Posted on: 2009-03-04
The carriage ride back to Lambton was completely silent. Lizzy did not know what exactly to say, and the Gardiners were torn between offering congratulations and asking for assurances.
Again, it was Kitty who spoke first. "You might as well scold her now, for I shall know soon enough. She is not usually given to behaving so, even if all of Meryton thought he was in love with her."
"It would have been helpful had my sister mentioned such a rumor," said Mr. Gardiner dryly. "Or Miss Gosford. Or my soon-to-be nephew for that matter. 'A favorite of Mr. Darcy's'?" His voice rose. "Bingley made you sound like a lap dog, not a lover!"
"Mr. Gardiner, please…"
"No, you will hear me out. 'Go to Pemberley?' she asks, lightly. 'I have no business there.' No business, indeed. Tell me, did you previously arrange the meeting as to be a surprise to flout my authority? I am not your father, but I had hoped you thought of me as one. Could you have given me a little warning that you had already finished the courting stage of your relationship?"
"I had only hoped to meet with him. I did not know that he still felt something for me," said Lizzy, looking down at her hands. "There was nothing for me to say."
"Speak lower, girl, lest you want the driver to spread this business around before it is done."
"Edward, please!" His wife rested her hand on his knee, long enough for him to pause.
"He means to speak to you tomorrow," mumbled Lizzy, mortified. "He has not yet asked me. Nothing is improper. I have made no promises until I have permission."
"You think he means to marry you then?"
"Yes. I do think so."
"You think so! And you do not wonder at such a step on his part?"
"Edward! why should she?"
"My dearest wife," he said through gritted teeth. "I know you love Lizzy as your own kin, but you cannot forget her situation! It was his own father that arranged it! Some man twenty years ago treated a girl poorly, and this young man knows it. And he is willing to offer her marriage? Is that not strange? How do we even know that they are not brother and sister?"
The irony of the situation made Lizzy smile even amidst her tears. "We've covered that possibility. I thought of it--trust me when I say it caused no little misunderstanding, or we may very well be married by now."
"He assured you it is not the case? Does he know your parentage then?" This was said in a quieter voice.
"Edward… Little pitchers…"
"I'm not here!" cried Kitty, edging closer to the window. "I am enjoying the scenery." That the moon was new and the shades drawn seemed to escape her notice.
"He found his father's diary. It was what he showed me tonight instead of Blake's poems. My father was a friend or relation of his father's," recited Lizzy rapidly. "His initial was J. and he could not marry my mother because he was already married. My mother was a gentle-born governess. I know nothing else. But I now know at least that I am free to marry him. And I want to marry him. I love him! And he loves me."
"Yes, that much was obvious," said Mr. Gardiner sardonically.
"My poor dear! You found all this out tonight. No wonder you are so wretched," said his wife. "Let us sleep well tonight and discuss it in the morning. Edward, give the young man a chance to make his case."
Lizzy laughed rather hysterically. "What will he say? He is a handsome, wealthy landowner, of great morals and reputation. He loves me-- and has honorable intentions or he would not have entertained us in his home or introduced us to his sister. Truly, Mr. Gardiner, what can you possibly say? Besides that, you cannot say anything. Only my guardian can grant permission for me to marry, and he has always chosen to remain distant and anonymous. I've half a mind to run off to Scotland!"
"Lizzy!" cried Kitty, forgetting that she was not in the carriage. "You told me that a decent young man would never suggest Gretna Green!"
"Nor would any son of Mr. George Darcy, who I know was an honorable man. Now, now, calm yourself, Lizzy! All will be well. I've never seen you look so happy as you looked today. And that is worth quite a lot. Neither God nor your guardian ever meant for you to be unhappy, or they would not have looked after you so. Now, let my husband do his part, and act as your parent tomorrow. For he has some right to be surprised--and concerned. You could have given us a little warning, you know," she added softly.
Lizzy breathed out, her momentary hysteria had calmed into hiccups. "Yes, Mrs. Gardiner. I am sorry Mr. Gardiner. I know you both care for me, very much."
Mr. Gardiner sighed. "Yes we do, dear girl. And I promise that at least I will not throw your young man into his trout stream until I have heard him out."
She smiled weakly. "Thank you, and I apologize for my poor behavior tonight."
Mrs. Gardiner leaned over and patted her hand. "You will understand someday, when you have a child. We only want what is best for you."
"Yes, Mrs. Gardiner." A silence followed.
"Is that it then?" asked Kitty as she turned around again. "This is far more exciting than when Jane got herself engaged."
"Not at all, Mrs. Annesley. You are welcome to spend the day as you like tomorrow, as I shall be at Lambton."
"Thank you, Miss Darcy. Mr. Darcy." Mrs. Annesley bobbed her head in more deference than she usually showed the family and hurriedly left the room.
Georgiana looked at her brother, an eyebrow raised. He smiled… sheepishly. "I think I should probably tell you that I will most likely be engaged in a very short while."
"I had hoped as much, brother. If you hadn't told me thus, I would have been very ashamed of your behavior tonight."
She looked disappointed in him, and he sighed. "Was it truly as bad as all that?"
"Such displays of affection are not usually shown, not even in a family gathering."
He smiled. "You caught that, did you? I am sorry. I did not think. I must be a very poor guardian, indeed."
"Not at all. You have been very patient with me, if last summer is any indication." She turned and sat on the settee, motioning for him to join her. "But are you happy, brother?"
"Yes, very," he said, sitting next to her. "Do you like her?"
"I do not know her. What I see, I like very much. She is quite pretty, and lively, and easy to talk to. And she has lovely taste in gowns. But I cannot help but be concerned..."
"Go on, Georgiana. I want to know what you think." He held out his arm in a protective gesture, and she hooked hers through his, snuggling close to him.
"Pardon me for saying so, but she is not of our circle. I know that Mrs. Gardiner is the daughter of a poor curate, hardly my equal, and that Mr. Gardiner is in trade, hardly yours. I know that Miss Bennet is the daughter of a gentleman in Hertfordshire, and that Mr. Bingley is marrying her sister, which says very much for their family--for I adore Mr. Bingley. But I know nothing at all of Miss Smith. Who is she?"
"Ahh, yes, a difficult question. I wrote to you of her--the charming girl I met in Hertfordshire, with whom I danced. I was in love with her then I think. She was later staying near Rosings, at the Parsonage. The parson's new wife is a friend of hers."
Georgiana cocked her head to one side. It was not very often that her brother wrote of young ladies. "She lived at the school, no? A local heiress or something? Some small fortune?"
"Yes, that was Miss Smith, though she spent her youth in Lambton-- with Mrs. Gardiner and her mother." Mr. Darcy sighed. "Our father assisted in her placement with the family when she was a baby. Father apparently thought that that the arrangement would be beneficial to all."
"She is an orphan, then? Who were her parents?"
"No, not an orphan, and God only knows…" He felt her start next to her. "Except our father, apparently. He wrote about her in his diary but he is not specific as to who her father was. Some friend or relation of his."
Georgiana remained silent for a moment, taking in the fact. "It is quite clear that you love her. I assume that you saw each other much in Hertfordshire and Kent. That this is not as sudden as it appears to be?"
"Yes, we saw much of each other. And no, it is not sudden. Were she… were her situation different, I have no doubt we would be married by now."
There was a pause.
"There will be a scandal," she finally said, though she patted his hand reassuringly.
"Yes, there will be. There is no escaping it."
"Will her father come forward, do you think? You are not an insignificant person, you know."
"I do not know. I do not know if he is alive. She has a guardian, but he has never revealed himself to her. I will speak to Mr. Gardiner about the matter tomorrow…. I am sorry if this marriage affects your own place in society. I considered the problem for some time. But I must do this for myself. I must."
"Do not worry about me, Fitzwilliam. I have thirty thousand pounds… surely they can stand a little scandal. Anything you do can only be right. You have never done anything wrong in your life."
"You would be surprised-- But I do thank you, little one."
"Not so little now," she said yawning. There was a pause, and Darcy thought she was falling asleep, but eventually she spoke again. "And she does love you? She is not just a fine actress? She cannot have so much that your fortune is not a very great temptation."
"No, though she has plenty enough to be independent, and an allowance besides. But I cannot say that Pemberley is not a very fine place as compared to her situation. But I do trust her, more than many of the ladies of the ton, or the fawning relations who would like nothing better than to see me married to their daughters. No, I believe she is as true as a young woman can be. But you may speak with her more tomorrow, and judge her for yourself."
"I will Fitzwilliam. I will be very uncomfortable doing so, I am sure. But I very much wish you well and want to know her better, if she is to be my sister. Now I must sleep, for it is late and I cannot think anymore."
"Yes, little one. Upstairs with you."
She rose and brushing down her skirts, turned back to him.
"Just so you know, dear brother, Mr. Gardiner will not be easy on you tomorrow. If his wife had not intervened, I think he might have called you out."
He sighed. "It is your fault, you know. You and that damned duet."
She smiled. "You sing very well together."
Posted on: 2009-03-11
The conversation that took place between Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Darcy on the following morning was one of which Lizzy never knew the entire content. In later years, she was assured that it was more than cordial, that indeed, after a few terse words, they had amused themselves greatly with the story of Darcy's courtship, of which Darcy had related a much edited version. Of the first disastrous proposal, Mr. Gardiner would never know. He merely found out that much of their relationship had been built on Lizzy's false understanding of Darcy's intentions. As such, Mr. Gardiner felt that both in the couple had redeemed themselves. If Darcy was so proper that Lizzy had been convinced that their relationship was that of siblings--well, he could have done nothing wrong. And due to her seeing Mr. Darcy in such a platonic light for so long, Mr. Gardiner also became convinced that Lizzy had only very recently come to the realization that her love was of a more passionate variety. This much was related to Lizzy eventually, as was immediately the understanding that Mr. Gardiner would enclose Mr. Darcy's letter with his own, which he would send to the solicitor in London, asking permission for Lizzy and Darcy to wed.
And though neither of the men would broach the subject, Mrs. Gardiner did hint to Lizzy that if permission was not given, that she would very soon be of age, and that any settlement she might possibly lose in disobeying her guardian's wishes, Darcy could more than provide. But this was only hinted at once late at night, just before they left Lambton, and the hope that such a decision would not have to be seriously considered kept the lovers from contemplating an open rebellion.
It was decided as well, that Darcy would attend Bingley's wedding, and in doing so, would, with a bit of luck, by that time have permission to announce the engagement. At that point, assuming authorization was granted, Lizzy, like Alice before her, would leave Miss Gosford's school forever, and go to live with the Gardiners in London, until she could be married from their house in the most proper way possible. Such was the scenario agreed upon by the men while fishing. That very afternoon, Lizzy would approve the tentative decisions made on her behalf, for she could think of no way to improve on them, thus she did wonder at the fact that in six short months she would be settled as Mrs. Darcy. It all was decidedly strange. She was all that was agitated and confused, and rather knew that she was happy, than felt herself to be so.
There were other topics of conversation of course, more sober ones, regarding Lizzy's situation, and Darcy's initial hesitation, and Mr. Gardiner's fears for them both. But as the authoress has before commented, Lizzy would never know of them, and neither will the readers. Suffice to say, that by the time the jaunty curricle returned to the inn, the two men were speaking only of the day's catch, and no one in Lambton would imagine that their great Mr. Darcy was at that moment was about to propose marriage to one of their own.
But this was all to happen later in the day. The morning itself was quite awkward. Darcy was waylaid at the door by a Mr. Gardiner apparently impatient to fish. Thus, the younger gentleman was able only to quickly present his own embarrassed sister to the other ladies, give a brief, apologetic glance to Lizzy, and return straight away to Pemberley.
There the ladies sat for a moment in silence, and Kitty was thinking of something terribly clever to say that would not discomfit anyone in front of the servans, when it was, surprisingly, Miss Darcy who spoke.
"Miss Smith, Miss Bennet, have you met Mrs. Grant before today?"
Kitty shook her head, but Lizzy smiled, as she nodded at the departing maid. "Indeed, Miss Darcy, she and her husband took over the parsonage when I was only a babe. She was always quite kind to me."
"My mother was recently widowed at the time, Miss Darcy, and Mrs. Grant was very sensitive to the fact that she had replaced her in the house. Her door was always open to us," added Mrs. Gardiner.
"And where did you stay at that time?" asked the girl conversationally.
Lizzy mentioned their cottage, at the edge of the village, and Miss Darcy clapped her hands together. "I know the very one," she said excitedly. Lizzy noted that her sweet voice was naturally musical when not crippled by her own hesitation. "With the rose bushes over the arbor. It is so very charming. My brother owns it, does he not?"
"I believe so," said Mrs. Gardiner.
"It's quite lovely. There is a large family there now, with several little children. I do not know where they put them all. Whenever we drive by, they run out of the house and the little ones try to bow and curtsey. They nearly fall over in their efforts."
"We have a tenant whose children do that very thing," said Kitty. "You have visited there with Jane, have you not Lizzy? Little Tom and Tim and Ted…"
"And Tilly," finished Lizzy. "They are the sweetest children, though their Mama is quite poorly. Your mother even sent around her own physician right before we left Hertfordshire."
"You have visited tenants then?" asked Miss Darcy carefully, as she remembered her own task for the day. "You know what is involved?"
Lizzy smiled at the girl's obviously leading questions. "Yes, Miss Darcy. I am quite familiar with Mr. Bennet's estate."
"Mama doesn't treat Lizzy like a guest," added Kitty, trying to be helpful. "So she can do lots of things. Visit tenants. Order the meat. Work through the household accounts for errors--"
"What my niece means to say," said Mrs. Gardiner, glaring at Kitty, "is that the Bennets as well as Mr. Gardiner and myself, have always treated Lizzy as part of the family. So in addition to her fine education from Miss Gosford, she is also intimately familiar with the Longbourn estate, as well as our house in London."
"Shall we walk out then?" asked Lizzy, desperately wishing to change the subject. "It is a beautiful day, and not too early for calling."
This was agreed upon. And the ladies tied their bonnets and set out from the inn. Georgiana thought privately that she had perhaps addressed the issue a bit too directly and tried to think of some other way to ask Lizzy about herself, when the subject of her musings took the place beside her. Kitty and Mrs. Gardiner walked behind, seemingly intent on studying the shop windows as they slowly went along. What they might do with the display of tanned equestrian goods they were currently examining seemed neither here nor there.
"I know what you must be thinking, Miss Darcy," said Lizzy, as Georgiana returned the polite greetings of a few of the local residents.
"You must forgive me, Miss Smith. My brother has told me that… you are to be married. This is all very sudden," she said softly, lest they be overheard.
"It is for me, as well. I never expected it."
"And what exactly did you expect, Miss Smith?"
"Until a few months ago, certainly not very much at all. Everyone has their place, you know, but my place has always been so very loosely defined." She glanced around her to make sure that no one was in earshot. "Sometimes, when I was very young, I allowed myself to imagine running off with a solider or a dashing naval captain. To the Americas or the continent," she laughed. "The girls at the school always had such thoughts. But I always knew that the most I could expect was a rather lonely retirement."
"But what did you wish for?" asked Georgiana, persistently.
Lizzy smiled. "You want to know if I am ambitious. If I saw Pemberley as a child, and thought 'That must be mine'?" No, I never thought such a thing. I'm sure your brother has told you my situation. It is regarding that subject that my greatest ambition lies. All I ever wanted was to look across the room and see my sisters and brothers and mother and father. I wanted to know that I belonged. That I had a family. That was my very simple ambition. But it does not seem so important now."
Georgiana moved closer and whispered her next question. "Because my brother loves you?"
"Yes." Lizzy looked at the girl, dressed in her fine clothes, walking along, her head held in such a way as to show a prideful demeanor, and yet often almost paralyzed to speak unless determined to. She realized in an instant that this girl would have spent a life far more lonely than her own, despite – or because of-- rank and station. She decided to bare all. She took Miss Darcy's arm and put it in her own, as she had often walked with Jane. Georgiana started at the motion, but did not draw away. "It is complicated, but because of that… love… I have realized over the last months that my ambition was selfish. I was too blind to see that what I had was better than most. Mrs. and Mr. Gardiner have cared for me for a decade. Mrs. Adams was as my mother. She raised me as her own. Miss Gosford has been all that is caring. And in the school I have never wanted for company--I have had twenty sisters, for good or ill, at any one time. No, my ambition was nothing but a name, and I have given it up. If I am to be married, I will be married as an Adams, or as a Gardiner. That is who I am. If I wish to shed the anonymous name that is Smith, I may do so before I become a Darcy. Then you may know that my only ambition was fulfilled before I married your brother, and that I only married your brother, because I love him and because I want to be his wife. And, because I know that my being his wife will make him happy. And I only wish to see him happy! And it is this ambition that has now eclipsed all previous wishes, which seem petty and childish by comparison."
