Thursday July 29, 1813 - Vitoria, Spain
It was blessedly quiet for a change. The staff had moved out and he was, for the most part, alone with several orderlies and two other wounded officers. It was difficult to be thankful for being wounded but he could take some comfort in his surroundings. He was not lying in some fly-ridden tent with twenty other wounded, crying and moaning in their pain. He, by virtue of his exalted rank of Colonel - which caused a mental snort from him - had been brought back to his quarters which had the not unappreciated benefit of being quiet, clean, and dry. Of course, his rank did not prevent the slash of a sabre which, only by the grace of God and a frantic block by his own sabre, buried itself in his arm instead of his body. Only the quick reaction of one of his soldiers, to kill the French cavalryman, had prevented a second and most probably a killing blow. Nevertheless, if the surgeon was correct, his arm, fortunately his left arm, would not be lost but he was unlikely to recover its full use. He was fortunate to be alive. He had bled freely and it was some few minutes before his orderly had realized the severity of the wound and staunched the flow of blood. He remembered little of the following fortnight due to his blood loss and subsequent fever.
Even now, a month after being wounded, he could barely lift the arm and his ability to grasp anything was limited. His days as an active field officer appeared to be over. No one had said as much, but he was expecting to be invalided home soon - at least that was the opinion of his surgeon on his last visit. Fortunately, he would not be carried on the ship but could walk, albeit shakily, on his own feet. And as his thoughts skittered around the idea that his military career could be over, he heard the door of his room open and Corporal James entered, bearing a letter.
"A letter for you, Sor"
"Thank you, Corporal. Just place it beside me."
"Yes, Sor! I will be bringing up dinner in an hour." With which he made a casual survey of the room, picked up the chamber pot to be emptied, tidied a few items on the table by the bed, and, before Colonel Fitzwilliam could tell him to stop fussing about, made an expeditious exit.
Fitzwilliam smiled - James was a fuss-budget, but an excellent orderly. He looked at the letter and easily recognized the handwriting as that of Darcy.
May 8, 813
I truly hope this finds you well. I think it safe to assume that, by the time this letter reaches you, the army will be moving against the French. Please keep that ugly carcass of yours in one piece; I plan to win many more billiard games and Georgiana is expecting you to dance with her in her season. She was most eager to send her regards and admonishment for your safety when she learned I was to write you. Consider yourself admonished.
I consider myself the luckiest man in the kingdom. Miss Elizabeth Bennet will become my wife in less than a fortnight. There were a few obstacles to overcome, but all is well. I will relate the particulars when next we speak. I called on Elizabeth whilst she was in London and was groomsman for Captain Amos Stovall who married Miss Jane Bennet in late February. I invited the Stovalls and Elizabeth to accompany Georgiana and myself to Pemberley for several weeks to break their trip to Yorkshire to visit Captain Stovall's relatives there. Whilst there, Elizabeth and I had the opportunity to resolve those issues that separated us; and also to get to know each other much better.
I proposed in mid March and wrote her father for his approval. Elizabeth, Georgiana and I accompanied the Stovalls to York. Georgie and I stayed with Bingley while there. It was a most illuminating trip and Bingley continues to mature. He is very much his own man now.
In mid April Elizabeth, Georgie and I travelled back to London, stopping briefly, on the way, at Elizabeth's home in Hertfordshire to meet her parents. We then proceeded to London where she is staying with her aunt and uncle. I am in her presence as much as possible. I won't bore you with effusions of delight. I am besotted and gladly acknowledge the fact. I have never known such happiness and contentment. Georgie finds equal pleasure in her company and I believe that she is as close to Elizabeth now as if they had been born sisters. I can already observe such improvement in her manner as to leave me confident that she will do well when she comes out, which we anticipate will be this fall during the short season.
"The man is besotted!"
I informed your father and mother about the engagement shortly after returning to London. I will not hide from you that your father's initial reaction was of extreme displeasure. I sense that he expected to be asked to consent to the match rather than simply to have been informed of it. My aunt was not slow to prevent either of us from saying something we would later regret. I did make it clear that I would marry Elizabeth regardless of their approval which, I must suppose, had somewhat to do with your father's reluctant approval which he gave before I left. Your mother was more welcoming although she obviously had some reservations.
Elizabeth and I dined with your parents several days later and it appears to have gone very well indeed. Your father has publicly supported the engagement while your mother invited Elizabeth and her aunt to tea a day or so later. It was, I believe, quite successful and the ladies including Georgie and your sister, Frances, have shopped for wedding clothes for Elizabeth. As Elizabeth intimated to me later, it was as much a public endorsement as a shopping expedition and apparently both endeavours were successful.
Our Aunt Catherine, however, is a much different story. I fully expected her to behave poorly and was not disappointed, although her actions were a great embarrassment. Not content to disparage Elizabeth in a letter to me, she also wrote Elizabeth. Fortunately, Elizabeth agreed to the destruction of that letter - unopened. I would not have her so insulted. Our aunt was not content to confine her displeasure to the written word but paid a visit to Elizabeth's family, meeting with her father. After failing to persuade him to cancel the engagement, she attempted to pay - bribe - him to do so. I found all this out as he wrote Elizabeth immediately following the meeting. From the tone of his letter, he found our aunt rather ridiculous - a conclusion which I cannot fault, and echoed by your father when advised of his sister's actions. Suffice to say, I have since advised our aunt that she is not welcome at my houses until such time as she has apologized to Elizabeth. I dare say it may be some time before that happens. My only regret is that Anne will be left even more alone. I could wish that she could be induced to visit your parents.
Fitzwilliam shook his head, "Our aunt is nothing if not predictable. She wants what she wants because she wants it and no one else's wants are worth considering."
I will not bore you with further expressions of my happiness. Once you have returned to England, you must visit us at Pemberley for as long as you may wish. Until then, may God keep you safe.
"So Miss Lydia's problems are not an impediment? Darce did not write to tell me how that was resolved. I suspect there is a good reason for the omission. Well, he will not be able to evade the issue when I return." Fitzwilliam's mien became stern, "I hope he has not placed Georgie's prospects in jeopardy." He thought for a few moments, "No, I suspect that whatever he has done, it has been done with due care. I must trust that his judgement is sound and he was not persuaded to rashness due to his interest in Miss Bennet."
Fitzwilliam folded the letter and placed it his trunk. He thought to write a reply but decided it was probable that he would return to England by the time a letter arrived. It was time for his daily walk. Calling for his orderly, he walked slowly down the stairs and outdoors. Today he thought he might try to walk as far as the bridge - his strength was slow to return. The loss of blood, and the fever that accompanied his wound, had greatly weakened him. The surgeon was reluctant to let him return home until he was stronger. Suddenly, he found a fierce desire to return to his home and family. He could recuperate there as easily and with more comfort than here in Spain. He must persuade the surgeon to let him travel. As he walked, he began to consider what a future might look like should he be forced to retire. He knew his financial position. It was not poor. He could live in reasonable comfort - a wife, he doubted. His income - from his half- pay and investments - was not sufficient to support a wife in anything approaching the comfort that a woman with whom he might attach himself would require. While he did not actually require the £50,000 that was mentioned by Miss Bennet, he probably could not offer marriage to a woman unless she had a dowry of £20,000. With this rather gloomy thought, he collected his orderly and departed for his exercise.
Posted on 2015-02-02
Monday August 10, 1813 - Pemberley
And to Pemberley they had all come. What had seemed like such a simple idea when first considered had become, once invitations had been extended, a major undertaking. The original intent had been to invite Darcy's two aunts and their husbands to visit; however, when apprised of the interest of his Darcy cousins to visit their ancestral home - Pemberley - Darcy had found it impossible to do anything but oblige them and had, with Elizabeth's support, extended invitations to all his cousins.
As it came to pass, Darcy was to learn, with some relief, that of his eight cousins only five had accepted his invitation. Two families had infants that were deemed too young to travel and another cousin was a naval officer and at sea and his wife was reluctant to travel without his assistance and be so far removed from home should he return unexpectedly. It was a large, diverse and, for the most part, lively gathering.
His Aunt Amelia Gibson and her Husband George Gibson had two daughters some ten and twelve years senior to Darcy married to men of substantial wealth with incomes of six and eight thousand pounds per year. His Aunt, her husband and their daughters, who Elizabeth surmised possessed the fullest belief in the superiority of their pedigree and station in life, were more inclined to be displeased with any inconvenience and to find fault with the society they found at Pemberley. Their civility to Elizabeth upon arrival had been marked more by a sense of superiority rather than amiability. If they were not prone to effusions of delight - and neither Elizabeth nor Darcy would have expected that in any event - they were civil and polite to everyone. The restraint in their behaviour was not mirrored amongst their children who had not been there a week before all barriers between the children of the various families had disappeared as though they had never existed. Oddly enough, the two eldest granddaughters of Darcy's Aunt Amelia had formed a close friendship with Georgiana and Elizabeth's sisters and, as a consequence, had come to like Elizabeth quite well indeed which resulted in some consternation on the part of their parents.
His Aunt Juliana Holmes - who was a few years younger than her sister - and her husband Cedric Holmes had four sons and two daughters, all married, who were between thirty and forty years of age. Elizabeth had immediately felt a kinship with this branch of the Darcy family, all of whom were of the same modest means as the Bennet family - landed gentry with incomes of two or three thousand pounds per year - sufficient to live comfortably but able to provide only a modest dowry for the daughters and unlikely to be able to afford a season in London for them. Their manners were more open than otherwise, amiable and disposed to enjoy the companionship they found at Pemberley. If Darcy was discomfited by the exuberance of their society, he was, by the end of their stay, on friendly terms with each, if somewhat uncomfortable when in the larger community.
It was apparent from the very beginning that there existed very little sympathy between his two aunts. The rift, if such it could be called, seemed to be reflected in the characters of their extended families. The Holmes siblings had come to Pemberley to be pleased and to please and were successful in both endeavours. They possessed no shortage of intelligent conversation, a desire to enjoy the pleasures of Pemberley and Derbyshire and a willingness to take pleasure in the company they were with. Such disagreements and difficulties which are sure to arise in such a diverse group were quickly and amicably resolved.
Between the five families that had taken up residence, there were some twenty children - twelve boys and eight girls - the ages of which ranged from three to eighteen years. Of particular interest were two granddaughters of his Aunt Amelia who were seventeen and eighteen years of age. The younger girl expected to presented next spring; however, her sister had made her entrance into society last spring and was already being courted by a younger son of an earl and had waxed eloquent to the others on his handsome features, his station in life and his being in possession of a fine estate; however, Georgiana, for one, had not heard or observed any sign of esteem for the gentleman himself. She rather thought her cousin was more attached to her suitor because of what he possessed, than who he was.
Pemberley had never, in Georgiana's memory, been so boisterous and lively. There were too many children to be quietly confined within its walls. Fortunately, the weather continued fine throughout the month and, under the direction of the various governesses, nannies and maids assigned to the task, the exuberance of the children was dissipated on the grounds which were sufficient for their enjoyment without intruding seriously on the enjoyments of their parents.
Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and their daughter had arrived at the same time and strangely enough, Darcy found their company quite pleasant. The senior Thompsons he knew to be sensible people with genteel manners and Miss Thompson had always impressed him with her manners and intelligence. If the Gibson family was reluctant to be more than civil to them, the Holmes family was uniformly pleased to have made their acquaintance. That the Thompsons were close neighbours of the Bennets was quickly apparent and undoubtedly eased their acceptance by the others. Mr. Bennet's preference to spend much of his waking hours ensconced in the library was no surprise to the Thompsons. Nonetheless, his favourite daughter successfully enticed him to join the company in the evenings and, if he found little in the Holmes family to excite his acerbic wit, the Gibson families were less fortunate as he took some delight in gently skewering those pretensions which attracted his notice. It was done with such exquisite care that ofttimes the recipient was unaware of the wound inflicted.
The Gibsons were not inclined, in general, to afford much attention to Elizabeth's sisters. Since neither of the latter was particularly seeking to attach themselves to that family, both parties were able to disregard the other quite civilly. Both Kitty and Mary had, over the course of their visit, grown quite close to Georgiana and were, in their different fashion, able to share activities with her. The older Gibson granddaughters were welcomed into their circle and between music, riding, sketching, reading and the conversations unique to young females; it was a most compatible small society.
Miss Thompson quickly found that the company of Elizabeth and younger married women to be more congenial and spent much of her time accompanying Elizabeth while she performed the duties of a hostess. As she remarked to Elizabeth on one occasion, "My mother was not raised on an estate and is, herself, learning all that is required. I would be foolish indeed to not avail myself of the opportunity to plague you while you are about your duties." Elizabeth responded to the latter with a grin matched by that of Miss Thompson.
Bingley was, due to business commitments, the last to arrive. He had not been there more than an evening before he was universally a favourite with everyone. His pleasing manners, amiability and knowledge of the northern counties made him welcome to the Gibsons despite his background in trade. The two eldest daughters of the Gibson sisters were much taken with the gentleman and his manner to them did not waver despite the dedicated albeit modest attentions of the younger of the two cousins. However, it was clear, very early during his visit, that his interest was focussed primarily on Miss Darcy and Miss Thompson and the other young ladies soon resolved to enjoy his company without expectations of more than those moderate attentions he directed to them all.
Monday August 23, 1813 - Pemberley
Darcy waited with some impatience in his study. He was not looking forward to the upcoming interview and would have preferred that it not take place at all. But it was his duty to protect his sister and this duty he could not shirk. It may have been that he had delayed too long in undertaking to discharge this responsibility but his impatience had a more personal basis. His wife had gone for a ride and he wished to be able to accompany her. He knew she was well attended by Georgiana and Miss Thompson but he would have much preferred to have been one of the party.
As he waited - still some minutes before Bingley would join him - he considered the problem and how he might best address it. He and Elizabeth had discussed it last night and had come to the conclusion that this meeting was possibly overdue. Hence his request this morning for Bingley to attend him at ten this morning. His uncle and aunt Matlock had met Bingley previously and had expressed reservations about his connection to trade. That they would be concerned - dismayed might be a more reasonable guess - was a foregone conclusion. Acknowledging those concerns, he had full confidence in Bingley's gentlemanly qualities; he was quite prepared to reject any objections based on Bingley's connection to trade.
A sharp rap on the door signalled Bingley's arrival and he quickly entered and closed the door when invited to do so, settling himself comfortably in the chair in front of Darcy's desk. If he was uncomfortable, it was not obvious from his demeanour although Darcy had to concede that Bingley had become less open over the past year and much more inclined to mask his thoughts and feelings. Today he simply sat and waited for Darcy to initiate the conversation and explain the purpose of the meeting.
After waiting for several moments, Darcy began, "Charles, I know you are probably wondering why I asked to meet with you this morning...."
Bingley interrupted before he could continue, "I believe I could make an excellent guess. In fact, Darcy, I have been anticipating it for several days."
At Darcy's raised eyebrows, Bingley smiled. "Darcy, I am not quite as naïve as I was a year ago. I realize my behaviour might have engendered some concerns."
"And what behaviour, exactly, are we talking about?"
Bingley chuckled, "It seems to me that you should be the one telling me what behaviour of mine has raised such concern as to merit a demand, politely requested I admit, that we meet. But under the circumstances I have a disinclination to humour you on it."
"I believe, Bingley, that when you have daughters of your own, you will appreciate my concerns more readily."
Bingley paused for several seconds as though to marshal his thoughts and Darcy was content to let him do so. Finally Bingley rose to his feet and began to pace around the study before turning to face Darcy with an apologetic look, "I must ask your pardon. I sometimes find it easier to think and talk while walking."
Darcy waved his hand to dismiss the apology and waited silently for Bingley to come to the point. Finally he did so.
"I believe that you are concerned that I may have engaged the interest of both Miss Darcy and Miss Thompson by my attentions. If I have, it was most unconsciously done. In fact, I ...."
Darcy interrupted, "I am more concerned that your attentions, for want of a better word, may have confused my sister and Miss Thompson."
Bingley thought for a moment, considering what Darcy had said, "I had not thought of it from that perspective." He nodded, "Perhaps that is the better way to look at the issue." He paced for several moments before continuing, "When I arrived here, I determined that I would take the opportunity afforded me to become better acquainted with both young ladies. It seemed to me that being in their company for three weeks or more would allow me to get to know them better."
He paced back and forth several times and, to Darcy's amusement, he began to detect regularity to it. Three steps and turn, three steps and turn. It was almost like watching the pendulum of a clock - mesmerizing almost - but Bingley's voice claimed his attention once more.
"I had gained some acquaintance with Miss Thompson after your wedding and, of course, I have been in your sister's company with some frequency over the last few years although, for the most part, I thought of her only as your very young sister. It was not until we last met at Pemberley and then at York that I realized she was fast becoming a young lady. I..."
And here Bingley ran his hand through his hair, "I realized that Miss Darcy is too young to consider a courtship let alone marriage and was careful, I thought or hoped, in my attentions to her." He looked at Darcy who nodded slowly.
"I saw nothing that gave me any particular concern, Charles." Darcy did not feel it necessary to relate that Elizabeth had discussed the matter with Georgiana or that Bingley's interest in Georgiana had been detected while he was last at Pemberley.
"Yes, well...I came here, as I said, determined to become better acquainted with both young ladies, to have them come to know me better as well and, if possible, to see if I could fix my attentions on one of them in the future. It was not - it was never - my intention to mislead either of them. I have attempted to be most circumspect in the amount of time and attention that I afforded either." Again his discomfort was evidenced by the frequency with which his fingers tousled his hair. He grimaced, "Obviously I was not altogether successful."
Darcy thought perhaps it was time to alleviate his friend's distress, "Charles, please....sit down. I am not upset nor is Georgiana as far as I can determine. I cannot speak as to Miss Thompson's thoughts or feelings. That is the province of her father. I asked to speak with you so as to find out what your intentions are in regards to Georgiana." He paused for a second or two but Bingley gave no indication that he was to speak so he continued, "You will be departing for York on the morrow and I wish to have an answer to my question before you depart." Darcy waited, not sure which answer that Bingley would give would please him the most. He could see that Bingley's thoughts consumed him at the moment and he waited as patiently as possible.
Finally, Bingley's eyes lost their abstracted look and focussed once more on Darcy, "I apologize. I had come to a decision before I entered the room. I have been contemplating how best to express it."
Darcy waited, restraining himself from drumming his fingers on his desktop.
"I could - no I do - esteem both ladies quite highly; however, I would, with your consent, like to pay my attentions to Georgiana." As he saw Darcy open his mouth to speak, he raised his hand to stop him. "Please, hear me out. I realize...I am well aware that your sister is not 'out' in society. I also realize that she is too young to even consider receiving my attentions; however, she is seventeen and will be out this fall I gather. That is your intention, is it not?"
Upon Darcy's nod, he resumed, "While I would wish for my sake to ask for a courtship immediately, I realize that such would be most improper and would not afford her the opportunity to enjoy her season. My intentions are...rather I wish to tell you now that I will not ask for a courtship until the end of her first season - next June. The decision to advise her of my intention, I will leave to you." He paused once more before stating clearly, "I will attempt to attend as many events where she is present as I can arrange. I cannot devote the whole season to this as my business will keep me in the north but I will be in London for the short season and again for possibly two months in the spring." At this Bingley ceased to speak and looked to Darcy for his response. The latter was slow in coming, as Darcy considered his friend's comments. Finally, noticing that Bingley was starting to become a little agitated, he grinned at him, "Charles, relax. I am not displeased. I think your intentions are quite honourable and well considered."
Darcy's smile disappeared as he continued, "I would caution you that, should someone else ask for a courtship and Georgiana is not opposed, it will be granted; moreover, Elizabeth and I will not inform Georgiana of your intentions and we will not interfere. We consider you quite an eligible suitor but the decision will belong to Georgiana. We will advise should she seek our advice but the final decision shall be hers."
Bingley's nod was thoughtful, "I cannot ask or expect more than this."
"This brings me to my last question, Charles. Why?...why Georgiana?"
Bingley nodded slowly, "I am surprised you did not ask sooner." His countenance took on a slightly abstracted look, "I do not know if I can fully explain or understand it myself but, while I have enjoyed my conversation with Miss Thompson, I have anticipated with greater pleasure those held with your sister and lately have had to restrain myself in seeking such conversations. My regard for her is growing with every encounter. She is..." and a slightly embarrassed look took possession of his features, "she is quite attractive and you know, as well as I, of her accomplishments. It is a rare pleasure to talk to young women of matters more substantial than those that are common amongst young ladies. I have little interest in gossip, the doings of polite society or such other trifles."
His face grew even more thoughtful and abruptly asked, "I believe that your Aunt, Countess Matlock, will be hosting a ball for Georgiana this fall. Do you know when it is to be?"
