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The Road Back - Chapters 19-21

January 03, 2015 01:56AM
Chapter 19

Saturday, January 30, 1813 – Royal Navy Dockyard, Portsmouth

The peculiar smell and sounds of the sea became sharper as the Darcy carriage swept through the gates of the Navy Dockyard and onto the dock. Screaming seagulls mingled with the sound of waves. slapping against the dock and the unique smell of seaweed. A stiff breeze was blowing as evidenced by the straining hawsers of anchored ships and whitecaps dancing on the surface of the Solent. A steady stream of lighters were still ferrying men out to their ships in a frantic race to take advantage of a rising tide and a favourable wind.

As Darcy alighted from his carriage, he could see the Matlock family some distance down the wharf. After helping Georgiana to step down, they walked rapidly towards them. The Colonel was standing in their midst and looked up as Darcy and Georgiana neared.

“I was beginning to worry you would not make it.”

“We would definitely not miss saying our farewells, Richard!” Replied Darcy.

“Oh Richard” cried Georgiana hugging her cousin and trying to control her watery eyes, “you must come back.”

“I certainly plan to do so, Georgie. I have to dance at your coming out, you know!”

A naval Lieutenant walked up to the Colonel, saluted and informed him that the skiff transporting him out to his ship was waiting for him to board. The Colonel said his final good-byes to his family and began to follow the Lieutenant. Darcy seized the opportunity to walk alongside and quickly murmured. “I thought I should tell you that I met Miss Elizabeth a couple of days ago. She has agreed to see me again but there are complications. This letter should explain it all. “ and Darcy passed his cousin a letter. “Read it later when you have time. She also asked me to extend her wishes for your safe return.”

The Colonel stopped, clapped Darcy on the shoulder saying, “excellent! That is good news. You have my best wishes.”

They reached the waiting skiff and Fitzwilliam descended and settled himself. He and several other officers were rowed swiftly to the waiting ship. Darcy rejoined the Matlock family, receiving a questioning glance from Lady Eleanor which he carefully pretended not to notice. They all waited and watched as one ship after another weighed anchor and headed out of the Solent, only turning to depart for London when Richard’s ship disappeared from view amongst a melee of sails.

The trip back to London was quiet, both Darcy and Georgiana thinking of Fitzwilliam’s departure which neither really wanted to discuss. Finally Darcy looked over at his sister and considered whether this was a good time to discuss his courtship with Elizabeth. It was not truly a private setting but the noise of the wheels on the road surface should mask their conversation quite effectively, provided they did not speak too loudly. He leaned forward and looked at his sister, “Georgiana, I have some news for you. Do you remember my talking about Miss Elizabeth Bennet last summer?”

Georgiana looked up in some surprise, “I remember quite well, Brother. You never talked about another woman so. It would be difficult to forget.”

“I met her again the other night. She was also a guest at the dinner. We spoke and she was much changed towards me. I was encouraged enough to ask to call on her the next day. There were some issues between us that I thought we had to resolve. She agreed to meet me. We talked for hours and I will be seeing her once again on Monday.”

Georgiana literally bounced on her seat, “did you propose again, Brother?”

“No, she needs to know me better first.” He paused, and gathering his courage, began again, “There is a major problem we face, Georgiana.”

At her look of surprise, he said, “Yes, well…..it seems her youngest sister ran off with Wickham last summer, was taken by him to London and then deserted. Her family has not been able to recover her.”

Georgiana’s face paled, “Wickham?”

"Yes and to make matters worse, I paid him to leave the country last fall. He is now somewhere in the Americas. I did not know at the time that Miss Elizabeth’s sister was involved.”

“But will you be able to help them?”

I do not know. I will try.” He looked at Georgiana. Obviously the implications of Miss Lydia’s behaviour had not occurred to her. He would have to explain. “Georgiana, this is quite serious. Miss Lydia and Wickham lived together as man and wife but were never married. Now he has deserted her and her virtue, her reputation are lost. Her family in Hertfordshire are being shunned by their neighbours and Miss Elizabeth and her elder sister have come to London to escape the censure.”

“I am not sure I fully understand what you are saying. How does this bear on us?”

“If I offer for Miss Bennet, or even publicly court her, many people might believe that the stigma is also attached to the Darcy name, to you and I. If I were to marry her, her family would become my family and we also would face censure.”