"You do love him," said Miss Darcy, shocked by such a passionate declaration, and made in the middle of the street as well, though she assured herself that no one had heard.
"I am convinced," said Lizzy in a much lighter tone, though she was no less serious. "That I am living in one of the greatest love stories ever told. How can I not think so? I can scarcely believe it myself. It is the stuff of novels and I am the heroine. And I've not even had to deal with the murders and intrigues such are normally found in novels."
Miss Darcy smiled. She found herself oddly comfortable with this lively girl that was to be her brother's wife. "Though I understand that there was a dusty diary locked away for many years containing a long-hidden and scandalous secret. That is rather novel, is it not?"
Lizzy laughed. "Miss Darcy, you are very clever. But before we go up that lane to the parsonage, I must address your other concern. I do not know if I can reassure you that I can handle all that comes with marrying your brother. I have never sought such a situation, and feel very ill-prepared. I only hope, that if the time comes, you might give your assistance. But I will give you some time to get used to the idea. It is only fair."
Mrs. Grant looked at the four women in some curiosity. She was not used to receiving visits from long absent neighbors, nor from the Pemberley family, and she was not sure her tea serving was up to the challenge.
"And Miss Darcy, how did you come to know Mrs. Gardiner?" she asked, after other pleasantries were exchanged.
"It is rather complicated," said Georgiana.
"It was Mr. Bingley," added Miss Smith, as if she were encouraging Miss Darcy to speak more, the way she had seen Mrs. Annesley do on the previous two days."
"Yes, my friend Miss Bingley. Her brother is Mr. Bingley," said Georgiana, haltingly.
"And Mr. Bingley is to marry my sister Jane," added Kitty.
"That and the knowledge that I was to be in Derbyshire, led Mr. Bingley to suggest an introduction," said Mrs. Gardiner. "I was quite honored, of course."
"That is all very… logical," said Mrs. Grant.
"Yes," said Georgiana, "Mr. and Miss Bingley were to visit this summer, but Mr. Bingley understandably decided his wedding took precedence. I was so very happy to know that we might have some company after all. And Miss Bennet and Miss Smith have proved quite lively. I hope I did not stretch my brother's patience, when I insisted that we spend much time together."
"I doubt it," said Mrs. Gardiner. "Mr. Darcy seems so very indulgent of your wishes. An ideal elder brother."
"Indeed," added Mrs. Grant, who had grown bored of her original question. "Now Mrs. Gardiner, how are your children?
The men returned in the mid-afternoon. Both gave reassuring smiles, and after some refreshment, and while the maid was still clearing the service, Darcy leaned back in his chair and said rather lazily--
"Georgiana, I have a wish to see the view from the Durreighn. We have not been in some time. And it is closer to Lambton then to Pemberley."
Georgiana recognized the script this time, for it had been pre-prepared. That Mr. Gardiner seemed to know it as well, assured her, and she said, as instructed-- "Oh, that would be wonderful brother. And it is so very clear today. May Miss Bennet and Miss Smith come as well?"
"We only have room for one more in the curricle," reminded her brother. "And only if she is quite slender, indeed."
"Let Lizzy go," said Kitty, after a significant look from her Aunt. "I don't care about any view."
Miss Smith silently assented, and with great promises to be back in good time, the trio departed in the curricle.
It was a tight fit, and Lizzy was aware of both of the siblings in such close company. She knew that Miss Darcy wished desperately to have a conversation with her brother, as she did, and so, in that vein, they were somewhat silent as they left Lambton.
They crossed the way of the cottage where Lizzy had spent her youth, though, and sure enough, a number of chubby children were playing in the yard, and stopped their play to bob at the conveyance passing by. The roses hung heavy over the archway in the warm afternoon, and the air was sweet with their scent, and as this was not the main road, there was no noise or smell to disrupt the idyllic scene. Darcy slowed the curricle to a walk, and the girls waved merrily at the children.
"Miss Darcy, they are as charming as you said. Such sweet things!"
"It must be reassuring to see your home in such a way," said Miss Darcy, producing some sweetmeats , which she held out. The oldest child made his way to them and solemnly reached up for the package of sugary nuts, and whispered his thanks, ducking his head bashfully.
"It is, I wonder if it was how I looked to passerbys," said Lizzy, as the boy counted out the prize to his younger siblings.
"It was," said Darcy softly. It was the first thing he had said since they had started their journey. "You were a beautiful child."
"I thought you did not know me," returned Lizzy, smiling. "I do not remember you. I would have, had you given me such treats."
"It is a memory that has lately retuned to me," said Darcy, as he sped the horses up again. "Your hair was lighter then, and you had on a pink dress. I was on horseback. And you stood in the doorway and curtseyed. I did not know your name. I was not so concerned with who lived where for another few years yet."
"'Tis an accurate memory, I am sure. I often wore a pink dress. And my hair was lighter," she replied, bashfully.
"If you wish to see the cottage before you return to Hertfordshire, the family's name is Roberts. Mr. Roberts is an attorney. I understand he is building the family a house on the other side of the town, but has run into some delays," said Georgiana, as the silence settled over them again.
This comment led to some conversation about the cottage and how it came to be in the family, and other tenants of the Darcys, and Georgiana and her brother took turns informing Lizzy about the family holdings and responsibilities. It was an overwhelming amount of information, but both siblings made sure to include such anecdotes as to keep the conversation light and amusing as well as informing. This kept them occupied until they reached their destination, an ancient outcropping of rock that presented a gorgeous view of the surrounding countryside. The boulder covered ground kept the farmers away, and its only purpose was ornamental. On some days, there were tourists walking its height, but today it was devoid of other visitors. Darcy parked the curricle near a small stream where the horses might find shade and water, and helped the two women down.
Once again, the silence threatened to overwhelm them.
Finally, Georgiana muttered something and set up the hill at a pace that would soon exhaust the most robust of young ladies.
"What did she say?" asked Lizzy, when they had watched her quickly retreating figure for a moment.
"Something about going on ahead. I never knew that she was such an athlete," said Darcy. "--I think she means to give us some privacy."
"Yes," laughed Lizzy. "That is quite obvious. The question is, why should we need time alone?"
"And that is not obvious?" he asked. "Much business has been discussed today between Mr. Gardiner and myself. And between you and my sister no doubt. But it has all rested on an assumption on a matter that has not yet been resolved."
"It is no assumption. You assured me of the question last night. And I assured you of the answer," laughed Lizzy, for now that she was sure of herself in front of him, her mirth had returned.
"Which means I must ask you the question, as promised," smiled Darcy. "Let us follow Georgiana at a more leisurely pace, and I shall do my best to ask correctly this time.
He took her arm, and without hesitation, held it firmly. A moment later, when they had taken only a few steps, he spoke again--
"Why does no one call you Elizabeth?"
"Mrs. Adams did when she spoke to me of something very serious. But I came to Lambton as a Lizzy, and a Lizzy I remain."
"May I call you Elizabeth then, since we are speaking of something very serious, indeed."
"You may, sir."
"Well, then Elizabeth, you must allow me to tell you how I admire and love you."
"I do allow it sir," she said, her cheeks flushed.
"Sir? No that will not do at all," he scolded.
"I do allow it, Fitzwilliam."
"Well then, as I admire and love you, I feel that I have only one option standing before me. Elizabeth, will you do me the great honor of becoming my wife?"
"I will sir. With all my heart."
The happiness which this reply produced was such as he had probably never felt before, and he expressed himself on the occasion as sensibly and as warmly as a man violently in love can be supposed to do. Had Lizzy been able to encounter his eyes, she might have seen how well the expression of heartfelt delight diffused over his face became him; but, though she could not look, as they made their way up the rocky path, she could listen, and he told her of feelings which, in proving of what importance she was to him, made his affection every moment more valuable.
They walked on, without realizing the beautiful views on either side of them. There was too much to be thought, and felt, and said, for attention to any other objects. She soon learnt that they were indebted for their present good understanding to the efforts of Mr. Bingley, who did write to him every detail of all of his interactions with Lizzy since her return from Rosings.
"It taught me to hope," said he, "as I had scarcely ever allowed myself to hope before. I knew enough of your disposition to be certain, that had you been absolutely, irrevocably decided that you only saw me as a brother, you would have acknowledged such a thing to Bingley.
Lizzy colored and laughed as she replied, "I was not so frank as all of that. But I have found that when not regarding matters of his own heart, Mr. Bingley is decidedly understanding of character."
"He has repaid us both for the correction that you alone made. My behavior to him at the time had merited the severest reproof. It was unpardonable. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. And that is to say nothing of the filthy offer I made to you."
"We will not quarrel for the greater share of blame annexed to that evening," said Lizzy; "The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable. But since then we have both, I hope, improved in understanding."
"I cannot be so easily reconciled to myself. The recollection of what I then said -- of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it -- is now, and has been many months, inexpressibly painful to me."
"Oh! but do not repeat what I then said. These recollections will not do at all. I assure you, that I have long been most heartily ashamed of it."
Darcy mentioned his letter. "I wish I had read your own before I had written mine. It would have led to better understanding on all sides."
She explained what its effect on her had been, and how very quickly all her former feelings had changed from sisterly affection to passionate regard.
"I knew," said he, "that what I wrote must give you pain. I hope you have destroyed the letter. There was one part, especially the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading again. I can remember some expressions which might justly make you hate me."
"The letter shall certainly be burnt, if you believe it essential to the preservation of my regard; but, though we have both reason to think my opinions not entirely unalterable, they are not, I hope, quite so easily changed as that implies."
"When I wrote that letter," replied Darcy, "I believed myself perfectly calm and cool; but I am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit."
"The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness; but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote and the person who received it are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending it, ought to be forgotten. You must learn some of my philosophy. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure."
"I cannot give you credit for any philosophy of the kind. Your retrospections must be so totally void of reproach, that the contentment arising from them is not of philosophy, but, what is much better, of ignorance. But with me it is not so. Painful recollections will intrude, which cannot, which ought not, to be repelled. I have been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child, I was taught what was right; but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles, but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately, an only son (for many years an only child), I was spoilt by my parents, who, though good themselves (my father particularly, all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing -- to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. Such I was, from eight to eight-and-twenty; and such I might still have been but for you, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth! What do I not owe you! You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You shewed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased."
"Had you then persuaded yourself that I should?"
"Indeed I had. What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses."
"My manners must have been in fault, but not intentionally, I assure you. I never meant to deceive you, but my spirits might often lead me wrong. How you must have hated me after that evening!"
"Hate you! I was angry, perhaps, at first, but my anger soon began to take a proper direction."
"I am almost afraid of asking what you thought of me when we met at Pemberley. You blamed me for coming?"
"No, indeed, I felt nothing but surprise. And not even that, thanks to Bingley's letter."
"Your surprise could not be greater than mine in being noticed by you. My conscience told me that I deserved no extraordinary politeness, and I confess that I hoped rather than expected to receive your attentions."
"My object then," replied Darcy, "was to shew you, by every civility in my power, that I was not so mean as to resent the past; and I hoped to obtain your forgiveness, to lessen your ill opinion, by letting you see that your reproofs had been attended to. How soon any other wishes introduced themselves, I can hardly tell, but I believe in about half an hour after I had seen you."
Eventually their conversation returned to Bingley and Jane. Darcy was delighted with their engagement; his friend had given him the earliest information of it.
"I must ask whether he were surprised?" said Lizzy.
"On the evening on my return to London," said he, "I made a confession to him which I believe I ought to have made long ago. I told him of all that had occurred to make my former interference in his affairs absurd and impertinent. His surprise was great. He had never had the slightest suspicion. I told him, moreover, that I believed myself mistaken in supposing, as I had done, that your sister was indifferent to him; and as I could easily perceive that his attachment to her was unabated, I felt no doubt of their happiness together."
"And your assurance of it, I suppose, carried immediate conviction to him."
"It did. Bingley is most unaffectedly modest. His diffidence had prevented his depending on his own judgment in so anxious a case, but his reliance on mine made everything easy. I was obliged to confess one thing which for a time, and not unjustly, offended him. I could not allow myself to conceal that Miss Bennet had been in town three months already -- that I had known it, and purposely kept it from him. He was angry. But his anger, I am persuaded, lasted no longer than he remained in any doubt of Miss Bennet's sentiments. He has heartily forgiven me now. Obviously so, for as soon as he was assured of his own happiness, he set about trying to assure mine"
"Apparently so!" laughed Lizzy. "I knew he was scheming, as soon as I saw him in London, though I did not know the direction of it. I am glad that his business is settled. As for me, I am happy for them both. If you could but see Jane! She is glowing with happiness. I have never seen her so content."
"I shall see her, in a few weeks, if you approve," said Darcy. This comment led to a discussion of the business side of their own agreement, and finally to the very top of the rock, where Georgiana sat patiently.
She turned to them hesitantly. "Am I to offer my congratulations then?" she asked, when it was clear that they understood their private interlude to be over.
"Yes, indeed, Little One. Here is your new sister."
Georgiana smiled. "My dear brother, congratulations. She stood and kissed him on the cheek, and then turned to Lizzy.
"Miss Elizabeth Adams, then," she said, to Lizzy's smile, and her brother's confusion. "I wish you all of the best. I hope you and my brother will be very happy together."
"Thank you Miss Darcy."
"Now, take a look at the delightful view, which I daresay you have not yet noticed, and then we best be headed back down. The curricle drives fast, but Mr. Gardiner is well aware of it."
"Yes, Little One," he smiled, and looked out at the countryside. "Look," he said and pointed. The village stood to the north, and the rose cottage sat on the very near edge-- the blooms from far away blended together into a broad brush of color.
Posted on: 2009-03-22
Lizzy had been a good deal disappointed in not finding a letter from Jane on their first arrival at Lambton; and this disappointment had been renewed on each of the mornings that had now been spent there; but on the third her repining was over, and her friend justified, by the receipt of two letters from her at once, on one of which was marked that it had been mis-sent elsewhere. Lizzy was not surprised at it, as Jane had written the direction remarkably ill. A third letter was for Kitty, and was dated the same as Lizzy's second.
They had just finished breakfast as the letters came in, and they provided a rather prosaic distraction for her current musings. The one mis-sent must be first attended to; it had been written five days ago. The beginning contained an account of all their little parties and engagements, and wedding plans, with such news as the country afforded; but the latter half, which was dated a day later, and written in evident agitation, gave more important intelligence. It was to this effect.
Since writing the above, dearest Lizzy, something has occurred of a most unexpected and serious nature; but I am afraid of alarming you -- be assured that we are all well. What I write pertains to you. It seems that my own Mr. Bingley has betrayed you greatly! Without a thought to your feelings or asking my opinion, he has written Mr. Darcy of your journey to Lambton, and hints greatly that Mr. Darcy should see you again. The mortification that such a letter must have caused Mr. Darcy, I will not think on it. I am angry with Mr. Bingley for not warning you of such a step, for it seems that he is well aware of those events that you related to me in confidentiality. I hope to prepare you for the occurrence of meeting Mr. Darcy again. I think, if your feelings are what they were, you will not mind it, but I hope it will not be so very unexpected. I cannot imagine how he – or you--will act. Do write me in reply and assure me that you are alright, for I do not wish to be angry with dear Charles for very long."
Lizzy could not but laugh aloud at her friend's distress. The poor girl would forever be forgiving Bingley for his impulsive acts. As for herself, she was rather inclined to thank him.
"Well, what is the news?" asked Mrs. Gardiner of Kitty, who had already finished reading her own, shorter letter.
"Jane writes that Lydia has come home, a few weeks early. She would have written me herself, but she is flush with some little fever, no doubt caused by traveling in the heat. Otherwise she is well."
"I am relieved to hear it," said Mr. Gardiner. "And that she has made it home, quite safe. And you, Lizzy! Not one letter, but two. Such good fortune you have been having this week!"
Lizzy laughed. "Very good fortune, Mr. Gardiner. I do not know if such a thing shall surprise you but Jane writes of Mr. Bingley and only Mr. Bingley in this first letter. I shan't bore you with the details of such a note! But you must grant me time to read the second."
