Beginning, Section IIJump to new as of August 23, 2010
Posted on: 2010-05-09
It felt good to be back in her own home again. The children soon returned to their routine and Elizabeth to her own. The first few days she was busy catching up on correspondence and household matters, leaving no time to regret the company they had left behind.
Jane's companionship was soon dearly missed and Elizabeth began reflecting on that first lengthy visit since her father's passing.
Mr. Bennet's illness had been prolonged although the end had come suddenly. For too many years he had ignored the doctor's warnings and his wife had not been influential enough to persuade his compliance. Elizabeth's admonishments went unheeded and eventually her father succumbed when a trifling cold set in to further test his weakened health.
When the news reached her by express, Jane having immediately penned a note to her most beloved sister, Elizabeth sat down and cried for a full hour, then made arrangements for her solitary journey home to see her father buried.
The quiet at Longbourn that day and in the days that followed was unbearable. Never had Mrs. Bennet been driven to silence until the relentless teasing from her husband was no more. Elizabeth spent long nights just sitting at his desk, recalling the countless hours she has listened as he read to her from their favourite books. Even before she was able to read, Elizabeth had sought out the comfort to be found sitting by the warm fire while her father's gentle voice wove tales of adventure.
That voice later taught her to laugh; at herself and others, to take life as it came, with a pinch of salt now and again. Such an outlook helped Elizabeth get though those first days without her father's ever present humour to make light of the solemnity. All too soon it was time to return home, to her own fatherless children, and continue on.
Jane and Elizabeth continued to correspond. The inevitable subject of vacating Longbourn for its new Master to assume ownership was a sensitive issue. Mrs. Bennet would not hear mention of it and so her eldest daughter turned to Elizabeth for help. Thus it was that Elizabeth packed up her two children, prepared for a long stay in order to see her mother and sister properly settled. It had been no easy task and Elizabeth herself felt less inclined once she again entered her childhood home. The lure of her father's library called to her and shadows of memory lurked in every corner.
She was far from willing to surrender those to a cousin whose only attachment was a point of law!
Somehow she had managed to put aside her indignation and wounded feelings long enough to capture Mrs. Bennet's attention. Her mother's cooperation obtained, the matter may have been speedily concluded but for the arrival of a certain gentleman and the age old distraction of eligibility with a fortune attached.
Elizabeth's initial reaction was amusement, quickly changing to frustration when Mrs. Bennet eagerly abandoned the important but unwanted task in favour of her long preferred habit of finding a husband for her remaining available daughter.
More than once Elizabeth entreated the heavens, calling upon her father to send a tacit reminder to his wife. A lightning bolt would do! Alas, she was forced to become a tedious and annoying thorn, poking Mrs. Bennet with constant redirection to their pressing need to find another place to live.
Jane was pleasantly distracted, Elizabeth noticed. This did not disturb her, for Jane's happiness was long overdue. If it proved a brief sojourn in an otherwise woeful year it would not be undeserved. Oddly enough, Elizabeth was too immersed in contemplating her sister's happiness and redirecting her mother that she paid little attention to her own feelings.
The gentlemen from Netherfield had attracted great interest from more than Mrs. Bennet. Two wealthy widowers, still young enough to capture the interest of ladies in their first bloom, received numerous offers of entertainment from many quarters. Disappointed hopes abounded, however, when it was learned that one gentleman had two very young children and the other quite easily rebuffed advances.
When Elizabeth at last had the pleasure of meeting them, social events being limited due to their mourning state, it was with some curiosity that she observed Mr. Bingley's tentative conversation and his friend's more detached interaction.
Mr. Darcy both annoyed and intrigued her.
There were many opportunities to further their acquaintance, each one enticing Elizabeth to delve more deeply in an effort to pierce the man's seemingly impervious exterior. Without realizing, she was drawn away from the fresh pain of grief toward precisely the kind of sport she and her father had often enjoyed; Mr. Darcy had proven a delightful target for her humour.
At home again, Elizabeth felt her loss more poignantly. Her father was gone, their banter and shared laughter forever silenced. Never had she so strongly wished for a partner with whom she could debate. Her father had always played that role, be it serious or in jest. Elizabeth had not felt the need to cultivate another such relationships and the selection was certainly limited anyway. Those who remained were guaranteed to simply voice agreement with her opinions, or adamantly disagree without a valid argument. There was no interest in debate amongst Elizabeth's acquaintance.
This last thought gave her pause. There was one person who seemed to be similarly disposed, although discussions with Mr. Darcy were quite often more like walking through a pasture. It was always necessary to watch one's step! This only added to the satisfaction in testing him.
Jane's letters had not made mention of either of Netherfield's gentlemen. It had not struck her sister as particularly odd considering the preoccupation with moving and the addition of Mr. Collins with his family. It did leave Elizabeth with a niggling curiosity, however. There were few of the neighbourhood's residents about whom she would feel inclined to enquire. A reply to Jane was on Elizabeth's list for the day and so she smiled in anticipation of what she would write.
Mr. Bingley continued to cultivate the habit of taking his children out after breakfast, through the gardens surrounding Netherfield or in the carriage for a change of scenery. This did not necessarily have anything to do with the frequent times he encountered Miss Bennet as she walked to and from Meryton. As befitted the manners of a gentleman he did not once neglect to offer the lady a more expedient means of reaching her destination.
Darcy accompanied them on the walks but preferred to stay home when Bingley took the carriage. Had he gone with them he could have learned something about Mrs. Matthews from her sister. His time, however, was not ill spent as there was much correspondence with his steward at Pemberley this time of year and it allowed him the opportunity to work uninterrupted.
The first time Bingley had the pleasure of taking Miss Bennet home they spoke politely on neutral subjects, Anne and Charles asking frequent questions about their young friends and when they would be seeing them again. Jane could only answer that she expected the return of Henry and Cassie once she herself had moved to her new house. This, of course, opened up a floodgate of more questions about the reason for moving and if there would be enough room for them all to live there.
Both Bingley and Jane laughed at the innocence of their curiosity. The complexities of entailments and financial limitations was not something they needed to understand yet.
On subsequent occasions the conversation grew more casual. With no other adults to overhear there was no concern for what might otherwise be considered undue familiarity between two unmarried people. Bingley took care with his words and Miss Bennet considered herself well past the age of being a subject of interest for the gossip mongers. They learned more about one another, discovered a similarity in disposition and a shared interest in the happiness of others. After a while talk naturally turned to the people whose happiness meant most to them.
"I am surprised that Mr. Darcy has not come with you," Jane said. "I took him for a man who likes to enjoy the outdoors whenever he can."
"You are quite correct," replied Bingley. "He does enjoy walking and riding, and does come with me and the children when we explore Netherfield's grounds. When it is a carriage drive, however, he takes advantage of the quiet house to attend to business letters. At least, he says he is doing that."
"Do you suspect him of some secret romantic correspondence instead?" Jane smiled charmingly.
Her comment brought forth his laughter. "I would be pleased if that were the reason!" His expression softened. "Unfortunately, Darcy has laboured under many weighty concerns these past few years. I would like to see him happy once more but I fear that may not be possible."
Jane considered this for a moment. "He does not appear to be particularly unhappy, but of course you are more familiar with him than I."
"That is precisely what I mean," said Bingley, moving a bit closer and lowering his voice to an intimate pitch. "Perhaps it is unwise of me to discuss such matters with you, our acquaintance only recently made. However, Miss Bennet, you are a kind and compassionate woman. I believe you can understand my concern."
"Indeed, I can," agreed Jane. "I often find myself worrying about my sisters, particularly Lizzy as she is now widowed with two children to raise alone. But Mr. Bingley," she continued in a gentle tone, "one cannot force them to forget the pain of their misfortunes, as you must know. The loss is permanent. The best we can hope to do is ease the worst of that pain."
"Darcy has helped me a great deal," Bingley nodded. "If I could only return that favour and see him finally free of the bitter memories I would be satisfied."
"It takes longer for some people than for others. Lizzy, I fear, will feel the loss of our father all the more strongly. Her husband's passing was a blow but Father was there to help her through the dealings with bankers and solicitors. Lizzy has become far more independent as a result but she and our father were always very close. I would venture to say that Lizzy was his favourite daughter." Jane met the gentleman's gaze seriously. "I realize that Mr. Darcy's position is very different but I am sure that time will heal his heart, too."
Bingley's expression appeared remorseful. "I have more than once accused him of being, in a sense, rather heartless. No, no," he quickly said when Jane's eyes opened wide in shock. "He did not take offense, nor did I mean it in quite that way. Darcy has felt it most keenly, both his wife's death and that of his sister. Georgiana was his charge for many years and he long held a great sense of responsibility for her. I was more selfish in my grief and did not see his until much later."
"He believes he failed her? Is that what you think?" Jane found it difficult to comprehend the degree of pain such thoughts could engender. "That is indeed a terrible burden to carry! But why should he feel so?"
"I believe it because I also struggled with guilt after what happened. Why did I go out that day? Could I have prevented the fire had I remained at home? All pointless speculation, of course. I can see the same doubts reflected in Darcy. While I was able to let go of my guilt I do not think that Darcy can."
"Oh, but he must!" Jane was insistent. "Perhaps you are mistaken in his feelings. It is not so easy to determine these things and you yourself experienced the same loss, at the same time! After all these years Mr. Darcy cannot still believe he may have done something to prevent the tragedy. If the situation is as you say, though, you must find a way to convince him that he is wrong."
"Convince Darcy that he is wrong?" Bingley considered the idea and found it amusing. "I can think of many easier tasks."
Patiently, Jane pointed out that it could be done very subtly. Mr. Bingley's interest in how that might be accomplished made it necessary to plan a trip for the following day as they were already approaching Longbourn and the current discussion had to come to an end.
Elizabeth settled herself into the comfortable chair next to the window and eagerly unfolded the letter from Jane. She was pleased to read that their mother had suffered no setbacks in her determination to move everything in the two weeks as planned. Great progress was being made in this direction.
With some surprise she also learned of the frequent meetings with Mr. Bingley. Jane attempted to make that seem like coincidence but Elizabeth knew better. Twice might be coincidence but each meeting after that was most likely planned.
There was but one mention of Mr. Darcy, for it appeared that he did not accompany his friend on those mornings when Mr. Bingley encountered Jane. The gentlemen did not visit Longbourn, of course, and there was far too much to do for Mrs. Bennet and her daughter to even visit with the Lucases.
Elizabeth read through the letter once, then a second time to make sure she didn't miss anything. Everyone was well, for which she was thankful. Mr. Collins spent a great deal of time with Sir William Lucas who showed him the extent of Longbourn's farms and introduced him to the tenants. This effectively kept him out of the way while Mrs. Bennet's possessions were being packed and removed.
As she again read Jane's account of the numerous times she had crossed paths with Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth was struck by the fact that Jane was going out more often than usual. Was this down to their mother again, orchestrating repetitions of the event when she learned of the first from Jane? It was an irritating thought but Jane's reports held no hint of dissatisfaction in the activity. On the contrary, she seemed pleased by the attention and even hinted that she was beginning to think the gentleman might like her, as well.
"And how could he not, dear Jane?" Elizabeth addressed the paper before her. "He would be a fool not to."
As for Mr. Darcy, the scarceness of his presence only served to reinforce the suspected nature of his friend's outings. He most certainly would not accompany Mr. Bingley on such missions. Elizabeth smiled at the thought and although she had not gained any further information about Mr. Darcy, Jane's letter had conveyed some very promising reports that might, perhaps, bring about some unexpected happiness in the near future.
Posted on: 2010-05-23
"Lady Catherine!" Mrs. Collins was the first to rise upon the entrance of Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
The grand dame took in the surroundings with an air of well preserved dignity. Stepping very deliberately into the room she greeted those present and took possession of the most comfortable seat which happened to have been recently vacated by Mrs. Bennet when she politely acknowledged the other woman's presence.
"I was passing through the neighbourhood on my return to Kent, as I wrote to Mr. Collins, and wished to see for myself the estate he has inherited." Lady Catherine seemed to be taking stock of the room and its contents, her gaze finally coming to rest on Mrs. Bennet. "I understand that my nephew, Darcy, has been a frequent visitor of yours." Mrs. Bennet was too astonished to speak. "I caution you about encouraging your daughter in that direction."
Finally finding her voice, Mrs. Bennet could only say, "I beg your pardon?"
"Mr. Collins informs me that there is some expectation that Darcy may form an attachment to your daughter, Miss Bennet." Lady Catherine brushed a handkerchief beneath her nose and sniffed disdainfully. "That would be a mistake."
Mrs. Bennet sank down into the closest seat. "I... I...."
"I took the liberty of informing her Ladyship of your words to me last week, cousin," interrupted Mr. Collins. "It was clear that you would not heed my warnings about that gentleman's character."
"Mr. Collins," said Lady Catherine, "has done you an immense service in bringing this situation to my attention. You and Miss Bennet will be spared the grief that I suffered and that my own daughter suffered because of my nephew's dishonourable behaviour."
Mrs. Bennet gasped, her imagination already running wild. "I would not have thought –."
"No, of course not." The older woman raised her head so that she peered down her nose. "Darcy has every appearance of moral superiority; his manners, address, appearance. His position in society is attractive. You cannot blame yourself for being deceived." She paused to witness the effect of her words, satisfied with the reaction.
The front doorbell sounded, startling Mrs. Bennet from her chair. The parlour door opened a moment later and a servant announced the visitor.
The gentleman bowed politely and then stepped forward into the room. "Please forgive my intrusion, Mrs. Bennet, Mrs. Collins. I saw the carriage come through Meryton and recognised the crest as that belonging to my aunt." He turned to face Lady Catherine directly. "Aunt Catherine, if I may request a few moments in private?"
She drew herself up straighter. "I have nothing to say to you, Darcy, that cannot be said here."
"Very well," he conceded easily. "I would not wish to interrupt your discussion." Darcy chose a place to sit down. "Please, continue."
Lady Catherine refused to be intimidated by his presence. "Perhaps you will believe me now, Mrs. Bennet. This man whom you have welcomed into your home, Mr. Collins' home, is the same man who jilted my daughter at the altar."
"There was never any engagement," Darcy interjected. "Not even an understanding."
His aunt glared at him. "Anne died of a broken heart."
"She died of pneumonia. Anne's poor constitution brought on illnesses of every kind."
"You disregarded the wishes of family, ruined the hopes of my dearest Anne, by forsaking her for another!" accused Lady Catherine.
"The only wishes were your own," Darcy countered in a steady tone. "They were not Anne's and certainly were not mine."
Mrs. Collins quickly rose, pulling her husband's arm and quietly entreating him to go with her. Mrs. Bennet, spellbound as she was by the tale unfolding before them, was more easily persuaded to leave than was Mr. Collins.
Darcy and Lady Catherine paid no attention to the others as they discreetly exited the room and the door closed firmly behind Mrs. Collins.
"Aunt Catherine, the only member of the family who opposed my marriage to Helena was you, based on some obscure claim of promises made by my mother before she died and when I was too young to know anything about it." He moved to a chair closer to her. "Anne was not interested in a union with me, nor I with her. You should know, more than anyone, the importance of having a strong and healthy heir for a large, viable estate. Anne could never have provided one for Pemberley."
"You dare to speak of heirs!" she fairly spat. "Just where is yours, I ask? What strong and healthy sons did your wife provide for you? You married that woman on such a pretext but you see that the good Lord rewarded your betrayal of Anne with a barren wife, not the heir you desired. Then He took her away, along with poor Georgiana, leaving you with nothing. It is just what you deserve." Lady Catherine sat tall, eyes flashing with angry bitterness.
Darcy's mouth set in a hard line. His words were clipped when he spoke. "I see there is still no reasoning with you. I am truly sorry for the pain you feel, for the years that Anne suffered needlessly. However, I bear no responsibility for any of these misfortunes."
"I will not sit here and listen to this," cried his aunt, bracing her hands on the arms of the chair.
"And I will not allow you to spread your misguided falsehoods wherever I go, maligning my character and causing disruption to the lives of countless innocent people." Darcy got to his feet as Lady Catherine also stood. "I shall see you to your carriage."
She stepped away from him. "I need no assistance from you." With a wide sweep of her skirts, Lady Catherine de Bourgh left Longbourn in much the same way she had arrived; resentful and alone.
In the doorway, Darcy watched until the dust from the carriage's passage had settled once more before he returned to the house. Mrs. Collins greeted him with a sympathetic smile and in invitation to stay for tea. Her husband would not keep company with a man whom he believed to be devoid of Christian principles, quickly leaving the room. Mrs. Bennet, on the other hand, was eager to learn what she was forced to miss by her earlier exit.
"Mr. Darcy," began Mrs. Collins as she handed the gentleman a cup, "please do not be alarmed by what we may think of Lady Catherine's recitation today. I, myself, have heard it many times and in spite of the fact that I actually witnessed the events as they occurred she seems to have forgotten that detail. I was present when Miss de Bourgh contracted pneumonia and sat with her through the long feverish days until she was blessedly released from that pain."
Darcy gave her an appraising look. "I am comforted to know that Anne had the company of a friend during that time. Thank you, Mrs. Collins, for your kindness and generosity." A movement by the other lady in the room drew his eye in her direction. "Please allow me to apologise on behalf of my relation, Mrs. Bennet. I understand how distressing her comments might have been for you. I would like to offer reassurance that Miss Bennet is in no danger, no danger at all."
Not knowing how to respond at first, Mrs. Bennet took a moment before speaking. "I thank you for that, Mr. Darcy. It cannot have been easy for you to hear your aunt say such things about you." She was naturally anxious and was not entirely sure what his words meant. Would he continue to show interest in Jane?
Jane was aghast when told of the events she had missed that afternoon. Relieved to have been spared the spectacle, she was nonetheless perplexed by Lady Catherine's motive in coming to Longbourn and imparting such personal details of her daughter's life and Mr. Darcy's, too. Charlotte's insistence that the gentleman's account was the accurate version only made the entire event more confusing. What had Lady Catherine hoped to achieve?
A few more judicious questions revealed the one piece of information Jane was lacking; her mother's belief that Mr. Darcy might have been interested in pursuing an alliance with her eldest daughter. Jane would have laughed if she had not felt so mortified. It was not that the prospect of Mr. Darcy wishing to court her was abhorrent but that Mrs. Bennet would have actually voiced such fantastic ideas to others, particularly their cousin!
Alone that evening, while she readied for bed, Jane considered all that had transpired in the days since her sister had left. The days had been full at first, seeing to the necessities of moving while attempting to stay our of Mr. Collins' way. After meeting Mr. Bingley in Meryton Jane looked forward to leaving the house at the slightest opportunity, on the small chance that their paths might cross again. Secretly she was amazed at her boldness. Never before had she considered what her mother would call throwing herself into the path of a man. Mr. Bingley was different, however, and that seemed to make Jane think differently.
Early on she had sympathized with his situation and conceded a partiality, although upon reflection concluded that it was premature to label her feelings thus and only after the recent daily encounters did Jane truly know the depth of her affections. If the frequency of their meetings was any indication that the gentleman's pleasure in her company was equal to her own in his, Jane felt excitement at the possible outcomes. The challenge would be to keep that excitement to herself and not allow her mother to see it.
"Are you going to sit here all night?"
"Hmmm?" Bingley looked up at his friend, standing in the doorway with a curious expression.
"It is late," said Darcy. "Yet I find you sitting here staring at the walls."
"Oh." Grinning, Bingley abandoned his chair and crossed to the door. "I was just thinking."
"Thinking." Darcy had been doing a lot of that lately, too.
"Yes, but you are right. It is late." He said goodnight and stepped past his friend and out into the hall.
Darcy continued into the room, returning a book to its place on the shelves. He smiled slightly at the image of Bingley's foolish grin, knowing the origin from having seen it many times in the past. In Bingley's enthusiasm he had not made any secret of his frequent meetings with Miss Bennet. In the beginning it had been a friendly association, pleasant conversation and a sympathetic ear for both of them. It was not long before Darcy noticed the change in his friend's demeanour and attributed it to the lady's gentle touch. An additional benefit was that Bingley had ceased mentioning Mrs. Matthews, not that it had made much difference to Darcy's pattern of thoughts.
He realized he had been counting the days; the days since she had left and the days until she would return. It would not be long now before the move was complete and then Mrs. Matthews was sure to come, to help her sister and mother with the details of settling into a new home. The children would eagerly look for their friends and Bingley would just as eagerly oblige with invitations to Netherfield. The prospect almost made him grin, too, but Darcy was more conscious of how foolish he would appear and checked the impulse.