"I believe around the middle of October. We plan to stay in London for about six weeks and return to Pemberley in November."
"Will I be invited to the ball?"
"I was not sure of your plans but will certainly arrange for an invitation for you."
Bingley stretched as he rose from his seat, "Thank you. Now I have a rather awkward task ahead. I must intimate to Miss Thompson that I have no intentions. She is a most charming young lady and, if I had not known your sister, I would be attempting to engage her interest."
Darcy rose and ushered his friend from the room, "I am sure you will do it handsomely Charles." He laughed at his grimace, "Better you than me. I always make a hash of such endeavours."
Bingley looked at him and laughed, "No, you do not bother with words. Your scowl is famous throughout London."
"Was famous, Charles, was famous.....but no longer, I trust. Marriage to Elizabeth has quite changed me, I believe."
Bingley shook his head, still somewhat amazed at the transformation of his friend and began to turn away before pausing to look back at Darcy. "I should tell you some news. I had a letter from my sister yesterday - Louisa - and she informed me that Caroline has a suitor, a baronet from Sussex that she met recently while visiting the Hursts. Louisa thinks it quite serious and seems to believe Caroline has moderated her behaviour. I can only hope. The other piece of news is that Louisa is with child and expects to be confined next February. I will be an uncle at last."
Darcy could only respond with congratulations and commented that expecting Caroline to change seemed rather hopeless. Laughing they separated, Bingley to seek his rooms to finish his business for the day and Darcy to the stables in the hope that he would encounter his wife.
After ascertaining from the butler, Mr. Reynolds, where Miss Thompson might be found and having been told she was walking in the front garden, Bingley set out in search of her. He had spent several hours and completed his business dealings for the day and had one last chore to attend before he departed for York in the morning. It was not a task he viewed with any pleasure but it must be done. He could not, in good conscience, leave the lady in doubt as to his intentions. He would not repeat the mistake that he had made in Hertfordshire.
Miss Thompson had, unbeknownst to Bingley, been considering that gentleman carefully for the last few days. She had been conscious of a slight change in his attitude during their recent conversations. It was not until yesterday that she realized what had changed. He no longer was as intently focussed on her when they talked. His questions were more superficial and his interest had lessened. He was, in fact, treating her more casually. She had been aware very early in the visit that he was also paying particular interest to Miss Darcy, although she conceded his attentions to either of them were quite circumspect. She quite liked Miss Darcy and felt no displeasure about his attentions to her and had not noticed, until last evening, that his affections might be engaged. That changed last night. Perhaps it was her own impartiality that made her more aware but it had become clear, to her at least, that he was having trouble not watching Miss Darcy. It was with a sort of wry amusement that she observed a similar problem on the part of Miss Darcy. That she could view their interaction with such equanimity was, she thought, the surest proof that her own affections had not been engaged. She might have been able to develop an affection for Mr. Bingley but she would not mourn his loss. If she were to meet the gentleman before they separated, each to their own home, she would attempt to relieve him of any apprehensions he might harbour.
Thus it was that, when Mr. Bingley encountered the lady while she walked in the garden, they were able to converse quite pleasantly for some quarter hour until finally Bingley realized he should take his leave, "Miss Thompson, I must leave early tomorrow morning for York. I was not sure that I would have the opportunity to express my appreciation for the pleasure that your company has provided these past weeks."
"Mr. Bingley, I have enjoyed our talks also. I hope you have a safe journey home. I know I am looking forward to returning to Hertfordshire." She hoped that the openness of her countenance and the absence of any sign of unhappiness at their separation would reassure the gentleman that her heart had not been engaged. Indeed, she found it quite easy to assume the mien that she presented.
After a few more civilities between them they parted, each satisfied that the other was not unhappy with the separation. Bingley had one more small but important task to perform before he departed in the morning. However, it could wait until after dinner.
So it was that when the gentlemen had rejoined the ladies in the music room after dinner, he sought an opportunity to talk to Georgiana and, finding her assisting Elizabeth with serving tea, he approached them both.
"Mrs. Darcy, I wish to express my appreciation for your invitation to Pemberley. I don't know when I have had a more enjoyable time here. I will be retiring shortly so as to depart as early as possible for York in the morning and wished to take my leave of you now in the event I did not see you then."
"Mr. Bingley, you are always welcome. In fact, you are the perfect guest. Amiable with everyone and willing to be pleased. I hope we see you in London this fall. William did suggest you planned to visit then."
"Indeed I do plan to visit and look forward to it." Turning to Georgiana, he bowed, "Miss Darcy, I take my leave of you also. I know you are looking forward to the season in London. I understand that your Aunt and Uncle Matlock will be hosting a ball in your honour. I hope to attend and would like to solicit a set with you now, if I may?"
Georgiana looked at Elizabeth who gave an almost imperceptible nod, "I would be most pleased to save you a set, Mr. Bingley. Do you have a preference? I believe I must reserve the first two sets but the others are available."
"I would wish to have the supper set, if I may."
"I will be sure to mark it so on my dance card, Mr. Bingley." Georgiana was aware of the fact that it was the custom for those who dance the supper set, to dine together. It provided both with the opportunity to converse for almost two hours.
With that Mr. Bingley took his leave of the remainder of the company and retired to his rooms to complete his preparations to depart early in the morning.
Wednesday August 25, 1813 - Pemberley
Darcy and Elizabeth were enjoying a quiet hour of solitude in her sitting room when a maid appeared asking if his Aunt Holmes and her husband could speak with them in private. Assent was readily given and within ten minutes they were shown into the room. Elizabeth had ordered tea and biscuits and busied herself ensuring they all were served while her mind ran over the possible reasons for the visit and, not finding anything of note to worry her, she decided she would leave it to them to reveal their purpose. Finally, after several minutes of casual conversation, Darcy's aunt set down her cup and smiled at Elizabeth, "Lest you be concerned, we have no problems to lay in your lap. Quite the reverse, in fact. Cedric and I wish to thank you on behalf of our whole family for your kindness in inviting us to Pemberley. I have spoken of Pemberley to my children for years but we were never in a position to visit and, as you know, we have been estranged for over forty years. Elizabeth, William we would be delighted to have you visit us - perhaps next summer or earlier if that is your desire." She looked expectantly at Elizabeth and Darcy.
Darcy was not slow to answer, "I am sure that Elizabeth and I would be delighted to visit. We cannot set a date but I see no reason why we could not visit next spring or summer." He paused before continuing, "Aunt, forgive me if I touch on a private matter that you may not wish to discuss but..."
His aunt laughed, "You wish to know what caused the estrangement. I thought you would ask before now but, since you did not, believed you knew the particulars."
"No, my father did not speak of it and I did not know of your existence until I encountered your name in one of my father's journals. I even had to appeal to Aunt Amelia for your location."
His aunt looked quite dismayed and Elizabeth reached over to grasp her hand while her husband placed a hand on her shoulder. She mastered her feelings, "I did not realize your father was so angry. Perhaps I should have for he and his father were of like minds in certain respects." She gathered her thoughts and, speaking slowly and very quietly, began to explain her history with the family. As she spoke and relived those past events, her voice thickened with emotion and her distress became more obvious. Without realizing that she had done so, Elizabeth had moved closer and taken one of her hands in her own. The tale was a simple one. Juliana Darcy fell in love with a man that her father and family deemed unsuitable.
Giving her husband a watery smile, she explained, "Cedric had no title, no connections and was a country gentleman with a small estate perhaps a fourth the size of Pemberley. My father had arranged a marriage with the son of an earl who would inherit the title. He was wealthy and well connected. I did not like him and would not agree to the marriage. I fought it for five months until I came of age. With the help of a close personal friend, I arranged to visit her and then eloped with Cedric to the protection of his family. We were married there a few weeks later. My father ... disowned me and my sister and brother, your father, supported him. I did make one attempt to reconcile with your father after my father died but my letter went unanswered." Tears were streaming down her face as she relived memories that were still fresh after more than forty years. Her husband held her close and dried her eyes with his handkerchief.
She looked at Darcy, "I have never regretted my decision - never! I have a wonderful husband and six fine children. I feel myself blessed. That I have been able to return to my childhood home now has been wonderful. And to see you both so happy. I....I do not have the words to express my happiness." She gathered her composure before continuing, "Elizabeth, I have nothing but admiration for the manner in which you have been our hostess. I cannot imagine doing as much after being married for but a few months. I insist that you allow us to return your courtesy. You must visit us and let us show you the glories of Cornwall."
"Aunt Juliana, you may be assured that we will visit and I hope, as soon as may be."
Darcy's thoughtful expression changed and he spoke decisively, "Aunt, Uncle you and your family are welcome to visit Pemberley whenever we are here. You would be most welcome and, indeed, may visit even if we are away. All Mrs. Reynolds will require is sufficient time to prepare rooms for you. I would also extend that invitation to include Darcy House in London. Unfortunately, I do not expect we could accommodate your whole family there at one time but should you or any of your children visit London, you must stay with us."
Elizabeth was quick to second her husband's invitation and Mr. Holmes's pleasure at the graciousness of the offer was apparent. He was quick to express this appreciation and the two couples spent an agreeable quarter hour discussing some attractions in London that would make a visit most enjoyable. Plans were laid for his aunt and uncle to visit while the Darcys were in London and for them to attend Georgiana's coming out ball being hosted by the Matlocks. As Darcy was to note later, they would also have to ensure that an invitation was extended to his other aunt and uncle, which was speedily done; however, a prior commitment to attend the wedding of a close relation at that time would prevent their attending. Their regrets were heartfelt and accompanied by assurances that they would be pleased to call on the Darcys in the spring.
Saturday August 28, 1813 - Pemberley
Elizabeth found herself the last to arrive for breakfast. For some reason she had found herself tired and chose to sleep later than her usual wont. She realized that William must have noticed her fatigue and chose not to disturb her rest. He was, she had been informed, out with the men fishing and would not be back until luncheon. There were several letters awaiting her perusal but the one she sought first was from her sister, Jane. She thought she knew what news it contained but, even so, there was always some fear with childbirth.
Gracechurch St., London
August 20, 1813
Wonderful news! Our Aunt has had her baby, a healthy boy who is to be named Amos William Gardiner in honour of the husbands of their favourite nieces. Our Aunt is in excellent health and spirits and, according to her, this was her easiest delivery. Our uncle is beside himself with joy in that both child and mother are healthy.
It was, to be honest, an interesting experience for me. I am now about four months along and have felt the baby quicken several weeks ago. I think seeing how our aunt handled the confinement was good for me. I was too young to remember our mother's confinements and, unfortunately, if her behaviour then was similar to that she displayed for our aunt's then I am resolved that she will not attend me. My uncle had to remove her from the birthing room since she was creating such a disturbance. She was very affronted and removed herself to Longbourn the next day. I will have to discuss with my aunt where I shall hold my confinement. I would prefer to stay with my aunt but fear that my mother's behaviour will be even more unseemly. I also am not sure that it would be fair to impose on my aunt when she is burdened with an infant and young children.
I know you will offer to have me at Pemberley and I believe that my husband's mother would be delighted to have me with her. I believe I would be comfortable with her. I cannot decide at the moment and will seek guidance from our aunt. I am enjoying being with child now. I am well but missing my husband most dearly. I worry for his safety and pray for his return. Perhaps I should not say this but I find my bed cold and empty without him.
I have not heard from Amos as yet. He warned me that letters would be slow to arrive and depended on the departure of a navy vessel for England. I cannot send him a letter since I do not know where he is stationed until such time as I receive a letter from him. He sailed under sealed orders and did not know his destination in advance.
I am glad that Kitty and Mary are enjoying their visit with you. They both needed to be removed from Longbourn although Mary seems more comfortable there now that she is the only daughter home. I hope you take Kitty to enjoy a season in London. I gather from your last letter that her comportment is much improved. She is now of an age where she can seriously begin to consider a suitor. Thanks to the goodness of your husband she has some portion to offer a gentleman and under your guidance I am sure that her manners will continue to improve. It is unfortunate that she never learned to play the pianoforte but, from your letters I gather she has developed some level of accomplishment at sketching. She is a good creature and removed from Lydia's influence has become much improved in company. I am glad that she is surrounded by young women of sense and sensibility.
You have not said much of yourself or your husband but your happiness radiates from every page of your letters. I know you have assumed a huge burden this summer with so many guests but my faith in your capabilities is second only to that of your husband I am sure. I remember standing in the Pemberley Gallery and Mr. Darcy talking about the great Mistresses of Pemberley. You may not have known it then but he was not looking at a picture when he spoke but at you. I only hope that you do not tire yourself too much. Remember you are still a newlywed. Make sure you save time to be with your husband. Tell him from me that he must try to do likewise and not let you overburden yourself.
Your most affectionate sister,
Elizabeth placed the letter on the table while she finished eating and then, after determining where her father and sisters were to be found, she finished her breakfast. Since her father was in the library, she would speak with him first. As she ate, she considered Jane's situation. Why, she thought, could not Jane be confined at Pemberley? If her aunt and uncle were to visit for Christmas, her aunt could be there for the confinement. Her parents could also visit but she would have to have some assurances from her father that they would leave before the new year. She would broach the subject with him this morning. He and Mary would surely leave within a few days now that her mother was at Longbourn. Kitty might return also but, since the original plan was that she would return to London with the Darcys, as Elizabeth was sure Kitty would choose to remain at Pemberley with Georgiana.
The next day Elizabeth and Georgiana were sitting comfortably in her private sitting room along with Mrs. Reynolds; scraps of paper littered the top of the low table before them containing the notes they had prepared for the annual Harvest Festival to be held towards the end of September. This would be the first in several years that the family would attend and the first in over fifteen that a Mistress would host. While Elizabeth had met most of the tenant families, that day she would meet them all together and host the whole affair. She was determined that the event would be memorable. They had completed the initial preparations and now Georgiana and Mrs. Reynolds were regaling her about past festivals. However, she had plans to go riding with her husband and indicated as much to the others. They rose to leave as did Elizabeth, until she felt overcome with dizziness and dropped back into her chair. Mrs. Reynolds was quick to move to her side with an exclamation of concern. Georgiana was too surprised to react at all.
Mrs. Reynolds seemed unsurprised at the events and, after ascertaining that Elizabeth had recovered, urged her to return to her bedchamber, "Come Mrs. Darcy. We must get you into bed." And with the assistance of Elizabeth's maid, Julia, called by Georgiana, she was undressed and placed in her bed, protesting all the while that she was not ill. Once this was done, Mrs. Reynolds asked Georgiana to send a footman to find her brother and bring him to Mrs. Darcy's room. Once Georgiana had departed, Mrs. Reynolds and Julia sat beside the bed and looked at each other rather than at Elizabeth. Julia nodded to Mrs. Reynolds who began to speak and question Elizabeth. The three women talked for nearly a quarter hour before they were interrupted by a demanding knock on the door and Darcy's voice asking to enter. Mrs. Reynolds was quick to open the door admitting Darcy and ushering herself and Julia out of the room. While Darcy had eyes only for Elizabeth, he did not miss the happy smiles on the faces of both ladies which puzzled him greatly.
It was a matter of several quick strides and he had grasped the hand that Elizabeth held out to him, "Lizzy, are you well? Georgiana said you fainted."
"Not fainted, dearest, just dizzy."
"What is the problem? Are you ill? Shall I send for the doctor?"
Elizabeth considered her answer carefully, "Truly, a doctor is not necessary....not immediately, at least, but it would be helpful to see him in the next few days perhaps." She placed her fingers over his lips, "Please, let me finish." She paused, "Are you familiar with a woman's courses?"
"Yes, I had to learn as Georgiana grew up." She could see only puzzlement on his face.
"Well, perhaps, you have not noticed that I have not had any since July."
Seeing no comprehension as yet on her husband's face, Elizabeth chortled, "We may expect to be parents in early May next year."
"Oh.....Oh!" In a second he was beside her on the bed and wrapped her in his arms.
Resting her head on his chest she smiled up at him, "I think I can assume you are pleased." She felt rather than saw his agreement, "I was so busy with our guests and ensuring that everything went well that I did not notice their absence myself. I know I have been a little more tired than usual and both Julia and Mrs. Reynolds suspected something as a result but said nothing to me. I noticed that I was a little more tender..." and Elizabeth placed a hand on her bosom,"...than was usual but thought nothing of it."
Her husband wiped his hand across his mouth and she could see the hope and joy that she felt mirrored in his eyes. "Elizabeth, it is certain?"
"As much as it can be at this stage. I have not felt the babe quicken but I am ... I believe I am carrying our child." She did not want to allow her emotions free rein as yet. She knew that women sometimes lost a babe early but could not let herself think on that possibility. She felt strong and healthy.
"What can I do to help you? You must get enough rest. Should we cancel our plans to visit London?"
"There is not much anyone can do as yet. Fortunately, I have not been sick although I find myself eating less than usual. Julia and Mrs. Reynolds will take care of me. The important thing is to take enough rest. I think I can trust to them and..." she looked pointedly at him with a small smile, "...you to ensure I do so."
She paused while she considered his last comment, "I do not see that we need to avoid London. If I am rested, I can attend with Georgiana. I may have to limit my dancing... "She smirked at her husband, "a hardship which I am sure you will suffer gladly."
"As long as I am allowed to dance with my wife, I have no objection to her not dancing with others." He chuckled when she poked him in the ribs and then turned serious, "I am known as an unsociable man and we can use that to limit the number of engagements we attend. We will not attend parties and events simply to allow others to scrutinize you or because society demands it of us. I do not want you to tire yourself and I know you well enough by now to know that you will feel an obligation to do as much as you can for Georgiana. I will insist that you come first and I know that Georgiana will agree with me. Your health and that of our child must come first."
Without a conscious thought his large hand had encompassed her stomach and she placed both of hers atop his, linking their fingers. Seeing the pensive look on her face he asked, "What frets you, my love?"
She looked up at the man she loved so dearly. Could she burden him with her uncertainties when she knew he was harbouring his own? After several moments she confessed, "I want this child so very much now that I realize he is here and yet I worry that I will be a good mother. Am I ready? There are so many questions that my mind is all confusion."
Darcy smiled and squeezed her gently, "Much as I had no doubt that you would be an excellent Mistress of Pemberley, I have none that you will be a most excellent mother."
"Well, as long as one of us is confident in my abilities, I shall have to be satisfied."
"You realize, my love, that you have referred to the babe as 'he'. Are you that convinced?"
Elizabeth laughed, "Not at all." She paused and grew thoughtful, "I expect you would prefer a son."
Darcy heard the question in her voice, "I prefer only a healthy wife and babe. Son or daughter will be greeted with equal love and joy." She heard the determination in his voice, "This child and you are my main concern."
Elizabeth knew that his instinct to protect her would emerge stronger with a desire to extend that protection to their child. She suspected that she would have some battles in the future as he attempted to constrain her activities; however, for now she was content to allow him free rein to do so.
Some time later, assured that Elizabeth was feeling well, they ventured downstairs to join Georgiana, Mary and Kitty for tea. Mr. Bennet had been requested to join them and did so shortly thereafter. Swearing them all to secrecy, they announced their joyous news. Kitty and Mary were pleased but Georgiana was overjoyed at the news. Mr. Bennet was silent while the young ladies exclaimed their happiness and did not venture a comment until he felt Elizabeth's quizzical gaze. Getting to his feet he went to stand before her and, taking her hands in his, he pulled her upright hugged her fiercely, "Oh, my little Lizzy. I am struggling to accept the fact that you will be a mother...a most excellent one to be sure. I..." and, releasing her hands so that she could sit once more, he waved his hand and grimaced, "your mother will be overjoyed."
Elizabeth quirked her lips, "We must talk about that Papa, but not now." We must discuss how to ensure my mother does not intrude.
The subject of conversation did not depart appreciably from matters pertaining to the babe. Darcy noticed however that Elizabeth had become distracted and a little pensive.
"Elizabeth, what troubles you?" Both Kitty and Georgiana ceased their talking to look between Darcy and Elizabeth with questioning gazes.
"I am not troubled so much as uncertain..."
Darcy quietly asked, "Uncertain? About what?"
Elizabeth shook her head, "I would wish the child to be born here - at Pemberley. This is now my home. This will be his or her home. Our children should be born here. Of that I am certain. It is just that..."
Darcy waited patiently for several moments before prompting, "Just that...?"
Elizabeth smiled weakly at him, "I was hoping that Jane and my aunt would attend me and that seems unlikely since Jane will have a babe only a few months old and Aunt will not wish to travel so far with an infant when the weather is so uncertain."
"I agree that Jane is not likely to wish to travel. I would not want you to do so if you were she. But your aunt...I do not agree. I think we can inquire as to her thoughts. I can....I will surely provide a most comfortable carriage and attendants for her trip."