“How can that be? Is not Miss Bennet a respectable young woman?”

“Indeed she is, but society will act as though her behaviour would be the same as her sister’s.”

“Do you think such, Brother?”

“No! Definitely not.” Darcy was emphatic on this point.”I have absolutely no doubts about Miss Elizabeth’s respectability. None! Nevertheless, the problem remains. I cannot court her as long as her sister is missing and unwed. Darcy proceeded to describe to his sister all the concerns that he faced. He wasn’t sure if she fully comprehended how this could affect her. The issue of her marriage prospects had to be addressed.

“Georgiana, there is one aspect of this that bears most heavily on you.”

“My prospects for a good marriage?”

“Yes. It would be foolish of me to ignore the fact that many families will not want to attach themselves to us if I were to marry Miss Elizabeth. There could be very eligible suitors amongst them who would otherwise be eager to attach themselves to the granddaughter of an Earl. As well, we are more likely to draw the attention of the more mercenary suitors who think us desperate to marry you off and who are attracted only to your dowry.”

“What is a good suitor, Brother?”

“As you probably have guessed, my opinion has changed quite a bit over the past months. Now I believe a good suitor to be one who is respectable, will treat you, and any children you have, with care and respect and will be able to provide you with a comfortable life such that your dowry is not an important consideration. I would hope for mutual esteem between you.”

Georgiana sat quietly thinking for several minutes. Darcy could not tell which way her thoughts were tending. Finally, she answered, “I have only lately begun to consider such matters and I find my opinion does not differ greatly from yours. I cannot envision spending thirty or forty years married to a man I do esteem. I would rather wait or not marry at all if such is my only choice.”

“Georgiana, I cannot undertake anything that would damage your opportunities for a good and happy marriage and the loss of all or some of our connections would greatly damage your opportunities.”

“I understand, Brother.” Replied Georgiana with a distinct shake of her head. “ When can I meet Miss Elizabeth? You know how much I want a sister.”

“I hope to introduce you to her in a few days. We may call on her at home. I know you will love her as much as I.”

The remainder of the carriage ride was spent desultory conversation. Both were tired from the morning travel and napped as possible.


Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam collapsed onto his bunk weary from checking the condition of his troops. The fact that he had just spent a half hour with his head hanging over a railing and casting his chips into the sea had a lot to do with his fatigue. At least it was better than where his men were quartered. The smell down there would induce nausea even if one was not seasick.

He remembered Darcy’s letter and retrieved from his greatcoat where he had stored it. Pouring himself a whiskey, he broke the seal and began to read,


I was fortunate to meet Miss Elizabeth Bennet at a dinner party the other night. She and her elder sister have come to London to live with their aunt and uncle. The meeting was a shock to us both but I was able to talk with her briefly at the party. She was most amiable and pleasant. I asked for and received permission to call on her the next day. We were afforded some privacy to try and resolve those issues that separated us. I think we did so. However, a new problem has arisen. Miss Elizabeth’s youngest sister, Lydia, eloped with Wickham last August. They obviously did not marry and I suspect Wickham deserted her when I paid him to go to the United States. Unless I can recover her, any attachment with Miss Elizabeth will exact a penalty. For myself, I am not concerned but I cannot form any attachment while her youngest sister is missing or while Georgiana is not married.

As you are also Georgiana’s guardian, I deemed it essential that you be made aware of the particulars of the situation. For Georgiana only, am I concerned.

I will continue to call on Miss Elizabeth, but discretely, hoping to avoid public attention. In the meantime I will be searching quite assiduously for Miss Lydia. I must ask a special favour which is that I would have you keep your parents unaware of my interest and dealings with Miss Elizabeth at this time.

I will apprise you of any new developments should such occur.

F. Darcy

Fitzwilliam groaned, "can nothing be simple between those two?” There was nothing he could do at the moment. He had more pressing problems, such as, did he have enough time to get to the railing again?

