Posted on 2011-03-07
Bingley and Kitty were the first to arrive back at Netherfield. Louisa greeted them joyfully.
"You are to be my sister! Please tell me that it is so." Kitty nodded, grinning as Louisa grabbed her hands, dancing with excitement. "I am so glad you decided not to wait any longer. I can hardly contain myself!"
"I still intend to stand up with you," Kitty cautioned with mock severity, "so do not expect that our wedding will be that soon."
"I cannot complain for that. I would much rather have you than Caroline stand with me! She has been of no help planning the wedding since she is concerned only about what dress she will wear." Louisa laughed, rolling her eyes. "But now I can be here to help you plan as you have been helping me. Oh, it will be such fun!" Louisa giggled girlishly. "I have already been considering your dress and I have such marvelous sketches for you to see. I've been saving them as a surprise."
Bingley smiled knowingly at Kitty. How like you it is that your joy is made fuller knowing that you have increased my sister's! I could not be happier seeing the two of you so delighted. "Thank you for your congratulations, Louisa, I cannot tell you how much it means to me that this new should make you so happy."
"I can only imagine we will have more to celebrate when the others return. What say you we invite everyone to dinner tonight?" Louisa clapped her hands excitedly.
"I think it a very good idea." Mr. Bradley appeared in the foyer, leaning comfortably on his walking sticks.
"Then that is what we must do!" Bingley agreed happily.
"I must steal my friend away for a little while to help me give directions for our celebration." Arm in arm, Louisa and Kitty skipped toward the kitchen.
"I see you have settled the matter quite agreeably," Bradley noted, watching after the young ladies.
"Very much so," Bingley sighed. "I am glad I asked her. I had no idea how much is involved in planning a wedding. Neither had I any sense of how much it means for the ladies to share it with one another. I had no idea it would be so important to her." He chuckled.
"Remember this for your future life together. I would say that you have learned today something very few ever realize." Bradley nodded approvingly.
"I will, sir." Bingley stretched, yawning. "I suppose I must get on with the business side of things. I need to have my solicitor to prepare a settlement. That means I must go to London."
"I expect that all of you will need to make that trip. After all, their father is staying with Miss Maddie and her husband in Cheapside. You will need to speak to him. I would suggest you do that as soon as possible. It will be easier on Mrs. Bennet that way."
"I had not considered that. But given what Kitty…Miss Kitty has told me about her mother, I believe you are correct. Perhaps we can all go to London together. Yes, that is a good thought. I will wait for them to return and speak about it as soon as can be." Bingley wandered off, muttering absently under his breath, a distracted smile on his face.
Bradley watched him walk away and shook his head with a chuckle. He adjusted his walking sticks and made his way toward the library.
Late the next morning, the four young men stood outside a door in Cheapside waiting to gain admittance to the unfamiliar residence. A moment later the door opened.
"Misters Darcy, Bingley and Pierce and Colonel Fitzwilliam to see Mr. Gardiner," Darcy glanced at his companions.
"Just a moment, sirs," the butler said soberly. The door closed again but several moments later opened to admit the gentlemen. "If you will come this way, please," he led the way through the foyer to a bright morning room.
"Good morning!" Gardiner cried, stepping quickly to meet his visitors. Mr. Bennet was a step behind. Handshakes were exchanged and tea called for. Soon they were all comfortably seated, sipping hot tea.
"So, do we need to ask what brings you here? I am certain that you told my man a small a falsehood, for I am certain that it is not me that brought you to London this lovely morning," Gardiner laughed gently.
Darcy shifted uncomfortably and glanced to his companions. Fitzwilliam cleared his throat, "I cannot suppose that our visit has come as a complete surprise, Mr. Bennet, given the letter you wrote your daughters."
Bennet raised his eyebrows over his teacup. "A letter you say? My daughters will tell you I am no great correspondent. I would be quite surprised to find that anything I might write them could be so memorable."
An awkward silence filled the room. Finally Fitzwilliam pressed on, "An interesting evasive maneuver to be sure, sir. But I have seen enough to know they are best countered by a direct approach. My we use your study, Mr. Gardiner? I would appreciate the opportunity to have a private audience with Mr. Bennet."
Grinning, Gardiner slapped his brother's back. "I believe you have been outflanked! I would be happy to offer you the use of my study. My brother knows the way."
With a half frown, Bennet rose and allowed Fitzwilliam to follow him down the hall. A moment later, Madeline Gardiner appeared in the doorway.
"Gentlemen, may I present my wife, Mrs. Gardiner," Gardiner rose to take her hand and invite her in. The gentlemen stood. "This is Mr. Pierce, the vicar Fanny has spoken so highly of, Mr. Darcy of Pemberley and Mr. Bingley who has recently taken the lease on Netherfield Park."
"It is a pleasure to meet you, sirs. My husband has spoken so highly of you," Madeline curtsied.
"Madam, if I may be so bold," Darcy began, reaching into his coat pocket. "I believe we have a mutual friend in my vicar, Mr. Bradley. He is currently staying at Mr. Bingley's estate in Meryton. He asked me to bring you this letter." He presented her with a thick packet.
She took it from his hand with a broad smile. "Thank you, sir! His letters are a much anticipated event in our home. He always includes stories and little sketches for the children. They do so enjoy his offerings."
"He is an accomplished correspondent." Darcy smiled, bowing. "I understand you grew up in Lampton?"
"I did, sir. I have very fond memories of Derbyshire. I think it the most beautiful of counties, though I am told that I am most biased." She laughed as they seated themselves again.
"Well, I can assure you must heartily that I will do nothing to correct your perceptions as I most heartily agree with you." Darcy lifted his teacup to his lips.
"If I may be so bold, Mr. Gardiner," Mr. Pierce leaned forward, "how fares your sister?"
"Thank you for your concern, sir," Madeline answered for him. "She is much improved."
"That is good news indeed." Pierce released a deep breath and leaned back.
"You are not bearing bad news are you?" she quickly asked, a look of alarm spreading over her face.
"No, not at all, quite the opposite in fact," Pierce quickly assured her. "The news we have is quite good to be sure, but I know her constitution is delicate. Even desirable intelligence can be taxing, I fear."
"Bearing good tidings, you say?" Her brows knit for a moment, and then a broad smile broke out across her face. She laughed merrily. "You were correct, Mr. Gardiner. It did take only a week for them to show up on the doorstep." Darcy, Bingley and Pierce exchanged astonished looks. "I am most fond of my nieces and could not be more delighted to see them so amicably settled. My husband as told me much about his time in Meryton." Madeline reached for her husband's hand. "They are dear girls and if I may say. I believe the four of you may very well be getting the better part of the deal."
"Are you in a business meeting, brother? Madeline, are you there?" Mrs. Bennet's face peeked in the door way. "Mr. Pierce!" she exclaimed as the room rose in greeting. "I had no idea you were come to London? It is so good to see you again!" She bustled her way into the room.
"May I present to you my friends Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley? Mr. Bingley is the new tenant of Netherfield Park." Pierce gestured to his friends.
Mr. Darcy is such a fine gentlemen. The cut of his suit and that gold signet on his finger suggests he might be an excellent match of one of my girls. His friend seems to be quite acceptable as well. What good fortune that they are friends with our good friend Mr. Pierce. "You must dine with us then, all of you! We dine with four and twenty families, you know. With the addition of your company it will be five and twenty. As soon as I return to Longbourn," she suddenly stopped, her face growing pale and she clutched the back of nearby chair, wavering slightly. "Oh!" She covered her face with her hand.
"I am pleased to be the bearer of good news regarding Longbourn." Darcy quickly cut in.
Hope lit Fanny's eyes. "You have been there, sir? You have seen…"
"Yes, and more than just seen, madam. Mr. Bennet has charged your daughter, Miss Elizabeth and I with overseeing the work at Longbourn in his absence."
Fanny's eyebrows shot up. Overseeing in place of Mr. Bennet? He and Lizzy? What could Mr. Bennet have been thinking to allow them to work together like that? How improper! How unflattering to Lizzy. She breathed deeply and studied Darcy. They have been much in each other's company and yet he smiles so graciously? It would appear that her quick tongue has not dissuaded him. This seems to be most promising.
Darcy cleared his throat. "I am pleased to report that the repairs to the structural damages are complete. The carpenter from my estate…"
His estate? Fanny's eyes grew wider still He has called in his own man to assist in our repairs? He would only do such a thing if he was responsible for the damage… or if he sought to impress...surely that is it, he is trying to impress my Lizzy!
Darcy squirmed uncomfortably. She is studying me, trying to ascertain my motives. I have seen that look before. It is the one I have seen on many of the mothers of the Ton. He chuckled softly to himself. I am so accustomed to running from that expression I have almost forgotten I have nothing to fear! I have come here to ask for her daughter. "Young Lewis has been hard at work for the past several days. His work has been approved by both Miss Elizabeth and, perhaps more importantly, by Mrs. Hill." He smiled, a twinkle in his eye.
Madeline stifled a laugh while her husband coughed. Fanny's countenance softened. With a grateful glance at Mr. Darcy, Madeline gently led her sister to a chair.
Fanny dabbed at her face with her handkerchief. "What of my other girls? Are they pleased as well? Kitty has such a fine eye…"
"I can assure you that all of your daughters have seen his work." Darcy glanced at Pierce.
"Indeed, Mrs. Bennet. Miss Elizabeth insisted all of us, your daughters, Mr. Bingley and his sister and I join her and Mr. Darcy when the final approvals were given." Pierce nodded enthusiastically.
"His work was very impressive, Mrs. Bennet," Charles added energetically. "He was carving a bit of railing to replace some that had been damaged. None of us could tell where the old railing ended and the new began. He is truly an exceptional craftsman. Miss Kitty and my sister have already suggested several projects at Netherfield for him once he has finished his work at Longbourn." He smiled, elbows on his knees.