Elizabeth nodded slowly and then decisively, "We will leave this for now and discuss it with my aunt and Jane when we are in London. There is time to consider what is best." Looking at Georgiana, she thought her be rather pensive and inquired as to the cause. Georgiana did not deny her observation but was reluctant to reveal the source of her concern until finally she blurted, "You will not be able to engage in the season in the spring, will you Elizabeth?"
"I had not thought that far ahead to be honest." Elizabeth paused to think about the matter, "I would not want to travel with so young an infant and I will not be parted from the child." She looked at Georgiana with some distress, "I am sorry. I had not thought of this."
Darcy interjected, "If we are at Pemberley, we shall stay there until it is safe for both Elizabeth and the babe to travel." In a somewhat hesitant voice, he suggested, "Perhaps our Aunt could assume the role. She has done it with Frances, after all. I had wished to be present for your first season, Georgie but I must be with Elizabeth."
Georgiana nodded decisively, "Of course you must. I have decided that I will not attend the spring season unless Elizabeth is with me. I will stay here at Pemberley with you both." She looked at Elizabeth and her brother and smiled tightly, "and I will not be dissuaded on this!"
And so it proved to be. After over a half hour of arguing and discussing, Georgiana remained firm in her decision. Kitty, who had remained silent throughout the conversation, expressed her support for Georgiana and her willingness to forego the spring season as well. Elizabeth suppressed her surprise at this decision, since she had expected her sister to have been looking forward to the season with great eagerness. That she was willing to forego the pleasure under the circumstances spoke well, she thought, for her increasing maturity. An idea which had been floating nebulously in her mind crystallized and she gave it voice, "Well, if we are not to attend the season next year, we must hold a ball here at Pemberley while I am still able to organize it. I think a ball on the first day of the new year would be appropriate, do you not agree, William?"
Her arch look at Darcy discomfited him. She knew that hosting such an event would severely tax his tolerance for society; but she also knew that he would agree for Georgiana's sake. He nodded his approval glumly which drew quiet laughs from the three ladies and a hug from Georgiana, "Thank you, Brother!"
The rest of the evening passed in quiet conversation until Elizabeth admitted that she was feeling rather fatigued. In a matter of minutes they had removed to their chambers and readied themselves for bed. Passing instructions that they were not to be disturbed, they settled on the settee in their sitting room and shared a glass of wine and their thoughts on the weeks to come.
Later, as they lay in his bed, Elizabeth rested her head on his chest as Darcy began to express his happiness about the child she carried. If he had any concerns about her health, he did not voice them and, since his words of endearment were accompanied by gentle caresses, it was not long before love-making consumed their whole attention. The quiet conversation that followed spoke of their hopes, dreams and fears for the child and their abilities as parents.
Mr. Bennet and Mary departed for Longbourn several days later - without Kitty who much preferred to remain with Elizabeth and Georgiana - but not before Elizabeth and her father had a protracted discussion concerning the desirability of Mrs. Bennet's absence at the birth of a grandchild. As Elizabeth noted, her mother's behaviour at Mrs. Gardiner's delivery was so disturbing as to require her removal from the birthing room. That she would be more restrained at the birth of a grandchild was too remote a possibility for any sensible person to consider. Mr. Bennet reluctantly agreed that she would not be allowed to attend and to accept the disturbances that would ensue in his household. Elizabeth suggested that it was equally important to prevent their mother from intruding on Jane, and Mr. Bennet agreed that a similar restriction would apply. Noting that his brother had not hesitated to remove Mrs. Bennet from the birthing room, he suspected that Jane would have a capable champion as long as she wished for that support.
Friday October 1, 1813 - Matlock Manor, Derbyshire
As the carriage rolled to the front steps of Matlock Manor, Darcy felt a surge of excitement to see a very familiar face amongst those awaiting their arrival, "Richard! He's home!"
Elizabeth and Georgiana jostled to view out the nearest window and their excitement was palpable. The carriage had hardly come to a stop before Darcy had exited, not even waiting for the footstep to be lowered. He did repress his urge to immediately envelop his cousin in a hug and assisted the three ladies accompanying him to descend.
The earl, countess and Richard had, by the time Darcy handed down Kitty from the carriage, begun the greetings. The earl, with a small smile on his face, waved Richard forward. "I would not dare stand between my youngest son and his favourite cousins." Richard grinned, stepped towards Elizabeth and bowed over her hand, "Miss B...Mrs. Darcy, you cannot know how much pleasure it gives me to see you married to my scowling cousin. You have my utmost respect for taking on this challenge."
"Careful Richard, I am still better than you with the foil!"
"Ha! If you challenge me, I will select a horse race. You won't have a chance." He clasped hands with Darcy and was enveloped in a quick fierce hug, "I am glad to see you home and in one piece, cousin."
Richard winked at Elizabeth, "Oh and Mrs. Darcy, you must call me Richard and I shall call you Elizabeth." He then moved quickly to hug Georgiana and then sought an introduction to Kitty, "Miss Catherine, I am most pleased to make your acquaintance. I see that the reports of the beauty of the women in Bennet family are well founded."
The countess looked at Elizabeth closely and then moved to her side and arm-in-arm they entered the manor house. As they walked the countess spoke softly and intimately, "Do you maybe have some news for us all?"
Elizabeth laughed softly, "You are as perspicacious as my mother. She can spot a woman who is only in her first month. We plan to announce it tonight."
"Fitzwilliam must be delighted...and very over-protective I imagine."
"He is trying to be reasonable and we have not had any serious disagreements ....yet." Elizabeth laughed again, "We are both very pleased."
"Have you felt the quickening?"
Elizabeth smiled happily, "Not yet. The doctor assures me the child will arrive early in May..." She chuckled, "...which Mrs. Reynolds had told me a day earlier. She thinks I should feel the quickening quite soon now."
Laughing and talking softly together as they proceeded indoors, the countess was only recalled to her hostess duties by a quiet cough by the earl. Not releasing Elizabeth's arm, she turned to her guests, "Miss Bennet, your rooms adjoin Georgiana's and she is in her usual rooms. She will show you there. Darcy, now that you are married I have moved you and Elizabeth into the Blue suite." Turning, she began to lead Elizabeth to her room and Elizabeth, looking over her shoulder simply smiled at her husband. The three men simply stood and watched the four women walk up the stairs. The earl turned to Darcy with a rather odd look in his eye, "It seems I have acquired another daughter rather than a niece." He shook his head, "Fitzwilliam, why don't you wash the dirt off and join me and Richard in my study for a brandy."
"With pleasure, Uncle." As Darcy moved to walk upstairs, Richard accompanied him for a few paces - far enough that his father could not hear, "We will have to talk at some point about how your marriage came about. Not now, but later. Perhaps we can ride tomorrow?"
Darcy smiled, nodded and whispered, "Very well, but do not distress yourself. All is well." As he prepared to rejoin his uncle and cousin, his thoughts veered pleasantly to the change that had taken place in the opinions of his Uncle and Aunt Matlock in a little less than six months. The young woman that his uncle had freely disparaged - although Darcy had not revealed that to Elizabeth - was now considered a welcome and valued member of the Matlock family. That Elizabeth had been able to win his uncle's approbation did not surprise Darcy, but that she had done so in such a short period of time astounded him.
The cousins did indeed go for an early morning ride the following day. Richard listened quietly, if not altogether approvingly, as Darcy explained how he had located Lydia Bennet, arranged for her to travel with her prospective husband to the Canadas and the letters which had been provided to establish the legitimacy of her marriages. "I admit, Richard, that I was banking that no one would be inclined to question a marriage when the parties were an ocean distant. The fact that she is rightfully married now gives it even more legitimacy."
"Are you sure of that marriage?"
"Simpson would only receive his funds when he provided proof of the marriage. In this case, my agent was on the scene. It is valid."
"The only loose end, Darcy, is Wickham. I could wish he was truly dead but perhaps it matters less now since the chit is safely married."
"I have to believe that the threat of a death sentence or debtor's prison should he return will silence him. Also, as time passes, any revelation he makes becomes less significant."
They rode in silence for some time, before Darcy, pointedly not looking at his cousin, asked, "How serious was your injury? You made light of it last night, but I suspect you have hidden the worst."
Richard grimaced, "I thought I had but mother quizzed me quite thoroughly and learned the whole of it." They rode in silence for some seconds before he continued, "It was a near thing. If one of my men had not killed the bugger, I would not be here now."
"Aunt Eleanor seems to think you will not return to action. Is this the truth?"
"Yes, I will never regain my strength in that arm. Even now it aches from our exertions which are mild compared to those required of a cavalry officer."
"Will you retire? Can you afford to retire?"
"Two separate questions, cousin. To the second, the answer is yes albeit with a limited income and consigned to a life as a bachelor. To the first question, I do not know. I could serve as a staff officer if I can find such a position. That is what I would prefer...unless I can find a young lady with a substantial dowry and a fondness for worn-out soldiers. I admit my envy for your felicity in marriage and would like to be as fortunate; however, I suspect that might be difficult to achieve."
"You are on leave for how long?"
"Until the new year, it seems."
"You will attend, of course, your family's ball at which Georgiana will come out. Will you participate further? If you are looking for a wife, it would seem advisable. Elizabeth and I plan to attend several balls and host two or three dinners before returning to Pemberley. We would very much wish for your presence."
"Georgiana has promised me a dance at her ball. I will concede the honour of her first set to my father but will ask for the second set. Beyond that I am not prepared to say."
Darcy decided there was nothing to be gained for pressing the issue at this time. He would have to talk to his uncle and aunt to see what arrangements could be made for his cousin's future. He had acquired a small estate that might serve and was more than willing to assist. Perhaps he and his uncle could talk with Richard before they left for London. "Actually Richard, I have some thoughts which might interest you and perhaps your father and I could talk with you tonight about them." He would say no more despite being pressed by his cousin and the latter was forced to be content with agreeing to discuss the matter later that day. The two cousins rode in companionable silence for the remainder of their time, returning tired, dirty and content.
Their stay at Matlock was not of long duration. Georgiana's coming out ball was in three weeks and there was some urgency to return to London. Gowns were to be made, and plans for the ball itself to be completed. Lady Eleanor had sent the invitations already but there were numerous tasks to be completed in the coming weeks. Darcy's thoughts were, for the most part, directed towards Elizabeth rather than the ball. During their stay, his aunt had tried to change Elizabeth's mind about having the baby at Pemberley but Elizabeth was adamant. She conceded that doctors were better in London but she herself would be happier and feel more secure at Pemberley. Finally conceding the point, the countess turned her attention to Georgiana's season in the spring. When apprised of her decision to remain at Pemberley with Elizabeth, her disapproval was expressed very strongly. It took repeated statements from Georgiana that she would not be happy to participate without her sister at her side, to finally convince Lady Eleanor who, at last, sat back and stated, "I do not recognize this Georgiana. The young girl I knew would not have been able to carry her point like this." She looked at Elizabeth with a rueful smile, "I blame this on you, you know; however, I cannot be too unhappy. She has improved marvellously in the past months."
Elizabeth accepted the praise calmly with a slight nod, "I think having my sister Kitty as company has helped them both as well." She turned to Lady Eleanor, "We have decided to host a ball at Pemberley - on the first day of the new year. I have never organized such. The Harvest Festival we held last month was, I suspect, a small effort compared to that required to host a ball. I would much appreciate your guidance; if you would permit me to assist you in preparing for your ball, I am sure that the lessons will help me greatly."
Lady Eleanor was more than agreeable to the suggestion and the following hour was spent outlining the various tasks that were necessary. The subject was addressed the next day as well when Elizabeth sat down with Lady Eleanor and the Matlock housekeeper. Elizabeth's countenance was slightly rueful when she was finally convinced to rest that afternoon by her husband, "I suspect that I will be thankful for Mrs. Reynolds and hope that she isn't too distressed by the work I expect to lay on her."
"Nonsense, Elizabeth. She will love the chance to show Pemberley in all its glory. I assure you of this."
"I trust you are right, my love. I trust you are right." Darcy lay beside his wife as she drifted off to sleep. Once assured that she would not wake, he carefully rose and went to sit by the fireplace to read until it was time to wake her once more; however, his thoughts were shortly drawn back to the discussion that had been held with his uncle and Richard the previous evening. He had been quite surprised and pleased that his uncle was in a position to support his proposition financially. That Richard would feel honour bound to reject any large gift he knew in advance; however, even his stubborn, independent cousin could not reject what essentially would be a wedding gift from his relations. That his cousin would be settled in close proximity to Pemberley added no small amount of gratification.
Posted on 2015-02-05
Friday October 15, 1813 - Darcy House, London
Darcy had convinced Elizabeth to cancel their engagement for the evening in order to rest. Both were feeling the stress of the social season albeit for somewhat different reasons. In this instance, each was in sympathy with the other in a desire for a quiet evening in the other's company. Elizabeth had finished reading the latest letter from Mary detailing recent events at Longbourn and pensive air drew her husband's interest, "What are thinking of, my love?"
Elizabeth appeared to him to be reluctant to respond, "Come my dear, tell me what troubles you."
She finally grimaced before responding, "I doubt you will hear it with any pleasure. I wish...would it be too much to ask my family to visit us over Christmas? My mother has never seen Pemberley and feels the slight a great deal it appears. We could invite the Gardiners and Jane as well perhaps."
Darcy attempted, probably not altogether successfully he suspected, to school his features to hide his reluctance to be in Mrs. Bennet's company; however, he realized that this was not an unreasonable suggestion. "You may invite whomever you wish, my love and, while I admit that your mother will test my patience, she will be welcome."
"Thank you, William. We both know she will act improperly but I will endeavour to prevent the worst. I hope to convince Jane to have her confinement here and to have Aunt Madeline attend her." She gave her husband a teasing look, "You, sir, are the fortunate one. I have reason to believe that you and my father will spend no little time enjoying the quiet and solitude of the library during the visit."
She shook her head at Darcy's smirk but any amusement fled with his following words, "What about the New Year's Day ball, Elizabeth?"
"Oh my! I had not thought of that." Darcy could see Elizabeth thinking for several moments before abruptly coming to a decision. Her voice was firm when she finally spoke, "She cannot attend. I...we cannot afford the embarrassment should she behave in a manner remotely like that which she displayed at the Netherfield Ball. I will not tolerate it!"
"Shall she stay in her rooms or depart for Longbourn before the ball?"
"I will leave that decision to my father but I hope he takes her home before the ball and will ask it of him. She will, I know, be most unhappy and will make her displeasure known."
"I suggest you write your father as soon as may be and talk to your sister and aunt as well. If your sister is to travel to Pemberley we may want to leave London a little earlier than planned."
"I shall write Papa immediately but perhaps when I am done, you could give me another billiard lesson?"
"That, my dear, would be delightful. Please make that a short letter so that I might sufficient time to devote to your instruction."
Within a very short time indeed, a servant passing the billiard room could hear the clack of billiard balls being struck and the Mistress's laughter.
Friday October 22, 1813 - Matlock House, London
"Miss Georgiana Darcy!"
As her name was announced, Georgiana began the descent of the stairs leading to the ballroom. She was the third, and last, of the young ladies to be presented to society tonight. As she slowly and gracefully made her way down the stairs, her thoughts were a jumbled mix. I know my gown is beautiful and William gave me my mother's diamond necklace which she wore on her introduction. I can see Elizabeth on William's arm. She glows, she looks so happy. I hope I can find someone who will make me as happy. William looks unhappy. Elizabeth says he is not looking forward to losing me. Silly man. I will always be his sister. I just hope his countenance does not discourage all of the gentlemen who wish to dance with me.
She looked past Her brother and his wife to see her cousin step forward to offer his hand. I am so glad that my uncle ceded the first dance to Richard. As she reached the last step she placed her hand in her cousin's and let him lead her to the head of the dance pairs. Darcy and Elizabeth took the fourth position after the other two couples being introduced. As the dance proceeded, she was warmed by Richard's care and teasing comments which distracted her sufficiently that she became less conscious of the many eyes upon her. The grin she received from Elizabeth when their paths crossed caused her to giggle and relax further. By the end of the set, she was quite looking forward to the following dances.
Richard led her, after the set concluded, to join Elizabeth and her brother. She was to be partnered by the earl for the next set and was already being approached by a few gentlemen seeking to be included on her dance card. While she spoke with these gentlemen under the watchful eye of her brother and Elizabeth, she noticed Richard in close conversation with Miss Thompson who had been invited by Elizabeth to this ball. A surprised as she was by the invitation, it had been made clear, albeit obliquely, by Miss Thompson that she had no particular interest in Mr. Bingley. As she snuck the occasional glance at Richard, it seemed to her that he was not disinterested. To her surprise, she heard him ask for the third dance but before she could hear Miss Thompson's response, the earl arrived to lead her once more unto the dance floor. Richard was partnering Elizabeth and Darcy had led Miss Thompson onto the floor.
The remainder of the ball had proceeded with unexpected, by her at least, quietude. She had danced with her Fitzwilliam cousins and a number of gentlemen who had been carefully screened by her aunt for suitability. She rather expected one or two of them to call the next day. The most memorable time had been with Mr. Bingley. Their dance itself was unexceptional; he was an excellent dancer and their steps and movements together could not have been smoother or more enjoyable. That he did not attempt to distract her with trivial conversation only added to her pleasure. When they did converse, it was on a topic that was of interest to both but for the most part, they danced in a companionable silence.
Since he had engaged her for the supper dance, he was able to partner her while they ate. In this regard, he was particular in seating her amongst her relations with whom she could converse comfortably. He himself did not try to monopolize her conversation but did succeed in engaging her interest on the theatre where they discussed a recent performance she had seen and on travel where they spoke of Yorkshire and some of the more interesting locations he had visited. While her attention had been largely focussed on Mr. Bingley, she had noticed that her cousin, Richard, had escorted Miss Thompson to the supper table which suggested to her that he had also just danced with her. Such a degree of interest on his part was unusual and she contrived to observe them occasionally as she ate. Richard was, as always, quite amiable and conversing with all those around him but it did seem that he was devoting an extraordinary amount of attention to Miss Thompson. That they had met once or twice at dinner parties, she was vaguely aware of but had not attributed much significance to the fact. Obviously that was a mistake on her part. She did not know Miss Thompson well; their interaction at Pemberley had been somewhat constrained but she had found her to be intelligent and kind with a rather disillusioned view of London society. Perhaps she was not a poor choice as a wife for Richard.
She was truly thankful for Elizabeth's guidance when her turn to exhibit arrived. She had chosen two pieces that were enjoyable listening, required a decent degree of competence to perform and, most importantly, that gave her pleasure to play. Lost in the music, she had been scarcely conscious of the audience and the applause that greeted her when she was done both surprised and pleased her. As she returned to Elizabeth's side, it was impossible not to observe her sister's joy. With her hand resting on her stomach, Elizabeth murmured to her, "I just felt the babe's quickening!" and looking up at her tall husband, she rolled her eyes and whispered, "And I fear his protectiveness will only increase. I dare say that if it were not your coming out, he would whisk me home right now."
Georgiana looked over at her brother. She could not see that he was any more attentive than usual. His discomfort with such public occasions led him to remain by Elizabeth's side as much as possible although she admitted that he had improved greatly in terms of sociability in the last year. Nevertheless she harboured no doubt that he would remove Elizabeth if she displayed the least sign of discomfort or fatigue and suspected, as well, that Elizabeth would hide any such signs as long as possible. Given her brother's sensitivity to his wife, she rather thought Elizabeth would have limited success. She found herself quite happy with this thought. Turning back to Elizabeth, she ventured to say, "You must not stay should you feel tired. My uncle and aunt will surely look after me."
Elizabeth nodded, "I do not plan to dance anymore and, should I feel tired, I believe I can retire to a room to rest. And ..." she looked past Georgiana, "I believe your next dance partner approaches."
Georgiana turned and smiled slightly at the young man who had come to claim her for the set. Lord Albert Knowles was the second son of the Duke of ______ and had been gifted a comfortable estate by his father. She had not met him previously but knew that her Uncle Matlock was supportive of a connection with that family. Their dance together was unexceptional and such conversation as was to be had was unmemorable and, at the end of the dance, Georgiana was surprised at his request to call on her the next day.
Georgiana was fully engaged for the remainder of the ball although her attention frequently drifted back towards her brother and his wife. Elizabeth had, as she stated, danced no more but, her arm firmly resting on that of her husband, she had moved casually around the room stopping to speak with acquaintances and leaving behind her smiling faces. She was to learn later that her brother had eventually insisted that Elizabeth remove herself to a room to rest until the ball was complete.