Chapter 20

Monday, February 1, 1813 – GracechuchGracechurch Street, London

Darcy had arrived shortly after dinner was completed and was requested by Mr. Gardiner to join him in his study almost immediately. He was confused as to the reason for the interview but could see that Mr. Gardiner did not appear unduly worried or concerned. After accepting a glass of port, he waited for his host to reveal the reason for their meeting. Finally Mr. Gardiner, with obvious reluctance, began,

“Mr. Darcy, you are I am sure wondering why I asked to speak with you tonight. To be very honest, Mrs. Gardiner and I are both aware of your interest in Elizabeth. From what we can determine based on your previous meetings, her interest may also be engaged.”

At this Darcy sat upright with a pleased smile and exclaimed, “Really? I had thought so but was not certain.”

“Oh yes and that is why we are concerned. For Elizabeth’s sake, her aunt and I must know your intentions. In normal circumstances, I would let matters develop at their own speed. However the circumstances are far from normal and I suspect that you are not in a position to attach yourself to Elizabeth. You have said nothing of your intentions so far but now Mrs. Gardiner and I must know for Elizabeth’s protection. “

Darcy sighed. He had expected this moment to arise but had delayed it in the hope that he might find Lydia first. “Mr. Gardiner, you are quite within your rights to demand to know my intentions in this case. I would do exactly the same under such circumstances. Let me assure you that my intentions are honourable. I hope to make Miss Elizabeth my wife. But I cannot offer for her until my sister is married. My duty to her as her brother and guardian precludes it. The impact on the Darcy reputation of marrying Miss Elizabeth right now, is only relevant to me insofar as it damages my sister’s ability to make a suitable marriage. The loss of connections that most probably will occur could dissuade some eligible suitors for her hand; however, I am not prepared to wait indefinitely for my sister to marry. If she is not married by the end of the season next year, I will be proposing to Miss Elizabeth. I only hope that she has not accepted another offer in the interim. If my sister marries earlier, I will be making my offer sooner. Sir, you can be assured there will be an offer unless Miss Elizabeth decides against me beforehand. You can appreciate my reluctance to speak of this to Miss Elizabeth. I do not want her to feel obligated to me should she receive another offer.”

Mr. Gardiner considered the young man sitting in front of him. He had grown to quite like him and thought him an excellent match for Elizabeth. He made a decision, “I would like to invite Elizabeth to join our discussion. She is a sensible girl and I think would understand your position quite well.”

Darcy was not sure that he completely agreed with the idea of inviting Elizabeth to join the discussion but her uncle probably knew her much better than he did. He nodded his head in acquiescence and Mr. Gardiner left to get Elizabeth. Returning only seconds later, he bade her sit beside Darcy and seating himself once again, considered them both.

“Lizzy, I asked to speak to Mr. Darcy this evening to determine his intentions to you. Your aunt and I became concerned because it was quite obvious to us last Saturday evening that your affections had become engaged. Mr. Darcy has made it clear to me tonight that it is only his duty as his sister’s brother and guardian prevent him from making an offer for you. “

Seeing Elizabeth about to burst into tears and leave the room, he quickly circled his desk and placed a hand on her shoulder. “Please child, let me finish.”

Returning to his seat and, noting the handkerchief being handed to her by Darcy along with a murmured comment which caused her to glance at him quickly, he smiled and continued,

“Now before I was so rudely interrupted, Mr. Darcy also was quite firm that he would be making an offer following his sister’s first season which will be next year regardless of whether she is married or not. “

At this Elizabeth turned to look at Darcy. Her mouth worked but only a squeak was uttered. Darcy looked at Mr. Gardiner and, smiling, said, “That is odd, I have never seen her bereft of speech before. Does this happen often?”

Not waiting for answer, he continued in a more serious vein. “Miss Elizabeth, I will not ask you for a commitment. It would not be fair to ask you to wait for over a year until I consider myself free to make an offer. But be assured of this. If you are unattached and have not sent me away, I will make that offer next June."

Mr. Gardiner looked at Elizabeth, "Do you want to say anything, Lizzy?" Her shake of the head he accepted and then suggested they join the others in the drawing room. As Elizabeth left the room she stopped and glanced up at Darcy with a somewhat confused expression, "You are very certain of this?" Her struggles to accept that he was willing to pursue her despite her circumstances was difficult to accept. His need to protect his sister she could well understand but for him to be prepared to put aside all other considerations and court her was not something her mind could readily accept right now.

"I am very certain, Miss Elizabeth! Now shall we join the others?"

