Georgiana was uncomfortable riding in the carriage with Elizabeth. From what the young lady had stated, Darcy had taken a liking to the Bennet daughter. But why would her brother find the dark-haired female to be so likeable? Was there something that Georgiana had not noticed?

“You have come to enjoy by sister’s company, Miss Elizabeth?”

The young lady nodded her head. “Indeed. She has been easy to speak with, and very knowledgeable on many subjects. You must be proud of her, learning more of the world than simply what is expected of young ladies. Many men frown on such, afraid of intelligent women.”

“And what subjects did you discuss?” Georgiana was curious. She had never thought of discussing matters that would be important to her brother, so it would be interesting to discover more about him through the lady before her.

“We spoke of medicine, treatments for different ailments and illnesses. And we discussed running an estate, crop rotations and such. I never expected to find another female who is as interested in such topics as myself.

Certainly, this is not a popular notion amongst society. And she has not even come out or taken her curtsey.”

“You would be amazed at how different my sister is, Miss Elizabeth.” Georgiana stated. She was unsure how they would explain the difference in her personality if they were successful in returning to their own bodies.

“Well, I am glad to know that you allow your sister to be herself, rather than conform to what society demands. My father has endured much teasing from his friends for allowing me the freedom to learn as if I were a son rather than a daughter.”
Georgiana looked out the window of which she was seated near. She had never thought about learning of crop rotation or any other aspects of running an estate. Her role models would be shocked to see such a young lady as Elizabeth Bennet. The thought of Lady Matlock learning how the farms are run or handling the books for the estate was ridiculous. But Georgiana Darcy was learning that netting a purse or playing the pianoforte were frivolous in comparison to what men were expected to do. Of course, many men of society have stewards to run the estate, rather than getting their hands soiled doing labor along with the tenants and staff. There was more she wished to know, to have a better understanding of the world in which she lived.

Elizabeth had been watching the expression of the gentleman before her. “If I have said anything inappropriate, Mr Darcy, please forgive me. I know most of the ton do not wish their ladies to know the details of estate management. Perhaps it is a subject you do not wish your sister to know.”

A thought came to Georgiana. “No, Miss Elizabeth, I was just considering that ladies are under appreciated. We expect you to set a proper table, entertain the men, and look pretty. But I have an aunt who was widowed many years ago, before my…my sister’s birth. The estate was not entailed, so my cousin Anne is to inherit. Until Anne takes up her inheritance, Lady Catherine sees to the estate being run.”

“Lady Catherine? It is she who gave my cousin the living at Hunsford Parish.”

Having met Mr Collins when she had last visited Rosings Park, Georgiana shuddered. “Indeed. My aunt prefers to surround herself with those who worship her benevolence. Mr Collins is…a unique person.”

“Your sister stated similar views of my cousin. I have yet to meet him, though I may be meeting your aunt soon.”

“Why would you meet my aunt? Are you to visit your cousin?”

It was Elizabeth’s turn to look out a window of the carriage. “I…I am supposed to marry my cousin.”

Shocked, Georgiana responded without thinking. “Your family would force you to wed such a vulgar man?”

“I have no brother, Mr Darcy. As such, with our estate entailed to Mr Collins, my parents felt it would protect my mother and sisters when my father’s time has come. It is my duty to do what I can to ensure my mother and sisters have a home and comfort.” Elizabeth could not look at the other occupants of the carriage.

“I pray there is another way to protect them, Miss Elizabeth.” Georgiana replied. “No one should have to suffer such a man for the security of her family.”

Bingley added his opinion. “Perhaps, if one of your sisters were to marry well, you would not be forced into such a union, Miss Elizabeth.”

“It is my prayer, Mr Bingley, though I will not count it as a possibility.”

The topic was quickly changed, turning to books. Georgiana was surprised at the variety of reading materials Elizabeth had read, making a note to learn more of the topics.

When the subject matter turned to geology, Elizabeth reached into her reticule, pulling out an object which instantly garnered Georgiana’s attention.

“I found this stone in the gardens this morning. It is not from Hertfordshire, I am certain, for I have never seen such before.”

In her hand, Elizabeth held the very stone that had triggered the change between the Darcy siblings.

Controlling her impulse to grab ahold of the stone, Georgiana shook her head. “It comes from Derbyshire. It is a form of fluorite.”