Fanny turned her attention to Bingley, noticing the light that came into his eyes as he mentioned her fourth daughter's name. "Is you sister Miss Louisa, the particular friend that Kitty has written about in her letters?"
"Yes, she is. Your daughters were so very kind to her when we moved into the neighborhood. She, Louisa, I mean, was feeling very alone when we first arrived. Your daughters, all of them have taken her in and made her feel very welcome indeed. She and Miss Kitty have become very dear to one another, thick as thieves as they say. She is helping my sister plan her upcoming wedding."
"She is to be married soon then?" Madeline asked politely, taking the fresh tea from the incoming maid.
"Yes, madam, we have not fixed the date as her betrothed, Mr. Hurst, has not yet returned form the continent. But he has written to say he should be back within the month. So we anticipate a wedding before the harvest."
"Hurst, I believe I have heard that name," Gardiner wondered aloud.
"It is quite possible. He is a gentleman, he has a small estate, but he has a few interests on the continent as well." Bingley was relieved to see no censure on their faces. I forget Mr. Gardiner himself is in trade.
"If I recall correctly, we met one day, both of us were making arrangements to have some goods shipped by the same vessel. I was impressed by his integrity and his good sense. He was as fine a young man as I have met." Gardiner accepted a fresh cup of tea from his wife.
Bingley smiled broadly. "I have thought the very same things myself, sir."
"So then who will manage your household once your sister has married?" Fanny asked, studying Bingley's face carefully.
What a question to ask? Hardly a veiled quest for information! Fitzwilliam would call her a very bold general, indeed! Darcy tried not to snicker.
Bingley suddenly blushed and pulled at his cravat. "I…I am not quite certain. I had not…that is to say…"
"You do have another unmarried sister, do you not?" Darcy added helpfully, a mischievous grin pulling at his lips. I have been too much in Miss Elizabeth's company! That is something she would have said.
Gardiner choked on his tea while Pierce smirked silently. Bingley was not amused. "I have not yet settled on what I will do. I am not certain my sister…that is to say…" He took a nervous sip trying to pull his thoughts together.
He hopes for a wife before he must replace his sister. I am sure of it! As Kitty is a dear friend of his sister, she would do very well for him… Fanny nodded to herself, her thoughts suddenly interrupted by a loud voice in the hall.
"Lydia? That is my youngest daughter…" Fanny placed her teacup on the table with a loud clink and rose. Madeline jumped to her feet and rushed to the hallway ahead of her sister.
"No! I must see Mama!" Lydia burst into the room. "Oh, there are more gentlemen here as well!"
"Lydia, child, where are your manners?" Fanny scolded. "There are your uncle's friends…"
Mr. Gardiner rose, a severe expression on his face, "May I present my niece, Lydia Bennet. These are Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley and of course you know Mr. Pierce."
Lydia's eyes narrowed, "You are here with him?" She looked over her shoulder toward the hall, "the man with papa?"
"Lydia! That is not your business!" Gardiner rebuked sharply.
"But it is! Mama, it is!" Fanny drew breath to speak, but Lydia continued, "That man there, I heard Papa say he is to marry Jane!"
"Marry Jane?" Fanny whispered, sinking back into her chair with eyes wide.
"That is my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam," Darcy added softly.
"An officer?" Lydia exclaimed, stamping her foot. "Where are his regimentals?"
"Lydia!" Madeline took Lydia's arm firmly, but the girl shook her off.
"Jane is to marry an officer! It is not fair! I went to Brighton with the regiment! I was to have an officer for a husband!" Lydia cried.
"Stop it Lydia," Fanny rose shakily. "Do not offend your uncle's friends with your behavior! How can you carry on so in front of Mr. Pierce?"
"Mr. Pierce," Lydia whirled to face the curate. "You are probably here only to ask for Mary! She is such a plain, mousey thing. What can you see in her?"
Piece's jaw dropped. He turned to Mr. Gardiner for help.
"You have said far too much," Gardiner took her arm hard.
"You are probably here to ask for Lizzy and Kitty too, aren't you?" she shrieked as her uncle dragged her toward the door. "Am I to be the only one left at home now? It is not fair! Next to Jane I am by far the prettiest! It should be me…" She disappeared as Gardiner closed the door behind them. For a few moments they could hear muffled voices and the vain struggles of the girl in her uncle's grip.
My poor Elizabeth, no wonder you think so meanly of yourself. Never again will you have reason to doubt your worth or your beauty. Darcy winced, squirming uncomfortably. I hope Aunt Matlock has been able to affect some improvements in Georgiana. I do not think I could begin to manage such a tantrum from her. How grateful I am to Mrs. Cooperton!
"Please excuse my niece," Madeline murmured helping her sister sit down once again.
"Yes, yes," Fanny waved her handkerchief before her face. "Please do not judge my girls…" she began to breath rapidly.
Pierce slid to his knee beside Fanny and pressed her teacup into her hand. "Fear not, Mrs. Bennet, please, do not trouble yourself. We know your daughters. Poor Lydia has had a difficult time of it recently; it is natural for her to be a bit unsettled right now."
"Then what she said is true?" Fanny gasped, clutching her chest. "You all have come to ask Mr. Bennet for the girls? All of them? Four of my girls engaged?"
Pierce, Darcy and Bingley all nodded. Fanny gasped and swooned, falling back into the soft padding of the chair.
Mrs. Gardiner jumped to her feet and threw open the door. "Mattie! Bring Mrs. Bennet's salts!"
A moment later the young maid appeared along with Mr. Bennet and Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Mattie rushed to her mistress' side and opened the vial under her nose. A moment later Fanny roused and looked about trying to get her bearings. Her eyes fixed on her husband. Immediately he was at her side, taking her hands in his.
"Mr. Bennet is it true? These gentlemen…our girls…all four of them?" Fanny stammered.
Patting her hands gently, he nodded. "Yes my dear. Although it is usually customary for the young man to wait until he has actually asked the father for permission before the engagement is announced, I think in this case it is safe to assume that these three are on the same errand as their companion." He smiled wryly, his eyes filled with warmth.
"And you…you approve?" Fanny whispered clutching his hands tightly, her eyes saying far more than her words.
"I do, Mrs. Bennet, whole heartedly. You already know Mr. Pierce. Mr. Bingley and his friends have already proven themselves to be good friends to all of us." His throat tightened. "I could not wish for better sons. What is more, I believe they will be as good of brothers to each other as Edward and David have been to me."
Fanny's eyes filled with tears, "Oh, Mr. Bennet! God has been very good to us!" She began to weep uncontrollably into her husband's shoulder.
"Excuse us, gentlemen. I believe my wife is overcome with the joy of the moment. Perhaps it would be best if…" Mr. Bennet wrapped a protective arm around Fanny.
"I will take her upstairs, Thomas," Madeline cut in. "I believe you still have business to attend." Her blue eyes twinkled as she smiled.
From upstairs they heard a foot stamping and a girlish voice shout, "But it's not fair!"
Bennet sighed, "I believe I must attend to my daughter above stairs first. If you will permit me, gentlemen." He nodded and left the room. With slow, heavy steps he trudged upstairs to the room Lydia occupied. "I will take it from here, Edward. Madeline is taking Fanny to her room and our guests are unattended."
Edward nodded seriously, but did not release Lydia's arm until her father had taken the other. "Good luck," he whispered as he passed his brother in the door way.
"Papa, it is not fair! All of my sisters engaged?" Lydia cried, stamping her foot again. "Well, I will show them. I will not stand up with any of them."
"Sit down!" Bennet snapped, guiding her forcefully to the bed. "Have no fear, child, none of your sisters will want you standing up with them. Even if they did, I would not permit you to do so. You will not be attending any of their weddings…"
Lydia's eyes grew wide. "No! You cannot do such a thing! What will people say…?"
"Nor will you be attending Charlotte Lucas' wedding…" he continued, undaunted.
"Charlotte is getting married to! That pale, mousy thing? Who would want her?" Lydia wrapped her arms tightly around her waist.
"My cousin, Mr. Jacobson," Bennet snapped tersely.
"I want to go back to Brighton…"
"You go to Brighton! -- I would not trust you so near it as East-Bourne, for fifty pounds! Not again Lydia. I have at last learnt to be cautious, and you will feel the effects of it. No officer is ever to enter my house again, nor even to pass through the village. Should you so much as see an officer on the street here in London you will be locked in your room as soon as possible. Balls, assemblies, and parties will be absolutely prohibited. You are most certainly not out to society and will not be until all your older sisters are married, maybe longer depending on your manners and attitude. And you are never to stir out of doors till you can prove that you have spent ten minutes of every day in a rational manner.'' He glared at his youngest daughter. "I am resolved in this Lydia. Do not test me."
"How shall I have any fun? I will die an old maid. I am never to find a husband…" she turned her back on her father.
"You should be much more concerned with finding good sense at this time than finding a husband. I will see that you do not have the opportunity to look for the latter until you find the former!" He felt a small hand on his arm. Turning he found Madeline just behind him.
"Fanny is sleeping quietly. I believe she will recover quickly. Perhaps it is time to allow me to take over for you here. You have gentlemen waiting for you downstairs."
"Yes, thank you." He sighed, his face lined with frustration.
"We will keep her with us, Thomas. You and Fanny will want to return to Meryton soon. There will be much to do when you return and keeping close watch on your youngest will only make things more difficult for my sister." Madeline glanced at Lydia.
"I cannot ask so much of you. It is my folly that has led to this and I must feel the burden of it." Bennet chewed his lip thoughtfully.
"You would do no less for one of my children," she argued. "Lydia is a good girl. She has just had far too much favor in your home. It is time for her to stop being so coddled. With us, she is the eldest. I believe she will rise to the occasion. Now, go downstairs and attend your guests." She patted his arm and turned him toward the door.
"Now, young lady," Madeline sat down beside Lydia," I believe you and I need to have a serious discussion."