As quickly as these pleasant thoughts entered his head so, too, did the recollections of Lady Catherine's visit that morning. He had no idea how her pronouncements would affect the opinions of the Bennet ladies. Mrs. Bennet had obviously been shocked with what she had heard. Miss Bennet had been out but would likely have been informed by her mother what had transpired in her absence.
How this was going to affect any future interactions between them remained to be seen.
Darcy stood for a moment, looking about the room, then extinguished a lamp on the table beside the chair where Bingley had been sitting. The only light now spilled into the room from the hallway beyond the open door. Most of the house was silent save for the distant sounds indicating servants performing their last duties before retiring.
In the upper hall outside the bedchambers he acknowledged the footman tending to the lamps, put an ear to the nursery door and then made his way to his own room. After the usual preparations Darcy dismissed his manservant and sat for some time watching the fire's embers die in the grate. When the last flame disappeared, leaving only an orange smouldering glow, he settled into bed with the ever ready book from the bedside table.
Three pages into the book he laid it down, knowing that not one word had been absorbed. It was pointless to continue the attempt when his mind was elsewhere. Placing the marker between the pages, Darcy abandoned the attempt, put out the light and turned his attention to the effort of falling asleep.
Posted on: 2010-05-31
The dream had been so vivid that awakening was a disappointment. If he closed his eyes he could be there once again; see her smile, hear her laugh.
Impatience had never been one of his weaknesses yet it seemed to be his worst enemy of late. Indecision had been rare for in this, too, confidence had always shown the way. To be dependent upon another's opinion was something that had not been present since before his father's death and that alone made him apprehensive.
In the course of a day the entire neighbourhood had heard about Lady Catherine's visit and her accusations. Bingley had returned that morning to report that Mr. Collins had seen fit to broadcast the story in the face of Mrs. Bennet's objections and his own wife's warnings. This had not been a concern on the occasions it had occurred in the past when Lady Catherine's vitriolic recitals failed to gain a willing audience. No, there was more at risk this time. His every move would be observed with a suspecting eye.
The opinions of the general populace were of less concern than the opinion of one lady in particular and while her immediate family did not seem to be influenced by Lady Catherine's words it would not do to ignore the current state of affairs.
Mr. Collins was in need of correction.
"When are we going to Aunt Jane's again?"
Elizabeth did not have an immediate answer for Cassandra. She was awaiting a letter which would let her know that her mother and sister were in the new house before they could plan any kind of visit. "You do remember that Grandmama and Aunt Jane will not be at Longbourn anymore. The new house will not be as large and we may have to share a room."
The young girls's nose wrinkled in distaste. "With Henry, too?"
"Yes, even with Henry." Her son was not likely to voice any objections to that. He was usually the one to fall asleep as soon as he crawled into bed. "If you would rather stay home that can be arranged, too."
That idea was even more objectionable. Cassie shrugged her shoulders and concluded that sharing a room with her younger brother would not be so terribly bad, after all.
"We shall go into the village to collect the post and perhaps there will be a letter from Aunt Jane," Elizabeth said. "Please tell Henry to come in here so that I can see if he needs to wash and change clothes before we leave."
Fortunately, Henry was presentable when he appeared and the three of them set off for the village. It was not a long walk and while the clouds appeared dark there was not enough threat of rain to deter Elizabeth from the making the trip.
A letter was waiting for her, but it was not from Jane. Elizabeth was surprised to see Charlotte's name on the paper. Her curiosity was great and on the way home, while the children explored the grassy edges of the roadway, she opened the letter to read it. The contents both shocked and amazed her. That her mother had confided in Mr. Collins, of all people, her mistaken notion that Mr. Darcy was looking to court Jane, was eclipsed only by the subsequent visit by that gentleman's aunt who, it seemed, wanted nothing more than to sully his name and character!
Elizabeth had to admit that her own opinion of him had not been glowing in the beginning of their acquaintance. She had since altered that view and, while she was still not entirely sure of her feelings, could say without a doubt that they had never been so poor as his relation thought of him. Charlotte's confirmation of Mr. Darcy's character being unblemished by the very actions of which he was accused only served to reinforce Jane's original suggestion that the gentleman was more circumspect than suspect.
Her cousin's behaviour angered Elizabeth. If anyone deserved censure it was Mr. Collins. This latest atrocity would affect Jane's growing friendship with Mr. Bingley and not for the good. At the very least it would cause more gossip and speculation than ever before!
Folding the page, Elizabeth called to Cassandra and Henry to hurry along. She had a letter to write before the end of the day so that it would go out with the morning's post.
"He seemed to take the news better than I expected." Bingley brushed some dirt from Anne's skirt and watched as she ran off to join her brother in his attempts to catch butterflies. "I imagine he is accustomed to Lady Catherine's oddities."
"Oddities!" exclaimed Jane. "I might describe my own mother's behaviour as odd at times but from her report of Lady Catherine's visit the word is far too lenient. I cannot understand how she could say such cruel things about Mr. Darcy."
"Disappointment often makes people capable of the unthinkable." They had resumed walking along the sunlit path and Bingley paused to push aside a branch to allow Jane to pass.
"I was appalled that she would think Mr. Darcy was interested in me," she said in a hushed voice, as if the notion was still a secret.
Bingley laughed. "I must confess that I find it amusing, almost as much as Darcy thinking I was interested in your sister. Of course, both of you ladies are very deserving of the attention but one has only to possess an inkling of understanding to realise that those particular pairings are not the ideal."
Jane had stopped walking to look at Bingley with some confusion in her expression. She was not sure which comment to remark upon and finally decided to start with the first. "What exactly amuses you?"
"Well," began Bingley, a trifle self-conscious, as if he might have said too much, "some people look only upon the surface. They see two children with no mother and two fatherless children and conclude that the parents should make an ideal couple. Everyone should be happy, yes?"
Jane smiled. "Are you saying that is what Mr. Darcy thought?"
"Not exactly, but he was under the impression that I might think so." Bingley offered the lady his arm in a gesture for them to resume walking. Jane accepted and after a few steps he spoke again. "I do find Mrs. Matthews to be an excellent source of advice... from a parental point of view. It is vaguely unsettling to consider that someone else might have thought my interests were of a more personal and serious nature."
"I doubt that anyone but Mr. Darcy saw your interest in quite that manner." She chose not to elaborate on the directions her mother's thoughts had been travelling, however. "I am still not sure why that should amuse you."
Bingley chuckled softly, remembering his friend's reaction when they had discussed the subject. "Mistaken impressions can result in very entertaining confusion. Miss Bennet," he suddenly said, turning his head to look at her directly. "I do not wish to appear insensitive but may I enquire as to the time remaining for your period of mourning?"
The question took her by surprise and Jane stuttered a response, indicating that another five weeks would see the transition out of formal mourning.
"I apologize if my question caused you some distress. I have long since learned the value of speaking honestly over assuming others know my intentions." In spite of his brave words Bingley found himself becoming apprehensive. "I would like to properly court you when the time is right to do so. That is, if you would welcome... my... attentions." Once the words were out he felt a great relief and his smile confirmed his feelings.
"Oh..." Jane exhaled slowly as her own smile tentatively appeared. "You will be most welcome, Mr. Bingley."
Both Jane and Bingley turned their attention toward Anne's voice to see the little girl jumping up and down excitedly.
"Papa, look! Look!" She pointed to where her brother stood very still, a butterfly clinging to his sleeve. "Pretty!"
Charles proudly lifted his arm to show them all his prize when the insect suddenly fluttered away. His face fell in dismay but soon regained animation when Anne squealed with delight as the butterfly landed on her skirt.
"Lovely!" Jane softly exclaimed. She glanced at Mr. Bingley to see him watching her with a grin as big as his daughter's.
Darcy reined in his horse just outside Longbourn's garden gate. Over the wall he could see the figure of Mr. Collins, bent over a small flowerbed. Darcy frowned at the sight, wondering what the man could be doing in such a position. Surely he would leave such menial labour to the gardeners!
Dismounting, he tied his horse to a nearby branch of an overhanging oak and strode through the gate. The crunch of his boots on the gravel path brought Mr. Collins to an upright position and sending a startled look over his shoulder. Upon seeing Darcy, the new Master of Longbourn's eyes opened wide and he scurried away in the opposite direction.
"Mr. Collins!" called Darcy, quickening his pace.
The other man moved faster, ducking behind a hedgerow. Darcy followed, surprised when he turned the corner to find the next path empty. He stood still for a moment, considering where to go next, then shrugged his shoulders and turned around to find the front entrance of the house. Emerging from the gardens and out to the lawn he spied the rapidly retreating figure of Collins as he ran across the open space.
"Mr. Collins!" Darcy called again. This time the man did not even look over his shoulder but ran straight to the house and disappeared around the corner. Darcy shook his head, continuing on with determination.
The front door was open and so he entered the house, glancing around and listening for an indication of where Collins may have gone. A noise from behind him caused Darcy to quickly turn around, just in time to see his quarry slinking along the wall next to the drive. Darcy calculated the point at which he could intercept Collins and wasted no time in getting there.
"Wha! Wha!" Collins clutched a hand to his chest, brought up short as he nearly collided with the man he was trying to avoid.
Darcy blocked his escape by extending his riding crop to touch the wall behind Collins. "Are you deaf, sir?"
"I do not... I do..." Collins swallowed with effort and began again. "I do not know what you mean, Mr. Darcy."
"I called your name twice. Did you not hear me?" Darcy's gaze was merciless, locked on the other man's eyes. "Mr. Collins, I will not waste your time or mine. Tell me your purpose in spreading Lady Catherine's falsehoods amongst the local society. You cannot be ignorant of how I would view this. Well, speak up man!"
"Her Ladyship's wishes –."
"Are none of your concern," Darcy concluded for him. Lowering the whip, he stepped back to take an appraising look of the man before him. "Collins, you are no longer in my aunt's employ. You are a landowner now, a man of property. You have no need of her good opinion anymore."
The notion seemed new to him, for Mr. Collins blinked repeatedly as he considered the idea.
"Come now," continued Darcy. "You were at Rosings the day Lady Catherine sent me from the house with threats of dire consequences unless I relented and bowed to her wishes. You know the true circumstances of my cousin's unfortunate death. Your own wife tended Anne in her final hours." He waited for some sign that his words were having an effect but the longer he watched the more impatient he felt. "You cannot deny that her version of events is untrue."
At last Mr. Collins spoke. "I am not sure...."
Darcy's hand came down swiftly, cracking the small whip against the stone wall. "For heaven's sake, let go of Lady Catherine's apron strings and stand on your own two feet!"
Collins flinched at the sound of the whip and again with Darcy's commanding tone. He was compelled to nod, rapidly and eagerly, agreeing as the instructions continued.
"You will, of course, retract your earlier comments. Immediately." Darcy's instructions continued unabated while his audience stood wide-eyed and transfixed. At last, annoyed by the silent attention, he asked, "Do you need to write this down to remember? Let us go into the house."
"No, no!" cried Collins in a momentary panic. "I will remember."
Darcy doubted the other man's ability to recall everything he had said but decided to alleviate his obvious anxiety on the prospect of returning to the house. "Very well. Should you forget anything I will be more than happy to remind you." He snapped the whip against his palm on the word remind.
Collins eyed the whip, cringing. "There will be no need," he whispered.
Satisfied, inasmuch as was possible under the circumstances, Darcy warned Collins, "I realise that my aunt possesses an incredible talent for bending others to her will but be assured, sir, that the consequences for defying me will be much more severe than any Lady Catherine could inflict. You are a landlord now and responsible for others under your authority. Do not take that responsibility lightly." He dismissed the man with a wave of his hand. As Collins scurried back to the house, Darcy considered his next step.
Daunting as the prospect seemed, he knew that facing the disapproval of the local townspeople would be necessary if he hoped to retain the fragile connection with Mrs. Matthews and promote a further understanding for the future.
Posted on: 2010-06-18
The move was complete. There was nothing to do but unpack and assign space for each item as it was once again exposed to daylight. Mrs. Bennet directed the one maid who had accompanied them to their new home while Jane gently placed the fragile pieces of china into the cupboards. The menservants had already brought all of the large furniture into the appropriate rooms and once the linens were found the maid could see to readying the beds before the hour grew too late.
Jane had worried that her mother would be distressed at finally leaving Longbourn but since the Collinses had arrived, the house had become crowded and noisy. Mrs. Bennet had been eager to exchange chaos for the quiet of her new home and had even confessed to excitement in making the final step to separate herself from the painful sentimental association with her longtime residence. Adding to her excitement was the news from Elizabeth that she would be joining them by the weekend and, despite the fact that her purpose would be to assist, Mrs. Bennet's mission was to have as much in place as possible before her daughter and grandchildren appeared on the doorstep.
Jane's mind was also on her sister's impending visit but for another reason. Elizabeth's letter had contained more pressing questions intended for Jane's eyes alone and, while their mother was occupied with her happy tasks, Jane was free to contemplate the queries and possible answers.
It would be impossible to keep the news of Mr. Bingley's intentions a secret from Elizabeth. Of course she would be pleased knowing that Lady Catherine's efforts bore no fruit in that direction. The same could not be said for Mr. Darcy. Jane had been subjected to several repetitions of the tale, no two quite the same. To each person she had refuted the story as lies and said that Mr. Collins had since realized his error.
What would Elizabeth do?
Mr. Darcy seemed to have handled the matter well, and the resulting difficulties even better. Would he be able to handle her sister's reaction?
Jane looked up at the sound of a wagon passing by the window. The new house was situated closer to the road than Longbourn and it would take some getting used to the additional noises during the day. A knock at the door dispelled the notion that it was just a passing wagon, however.
"Jane," said Mrs. Bennet as she entered the room. "This is wonderful! Four servants have come from Netherfield to help unpack and get our rooms ready for tonight!
The news was certainly welcome as Mr. Collins had only begrudgingly allowed the use of Longbourn's menservants to bring the furniture and they were under strict instructions to return immediately upon completion of that specific task. They had been kind enough to risk defying Mr. Collins' instructions but had reluctantly departed when the hour grew late. The footmen and extra maids from Netherfield would quickly have the house in order and be able to return before it grew dark.
"How kind of the gentlemen to send extra servants," agreed Jane. "Let us waste no time, then!"
"That was very generous of you," remarked Darcy upon learning that evening of his friend's scheme. "I can not imagine your next feat."
"Just think about it, Darcy!" Bingley was rubbing his hands together. "The maids will return with all sorts of goss.... er... observations about the ladies' comfort and –."
"Since when have you been interested in gossip?" interrupted Darcy.
"And," continued Bingley, as if he had not heard, "perhaps even news of visitors."
"Visitors?" Darcy was even more perplexed. "What sort of visitors?"
The other man looked upward innocuously. "Oh, I was thinking of young Henry and Cassie. Anne and Charles are eager to see them again."
"I see." In truth, he did see and was not particularly bothered by Bingley's veiled allusions to Mrs. Matthews. It would be convenient to know when she would be expected to return and if it meant listening to servants' gossip... well, it would not be Darcy listening. He would leave that to Bingley! "You have clearly given thought to this and I hope it serves you well. The children will be most pleased to resume their acquaintance."
His friend smiled. "I knew you would understand. Now, what say you to a nightcap?"
"Yes," Darcy nodded. "Thank you."
There was a companionable silence for a while as each was lost in his own thoughts. When the glasses were nearly empty Bingley suddenly spoke.
"I want you to know that I have asked Miss Bennet for permission to court her in a few weeks, when their mourning period wanes." He looked over to the other chair to see Darcy's reaction. The other man's expression did not change but for a brief flicker of his eyelids. "Have you any objection?"
Darcy started at the question. "Objection? Certainly not. Why should you be concerned that I might object?"
"You are my friend and Georgiana's brother. Surely you have some opinion on the subject." Bingley waited patiently for a response.
At last Darcy drew in a deep breath and exhaled sharply. "My sister was happy as your wife. You grieved her death appropriately, respectfully and painfully. Did you think I would ask anything more of you, that I would begrudge you happiness in another match? I never expected you to live the rest of your life without the companionship of a wife, particularly when your marriage to Georgiana had brought both of you such joy. I confess that I did not expect this quite so soon after convincing you to finally leave Pemberley, but I cannot argue with the choice of lady. Miss Bennet is anything but a grasping fortune hunter."
Bingley grimaced. "Really, Darcy. Must you put it in those terms?"
Shaking his head, Darcy chuckled. "You will forever be reluctant to accept such truths."
"You cannot believe that there are no exceptions," retorted Bingley, pointing a finger.
"I will admit that there was a time I thought exactly that." Darcy set aside his empty glass and folded his hands together. "I was too critical. You were too trusting."
"You have learned to be wary."
Bingley snorted. "Thank you, but I was not asking about myself. You still appear, to me, to be too critical at times. It could simply be your choice of words, of course, but the end result is the same."
"How so?" Darcy was genuinely curious for he did not feel his manner was in any way deficient.
"Take for instance your words a few moments ago; grasping fortune hunter. Can you not hear the cruel edge in that description? A small effort on your part and you might have said Miss Bennet is a sweet and gentle lady rather than shade the compliment in negativity."
"Now you seek to provide me with lessons to improve my address?" Darcy's questioning expression faded. "Truthfully, I find Miss Bennet reminds me, almost uncomfortably, of my sister. It would not have been prudent to tell you that, would it? You will do as you choose, regardless. Perhaps in years past my opinions carried more weight with you, and I might even have attempted to dissuade you from such an alliance for reasons which no longer trouble me to the same degree, but you are your own man now, Bingley."
"What reasons do you mean? No, never mind. They are not important." Bingley paused, then added, "I mean, it sounds like you no longer think such details important as they pertain to me but what about their effect on you? Do the same standards apply?"
"To put it simply; no. I have since discarded my concerns about what certain members of my family may think of the people with whom I choose to associate. The years have afforded me a great number of opportunities to learn the true natures of those who share the same social sphere and while I will not condemn them all as... grasping fortune hunters," he grinned, "there are many who do fit that description."
Bingley fell silent, mulling over that thought. "I suppose we must count Caroline in that number," he finally said in a quiet voice. He did not expect an answer and was not surprised by his companion's lack of reply. "Darcy, may I ask you a personal question?"
"Have we not already been covering personal territory?"
"Very well. Have you given any further thought to my suggestion regarding your own happiness?" Bingley perceived the guarded look that fell over Darcy's features and struggled to prevent a laugh from escaping. "Surely you must realize that if my plans come to eventual fruition and Miss Bennet consents to marry me, you will inevitably be thrown into Mrs Matthews' company quite often. I still insist that she would suit you very nicely, my friend, if you would but give the notion a chance."
"Bingley, I –."
"Do not tell me that you have no interest in marrying again! That is irrelevant, of course. What you need is an intelligent companion and I am sorry to tell you that my own residence at Pemberley will soon come to an end. What will you do once my stimulating discourse is no longer at hand?"
Darcy left his chair and walked to the doorway as if to leave, then stopped, turning around to face Bingley. "You can have no idea how often that thought has plagued me. I have no wish to see you leave, nor the children. However, it is your life and they are your children, not mine. Pemberley will be large and empty but that is little different than it was not so long ago. You need not be concerned about me, Bingley." He stepped closer to where his friend was sitting, a slight smile appearing on his face. "I shall only say that your suggestion was not so different from my own ideas. What remains is to see how the lady feels about it."
Bingley sprung from his seat with a wide grin. "Darcy, that –!" He recollected the more serious nature of his friend and began again. "I have no doubt of your success."
Jane eagerly sought the soothing comfort of her bed that evening. The day had been long, with much unpacking and organizing of their belongings in the new house. The additional servants sent from Netherfield had saved many hours of work and for that both Jane and her mother were grateful. So grateful, in fact, that Mrs. Bennet was insistent on personally thanking the gentlemen responsible for so much of their recent good fortune.
Elizabeth would be arriving within two days' time, her children accompanying her. Clearly it would be the perfect time to invite Mr. Bingley, his children and their friend for an afternoon and to stay for dinner. Mrs. Bennet was already planning the event, choosing the menu and calculating the quantities to ensure a sufficient amount to satisfy the distinction of their guests.
By Saturday, when Elizabeth joined them, all was ready. Even the invitation had been sent to Netherfield and accepted.
"Already?" a shocked Elizabeth asked upon hearing of the plans. "You have only just moved in!"
"Oh, but Lizzy," crowed her mother. "The gentlemen were so helpful and they sent servants to assist with the unpacking! We would never have been done by now if not for the extra hands."
