Chapter Twenty- Two
Posted on 2013-07-27
It had taken almost a week, today being Sunday, for Mrs Bennet to recover from the shock of losing her favourite daughter. It was only the recollection that in little over a week Jane would return and Mrs Bennet could take her rightful spot as the mother of Mrs Bingley mistress of Netherfield that had boosted her spirits.
"They should of course have a party. That will show Jane's good nature and her good housekeeping," mused Mrs Bennet. "If only they did not have such numerous company, Mr Bingley could invite some of his friends."
"Do you think it likely that our new son has more illustrious friends than those already in situ?" said Mr Bennet, folding his newspaper.
Mrs Bennet sighed, "Well now that Kitty has quite spoiled her chances with Mr Fitzwilliam, there is little hope of their getting any of the others."
Kitty was a little alarmed at the rather knowing look her father gave her before he responded to his wife. "Very true, my dear. But, at least, they are receiving a good education in fine gentlemen."
Mrs Bennet sighed some more and then was distracted by Lydia's need for a new gown.
"You have gowns enough," said Lizzy shortly.
"Oh do not deny my poor girl. We must be such dull company as compared to Brighton."
Kitty had not a new gown to wear to the Assembly, but she could rework an old one, and was doing just that; attempting to sew new lace and ribbons and create an overskirt.
"Do you think Miss Darcy will come to the assembly?" Kitty asked Lizzy, who was most likely to know.
"I cannot think so. She is not out. He might allow a private party, but this would be too public."
"Not out! Why ever not? She is sixteen, is she not? Seems a very proud and disagreeable thing for Mr Darcy to do to his sister to deny her such pleasures!" Mrs Bennet did not believe in daughters being 'in'.
"Mama, I beg you will not share this opinion with Mr Darcy. Miss Darcy is his ward and sister he does what he sees fit."
This warm defence of Mr Darcy was, Kitty hoped, a sign that they had made up their quarrel.
"Well, we do not have to regard how he treats his inferiors," dismissed Mrs Bennet.
"The house seems uneven without Jane," said Kitty in a low voice.
Lizzy nodded, "I did not think I would miss her quite as much as I do. She manages to distract Mama without a fuss."
The next morning brought an elegant invitation to a very informal card party the following night. The invitation was made more charming by the fact it was brought by Miss Darcy. She, unfortunately in Kitty's opinion, brought her brother with her and not her cousin, but Kitty would not hold that against her.
"May we not walk in the garden?" said Miss Darcy in that shy quiet way of hers.
Kitty was a little bewildered, as it was a little wet and it would be far more comfortable to sit indoors. But Miss Darcy became insistent so Kitty fetched her bonnet and hoped Miss Darcy's shoes were sturdy enough.
"Oh, I wore my more hardy boots in anticipation," said Miss Darcy on inquiry.
Kitty thought she sensed a stratagem.
"Did you mean to walk with me?"
Miss Darcy nodded. "I wanted Fitzwilliam and Miss Bennet ..." she blushed. "I should not interfere. But I so wish for a sister and Miss Bennet is quite everything I should want in a sister."
Kitty could have told Miss Darcy some of Lizzy's faults as a sister, but it seemed cruel to deprive Miss Darcy of her perfect view.
As they took a circuit of Mrs Bennet's formal gardens Kitty could not help but notice that everything reminded Miss Darcy of something at her uncle's many estates.
Matlock Close was everything that was charming, Ashbourne was picturesque, and one of their other Scottish estates was vast and imposing like in a gothic romance. The roses reminded her of her Aunt's rose garden and the discussion of whether Longbourn kept any cows made her think of her uncle allowing her to name a pretty cow 'Daisy' when she was a child.
Lord Matlock was a friendly man with some eccentricities, but a fondness for the world and his wife was so good natured that no one ever vexed them or upset them. They were not terrifying or argumentative. The polar opposite of Lady Catherine, who seemed a gorgon to Kitty through Miss Darcy's eyes.
Miss Darcy was not very subtle, but Kitty could not pounce exactly on her meaning until Miss Darcy began to talk very warmly of her cousin's attributes.
He was handsome, and well read, and very kind, and always attentive. He was the best of brothers and cousins. None of this was surprising to Kitty, but she wondered whether she had mistaken Miss Darcy's meaning and Miss Darcy meant to warn Kitty that she was in love with Lord Ashbourne and thus Kitty had no hope.
"I do not think anyone should ever worry that he should not make a very fine husband," finished Miss Darcy.
Kitty did not know where to look.
"I am not sure that this should be addressed to me, Miss Darcy, I ..." Kitty did not know how to finish her thoughts. It had been told to her time and time again than her preferences were quite wildly known throughout the county! She needed no convincing of the viscount's attributes! ".... I am most sensible of his good qualities."
It was Miss Darcy's turn to turn quite a bright red. "But I had thought that it was you who..." she broke off, and while Kitty desperately wished to press the matter she could not bear to upset Miss Darcy any further.
Kitty changed the conversation to Mr Fitzwilliam's birthday and whether being another year old would make him more sensible.
In Kitty's opinion, it did not make Mr Fitzwilliam more sensible and she had to own that Lizzy's reservations in attending a card party at Netherfield while Mr Bingley was away were not ridiculous. In the end it was Mr Darcy, of all people, who soothed her.
"Miss Bennet, in this instance it would do to remember Mr Bingley's desires. He should not wish for his house to stand idle and allow the celebration of friend's coming of age to pass by unnoticed. Miss Bingley is here to be hostess."
"Well, Mr Darcy, if you find nothing improper in it, then it cannot be so," teased Lizzy and Kitty wondered what was preventing Mr Darcy from declaring himself.
Kitty agreed to play speculation and was surprised that all of the young people, including Mr Darcy, also agreed. It seemed he was determined to be good natured.
Though it amused Kitty, and Lizzy too it seemed, that he was not particularly good at speculation.
"He dissembles," whispered Lord Ashbourne to her.
"Darcy," said Mr Fitzwilliam who was on her other side, but spent most of his time aiding Emma Lucas.
"He plays a very good speculation," said Lord Ashbourne, "but look: he requires so much assistance from your sister."
"And he who despises the arts of women to draw young men in!" said Mr Fitzwilliam with a wink.
"We may play very differently in Hertfordshire." But Kitty's giggle gave her away. She refused to gossip further about her sister and Mr Darcy, but she could not help but look at them during the play and it did seem as Mr Darcy was asking Lizzy questions every moment or so and she did not look annoyed by the attention.
"Do you play piquet?" Lord Ashbourne asked once the joy of speculation had run dry.
"Your hope being that I do not, so you may teach me and show how proficient you are at everything?" said Kitty. She was glad he had picked a game that she did know to play, because she wished sometimes that she had not so limited an experience that he must know everything and her nothing.
Lord Ashbourne spread his hands out in mock surprise. "You wound me, Miss Catherine."
"Well, I am sorry to inform you that I do indeed know how to play."
She was not so skilful to win, however, but Kitty could hardly expect that since she only played occasionally with the Lucas boys or the officers. She was just glad that Lord Ashbourne was not letting her win; that would be humiliating indeed.
At one point Lizzy came to sit near them and looked at their score sheet. "I do hope you are not playing for money, Kitty." She said in a low voice.
If they had been playing for money, Kitty would have lost all of her allowance and quite a bit more.
"We are playing for pride, Miss Bennet," said Lord Ashbourne and Lizzy looked disconcerted to have been overheard.
"I have none of mine left," said Kitty sadly. "Now Lord Ashbourne has a surfeit of it," she opened her eyes widely and hoped she looked innocent.
Mr Darcy, who had arrived with lemonade for Lizzy, coughed. "I am afraid he had a surfeit of it before the game commenced."
Kitty laughed, Mr Darcy had made a joke! At least she hoped it was a joke.
"Miss Bennet, your sister is about to begin her concerto; I have saved a space for you on the sofa."
Lizzy accepted the glass of lemonade and Mr Darcy's arm as they made their way into he next room to listen to Mary perform.
"Should you not wish to go hear your sister?"
Kitty lay down her cards. "She has been practicing so faithfully, it would seem rude not to."
The Bingley sisters seemed unimpressed that the pianoforte should be commanded by anybody but themselves, and Lydia was slumped in an armchair, but the rest of the party was amenable to a concert.
"She is playing much better, I think," said Kitty in an under voice.
"Perhaps because she does not strive too much for technical perfection," replied Lord Ashbourne.
"Well I do not play at all well. I expect you play masterfully."
"I am afraid to disappoint you. Although, if I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient!"
That was amusing, but did not quite explain why Mr Fitzwilliam and Mr Darcy who were nearby did not seem able to keep a straight face. Even Lizzy was suffering.
Kitty felt a little put out, but petulantly asking them to explain the joke would be worse so she said nothing.
Mary surrendered the pianoforte after her piece and seemed to grow quite two inches under the praise.
"Capital, Miss Mary! Now who shall delight us?" said Sir William.
"Miss Darcy plays very well indeed. She has been taught by all the masters," said Miss Bingley.
Miss Darcy looked quite ill. She had been allowed to appear at this private party, but Kitty had noticed she had not put herself forward at all. It was cruel of Miss Bingley to turn the room's attention to her when her friend did not desire it in any way. But Miss Bingley could not conceive of a young lady not wishing to display her talents.
"I had not thought - " Miss Darcy stammered.
"Not thought of showing the room how well you play?" Miss Bingley sounded astonished. "Mr Darcy, will you not help me convince your sister that we require to hear a true genius?"
Mr Darcy looked startled, as if he wished to assist his sister, but did not quite know how to do so without embarrassing her further. Lizzy looked torn as well, seeing that Mary too looked quite cast down after such a welcomed performance.
"But why should we hear Miss Darcy play?" Kitty found herself saying quite suddenly. "Why should we hear perfection when Miss Darcy's talents are better used elsewhere?"
Miss Darcy looked at her in some shock.
"Did you not say, Miss Darcy, that you would assist myself in playing quite the worst duet in the world?"
Miss Darcy let out a small giggle, "I do not remember such a thing! I remember saying I should assist you and my cousin to play the worst duet in the world. I should be too afraid of my tutors suddenly appearing out of thin air to scold me if I attempted to play ill."
It was now Kitty's turn to glare at Miss Darcy, but she had no time to argue as her hand was claimed.
"Shall we delight the room?" Lord Ashbourne drew her to the piano and seated her there, before taking his own seat.
Under Miss Darcy's direction, they did indeed grace the room with the worst duet in history, dedicating it to Mr Fitzwilliam's birthday. As it was punctuated by a great deal of laughing and other young ladies coming to add their advice as to how to play, no one but perhaps Miss Bingley minded.
"If you had not insisted on gadding about the countryside!" Mrs Bennet scolded Kitty, as her hair would not cooperate and in Mrs Bennet's mind it was the fault of Kitty going out in the curricle the previous day and that morning.
They were gathered in Lizzy's room getting ready for the assembly.
"But I am much improving my driving of a team, Mama!"
"And whose team shall you drive, Kitty? Your father cannot spare the horses. You would be better off being more useful!"
"Mama, Kitty is being useful. She has been a great assistance to Hill during your...distraction."
Kitty smiled gratefully at Lizzy, surprised that Lizzy had noticed Kitty's household assistance.
"Oh, what does that signify that she drew up some menus! Can she find herself a husband? Can you find a husband? I saw you cozying up to Mr Darcy. Well I should have thought him a fine match for one of you girls until he opened his mouth! And do not forget how he insulted you."
Lizzy looked as if she wished to argue the point but did not trust herself to speak.
"Mama, come and assist me with my hair," said Mary. standing. "I too have been out in the curricle and my hair is quite ruined."
Once they had departed, Lizzy sunk down onto the bed. "Oh how I miss Jane."