The second letter, excluding the first lines (in which Jane apologized again, for she could not stay angry with her intended, and was upset with herself for forgiving him without news first from her friend), which Lizzy kept to herself, had other news of Hertfordshire, and she shared it willingly with the others, who were satisfied. As for the first letter, Lizzy tucked it away for later, for she felt that Mr. Darcy would also appreciate its sentiment.
The reply she sent back later was one of a different tone, which she hoped which would amuse Jane and allow her to forgive Mr. Bingley for his officious acts, as it had turned out very well indeed:
I would have thanked your Mr. Bingley before this, my dear Jane, as I ought to have done, and you, for your long, kind, satisfactory detail of apologies on his behalf; but, to say the truth, I was not too cross to write. It is just that your ill-handwriting sent the letter a whole four towns out of its way! But I will indulge your concerns. Suppose as much as you choose; give a loose to your fancy, indulge your imagination in every possible flight, which the subject will afford, and unless you believe me actually married, you cannot greatly err. You must write again very soon, after you apologize to your dear Bingley-- for he has not erred in his fortunate meddling. As for Mr. Darcy, praise him a great deal more than you did in your last, and far more than you do your Mr. Bingley! I am the happiest creature in the world. Perhaps other people have said so before, but not one with such justice. I am happier even than you: you only smile, I laugh. Mr. Darcy sends you all the love in the world that he can spare from me. He will attend your wedding, of course--you may tell Mr. Bingley that he expects his room prepared, but excepting your intended, you must be quiet on the primary matter. Until we have permission from London, we may not announce it. You are all to come to Pemberley at Christmas. -- Yours, etc."
They were not to see the Darcys that day--even Georgiana's excuses to Mrs. Grant would not stop the Lambton gossip at the prospect of quite so many visits. But Mr. Gardiner allowed Lizzy to send Miss Darcy a note, in which she enclosed many lines to her intended, and Jane's letter as well, for she thought he might be diverted by its sentiment.
He was. Finally satisfied that Miss Bennet was indeed the sweet thing that all regarded her, as she was so concerned for his finacee's well-being, he was not only amused but very touched. Darcy wrote Lizzy that this was the case, and that letter was returned in similar fashion that afternoon. So the correspondence continued for the whole of their stay at Lambton and beyond, until they were reunited once again. If the messengers regarded the post between Miss Darcy and Miss Smith as unusual, they did not question it. For his sake, Mr. Gardiner looked the other way after the first letter. He held his own piece of parchment--a copy of Mr. Darcy's communication to Lizzy's guardian, and that was well enough for him.
The authoress does not wish to pry deeply into the privacy of Mr. Darcy and his intended--or the shorter and frank but touching notes to and from Georgiana. They were at times remarks of love, uninteresting to all but those that held these tender sentiments. Other times they were lively observations and news and pieces of history that the other might find amusing and informative. On occasion, they were serious considerations about the challenges that their future marriage would hold. In such a way, they were able to get a glimpse into the world of the other. Darcy began to understand the limitations that had been placed on Lizzy her entire life, and how those restrictions had otherwise tempered a naturally lively and confident personality. For her part, Lizzy began to comprehend the expectations placed on Darcy from a young age, and the strict understanding of the world that he had subsequently permitted himself. That they were very well matched was obvious; that further knowledge of each other would simply improve their understanding became apparent.
Two more meetings were all they had before the Gardiners were to return to Hertfordshire. In the first, the party traveled to Pemberley for a picnic. As Mr. Darcy did not seem the type disposed to eating outdoors, it was universally assumed that this was on his sister's request. There were a few others in attendance. The first was a Mrs. Fulton, a lovely, older woman, who seemed great friends with Mrs. Annesley, and with her, her son, who had the living at Kempton, which was the nearest parish to Pemberley. Lizzy recalled that this was to be Mr. Wickham's post, and was much amused by the difference between Mr. Fulton and the other man. He was a gentleman somewhat short of forty, but old enough to be able to boast of both a widowed status and a flannel waistcoat. Not that he spoke of either. The memory of his young wife was too dear to be mentioned in strange company, and it was far too hot in July for the embarrassing waistcoat. Fulton was a quiet, learned man, but he seemed much amused by Kitty, who had wandered to his corner of the lawn, if only to avoid the talk between its owner and her own besotted friend. Picnicking with them as well, was an older gentleman of the neighborhood, who generally detested company, but did attend functions at Pemberley, out of the memory of its former owner. That this band of guests seemed to have been selected based on the lack of gossips among them did not surprise the Gardiners. There certainly were no meddling Mamas, no garrulous young men, and no other eligible ladies. If Fulton recognized the symptoms of a man in love in his benefactor, he did not show it, and chose to bestow only his politeness on the future Mrs. Darcy, saving his attentions for another young lady in attendance. If his mother was curious, she merely smiled and asked Miss Darcy if she liked her new friends very much. As for the older gentleman, he could not be bothered to attend to the goings on among the young folk, and saved his conversation for Mr. Gardiner, and Mr. Gardiner alone, whom, of all in attendance, he deemed the most likely to listen to his opinions. All in all, it was a fine company, and the event deemed a success.
The last night before the Gardiners were to leave Lambton, their party again dined at Pemberley as the only guests. No letter had arrived, so the couple was forced to wait until their next meeting to acknowledge their engagement in the open. But they were allowed some minutes to say their goodbyes alone, of which they took full advantage.
"I would feel so much more secure," she said, examining the palm of his hand with her own at some point in their conversation. "If we were to have had a letter. But Mr. Singer would have had to send it on. I do understand the delay."
"I shall see you in a few short weeks, and if we cannot announce our intentions then, I shall wait."
"September 21," she smiled. "That is not so very long to wait. Even with permission and blessings, we may not be married by then."
"No, not so very long. But it will not come to that. I doubt that your guardian is a fool. He has no reason to refuse."
"He would be a fool, indeed to refuse you. I have seen you so very severe! I do not know a man that would refuse you anything!"
"No, it takes a woman to refuse me," said Darcy, retaking control of his hand, and pulling her towards him.
She smiled, for she was securely in his arms and could almost jest about that night, "I don't think you gave me the chance to actually refuse you."
"No, that is true, for I did not properly ask you. But I have made up for it since then, I hope."
"You have, sir."
They heard movement in the hall. The exaggerated noise was such that they knew they would soon be interrupted.
"May I kiss you goodbye?"
She hesitated. He had not done so before, and she had not dared. He sensed her discomfort.
"We are the makers of manners, Lizzy," he said lightly, as he drew her head back from the comfort of his should and forced her to look at him. She smiled at the reference but was soon distracted.
"You have always looked at me thus," came her whispered reply at last. "Since the night we danced at Lucas Lodge. I could not imagine what it meant."
"Could you not?" he asked softly.
Another noise from the hallway interrupted the tender moment that followed, and Darcy reluctantly let go of his betrothed.
"Remember Kitty, not a word, except to Jane, and then only when you are sure no others are listening," said Mrs. Gardiner to her charge as they turned into the long lane that led to Longbourn House.
"It is too sad for Lizzy," commented Kitty. "She should be able to boast at finding such a husband. I do not understand why they have to worry about some stuffy solicitor in London. She can be married in the autumn, anyways, can she not? She will be of age, and he is so very rich."
As the Gardiners had come to the same conclusion, the older woman could not scold her niece for such a thought. "Perhaps, but that would not be the ideal situation, would it? How would you like to be married in London under some shade of scandal and against your family's wishes?"
"I shouldn't, I suppose. Besides, it is Mary's turn next, and she shan't be married for some time. I have had enough of weddings."
"Now there is some sensible talk for once," smiled her Uncle. "But I believe the next several weeks there will be no talk but that of a wedding. Speaking of, is that your sister Jane at the door?"
Jane was indeed waiting at the entrance; with her was Mr. Bingley, and the Gardiner children. Attracted by the sight of a chaise, they were standing on the steps of the house as the party entered the paddock; and, when the carriage drove up to the door, the joyful surprise that lighted up their faces, and displayed itself over their whole bodies, in a variety of capers and frisks, was the first pleasing earnest of their welcome.
The Gardiners greeted their children with much affection, and Kitty her sister and soon-to-be-brother.
"Is Lizzy already at Miss Gosford's then?" asked Jane, while Bingley gave instructions to the driver, and otherwise made himself useful.
"Yes, but she did send you a message. Something about the great houses we were able to visit in our travels. Apparently she found them quite to her liking!"
"When did you become so subtle, my dear sister?" asked Jane. "You have much to share with me! After you are settled, we must take a long walk, and you shall tell me all about it. As for teasing Lizzy, if I weren't so happy for her, I might be very angry. You should see the letter she sent me!"
"Yes," laughed Bingley. "It was indeed an amusing missive. But you should discuss it later. The rest of the family has come to greet the weary travelers."
Sure enough, the voice of Mrs. Bennet cut through the rest of the reunion. "Kitty, my child! Did you not wear a bonnet at all? Why, you are as dark as a Native! Such a sorry attraction you will be at the wedding! Oh! it is so well to have all of my girls home."
For her sake, Lizzy should have been far more exhausted than the day she had come home from Kent. But she was not.
She greeted every girl with kisses and handed out many a small good that she had bought on her travels, and embraced Miss Gosford with good cheer. After a small amount of time to refresh herself, Lizzy made her way back downstairs. It was tea time, and the elder lady quickly shut Lizzy in the parlor, and wordlessly handed her a letter. Lizzy did not have to look at the address to know the sender, and she smiled gaily at the older woman.
"Only one letter? Alice did not write me? I must say I am disappointed. For I wrote her many days ago."
Miss Gosford frowned. "Miss Darcy of Pemberley sends you quite a thick communiqué, Lizzy. I did not realize that you were familiar with any Miss Darcy."
Lizzy recognized that she should not delay her news for fear of a major dressing down. "I did not mean to sport with you Miss Gosford. The Gardiners are to call tomorrow before they return to London, and explain the situation, but I believe I may tell you myself. I am engaged to Mr. Darcy. What say you to that?"
Miss Gosford was not one given to silence. Indeed, she had seen many girls leave her school to be married, either immediately or very shortly afterwards. But never quite to such a man.
"My dear, I had hoped… but I did not expect. Is it for certain? Is everything arranged?"
"It is for certain. He has asked me and spoken with Mr. Gardiner. My guardian has been applied to but he has not yet responded. Mr. Darcy is to come to Jane's wedding with that permission and then all will be well. Is life not wonderful?"
Miss Gosford smiled at the girl's enthusiasm. "Life, as you say, seems to be indeed wonderful. I wish you all the best Lizzy."
"And you will help me of course--to prepare. I've so much to do!"
"But what of your quiet retirement in the country?"
Lizzy's eyes shown with mirth. "I suppose that living at Pemberley falls under such a description, does it not?"
"Oh yes, of course. We all picture a great estate when we picture a quiet retirement. Now, my dear, I see that my suspicions were correct. I suppose that letter is not from Miss Darcy after all."
"There is a letter from Miss Darcy, I've no doubt," laughed Lizzy. "But I shall not claim that there isn't additional correspondence as well. We thought it best, since we do not technically have permission to be betrothed, to keep it a secret. Mr. Gardiner agreed to the letters. He will tell you all tomorrow."
"A secret?" asked the elder lady, in amused disbelief. "Of course it is. How many people do you think know of this engagement?"
Lizzy thought for a moment. "No more than a dozen I should think!"
"No more than a dozen? How many of those dozen are Bennets?"
"Two. And Mr. Bingley, of course."
"Mr. Bingley?" laughed Miss Gosford. "A respectable young man to be sure, but he lacks subtlety. I certainly hope, for your sake, that this permission is granted sooner rather than later, because the news shall not remain a secret for long!"
Lizzy laughed along with the school mistress, and other similar comments were made. An entreaty by Miss Gosford eventually led them both to be serious, however. They spoke for some time, and the woman promised to speak with her more, for, although unmarried herself, she had prepared many a young lady for the prospect of marriage--and while most marriages began with less affection and fewer funds at their disposal--many other serious matters were universal and Lizzy should be reminded of them.
Posted on: 2009-03-25
Georgiana was playing the duet again. She did occasionally, when she knew he could hear her, through the doorways left open on such a fine day. It was not so very long since the Gardiners had left, but Darcy missed Lizzy, and his sister had found his lovesick manner amusing-- and not a little touching in its simple feeling.
He smiled, thinking of his sister's demeanor, a mixture of arch sweetness and extreme shyness. Without the latter, she would not be unlike his Elizabeth in some respects. While she dared not tease him very directly, she would use her music for the same end.
Georgiana had become quite used to the idea of their engagement, though she expressed fear at the reaction of her relatives, whom she looked up to, and indeed who had shared in her upbringing. She was however, stubborn, as was all her family, and she promised him that her new sister would be second only to himself in terms of her own fierce loyalty, if there was opposition to the match. While she still wished she knew Lizzy better, the girl's heartfelt speech in Lambton the day of the engagement had done much to reassure her, as had the small notes that they had exchanged. Darcy rejoiced that they might become friends and sisters in their own right.
But he could not completely entertain such thoughts, for he had much business to attend to before he left for Hertfordshire, and as soon as the piece ended, he forced himself to think of more prosaic matters, ignoring the common sounds of the estate, and the comings and goings that he could hear through the open windows.
He was deep in an account book when he was interrupted with a visitor. Seeing the card, he immediately closed the books and called for his entrance. In truth, he was rather embarrassed that he had not noticed the arrival of such a carriage, for the guest in question was always welcome, and not often seen.
"My Lord Congleton! I welcome you to Pemberley!" cried Darcy, and after he made the obligatory gestures, he allowed himself to be greeted and clapped on the back by the older man. "I had no idea you were passing this way, or I would have made you better greeting. Come, come, let me call Georgiana. She will be delighted to see you again."
"In a minute, in a minute, Darcy. I am an old man and I have traveled from my home. Let me sit and have some rest from the road before I deal with females and their hospitality."
"Of course, sir," said Darcy closing the door. "Do sit down. Will you have tea or wine?"
"Brandy, if you've got it."
"Of course, sir. Forty miles of road in this heat, you must be parched." Darcy stepped over to the shelf that held the decanter, as the Viscount relaxed and leaned back in the proffered chair.
"Yes, much better. You look well, Fitz, my boy."
Darcy smiled, and started to answer in the same manner. "I am well, milord Jovial--"
He stopped abruptly as his father's old nickname for the Viscount sounded in his ears. The glass shook in his hand, and he stared at the man in the chair. The resemblance was not striking, but it was possible. Tall and lithe he had once been--shorter now, his fine blonde hair smattered with flecks of grey, he was lighter than Elizabeth in both body and in color. But the smile, the eyes--- forty miles he had come, on a summer's day--. Darcy added up the days in his head. Letters to London, and back-- and a decision made--; how long would that take?--
"What was that, Fitz?"
"I am well," Darcy repeated, and slowly handed the man his glass, before seating himself, again not taking his eyes off the face across from him.
"Well, Darcy. You probably wonder what business it is that brings me to Pemberley on such a hot day."
Darcy nodded slowly, forcing himself to sip from his own glass. His mind was adding up numbers and getting the correct sums. Twenty years ago. Children requiring a governess; a second, unhappy marriage; a close friendship with his own father… a great reputation for wit and sense…so much like Elizabeth. Jovial. It had been a nickname between childhood friends. The Viscount had always been a jolly man.
"Yes, My Lord, I believe I do."
"Well, Darcy, I've just had the most extraordinary letter."
Darcy set his glass down. "Have you now?" he asked, in what he hoped was a laid-back tone.
"Indeed. Do you by any chance know the firm, Singer and Son?" Congleton's eyes were smiling, more bemused than amused.
"I have heard of their reputation, My Lord," was the answer.
"And are you familiar with a man named Gardiner?"
"Indeed I am, Sir. A fine man, if not quite of your circle," came the automated response. "He was a guest at this house, not a fortnight ago."
There was a pause. Darcy thought he could feel his heart beating in his throat. Whatever he had imagined, it was not this. Despite his assertion to the contrary, part of him had wondered if Lizzy's father had been his own Uncle, and he had formulated arguments in favor of the wedding to accommodate such a possibility. He had otherwise assumed another type of man entirely, one easy to convince. But this man had at times been like a father himself, all that was respectable and kind My God, he thought suddenly, I discussed the possibility of marrying his daughter not five years ago. He could not imagine the other man's thoughts.