A little more than an hour later, after having given a promise to return in time for dinner, four young men climbed into a coach bearing the Darcy crest.
"Thank you, Pierce," Bingley leaned back against the soft cushioned seat. "I would not have known how to manage Mrs. Bennet without the advice you gave on the way here."
"Indeed," Fitzwilliam nodded appreciatively. "Not all wounds are suffered on the battlefield. Having my own, I can hardly fault hers."
"All things considered, I believe that call went well," Pierce smiled with satisfaction.
"We all have Mr. Bennet's blessing. What more could we ask?" Bingley laughed.
"For the rest of the business we must conduct today to go just as well," Darcy replied, tension in his voice. "If you are agreeable, I will have my driver first take you to your townhouse, Bingley. Then he will deliver you to visit with Mr. Bell, Pierce. Fitzwilliam and I will then go to Matlock house. We will return to pick you up for dinner tonight, after which we can all spend the night at my townhome."
"Capital plan!" Bingley declared energetically. "I do not expect much change in Caroline and I do not relish her company once I have told her our news. I believe she still had hopes that I would marry a lady of fashion in the Ton – one she felt appropriately 'above' me."
"You are marrying 'above' yourself," Fitzwilliam retorted quickly, his brows lifting.
"I believe we all are," Pierce quickly agreed.
"While I do not discount what you say," Darcy mused somberly, "I am afraid not all will agree."
"My parents?" Fitzwilliam scowled.
Darcy nodded. "Have you thought about what you will tell them?"
"No. I will do what I usually do and figure it out as I go. They will either approve or they will not. They will either be a part of our lives or they will not. It is as simple as that. I told my mother when I last saw her I was done with the marriage market and the social climbing nonsense of the Ton. As the son of an Earl, I have had to deal with people wishing to elevate their circumstances through an attachment to my family all my life. I will need your support Darcy. I wish for you to help me find an estate, perhaps one near you in Derbyshire. I know how close Miss Bennet is to her sister."
"I have told you before; I would be more than happy to help you in that. I would like to see you settle with your wife somewhere suitable." Darcy smiled.
"I do not care to ever spend another Season in town and I know that Miss Bennet will be happy to spend the rest of her days in the country by my side. It will be enough to make quiet visits to enjoy time with those whose company we value and to sample the pleasures of the museums and theater. We do not need the crush of society. If my parents choose not to receive us, I cannot imagine that I would feel the loss." Fitzwilliam shrugged unhappily.
"Ah, but you have always been your mother's favorite, Richard." Darcy nodded knowingly. "How many times did she save you from your father's wrath? As I recall…"
"Yes," Fitzwilliam laughed, "I cannot say I am not counting on her favor now."
"And to think I am merely concerned for my sister's reaction!" Bingley raked his hair.
"We each have our own cross to bear, I am afraid," Pierce said. "My vicar, I fear, will be less than thrilled when I tell him that I wish to leave his employ in favor of Mr. Bradley's."
"Well, I suppose you will be the first of us to face the lions, for we are at the address you gave us." Darcy nodded encouragingly. "We shall return for you this evening."
The coachman opened the door moments after the vehicle lurched to a stop. Pierce climbed down and they were away once again. The brief ride to Bingley's townhome was silent; each silently contemplating what would await them next. Soon Darcy's coach was bound for Matlock House. When they arrived, they made haste to the door and were admitted by surprised staff. Moments later, Lady Matlock herself met them in the hall.
"Richard! Fitzwilliam! Why did you not send word you were coming?" She cried as she rushed to embrace her son and nephew.
"Our trip was rather sudden," Darcy explained sheepishly.
"Indeed it was. But mother, all your dreams are about to be fulfilled. You know I have left the army. Darcy is helping me find an estate to purchase and I am getting married. Soon I hope to provide you with a houseful of grandchildren to spoil and coddle!" Richard exclaimed boldly. Well there is no sense in prevaricating I suppose. I have always been known to take the direct route.
Lady Matlock gasped, clutching Richard's arm. "That is a great deal to take in at once. Come to the drawing room and sit with me." She led them to an elegant room and sat on a plush settee. "So now, tell me again, you are to marry?"
"I am mother." Richard glanced at his cousin. Darcy nodded in support.
Lady Matlock exhaled heavily. "Well, is she someone we know?"
"Well then, tell me about her." She blinked several times, cocking her head to listen.
"What you most need to know is that she is a gentleman's daughter and…" Richard's bravado seemed to leave him, "with her I have finally found my peace." He turned to look deeply into his mother's eyes.
She searched her son's face. "So then you are telling me she has no fortune and no connections?" Lady Matlock noticed Darcy stiffen and grind his teeth.
"I am telling you I have found my angel, mother. For your sake she is a gentlewoman. For mine, she is the embodiment of all that is gentle and serene."
"I see. You know your father…"
"I care not. I will not be dissuaded. I tell you out of courtesy." Richard crossed his arms firmly over his chest.I cannot imagine you or Father refusing her once you have met her though. I am certain she will affect you as she has me.
Sighing, she turned her attention to Darcy. "You have met the young lady?
"I have, Aunt." Darcy's expression changed to one she had never seen before. "Before you ask, I do approve, most heartily. She is all that he claims for her. I have never met a young woman such as her."
"I admit I am surprised. I do not remember you ever speak like that about a young lady, most particularly one not of our circles. I wonder how it is you became acquainted with such a lady." She turned her inquisitive stare on her nephew.
"She is a friend of my friend Bingley's sister, as exceptional lady. In fact, I am engaged to her sister."
Richard laughed as he saw his mother struck speechless. "You have done it Darcy! I would have never thought it possible, but you have taken from her the power of speech!"
"You are not serious?" Lady Matlock finally gasped.
"Indeed I am. I have Mr. Bradley's blessing; we both do. He is convinced that Father and Mother would have approved. That is all I need," Darcy explained as he crossed his legs.
"He would." She rolled her eyes. "Is she a fitting guide for your sister?"
"In essentials, she is more than merely fitting. She is a paragon of every virtue I find necessary in a woman." Darcy laced his fingers and leaned back in his chair.
"Well then, I suppose I shall have to invite them to tea…"
"They are not in London. Their father's estate is in Hertfordshire, near the town of Meryton," Richard quickly interjected.
"Country girls? I assume they have no house in town then?" Her eyebrows shot up as a nod of their heads confirmed her suspicion. "What am I going to tell your father?" She pinched the bridge of her nose.
"Tell him what you wish, although I would prefer he not disown me." He laughed, but his eyes betrayed his ill-ease.
"Oh Richard!" She rose gracefully. "Lord Matlock will not be pleased. But he will not disown you. I will see to that." She leaned down to press her cheek to his. "I will speak to him. Once he comes to his senses, he will be as pleased as I am that you have found someone who brings you what you most desire, even if he does not understand it." Turning to Darcy she added, "Come, I will take you to your sister. She has improved greatly over the last few months. Miss Lackley has been a boon to both the younger girls. Thank you for sending her. I think you will be quite pleased with her and she will be pleased to see you and hear your news."
"You have done what?" Caroline shrieked, her shrill voice echoing off the walls of the parlor.
"You heard me. There is no need to shout," Bingley replied, his voice barely above a whisper.
"But what about me? Should I not be your hostess once Louisa marries? Have you no compassion for me or what I have suffered? I have no callers, no company…" She paced angrily across the carpet. "How can you be so thoughtless?"
Bingley pushed himself up from his seat. "You would dare call me thoughtless? It is you who have failed to think about anyone else. Have you once wished me joy or asked after Louisa? No one enjoys the company of someone so entirely focused upon themselves. Can you not see? That is why you are alone now, why no one calls or invites you anywhere." He stared at her angrily. "I have spent too much of my time worrying about you only to discover that you will never return the favor. I am done now, sister."
Caroline's jaw dropped, her eyes welled with tears.
"I find now that I am wholly resolved to act in a manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my own happiness, without reference to you, or to any person so wholly unconcerned with me." Bingley turned his back on his sister and walked toward the door.
"You cannot mean that, Charles. You cannot mean to abandon me," she whispered, her voice strained.
"Is that not what you have done to me? When have you ever concerned yourself about me or wished to know my wants, my feelings above your own? I cannot think of a time, ever." He did not turn to look at her.
"But…what shall I do?"
"Does not Mr. Bradley say 'whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap?'* I would say, you are reaping your harvest now, and you need to decide what you are going to do with it." Without a backward glance, Bingley walked out of the room.
Darcy stood in the doorway of the music room, listening to Georgiana practice. He closed his eyes and allowed the lilting melody carry him back to Pemberley. In his mind's eye he could see her as a little girl, her feet barely able to reach the floor, fingers dancing over the keyboard. He could almost smell the flowers that Mrs. Reynolds used to fill his mother's vase that sat on the pianoforte. A quiet smile lifted the corners of his mouth.
"Brother!" Georgiana suddenly exclaimed, the music coming to an abrupt halt. He opened his eye, surprised to see her standing just an arm's length away. He opened his arms to her. A moment later she clung to him, sobbing. "I am so sorry for what I did. I understand now. I was wrong, so very wrong…" her words dissolved in her tears.
Awkwardly he wrapped his arms around her. "It is all right, sister. All is forgiven. Please, do not continue to dwell on it." He patted her back softly. Soon, her tears stopped. He removed a handkerchief from his pocket and pressed it in her hand.
She dabbed her eyes with it, then paused to look at it more closely. "This is not yours. This is a lady's handkerchief." She held the offending object to him.
Bother! How could I have given her Miss Elizabeth's? "I gave you the wrong one. I am sorry, here." He traded linen squares with her. "I come with good news, Georgiana. I…I have found a young lady and I have asked her to be my wife."
Georgiana's eyes grew wide as she stared at him in shock. "Married? You, married?"