Kitty ignored the little pang that said that she could be Lizzy's support, if Lizzy should but ask. "Did you know that Mr Darcy knows very well how to play speculation as it is quite Miss Darcy's favourite game?"
That made Lizzy sit up. "Did Miss Darcy tell you this?"
"No, Mr Fitzwilliam and Lord Ashbourne did. I wonder why he should pretend with you that he did not know how to play?"
Lizzy laughed. "Wretched man! I should have refused to grant him a dance this evening."
"Shall you dance with anyone else?" said Kitty.
"Of course I shall! It would look very particular if I should..." Lizzy broke off at Kitty's look. "That would be one way to declare myself, but I do not think I quite have the courage."
"Or you could just tell Miss Darcy how desperately you wish to marry her brother."
"But then how will I know he wanted to marry me or if he only asked because he wished to oblige his sister?"
"No brother is that obliging, Lizzy."
Lizzy cocked her head to one side, "And you, too, be careful, Kitty."
Anything else Lizzy might had said was cut off by Lydia's groan. "Lord, I am bored even before we have gone to the assembly. It will be nothing to anything I have seen in Brighton."
The rooms may have been smaller and the company less numerous and varied, but Kitty did not see much difference from Brighton. Everyone here and there came eager to dance and gossip and be merry.
Kitty had not been asked to dance and she lived in fear that such an open declaration would not occur. That he should hide himself in the card room or confine himself very properly to paying attention to everyone equally.
She had been disappointed before, but she was not to be so now.
"Miss Bennet, may I claim these dances?" He was at her side from the moment his party arrived.
She curtseyed and gave him her hand. "I am sure I should encourage you to dance with Miss Darcy, my lord."
"Miss Darcy does not mean to dance, or should I say Darcy does not mean her to dance and even if she meant to dance, I would much rather dance with you."
Chapter Twenty- Three
Posted on 2013-08-04
"Staring out the window will not make anyone appear," said Mary over the top of her book.
Kitty turned back to her embroidery. She had cast away both Edmund Burke and Bruce's stories about finding the source of the Nile. She found them fascinating if heavy works, but she found she could not concentrate.
If she did not force herself to concentrate, the pillow she was working on would be equally spoiled.
"But why has no one come?" she found herself complaining.
The Assembly had been perfection. She had danced twice with Lord Ashbourne, once with Mr Fitzwilliam and even Mr Darcy had asked her to dance. She had found him not an unpleasant partner, although he was rather imposing and he did not seem to wish to speak a great deal. She had not ignored her old favourites either, remembering what Lizzy and Charlotte had spoken of, but she had also had plenty of free dances and supper where it seemed ordained that Lord Ashbourne should also be free and available to chat.
There could not have been a greater indication that he might be serious and yet he did not come. He must know that now everybody had quite forgot their silly idea that Kitty had preferred Mr Fitzwilliam.
She tried to tell herself that Mr Bingley had sought Jane out in such a way and that at first had come to naught and Mr Bingley was quite free in the world with no family (apart from his sisters) who could disapprove his choice. Lord Ashbourne was not so free and Mr Bingley's situation in life was nothing to his.
Lizzy wandered in idly and seemed very dull too.
"How empty life feels the day after a ball," she sighed. She picked up Burke and made a face before setting it down.
Lizzy had danced twice with Mr Darcy, and every time Kitty had seen her she had been with him.
"Perhaps the Lucases will call," said Lizzy with not a great deal of enthusiasm.
"The gentlemen did call and have gone shooting with Papa," said Mary, shutting her book. "I was not so knocked up from dancing that I was awake early enough to see them." She then turned away and began reading again. This was a certain signal that she would answer no questions even, though both her sisters had sat up quite rapidly.
"Mary, you are unkind," said Kitty.
"Mama will be pleased that they have come," said Lizzy. "Come, we should not be so listless with just our company. We are intelligent women. We want no gentlemen to enliven our day."
Kitty and Lizzy attempted to rally and found that playing at letters soothed their tempers. Even if they both kept forming words of a romantic persuasion.
"It is a great pity they did not come in," said Mrs Bennet over dinner that evening.
"They would not trespass upon you in all their dirt," said Mr Bennet calmly.
Kitty thought that a poor excuse.
"Now, Lizzy, I wish to speak to you about something," said Mrs Bennet, laying down her knife and waiting until the servants were out of the room. "I wish to speak to you about it with your father present so there can be no confusion as there was with Mr Collins."
Kitty and Mary looked at each other in some awkwardness and Lydia just snorted.
"Mama, we may speak of this later, and privately."
"No, I shall say it now. I noticed that Mr Darcy was very attentive to you. Now I know we have spoken about his ill temper and how you should never dance with him even if he did ask you, but I see you discredited that advice, which was quite sensible."
"Mama, I do not think my sisters need to..." Lizzy threw a pleading look also to their father, who just seemed amused.
"But I have been thinking, Lizzy, he has ten thousand a year and a very great house if your aunt is to be believed. You may marry him and never see him! And Miss Darcy does not look as if she would give you any trouble."
"Do not keep 'Mama'-ing me, Lizzy! You have already refused one very fine match, if you do not flirt and continue to do whatever it is that has attracted Mr Darcy, I will be done with you! Do you hear me, Mr Bennet?"
"I do indeed. Am I supposed to object to Mr Darcy? I find I do object to him greatly if that is of assistance!"
"There can be nothing to object to with Mr Darcy!" cried Kitty on seeing her sister's face. "He is a little cross, but then he might be cheered by having a wife. It cannot be so very nice to have had the guardianship of his sister and the responsibilities of an estate so early in life."
"Well there you hear it, Lizzy, you are to marry Mr Darcy and never see him according to your mother and marry him solely to cheer him up if you believe your sister."
Lizzy chose to excuse herself.
Kitty found her sister after dinner and tried to apologise.
"I did not mean to make things worse..." She had not indeed. It had just seemed unfair that Lizzy should listen to Mr Darcy being abused by her own parents.
"Oh you did not, it is my own fault. I know Mama's temperament but I thought that my father would be more understanding." Lizzy squeezed her hand. "You are quite clever when you mean to be, Kitty. I did not think for some time about what difficulties Mr Darcy might have. I just saw a proud ill-tempered young man and did not care to inquire why he might be so, even when I knew his circumstances."
"Ten thousand pounds a year does not alleviate all ills," said Kitty.
"No, and I am not sure I should have quite the strength of Mr Darcy if I should have been in his shoes."
This was a mournful turn of conversation and Kitty did not care for it. "Fitzwilliam."
Lizzy blinked at her.
"That is his name. Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is not a name that eases off the tongue."
Lizzy giggled. "No, it is not."
"Should you name your first son Bennet?"
"I do not see why not, if it is a tradition in the family," then Lizzy blushed at what she had implied and Kitty wisely did not press her.
"How long do you think before Mama visits Jane? They arrive on Monday night, do they not, before your birthday?"
"I think she might be there to greet them. Oh poor Jane," sighed Lizzy.
"Poor Jane has just spent a fortnight in Devon with her husband," retorted Kitty.
"And then surely the party at Netherfield must depart," said Lizzy. "We shall miss them shall we not, but they cannot stay here forever." She sounded wistful but Lizzy was also looking at Kitty intently.
Kitty did not want to think about anyone leaving, so she pretended she did not understand her sister.
Several days passed away quietly. Mr Darcy came to call more frequently, at first bringing Miss Darcy and then calling on his own.
Kitty made herself scarce and was ably assisted by her continued riding and driving lessons. One morning they suddenly thought of Jane's mare, and Miss Darcy was able to attend them.
During the evenings, both Kitty and Lizzy attempted to convince their mother that camping at Netherfield awaiting Jane's return would look most peculiar and they must trust that Jane and Mr Bingley would attend to them promptly.
"After all, it is Lizzy's birthday. Jane should wish to celebrate with her!" cried Kitty.
"Oh, have it your way. I think it most objectionable that you should be quite cruel to me. I only wish to see my eldest daughter and how she flourishes as Mrs Bingley. She will need me to help direct her servants and how to oust Miss Bingley, for I see she will be a sly one and not wish to give control over to Jane."
"I do not disagree with Mama," said Lizzy to Kitty as they sat sewing in a corner. "Miss Bingley may be difficult but it is Jane's problem to deal with, not ours."
"Miss Bingley, I think, probably does not wish to keep up her brother's house; she would rather her own establishment! Why then should she wish to continue the bother when she does not have to, or seem so rude?" said Kitty.
"That is true," conceded Lizzy. "I hope Jane is successful. Netherfield is so different from Longbourn."
Kitty thought that Lizzy was not thinking of the difference in station between Netherfield and Longbourn. She still did not understand why Mr Darcy had not proposed. His attentions had become more marked. Perhaps he waited until Jane returned so that Lizzy might share her happiness with her beloved sister?
They were correct, and Jane and Bingley presented themselves early on Lizzy's birthday.
"Oh Jane!" cried Lizzy. "How well you look! Devon must agree with you, and you too, my dear brother."
Bingley smiled and placed all of his parcels down upon the table. "Now I fear, despite it being your birthday, these are not all for you, Elizabeth."
Lydia fell upon the parcels and had to be pulled away by Mary.
"They are not all for you, either," said Mary.
There turned out to be one for each sister and an extra for Lizzy; after all it was her birthday.
In Kitty's parcel was a very fine shawl and a book that surveyed Devon.
"So you may tell us what it was we should have seen, Kitty," said Bingley with a smile.
All of the sisters received shawls, and Mary some sheet music and Lydia some more ribbon and lace. Lizzy received a beautiful watercolour that must have needed some care in transporting. The other parcel Jane would not let her open, whispering to Lizzy that it was for her trousseau. Lizzy quite blushed.
"Why does she blush?" said Mrs Bennet, put out that she had not received a parcel, until Mr Bingley recollected he had forgotten it in the carriage.
"Jane has bought her things for her trousseau" said Lydia loudly.
This reminded Mrs Bennet of her plans for Mr Darcy and Lizzy, which allowed Lizzy to be the centre of conversation on her own birthday, but in a manner of Mrs Bennet's own choosing until even she grew bored of the conversation.
"Oh Lizzy, I had hoped," said Jane, once Mrs Bennet had finally been drawn off by the ever patient Bingley.
"You had hopes! I had hopes," said Lizzy. "We seem to be in perfect charity. We understand each other; there is no constraint in our conversations. We have forgiven our past selves and each other. There seems to be nothing preventing him!"
Kitty thought again that Mr Darcy was no doubt waiting until Jane returned, but she did not say so because if she was wrong she did not want to raise and then dash hopes in her sister.
She knew how difficult it was to hope and wonder: when?
"Perhaps he is still unsure of how you feel or ..."
"Between his aunt and his sister, I do not see how that is possible."
"His aunt? Has Lady Catherine been here?"
"No, she has however written to Mr Darcy, and to Lord Ashbourne. Mr Collins told her that an engagement was expected. Of course her ladyship disapproves and I think we were only saved from her appearance by Lord Ashbourne's presence here. She trusts him, I think, to prevent Darcy from making a misalliance."
Lizzy then shot another look at Kitty, but when she saw Kitty was looking at her, Lizzy turned uncomfortably.
"I will say no more, but I think he found her letters (for of course his lordship showed Mr Darcy his letter) illuminating. He knows that I should have contradicted such a report if it were not true. If I had no hopes and expectations, I would have no scruples to say such a thing and have it reported there was little chance of such a marriage."
Jane smiled. "Do not lose hope."
"No, I shall not. Although please do not chase Mr Darcy out of Netherfield? For my sake could you bear to have your house invaded for a little while longer?"
Jane laughed. "For you, I could bear anything."
Mr Darcy called the next day, but, as he called with his sister and his cousins, any hopes the household might have that he might declare himself were dashed.