"I do not suppose," said the Viscount, a light smile upon his face, "that I might say something witty, and you might answer by asking the question, so that I might not have to address the subject myself."
"If that is your goal, I may not help you," said Darcy. "I have already asked the question I meant to ask. Whether it is you that might give the answer is up to you to decide."
The Viscount set down his glass and stood, seeming to take an interest in the contents of the shelves.
"The girl is to be of age soon," he said, to a leather-bound ledger. "It will not be my place to give permission. She may do what she wishes. I have never refused her anything."
"Her name is Elizabeth," said the younger man. "And she would prefer to have your blessing, even if you will not acknowledge her. As for myself, since my father died, I had hoped to marry with your blessing as well."
The Viscount sighed and looked back at his friend's son. "I did not think you thought so much of me."
"Of course I have, my Lord. What you did for me when my father died, I shall never forget. My God, I almost married Maria because of my affection for you!"
"Yes, well it seems she had her own ideas about that… Such irony." There was a pause. "Is she like Maria?"
Darcy allowed himself to smile. "Not at all. Though they share a certain liveliness of manner."
"All my daughters are lively then."
Darcy said nothing. In truth, he did not know what to say, or where to begin. The Viscount stood another moment silent, and finally reclaimed his chair.
"It was the day that the kitten was lost," he began, in a voice not meant for an audience. "But, no," he said louder-- "We should not start there. Let us begin with the happier love story. Yours must be a love story, for you to write so. For you to want to marry her. A man of your standing to marry a girl without parents, with so little a sum. 'Tis extraordinary."
Darcy looked at his glass. To feel such things was one thing. To assure Mr. Gardiner of what that man already knew… But to look at his father's friend and talk of love was more difficult. "Indeed. Everyone who knows has thought so. But do not sell her short. She is everything to me."
"Your father was so very fastidious," was the reply. "And your mother…" He sighed. "For you to take such a step knowing what I know of them, and how you respected them. You must think very much of her indeed."
"If she is your own daughter," said Darcy, "you cannot question my admiration."
"Ah! You are clever, Fitz. You always have been. But what if she had been the daughter of some tradesmen? That was the greater possibility. Unless you knew already of course, and you have been toying with me, these last minutes. I cannot say I do not deserve it."
"I did not know. No. We eventually determined that my father had assisted, which narrowed the possibilities somewhat. But it was long before then when I made my decision."
Taken back slightly by Darcy's commanding tone, the Viscount asked again, "You are determined then?"
"I would not have taken such a step if I had not been so determined. Lizzy seeks her guardian's blessing, but, as you have so keenly pointed out, we may marry soon without it."
Congleton leaned back in his chair. "Well, you are a lucky man, in that case. This is how it shall be. You shall announce the engagement. Her parentage can become public--with Fanny gone these three years and Maria and Anna safely married, there is no need for secrecy anymore. Henry, of course, would not mind, in any case. None of them had much loyalty to Fanny."
Darcy raised an eyebrow. "You would do that for us, milord?"
"I will increase her dowry of course," he added, and then, in a flippant tone. "It will lessen the romance, I'm afraid, but it will help with the scandal. Especially if everyone understands that you knew all along who this mysterious girl was. It will not be as good as marrying Maria, of course, but hopefully your Uncle, the Earl, will be pacified. Don't think he wouldn't have thrown an unholy fit at this news. And let us not even discuss the your deBourgh Aunt. She will throw a fit in any case."
"I was not laboring under any delusions, sir. Georgiana approves. My cousin, the Colonel, knows and likes Lizzy very much. As for the rest-- I seek no better company than those who are already dear to her."
"I have followed Gardiner and his family many years. He does seem to be a good man--all the same I would not be so quick to throw off society."
"I have no intention of throwing off society!" cried Darcy "--lest society fails to treat my wife as she ought to be treated. It is for her sake that I would accept your generosity. If you were to throw open the door of shame--- expose long-hidden secrets to your family and circle, I would not have you do it for me."
"You would doubt my affection for you, Fitz? I wished for you to marry Maria. I wanted to replace your father, for you to be as my own son. I know that Fanny's death and my subsequent illness has kept us apart for some time, but five years ago, you were second only to my Henry, and that affection has not changed. I thought I had made that perfectly clear."
"Of course it was clear-- is clear!" Darcy threw back his chair and began to pace the room. "Of course it is," he muttered. "You are not understanding me."
"Sit down. I know very well what you are saying." The older man sighed, and made the motion of drinking, though his glass was long since empty. Darcy sat, but made no attempt to fill it--instead pushing the decanter toward him. "I have always done my duty by her."
"When I met Elizabeth," started Darcy. "I was horribly rude to her. I remember my very words. I shall never forget them--what I thought then. I told my friend Bingley that she should never have been given half her fortune--because it allowed her to be out in society. 'With a small annuity,' I said, 'duty is done, without society having to absorb such scandal.' I was a fool."
"What did you think was a more suitable amount?" asked Congleton, dryly. "I assure you, the sum does not matter. My second wife had three times my first, and money did not prevent the scandal. I was still unfaithful. I still produced a bastard. I still ruined the life of a sweet girl, who did not deserve such a fate. She is dead because of me. Hiding does not assuage the guilt. We may try the other way, and see if it helps."
"I do not judge you for your situation then. I do not know the particulars," said the younger man. "I do not need to know them. But I know someone who does. Elizabeth has always been desperate to know of her family. I think--I hope--that the knowledge that I am here-- that she might start her own family with someone who loves her-- has made her understand that she doesn't need to know her parentage to live happily in this world. But no one should have to come to that conclusion. She deserves to know the truth, not because she loves me, but because she could love you. And because she is everything that a daughter of yours should be. She is respectable, well-educated, well-mannered, and beautiful. Like you, she is witty and quick to please, and a fine judge of people. She is all that you have made sure she was allowed to become. You should do this for her, sir. I am irrelevant. I believe that in this case to go beyond your duty, is your duty."
"It turns out I was wrong, son," the Viscount allowed himself a subtle smile. "It this case, it turns out, you are as your father. Those words about duty--I came to him twenty years ago with my guilt in hand--and that was exactly what he said."
Posted on: 2009-04-22
"An express just arrived for you, Ma'am," said the maid. "And Miss Bennet as well."
Lizzy looked up from her volume. "Well I shall take the former, and you may show the latter in, Maggie."
"Yes, Miss Smith. Shall you take tea?"
"I imagine we'll be walking out," replied Lizzy lazily, picking up the letter from the tray. "It's too--" She stopped abruptly when she saw the writing on the envelope.
"Too what Lizzy?" asked Jane, as she replaced Maggie at the doorway. "Whatever is the matter?"
Her friend looked up, her face flushed. "Hot. It's too close in here to sit in any comfort."
"Apparently so. You look quite flushed." Jane said nothing else but nodded questionably towards the letter in Lizzy's hand.
Lizzy gave a wan but sincere smile. "It is from Mr. Darcy. And it is addressed as such. There is no pretence."
Jane beamed, and turned to shut the door. "That is wonderful news, Lizzy!" she cried, as the latch sounded. "He must have permission to write to you then. Shall I go, so that you might read your letter?"
"No, no. You must sit and watch me read it. I have a sudden apprehension. It is very new--this public statement."
"Well, read it then. And then we may take our walk," said Jane prosaically, though not without much affection. Her own coming nuptials were a week hence, and she had no doubt at all that all news was good. "Here, I shall take up this book so you do not think me impatient to hear any details. Go on!"
Lizzy smiled again, and with a deep breath, opened the letter. It was several pages, the envelope likewise filled. Two more missives were folded inside. The first hand she recognized as that of Miss Darcy's; the second was in an unfamiliar, though decidedly masculine script. She set those down, staring at the latter for a moment, before forcing herself to look back at the original. As she suspected, the first paragraph gave news of the permission for their engagement and she breathed a sigh of relief. Written in the passive voice, it gave no detail as to how the permission was given, nor any on the subject of her guardian. The next several paragraphs, set forth in a decidedly impersonal tone, gave the details of Mr. Darcy's travels to Hertfordshire and an affirmation that all their previously made plans for the wedding could proceed as a matter of course.
The first line of the fifth paragraph gave her pause, and looking up at Jane, she hurriedly folded the three letters back together, placing them in her little reticule. "We may go out for our walk now. I am satisfied."
"Why Lizzy, your hand is shaking!" cried Miss Bennet, setting down the book. She made her way to her friend's chair and kneeled beside her. "Are you alright? Was it bad news? You could not have had time to read the entire letter!"
"No, not at all, Jane. It is wonderful news. We have permission to marry, and he will be at Netherfield--with his sister-- in five days' time. He is to stand up for your Mr. Bingley after all," managed Lizzy in a weak voice.
Jane patted her friend's hand in affection. "That is wonderful. Is there nothing else?"
"I stopped reading before--oh Jane, let us walk out. I'm not sure I am ready to know. I have always wanted to know, but now that I can, I don't know if I can. It is all too new."
"Of course dear, but I do not understand," said her friend, as Lizzy hurriedly opened the door and rushed them both out of the room.
Georgiana had been alerted to the distinguished visitor by a curious Mrs. Reynolds, and she sat impatiently waiting for the two men.
"It is not fair, Mrs. Annesley!" she finally cried. "I have not seen him in so very long either, and it is not right for my brother to monopolize his attentions."
"It may not be a social call, Miss Darcy, but I'm sure that he will pay his respects to you soon in any case."
"I know, but I cannot help but be impatient. It is his own fault. He always brought me the best of presents when I was a child."
"You expect a present from Lord Congleton?" Mrs. Annesley smiled.
"Not at all," giggled Georgiana. "Though the baubles then certainly warm me to his visits now. It is just that I have not seen him in over a year at least, and this sudden visit is very surprising."
"Was the Viscount a friend of your father's?" asked her companion to distract the girl from her impatience. Having never met the man, and with no little curiosity herself, she was also interested in knowing the answer.
"Yes, indeed," smiled her charge. "They were the best of friends, I was told-- though they were closer before the Viscount's second marriage. My mother and his first wife were very close. And my Father and the Viscount went to school together as boys."
"And what sort of man is he?"
"Oh, just lovely! For an older gentleman, he is very handsome--you will see. His son looks just like him, and he is quite a well-looking young man. And the father is so very lively and has good humor as well. Father used to call him Lord Jovial as a joke. "
"Lord Jovial? A shocking name for a member of the Peerage!" laughed the older woman.
"My brother made that comment once as well, and Lord Congleton brushed it off--'it is no more shocking,' he said, 'than my poor Dutch mother calling her good English son Hendrik, despite all the teasing I endured for it.'"
Georgiana's companion laughed at her poor imitation of a male voice. "His mother was Dutch?"
"William George Lindsay-Bowlers, the fifth Viscount Congleton, took for his wife Elisabeth Annemaria DeGraaf, the daughter of a wealthy Orangist family," recited the girl. "Their son Hendrik Willems was christened Henry William, of course, in the English fashion."
"Your knowledge of Burke's is invaluable," commented Mrs. Annesley. "Perhaps your father should have called him Lord Lustig, instead. Would that be correct? My knowledge of Dutch is poor, at best."
"Is that German or Dutch? Jolig, I think, would be closer," considered Georgiana. "It retains the J, that way--" she stopped suddenly and her eyes grew wide.
"Why Miss Darcy, whatever is the matter?"
Georgiana cocked her head to one side, debating whether or not she was upset at the prospect of her suspicion being correct. "Nothing at all is the matter. I am just considering a riddle."
Mrs. Annesley raised an eyebrow, but rightly realizing that their discussion about the Viscount was over, she took up some embroidery.
"There now. We are out of Meryton, we have found a cooling breeze, and there is no one within earshot, Lizzy. Will you now tell me what is upsetting you so?"
Lizzy smiled weakly. "Mr. Darcy discloses the identity of my father in his letter."
Miss Bennet held back any reaction--her serene countenance allowed only a hint of surprise-- and no curiosity at all.
"Well," she said, sitting down on a sun-warmed boulder and pushing her hat down onto her back. "You have always wanted to know. Are you disappointed in the truth?"
"I do not know the truth. I stopped reading the letter."
"You stopped reading the letter! Whatever for?"
Lizzy dropped to the ground, spreading her legs out in the grassy meadow. She stared at her boots a moment and debated taking them off. "I have wanted to know for so very long, and now I find myself scared at knowing the truth."
"Lizzy," admonished her friend, "you will have to confront many challenges if you are to be Mr. Darcy's wife. Now is not the time to give in to your insecurities--do you have a pebble in your boot?"
"No, I don't." This was all the reply Miss Bennet was to have, and she sat for a moment, watching Lizzy grind her feet into the damp earth.
"You shall ruin your stockings."
"I know. 'Tis no matter."
"I believe the poor maids at the school might disagree with you!" scolded Jane.
Lizzy smiled. "If Maggie can clean them, then she can have them. I daresay Mr. Darcy can afford to buy me another set of stockings."
"Though it's not his place to do so for a few months yet! Come! read your letter, and find out who must clad your feet at the moment, despite your apparent profligate ways!"
Lizzy drew the letters from her bag, and stared at them a moment. She handed the one written by Mr. Darcy to Jane.
"You read it to me Jane. The fifth paragraph, I think."
Miss Bennet took it with some hesitation. "I cannot read it. It is for you from Mr. Darcy. It is not meant to be shared."
"Just the first few lines. Please."
"Very well." Jane perused the first page until she found the lines that had made Lizzy stop so suddenly.
"Here we are, Lizzy," she said in an even voice. "Your guardian, who is also your father, is Henry William Lindsay-Bowlers, the sixth Viscount Congleton."
"There you are, Fitzwilliam. I was wondering why you have been trapped in your study for so very long. Where is the Viscount?"
"He shall visit with us shortly. He is writing a letter--of business," replied Darcy to his sister, who had leapt us in excitement when she heard footsteps. "Mrs. Annesley, would you excuse us, please?"
The elder woman smiled and nodded. "Of course, sir. I will be in my parlor, if you need me, Miss Darcy."
Georgiana looked expectantly at her brother, who seemed rather uncomfortable. Finally, they heard the door close behind them.
"I'm not sure how to speak to you about this situation. I'm afraid there may have been some gaps in your education, Little One." he said eventually.
This was not what she expected to hear. She sat gently on the settee, and picked up her now cold cup of tea. She took a delicate sip, more out of habit than need.
"'Tis true. I've just discovered I have a decided lack of skills in Dutch," she said, smiling.
"Dutch?" he turned and looked at her in surprise. "You speak French and German. Why ever would you need to learn Dutch?"
"I was teasing you, brother. Now, what are trying to say?"
Darcy sat on the chair across from her and pulled it a bit closer, leaning forward. He surmised that his indirect approach would have him saying more than he wished and chose now to speak in a different manner.
"The Viscount is Elizabeth's father."
"I thought as much!" she said, her eyes shining. "That's wonderful."
"Why, of course, brother! How could the situation be any better?"
"You are not disappointed in Lord Congleton?"
"Disappointed?" Georgiana frowned. "I suppose I should be," she said at last. "I hadn't thought of it like that, of course. I suppose he must have been quite wicked at one point. But that was so very long ago. And he did his duty. He didn't abandon Lizzy. That makes him better than George and the others, does it not? I mean, Sir Lewis never gave so much money or such an education to his children-- I mean, the other children, not Anne."
Darcy started. "I didn't know you knew about such things." His sister shrugged. Such proceedings were realities in the life of the wealthy. They were generally not spoken of, nor even considered very much, but they were known enough. "The mothers in those cases were not gentle-born," he began tactfully. "Apparently, Elizabeth's mother was not without friends, and the Viscount was rather more ashamed of the situation. Thus more money and effort put to the child's well-being." The last words were set rather quietly. While his sister was not, it was obvious that he was greatly disappointed.
Georgiana patted her brother's hand. "I do not think I have such high expectations of gentlemen as you do. I used to, perhaps, but not after last summer. Not anymore. Your high standards do you credit."
Darcy sighed again, and his sister entreated him to tell her the details of the future arrangements. She was assured by Congleton's willingness to publicly acknowledge his paternal identity, and thought, like the Viscount had, that it would make the situation better. "For the natural daughter of a Viscount is surely better than the natural daughter of nobody knows who. It will be that much better for Lizzy, if that be the case. The Viscount is a very influential man."
