Part Fourteen (Chapter 22)
Posted on 2013-07-27
Darcy stared at his cousin. "Good god!"
Ash looked irritated but did not speak.
"I cannot understand it. What are you about?" said Darcy.
"What am I about?" Ash stood up and sounded offended.
"It is beyond all credibility! So foolish!" Darcy began to pace.
"Foolish? I beg your pardon."
"You raise all expectation and ..." Darcy threw up his hands.
"You are my cousin so you will understand my reluctance to lay a hand upon you, but so help me, Darcy, I will if you continue in this offensive way."
"Offensive way? I offend you because I am astonished you have not proposed?"
Now it was Ash's turn to look confused. "I beg your pardon?"
"You cannot be blind! You would be accepted! I have never seen a young woman more devoted and I have seen many a young lady throw themselves in your way. And yet you continue in this manner! A manner so detrimental to my happiness!"
Now Ash looked amused, "Forgive me if I fail to understand how my own private concerns could have any effect on yours."
"Of course you could not!"
"Then perhaps you better explain it to me."
Darcy ran his fingers through his hair. He could not explain it. It was not Ash's fault that his own jealousy and envy meant he behaved badly to Elizabeth. It was not his fault that Darcy needed some proof that his entire family were not as ill-tempered and awkward as himself.
"Why do you not propose?!" was all he could manage.
"Why do you not propose?" Ash retorted.
"I think we should not stay," said a third voice and both gentlemen turned to see Georgiana tugging at Freddie's arm. "Come, Freddie."
"Oh you may go, Georgie; I am too amused. I wish to hear more of this argument. Why don't you propose? I am fascinated." Freddie sat down on a chair and crossed his legs settling himself for what seemed to be a long duration.
Darcy wanted to throw his young cousin out of the room but Georgiana's presence restrained him. Ash however just laughed.
Georgiana excused herself and despite Freddie and Ash's objections, she closed the door behind her. Darcy could not be sorry about her departure; he would rather not have this conversation in front of his sister, and he would rather not have this conversation at all.
"So?" prompted Freddie.
Lizzy's determination to speak to Mr Darcy was thwarted when he would not come.
His cousin came again and brought Miss Darcy. It seemed Lord Ashbourne brought her only so she might show that she had no objections to her horse being used to teach Kitty to ride.
"You are very good, Miss Darcy," said Lizzy, looking at the little party crossing the lawn to one of the near paddocks.
"In what way, Miss Bennet?" smiled Miss Darcy.
"Oh, well she is hardly ridden anyway. I am afraid I am a poor horsewoman, and Ash will see that neither she nor your sister come to any harm."
"He is very generous." Lizzy wondered if she dared to ask anything further.
"Your sister, I imagine, has many admirers?" Miss Darcy turned away from the window.
"Kitty?" Lizzy wondered how to answer that question. "Why yes, my youngest sisters take every opportunity to enjoy themselves and are much admired for their stamina for dancing."
Miss Darcy smiled. "Oh I wish I could dance, but Fitzwilliam will not allow it until I am out. I wish I could prevail upon him at least for a private party. How else am I to make sure I will not make a fool of myself? It is quite different to dance with a young gentleman and not your dancing master. Fitzwilliam says that a practice with him or my cousins is enough, but you do not think so, do you?"
Lizzy laughed. "No, it is quite different to dance with one's relations, but I only had sisters to practice with. I think that may be why Mary quite detests dancing; somehow she always had the gentleman's part."
Darcy steeled himself for a conversation he did not wish to have. He and Ash had decided not to continue their discussion in front of Freddie, but Darcy knew that wasn't the end of it and he wanted to have it on his own terms.
First, he made sure Freddie and Georgiana were occupied in getting ready for dinner so there would be no interruptions.
He knocked and was admitted by his lordship's valet, who, after taking one look at Darcy's expression, excused himself.
"Come to help me with my cravat?" Ash did not look away from his mirror.
"I should have thought it would be the other way round."
"I did decide to be polite and not draw attention to the abomination that currently adorns your neck."
Darcy did not rise to the bait. "I thought we should finish our conversation."
"The one where you seemed determined to think ill of everybody?"
Darcy paced and found himself fiddling with Ash's hair comb, while his cousin continued to arrange his cravat.
"I do not think ill of anybody. I am...unsure that I should make anybody a good husband, let alone Elizabeth. And I am envious of your ability to be at ease in all environments. I will admit jealousy of the fact your Miss Bennet welcomes your attentions."
That earned him a raise of the eyebrow. "Sulking?"
"Yes, I do not seem able to say the right thing."
"Well if we are going to talk about this, I shall not talk in this manner," Ash pulled the rope summoning his valet and requested some fortifications, before straightening Darcy's cravat.
Darcy swatted him away, but accepted the glass when it arrived and settled down to pour out all of his troubles. It felt good to tell the whole story to someone, and the expressions on his cousin's face were rather priceless.
"I did rather let the family down, do you not think? My parents would not have thought so, though I do not think they meant to make me think meanly of all the rest of the world, at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared with my own. It was very humbling to hear Elizabeth speak."
"I would have thought my father..." Ash stopped and put down his glass, "but perhaps not."
"No, I am ashamed of that, too. I realised while esteeming your father I did rather judge him for your mother, not that I can remember much of her, and what I can remember invited no judgement. I saw it as one of his flaws. I know my father certainly did. Now, I see that it is strength that saw your father choose his bride for her wealth of character rather than for her situation and family or for financial gain. If only I had been taught to correct my temper, or how to follow my principles without pride and conceit!"
"Then you would not be you, I am afraid," laughed his cousin.
"Since you have been so good to listen to me, you may as well talk to me."
"With such an offer how could I refuse?" Ash was being sardonic, but he did talk a little, and Darcy was glad he had not truly made his worries know for Darcy had never heard his cousin speak so warmly of a woman who was not related to him.
Catherine Bennet was not the sort of girl Darcy should have picked for his cousin, or for himself, but he was learning the importance of biding his tongue and realising that what was best for him was not best for everybody.
He was rewarded by an amusing story regarding Miss Catherine's Bennet's method of dealing with recalcitrant tenants.
"I shall have to remember that one," laughed Darcy and he found he meant it; it was not just idle words to please his cousin. "Although I fear I would not have the style to be believed in such a feint."
Lizzy looked at the prettily written card and smiled at Miss Darcy. "I think I can safely accept for all of my sisters and my mother. We shall be delighted to attend your card party. My father I shall not attempt to speak for."
Miss Darcy beamed. "I am so glad. We had wondered with Mr Bingley away, but with Freddie's birthday it seemed ..." Miss Darcy broke off.
"I think Mr Bingley would welcome such a party. He is a man who never wants his friends to be unhappy," said Kitty.
Miss Darcy nodded and then invited Kitty out for a turn around the garden. This left Lizzy with Mr Darcy, who had stood motionless in the window.
"And you, Mr Darcy, will you enjoy the card party?"
"Freddie will enjoy the card party and since it is a celebration of his birth, his is the only opinion that matters."
Lizzy placed the invitation onto a little side table and wondered whether this was a good time to discuss their quarrel. There might not be another such moment as this, which offered privacy.
"Miss Bennet..." said Mr Darcy just as she claimed Mr Darcy's attention. She could not help but laugh and was happy to see Mr Darcy smiling also.
"Miss Bennet, I apologise, please speak..."
"You still think badly of my family, Mr Darcy."
Lizzy was pleased to see that Mr Darcy looked shamefaced.
"Miss Bennet, this is what I wished to talk to you about. I wished to apologise to you. I should be apologising to your sister, but I hope she is unaware of my error in judgement. I wish for you to understand I spoke from ..." Mr Darcy turned away pausing for a moment. "I was upset. I had imagined a continuation of our walk. I had not thought you should not enjoy horse riding. That was presumptuous of me, I know."
"Presumptuous perhaps, but flattering."
"Any thoughts I may have expressed about your family came from pique... It seems you are always there for my lapses in judgement, and to remind me that I am not perfect."
Mr Darcy could not have said anything more designed to make Lizzy's heart melt a little.
"Remember, you have seen me in all my imperfections as well, sir."
He looked a little surprised by this admission. "You were misled. That is hardly an imperfection."
"And what caused me to be misled, sir? And I did not keep your confidence."
"About your sister - I told Jane and my aunt," Lizzy stood up and wanted to reassure him, but she only half reached out for him before she took her hand back. "They will never spread the story any further and I did not mean to tell my aunt. I was distressed by the possibility that Lydia should marry Mr Wickham. Can you forgive me?"
"I thought you were supposed to forgive me? My offence was greater."
Lizzy was strongly reminded of one of Jane and Mr Bingley's arguments and laughingly told Mr Darcy of her observation.
"You are teasing me. You think I should be offended at the comparison to Bingley. Maybe I have come to admire Bingley's methods."
"His leaving everything to chance, or persuasion? What did you once say? 'To yield without conviction is no compliment to the understanding of either.'"
"I may have done better to follow his lead there...his way certainly led to happiness. I would have you know that the way of that I was raised was not faultless. I was made to care more about myself and my happiness than others, and taught to judge that my own methods and manners were superior to all others. I could not behave like your family, but then I could not behave like my cousins, and I certainly do not find them wanting."
"I think you may be improved by a little levity," said Lizzy.
"Many have told me so, but I have not as yet found anyone willing to become my tutor, and it has only been recently that I have thought I required one."
Lizzy found herself holding her breath, but Mr Darcy did not say anything further; instead he commented on how improved he found his sister, as he watched Kitty and Miss Darcy perambulate around the gardens in a serious conversation.
"I have not seen her so happy in a very long time."
"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," said Lizzy, looking up at Mr Darcy who was leading her towards a card table. Despite her earlier feeling and agreement with Kitty's opinion when she had arrived and seen the extent of the party she had raised some reservations that something so grand should be held at Netherfield in Mr Bingley's absence. She was glad that Mr Darcy saw no real error in it; neither did Miss Bingley and her sister, who seemed determined to be polite and cheerful.
"Shall you play speculation, sir?"
Mr Darcy looked at her. "I am afraid I have little experience, but I am willing to learn."
"I am happy to be your tutor," said Lizzy, looking out of the corner of her eye at him, and was pleased to see him blush a little.
Lizzy was delighted that Mr Darcy seemed determined to be pleased and to have fun. She was also happy to find something he did not excel at, and that he took all her advice most studiously.
He continued his attentions after the charm of speculation had run dry, and allowed himself to be drawn into playing whist with Lizzy as his partner. She found they played excellently together and every thought she had, it seemed he had already had.
Lizzy's desire not to become a prime topic of conversation amongst the guests made her extract them from playing cards, but she was perversely glad that Mr Darcy did not cease in his attentions and instead offered to fetch her some lemonade.