"Mr Darcy, you do us such an honour," said Mrs Bennet.
Mr Darcy looked uncomfortable at the change in attitude of Mrs Bennet. He was clearly used to being abused by her.
"Not at all," he said shortly.
"We thought it best to vacate as best as possible to allow the Bingleys time to settle," said Lord Ashbourne.
Mrs Bennet spoke at some length about Jane's perfection before suggesting they should take a walk.
"It is such a pleasant day, it seems a shame to have you young people cooped up in here." She said this with such a wink that Kitty felt a little mortified.
Everyone readily agreed to such a suggestion, ignoring Mrs Bennet's blatant hint, but it was not at all surprising that Mr Darcy and Lizzy should naturally fall into step.
"Shall we walk into Meryton?" said Mr Fitzwilliam, linking arms with Miss Darcy.
"An admirable objective," said Lord Ashbourne, offering his arm to Kitty.
Once they managed to get beyond Longbourn's borders, Lord Ashbourne looked behind him at Mr Darcy and Lizzy and said to the rest of their party, "And now I propose that we four walk very quickly into Meryton and then perambulate around for a little while. After all, it worked so very well last time."
Miss Darcy was the only one for whom this had to be translated, but after she was made to understand she insisted that it must be so and was the quickest walker.
Chapter Twenty- Four
Posted on 2013-08-10
"Oh he did wish to wait for you! And Bingley," cried Lizzy. "Oh come in, Kitty, come in, Mary; you are not being very subtle there!" Lizzy waved them into Jane's bedchamber.
Kitty had been disappointed the previous afternoon for there had been no sign of an engagement. Their happy little party had wasted as much time in Meryton as possible, but while Mr Darcy and Lizzy had certainly been even longer than themselves, when Lizzy returned to Longbourn she was close-mouthed.
Kitty had wanted to ask her directly, but Mary reminded her it might be embarrassing if nothing had occurred and they should know soon enough. After all, they were to dine at Netherfield the next evening.
The girls had walked to Netherfield early, ostensibly to help Jane, but since Lizzy seemed determined to go alone, Kitty knew she must wish to talk to Jane.
"Yes, Mr Darcy has proposed," said Lizzy to her sisters' looks and then accepted Kitty's hug. "These two have been following me about all day wanting to hear my news, but I wished to tell you first, Jane."
Jane looked close to tears. "Oh Lizzy, how happy I am for you!"
"I am very glad, for I am so happy myself!"
"When does he ask our father?" said Jane.
"Tonight! Oh Lord, I had not thought of Mama finding out here at Netherfield!"
"We will try and shield you," said Jane, "but you cannot blame her for being so happy."
"Maybe, but surely I may object to her manner and her insistence on it being all her own doing!"
Kitty soon grew impatient to be downstairs and to see the other inhabitants of Netherfield.
It was such a large house that she made several errors before finding the sitting room.
"I do not see why they all came so early, it is only a family dinner party. I think Jane can handle the arrangements - Oh Miss Catherine, how nice to see you." Miss Bingley was insincere.
Kitty looked around the room, but it was only Miss Bingley and her sister. Mr Hurst was on a sofa, but he did not count.
"Are you looking for anyone in particular?" said Mrs Hurst in a tone Kitty did not care to interrogate.
"No, it is just a very fine room." Kitty did not think she sounded convincing so she sat down and waited.
She was rewarded very shortly when Mr Darcy and Lord Ashbourne entered the room deep in discussion Kitty could not help standing upon their entrance and fixing them with a great smile. Mr Darcy seemed a little surprised until he must have recollected that Lizzy should have told her of their engagement.
"Miss Catherine," he said with a bow. Kitty accepted salutations from Lord Ashbourne also.
"Do not let him take all the credit," said Kitty. She would have been more explicit but she doubted that Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst had been told the good news.
Mr Darcy blinked at that and looked at Lord Ashbourne and then smiled. "I shall endeavour not to, but he is rather difficult to persuade out of the notion that everything happens because he commanded it."
Miss Bingley, who did not understand this conversation, called Mr Darcy over to her in order to stop it; as this left Kitty with Lord Ashbourne, Kitty did not mind.
Her only disappointment in the evening was that Jane had not placed her anywhere near him during dinner. She supposed this allowed her to pay attention to her meal. Mr Hurst would not speak of anything but a ragout and Mr Bingley was still too transfixed on Jane to be much of a conversationalist.
"You must be hoping that Mrs Bingley takes your daughters into society, Mrs Bennet," said Miss Bingley, fanning herself as they waited for the gentlemen to return.
"Oh yes," said Mrs Bennet. "My daughters will do very well for themselves."
"Indeed they already have; they are so accomplished," said Mrs Hurst and more than one lady, though not Mrs Bennet, felt her true meaning.
"Well, I should like to have your daughters for sisters," said Miss Darcy boldly and Kitty knew then she also knew of the engagement.
"Perhaps you shall," said Mrs Bennet wistfully, not knowing that her wildest dreams were about to come true in perhaps a quarter of an hour.
When Mr Bennet and Mr Darcy finally returned to the ladies, Mr Bennet called Lizzy away for a moment, but they soon returned and Mr Bennet was announcing his congratulations to the whole party.
If some of the party were disappointed, Mrs Bennet's effusions were enough to disguise them. Although that lady, after properly taking in whom she was to call son-in-law, was more muted in her joy that anyone had any expectation of her being.
The days after the excitement of Lizzy's engagement had not given Kitty a chance to really observe either sister in their joy. They had been too full of watching Mr Darcy unfold in temperament and smile more and for arguments over the wedding date (that was Lizzy and their mother. Mr Darcy would acquiesce to anything).
Kitty wanted to really observe Lizzy in her newly betrothed state and Jane in her marriage. Kitty did not know what she expected. Jane looked as she ever did. Apart from the cap now upon her head, there was no visual evidence that Jane was now a married woman and fully immersed into that secret world.
Lizzy and Jane were walking on the lawn of Longbourn, and Kitty wondered if they were turning every word of Mr Darcy's proposal over and over again. Kitty could not imagine that Mr Darcy would be particularly passionate or romantic but one never knew.
Kitty was engaged in cleaning one of the windows. Mary had suddenly become quite taken with teaching herself to watercolour, and had determined that it was the dirtiness of the windows that was skewing her eye. Mrs Bennet refused to upend her strict cleaning schedule, so Kitty was keeping the peace by cleaning the windows herself.
She opened it in order to do so and found that she could hear Lizzy and Jane's conversation as they came to sit on a bench directly below. Kitty knew she should announce her presence and she would have done so if they had not begun to speak about her.
"I am so very happy, Jane. I thought it would never happen. A second chance is not to be thrown away so lightly. No, it is not of myself I wish to speak. It is Kitty. It is Kitty we should worry about."
"Why should we worry? She seems so very happy. Indeed, I have not seen her so well looking."
"Before you went away we talked about the possibility of her being in love with Lord Ashbourne. I thought perhaps it was a fancy, particularly after her attention to his brother! But Lord Ashbourne is handsome and personable and she is very young. You liked many a stupid person - not that he is one! - before your heart was truly captured. I have liked several very stupid people. I thought it would fall away to nothing after a little while, but I believe she is very much in love. "
"Then what should we worry about?"
Kitty wished she could see their expressions.
"Can you see the heir to an earldom proposing to the daughter of an obscure country gentleman?"
"Mr Darcy proposed to you, twice!"
"Mr Darcy does not have a family to please. And he does not have a title. His expectations are little compared to... and..."
"And what, Lizzy?"
"I do not wish to speak well of myself and ill of my sister, but I am older and, I hope, wiser. She is much improved since Brighton but she will never be serious. She will always enjoy a good joke and to race about in a curricle at high speed. Many a gentleman would find that attractive but I am not sure how many would require it in their wives."
'You think that Lord Ashbourne is dallying with her?"
"I think he likes her very much while he is here, but I think that is all it is. He strikes me as the type of man who wants and expects amusement and enjoys the attention of pretty girls. Kitty is a pretty girl who is quite happy to give him all of her attention. I cannot imagine what they speak of gallivanting about practically every day."
"Mary no longer goes with them?"
"Oh no, I have spoken to Papa in case there was any suggestion that they should go off alone together and there has never been any. I think it another sign he cannot be serious for he makes little effort to get to know her alone."
"Have you spoken to Mary? What does Mary say they speak of?"
"Mary says they speak of trifling and nothings. What did she say - 'It would quite embarrass you to hear of what they speak.' Does that sound like you and Mr Bingley learning about each other?"
Jane gave a little sigh. "I should not like to see Kitty hurt, and it would be quite uncomfortable if it comes to nothing and if you should ..."
"You see why I worry? I do not want her heart broken. After Brighton and her trying so very hard to understand the world better, it would be so upsetting. She does not deserve to be ill-treated. Not that I think he does so deliberately. I expect London understands such flirtations and he does not comprehend what standing up twice at a Meryton Assembly means to everybody else. Do you see, Jane?"
"I do, but have you not tried to speak to her?"
"I have, but she just looks at me and I do not have the heart to speak to her about it. "
Kitty did not recollect their conversations in that way; she thought Lizzy had been entering into all her thoughts with her, not against her!
"My dear Mrs Bingley!" That was Mr Bingley. Kitty saw his grin as he walked across the lawn.
"I did not want to be parted with you for so long, but you are frowning... you are not angry with me?"
"Not at all, we have just been discussing a difficult matter."
"Well your difficult matters are my difficult matters now."
Kitty imagined they were beaming at each other.
"It is my sister, Kitty. Her heart is likely to be broken," said Lizzy bluntly.
"Mr Darcy's cousin."
"Oh, I do not think she is in love with Freddie; they are too like brother and sister."
"Really?" Mr Bingley sounded truly astonished. He really had not seen anything but Jane until their wedding, had he, thought Kitty.
"Yes, and we do not know what to do. Could you speak to him?"
"Me speak to Lord Ashbourne about what?" Mr Bingley sounded a little strained.
"How he should not tease Kitty. He should let her down gently. He is raising great expectations. In Kitty at least. I am surprised my mother has not had the thought in her head. That should be enough to tell Kitty how foolish it is! Our mother thinks it is impossible."
There was a spluttering sound. "Now I would do anything for you my dear sister, and my dearest Jane, but I cannot imagine that Lord Ashbourne would receive my - - It should come from your father."
"My father says a girl likes to be crossed in love, and thinks Kitty being crossed by a Viscount will have her elevated in the respect of the neighbourhood. She will be the receiver of so much consolation and that is all a girl wants." Lizzy sounded disappointed in their father.
"Charles, perhaps drop a word in his ear that we do things differently in the country. So many people doubted your honour - not me, of course- when you left Netherfield. It was very uncomfortable for me to know that everyone was talking about - " Jane broke off sounding distressed.
It seemed Mr Bingley got down on his knees and Lizzy retreated a little way to give the married couple time to whisper at each other. Offers of penance from one and boundless forgiveness from the other.
"So you will speak to him?" said Lizzy at length.
"I will observe him and - hang it, cannot you ask Darcy?"
"I ask Darcy?" Lizzy sounded shocked. "I cannot become engaged to him and ask him to ...."
"You must know he would do anything for you, even tell his cousin that he is trifling with a female's affection. A cousin that is a handy shot and knows how to lay a man flat in seconds. I have seen him do it."
Kitty had to agree with Mr Bingley; she had seen Lord Ashbourne do it, too.
"I think Mr Darcy would be the best choice. He knows his cousin. He must know that his lordship does not mean to be cruel."
"Oh Jane, you think the best of everyone."
Kitty could not listen to this any longer. She closed the window softly and withdrew to her room to have a cry.