Darcy guided her to a settee and sat down beside her, taking her hands in his. "Yes, married. Pemberley shall have a proper mistress soon."
"Is she someone I have met? I have met many agreeable young ladies these months in London," she asked timidly, chewing her lip.
"No, she has been in Hertfordshire the entirety of your visit to Aunt Matlock's. There would have been no opportunity for you to have met her."
"Her family then? Do I know of her family?" You cannot be considering bringing a stranger into our home!
"No, you do not. She is a gentlewoman, her father has a small estate in Meryton. She is not often in town."
"She is not of our circle then?" Georgiana frowned. "Have you told Aunt Matlock? Surely she cannot approve." What has happened while I have been here?
"I have told her. I do not need her approval." Darcy released her hands. He laced his fingers together tightly. "You will like her Georgiana. She has four sisters…"
"But when you wrote Richard you said there were three!" She jumped to her feet and stalked across the room to a large window.
"I was mistaken. I have since learned her youngest sister was away from home when I wrote Richard. I should tell you, he is engaged to her eldest sister."
She whirled on him, "He is to be married as well?" You are both deserting me!
"Yes." He watched as tears filled her eyes. "This is good news for all of us Georgiana. I do not understand why you are so upset."
"You found her to take my place!" Georgiana cried, covering her face with her hands. "You do not want to see me any longer…"
Darcy sighed, remembering Elizabeth's warnings about the fragility of young girl's feelings. He stepped close to his sister and laid an arm over her shoulders. "Nothing could be farther from the truth. You are my sister and you always will be. Miss Elizabeth will soon be your sister. Have you not always wanted one? She is pleased that you will be at Pemberley with us. She is accustomed to having sisters near and would be lonely without such company. She is anxious to meet you."
"Really?" She looked up, her face tear stained. "You still want me at Pemberley?"
"Very much so. It will always be your home." He smiled down at her and sighed. "You will like her very much, I have no doubt. Mr. Bradley approves of her very much. He said Mother and Father would have approved as well. She is very like Mother, he tells me."
Georgiana considered his words. "Have you told her what I have done?"
"Not specifically, although she knows we have had some challenging times. I am certain you will want to tell her though, once you have gotten to know her. She has three younger sisters, one your age who has also made some poor choices. You will find she is very understanding and will be able to give you much better advice than I." He tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. "She would like to write to you. Perhaps you would like to write her a letter I can bring back to Herdfordshire with me."
"You really think she will…"
"I am certain of it. I would not consider a woman who would love my sister less than I do."
She pressed into his shoulder. "Then I shall write to her. Would tomorrow be soon enough to have a letter ready?"
"That will be quite satisfactory."
"I…I think I shall like having a sister." She looked into his eyes, trying to smile.
"I am certain you shall. Trust me, Georgiana; I would never compromise your happiness for my own. Miss Elizabeth will be a blessing to us both."
· Gal 6:7
Posted on 2011-03-13
A week later, Mr. Bennet handed his wife up into his coach. Turning to his brother he said, "Are you certain you wish to keep Lydia with you?" Do you truly have any idea of what you are asking for? She was quite petulant the last time I spoke with her.
"My wife is insistent that it will be best for everyone this way." Gardiner nodded emphatically.
"I am afraid my youngest has been quite put out by all the talk of weddings. She simply cannot accept that she will not be permitted to stand up with her sisters. But even her mother agrees with me in that point. I hate for you to bear the consequences of our decision though." Mr. Bennet glanced up at the window he knew to be Lydia's.
"Have you forgotten that I grew up with Edith and Melissa?" Mr. Gardiner cocked his head. "I am certain that Lydia has not yet matched her aunts' ability to be disagreeable."
Mr. Bennet laughed. "You have convinced me, Edward. But I am in your debt."
"Do not fear, in a few years I may be sending Silas to you for a dose of country living to tame his restless nature. Then we can discuss who is in debt to whom!" He laughed good naturedly and slapped Mr. Bennet's shoulder. "Have a pleasant journey. No doubt we will see you soon."
Nodding, Mr. Bennet climbed up into the carriage. Moments later they were following Darcy's coach back to Herdfordshire. By midafternoon the carriages passed Longbourn on their way to Netherfield Park.
"See there, my dear?" Mr. Bennet tapped the side glass softly. "You can see the windows have been repaired and no trace of soot remains."
Timidly Fanny peeked through the glass to catch a glimpse of her home. "You are right. From here once cannot tell that anything happened." She sighed in relief. "Perhaps the inside is restored as well?"
"I shall have to speak to Lizzy when we arrive. In her last letter she sounded very hopeful that we would soon be able to return. Of course you will have to choose wall coverings and fabrics yet. But the house may well be lived in before that happens." Mr. Bennet leaned back in his seat. I am grateful to have been able to leave the task in Lizzy's capable hands. She and Darcy have done a remarkably good job overseeing things in my absence. I know she gained respect for him watching how he manages affairs. I am certain she earned his respect as well. It is well enough for her to fancy herself in love, but without respect I fear she would never be truly happy.
"I should like to go there as soon as may be possible to see what needs to be selected," Mrs. Bennet remarked with a determined smile.
"Would tomorrow morning be soon enough for you?" I am proud of you Fanny. I know you are trying very hard to be brave.
"I think that will do very well. It would be rude to Mr. Bingley and his sister for us to leave as soon as we arrive. He has been very kind to us all and I should not like to give him less than his due." She leaned against her husband's shoulder.
"You are quite correct, my dear." He squeezed her hand tenderly. Several minutes later, the carriages rolled to a stop at the doors of Netherfield Park. Before the passengers could disembark, they were met by five excited young ladies.
"Mama!" Jane exclaimed as her mother's feet touched the ground. "We are so glad you are come home."
"My dearest girls!" she exclaimed, quickly embracing Jane. "How well you all look! Kitty, I can tell you have been busy sewing for you all look like London fashion plates! I am all astonishment that you have been able to keep up with the newest styles!" She fingered the lace and ribbon on Kitty's sleeve. "I have missed you all so very much!"
"Mama, this is Miss Bingley," Kitty said, pulling Louisa forward gently. "She is our hostess here at Netherfield."
"I am pleased to make your acquaintance, madam." Louisa curtsied politely.
"Likewise, I am sure." Fanny returned the gesture. "You are very kind to invite us all to stay with. I cannot say enough about your kindness."
Louisa blushed. Mary caught her hand and declared, "The Bingleys have proven themselves to be the dearest friends and the best of neighbors."
"Shall we go inside?" Bingley appeared just over Louisa's shoulder. "Mrs. Lance is sure to have tea ready for us. A plate of her shortbread sounds just the thing after our journey."
The group made their way inside. Lizzy hung back until only she, Darcy and her father remained outside. "You look so well, Papa. Where is your cane?" She beamed. "Have you given it up entirely now?"
"Indeed, I have. Your uncle's physician pronounced me sound. I must say it was not a moment too soon either." He chuckled. "Somehow that confounded thing kept finding its way into young Silas' hands!" Perhaps we will end up repaying them by keeping that boy for a time. He has a good heart, but he is wild as an unbroken colt.
Lizzy gasped, covering her mouth with her hands. "Oh no! I can only the damage he must have wrought with such a weapon in his hands."
Mr. Bennet smiled wryly. "At last count I believe your aunt lost two plates and a vase."
"Let us not forget the countless bruised shins and the goose egg on Mr. Gardiner's forehead that resulted in a lengthy interview between father and son in his study," Darcy added with a stern look.
"Ah yes. I admit, at that moment, I counted my blessings at having only daughters in my home!" Mr. Bennet laughed heartily.
"Oh Papa!" Father and daughter embraced. "I am pleased to tell you, much progress has been made at Longbourn." She glanced up at Darcy. "Mr. Darcy's carpenter is quite skillful. Mama shall be pleased. I believe we will be able to return to Longbourn as soon as next week."
"That is welcome news indeed." Mr. Bennet's eyes wandered toward the door. "Your mother will be very pleased to hear it. Before I share that with her, why do we not seek Mr. Darcy's opinion on the matter? With you sisters here I believe you mother can spare you for a little while. It would not do to get her hopes up unnecessarily."
Lizzy scowled. Why would he suggest that I… Suddenly she noticed the twinkle in her father's eyes. Her features softened into a smile as she raised her eyebrow at Darcy. Dear Papa!
"I would like to examine Lewis' progress myself," Darcy agreed, the corners of his lips lifting.
"Very well, get along then." Mr. Bennet disappeared into the house.
"I fear my father can be unsubtle at times." Lizzy smiled, blushing. And very, very thoughtful.
"I can think for far worse flaws in a man." He stared into her eyes. The couple stood gazing at one another for a long moment. Finally he caught her hands and stepped close. "I know it was but a week's absence, but I sorely missed you." He kissed her hands. "I felt as though part of me was absent the whole time I was gone."
"And I you. It seemed so strange going to Longbourn each day without you. I have grown accustomed to your presence." She drank in his woodsy scent, relishing it.
With a sigh he pulled her a little closer and pressed his lips to her forehead. "I feel almost as though I have come home." He rested his cheek on the top of her head. "I never thought I would say that about a place other than Pemberley. But perhaps home is not so much a place anymore as it is woman who holds my heart."
Her head on his chest, she listened to the reassuring beat of his heart. Finally they moved apart. He placed her hand in the crook of his arm and they began to walk.
"Your visit to London went well I presume?" Lizzy asked.
"Apart from being away from you, it was quite satisfactory." He squeezed her hands. "All of us were able to conduct the necessary business…"
"Do not think I will be satisfied by so vague an answer, Mr. Darcy. You know full well…"
"Indeed I do, my dear Elizabeth." He laughed. "I can hear your mother declaring, 'dear Elizabeth, how well that sounds!'"