She knew that their being in perfect charity with each other, a situation most unlike their normal interactions as far as Meryton society was concerned, would cause some talk.
Lizzy allowed herself to look around and found no one was paying them much attention, but she noticed that Kitty seemed to be playing piquet with Lord Ashbourne and had attracted a great deal of attention with her laughing.
"I do hope you are not playing for money, Kitty." Lizzy reminded her sister of where she was, and who she was, in a low voice. They could certainly not afford to lose the same amount that their hosts could.
"We are playing for pride, Miss Bennet," said Lord Ashbourne and Lizzy blushed to have been overheard and to have reminded him of the Bennets' situation.
"I have none of mine left," said Kitty, looking at Lord Ashbourne in such a way. Lizzy hoped no one else could see her. "Now Lord Ashbourne has a surfeit of it."
Lizzy was startled into coughing. If Mr Darcy had taken over a year to become accustomed to pert young ladies teasing him, how would Lord Ashbourne (who had far better reasons to think well of himself) accept such a comment?
"I am afraid he had a surfeit of it before the game commenced," Mr Darcy reached them and handed Lizzy her lemonade, which gave Lizzy a little cover so no one could see her reaction to him or his comment. She liked this Mr Darcy. She found that in the end she perhaps liked all of the Mr Darcys.
Kitty did not restrain herself in her reaction and laughed at Mr Darcy and his cousin, and Lizzy found herself smiling and then accepting Mr Darcy's arm to go listen to Mary play the pianoforte.
Lizzy thought once again that Mary was playing very well and for once the company were not listening in silent prayer for her to be finished.
Kitty and Lord Ashbourne stood near them and Lizzy tried not to roll her eyes at Kitty flattering him about how she was sure he played the pianoforte to perfection.
His lordship's response however tested all of Lizzy's reserve and she was happy to find that Mr Darcy suffered too, reassuring her that while the Viscount echoed Lady Catherine's words in thinking that if he had ever learned he too would be a great proficient, he did not speak seriously.
Lizzy was distracted from her amusement by Miss Bingley, who began to press Miss Darcy to play the piano. Lizzy's heart sank for Miss Darcy, who looked terrified to be so singled out. She also felt badly for Miss Bingley, who no doubt would be mortified if she had realised how she was making her friend feel. Miss Bingley just did not understand Miss Darcy's character, as she herself would never hide her talents.
Lizzy wanted to rush forward and say something, but it was a one matter to cover over Miss Darcy's faults when Mr Wickham was mentioned at Pemberley, it was another to so publically throw herself into such a situation. That would bring more attention not less and raise speculation that might further embarrass herself, Mr Darcy and Miss Darcy. Lizzy sensed Mr Darcy was torn over intervening and drawing attention to his sister's shyness and reluctance. He too it seemed could not think of something to soothe the situation without making it worse.
Kitty had no such compunction over throwing herself into the situation and at first Lizzy could not believe Kitty could announce that she had no desire to hear Miss Darcy play, but then her sister's strategy showed itself.
"Did you not say Miss Darcy, that you would assist myself in playing quite the worst duet in the world?"
Miss Darcy would play, but she would not be performing alone and Lizzy could not think of a better solution. Except Miss Darcy clearly thought of a better one, one that meant she did not have to play at all.
"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."
And Lizzy was forced to watch as her sister and Lord Ashbourne did indeed play very ill together, but with a great deal of spirit and amusement. More than one party in the room whispered to each other. Kitty needed to be careful.
Darcy was determined to ensure that this Meryton Assembly would not be a repeat of the last one he attended. He was certainly happier and more content than he had been the previous year, and he did not have the excuse of having no acquaintance as a reason not to dance. However, he did have the defence that he must watch his sister. Georgiana had begged to be allowed to attend and promised she would do nothing more than sit and watch the dancing.
Elizabeth, who had suggested allowing her to come with the compromise of sitting out the dancing, was happy to sit with her when she was not dancing. Darcy had not thought that would be very often, but he was amazed how many gentlemen she managed to deftly rebuff in order to continue sitting by his sister.
He could not but consider how well they looked together, as if they were always made to be sisters and companions.
Darcy asked Miss Catherine Bennet to dance for the express purpose of getting to know her better, until he remembered his promise to his cousin. Any undue attention or questions would no doubt make her suspicious, so he lapsed into silence and suffered her bemused expression.
Part Fifteen (Chapter 23)
Posted on 2013-08-04
Lizzy had found it impossible to rise from her bed that morning. Perhaps she was growing old; an assembly had never before been the cause of lethargy the next morning!
She hoped she was not becoming ill, not right at the moment she was sure that everything was heading in the right direction.
Her being tired did not even make sense; she had not danced a great deal, and instead she had spent her time with Miss Darcy. The more she grew to know Miss Darcy, the more she saw the pressures Mr Darcy had been under.
She thought of her own sisters, and the tragic misstep they had almost undertaken, the same Miss Darcy had rescued herself from only at the last moment.
The Miss Bennets of Longbourn did not have the same attractions as Miss Darcy or Pemberley, and Mr Darcy had a very different personality than either Mr Bennet or Mrs Bennet. They were happy to allow things to just occur. Instead of guiding or leading, they reacted only to events as they occurred, out of laziness or obliviousness.
No, guiding Miss Darcy safely through the world was just a heavy burden as the ownership of Pemberley, and she found it was one she wanted to undertake with him.
Lizzy finally threw off the covers, dressed, and wandered downstairs. Mary was reading, and Kitty, it seemed, was attempting to embroider. Several discarded books at her side showed her general distraction.
"How empty life feels the day after a ball," Lizzy sighed before picking up one of the books Kitty had been attempting to read. Edmund Burke! No wonder Kitty had cast it aside.
She looked out the windows and saw no one on the drive. "Perhaps the Lucases will call." Although she did not much care for that idea; there would be questions about her dancing twice with Mr Darcy and there would be questions about Kitty's devotion to Lord Ashbourne.
"The gentlemen did call and have gone shooting with Papa. I was not so knocked up from dancing that I was awake early enough to see them." Mary seemed quite happy to give such news and then refuse to answer any further questions.
"Mary, you are unkind," said Kitty petulantly.
"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."
She did not quite believe it, but she must believe it, and she felt she must make Kitty believe it.
They sat on the floor like they had done as children and played at letters. Lizzy soon noticed they were both forming puzzles of words on the same theme. They were both thinking of romance.
Lizzy had not been quite as distracted around Mr Darcy as she once had been and Lizzy had seen the attentions Lord Ashbourne had paid Kitty. But they did not assuage her concerns. Mr Bingley had paid Jane in public such attentions, and he had still left, easily persuaded away with no shame on his conscience, no promise he felt he was breaking.
Everyone else might see clearly what was unfolding; a handsome man chose a lively flirtation for amusement but Kitty did not see. Lizzy hardly blamed her; Lizzy had been flattered into incredibly poor judgement by Wickham and he had half the charm of Lord Ashbourne.
Lizzy knew she hadn't been the best sister to her younger sisters, but she did not wish any of them to have their hearts broken. Especially not Kitty, who was now taking those efforts to improve herself; the impetus did not matter to Lizzy except for what would happen if it was ripped cruelly away from her.
Darcy thought it was lucky that the amusement of this morning wasn't at all to do with the sport, as it was very inferior even to that of Netherfield. For his cousins the primary amusement seemed to be watching Darcy's awkwardness around Mr Bennet.
Mr Bennet was taking some shooting advice from Freddie, which seemed thoroughly unwise, but it allowed Ash the chance to sidle up next to him.
"Perhaps you should take this chance," said Ash.
Darcy looked about. "I think we should wait for the others?"
"Is there to be a queue of young gentlemen asking for Miss Bennet's hand?"
Darcy had handed that to his cousin on a silver platter. "Ash."
"Well, it is an ideal opportunity. Unless you are afraid of the fact he has a gun in his hand? Do you think Mr Bennet would object to his daughter marrying into one of the richest families in Derbyshire? Will he reject the great Mr Darcy?"
"These sound like questions that you are fearful of, not me."
Ash laughed. "I am not a man who behaved so disdainfully, and offended the neighbourhood. I am not the gentleman whose request will seem to have come without warning."
"Without warning!" Darcy was astounded. He had known Elizabeth for a year! He had been in her company in Kent and in Derbyshire!
"Are you about to say that Mr Bennet should be able to divine your attentions at Rosings and Pemberley?"
One of these days, Darcy felt he probably would punch his cousin and then regret it.
"Well then, why should you suppose I should ask Mr Bennet now?"
"Oh I do not suppose it at all. It would be foolish. Plus you would be talking in front of Freddie."
Ash smiled before wandering back towards the rest of the party. Darcy rechecked his gun before joining the party.
Mr Bennet was his normal droll self, and Darcy found it difficult to gauge his true feelings; which was rather what Mr Bennet was after Darcy thought.
Mr Bennet was a man who had made a poor judgement in marriage, which Darcy had to admit was not a unusual occurrence: Darcy would need more than two hands to count all such marriages he knew of. Another reason to choose a young lady from one's own sphere: if it did turn out to be a poor choice, there was more understanding and more ability to negotiate oneself out of a personal chaotic hell into at least an arranged ordered one. But Mr Bennet continued to make poor decisions which Darcy did not understand. He did not doubt that Mr Bennet loved his children, some more than others, but not enough to put their needs before his own. Bingley would not be the sort of son-in-law needed to assist the Bennet family that was certain.
If Kitty and Lizzy were upset that the gentlemen had not come to call that day, then Mrs Bennet was devastated. Lizzy tried to block out her mother, but when her mother addressed her directly it was difficult.
"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."
"Mama, we may speak of this later, and privately," although Lizzy knew that was very unlikely to dissuade her mother.
"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-tempered 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."
Lizzy could not believe her mother noticed; there were others who paid more attention (not to her, of course) and Mrs Bennet was oblivious to them!
"Mama, I do not think my sisters need to..." Lizzy threw a pleading look also to her 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?"
Lizzy wanted to get up and walk away, but part of her wanted to hear her father's opinion of Mr Darcy as a suitor.
"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. "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."
Lizzy could not believe what she was hearing, and stared at her sister. When had her sister taken the time to think of Mr Darcy, and to realise his responsibilities?
"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 could not bear to listen to her father's continuing flippancy and went to think. It hurt to hear her parents talk about her dearest hopes in such a fashion.
Kitty found her after dinner. "I did not mean to make things worse..."
Lizzy took her hand. "Oh you did not, it is my own fault. I know Mama's temperament but I thought that my father would be more understanding. 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," replied Kitty.
"No, and I am not sure I should have quite the strength of Mr Darcy if I should have been in his shoes."
Lizzy blinked at her sister. What on earth did Kitty mean?
"That is his name. Fitzwilliam Darcy. It is not a name that eases off the tongue."
Lizzy laughed. She knew that was his name but she had not much meditated on it. "No, it is not."