She wished she could trust her judgement. But she was so foolish and had shown him all her worst qualities. What could he see in her to judge her worthy?
All of their conversations and pleasant times -- was that really enough to make him forget the stupid child standing in the middle of the street in Brighton? She loved him so much and surely the world would not be so cruel as to make her feel so much for it to come to nothing!
"Kitty, did you not clean the ...Whatever is the matter?" Mary closed the bedroom door behind her.
"Oh Mary, I have been so stupid."
Mary sat warily on her bed. She was not used to being the recipient of tearful confessions.
"How could I think he loved me? Jane and Lizzy are right he is just trifling with me. I have no money, nothing to recommend myself except...myself and that is no mean thing!"
Kitty could not stop her weeping and her ramblings until Mary stuck a handkerchief in her hand. "You are upset because Lizzy and Jane think that Lord Ashbourne does not care enough about you to marry you?"
"Yes, because they are right. I have no ... "
"You are singularly stupid," said Mary.
"Exactly!" Kitty was glad Mary was joining her fully in her thoughts.
"He will ask you to marry him. No doubt he is waiting for some ridiculous moment to do so."
"Mary, you cannot know that!"
"I have spent hours chaperoning you. I have listened to all of your conversation where you seem to be of one mind, or arguing passionately. I have borne this like Fordyce and Hannah More would ask me to bear it. I have also learned far more than I should like to about certain subjects like the wealth of nations, the production of labour and where in England one can find the best cheeses!"
Mary stood up.
"He has discussed politics with you, the Economy. Morality! He exposed himself as the worst pianoforte player in the history of the pianoforte!"
"That does not mean he likes what he heard. That does not mean that he can overlook - that he is not - he has had so many young ladies to chose from, who can say what his intentions are! Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley took over a year to declare themselves!!"
"He will declare himself because I have asked him about his intentions every Wednesday for five weeks now and no doubt I will ask him again tomorrow."
Kitty stared at Mary, but Mary had not finished.
"I am beginning to suspect he has not declared himself just to annoy me."
Chapter Twenty- Five
Posted on 2013-08-17
Kitty did not know if Mary had asked Lord Ashbourne again or indeed when in the past she had found the time to ask him. It had lent a certain constraint to the next day's curricle ride and Lord Ashbourne had had to ask her if she was quite well.
She had managed to answer him quite levelly and take command of the greys again and soon she felt almost able to engage him in a conversation.
"Are you to remain until Lizzy and Mr Darcy are to be married?"
"I expect I shall return for their wedding. I am afraid there will be pressing business to attend to in the near future."
That was not encouraging and Kitty shot a look at Mary, whose blank face did not assist.
"But you are pleased for Mr Darcy?"
"I am astonished he should find such a good natured woman to agree to marry him; she must not know his tendency to sulk when it's raining and he is stuck indoors."
"She does the same," confided Kitty.
"Then I shall endeavour to never be at Pemberley when it rains," he replied.
"I hope that I shall see Pemberley, whether it is raining or not. I think Lizzy means to invite me."
That roused nothing in the viscount's face so Kitty tried a different tack. "Jane says that Bingley is talking of taking a house in Derbyshire when the lease for Netherfield expires."
"It is a very good country and it has many attractions."
"The distance from my mother," said Kitty.
"I should have said the nearness of his advisor and for Mrs Bingley her sister."
No topic of conversation seemed promising, but the expressions on his face made Kitty think he was teasing her. He would not speak until he was ready, and then she should be allowed to strangle him. After accepting, of course.
So Kitty tried no more to bring him round to such a topic of conversation and instead asked him his opinion of Gibbons. If he would not propose, then he might as well be forced to talk about the fall of the Roman Empire, a most dreary topic.
Kitty was just going to assist Hill with some small household matter when Mary gestured at her.
"Mary, what is it? I need to ..." she was cut off when her sister most uncharacteristically pulled her to the servant's stairs. "Mary!"
"Shush!" said Mary, stopping only when they came near to the servant's door into Mr Bennet's library.
Kitty could hear voices, but she still did not understand her sister until Mary pushed the door until it was open a sliver. Then Kitty could see a little as well as hear better.
"This seems a comfortable library."
"It is not a library, my lord, it is a shelter from storm," replied Mr Bennet drily. "Now what may I do for you?"
"Have your tenants begun to live in harmony?" Lord Ashbourne took a seat after being gestured into one by Mr Bennet.
"I think I have little hope of that, but they are not so discontent. Should you like a drink?"
As Lord Ashbourne clearly indicated that he would, they could only see a tiny part of his profile; the gentlemen took some moments to savour whatever it was that they were drinking.
"Now, I do not think you came in all this state to merely ask me about my tenants. I have had some practice at receiving young men recently. I have begun to see the signs."
"Have you?" said Lord Ashbourne. "I should not like to be so obvious."
"I am afraid you have been. Luckily, your situation in life has clouded most from perceiving the true intentions of your actions. At least I hope, for my daughter's sake, that you are not here out of a matter of honour. The neighbourhood marries my daughters off to any man that speaks to them; you shall not be disgraced and condemned, at least not for very long, if you leave without a wife. After all this has been an acquaintance of short duration."
Kitty felt her breath leave her; what was her father about? Was this the time for him to worry about her?
"It is not so short a duration. I have been at Netherfield for just over seven weeks."
"Seven weeks is nothing compared to a lifetime," said Mr Bennet.
"I first saw your daughter on a beach in Brighton. Does that relieve your mind?" said Lord Ashbourne.
Kitty felt Mary's eyes staring at her but she kept her eyes on the gap in the door.
"I thought my foolish youngest daughter left Kitty on a street."
"Ah. She has done well to conceal it."
"There was nothing to conceal. I speak only to reassure you that this is not the desire of a capricious young man."
"Well then, I suspect all you have to do is ask me."
"I should like to formally ask for your daughter's -- Catherine's, in case we were talking at cross purposes, -- hand in marriage. Do you have any objections?"
Kitty stuffed her hand in her mouth to keep her from exclaiming.
"None at all my dear boy! Although I must warn you about one thing."
"What is that, sir?"
"I have a number of shirts that I shall wish to gift you."
"Shirts?" Lord Ashbourne did indeed seem startled by this.
"Kitty made them some weeks ago, but as I do not think they were quite intended to be worn by me, it does seem a pity to waste them."
"I shall accept them gratefully."
"Good, good. Now one other thing. I should slip out quite quietly. It would not do for Mrs Bennet to hear of this before my daughter. You would then never be quite sure of the answer you would get, would you?"
"Oh I would be. I just hope that she is."
"Mary!" called Lizzy up the stairs. "My sister will be with you in one moment."
Kitty could have strangled Lizzy at that moment. She had been standing in the foyer waiting for the sound of wheels and horse hooves.
Kitty had intended upon leaping into the curricle, well perhaps not leaping, but some very swift climbing, although she had not really considered the fact that Mr Darcy would first have to climb down in order to vacate a seat for her.
However if Lord Ashbourne did not now take the opportunity to be alone, then Kitty really would despair.
Mary joining them was not part of her plan, or she hoped Lord Ashbourne's. It was not in Mary's plan either, based on the slow way she came down the stairs.
"Hurry up, Mary!" said Mrs Bennet, waving her handkerchief. "We do not want the house full of silly girls for Mr Darcy."
Mr Darcy was to be granted every desire close to his heart, and Mrs Bennet found herself in one mind as her prospective son-in-law and lived in daily fear he would take back his offer to rid herself of her most problematic daughter. Who else would want to marry such a hoyden?
"My dear Mrs Bennet, Mary has been practicing her sonata. Do not deprive her of the opportunity of displaying her talents. What say you, Mr Darcy? My Mary wishes to play for you all!"
Mr Bennet stood in his library door with an amused expression on his face as he spoke to Mr Darcy, who clearly did not know what to say to this, and the look on Lizzy's face was comical. But Kitty did not stay to hear anyone's response and ran to the curricle, allowing herself to be handed in, and in a moment, a clutch of her bonnet, they were off and Longbourn faded rapidly out of sight.
"Mary's piano playing cannot be that bad that you wished to flee so fast," said Lord Ashbourne, who had heard their conversation from his seat in the carriage.
"Oh she has much improved, but she has not been practicing a sonata!"
"Strange then that Mr Bennet should say she was."
"I think he was scheming," said Kitty, not wanting to admit she had been listening behind the door the previous night, but not being able avoid hinting.
One look at Lord Ashbourne's face and she realised she did not have to hint. Somehow he knew.
"How did you know? Can you see through doors? That is truly not fair!"
Lord Ashbourne burst out laughing, but did not lose control of his team. "No, but I think by now I can read your face."
Kitty did not give him the satisfaction he so clearly wanted; she just looked at him.
"Well then, I expect I do not have to say anything. That is very good because then I won't make a mull of it."
"No! You cannot - I may not accept you."
"Are you planning on refusing me?"
"No," said Kitty honestly.
"Well then," was his lordship's reply and Kitty was not sure what she thought. She was happy that they understood each other, but it was hardly romantic. They drove along in silence for a moment until Kitty realised that they were for Oakham Mount.
Lord Ashbourne drove his horses as far as he was able before he pulled up (he clearly did not wish to risk getting stuck in another rut); he handed her the reins while he climbed down to secure the horses to a helpful fence.
"I should drive off and leave you here!" called Kitty.
"I do not wish to tempt you with my opposition, but if you do not come down you will not hear what I have to say."
That declaration made Kitty jump down and they walked arm in arm up towards the top to take in the view.
The view made Kitty smile, she had not walked up here many times before; there had been no men to tempt her or Lydia for long country walks. She could see the Gouldings' house and turned to point it out to Lord Ashbourne.
He was on one knee and Kitty found herself surprised and overwhelmed despite her certainty of its occurring.
"Miss Bennet, Catherine, Kitty will you - " he took her gloved hand in his, frowning at it for a moment, and then he undid the button of her glove and slid it off before he reclaimed her hand. "Miss Bennet, Will you let me look after you? Protect you? Cherish you? And love you? "
Kitty could only nod mutely after each declaration.
"Kitty, will you do me the very great honour of consenting to become my wife?"
"I am afraid I cannot comprehend you - "
"Yes....yes," Kitty found her voice.
Then it was the moment: she would be taken into his arms and she would properly understand love and be kissed properly. Not a sloppily applied set of lips to the corner of her mouth, or a complete miss to her cheek but the kiss, the only kiss that would matter.
She put her hands on his shoulders as he pulled her closer ... "Why? ....Why me?" Kitty chastised herself; why was she asking this question at this juncture? Did she truly care?
"That may require a long answer; must I remain on my knees?"
Kitty took a step back. "Oh no, no, I'm ... "
He caught her face in his hands as he stood up. "Don't be silly. The reason why I want to marry you is because you are you."
"That is not a very good reason. We are so disparate. Our ages, our fortunes, our families. You know many young ladies, you have known many ladies. All of whom are probably better born and better endowed."
"None that I want to grow old with. None I want to travel with. None I want to teach. None I want to learn from. That is the difference."
"You could grow bored of me," said Kitty, trying to distract herself from the warmth spreading throughout her face and body.
"I think it likely to be quite the opposite. You have a curiosity and tenacity ... "
"I have not forgotten the silliness and if you have not noticed I do not view the world in a serious manner, I have been quite remiss."
"You take your duties seriously. I know others would not think so, but I know you do. But I know why you pretend not to ... "
"You see through me, Miss Bennet. Do you believe I see you?"
Kitty bit her lip before nodding.
"May I kiss you now or do you have other serious questions to ask me?"
Kitty shook her head, and then, realising this could be taken as a no to the first part of his question, she nodded; then, realising her contradiction, laughed.
Lord Ashbourne, her Lord Ashbourne, her Ash - did not seem to mind and kissed her anyway. Kitty could not think of any words to explain how happy she was.