"Jane, is this true?" Elizabeth turned to her sister to confirm Mrs. Bennet's words.
"Very much so," laughed Jane. She gave Elizabeth a look which clearly meant they would discuss more at a later time and without their mother's presence.
"Should I ask if the extra room is made up for us?"
Mrs. Bennet quickly answered that query. "Everything is ready, Lizzy. That was also done while the Netherfield servants were here."
"Come, Lizzy," said Jane. "I will show you the room and we can see that the children's things are set out."
She led the way upstairs to the room at the back of the house. It was not a large room; the largest of the bedchambers naturally belonged to their mother. It was, however, comfortably furnished and Elizabeth was pleased to see that the window coverings were drawn back, revealing the open casement.
"If you don't mind, I was thinking that Cassie could share with me," Jane offered. "I thought she would not like to share with Henry and three of you in this room is just too much."
"Cassie would like that," her sister gratefully replied. "But only as long as you are sure! Do not offer because you feel sorry for her. She is likely to keep you awake half the night with her chatter."
"I promise you that I shall enjoy her company, too." Jane sat down on the edge of the bed and glanced toward the open door. Mrs. Bennet's voice could be heard in conversation with her grandchildren. "Lizzy, I have something important to tell you."
"Oh, do tell!" Elizabeth sat on the other side of the bed, curling her feet up beneath her. "It has to do with Mr. Bingley, I presume."
The colour rushed to Jane's cheeks but she could not hide the smile which now appeared. "Oh, Lizzy," she sighed, "he wants to court me!"
"I thought he was doing that already," smirked Elizabeth. "From the accounts in your letters I understood that you and Mr. Bingley were frequently together, out walking."
"Yes, but he wishes to formally court me when it is proper to do so. What do you think, Lizzy? When should I say he may come calling for that purpose? I told him it would be a few weeks yet, but what do you say?"
"I see no reason you should have to wait any longer." She sensed rather than saw any objection in Jane's expression. "Listen to me, Jane. Papa would not want you to wait and you know Mama will certainly not disagree." Reaching for her sister's hand, Elizabeth squeezed it reassuringly. "You will not be offending anyone by setting aside the formalities of mourning at this time. It has already been four months since Papa's passing. You will cause no stir by welcoming Mr. Bingley's attentions. Well, only with Mama, for you know she will not be able to contain her joy!"
"Lizzy!" Jane laughed. "That is precisely why I have not told her anything yet!"
Elizabeth excitedly drew her sister close and whispered, "I wonder how long we can keep it that way?"
Posted on: 2010-07-04
Darcy was prepared for serious discussion with Mrs. Matthews. In all of their prior exchanges she had never failed to challenge him. The personal nature of her questions was always offset by the pert manner of the asking.
As he dressed for the day's visit, Darcy was not entirely successful in concealing his anticipation. He demonstrated an uncharacteristic indecision when choosing the clothing laid out for his selection. His mind was elsewhere, working out the many possible directions this first meeting with Mrs. Matthews might take. The lady had not been present for Lady Catherin's visist, nor Mr. Collins' re-enactment. She did, however, have contacts who no doubt would be more than happy to forward such rumours. Had she heard them already? Would his intentions be misunderstood or summarily rejected with suspicion?
There was no way to discover those answers until they met again. Hopefully Miss Bennet had corrected any misapprehensions which had arisen out of the latest gossip.
First and foremost, Darcy hoped that no misgivings had arisen at all!
Inspecting the image in the mirror, he nodded acceptance of his appearance, satisfied that there was nothing more required.
Darcy was ready, on the outside, to renew his acquaintance with Mrs. Matthews.
Mrs. Bennet did not intend to disappoint the first dinner guests in her new home. The menu was superb; the choicest selection of meats and fresh ingredients.
The children had greeted one another as if they had never been apart. There was not the room previously available at Longbourn but the weather cooperated so that they were able to spend a good portion of the visit out of doors. Over refreshments the adults conversed on neutral topics until Mrs. Bennet excused herself, claiming the heat was too much for her to bear. This afforded an opportunity for the others to change their seating arrangements in order to sit nearer a chosen conversational partner.
Bingley and Jane were soon engrossed in private communications, continuing a discussion which had clearly begun another day when they were out walking with the children. Elizabeth and Darcy had nothing to contribute and so they sat, each contemplating how to introduce a new subject to an equally silent companion.
The four children were busily exploring the garden. It was not a large space but there was plenty to investigate due to overgrowth, and the discoveries excited their young imaginations. The sight at last inspired Darcy to speak.
"Have you much property attached to your home, Mrs. Matthews? I ask because your son seems to be very much enjoying the mysteries in this garden."
"My house is quite modest," she replied. "My husband was not a farmer nor a landowner, but a shopkeeper. After his death my father assisted in the sale of the shop and business so that we could remain in our home and receive a steady income to support us." Elizabeth tilted her head slightly and said, "I understand that your own residence has some property, sir."
He briefly studied the lady's expression before saying, "I wonder how much it has grown in size since I arrived here."
"You should pay more attention to your neighbours' conversations, Mr. Darcy." Mischief sparkled in her eyes. "You would be amazed at the things you could learn about yourself." Elizabeth suddenly recollected the latest unfortunate gossip which had circulated about the gentleman beside her and attempted to apologize for her tactless remark.
"There is no need," Darcy quietly interrupted. "I have no concern for general opinions, as they are most often based upon superficial knowledge. I do, however, care for the opinions of select individuals." His steady gaze upon her made the meaning quite clear.
Elizabeth coloured under the close observation. "I have long been familiar with the dangers in accepting as fact such circulated histories." Still, she could not resist hinting at a desire to know the truth of the tale. "There is often a grain of truth, however distorted it becomes in the retelling."
"Mrs. Matthews," frowned Darcy in a show of mock dismay. "I had believed you to be above the vulgarity of gossip."
"How short is your memory, Mr. Darcy!" she laughed. "It was I who attempted to impress upon you the importance of paying attention to gossip, if not actually believing it."
The gentleman conceded the argument and sought to compose his thoughts in regard to her implied question. He appreciated the fact that she was patient, for she appeared to be waiting for him to come to a decision rather than continuing to press for a reply. An explanation was deserved, of course, for there was much that had been said and his character had suffered as a consequence. At last, Darcy drew in a deep breath and began. "The grain at the heart of this drama is the desire of one family member to preside over the wishes of others; namely her own daughter and myself. Lady Catherine de Bourgh, my mother's sister, fancied that a union between her daughter and nephew would solidify a combined fortune and property that would rival some of the most attractive in the Kingdom. She did not anticipate that her nephew's strength of will matched her own and that his plans did not include marrying his cousin."
"You defied her," concluded Elizabeth.
Darcy nodded. "It did not sit well with her. My cousin, Anne, was of the same mind but her mother would not listen." He proceeded to relate the lengths to which Lady Catherine had gone in her attempts to persuade him and to discourage the lady whom he had eventually married, with threats and dire pronouncements on their future. Eventually he was forced to cut all ties with his aunt to preserve some peace in his life.
"I cannot imagine the selfishness that would drive a person to behave thus!" cried Elizabeth. "After all these years she still harbours deep resentment, too."
"Unfortunately, the tragic circumstances of my wife's death have only reinforced her obsession, convinced as she is that even God has sanctioned her wishes." His expression conveyed his feelings on that particular notion.
"My goodness," murmured Elizabeth. "It must have been very difficult for Mrs. Darcy to contend with such treatment."
"I cannot begin to describe how –." He abruptly stopped speaking and she turned to see him watching her.
"What is it?" she asked, suddenly self-conscious.
Darcy shook his head slowly. "I was merely thinking you would not have been affected to the same degree as most ladies had you been placed in the same situation. Mrs. Matthews, you are an unusually self-possessed and independent woman."
"Well, I fear I am not in the position to argue with you, sir, for I was not unfortunate enough to be there when Lady Catherine de Bourgh graced Longbourn with her presence. I will grant you, however, the benefit of some doubt as I would certainly not be silent while subjected to the kind of lecture I hear was presented." Animation returned to Elizabeth's expression as she continued. "As for being self-possessed and independent, well, I have had many years to practice those qualities. My father actually encouraged me, if you can believe that!"
Chuckling softly, Darcy drew the obvious conclusion. "Against your mother's wishes?"
"Against my mother's express objections, of course! Independence of mind and wildness of spirit would never recommend me to prospective husbands, you see."
"Certainly not to most, I concede."
Tilting her head to one side, she sent him a look of disbelief. "You are not trying to tell me that the late Mrs. Darcy was a woman of unconfined nature?"
Darcy sighed but with some amusement. "I believe I was referring to the fact that you did manage to find a husband who, by all accounts, appreciated your.... peculiarities."
"Peculiarities!" Elizabeth's laughter drew the attention of Jane and Mr. Bingley. "I have never before heard myself described in that way. I am not convinced that it was my peculiarities that attracted Edward, however. In some ways I am forced to acknowledge the truth of my mother's words. More than once have I found myself facing disapproval for my unguarded tongue."
The gentleman appeared to be surprised. "Unguarded? I would say your remarks are occasionally daring but never unguarded. You know exactly what you are about, Mrs. Matthews."
Up until that moment Elizabeth would have agreed but as he watched her expectantly she began to wonder if she had ever truly realized the effects of her impertinent behaviour. Her father had certainly been entertained by it, thus encouraging the continuance. Mrs. Bennet had been frustrated by her daughter's less than ladylike deportment. What about Edward? Elizabeth shook her head. "That is not to say that I am in the right, Mr. Darcy. Would you proclaim that every action you take is unquestionably the correct one?"
"Lizzy, I think you are becoming too serious," Jane softly interjected.
"Not at all," Darcy said in reply to both ladies. "If you find our discussion disturbing, however, I have no objection to discontinuing it."
Bingley leaned toward Jane and loudly whispered, "Darcy enjoys a good argument and in that regard I do not provide the best challenge for him."
"Ah!" cried Elizabeth. "You provoke Mr. Bingley into arguing!"
"I do." Darcy admitted and the others laughed.
That did put an end to further disagreements and when Mrs. Bennet returned to sit in the now shaded garden the topics of conversation were much less contentious.
Elizabeth found it impossible that her mother seemed to notice nothing in the looks that passed between Jane and Mr. Bingley throughout dinner. There were no embarrassing remarks to urge conversation along, no attempts at finding ways to remove everyone else from the room. She knew not what to make of it.
The children ate together, apart from the grownups and under the supervision of Mr. Bingley's staff. It was a rare occasion for Elizabeth to enjoy the company of other adults without the distraction of her children. Between observing her sister and parrying the unusual comments from Mr. Darcy, she was feeling light headed.
Since the party included young children, the hour was not late when their guests left. Jane's inattention proved that her thoughts were still with Mr. Bingley. Elizabeth saw to Cassie and Henry's preparations for bed, then sent them back downstairs to bid goodnight to their aunt and grandmama. They were too tired to offer a word of protest as they were tucked in for the night.
When Elizabeth at last rejoined her mother and sister downstairs she was finally enlightened.
"Now Lizzy, tell me what you think," Mrs. Bennet began as soon as her other daughter entered the room. "Mr. Darcy does not appear to be the callous rake that his aunt professed him to be. Both he and Mr. Bingley have been nothing but kindness itself during our trying time! Charlotte and Jane have begged me not to believe a word that Lady Catherine said and now I ask you what you think. You did hear the story, did you not?"
"Yes, Mama," replied Elizabeth, sitting down and glancing toward Jane to see her reaction. "I did hear of it and having also heard Mr. Darcy's version of the matter I have to say that the entire affair is very unfortunate. Lady Catherine's pain must be clouding her judgement to say such horrible things about her nephew."
"Thank you, Lizzy. I knew if you agreed with the others then it must be alright." Her brow creased in thought. "I am still puzzled, however. When Mr. Darcy spoke to me that day his aunt visited he made a point of assuring me that Jane was in no danger, no danger at all. In spite of his words I have yet to see him declare his honourable intentions toward her."
"I beg your pardon?" Elizabeth's eyes were round with astonishment. "What do you mean?"
"Really, Lizzy. It was quite obvious that he was informing me that he had more serious intentions than a trifling flirtation with our dear Jane. What else could he have meant?"
Elizabeth exchanged a look with her sister, silently asking permission to speak openly. "I believe he meant to tell you that he has no intentions at all where Jane is concerned. Mama, listen to me," she quickly added as Mrs. Bennet was about to object. "It is Mr. Bingley whose interest is in Jane, not his friend."
Mrs. Bennet looked to Jane for confirmation, hope igniting in her eyes. "Is this true, Jane? Has he declared himself to you?"
"He has." Jane bravely forged on. "But out of respect for Papa's recent passing we shall wait a bit longer to make it publicly known."
"Oh, Jane!" Tears welled up in her mother's eyes and she quickly dabbed a handkerchief to the corners. "Your father would have been so happy." Overcome with emotion, Mrs. Bennet could say no more. She signalled Jane to come closer and hugged her eldest daughter to her in a clingy embrace.
Elizabeth felt her own eyes begin to sting and looked away in an effort to stem the flow. When the moment had safely passed, she returned her attention to where her mother now sat smiling, the occasional sniffle muffled by the fine linen handkerchief.
"Now, Miss Lizzy," she said, seeing Elizabeth's gaze on them. "What shall we do about you?"
"So, how did you get on?" Bingley tossed a cushion aside and spread himself comfortably on the sofa. "You seemed to be intent on quizzing Mrs. Matthews throughout dinner."
"Her replies were, for the most part, odd," said Darcy, noticeably puzzled.
"You do not think it was your questions that were odd?" Bingley laughed. "Or being quizzed at all could have confused her. For a man who prefers openness to subterfuge, Darcy, you have a strange manner of putting it into practice."
Darcy visibly bristled at the suggestion. "My queries were not odd and there would have been fewer of them had the lady made responses that were more pertinent. Her answers merely led to more questions."
"Down a garden path, no doubt," muttered Bingley, hiding his grin behind a pretended yawn.
"What did you say?"
"Did you at least make your point? Did you discern her feelings?" Bingley knew better than to repeat what he had truly said.
Darcy, however, did not appear satisfied. "Not entirely." He considered for a moment, expression brightening with an idea. "Are you returning tomorrow with Anne and Charles, for your daily excursion?" At Bingley's nod he indicated that he would be accompanying them. "That will afford me the opportunity to make my intentions clear."
Bingley was not entirely confident that the situation would be as desirable as his friend anticipated but resolved to do his best to ensure they were given ample time for private discourse.
Elizabeth was still trying to understand the events of the day, the conclusion of which had her mother redirecting her matchmaking energies away from Jane. That in itself was a good thing. However, the new object of her attentions was not at all pleased at the prospect. Elizabeth had repeatedly, and for several years, insisted that her mother need not be concerned about any future alliances for her widowed daughter, for she was perfectly content as she was. She had a small but comfortable home, two children to raise and sufficient income to see them through the years.
Mrs. Bennet's efforts were frequently more annoying than helpful, although this time Elizabeth felt more than her usual alarm as her imagination envisioned many embarrassing scenarios which were only more distressing with the realization that she actually valued the opinion of the gentleman who featured in those scenes.
That only served to bring her back to considering the meaning behind his strange questions and remarks during dinner. Elizabeth recalled on their very first meeting how interested Mr. Darcy was in observing his friend's interactions with Jane. He displayed none of that interest now, yet he did seem inordinately concerned with Elizabeth's thoughts on everything from books to the latest news from Europe.
Jane's assertion that Mr. Darcy harboured a fondness for her sister seemed to be the logical conclusion but Elizabeth was not yet certain where her own feelings were leading her. More to the point, to what conclusion was she leading Mr. Darcy with her confused replies to his queries?
The afternoon spent in the garden had been pleasant and she had been disappointed when their discussion had been interrupted by a well meaning Jane and Mr. Bingley. She felt that the gentleman had been about to reveal something important and Elizabeth longed to know what it was.
She knew that Mr. Bingley would be returning the next day; the routine of taking his children and Jane out walking was not going to be postponed during Elizabeth's visit. She wondered if Mr. Darcy would be coming, too, and immediately worried that her mother would make an embarrassing fuss over him. With that threat lingering in her thoughts, Elizabeth put her mind to devising various plans for them to escape Mrs. Bennet's notice as much as possible.
Posted on: 2010-07-11
There was a threat of rain but it would not deter the gentlemen from making the trip to Mrs. Bennet's home. Bingley argued that the carriage could hold four adults and four children, even if things became a bit cramped. Additionally, he knew of a few places they could stop to stretch their legs and perhaps his friend would get that much desired moment of privacy with Mrs. Matthews.
"I think you have done this before," said Darcy as he lifted Anne up into the carriage. "Is that how you managed to charm Miss Bennet? Or is it how she managed to win you over so quickly?" The smug expression on his face was not lost on Bingley.
"You had best save your wit for Mrs. Matthews," he advised. "You will need all of them today, I wager."
Bingley was proven correct in more than one respect when they reached their destination. The ladies were ready and quite prepared to fit everyone inside the compartment. Darcy's wits were tested as Mrs. Matthews took charge of the arrangements, placing all of the gentlemen, young and not so young, on the front seats so that the ladies could face forward during the drive. She sat directly opposite Darcy, allowing him no opportunity to escape her scrutiny. He resisted the urge to shift his position on the seat and smiled pleasantly in her direction.
"Well," said Bingley, "as Mrs. Matthews has not yet seen what the local area has to offer in the way of sights and paths, what say we drive to one of the more scenic outlooks so that a good view may be had from a high point?"
"Oh, is there a place similar to Oakham Mount?" asked Elizabeth, referring to one of her favourite destinations while at Longbourn.
"It is not within an easy walking distance," Jane answered, "but the view is as pretty, in my opinion." She nodded enthusiastically to Mr. Bingley who then gave the driver his instructions.
The children filled the time with their chatter, preventing the adults from attempting their own conversations, much to Darcy's relief. He did not feel as prepared for the challenge as Mrs. Matthews appeared to be. Even without knowing the exact answers, she easily fielded the questions from her children as they wanted to know where they were going, how long it would take to get there and what they would see once they arrived.
Young Henry squirmed in the seat next to Darcy, eventually looking up at the man beside him and saying with a child's boldness, "I would like to sit by the window."
"Henry!" scolded his mother.
Darcy glanced down at the boy. "Are you asking me a question?"
Henry sucked his lower lip between his teeth and looked to his mother for an answer. She raised an eyebrow expectantly. Turning back to Darcy, he tried again. "May I please sit by the window, sir?"
"You may, indeed." Darcy slid across the seat as Henry eagerly scrambled around his knees and up onto the cushions to peer outside. "But you must sit, young man, and not with your feet on the seat. It is too dangerous to not be sitting properly in a moving carriage. You might be thrown to the floor if the wheel hits a rut."
Elizabeth offered a grateful smile as her son complied. It was a small thing but she appreciated that Mr. Darcy did not simply give in to Henry's ill mannered demand. The correction was gently done and effective.
It was not long before they reached their destination and, the weather having held thus far, everyone was glad to get out into the cooler air. Anne and Charles had apparently been there before and they led the way for their friends, showing them where the path emerged from a nearby stand of trees. Elizabeth walked to a barren hillock to survey the view below.
"I daresay it is not as grand as the view from the Peaks, Mr. Darcy," she said, "but what do you think?" She did not take her gaze from the scenery and so did not see that the gentleman gave it but a cursory glance.
His gaze fixed on her, Darcy said, "I have seen nothing lovelier."
Elizabeth laughed and was prepared to berate his lack of sense but as she turned her head she saw him quickly look away. A flush of colour was spreading up from his collar and she held in another laugh while watching it rise. "Well," she murmured at last, "I suppose if you prefer trees and pastures to rocks and moss then this view is admittedly lovely."
"Yes," was all he managed to say.
"You must tell me more about the country around your home," she said in an effort to put him at ease. "Do you have much opportunity to go walking, or do you prefer to ride?"
"Both," said Darcy. "I mean, I do both, not prefer both."
"I understood that to be what you meant."
"Pemberley is a rather vast property and if I do not ride I will take a one of the carriages out to check on tenants." The colour in his face was slowly returning to a more normal shade as he relaxed.
"Do you not have a steward for that business?"
"I do, but I prefer to routinely make the rounds of the farms on the estate. It is easier to understand the concerns of the tenants when I can see their conditions first hand." Darcy offered an arm to Elizabeth and they began walking down the small incline to find the others. "There are many fine gardens around the house, as well as a lake nearby and small woodlots where it is allowed to grow a little more wild. I walk through those daily. It is a source of peace, a calming influence on the mind."