Though how did Kitty know that was his name? Had Miss Darcy told her?
"Should you name your first son Bennet?"
"I do not see why not, if it is a tradition in the family," Lizzy answered Kitty's question before thinking, and then she realised what she had said and was horrified. She was proud of Kitty when Kitty ignored what she had said and turned the conversation back to Jane and Bingley's imminent return.
Her mother and her father could not apparently scare Mr Darcy off, not now. He came to visit at Longbourn, sometimes with his sister and sometimes without. Their conversations were nothing like their stilted conversations in the Hunsford Parsonage.
Lizzy was happy that they were talking and nothing in their talks ever made her feelings change. Instead she felt strongly that this was the man she was supposed to spend her life with. They complimented each other. They confided in each other more deeply.
"You are not afraid people will talk, Mr Darcy?" Lizzy took his arm as they walked around the garden. He had not brought Miss Darcy on this visit.
"About the garden?"
Lizzy was not sure if he was a good actor or if he was truly baffled. "About our walks."
"That is a certainty."
Lizzy stopped and Mr Darcy turned back towards her.
"My aunt?" How perceptive he was.
Lizzy resumed her steps. "Charlotte - Mrs Collins - did say she thought Lady Catherine might write to you. She told me just after Jane's wedding."
It was Mr Darcy's turn to cease his steps and make Lizzy turn towards him.
"She did write. Most intemperately to myself and my cousin."
"Lord Ashbourne? Why should she write to him?" Lizzy had a sudden fear that somehow Lady Catherine knew about Kitty.
"My Aunt has faith in his ability to persuade me in the correct direction."
Lizzy found herself biting her lip. She had not thought that Lord Ashbourne would ...
"Do not fear my cousin, Miss Bennet. My aunt has faith in him to prevent a misalliance, but I have faith in him. I hope you may judge who of us is the best judge of character." Mr Darcy paused with a smile, "At least I hope you are convinced I am a better judge than my aunt, even if you cannot credit my judgement above anybody else's."
Lizzy laughed and allowed herself to be led back along the path to Longbourn.
Her only concern was while she spent time with Mr Darcy, her sisters were once again being entertained by Lord Ashbourne.
She attempted to speak to her father about the matter, when they were gathered waiting for Kitty and Mary's return, but he merely smiled.
"You should be thankful," said Mrs Bennet, pulling idly at her embroidery. "If he did not take such a kindly disposition to Kitty and Mary, you should not be able to slip away so often with Mr Darcy."
"I am surprised that you are so composed over a Viscount teaching your younger daughters to drive a team," replied Mr Bennet.
Mrs Bennet tossed her embroidery to one side and played with her handkerchief. "Oh, Mr Bennet, I do not set much by that. But think how other young gentlemen will now be intrigued by Kitty. Perhaps even Mary might benefit."
"You do not think it likely, Mama, that gentlemen will not wish to court a young lady so discarded? And I think Kitty is very much likely to get her heart broken!"
"Heartbreak made Jane very beautiful and if we had the connections we have now, then of course she would have married very well."
Lizzy could not even begin to unpick her mother's reasoning; to call it unsound would be a compliment. Nothing she could say could bring any sense to her parents, and she found the words always stuck in her throat when she tried to speak to Kitty. Anything Lizzy might say sounded in her own ears cruel and designed to damage the fragile improvement in Kitty's character.
Several times she wanted to talk to Mr Darcy about it, but if she had condemned him for judging her family, she hardly wanted to do the same to his family. Particularly since she did not quite understand what was preventing him from renewing his offer. Everything spoke of his wanting to, and she had not quite thrown herself at him, but short of that she had displayed her feelings quite prominently. Although perhaps she was misreading the situation.
Jane, it appeared, did not think Lizzy was getting ahead of herself.
Jane and Bingley returned in time for Lizzy's birthday, and they brought with them such an abundance of gifts and not all for her. Although Lizzy received two parcels; one an innocuous watercolour, the other made Lizzy blush. For it was clearly meant to be part of her wedding linen.
"Why does she blush?" said Mrs Bennet loudly.
"Jane has bought her things for her trousseau" replied Lydia equally as loudly.
Lizzy listened in silence as her mother began to speak on her recent most favourite topic of conversation: her surety that Lizzy would soon be married to Mr Darcy. Lizzy wished she had as much assurance.
"Oh, Lizzy I had hoped," said Jane, drawing Lizzy aside.
"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!"
She confided in Jane everything and Lizzy was pleased to find Jane in agreement with her, that everything sounded so very promising. However Lizzy still could not understand what impediment was preventing her happiness.
"Darcy, your cravat will do very well," said Ash as they walked the short steps to Longbourn's door.
"My cravat will do very well for what?" replied Darcy.
"For a proposal, I cannot imagine why you wait."
"I wait for my own moment," said Darcy stiffly.
"If you wait too long, you might have found that the moment has passed you by," said Ash with a smile.
Darcy sighed. He wished the moment to be perfect. To wipe his disastrous declaration at Hunsford from both their minds. He had already begged Elizabeth to destroy his letter but she would not do so, saying that it should remind them both of their faults.
Certainly however his cousin had a point; it was clear, especially from Mrs Bennet's changed behaviour towards him, that everybody now expected a proposal. No matter how surprised they may have been only weeks ago, or how not disposed they were towards him.
Mrs Bennet shooed them all outside for a walk, and her desires could not have been more transparent.
He would be a poor man if he could not avoid Mrs Bennet's schemes. However, he had not counted on his cousin. Before Darcy could object, Ash had taken Miss Catherine's arm, and Freddie Georgiana's and they had rushed off towards Meryton.
Elizabeth had unfortunately taken the time to look the other way, her attention captured by some bird or other, and by the time Darcy could regain her attention it would be impossible to catch up with the rest of their party.
The look on her face meant she understood their meaning. Indeed, Darcy now remembered that Bingley had proposed to his wife under almost the exact same circumstances, and it was Elizabeth who had joined her sisters in running very fast in the direction of Meryton.
"I apologise, Elizabeth."
She started at the use of her Christian name.
"For what, Mr Darcy?"
"My cousins, and my sister, have obviously planned this interlude in order that I would propose."
"Oh," Elizabeth looked at him in some surprise.
Darcy wished he could rewind time, and rephrase. "I mean ..."
"No, I am sure I understand you, Mr Darcy."
"I am not sure that you do, Elizabeth; they do not, I fear, understand. You and I have such a complicated history that...."
"If your feelings have changed, Mr Darcy, I release you with the best of all wishes."
Darcy stared at her. "I...of course if your feelings have not changed, then I too....will never speak on this subject again."
How could he have misjudged her once again?
They stood looking at each other for some moments, until Elizabeth turned away but then she turned back towards him.
"If my feelings have not changed?"
"Yes," said Darcy awkwardly.
"I was under the impression, Mr Darcy, that your feelings had not changed, whereas mine had undergone an utter transformation, but you are offended that your cousins and your sister expect you to propose?"
"Offended? No. I just... this is not a very pretty prospect, is it? I had thought after ...Hunsford...you deserved ... and you also deserve time."
"Shall we walk on?" Elizabeth took his arm. "Mr Darcy. I am an excellent walker. I enjoy the countryside. I find that I do not require a great deal of time to mediate on many things."
"Are you trifling with me?" said Darcy, finding that Elizabeth was having trouble keeping a straight face.
"I should not call it trifling. I should perhaps call it being your tutor in levity."
They walked on for a moment longer.
"This is quite a change. You taught me a lesson, Elizabeth, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you, I was properly humbled. I came to you without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased. I was vain and expected you to be wishing for my addresses, and now I find I perhaps have gone too far in the other direction."
"That direction is certainly a better one to err in, Mr Darcy."
Darcy took both her hands in his and perhaps it was not the ideal moment, or one that would wipe Hunsford and his prior sins, and her misjudgement from their minds, but it would suffice if only she would make him the happiest man on earth.
He was not to be disappointed.
Part Sixteen (Chapter 24)
Posted on 2013-08-11
"Dinner? Tomorrow?" Miss Bingley sighed over the dinner table.
Bingley glared at his sister and she straightened in her chair and gave an insincere smile.
"You mistake my sigh, Charles. I just worry that my dear sister shall be at a disadvantage; you have only just returned."
"It is only a small family party," replied Mrs Bingley. "No one shall judge, I am sure. Plus I am sure my mother will be happy to have the opportunity to advise and assist."
Darcy covered his snort with a cough. He had not thought Mrs Bingley capable of such a remark.
"Of course, but do not hesitate to ask me about anything you require, Jane."
Mrs Bingley smiled at Miss Bingley, but Darcy would have bet that Mrs Bingley had no intention whatsoever in asking for advice from Miss Bingley or anyone else.
The ladies retired and the gentlemen moved to sit closer together.
Darcy was not stupid; he knew that his cousins had restrained themselves from interrogating him until this moment. They were thwarted by the fact Darcy had made sure once he returned from his walk with Elizabeth he kept to the ladies' company. Ash and Freddie, for all their faults, wouldn't question him in front of the Bingley sisters.
"So?" said Ash quietly from his left.
"Yes." There was no point in teasing his cousin, and Darcy found he didn't want to.
Ash clinked his glass against Darcy's. "Congratulations, and Mr Bennet?"
"I shall ask tomorrow evening."
Darcy turned to stare and then he blinked, "No, that wasn't wise, was it? I should have asked this afternoon instead of asking permission in front of the entire county."
"That is a slight exaggeration," laughed Ash, "but nonetheless courageous."
Darcy just smiled, which he thought was testament to his happiness.
Miss Bingley's acceptance of the Bennet family for dinner was rather tested when three Bennet sisters arrived early. So Darcy and Ash escaped for a serious conversation that did not involve young ladies or Darcy's impending interview with Mr Bennet. Darcy would have preferred to claim Elizabeth's attention all for himself, but he realised she would wish for time with Mrs Bingley and he did not want to arouse suspicion until he had gained Mr Bennet's consent.
Of course Ash could not resist an allusion to the engagement. "Miss Bingley will be disappointed."
"She will be doubly disappointed," was Darcy's response before he turned the conversation back to politics.
Ash could be a sensible conversationalist and a captivating one when he chose to be, so when they walked into the sitting room, Darcy did not notice Miss Catherine until he was almost upon her.
She smiled at him in such a way that Darcy had to make sure that Ash was beside him and not directly behind his shoulder. Then he recollected that no doubt Elizabeth had, like himself, confided their engagement to her loved ones.
"Miss Catherine," he greeted her, and expected her to turn her attention to his cousin.
"Do not let him take all the credit," said Miss Catherine with a saucy smile.
It took Darcy a moment to realise what she meant, and then he looked at the Viscount and smiled. "I shall endeavour not to, but he is rather difficult to persuade out of the notion that everything happens because he commanded it."