Richard had arrived at the dance with the object of determining whether he wished to try and engage Miss Thompson's affections. He remembered their first meeting; she had been invited, along with her parents and her brother and his wife to a dinner party hosted by the Darcys. It had been a rather large and mixed affair with a mixture of Bennet, Fitzwilliam and Darcy relatives along with a number of particular friends of the Darcys. He rather doubted that Darcy House had seen anything similar for over ten years. He had been introduced to Miss Thompson when she arrived but the press of people had prevented any opportunity for conversation. Fortunately, although he was later to suspect that chance had little role in the matter, he was seated by Miss Thompson during dinner and their conversation, full of the commonplace topics at the beginning, had quickly taken a very different tack as the meal progressed.
"Mrs. Darcy tells me, Colonel, that you are only lately returned from Wellington's army. I understand you were injured at the battle of Vitoro - have I pronounced that correctly?"
"You certainly pronounced it as I do anyway, I am not in a position to judge its correctness. Indeed I have been back almost a month now."
"Will you be required to return?"
Richard was not sure how much to divulge in this matter. My parents have convinced me to resign my commission. I will be simply Mr. Fitzwilliam in a month or so.
"Your parents must be very relieved at such news. I am sure that mine would be if one of my brothers was similarly situated."
Richard smiled, "I have good reason to know they are mightily happy; although there remains the question of my future employment. As a second son, I must make my own way in the world. Fortunately, I believe my prospects are reasonably bright. But enough of such dismal topics, your family is now established in Hertfordshire I believe. How do you find it there?"
Miss Thompson was willing to let him divert the conversation to other topics and responded by praising the area and noting that she had been invited by the Darcys to visit almost a month at Pemberley during the summer. They spent much of the remainder of the dinner conversing on the beauties of Derbyshire and Pemberley and their conversation was joined by Richard's sister, Lady Frances. Both Miss Thompson and Richard regretted the separation of ladies and gentlemen that occurred when the meal was complete.
Richard casually surveyed the room when the gentlemen returned. Miss Thompson was an attractive young woman and her countenance was enlivened by her intelligence and a distinct sense of humour. He found her comments on the other guests that had been visiting Pemberley had displayed a sense of the ridiculous without descending into that malice which seemed to permeate much of London society. He finally saw her sitting amongst a group of young women and foresaw little opportunity to further engage her in conversation. Casting another glance in her direction, he perceived that she had discerned his attention and awarded him a slight smile before returning her attention to those surrounding her. Opportunities to converse with her further had not been available until shortly before she was to depart with her family. He had just returned his coffee cup to the table when he felt her presence beside him. He recognized her delicate perfume before turning to face he and knew he wished to further their acquaintance. To this end, he began, "Miss Thompson, it has indeed been a pleasure to have met you tonight. Are you finding the season to be interesting so far?"
"I admit Colonel that I find little enjoyment in most of the Season's activities. Dinners like this one tonight have proven to be a very welcome respite."
"Forgive me if I am being impertinent but your days or rather evenings must be full of events. I remember my sister complaining because she was never home for an evening to rest."
She laughed, "That is all too true if one allows it to happen. I have convinced my mother to be more circumspect with our endeavours. We shall attend the theatre two nights hence and have been invited to a ball by the Samuelsons. Do you know them?"
"I have only heard of him. I believe my Cousin Darcy knows him rather well." I wonder if Darcy has received an invitation?
Before she could respond further, she was reminded by her mother that they were to depart and she took her leave of him.
His appeal the next day to Darcy had convinced the latter to solicit - successfully - the Samuelsons to substitute Richard for the Darcy presence at the ball. He had attended and had requested, again successfully, two dances - the first and, subsequently, last - with Miss Thompson. His enjoyment seemed to have been matched by hers and during the dance, they had somehow contrived to be in each other's company on the one occasion when she had not danced. As their final dance was concluded, he had taken the critical step, "Miss Thompson, may I call on you tomorrow?"
She had appeared a little surprised at the request but there appeared no uncertainty in her mien when she responded, "I should like that very much, Colonel."
"I will call at two o'clock, if that I agreeable?"
"I look forward to seeing you, Colonel."
As they left the dance floor, she handed him her card with her address which he took and then bowed over her hand before taking his leave of her.
He had called upon her at home three times since the Samuelson ball and been invited to dine with them once. Such occasions had permitted them to discuss a variety of topics although the presence f others had limited them to such topics as would be appropriate for a drawing room. He had come away impressed by her sense, sensibility, good humour and kindness. That she had a carefully hidden wit was obvious from the mirth that flickered across her features when some absurdity occurred. Nevertheless, he knew that more precipitate action was required if he were to forward their acquaintance.
Her presence tonight at the Matlock ball had been at his request and he knew his parents were almost quiveringly sensitive to his interest in Miss Thompson. He had been present when Elizabeth had introduced her to his parents and, if Miss Thompson was not aware of the focussed interest of his mother, he most certainly was. He had previously asked her for the supper dance and tonight, he planned to ask for a second dance. If he could arrange the opportunity he planned to ask her if he could court her.
Later, after they both had finished eating he assisted her from the table and they began to stroll around the room. Realizing that he might not be afforded a more opportune moment that evening, he directed their steps toward an open door opening onto a balcony, to which he gestured. "Miss Thompson, would you allow me an opportunity to speak to you in private?"
Receiving her surprised assent, they stepped onto the balcony which was unoccupied He ensured that the door remained open and that they were visible from within the ball room. He thought he saw his mother watching him but the room was too crowded for him to be certain of that. He found himself uncharacteristically nervous. He knew what he wished to say but his throat seemed tight and her questioning gaze at him did nothing to expel his sudden fit of nerves. "Miss Thompson, I wished..." he grabbed hold of himself and willed a posture of calmness that was more feigned than otherwise. He tried again, "Miss Thompson, I find myself bereft of the poise that I normally possess. I asked you here for a purpose." At last I am starting to make sense. "I have been much in your company for the last several weeks and have developed a sincere appreciation, esteem for you. I wish to ask whether you would be agreeable to my courting you?"
That she was surprised by his request was obvious and it was several moments before she responded, "Colonel Fitzwilliam, you find me quite discomposed. I...I would welcome such a courtship, sir. Very much, in fact!" She raised her eyes to search his face, "I would very much wish to know you better."
"I will call on your father tomorrow morning at two then for his consent. Perhaps I might, if the weather is favourable, arrange for us to walk in Hyde Park."
"I would look forward to that." She then became conscious that the musicians were preparing to begin to play, "Unfortunately sir, I must return to the ball. I am to dance the next."
Raising her hands he brushed them with his lips and then returned with her to the ballroom. They had but a few moments before she was claimed by her next partner for the dance. As it turned out, Richard was unable to obtain her attention again until she and her family departed. He assisted her into her coach under the questioning looks of her parents and could easily surmise that she was to be quizzed on the drive drove home and her own rueful smile, as she accepted his help, left little doubt that she understood what was to follow. He watched her carriage drive away before returning indoors only to meet the inquisitive stare of his mother. He gave her a little shake of his head to indicate he did not wish to discuss the matter as yet. He knew he had bought some time but that his mother, and his father, would not be gainsaid for long.
Saturday October 23, 1813 - London
Richard Fitzwilliam had little difficulty in ascribing the word "eventful' to his day so far. As he walked in Hyde Park with Miss Thompson on his arm, he could not control the large smile that spread over his face. She had, so far, been content to let him talk about superficialities until they arrived at the park. Her quiet he knew to be somewhat uncharacteristic. That she had many questions to ask was a certainty but only a few of the more important ones should be addressed now.
"Miss Thompson, obviously you realize your father has consented to the courtship. I suspect you have many questions to ask of me, do you not?"
"I do indeed, Colonel."
"Perhaps we can start by called me Mr. Fitzwilliam. My resignation is in process and officially I will be a civilian again in less than a fortnight."
She gave him a slight grin, "That will be no hardship on my part, Mr. Fitzwilliam. And how shall you like being a gentleman?"
He met her teasing look with a grin of his own, "I shall like it very much, I think. You are, I believe, the first to name me so. I thank you. Now, as to your questions?"
She waited for several moments before responding, "I know my father gave his consent but your visit with him lasted over a half hour. My father knew you would ask for his consent since I had talked to him earlier. Whatever could you talk about for so long?"
"He wished to ensure that I could support a wife properly and comfortable. I assured him I could and provided the information to assuage his concerns."
"As I am an interested party, could you share that with me?"
"Of course, I had planned to do so when the opportunity arose." His face took on a look that she was coming to learn indicated he was deliberating on how best to answer and that he would answer when he was ready. She schooled herself to patience."
When he finally spoke, she later realized she should be amazed that he would confide in her to the degree he had. For now, she listened.
"When I arrived home I went to stay with my parents. The Darcy's stopped for a short visit of a few days before continuing on to London. As first I thought my cousin had anticipated my situation but now I believe it was simply his foresight. He saw an opportunity and seized it." He glanced at her and saw her confusion.
"I am not making a lot of sense am I." He shook his head, "please, be patient....As I was saying, my cousin saw an opportunity, in this case a decent small estate being sold cheaply because the owner needed funds desperately. He bought it, I suspect, for one of his sons but when he realized my situation, he - in conjunction with my parents and siblings - gave it to me. I am the proud owner of a small estate with about fifteen hundred pounds a year which could be increased to two thousand according to my cousin. The property has been neglected although the manor house is, apparently, in decent shape. With my pension and income from savings I will have an annual income of about twenty five hundred pounds a year. More than enough to support a family although we will not by any means be wealthy. He paused following the last statement and looked at her, "I realize that it may be less than you are used to and we will not be making much of a presence in London."
Miss Thompson strolled beside him in silence for a minute or two before, answering the unasked question. That she smiled at him with no reservations before answering eased his concern, "Mr. Fitzwilliam, I am much relieved. I do not need a lavish house or income. My concern was that we might depend upon my dowry. I am much relieved we shall not."
"Your father spoke of that. I am sure he was concerned that I might be a fortune hunter...."
"No, I do not think so. I told him that I was sure you would not have spoken, if my dowry was an issue. I cannot tell you how or why I believed that but I have come to the conclusion, Mr. Fitzwilliam, that you are an honourable man. Your cousin Elizabeth certainly thinks highly of you."
They walked in silence for a few minutes, basking in the sun and coolness of a late October day before she put words to her thoughts, "I have found that, despite living my life in the city, I quite prefer to live in the country. Visiting the city for few weeks for the theatre and exhibits is wonderful but I am quite content in the country." She paused for a moment before asking, "Where is this estate to be found?"
"About ten miles from the Darcy's estate at Pemberley. Do you remember the small village of Lambton?" at her nod, he continued, "Holsten is about five miles east of Lambton while Pemberley is five miles west. According to Darcy, the road between them is in good shape. I expect we...I will see much of the Darcys when.." His face got slight red from embarrassment at his mistake.
"I apologize, that was very presumptuous of me."
"Indeed it was, Mr. Fitzwilliam; however, I am not offended. Not at all."
She exerted herself to continue the conversation, successfully diverting it to topics of lesser significance. Unfortunately he could not speak of the condition of the manor house or the number of rooms since he expected his first survey of it would not occur until Christmas when he visited the Darcys.
As they neared the exit where their carriage waited for them, she raised the issue that she knew would have to be addressed. That she was extremely uncomfortable doing so quickly became apparent to Fitzwilliam as she became silent and looked worried. "Come, Miss Thompson, I know not what has you so unhappy, but I am sure it cannot be as bad as your expression suggests."
She laughed and he thought he detected a touch of bitterness in her voice as she responded, "I do not know if you are right or not, sir." She walked in silence for several moments looking at the ground in front of her feet. "Oh, there is no easy way to say this. Your parents, they...they refused to attend the Darcy's wedding because the only available accommodation was with us. It was not stated so but that is what we believed. How...how will they feel about this courtship and ...and me?"
"I have spoken to them already." He placed his other hand over hers on his arm and squeezed, "Janet, I expected my father to object. In this I was not disappointed. My father is most unhappy with the connection to trade; nevertheless, once he had voiced his objections - twice I might add - and I had made him aware of the firmness of my intentions, he limited himself to grumbles. I suspect the fact that Darcy wed Elizabeth, whom he has come to regard with approval despite her connections to trade, has done much to assuage his ire. I do not know how he will treat your parents but I have no doubt he will be civil. He will accept you as my wife, should you accept me."
"I beg your pardon!" she came to a complete stop and gazed at him.
He thought back to what he said and his countenance once again assumed an embarrassed mien, "I apologize once again. I am...I am too precipitate." He squared his shoulders and faced her directly, "Janet, Miss Thompson, I spoke out of turn but I will be frank. There is very little doubt in my mind that I will make you an offer. Its timing and its acceptance or rejection are both yours to command. I will say no more at this time."
He placed her hand on his arm once more and continued to walk towards the waiting carriage. After they both had seated themselves and the trip back to her home begun, he resumed their previous conversation. "I have told you of my father's reaction. My mother surprised me. She was rather silent during the discussion with my father, the reason for which became clear as I was about to depart. She observed my interest in you last evening and that I had spoken with you privately on the balcony. She suspected that I had made an offer of marriage or courtship. She discerned our pleasure when we returned to the ballroom and a little later she spoke to Elizabeth who was most complimentary of you. I have observed that she has a great deal of respect for Elizabeth. As a consequence, you may expect an invitation to tea for you and your mother to meet her on Monday next."
The remainder of the ride was conducted in relative silence as the young lady had much to think on. She had formed a very good opinion of the gentleman sitting across from her in the carriage but she had yet to take his full measure as a possible husband. It seemed that he was less uncertain but, as she suddenly realized, he was not going to pressure her to make a decision in haste but, instead, would allow her to proceed at a pace with which she was comfortable. When he finally escorted her to her door and bowed over her and kissed her fingers, she knew that his openness and consideration had advanced his suit quite a bit and this, she thought, was only the first day of their courtship.
Sunday November 8, 1813 - Matlock House, London
Georgiana was grateful for the solitude. Kitty had gone to visit the Gardiners and would not be home till late while her aunt and Uncle were visiting their daughter, Lady Frances, and were not expected back for hours. Richard, of course, was in company with Miss Thompson and had little thought for anyone else at the moment. She needed this time to herself - to sort out the events of the past week. A week ago, she had been looking forward to a ball and dancing the first set with Mr. Bingley. Now she found herself having to decide whether to accept a courtship with a man that she was increasingly inclined to dislike. If it were left to her solely, she would refuse; but it might not be that simple and she needed the advice of those closest to her and whom she trusted most.
She was still trying to comprehend how it had come to be and yet her mind seemed always to be grasping futilely at wisps of thought. "I must gain come control. Elizabeth would not behave so." She thought of her sister and then she remembered something Elizabeth had confided some months ago. When she - Elizabeth - had been beset by confusion and uncertainty, she had...what was her expression. Oh yes! "I forced myself to look back to when I was content, not confused, and then look at subsequent events as they happened." Georgiana began to recall her last contented or happy time.
It was at the _____ Ball. She had been looking forward to dancing the first set with Mr. Bingley which he had requested two days previous to the ball. Instead of dancing the first set with Mr. Bingley, she had sat it out. He had not attended the ball at all. That was a disappointment enough but she had masked such feelings and circulated amongst the crowd meeting and talking with a few acquaintances. Questions as to Mr. Bingley's absence she deflected as best she could since she had no explanation to give and then, stopping at the refreshments, had stepped away from the table to once more gather her composure which was starting to fray. That eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves was once again afforded validity as she listened to a conversation between two young ladies with whom she had a slight acquaintance.
"I do wonder that the Matlocks are sponsoring Miss Darcy." said one lady. "I know she is their niece but surely they must be despairing of her. I mean look at her, she's as tall as a man and hardly slim. Poor Mr. Fairly looked embarrassed to be dancing with her. She almost dwarfed him. It is not even as though she were pretty. I have heard her features called handsome but I do not see it. There is nothing particularly attractive about any of her features."
Her companion tittered, "Yes, if it were not for her dowry, no one would pay her any attention at all. Her thirty thousand pounds will be needed to find her an eligible suitor. I mean really, she has no conversation, attempts to discuss music and the theatre with men when she can be convinced to talk at all. Why I remember that just the other night I listened to her...."
At this point Georgiana forced her leaden legs to move away and, as she did so, spotted her Aunt Eleanor searching the room, presumably for her. With some relief she rejoined her aunt. That she was able to maintain her composure for the remainder of the evening was something she could only wonder at afterwards. Even now she could not recollect who partnered her for the various dances.
Her aunt had noticed something was amiss with her but had been satisfied when told by Georgiana that she had simply heard some malicious gossip which had discomposed her for a few moments. In truth, she was sure that the hurtful comments would have been forgotten immediately if Mr. Bingley had been present. However he was not and since he had been calling once a week at least his absence concerned her slightly. Furthermore, she had expected to encounter him at a dinner two nights after the ball and his presence at one or two other social events that week would not have been unexpected. Georgiana found herself confused by his absence and worried by his failure to explain that absence. She remembered too well that he had fled Hertfordshire and Jane Bennet with no explanation. Her first thought had been that he had decided that she was too plain and uninteresting to pursue, but her common sense quickly overrode such fears. As well, he had shown himself to be too honourable to behave in such an ungentlemanly manner. No, the reason for his absence was unknown but she trusted that he could and would explain all.
Her uncle's request to speak to her last Thursday morning had only compounded her uncertainties. He had called her down to his study to, as he put it, "apprise her of a serious courtship offer." As it turned out, he had been approached the previous night by Lord Albert Knowles who wished to enter into a courtship with Georgiana. Despite being told that Lord Matlock could not sanction any such offer, he had persisted in presenting his case, which Lord Matlock eventually agreed to convey to Georgiana's guardians. Lord Albert was advised that he would have to obtain Georgiana's consent to such a courtship before her guardians were likely to approve it. Lord Albert appeared, he thought, rather unimpressed with such a nicety but agreed to do so the next day. Accordingly, the earl fully expected him to arrive shortly to make such an offer.
If the earl had reservations about the whole business, Georgiana could not detect them. He waxed eloquent about the young man's noble lineage - after all, the second son of a duke was an excellent connection with a standing in society that was superior to her untitled position. That such a connection would be of benefit to the earl himself, he readily admitted. His efforts in the House of Lords would be enhanced by the support of the Duke of _____ and, as he pointed out to Georgiana, the eldest son was sickly and his wife was still childless after four years of marriage. Georgiana might well become the Duchess should an offer of marriage be made.
The earl waxed no less eloquent about Lord Albert's financial prospects - he had a decent estate and a fine income from it - and was well-featured and quite amiable which, the earl suggested, given Georgiana's reserve would complement her very well. Lord Matlock asserted, perhaps with more confidence than was warranted, that even Georgiana's brother would have supported a courtship with Lord Albert. Georgiana's protestations that she barely knew the gentleman and had developed no affection for him were dismissed with the brusque, "Georgiana, you must be sensible about this. Your brother was fortunate to marry a woman for whom he had a great affection and who returned it. As much as I have come to esteem Elizabeth, you must realize that such marriages are highly unusual amongst our station. I did not love your aunt when I married her. I barely knew her but we have grown to esteem each other highly." He had paused then and more gently stated, "It may seem cold but many solid marriages arise from such arrangements since there is a commonality of station, pedigree, education and background. A young woman cannot afford to wait upon the arrival of a gentleman who holds her in deep affection before the marriage. Marriage is too important a matter to be left to chance, Georgiana. One must be practical in such matters after all."
Lord Matlock's endeavours at extolling the manifold merits of Lord Albert were only brought to cessation by the appearance of the gentleman himself who, after the proper civilities were expressed, requested and was granted a private interview with Georgiana. Grasping the opportunity, she began to consider the gentleman while he made conversation with her uncle. He looked every inch the gentleman, taller than herself by several inches, well-formed although of a slender build. His manner towards most of their acquaintance seemed amiable enough, though he appeared to her to be fully conscious of his rank in society. His apparel was of the finest quality and, if he appeared to be somewhat of a dandy, he was not excessively so. As she appraised him, she realized that he was giving equal attention to her. In that appraisal she could find no particular regard and his gaze appeared rather cool than otherwise.