She was saying as much when Congleton himself entered the room and she stopped speaking abruptly. He smiled. "The letter is on your desk, Fitz. I am sure you will send the two letters together, when you have had the chance to write your own."
"Oh! do wait for my own letter, Fitzwilliam," said Georgiana, rising to greet the guest. "I should like to write Lizzy as well."
Congleton glanced at Darcy, who shrugged at her eager acknowledgment of the situation. He turned to the younger girl and smiled. "Little Georgiana. How you have grown!"
"I am tall enough, My Lord," she said, blushing. "Welcome to Pemberley."
Lizzy heard the lines read in a daze. Jane had stopped reading at some point, protesting that there was no additional information about the family situation. The letter had rather become one of tender words that she did not need to see. Nonetheless, the portion she had read contained a large number of relevant facts. Lizzy had a father who was her guardian. He was a very wealthy and powerful man. He was to recognize her publicly. Lizzy had three half-siblings. And, lastly, in a short sentence that begged for more information, Lizzy's mother was no longer alive.
"I think there is a letter enclosed from the Viscount," she said.
"I shall just take a short walk, then, and allow you to read it."
Lizzy nodded her thanks, as her friend stood. She took up Darcy's letter first and read the remaining page. It was very dear, and she smiled through the tears that had started to well in her eyes. The ending itself was enough to undo her completely.
Lord Congleton is very dear to Georgiana and I, he wrote. I never imagined him to be one to take his marriage vows lightly, and as I cannot lie, I will tell you that this revelation has been rather difficult for me. At the same time, I cannot help but feel, as my sister unequivocally does, that there is no better man in England that I might choose for your father, if I were able to do so. He has never failed to elicit a smile from your sullen fiancé's face, as you do not. So there, you see, you have something in common, and I hope that the undeserved love that both of you hold for this writer will help you come together to forge some kind of relationship, that will be, if not as a father and daughter should be, mutually beneficial.
Know, as you read this, though, that I would have stood by you, even had your father turned out to be the most unfortunate cad in England, or one of Pemberley's lowest servants. You, Elizabeth, are, in the face of any difficulty, my choice, and I shall never abandon you.
Yours, with great affection, Fitzwilliam Darcy
She opened Georgiana's letter next, pausing to glance several hundred feet away at Jane, who seemed to be enjoying the moments of solitude that wedding plans had not lately allowed her.
Miss Darcy's excitement was such that four sides of paper was not enough to contain every sentiment she wished to share. Her normally staid writing was completely undone, and it was all Lizzy could do to make any sense out of her words. It was enough to know, she supposed, that Georgiana was happy for her, and this was reassuring.
The Viscount! You are a Lord's daughter after all! Is that not exciting? He will meet you in the autumn, I understand, and we are all to act as though your parentage was always known to the family. I hope you understand the falsehood--it shall help you both immensely in society, and Fitzwilliam wants to shield you from the worst of the London gossips, which, I admit, scare me very much, even if they do not daunt you. He shall have little problem winning over your siblings--they are considered quite "liberal" in their views on marriage, especially Maria, who married Mr. Foxworth well before he entered Parliament, (much to the annoyance of Lady Congleton, I think--I'm not sure how easily she was able to attain permission at all!). Lord Congleton's children, I should say his other children, are older than you, and their mother dead twenty-five years. Anne-- Lady Egerton, and Maria-- Mrs. Foxworth are both lively women, very kind and understanding. They have three children between them, that you may meet and spoil. Mr. Foxworth is quite well known, and Lord Egerton, I have not met, but I believe he is kind enough. And Henry!--well Henry is quite the corinthian--he is the most like you, I believe. At twenty-five, he remains unmarried, and his fine looks and cheerful disposition make him quite the catch around London. (The second Lady Congleton is now passed on as well, so you will not have to worry about her reaction--I imagine her feelings are the major reason you were not acknowledged so publicly before--she was not so well-liked as her husband, though it is not for me to speak ill of the dead.) And you are to have everything you wish--Lord Congleton loves my brother very much and says he would have Fitzwilliam's wife as like his daughter, even if she weren't his daughter, which of course you are… how very confusing, but delightful all the same.
The letter continued in the same style, and Lizzy scanned it quickly, promising to read it again that evening, when she might be able to think enough to make sense of it. For now, there was a third letter, which lay in her lap. She glanced again at Jane, who after some rambling had sat down in earshot, but who looking away across the fields. Finally, Lizzy opened it. His script was light and slanted.
I am your guardian and your father as well.
Fitz, that young pup, has scolded me harshly for not admitting such before now. Such a staid young man you have chosen for your partner in life! At once, so full of passion for you, and at the same time, such a righteous master of men. He, I think, has recently learned a lesson that I learned in much harsher way twenty-two years ago--that we do not always fall in love with the person we think we will. Indeed, romantic love, that strange thing, often strikes us without warning. For you and Fitzwilliam, I hope, it will be everything that is right and wonderful--and I hope, in some small way, that your marriage may somehow make up for the great sin I committed, when I destroyed a young life so long ago.
And yet we created you, Beatrice and I. There, I have written her name, for the first time since I sent a letter to George Darcy at her death, asking him to arrange for your well-being.
I admit that when I first received Fitz's letter, I thought of him, who I have loved as my own son. I have three acknowledged children, and second to them, I have always thought of Fitzwilliam and Georgiana, the children of my childhood friend, who I loved dearly, as my children. By acknowledging you, by increasing your dowry, I could provide for him. I could help him. My second daughter Maria, your sister, once made what was seen as an imprudent match--it has since turned out brilliantly, of course, a fact that she has reminded us of many times, but I remember seeing what she suffered at the hands of society. If I could help my little Fitz avoid such suffering, I would, of course, do it.
Fitzwilliam Darcy, as you can probably imagine, would not accept such liberality, without assuring me, that he would only act on your behalf, and I ought to do the same. He had a father, he said, who provided everything for him. You did not. He is, of course, correct.
I beg your forgiveness.
I will tell you someday, in person I hope, if you wish to meet me, about your mother. Suffice to say, I quickly found my second marriage would not be as my first--a marriage between two people of similar temperaments. Soon after, I hired a governess for my oldest daughter, Anne. Her name was Beatrice DeWitt, of an impoverished gentry family from the north. I loved my children dearly and was often in their presence, and my tendency to visit the schoolroom increased as my marriage became strained. In Beatrice, I found a spirit much like mine, and I have no doubt that had I not already been married, I would have married her, consequences be damned. She was an innocent girl before she met me-- but within a few months, she became with child. I did what I could do. I set her up in the country. I paid a significant portion to her family--after her death, her only brother left the failed family estate with the sum and traveled abroad. I made sure you wanted nothing. Knowing you was out of the question. My wife and I might be content (and we were for many years), but her knowing of you would have destroyed what little security she found in our marriage. Her reassurance was society's approval, and surprisingly no hint of my affair ever became public. Fanny has now passed on, and the children of my first marriage are grown and happy.
At my request, George found your home with Mrs. Adams. I followed your life with great scrutiny--I paid for your education--I recommended Mr. Gardiner in business so that you might have a secure home in London. The Gosford school was closely examined. I made sure you never wanted for friends or education. I read every letter of your comings and goings with interest. And until recently, Miss Gosford and Mr. Gardiner have reported you as content. I assure you that I have never ceased to think of you, even though I am afraid, that in my mind, you are a young girl still.
Recently I received a letter from Miss Gosford hinting that you might not be so content. Indeed, it was not difficult to read between the lines that you might be crossed in love. I wondered at it, and began to consider, for the first time, where you might fit into society. I began to mull over calling you to London after the New Year and speaking to you myself on the matter. Believe me that I was quickly coming to this conclusion, when I received Fitz's letter. My surprise was instant and complete.
It is no secret that I wanted Fitz as a son. He was very nearly engaged to my Maria (do not feel jealousy--he did not love her, at least not as a man ought to love a wife), because of our affection for each other. I was his main confidant after his father's death (his Uncle, the Earl, is not so easy of a man). It was hard not to think of him, who I knew so well, first, and you, who I have made a stranger, second. I both love you and regret you. I hope my honesty does not sting--my feelings are both true and unjust. I will do my duty, and I hope a correct amount of affection will follow. I believe it will.
But despite my many sins, your Fitzwilliam knows me as Jovial, and so I shall be. If you will accept this feeble and balding malefactor as your dear old papa, I shall be proud to call you daughter. God bless you.
Lizzy sat a minute, oblivious to her tears. She pulled her boots over her muddy stockings, and allowed herself a wide smile, shaking her head in disbelief at the day's events. "Jane," she called. "I am ready to go back now. Come, you must make me look presentable."
Posted on: 2009-05-27
"A plan of attack?" Congleton looked to Georgiana, amused. "I am afraid you have been spending too much time with your cousin, the Colonel. Nonetheless, you are correct. I am to return home tomorrow, and shall be at Maria's Saturday week. That shall give me a few days to inform Henry before I leave, and I shall write Anna so that she might be prepared. But Fitz, you should make an effort to speak to your own relatives as well-- before the news reaches them on its own."
"Certainly," said Darcy. "Lady Catherine and our Aunt Darcy must do with letters. There is no time if I am to go to Hertfordshire for the wedding. Aunt Darcy will fuss, I suppose, but she is no longer terribly interested in any goings on outside her own domicile. Lady Catherine…"
"…will be horrible," finished Georgiana, but a look from Darcy silenced her.
"…will be disappointed. It is fortunate that she has fewer connections in town than she ought, but she may still make trouble among the older generation."
"My generation you mean," smiled Congleton. "Yes-- well, you need not worry about the younger crowd. Maria is nothing if not loyal to me, and an extremely powerful force in society besides. Not among the more traditional elements, of course, but you could never hope to win them over."
"You have always told me that a half a dozen loyal friends, respectably situated, can win over all of society," said Georgiana. "With Mr. Foxworth so well positioned at the moment…" she trailed off, not knowing quite how to finish her thought.
"My son-in-law is no six -weeks man. He will remain powerful in the Commons, and he is liberal enough in his notions that illegitimacy will not taint Elizabeth in his eyes. He will rail at me in private of course." Here the Viscount smiled ruefully. "But his career was so well helped by his connections to my family that he cannot turn on those connections with any good conscience."
"Colonel Fitzwilliam likes her well, though I do not know if he would support an engagement," continued Darcy. If we have his support, he can win over the Viscount, his brother. Their sister…"
"…will also be horrible."
"Georgiana, enough," her brother said, ignoring Congleton's chuckle. "But Worthington's estate is remote enough that we shall not have to reckon with her until the Season. I would like to know that I would have my Uncle's support. If I do, the rest of the family will soon follow."
"I will write you a letter to bring to him, if it helps." The Viscount's wry smile made Darcy grin in spite of himself.
"You know he dislikes you immensely…"
"And such we are even in our disdain. And he still outranks me, too, though I keep hoping that I may wake up one morning with the crest of an earl embroidered on my pillow, as uncomfortable as that might be. But I do have a bigger fortune. And the more important sons-in-law. So he cannot completely dismiss my opinion in these matters. As much as he would like to."
"I suppose I shall take a letter," considered Darcy. "The family is all on their estate, and Georgiana and I shall have two days to win them over. Are you ready for that my dear?"
Georgiana set her jaw in defiance. "I think so," though she spoke in a less than convincing tone.
"That's my dear sister. I wish I did not have to ask so much of you."
The two men were sitting alone some time later, writing, Georgiana having gone to bed.
"Is there anyone else to consider?" asked Darcy, looking up from his final letter, a single page to his paternal Aunt.
"Oh! a hundred people at least--and we shall have to determine what silly individuals will be on the forefront of fashion next season, so that we might bandy to them while we have the chance. But you must decide, my boy, what it is that you desire--the winning over of the ton completely with such acceptance that has been granted you and I by birth; peace and acceptance of your friends and family; or simply the knowledge that you may attend an event without a full-scale snubbing by the assembly at large."
"She has been snubbed all her life." Darcy shook his head. "If I could but hide her here forever and save her from the judgment of the ton, I would."
"I do not know her and I do not claim to," said Congleton. "But it seems that she is in a better position than you are to know how to handle the slings and arrows that such scorn might unleash upon you both. It is you that will have to learn. And myself, of course. I seem to be forgetting that I will not be judged the innocent in all of this."
"You are perhaps the only character not innocent in all of this," snapped Darcy irritably, as he failed to mend a pen.
Congleton nodded his head in understanding but kept his tone light. "Ahh, but this lesson you are learning. How difficult it is to love a woman under less than ideal circumstances."
"Less than ideal?" asked Darcy in an undertone. "You certainly have a way with words, sir."
Lizzy made her way down the main street of Meryton, smiling politely if uncomfortably at the many caps tilted in her direction. She was headed to Longbourn, which she dreaded, but she knew that Jane would want her company in these last hectic days.
"Is that you, Miss Smith?" Mrs. Philips waved at her from across the way. Pasting a wide smile on her face, she turned to great the older woman, who was now hurrying toward her.
"Mrs. Philips, I was just to call on Longbourn. Would you like to join me?"
"Oh no dear. I was there yesterday. A mad house, I tell you. A veritable Bedlam! Between you and I, I don't know if this wedding will be a success."
Lizzy winced. "Between you and I," in this case, meant most of Meryton. "I do not doubt that Mr. Bingley will be satisfied with the proceedings of the day," she said in a far softer tone.
"The day of the wedding always means little to a groom. But I understand you will know that soon enough."
"Excuse me?" Lizzy felt a crimson heat spread over her face.
"Now, Miss Smith, I've had it from my boy Frankie-- who had it from the butcher, who had it from the innkeeper, who had it from the express courier-- that you are openly corresponding with Mr. Darcy. Now that can only mean one thing."
"I should think so," blushed Lizzy, well aware that the men in the shop behind her were listening to every word of their conversation.
"Well, I simply could not rest. I would not have the wrong rumors spread about our dear Miss Smith! So I asked Mrs. Long who had asked Miss Gosford, who confirmed that you are engaged! Is it true?"
"I've never known Miss Gosford to tell a lie," murmured Lizzy.
Mrs. Philips clapped her hands together. "You are a sly one! Mr. Darcy even pretended to dislike you at first. But he could not hide your understanding for very long, could you? My very best wishes! It is a splendid match. I wonder that his family approves."
"You may ask him yourself at the wedding, if you like," said Lizzy. "He is to stand up for Mr. Bingley."
"Oh! Jane's wedding, of course. But yours shall overshadow hers. My sister shall have a fit. Are you to be married from my brother's house? Or here in Meryton?"
"London, I think. But it is not settled, so do not treat it as so."
"I imagine you shall have to consult this mysterious guardian of yours, of course," commented Mrs. Philips, with a smirk.
Lizzy took a deep breath. She would rather have the news spread now than to overshadow Jane's wedding, which was now only a few days away. She knew that Darcy and Congleton were both informing their families--and she had been granted permission to do likewise. "He and Mr. Darcy are quite intimate, and he would have us be married where we like."
"Indeed? Is he going to be in attendance then?" Mrs. Philips's head bobbed forward in anticipation.
"I suppose it depends on the date. He comes to London for the winters, of course. I don't know exactly which month."
"Your guardian has a house in town… ? Is he…" Even Mrs. Philips could not come out and ask what she most wished to know.
"My father," said Lizzy, amazed at how easily the word rolled off her tongue. "--that is-- my guardian-- is Viscount Congleton, and he is most excited about the match and has given his public blessing to it. No doubt it will be in the papers soon enough." Here she gave a theatric shake of her head, indicating her disapproval of what might likely be in print. "He and Mr. Darcy's father were the very closest of friends. You do know that Mr. Darcy's estate is in Derbyshire, near Lambton?" Lizzy smiled widely and said in a rather amused voice. "Some secrets are more easily kept away from home than nearby. As you always suspected, Mrs. Philips, Mr. Darcy never thought of me the same way as did the men of Meryton."
Mrs. Philips had never heard of the Viscount Congleton. But she did know the name Lambton, and she began to draw conclusions--the very conclusions Lizzy wished her to draw. Miss Smith silently congratulated her absent father for his cleverness.
"And so you knew… and we thought… a Viscount…" Mrs. Philips's mouth hung open. "But why would you not say anything? My own brother! He was with you--in Lambton! And he said nothing to the rest of us!"
