice sounded different in his ears. Then he looked at his sister, only, Georgiana was not Georgiana.
Darcy found himself looking at his own body, and his face reflected the same confusion that he was feeling.
Georgiana stared at her brother. Only, it was her own body at which she was looking. “What did you do to me?” The girl asked, shocked at the sound of her voice. It was her brother’s baritone that spoke her words. She looked down at her hands and her clothing.
“Why do I wear your clothes? And have your voice? Why do you look like me?” Georgiana demanded of Darcy.
“I could ask the same about you. You are me, and I am you.” Darcy was trying desperately to understand why they had suddenly switched bodies.
“That stone, it must have been that stone.”
Darcy looked around, not seeing the stone anywhere near them. “Where is it? You had the stone in your hand.”
“In my hand, which is now your hand. What did you do with it?”
“I do not see it. Help me find the stone.”
Georgiana, in her brother’s body, was near the point of screaming. “How could you allow such to happen to me? You are my guardian, you are responsible to protect me.”
“How was I to know such a thing could happen? I am in just as difficult position as you. Do you really believe I wish to be you?” Darcy replied.
“I cannot be seen like this. My reputation would be ruined.”
“We must return indoors, but we must keep from everyone else while we figure out a solution.” Darcy suggested. “Follow me, we will take the back stairs up to the sitting room attached to my bedchamber.”
“Go up the servants’ stairs? Fitzwilliam, how could you suggest such a thing.”
The gentleman who was in his sister’s body was losing his temper with the girl. “Would you prefer to meet with Miss Bingley or her sister? I am certain we could fool Charles, but Miss Bingley is too determined to capture me as a husband that she watches my every move.”
Reluctantly, Georgiana decided her brother was correct. The pair made their way up the stairs, carefully making sure they were not seen. Once inside the sitting room the pair were able to take a deep breath.
Darcy walked over to his body, taking hold of his own hand. Georgiana was offended, not understanding what he was attempting to do. “Unhand me, brother.”
“I am seeing if our hands being together would return us to our own bodies. Obviously, that was to much for which to hope. There must have been something with the stone that caused this to happen.”
“Then you need to go back outside and find the stone. I will not remain looking like you any longer.”
“Georgiana, this might not be the best time for me to be roaming about the gardens, looking for a stone. What would I tell anyone who might ask me what I was doing in the garden?”
“I do not care. Find the stone immediately.”
Darcy hissed as he spoke. “Keep your voice down. We do not want to alert anyone that there is a problem.”
Thinking for a few moments, Georgiana made an observation. “As you, I do not require someone to chaperone me wherever I go. Perhaps it will be nice to spend a little time enjoying my freedom.”
“You are not to leave Netherfield. We must remain here until we determine what happened and attempt to return to our bodies.” Darcy cautioned.
Pouting, Georgiana agreed. “But what are we to do when Mr Bingley wishes your advice or you are to accompany him?”
“We will take each day as it comes.”