Elizabeth stole a glance at him as they walked. "You must miss that very much for there is little in the way of fine gardens around Netherfield."
"Oh, I miss the familiar surroundings but the cultivated landscape is not necessary for my peace of mind. The exercise does just as well." He lowered his voice to just above a whisper. "I confess that when I am unable to sleep I will even take a walk through the house to tire myself and it usually works."
"So it is you!" cried Elizabeth. "Lady Lucas once mentioned that someone had been heard walking the halls of Netherfield late at night. She pronounced it to be Mr. Bingley and thought that he was in a desperate state of mind."
"Bingley? No, I must lay claim to that habit. The walking, not being in a desperate state of mind," Darcy clarified. He stopped and Elizabeth's momentum brought her around to face him. "Mrs. Matthews, would you object to my accompanying you on walks while you are here? And perhaps, if it is agreeable, I could call on you at your own home once you have returned there."
"I have no objection, sir." The lady's eyes glittered with amusement as she added, "If you grow tired and wish to sleep, however, you must find your own accommodations." She saw his colour rise again and questioned her wisdom in making such a remark. Mr. Darcy might believe her to be daring but Elizabeth was firmly convinced that she suffered from moments of unguarded speech!
"I assure you that will not be a concern," he said with great seriousness. He took her arm again and they continued toward the sounds of the children's voices within the trees. "Thank you, Mrs. Matthews, for consenting to my request. It is an honour."
Once more Elizabeth wondered what she had gotten herself into. An honour to go walking with her? She had walked out with many a gentleman over the years, her late husband being one of them. Had they all considered it in the same manner as Mr. Darcy, as an honour to accompany her? She thought not. The implications of his words brought a mixture of apprehension and excitement. Mr. Darcy obviously had intentions of courting her, but was she prepared for that?
They suddenly came upon the others in a small clearing that opened up to the right of the path. Anne was perched upon Mr. Bingley's shoulders while the boys were leaping up, trying to catch her feet. Cassandra stood off to one side, watching it all with an expression of frustrated impatience and urging them to stop their silly behaviour. Jane merely laughed along with the children.
Very much aware of her arm entwined around Mr. Darcy's, Elizabeth was reluctant to release it, yet wished to avoid her sister's notice. Bestowing a smile on the gentleman, she chose to join in on the children's game and hoped he would not be offended.
"Grandmama says young ladies must be quiet and not run about like wild animals," Cassandra informed Darcy when she noticed him standing beside her. "She says gentlemen do not like ladies who do that."
Darcy bent down to reply in a clear voice, "Very young ladies may enjoy running about just as much as the very young gentlemen, and occasionally even more mature ladies are allowed to enjoy it, too. That will be our secret, though."
Cassandra stared at him with wide, disbelieving eyes. Darcy nodded reassuringly and brought a finger to his lips, emphasizing the importance of the secret. Finally the young girl smiled and asked if she was permitted to play, too.
"Yes, of course. It is more fun when there are more playing."
Jane move closer, pleased with what she had seen. "Mother has only recently been trying to impress on Cassie the importance of proper decorum. I am afraid she believes Lizzy will allow her daughter to grow up wild and willful, just as Father permitted of Lizzy."
"Your sister is not so willful that she endangers herself or others with her behaviour. I have had the misfortune of meeting many who do just that, with a wanton disregard for the effects." An amused smile formed on his lips as Darcy observed the antics before them. "No, Mrs. Matthews is a breath of fresh air."
Jane could not have been happier to hear his words and she hoped that her sister would be receptive to the gentleman's feelings. Elizabeth was difficult to predict, however, and had already been harsh in her estimation of him. "I agree with you, Mr. Darcy, and I would not change Lizzy one bit."
Jane allowed for a few more days before she broached the subject of Mr. Darcy as she and Elizabeth sat one evening after everyone else had turned in. The gentlemen had come every day and more than once had Mrs. Bennet insisted they stay for dinner before making the trip back to Netherfield. The children had few minor disagreements, as children are wont, and it did not disturb the harmony of the adults.
With only another two days before Elizabeth was to return home, Jane felt it time to discover her sister's opinions about a certain gentleman.
"Lizzy, you have not said much about him, but what are your feelings now regarding Mr. Darcy?"
Elizabeth chose her words carefully. "He is a very nice gentleman. Considerate, generous and thoughtful."
"I know all that," said Jane with a touch of exasperation. "That is not an answer to my question, though."
"What do you wish me to say? I like him. I like him very much."
"That is a start." Jane sighed. "Lizzy, you know I would not pry but I think it must be clear, even to you, that Mr. Darcy's feelings are stronger than merely liking you. What will happen when you go home? Will he be welcome to call there?"
"Jane, I am aware of his feelings and he did ask my permission to visit me at home. I told him that he may."
This information brought a smile to her sister's face. "I am pleased to hear that you are reconsidering your vow to never remarry. You are young, Lizzy, with many years to spend in happiness with another husband."
Elizabeth raised her hands in front of her. "Wait a minute, Jane. I did not say I have changed my mind. Consenting to go for a walk is not consent to marriage!"
"I am sure that is his intent, Lizzy, whatever you may prefer to believe. Why would you encourage him if you will not even think about it?" Jane shook her head, annoyed. "Edward loved you very much but even he would not have wanted you to remain alone the rest of your life."
Elizabeth threw her head back against the chair, closing her eyes. "Jane, this has nothing to do with Edward. I am not languishing in the remembrances of a dead husband like some dreadful novel, believing there could be no other. That would be foolish romanticism!"
Jane blinked as if stung. "Was I mistaken all these years? I thought Edward.... that you and he were...."
Elizabeth quickly sought to relieve her sister's anxiety. "You were not mistaken, Jane. Edward was a good man, a very good man. I believe he was happy in our marriage." She paused, as if considering whether or not to say more, then seemed to come to a decision. "Papa tried to talk me out of marrying him. Did you know that?"
"Why?" gasped Jane. "What objection could he have?"
"There was nothing about Edward that he found objectionable," explained Elizabeth. "Papa was insistent that I should marry a man who was my equal or my better. He did not feel that Edward reached that mark."
"Oh, but you were always his favourite." Jane dismissed the idea. "Of course he would think you too good for any man who asked for your hand."
"I thought so, too," Elizabeth said, "which is why I did not listen to him. Do not misunderstand, Jane. Edward was the most patient and forgiving of husbands. He loved me dearly and I, him. However, he was much more serious minded than I and often my sense of humour led me into trouble. Jane, Edward was a shopkeeper. His customers were our livelihood. I felt restrained. I could not be myself, and I know that sounds selfish but there it is. I never heeded Mama's advice before I married but afterward I needed to put it into practice. I learned to curb my tongue. I could no longer make sport of my neighbours for they were our customers and Edward would be offended. I did not want to hurt him, or discredit him in anyone else's eyes, so I changed my ways."
After digesting this information Jane softly spoke, "Lizzy, I never realized. You seemed no different when you were here."
"I could be myself with Papa." Elizabeth's smile was wistful. "And I could not let him see that he was right because it would hurt him, too. When Edward died and the shop was sold there was no longer any reason for me to hold back. It was an enormous relief to know that I could once more say what I was thinking in my own house. Jane, I never want to have to lock away my thoughts again. It was like being a prisoner by choice."
Jane was still optimistic. "But Mr. Darcy admires your outspoken opinions and your impertinent remarks."
"He may admire it now but will he appreciate such behaviour amongst his friends and family, people accustomed to deference and obedience?" She shook her head. "No, Jane. I cannot take that chance."
Her sister felt quite differently but recognized that the time was not right to continue the argument. Instead, she left Elizabeth with something to think about before bidding her goodnight. "Then you had best set Mr. Darcy straight as soon as possible. It would be too cruel to allow him to believe there is hope after the losses he has suffered already. He deserves better, Lizzy."
Jane was gone before Elizabeth could look up. She saw the door close and was alone to consider all that had been said. There was no point in going up to bed. She would only toss and turn, likely awakening Henry with her restlessness.
It was unfair of Jane to remind her that she could be responsible for even more pain inflicted on Mr. Darcy. What about her own? Elizabeth was torn. She firmly believed in what she had told her sister, that she did not want to repeat her mistake and spend years silencing herself again. What if Mr. Darcy was not as forgiving as Edward had been?
Yet there was another part of her that did not want to give up the exhilaration felt when in that gentleman's company. His clever replies to her sharp remarks proved that he was the kind of intelligent companion she had always imagined finding. While her father was still alive, he had at least provided the means for such lively discussions but now that he was gone Mr. Darcy's presence was even more satisfying.
Elizabeth left her chair to walk about the room. She was frustrated with her own inability to make a decision. It was fear preventing that, she knew. She was afraid to accept the wrong choice again, and afraid to reject what might be the right one.
She spent some time organizing her thoughts, trying to determine the best course of action. Her children, of course, were a primary concern. There was also no doubt that they would benefit tremendously should a union eventually happen with Mr. Darcy. Was she being too selfish in wanting to be happy, too? In spite of their numerous private conversations Elizabeth still felt she knew too little about the man himself. He was excellent company, stimulating in discussions and possessed a number of additional attractive attributes, but his past remained more of a mystery.
It was not that she thought he held any dark or evil secrets, for how could a fine gentleman like Mr. Bingley hold him in such high regard if that was true? By all accounts, the late Mrs. Darcy had been forced to contend with many hardships and Elizabeth could not help wondering how her husband may have helped or hindered her attempts to resolve them.
The answers to her questions were not going to be offered without more prompting, she knew. There really was no other choice but to question Mr. Darcy directly, as ill mannered as that may be.
Posted on: 2010-07-20
Darcy was a little perplexed by the solemn mood of Mrs. Matthews when they walked out the next morning. Her smile and pert manner were absent, thus he decided to make a greater effort to restore them. Knowing that Miss Bennet's happiness was important to her sister, he began with a comment on that subject.
"Miss Bennet seems to truly enjoy entertaining the children." He waited to see if Mrs. Matthews would reply.
She did not disappoint him. "With four younger sisters Jane had much practice. Mr. Bingley does very well in keeping them amused, too."
"Bingley learned very quickly how to make them laugh. It was helpful in those early days after the fire. Anne, of course, was just an infant but young Charles needed the distraction." The conversation was not going in the direction Darcy had hoped. He tried to think of a way to change it.
"Fortunately it is relatively easy to get a child to laugh. The same cannot be said of adults."
Darcy abandoned the subtle attempt and decided to speak more plainly. "What can I do to bring a return of your laughter, Mrs. Matthews? You are uncharacteristically serious this morning."
"I am. I should apologize, sir, for it makes for poor company indeed."
"Please do not be concerned for my pleasure, my dear lady. I am perfectly content to walk with you in silence if it is your preference. No, I asked on the chance that there was some small way in which I might relieve your mind of a burden."
Elizabeth had not meant for her preoccupation to be so readily discernible. "I was thinking about my imminent departure and all that it entails." A hint of her former liveliness coloured the following remark. "Henry and Cassandra will be unhappy to leave their friends."
"And what about you, Mrs. Matthews? Will you also feel the loss of companionship? I know that you and your sister are quite close but you surely have several friends who will welcome your return home."
"Actually, Mr. Darcy, I have not cultivated many friendships but acquaintances do abound. My late husband was a shopkeeper so of course we knew the faces and names of almost everyone in the area." She was aware that his question remained unanswered and that he was also aware of that. "And yes, I will miss the company I have been keeping."
That brought a faint smile to his face as he suggested, "If there is no objection, I could perhaps bring my nephew and niece to visit their friends one day."
The offer caught Elizabeth by surprise. The gentleman already knew that he was welcome to call, yet by bringing Charles and Anne he would please more than just himself. The four children would be thrilled and the benefit of Jane and Mr. Bingley spending time alone together was not insignificant. "That is very generous of you, sir! I cannot imagine an objection to such a scheme. It shall bring pleasure to everyone."
As Darcy had hoped, Elizabeth's smile now appeared and her spirits lifted. "May I enquire as to your travel arrangements?"
"You may," she replied with a pert grin. Darcy merely raised his brows curiously. "We leave the day after tomorrow on the afternoon post. That should get us home in time for some dinner before the children must be in bed."
Darcy, however, was more shocked than approving. "The post? No, no. I will not permit it."
"I beg your pardon?" Elizabeth was not sure she had heard correctly.
He seemed to realize he had misspoken. "I will not hear of you going by post when my own carriage is available."
"Oh, but I cannot prevail upon you with this. There really is no need. We are quite accustomed to travelling by post."
"It is no inconvenience, Mrs. Matthews. I am more than happy to ride alongside as well if you wish, or send a manservant if that is what you prefer."
Elizabeth could not honestly say which was her preference. Clearly they would not be taking the post and she knew that whether Mr. Darcy accompanied them or not, a manservant would be going to see to the trunks. "Thank you. I do appreciate your offer very much. May I let you know tomorrow if I will be needing the manservant?"
"Of course." He bowed his head politely.
They turned down a familiar path, a shady route lined with wildflowers whose heads waved gently in the breeze. Darcy was reminded of the day he had rescued Mrs. Matthews and her children from the rain. "Tell me," he said, "did young master Henry eventually pick those flowers for his mother?"
Elizabeth laughed delightedly. "No, I confess that mission was forgotten soon afterward. Little boys have short memories."
"Do not say that you will remedy that oversight, too, sir!" Elizabeth gave him a stern look.
"Fear not," Darcy gravely replied. "It is the sole responsibility of very young gentlemen to provide wildflowers. Mature gentlemen must seek out rarer blooms to gift upon their ladies of choice."
Elizabeth perceived an opening to steer the conversation. "And just what sort of flowers are you known to provide, sir? Have you a collection of rare specimens lovingly tended in a orangerie?"
"As a matter of fact, I do. Of course, the purpose of the building is not only to supply me with exotic flora to impress ladies of discerning taste. It does serve a practical function as well." To Elizabeth's surprise Mr. Darcy described an enticing environment of fragrant blossoms, brilliantly coloured foliage and sweet, tender fruits. Expert care and maintenance assured that quality and sufficient quantity were met. Elizabeth soon forgot her original purpose in asking the question as she imagined walking amongst the tropical plants, so vivid was the gentleman's description.
"I have been fortunate to visit one long ago on a trip with my aunt and uncle. Oh, but you, sir had the privilege to enjoy it your entire life! How delightful that must have been!"
Darcy shook his head. "The orangerie itself was constructed before I was born but my father had only begun to fill it before my mother passed away. He then lost interest in further improvements. When my sister grew older she became curious about it and encouraged me to expand the variety. However, it was my wife who arranged to bring some of the more rare items from her father's estate. She even managed to persuade him to give up one of his highly prized gardeners to oversee Pemberley's orangerie."
"Well! She certainly had some influence over her father." With a feigned look of innocence, Elizabeth asked, "Did her powers extend to influencing her husband, too?"
Darcy replied in a measured tone. "They did insofar as a wife generally influences her husband." There was nothing to suggest a hidden meaning in his words but Elizabeth blushed under his gaze nonetheless. He did not look away and seemed to expect her to speak. She was at a loss for words and struggled for a response until Darcy at last spared her the effort. "I imagined that your own husband relied upon your talents to increase the success of his business. Did your smiles and conversation not charm the local populace into purchases they may not have intended when entering the shop?"
"Oh, my!" Elizabeth laughed. "I cannot say if I had that effect, it was certainly not by design, but perhaps there is some truth in it."
"Of that I am certain. Your husband was a fortunate man."
Again Elizabeth blushed under his gaze and sought a distraction by remarking, "If I understood correctly, your aunt is also a persuasive woman."
"That depends entirely on the person she wishes to persuade." Darcy frowned slightly with the thought of Lady Catherine. "For example, Mr. Collins is a perfectly willing supplicant for her efforts. I am not. Her methods, I must add, hardly qualify as charming."
"No? I would never have known from my cousin's lavish praise of Lady Catherine. He has never spoken an ill word of her. Unfortunately, I have only the opinions of others by which to judge her, having never made her acquaintance."
"There are many who would consider that extremely fortunate."
"Including you," Elizabeth sweetly concluded.
"As you know, I have disagreed with my aunt and incurred her wrath. I do not take lightly such interference in my affairs and her continued abuse of my wife extinguished the last of my respect for her." Attempting to lighten the atmosphere he added, "Unfortunately, we cannot choose our relations."
"Indeed," Elizabeth said with a smile. "I have Mr. Collins!"
There followed a period of silence while they walked. The ground became more uneven, requiring that Elizabeth accept Mr. Darcy's arm to steady her periodically. Generally, she had no qualms about skipping to the side of rocks or ruts, but with two people on the narrow path there was not enough room to perform such playful manoeuvres.
Through the trees to the right they began to see open fields. Soon they would come to the end of the path and be forced to go back. Elizabeth suddenly turned to Darcy and asked, "Would you mind if we stop for a few minutes up ahead?"
"Are you feeling tired?" he asked with concern. "We have come a long way."
"No, no. I am not tired at all," she quickly denied. "I thought it would be nice to stop for a while and there is no hurry to return."
"I see. Very well," he cheerfully responded. "As you wish."
At the end of the path was a small area, cleared of trees and brush. The way was blocked by a stone wall which encircled a large pasture. Several cows gazed impassively at them before returning to their grazing.
Elizabeth leaned against the wall, Darcy taking up a position at her side. He stood tall and straight.
"Mr. Darcy," she began, commanding his attention. "Would this be an example of my charms being used to persuade you?"
His reply was immediate. "No persuasion is necessary where there is no objection raised."
Elizabeth pursed her lips in thought. "Well, you have effectively argued away the persuasion but what of my charms, sir?"
"Your charms, Mrs. Matthews, are as undeniable as ever." Darcy gave a low bow, catching Elizabeth's hand in his fingers and pressing his lips to the back. Just as quickly her hand was released and he stood, still and silent as before.
Elizabeth exhaled softly, momentarily forgetting what she had been about to say. "You, sir, have a charmingly frustrating manner of avoiding answers."
He appeared genuinely surprised by her comment. "It is not intentional, I assure you."
She laughed. "To which do you refer? Avoiding the answer or being charming?"
"Both," replied Darcy with a small smile. "Nor do I intend to frustrate you with my manner."
"You would have me believe it a natural consequence of your charm."
"I make no claim of any kind, my dear lady. Whether my manners are charming is not for me to say. You would not be the first, however, to label them frustrating."
"Pray tell, how many others have informed you of this?"
"Most notably Lady Catherine, who certainly does not consider me to be charming. Bingley, my sister and my cousin number among the many. There was also my father, probably the first to inform me that my stubborn pig-headedness was not at all charming." He waited for Elizabeth's laughter to subside before offering an excuse. "I was much younger then and sincerely hope that I have improved in the intervening time."
Elizabeth was still quietly laughing. "What about your wife, Mr. Darcy? Did she find you frustrating or did your charms persuade her otherwise?"
"I thought by now we had established that I profess to possessing no charms, Mrs. Matthews."
"There you have it," she frowned. "Yet another example of you avoiding an answer to my question."
"Let me rephrase, if you please. As I have denied possessing any of the aforementioned charms, it must thereby follow that what remains is frustration. There is ample support for its existence, therefore I must conclude that my late wife did, indeed, find me a frustrating companion."
Elizabeth was far from satisfied with this answer. "Perhaps it is the question that needs rephrasing. Did your wife excuse your stubbornness because she liked you or did she prefer to argue instead?" Elizabeth concluded with a triumphant look.
Darcy spoke slowly as he searched his memory for proof. "I would like to say I gave no cause for such a reaction but that would be deluding myself and," he said with a steady eye on Elizabeth, "you would surely not believe it."
"However, you did not offer much choice in my selection of reply. Either my wife preferred to argue or she excused my behaviour. Where is the middle ground, Mrs. Matthews? What if I were to tell you that we conversed intelligently and civilly when in disagreement?"
"Ah, but we were not speaking of disagreements. The situation put to you was one of your stubbornness." Elizabeth leaned one elbow on the stone wall, her eyes glittering with the excitement of a challenge.
"Very well. We could put it to the test." Darcy settled himself against the wall, too, facing her squarely. "We can continue to disagree, to which I will stubbornly refuse to give way, and we shall see how I fare at the end."
"There is one flaw in your plan, sir," Elizabeth smirked. "I will not necessarily react in the same way for I am not your wife."