"As can I, my dear Mr. Darcy." Her eyes twinkled teasingly. He scowled, she quickly relented, "Fitzwilliam." He threw back his head and laughed. "You have a very pleasing laugh sir. Mr. Bradley has confided that he enjoys the sound as well. He said you did not used to do it often enough."
"I suppose not." Darcy looked at the ground and kicked a rock off the path. "Once she recovered from the shock at my news, Georgiana told me she has never heard me laugh so much. I believe that, more than anything, has sealed her approval of you. She sent a letter for you. She wishes to know this mysterious woman who has her stern elder brother a changed man."
"I shall look forward to corresponding with her." Lizzy laid her head against his shoulder. "So what of your aunt and uncle? I cannot suppose they were as easy with your news as your sister."
Darcy sighed. "No, they were not. But I feared worse. You would have enjoyed watching my cousin face his parents' inquiry. He was stalwart, resolute and let it be known that nothing would dissuade him from your sister. He proved himself worthy of her. Uncle Matlock fumed and blustered and for the first time in his life, Richard was undisturbed by it. It seemed as though your sister's serenity overtook him and nothing his father could say touched him." A wry smile lit his features. "That above all else won Lady Matlock. She will see to it that even if the earl is not reconciled to the match, neither will he interfere."
Lizzy nodded thoughtfully. She slipped her hand from his arm to retrieve a sprig of honeysuckle and handed him several blossoms. "I believe we are coming near to the end of these blooms."
"I have no fear for I know you have this," he breathed in the fragrance deeply, "preserved for the time you will return to Pemberley with me."
"I do not imagine your aunt and uncle were pleased with you either." She bit her lip as she looked away.
"Dearest," he stopped to pull her close, "it matters not to me. But you should know that as with Georgiana, my aunt likes me to laugh. After hearing me do so several times in the same visit, she found herself more pleased with you than either of us might have expected."
"Truly?" She looked up into his eyes.
"Yes. I believe when all is said and done you will find a true friend in Lady Matlock." He cupped her cheek. "I fear though, I cannot promise the same of my Aunt Catherine."
Lizzy rolled her eyes. "I believe I can safely say I have little desire for her approval."
"She always believed that I would marry her daughter, Anne. She has long had her eyes on Pemberley, wishing to unite our two estates." They began to walk again. "Anne had little inclination to marry. She would have followed her mother's wishes, but neither of us wished for the match."
They walked on in silence for a few moments. "How did you find my mother?" Lizzy pressed her lips, holding her breath.
"Mr. Pierce was of great assistance. On our way to London he told us of your mother's delicacy and suggested how we might best assist her. I must admit it was difficult for me to comprehend. You might find it interesting that it was my cousin who most clearly understood her. With his experiences on the continent, I believe he has developed a compassion for all who have been traumatized in some way. I believe he is well on his way to becoming your mother's favorite son."
"And you?" She squeezed his arm.
"I am not nearly as lively a companion as the others. But she approves of Pemberley, so I believe she approves of me as well." They laughed together. "Do not fear, when I consider the family connections I am bringing to you, I can hardly find fault with your mother!" Moments later they were at the doors of Longbourn.
Mrs. Hill greeted them warmly and took them in to see Lewis' work. "The Mistress will be most pleased if I do say so myself," the housekeeper declared excitedly. "I am certain she will want to replace the curtains with new, but I was able to find some old ones in the attic to cover the windows for now. They have been washed and aired and will be quite satisfactory for the time being. And that carpet we had to remove, I found several small ones in the attic and Mrs. Clay who is very clever with such things, pieced them together for me. Again I know the Mistress will want to replace it, but it will serve for now."
Lizzy smiled at Hill's exuberance. "You have done a marvelous job here. I know Mama will be please. Perhaps she will feel strong enough to visit with you tomorrow."
"Begging you pardon, Miss Elizabeth, I hope I have not overstepped myself, but I have also taken the liberty to begin planning menus for a wedding breakfast, just in case it might be necessary. I hoped that might ease the Mistress' nerves, if, of course, such a thing were necessary." Hill's right eye twitched in something very much like a wink.
"That was very good of you, Hill. I believe you are correct, my mother will appreciate knowing so much of the work is done, should it become necessary."
"Very good, madam." Hill curtsied and allowed Darcy and Elizabeth to continue their inspection. A quarter of an hour later, they left Longbourn to return to Netherfield.
"So what is your expert opinion, good sir?" Lizzy teased.
Darcy bowed seriously. "I profess no expertise, madam, but I shall agree with your assessment. Longbourn is ready for your return."
"Are you always so agreeable, sir?"
"No and I would counsel you not to expect me to be so." He scowled but struggled to maintain a straight face. Finally his glare dissolved into mirth. "I cannot even feign such severity with you."
"I have no complaint with that!" She grinned, but became more serious quickly. "I hope I shall never give you cause to wish you could be."
"So tell me, dearest Lizzy, now that Longbourn is well on its way to being made right, when can we be married?"
"Are you impatient Mr. Darcy?"
"You need to ask?" They laughed again. "How dearly I love to laugh with you. How soon can we begin our life together?"
"I must of course consult my mother's wishes…" He groaned to her amusement. "And we must take into consideration all the other weddings taking place in so short a span of time."
"Have you not heard, my friend, Miss Charlotte Lucas is to marry our cousin Mr. Jacobson in just three weeks' time. Their banns were read for the first time this week."
"I had not heard." Darcy pursed his lips. I wonder how she would feel about Gretna Green?
"And there is much to be prepared you see. The wedding breakfast, the dress, trips to the modiste…" Lizzy struggled to hide her grin.
He groaned again, shaking his head vigorously. He huffed out a deep breath. "Have you any idea…"
She began to laugh heartily. "I should not tease you so! You must forgive me. My mother would scold me so severely."
His shoulders sagged with relief. "I suppose with time I shall become better at discerning when you are teasing me and when you are serious."
"Then I shall have to become more adept at keeping you wondering, Mr. Darcy, for what would be the fun in teasing you then?" She stopped and looked up into his face, her eyes twinkling.
Entranced, he reached to cup her cheek. Stroking it with his thumb, he murmured, "I would in no way suspend any pleasure of yours." He leaned down lightly press his lips to hers. "So I ask you again, when?"
It took a moment for her to begin breathing once again. When she finally opened her eyes, she could not look away from his. "We talked about it while you were gone. We would like to allow Mary and Mr. Pierce to marry first. She has asked Mr. Bradley to do the service. He is likely to return to Derbyshire when you do, so to save him the travel it seemed best…"
"Of course," Darcy whispered, nodding. "That is what I would wish for him as well. I am content to wait for that."
"After that, Jane and I thought…" she bit her lip fetchingly, "since you and your cousin are so close, perhaps you might not mind sharing a wedding day? Would a double wedding be agreeable to you?"
A huge smile lit his face. "Most agreeable, madam. I am certain I can speak for Richard as well."
"I am glad of your approval, sir. In that case, we thought that perhaps six weeks would be long enough to accomplish all that is necessary, especially in light of Mrs. Hill's forethought. Do you find that acceptable? Or is that too soon? We could wait if you wish, three months? Perhaps six?"
"I would marry you this very day! I have a special license and I know Mr. Bradley would be most willing to accommodate such a request. However, I understand that such haste might, in the end, deprive you of what you most certainly deserve. I believe I can extend my patience for six weeks."
"Mr. Bingley will have months to wait, so do not bemoan your fate too loudly in his hearing." She pressed her face into his hand.
"My fate is most to be envied, Miss Elizabeth. I know not of what you speak." He leaned down to kiss her again.
The Bennets removed to Longbourn before a se'night had passed. Mrs. Bennet surprised her family with her sanguine disposition despite her home's unfinished state.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet," she exclaimed, "I have so many ideas for redecorating these rooms. I visited several very fine townhomes while with my sister in London and I believe I can make Longbourn resemble them with only a little effort. Perhaps I might prevail upon Kitty for her help as well. Her taste has become very refined in the last few months. Her acquaintance with Miss Bingley has certainly benefited her."
"I am pleased to know you do not find the task too daunting, my dear." Mr. Bennet placed his hand on the small of her back. "I do not think I have ever heard you consider redecorating before." You were always more concerned with decorating the girls. He guided her to sit with him on the settee in the drawing room. "It is your trip to London that has inspired you so?"
"In part, I suppose." She looked at with an odd expression in her eyes. "But it is also true that Longbourn has never been my own home before."
"Oh Fanny," he whispered drawing her close. "I am sorry. I should have pursued recovering the estate much sooner. It always seemed there was something more pressing to tend to." He pressed his cheek to the top of her head and sighed. "No, I fear that is not true. The elder Mr. Collins was a horrible man and I could not bring myself to deal with him. He was vile and vengeful and I would not risk having him in the house, near you or the girls." I should have had the same caution with his son! "I feared if I tried to pursue legal remedy with him, I would find him on Longbourn's doorstep and I could not risk that."
"You have always been so considerate of me, Thomas." She looked up at him with misty eyes. My girls are fortunate to have found men who are much like you.
"I fear it has cost you many years of anxiety that I would rather have spared you."
"Well it is done now and it is done for the best." she dabbed her eyes with her handkerchief. "I can hardly believe that Charlotte Lucas will be marrying Mr. Jacobson so quickly. We were all certain she would never leave Lucas Lodge, the poor dear girl. I know she must have despaired of ever finding a husband. And now-oh how things have changed! To think I mourned the Carvers leaving the neighborhood. It would appear that nothing but good has come from that day, and I thought it was an evil one indeed." She laughed softly to herself. "How little able we are to know what the future holds? Charlotte Lucas to be the mistress of Evermere! She could have been mistress of Longbourn. How strange that seems."
"What of our own girls? Who could possibly have expected four of them engaged at once! I believe I now understand why society does not encourage younger girls to be out before their older sisters are married! It reduces the need for planning several weddings at once!"