His attention was then claimed by Miss Bingley until the rest of the party arrived for dinner.
He was placed by Elizabeth, and he was surprised to note that Mrs Bingley had not placed Miss Catherine next to Ash. His cousin bore it manfully, but Darcy rather thought Miss Catherine had been harshly used to be placed between Bingley, who had no thought for anyone but his wife, and Mr Hurst who preferred his meals to his companions.
Elizabeth played her part of charming dinner companion admirably and she blessed him with a particular smile as the ladies retired.
Darcy had a rather good fill of the port being passed around the table and managed to request Mr Bennet remain behind without embarrassing himself.
"Did you have something particular to ask me, Mr Darcy?" Mr Bennet gave him a rather knowing look.
That would make this slightly easier. Darcy shuddered inwardly at the thought of surprising Mr Bennet with a request; at least Mr Bennet knew what he was after.
"I feel, Mr Bennet, that you might have some presentiment of what I am about to ask, so I shall come straight to the point." Darcy took a sip of his port before pushing the glass away. "I have asked your daughter, Elizabeth, to marry me and I should like your permission to do so."
"You asked her before you ask me?"
Darcy shifted in his chair. "Your daughter and myself have a complicated - I wished to assure myself that she was disposed to accept me."
"Do you wish for a simple answer? Will you be offended if I require some answers of my own?"
"Not at all, sir."
"Do you love my daughter?"
"You will understand if I am somewhat apprehensive. Your attentions have only been very recent, at least from what I have been happy to hear from my wife, and she is very attentive to such things."
"I have proposed to Elizabeth before, in April. She refused me. We misunderstood each other."
"So you have worn her down?" Mr Bennet started to look amused.
"Do you think your daughter is likely to be convinced against her will?"
"No. You must have changed her mind. I shall want to talk to my Lizzy, but if she has no objections to you, then I find I cannot gainsay my favourite child."
"I will do my best to make her the happiest woman in England."
"All prospective grooms say that," said Mr Bennet.
Mr Bennet did take Elizabeth aside and Darcy had a moment of anxiety over what Elizabeth might say to her father, how she might fail to convince him that they truly loved each other and any unpleasant behaviour of his was now forgotten.
However, Mr Bennet soon returned to announce their engagement and Darcy found himself being congratulated from all sides but all he could see was Elizabeth and the knowledge she would soon be his, and he hers.
Lizzy had had barely any time to discuss Darcy with Jane. She could not blame Mary and Kitty's interest, but it had made private conversation with Jane almost impossible. Then of course the moment her mother had been informed of her engagement, any private act of any kind was certainly impossible. Except being able to walk with Darcy: that Mrs Bennet allowed.
Even then, it was only allowed after Mrs Bennet had ensured they had chosen a wedding date. The happy couple had not been allowed to discuss it; rather, they were quizzed relentlessly until Darcy had suggested the end of November. Allowing them enough time to read the banns with some extra time to plan a wedding and marriage.
Lizzy was happy he wanted to be married so soon; she just wished it had more to do with her than it did with his desire to flee her mother. Although to give her her due, Mrs Bennet had been rather calmer than Lizzy had expected.
"Oh Jane, my engagement has been known generally for four days and this is the only time I have had you to myself? I begin to wonder if my decision is a wise one."
"But when you are at Pemberley, you may write to me," said Jane with a smile as they walked on Longbourn's lawn.
"I have picked up my pen several times over the last days, but thought it a foolishness when you were not three miles away. But instead of being able to talk to you about my happiness, I must listen to Lady Lucas, and Miss Bingley and, in short, everybody I do not wish to hear from."
Jane laughed. "It is good to hear you so happy."
Lizzy smiled. "And now that I have you to myself we are going to sit down here and hide from everybody."
"I am not long married, Lizzy. I am not sure I shall hold all your answers, if it is questions about married life you wish to ask."
Lizzy did want to ask about being a wife, but that conversation could wait. Lizzy wanted to discuss Kitty first. She'd been distracted by Darcy. She'd known she should talk to her sister, or to others, but every time she meant to, she never knew what to say or her disordered thoughts about Darcy would overtake her.
Jane frowned at her silence. "You are happy, are you not, Lizzy?"
"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."
Lizzy could see she surprised Jane. "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?"
Lizzy wished to exclaim, 'Oh Jane!' for her sister did always think the best of everything and everyone. She couldn't see the difficulties even if she tried.
"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..."
Lizzy hesitated. She had something to say that she knew would be difficult to say, and that Jane would be disappointed in her, and, indeed, Lizzy was a little disappointed in herself because she should have been a better sister.
"And what Lizzy?" Jane sounded concerned.
"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."
Her father had not taken her suggestion seriously, although after Brighton he had followed it despite his amusement.
"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."
Lizzy did not want to confess to Jane how cowardly she had been, and how much she had been waiting for Jane's gentle nature and better relationship with Kitty.
"My dear Mrs Bingley!"
Jane and Lizzy looked up to see Bingley crossing the lawn with a smile. Normally Lizzy would be overjoyed to see her new brother, but now he was interrupting.
"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."
Lizzy should have known that Jane would not keep anything from her husband.
"Well your difficult matters are my difficult matters now."
"It is my sister, Kitty. Her heart is likely to be broken," said Lizzy bluntly.
"By whom?" Bingley looked startled and Lizzy thought he had been just as engrossed in his own affairs as she had been.
"Mr Darcy's cousin."
"Oh, I do not think she is in love with Freddie; they are too like brother and sister."
Lizzy wanted to laugh at her brother's face. She felt better now about her own absorption. She at least had not been totally blind.
"Yes, and we do not know what to do, could you speak to him?"
"Me speak to Lord Ashbourne about what?" Bingley looked like a hare caught in a snare.
"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."
"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."
Bingley looked thankful that he'd arrived at a solution that would absolve him from any concern. Lizzy did not blame him precisely. She would not wish to speak to Lord Ashbourne on the matter either.
"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 tried to keep some of the bitterness out of her tone.
"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 stopped and sounded distressed and Lizzy wished now she had not brought up the subject.
Bingley went to comfort her and Lizzy moved away to allow them time to discuss their previous hurts.
When it seemed that Jane was calmed, Lizzy spoke again. "So you will speak to him?"
"I will observe him and - hang it, cannot you ask Darcy?"
"I ask Darcy? I cannot become engaged to him and ask him to ...."
She could not agree to marry him and then drag him into a family crisis!
"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."
Lizzy thought Bingley was exaggerating now. Lord Ashbourne might be a fine figure of a man, but he seemed to her inherently lazy.
"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," said Jane reasonably.
"Oh Jane, you think the best of everyone."
"Well it has not failed me, at least not usually," replied Jane. "And, Lizzy, there is always the possibility that Lord Ashbourne is sincere. Surely he must realise the expectations..."
"And he does not care."
"But his cousin is engaged to you, and I have married Bingley; he must know he will be called to account by people he admires if he does Kitty wrong."
"Worse still if he should be trapped into a marriage he does not want."
Lizzy had had the strength to refuse Mr Collins and Darcy when it would not be in her best interests. Kitty would not have that strength, it was not in her nature; even Jane when she knew she was right had more strength than Kitty, who never seemed sure of herself, except for now!
Lizzy thought of Mr Wickham, and Mr Collins, and even Mr Bingley, Darcy and her father, and how they had consciously or unconsciously mistreated women. It seemed to her very possible that Lord Ashbourne just had not thought much about the long term effect of his actions. If that was the case, he was not to ruin her sister's life or hurt her any further, of that Lizzy was determined.
Part Seventeen (Chapter 25)
Posted on 2013-08-20
Bingley was hovering. Darcy was gripped by a sudden fear that Bingley wished to discuss things of a marital nature with him; either to ask for advice, or to give it.
"Bingley, do not hover in the doorway, come in..." Darcy gestured for Bingley to close the door behind him. Whatever difficult conversation they were about to have he wanted to have, it in privacy.
"I am not sure how to raise this subject with you, Darcy, but I must."
Bingley began to pace and Darcy let out a sigh. "If the conversation is so difficult to begin, perhaps we should postpone."
"We cannot postpone, Darcy. I'm afraid some murmurings have reached me."
They must have reached him via his wife, whatever the murmurings might be; Bingley had paid little attention to anyone but Mrs Bingley since their return, and if Darcy was true to himself Bingley had been more than unusually distracted since he had leased Netherfield the previous year.
"It's about your cousin."
"Freddie? What has he done now?" Darcy had hoped that his cousin, under his influence along with Bingley's and Ash's had begun to mature.
"Not Mr Fitzwilliam. Lord Ashbourne."
Darcy frowned at Bingley's formality. "Ash?"
"You may not have noticed the expectations that he is raising."
Darcy was right; he did not want to hear Bingley's conversation. This was worse than marital advice! But he could not help but prod Bingley into more disclosure.
"Is this not rather the purview of Mr Bennet?"
"Well I am her brother now, and you too will be soon. It is our concern."
"I cannot believe that Ash has behaved improperly."
"No, there is no question of that, but his attentions, and we...I...felt that you should raise it with him."
"I should go to my cousin and imply that he is raising expectations and will be thought a rake?"
Bingley sat down suddenly with a sigh. "I told Jane it was impossible."
Darcy couldn't help but laugh at Bingley's dejected expression. "You may reassure your wife that my cousin is very well versed in the matters of flirtation."
"I don't think that will reassure her."
"It should," said Darcy with a smile, but Bingley did not understand him. "I will speak to him."
It turned out to be a very short conversation.
"If I were you, I should propose before I contrive a situation where you will be forced to propose."
"How convoluted," was Ash's reply. "I'm tempted to wait to see how you arrange it. Your plots have never come to much before."
"Are you sure you do not wish to join us at Longbourn? Elizabeth would be happy for your company."
Georgiana shook her head. "Freddie and I are to take a walk."
"You have all the time to take a walk with Freddie."
"I have all the time for Elizabeth to be my sister, do I not?"
Darcy knew that his sister was overjoyed by his engagement. If she had not been at Netherfield with him he was sure her rapture would have not been contained by four sides of closely crossed paper.
As it was, after he had shared the good news, it had been a good hour before Darcy had been allowed to leave his sister's side. He knew too that he'd been banished from Elizabeth's side for at least as long while Georgiana could express her delight directly to her new sister. So it was not a reticence or apprehension of Elizabeth or the marriage that kept Georgiana from wanting to accompany them.
Darcy waited on the steps of Netherfield for Ash to bring his curricle around.
"Are you to Longbourn again, Mr Darcy?" Miss Bingley joined him on the steps.
"I am, Miss Bingley."
Miss Bingley smiled. She had not taken the engagement well and, clearly unable to speak well of the situation, had decided the better part of valour was silence. At least then she did not offend him and cut herself off from the riches of Pemberley forever. Ash would have told him he was being insufferable again, but Darcy thought his assessment was correct.