"I admit I am having a great deal of trouble comprehending."

"Miss Elizabeth, perhaps we should join the others. If we can find a somewhat private spot, I will attempt to explain."

However, when they entered the room their attention was immediately sought by the others and no opportunity was created for them to converse privately for the rest of the evening. When it was time for Darcy to leave, Elizabeth saw him to the door and expressed her regret that they could not talk privately. Darcy simply shook his head and murmured, "We shall have other opportunities to do so. Be assured that you will see me most regularly and my chief fear is that you may grow quite tired of me."

" I think, sir, that I might enjoy trying to get tired of you."

Elizabeth could observe a small grin on his face as he bowed over her hand and took his leave.

Wednesday, February 3, 1813 – Darcy House, London

A discrete rap on his study door captured Darcy’s attention. Hodgkins entered bearing the day’s post and a very thick letter was handed to Darcy. Breaking the seal, he quickly determined it was from Lord _____ and contained the asked particulars of the homes for distressed women. “I did not realize there were so many. Obviously this problem is much greater than most of us realize.” It was too late to visit any homes today. He would start tomorrow after noon. He would have to carry out the visits himself to preserve secrecy. Given the number of homes, he thought it could easily take a fortnight to visit them all.

His visit to Mrs. Young had not proven particularly productive. She had had little contact with Wickham after Ramsgate other than to hold his letters until such time as he retrieved them. Darcy had inquired as to Wickham’s favourite brothels. Here Mrs. Younge had been more helpful and one of the places listed, Mrs. James, had been where Wickham left Lydia. Mrs. James asserted that Lydia had left her establishment the same day and she had heard or seen nothing of the girl since then. Darcy had no reason to doubt her words. The offer of £50 would have induced Mrs. James to release Miss Lydia if she were there at all.

Friday, February 5, 1813 – Gracechurch Street, London

Captain Amos Stovall arrived at Gracechurch Street with a purpose in mind. During his trip down to Portsmouth on Monday he had determined to ask Jane to marry him. He was sure of his affections and she had, it seemed to him, to have given him assurances of hers. He had been impatient to return to London and had forced himself to deal with the problems attending the repairs to his ship. Fortunately, work seemed to be proceeding apace and it was with a real eagerness that he had returned to London. Only the self-control and forethought that had enabled him to reach the rank of Captain, made him aware that the day was late by the time he had arrived and that he was in sad need of a bath and clean clothes.

He had sent a note to Mrs. Gardiner advising on his return and intention to visit that afternoon at three. He then headed to Bond Street to visit a jewellers shop to select an appropriate ring. Now, armed with intent and ring, he was ushered into the drawing room where Mrs. Gardiner and Jane and Elizabeth were receiving calls. Unfortunately for Captain Stovall, there were two other callers when he arrived. One, a young gentleman calling on Elizabeth and the other a very genteel looking woman about Mrs. Gardiners age who, from the conversation, appeared to be a familiar acquaintance.

Captain Stovall forced himself to be patient. It was with some amusement that he considered the young man who was being attentive to Elizabeth. From his conversation he appeared to a clerk in a local company and thought well of his prospects. Elizabeth was encouraging his conversation with quiet civility, evincing no particular interest in the gentleman such as would encourage his further interest. Stovall had been in her company sufficiently to gauge that she was restraining the exercise of her wit at the gentleman’s expense. Finally, his half hour up, he was not encouraged to stay and departed. The lady caller departed shortly thereafter.

Stovall turned to Jane and requested a private interview. She consented and quietly Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner left the room, closing the door behind them. He rose and approached Jane who had remained sitting, a very noticeable blush spreading rapidly and her eyes looking at hands in her lap. He found himself extremely nervous, having to restrain his own hands from seeking hers. Finally he managed a few words through a throat that was suddenly dry and bending to one knee in front of her, spoke clearly but softly,

“Miss Bennet, I know I have known you but a month but in that time I have come to regard you with the greatest affection. Your kindness, your smile, your love for those around you cannot help but inspire in me a love that I had not believed possible. I had not thought to marry until this war had ended and I sought to retire. But it will not do! I cannot take the chance of losing you to another man. You must allow me to tell you how much I admire and love you and to ask that you become my wife.”