Darcy blinked as if the idea was new to him. "No, of course," he said in a subdued voice. "You are not my wife."
Elizabeth stepped away from the wall, amused by the entire exchange and completely oblivious to the way the gentleman's eyes followed her every move. Her laughter was light as she called over her shoulder, "I am still no closer to an answer than I was before but it is time we started back, Mr. Darcy. Perhaps you will think of a better one on the way."
Darcy doubted that possibility for his mind was far too occupied with admiration for the lovely, impudent lady ahead of him.
Elizabeth waited for him to catch up, then set a brisk pace in keeping with her elevated spirits. She was by no means finished with her questions. "How long were you married?"
"Six years," he said, relieved that this answer was simple enough.
"Six years?" Elizabeth repeated, not disguising her astonishment.
Darcy noted her reaction. "You had formed a different opinion? I assure you that six years is the correct figure."
"I do not question the accuracy of your memory. I did, in fact, think it to be less but that is not important. I was merely curious." With a sidelong glance at him, she said, "How else am I to learn more about you unless I ask?"
"That is the best method, I agree," he replied, "although the accuracy of the information could vary depending on the source."
"I promise you that I shall not ask Mr. Collins nor Lady Catherine but confine my queries to the most unimpeachable source; yourself."
"I thank you," said Darcy with a tilt of his head.
The walk back did not seem as long. They were already nearing the end of the path, approaching the place where it joined the main track, when Elizabeth's foot slid into a hole and had she not recovered herself it would have been an easy thing for Darcy to take her in his arms. He could almost feel the weight of her now, pressing against him as if was holding her to his chest. He shook his head to dispel the sensation, the motion catching the notice of Mrs. Matthews. She looked at him curiously.
"Are you alright, Mr. Darcy?" she asked, more puzzled than concerned.
He could have said he was fine. He should have said he was fine. Instead, Darcy once more shook his head and she stepped closer, the expression on her face changing.
"Mr. Darcy?" she asked again, one hand reaching out to almost touch his shoulder.
Darcy caught her hand, gently, drawing Elizabeth toward him. She did not resist. Rather, her body seemed to relax as his other arm encircled her waist. A blush crept to her cheeks, tracing a crimson hue along her neck and up to the tips of her ears. There was no second thought as Darcy brought his lips to her burning cheek, the warm glow spreading higher.
In another moment his mouth brushed hers, ever so softly, while he pulled her body closer.
It may have seemed like a moment, or a lifetime, until Darcy slowly released his hold and Elizabeth sank against him. His head lowered so that his whispered words reached her ears.
"Forgive my impetuousness, Elizabeth." One finger traced along the edge of her jaw.
With a jerk, Elizabeth tried to stand. Her palms pushed against his chest until she was able to gain some distance from him. Her own voice was breathless as she said, "Impetuous? Is that how you would describe your actions, sir?" She saw him blink in surprise. "I did not think I had given you any cause to believe I had invited you to kiss me, Mr. Darcy. If you think my widowed state grants you greater licence then allow me to correct you right here and now!" She gave him no time to respond, pushing back her shoulders as she continued. "I shall not presume the nature of the understanding that existed between you and the late Mrs. Darcy, for you have made very little mention of your wife, but my own husband and I shared a respect for one another that I will not allow you to compromise!"
Spinning abruptly on her heel, Elizabeth began to walk away but Darcy's hand was immediately on her elbow. He stepped around to face her, his cheeks as red as if he had been physically slapped.
"I ask forgiveness for my impetuous behaviour, Mrs. Matthews, and I shall now ask that you also forgive my foolishness." His voice was even yet edged with something like regret, lending credence to his words. "I had no intention of compromising your morals in any way and I am heartily sorry that you should be led to believe so." His fingers released her arm as Darcy turned his head to look away. His hand dropped to his side. "I was not aware that the failure to speak of my wife carried such weight in your opinions. It is precisely because of the respect I held for my wife that I do not speak of her."
As he paused to draw a breath, Elizabeth said, "Perhaps we do not agree on the meaning of respect, sir."
He appeared to consider the idea, then drew his shoulders straight. "I believe, madam, that there is a tendency for some people to confuse respect with the more intimate emotion of love." His eyes held hers for a tense moment until Elizabeth's chin came up challengingly.
"If by that you mean to imply that I do not understand the difference –," she began.
"Had I wished to imply anything," interrupted Darcy, "it would have been the respect I have for you."
It was Elizabeth's turn to feel uncomfortable, but she could not warm to him enough just yet. "Your actions speak to the contrary."
He had no choice but to agree, lowering his head in acknowledgement. "I can only once again ask your forgiveness. Obviously I was mistaken in my estimation of the situation." Darcy bowed quickly, taking Elizabeth's hand and pressing his lips briefly to the back of it. Before she could react he was again standing stiffly and formally at her side.
They began to walk, for there was no use in standing there arguing. Suddenly recalling what he had said only a moment before, Elizabeth asked, "What exactly did you mean by the words, your estimation of the situation?" Even without looking at him directly she could see the flush rising in his face. Not knowing what more to say, she fell silent.
Darcy eventually answered in a soft voice. "In the short time we have been at Netherfield I have observed that the general populace gauges the relationship between a husband and wife by what the surviving partner reveals about the departed member. This has not necessarily been my own experience. Perhaps you have not, amongst your acquaintance, met those who lament the loss of a husband or wife who, when alive was more often eschewed than praised. Upon the death of such a person their assets may often be elevated in the memories of the loved ones left behind."
Elizabeth could not contradict this observation. She personally knew several widows whose husbands had become paragons upon their passing.
"I do not subscribe to this practice," continued Darcy. "My wife, as much as I respected her, was not perfect. Neither, for that matter, was I. Yet I must caution you to not mistake my use of the word respect as a simile for an absence of feeling. Just as you harboured tender affection for Mr. Matthews, I am sure, please do not consider my reluctance to speak of my wife as proof of any ill regard."
Scarlet flooded Elizabeth's face as she listened. Mr. Darcy could not have voiced her thoughts any more accurately and she was suddenly ashamed that she had not paid more heed to Jane's cautionary words from the very beginning.
"I fear I mistook your persistent questions for interest in my person, Mrs. Matthews," he continued. "I should have known better." With these words he stopped and stood uncertainly. Elizabeth now saw that they had reached the outer edges of the wild gardens surrounding her mother's house.
"Oh!" she exclaimed. She did not feel prepared to meet her mother and sister, not after such an encounter! She needed more time to compose herself but wondered if Mr. Darcy would prefer the additional company, and so she hesitated slightly before asking, "Shall we go in?"
A wry grimace formed on his face and then quickly disappeared. "I think not," he said and wrapped her arm around his. "This direction looks inviting. I believe we have more to discuss, Mrs. Matthews."
Elizabeth made no objection as they moved away from the house and toward the open laneway.
Posted on: 2010-07-25
They walked without speaking until the house was no longer in sight. Elizabeth was less apprehensive of a repetition of Mr. Darcy's earlier conduct as the road was very public.
Darcy sensed the lady's tension waning and after a moment said, "May I speak plainly, Mrs. Matthews?"
"Please do," she quietly replied.
"I believed I had made my intentions known to you but in the event that it was not clear I shall now attempt to make it so." He drew in a breath and began. "I arrived at Netherfield with no thoughts at all of meeting a lady such as yourself; bright, lively and intriguing. Neither was I interested in pursuing the acquaintance of any lady for more than was necessary for general socializing. However, your manner captivated me and all the more so because you seemed to share my desire to avoid attachments."
Elizabeth stole a glance at him as he spoke. Studying his face, she was beginning to comprehend the depth of feeling that his polite words could not convey.
"I am a private man, Mrs. Matthews," he continued. "I do not like my life's details broadcast about. Lady Catherine has, much to my dismay, necessitated relating many unhappy details that should never have been made public." Darcy's fingers closed more firmly on Elizabeth's arm, emphasizing the strength of his emotions. "When my aunt brought her distorted tales to Longbourn I was more concerned with the effect her words would have on you and your family than their direct effect on myself." He turned, his eyes searching hers for understanding. "I knew at that moment that my heart was yours, Elizabeth, regardless of what little hope there was for your acceptance."
She inhaled sharply, pulse quickening.
"My relief was great when you discounted Lady Catherine's claims, instilling a greater hope of eventually winning your hand." Darcy halted in the roadway, bringing Elizabeth around to face him and taking hold of both her hands in his own. "What do I need to tell you? You have been asking many questions, plainly unsatisfied with my answers. What exactly do you wish to know?"
Elizabeth was still stunned by his earlier revelation, not entirely sure how to say what had been occupying her mind. "Everything. Our conversations have been noticeably lacking in information about you. I feel I hardly know you at all while I have freely offered details of my own life."
"I am unaccustomed to revealing intimate information about myself. Usually there is interest only in that which is already general knowledge, such as my estate and fortune. To ask personal questions or engage in lively debate has never been attempted by anyone other than my relations or close friends such as Bingley." With a wistful smile he added, "And you."
"And Mrs. Darcy?" she asked. "You have hardly ever mentioned anything about your late wife. Do you realise that not once have you referred to her by name?"
"Helena." He spoke very softly. "Her name was Helena."
Elizabeth acknowledged this information with a tentative smile. "Tell me more about Helena."
His head lifted and he looked away, over Elizabeth's head into the distance. "Where shall I begin?" he asked, more of himself than her. They walked again, his history unfolding slowly. Elizabeth listened intently, absorbing every detail. "Helena was.... unremarkable in most respects. She was young and pretty, in her second Season when we met, the only daughter in a wealthy family. Her mother had passed away a few years earlier. Unassuming and quiet, her temperament seemed to match my own. We conversed on many subjects, never in serious disagreement, although Helena's opinions did sometimes differ from mine."
Elizabeth smiled at this, thinking of her persistence in provoking him and considering she was perhaps more stubborn than she would care to admit.
"Our courtship was brief, her family approving. My family, with the exception of Lady Catherine, supported my choice. My sister was overjoyed to finally welcome another woman into our home. Pemberley felt less empty. Helena and Georgiana quickly became as close as true sisters.
"Within three years of my marriage Bingley asked for Georgiana's hand. I could not have been more pleased. Helena guided my sister through the planning and preparations to a very successful wedding event. Before another year was out Georgiana and Bingley were blessed with a son. Charles was strong and healthy, and my sister quickly recovered her former good health." Darcy paused for a moment, steeling himself for what was to come. "Our lives changed from that point onward. Helena's greatest desire was to have a child, yet it had eluded us. Seeing Georgiana and her baby, the joy that motherhood had brought to her, served a painful reminder of what Helena was denied. Jealousy eventually took root.
"I will confess to experiencing disappointment in our childless state, for it is important that a man of property such as myself has an heir. It would be foolish to deny that it was a factor in my decision to marry. After four years, however, the hope was fading. In the absence of any direct heir of mine, Pemberley would pass to Georgiana and then to her son. Perhaps my acceptance of this contributed to Helena's growing bitterness. We had weathered Lady Catherine's continual harassment until I put an end to all contact with her, but I believe that Helena may have viewed my resignation as an act of betrayal. Our relationship became strained. With the birth of Georgiana's second child the situation with Helena grew intolerable. It was increasingly difficult to leave her for extended periods on her own. She had become focussed on that one desire to the exclusion of all else." Darcy briefly lapsed into silence, searching for the words he needed.
Elizabeth wanted to say something, feeling she could at least understand his wife's position. Mrs. Darcy would be perfectly aware of her duty to provide an heir for her husband. It was a natural expectation and to leave that unfulfilled, particularly when Mr. Darcy had given up, must have filled her with a sense of uselessness. "I can only sympathise with her position. Without children, a marriage must be a vastly different experience."
"I know of many couples who live happily without children," said Darcy. "I would also have been content with such a fate but for Helena it was impossible. Neither would she accept my assurances. I could do nothing to ease her mind.
"She had always been somewhat careless and forgetful but it became worse due to her preoccupation. Her maid would frequently find the bedside candle had burnt out by morning because Helena had not extinguished it. Plates, cups and glasses left too close to a table's edge would fall and shatter on the floor. More than once I, or a servant, would stamp out a fire from a lamp that had fallen."
Elizabeth's sharply indrawn breath brought his eyes around to meet hers. "You think that the fire....." She allowed her voice to trail off, not wanting to complete the thought aloud.
Darcy, however, suffered no such restraint. "I do not know for certain but yes, that possibility has never been far from my thoughts. Did Helena unintentionally cause the fire that killed her and Georgiana? Perhaps. Helena, at least, was no longer tormented by her jealousy." Sighing heavily, he looked away again. "Of course I was angry, furious with Helena for the carelessness that finally claimed not only her life but that of my dear sister. My nephew and niece, who was but a few months old, were suddenly motherless." He closed his eyes as if in pain, and added in a voice so quiet it was almost a whisper, "For a moment I even wondered if the fire had been deliberately set."
"No!" gasped Elizabeth.
Darcy nodded sadly. "I discarded the notion quickly, once my anger receded and my head cleared enough to think more rationally. Helena's jealousy had been great but not to the point of violence. She never once wished Georgiana any ill."
"Please do not say you have kept this to yourself all these years!" Elizabeth imagined the weight of guilt he must have experienced.
"I have told no other until now," he said. "It would do no one any good to speak of my suspicions. That could cause nothing but pain to an already grieving Bingley and cast a shadow on my wife's memory. What would be the point?"
Elizabeth was forced to agree but it did not make her feel any better, knowing how much it must have haunted him over the years. "As terrible as it was, the fire was simply a horrible accident," Elizabeth said, reaching out her hand to rest on his. "That is what you must remember."
Darcy looked down at her hand, then turned his palm up to close his fingers around Elizabeth's. Neither said a word but their pace slowed and Darcy's shoulders relaxed.
Elizabeth thought about all he had said, wondering anew at how he came to be attracted to her. "I feel I must tell you, Mr. Darcy, that I am not at all like your late wife. I am not unassuming. I have strong opinions and let them be known. If I disagree with you, it will not be a secret. I fear that your family might be less inclined to approve me, too."
Darcy merely smiled. "The members of my family whose opinions interest me will be as taken with you as I am."
Elizabeth, feeling he had not really listened to anything else she had said, firmly insisted, "I will argue with you when we disagree."
"Then you will obviously have reason to do so," he replied, unperturbed.
"I can also be very stubborn," she added in a final attempt to make him understand.
"That is one of your charms, my dear Elizabeth."
She had no answer to that and laughed at his cleverness. Darcy fought an impulse to pull her close, to kiss her inviting mouth, focussing his gaze on the road ahead.
Mrs. Bennet peered out the window overlooking the garden, handkerchief twisting in her fingers. "Do you think they lost their way? Lizzy is unfamiliar with the area."
Putting aside her needlework, Jane said, "Do not worry so, Mama. I am sure they are not lost but only enjoying the fine weather." Inwardly she hoped the lateness of their return held a greater significance; that Elizabeth had not summarily dismissed the gentleman but, instead, had attempted to learn more about him.
"They have been gone so long." Her mother was still at the window. "I thought they were coming in when they first returned but when I looked again they were nowhere to be seen!" She turned toward her daughter. "Jane, you must go look for them."
"Me?" an astonished Jane asked. "Mama, do be serious. They are not lost. Lizzy has walked the paths here often enough already and Mr. Darcy, I am sure, knows his way as well. They will be here before long."
Mrs. Bennet scurried from her station to flop into the chair next to Jane. "Oh, perhaps he has proposed!" She giggled, then immediately sighed and dropped her hands into her lap. "No, Lizzy has done nothing to encourage him. What is wrong with that girl? She spends hours walking with him every day and yet makes no progress at all! She still has a shapely figure in spite of having borne two children but does she use that to her advantage? No, she simply will not listen to my advice. Jane, you must tell her to work harder. Mr. Darcy is not going to wait around forever and I heard in the village that several young ladies have noticed his presence. If Lizzy does not snare him then one of them certainly will!"
"Mama, please!" Jane cautioned with a glance toward the other end of the room. "The children will hear you."
Her mother merely shrugged her shoulders. "Well, I shall ring for tea. At least that will be ready when they do finally get here." Before she could rise, however, the sound of the front door was heard and in another moment Elizabeth walked into the room.
"Mama! Mama!" cried Cassandra and Henry, running to her. Elizabeth knelt down and hugged them both at once.
"Grandmama was worried," Cassandra dramatically announced.
"Is that so?" Elizabeth looked at her mother.
Mrs. Bennet's mind was elsewhere, however. "Are you alone, Lizzy? Where is Mr. Darcy?" She peered around the open door into the hallway. "Is he not coming in?"
"No." A quick glance in Jane's direction was enough to stifle any questions. "Mr. Darcy stayed longer than he intended and has left for Netherfield." Her mother's disappointment was obvious. "He assured me that he will return tomorrow with Mr. Bingley. And," she said to her children, "your friends."
That news merely served to send Mrs. Bennet into another spasm of delight and the children squealing with excitement. The distraction was enough that Elizabeth was spared further questioning and by the time calm settled once more only Jane continued to cast curious glances in her sister's direction.
Darcy's thoughts occupied him on the long ride back to Netherfield. With every stride of his horse he berated himself for his blind stupidity; for his impulsive behaviour, so out of character. It could have all gone so very wrong.
"I did not think I had given you any cause to believe I had invited you to kiss me, Mr. Darcy," she had said.
"Not to kiss you, no, but how could I resist?" Her teasing manners, laughter and carefree behaviour had all encouraged his belief that she shared his interest. A moment of weakness, her expression of concern and he was lost. Remembering the warmth in her lips, the softness of her body in his arms, Darcy nearly ended up in the dust of the road as his horse suddenly shifted beneath him.
Regaining his seat, he kept his attention focussed on the ride to avoid another potential spill. It would not do to break his neck now, when he had every reason to look forward to the future!
Young Charles and Anne were the first to see him approach the house when Darcy arrived at Netherfield. They both ran to him in excitement, Anne wrapping her chubby arms around his knee. The boy demonstrated more restraint even if he was unable to stand still.
"Uncle, we are going to take our friends for a ride in the carriage tomorrow!" Charles proudly announced. "Papa says we have been very good today."
Lifting Anne up to carry her, Darcy smiled at his nephew. "I am pleased to hear it, Charles. They will be returning to their own home the day after tomorrow so you must be sure to enjoy the time you spend with them."
"So soon?" Bingley emerged from a nearby room with a letter in hand. His expression was silently enquiring.
"Yes, and if you two continue to be good I may take you for a visit there," Darcy said with a glance at his friend. He saw Bingley's smile widen with the realization that Mrs. Matthews' approval for that plan had already been obtained. "Now I need to change from these dusty clothes. What were you doing before I came in?" he asked of Anne.
She wrinkled her nose. "Lessons."
"Did you finish them?" Charles shook his head.
"Back to work, then," said their father. Anne was set back down to the floor, took her brother's hand and their governess led them up the stairs. Bingley looked at his friend and said, "I need to speak with you."
"Can it wait until I have washed and changed? The road was very dusty."
"It will not take long."
Darcy inclined his head, accepting the situation, and followed Bingley.
"I need to reopen the house," said Bingley when the door was closed behind them.
"Your house?" Darcy shook his head. "Of course you mean your house. Are you planning on leaving Netherfield?"
"No, well not immediately. I mean...." He stopped to gather his thoughts and began again. "I would not feel right about making an offer to Miss Bennet until I have put that ghost behind me. I realise that you saw to the repairs and the restoration but there are other personal aspects that must be put away, changed, before I can bring a new wife there. Do you understand?"
Darcy had to admit that he had never actually considered the matter in that respect. Hearing his friend put it in those terms, however, it made perfect sense and he thought about what alterations might be needed at Pemberley, too. "Do you not think Miss Bennet might want to be involved in these changes? She will be living there, after all. It should reflect her tastes, as well. Or are you not convinced that she will accept you?"
"There is always room for some doubt, of course, but I had not considered consulting her before making arrangements for the redecorating. Thank you for suggesting it."
He was silent long enough that Darcy asked, "Is there anything else before I go upstairs?"
"Yes." Bingley waited for his friend's full attention, then said, "Should I presume that you have come to an understanding with Mrs. Matthews? You were away longer than usual today and from your remark to Charles I concluded that she has granted you permission to call at her home."
Darcy looked down at his feet for a moment. "I concede that taking the children to visit serves a dual purpose but it was not necessary to make the offer as I was, indeed, granted the privilege prior to suggesting it."
Bingley chuckled. "I say, who would have thought when we left Pemberley that both of us might be engaged before the year was out!"