"My father only very recently lost his wife. A woman's feelings… You understand…"
Mrs. Philips nodded vigorously. "Yes, of course. Such an honorable way to go about it. But now you have such a father and will have such a husband! It is all too distracting."
"It is indeed," said Lizzy. She could tell Mrs. Philips wanted more information, which she was unwilling to give, and finally, after a few more words, the women parted. Lizzy continued her walk, ignoring the chatter of voices behind her.
That gossip travels fast is a fact well-known. But Lizzy would never quite comprehend how the news managed to make it to Longbourn before she did.
Several days with the Viscount, Darcy reflected, had affected his bearing considerably. He made a note to ration the amount of time he might spend with his father-in-law-- or his disposition might change so much that his Uncle might never speak to him again.
For instance, near the end of the stormy session in the Earl's study, he found himself smiling at a particular accusation the older man had made. "No Uncle, you seem to be confused. Congleton is legitimate. It is Elizabeth who is the bastard."
And likewise, five minutes later, he rolled his eyes and asked in a calm tone. "And how much, sir, does the man have to pay me to make the match acceptable in your eyes? What if we increased the dowry to 30,000, and we'll have Foxworth throw you ten votes in the Commons? What was your pet issue this week? Objecting to the plans for the pavilion at Brighton? I'm sure the Catholic issue and corn for the army can wait while the Lords squabble over Oriental design."
Finally, it was Viscount Eldridge who knocked on the study door and made the peace between his cousin and father. Georgiana had informed her other guardian of the match, who, while alarmed, knew better than to cross his cousin. The Colonel in turn, discussed the matter with his elder brother, whose entire reaction was amusement.
"Congleton has a bastard? And Darcy is to marry her? That is too rich! No Georgie dear, I am not laughing at your brother. I would never laugh at Darcy. He is not a man to be laughed at, after all…. Yes, I am sure father is throwing a fit…. We'll give them another hour…. Well, why would I care about the matter? It won't affect my life who Darcy marries…. I do hope she is as amusing as her father, though. This family needs more amusing relations…. Georgiana, be a dear and tell my wife and mother, will you? They should be home from their calls by now. I need some brandy before I walk into that study, and I don't want my innocent little cousin to see me imbibe… No, don't worry moppet. He'll come around. Unless she wears too many feathers. You know my father cannot stand ostentatious dress in a woman. I keep waiting for him to introduce a bill to save the peacocks from the ladies…"
Lady Eldridge and Lady Rothwell were decidedly similar. Both women were introverts, conservative in dress and manner, and both were often out shadowed by their gregarious husbands. Though most people assumed their marriages to be unhappy ones, the marriage of the elder was one of contentment and the marriage of the younger was more than a little blissful. Georgiana was relieved to find that both ladies had indeed arrived home and both kissed her on the cheek in welcome. Though twenty years separated them, their grey gowns appeared almost to match, and they could have been sisters, not two women drawn together by marriage. Georgiana smiled at the fact that her own dress was similar. This was a company she understood well.
"We received your letter dear, just yesterday. Whatever was Fitzwilliam thinking, rushing you about in this heat?" asked Lady Rothwell, as they arranged themselves in the sitting room. "And I understand that you are to leave the day after tomorrow?"
"We may leave tonight if he and Uncle do not resolve their argument soon," said Georgiana cheerfully, amused by the identical looks of concern on the ladies' faces. "But here is my cousin. He will tell you the news."
The Colonel entered the room and greeted his sister and mother. "Jack has entered the fray. I've no doubt things will resolve soon enough. He will anger both of them, and they will make up just to spite him. It is a well-practiced tactic on his part."
"Jack's" wife uttered a barely perceptible sigh.
"But what are they arguing about, Freddy dear?" asked his mother. "You have started the story from the middle."
"It seems my cousin Darcy has picked a most objectionable bride." Georgiana bristled and the Colonel smiled. "No mother. Do not worry so much. She is a pretty, well-mannered young lady. She has a fine father and a dowry-- one getting larger by the day, apparently. I can tell you that I think well of her, and Darcy is certainly madly in love with her. At least he claims to be. Darcy in love seems to me as unemotional as Darcy not in love."
"We do not all show our emotions as well as my second son," said Lady Rothwell. "Or as poorly as my other children. Now, what makes this woman so objectionable?"
"She is the Viscount Congleton's natural daughter," said Georgiana quickly. She had no wish to tease her Aunt.
Lady Eldridge raised one eyebrow ever so slightly. "Lord Congleton has a natural daughter?" she asked in a completely even tone.
"Which is my husband objecting to?" added the elder woman, in a similar voice. "Her status or her relationship with Congleton?"
The Colonel laughed. "Both, I imagine. I'm not actually sure. They have been locked in the study for some time. But my little ward here has been filling me in." He motioned to Georgiana.
"But when did you meet her?"
"At Rosings in April. She was visiting a friend-- the wife of the parson at Hunsford."
Lady Eldridge took a measured sip of tea and deferred the next question to her mother-in-law.
"Indeed. And what did Catherine think of her?" asked the older woman.
"I don't think she took the time to form an opinion. The girl wasn't even invited to Rosings until Darcy threw a fit. Come to think of it, I should have known then that Darcy thought quite a bit of her. I'd no idea Miss Smith was Congleton's daughter at the time, of course. She was just a girl from some school in Hertfordshire. But I liked her very much. A sweet, amusing sort of girl. Very intelligent and witty. And she knew how to pacify my Aunt while maintaining some level of self-respect."
"You are on Darcy's side," commented Lady Eldridge.
The Colonel shrugged. "He will not change his mind once it is so well decided. Father will rant and rave but Darcy will marry her all the same. You won't disown me for supporting him on this, and I'm not about to alienate the Lindsay–Bowers clan. Besides, she's a lovely girl. And she is to be Georgiana's sister. And I have an obligation to my young cousin, don't I, my dear? She is determined to be of her brother's mind on this particular issue and who am I to stand against her?"
Lady Eldridge looked at her mother-in-law. "I must take my husband's side, of course."
Lady Rothwell smiled--a very slight smile. "Meaning you have already made up your mind not to dismiss the girl outright, and it happens to agree with Jack's mind on the issue. I, for my own sake, will not give Congleton the satisfaction of splitting up the Fitzwilliam family, even if it would amuse him to do so. His friendship with the Darcys has always been an annoyance. As for the bride-to-be, I will not pass judgment until I meet her. Accepting her in public for the sake of the family is one thing. Accepting her in private is another thing entirely."
"That is as much as I could hope for," replied Georgiana, to whom this last comment was directed.
Mrs. Philips had been correct, mused Lizzy, as she stood on Longbourn's doorstep. Bedlam was the most apt description of the situation. The front door was wide open. A bucket and washrag sat in it--the door itself had apparently been in the process of being cleaned when an interruption had called away the maid. There were the sounds of a flurry of activity. Mrs. Bennet's voice sounded somewhere to the right. Lizzy could hear enough to determine that the Viscount, in addition to one missing piece of silver, were the topics of the moment.
She did not ring the bell but Hill passed by, and turned to greet her, hurriedly wiping her hands on a wide apron.
"Oh, Miss. I'm so sorry you've been kept waiting. If you'll pardon me Miss, the Missus has us all running ragged. We're entirely neglecting our normal duties. Shall I announce ye, then?"
"That's quite alright, Mrs. Hill, and there's no need to bother Mrs. Bennet. Is Miss Bennet in the back parlor?"
Hill looked relieved. "Indeed, Miss."
"Then I'll just see myself in. You can return to your mistress."
Hill's relief disappeared for one discernable moment, but she bobbed her head as she took up her stride. "Thank you Miss. And best wishes to you too."
"Thank you Hill."
Lizzy made her way down the hall. The door to the parlor in question was shut, and she opened it stealthily, ready to retreat if Jane was not alone. But Jane was alone--sitting on the floor, surrounded by fabric… and weeping piteously. Lizzy quickly stepped in the room and closed the door behind her
"Oh Lizzy! I'd knew you'd come! You have to help me. This seam is not right. And it will not fit. And then what will Charles say?!" she cried, helplessly.
"Oh my dear. You are overwhelmed, aren't you? But I thought your sisters were to help you finish all of this," said Lizzy, as she started to fold what appeared to be the many finished pieces of Jane's trousseau back into their trunk.
"They were, but Mary went off on the estate to attend to all the duties that Mama and I cannot. And Lydia finished the detail of that whole pile you are folding now, but Mama sent her on Nellie to Lucas Lodge to borrow… I don't even know. And Mama has now called out Kitty to determine the details of your trip to Derbyshire. She has found out about your father somehow."
"There must have been a delivery made while I cut across the field," mused Lizzy quietly. "Is she following the script?" she asked Jane, a little louder.
"Oh yes, Kitty is ever so amused by the tales she is telling. She likes to think that she knows what Mama and Lydia do not."
"Well then," said Lizzy. "Hopefully your mother will have recovered from the shock by the wedding, and that all of her bustling about will pay off in a perfect wedding breakfast. In the meantime, stand up, and let me redo this measurement. You are too overdone to do any detail work."
Jane stood, and succumbed to Lizzy's ministrations. A handkerchief was procured and used. The final seam was made and the product pronounced a success. They quickly picked through the rest of the items, Lizzy determining efficiently which had to be finished and which could be packed away. In the end, Jane realized there was actually very little to be done, and she began to relax, and apologized to Lizzy for her earlier hysterics.
"Mama just has us so worked up. She is having every inch of the house cleaned, even the rooms no one will enter. There's half a dozen extra girls in, and Mama keeps saying the most indiscreet things about the wedding night. One thing she said was so shocking that even Lydia looked ill and chose to leave the room. Can you imagine? Of course, Papa generally has locked himself in the library. I do not blame him. Though it would be nice if he were to reign in Mama just a little. Today, of all days, he decided to make a call. My father, leave Longbourn house! And my wedding the day after tomorrow!"
"And the day after tomorrow, you will be mistress of your own house," smiled Lizzy. "And you shall have your Mr. Bingley."
Jane nodded and sighed as the door opened to reveal Kitty. "Oh! Lizzy! Mama has just determined that she must call on Aunt Philips to find out what she can about your situation. And here you are. What a good joke!"
"Mama has gone to Meryton?" cried Jane. "But what about the flowers? And the white soup?"
"Don't worry, dear. The half a dozen extra maids will actually be able to complete their assigned tasks while she is gone," assured Lizzy. It's the best thing that can happen. And if we each take one of these," she said, pointing at the filmy pieces left on the floor, "we shall be finished. Tomorrow you will make up the flowers, and then there is no more you can do for your wedding."
"Oh, thank goodness," said Kitty, taking her share. "I do hope Mary will not be married for some time. What an absurd business weddings are. Though, I am looking forward to being a bridesmaid. And I would love to be a bride…"
"Such is the problem of the female," laughed Lizzy. "We all want to be brides, and yet we don't want the work of a wedding. 'Tis a silly business."
They spoke of weddings for some time. Finally, the door opened one last time.
"Mr. Bingley is here, Miss," said one of the maids, who Lizzy recognized to be one of the extra half-dozen. She looked unsure of what she was to do. "I was the only one that could answer the door, but I didn't know where to show him as your father is out."
Jane rose. "That's quite all right. We'll see him here." She looked to the giggling girls behind her. "Well, I'm not going to stand on ceremony given that we're to be married. It would do me well to see him. It will calm me down."
"Of course it will!" laughed Lizzy, as Mr. Bingley appeared in the doorway.
"Jane," he smiled, greeting her with a significant look. "Miss Kitty. Miss Smith--or should I say Miss Lindsay-Bowlers?"
Lizzy smiled. "Miss Smith is quite all right, sir. Though, I'll answer to any number of names at the moment."
"You were not supposed to call today Charles," scolded Jane. "Not that I don't welcome it. But, as you must see, Longbourn is not fit for visitors."
"Well, I would respect your wishes, my dear. But a little robin told me that your parents were out. And cheeky little chickadee informed me that Miss Smith had called. And lo and behold, a rather bedraggled crow showed up on my doorstep. And I thought he also might have business here."
"Well that introduction is not one I've had before," came a voice from the hall. "But for the sake of your beautiful bride, Bingley, I will not challenge you for it."
"Thank you, Mr. Bingley," Lizzy whispered, as her fiancé came into view.
Here's all the new characters I've introduced in the last several chapters.... They would be easily figured out-- if I hadn't waited two months between postings!
Henry William Lindsay Bowlers, Viscount Congleton
He has been widowed twice-- the first was the mother of his legitimate children, the second was named Fanny.
Beatrice DeWitt-- his mistress-- Elizabeth's mother.
His (legitimate) children:
Anne/Anna (Lady Egerton) (I've used both-- um, I'll just go with it and use them interchangeably.)
Maria (Mrs. Foxworth-- her husband is a new but very influential MP, due to some huge event that I won't detail here. When she married him, five years ago, it was not considered a good match)
The Hon. Henry Lindsay-Bowlers (age 25)
Darcy's Fitzwilliam Uncle is the Earl of Rothwell. His oldest son is the Viscount Eldridge. They are both married (to the "Ladies in Grey"). The two Fitzwilliam sons are referred to in private by their diminutives: Jack and Freddy. Jack and Freddy also have a sister, Lady __?___ Worthington, who apparently is really awful, but lives on some remote estate with her husband.
Darcy also has an Aunt on his father's side-- the widow of his Uncle, the Judge, mentioned by Caroline Bingley in canon.
Hope that helps!
Posted on: 2009-06-21
The precious hour that Lizzy and Darcy spent in the corner of the garden was one of the most tender of her life. There was no chaperone. Kitty by herself could not accompany both couples, and besides, there was much to do in the house. The angle of the vine-covered arbor under which they currently sat was such that no prying eyes could spy at them from the window or lawn, even had a servant had a moment's rest on that day to do so.
Still exhausted from his journey, Darcy leaned back against the seat and lazily pulled his soon-to-be bride onto his lap. Lizzy, amused for a moment with the knowledge that she had already quite ruined her lover's reputation with her very existence, allowed herself to be drawn close to him, and relaxed against the rise and fall of his chest. His arms were around her, his chin perched on her head, and so they reclined, as he spoke to her.
"I have never taken comfort in another person thus," he said. "Your very presence seems to destroy down my habitual reserve."
"I did not always have such an effect," murmured Lizzy, caressing his hand lightly.
"Perhaps not. I remember at the assembly, when you spoke to Bingley. Your eyes flashed, you were so full of righteous anger, even as you disguised it in polite deference. I realized in that instance I had willfully wounded you, even as I found you beguiling. I felt such guilt. It angered me. Who were you, that you should make me feel so conflicted?"
"You noticed me even then, at the assembly?"
"And then you were always there, in front of me. Tempting me. I think I loved you from the beginning. 'This is what you cannot have,' the fates screamed at me. Everywhere I turned, you were there. But you and I conversed so well. You were such a friend to me. I earned your laughter and your smiles and that pleased me. I left Hertfordshire, half in agony. And then you appeared again. You don't know how you tortured me."
"I had not the faintest idea that I was doing so, I swear it," declared Lizzy. "I knew I loved you. But I mistook that love for something else. Never knowing passion, it was easily suppressed into more innocent emotion."
Darcy smiled. "Sometimes I feel as though passion is the most innocent of emotions, my lovely Elizabeth. For we are both innocents around it. We know not what we are doing. We can only allow it to control us."
She turned her head to look up at his, and there was silence for some minutes.
"I think that you have quite failed to prove your point. There was no innocence in such a moment," she whispered some time later.
"We best speak of something else," he responded. "For it is not practical to continue this… exercise in such a setting."
Her eyes widened for a moment but she said nothing, touched her bruised lips with her hand, and smiled. "Tell me of my father."
He chuckled. "That will certainly do to alleviate passion. Though I was certainly overwhelmed with other feelings at the time of his confession, I must sat that I was rather surprised to find that he had had a passionate affair that would overcome all other objections. He is not someone I thought of--though he should have been first in my thoughts when we sought to solve the riddle. He is such a mixture of capricious jest and actual real goodness, that I would not have suspected."
"He wrote to me of her. He does sound to have actually cared for her. He must have, for duty alone would not explain his current willingness to acknowledge me now with such vehemence."
"I actually think it would. For all that my father and Congleton were not alike, they shared a deep sense of duty. And he loves me besides. But I do think he loved her, and I do think he wishes to know you, and he will like you. But for Henry, you are the child most like him."