Georgiana's assessment of Lord Albert Knowles was not too far off the mark. The gentleman had a firm conviction of the merits of his station in life; an opinion that had been fostered by an overbearing father possessed of the conviction that the rest of society, except for those few of equal or superior rank, were of lesser worth than himself; and, if truth were known, his Grace the Duke of ____ was not convinced that even those few of equal rank, merited his consideration. By virtue of this conviction, he had imparted to his children that their opinions and wishes were such as to assure their acceptability by others, regardless of the merits of such opinions and wishes. Fortunately, his Grace had, with the assistance of tutors and governesses managed to instruct his children in proper comportment and their belief in their own superiority was well masked by civility towards others. Unfortunately, his Grace, who was himself a reasonably intelligent and educated gentleman, had not managed to inculcate in his children his own respect for learning. Hence while reasonably intelligent, Lord Albert had acquired a gentleman's education at university, which is to say that he was much less acquainted with his books and tutors than he was with the other attractions and activities which a wealthy young gentleman could enjoy. That he did so without incurring a reputation for dissolute behaviour is a tribute to his intelligence and discretion. This is the gentleman that Georgiana was considering and he was not one that she instinctively liked.
Yet his voice when he spoke was quite pleasant albeit lacking any particular emotion, "I believe, Miss Darcy, that your uncle has informed you of my purpose here today?"
At the brief inclination of her head, he had continued, "I am come to you today to seek your consent to a courtship. My parents - my father in particular - are quite desirous of my, as he put it, 'settling down.' If they have other concerns, I am not privy to them. I have taken no little time to observe you in the past month and am convinced that you would be a suitable partner in life should it come to that. Your station in life, while inferior to my own is acceptable. That the Earl of Matlock is your uncle is sufficient to ameliorate such connections to trade as may exist. Your presence, countenance, dowry and accomplishments all establish that you would satisfactorily adorn any gentleman's arm. However, I realize that this offer has most probably been a surprise to you and that it is the custom for ladies to wish to get to know their partners in life before accepting any offer of marriage. For this reason, I am disposed to offer a courtship at this time rather than an offer of marriage as I had intended. Do I have your agreement, Miss Darcy?"
Georgiana could not help but feel that he had considered his question to be worthy of only one answer and, she admitted to herself, the temptation to reject it based on his manner of soliciting her agreement was very strong. His arrogance was beyond anything she had previously encountered and she could not like it - not at all. Nevertheless, she schooled her features to suppress her ire and replied, "You must appreciate, sir, that this offer comes as a complete surprise to me. I would ask you to allow me some time to consider it."
His surprise at her response was obvious, "Consider it? Miss Darcy I..." Then he bit off his words and nodded his head, retreating to a nearby window from which to inspect the street below.
Georgiana had first thought that she should not take overlong to consider this offer, but as she pondered the situation she knew that she needed her brother and sister to advise her. Looking at Lord Albert she realized quickly that his affections were not engaged. Thus, delaying her response might irritate him, wound his pride perhaps, but his heart was in no danger. Her thoughts skittered as the tidbit of gossip she overheard surfaced. Perhaps she was not such a poor prospect as that overheard comment would imply. Certainly accepting it would not have pleased the young ladies, a thought which had given her no little satisfaction at the time but she knew was hardly a basis for accepting.
That her uncle would appear to favour the offer greatly, she knew. That the absence of Mr. Bingley had left her feeling rather bereft was not something she recognized at the time but now knew had affected her decision, perhaps making her more cautious. She could not see that Lord Albert was an unsuitable suitor. She simply did not know what to do. She would prefer to reject this offer but her uncle's words seemed to suggest that doing so would be a bad mistake. How she had wished she could speak to her brother and Elizabeth. There were implications in the situation which she did not feel capable of assessing properly.
Finally, she had turned to Lord Albert, "I apologize, sir for making you wait upon my response and thank you for your patience in doing so. I appreciate the honour that is involved but, as I am sure you can appreciate, this offer has come as a complete surprise to me. I must ask for your further patience as I consult with my brother and his wife."
That Lord Albert's displeasure had increased was obvious only to the most careful observer. Perhaps the length of time she had taken to consider his offer warned him that an acceptance was not assured. His manner remained polite as he responded, "I would assume from your request that you might have reservations about the offer, Miss Darcy. Might you share them with me?"
"My reservations, Lord Albert, are as I have stated them. Your offer is quite unexpected and I wish to discuss it with my brother and wife." She looked at him directly as she continued, "I understand that courtship is intended to lead to an offer of marriage. I would not wish to enter a courtship if I am not prepared to give serious consideration to such an offer. It would do no credit to either of us to be precipitous in this matter."
Lord Albert was now clearly displeased by her decision but made every effort to mask his feelings and respond with civility, "Very well, Miss Darcy. When might I expect a response?"
"I will talk with my other guardian, Richard Fitzwilliam, today and he will send an express to my brother. I would think he would be here within a week or less."
"Then I will restrain my impatience and await your brother's arrival." He hesitated, "May I call on you tomorrow? At eleven, perhaps."
"Of course, My Lord"
As she sat at the pianoforte, her fingers casually running over the keys, unaware of what melody was issuing forth, her thoughts focused on the moment she had realized that unless her brother suggested otherwise, she would not accept Lord Albert's offer. The morning following her conversation with Lord Albert, her aunt had been seated at the breakfast table and opening her morning's mail. Looking up at Georgiana, she had blurted, "Well, that explains what happened!"
"Of what do you speak, Aunt?"
"Mr. Bingley! He has just written to express his regrets. Poor man. I am glad he is better."
"Better? Aunt I do not comprehend you?"
"Mr. Bingley writes that he was taken quite ill the day before the _____ Ball. A violent fever rendered him insensible for almost a se'enday he says and it is only recently that he is out and about. He sends his apologies for missing the ball and regrets the loss of the dance you promised him. And, let me see..." Turning to the second page, she continued, "Ah yes, he expects to be out in company as soon as the doctor declares him healthy. Lady Matlock looked at her niece noting her sudden smile, "Georgiana dear, whatever is the matter? Have you developed an affection for Mr. Bingley?"
Georgiana could not control either her happiness or her blushes, "Yes aunt, I do not know for sure but I do enjoy his company more than any man I know."
"I will say nothing against Mr. Bingley. But you have not yet made an acquaintance with many gentlemen who could be potential suitors. I would urge you to be very cautious in your behaviour to him."
Unfortunately, she had not been allowed time to enjoy the prospect of further attentions from Mr. Bingley. Lord Albert was to call at eleven but it had taken her maid only a few minutes to prepare her appearance for the outing. As she looked back at her encounters with Lord Albert - of which there had been only a few - she could recall little that spoke to his benefit. They had been sitting in the sitting room with only a maid, safely and discretely sitting in a far corner, for company. Seeking to discover more about the gentleman she had begun to question him about his estate.
"I understand, Lord Albert, that your estate is located in Devon. Is the country there much like Derbyshire?"
"Yes, it is although perhaps slightly less wild. The hunting is very poor though."
"Are you there much of the year?"
"No, I have not been there for two years or more. I organized a hunting party three years ago and it was so poor we had to give it up after only a week."
Georgiana was nonplussed as to how to continue the conversation. "That is very unfortunate, I am sure. But may not the park afford some excellent trails for riding?"
Lord Albert nodded slowly, "Certainly it does, but that amusement palls quickly and my guests were quite eager to depart."
She thought she might ask after some features of the house. "What is the manor house like?"
He appeared to be surprised at the question but responded, "Ah, I forgot that ladies are interested in such features. I am desolate to say that I really cannot remember much about the house. It is not fashionably furnished and while it has been maintained it is not located, I believe, where I wish to be overlong."
Georgiana's misgivings were increasing the more he revealed. Her brother she knew was intimately involved in the running of his estates and their management absorbed a considerable portion of his time every day. Perhaps the same was true of Lord Albert and so she asked, "It must be difficult to manage your estate from afar. I know my brother receives many reports about his every week."
Lord Albert looked at her in surprise, "Does he? I am sure I do not understand why he would waste his time so. That is what stewards are for, surely." He paused for a moment or two before continuing, "As long as I receive the income I expect from my estate, I leave the getting of it to those I have hired for that purpose."
Georgiana had some difficulty in masking her disapproval and did so successfully only by leaning forward to refill her cup with tea. Fortunately, Lord Albert was inclined to begin talking of some hunting parties that he had attended over the summer and the remainder of their conversation suffered a surfeit of information - from Georgiana's perspective - about guns, birds shot, fishing and other such activities which attend such parties, none of which she found to be of particular interest.
She found it particularly irritating that he had made but a token attempt to acquaint himself with her interests and thoughts. While he might initiate a conversation about a play or exhibition that she had attended, it did not require much time for the conversation to devolve to his interests and she quickly determined that a simple question from her was sufficient to allow him to expound on those activities. That her interest in them was limited never seemed to occur to him.
Georgiana could see no reason to accept Lord Albert's offer and rather regretted not doing so immediately; however, she knew that, given his station, such a rejection might be impolitic in the extreme.
Wednesday November 11, 1813 - Pemberley
A letter had been placed on the tray delivered to the Darcy's private sitting room where they had decided to break their fast this morning. Jane was inclined to rise late and, with no other guests, they preferred to enjoy the privacy of their own chambers as much as possible. Darcy accepted a cup of coffee from Elizabeth before picking up the letter. Breaking the seal, he observed to Elizabeth, "It's from Richard. I wonder...?"
Elizabeth glanced up from buttering a biscuit to see a frown cross his face, "Problems...?"
'Hmmm....problems? I do not know. Here read it and share your thoughts with me."
November 7, 1813
This is a rather difficult letter to write. First, the important news, Lord Albert Knowles has asked to court Georgiana who has, with considerable foresight, asked for some time to consult with you and Elizabeth. I am writing to request your immediate presence and that of your wife, if possible, in town. If the offer is accepted I believe Lord Albert will request that Georgiana remain in town for an extra month or until Christmas; however, it appears that Georgiana would still prefer to leave London no later than the end of November.
I admit I am a little uncomfortable about this courtship offer. I have not detected any particular interest on the part of Georgiana towards Lord Albert. And I cannot discern any particular interest on his part either in the few times they had been in company together. My father favours the young gentleman; however, I suspect that it is the connection to the Duke of ____ that is of primary importance to him. I believe there may be issues in the House of Lords where the Duke's support might be critical. In any event, my father reminded me that their Graces and their son should be invited to your ball on the 1st of January if the offer is accepted.
When I spoke with Georgiana, I was quite pleased by her attitude. She displayed considerable poise in dealing with it. I suspect many young ladies of her tender years might have accepted without giving any thought to the merits of the offer or the man himself. She has professed no particular regard for him and, as I remarked above, I had never detected that she derives any noticeable pleasure in his company. Rather the reverse in fact. I thought it interesting that she was quite firm about her desire to return to Pemberley as soon as may be. The most that she would admit was that he was pleasant-looking and that being the son of a duke he was possessed of excellent connections. As I write this, my suspicions that my father has pressed her to accept the courtship, are becoming firmer. It is to her credit she has not done so.
While a courtship does not necessarily require the couple to wed, the opprobrium attached to a rejected proposal will tarnish Georgiana's reputation as well as that of Lord Albert. I would prefer to avoid such if at all possible. In this I am sure we are of a like mind. I could also wish that I were present when this letter is read. The little I have seen of the gentleman does not predispose me towards him and I wonder at the opinions of you both.
I plan to bring both Georgiana and Miss Catherine to Pemberley and expect to arrive mid afternoon on the 2nd of December. I will visit with you for a day or two before stopping off at Holsten for a few days on my way to Matlock Manor.
Your bedevilled Cousin,
PS My courtship of Miss Thompson is proceeding excellently I believe. I am increasingly of the opinion that we will suit exceedingly well. I can only hope that she is of a like opinion.
Elizabeth put the letter down and her surprise was evident to her husband. Her first words mirrored his thoughts, "I do not understand this at all. There was no obvious interest from Lord Albert prior to our departure."
"Do you subscribe to Richard's thoughts on my uncle's involvement, Elizabeth?"
"It is possible, I suppose. Certainly Lord Albert possesses all the attributes that your uncle would wish to see in a suitor. Wealth, connections and breeding!" If her tone was a little acerbic, Darcy was not prepared to fault her and his grin drew a most unladylike snort from his wife.
His grin faded as the other questions arose in his mind. His next question was thoughtful, "What is your opinion of Lord Albert, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth sipped her tea and deliberately broke open and buttered another biscuit. "Mmm, these biscuits are delicious. I must remember to thank Cook for baking them." She slowly ate half of the biscuit and Darcy was content to let her deliberate. She had told him that she was increasingly inclined to consider a matter thoroughly before expressing an opinion. "After all," she opined to him one day, "my reliance on first impressions has been proven faulty on at least one important occasion. I must be more cautious in the future."
His patience was rewarded when she finally responded, the remainder of the biscuit in her hand, "I first must admit that I was in Lord Albert's company only a few times - he called on us twice in town and then two balls and a dinner, I believe. And we did not converse a great deal on any of those occasions even when he called on us at Darcy House. It is difficult to form a solid opinion on so little."
"Nonetheless, I detect that you have reached some thoughts, sketchy though they may be. I would hear them Elizabeth. You know how much I value your opinions."
"Then I shall share them with you, poor though they may be." Her rueful smile gave truth to her words. "I was, as I said, but little in his company and my impression from his behaviour was that even that little was a bit too much for his liking. He sat beside me for an entire dinner and addressed but a handful of words to me the whole time whilst talking amiably with several others around us. Those he addressed were all well connected. Did he consider me beneath his attention? I do not know but that seemed a reasonable supposition at the time. As it was, I was not so enamoured of his conversation as to take exception to his incivility or miss the lack of it. He appears to be a capable dancer but I know of no other good of him."
She paused and thought for several moments trying to recall their conversations, "When he called on us, he did not really distinguish himself amongst the other callers. He stayed the approved time. He did not single me out for conversation and spoke only briefly to Georgiana as I remember. I gather he attended Oxford, I believe, but it was not apparent, from such discussions as I overheard, that he attended for purposes of acquiring any learning. Certainly his acquaintance with his books must have been brief and unsatisfactory. His opinions seemed ill-formed and poorly expressed. His father might have better spent the cost of his education on helping the poor....better value to be sure!"
She refilled her teacup, adding a dash of cream and stirring for several seconds. As she raised the cup to her lips, she paused to state, "I cannot see what would attract Georgiana to him. His life seems to be one of visiting friends to hunt or ride or simply visit. Much of his time is spent in London and his activities are probably those of most young men of a similar age. I have heard nothing of dissolute behaviour but neither have I heard of any characteristics that would raise him in my esteem. As I said, I fail to see that she would wish for a courtship with him." She looked at her husband, "Do you comprehend more than I?"
"No, my dear. I most unhappily do not. I probably have been in his company even less than yourself. I had no knowledge that he would apply for a courtship and did not make an effort to discover his background." He shook his head, "What little I do know is not particularly favourable, although it is also, I regret to say, not uncommon amongst young men of his station."
Acknowledging her raised eyebrow with a slight grimace, he continued, "As you say, he spends his time in London and visiting the estates of friends and relations. His own estate is not small and should require a considerable amount of his time to manage properly; however, that responsibility seems to be left to his steward. You know my feelings on such behaviour. It does not recommend the gentleman to me. But, apart from that, I know no ill of him."
"William, I have seen Lord Albert only a few times in company with Georgiana. Never did I see any sign of particular attentiveness on his part. Nothing at all that would have caused me to suspect an attraction. Why ever is he asking for a courtship? What can he mean by it?"
"I know not." His air of abstraction deepened and she was content to let him deliberate on the matter. She rather expected that he would not be content to let the matter rest. She congratulated herself on her judgement minutes later when Darcy returned his attention to her, "It will not do, Elizabeth. I must go to London!"
Elizabeth's wry smile drew a chuckle from him, "Ah, so you have already decided what I should do?"
"No, my love. Only that you would not be content to leave matters in such an unsatisfactory state. You wish to ensure your sister's happiness."
"I wish I could bring you with me but ...."
"And you will. I am not so delicate that I cannot survive such a trip quite well. If you send an express to Richard to halt an announcement of the courtship if it is not already been announced, we can afford to travel with less haste. Since the courtship has not been accepted or made known to society, an extra day will not materially change the situation."
She smiled at her husband who, she could see, was attempting to marshal arguments to dissuade her. "I would wish to be with you and Georgiana will need us both. I do not want to leave Jane but she will be well without me for a week or so."
The discussion that followed finally convinced Darcy that her mind was not to be altered and he eventually called Reynolds and ordered his most comfortable carriage to be prepared to leave in two hours and then gave directions to have his valet prepare a travelling kit. While he was giving these directions, Elizabeth called Mrs. Reynolds to request that a basket of consumables be prepared for the trip. Directions were then given to her maid to prepare her travelling kit.
He finished his coffee and rose from the table, "Come, Lizzie. Let us put aside these troubles for a few minutes and venture out for a short walk. The day is lovely and we have had too few opportunities to be out walking since we returned. I have heard too much of Lord Albert today and what I have heard pleases me very little. A good brisk walk should clear my head of such dismal thoughts and your company will allow me to contemplate this trip with less displeasure. I do not anticipate being away for more a week and such business that waits upon me, will surely not suffer for the delay."
Elizabeth stuffed the remainder of the biscuit in her mouth and washed it down with the last of her tea. Accepting the proffered hand of her husband to help her rise - although she was usually quick to decry the nicety of such help - they quickly left the room to don their outer wear. She knew she would have to make her apologies to her sister before she left but they were only to be gone for a week and Jane would be well taken care of in her absence.
Posted on 2015-02-09
Friday November 13, 1813 - Matlock House, London
Darcy and Elizabeth strode up the steps of his uncle's house, impatient to see Georgiana. His letter to Richard had indicated that he expected to arrive today and indeed they had made a good passage and they wished to see Georgiana immediately. They had taken time to stop at Darcy House to refresh themselves after the rigours of the trip. He had expected Elizabeth to be fatigued by the trip but surprisingly she was in excellent spirits although she had conceded that the bath which had awaited her was immeasurably welcomed.
The butler was quick to show them in and, after relieving of them of outerwear, responded to his request to be taken to Georgiana by informing him that Lord Matlock and his cousin were expecting Darcy in the study. Since he had not included in his letter that Elizabeth was to accompany him, he anticipated some surprise on their part. Controlling his impatience, he briefly dismissed the butler and they walked into the study. Lord Matlock and Richard were quick to rise and welcome them both, controlling their surprise at Elizabeth's presence. That his letter had raised concerns on their part he had no doubts and, if he had any, their countenances would have quickly relieved him of such. After a few perfunctory pleasantries as to his trip and the offer of a brandy, which was declined, he very quickly indicated his desire to speak with Georgiana. That his uncle wished to discuss the matter with him first was evident but on this he was firm, "Uncle, I will be quite willing to talk with you later but I must insist on seeing Georgiana first." He turned to Richard, "I hope you do not take offence but I wish to talk with her alone - as her brother, not her guardian."
Richard simply nodded. "Of course. She is in her chambers, I believe, but is expecting you. You should also know that rumours of the courtship offer have not surfaced to my knowledge."
Taking leave of them both - his uncle's dissatisfaction clearly but silently expressed - Darcy and Elizabeth ascended the stairs to his sister's chambers. She rose to greet them as they entered her sitting room and her worry as to the cause of this precipitous visit by her brother and sister could not be concealed despite her obvious efforts to act composed. His smile seemed to reassure her and she stepped into his hug which he held for an extra second or two longer than he should. After accepting a similar greeting from Elizabeth, she was then led back to the settee. Darcy sat her between Elizabeth and himself and, continuing to hold her hand, finally spoke, "Georgiana, Elizabeth and I are both greatly worried about this courtship offer that you have received. I am glad you had the sense to ask for time to respond and call on us. You showed uncommon sense my dear."
Georgiana did not answer for several moments, her gaze firmly fixed on the hand being firmly clasped by Darcy. She briefly glanced first at her brother and then Elizabeth, her eyes pensive as she considered what must be said. With a visible effort she gathered her composure and replied, "I have spent the last day or so trying to see...how this situation came to be. I am worried that I will be expected to accept the offer because of Lord Albert's connection to the Duke of ____. I know our uncle wishes me to do so and will argue that I should give the utmost consideration to connections and rank. Yet I cannot like the gentleman. I cannot see that I would wish to marry him...ever."
Darcy considered his sister thoughtfully, "Georgiana, what did our uncle say to you?"
"Uncle Henry asked to speak to me and mentioned that Lord Albert had expressed some interest and then spoke for some time on the appropriateness of a match with the family of the Duke of ____. He talked a great deal of the importance of connections, the need for a family to enhance them and that such a match would be of benefit to our family as well as myself. I was left with the impression that he spoke for you on this, which I found to be disturbing. I had not thought you to hold such opinions. When I spoke of a desire to marry with affection, his response was that you and Elizabeth were very much the exception and that marriages between those of our station were, most usually, matters of money and connections, not affection and that to expect otherwise was impractical. I was confused and when Lord Albert seemed willing to increase his attentions, flattered by them, I suppose."