Jane finally looked at his face. Such a dear face in such a man. Her heart felt overfull, she could barely utter the words, “Yes, I will most gladly marry you.”


She laughed, “Oh yes, most truly. I have never been happier nor has anyone touched my heart as you have done. So, YES!, YES!”

Stovall grasped her hands in his and standing, raised both to his lips. “Jane, you have made me the happiest of men.” Reaching into the pocket of his jacket, he took a small box and opening removed a gold ring set with a sapphire and a small diamond on either side. He slid it on her ring finger and then releasing her hand, he framed her face with his hands and asked softly, “May I?”

“Oh yes, please.”

For Jane, her first kiss was nothing like she expected. The soft pressure of his lips on hers was, she thought, rather nice. As the kiss continued, his lips moved gently against hers and she brought her hands up to rest her palms on his chest. She gave a small sigh of displeasure as he seemed to remove his lips from her and grasped his coat as if to prevent his leaving. He reclaimed her lips and deepened the kiss and suddenly she felt something warm and soft and wet brushing against her own lips. Unconsciously she moved her body closer and felt his hands leave her face and move to her back pulling her even closer and then move to her shoulders and felt his body and lips gradually withdrawing.

Sighing, she murmured “how very nice!” and, looking up at him, said, “I never thought a kiss could be so delightful. Why did you stop?”

“My dearest Jane, that is but a small portion of what awaits when we are married. Now, I think we have trespassed on your aunt’s courtesy quite enough. We should acquaint her with our news although I doubt we will surprise her.”

When they opened the door and stepped into the small parlour on the opposite side of the hall, the two occupants looked up. The joyful smile that Jane wore told the story and both Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner quickly stood and moved towards them. Elizabeth wrapped Jane in a huge hug saying, “Oh Jane, I am so happy for you.” Elizabeth loosen her grip slightly and holding Jane at arm’s length and looking at Captain Stovall, quipped, “and you have brought me the fine brother I always wished for.”

Mrs. Gardiner hugged Jane and was generous in her congratulations to the couple, saying, “I think you will do very well together. I hope you will stay for dinner, Captain ?”

“I would be delighted.”

After they returned to the drawing room, Mrs. Gardiner ordered tea and cakes. Turning to Jane and Stovall who were sitting together on the settee, she asked, “I realize that you have barely got used to the idea of being engaged but here are some practical issues that you both need to think about. You, Captain, will have to return to duty in several months. That does not leave a great deal of time for an extended engagement, a wedding and honeymoon and, I believe, a trip to visit the Captain’s family. You both might want to consider a wedding date first.”

Stovall was quick to answer, “I would prefer as short an engagement as possible.” To which Jane nodded her agreement. “I think three weeks is long enough. I do not want to wait any longer to start our life together. It will be hard enough to have you return to duty and I do not wish to waste any time between now and then.”

She thought a bit longer, "Three weeks would allow the banns to be read in Longbourn and provide us with time to prepare my wedding clothes in town. I see no need for us to depart for Longbourn until two or three days before the wedding. I know Mama will want to show Amos and I around to our neighbours but I am of no mind to give consequence to people who shunned me for months. Mama will invite who she likes to the ceremony and to the wedding breakfast.” She paused and with a rueful smile, continued, “I know that is uncharitable and unkind of me but I cannot easily forget their behaviour towards us.”

Stovall nodded, “what you have suggested is no burden to me; however, I do believe I must visit your father tomorrow to obtain his blessing. Do you wish to come with me Jane?”

“No, I cannot claim that I do.”

The conversation continued with the newly engaged couple discussing plans for the wedding, travel, the location of their honeymoon and Stovall’s plans to visit. Darcy, who had been invited to dinner, arrived and, being apprised of the happy news, quickly extended his best wishes to them both. Listening quietly to their discussion, he was inspired to invite them to stay at Pemberley on their way to York.

“After all, I must travel there in March to talk to my steward about the spring planting. You could easily stay for a fortnight or more should you wish to do so. There are several suites which afford complete privacy and you could come and go as you wish. In fact, “ looking at Elizabeth, “I could also take Georgiana and yourself. Mrs. Annesley can chaperone you and Georgiana, Miss Elizabeth.”