"Well, do give Mrs Bennet and her daughters my greetings. I expect you have a great many things to discuss about the wedding. I do hope Miss Bennet is not allowing her mother to have the full run of proceedings. She is a very worthy woman, but I did think that Jane and Charles' wedding was not quite in the style ... certainly not the style of a Mr Darcy of Pemberley."
"As long as it is Elizabeth waiting for me at the church, I find I do not much care for the details," replied Darcy.
Miss Bingley smiled, even if it was a little strained. "Spoken like a true lover." She watched as Ash drew up in front of them. "And you, my lord, you will desert us for Longbourn and wedding plans?"
"Yes, I find there is nothing I enjoy more," replied Ash, and Darcy felt his eyes begin to roll. His cousin did so enjoy teasing.
"Oh you are so droll," laughed Miss Bingley, entirely ignorant to Ash's true meaning.
Darcy dutifully returned her wave as they set off. He looked at his cousin and wondered if he should remind his cousin of their conversation of some days ago, but Darcy decided against it.
He realised there would be no point when the farce at Longbourn's door unrolled itself.
Elizabeth was attempting to make Miss Catherine wait for Miss Mary; Miss Catherine was having none of it. Mrs Bennet seemed equally insistent that Miss Mary depart the house with Miss Catherine all so that Darcy would not be surrounded by 'silly girls'. Darcy held his tongue and did not suggest Mrs Bennet join her daughters. Then Mr Bennet inserted himself into the conversation, insisting that Miss Mary had been practicing a sonata just for Darcy to hear.
So it was that Miss Catherine, holding her bonnet to her head, was the sole beneficiary of Ash's driving skills. Darcy watched them as they rounded the corner and thought he had discovered the reason Georgiana had refused to accompany them.
Elizabeth was watching them with a look that Darcy could not quite place.
"You wish that we could escape?" he said to her in a low tone.
She looked a little confused and then smiled. "There is not much chance of that, I just wish Mary had gone with them."
Darcy felt some surprise that Elizabeth did not seem to notice that the presence of Mary Bennet would spoil the opportunity for Ash to propose. Surely she did not think, as Mrs Bingley did, that Ash was trifling with their sister? Or perhaps she had been too distracted by their engagement to notice how close to their own engagement, Ash and Miss Catherine were. That was perhaps Darcy's fault, as he had monopolised their conversation whenever they were alone. He wanted to talk about their lives and dreams, not about his cousin's!
"I think that my cousin may have something to discuss with your sister," prompted Darcy.
"You have spoken to Lord Ashbourne ..." Elizabeth sounded surprised, which he understood, but he thought she also sounded concerned.
Elizabeth did not have a chance to finish her sentence as Mr Bennet at that moment swept them into the parlour to listen the promised sonata, which turned out not to be a sonata at all and Darcy rather thought Miss Mary was making it up as she went along.
"That was dreadful," said Miss Lydia. "What a bore, I will go find Maria Lucas." She then pouted her way out of the room and Darcy took a moment to reflect on the difference between Georgiana and Miss Lydia.
Elizabeth must have been thinking along a similar line, for she leaned towards and asked, "Miss - Georgiana did not wish to visit today?"
"She has taken a walk with Freddie. I would not take it as a slight; I think she has an ulterior motive for her absence."
She frowned at him, but could not ask anything more for Mrs Bennet claimed their attention with some trivial question about the wedding breakfast.
Lizzy took a deep breath to steady herself. She looked out the window to where she longed to be, instead of here where her mother was still discussing the wedding breakfast. She should be able to speak to Darcy, and soothe her fears, not hear about the proposed cake!
She had not seriously thought that Bingley would delegate her request to Darcy! She loved Darcy, but he was the last person who should be discussing Kitty with his cousin! Her worst fear was that he might have learned the wrong lesson from his interference in Jane and Bingley's relationship and actively pressure his cousin to make an offer he had not meant to make! Why had they spent every moment since their engagement talking about their love? They had their entire life to talk about love!
"Oh look, Charlotte and Lady Lucas..." Lizzy was distracted from her thoughts by seeing visitors walking up the drive.
Lady Lucas looked disconcerted when they appeared. "We met Lydia and she did not say ..."
Of course Lydia would not have mentioned Darcy's presence; she probably encouraged Lady Lucas and Charlotte to think they would be able to have a comfortable coze with Mrs Bennet.
Lizzy wasn't too angry with her sister, for she where she found it difficult to get Jane alone, she found it impossible to find time with Charlotte.
"I am so sorry, Lizzy. I would not have ..."
"Do not worry, Charlotte, I am just so happy to see you! You must go back to Hunsford soon; surely Lady Catherine cannot do without Mr Collins for much longer?"
Charlotte looked down, "Yes, although I think my husband delays our journey now that he knows such tidings must be given."
Lizzy had forgotten that Lady Catherine would be one relation not overjoyed by her engagement. The fact Mr Collins and Charlotte were in residence here perhaps delayed the news, for Lizzy did not know if Darcy had written to his aunt.
Charlotte moved a little closer and spoke so no one else could hear them. "Has Mr Darcy informed his relations? His aunt and uncle?"
Her voice was not as low as Charlotte might have liked, or Mrs Bennet had been dividing her attention.
"Yes, Mr Darcy, have you informed your relations? Do we expect them for the wedding?"
"I have written letters, yes, although a great many of my relations are already here, enjoying Bingley's hospitality. Although for how much longer he shall bear that, I do not know; even the most amiable of hosts must lose patience with house guests."
"But they shall stay for the wedding, shall they not?" said Lady Lucas. "Or shall they return?"
"Will Lady Catherine de Bourgh be attending the wedding?"
Lizzy closed her eyes briefly and wished she could distract the party from these questions but she did not know what would be dramatic enough.
"My aunt is unlikely to attend; my cousin is sickly and unable to travel and my aunt does not like to leave her."
"That is a shame; I should very much like to meet Lady Catherine de Bourgh. We have heard so much about her amiability and condescension."
A meeting between Lady Catherine and her mother would certainly be a dramatic moment one worthy of the stage, but not one Lizzy wanted to see enacted in front of her.
"My Uncle however, Lord Matlock, has indicated that he will attend, he and his wife. You may not have heard as much about them, madam, but they are eager to meet Elizabeth and her family."
Darcy had not spoken to her of this, and Lizzy wondered if they were happy to meet her, or whether they felt the same as Lady Catherine. Darcy had not told her his aunt's exact words in her original letter to Darcy but he had not had to, his face told her everything. The confirmation of an engagement was not likely to improve her thoughts.
"That is very gracious of them," said Mrs Bennet, preening.
"Mr Bingley will have to put up with a few more houseguests, then," said Lady Lucas.
"Oh but, Lady Lucas, that shall not be for some weeks," said Lizzy.
"I am afraid my uncle can be just as vague as his sons, so I am unsure when he intends to arrive, although, I am sure my aunt will ensure that Bingley is given a proper amount of warning."
That did not sound like the proper behaviour of an Earl of the realm, thought Lizzy.
"Well, he will find the neighbourhood a lively and charming one, " said Mrs Bennet. "Although you must be a particular favourite to bring him early."
Darcy nodded. "I am blessed with my uncle's regard, but he has other reasons for wishing to see Hertfordshire, I am sure."
The only reason Lizzy could think of were his sons, and perhaps the Earl's fear that one of them was about to contract a misalliance. He might wish to come to prevent his heir making the mistake he could no longer prevent his nephew from making.
Part Eighteen (Chapter 26)
Posted on 2013-08-25
It was interminable. But there was no polite way to leave. Any attempt to turn the conversation failed. Lizzy found herself wishing that Mary had not scurried upstairs, or that Lydia had not gone off to Meryton. She needed someone, anyone, to break the conversation of Lady Lucas and Mrs Bennet.
She noticed that Darcy kept looking at the window, then the clock and then frowning.
"Mama, we should not keep our guests hostage," began Lizzy.
"Nonsense, Lizzy, they are very happy to be here. Mr Darcy, you are very happy to be here, are you not?"
"Yes, ma'am," replied Darcy, shortly which did not make Lizzy believe him.
"But Bingley will be wondering where his guests have gone!" That was a very lame excuse as Lord Ashbourne had not returned and if Darcy left now he would have to walk to Netherfield.
"Mr Bingley has come in search of his guests," said Charlotte. "I spy Jane, and Mr Fitzwilliam is with him also."
Lizzy would have rather escaped, but a few more prisoners would certainly make the party merrier and she could shield Darcy from her mother a little more.
"This is a merry party, " said Bingley as he entered the room. "We had not thought to see you here, Lady Lucas, and Mrs Collins. Indeed I had thought that you, Darcy, might be walking out with Miss Bennet."
Mr Fitzwilliam made his bows and then had some low words with his cousin, a short conversation which ended with Darcy shaking his head slightly.
"Lizzy, we thought we should come to rescue you. Although I remember you abandoning me to have a picnic."
"Jane, marriage has addled your mind. It was your decision to placate your husband and submit to Mama's thoughts. Something that I think proves your strength."
Jane smiled, "Surely she is less enthusiastic? This is her second daughter married, after all."
"You would think so Jane, but I have unfortunately chosen a man who eclipses your husband." Lizzy closed her eyes at what could have been taken as an insult by her sister. "I mean, Jane, in our mother's eyes."
"Then you must thank providence that Mr Darcy's estate is in Derbyshire, and I must hope for an invitation before too long."
Lizzy ducked her head hiding her grin. "You will always be welcome. Mr Darcy has suggested we invite Aunt and Uncle Gardiner for Christmas."
"There, see, he does not disapprove of our family."
"Not all of them, at any rate."
Lizzy thought that Jane might have said something to this remark, if Kitty had not burst into the room looking quite wild. Her bonnet was askew and her cheeks flushed.
She stopped and looked about before dashing out of the room. She did not even seem to heed their mother, who, while not one to normally notice outré behaviour, seemed disconcerted by her daughter's behaviour.
"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."
If only that had been her mother's only remark, but Lizzy could not be so lucky. Her mother and Lady Lucas began to discuss Kitty's strange entrance and departure, wondering if she had a megrim or some other disorder. They paid no attention to Darcy's or Bingley's presence and would not allow the conversation to be turned.
"Should I go to Kitty?" said Jane in a low voice.
"It will draw more attention, and Mary is upstairs. I wish to know where Lord Ashbourne is?" replied Lizzy.
It seemed as if Lizzy only had to speak his name and he appeared. He seemed the picture of sangfroid.
Mrs Bennet was luckily too in awe of him to ask him impertinent questions about Kitty, but Lady Lucas had no such compunction.
"I declare, your lordship, you must be a very alarming companion! I hope you have not been frightening our inexperienced country ladies."