Darcy relaxed, "The main question is simple, Georgie. Do you want to accept this courtship? I will speak quite frankly and state that I had not intended to allow a courtship before the end of your first season. You will be eighteen then and old enough by then, I believe, to enter into one. I can - and will - refuse to allow a courtship as your guardian, if you wish it so. That will remove from you the need to actually have to refuse the offer to Lord Albert. I think that will be easiest for all parties. As well, I am concerned that since a courtship almost invariably results in an offer of marriage, that accepting a courtship only to reject the marriage offer would be considered by His Grace to be more...ah, more of an insult because of it being made public than simply refusing the courtship offer which is private to the two families."
Georgiana looked at the concerned faces of her brother and Elizabeth and took heart from the assurance she found there, "I do not wish for it. I only wish I had decided to refuse it in the first place."
Darcy regarded her closely, "I think your decision to postpone your answer was wise. It allows me to deal with the matter and avoid an outright rejection." After a brief pause, he asked, "How much of Lord Albert's company have you had, Georgie? And what did you think of it?"
Georgiana's expression grew thoughtful as she considered her answer, "He has called several times and we have talked - or rather he has talked." She looked at her brother, "I find I cannot respect him. He displays no interest in any serious activities. He has not visited his estate in almost three years. As long as his steward sends him enough money, he is content. He rides, he hunts, attends the theatre and opera but for what purpose I cannot say since he knows naught of the plays. He has no time to read. His life is one of idleness."
She paused for a few moments before looking at Elizabeth, "I may be wrong but I also sense that he holds you and your family in some disdain. He has said nothing explicit but I cannot believe I am wrong. He is, in my opinion, most assuredly convinced of the superiority of his station in society." She giggled, "He was a trifle upset when I asked for a few minutes to consider his courtship offer. I almost refused him immediately because of his arrogance. I wish now I had!"
With a quick glance at Elizabeth and interpreting her slight nod correctly, Darcy stated, "Then this courtship offer shall not be approved. I will speak now with our uncle and Richard. Elizabeth, shall you join me or will you stay with Georgiana?"
"I will stay with my sister for now."
Darcy nodded and, with a brief hug for his sister and a kiss on Elizabeth's cheek, left to join Lord Matlock and Richard in the study. Entering without knocking, he found them comfortably sitting in front of the fireplace nursing a brandy and talking quietly as they waited for him. Lord Matlock waved towards the sideboard where brandy and port awaited him but feeling that he needed his wits about him tonight, he availed himself of the port. Sitting himself down across from Richard and beside his uncle, he took a sip of the port before beginning, "It will obviously not surprise either of you that this courtship offer from Lord Albert has greatly worried both Elizabeth and me. We would not have traveled hither in her condition if it were not so. We have talked with Georgiana and her reluctance to have him court her is obvious and she has requested that we reject the offer. Frankly, I was inclined to do so even without talking with her."
Lord Matlock's displeasure increased as his nephew spoke until he burst out. "That should not be. This is a most advantageous arrangement!"
"Advantageous for whom, uncle?"
Lord Matlock was taken aback at Darcy's response, "For...for Georgiana, for our family...of course!"
"On this I am afraid we must disagree, uncle. I see no advantage to Georgiana possibly being shackled for the rest of her life with a man she does not respect or admire and my family does not need or want the connection."
Richard interjected before the temper of either man could escalate further, "Father, Darce....please, calm yourselves. I admit I have not thought much about the situation we face but..."
Darcy gave a slight grin, "I suspect your attention was otherwise engaged Richard." He paused for a moment before speaking once more, "I must also admit some responsibility. I did not expect any such offers - not so soon. I intended that Georgiana be allowed to complete her first season before having to consider a courtship offer. She is but seventeen now and I thought to wait until she was eighteen before agreeing to...." the brief wave of his hand completed the thought. "She is, I consider, too young to consider marriage and I would not see her wed for several years, if possible. I regret I did not make my wishes known to Richard before I left London, else this whole business would not have occurred. He could have rejected the offer or dissuaded Lord Albert before it came to that point."
Darcy looked at Lord Matlock, "From what I have been able to ascertain, Uncle, several of your actions may have contributed to, or acerbated, the problem. I recognize that Georgiana is under your protection while living here, but it was not your responsibility to allow Lord Albert to make his offer. Richard should have been consulted first and his decision sought."
Lord Matlock's surprise and affront was obvious to them all and his immediate response was to disclaim any knowledge of what actions he could have taken that would justify such words from his nephew. Richard laid a hand on his arm to calm him, "Let us hear what Darcy has to say before losing our tempers."
Darcy bowed in Richard's direction and then fixed his gaze on his uncle, "I regret if my words are such as to upset you, uncle. I do not wish to do so but I must understand your actions in this matter. From what I have been able to determine, the main issue that I would have an explanation for is that Georgiana was given to believe that you spoke on my behalf in pressing the advantages of a courtship with Lord Albert. That matters of affection were of little significance and that his connections, station and income were of the utmost concern. I will not argue with you about such beliefs, we have already discussed those thoroughly at the time of my marriage and you know my opinions then. They have not changed. I do take exception to your pressing on Georgiana, opinions which are in such contradistinction to mine. I am her guardian, as is Richard. This responsibility is ours alone."
The ruddiness of earl's countenance increased as he listened to Darcy. Richard and Darcy watched as he took several deep breaths in order to control his choler. At last he responded, "I will not apologize for what I told Georgiana. Those are my opinions and, as her uncle, I believe I have a right to advise her where I think it appropriate. I will apologize, however, to both you and Georgiana for misleading her as to your opinions. It was most unconsciously done but nevertheless I may have allowed the warmth of my approval and opinions to colour my words. I spoke, wishing you to be of a similar opinion, rather than believing it to be so. I may well have convinced myself that, in this instance, you would agree with me."
Darcy looked at his uncle coolly, "We may have to disagree on this point, Uncle. I do accept your apology and I am sure that Georgiana will do likewise; however, on the business of advice, I would prefer that you consult with me or Richard before tendering such advice that is contrary to ours." He continued to gaze at his uncle until the latter acknowledged his request with a slight nod. At that Darcy sighed, "We have a problem. I must advise Lord Albert that Georgiana will not be allowed to accept his offer. The question..."
Lord Matlock interrupted, "Why? Why do you and Georgiana wish to reject it? It is a most suitable connection. He is the son of a Duke and may well be the next Duke of ___."
Richard was about to respond until he saw the glower on his cousin's face. "This could be interesting." He thought, "Darce looks like he just ate a sour pickle."
Darcy looked at his uncle with some concern and thought, "Uncle is so blinded by Lord Albert's station and connection to the Duke of ____, that he can see nothing else." He gave himself a minute or so to collect his thoughts before answering.
"Uncle, I cannot deny that the young man may have the advantage of being connected to His Grace and could be the next heir although that does depend on the health of his brother, does it not?" He paused again before continuing, "Unfortunately, that seems to be his sole attribute to recommend himself to me. I have discussed Lord Albert with Georgiana and with Elizabeth and I have, if you are not aware of it, come to place a great deal of value on my wife's opinion of people. Neither of us has met Lord Albert more than a few times but on those occasions he has managed to convince my wife of his arrogance and disdain for others and as well, I might add, of the poverty of his opinions. To quote Elizabeth, his father could have gotten more value from the money spent on Lord Albert's education by giving it to the poor. I myself was concerned about his lack of attention to the management of his estate and Georgiana only confirmed this when she mentioned that he freely told her that he had not visited it for almost three years."
Darcy's countenance took on an angrier cast as he continued, "As well, I have no doubt that he views Elizabeth with disdain. His words in his courtship offer to Georgiana suggest as much and, according to Elizabeth, he has shown naught but the barest civility when in her company."
Lord Matlock's eyebrows rose at this statement and he was about to remonstrate with his nephew when he reconsidered and hesitated before responding, "I know the Duke is arrogant beyond belief and his pride in his position is, I admit, truly wondrous." The chuckle that he elicited from Darcy and Richard drew a small smile from him. "I had not, however, thought his son to be of a like mind."
Richard looked thoughtful as he spoke, "I have not had much to do with either gentlemen but I must admit that, according to Georgie, Lord Albert's manner in requesting the courtship was not...ah, pleasing. According to Georgie, he appeared to expect her to agree to it and was surprised, perhaps even annoyed, when she requested time to consider it." He snorted, "I wonder what he thought when she had asked to consult you, Darce?"
Darcy shook his head, "None of this matters now. The issue before me is how to reject the courtship offer without antagonizing the Duke." He glanced at his uncle and Richard but neither seemed prepared to venture a suggestion and he grimaced to himself, knowing that he alone would bear the responsibility. "I shall write a note to Lord Albert, requesting to meet with him tomorrow at his convenience either at Darcy House or at his own house - I assume he is staying at the Duke's home, is he not?"
Lord Matlock nodded in agreement, "Yes he is. How...on what grounds will you break the courtship, William?"
"I do not wish to antagonize the Duke or his son. I believe that if I simply state that it was my wish that Georgiana complete her season before considering any courtship offers. That I believe her too young and inexperienced. I have no intention, nor would any purpose be served by doing so, of mentioning our dissatisfaction with his character."
Lord Matlock shook his head, "I suspect his Grace will be most annoyed, although I would suspect that Lord Albert will have no difficulty fixing his attentions on another young woman - and more successfully I would think."
"I agree most heartedly with Darcy's plan!" Richard's strong statement was an obvious surprise to his father. "His Grace may be insulted but the offer is private and since we have no reason to announce it, such it should remain. If it does not, the fault will not lie with us."
Lord Matlock was clearly not convinced or resigned to the decision but recognizing that it was not his to make, conceded the issue although not before cautioning Darcy, "You realize, of course, that since Georgiana will not be participating in the season next spring that she cannot consider being courted until the end of the following season? She will be almost nineteen by then, you know."
"Darcy nodded in agreement, "True, although it may be that we can entertain an offer a year from now after another 'small season' or possibly even after her next birthday. I would also expect that should Lord Albert enter into an engagement with another, we could act as we wish. Now, I must collect my wife and write a note to Lord Albert." He looked at his uncle, "We will collect Georgiana and Kitty tomorrow and remove them to Darcy House. I believe Elizabeth and I should remain in London for a few extra days so as not to give rise to ill-founded rumours about our sudden return to London."
Taking his leave of his uncle and cousin, he hurried upstairs to Georgiana's room. After apprising her and Elizabeth as to what had been decided, he collected his wife, who was showing signs of fatigue, and they quickly returned to Darcy House. Elizabeth was sleeping soundly before he had finished the note to Lord Albert and, after ensuring its prompt delivery, he slid into bed and drew his wife into his arms before falling asleep himself.
Saturday November 14, 1813 - London
Darcy strode up the steps to the residence of the Duke of _____. His note had been promptly returned early this morning inviting him to meet with Lord Albert and the Duke himself. That the latter would wish to attend had not come as a complete surprise; he was not personally acquainted with His Grace but his father had been. Unfortunately, the latter's opinion of the gentleman had not been vouchsafed to him. His uncle's views suggested that he would find little enjoyment in His Grace's company. He apparently was expected since the door opened before he even reached for the knocker and it was but a matter of minutes before he was shown into a room, obviously the Duke's study, and greeted by a young man of about four and twenty and older man of about sixty years. Both were tall although a few inches shy of Darcy's height and rather heavy built, with His Grace tending to corpulence. Lord Albert seemed likely to suffer a similar fate, unless there was some radical change in his manner of living. Although Darcy knew little of that gentleman, nothing that he had learned suggested such was likely. Their countenances were sufficiently similar in features and expression as to remove any doubt as to their being related. There was a degree of pride and arrogance displayed that forewarned him that they would not greet his decision with approbation and could possibly view it as an insult.
After the ritual greetings and the offer of coffee, which was declined, His Grace chose to open the discussion with a brusque, "Your note asked to talk with us about my son's courtship offer. What is there to discuss, pray tell?"
Darcy was not at all put off by the Duke's manner. In fact, in this instance, he welcomed it. He had considered how best to raise the subject without offending the Duke too seriously and had decided that a matter-of-fact approach raised with tact and civility was best. He knew he would have to maintain his temper since it appeared that the father, and perhaps the son, might not be so constrained.
So it was with as calm a manner as he could marshal that he replied, "I received word of this offer of courtship only a few days ago. I admit to considerable surprise when I learned of it since I had not observed any particular attentions on the part of Lord Albert or any other gentleman prior to my departure. I have heard that you value forthrightness, Your Grace, so I will be forthright."
His brief pause was more for effect than to allow time for thought, "My sister is but seventeen years of age. Too full young in my opinion to be courted or wed. It had been my intention not to allow any courtship offer until the end of the upcoming season when she would be nearly eighteen years of age. Since I had not seen any particular attentions being directed to her, nor had I been approached by a suitor, I failed to inform my cousin of my intentions prior to departing for Pemberley."
He had kept his gaze firmly fixed on the Duke's countenance as he spoke. The impending signs of anger were easy to discern. A rising flush and thinning lips indicated that he had determined the direction of the discussion. Before the Duke could respond, Darcy held up his palm and quietly requested, "Please allow me to finish. I realize that you have probably ascertained what I intend to say. I..."
The Duke could not be restrained, "You intend to reject my son's offer of courtship! This is unconscionable. Ridiculous!" The duke continued his exclamations of displeasure for a full five minutes, expressing his dissatisfaction with Georgiana, Darcy, their decision, the Darcy family and the effrontery of the aforementioned. His disparaging comments were not such as to recommend him to Darcy and, if the latter had had any regrets about rejecting a connection with the Duke of ____, they did not survive past the first few minutes of the latter's tirade.
Darcy kept control of his temper and finally managed to interrupt the stream of abuse, "Yes, I plan to reject the offer; I must emphasize that I am not insensible to the...value of a connection to your family. However, that does not, in my opinion, constitute a valid reason to enter a courtship where neither party has given any evidence of an attachment to the other. My sister is full young to be courted and I will only accept an offer where I believe a strong attachment is developing."
Lord Albert burst out, "She would refuse me! I do not believe it!" That the young gentleman was equally surprised and offended was readily apparent and only the firmest grasp of his temper prevented Darcy from expressing himself more forcibly. As it was he contented himself with a simple statement, "I assume, sir, that my sister is not insensible to the honour of your offer but, in fact, the decision is mine and mine alone... I have consulted my sister on this but had resolved to deny the offer before I left Pemberley. If indeed I had been in town at the time you approached my uncle, I would not have agreed to your making the offer. I intend no disrespect to you, sir, but my resolve is firm on the matter..."
His Grace could not restrain himself further, "Are you a fool? Do you not realize the significance of my son's position? That our family is conferring a great honour on yours?"
Darcy took a few seconds to ensure that his anger at the insults was not reflected in his voice. "I can assure you, Your Grace, that both I and my sister are fully aware of your family's position." He paused to collect himself a little further but hurried to express his thoughts since he could see that his hosts were about to remonstrate further.
"I think, Your Grace....Lord Albert....that we need not further discuss the question of whether the courtship has been accepted. It has not. Knowledge of your son's offer has not been made known by us out of respect for the reputations of both families. I trust that you and your family have responded similarly."
Darcy looked at His Grace but could not tell if, in fact, such was the case although the Duke did nod briefly as though in agreement. "The unexpected return of my wife and me may feed unwanted rumours; however, we plan to remain in town for another week and will be in company with my sister on several occasions. I plan to simply state that our return was to accompany my sister back to Pemberley. If, for some reason, the courtship is mentioned, I will simply deny any knowledge of it and will simply admit a preference that my sister not enter a courtship until she is eighteen." He looked Lord Albert and the duke closely before continuing, "I trust that will be satisfactory to you both?"
It took only another quarter hour before all parties accepted the situation. That his hosts were not pleased with him or his family was apparent by the speed with which he was shown to the door. That he himself saw no need, nor felt any inclination, to tarry and thus delay his departure was not something Darcy felt necessary to voice.
As he recounted the particulars of the meeting to Elizabeth a short time later, he could not help but chuckle a little ruefully, "It was all I could do to constrain my temper. The arrogance of the man is beyond all belief. He boasted of the significance of his family and denigrated ours. It was all I could do not to throw his words back in his face." He grinned savagely, "I now wish I had!"
Elizabeth looked puzzled, "I do not comprehend your meaning?"
Darcy's grin did not abate although the humour was now tinged with irony, "His Grace and his family can legitimately claim their title to be of two hundred years duration. Which is a fine thing I am sure. However, their ancestor was simply a royal favourite of questionable distinction and his roots could be found ultimately in a Bristol fishmonger."
Elizabeth could not help the peal of laughter which escaped her, "Oh dear! I am relieved that you did not inform His Grace of the poverty of his origins. He might have ordered you into his dungeons!" Shaking her head, she could hardly contain her laughter.
"A fishmonger! Truly?"
"Well, not exactly. He got his start as a fishmonger but built a shipping and trading company that his sons expanded. Nonetheless, I admit to a guilty pleasure in thinking of fishmongers."
Their conversation continued in this lighthearted fashion for several minutes until Georgiana joined. Her visible relief at being informed that the courtship offer was not accepted was evident and neither Darcy nor Elizabeth thought it necessary to discuss with her the particulars of Darcy's meeting with Lord Albert. Eventually, however, Darcy knew he must mention the one regrettable aspect of the whole business.
"Unfortunately, this whole situation makes it necessary for us to remain in London for another week. We must attend some public events - theatre perhaps - and dine out several times. I am sure we have invitations awaiting our...pleasure." The questioning looks from sister and the dismay evidenced by his wife revealed they had not divined the need for such action.
"The news that an offer of courtship has been made may surface. We will simply deny the existence of a courtship and not discuss whether an offer was made. Our presence is needed to limit the....repercussions that are sure to attend such a rumour if it arises. My uncle and cousins will be aiding our endeavours but we must also be present to show that there is nothing untoward in the situation. If we were to leave immediately for Pemberley - which I assure you I would wish to do - questions would be raised as to the reasons for our trip. I wish to avoid such speculations." His pause was thoughtful, "As well, I wish to ensure that His Grace and Lord Albert do not attempt to cast us in an unfavourable light should the existence of the offer become public."
Over the following week, the Darcys were much in the public attention, attending several plays and, on evenings when not so engaged, accepted invitations to dinners with friends and acquaintances and hosted a dinner for family and close friends to which Mr. Bingley was invited. When apprised of the apprised of the offer of a courtship to Georgiana and her refusal, he was quick to accept the invitation. In all of this the Fitzwilliam clan supported their efforts assiduously and Elizabeth, Georgiana and Lady Matlock received many callers but it appeared that knowledge of the offer was restricted to the families concerned. It was with no little relief that, a week later, Darcy assisted his wife and sister into the carriage to return to Pemberley. Elizabeth's increasing fatigue at the demands placed on her had begun to concern him greatly and his remonstrations with her to reduce her efforts were unavailing in the face of her determination to be of assistance to her sister.
Before they left for Pemberley however, Darcy saw the need for a meeting with Bingley and invited him into his study following the dinner when all the other guests had departed. Passing his friend a glass of port, he said, "That you have formed an attachment to Georgiana is now readily apparent to most of us who know you both."
If Bingley was disconcerted by his blunt words, Darcy could see no sign of it. Instead, Bingley simply replied, "I should hope that it was....And that Georgiana is aware of it also."
"Regardless of your feelings or those of Georgiana, I will not allow her to accept any offer before her eighteenth birthday. I had not intended to allow her to accept such offers before the end of her first season and now, since she plans to miss the season next spring, I may insist she wait for a full year. However," and he grinned at Bingley, "I will not prevent you from courting her unofficially, provided that all the proprieties are observed and you both act with discretion."
Bingley considered Darcy's words for a moment or two before responding, "I quite understand; however, you should know that I plan to offer for her at the first opportunity that you will allow."
"That is as may be. I will not inform Georgiana of this and I will expect you to observe all of the proprieties with her."
Bingley nodded his acceptance and only asked if he might call on her before they left for Pemberley. When permission was granted, he resolved to ask her for two dances at the Pemberley Ball. Darcy saw his friend out and, while satisfied with the substance of the discussion, he was a trifle perplexed at the odd abstraction displayed by Bingley as he left.
Saturday, December 18, 1813 - Pemberley
Their company was now complete. The Gardiners and Miss Thompson - unaccompanied by her parents who had chosen to spend Christmas with their other children - had arrived yesterday. The Gardiners were accompanied by all their children and the newest Gardiner had enjoyed all the attention and fussing over that any infant of but five months is likely to encounter from his female cousins. That he was insensible of the pleasure he afforded them can only be attributed to his lack of years and did nothing to lessen the pleasure of those who attended him.