She could not possibly tell how much time had passed before they walked back to Ash's very patient team; this time he had his arm around her waist.
"We do not have to return to Longbourn immediately - " said Kitty, thinking of her mother and no doubt her sisters' reactions. She found she wanted to tell Mary first, but she wanted to keep this happy moment for a while longer.
"We cannot return until I give you this," he drew out a small parcel from his coat. "It is not a ring, but I could not think of an underhanded way to discover the size of your finger."
"How disappointing that you cannot achieve everything you aim to do."
He took his teasing well, and Kitty opened the parcel to find a beautiful emerald necklace.
"It was my mother's. My father gave it to her upon their engagement."
"Oh!" She had no words sufficient to thank him and was glad she could now express her thanks with actions. After some moments she thought to ask him if the necklace was the reason for the delay.
"Was I waiting for this to come from London? Yes. Was this the reason I waited? No." Ash fixed the necklace around her neck.
Kitty turned to look at him. "Why did you wait? I thought ... "
He put a finger over her lips. "You have not guessed? I thought I quite gave myself away at the picnic we had here...oh has it really been a month since we did?"
Kitty could not recollect anything but her own perfect happiness. "I do not remember."
"I thought you would remember every word of mine, how cast down I am," Ash smiled before kissing her. "I had not thought, before I met you, much of other's happiness. Of course it meant a great deal to me that my friends should be happy and my family, but I did not think much about whether what I wanted would be the best thing for anybody but myself. If I had a notion and I wanted something, then it occurred."
"Until?" He'd stopped talking, but Kitty knew that could not be the end of the matter.
"Until I met you. Suddenly, it mattered a great deal what you wanted, and what was good for you. If it was not me - if it was my brother - who would make you happy, then that should be so."
"Did you really think I preferred Mr Fitzwilliam? Or should I say Cheveley? After such a first impression?"
"Stranger things have happened."
Kitty let him know in no uncertain terms that her heart had been his from almost the first moment she had seen him. Not the first moment because he had been laughing at her reaction to seeing the sea.
"And it is very unfair to laugh at my naïveté of such things."
"Indeed it was, but I had not seen a young lady so truly captivated and not afraid to show it in quite some time."
The greys became restless and they signalled their desire to depart, even if neither Kitty nor Ash truly wished to.
Chapter Twenty- Six
Posted on 2013-08-24
The two miles back from Oakham Mount were not enough to abate either Kitty's excitement or her happiness.
She could later not remember what they spoke of, but Ash assured her that she had made a series of promises such as to always obey him and never ask him to eat mock turtle soup and praise him daily. Kitty would always say that she had no intention of keeping promises she did not remember making.
Her first thought was to acquaint Mary of everything; after all Mary would be overjoyed that she would not be pulled away from her serious study to chaperone. She would also, hopefully, be happy for Kitty as a sister should be.
Kitty barely waited until the curricle stopped before leaping out, ignoring Ash's laughing protestations.
"Oh Hill!" cried Kitty as she slipped past the housekeeper into the parlour. She looked around and noticed that it was not only her family and Mr Darcy sitting together, but that Lady Lucas and Charlotte had come to visit; then she saw Mr Fitzwilliam and Jane and Bingley. They must have ridden over from Netherfield after Mr Darcy and Ash.
It was quite a crowd, but she did not see Mary, who was her only object.
Her mother stared at her. "Kitty!" said Mrs Bennet. "Whatever do you mean, child, rushing in here with your bonnet on? You will be giving Lady Lucas an odd opinion of us, indeed."
Kitty did not heed her mother's words as she went back into the hallway and asked Hill where her sister was.
"She is upstairs. Are you quite well, Miss Kitty?"
Kitty did not stay to answer; instead she took the stairs two at a time and finding Mary in their bedroom, surprised her sister by throwing herself into her arms.
"Kitty!" Mary sounded alarmed, but then she softened.
"Oh, I wanted to tell you first!" said Kitty when she could speak.
"He has proposed?"
Kitty nodded and her feelings began to overwhelm her.
Mary simply nodded curtly. "Well then."
"Mary, are you not happy?!"
"Yes, but it is hardly a surprise, so it does not surely require a fuss."
"You are an unfeeling sister!"
Mary just fixed her with a look, and Kitty was no longer upset or mad. Instead she sat down upon her bed and told her everything.
"Does this mean you have left Lord Ashbourne downstairs alone?" replied Mary sensibly at the end of Kitty's speech.
It had only been the work of a moment to divest herself of her bonnet, and then Kitty had realised she was still wearing the late Lady Matlock's necklace. Mary had undone it for her, but then Kitty had been able to marvel at its beauty, and the fact she had been given it, that she had been thought worthy of it.
"You might lose it, and you do not wish to render our mother speechless," said Mary sensibly and Kitty put it in the pages of the Orphan of the Rhine. She had never given it back to either Freddie or Ash.
She had thought that Ash would have told the assembled company, if for no other reason but to explain her peculiar behaviour but the looks that her mother and sisters gave her when she walked into the parlour made her think otherwise.
"Have you quite recovered?" said Mrs Bennet with some asperity. "Lord Ashbourne will be thinking you a very troublesome companion and not take you out in his curricle anymore."
"Mama," said Lizzy in a long-suffering tone.
"Indeed, Mrs Bennet, I may very well refuse to take your daughter out in a curricle anymore," said Ash with a smile.
"See, Kitty," said Mrs Bennet pursing her lips together.
"Are you well, Kitty?" said Jane, wanting to turn the conversation.
"I am very well," said Kitty. "Although I may become annoyed if a certain someone continues to tease me." Kitty shot a look at Ash before sitting upon the sofa.
"Kitty, Lord Ashbourne is very good to have been so kind to you," said Lizzy.
"Oh it was not a kindness, Miss Bennet," replied Ash, before looking fondly at Kitty and she smiled back.
Mr Fitzwilliam laughed and then muttered under his breath. Kitty thought he said 'finally' and gave him a little glare.
The room seemed generally confused until Mr Darcy stepped forward, from where he was standing awkwardly in the window, and gave her a little bow. "My congratulations, Miss Catherine."
"Thank you, Mr Darcy."
Mr Darcy did not sound at all surprised, which puzzled Kitty because the way Jane and Lizzy had spoken, it did not sound like Mr Darcy had had any idea about his cousin's impending proposal.
"Darcy?" said Lizzy stood, looking surprised.
"I think my cousin is congratulating your sister and my brother on their engagement. At least I trust it has finally occurred?" said Mr Fitzwilliam.
"You should mind your manners, Freddie," replied Ash but he did not sound angry.
"An engagement? Kitty, is this true? Mr Bennet?" Mrs Bennet comically looked between Ash and Kitty in bewilderment.
Mr Bennet went to sit beside his wife and took her hand quite gently. "Yes, my dear, two weddings to plan! God has been very good to us!"
Kitty expected an eruption of effusions from her mother, but instead she gaped a little and turned a little pale.
It fell to Charlotte Collins to begin the wave of congratulations. Lady Lucas looked as though she had swallowed a lemon, and hurried her daughter into bidding the Bennets farewell as she felt that they must have a great deal to plan and discuss as a family.
The rest of their guests took longer to depart, but they were expected back at Netherfield, and Kitty found it difficult to let go of her fiancé's - how well that sounded - arm.
Her father stopped her after her sisters had gone back into the house. "You are a sly thing, my child."
"You were not surprised," replied Kitty.
"No, I was not."
"Even if I am very silly."
"Not so silly," smiled her father, pinching her chin. "Now it seems I am to have a surfeit of son-in-laws. Shall I like your husband the most, do you think?"
Kitty thought of Bingley's giant smile and how Ash had taken a seat next to Mrs Bennet which Kitty thought was quite brave of him, although her mother had seemed only capable of smiling, and how Mr Darcy had stood awkwardly in the window embrasure. Then she thought about how he had come forward to congratulate her.
"No, I think your favourite shall be Mr Darcy."
Mr Bennet laughed, "Yes, I rather think he shall be. I shall delight even more than Lizzy in teasing him. For I do not have anything to lose."
"But then you may not be invited to Pemberley, and I understand it has a very fine library."
"Well I shall just have to come to your home then, for I am sure it has a very fine library, too."
Lydia had been visiting at the Lucas'. Maria Lucas had become her constant boon companion; she was as biddable as Kitty had once been for all she was less likely to be outrageous.
Kitty felt a little apprehensive about her sister's reaction, particularly when Lydia was told by Mrs Bennet. Their mother in her raptures made it entirely clear that she now had a new favourite child: Kitty. Lydia had gone into their mother's bedroom to share some good joke or other and found herself on the receiving end of a torrent of words from a delighted Mrs Bennet, who could think of nothing but Kitty's engagement. It was not likely to put Lydia in a good humour.
So Kitty hovered in the hallway to intercept Lydia.
"Well, you are quite the favourite daughter," Lydia said pushing past and into her own bedroom.
"Allow me the brief moment, Lydia."
Lydia opened one of her drawers and then closed it with some firmness. "Well, are you happy? "
"I did not mean to draw attention away from you..."
"I meant with your Viscount. I should not like a man so old and so...I am sure he will not allow you any fun."
"Then it is a good thing I am marrying him, not you."
Lydia laughed, "A very good thing, although you will quite waste him."
Kitty did not understand her sister, until Lydia began to dwell on her future husband's powerful thighs.
"You have not noticed? I perceived them even when I quite hated him."
"Hated?" Kitty chose to ignore the rest of her sister's utterances.
Lydia made a face, and then she reached around to close the door. "I will never admit it to anyone else, but you have done very well." Then she hugged Kitty. Kitty was quite moved but then Lydia drew back and looked very serious, "And you will introduce me to a Duke. For I shall not go after you."
Kitty laughed; that was the sister she knew.
Kitty thought it was odd that Lizzy did not privately congratulate her. She certainly joined her family in their general congratulations but she was the only sister at home who did not draw Kitty aside. However, they had never been close so it was perhaps not surprising. Lizzy had her own marriage to think of, after all.
"Well, we shall be a merry party today," said Mrs Bennet at breakfast.
"How so?" said Mr Bennet, buttering his toast.
Mrs Bennet put down her knife noisily. "You do not think it important to note the presence of Mr Darcy and Lord Ashbourne. The future husbands of your daughters."
"I will note it, but I do not see why it follows the party will be so merry that we have to note it particularly?"
"Papa, do not tease Mama," said Lizzy intervening before their mother could react to her husband's levity.
"Since you have been eclipsed, my dear Lizzy, by your sister's match I will be kind to you."
"Papa, do not set us against each other," said Kitty. "I should not wish to marry Mr Darcy and she should not wish to marry Ash. We are each perfectly happy."
Lizzy's smile seemed a little tight, but that was the end of the conversation as Mrs Bennet preferred to discuss London, a location she expected to be invited to frequently, and the gentlemen they would now be able to find for Mary and Lydia.
Lydia enjoyed this attention, but Kitty noticed that Mary did not seem to dislike it, which intrigued her.
"Well, Mama, it appears that you are to be disappointed. Jane has come, she has even walked, but she does not bring any of the gentlemen," said Lizzy after looking out the window.
Mrs Bennet looked annoyed at this faithlessness of her daughter's fiancés. Kitty noted that Lizzy did not seem to feel as she did; perhaps it was the length of their engagement, or a difference in character. Because Kitty wondered that Jane came alone.
Perhaps Jane wanted to talk to her? Impart some marital wisdom?
However that was not to be, because Jane seemed only interested in taking Lizzy into the gardens. But Kitty was wrong about Jane coming alone: she brought Miss Darcy. Although Lizzy had only said she did not bring the gentlemen.