Mrs. Bennet fanned herself with her handkerchief. "I cannot believe that I must now plan two wedding breakfasts in just a month's time! Two! If it were not for Hill," she paused, glancing at the door, "you must add something to her pay, Mr. Bennet. Do you know that she has been taking note of what has been served at all the wedding breakfasts in the area? Not just that, but the decorations and the flowers as well. Dear Hill has attended to all of that! She had already thought to have a list of suggestions prepared for me. And what a job she has done of it too!"
"I shall see she is amply rewarded." Mr. Bennet smiled indulgently. "Have not Jane and Lizzy been most considerate? You could have had three such events to plan." He chuckled. I cannot believe I shall lose them all so quickly.
"Two is quite sufficient for now Mr. Bennet. Do not forget, Kitty's wedding is yet to come!" She laughed to herself, a pleased look on her face. "You know our girls will be the talk of the neighborhood. Our Mary marrying Mr. Pierce! She is already greatly envied for her good fortune. Mr. Pierce is a most popular young man. I knew there was some partiality there, but I had no idea!" Her hand flew to her chest, "But Jane! I knew she could not be so beautiful for nothing! The son of an earl! How well that sounds."
"The younger son."
"To be sure the elder might have been better, but the connections she will have! That settlement! She will live quite comfortably to be sure!"
"And if ever they have need, they can apply to Mr. Darcy and Lizzy for assistance." His eyes twinkled merrily.
"His is indeed the wealthiest man our girls have ever met! To think that mischievous, impertinent daughter of mine should secure such a fine man! She has frightened off so many suitors with her sharp tongue. I wonder that Mr. Darcy should be able to withstand it! I shall have to speak to her…"
Mr. Bennet laid his hand on her shoulder firmly. "No, Mrs. Bennet, you will do no such thing."
"But she will drive him away…"
"They have working side by side daily to restore our home for quite some time. If she has not done so by now, it will certainly not happen. Perhaps there are men who prefer impertinence and intelligence to a serene countenance and fine features." He looked at her sternly. I know you mean well, but you will not criticize my Lizzy anymore.
"Yes, Mr. Bennet." She looked away. After a long moment, she drew a deep breath and continued, "There is so much yet to be done and so little time. I must take the girls to the modiste!"
"I shall call for the carriage." He helped her to her feet and escorted her from the room.
On the eve of Charlotte's wedding, a regal coach pulled up to Longbourn. Moments later Elizabeth heard a commotion at the door and Hill appeared in the door way of the study.
"Madam," Hill stammered, curtseying unsteadily.
"What is wrong, Hill?" Immediately Elizabeth was on her feet rushing toward the rattled housekeeper.
"Lady…Lady Catherine de Bourgh to see you, Miss." Hill curtsied again and stepped back to reveal the lady.
So that is Lady Catherine! Elizabeth curtsied. "I am pleased to make your acquaintance, madam." She is not at all what I expected.
With a harrumph, Lady Catherine stepped into Mr. Bennet's study. Immediately she spied the piles of paper on the desk and several small tables nearby. "You father is quite an untidy man, is he not?"
Elizabeth gritted her teeth angrily and stared at the woman. She was short, reaching just to Elizabeth's shoulder and shrouded in layers of expensive fabric giving the impression of a startled cat with fur puffed and back arched. Her green eyes flashed with fury as she bared her teeth in a sneer.
"This disarray is not my father's, it is mine. I am afraid I have had much work to do and with your visit so…unannounced I have had no time to make the room presentable." Elizabeth cocked her head in a subtle challenge.
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet?" Lady Catherine asked condescendingly. Ill-mannered chit! "Working in your father's study? How singular."
"I am. Is there something I may do for you?" Elizabeth gestured to the couch. "Would you care to sit down?"
Lady Catherine looked at the furniture skeptically, turning up her nose. She crossed the room to stand far too close to Elizabeth. "Indeed there is young woman."
My courage rises with every attempt to intimidate me! Elizabeth brushed past her and sat down. "Please enlighten me."
Lady Catherine turned to face her again. "Two days ago a report of a most alarming nature reached me."
And so it begins. Elizabeth struggled not to roll her eyes. "Is someone in your family unwell? Has some calamity befallen…"
"Impudent girl!" Veins in her neck stood out, a look of disgust on her face.
"I mean no disrespect, madam I could only imagine it would require something truly tragic to alarm a Lady such as yourself." Elizabeth gripped her hands tightly together, feeling her nails dig into her palms.
Lady Catherine's eyes narrowed as she scowled down her nose. She planted her hands on her hips. "I was told that not only are your younger sisters on the point of being most advantageously married, but that you, that Miss Elizabeth Bennet, would, in all likelihood, be soon afterwards united to my nephew, my own nephew, Mr. Darcy. Worse still I have been told that your elder sister may very well be married to Colonel Fitzwilliam, another of my nephews! Though I know these must be scandalous falsehoods, though I would not injure them so much as to suppose the truth of it possible, I instantly resolved on setting off for this place, that I might make my sentiments known to you. "
As if I am in any doubts of what your sentiments must be. Elizabeth squared her shoulders. "Someone has written to inform you of this? Your nephews perhaps, or your brother? No, it must have been Lady Matlock or perhaps your niece Georgiana. One must always look to a female correspondent when they wish for news." She blinked innocently.
"No, none of them have had the decency to keep me informed of the shameful activities of my nephews. I am almost the nearest relation Darcy has in the world, and am entitled to know all his dearest concerns."
"And whereby do you come by this right? Was it given to you by Mr. Darcy? No surely that could not be for I know him to be a man who values his privacy." Elizabeth slowly rose to tower over her guest. "Perhaps then it was his parents who charged you so. But no, he informed me that there was an estrangement between you and his father, so that could not have been. So who then, Lady Catherine, as entitled you? Was it the King? Or perhaps from on high?"
"Miss Bennet, do you know who I am? I have not been accustomed to such language as this," replied her ladyship, in an angry tone, "you ought to know, that I am not to be trifled with. But however insincere you may choose to be, you shall not find me so. My character has ever been celebrated for its sincerity and frankness, and in a cause of such moment as this, I shall certainly not depart from it."
"I do not pretend to possess equal frankness with your ladyship. You may ask questions which I shall not choose to answer. Particularly when they are based on information that must have come to you by less than honorable means.''
"This is not to be borne. Miss Bennet. Let me be rightly understood. This match, to which you have the presumption to aspire, can never take place. No, never. Mr. Darcy is engaged to my daughter. Now what have you to say?''
This time Elizabeth rolled her eyes. "I have heard of this peculiar kind of engagement. From their infancy, I believe I was told, they were, in your imagination intended for one another. If I recall correctly, that was the reason for your eventual estrangement from Mr. Darcy's good father. I find this supposition even more insupportable than your claim to have a right to know all his personal affairs."
"Are you lost to every feeling of propriety and delicacy? Have you not heard me say that from his earliest hours he was destined for his cousin?''
``Yes, and I have heard it before from Mr. Darcy himself. But what is that to me? Unless you have been raised to the place of Providence, it is not you who is a position to cast anyone's destiny. If Mr. Darcy is neither by honour nor inclination confined to his cousin, why is not he to make another choice? And if I am that choice, why may not I accept him?''
``Because honour, decorum, prudence, nay, interest, forbid it. Yes, Miss Bennet, interest; for do not expect to be noticed by his family or friends, if you willfully act against the inclinations of all. You will be censured, slighted, and despised, by everyone connected with him. Your alliance will be a disgrace; your name will never even be mentioned by any of us.''
"These are heavy misfortunes,'' replied Elizabeth. "But the wife of Mr. Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to her situation that she could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine."
"I have not been used to submit to any person's whims. I have not been in the habit of brooking disappointment.''
"That will make your ladyship's situation at present more pitiable; but it will have no effect on me.''
"I will not be interrupted. Hear me in silence!" Lady Catherine rose to her toes to hiss in Elizabeth's face.
"I have stood by in silence long enough!" Elizabeth snapped back. "You dare threaten to censure and slight me and my family, after what you have done?"
"What have I done to you? I have done you an honor today…"
"Certainly not! You pollute the shades of Longbourn with your despicable presence here. And you have the unmitigated gall to deny knowledge of the grave injury you have committed against my entire family!" Elizabeth shook with rage, her face flushed.
"You are a mad woman. There is no other explanation for your unfounded accusations against my person." She stamped her foot.
"So you deny it?"
"Deny what? You have yet to lay a charge at my feet."
"Mr. Collins was you vicar?"
"Indeed he was. I do not see…"
"Oh course you do not." Elizabeth tossed her head and stalked to stare out the window. "Do you deny that you counseled him to refuse my father's offer to break the entail on our estate."
"Of course I did. For him to write off his entry into gentle society for mere money would be unconscionable!" Lady Catherine closed the distance to Elizabeth.
"And you threatened him if he were to allow my father to take him to court?" Elizabeth's voice became very soft.
"I could not allow him to bring my name into such disgrace." Lady Catherine crossed her arms over her chest.
Elizabeth slowly turned to face her. "And you told him to secure Longbourn by whatever means possible." Lady Catherine made no response. "He acted on your advice. You may ask your nephews to support my story. You see, your 'wisdom' nearly cost the lives of my family and your nephews."
"What are you talking about?" She looked away from Elizabeth's intense gaze.
"Your nephews were dining with us. A severe storm began and they were forced to spend the night here. They stayed in the rooms my sister Jane and I share. On your advice, Mr. Collins snuck through the servants' passages into our rooms in the hopes of forcing one of us to marry him. Instead he found your nephews. In his fright, he dropped the candle he carried and started the first that damaged our home and could have taken the lives of many more than just Mr. Collins, himself."
"He is responsible for his own actions."
"As are we all. But your attentions were at work on a weak mind and so resulted in his misdeed."
"He was a fool and a simpleton." Lady Catherine snorted.