Mrs. Bennet had, in company with Mrs. Reynolds and Elizabeth, been given a tour of Pemberley that had reduced her normal volubleness to a bemused awe. That is not to say that she was bereft of speech but certainly her desire to offer suggestions as to appropriate changes to the furnishings were muted and those she did offer were greeted with amused albeit masked tolerance by the other ladies. Suffice it to say that, by the end of the day, even Mrs. Bennet's desire to view the splendours of Pemberley had been exhausted by the number of rooms that she had perforce to view. So tired was that lady, she was required to remove to her room to rest for several hours.
Mrs. Bennet was not alone in her fatigue from the day's activities. As she relaxed in the privacy of her personal sitting room, Elizabeth recalled with relief the meeting with her mother that had, only shortly before, seen that lady - perhaps for the first time - made aware of the consequences of her actions. Elizabeth, with the support of the Gardiners and her father, had spoken to her mother of her concerns about Mrs. Bennet's lack of propriety in public settings. That Mrs. Bennet was quite insensible of what constituted proper behaviour was evidenced - within minutes of Elizabeth broaching the subject - by loud exclamations and protestations denying that she had ever behaved in a way that would offend others. Recalled by Elizabeth to her behaviour at the Netherfield Ball, she disavowed that such behaviour was improper. Neither the comments of the Gardiners not those of her husband were sufficient to cause her to amend her opinion on this matter and her feelings of ill-usage only intensified in their expression the more she was importuned.
Finally, Elizabeth realized that her mother was not open to persuasion on the issue and had recourse to an ultimatum; the threat of being prevented from appearing at the ball to be held on the first day of the new year unless her behaviour was amended, rendered Mrs. Bennet speechless for several minutes. Once she reclaimed the power of expressing herself, those recriminations about to be levied at her daughter were cut short by Elizabeth's command, "Enough!"
Looking directly at her mother, Elizabeth stated clearly and slowly, "You will not be present at the Ball unless..."
Mrs. Bennet's mouth snapped shut. She had never heard any of her daughters speak so to her and she was about to chastise Elizabeth and opened her mouth to do so when she heard her daughter say, "I am mistress of this house and, if you are not prepared to accept my rules, you are not welcome here. Am...I...Understood?!"
Mrs. Bennet was too surprised at the sternness with which Elizabeth spoke to answer and so Elizabeth repeated herself, "Am...I...Understood?!"
Mrs. Bennet finally nodded and Elizabeth continued, albeit in a more moderate tone, "It is unfortunate, Mama, but my experience with the impropriety of your behaviour is such that I am not prepared to expose my guests at the ball to an exhibition which would embarrass my husband or Georgiana or the other members of my husband's family. I will not recount the many instances in which you have embarrassed Jane and myself in public, nor the damage you may have inflicted upon our reputations at various times. I will not dispute the facts with you. I am simply informing you of my concerns. However, I am prepared to offer you the opportunity to demonstrate you can behave with civility and propriety." Gathering her resolve, she continued, "Three days after Christmas we will be hosting a dinner which includes all of the Matlock family - the Earl and Countess, Lord Fitzwilliam and his wife, Lady Frances and her husband and Mr. Fitzwilliam. If you can behave properly that evening, an invitation to the ball will be extended. Again, your continued presence there will depend on your behaviour. I would add that I will expect you to behave properly between now and then." The smile she directed at her mother contained little mirth, "Consider it an opportunity to practice."
The silence in the room was tense as Mrs. Bennet sat, mouth agape, the focus of all eyes - everyone rather anticipating a familiar outburst. Elizabeth could not remember her mother as quiet until she recalled the latter's surprise when her engagement to Darcy had been revealed. Mr. Bennet broke the silence, "Mrs. Bennet, do you comprehend what Lizzy has stated? She is the Mistress of this home and has responsibilities which require her to act with a degree of propriety with which you are not familiar. She cannot have you and I and her sisters expose her and her family, the Darcys, to censure or ridicule. Do you understand?"
Mrs. Bennet reluctantly nodded and Elizabeth sought to appease her slightly, "Mama, Kitty and Mary have both improved greatly by their exposure to more refined society. There will be a number of very eligible young men attending this ball but those men will be more willing to court a young woman with only a small dowry if they can be assured of the propriety of her behaviour and that of her family."
She paused and considered her mother further, "Do you understand what I am offering?"
Mrs. Bennet was oddly thoughtful, "If I behave properly at the dinner with the Matlocks, I can attend the ball."
"That is so."
Mrs. Gardiner interjected, "I will be sitting beside you, Fran, and will help." At Mrs. Bennet's nod, her husband said, "I will be with you also. Now I can see that Lizzy is quite tired and we should allow her to rest."
Mrs. Bennet looked at her second oldest daughter reflectively, saying "Yes, indeed. I admit to being quite exhausted myself." With which she accepted the arm offered by her husband and bustled out of the room followed by the Gardiners, who sent a final commiserating look at Elizabeth before closing the door behind themselves.
Elizabeth had not been left alone for long as her husband, discerning the departure of her company, had quickly joined her. Fully aware of the purpose of the meeting, his raised eyebrow and quizzical look only elicited a tired chuckle from Elizabeth, "All is well, my love. My mother has accepted - most reluctantly I must admit - that she must curb her behaviour. I hope to see an improvement but I will not waver in my determination on this."
"Elizabeth, I would not have you become estranged from your mother over this. I am sure we can all tolerate a little foolishness."
Elizabeth simply shook her head, "The thought that Kitty and Mary could attract more eligible suitors seemed to catch her fancy. Let us hope it is enough. Between Aunt Madeline and father, I hope we can moderate her effusions." With a quick glance at her husband who was hovering and looking at her with an expression she had long ago had come to recognize as desire, she murmured, "Enough of Mama. I would like my tall, handsome husband to...." Before she could finish the thought she had been picked up by Darcy and was being carried to his bedchamber. Thoughts of her mother and her behaviour were banished rapidly and replaced more pleasurably by the loving attentions of a husband.
Tuesday, December 21, 1813 - Pemberley
Mr. Bennet was surprised to receive a letter as Reynolds distributed the post that morning. Putting aside thoughts of his breakfast for a moment, he considered the letter. He recognized the hand that had written it and was undecided whether he wished to disturb his meal by reading it immediately. With some regret he filled his cup with coffee and opened the letter.
This may be the hardest letter I have ever written. Before I write any more I would ask for your forgiveness for being such a burden and hurtful to you and my sisters. I know I can never absolve myself of the pain and distress I have caused but I ask for it anyway.
I have been a selfish being all my life. I know that Lizzy, Jane and you have tried to give me good principles and to teach me how to behave in a proper manner but I would not listen. I thought you all fools and could see no reason for your strictures. I was the fool and the price I paid is heavy.
I am with child who will, I am told, be born around June of next year. I have been blessed with a good man as its father. How good I knew not when I met him and it is only as we became acquainted in our travels that I came to esteem and respect him. As I learned to do so my wish to garner his good opinion increased. He has always treated me with kindness and respect. Now I believe I can hope for his esteem as well. He knows of my past and my mistakes. I told him all before we left London. By that time I knew his goodness well enough to not want to burden him with my past should he wish to not bear it. I told him all and he has never spoken of it since and has told me to remember it not.
My thoughts, however, would not leave me in peace. The minister of our local church saw, I suspect, my distress and, gentle soul that he is, did not press me to reveal my problem. He suggested that if I felt I had wronged someone that perhaps asking for their forgiveness would alleviate my distress. This I must do and feel I must also share my past with you if only to help you understand my resolve for my future behaviour as well as to ask for forgiveness from you and my sisters.
My time with Wickham I am sure you know. As well, I am sure that there was a period of 6 weeks or more between Wickham's desertion and my arrival at the home where I was sheltered. Wickham left me at a brothel where I was told I could work or leave. I left penniless and lost and attempted to reach my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner's; however, I was accosted by a man while trying to find a hackney cab and used most foully by him. I was lost, confused, hurt and tired. I could not believe that my aunt and uncle would now accept me into their house. I was forced - and this pains me still - to sell myself to eat. That I did not become diseased is something I cannot fathom even today. God must have been watching over me despite my actions. I was with child but due to my illness, lost the babe. I cannot regret that loss. I could not have provided a decent home for a child - I was one myself. That I was able to stumble into the home where I was eventually found and then be recovered by Mr. Darcy only makes my gratitude greater.
It has taken me many months to understand all that I have done and the reasons for it and the consequences that attend my behaviour. That I am with child now has forced me to consider how I wish that child to be brought up. My husband is such a man as will not permit our child to behave as I did. For this I am most thankful and, as the mother, will do whatever is required to ensure that my daughter, should I have one, is not another Lydia Bennet.
I would wish you to share this letter only with Lizzy and Jane and their husbands. I have sent a separate note to Mama telling her that I am with child and the particulars of our life here. I am sure that it will please her.
For you and my sisters, be comforted that we are well; that I respect and esteem my husband; and that we are building a fine living here in Canada. The war with the United States may have proven a blessing for us since many families were frightened away by the violence. James was able to purchase an excellent farm with a good home for a decent cost. We are improving the property and should be able to live quite well. I have much to learn to be a proper wife - our mother did us no favour by neglecting our instruction - but we have hired an elderly woman who is teaching me all she knows. I have no cause to repine and James seems content with my efforts. I am indeed most fortunate.
I would wish to hear from you and my sisters if you and they could bear to write me. I know I have never been a good correspondent but in this as much else, I am determined to improve.
He folded the letter and placed it beside his setting before walking to the sideboard to fill his plate with food. For some reason his appetite, healthy when he entered the room, had diminished. The reason he knew well. His guilt over his failure as a father had never borne on him so heavily and sharing Lydia's letter with his other daughters would only add to that burden. That Elizabeth already thought poorly of his past laxity, he had long suspected. Sharing this letter could not but lower him further in her esteem. Nevertheless, it could not be avoided.
When his meal was finished, he went in search of his daughters. Elizabeth was to be found in the study, with her husband, working on the household accounts. Once apprised of the letter, Elizabeth was quick to sent notes to Jane and the Gardiners to join them there and within a quarter hour they all had assembled. With little ceremony Mr. Bennet handed the letter to Elizabeth and, at the request of others, she read it aloud.
Reactions to the recital were mixed and the letter was quickly sought by Jane and Mrs. Gardiner for their closer perusal. The distress that the three women shared was obvious to them all and even Mr. Gardiner and Darcy could not - not did they try to do so - mask their sadness, although both had suspected much of what Lydia had revealed about the previously unexplained portion of her stay in London. Darcy expressed some surprise that he had not heard from James Simpson but allowed that a letter could be expected soon. As he admitted to Elizabeth later, the possibility of acquiring land near where the Simpsons were located appeared promising and he could, if purchases were made, appoint or arrange for Simpson to have the management of them. That, at some point in the future, they might visit the Simpsons if such purchases were made, was implicitly understood between them.
After reading her sister's letter once more, Elizabeth stated her intention of responding directly, an endeavour which both Jane and Mrs. Gardiner agreed to emulate. Mr. Bennet was led to understand that he should do so also and he knew, if he were to be honest with himself, that he must acknowledge his own failures to his daughter and seek her forgiveness. It would not, he admitted, be an easy letter to write but it must be done.
Saturday, December 25, 1813 - Pemberley
It was a boisterous company to be sure. As Elizabeth looked down the dining table to her husband, she could more easily than ever recognize traces of his discomfort with her family, particularly her mother. In contradiction to most seating arrangements, she had seated her mother next to her, with Mrs. Gardiner on her other side and Jane across the table. Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet sat on Darcy's either side with Georgiana, Mary, Kitty and Miss Thompson seated next to each of them, respectively. It was a surprisingly comfortable group and if the volume of chatter was somewhat louder than was customary due to her mother's rather piercing voice, none seemed to take it too much amiss. There were at least three separate conversations taking place at any time and anyone not seated at the table would most assuredly not be able to separate the various threads. Since she could see no signs of distress on any countenance, Elizabeth was not disposed to worry over the matter. Her mother was currently engaged with Jane and Mrs. Gardiner to the exclusion of any topic other than Jane's approaching confinement. That Mrs. Bennet would not be allowed to attend her daughter during the birth had not been vouchsafed to her as yet - it was agreed that this news could wait until the need arose - and the matron was quite happy to consider the soon-to-be arrival of her first grandchild. That pleasure would not be denied her since Jane planned to remain at Pemberley until Elizabeth's confinement. Thus the plans for the Bennet's to depart immediately after the ball were altered and the Bennets would now return with the Gardiners following the arrival of Jane's baby.
As Elizabeth looked down the table, she could not help but recall the dreariness of the previous Christmas. Notwithstanding the company of the Gardiners, there had been little joy in their lives then. Looking at her husband engaged in a serious but obviously absorbing conversation with her father, she was surprised to see him glance up at her quickly as though her own gaze had called him. Her smile was answered by one of his own before he once more let her father demand his attention. Feeling her sister's hand on her arm, she heard Jane murmur, "You are so very lucky Lizzy. He is a very good man."
"Oh Jane, I know that very well indeed. I am...we are singularly blessed in our husbands. Now, if we could only get yours back home, all would be well."
"I admit I miss him greatly. I had hoped he might return before the babe is born but that seems unlikely now. I will simply have to trust in God to keep him safe for me and our child."
"That he will, I have no doubts whatsoever." Elizabeth paused and deliberately tried to turn the conversations to a more pleasant direction. "I must thank you and Kitty for your assistance in decorating the house. I wished to add or merge such of our traditions to those of Pemberley that would be most attractive. I admit to being surprised" and here Elizabeth nodded at Kitty, "at how valuable Kitty's eye for design and colour would turn out to be. Mrs. Reynolds was most impressed and delighted with all of our efforts I assure you."
Kitty, having overheard the latter part of Elizabeth's commendation, blushed becomingly and was quick to declaim any particular contribution. Her efforts were, however, defeated by the praise of Georgiana, Mary and Jane and she was eventually forced to accept the praise which only increased her embarrassment. To spare further damage to Kitty's countenance, Elizabeth encouraged the conversation to meander to other topics.
The next day, following church services, Elizabeth, Darcy and Georgiana removed to the ballroom where the Boxing Day ritual was to be enacted. Mrs. Reynolds, Elizabeth and Georgiana had spent much of the previous fortnight preparing boxes containing gifts and food for their tenants and gifts for the Pemberley staff. This ritual was held every year although in recent times the presence of the Darcy family had been sporadic and a Mistress had not presided for fifteen years or more. Elizabeth could see Mrs. Reynolds' pleasure and pride in the occasion; her smile could barely be contained as she watched the Darcys engage with their tenants and servants. That the latter were happy with the attentions paid them Mrs. Reynolds had no doubt and she had observed more than a few glances of approval directed at Elizabeth; her being obviously with child and thus ensuring the continuation of the Darcy presence was a matter of much satisfaction.
As Elizabeth moved amongst the crowd, she was grateful for the presence of her sister and husband who could recall to her the names of those she met. Indeed, she had met and greeted all of the tenants previously but some she knew but little. Finally, she found a moment to herself and rested by a table still partly laden with food and drink unconsciously placing her hand on her expanding stomach. The ripple she felt caught her by surprise. She had become accustomed to the flutterings of the babe but never had she felt his presence so tangibly and he was continuing to be active. Looking up, she sought her husband's eye and found him across the room already gazing at her with some concern. Her smile and slight beckoning motion drew him to her and within seconds he was beside her asking, "Are you tired? Georgiana and I can remain should you need to rest."
"I am not tired. I felt the babe!"
At her husband's look of incomprehension, she took his hand and placed it on her stomach. The babe remained lively and her husband's delight was obvious as, for the first time, he could feel the life moving in her body. He whispered, "Tis a Christmas present a day late but well worth the wait."
Posted on 2015-02-16
Saturday, January 1, 1814 - Pemberley
The road leading to the entrance of Pemberley was lined with lights which reflected off fresh fallen snow to cast an even greater brightness to the evening's darkness. The stream of carriages had begun shortly after eight and showed but few signs of slowing. Fortunately most of those attending the ball were guests at Pemberley but still the surrounding estates had been delighted to accept the invitation and had made the trip despite the winter weather. The rooms at Pemberley were filled with guests and Mrs. Reynolds could scarce remember when the house had been as full of life and laughter. That problems would arise was a foregone conclusion but those that had were dealt with at little discomfort to anyone.
It had proven fortunate that Richard Fitzwilliam had taken residence at his small estate, which was reasonably close to Pemberley, since he was able to accommodate not only his Fitzwilliam relatives but also some for whom Pemberley had been unable to find space. The earl and countess had arrived several days previous to the ball and had been in company with the Darcys almost every evening since then. The coolness between Darcy and his uncle had almost completely dissipated, assisted undoubtedly by the news that Lord Albert had become engaged to the daughter of the Earl of ____. That the lady had a handsome dowry and face and was unattached after three full seasons may have ensured her ready acceptance of Lord Albert's offer. If her other attributes were somewhat deficient, they apparently were not of concern to her betrothed. The Earl of Matlock may have regretted the loss of such a connection but the speed with which Lord Albert sought and found another lady to grace his home consoled him that the Duke of ____'s displeasure might be of short duration.
The Matlock party were among the first to arrive and greet Elizabeth and Darcy. Lady Eleanor was quick to praise the arrangements for the ball and noted to Elizabeth that it was unfortunate that her confinement would prevent Elizabeth from participating in the season since she, the Countess, would take great delight in Elizabeth to perform a similar task in London. As the lady observed, "Elizabeth, it is past time that Mrs. Darcy take her place in society and I am looking forward to your doing so!"
"Aunt Eleanor, I may be forced to disappoint you. I look forward to spending my days here at Pemberley and raising my children."
The countess shook her head, although a small smile touched her lips, "I am afraid that will not do, Elizabeth. You, your husband and your children will have a position in society. You must give some time to filling that position." Her smile broadened, "Of course that does not prevent you escaping to the wilds of Derbyshire...which event I am sure will happen with great frequency."
"You know me too well indeed, aunt."
Their conversation was cut short by the press of other guests and Elizabeth found herself rather bemused by the stream of faces that she scarcely recognized and secretly gave thanks to the presence of her husband who seemed to know them one and all and made such introductions as were necessary. When it appeared that the last of the guests had arrived, Elizabeth gave the signal for dancing to begin and the musicians signalled their readiness. Elizabeth as hostess was moving to begin the task of circulating and ensuring that ladies found partners when she was prevented from doing so by Darcy taking her hand and leading her to the dance floor. Her surprise was evident as she cried quietly, "William, what are you doing? We cannot dance. I am the hostess!"
"I intend to ignore society's dictates tonight and dance the first with my wife. I will not be dissuaded on this! Do not try Lizzy!" His smile belied his words and, truthfully, she knew she was not inclined to deny him or herself, the pleasure of this dance.
That Mr. and Mrs. Darcy took up the first position in the set caused as much whispering as her obvious enceinte condition. Their equally obvious pleasure with each other and the affectionate glances they exchanged and made little effort to hide were a surprise only to those who had not previously been much in their company and such murmurings of disapprobation as did arise were quickly suppressed by the general approval of the lady and her husband. The conclusion of the dance saw the Darcys separate, each to perform their own tasks for the evening; Elizabeth to circulate and ensuring the enjoyment of her guests and Darcy to partner such ladies as might be in need of one for a dance. It would have taken an acute observer to notice that his attention, even when dancing, was focussed very much on his wife and her movements around the floor were tracked closely. However most of the guests could not be unaware that Mr. Darcy was quick to return to his wife's side following every dance set and that attempting to deflect him from such a purpose was futile. Several gentlemen had indeed tried, only to have to be satisfied with a brief apology to the effect that he was required to attend his wife.
Richard Fitzwilliam was one of those who had carefully observed his cousin's behaviour with some amusement and had remarked to his partner at the time, Miss Thompson, "I never really expected my cousin to find a wife who would so capture his affections."
"I think they are both delightful and extremely fortunate; but why should it surprise you?"
"You did not know my cousin before he met Elizabeth. He was quite different. A man of pride and position who I would never have expected to attach himself to someone from Elizabeth's station in life."
"He is much changed then?"
"Oh yes, indeed he is. But enough talking of my boring cousin. Are you engaged for the next set?"
"I am not but it would be quite improper for us to dance it. We have danced the first and you have requested the supper dance."
Richard smiled broadly, "I have no intention of asking you to dance, delightful though it would be. Come, I would have a private talk with you...if I may?" And after her nod of acquiescence he placed her hand on his arm and led her out of the ballroom.
Their escape had not gone unnoticed. In fact, Elizabeth had been quietly watching them both all evening and, having come to know a little of her friend's heart, was hoping that Richard would offer for it tonight. As her husband approached she took his arm and motioned in the direction where Richard and Miss Thompson were walking through the doorway of the ballroom, "Do you have any notions of your cousin's intentions?"