"Not the infamous Mrs. Foxworth?"
"No," he smiled. "Though she resembles him in looks. She has his wit when she chooses to use it, but she was a rebellious child, with the stubbornness such as that I am told often manifested in her mother. Now, she appears to be tamed but it is all a pretense. No, I do not envy her husband. He not only has to appease all of Parliament, but he must go home and appease his wife. That said Foxworth as we know him would not exist without her. Together they form a partnership impossible to break. As much as he can be whimsical in person, the Viscount is a far quieter man in politics. Though I assure you, he has interests everywhere."
Lizzy smiled and motioned him to go on. She was content to rest in his arms and hear of her family, though actually meeting them still seemed beyond the realm of possibility.
"The Foxworths have agreed to make a public overture though I would not expect them to spend so much effort into the relationship proper. They are always very busy and another child is to join their family soon. From what I have heard, Maria was … restless… during her first confinement. It could not have been easy"
"And Lady Egerton?"
"She was named for my mother," said Darcy wistfully, "though all three of you seem to be named for your grandmother as well. Her mother and mine were schoolgirls together, the very best of friends. Before my mother died, Mama commented that Anne was the very image and person of her mother. Quiet, understated, and quite pretty. Her husband is not a well man and they seldom come to town. They have two sons and she is quite wrapped up in them. She was the oldest and suffered from the unstable childhood that her mother's death and her father's remarriage caused, and as such has tried to create a different sort of upbringing for her boys. The letter she wrote her father in response to his said very little of you, but rather gave him a sad scolding for having been responsible for the sudden disappearance of her favorite governess."
"Oh my. Poor girl."
He chuckled again, this time with a sympathetic tone. "That poor girl is a sister many years older than you who had a happier childhood than most. Congleton was a very attentive father. Their stepmother, perhaps, should not have had the care of children, but the trio was neither abused nor neglected due to her ill-attentions."
"And my brother?"
"Ah! The honorable Henry. The image of his father. His very existence is charmed. He is clever and witty, and always knows the correct thing to say in company. Women esteem him, and would do so even if he were not the heir to title and fortune. He adores the world and it adores him. In short, he is everything I am not."
Lizzy smiled. "No, I will not so easily be goaded into giving you the compliments you appear to seek. You know you are not telling the truth." She paused. "He sounds like Mr. Bingley."
"Not at all. He is not so easily led as Bingley. He is rather what Bingley is slowly becoming with greater confidence. No, he is his father, without the cynicism of time or the responsibility of an estate. Or, to be more accurate, he is you. Only with a far greater degree of insufferability. Perhaps it is well enough that you were not raised knowing who you are. I might not stand to be around you."
This bit of sauciness could only be answered with a teasing kiss.
They were in a similar position many minutes later. Darcy had told her many stories of her family and his, and she had rewarded him with her affection. Most recently, he had told her of his Uncle's reaction to their engagement, and though he underplayed the amount of convincing he had had to do, she could read between the lines. This chivalry she thought especially was especially worthy of a remuneration, and they were quite a familiar embrace, when they heard chuckling behind them.
"Mr. Darcy, has Netherfield no gardens in which you might woo your affianced?"
Mortified at hearing Mr. Bennet's voice, they separated. "I apologize, sir," Darcy said, standing to his full height. "I did not mean to take advantage of Longbourn… or Miss Lindsay-Bowers in such way."
Mr. Bennet raised an eyebrow. "Oh, I imagine you very much meant to, sir. Miss Smith, I think it's best you returned to Meryton soon. It is getting late. My wife has lately returned with the carriage, and you may use it, if you wish." This statement was more a command than a suggestion, and Lizzy bobbed her head in response, giving Darcy an apologetic glance.
"Yes, Mr. Bennet. Thank you, Fitzwilliam. Give my greetings to Miss Darcy." She scurried away. Darcy watched her keenly, almost forgetting the man beside him. But it did not last. Mr. Bennet cleared his throat.
"As for you Mr. Darcy, I would suggest meeting Mr. Bingley just beyond the side gate. I've taken the liberty of ordering your horses. Unless of course, you would like to stay for to dine. I'm holding no great hopes for any hot dishes tonight, given the state of the house. But I do know we have plates and silver enough."
"Thank you, sir. I best return to my sister."
"Yes, you best."
"I apologize again, sir."
"Mr. Darcy. I have four daughters. I've no chaperones to spare. I'd rather you not take advantage of that fact."
Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her most deserving daughter. She would not be vexed by other circumstances that made it so that the wedding day was overshadowed by gossip of a kind that was not often found in Hertfordshire. She reflected afterwards, that had Jane not had three most deserving younger sisters, the bridesmaid may very well have been the daughter of a Viscount. Perhaps not a daughter under the best of circumstances, but such a family could not be ignored. How clever it had been, for her own family to have secured such a connection!
It was fortunate, however, that Jane and Mr. Bingley were not the type of people to worry about the thoughts of others, so secure they were in their own happiness on their wedding day. For it must be admitted that many of the guests attended only to see the formerly ignored Miss Smith sitting peacefully in a side pew next to Mrs. Gardiner, and the newly interesting Mr. Darcy, who was standing up for his friend. The newer couple felt keenly the offense that such a situation must give to the older, but both Bingley and Jane brushed off the matter. The talk could not be helped, and as Lizzy was credited with bringing the two together again (Darcy's initial separating of them was all but forgotten), they could not be upset with the news of her father and engagement overwhelming the wedding festivities. Were Bingley particularly ambitious, he also would have seen the advantage of being even so loosely connected to Lord Congleton, and through him, Mr. Foxworth, the young and brilliant toast of the Commons. But Bingley was not ambitious. His two ambitions were nearly fulfilled. The ambition of his father would still have to wait for him purchasing an estate, of course, but Jane was now his, and he was well satisfied.
The wedding breakfast, as far as Mrs. Bennet was concerned, was a marvelous success. And by her standards, it certainly was. The house was spotless--the half of dozen servants brought in for the occasion had dusted and shined every inch of it. Flowers hung from every piece of exposed molding, and their sweet smell spoke of new life and love. The food was marvelous--the tables groaned beneath its weight, and everyone agreed that Meryton had not seen that meal's equal in many a year. Mr. Hurst was particularly pleased and said as much to Mrs. Bennet. Knowing that she had outdone a London table was enough for her, and she spent the rest of the summer relating the compliment to anyone who would listen.
Jane glowed, as all good brides should. Her gown and hair--a pleasing combination of London fashion, Meryton expertise, and embroidery stitched by loving sisters, were the envy of many a lass, and Mr. Bingley could find nothing wanting in his beautiful wife. Her hysteric weeping of two days before had given way to a few tears of joy as she said her vows, and even pragmatic Mary, standing at her side, was touched. The other sisters also felt keenly Jane's marriage. For all their faults, they recognized the new Mrs. Bingley as their better self, and they loved her for it. Kitty had made up the bouquet and had twisted a hair ribbon from all four into its length, and Lydia, who had been in charge of trimming the bonnet, on it had embroidered four flowers--a lily, a peony, a daffodil, and a daisy--one for each of the sisters.
Circumstances (and tender feelings in at least one case) had necessitated that most of the guests had appeared only the day before. The Gardiners arrived with all their children to a still frantic Longbourn, and Mrs. Gardiner very calmly saw to the final details. The Hursts and Caroline Bingley, and at least one of Bingley's elderly Aunts, likewise descended upon Netherfield at the very last moment. Bingley toasted all his guests at dinner that evening, as he would toast them again the next day as a married man, and one would never guess, given his angelic countenance, that at least half of the guests were overwhelmed by the circumstances--overwhelmed to the point that the younger sister of the groom had not a single bite to eat at either meal, and indeed, it was only several glasses of wine which allowed her to tolerate the company at hand.
Caroline was not the cleverest of women, though she saw herself as such, and with some liquid courage, she finally approached Darcy at the wedding breakfast.
"I understand that I am to congratulate you," she said, looking daggers across the room where Lizzy spoke with Mrs. Gardiner. "You apparently could see a touch of nobility where the rest of us did not."
Darcy stared coldly at her. "I would thank you for your congratulations on my upcoming nuptials alone, Miss Bingley. My abilities of perception are not worthy of such praise."
"Oh but they are. For I understand that you once knew Miss Smith's sister, Mrs. Foxworth, rather well. Interesting that you should be attracted to someone who must be very much alike."
"I did not know that you were on such terms with Mrs. Foxworth that you might know who she is like and not like. It is apparently I who must congratulate you on such associations."
"I daresay I have met her more times than your Miss Smith," snapped Caroline.
"Miss Bingley. I tolerate you, for your brother's sake. I might even call you a friend. But you should know that the Foxworths move in the first circles, and you would do well not to challenge their position. And you are correct. I am quite familiar with Mrs. Foxworth, and her father. Familiar enough that his secrets are sometimes mine, of which I do not share with mere acquaintances. Do you take my meaning?"
Caroline bristled. "You would do well to remember that your Miss Smith will never move in the first circles, if that is your concern."
Darcy smiled. "Perhaps I have misled you. The Viscount, regardless of his rank, is as dear to me as any other man alive. Yet, I marry Elizabeth because I love her, and for no other reason. Just as your brother married Mrs. Bingley because she is the most blessed of women. We will both be happy in our marriages. Will you be?"
Caroline had no answer to this uncharacteristically blunt statement, though her hand turned white around the stem of her glass.
"Now, Miss Bingley, if you will excuse me. I have pleasanter ways to spend my time."
She retreated not longer after. She was not heartbroken, but she was humiliated. And Darcy, who had taken no joy in this moment of her degradation, nonetheless recognized that his triumph in this case was merely one of many in a series of small victories he would have to win for the sake of Elizabeth.
Lizzy did not know the words that passed between Darcy and Caroline Bingley, though she could guess them. As for herself, she only heard kind words--and even if some of them were less than sincere, she could be agreeable to them. He smiled at her from across the room, and she let her thoughts wander, nearly missing what Mrs. Gardiner was saying.
"Quite the story Kitty has concocted. And my husband has had a most interesting letter implying that he should agree to its truth! I must confess that I am rather amused that your father has not only acknowledged his paternal identity, but that he wants to do so retroactively as well!"
Lizzy smiled. "I understand why they have made the decision. Fitzwilliam looks far more calculating in his courtship, and thus far less shockingly romantic, which as we know, is a scandal in itself."
"We will speak of this more later, I am sure. And of your father, towards whom you must have many mixed feelings. I know the truth, and you may always speak to me of such things that are difficult."
"I know, Mrs. Gardiner. Thank you-- for everything." The ladies could speak no more of sensitive topics for others had moved within their range of hearing. After a pause, they moved away again, and the elder smiled at the younger.
"This is a pretty gathering, is it not? Everyone is behaving themselves."
"Well, your youngest niece does appear to be absent," noted Lizzy.
"I think – no, there she is-- on that chair. I have only been here a day, but Lydia does seem quite subdued. Has she been ill?"
Lizzy thought a moment. "I confess I have been paying little attention to Lydia these past few weeks. My mind has been rather preoccupied."
"Understandably so. But usually one cannot avoid her antics, even if one wants to."
"She is probably still disappointed in the abrupt end of her trip to Brighton."
Mrs. Gardiner nodded--but a slight furrow appeared on her brow. "Perhaps."
Posted on: 2010-08-29
The Gardiners once again proved their worth. The very next day saw Bingley's relatives return to town, ostensibly to give the newlyweds privacy, leaving behind only Darcy and his sister. Those siblings, likewise, did not wish to disturb Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, though not so much had been accomplished in regards to Darcy's upcoming nuptials that they might so soon quit the neighborhood. In a similar fashion, no one wished to break the peace that had fallen over Longbourn in the wake of the wedding by hosting company. In short order, then, as the day was fine, Mrs. Gardiner proposed a general outing to Oakham Mount. Mrs. Bennet kept at home to recover upstairs, and with her stayed Lydia, who once again declared herself unwell. Mr. Bennet of course kept to his library and with him stayed Mary. So it was that Kitty Bennet, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, their four children, and the Darcy siblings undertook a quiet carriage ride up to the Mount, where they stayed many hours, enjoying a mild summer, and several baskets of foodstuffs (procured by Miss Darcy from the Netherfield kitchens). It must be no surprise that Lizzy was sent for as well, and she was able to sit with her Fitzwilliam for some time, though there were always plenty of chaperons in the vicinity.
He had brought two pieces for her to read--one, the society column from a London newspaper, and the other, a letter from her sister.
The first was diverting at best:
It is with infinite concern that this newspaper has to announce to the world quite an intelligence in the family of a certain member of the peerage. Lord C. at once has said to have revealed not only the existence of a third, heretofore, unknown, daughter, but also her betrothal to a Mr. D. of his long acquaintance. This mysterious Miss is said to be a beguiling sort, and must be so to have swept up one of the land's most prized bachelors despite her apparent lack of both mother and name. The editors wonder how the shades of the many estates involved might bear such a pollution of such a scandal.
"A beguiling sort," she repeated with some pleasure, and seeing Darcy's questioning glance, patted his knee. "Well I must be amused, sir. It is the only option worth considering."
He smiled. "I had hoped you might feel so. I myself am naturally made up not to be so, but if you are not offended, than I shall bare it as best I can. For I do believe that Pemberley's foundations are stronger than the slight stress of such a pollution." The last word was said in such a fond tone as he looked at her that she wondered at its appropriateness for sonnets, which sent her again into merriment.
Mrs. Foxworth's letter was then examined. The hand was similar to her own, and this gave her confidence, but the contents of it made her look up at Darcy with a mixture of nerves and emotion. "She writes that she has it in her mind that she will meet me and has invited me to come and stay at her husband's estate, and meet our father, before our wedding--tomorrow if I wish it! Except, I am afraid this is not an invitation, so much as it is a summons!"
"You may not chuse to go, if you do not wish it," said Darcy carefully, as this possibility was also new to him. "Though it would certainly allow you to avoid the heat of London."
Lizzy squeezed his hand in acknowledgment as she continued to read. The plan had been for her to leave Meryton with the Gardiners in a week's time and live with them in London, where she and Darcy might be married in the Autumn in deference to some vague idea that the wedding should not proceed with undue haste. Darcy was to return to Pemberley until such time it was to fetch his bride. "She says she wishes to meet me within the privacy of her family circle, so that she might judge me without prying eyes upon her."
Darcy bit his lower lip thoughtfully, in the manner of a schoolboy writing an exam. "While Maria Foxworth is a lively and loving woman who is exceedingly loyal to all she develops an affection for, she is also exceedingly blunt."
"The tone of this letter is altogether beyond my comprehension. In one paragraph, she speaks of helping me acquire my wedding clothes, as if she were an old friend. In the next, she makes rather wild conjectures as to my person."
"Maria is not a puzzle that is easily solved, I am afraid. And she is with child, a circumstance that I have been told makes women rather changeable."
"Hmm," murmered Lizzy who was busy reading the letter's lengthy postscript. "Her brother shall visit when the babe is born; thus I shall meet all but our other sister before the wedding. Do you wish it?"
"I should think that the decision is rather up to you. You, undoubtedly, would feel most comfortable with the Gardiners. I should not wish to leave you alone with strangers, and yet I must to Pemberley for at least a little while. Nevertheless, Mrs. Foxworth has a comfortable home; it is best that you meet your family before the season for we shall have to make an appearance in town at that time; and I know that you have wished to meet them too, for many years now."
"It is puzzling," said Lizzy. "For so many years I have wished it. Yet, now I wish to be settled at Pemberley with you, with all of this behind me. Though I do wish to know my father. And hear of my mother, if he will speak of it."
"Whatever you decide, I shall support. And if Maria is unhappy with that decision, I shall tell her I left you no choice in the matter."
"Indeed, sir?" Lizzy laughed. "Am I to obey you already?"
"As if you would," he smiled. "You have always prided yourself on your independence. It is what you have always stressed when you have defended yourself to others. No here I believe I must emulate your brother Foxworth. You shall do what you wish, when you wish it, but I hope you will grant me the honor of a certain pretense in public." He said this in a light tone, and she responded similarly, though she knew his personality was such that on some things he might brook no opposition, and this was fact that she accepted, and she saw no need to dwell on it.
"May we have the Gardiners to visit at Christmas?"
Darcy grinned at this abrupt change of topic. "If you wish it. And the Bingleys if you want. And any of the ladies from your school that you might be wishing to see. I am not sure I may extend such generosity to your friends the Collinses though. Is that so very wrong of me?"