Darcy could only shake his head, amused at the way Bingley could simplify even the most complex circumstances.
Posted on: 2010-08-12
Jane was waiting for her sister when she was about to go upstairs to bed.
"The children are already asleep," she said. "We need to talk, Lizzy. Come into the sitting room."
Elizabeth's eyebrows rose in surprise, for Jane would not allow anything but compliance. She knew perfectly well what the topic of discussion would be and had prepared for it in the hours since returning from her walk with Mr. Darcy.
"Sit down," Jane directed, taking her own seat on a chair near the door. Once she saw Elizabeth was settled, she asked, "Lizzy, what happened today? Mama saw you and Mr. Darcy near the garden and then you were gone again for another hour or more. You did not tell him how you feel about marriage, did you?"
The answer was simple. "He kissed me."
"You are shocked," said Elizabeth. "I was, too."
"No, I am not shocked. I did warn you that he wanted to court you, Lizzy. A kiss might be forward but not surprising."
Elizabeth eyed her sister closely. "Has Mr. Bingley kissed you?"
A rosy colour tinted her cheeks. "Yes, he has," whispered Jane.
The delicate shade confirmed Elizabeth's thoughts, however. "I do not mean a kiss on the hand or a peck on the cheek, Jane. I mean has he really kissed you, like a man in love kisses a woman. That is how Mr. Darcy kissed me."
Jane's eyes widened. "Oh, Lizzy....." She did not know what else to say. Her sister would not have encouraged him and Mr. Darcy had always behaved very properly in their company.
"We walked further because there was much more to be discussed between us."
"You must have been very angry with him!" cried Jane. "I cannot believe he would behave so badly. Oh, Lizzy! How could I have been so wrong?"
Elizabeth found it difficult not to laugh. "My dear, sweet Jane, do not distress yourself! It just happened and although I was angry at first, Mr. Darcy promptly apologized for his behaviour. I did say some hurtful things but it is all forgiven now."
"Forgiven? I do not understand." Jane took Elizabeth's hands and held them tightly. "Lizzy, tell me what you mean by this. Last night you were set against forming any attachment and now you appear to be embracing the idea. Do not tell me it was because Mr. Darcy kissed you. I will not believe that!"
Her sister shook her head, still smiling. "No, we spoke at length and Mr. Darcy put my mind at ease by answering many of the questions I had. You scolded me for being suspicious because he did not speak of his late wife. Jane, you were so very right to tell me he might be too affected by the circumstances of her death." Elizabeth lowered her head and peered up at Jane like an admonished child. "I feel very foolish for everything I said."
"Lizzy, what about the other reasons? Are you satisfied that his feelings will remain constant?"
"I left him in no doubt of my less temperate qualities. He was not frightened by the prospect but rather provoked me instead, the wicked man!"
"Do be serious, Lizzy," said Jane in spite of their laughter. "What of the kiss? That was very improper of him!"
Again Elizabeth bowed her head. "Yes, it was but.... I cannot fault him for that." She stopped short of describing the effect it had on her. Elizabeth was still sorting out her own feelings about that.
"I hope for your sake that all is, indeed, forgiven if they are coming here tomorrow, otherwise it will be a very long and uncomfortable visit." Jane silently watched her sister for any sign that she was disturbed by the suggestion but there was none. "Well, Lizzy, I have only one last question." she said, rising from the chair. "Would Papa have approved Mr. Darcy?"
The door closed behind Jane and Elizabeth stood for some time considering all that had transpired. She knew that her change of heart was due to her clearer understanding of, and appreciation for, Mr. Darcy's character. He was kind and generous, as Jane had often remarked, but he was also steadfast and honourable, argumentative and stubborn, intelligent and teasing.....
"Very teasing," murmured Elizabeth, fingers lightly touching her lips. With a gentle sigh she went upstairs.
Henry was snuggled up under the coverlet, peacefully sleeping. Elizabeth sat down beside him, studying his angelic face to find the resemblance to her late husband. Edward had never known his son. He had passed away a few months before Henry was born.
As the years had slipped away so too had the images in Elizabeth's memory. There were no portraits to remind her of Edward. For all the intimacy that marriage had brought, their two children were all that remained. Cassandra, so like her father in temperament, was serious minded and responsible for her young age. Henry was more like his mother; adventurous and with a curiosity that could land him in trouble. Yet their father's features were etched in their faces; in the line of Henry's nose, the curve of Cassie's brows.
Tucking the blanket more closely around her son's form, Elizabeth finished readying for bed. Letting her hair down, she combed it out, then pinned it up under the nightcap. Facing the mirror, she gazed at her reflection for a moment.
Papa, this time I know you would approve.
Mrs. Bennet felt compelled to draw her widowed daughter aside the next morning after breakfast once Jane had taken the children outside.
"Lizzy, before they arrive I want you to listen to me. You have never heeded my advice since you were ten years old but mark my words, if you do not follow it now then Mr. Darcy will look elsewhere. Time is of the essence!" She sat back, waiting for Elizabeth to voice an objection.
Taken aback by the ease with which this first step was accomplished, her mother was momentarily at a loss for words. That was soon remedied, however. "First of all, you should change into another, less modest gown."
"Lizzy, you are not a young maiden anymore! For goodness sake, you were married. You know what a man likes to see, so use that to your advantage." Mrs. Bennet clucked her tongue disapprovingly. "And do try to be more agreeable. Less arguing, my dear. No man finds that attractive in the least."
"Yes, Mama." Knowing that she had not brought any gowns that would suit her mother's purpose, Elizabeth thought the day was likely to be much less dangerous should she refrain from engaging Mr. Darcy in arguments, too. Hiding a smile, she said in an innocent tone, "I did not pack anything other than these mourning clothes, however. I am afraid this will have to suffice but Mr. Darcy is aware of our circumstances."
Disappointed, Mrs. Bennet had no choice but to accept the situation. "You will simply have to make a greater effort to be pleasant and keep your impertinent opinions to yourself, Lizzy! Oh, you will drive me to distraction." Abruptly, she changed the subject. "I do hope Mr. Bingley makes his offer to Jane soon. That affair is progressing very well, if I do say so myself!"
It was no falsehood when Elizabeth said she wished to go upstairs and check her appearance before the gentlemen arrived. In light of her mother's enthusiasm for presenting a more attractive display there was no objection either. Once in the privacy of her room, Elizabeth examined her reflection once more.
At thirty-five years she was well past the fresh-faced look of her youth. Her figure, however, had not suffered unduly with having two children. In some respects it had actually been enhanced as Elizabeth had always been more lightly proportioned. She had to admit that the gown she wore did nothing to accentuate these attributes.
Crossing the room, she looked through the few articles of clothing that had travelled with her, drawing forth one of her favourites. It was an older gown, although its age was not readily apparent. Comfortable and cool, the soft fabric easily slipped over her skin.
The mirror presented a much more satisfactory image. Elizabeth tidied her hair, tucking in the disturbed strands. Finally, confident that even Mrs. Bennet would not find fault with her appearance, she quickly peered out the window to see if any carriage was approaching down the road and then went downstairs.
"Is that it?"
Darcy sighed almost imperceptibly as he heard Bingley tell his daughter, yet again, that the house they were approaching was not their destination. Anne was too young to be expected to distinguish between similar looking cottages but her brother apparently could, judging by the comments he uttered each time she enquired if their journey was at an end.
When the Bennets' home finally did appear Darcy was pleasantly surprised to discover that his own anticipation sent a ripple of excitement through his veins. This lent him more patience for the undisciplined exit of the carriage by young Charles and Anne.
Miss Bennet and Mrs. Matthews emerged from the house on the heels of the latter's own children. Over the chatter of the little ones was heard the invitation to come inside. Bingley called his children to him so that they entered the house together. Darcy, last through the door, was pleased to be met by Mrs. Matthews, who appeared to have been waiting for him.
"Good afternoon," she said, waiting while the maid took his hat and coat. When they were alone she drew closer to quietly say, "I promised to let you know about the manservant you offered to send with us tomorrow." He looked at her expectantly but Elizabeth smiled softly. "I do not think that will be necessary unless you are not accompanying us."
The teasing sparkle in her eyes made him momentarily forget where they were. After bestowing a warm caress upon her cheek, Darcy realized their visibility should someone enter the hall. He smiled self-consciously, taking Elizabeth's hand in his and whispering, "What time shall I be here?"
They settled upon the hour, regained their composure and joined the others.
Mrs. Bennet glanced up upon their entrance, giving her daughter a knowing look and almost winking in her excitement. She had been inordinately pleased with Elizabeth's change of gown for the style only emphasized what the previous choice had disguised. It was clear that Mr. Darcy had not failed to notice the difference, either. Mrs. Bennet could almost hear the church bells already! What might have been a melancholy occasion, the last day for the children to spend with their friends and for Elizabeth to secure a certain gentleman's affections, was fast becoming a very gratifying day all told.
The afternoon passed too quickly for everyone concerned. Jane and Mr. Bingley slipped out to the garden, managing to steal a few moments alone. Content simply to be in Elizabeth's company, Darcy was even more pleased when Mrs. Bennet found an excuse to remove herself from the room, too.
Elizabeth poured them each a second cup of tea, observed that the children were happily occupied and sat down next to Mr. Darcy. Their conversation began innocently enough, although the gentleman seemed less attentive to the words than he was to the lady's manner of expressing her thoughts. At last, she placed her teacup on the side table and asked him a direct question.
He was startled by the sudden silence as she waited for his reply "I beg your pardon?"
"I fear my company has become too dull to maintain your interest," laughed Elizabeth. "Perhaps a change of scenery? The garden may offer more inducement."
"I hardly think that likely," murmured Darcy as they rose to leave.
Elizabeth left her daughter with instructions to look after the younger children and informed her that they would be just outside the door should anything be needed.
The garden had seen some improvement in the short time since Mrs. Bennet had taken charge. There were still some wild, overgrown sections, but the roses had been tamed and the weeds noticeably reduced. A wooden bench was situated near the house so that its occupants could gaze out across the narrow lawn to the roses and flowering shrubs.
Darcy thought they might sit but Elizabeth continued to walk past the bench, sending a quick glance to be sure he was following. Curiosity soon led him to ask where they were going.
"Oh," said Elizabeth, turning slightly to face him. "I know precisely where Mr. Bingley and my sister are and did not wish to intrude upon them. We shall have a measure of privacy for ourselves in this corner of the garden." She stopped by a low section of shrubbery which bordered an unruly tangle of branches laden with brightly coloured flowers. "I was hoping your knowledge of superior blooms could identify these, Mr. Darcy."
"You are teasing me, Mrs. Matthews," he said with an amused expression. "I must caution you to take greater care for I do not want to repeat my folly from yesterday." With great control Darcy folded his hands together behind his back.
Elizabeth's cheeks were warm with the implication of his words. "You have nothing to fear from me, sir. I am under a vow to my mother that I will not disagree with you today."
His brows rose in astonishment but his voice betrayed him with its unsteady quality. "Not at all? How is it possible that you would agree to such a thing?"
"Under duress, I assure you," she laughed. "Had I not quickly agreed upon her first asking then I would have been subject to a longer lecture on the shortcomings in my behaviour and how it would serve me ill. Gentlemen, I am told, would not find it attractive."
"Attraction," countered Darcy, "comes in many forms." He unclasped his hands, stepping closer and reaching around Elizabeth to pluck one of the flowers from the branches behind her. "This wild rose, for instance, retains the essence of the cultivated variety from which it sprung. The colour is vibrant, the scent delicate, but in this form there is strength to withstand great hardships that would wither the refined plant." The small pink petals rested in his palm, the bright yellow lashes in the centre of the bloom reaching upward like tiny fingers. Darcy transferred the flower into Elizabeth's hand. "Some would seek to reject the wild rose in favour of more easily managed stock. Another would appreciate those special qualities and resiliency."
Elizabeth studied the tiny flower. "This fragile appearance is deceiving." Raising her eyes to meet his gaze she coloured again. "How is it that you come to be so knowledgeable in these matters, sir?"
Darcy abandoned all pretense of restraint, the desire to touch her clearly etched in his face. "Elizabeth, do not tease me so. I know the path I wish to take, where my future should be and with whom but I will not take advantage of the promise you made to your mother." Her sharp intake of breath confused him. "Have I said something wrong? Have I offended you?"
"No, not in the least!" Elizabeth's awareness of her own error brought another kind of disappointment. "Oh, I wish I had not made that promise. It was very selfish of me, to be honest." She boldly moved closer until she was sure her heartbeat could be felt across the brief distance separating them. "I had actually hoped for you to repeat your transgression and my vow would prevent me from reacting as foolishly as I did yesterday."
It took but an instant for Darcy to consider his next action as he was by no means dull of mind. Neither he nor Elizabeth were aware of the audience they had, however.
Mr. Bingley gently drew Miss Bennet from the scene, the shock still evident in her expression. Once she was safely seated on the bench next to the house he took her hands between his own to warm them.
"Do not be alarmed, my dear. Darcy has nothing but honourable intentions, I assure you." He continued to observe her as his words had their desired effect. "Your sister knows what she is doing. I am sorry that you have been upset by witnessing what should have been a private moment for them."
Jane at last brought her gaze around to meet his. "I am truly not distressed by what has passed between Lizzy and Mr. Darcy. As you say, she knows what she is doing and I have no doubts about Mr. Darcy's intentions." Softly biting her lower lip, she paused before whispering, "Would you kiss me like that, Mr. Bingley?"
Posted on: 2010-08-17
The trunks were loaded and the carriage was on its way. Mrs. Bennet had bid a tearful farewell to her daughter and grandchildren, impressing upon Mr. Darcy the responsibility for their safety. The journey would not be very long, the roads safe, but he had nodded agreeably and accepted the charge.
Jane and Elizabeth embraced one another, whispering their goodbyes and a parting word of advice, then laughed at the similarity of notions. The prior evening had been spent sharing hopes, secrets and special memories.
To say that Mrs. Matthews was disappointed to see Mr. Darcy mount his horse for their departure was less than accurate. He quietly explained that even the presence of the children in the compartment would not prevent her enchanting beauty from tempting him. No, it was wiser to avoid any risk of impropriety by riding alongside the carriage instead. Elizabeth had laughed at him, further emphasizing the necessity of keeping a proper distance.
It was not long before Darcy noticed Henry watching him through the window of the carriage. He guided his horse closer so that he could ask the boy what he found so interesting. Suddenly shy, Henry ducked out of sight. Darcy looked questioningly at Elizabeth.
"Henry is afraid to ask if he might ride with you for a little while," she said. "Do not say yes if you would rather not."
Darcy had no intention of denying the young boy this experience. He called to the driver to halt the carriage and promptly invited Henry to join him. The servant lifted the boy into the saddle ahead of Darcy, who had shifted his own position to make room. He nodded to the servant who returned to his seat beside the driver. They proceeded at a slower pace while Henry grew accustomed to the motion of the horse.
Darcy was perfectly aware of Mrs. Matthews' attentive observation although he hoped that Henry's excitement, evident from his smiles and laughter, would put her mind at ease. He would not allow any harm to come to the boy, regardless. Henry was also full of questions, indicating that he had not had many occasions to ride. Eventually the questions ceased and after an extended period of silence Darcy realized he was falling asleep.
"It is time for you to return to the carriage, Henry," he said. "You are tired."
"Not tired," argued the boy as he yawned.
Once Henry was safely back inside the carriage compartment and they were on their way once more, Darcy rode closely beside the vehicle. The window next to Elizabeth was open, allowing them to converse freely. She identified various landmarks as they progressed, describing the history of the area and some of the people who lived nearby. These tidbits of information were welcomed by Darcy as it gave him more insight to Elizabeth's own life away from her mother and sister. Her knowledge of the neighbourhood and her neighbours indicated a woman capable of distinguishing between useful information and idle gossip. It was not that he doubted her discretion but to have such tangible proof only reinforced his confidence in her future success as Mistress of his estate.
The time passed more quickly when there was conversation and all too soon they reached Mrs. Matthews' home. Darcy dismounted in time to hand the lady down from the carriage while the servants saw to the trunks. Mrs. Matthew's own maid appeared at the cottage doorway, mouth hanging open in astonishment to see her mistress emerge.
"Such a fancy carriage, Miss!" she cried before realizing that there was a gentleman beside Mrs. Matthews. "Oh, beggin' your pardon, sir!" She dropped a hurried curtsey and lowered her gaze.
"Jenny, please show the footman where to place the trunks," Elizabeth directed, "and then we would like some refreshments when you can prepare them." As the servants disappeared into the house she reminded Henry and Cassandra to go inside and wash their hands and faces before they could eat, pleased to see them instantly obey.
Darcy drew Elizabeth a few steps away from the open door. Now that they had reached their destination he was very much aware of how little time remained to spend in her company. "I cannot stay long. It would not be wise to provide fuel for gossip."
The lady's disappointment was visible in her eyes. "I understand, but will you at least stay long enough for a cup of tea? It will be a long ride back to Netherfield. I can have Jenny pack something for you to take along."
The offer increased his admiration for her. Smiling agreement, Darcy wished for more privacy than he suspected was available where they stood. With the children and the servants in the house he knew there would be no other opportunity for unobserved conversation and these few moments must serve his purpose.
"Elizabeth." His voice was low, her name a caress. "I cannot leave without reaching some formal understanding between us. If it is too soon for you to answer please do not hesitate to say so." Darcy paused a moment to inhale deeply. "I would be honoured if you will consent to marry me, Elizabeth."
The answer was immediate, the assurance with which Mrs. Matthews agreed to his offer surprising him. "We are not young nor naive, sir. We know what we want. At least, that is what you told me the other day and I am certainly sure of my own mind!"
His eyes conveyed what he was prohibited from doing while they were so publicly exposed. "I shall now be able to endure the coming week, without the prospect of seeing you daily. Tomorrow morning I shall go to London to begin the necessary legal processes. This will get me out of Bingley's way, as well. Shall you write to me there? I will look for that to sustain me until I return here to you."
"Of course I shall write you! Oh, and if you will allow me a few minutes I will write to Jane and my mother, informing them of the happy news, so that they may share in our delight. You will take my letters with you today?"
"I am powerless to deny you anything," he confessed, voice pitched intimately. "Elizabeth, have you an attorney here to see to your interests?"
"My father's attorney in Meryton," she replied after a moment's distracted thought.
"I shall have mine contact him to ensure that your property and finances are securely protected." Again he paused as if unsure how his next words would be received. "I am unable to place Henry before Charles as my heir, you understand, but I do own some smaller properties, one of which could be settled on him, another on Cassandra as part of her dowry."
Elizabeth did not know what to say. Clearly, he had given more thought to the details than she had imagined. "That is very generous of you, sir. There are not many who would consider another man's children so deserving."
"They are your children, Elizabeth. When we marry they will be my children, too." Darcy took a step back to put a more respectable distance between them. The intimate nature of their discussion was sending his thoughts in directions too dangerous to entertain at the moment.
Voices announced the return of the servants and necessitated a halt to their conversation. Elizabeth again issued the invitation to come inside for refreshments before leaving but Darcy declined. On the lady's insistence he consented to wait while a basket was prepared to supply him, and his servants, with food for the journey. While Jenny attended to that task, Elizabeth quickly penned letters to Jane and Mrs. Bennet.
Cassandra and Henry wished to say goodbye to Mr. Darcy and without any prompting from their mother thanked him warmly for lending his carriage for their trip home. Henry quietly expressed a hope for another opportunity to ride. A large basket was placed inside the carriage and a smaller one handed up to the driver while Elizabeth gave Mr. Darcy two letters. There was little that could be said in the presence of so many people. They had to be content with simple words and innocent looks.
It was not easy to leave her without another affirmation of his constancy. In spite of what had already been said there was much more that Darcy realized he very much wanted to say. On the long ride to Netherfield he occupied his mind with considering the details to be arranged while in London, keeping his thoughts from dwelling on the lady he left behind.
Bingley was roused from his musings by the sound of footsteps approaching the door. At the knock he called out to enter and was pleased to see his friend had returned. His first impulse was to ask if the journey passed without mishap but one look at Darcy forestalled that question.
"She accepted you!" he cried, laughing when the other man's expression changed to shocked surprise.
"How did you know?"
"How could I not? Look in a mirror, man! There is no disguising it." Bingley continued to laugh.