“It is beautiful. My father loves collecting stones from all over the world. As my mother’s brother owns an import company, he enjoys finding unique samples to gift my father. Just last year, my uncle acquired a beautiful specimen of tourmaline which was multicolored. Incredibly beautiful.”

“From what I have been told, the fluorite you hold is only found in the Peak District of Derbyshire. At Matlock House, in London, my aunt has a pair of candlesticks made from the stone. They are exquisite.”

Elizabeth returned the stone to her reticule, while Georgiana thought of ways to obtain the stone from the young lady. There had to be some way to gain possession of it.

~~ ** ~~
Wickham was not pleased with the lack of progress they were making. One of the horses had come up lame and had to be exchanged, then there was a problem with one of the wheels. They had only arrived in a small village in Bedfordshire in the nick of time, though the village had very little to assist them. The owner of the stables was ill and could not aid the carriage driver in exchanging the wheel. The inn was closed and appeared to have been closed for many days.

The driver went to the door of the parsonage, hoping to find someone who could rescue him from the ill temper that Wickham was experiencing. The parson came to the door. “How might I be of assistance?”
“Beggin your pardon, but our carriage has met with a mishap and we require a new wheel. Could you tell me where I can find someone who would be able to repair the wheel or find a replacement?”

“There is no one near. Closest would be in Luton, which is a two-hour ride on horseback.” The parson replied.

“How many are in your carriage?”

“Two ladies and a gent. He will be right angry over this.”

“Are they wealthy? Would they be able to pay if I offer them food and tea?” The parson’s cheeks turned red.

“I do not ask for myself. As you can see, our community is poor and in desperate need. A few coins would go a long way to helping those for which I tend.”

“The young miss looks to be from a fine family, but the other lady is her companion. And the gent, well, I have me doubts as to his wealth. Thinks more of himself than he is, if you know what I mean.”

“Well, the offer is there, if they wish. I will put the kettle on, just in case.”

The carriage driver nodded his head, then headed back towards the carriage. Wickham was pacing outside the carriage, furious over the delay. “Well, did you find anyone to come to our aid?”

Shaking his head, the driver explained the situation. “I will take one of the horses and ride to Luton. Hopefully I will return before dark.”

“That is not acceptable. We must be on our way immediately. These delays are costing us dearly.” Wickham stated as he attempted to rein in his temper. “We will have to ride the horses until we reach somewhere that has proper transportation for us.”

Darcy saw an opportunity to frustrate Wickham’s plans. Remembering how Georgiana had been injured from a fall from a horse, and her fear that grew from the incident, Darcy decided to use that to delay them.
“Mr Wickham, you cannot expect me to ride one of the horses. You remember when I was a child, when my father and I were riding, and an adder snake scared the horse. I was thrown to the ground, and the horse nearly trampled me. We must remain here, until the carriage can be repaired.”

“You can ride with me.” Wickham growled.

“The very thought of being on a horse brings me to tears. You cannot be so heartless as to torment me in such a manner. Please, do not try to force me on one of those beasts, I cannot abide the thought of torture.” Darcy feigned tears welling in his eyes. He despised when women used such tactics but realized that there were times when the supposed weaker sex was stronger than their male counterparts, and this was one of those times. As Wickham’s eyes saw Georgiana Darcy before him, he expected her to be weak and easy to manipulate to get what he wanted. It made Darcy realize there were times that he had been manipulated by some of the ladies in his own family, especially his two aunts. But that would require contemplation at a different time. Now he must use all the womanly charms he could to convince Wickham.

“You are behaving like a child, Georgiana. I insist you do as I say.” The scoundrel grasped Darcy by the upper arm, attempting to drag his captive towards the horses.

Darcy let out a cry, pretending to be hysterical. “No, please, do not make me get near the horses. Please, I am begging you.”

Mrs Younge took hold of the other arm of her charge. “Miss Darcy, you were not frightened of horses the other morning. You told me you wished to go riding.”

“You are lying…I would never say such a thing. When have you ever seen me near a horse? You are making up stories against me, all so you can be with Mr Wickham. I am frightened and cannot stand the thought of being near the horses, let alone ride on one.”

“George, I swear, she told me that she wished to go riding the other morning.” Mrs Younge demanded. “I told her that I did not pack her riding habit.”