"No indeed; though Mr. Collins would spend most of his visit counting windows and we should never see him! I only ask because in truth I would rather stay with the Gardiners until our wedding. But I may reassure myself in some way if I see them at Christmas, and it is best for all if I meet my family, so all may know where I stand."
Satisfied with this course of action, the couple turned to speak with the Gardiners, who agreed to take Lizzy to London, until conveyance could take her to Foxworth house.
Only two points are left to discuss then, before we follow our heroine into her new life. The first, of course, was her many farewells. With Jane and Mr. Bingley, she could not cry-- for she would see them again very soon, and they were so wrapped up their own bliss that she could hardly be faulted for not thinking they would miss her company. With the Bennets and the rest of her Meryton acquaintances, she had a few moments of regret. Her friendship with Mary and Kitty, hard enough won over many years, would suffer, and the farewells were difficult, especially as they took place in front of their mother. Mrs. Bennet could only hint her own place in the future Mrs. Darcy's upbringing, a boast which Lizzy bore the best she could. She had lived in Meryton for many years now, and it was a home that in many ways she regretted to leave behind.
Most tender of course, was her goodbye to Miss Gosford. Though that lady had seen many girls come and go from her school, Lizzy was a favorite, and the two had a painful parting. Miss Gosford would never admit to tears of course, but Lizzy needed a handkerchief. And only the humor in the fact that the little girls were inconsolable kept her from completely breaking down into sobs. She would not match the sensibilities of a ten-year-old, no matter how much she wished to at that moment.
The second point was the visit of a certain Lady Catherine DeBourg, whose reaction to her nephew's engagement was something akin to Robespierre's feelings about the monarchy. She entered the school at half past two on a Tuesday. All the girls were at their lessons, but they heard the entirety of the conversation that followed, a conversation that only ended when Lizzy literally left the school to go walking down the main street of Meryton. Not wishing to air her grievances in public, Lady Catherine retired to Netherfield, shocking the newlyweds, who could only stammer that her nephew and niece had quit their house to return to Derbyshire that very morning. Having no intention of traveling all that way, she satisfied herself with writing several letters to Darcy and his Uncle, declaring herself quite put out. That Lady Catherine disapproved of the match surprised no one--in the family or in society at large, and she was forced to take out her anger on her clergyman, who could only stumble over apologies.
"Well if you can deal with quiet snubs as well as you handled that woman, you shall comport yourself well in your marriage," was Miss Gosford's only comment, when Lizzy finally returned to the school.
And so Lizzy left Meryton and made her way to London, where she stayed with those closest to her for a mere four days. At that point, Mr. Foxworth was to fetch her. He had had business in London and would also be escorting his own sister to her home, not five miles from his own. In those days, she kept to the house and garden, grateful that the heat of summer kept her from having to face the public without Darcy at her side. For any confidence that she had developed as somebody of no import had seemed to fade when she realized the amount of curiosity that would accompany her entrance into society. And such an entrance she would not wish to make without him.
The man who appeared on the Gardiners' doorstep that morning was a surprising figure indeed. He was short, perhaps four inches over five feet by generous estimate--Darcy would have towered over him. His stance was wide, and his feet slightly pigeon toed, making him appear in danger of falling forward. He was dressed well but this seemed more out of habit than inclination, and his well-made suit did not actually seem to fit as well as might be supposed. His hair came out from under his hat at all sides, not because it was unfashionably long, but because he was in the habit of running his fingers through it at all times. Certainly he wore his age well--- she knew him to be forty, but he hardly looked thirty--but he was a far from handsome man--his nose was beaked, his mouth was slightly too large, and his eyebrows constantly bent at such an angle that he seemed to be questioning anyone facing him. His eyes were a piercing blue, though, and she had a hard time meeting his glance.
Most surprisingly to Lizzy, in the wake of seeing both Darcy and Lady Catherine's carriage, his conveyance was small and plain, no more richly ornamented than a common post-chaise.
"Miss Bowers, I believe the family has decided to call you. Lovely to meet you," he said very quickly, giving a brief bow. His voice has surprisingly deep and rich, though when he spoke fast, as he was now, it could attain a nasal quality. "And Mr. Gardiner, I presume." He paused only the briefest second, as if impatient. "Are you ready then?"
So this was George Foxworth, the most powerful man in Parliament. She had seen his likeness in the papers, heard of his elocution, and known of his ability to wield power, even when he had had none. He was not what she expected.
"Yes, of course," she stammered. His coachman was already loading her boxes onto the carriage without any direction to do so.
"That's my sister in there, of course. She is already settled in her travel mode." He pointed, somewhat rudely. Lizzy saw the fluttering of a woman with a bright purple dress.
"Well, goodbye," she said to Mr. Gardiner, for Foxworth had already propelled her halfway back to the carriage.
"Christmas at Pemberley! Maddie and I would not miss it for the world. Good luck, my dear girl," he said, following them both, and chuckling at Foxworth's manner, which was certainly rude, but somehow inoffensive. Lizzy could barely squeeze Mr. Gardiner's hand before the carriage door closed. and they were off.
And so within only a few seconds, Lizzy found herself in a carriage facing her brother-in-law. He stared at her, his bright eyes unblinking.
"So," he said, again very quickly, as if he had much to do. "We will stop for repast in a few hours, and arrive later in the afternoon. I have correspondence, but May will talk to you, no doubt. She has all of our refreshments and such, and it is her you should ask with questions."
"I see," stammered Lizzy again, looking for the first time at the woman next to her.
"Never mind my brother," she said kindly though in only a slightly slower cadence. "I do not. He was given very few manners, and those he must save for when he interacts with the nobility, excluding your father, of course," she smiled. "We have to occasionally remind George to show some deference. It is a good thing they agree on so many points."
At this speech, Lizzy expected Mr. Foxworth to make a reply, but he had already opened a small traveling desk, and his eyes were glancing down a ledger, as he sharpened a pen.
"His correspondence has a touch of brilliance, of course, and his speeches beyond reproach. But his conversation always left something to be desired. Now, dear, and you may call me May, of course, tell me about yourself. Unless you would prefer to nap or read. I don't do much of either myself. But you just tell me, and I'll tuck myself here in this corner and not bother you in the least."
It happened that Lizzy did very much want to converse, if only to hear about her family, and to make some alliance before she met Mrs. Foxworth, whose person she could not begin to imagine given what she had already heard, and given her choice of a spouse. To throw off someone like Darcy for this man, and against all her family's wishes, was something she could hardly comprehend. And yet, Lizzy reminded herself, this strange little man across from her was one of the most powerful men in the kingdom not blessed with rank or title. Some even spoke of him attaining Prime Minister if the party was to ever unite again.
So without much initial coherence she began to converse with the woman next to her, who, while odd, seemed quite intelligent and well-read. She noticed that while Foxworth's eyes never strayed from the papers in front of him, he did occasionally react to their conversation, subtly enough that had she not been in a closed carriage she would not have noticed.
"Tell me, Miss Foxworth, May," she said after an hour, when she had built up the courage. "Does your brother always determine a person's character through observation of other's conversations? It is a technique with some merit." Foxworth's shoulders moved as he chuckled under his breath, but his pen never stopped writing.
The woman in purple raised one eyebrow. "Eh! You are very quick. He's done it since we were children. Never much interest in having the conversation himself."
"Mr. Darcy does the same or I would not notice," she replied, and this time he did look up, even though, again, his pen continued to write.
"Dear me, comparing me to Darcy. I've had enough of that for a lifetime," he allowed himself a brief smile and returned his eyes to the page.
Lizzy turned red at this but May only smiled.
Her brave comment seemed to do the trick though, for Foxworth did occasionally join their conversation during the rest of the journey. Despite his odd behavior, Lizzy found herself liking him quite a bit, though she was overwhelmed by his presence at the same time, traits that were undoubtedly partly responsible for his success. She could not tell for a minute what he felt about her, but she decided to bide her time before she would worry about her reception.
They spoke little of the two topics she wished to know most about--Mrs. Foxworth and her father, and instead told her about the common acquaintances of the neighborhood, the business that had taken them to London, and the excitement of the child at his upcoming sibling. But it was a pleasant enough conversation, and the journey went fast.
Foxworth House turned out to be somewhere between Oxford and Swindon, on a rather unassuming tract of land. It was hardly the size of Longbourn, nor had much of that charming house's merit, though it seemed both modern and comfortable. Lizzy turned to the man across from her to confirm its address, and he smiled. "Ahh, there we are. Nothing to Lindsay, of course, but well enough for a commoner, eh?"
"It looks very comfortable," she said demurely. "Are you not coming?" she added to May, who had made no motion to arrange her things in such a way that she might leave the carriage.
"No, I'll go on to my home. It's only a short drive, and there's no use delaying the horses just so I may say hello. Too many cooks, you know, too many cooks. It was lovely to meet you my dear. You may write me if you need advice on dealing with her." This last word was said in almost a hiss, but it was clear that Maria Foxworth was the target of it. Maria's husband said nothing in reaction to this final statement, and merely held out his arm to assist her from the carriage.
And not a moment too soon, for when Lizzy had stepped down and looked up again, two figures stood in the doorway. The first was a rather striking woman, heavy with child. Next to her stood a man, obviously the woman's father--he was, Lizzy realized with some trepidation, her own father as well.
Posted on: 2011-06-23
Lizzy struggled not to cry. Her still girlish figure shook with unshed tears.
"I do not want to go to Meryton, Mrs. Gardiner. And I would be so much help to you here."
Mrs. Gardiner shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She had lost her typical rosy hue, and the pale whiteness of her skin was made more stark by the smoky candle in the background. Her swollen belly betrayed the moving babe within it. Over the past months, it had seemed to suck out her lifeblood, and this dear friend had grown quite ill.
"And what help would I be to you Lizzy? This will not be an easy birthing like the first. You can see as much. I shall take some time to recover my spirits. And in the meantime, who would see to your education? Who will make sure you grow to be a lady?"
"I do not wish to be a lady. I shall instead make you a proper nurse."
"Ah, but that is not best for you, my dear. I have a proper nurse. No, you will go to school. It is for the best. And when you are a lady, you shall look back on this moment and laugh."
"I shall not laugh. I want to stay in London."
"Lizzy, we have talked about this. You shall be able to make many friends. And you shall be near my niece Jane as well. You adore Jane so. Will it not be nice to see her any time you wish?"
"I do love Miss Bennet," confessed Lizzy. "She is so very pretty and kind. But I love you more!"
"And I love you too, my dear. And because I love you, I want the best for you. And you will like Miss Gosford. She is a very good sort of woman. Mr. Gardiner has known her all his life. Come now," she added, seeing that her ward was still shaking her head. "I am like a sister to you. Would you say no to your elder sister?"
It was the worst thing she could say. Lizzy bit her lip in stubbornness. "You are not my real sister, Mrs. Gardiner. My real sister would not make me go away and leave her. She would want me around for the birth of her child. Even if she were very ill. Especially if she were very ill!"
If Mrs. Gardiner was hurt, she did not show it. "Now Lizzy, someday you will remember this moment, and know that blood is not always thicker than water. Happiness in family is entirely a matter of chance. You have been more fortunate than most. And you will go to Meryton. And you will visit us again when we are all in good health."
Lizzy was shaken from her sudden reminiscence by the need to acknowledge the introduction. Maria Foxworth was on a small scale, not pretty, but striking; the child made her stance wide and forced her back into a ramrod stiffness. If Lizzy had not been so very nervous, she might have seen the silent conversation that took place between husband and wife--a questioning glance from the latter and a solid nod of approval from the former. But as she was, she could barely murmur in a polite murmer, as Maria rushed them all inside. "For it is very windy out here, and certainly not the place to converse." Lizzy felt somewhat lightheaded as she made her way down the hall, and felt a very firm hand at her side, motioning her towards the stairs.
"If I may, Elizabeth, allow me to escort you to the family rooms where a maid might see to your needs. Maria cannot act as much of a hostess, I'm afraid. Simply climbing stairs makes her quite winded."
Maria's voice was heard from behind them. "Do not mind Father, Elizabeth. He can be quite the tyrant when he wants to be. He has hardly let me move these ten days."
"Mrs. Foxworth, allow your father to meet his daughter in peace. In the meantime, I shall like to see my son," came Foxworth's voice; his cadence had slowed some and had taken on a quieter and more resonant tone. "I assume you have ordered dinner at the usual time."
"Yes, of course. The family dining room in two hours. And then we all shall have a good chat."
This declaration finished, Mrs Foxworth gave Lizzy a weighty look and swept out of the room as proudly as her bulk would allow her. Lizzy's eyes followed them as long as they could, and then finally, with some trepidation, she turned to look at the man in front of her. "Lord Jovial," Darcy had called him. But the laugh lines about his eyes at the moment turned down. For the first time in her life, she could truly see a family resemblance between her and another. He seemed to be searching for the same. And then he smiled.
"I am glad to finally meet you, Elizabeth."
… My dear Fitzwilliam, you asked me, in your last letter, to describe more of what I have been feeling these past weeks. I do not know how to explain the feelings, for they change by the minute. He is a good man, I think, and I like him. That is for sure. It is certainly true I do not love him as a daughter should love a father, nor do I feel that he feels for me the same filial affection that he does for Maria Foxworth--this feeling is obvious to all who see them together--nor even what he feels for you. He speaks of you so very fondly that I think your fear, as you call it, is the truth. He does what you see as his duty still more for your sake than for mine. But I cannot be angry at this truth, and I do not feel you should be either--for as man and wife, shall you not cling to me and the two become one? Then he shall feel for us equally--there you see, I have solved the problem, if it is a problem. But I do not believe it is, so you shall not feel affronted on my behalf.
As to his humor, I certainly see what my own might have been had I been raised with such confidence. He takes a strange type of delight in your Uncle's discomfort at our engagement, and his actions there may not help our cause. Nonetheless, he is amusing, and I cannot help but laugh at his mixture of sweetness and archness, for he is quite engaging. When I see him playing with young Foxworth, my nephew, I do wonder what I have missed in not having him as a father.
He does have an open mind--he could have considered his duty done but your scolding has made him reconsider those situations that led to my own. He has not yet talked to me of my mother, though he has made some references to my similarities to her, and to his own sad marriage. There is a melancholy that overtakes him at these moments, and I feel for him. Yet I cannot help but think that he should have such feelings, that however much he suffered being the one left in this world, that my mother, whatever she was, suffered more. Maria has told me some of what she remembers of her governess, but she is such a straightforward person, that she has a hard time speaking of feelings. I am not yet familiar enough to her to be admited to what I think is a very small circle of trusted individuals, mainly herself, her husband, and her father, in that order.
In some ways I want to feel more for them all; they are very kind, and are doing best to admit me to their family circle. The arrival of Henry yesterday will help this cause I think, for your sister's description is very apt. He is all lightness and ease and has no problem recommending himself to strangers in such a way that one feels immediately at home. I can tell in their dealings with the neighbors as well, that as a family they have decided to present a united front; any references to my origin are made in such an ordinary way that insulting asides are brought to a sputtering halt, for no one will risk the wrath of a Lord of the Realm, or, more importantly in this neighborhood, the wrath of one Honourable Mrs. Foxworth.
And yet, I must close in my assessment in saying that I know when I do start to feel more for them all, that there will be some anger. I have always known the love of caretakers; my life, I realize now, has been a fortunate one, as much as at times I did not wish to see it. But these people, these near strangers to me still, could have been my own. And so I will feel anger. But forgiveness, and love, may come in time. I will write more on the morrow when I have thought some more on the subject.
And now that I have written the selfish part of this letter, I believe I must return to that unfortunate circumstance that has befallen the family of our dear friends. Upon further reflection, I think Bingley's plan is a sound one. This all may still be hushed up; for I have little confidence you will find Wickham after all this time and he certainly would not marry her even if you did. And if no one has yet guessed, she might visit the Gardiners for many months without raising suspicions in Meryton, and Mrs. Gardiner has many reasons to disappear to Derbyshire with Lydia when her condition begins to show. You have asked my opinion on the matter of finding a place for the child as a favor to Bingley. Despite my mixed feelings on my own situation, I have no doubt that my father did well by his friend. A good man would not blame an innocent babe for the sins of its parents. Your father was a good man, and so sir, are you.
I will write more on the morrow, when I have thought additionally on these matters.