"Well, if that be the case then I shall admit the truth," smiled Darcy. "Mrs. Matthews has, indeed, consented to marry me." He pulled the letters from his pocket and handed them to his friend. "These are for Miss Bennet and her mother. As I will be off for London first thing in the morning I would be grateful if you would deliver them."
"London? You are wasting no time, then."
"There is much to arrange." Darcy's eyes narrowed as he studied Bingley. "I suspect you will not waste time in my absence, either. I do not expect to return until the end of the week and then, if convenient, I may take Charles and Anne with me to call on Mrs. Matthews."
"Yes, a week will be just about perfect," grinned Bingley. He fingered the letters in his hand. "I am sure Mrs. Bennet will be properly distracted for a while by the contents of this."
Darcy agreed completely, then excused himself to go upstairs and change from his travelling clothes.
"Darcy, have you eaten? I have already dined but..."
"No, thank you. I am not hungry." In truth he had not even felt inclined to eat since leaving Mrs. Matthews. The contents of the basket she had sent with him had not been touched. Darcy was too consumed by his thoughts to think of anything else. After washing and changing from his dusty clothing, he sat down at the desk in his bedchamber and drew forth a fresh sheet of paper from the drawer.
The words would not come. There was much that needed to be said, questions he had forgotten to ask and answers only Elizabeth could provide, but what he really wanted to say was simple.
I cannot express to you in mere words how honoured I am by your acceptance of my hand. My joy is visible, apparently. Bingley knew the instant he saw me.
Sleep shall elude me until I have conveyed in this letter the depth of my regard. My heart is too full to remain silent. Elizabeth, I would marry you tomorrow if that were possible! Alas, it is not and practical matters further prevent such an expeditious resolution. You are, perhaps, laughing at my impatience. How I long to hear your laughter at this moment!
A soft knock at the dressing room door interrupted him as Darcy's manservant announced his entrance. The Master's nightclothes were laid out, the bed turned down and Wilson stood quietly nearby.
Darcy at last glanced over at him. "Thank you, that will be all for tonight."
"Begging your pardon, sir," said the servant, waiting for an acknowledgment to continue.
"Is there something else?"
A small tray appeared in his man's hand, a folded paper upon it. "This was in the basket that accompanied you in the carriage, sir."
Darcy immediately left his chair, crossing the short distance to take up the paper and examine it. His name was clearly written on the surface in a fine hand. A sharp glance at Wilson brought forth a further explanation.
"Fitch brought the basket to the kitchen and I unpacked it, sir. No other saw this article." He withdrew the tray, placing it behind his back.
Darcy nodded, carefully schooling his features. "Your discretion is always appreciated, Wilson."
"Very good, sir."
When the door had closed behind the servant, Darcy eagerly unfolded the paper, his eyes immediately seeking the signature at the end of the missive. The delicate furls in the handwriting belied the haste with which it must have been written. He savoured each word as he read from the beginning.
I have not much time so please forgive the brevity of this note. We have not the luxury of speaking openly and you will be gone in a moment. I so want to assure you of the great happiness I feel. I may just burst with the effort to maintain proper appearances!
I have so many questions and I am sure you have an equal number. Most importantly, how do I address you? Mr. Darcy seems too formal. Your Christian name I heard only once, on our initial introduction. Is there a name you would prefer me to use?
You must think my questions silly or impertinent and I daresay you may be right. Certainly my head is too full to think clearly! I shall write you daily until your return. I hear Jenny coming with the baskets now so I must stop.
Darcy laughed softly at the supposed importance of her question. While his own concerned the possibility of acquiring a special license, ensuring that the Mistress's rooms at Pemberley were refurbished to Elizabeth's tastes and arranging for bedchambers to be readied for the children's use, the most pressing question on his betrothed's mind was what name to use when addressing him!
Returning to the desk, he sat down to finish his own letter.
In answer to your query there is no particular name that I prefer. My friends and relations generally call me Darcy. Fitzwilliam was my mother's family name and as such I have several cousins bearing the same. I shall await with pleasure to learn of your choice, be it one or the other or perhaps something completely different.
As for my own questions, I was hardly five minutes from your door when I remembered so much that should have been asked. Out of respect for your father's passing I am not certain how long an engagement is desired. That decision is yours for I am not unfeeling with regard to your mourning state. I will need to know, however, to make arrangements for the banns to be published or to procure a license.
I have entrusted Bingley to deliver your letters tomorrow. I wish to be away quite early, far too early to call on your mother and sister. The sooner the business in London is accomplished the sooner I may return to you. A week will feel like an eternity, I am certain.
I would also like to begin preparations to receive you at Pemberley. There will be some redecorating necessary and to this end it will be necessary to take you there to tour the house and make some decisions that will appeal to your tastes. I do not intend to rush you into this, Elizabeth. These are all things that must be considered in the coming weeks.
I have enclosed the direction for you to reply to me in London. Foolishly, I neglected to leave that with you today. I fear my mind was distracted by your presence.
I do not feel like a grown man, Elizabeth. It is as if I were 20 years younger; my thoughts are undisciplined, it is difficult to concentrate. What I have written is probably incoherent.
Your letters I shall anticipate with as much patience as I am able to muster, dear Elizabeth, but I must confess that the time will pass interminably slowly until in your presence once more. Until that time you will be continually in my thoughts and always in my heart.
I am Ever Yours,
Once sealed, Darcy placed the letter where his man would be sure to see it and send it out with the post the next morning. Feeling more relaxed, he readied himself for bed, setting Elizabeth's note on the night table within easy reach. Before settling down to sleep he read it again at least three times, never failing to laugh at her question and the adieu bringing him a sense of serenity which had been long absent.
Posted on: 2010-08-23
It felt strange to be travelling the road to Miss Bennet's home alone in the carriage but Mr. Bingley was grateful for his friend's timely departure. He had been waiting for this opportunity for several days.
Adjusting his waistcoat for the tenth time, pulling his cravat away from his throat for the twentieth time, he then drew a handkerchief from his pocket to wipe his brow.
Bingley chuckled. If Darcy could see me now he would take back his words. I cannot possibly appear as confident as he proclaimed I looked this morning.
Mrs. Matthews' letters were on the seat beside him. As the carriage came to a halt he picked them up and took a deep breath to steady himself.
The ladies received him warmly, surprised by the presentation of letters from Elizabeth when she had only left the previous day. Both put the missives aside, however, and while Bingley knew the importance of the contents he was in a quandary how to encourage them to read the letters without giving away the secret inside. He finally decided that removing himself and Miss Bennet from the house would allow her mother the opportunity to discover the happy news while they were gone.
Jane was more than willing to go walking. The town shops were not far and there were one or two items she needed. They left the house with the expectation of a pleasant hour or two in each other's company.
Seeing them on their way, Mrs. Bennet returned to her cup of tea and glanced at the letters on the table beside her. She thought it odd that Elizabeth should write to both of them so soon after going home. A feeling of dread overcame her and in an instant the paper was in her hand. Heart palpitating rapidly, she unfolded it and began to read.
Jane stole a glance at Mr. Bingley as he walked beside her. His silence was obviously rooted in unease for this lack of conversation was unusual to say the least.
"Mr. Bingley," she finally said, startling him. "I am sorry! I did not mean to intrude on your thoughts. They must be serious to occupy so singularly."
"They are serious," he replied, turning to smile at her. His expression warmed as she shyly lowered her gaze. "Miss Bennet, I...." Instead of continuing, Bingley took her hand and gently turned her toward him. "I love you, Miss Bennet. I love your sweet nature, your beautiful smile, the kindness and generosity you show to everyone. Miss Bennet... Jane, please marry me."
She had been holding her breath ever since he began speaking and, able to exhale at last, her answer came out with a rush of air. "Oh, yes! Yes, I will marry you!"
They stood smiling at one another, giddily unaware of anything else. The sound of a passing wagon, its driver shouting at them to get out of the way, brought them to their senses with a start.
"It will not do to be run over before we make it to the altar!" laughed Bingley. "Oh, my sweet Jane, how happy you have made me!"
"I thought this day would never come, that I would remain a spinster my whole life," she whispered, face alight with joy. "Mama will be beside herself! Oh, I must also write to Lizzy as soon as we return to the house." She suddenly recalled the letter she had left unopened. "Lizzy! Is she... do you know? What did she write?"
Bingley was smugly holding her arm wrapped about his own. "I would have preferred you to learn this from her letter but I do not suppose she would mind if I told you what I know. She and Darcy are engaged."
"Oh, I knew it! It is too much! How happy we shall all be!" The thought of her mother reading Elizabeth's news and the excitement overwhelming her made Jane a trifle uneasy. "We should not leave Mama alone. She will be overcome by her nerves and --!"
Bingley, however, did not share her concern. "The maid will see to her, my sweet. I am sure there is nothing to worry about. Perhaps, though, it would be better if we do not share our own news with her just yet. That truly might be too much for her." His sly grin told another story for remaining silent.
Jane giggled. "Yes, her nerves may settle down in a few days and then we can tell her."
The errands were forgotten and they walked on, having much to say to each other. There was little to be decided at this early stage, for Mrs. Bennet was sure to insist on certain details with the experience of already marrying off four daughters, but they could entertain plans for their future felicity. Bingley's children would certainly be excited to welcome Jane into their family and she was just as eager to take them under her wing. A trip to London must be arranged so that Jane could choose the fabrics and wallcoverings to decorate her rooms to her liking. Bingley would accept no demure refusals, for Jane's natural modesty prompted her to deny any need for a change. Her betrothed insisted that her apartments would reflect her own preferences and no-one else's.
They paid no heed to direction but from habit soon found themselves on a familiar path which led to a favourite spot. Here they finally attained the privacy that any newly engaged couple sought.
"Jane," said Bingley in a soft voice. "You asked me something the other day, something which I was not ready to answer in the form you desired."
Her eyes were wide for she knew exactly to what he referred. "I have not changed my mind, if that is what you are wanting to know."
"That is precisely what I wished to hear." Bingley brushed a stray lock of hair back from the edge of Jane's brow. "May I kiss you now?"
Quivering with a nervous anticipation, Jane could only nod slightly. She did not really know what to expect but at the first warm touch of his lips Jane felt her knees tremble. Leaning into him, she was aware of the gentleman's arms holding her gently, but firmly, and pulling her closer into the embrace. In another moment dizziness overtook her.
Jane opened her eyes to see Bingley watching her with an amused smile.
"Jane, my love, you must remember to breathe, too."
She felt foolish and her cheeks flushed a delicate pink. "I will try to remember. Perhaps with more practice I will improve?"
"Oh, of that I have no doubt," he assured her, bestowing another kiss upon her waiting mouth.
Bingley was unable to inform his children of their plans for they would not be capable of keeping a secret. Thus it was four full days before the news became known to anyone else. The happy couple enjoyed that time, hours spent together while Mrs. Bennet fretted over how Elizabeth would manage to plan her nuptials without her mother being present to orchestrate it. Jane learned much in that time for she paid close attention to what was being said. She knew what to expect when the announcement of her own engagement was made public.
More than one letter had been exchanged with her sister since the first containing Elizabeth's announcement had arrived with Mr. Bingley. Jane had sent her own reply, quite different from Mrs. Bennet's, to convey her great joy at the news and to offer assurance that their mother was not suffering unduly from the lack of direct involvement.
When Mr. Bingley arrived that morning he brought with him the news that Mr. Darcy would be returning the next day. He had completed the necessary business in London and was awaiting but one confirmation which, once in his possession, would allow him to leave London immediately.
"At last!" cried Mrs. Bennet. "Now we shall have some answers and be able to finalize the arrangements."
"Mama, I am sure that Lizzy and Mr. Darcy have already communicated their wishes to one another and preparations have begun." Jane looked to Mr. Bingley for some confirmation.
"Indeed," he hurriedly added. "Darcy wrote that he has obtained a special license and that Mrs. Matthews has been writing faithfully to him in Town. They have probably not had much time to write to anyone else and that is why you have not heard their plans."
Mrs. Bennet's attention had been lost in the first few words. "A special license!" she crowed. "Oh, thank goodness the girl has finally seen sense!" She took Bingley by the arm, speaking to him as she would one of her own children. "Not that there is anything wrong with a traditional engagement period and wedding, of course, but neither of them is getting any younger and both have been married before. Why wait?"
"Why indeed?" a befuddled Bingley repeated.
"This is such wonderful news! I must write to my sisters at once!" As she hurried away to her rooms Mrs. Bennet continued her happy exclamations. "A special license! It is perfect, just as it should be."
Jane smiled apologetically. "I can understand why Lizzy would choose to avoid any prolonged period during which our mother would inevitably attempt to have her own way."
They looked at each other in silence for a moment. Then Bingley spoke. "Jane, do you think we should....?"
"A special license, too?"
He took her hands, speaking with sincerity. "Whichever is your preference, my dear, I will happily comply. I beg you to consider carefully before you choose, however. Do not hasten it along merely to avoid the possibility of ... interference. Your mother's desire is for a perfect wedding for her daughter, is it not? Perhaps your sister and Darcy are not amenable to her efforts but that does not mean that we should follow their example."
Jane slowly nodded. "You are right. Mama may appear overbearing but my other sisters' weddings were very well planned and executed. I must confess that a few extra weeks will not deter me from marrying you, sir." She said the last with a teasing smile.
"It is settled, then. We shall take our time and welcome Mrs. Bennet's expertise in these matters."
Jane was pleased with their decision. One more thing remained, however. "Shall we tell her today?"
"No, not today. I think tomorrow or the next day will do well enough," chuckled Bingley. "Darcy must be granted the privilege of her doting before we draw her attention away!"
When Bingley returned home that evening it was to discover that Darcy had already arrived in his absence. The anticipated document had been delivered earlier than expected, allowing him enough time to make the trip to Netherfield before the hour grew too late. Bingley found his friend comfortably situated before the fire in the library, a glass of port in one hand and a book in the other.
"Ah, Bingley, at last!" he said, setting the volume aside. "I have some questions for you, the most pressing of which, have you anything to tell me?"
Laughing, Bingley poured himself a drink, topping up Darcy's glass, then sat down before he replied. "We shall remain brothers. Jane has accepted me."
"Excellent!" Darcy slapped his hand on the arm of the chair. "How is Mrs. Bennet taking the news?"
"Ah, well we have not yet informed her. We thought it inconsiderate to intrude on your moment of glory."
"Coward," muttered his friend.
"Hah! Says the man who fled to London rather than face his future mother in law!" They both laughed. "No matter, tomorrow Mrs. Bennet will happily make up for the time she has lost in impressing you with the need for her assistance for your nuptials."
Darcy sighed. "I shall make that visit as early as decently possible and stay as briefly as is politely permitted. Elizabeth commands my presence for the rest of the day."
"I cannot blame you for that and the least I can do is provide a distraction for you since your engagement provided one for us this week. What other questions did you have?"
They discussed the plans for the following day while enjoying another glass of port. The two gentlemen and Bingley's children would visit the Bennets, after which Darcy would take Charles and Anne when he continued on to Mrs. Matthew's home, thus giving Bingley the opportunity to increase Mrs. Bennet's happiness.
The day was destined to be an emotional one for both of them and with this in mind, Darcy and Bingley bid each other goodnight, their heads full of anticipation for the morrow.
Posted on: 2010-09-12
"Come in, come in!" Mrs. Bennet practically quivered with excitement when she was at last able to speak with her future son in law. She reached forward to take his hand and lead him into the sitting room. "Mr. Darcy, you can have no idea how amazed I was to read Lizzy's letter last week, that she could write so easily about your engagement when I know she must have been overcome with emotion, especially when you had to leave for London immediately."
"Yes, she –."
"And she wrote to you there, I understand. How fortunate for you both! Being apart is so difficult when you are newly engaged. I trust that everything was accomplished to your satisfaction?" This time Darcy merely nodded, allowing her to continue on uninterrupted. "Well, I am ready to assist you with anything, anything at all. Lizzy can tell you, I have arranged four of my daughters' weddings and nothing went amiss. Now, what date have you chosen? How much time do we have to get it all in order?"
"That is what I shall discuss with Elizabeth this afternoon."
"Oh!" she clucked. "Lizzy will not allow herself enough time for choosing her gown, the fabrics, the sewing of it! Please remind her that these things do not happen overnight."
"I shall endeavour to keep her mindful that time is limited."
"Then there is the menu. Oh, and the guest list!" There was no stopping her now that Mrs. Bennet's mission was underway. Darcy did manage to persuade her that the affair was to be small and intimate, seeing as both the bride and groom had previously been married. This caused some disappointment for the lady but she soon recovered her former animation.
Within an hour Darcy was able to effect his escape. Mrs. Bennet found it flattering, as well as amusing, that he was impatient to see Elizabeth. This sign boded well for her daughter's future happiness and security. The fact that the Bingley children accompanied him also brought her a measure of satisfaction, for it proved to her that he would be considerate of her grandchildren's feelings.
When the carriage was out of sight Mrs. Bennet turned to Mr. Bingley and asked, in a manner that required no answer, if he was to stay to dine that evening. That detail being settled, the three of them returned to the sitting room. With Jane and Bingley established on the settee the most considerate thing for Mrs. Bennet to do was direct her attention to the letters she had been writing to her younger daughters. Written correspondence had not been a favourite for the youngest, Lydia, and thus there was much to be asked and the question of her attendance at the impending wedding was of utmost importance.
Grateful that Anne had fallen asleep half an hour into their journey, Darcy was nevertheless plagued with numerous enquiries from his nephew. After initial questions pertaining to the expected duration and distance of their travel, Charles became curious about the places and objects they were passing. There were small villages with small shops, grist mills and smithies, each one representing a mysterious secret for the boy. Darcy knew far less about the area but he was at least able to satisfy the boy with simple facts.
In another hour Mrs. Matthews' house was in sight. As the carriage slowed, Anne awoke, rubbing her eyes and giving a wide yawn. The children were suddenly shy in the new, strange place. Darcy was the first to exit the carriage, greeting Elizabeth with surprising composure. Charles held Anne's hand and they smiled at Henry until Cassandra, in a perfectly grownup voice, bid them all come inside out of the afternoon sun.
Refreshments were already laid out on the table, thereby providing some immediate distraction for all of the children as they busied themselves with the treats. This gave Elizabeth and Darcy the opportunity to speak uninterrupted.
"It is not far to the church," she was saying. "We can walk there after everyone has eaten. Cassandra will see that the little ones do not get into any mischief while we speak with Mr. Thompson."
"He is expecting us?" Darcy thought of the papers in his breast pocket and hoped the meeting with the local clergyman would be completed quickly and satisfactorily.
"He is," confirmed Elizabeth. She sipped at her tea and observed her companion's thoughtful expression. "How was the visit with my mother this morning?"
Darcy was reminded of Mrs. Bennet's request. "I have been instructed to advise you to allow enough time before the wedding so that you may be properly outfitted."
She laughed softly. "Oh, my gown is already chosen and will be completed with time to spare. It is so much easier when there is no need to fuss with large parties and a long guest list."
"Are you sure this is what you prefer?" he asked, momentarily concerned that she was deferring to his own tastes.
"Oh, certainly!" she laughed again, putting his fears to rest. "I was, quite frankly, very relieved that you wished to forego a lavish affair. Given your place in society I had expected it to be a necessity, although it would not have changed my mind had you insisted on being married in grand style."
"Every detail will be properly seen to, I can assure you. It will be on a smaller scale, perhaps, but not lacking in style nor decorum." He set aside his cup and took Elizabeth's hand, bringing it to his lips to place a gentle caress upon the fingers. "Dearest Elizabeth," he whispered. "How I missed the very sight of you while I was away."
"Your letters left me in no doubt of your feelings, sir, and on the chance that my own were not clear...." She stopped, glancing toward the children briefly before continuing. "I did not realize how strong my feelings were until we were parted. Must you stay at Netherfield until the wedding? It is such a long ride here and there will be so much to do that you will spending most of the time travelling to and fro."
"I have no objection to the travel, Elizabeth."
"But I will worry about your safety for you will surely be exhausted after several days of that. In the village there is a small inn. Nothing fancy but –."
"If it will set your mind at ease, my dear, I shall stay there." The idea was appealing even without knowing the quality of the accommodations. It would allow more time with his lady and Darcy felt it was no hardship to suffer a lack of amenities for that pleasure. "Not tonight, of course. I must take the children back to Netherfield. Tomorrow, however, I will return as early as possible."
In another few minutes it was time to leave for the church. Elizabeth gathered the children together and they set off. Naturally there was much to explore on the way and while they were tempted to run ahead, a reminder from either Darcy or Elizabeth stayed them from wandering too far.