Darcy's grin reassured her, "I believe I will have an opportunity to tease him for a change. You can be assured that I shall not deprive myself of that pleasure."
Elizabeth shook her head, "Men!" and was about to dispatch him to find another dance partner when he demurred and stated his desire to remain in her company for this set. His company was agreeable to her and they were quickly joined by the earl and Countess who had come to impart such news as they had gleaned that evening. They had conversed for some quarter hour when Elizabeth nudged her husband and nodded to the doorway where a beaming Richard and Janet Thompson had entered and, from their behaviour, obviously searching for someone. Janet was the first to see Elizabeth and after pointing her out to Richard, it was a matter of seconds before they had spotted his father and mother and the Darcys. Richard's happiness was palatable and he wasted no time in informing them all that Miss Janet Thompson had given him her hand in marriage. Elizabeth and the countess were no less eager to welcome her into their family with warm hugs and Richard received the congratulations from his father and cousin with pleasure along with some requisite teasing as Darcy observed, "I can easily understand you wishing to win Miss Thompson's favour but whatever can she see in you, cousin?"
Elizabeth's laughing admonishment to her husband was followed by a kiss to Richard's cheek and a warm, "Congratulations Richard. I think that you both shall be very happy together."
After accepting their congratulations, Richard turned to his father, "I applied to Mr. Thompson for consent before I left London so the engagement is official. Would you announce it during supper?"
"Of course, I would be proud to do so." He looked at Miss Thompson, "How long are you planning to stay here at Pemberley Miss Thompson?"
"My plans are not fixed but I had thought to return home in two days."
"Yes well, perhaps you might stay a little longer. It might be a good for us to get better acquainted with the lady who will soon be a new daughter and I am sure that Richard would wish you to visit Holsten. From what he has told us, there are some changes required there."
The Countess could no longer be repressed, "Have you considered a wedding date? And where the wedding will take place?"
Richard laughed, "Not yet, mother. Although I am not in favour of a long engagement. Janet and I have not had time to consider these issues. Let us enjoy tonight before you force the practicalities on us."
They conversed for several more minutes before Richard and his betrothed moved to join his sister and her husband to share their news. This seemed to be a signal for the others to disperse until only the countess remained in company with Elizabeth who thought to take the opportunity to query Lady Eleanor.
"Are you satisfied with your son's choice?"
The countess did not answer immediately and her gaze was thoughtful as she scanned the crowd around her. Satisfied as to their privacy, her gaze returned to Elizabeth.
"I suspect that if Fitzwilliam had not married you, I might be quite unhappy. The connection to trade would have been a difficult fence to jump. But...I have met and grown to like you very much, I have met Miss Thompson, who is everything that is genteel, and her family are quite presentable as well. I could wish that he wished to marry someone of our station but he has had many years to do so and has not. I am satisfied and quite willing to accept Miss Thompson into our family. She will do well I think. She is much like you and Frances, you know." Her pause was almost too brief to notice, "And there is the fact that he has resigned from the army and will be safe. That cannot but make me happy."
Elizabeth smiled and laid a hand on the countess's arm, "I am glad. I am glad for Janet and Richard as well. I know Janet was beginning to despair of meeting a man she could esteem. Too many thought only of her possible dowry, convinced that her father's wealth would ensure that it was large. She did not reveal her heart to me but I could see Richard had gained her affections. I think they will do well together and I admit to a selfish pleasure that my friend and the man William considers a brother, will live so conveniently close to us. Very selfish of me, I concede." Her grin was quite unrepentant and drew a soft chuckle from the countess; but that lady's attention remained fixed on her son for a short time only. The supper dance was beginning and Bingley's participation with Georgiana caused a slight frown to appear, which Elizabeth, once she had determined the direction of the countess's gaze, could easily interpret.
"I am not certain of my sister's affections; she has not confided in me to that extent - perhaps because she does not know them herself. I am convinced that she holds Mr. Bingley in considerable regard; it is not the work of a few meetings - indeed she had known him as William's closest friend for several years." She paused, unsure how much to relate and decided that certain matters - Bingley's intentions in particular - would be best left to William to reveal.
"I have no particular disinclination to Mr. Bingley, Elizabeth. He is quite an amiable and genteel gentleman...."
Elizabeth knew the earl would be less favourably inclined - Bingley's personal involvement in trade would be upsetting and his acquisition of an estate would not ameliorate such a disinclination. Her response was temporizing, "Well, let us deal with problems if they arise. I cannot say that William favours Mr. Bingley but he will not discourage him - of that I am convinced." After a moment's thought - she would be imparting information that the countess would shortly learn anyway - she mentioned, "Mr. Bingley will be staying with us for several more days before returning to York. I believe he has business with William but he will be seeing Georgiana as well."
The countess' pursed lips suggested that this did not meet with her complete approval, but she let the matter drop and tactfully began to discuss some of their guests. Elizabeth was inclined to reveal that Georgiana had also assigned the last dance of the ball to Mr. Bingley but thought better of it - perhaps Lady Eleanor would not observe this obvious sign of Georgiana's preference though such was not likely. More likely she would observe but refrain from commenting when nothing further happened - she could hope anyway. Shortly thereafter the two ladies separated; to mingle with crowd in the case of the countess, and Elizabeth to visit the dining area where her guests would shortly congregate.
Early May, 1814 - Pemberley
As Elizabeth had come to recognize, there is frequently a degree of inevitability about certain events. A couple will wed and, if they are blessed, children will be conceived and then birthed; a couple may court, become engaged and then wed; a conception that was so welcomed but seemingly taking forever to come to its usual conclusion will eventually do so. One can set something in motion and then one is left powerless to alter, in any significant manner and mostly unwilling to do so, the course that is followed to its predestined end. So it had seemed to her for the last four months. Perhaps, she thought, it was that her confinement was wearing on her; certainly her inability to walk comfortably for more than - to her - a short distance without tiring and being required to sit down. Feeling bloated and ungainly as well was not designed to improve her mood and all the solicitous care of her husband and sisters was frequently a cause for irritation - which she tried to conceal as much as possible. If not for the comforting presence of Jane and her Aunt Madeline, she probably would have loosed her ire at them all more frequently.
As she thought back, it was little more than a year ago that William had proposed to her here at Pemberley and in little more than fortnight, they will have been married for a year and in a few days, or less, they will be presented with their first child. With all that had gone before, the humiliation that followed Lydia's ruin, the despair of believing that due to her own immaturity and prejudices she had lost the affections of Mr. Darcy and the unbelievable pleasure that arose when she met him once again and realized his affections had not faltered in the period of their separation, she could now see as akin to one of her morning rambles where the path rose and fell, twisted and turned presenting a different landscape with every change. That she was only on the early stages of that ramble and the prospects ahead - although certain to present some troubles and sorrows - were, for the most part, likely to be full of joy and love. If her days were tedious at the moment, she knew that state would not continue for long.
Fortunately, today was one of the better days and she had managed to walk to the conservatory to rest in the comfort that it provided. If she could not wander the wilds of Pemberley, here she could feel close to trees, plants and rivers she had come to love. As she relaxed in the warmth and sounds of the nearby fountain, she watched her sister cradling her child beside her murmuring and crooning to him and remembered the day of his birth.
About a week after the Pemberley Ball, the day started rather earlier than was usual for Jane who, as she admitted later, could remember only poorly her last night of uninterrupted sleep. That morning's discomfort was quite a bit different from the usual need to visit the water closet or to change position because the ache in her back or her hips or some other part of her body. The cramp that caught her by surprise was like none she had ever previously experienced and, if not unduly painful, had been sufficient to wake her thoroughly. A return to sleep proving impossible and, as the discomfort of the cramp receded, she had risen to begin her preparations for the day. Her maid was called to assist her and a request for tea and a light breakfast sent to the kitchen. A quarter hour later, dressed and refreshed, she had moved to her sitting room awaiting a tray from the kitchen which arrived at virtually the same time as the next cramp. Alarmed now, she had called for her maid who, understanding what was happening immediately moved to assist her mistress and then, when the cramp had passed, to make Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth aware of what was happening.
From this point there was an inevitability about the process and although the labour was not complete until late that night, Thomas Joseph Stovall - named in honour of both of his grandfathers - made his appearance to a tired but joyful Jane Stovall and only the absence of his father could diminish that joy by the slightest portion.
Mrs. Bennet, who had been removed to Derby, when Jane's labour began - a fact which was kept from her by her husband - for the purpose of shopping in the stores there and hence did not greet her grandson until two days after his birth. That she was displeased at the inconsideration shown her was made known to all her family - several times; however, Mrs. Bennet's delight in the child quickly was sufficient compensation such that, within minutes of being allowed to hold him, she proclaimed that he would be much the handsomest of any grandchild she could possibly have.
For her part, Jane had consoled herself for the absence of her husband by writing him a letter describing the child's perfections in great detail. Another, less voluminous letter was dispatched to York to impart to Amos' mother the important news. Her reply was swift and contained all the assurances that a new mother could wish, the regrets that she was unable to have been present at the birth and the best wishes of Amos's sister and brother.
For Elizabeth the months that followed were a time of quiet enjoyment with but herself, her husband, Jane, Georgiana and Kitty as the Bennets and Gardiners removed to their homes a week after the birth of Jane's baby. Her own increasing size and a blustery winter largely confined everyone indoors and, for Elizabeth and Darcy in particular, the conservatory became a favourite retreat. Music, reading and chess were the staple of an evening's entertainment and while several dinner parties were arranged in January, Elizabeth found more interest in remodelling her own bedroom into a nursery.
It was only the need to remove to London to attend the wedding of Richard and Janet that had disturbed their quiet. Accompanied by Georgiana - Kitty deciding to remain at Pemberley with Jane - Elizabeth and Darcy had made their way carefully to London. Janet and Richard's preference for a quiet Hertfordshire wedding had been overruled by the two mothers who, for different reasons, wished for a more prominent ceremony. Their original proposal for a wedding in April - to allow for the most exhausting of preparations - ran into opposition quickly when it became apparent that the Darcys would not be able to attend since it was too close to the expected date when Elizabeth would deliver the heir to Pemberley. Janet and Richard insisted on an earlier date and eventually agreed to a date in late February which Darcy stated was the latest that he could allow Elizabeth to travel - ignoring, it must be added, the eye-roll performed by that lady when informed of his decision.
Fortunately, the weather, although cold, was good and the roads clear and hard with the result that the trip was more expeditious than usual. They arrived several days in advance of the wedding, and if Elizabeth's activities were limited to family dinners, the constraint was borne by them both with great equanimity. The wedding took place as planned and both matrons could not help but be pleased with the result of their endeavours. The bride was beautiful and the groom, if not handsome, was most presentable and his adoration of his wife hidden from no one. Darcy had the joy of having his cousin happily and safely married and Elizabeth, the pleasure of one of her best friends becoming a close neighbour. The newly-wedded couple had chosen to remove to their estate in Derbyshire with the intention of taking a bridal trip during the summer months and chose to return in company with the Darcys albeit in their own carriage.
The sound of footsteps drew Elizabeth's attention and she looked up to see her Aunt Madeline and, to her surprise, Janet Fitzwilliam approaching her.
"Janet, I am surprised to see you. When did you arrive?"
"Richard and I arrived but a half hour ago. He is with your husband now."
"Can you stay for the night? Or longer perhaps?" Janet did not miss the hopeful note in Elizabeth's voice.
"Richard and I are here until the baby is born. Richard rather thought your husband would wish for the company and I believe his father and mother can be expected shortly."
Elizabeth began to laugh, "With my aunt, my sister, Aunt Eleanor and yourself the birthing room will not lack for support. Will there be room for the midwife do you suppose? You know Mrs. Reynolds will want to be there as well. I fear to disappoint you all by only having a single baby. Should I not have twins to merit such a congregation?"
Mrs. Gardiner chuckled, "You should not joke about twins, Lizzy. They have appeared in the Gardiner family in the past."
Elizabeth paled, "Oh, that I did not know. Surely I do not have twins now. Would not I have been told? Would they know?" Her agitation started to increase until finally Mrs. Gardiner managed to calm her with assurances that twins would represent no more of a problem than a single child and, where there were nurses to care for the children, she should not worry about something that was unlikely.
The arrival of Jane with her baby successfully diverted attention and the conversation reclaimed its happy tenor for the rest of the day. The arrival of the Earl and Countess of Matlock completed the party that awaited the birth of Elizabeth's baby and the next day or so passed in relative ease although everyone admitted, out of Elizabeth's hearing, to finding the wait to be tedious and tense.
As with all things of this nature, the waiting did come to an end. The delivery was relatively fast and Elizabeth endured not more than four hours to safely deliver the Pemberley heir. While she was quick to appreciate the support of those who attended her, she drew her strength and calmness from Jane as the travails of the birth grew most painful. In the early hours of the afternoon, Bennet Joseph Darcy arrived healthy and strong and, as his father was wont to concede, possessed of a healthy set of lungs.
Darcy had tarried not at all when apprised by the countess that his wife and babe were both healthy and arrived in the birthing room within minutes of receiving the news. Presented with the picture of his obviously tired but glowing wife cradling his child - his son - in her arms, he could not control the tears that flooded his eyes. As he knelt beside her and enveloped them both in his arms, he whispered, "Lizzy, I do not believe I can be happier than I am now."
"William, I have thought much lately of the journey we have taken to get here. I know the journey is not over - that we have much joy ahead - but this moment, this day I will never forget. I am in your arms and holding our son. I can ask no more. Are you truly happy?"
"Such a foolish question from such an intelligent woman. The husband of Elizabeth Darcy must have such extraordinary sources of happiness necessarily attached to his situation that he could, upon the whole, have no cause to repine."
Epilogue - Loose Ends
It is not to be wondered at that any couple - no matter the depth of affection that exists in the marriage - will find disagreements arising between them; pride, a willingness to compromise and discuss the issues that lie between them will not inhibit the resolution of such differences and prevent erosion of the love and respect each brought to the marriage. Fortunately for Elizabeth and Darcy, the travails and misunderstandings that plagued the early days of their relationship taught this valuable lesson. Theirs remained a love match that deepened and broadened as their family grew and the years passed. Bennet was joined by four brothers over the first fifteen years of the marriage; but the couple had all but despaired of having a daughter - Darcy, in particular, wanted a daughter cast in the image of his wife - until Elizabeth, then in her late thirties, unexpectedly found herself again with child and pleased her husband with the delivery of twin daughters, Jane and Ann. Now nine years of age and virtually identical, they are - in the words of Mr. Bennet - the image of Lizzy with the added advantage of five older brothers to plague - which they do as much as their governess will permit - and the girls, as Mr. Bennet was also wont to observe constituted a just reward to Elizabeth for the vexation that she gave her own mother at a similar age. Elizabeth appeared to take it in stride and was heard one day by her husband to inform her daughters 'what are girls for but to make sport for their brothers and to laugh at them in turn'.
Amos Stovall had returned to England several months after Napoleon abdicated in 1814, his ship laid up in ordinary and his services no longer required by His Majesty's Navy. Not wasting any time, he was in London short days later to join with his wife and son in London. While some business kept them there for a fortnight, they made their way to York as expeditiously as possible with only a short visit to Pemberley on the way. Once established on their estate, they were extremely reluctant to leave and the fact that a daughter - Elizabeth - was born a scant year after Amos' return, encouraged them in that decision. Due to his being rather remote from news of events on the continent, Napoleon's return and ultimate defeat at Waterloo, was over before he could be called back into service and his ship commissioned for duty. The Stovalls were blessed with another three children and lived quite happily in Yorkshire with only occasional visits to visit relatives in the following years - London, in particular, held few attractions and had been visited there but twice - to visit the Gardiners. Shortly after his return, Stovall purchased a cottage in Scarborough and a small schooner which he kept docked there. His summers were frequently spent sailing, an activity which none of his children much enjoyed but which quickly became a favourite pastime of the second youngest Darcy son who, from the age of ten, spent most of the summer months visiting the Stovalls and sailing with his uncle. That he, at the age of fourteen, would join the navy as a midshipman came as a surprise to no one although his mother was less than pleased by the decision.
Catherine and Mary both married; Catherine to a promising young clerk in her Uncle Gardiner's company who, ten years later, had been promoted to a junior partner and were blessed a brood of children; Mary, however, did not marry until almost thirty years of age and her husband, a widower of some ten years her senior, was in possession of a small estate in Lincolnshire and several young children for whom he needed a mother. While conceding it to be a prudent marriage for both, Elizabeth's concerns were not alleviated until she recognized the affections that each held for the other. The friendship that developed between Catherine and Georgiana lasted throughout their lives although it was carried out mostly by correspondence with Georgiana living in the north and Catherine in London.
Lydia and James Simpson raised a large brood of children in Canada and, if neither had the opportunity to visit their homeland again, they did have the pleasure of Elizabeth and Darcy crossing the ocean to visit some fifteen years after their marriage - Elizabeth was heard to aver that sea trips must encourage getting with child, attributing the trip to the birth of her twin daughters. With eight children Lydia's days were full and the Simpson farm was large and prosperous. Most of her sons had made a place for themselves on the farm but their second oldest son not being interested in farming and longing for a city profession travelled to London and eventually found a position in the Gardiner's company. Elizabeth thought that James Simpson had much to do with the gentlemanly behaviour of his sons and the girls, who she feared might resemble their mother in her early years, were indeed lively but very well behaved. If the society they moved in was less refined than London it was not dissimilar to Hertfordshire in most respects.
Charles Bingley waited until Georgiana's eighteenth birthday to request a courtship; however, before Georgiana would accept the courtship offer she felt the necessity to inform Mr. Bingley of the events at Ramsgate involving George Wickham. His response was all that she could have hoped for and her acceptance was joyful and approved, with reservations, by Darcy. The courtship lasted a scant six weeks and his offer of marriage accepted with considerable delight and the couple were married three months later. The marriage was a happy one and blessed with several children. They remained in York in comfortable distance from Pemberley to visit the Darcy's and, as well, the Stovalls with whom they became very close.
Mr. Bennet had retired to Pemberley some twenty years after the Darcys married; too enfeebled to live alone at Longbourn - Mrs. Bennet having succumbed to an illness ten years previous - he availed himself of the Pemberley library and the company of his most cherished daughter. Mr. and Mrs. Collins were established at Longbourn to take care of the estate. The death of Mr. Collins - an ill-advised tour of his farms left him wet and badly chilled by a severe rainstorm, from which a severe fever developed - left Charlotte Collins to raise the heir of Longbourn - Thomas Collins - along with her two daughters. Young Thomas, with help from Darcy and being blessed with his mother's good sense, quickly learned the rudiments of managing an estate. At five and twenty, he actively courted and married the Bingley's middle daughter whom he met while they both were visiting Pemberley.
The Gardiners remained in London until such time as Mr. Gardiner retired from his business, turning it over to his own sons and those of his nieces possessed of a commercial bent. Upon retiring, the Gardiners removed to Lambton where Mrs. Gardiner was able to develop and improve those connections and acquaintances which had been created during her many visits to Pemberley. Proximity to the superb fishing at Pemberley and the ability to enjoy that pastime fully provided no small amount of pleasure to Mr. Gardiner.
Richard and Janet Fitzwilliam settled down in close proximity to Pemberley and each of the two families was much in the company of the other and the cousins were as close as siblings. Richard was able, over a ten year period, to improve the productivity of the estate to more than three thousand pounds per year. He also, as a personal project, began to breed and raise thoroughbred horses, a sideline which gradually developed into the main business of the estate and a source of considerable earnings.
For those less estimable characters, the years treated them as well as may be expected. Lady Catherine de Bourgh never reconciled with the Darcys and the death of her daughter some five years after their marriage only fixed her disdain for Elizabeth even more firmly and none of the representations of her Fitzwilliam relations managed to alter her opinions. As Rosings Park had been inherited by Anne by virtue of her father's will and would pass to the nearest de Bourgh relation if she died childless, her death in 1820 saw the removal of Lady Catherine to the Dower House a circumstance held against Elizabeth for the remainder of Lady Catherine's life.
Some two years after his marriage Darcy received a letter from a Colonel of the Georgia Militia to the effect that George Wickham had died in the Battle of New Orleans - one of the few American casualties in that battle. According to the Colonel he had comported himself well and his death was regretted by his comrades. If Darcy suspected that such regrets may have been fuelled by debts of honour that Wickham had left behind, such suspicions were only spoken to his wife. Lydia's response, upon being informed of Wickham's demise in a letter from Elizabeth, was a succinct 'Good!' and could not be induced to express any other opinion.The End