"Ma'am?" The eyebrow said it all, and while Lizzy wished she could cultivate such an expression, she was heartily embarrassed it needed to be employed. Not that Lady Lucas did not deserve a set down, but it seemed indicative of Lord Ashbourne's opinion of them, and his lack of concern over the talk he was provoking with regards to Kitty.
Lady Lucas flushed a little. "With your driving, sir. I have seen you as you go past our door, my sons tell me you are quite the whip!"
"Indeed." Lord Ashbourne took the seat offered to him by Mrs Bennet, and seemed disinclined to say anything more. He did not look offended however. Lizzy thought he looked happy and wondered why on earth he should be so after Lady Lucas's pointed remark.
Bingley took it upon himself to begin to talk about the many pleasant paths and roads about the county. This pleased Mrs Bennet as it seemed a sign that he did not mean to quit Netherfield.
"All the young men seem unable to leave when they taste our delights, " said Lady Lucas. "I declare I should never have thought it when your lordship and Mr Fitzwilliam arrived that you would still be here! Indeed when you went away, Mr Bingley, we thought we should never see you and Mr Darcy again and yet here you are."
Charlotte looked uncomfortable that her mother should still be speaking. Lizzy felt for her.
"Where there is convivial company and a friend happy to put one up, you shall always find me, Lady Lucas," said Mr Fitzwilliam.
"The friend happy to offer you his home is probably the greater attraction!" said Darcy. He spoke softly but his words carried and he sounded disapproving.
Lizzy wondered if Mr Fitzwilliam was expensive; she knew him a rattle, but wondered if Darcy's words were less teasing and more serious concern.
"I did not think you in your dotage, cousin," replied Mr Fitzwilliam, "You sound like a grandfather, not a man who was young once."
"Oh, Darcy was never young," said Lord Ashbourne, looking at his cousin, and speaking in an odd tone. "He was always virtuous."
Lizzy could not quite make out this exchange, and neither it seemed could their mother who was discomforted by not being quite sure whose part she should take. She did not wish to offend her son-in-law but neither could she offend a Viscount.
Mrs Bennet was saved from having to interject, as Lizzy could tell she wanted to, by Kitty's re-entrance.
"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, wishing that mother did not add to the remarks Lord Ashbourne had already had to suffer.
"Indeed, Mrs Bennet, I may very well refuse to take your daughter out in a curricle anymore," replied his lordship.
"See, Kitty," said Mrs Bennet, pursing her lips together.
Lizzy was surprised. Was this the result of Bingley talking to him? But it was said in such a light way Lizzy was not sure it signalled his intention to cease to pay Kitty such particular attention.
"Are you well, Kitty?" said Jane, clearly wishing to turn the conversation.
"I am very well," said Kitty. "Although I may become annoyed if a certain someone continues to tease me." Her arch tone was paired with a saucy look at Lord Ashbourne.
"Kitty, Lord Ashbourne is very good to have been so kind to you," said Lizzy.
"Oh it was not a kindness, Miss Bennet," replied Lord Ashbourne, which surprised Lizzy, that he would be so blunt in front of company. Surely Kitty deserved some compassion.
Mr Fitzwilliam laughed and then muttered under his breath. He did not say anything more and Lizzy was indeed confused until Darcy added to the confusion by stepping forward, from where he had been standing near the window, no doubt embarrassed by the general conversation of the room, and he made a bow to Kitty.
"My congratulations, Miss Catherine."
"Thank you, Mr Darcy."
Lizzy could not conceive of what Darcy could be congratulating her sister for and she stood involuntarily and exclaimed, "Darcy?"
"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 Lord Ashbourne.
"An engagement? Kitty, is this true? Mr Bennet?" Lizzy was glad for her mother's bewilderment because it covered her own.
Her father 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!"
That indicated that it was not a surprise to her father. Suddenly his invention of a sonata for Mary made more sense.
There was no eruption from Mrs Bennet, who seemed incapable of saying a word and Lady Lucas seemed equally bereft of words, but Lizzy suspected that her difficulties came from a different source.
Charlotte, gave Lizzy a little smile and nod before she congratulated Kitty and Lord Ashbourne, which begun the general well wishing. Lizzy said something, but she hardly knew what. Bingley's joy was rapturous, so much so that Lizzy could not discern whether Jane shared her husband's feelings.
"You shall be wishing to be a little family party, shall you not?" said Lady Lucas standing precipitously.
That began the general exodus; Lizzy wanted to catch Jane before she left, but Bingley was so all encompassing in his happiness and his insistence they should all go back to Netherfield together to have a toast. Lizzy almost lost patience with him, and quite forgot about farewelling Darcy, or indeed asking him what his thoughts were on his cousin's engagement.
"Rogers, we should open some of that champagne I bought in Devon," said Bingley as they arrived at Netherfield.
"You did not offer me champagne upon my engagement!" exclaimed Darcy, wondering why Bingley was so effervescent. He could only assume Mrs Bingley had truly worried about her sister.
"Why did you buy champagne in Devon?" said Ash, handing his hat to a footman.
The answer involved an improvised merchant and Bingley's kind nature enhanced by his wife's. Darcy could not imagine the champagne was of any quality.
"Why are you exposing your folly to Lord Ashbourne?" called Miss Bingley as they entered the drawing room.
"Folly!" said Bingley laughingly. "I will not have you say such a thing. And Caroline, it is in honour of the best kind of news."
Darcy doubted Miss Bingley would think it was the best kind of news. Indeed, Miss Bingley looked apprehensive.
"Lord Ashbourne is engaged!"
"Engaged? Congratulations, your lordship. Who is the lucky young lady? She should be congratulated twice over." Miss Bingley's tone was steady.
"Miss Bennet!" replied Bingley, clearly not intending to allow anyone but himself speak. Darcy saw that Mrs Bingley was giving him a small reproving look. "Kitty, to be more precise."
"Oh! Miss Catherine, well..." Miss Bingley stood with a smile that did not quite reach her eyes. "I suppose that was inevitable."
"Really, Miss Bingley?" Ash was finally allowed to speak.
"Indeed, you showed her such attention, it can hardly be a surprise."
Miss Bingley had clearly become adept at reacting to the engagements of the Bennet sisters. When one compared her reaction to Bingley and Mrs Bingley's engagement, to his and Elizabeth's, and now Ash's and Miss Catherine's, one did see that she had seen the sense in civility.
"We wish you every joy, " said Mrs Hurst, though her glances at Miss Bingley underscored her words.
Ash inclined his head.
"We should see to dinner, Louisa," said Miss Bingley, rising, and there was no mention of that being Mrs Bingley's task.
"They took that better than expected," said Darcy in a low tone to his cousins.
Freddie snorted, "They will be exchanging sharp words now. But let us not think of such things and have some of Bingley's champagne."
It was decidedly subpar, but Darcy forbore to mention it to his host.
"I am so delighted, Darcy. Your words must have had the desired effect."
"Indeed they did not, Bingley; my cousin had determined to propose long before you spoke to me."
Bingley looked surprised. "And I never noticed!"
"As my cousin is not a beautiful blonde of the female persuasion who now carries your name, I am unsurprised."
"You will understand soon enough Darcy!"
"I hope for the sake of my tenants, I will not be as besotted as you to ignore everything under your nose."
"Your cousin is not as transparent as you might think!" retorted Bingley.
"I grant you that the workings of his mind remain a mystery to most, but his intentions were entirely clear. It can only be the haze of love and your temperaments that blinded your wife and yourself."
Bingley shook his head but did not argue.
Lizzy knocked on her father's door. "Papa?"
"Surely you do not have another young man coming to speak to me!" Her father was sitting by the fire with a book.
Lizzy crossed the room to sit opposite him. "No, I am quite happy with one young man. But I did wish to talk to you about young men, well, a certain young man."
"Jealous of your sister, Lizzy? Do you wish to swap?"
Lizzy felt her heart sink with her father's flippant tone.
"I am very happy with Mr Darcy. Do you think Kitty will be very happy with Lord Ashbourne?"
Mr Bennet closed his book. "Of course she shall! Did you not hear your Mama once she had regained her wits? The jewels! The dresses! The pin money! The carriages! The rather alarming feather headdress your mother seems to think is necessary for Kitty to be presented to court in. How could any young lady not be very happy? She certainly had the same reaction to your engagement, and we have already established you will be very happy."
"Papa, do be serious. Do you think Lord Ashbourne will make her a good husband?"
"He has money and sense, though perhaps not as much as he should if he thinks taking one of my daughters is a good bargain!" laughed Mr Bennet. "She could do far worse! Her sister almost did."
"But his character, his compatibility with Kitty?"
"I dare say they will suit well enough," Mr Bennet was uninterested in the conversation and wished to return to his book. Lizzy could tell by the way he was stroking the spine. She would not oblige him however.
"Do you think he felt himself duty-bound to offer for Kitty?"
Her father looked at her sharply. "Do you suspect some impropriety?" Then he looked a little merry. "When a young man pays a great deal of attention to a pretty young lady, no doubt there is a point when he feels he cannot draw back. I suspect Lord Ashbourne found himself at that point many weeks ago. His friends certainly will have influenced him. All these engagements! How is a man to resist!"
He then waved Lizzy away, leaving her feeling no more composed than when she had entered the room.
She was no more composed in the morning; she had avoided speaking to Kitty until she had spoken to their father, but as he had not soothed her fears. His levity at the breakfast table made her heart sink. He had clearly questioned Mr Darcy closely before agreeing to the engagement, but it did not sound as if he had done so to Lord Ashbourne. Her father had seen a rich young man and his daughter was not averse, so why inquire further?
Lizzy suddenly felt the danger of her father having favourites amongst his children.
Jane and Miss Darcy visited them, and Lizzy was thankful that Miss Darcy took Kitty off to walk so she could talk with Jane.
"How did his lordship seem, Jane?"
"He seemed very happy. Caroline and Louisa took the news well, I thought. I was apprehensive that ... "
"What do we care for Miss Bingley and her sister!" said Lizzy, refusing to be sidetracked. "It does not sound at all as if Papa has questioned him."
"Why should he? You cannot suspect Lord Ashbourne of misrepresenting his situation! I do not think Kitty would care if he had!"
"That is why our father should not fail in his duty! He was more surprised at Darcy's proposing! When they have known each other such a comparatively short time and shown no interest in sharing their connection publically."
"Should they? I should have preferred to begin my acquaintance with Charles outside of the public eye. And is it really such a surprise? Really Lizzy, you speak very stridently."
"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."
"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."
Her father seemed, the night before, to assume that such a fate might befall Kitty.
"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 beginning to listen to herself and wonder what she was saying. Was it truly that she worried about Kitty, or was she using Kitty's situation to avoid her own fear of an unequal marriage?
She loved Darcy and he loved her, but there was so much they did not know about each other. Charlotte was correct that so much of marriage was up to chance. The chance that something could upset Kitty's and her own seemed much higher to Lizzy, and she did not wish her sister to be surprised.