"It will be interesting to see if the Ton agrees with you, madam. I imagine that they will make their own judgments upon hearing how you instructed your vicar to compromise your nephews' betrothed."
Lady Catherine whirled on Elizabeth, "If you were sensible of your own good, you would hold your tongue and not wish to quit the sphere in which you have been brought up."
"In marrying your nephew, I should not consider myself as quitting that sphere. He is a gentleman; I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal.''
"You are a gentleman's daughter. But who was your mother? Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.''
"Their condition is decidedly better than your own, madam. They do not have a man's the death on their conscience! How can it be that you sleep at night? Do you not fear how it will be for you when your dark deeds come into the light? "
"Your threat makes it clear that you are unfit for better society."
"No, Aunt," a deep voice spoke from the doorway. Both women turned to see Darcy and Richard, shoulder to shoulder, matching grim looks on their faces.
"You can now have nothing farther to say.'' Elizabeth set her jaw. "You have insulted me in every possible method. You are no longer welcome in my home. I would thank you to take your leave."
"I am not finished yet! You have no regard, then, for the honour and credit of my nephews! Unfeeling, selfish girl! Do you not consider that a connection with you must disgrace them in the eyes of everybody?'' Lady Catherine looked up at her nephews, "Can you not see the disgrace you bring to the family?"
"The only disgrace to the family I see here is you, Aunt Catherine," Darcy said softly, a dangerous note in his voice.
"We know of your role in the injury done to the Bennets and you are fortunate you are not a man. For if you were my uncle and not my aunt…" Richard snarled, letting his voice trail off.
"So you refuse to severe these ridiculous connections?"
"The only connection I am going to sever is with you. Anne is welcome at any of my homes. You however are not." Darcy glowered as he crossed to stand beside Elizabeth.
"Do not look at me, Aunt Catherine. I will not allow you to treat my angel in such a despicable fashion." Richard shook his head slowly. "You shall receive no invitations from me either."
"You refuse, then, to oblige me. You refuse to obey the claims of duty, honour, and gratitude. You are determined to ruin this family in the opinion of all our friends, and make us the contempt of the world.''
``Neither duty, nor honour, nor gratitude,'' replied Darcy through his teeth, "have any possible claim on us, in the present instance. No principle of either would be violated by our marriages. And the world in general, I believe, has too much sense and too many other concerns to join in the scorn.''
"And this is your real opinion! This is your final resolve! Very well. I shall now know how to act. I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable; but, depend upon it, I will carry my point.''
"What point do you think you have to carry, Aunt?" Richard asked, grasping her arm firmly. "Do you not know that if you begin any talk of this in the Ton it is you who will be much more affected than us? My mother has welcomed these matches. Do you wish to oppose your sister so openly and thus divide the family in the eyes of society? You speak of honour. Such an action would surely darken the honour of this family." Before she could reply, he guided her from the room, to her waiting carriage, speaking to her all the way there.
Darcy and Elizabeth stood in silence for several long breaths. He placed a warm hand on her shoulder. Finally she turned to face him, her cheeks flushed and her eyes bright. "I am so sorry dearest. I know not how she could have thought to impose herself upon you so." He cradled her cheek in his hand.
"I fear I have proven her quite correct." She closed her eyes and felt him pull her into his shoulder. "My mother has always warned me that my tongue would be my undoing sooner or later."
"What did you say that was not she did not deserve? She treated your family abominably and did not much appreciate being made to see that." Darcy stroked her back comfortingly.
"You heard that?" She looked up in horror. "Oh, what must you think of me!"
"I think you are brave in defense of those you love." He kissed her forehead. "I think you are brilliant in you assessment of character." He kissed her left cheek. "I think you are delightfully outspoken and frank." He laughed softly, kissing her right cheek. "And I think you are exactly the right woman to bring life and joy into the halls of Pemberley once more." He kissed her lips.
Several moments later, Richard returned, stopping short in the doorway. He smiled approvingly. No amount of good society can be more desirable than that.
Ch 54: Husbands love your wives*
Posted on 2011-04-14
The following day, Darcy stood in his dressing room, fidgeting as his valet finished readying him. A knock at the door caught his attention. Before he could respond, Richard walked in.
"Taking your time this morning, cousin?" Richard walked around him, inspecting.
Darcy grumbled and dismissed his man with a wave of his hand.
"Testy this morning, are you not?"
"Enough, Richard! How could she? What would possess her to…"
"Calm myself! How can you possibly suggest such a thing? You heard her as well as I. With our wedding in just a month's time I do not think I shall sleep for wonder of what that…that woman shall do next!" Darcy waved his hands in frustration.
Richard laughed heartily as Darcy gritted his teeth and started pacing the room. "You really must stop that, or you shall crack a tooth! That will spoil your wedding day faster than Aunt Catherine."
"Then you have far greater faith than I!" Darcy stopped to stare out the window at the road that had just yesterday carried his aunt's carriage to Longbourn. "I would never have expected her to make such a journey…and you are not concerned for what else she might do?"
"Have you thought that there might be reason for that?"
Darcy slowly turned to face his cousin. "What did you say?" Richard smiled slyly. "Explain yourself."
Richard leaned his shoulder into the wall, crossing one foot over another, a victorious light in his eyes. "You recall that I walked her out myself. It was not in the interest of courtesy. I had a rather interesting conversation with her before handing her into her carriage."
"Do not vex me man! Tell me what was said." Darcy stepped closer.
"You really should see yourself, you are quite the sight!" Richard's hearty laughter filled the warmly appointed room. He rubbed his hands together. "I merely reminded our aunt of a few points that it seems she had forgotten."
"I suggested to her that without you and I there would be no one she trusts to go over her books and reassure her that her steward and tenants are not cheating her. Apparently our spring ritual in Rosings is of greater significance that you might have realized."
"Truly?" Darcy rubbed his lips with his knuckles. "As much as she complains about it, I had no idea."
"Really, cousin, you must have Miss Elizabeth teach you something about understanding people!" He rolled his eyes. Sometimes you worry me. How could you miss such a thing? You are no more a card player than Bingley, he gives everything away in his face and you cannot read one.
Darcy sighed. That has never been my strength. I doubt it ever will be.
"Buck up there man! This means you have little to fear from the great Lady de Bourgh. She has too much of her own interests at stake to continue to harass you over Miss Elizabeth."
"I hardly believe that alone could stay her hand. She still can turn to your father and brother for the same service."
"She could do that, and in fact she has, but her brother, my exalted father, staunchly refuses to become involved in her affairs. As I understand it, he did it for a few years and they had a tremendous falling out over just that. My brother was a very young man then, but was witness to the unpleasantness. He will not become involved either. If I recall correctly that was how the duty fell to your father and then to you in turn."
"Even so, it does not seem to be enough."
"Perhaps, but fear not, there is more. Have you forgotten that it does not do to displease my mother?"
"What has your mother to do with any of this?" Darcy crossed his arms irately.
"She is a suborn woman and she thinks very highly of you. Should Aunt Catherine make any attempt to discredit you or your bride, my mother is very likely to come to your rescue. I do not think our aunt was very sanguine about the possibility of my mother throwing a ball in Miss Elizabeth's honor."
Darcy's eyes widened, then he began to laugh. Throwing back his head, he slapped his thigh. "I had not thought of that! But Aunt Matlock has always been a very contrary lady. Any event she hosts is the talk of the Ton and for her to do that for our brides, that would indeed be most disturbing to our aunt."
"Mother may not have been entirely pleased with our choices, but she would not tolerate her sister cutting us or our wives. That would be a declaration of war and my mother is a seasoned general of the Ton."
Darcy nodded with a rened appreciation for his aunt.
"Then there is another consideration, Anne."
"Anne? What of her?"
"Now that you are marrying another, there is no ready match for our cousin. She now must consider other potential matches for her daughter. Any scandal to the family will end up reflecting on Anne. That will stay her hand." A mischievous glint brightened Richard's eyes. "My mother told my father something very similar regarding my sister and yours. Whatever is spoken against us will count against them as well. They have no desire to harm innocent young ladies. Father was in a full blow temper, lecturing me about my duty to my family when Mother turned it about and reminded him of his duty to his daughter and niece. She stopped him cold in his tracks."
Darcy's eyes flicked back and forth in an expression Richard recognized as deep thought. "Your mother is a shrewd woman. I am glad to have her standing with us."
"You certainly would not want her against you." Richard laughed heartily. "So now will you calm yourself? We cannot have you standing up with Jacobson while appearing more nervous than the groom" He brushed imaginary dust from Darcy's coat. "How is it that you are standing up with this Bennet cousin whom you hardly know? As much as you hate attention…"
Darcy's expression softened. "Be kind to the poor man. He has no close family and few friends."
"Something of which you could have no understanding." He elbowed Darcy's ribs.
Darcy tugged his waistcoat. "He was grateful for my help in drafting the arrangements with Mr. Bennet. We spent much time together. I believe he has come to see me as a friend."
"He is a peculiar bird." Richard scratched his head.
"He has not your easy way with people. Not all of us do." How odd it is that I am more comfortable with him than you. That is so unusual.
"So you have found a kindred spirit?"
"I will be glad to continue our acquaintance. He has asked for advice in running his estate…"
"Just how many of us are you going to take under your wings!" The clock in the hallway chimed and cut him off. "It seems it is time for you to renew your acquaintance and make certain that he arrives at the altar. I will be happy to accompany you to Longbourn to assist you."
Darcy rolled his eyes. "He is hardly a reluctant groom. He has scarcely stopped praising his good fortune in finding such a woman to accept him. I will not need help on that account. But you may attend me if you lose that insufferable smugness before we arrive, it is most unbecoming."
Richard and Darcy stood patiently at the door waiting to be admitted into Longbourn. Hall opened the door and ushered them inside. "Mr. Jacobson is in the drawing room. Hill has set out a light repast if you should care to partake, sirs."