"I am very sorry I did not come yesterday," said Miss Darcy as they walked in the garden.
"As it seemed everybody was in the parlour yesterday, you may have found it rather uncomfortable and difficult to find a seat."
"But it meant I could not congratulate you until now."
"Thank you, Miss Darcy."
"Georgiana, or Georgie. We are to be cousins after all," said Miss Darcy.
Kitty squeezed her hand. "Cousins. I am very happy to be."
"I am to gain a sister and a cousin. I am too happy." Georgiana certainly did not look as thought she could be happier. "I did not come yesterday for I thought I should be in the way, and I had some letters to answer, although some of my effort was quite wasted as you will soon see! One of the letters was from my aunt."
Kitty thought for a moment that Georgiana meant Lady Catherine de Bourgh and was alarmed.
"No, from Lady Matlock, Aunt Harriet. I should have brought the letter, so that you might know my aunt before you meet her."
"I do not think reading a private letter, one she did not mean to be read outside of the family, would endear me to her."
Georgiana frowned. "I cannot think Aunt Harriet would be so exacting. Oh I cannot wait for you to meet."
Kitty thought she could wait. Ash could not (and Kitty was sure he did not want to) in all honour withdraw his proposal, even if his step-mother and father objected. Everything she had heard suggested they would not object, but until Kitty saw in their eyes their acceptance she would not be easy.
"Lizzy, you speak very stridently."
Evidently Kitty and Georgiana had come to one side of a hedge, and Jane and Lizzy clearly to the other side.
"Should I not do so?" said Lizzy.
"Mr Darcy did not seem surprised."
"No, that is why I wonder. I suspect your Bingley did not speak to Lord Ashbourne. Instead he spoke to Darcy, who then...commanded his cousin."
Kitty stopped short and put up a finger to silence Georgiana who had opened her mouth to exclaim.
"If he did not wish to marry Kitty he would have left Meryton, and he asked our father's permission first."
"Very correct, too proper, where was his passion? Oh, Jane, I just ... you have seen our parents' unequal marriage. He proposed to Mama out of a sense of feeling that did not last."
"You seem to find fault with his lack of passion and his surfeit of passion. It cannot be both, Lizzy. And how is there any guarantee of your love, or mine, lasting past the feelings that encompass us now?"
"Jane, you did not see his struggle to accept his feelings for me! I cannot imagine that he feels my sister is a good match for his cousin! I know he disapproves!"
"Is that the difficulty? You think that Mr Darcy will think less of you because he disapproves of his cousin's choice?"
"I hope it was his choice! I just worry ... "
"Neither of us has spoken to Kitty with regards to her feelings, or what she may or may not have discussed with his lordship. I worried she would have her heart broken, but he returns her feelings!"
"I cannot believe it, Jane..."
Lizzy paused and Kitty judged it the best time to step around the hedge and into her sisters' view.
"I am grateful to hear what you think of me," she said stiffly before striding away. Georgiana made to follow her, but Kitty waved her away. She had to be alone.
It was all falsehood, but it hurt that her sister could think so meanly of her.
Kitty walked out of the formal gardens and took one of the paths; she was half way along it before she remembered that this was a path Lizzy liked to walk because it overlooked the fields.
She sat down on a tree stump and wondered why Ash had not come. Kitty tried not to cry, but the tears came.
Kitty looked up at the male voice; she had not heard the horse approaching. It was not Ash; he would not call her Miss Bennet.
It was Mr Darcy.
Chapter Twenty Seven
Posted on 2013-09-01
Kitty furiously wiped away her tears, and stood to greet Mr Darcy, who swung off his horse. She would not allow him to see her upset.
"Mr Darcy," she curtseyed.
"Miss Bennet, are you unwell?" He then saw that she'd been crying. "You have been crying."
"Excellent deduction," She should have kept her mouth shut. That was unlikely to improve his opinion of her. But she should not care for that!
"Is it Elizabeth?"
Kitty stared at him; of course, that was his only concern. If something had happened to Lizzy, did he think she'd be sitting in the woods crying by herself, and not by her mother's or sister's side?
"Has my cousin done something to offend you?"
"What would you do if he had?" asked Kitty. She searched his face, expecting to see some sort of triumph or happiness but he looked concerned.
"I cannot believe that Ash would intentionally offend you. You would only have to inform him of his error and he would beg your pardon."
"What if he did not?" said Kitty, bemused by Mr Darcy's response. Surely he should be warning her of his cousin's temperament or something, anything to get her to jilt him.
"Then I should speak very strongly to him. For I assure you, Miss Bennet, that there is no one my cousin cares for more in this world than you."
"I have seen him level a man, and I understand he is very handy with pistols; perhaps he would not like your interference."
"He would not, but he has always attempted to set me straight when he feels I am being foolish." Mr Darcy straightened. "It would be remiss of me not to attempt it when the boot was on the other foot."
That did not sound like a man who did not approve. "I understand that you may have expressed some thoughts to Ash before his proposed." It was only a theory, but Kitty wanted to see his reaction.
Her words had the effect of making him run his fingers through his hair and he looked distressed.
"I beg your pardon for delaying his making his intentions clear."
Kitty swallowed; so he had counselled Ash not to propose to her.
"He takes some delight in vexing people, as you must know, and when I told him he should not delay, of course he delayed."
Kitty blinked. This was the second person who had told her they were convinced that Ash had not declared himself purely to vex them. She couldn't help but smile, and then she realised Mr Darcy had said that he had counselled Ash to propose.
"You have no objections to your cousin marrying me?"
"No," Mr Darcy looked baffled, "I should not wish to marry you, but you should not wish to marry me." The fact he used almost the same words as she had done this morning made Kitty laugh. "But my cousin ...well, I do not know you as well as I should, Miss Bennet, but he knows his own mind."
"Then his proposal was his own idea?"
Mr Darcy looked even more baffled. "Might we sit down?"
Kitty returned to her rather damp tree stump, allowing a small spot for Mr Darcy to perch. He did so without hesitation. Kitty rather thought Ash would have lain down a handkerchief or remained standing.
"I have never seen my cousin act upon anything that was not his own determination. May I ask why you doubt him?"
"You may not like my answer, sir."
"Nevertheless, I should like it." Ash would have given her an amused look or reacted in some way to her arch comment. Mr Darcy had no amusement or humour in his response.
"Lizzy. She implied you did not approve and that you commanded Ash to marry me."
A crease appeared in Mr Darcy's forehead. "Those statements seem contradictory."
"Perhaps you do not approve, but you approve even less of someone in your family being thought a rake."
"I think that Elizabeth has not had a chance to spend much time with my cousin. Somebody has monopolised him, and I feel extremely flatted by the esteem in which she holds me, if she feels I am capable of arranging marriage proposals when she knows what a mull I made of my own...both of them."
"It is not entirely esteem since she judges you capable of interfering in the lives of others."
Mr Darcy blinked. "Perhaps you are correct. She has some knowledge of my capacity to do so."
"Bingley?" Kitty had wondered; certainly Bingley had had little encouragement from his friend and sisters, but she had not thought Mr Darcy had been so officious.
"I was incorrect, and while I told myself it was entirely in Bingley's best interest, I am afraid it was not. I did not deliberately interfere with my own interests more in mind than his, but that was largely the result. Your sister was aware of my interference; perhaps she has thought I did not learn my lesson, or I learned it incorrectly. In this case I should have been promoting, not preventing, a marriage."
Mr Darcy sounded troubled and Kitty could not help but reassure him. It was a fault of hers she was beginning to think.
"The fact she thinks you capable of arranging the world to suit yourself, means she feels you capable of a great deal; that is a lot to live up to, even ..."
"If it is misdirected? I think your sister's concerns come mainly from a place of affection. Perhaps she is more like me than I think. Neither of us are able to quite transfer our feelings to actions that are interpreted correctly."
Mr Darcy twisted his signet ring, and Kitty wondered if that was something he consciously did or whether he only did it when he was agitated.
"Your sister and I have had all our prejudices used against us, and our view of the world turned upside down. Both of us are still adjusting to the fact we are not always correct, and our interpretation of others is faulty."
They sat silently, Kitty digesting what Mr Darcy had said, and she presumed he was doing the same. Finally he spoke again.
"You have spent more time talking with my cousin privately, well apart from your sister, Mary, than I have with Elizabeth. I cannot imagine you did not use that time wisely. I am certain from our interactions that Elizabeth is the wife for me, and she is certain that I am the husband for her. You should trust your own feelings. You cannot tell me in the weeks and many hours driving through bogs you have not proven yourself to be the wife my cousin wishes for, and you have confirmed he is the husband for you?"
Kitty did not a have a chance to respond to this sensible view of the world because Georgiana interrupted them.
"Oh!" Georgiana stopped short. "Fitzwilliam I did not ..."
Mr Darcy got up and walked over to his sister and exchanged words in such a low tone that Kitty was unable to hear the words, although the manner of the exchange seemed like an argument.
Mr Darcy retrieved his horse and led it off in the direction of Longbourn.
Kitty pressed her hands to her cheeks; she did not want Georgiana to see that she had been crying. They did not feel red but from Georgiana's expression Kitty thought they must be.
Georgiana was twisting her hands in front of her. "I thought I always wanted sisters."
Kitty laughed, but tried to swallow it when she saw that Georgiana was truly distressed; she stood up and took Georgiana's hands. "It is not so very serious. At least compared to when I accidentally poured ink over Lydia's favourite gown."
"I did try to explain to Elizabeth..." said Georgiana, "she was very distressed."
Kitty was not sure she believed that! She was sure Georgiana thought that she would be distressed in Lizzy's position. It was quite like Jane, always attributing to Lydia the feelings that Jane herself would have.
"Let us go for a walk," Kitty did not feel very much like returning to Longbourn. She presumed Mr Darcy was going to speak to Lizzy, which would made her having to face her sister unlikely, but Kitty still did not wish to return to listen to her mother's general raptures.
"So what delayed your brother?" said Kitty, slipping her hand into the crook of Georgiana's elbow.
Georgiana looked distracted. "Oh, Aunt Harriet and Uncle Edwin's baggage arrived yesterday evening, but they did not."
Kitty stopped. "Do you think they have suffered an accident?"
"Oh no...I...Freddie, Ash and my brother went out riding to see if they could discover them. I am sure it is not so very serious, if Fitzwilliam has returned. I did not think to ask him ..."
Now Georgiana seemed distressed that she'd entirely forgotten her aunt and uncle in the midst of a Bennet sibling fracas. They turned their steps back towards Longbourn, because Georgiana did need to ask her brother about Lord and Lady Matlock, and Kitty couldn't deny that she was anxious.
Jane was standing on the lawn, and walked towards them.
"Oh Mrs Bingley, did my brother say anything about my aunt and uncle?" said Georgiana, interrupting what was no doubt a profuse apology from Jane for something she had not said, done or thought.
"Jane, please, I believe I have asked you to call me Jane before? " said Jane in that soft way of hers. "It seems that your Aunt and Uncle sent their baggage ahead."
"With no explanation?" Kitty thought that sounded more like the action of Lydia rather than an Earl and his Countess.
"I did not press Mr Darcy for more information, Kitty," replied Jane in a little sharper tone, at least as sharp as Jane's tone ever got. Then Kitty saw the moment her sister realised her sharp tone was not conducive to apologising to Kitty on her behalf, or on Lizzy's.
"Well then let us go discover if Mama discovered anything."
Mama had not even realised Mr Darcy had come to Longbourn, so they were forced to listen to her incredibly muted disapproval of Mr Darcy's not paying his respects to her. It was a little less muted than it would have been before Ash had proposed. However it did not allow for anyone else to discuss anything, which was rather what Kitty wanted.