"I am grateful to hear what you think of me." Kitty rounded a hedge, the colour high in her cheeks and Lizzy knew she had heard a great deal of their conversation and her heart sunk.
Part Nineteen (Chapter 27)
Posted on 2013-09-01
Lizzy would not have hurt her sister for the world, but that was what she had done. Her foolish pride had not been vanquished. If only she had spoken to her sister! A tiny voice remarked that Kitty could have just as easily confided in her. That was true, although Lizzy was the elder and had never invited confidences.
But it did not change the fact that Lizzy should not have spoken so intemperately to Jane. She should have examined her sister and Lord Ashbourne, and she should not have shied away from talking to Darcy about her concerns.
It did stem from an insecurity of her own position going forward as mistress of Pemberley, and her lack of trust in her own perception. It seemed incredible that she had been wrong about yet another thing, so she had tried to fit the evidence to match. It was just as possible that Lord Ashbourne had fallen in love with Kitty as Darcy had done so with her.
Although Lizzy did not berate herself over considering the equal possibility that such a marriage might not be beneficial to either party, just as she worried that her chance of happiness in marriage was just as precarious.
"Miss Bennet," Georgiana recalled her to her surroundings and Lizzy winced at Georgiana's formality.
Jane looked as if she would go after Kitty, but Lizzy shook her head. Kitty would require some time, and she always blotched when she cried and hated how she looked. She would not welcome Jane's attentions straight away; Lizzy knew that much about her little sister, even if she knew nothing else.
"Miss Bennet," Georgiana began again. "I cannot understand..." the girl faltered and looked much distressed, which made Lizzy's heart sink again. "... why you should say such a thing about my cousin and your sister. It is not true. Even before I came to Netherfield, I knew Ash was contemplating marriage. He wrote so warmly you see, and I charged him with it when I arrived. He did not deny it, and I was brought to believe that it was your sister who did not return his feelings."
Jane made a surprised sound, and Lizzy tried not to let a laugh escape her. She saw that that would be fatal to retaining any of Georgiana's respect. But it was too comical. No one who had seen Kitty could possibly doubt her affection. Whether it was the kind that could last ... well no one, not even Lizzy could judge that.
"I think he waited because he respects and loves your sister and would not wish her to make an error in judgement."
Georgiana sounded wiser than her years, even if her words were spoken so softly. Lizzy knew that Darcy worried about the effect of Ramsgate, but if this understanding had grown out of it, then she did not think Darcy should be worried.
"Georgiana.... I, " Lizzy paused. She did not know what to say. She should not explain herself to Georgiana before she attempted to explain herself to Kitty!
The voice she both did and didn't want to hear. Lizzy had walked over to skulk in the rose garden after she had failed so miserably to reassure her new sister.
"Darcy," she tried to infuse her voice with lightness.
"I spoke to Kitty."
Lizzy's heart sank. "Oh Fitzwilliam!"
Of all the thinks she expected Darcy to do, holding his arms out to her was the one she most hoped for and least expected. But she did not deny her good luck and cast herself into his arms.
"This is exactly what I judged my sister for!"
"I believe this is exactly what I judged your sister for," replied Darcy drily.
"No wonder we are marrying," replied Lizzy.
Darcy took her by the shoulders and pulled her away so he could look into her eyes, even though Lizzy didn't quite want to look at him.
"I think we need to talk."
"I do love you, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy, even if I have a very odd way of showing it."
"By overestimating my powers?"
"Overestimate? Or misattribute?"
"Both. My cousin wants to marry your sister. He is in love with your sister. I in no way interfered with their relationship. Not to support it (not that I do not!) nor to hinder it. You do not need to worry about your sister. Except for the fact she has execrable taste in men."
Lizzy laughed. "Georgiana made it quite clear you had no involvement and that Lord Ashbourne acted entirely under his own aegis. I hope you are not serious about your cousin being a poor choice. I want my sister to be happy."
"She will be, just as happy as we are."
Lizzy bit her lip.
"You do not think we will be happy?"
"We are very poor communicators. That has been made abundantly clear. I cannot tell what you are thinking, and I confess part of me prefers that - the Mr Bingley's of this world are not for me - but ..."
Darcy took her by the arm and led her further into the rose garden.
"Elizabeth, I realise that our relationship has been punctuated by misunderstandings, but you make me alive. You make me realise my faults and, more than that, make me want to fix them."
Lizzy couldn't speak past the lump in her throat. Could she say the same thing? That he made her a better person?
"It is all right if you cannot say the same thing, Elizabeth."
"I think I have not been honest with you. I have so many worries and I am afraid I think too much of my own opinion to trust others. I trust you, I do, but my head has not caught up with my heart."
"I am willing to wait for that, Elizabeth Bennet, because we are going to grow together, and we are going to talk."
Lizzy couldn't help the smile spreading across her face.
"Do you wish me to reassure you about Lord Ashbourne?"
Lizzy shook her head. "I think I should hear my sister's account of her fiancé first. Do you not think?"
"I think that is a wise idea, Mrs Darcy."
"Not quite yet, but I like hearing it."
Kitty was nowhere to be seen; Lizzy had expected that after dinner she would be able to pull her sister aside. However, Kitty had taken her dinner with Mrs Bennet. Their mother's nerves were still strung tight from the fact she was going to be mother to a viscountess, and to Mrs Darcy of Pemberly as well as Mrs Bingley of Netherfield. However apart from brief moments of exploding with her happiness, Mrs Bennet had been rather subdued as if so much good news had overloaded her mind.
Lizzy knew that Kitty would go straight from their mother's rooms to her own and Mary would guard the door. Kitty must have told Mary what had happened because Lizzy had been on the end of Mary's disapproving looks and had had a series of choice passages quoted to her over dinner. Neither Mr Bennet nor Lydia had picked up on the subtext but that was not surprising.
Mary lingered over the pianoforte so Lizzy attacked and crossed her fingers that Georgiana would forgive Lizzy's misappropriation of some sheet music she'd left at Longbourn.
"Mary, I have here the newest sheet music from London. I will let you have it, if you will not interrupt my conversation with Kitty." She held the pages slightly out of Mary's reach. "I shall not give them to you until you promise. Georgiana heard the pieces played at a London concert and told me they were the most sublime pieces she had never heard."
Mary closed the pianoforte. "Well, it rather depends on what you are going to say to Kitty."
"I shall beg her pardon."
"I promise then, but I cannot understand how you came to such a conclusion about Kitty and Lord Ashbourne."
"You did not think them serious either, Mary."
"You said it would embarrass me to hear what they spoke of?"
"Because it would have made you blush and, depending on your tolerance of romance, perhaps quite ill. Also, if we may speak plainly, I think your own self importance has blinded you."
That made Lizzy flinch because it was the truth. "Not just my own self importance. My petty fears."
Mary sniffed. "Not petty."
Lizzy couldn't stop her laugh. "Now I feel much better!"
"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 was sitting at her dresser playing with her hair. She looked both absurdly youthful and grownup at the same time.
"Kitty, I am so sorry." Lizzy went to sit on Mary's bed and folded her hands in her lap.
"Is that all I am to expect?" replied Kitty, her tone was harder than Lizzy had heard from her.
"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. Please come and sit next to me, Kitty."
Lizzy was a little surprised that Kitty responded to her outstretched hand, but her stiffness when she did sit next to her said everything.
"I know you are aware of Darcy's first proposal to me, but I cannot think you know the details."
She found it difficult to describe her interactions with Darcy and what led to the proposal. Kitty's eyes widened and widened. Her very face showed Lizzy that nothing in her interactions with Lord Ashbourne had ever led her to believe he disapproved of her family or felt her to be less than him. She could not deny a spark of jealousy.
As Lizzy continued trying to untangle her thoughts and how she had lead herself to the conclusions, she found herself becoming embarrassed. Kitty was so kind and so insightful that Lizzy found herself feeling even worse. She even ended up confessing her worry about the London ton.
"But surely we shall face whatever London might say, and confess you don't mean London but Mr Darcy's relations, together?" Kitty arched an eyebrow at her.
"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."
Now it was Lizzy's turn to widen her eyes. Why had she never heard of this? "But his second wife..."
"Yes, the daughter of a Duke, so they will be trusting that Mr Darcy and Ash make better second choices."
How could Kitty say such a thing! It was almost something she would say and it was that thought that made Lizzy burst into laughter. Lizzy never could say something so flippant about such a serious subject to Jane, or Mary, and it would be pointless to even consider Lydia. She'd always thought it would just be her father who would enter into her sense of the ridiculous. But she'd overlooked Kitty.
" 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."
The air was chilly, so Lizzy shepherded Kitty under the covers.
"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."
She discovered that her new brother sounded very different from whom she expected. She had teased Jane about Bingley being so very blind, but it turned out she should have been teasing herself!
"And then he laid them out flat and I was so ashamed, and never tell Lydia, but she is very right about ...well ...his...attributes."
Lizzy certainly had to re-evaluate her opinion of Lord Ashbourne's physique and what he could do with it, but Kitty's love was not superficial and while Lizzy could never judge whether herself or any of her sisters would be happy in their marriages, at least Kitty was starting hers from a strong position, as she hoped she was.
Part Twenty (Chapter 28)
Posted on 2013-09-07
Kitty had not just spoken of her man, Lizzy had found herself opening up, and they ended up giggling about the latest fashions. They must have fallen asleep and Lizzy must have walked in her sleep because she woke up, in Kitty's bed, to Mary speaking shrilly.
"Does he bring the Earl and Countess?"
"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."
Lizzy didn't believe her sister, and Kitty and she shared a look.
"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 wondered if the Earl and Countess had spoken to Lady Catherine. It would certainly be an interesting picture of her that would emerge from the combination of Lady Catherine's, Georgiana's and Darcy's accounts of her. Perhaps even Miss De Bourgh and Colonel Fitzwilliam had added their own perspectives. Lizzy had no idea what that image would even look like. Would she recognise herself?
At breakfast Lizzy allowed Kitty to share the news with their mother.
"Are you sure you do not wish to tell Mama?"
"I am quite sure; it is your note, Kitty." Lizzy spread some butter on her bread.
"But you are the elder ..."
Lizzy ignored the doe eyes. "Oh, I couldn't possibly."
"Will you girls tell me what is happening before my nerves are torn to shreds?" Mrs Bennet put down her kippers with some force.
"Mama, Ash is bringing Lord and Lady Matlock this morning, to pay their respects."
"Lord and Lady Matlock ... today? But ... fish ... cake ... tea!" Mrs Bennet clutched her handkerchief and looked bewildered. She was also a strange puce colour.
"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!"
Lydia had a particular talent in bringing the conversation to a new level of ridiculousness. However, it did stop their mother's apoplexy.