The church was an ancient stone structure which had seen an addition in the past twenty years. The grounds were well kept, hedges neatly trimmed and the trees towering above ensured that the interior would be cooler on a summer day. Mr. Thompson met them at the entrance, inviting them to join him inside to discuss their plans.
The entire business took longer than Darcy had anticipated but in the end all was arranged as he and Elizabeth wished. The walk back to the house was quieter. The children were tired and less active. The happy couple shared hopes for their future together.
The afternoon was gone before they were aware and a light supper had been prepared for the guests before they were to depart. As they sat afterwards, enjoying the last moments together, young Anne suddenly appeared at Darcy's side with a serious, puzzled expression.
"Uncle Fizzwilly, Cassie says they are coming to live with us. Are they?"
Darcy drew her closer, taking her hands to say with an equal degree of seriousness, "They shall be coming to live at Pemberley after Mrs. Matthews and I are married."
The little girl considered that for a moment. "Pemmerly is very big but Cassie can stay in my room, too."
"Pemberley is big enough that everyone may have their own room," Darcy assured her with a smile.
Thus satisfied, Anne went back to the others to share her newfound information. Darcy returned his attention to Elizabeth, only to find her observing him with a mischievous sparkle in her eye.
"Fizzwilly?" she said, one eyebrow arched in amusement.
He started to reply, then reconsidered his words. It would be better to put that particular appellation to rest. "I know I told you that I have no preference for how you address me, Elizabeth, but please do not call me that."
She opened her eyes to the worried expression of Jane hovering over her. Memory rushed back and Mrs. Bennet laughed.
Jane sighed with relief. "I was quite fearful for a moment," she said.
"Jane, my dearest child!" her mother breathlessly exclaimed. "At last my job is done. All of my girls will be safely taken care of. I need not worry for you any more."
"Mama, there was no reason for concern, regardless."
Mr. Bingley came into view behind Jane's shoulder, a cup in his hand. "Mrs. Bennet, let me assist you to the chair and perhaps this tea will help to restore you."
Jane took the cup while her mother took his arm. Comfortably seated, Mrs. Bennet accepted the tea and gratefully drank half of it. "Tell me again, Jane. I think I dreamt it."
"It was not a dream, Mama. Mr. Bingley and I are engaged." Jane's smile was wide and she looked at the gentleman adoringly. Mr. Bingley returned the gaze in equal measure.
"I do not know where to begin," sighed Mrs. Bennet. "We have barely started Lizzy's wedding plans and –."
Jane quietly interrupted her. "We are content to wait until Lizzy and Mr. Darcy are married. This way you will not feel you are neglecting one or the other of us."
"Oh, Jane, you are so thoughtful!" She pulled Mr. Bingley closer. "Did I not tell you she is the sweetest and most considerate person? After Lizzy is married we will plan a spectacular event for you two!"
He did not have the strength to refuse. "That will be perfect." Meeting Jane's gaze over her mother's head he added, "Everything will be perfect."
Before the next week was out Mrs. Matthews had become Mrs. Darcy. The small audience gathered to witness the ceremony left the church teary-eyed but pleased for the couple. There was no doubt just how much they were suited for one another, and how happy they were. As the carriage drew away from the town and the newlyweds snuggled together in the compartment, Mrs. Bennet turned to her last unmarried daughter and clasped her hands warmly.
"Now Jane, we may start the planning for your wedding! First we must speak with the vicar and choose the date. Do you have any preferences?"
Bingley was obviously surprised at the haste which his future mother in law displayed but as he was not above wasting time either he was just as eager to begin "Perhaps we may discuss this on the ride home," he suggested to a very agreeable Mrs. Bennet.
In fact, there was much discussed and decided on the journey. As they had several weeks for preparation Mrs. Bennet was far less concerned with accomplishing everything in that time. She was quite confident that all would be ready long before the appointed date.
Bingley saw the ladies to their home and stayed a short time before he had to leave. Letters to his solicitor needed to be written as well as letters to his family. His sisters should be informed before they received the formal invitations. In true Bingley fashion he had neglected that correspondence in the days leading up to Darcy's wedding.
The carriage with the children and their governess had gone ahead so that when Bingley arrived at Netherfield they had already been given their supper and were ready for bed. Extra rooms had been prepared in advance for Cassandra and Henry, for they would be staying with their friends until the return of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Before retreating to his study to take up pen and paper, Bingley went upstairs to bid goodnight to his son and daughter and to check that everything was in order with the extra guests. All four children were excited to see him, as though it had not been but a few hours since they had last seen one another.
"Papa!" cried Anne, running to him in spite of the caution from her governess. "Papa, Cassie says we are now cowsins."
"Cousins, Anne," corrected her father. "Cassie and Henry will live at Pemberly with your Uncle and new Aunt."
"That makes me happy!" she announced, throwing her arms about Bingley's neck and giving him a hug.
The others were as pleased, if less demonstrative. Henry approached his new uncle, an important question on his mind. Bingley noted the thoughtful expression on the boy's face and put Anne down again. "Yes, Henry?"
"When Mama comes back will we have to go home again?"
"No, no," Bingley assured him. "You will be staying here until it is time to return north, to Pemberley. That is where your new home will be."
Cassie nodded. "Mama told us that. She said Mr. Darcy's home is very far away but we will have a carriage to bring us to visit Grandmama. When she comes back with Mr. Darcy we shall go to live there, with Anne and Charles and you, too."
Bingley chuckled. "I have my own home, as well. It is close enough to allow frequent visits, however." The hour was too late to continue this discussion, he realized. "We can speak more of this tomorrow," he told them. "Now you go on to bed."
With some prodding from the governess the four children said goodnight and disappeared through the doorway to their various rooms. Bingley went back downstairs to attend to the letters he knew must go out in the morning.
Posted on: 2011-09-05
The heady fragrance in the room was quite intoxicating, thought Elizabeth as she examined each flower arrangement in turn. The blooms were full and plentiful, in a variety of colours and sizes. Her husband could not have selected them personally but there was no doubt of his hand in ordering the display.
She gazed about the room, taking in the understated elegance of the furnishings. Her cheeks warmed when her eyes settled on the large bed, its linen turned down and readied for the night.
The sound of a door closing startled her, until Elizabeth realized it was her maid leaving the dressing room through the far exit. That brought her gaze around to the door which connected the Mistress's chamber to that of the Master and again she felt her cheeks grow hot.
"Take a deep breath," she told herself. "Just relax. There is nothing to be nervous about." In spite of her words, the fluttering of her heart continued. To calm her thoughts, Elizabeth once again approached the flowers, inhaling their aroma.
A surprised winged creature emerged from the bloom and startled her enough that she cried out. In another instant Elizabeth was not alone as Darcy burst through the door in a rush.
"What is wrong?" he quickly asked, his eyes searching the room as if he expected an intruder. "Are you alright?" His hands grasped her elbows, drawing her protectively to him.
"Yes, yes," she hurriedly replied. "It was merely an insect which flew out of the flowers when I smelled them. I was not expecting it."
Darcy's posture visibly relaxed even though his face still registered concern. "I am sorry, Elizabeth. I will speak to the staff to ensure they are more thoroughly examined before being brought upstairs."
"It is not important," she said, a sudden giggle escaping her lips.
The sound brought a smile to his own. "What amuses you so?"
Colour tinted her cheeks as she said, "You must have been very alarmed to come in here so quickly." Elizabeth could not resist teasing him further. "What will Wilson be thinking?"
"Wilson?" In another moment he comprehended her meaning. His own cheeks began to warm and he was unable to resist the urge to glance down, to confirm that Elizabeth's palms rested upon his bare skin.
She giggled again. "He may be standing there still, in the other room, with your nightshirt in hand."
The tension broken, Darcy shook his head, wrapping his arms more firmly around his wife's form and drawing her closer. His whispered reply tickled her ear and was quickly followed by the brush of his lips. Elizabeth shivered with a delicious sense of anticipation.
"How daring you are, sir," she teased, "to complete your change of clothes without benefit of your servant."
"It is but breeches and stockings, Elizabeth," he mumbled into her neck, well past the point of concern for anyone else's opinions.
She suddenly felt her feet leave the floor, her weight now resting in her husband's arms as he carried her across the room toward the large four-poster bed. A tiny squeal escaped her lips, causing Darcy to pause momentarily, until reassurance in the form of a kiss urged him on again.
Laying Elizabeth gently upon the sheets, Darcy stood, admiring her as she looked up at him, her smile a mixture of playfulness and desire. He was almost afraid to move lest the spell be broken. Then Elizabeth raised her hand, extending it in an invitation to join her.
Darcy accepted her hand, pressing it to his lips, and slowly lowered himself to lie beside her.
The sun shone brilliantly down upon the small churchyard, as perfect a wedding day as could ever be imagined.
Mrs. Bennet leaned upon her son-in-law's arm, the ever present handkerchief dabbing at her eyes to stem the flow of joyful tears. As the newlywed Bingleys mounted the steps of their carriage, she broke into a fresh barrage of wailing. Darcy carefully transferred her clutching grasp to his wife's charge, an apologetic glance his only defence.
Elizabeth comforted her mother, whose happiness knew no bounds on this day. Five daughters had been her responsibility to see properly married and she was finally able to congratulate herself on successfully seeing it through.
The wedding breakfast was an elegant affair. Netherfield's staff had meticulously prepared the rooms. The food was plentiful and beautifully presented.
Elizabeth was pleased for the opportunity to have a private word with Jane before the couple was to finally depart.
"Lizzy, I am excited and .... oh, I do not know quite what else I am feeling." Jane's voice quavered and she held her sister's hand tightly. "It is all a jumble and I am afraid I will sound just like Mama when I say there is a fluttering in my stomach."
Elizabeth laughed. "You will never rival Mama, Jane. If you do feel a little fluttery, you have good reason."
A flush crept up Jane's cheeks. "I never truly understood the strength of attachment between couples I have known. But now... now I am acquainted with it first hand. Charles is unlike any other gentleman and for the first time in my life I can truly say that I am in love. Lizzy, I never thought I would feel so happy to have refused the offers made to me in the past. There have been so many years of loneliness, but now it is all worth it! I cannot imagine being any happier than I am now!"
The sisters embraced one another, their private time nearing its conclusion as a knock at the door confirmed. Mr. Bingley exchanged a smile with his new sister before claiming his wife's hand and quietly asking if she was ready to bid farewell to their guests.
Not one person begrudged the couple any desire to be away as soon as possible. The children were, of course, a little distressed when the carriage drew away but they were soon distracted by the excitement of their new cousins, who were just as delighted with the recent return of their mother.
Elizabeth found her own mother in the company of Lydia and Mary who, with their husbands, had travelled to attend their eldest sister's wedding. Kitty had not been able to come, anticipating the final weeks leading to the birth of her third child. A lengthy and effusive letter had been sent and happily received by Jane.
Judging from the flowing conversation, Mrs. Bennet had recovered sufficiently from her earlier outpouring of emotion on the sleeve of Mr. Darcy and was vigorously waving a fresh handkerchief to emphasize her accounting of the day. Glancing about the room, Elizabeth discovered that her younger sisters' husbands had rallied around their other new member. Darcy, fortunately, appeared relatively unperturbed by the attention and was politely nodding through the narratives. Of greater relief was seeing the figure of Mr. Collins on the opposite side of the room, at the food table, partaking of the fine pastries and sweets specially created for the day. His wife wore the patient but tired look of long familiarity with this behaviour. For a brief moment Elizabeth's gaze caught her friend's and they shared a strained smile.
By the time most of the guests had departed even Mrs. Bennet was too fatigued to speak at any length. Elizabeth wished to retire early but now that Mr. Bingley had gone it fell to Mr. Darcy and herself to fill the roles of host and hostess to the numerous guests staying the night at Netherfield. She wanted nothing more than to spend some time with her children before the need for sleep overcame her. Her husband seemed to understand her feelings for he offered a reassurance that he would see to their guests while she settled the children.
Elizabeth thought it best to check on Charles and Anne first, but upon entering the young girl's room she found her already asleep. She found her own son in Charles' room, the two boys conversing in loud whispers. She suspected they had begun this ritual the first night Henry had arrived to stay. Smiling at the thought, Elizabeth walked further into the room to sit on the edge of the bed. Both boys fell silent and looked at her with wide eyes. Henry, however, crawled across the blankets to sit in his mother's lap and wrap his arms about her.
"Did you miss me?" she quietly asked, holding him close. Feeling his head nod, Elizabeth relaxed the embrace and gently pushed him to a position where she could see his face. "I missed you, too." There was clearly something else on his mind, though, and she smoothed his hair from his brow as she said, "I shall not be leaving you again for a long time."
Surprisingly, this was not what worried Henry. "Mama, must we leave our home and go to Mr. Darcy's?"
"Henry, I am now Mr. Darcy's wife. His home is mine and therefore also yours and Cassie's."
His expression was no less troubled. "Am I to call him Papa now, too?"
"You may call him Papa or Mr. Darcy, or perhaps even Father if you like. You need not do so right away, however. Whichever you choose, I assure you that he will be pleased." Elizabeth hoped this might ease his anxiety a little.
Henry considered her words, finally nodding as if coming to a decision. With a solemn expression, he looked up at his mother and said, "Thank you for marrying Mr. Darcy, Mama. Now I will have a father like my friends. I will learn to ride and shoot and be a gentleman, too!"
"Yes, you will," laughed his mother. She had been surprised and relieved by his enthusiasm. "Now, both of you go to sleep. No more talking. You have tomorrow for that." She tucked the blankets around both of them, kissing each lightly on the forehead before leaving the room.
Elizabeth found that Cassandra was also still awake and reading a book. Putting the volume aside as soon as she saw her mother, Cassandra demonstrated her delight in much the same way as her brother.
"Mama, we have been terribly spoiled while you were away. This is such a wonderful house and Mr. Bingley allows us to eat far too many sweets!"
Stifling a laugh, Elizabeth enlightened her daughter. "You will find a good many things will be different from now on, my dear. We shall be living in a bigger house with many servants, wear finer clothes and have plenty to eat. We will also have the responsibility to tend to those less fortunate when they are in need. There will be much for all of us to learn."
Cassandra's eyes widened. She found the prospect at the same time both frightening and exciting. Her feelings encouraged Elizabeth to remain for some time as they considered the changes soon to come.
Charles Bingley was certain that no man could be more happy nor content than he was at that moment. His lovely wife was beside him, her head resting on his shoulder, hair spilling across his chest. The fire burned low in the grate, the embers only giving off sufficient light for him to see the gentle rise and fall of Jane's breathing as she slumbered. As he watched she stirred slightly, causing him to feel a small measure of guilt that his observance had disturbed her. That feeling was quickly dispelled, however, as Jane's eyes opened drowsily and she smiled upon seeing her husband.
"You are real," she said in a voice so quiet that he was not entirely sure she had spoken. "I am so glad I did not dream this." Snuggling closer into his warmth, Jane brought her face closer to his. "Never could I have imagined so perfect a husband. I love you so, Charles Bingley." Her lips met his as if to demonstrate the strength of her feelings.
Charles drew her closer still; his own angel of perfection, delightful in every facet and now his wife in every sense of the word.
Elizabeth found her husband in a long familiar pose at the window in his study. While she knew the view to be inspiring, it was hardly likely to be the reason for his attention. In a soft voice she called his name. Darcy immediately turned, beckoning her to him so that they stood together, gazing out upon the morning.
"We will have rain before evening," he said.
Elizabeth studied the sky in the distance but, as usual, she was unable to understand how her husband was able to predict the day's weather. "They will be home long before then," she replied, slipping an arm through his. "We are ready to leave."
Darcy drew in a deep breath, held his wife's arm more tightly to his side and brought his face down to hers, kissing her firmly on the mouth. "It would not do for me to cause a delay in the proceedings, then."
They left the study, entering the front hall just as Cassandra emerged from the morning room to meet them. Elizabeth released Darcy's arm and watched as he continued forward to take his daughter's hands, smiling proudly.
"You are beautiful, Cassie," he said. "Only one bride has ever been more beautiful. Your mother."
Cassie blushed with the praise. "Papa, you know exactly what to say. Thank you."
They walked out together to the waiting carriage, bedecked with flowers and streamers. Many of the household staff had come to see the young bride on her way to the church, lining the walkway and the cobbled drive. As the carriage drew away from the house, both father and daughter gazed back at the structure, each lost in thought. Cassandra, excited to be embarking on married life, was nonetheless wistful that the next time she entered Pemberley's front doors it would no longer be her home.
Darcy was more melancholy. The last time a bride had been conveyed from Pemberley she had been his sister. Georgiana had been even younger than Cassandra but just as eager to begin her new life. Those memories were bittersweet and Darcy pushed them away with some effort.
Instead, he drew on more recent memories; the years spent with Elizabeth since their own marriage. She had brought him more happiness than he could have imagined. Her two children were as dear to him as the three Elizabeth had borne him. As if reading his thoughts, Elizabeth smiled at him across the distance separating them in the carriage. Had it been possible, Darcy would have moved to sit beside her, take up her hand and bring it to his lips... taste the sweetness of hers and....
The carriage suddenly slowed and came to a stop as they arrived at the church. Jolted from his thoughts, Darcy shook his head to dispel the lingering effects and was surprised to feel his wife's hand on his knee. His eyes rose to meet her knowing gaze, sharing a moment of deeper understanding.
"Oh, the children are adorable!" whispered Cassandra, seeing her sister and cousins awaiting her in the yard.
Darcy stepped down from the compartment first, Elizabeth following before the footmen moved closer to assist Cassandra. Safely on the ground, Elizabeth and Anne flounced and arranged her skirts, the children assembled to precede the bride's entrance and Darcy took up his position at her side.
Elizabeth whispered a few words to her daughter, then paused a moment to observe them all before going inside the church to take her seat with those already gathered. Her two eldest sons were waiting for her to arrive, Henry taking her arm to escort her to the pew where the Bingleys and Mrs. Bennet were seated. Charles stood as Elizabeth took her place beside Jane. Henry and Fitzwilliam slipped into the row behind them to sit with the younger Jonathon and their cousin, Charles.
As the music began and the young girls appeared, scattering rose petals down the aisle, Mrs. Bennet sighed and brought her ever present handkerchief to her eyes. "Oh Lizzy, how beautiful my granddaughters are!"
Neither Elizabeth nor Jane would contradict her as they were in complete agreement. Jane's girls Elizabeth and Maria, at eight and five years, were the eldest of the flower bearers but three year old Georgiana Darcy led the procession with an air of importance. She smiled broadly at everyone as she made her way forward, occasionally directing her cousins in the distribution of their petals. Behind them, Anne was gently encouraging that they continue moving and make way for the bride. As delightful as was this trio, all eyes were soon turned to Cassandra as she appeared on her father's arm and began the slow walk down the aisle to her betrothed.
From the moment he stepped inside the church, Darcy was assailed by images from the past; images of his sister, his parents, of his own children being baptized at the font. Sweet but potent, they blurred together until he was suddenly handing his daughter to the young man he had witnessed growing from an unruly toddler to a fine young gentleman, had approved and given permission to court Cassandra.... and now nothing more was required of him but to sit beside his wife and watch the remainder of the service.
Elizabeth caught his hand, squeezing his fingers. She was lost in her own whirl of emotions. In spite of herself, she wondered what Edward might have thought if he could have seen his daughter on her wedding day. Cassandra had grown into a fine young lady. She only vaguely recalled her father in distant memories but had formed a strong bond with Darcy. Elizabeth was often unable to determine if her serious disposition had been entirely inherited or if she had chosen to emulate the man she called Papa. Darcy had certainly taken earnestly his role in her life. Until the birth of Georgiana she had been his one and only daughter to spoil. Now that the youngest was entering a more demanding phase of childhood, she could provide a distraction from the loss he was bound to feel with Cassandra's absence.
In the blink of an eye the service was over. Darcy and Elizabeth stood, their hands joined as their hearts filled with joy for their daughter's happiness. As everyone filed out from the church to make their way to Pemberley for the wedding breakfast, Darcy drew his wife aside to steal a moment of privacy before heading for their own carriage.
"Thank you, dearest Elizabeth, for coming into my life and consenting to share it."
She smiled, somewhat amused at his sentimental words. "I believe we have settled this before, Fitzwilliam. It is I who is thankful that you invited us into your life."
He smiled in return, acknowledging the old argument. Softly brushing his lips against her cheek, Darcy wrapped her arm around his and led his wife into the morning sunshine and to the carriage where their sons and daughter awaited.