"You have done a very good job of avoiding me, but you should know I bribed Mary with sheet music," said Lizzy, closing and locking the bedroom door behind her. Kitty had managed to keep herself separated from her sister until after dinner, but she'd known some sort of conversation was inevitable.
She stopped fiddling with her curls and turned to watch Lizzy. It was up to Lizzy to talk, not Kitty.
"Kitty, I am so sorry." Lizzy came to sit on the Mary's bed.
"Is that all I am to expect?" replied Kitty. She did not like fighting with her sisters, or indeed anyone, so she was proud she did not immediately accept.
"I think that an unreserved apology was what I should begin with."
"But what are you apologising for?"
"For being a terrible sister, and a terrible judge of character." Lizzy smiled. "It will not mean much to you, but I was worried about you. My sisterly feelings may not have been there when they should have, but I have learnt a great deal about myself, and my faults this past year."
Kitty placed her hairbrush back on her dresser; she had been idly playing with it while listening to Lizzy.
"Please come and sit next to me, Kitty."
Kitty accepted the outstretched hand and sat rather stiffly next to Lizzy.
"I know you are aware of Darcy's first proposal to me, but I cannot think you know the details."
Lizzy then described Mr Darcy's first proposal and Kitty began to see. Mr Darcy had spoken so shockingly about their family, and had made so many presumptions about Lizzy's feelings, based no doubt on his assumption than any young lady would be gratified and humbled to be joined in union with such a one as Mr Darcy. Then Lizzy described her folly with Mr Wickham more fully.
Ash had told her that Mr Darcy's world must have been inverted by Lizzy's refusal, but it seemed that Lizzy's axis had been tilted just as much.
"Then he was so different at Pemberley, and I was not sure whether he was ..."
"Playing the true gentleman to prove how wrong you have been?"
Lizzy smiled. "Exactly, you see I have been ignoring how perceptive you have become, or perhaps always been."
"You have been second guessing yourself?"
"Yes, and well I did not trust Papa, or Mama; no matter how much I love them they ..."
"Yes," replied Kitty. Her father's reaction to her engagement had heartened her, but he would always be himself. She did not think he would ever see her anything but one of his silly daughters. She knew that while Lizzy was Mr Bennet's favourite, he still thought her of as the least silly. It was slightly reassuring. "But you should not make such judgements, Lizzy, when you have no information or have made no push to do so. I am not you, and Ash is certainly not Mr Darcy."
Lizzy looked distressed to have spoken so disparagingly of Mr Darcy, "Obviously now that I ..."
"I did not think you had accepted him without loving and respecting him, Lizzy!"
"Some will think that," replied Lizzy. "Many in London will, and I was so worried that you...and if it were not a case of love, then you would not have the support of your husband."
"But surely we shall face whatever London might say - and confess you don't mean London but Mr Darcy's relations - together?"
"Yes. I know that Lady Catherine certainly disapproves, but I know that Mr Darcy does not care a great deal for her opinion. His uncle, on the other hand..."
"Since his first wife was not of the first stare, surely he will not be too judgemental," replied Kitty. "His wife was the daughter of a natural philosopher. She had no money, but Lord Matlock was a visitor to the house to discuss ....well, things that sound quite boring to me."
"But his second wife..."
"Yes, the daughter of a Duke, so they will be trusting that Mr Darcy and Ash make better second choices."
Lizzy looked aghast for a moment and then started laughing; it took her many moments before she could speak again. "Oh dear. How very dreadful. Do never reassure Jane in such a manner, she will not find amusement in it. But, Kitty I am truly sorry. I was only worried about you, all I could see was my little sister who used to brush my hair, and I thought Darcy had interfered. I suspect I am always going to judge him harshly."
"But, Lizzy, I think Mr Darcy needs a wife who will tell him when he is wrong. As does his cousin."
Lizzy looked at her. "And do you?"
"Not quite as directly, as you do, sister, for we are not that alike."
Lizzy had pulled back the covers on Mary's bed, as the air was chilly, and half wrapped them around herself. "Come, that window really is not secure; I did not realise how much the air got into this bedroom." Kitty joined her under the covers. "So much I did not realise."
Kitty had not curled up with Lizzy in bed for a very long time, not since she was a very little girl. Jane had always been Lizzy's sister.
"Now, I have been told so many times I should just speak to you, and I have decided that my resolution is to take advice..."
"I think that shall be a short lasting resolution," said Kitty, but Lizzy pinched her.
"...now tell me about this Lord Ashbourne who I am to call brother."
Chapter Twenty Eight
Posted on 2013-09-06
Kitty woke to Mary looming over her, looking as if she had been dragged through a bush backwards.
"Mary, what on ..."
"I was forced to sleep in the library."
"You could have taken Lizzy's bed! Or Jane's!" retorted Kitty, slipping out of Mary's bed. Sometime during the night, Lizzy had slipped out and taken Kitty's bed. She must have also unlocked the door, or Mary had learned how to pick locks, which Kitty did not put past her newly improved sister.
Mary looked a little startled and dismayed. "I had not thought of that, but it is a good thing I was downstairs so I could intercept this note before Mama saw that you have received a missive from Lord Ashbourne."
Kitty took a moment to admire his fine hand; she did not think she had even seen his handwriting before.
"Stop staring at it and read it," said Mary sharply, while attacking her hair with a brush.
She did as her sister bid and half wished she had just stared at the outside and not broken the seal. He was bringing Lord and Lady Matlock to call that very morning!
"Does he bring the Earl and Countess?" said Mary.
"Mary Bennet, when did you become so curious?" said Lizzy yawning. "I missed that too, it seems."
"Well, I wish to see if he really is a sober man interested in philosophy."
"I want to know if he will approve of me," said Kitty. "We shall both find out our answers, this morning. And Ash writes that they particularly wish to make your acquaintance too, Lizzy."
Lizzy looked a little pale.
Kitty steeled herself for the unpleasant task of informing their mother of their illustrious visitors.
"Lord and Lady Matlock ...today? But ...fish ...cake ...tea!" Mrs Bennet clutched her handkerchief and looked bewildered.
"Lord, Mama, they do not want fish cake tea. Whoever heard of such a thing? No doubt they come to stop the wedding. Has a date even been decided on? Lizzy managed to pin Mr Darcy down, but you must be quick, otherwise you will not be able to have the banns read before next year!"
That brought Mrs Bennet's speech back. "Next year?! Lydia, what nonsense. Lord Ashbourne does not need to have the banns read, he may get a special licence if he so chooses. I am sure Mr Darcy could have also got a special licence for all Lizzy tells me otherwise. All you need to do is know a bishop, is that not correct?"
Kitty rather thought this was the first time in her life Mary was being sincerely requested for a piece of information by her mother.
"Don't dawdle Mary, is that the only requirement?"
"Why do you not ask Mr Collins?" said Mary brightening. "Surely he should understand ecclesiastical convention."
Mrs Bennet liked the idea of inviting Mr Collins over to show him that her daughters might not ever be mistress of Longbourn, but she thought that a very good thing as they would be too busy being the mistresses of Netherfield, Pemberley and Matlock.
"Why has he not gone away?" said Lydia.
"They were to leave yesterday," said Mary, "But Mr Collins had a spasm."
" He does not want to tell Lady Catherine both of her nephews are engaged," said Lydia, who was clearly in one of her more perceptive moods, and thinking of others rather than herself. Kitty did not think it would last.
"Lord and Lady Matlock! Fish! Cake! Tea!" Mrs Bennet glared at her daughters for distracting her, when she should be yelling for Hill and shooed them all out of her room. "Find your best dress Catherine, and make Sarah fix your hair so you do not look so ...oh oh ...where are my salts?"
Lizzy, it appeared, had not needed her mother's instructions to put on her prettiest gown and dress her hair in the most attractive fashion.
"Come, Kitty, we must be united ..."
Kitty submitted to her sister's ministrations."Perhaps we should look like plain sober young ladies because then their reasons for marrying us would be respectable, and we shouldn't have lured them in ..."
"I thought you stopped reading novels," said Lizzy, laughing. "I am not as concerned for myself as I am for you. Darcy is only their nephew and ... but what I am sure of is that you will have your family, especially me, if they are stupid enough not to like you." Lizzy kissed Kitty's forehead.
Ash's note had not mentioned a time, so Lizzy and Kitty did not dally, but that left them sitting in the parlour. Mrs Bennet would not allow them to take out any of their normal activities like darning or embroidering in case the Earl and Countess found them doing menial labour.
Mary was allowed to sit at the piano and practice, but Lydia, Kitty and Lizzy were forced to sit with their hands folded.
"We could read, Mama," said Lydia after about ten minutes, which spoke to how truly bored she was, and how much she wanted to see Lord and Lady Matlock that she had not run off.
"I do not wish them to think my daughters bluestockings!"
Lizzy took a deep breath, but Kitty pinched her. It would be pointless to argue with Mama, particularly when Kitty thought it was highly likely that their mother was more worried about the Earl and Countess than Lizzy and her combined.
Finally they heard a carriage on the drive. It felt so strange not to have leapt up and pressed her face to the window to watch their visitors.
"Lady Matlock, ma'am," said Hill, bobbing nervously, as they all rose to greet their visitor.
Kitty wasn't sure she should have looked immediately for Ash, but she did. He wasn't following his step-mother; indeed the door swung firmly shut behind Hill's swift retreat.
At least that allowed Kitty to really regard her future mother-in-law. She was much younger than Kitty would have expected, but of course she was not Ash's or the Colonel's mother so her being her mother's age or even a little younger should not have been surprising.
That Lady Matlock would be dressed in the height of fashion, in styles Kitty had only seen in the magazines brought to them by Aunt Gardiner when she visited for Jane's wedding, Kitty took for granted. The quiz of a hat however Kitty had not expected.
"Lady Matlock," said Mrs Bennet curtseying as low as she could manage, "May I welcome you to my home? Lizzy! Kitty!" Mrs Bennet fluttered her handkerchief at her daughters and Kitty found herself stepping forward. "Girls ..." Mrs Bennet petered out clearly not quite sure how she should introduce everybody, or whether it was even proper for her to do so.
"Oh!" was Lady Matlock's first word and then her hat quivering she crossed to Lizzy and Kitty with outstretched hands. "How happy I am to meet you both. So very delighted."
Then she crushed them to herself, Lizzy was unfortunately on the side of the feathers and Kitty could not imagine that was pleasant. After some moments she released them and they returned to their seats.
"Are you not as happy as I am Mrs Bennet? I was quite sure they would never marry!" Lady Matlock sat down and put her reticule on her lap.
"Oh, yes ...I have five daughters, your ladyship," said Mrs Bennet blinking as if she did not quite believe that a Countess would have the same worries.
"Now, we shall be great friends, because I am so grateful to you. I do hope you know what you have agreed to?" said Lady Matlock with a smile. Kitty thought she saw a little bit of Ash in her, which was strange, but she thought it spoke well of their relationship.
"Mr Darcy is the best of men, Lady Matlock," said Lizzy very sincerely.
"And my son, Miss Catherine?"
"He certainly thinks he is the best of men," said Kitty. There was no point being somebody she was not, and considering everything Lady Matlock had said and done since entering their parlour, Kitty did not think it was much of a risk.
"Kitty!" exclaimed Mrs Bennet, but Lady Matlock laughed.
What Lady Matlock would have responded would never be known as the door to the parlour opened.
"No, do not introduce me, I am sure you have better things to do! Harriet!"
Kitty found herself standing up, because this could only be Lord Matlock. He was much shorter than she had expected considering the height of Ash, the Colonel and Freddie. While his wife looked the very picture of a fashionable ton woman, the Earl looked more like he would be happier on his home farm.
"Edwin, the ladies will be thinking you very odd."
"Well, if my wife had not pretended that the carriage had a fault, bribed my coachman and left us to walk the rest of the way to Longbourn, I would not be presenting myself in such an odd fashion."