"Next year?! Lydia, what nonsense. Lord Ashbourne does not need to have the banns read, he may get a special licence if he so chose. 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?"
Lizzy restrained from rolling her eyes; her mother meant well, and if Lizzy wasn't sure the reason that her mother wanted the special licence was so she could boast to the neighbours, she would have no objections to marrying Darcy earlier.
"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."
"Oh, yes, Mr Collins! I am sure he will know being a clergyman. And I am sure I have not had the chance to receive his compliments on my girls. To think one of you could have married him. I mean, if only he wasn't stealing Longbourn, but I think you girls will be much better off where you are."
"Why has he not gone away?" said Lydia, saying once again something Lizzy wouldn't say herself but would think and then judge her sister for it. She should work on that, with Darcy's support.
"They were to leave yesterday," said Mary, "But Mr Collins had a spasm."
Of course he had a spasm, thought Lizzy. She would have had a spasm too if she was Lady Catherine's parson.
"He does not want to tell Lady Catherine both of her nephews are engaged," said Lydia unfortunately reminding their mother that she was expecting Lord and Lady Matlock.
Lizzy made good her escape but could not decide upon what to wear. She did not know what she wanted to wear! She wished to make a good impression because these were the relatives of Darcy, not because of their rank. Normally she would not care, but Mrs Darcy of Pemberley had to care. She did not just reflect herself. But nor did she wish to become someone she was not!
"None of this has enough lace, nor is it the latest fashion."
Lydia stood in the doorway assessing the dresses laying all over the bed.
"Thank you, Lydia." Normally she would have fused the thanks with sarcasm, but it was possible that her sister was attempting to be nice.
"I do not think you should thank me for pointing out your shortcomings. Mrs Darcy of Pemberley cannot be so unfashionable. I am sure Lord and Lady Matlock are very fashionable, and if you dress your hair in that way ..." Lydia screwed up her nose and waved her hand over Lizzy's person.
"I take back my thanks."
"No, but Lizzy, I am here to make sure you make the right decisions."
Lydia then picked out a gown then bullied Lizzy into putting it on, and then attacked her hair. Lizzy closed her eyes but when extorted to open her eyes she could not believe the result.
"Lydia! Your hours spent pouring over magazines and through shop windows have been well spent."
Lydia didn't look surprised, she had more of a pitying look on her face for Lizzy's lack of intelligence.
"Thank you, Lydia."
"Well, you do need help, Lizzy, after all you are no longer marrying the richest man, and when Kitty introduces me to a Duke you will have to go after both Kitty and me!"
With that Lydia swept out of the room, leaving Lizzy to her thoughts until Kitty arrived.
"Oh, Lizzy, how pretty you look!"
"Come, Kitty, we must be united ..." Lizzy led her sister to the dresser so she could attempt to perform the same miracle as Lydia had just done, although it was hardly necessary to do so, as Kitty had spent hours perfecting the dressing of hair, as she had with trimming bonnets.
"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. It was true, Lizzy had every faith that if she could deal with Lady Catherine she could deal with anything else thrown her way. Kitty however had not had a courtship peppered with insults. Lizzy must hope that Lord Ashbourne knew how to protect his bride if she could not protect herself.
Perhaps Lizzy should not have worried as it was Kitty who dealth with their mother's fidgets better and just sat quietly.
"No, Lizzy, you cannot look as if you do things, what would their lordships and ladyship think?"
"Mama, we should not pretend ..."
"Pretend?! Pretend! My daughters are gentlewomen who do not have to work, they sit calmly and serenely. Oh, why was Jane married first, she would show you how to do it properly."
"We could read, Mama," said Lydia after about ten minutes of them sitting quietly (Mary was allowed to play the pianoforte as that was a talent rather than labour). Once again Lizzy told herself she should never think herself above her sisters since they were so often in charity with her.
"I do not wish them to think my daughters bluestockings!"
Lizzy took a deep breath ready to do battle again but her speech was cut off by Kitty pinching her and giving her a quelling look. Acceptance was the better part of valour so Lizzy subsided.
After what felt like an age, the parlour door opened.
"Lady Matlock, ma'am," said Hill bobbing nervously, as they all rose to greet their visitor.
Lord Ashbourne had made no mention of Darcy in his note so Lizzy did not know why her first instinct was to look for him. But it was only Lady Matlock; she was not even accompanied by her son.
She looked to Lizzy like the daughter of a duke. She was tall and commanded attention. Lizzy was a little reminded of Aunt Gardiner except for the confection perched on top of her head. It did not have the dead birds her sister-in-law was so fond of but it had a great deal of feathers. The feathers were the second thing one took in about her appearance (after the stately carriage) and Lizzy found it impossible to look away.
"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! How happy I am to meet you both. So very delighted." Lady Matlock did indeed seem delighted and instead of merely nodding her head (or perhaps she could not with the hat?) or curtseying like Lizzy was sure Miss Bingley and others of her ilk would do, the Countess of Matlock bore down upon them and crushed them in an embrace. Clearly she preferred her daughter-in-law because Kitty did not get poked in the eye with a feather.
"Are you not as happy as I am Mrs Bennet? I was quite sure they would never marry!" Lady Matlock released them and sat down clutching her reticule.
Nothing better could be said that was more likely to make Mrs Bennet more amenable. Not that she was likely to take an aversion to a countess whose son was marrying her daughter.
"Oh, yes ... I have five daughters, your ladyship."
"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.
"Mr Darcy is the best of men, Lady Matlock," said Lizzy, refusing to be flippant.
"And my son, Miss Catherine?"
"He certainly thinks he is the best of men," said Kitty who was clearly not afraid to be flippant.
"Kitty!" exclaimed Mrs Bennet, but Lady Matlock laughed.
Any further conversation was cut off by an older gentleman almost staggering into the room looking very aggrieved. "No, do not introduce me, I am sure you have better things to do! Harriet!"
He had the look of Colonel Fitzwilliam about him and he was certainly less handsome than two of his sons, who clearly took after their mothers. Lord Matlock was certainly not a nobleman who thought a great deal of his clothing and Lizzy wondered if Lord Ashbourne had set himself deliberately up in opposition in the fashion sphere.
"Edwin, the ladies will be thinking you very odd," Lady Matlock scolded.
"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!" Darcy entered the room unannounced and Lizzy was glad for it because she was trying to stifle her laughter. She did not know why she had worried. No, she did and she had been right to, she could not have known that Darcy's relations were not quite as stiff-rumped as himself.
Darcy looked ruffled and his breeches were quite stained and he looked just as lost for words as he had been when he had come across her and the Gardiners at Pemberley. At any moment Lizzy thought he would start to tug at his curls. .
"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." Lord Ashbourne however did not look ruffled or stained, in fact he looked as if nothing strange had occurred. How could anyone tell what this man thought if he did not choose to let you see it? She hoped he would unbend to her soon so she could see the real man to whom both her sister and her fiancé looked up so much.
"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 had staggered into the room to be sure but Lizzy would not call it an infirmity.
Lizzy blushed for her mother who sincerely offered her sympathy to his lordship, and then began to talk of her own nerves. She was astonished, and chastened, to see that Lord Matlock seemed entirely happy to hear about nerves and palpitations. He was after all Lady Catherine's brother. He was most likely injured to any form of conversation that needed no partner.
"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 Lizzy found herself shepherded outside hoping that Lydia would not choose to entertain Darcy. She was not quite sure Darcy could deal with a request for an introduction to a Duke with equanimity or would quite know how to turn the conversation.
"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."
"You should not believe anything your son says about me." Lizzy was surprised by this until she realised Kitty meant Mr Fitzwilliam. How could she ever have thought Mr Fitzwilliam and Kitty had tender feelings for one another? They were far too much like brother and sister.
"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 soliticious 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 Lizz trying not to sound bitter or as if she were fishing for a compliment.
She got a compliment, or what sounded like one, anyway. "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."
Their tete-a-tete was interrupted by Lord Ashbourne. "I am afraid, Mama, you have monopolised Kitty long enough. You will have the rest of your life to do so."
Lizzy was left with Lady Matlock.
"You must not let Darcy hide you away at Pemberley," said Lady Matlock.
"I found Pemberley delightful and I am not marrying Darcy for the delights of London."
"I am very glad you are not, my dear, because Darcy does prefer the countryside, no matter what he says about confined society. So ridiculous for a man who quite dislikes a crowd of people, but men are often contradictory."
Lizzy covered her mouth.
"You may laugh at me; I do hope you will laugh at my nephew."
"I think you may count on that, my lady."
Lady Matlock made a 'hmmm' sound. "No, you must come to London. Your sister, I understand is not a delicate flower and is quite capable of defending herself, but she is marrying a very eligible parti and is very young. You, my nephew made it quite clear, are very determined. The two of you in London and it will be like the Gunn sisters."
Lizzy was touched at how protective the countess sounded towards Kitty. "I believe there were only two Gunn sisters, whereas there are five of us Bennets."
"Yes, and I expect you will all make very success marriages and the ton will ask 'Gunn who?'"
"Lydia, my youngest, does wish to marry a Duke," mused Lizzy.
"Well then. You will insist your husband does his family duty in London when the season comes around. He will not realise that hiding in the country would give such an ill impression. And if you have any concerns you needn't have. Lady Catherine does not speak for our family and anyone that should disapprove needn't be thought of."
Lizzy saw Darcy crossing the lawn towards them and smiled. "I have been very faulty in my judgements this year, ma'am and I should very much like to test them upon a wider variety of people in town. So those that disapprove shall merely amuse me, and between us we may protect my sister, if she needs it, but I have been learning not to discount her."
"No, the young lady who can wrap my son around her finger is probably best not discounted." They watched as the happy couple walked arm in arm.
"Aunt, my uncle wishes for your presence."
"Yes, I am sure he most certainly has had enough of my mother's megrims, unless he is a saint," said Lizzy.
"He is most certainly not a saint," Lady Matlock sallied forth to rescue her husband.
Darcy offered her his arm. "Are you pleased I have relations I should not blush over?"
Lizzy smiled. "I think we shall be friends."
"You shall be more than friends, Lizzy, my family takes family very seriously."
"I am unsurprised. I cannot think of a subject you would not take seriously."
"Greek. I never took Greek very seriously."
Lizzy laughed and looked up at her husband-to-be. "Admirable response, Mr Darcy."
"I have been learning levity. My dearest Elizabeth, I have a very good tutor."
"I hope you will engage her for a very long time."
"The rest of my life I hope."
"Under very good terms?"
"Others would think them very poor terms, since I am such a slow-witted learner."
Lizzy threaded her hand through his. "Well, if the terms were sweetened by your offering to tutor her out of her faults then I cannot see why such a bargain could not be struck."
"I am very glad to hear you say that, Elizabeth."
Lizzy tipped her head up for a kiss and thought herself much contented.
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