After dinner, Darcy remained in the drawing-room with the ladies for a while, before inviting Elizabeth into his study for a private interview. In deference to Elizabeth and for the sake of propriety, he left the door opened. He invited Elizabeth to take a seat at his desk; he did likewise.
“I do not mean to pressure you into a decision, but please tell me what you think? Is the position as Georgiana’s companion one you will consider?”
“I like her very much. I have decided that if the two of you want me, I would like to give it a try.”
“Excellent. When can you begin?”
“As soon as you would like, I think. However, what about Mrs. Annesley? Will she be agreeable to sharing her responsibilities?”
“Please do not worry about that. While Mrs. Annesley remains with us, I expect her to continue as before, as much for your benefit as for Georgiana’s. She has years of experience navigating the ton, and you will learn from her. We already discussed her new responsibilities, and she has agreed.”
“When shall I begin?”
“You must name the date. If left to Georgiana or me, it would be today.”
“As I will be leaving my uncle and aunt’s home to live here, it will take a couple of days to pack my belongings and say goodbye.”
“I will arrange to have your belongings packed and delivered. You need only to say when.”
“Oh no, I cannot allow you to go through so much trouble on my behalf. Surely, you do not go to such lengths for all your employees.”
“I take my responsibilities very seriously. You will find that I am a very generous employer. Besides, as Georgiana’s companion, you should expect many indulgences. Georgiana will insist, and I never deny her anything that is within my power to bestow.”
Riding along in the elegant landau for the third time in as many days, the happenings on the street barely warranted her notice. Deeply engrossed in her thoughts, Elizabeth pondered her odd turn of fortune.
The life she was now embarking upon represented a complete diversion from the life she envisioned for herself. For as long as she remembered, Jane and she shared a romantic dream of meeting and falling in love with their own versions of Prince Charming, and living happily ever after. Thus, her refusal to marry her odious cousin, Mr. Collins. Not that she refused him solely on the basis that she did not love him—the man was an idiot! Elizabeth knew if she had it to do all over again, her choice remained the same. An odd turn of fortune—indeed. That idiot now inhabited her beloved childhood home.
She felt most unfortunate in having to embark upon a life of servitude. Oddly enough, at the same time, she felt somewhat fortunate in having escaped a life of servitude in the home of strangers—beholden to people completely foreign to her. She reckoned if she must earn her own way in life, what better way than to spend all her time in the company of the delightful Miss Darcy. The two young women bonded immediately. Elizabeth’s fondness for Georgiana easily outweighed her discomfort with Mr. Darcy.
Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth recalled how he behaved during the earliest days of their acquaintance. His unguarded comment to his friend, Charles Bingley, that she was not handsome enough to tempt him, might just as well be stamped upon his forehead. However, it was the way he always stared at her at Netherfield, that bothered her most. Back then, she was Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn—the brightest jewel in the country. Those days are long past—never to return. Merely thinking of that time in her life brought tears to her eyes. Tears that refused to shed. Elizabeth rarely thought about those matters long enough for that. She quickly focused her attention upon the rich colours that surrounded her, the carriage’s velvet window shades and lush cushions—the elegance that now typified her life.
She smiled. It could be worse—I might be Mrs. Collins.