"Well, if you had not become distracted by farming techniques we should not have been held up on the road ...
"Aunt! Uncle!" Mr Darcy entered the room. Hill was nowhere to be seen, no doubt confused by the strange comings to Longbourn that morning.
Kitty did not know how Lord Matlock had managed to outpace his son and nephew. Kitty found it amusing that Mr Darcy should have judged himself and his connections so far above everybody else when they did not seem at all stiff in the neck.
Mr Darcy had mud on his breeches and looked rather furious. He also did not seem to quite know what to do or say.
"I do apologise for coming amongst you all in our dirt, but as I am sure my dearest Mama told you, the carriage ran into some difficulties." Ash did not have mud on his breeches and looked entirely sanguine.
"I am afraid, Ash, your father has already betrayed me," said Lady Matlock. "It is true, I wished to form an impression entirely without the influence of my nephew or son."
"Then why was I - " begun Lord Matlock.
"It would have looked very odd if all the men had not alighted," responded Lady Matlock.
"You could have made some excuse about my infirmity." Lord Matlock did not look at all as if he suffered from an infirmity.
Mrs Bennet did not quite follow this conversation and sincerely offered her sympathy for his ailments. Then it was not to be hoped she would not follow this with a laundry list of her own complaints. Kitty felt Lizzy stiffen beside her, but Lord Matlock seemed to take the nerves and palpitations with grace.
"Now that your mother has graciously distracted my husband, we should take a walk," said Lady Matlock. "Your sisters will entertain my son and nephew."
It was not really a request, and it was a little cold for a walk, but Kitty did not mind. She hoped Lydia was forced to entertain Ash, that would no doubt be amusing, and would mean Lizzy would not be terrified about Mr Darcy. Mary would just play the piano at him, Lizzy had nothing to fear there!
"You must have wanted to speak to us privately very much," said Lizzy once they were away from the house.
"I wished to give myself every opportunity of a first impression. However, I have heard so much about you both. Catherine a little more than you, Elizabeth."
Kitty could not believe that Ash had written about her, at least until recently; he was too guarded. Freddie on the other hand - "You should not believe anything your son says about me."
"I see you understand both my sons," laughed Lady Matlock. "Should I believe or disbelieve Georgiana? She, has been my source of gossip for you, Elizabeth. I find myself embarrassed! I did not realise the import of her reporting of your visit to Pemberley. I should have known Darcy would never be so solicitous of a mere acquaintance. I thought perhaps he wished Georgiana to meet a variety of young women before her debut. But I was blinded by my failed attempts to lure him this summer with several eligible young ladies."
"Whereas I did not appear at all eligible, so did not give you a moment's pause," said Lizzy.
Lady Matlock stopped and looked at her. "You have arms and legs enough, and nothing you have said, or that has been reported to me, makes me think you lack intelligence. That is eligibility. My nephew has wealth and status, what he does not have is a bit of liveliness or the ability to talk without offending."
Lady Matlock turned to smile at Kitty. "And any young lady that manages to assist in the rescue of a curricle without irrevocably offending my son, whose sense of his own worth is, by the by, vast, is a lady who works miracles."
"It had only rained a little ..."
"And he was trying to impress you."
Kitty did not know why she had worried so much. Lady Matlock could be feigning but Kitty doubted that; they were alone if she really wished to show her true colours as it were, she could easily do so. No, she truly was pleased. The way she looked at Lizzy and Kitty made Kitty think she had found someone, whose name was not Horatio Fitzwilliam, who would appreciate her and not judge her unfairly.
"I am afraid, Mama, you have monopolised Kitty long enough." Ash had escaped from whichever of her sisters had been entertaining him. When Lady Matlock started to protest Ash silenced her with a look. "You will have the rest of your life to do so."
"You do not think that a little rude?" said Kitty, but she was happy to be walked away,
"I am sure it was very rude, but a man in love is allowed a little latitude, surely?"
"A very little latitude," replied Kitty. "And you have used yours. I like Lady Matlock and the little I have seen of your father." She tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow. He covered her hand with his.
"I am glad."
"Are you relieved that they do not dislike me on sight?"
"That was never a concern of mine," replied Ash with a smile. "My only concern is your happiness."
"Your only concern?" Kitty looked at his cravat, and then his tousled hair, and lastly at his boots that were slightly less shiny than usual, but she had no doubt they had left Netherfield immaculate.
Ash conceded her point. "I expect you will not wish me to say you are the only person who is my concern. You should not wish me to be so selfish."
"No," Kitty replied simply. "For the moment, however, I am happy to have your only concern be kissing me, and never letting me go. For I cannot think how I can be happier than this moment."
"That, my dear Kitty, that I can certainly do. But I shall have to disagree with you and endeavour to prove to you that you can be happier."
Posted on The Epilogue Effect
Posted on 2013-09-08
It was a mild late September morning, perfect for walking, but Lizzy found she had no inclination. All she wanted was to sit on the bench that was only several yards away.
"Shall we sit?"
Kitty raised an eyebrow. "We have only walked down the stairs and around the corner! "
"If you wish to walk on, I shall walk on," replied Lizzy, sure her sister, still very pale, would not call her bluff.
Indeed she did not and the two of them sank, with relief, onto the bench.
"We have become very poor women indeed."
Lizzy put her hand upon her stomach. "It is perhaps understandable under the circumstances." She shaded her face from the sun with her other hand and saw that through one of Matlock Close's windows Lord Ashbourne was looking very intently at them. When he saw that Lizzy had spotted him however, he disappeared. She did not blame him. Kitty had not left the house since the arrival of little Maximilien, who had had a rather dramatic entrance to the world; Lizzy hoped her own child would be more obliging.
Kitty had tipped her head up to catch the sun. "I am however glad to be free from being cosseted." Lizzy decided it would be best not to mention her glimpse of the viscount. "Darcy will be worse," finished Kitty.
"But I shall come to Pemberley and ensure he does not loom over the midwife."
"I would rather you do me the same office I did you and prevent Mama from her worst excesses. Although she was far more sensible than I had expected, especially after her ..." Lizzy broke off, still finding it difficult to talk about her disappointment, and finding herself holding her stomach more protectively.
"Will you invite Mary?"
It was not quite true that Mary had married to disoblige her family, after all Mr and Mrs Bennet were just pleased she had married at all. Of all her sisters, Mary had never paid gentlemen much attention, so it had been shocking when she had almost eloped. In the end it had been a private marriage only attended by Mr Bennet.
"I would like to, but I am afraid Darcy..."
"I am sure Sir Christian knows how to behave! He always did know how to behave, he just decided against it and there is very little impropriety in him now, he is too much under Mary's thumb. Surely Darcy's infamous temper could be cooled!"
"We may have helped each other greatly with our weaknesses but being made a fool of is still a sore matter for my husband. He will not be brought to believe that Sir Christian did not pursue Mary purely to offend his sensibilities!"
Kitty burst into giggles, and Lizzy joined her. They, Darcy and herself, had kept to their resolution of learning and changing, but it was a journey.
"I do find him very charming," confided Lizzy. "And he is very handsome."
Kitty pulled her feet underneath her and curled towards Lizzy, still giggling. "He is very handsome. Ash does not like me saying it but it does not make it an untruth."
"Speaking of handsome men, should we go to the nursery?"
Lizzy pulled Kitty to her feet, which seemed ironic in their circumstances. Lizzy could not remember being so happy. She would soon be a mother, her mother was very close to completing her quest of seeing all her daughters happily married, and her father was surrounded by sons-in-law to assist him with the management of Longbourn and provide him with books into his old age.
They found Mrs Bennet staring at her grandson. She seemed to be absorbing everything, no doubt to best describe the new heir of Matlock to everyone back at Longbourn.
"Kitty, you should ensure the nurserymaid wraps him more tightly!"
"Yes, Mama." Kitty gave her mother a kiss and was happy to take her advice as she was soon leaving.
"And Lizzy, you should not be on your feet, it will not be a boy if you are on your feet."
The look on Lizzy's face told Kitty all she wanted to know and after making sure her son was sleeping, she pulled Lizzy out of the room saying they had letters to write.
"I do not have to write to Jane," argued Lizzy.
"No, but while I do not think walking around will cause you to deliver a girl, I do think arguing with Mama would be injurious, to more than just the baby!"
Lizzy laughed. "But I have no letters to write."
"I do," replied Kitty. "If they were not letters of thanks I would ask you to write them for me."
Many people had written to her in advance of the birth, and in congratulations once the happy event had taken place. Georgiana had offered to respond to the letters for Kitty, indeed Georgiana had been a great assistance, but Georgiana for all her talents could not quite forge Kitty's tone and Kitty did not want to offend anybody by not writing personally.
"I shall have my own pile to respond to soon," smiled Lizzy. "Who sent this?"
Kitty turned to see that Lizzy was playing with a little abacus.
"Oh, Cousin Olivia."
"That explains it," said Lizzy sharing a smile with Kitty. Cousin Olivia was one of Ash's cousins on his mother's side. She shared her grandfather's passions, so the abacus was perfectly her. "And these?"
"Miss Bingley," replied Kitty. Lizzy was holding up a piece of art which did not refer in any way to herself or to her son.
"At least we know she can paint screens, the sign of a truly accomplished woman!"
Kitty did not understand her sister's reference so turned back to her letters. Lydia, Mary and Jane's letters should be answered first, they were after all her sisters and they were happy for her, and she was happy for them.
"Do pay attention, Ash," said Darcy, annoyed that his cousin was staring out the window. "Catherine is well. I should be more alarmed about Elizabeth wishing to stray so far from the house."
Ash stepped backwards suddenly and turned towards Darcy, "They are not 100 yards from the house, and I suspect your wife will suffer your protectiveness as well as mine does."
"I wish to talk about this Mr Yeates." Darcy had been slightly alarmed when Lydia Bennet had met the penniless artist during the season, but he had been distracted by their disappointment and then joy when Elizabeth was with child again. He had not realised that Mr Yeates had returned to Longbourn, to paint the local churches, and then to Bingley's new estate in neighbouring Staffordshire, ostensibly to paint the local moorlands.
"If you are still under the impression, like Lydia, that Mr Yeates is a penniless artist and not the younger son of Lord Wettenhall, I will wash my hands of you."
Darcy sat down. "Winsford's brother? The family name is Yeates?"
"Aunt Catherine will be very upset you have not been studying your Debrett's."
"Aunt Catherine has not written to me since my marriage." Darcy did not wish to be estranged from any of his family, but his aunt's language against Elizabeth had been unpardonable. He could only imagine what her reaction to Ash's marriage had been.
"Sadly our Aunt is still in communication with Richard, and she has not changed her position or the tone of her abuse." Ash did not sound particularly surprised or upset. "And you will take Mrs Bennet with you when you depart?"
Darcy laughed. "Yes, but only as far as Bingley's."
"There is no talk of Mrs Bingley being unable to travel?"
Darcy shook his head. "We should hunt. Go Shooting. Anything but continuing to gossip like fishwives!"
Freddie, who was stretched out on one of the chaise longues, sat up at Darcy's words. "That is the first interesting thing you have said in days."
"I was not aware that anything, or anyone, was forcing you to remain at Matlock, Freddie," was Ash's response.
"No, but I had a lucky escape, I do not intend to push my luck any further."
This time Darcy did roll his eyes. Freddie should have known that any invitation to a house party would involve said house being stuffed to the gills with young ladies and their determined mothers. To hear Freddie speak of it, he had been pursued with alacrity, once during a game of croquet even physically.
"How very good it is that we are husbands now, Darcy, and do not have to worry about the hidden meanings in invitations," drawled Ash.
"And very happy ones," replied Darcy, smiling at his cousins.The End