“You must be mistaken, Mrs Younge. I remember when Georgiana had her accident and have never seen her near a horse since then.” Wickham said, angry with the situation. “We must leave here as soon as possible. I doubt that Darcy has learned of our disappearance, but we do not wish to be here when he discovers what has happened.”

“The parson says he can feed you if you have a coin or two. As poor as the neighborhood is, food must be at a high cost.” The driver suggested.

“No, we will remain with the carriage.” Wickham fumed. “Be off and return as quick as possible.”

~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~


Mr Bennet dreaded the news of the arrival of his distant cousin. Mr Collins was not due to arrive for another week. The man’s decision to make the journey early was not appreciated, especially when there was no word of warning. Knowing Collins’ father, Mr Bennet was not anticipating the coming days.

Mrs Hill, the housekeeper of Longbourn, ushered the parson of Hunsford Parish into her master’s study. She inquired of Mr Bennet if he desired tea served, which was met with a slight nod.

“Mr Collins, I was not expecting you until next week. Why did you not write to inform me of the change?”

“My magnanimous benefactor, Lady Catherine de Bourgh was on her way to London to visit with her relations, including her brother, the Earl of Matlock. ‘Mr Collins, you should accompany me as far as London, then take a post carriage to your relations. It would cost you less by doing so, rather than having to hire a carriage to take you the entire way.’ Lady Catherine is superior in every way, and her wisdom is greatly appreciated. Why, she has even instructed on how my closets should be constructed, including shelves. Can you imagine, shelves in the closet? Such a wise lady.”

“And while you were saving yourself funds, you did not think to use some of those funds to send a message ahead to notify us of your early arrival?” Mr Bennet did not need longer to know that the son was much like the father had been.

“I was certain you would not require much time to prepare for me, as my father explained the size and worth of Longbourn. You must only have one spare room for guests, with so many daughters having rooms of their own.”

Mr Bennet was nearing the boiling point and his cousin had not been at Longbourn for even half an hour. “I beg to differ. Your father had not been here since he was a small boy, and even so, we have made improvements over the years. We added a separate wing to the east side of the manor house, which gave us a larger dining area to entertain company, and three additional bedchambers above. And a small conservatory was added, as my two eldest daughters have enjoyed learning more of plants.”

“Ah, your daughters. I believe the daughter you have decided on for me to marry is one of the eldest daughters.” Mr Collins was eager to set his eyes on the young ladies.

“My daughter, Elizabeth, is the one of which I wrote to you. She is my second born, with Jane being the eldest.”

Mr Collins frowned. “And why was your first born not offered to be my wife? Is there something wrong with the girl?”

“No, no, Jane is a delightful young lady, beautiful and sweet natured. But she has a young man courting her, and his attention to her came before your letter wishing to wed one of my daughters. Besides, Elizabeth is intelligent on matters of running the estate. She will be invaluable to you when I am gone.”

“A female who is knowledgeable on a man’s business? That is absurd. Your family is not of noble birth, so she could not possibly be as intelligent as someone such as Lady Catherine. She is a widow and has run Rosings Park quite on her own for many years, but she is the daughter of an earl, therefore her superior breeding has allowed her to understand the working of an estate.” Mr Collins sniffed the air as if there was something foul in the room.

“Well, my daughter may not be the daughter of nobility, but she is extremely intelligent and has been valuable in aiding me in caring for the estate.”

“Where is this daughter? I wish to meet her immediately, as it is my intention to be certain that she will make a proper parson’s wife. She will be required to see to the needs of those in my flock, and will need to show difference to our benefactor, as Lady Catherine deserves.”

Mr Bennet took some pleasure to announce that both Jane and Elizabeth were away from home. “Jane took ill while visiting our neighboring estate, and the family staying there would not hear of her returning to Longbourn until she was fully recovered. They even invited Elizabeth to stay with Jane, to comfort her as only a dear sister could.”

“Are your daughters prone to take ill while at someone’s home? I will not take a wife who is sickly.”

“Jane was caught in the rain and took a chill from the cold storm. Elizabeth has been extremely healthy all of her life.” Mr Bennet said with pride.

“Well, if you would show me to my rooms, I will refresh myself while you send for Cousin Elizabeth to return home.” Mr Collins demanded.