Jane and Elizabeth appeared in the foyer. "Good morning, Mr. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam." The sisters curtsied in unison, with matching beaming smiles. Winking at each other, the gentlemen both reached for the ladies' hands.
"Good morning, dearest," Richard murmured, pressing his lips to Jane's hand. "Would you consider a brief stroll in the garden?"
Jane blushed pleasantly. "It is a very lovely morning and mama's blooms are most fragrant in the early hours." Her eyes shined as he tucked her hand into the crook of his arm. They quickly retreated to the garden.
"You look very lovely this morning, Miss Elizabeth." Darcy lingered over her hand. "I fear you might have to stay behind this morning and not attend your friend."
"Why ever for?" Elizabeth drew back in confusion.
"I have it on the highest authority that it is considered poor form to outshine the bride." His eyes twinkled playfully.
She laughed merrily, the musical sound echoing off the walls. "I do believe you have been practicing your teasing ways, sir."
"Is that not the way that one becomes a proficient?" He offered her his arm.
Taking it, she walked with him toward the drawing room. "You are very kind to agree to stand up with my cousin. He has been extoling your generosity all morning." She laughed brightly.
"It is a small thing to do…"
Lizzy paused and cocked her head at him. "I would believe that if it was Colonel Fitzwilliam making such a declaration. But for a man such as yourself, it is not such a small thing at all. I know how ill-disposed you are to be noticed in company. For you to be willing to stand up in front of so many and be noticed is no inconsequential act." She glanced around to make sure they were alone. She reached up on tip-toe and kissed his cheek. "But I do know what it costs you and I appreciate it."
"If joining you as you stand up with your friend was not ample reward, you kiss was. You have made any discomfort on my part quite worthwhile." He lost himself in her eyes for a long moment. "Shall we attend your cousin?" He finally asked and they made their way to the drawing room.
A month later, on a bright Sunday morning two couples stood in the Meryton church before Mr. Bradley. He looked out on the group gathered with them and smiled broadly as he identified the Gardiners. How very small the world seems at times. To think that she would have taught the young ladies that stand before me now. How mysterious are the Good Lord's ways. Who would have thought this is where we would be when we started for this trip to Herfordshire?
A short time before, he had met with the two grooms in Netherfield's study. "You both have been richly blessed to find such young ladies as you have," he admonished them.
"You have never spoken truer words, sir," Richard quickly agreed. Darcy merely nodded.
"There are many things I could tell you right now, but I shall limit myself to just one," he laughed at himself, leaning lightly on his cane. "Men often make much of the Good Book's injunction for the wife to obey her husband. I would remind you of the similar command upon you. 'Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it.'
As our Savior laid himself down as a servant to His church and sacrificed Himself for it, so too are you to offer yourselves to your wives. If you remember this, it will go well for you all."
"You said something very similar to my father, did you not?" Darcy smiled faintly.
"I did. If you remember his example, I believe you will have his felicity in marriage as well. Come now, it is time."
Jane and Elizabeth's eyes were bright as they stood beside their grooms and listened to the vicar's voice:
Dearly beloved, we are gathered together here in the sight of God, and in the face of this congregation, to join together this Man and this Woman and this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony; which is an honourable estate, instituted of God in the time of man's innocency, signifying unto us the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church;
is not by any to be enterprised, nor taken in hand, unadvisedly, lightly, or wantonly, to satisfy men's carnal lusts and appetites, like brute beasts that have no understanding; but reverently, discreetly, advisedly, soberly, and in the fear of God; duly considering the causes for which Matrimony was ordained.
First, It was ordained for the procreation of children, to be brought up in the fear and nurture of the Lord, and to the praise of his holy Name.
Secondly, It was ordained for a remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication; that such persons as have not the gift of continency might marry, and keep themselves undefiled members of Christ's body.
Thirdly, It was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other, both in prosperity and adversity. Into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined.
Wilt thou have this Woman to thy wedded Wife, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou love her, comfort her, honour, and keep her in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto her, so long as ye both shall live?
Wilt thou have this Man to thy wedded Husband, to live together after God's ordinance in the holy estate of Matrimony? Wilt thou obey him, and serve him, love, honour, and keep him in sickness and in health; and, forsaking all other, keep thee only unto him, so long as ye both shall live?
With this Ring I thee wed, with my Body I thee worship, and with all my worldly Goods I thee endow: In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Let us pray.
Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all mankind, Giver of all spiritual grace, the Author of everlasting life; Send thy blessing upon these thy servants, this Man and this Woman, whom we bless in thy Name; and may ever remain in perfect love and peace together, and live according to thy laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.
Forasmuch as they have consented together in holy Wedlock, and have witnessed the same before God and this company, and thereto have given and pledged their troth either to other, and have declared the same by giving and receiving of a Ring, and by joining of hands; I pronounce that they be Man and Wife together, In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.
Posted on 2011-04-24
Eighteen months later
A petite young woman stood silhouetted against the rising sun. Her warm woolen coat hid her increasing belly to all but the most observant witnesses. The morning mist caressed her face softly, gently welcoming her into the quiet church yard. From the window of the grey stone parish church, her observer watched the vigil, repeating a common ritual. A familiar pull tugged at the vicar's heart. John Bradley pursed his lips and nodded his grey head. It is time.
Donning his coat, he reached for his cane. Ah, this old cane, my friend of the wintertime has come out again. Pulling on his new muffler, knitted for him by Pemberley's mistress and his wide brimmed hat, he pushed open the heavy wooden door. A chill wind buffeted him as he stepped into the morning. He pulled the muffler tighter around his neck. I am grateful for the hands that crafted this for me. She is a dear girl. The estate has felt her presence.
With unhurried steps, the vicar approached the young woman. For several minutes they stood in silence, side by side, contemplating the neat graves, two long set, two others much more recent, but showing signs of settling into the quiet repose of the family resting place.
She sighed sadly. "I can hardly believe they are gone."
"It is always a tragedy to lose a babe before he is churched," Bradley agreed softly. "I buried my daughter and her son before he was churched. I understand."
She turned to him, tears trickling down her cheeks. "I am so sorry that you do. I would not wish this pain on anyone." She looked back at the graves and dabbed at her face with her handkerchief. "Somehow I never expected to actually lose them, and so close together. Who would have thought?"
"Those were indeed dark and difficult days."
She wrapped her arms around her belly. "I think I would be more afraid if it were not for your comfort, Mr. Bradley."
"I am grateful to have been service."
They heard the iron gate swing open with a familiar screech. It closed again with am echoing clang. They turned to see a tall young man carrying a quiet baby in his arms. The child gazed up at the man with a smile and sparkling eyes.
"I think Bennet was pleased to go with me this morning," Darcy said softly as he came to stand beside his wife and Bradley. "His parents were pleased to know he will be well cared for while they visit your parents."
"I do believe you are correct, sir. He seems in quite good spirits." Bradley reached up to pat the boy's cheek, allowing the child the grab his finger and try to shove it in his mouth. "He is a dear child with such a sweet disposition."
"He reminds me of his mother," Elizabeth murmured, stroking Bennet's back. "She was a very sweet baby."
Darcy laid a warm hand on her shoulder. "Mary will be a good mother to him in her stead."
"And he will be a good son to her and Pierce." She looked up at him lovingly. "They all have you to thank for that."
Darcy shook his head, "She was my sister; I could have done no less. Would that I could have done more."
"What more was there to do?" She protested. "After she eloped with Lt. Harris we thought she was lost to us. None of us knew how to begin to find her. It was you and Richard who found her, widowed on the continent and brought her back to wait out her confinement here, among her sisters and away from the scandal that waited for her in Meryton." Tears choked her for a moment. "And it was you who insisted she be buried here, near the place where she found comfort in her last months." She leaned her head on his shoulder.
Bennet squirmed and reached out his arms for his aunt. Smiling indulgently, she took him from Darcy and kissed the baby's cheek. "He is such a cheerful boy, so much like Lydia. She was such a comfort to Mary, both of them sharing their confinement together."
"It was difficult to watch Mary struggle so," Darcy murmured somberly, glancing at his mother's grave.
"She was so hopeful after Lydia delivered so easily. None of us expected her to travail for two days. Yet it was Lydia we lost, not Mary." Elizabeth cuddled Bennet closer. "After all that, it seemed so cruel that Mary's son never took his first breath."
"No, dear, it was a mercy." Darcy shuddered slightly. "The child could not have lived long."
"I do not think Mary would have lived if Bennet had not needed her so desperately." Elizabeth glanced back at Bradley.
"In the midst of the tragedy, there was much to be grateful for. I feared I would have to bury another daughter that day." Bradley swallowed hard. "Instead, I have a grandson." He took the baby from Elizabeth. "God has been good to us. And God willing, in the spring, little Bennet will welcome his cousins."
"It is still difficult to imagine Richard a father." Darcy laughed.
"I suppose he says the same of you," Lizzy countered archly.
"That he does." Darcy laughed. "He might be insufferable if he had been the first to produce an heir but since we attribute that honor to Pierce now, his pride is under good regulation."
"I just received a letter from Louisa and one from Kitty, it seems there will be more cousins to welcome in the summer."
"Now Bingley I can picture as a father! I remember well watching him and Kitty playing with the Gardiner's children. I think I envied his ease with them." Darcy sighed wistfully.
"In that, I believe little Bennet has done you a world of good. You are quite comfortable with him now." Lizzy twined her fingers in his as she looked up and lost herself in his gaze.
Bradley watched them. You remind me so much of your parents. They would be so pleased to know that you have found what they did. Fitzwilliam, you are every bit the man your father was and more. He would be so proud.
Finally Lizzy felt the vicar's eyes on them, she giggled and broke away, taking the baby back.
"You are all men of good principles. I am grateful that I have been allowed to be here to help you pass them on to your children." Bradley straightened his coat and his muffler.
"As are we, sir." Lizzy leaned over and kissed the vicar's cheek.