“My housekeeper will show you to your room, and you will meet Elizabeth when she returns home, after Jane is fully recovered.”

Not wishing to start an argument so soon after his arrival, Mr Collins waited for the housekeeper to return.

After Mrs Hill placed the tray containing the tea and biscuits on Mr Bennet’s desk, she motioned for the parson to follow her upstairs. Mr Collins’ disappointment of not being offered the refreshments that had arrived was obvious, but Mr Bennet ignored the foolish man, pouring tea for himself as his cousin followed Mrs Hill.

The door was closed after the parson left the study, leaving Mr Bennet to think of the man who was to be his son in law. “He does not stand a chance with Lizzy as his wife. The fool has not a sensible bone in his body, and Lizzy will put him in his place from the start. Perhaps it would be wise of me to warn Mr Collins that siding with one’s patroness over one’s wife is not a wise choice. But then again, it will be entertaining to watch Lizzy teach him that lesson.”

The master of Longbourn lifted his cup of tea to his lips, taking a sip. Once his cup was returned to the saucer, Mr Bennet returned to reading his book. All the while, he was thinking that perhaps he was wrong on having his cousin arrive so soon. Mr Bennet loved laughing at the foolishness of others, so watching his daughter put Collins in his place would be quite entertaining.

~~ ** ~~
Mrs Bennet was all a twitter. Why had she allowed Elizabeth to go to Netherfield to tend Jane? Now that Mr Collins had arrived, she must insist on her least favorite daughter returning to give her attention to her betrothed. She waited until Mr Collins went upstairs with Hill before she entered her husband’s private domain.

“Mr Bennet, you must send a message to Netherfield. Lizzy must return immediately.”

“I will do no such thing. As Mr Collins failed to inform us of his change in plans, he will have to wait until our daughters return, and that is to be when Jane is fully recovered, and not a moment sooner.”

“Mr Bennet, how you vex me. Mary can be sent to tend Jane. Lizzy must be here with Mr Collins. He is her betrothed and might become irritated with her not being here.”

A chuckle escaped Mr Bennet. “Let him be irritated. I look forward to our daughter putting the fool in his place. No, he will have to wait for our girls to return, and that is that. Now, allow me some peace.”

Discouraged, Mrs Bennet turned and left the study. Then she had an idea. If her husband would not send a message insisting their second born return home, then Mrs Bennet would do so herself.

Going to her rarely used desk, Fanny Bennet pulled out a sheet of parchment and her writing supplies. After mending her pen, she scratched out a message.

Dear Lizzy,
Mr Collins has arrived earlier than expected. He is anxious to meet you, so that he can begin instructing you on what he expects from his wife. So, you must return immediately.

If Jane is unable to leave Netherfield, I will send Mary to tend her. But you must be at Longbourn. No other man would ever ask for your hand, so you must not waste this opportunity to wed. And it would bring comfort to your sisters and I to not have to leave our home when your father dies. It is your duty to our family, and to Longbourn. Without your guidance, Mr Collins will certainly be the ruination of the estate. For once, your learning is a blessing, for it will rescue our family from the hedge row.

I expect you to be at Longbourn within the hour. As I said, Mary can tend Jane if need be. Do as you are told, Elizabeth, our future happiness depends on you.

Your mother, FB

The letter was sanded and sealed, then Mrs Bennet went in search of the housekeeper. “Mrs Hill, this must be taken to Netherfield immediately. Will you see that one of the stable hands takes it to Lizzy?”

“Of course, Mrs Bennet.” Mrs Hill replied, accepting the message. “I will have Ted take it to Miss Lizzy.”
Mrs Bennet decided to take to her bed, as her nerves were in need of rest. As Mrs Hill went to find the stable boy, she was called upon to assist Longbourn’s cook, who had burned her arm. The housekeeper was so busy with the cook that it was several hours before she remembered the message, which she had placed in her apron pocket. When she pulled the folded parchment from her pocket, Mrs Hill discovered that the ink on it was smeared, as her apron had gotten wet while tending the burn on the cook’s arm.

What was she to do? Mrs Bennet would be furious that the missive had yet to be delivered, as she insisted it be done immediately. There was only one solution to the problem. Mrs Hill knocked on the door to Mr Bennet’s study. The master of Longbourn would know what to do about his wife.

~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~