Turning to Stovall, he asked, “Am I correct that you plan to visit your family in York afterwards?”

“Indeed, those were my thoughts. I want to introduce Jane to my mother and sister. I thought to stay a month and return to London to take up my duties again. I thought to look around Yorkshire for a small estate although I don’t intend to purchase until the war is over.”

Elizabeth was very surprised at Darcy’s offer. She could see her surprise mirrored on the faces of Jane and her aunt although her aunt was much quicker to recover. Elizabeth could not help but exclaim, “That is a most generous offer, Mr. Darcy.” And Jane was quick to extend her appreciation also.

Elizabeth could see Darcy’s struggle to hide his embarrassment. She suspected that guilt over his interference between Jane and Bingley had prompted the offer. Nevertheless, it was most generous and to have it extended to herself even more so although there she suspected the gentleman of a more personal motivation such as to have her company for a month.

She observed Darcy begin to say something and then hesitate. He began again cautiously, for reasons which quickly became apparent.

“I had planned to travel to York to visit a good friend of mine and his family. This friend has lately taken up residence in York and invited me over Christmas to come and stay for a fortnight or so. I had planned to do so in June but April would be equally acceptable to me. While there, I could assist you in your search if you would wish for such help. I was hesitant to mention this to you since the gentleman I plan to visit is known to both Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth - Mr. Bingley.”

Jane’s response was quite calm, “I see no reason why we should not meet Mr. Bingley. He is an acquaintance and, if indeed he has moved to York, we cannot help but meet should we move to Yorkshire. Amos, do you agree?”

“Most heartily and I would glad accept your help in looking at various estates, Mr. Darcy.”

Conversation continued around the proposed trips to Pemberley and Yorkshire with Elizabeth, in particular, most interested in the scenic sites that could be found. Dinner did not stifle the conversation as Mrs. Gardiner and Darcy began to talk of their favourite places in Derbyshire.

After dinner, Stovall sought a private audience with Mr. Gardiner who readily gave his approval to the engagement after satisfying himself as to the Captain’s financial position. He had been authorized by Mr. Bennet to deal with the marriage settlement and, after discussing the Captain’s wishes, agreed to have his solicitor draw up the papers for their consideration. Stovall also sought out Darcy for a private conversation to request that Darcy acts as his groomsman. Darcy was pleased to accept having formed a liking for the Captain.

Elizabeth had been prevailed upon to play several pieces that she had been working on but ceased upon Mr. Gardiner and Stovall entering the room. Darcy took the opportunity to approach and ask, “Miss Elizabeth, did my invitation to Pemberley make you uncomfortable? I admit to a great delight in thought of walking and riding the grounds with you to show the beauties of Pemberley.”

“I am not uncomfortable at all, sir. My only concern is the message that might be sent but, if Jane is there, it can be thought that I am attending her. So, I propose to take my fill of such delights as Pemberley has to offer.”

Saturday, February 6, 1813 – Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Stovall was very pleased that Mr. Gardiner had lent him his carriage for the trip Longbourn. A hired carriage would have served as well but would have been nowhere as comfortable. The four hour journey was tedious but finally over as it drew up in the courtyard fronting Longbourn which, to his relatively unschooled eye, looked to of a comfortable size. The grounds were well kept and neat and the overall appearance was pleasing to the eye.

Presenting his card at the door, he was immediately shown to Mr. Bennet’s study. The house seemed unnaturally quiet but he thought perhaps most of its residents were out. He had sent an express post to Mr. Bennet yesterday advising him of his intention to call so he was certain that he, at least, was at home. Entering the study, he was welcomed by Mr. Bennet.

“Captain Stovall, I am pleased to finally make your acquaintance.”

“Mr. Bennet, while I also regret the delay, I must confess that if Miss Bennet had not moved to London, I would never have had the pleasure of meeting her. “

“Well sir, now that you are here perhaps you could reveal the purpose of this meeting.” Mr. Bennet knew quite well why Stovall was here in his study, but was not prepared to make his task easier.

Stovall had been advised by Mr. Gardiner as to Mr. Bennet’s inclination to tease and make sport of others. He was not of a mind to be the subject of such teasing from a man who had so egregiously failed in his responsibilities to his family. He had considered his words carefully during the journey to Longbourn.

“It is quite simple, Mr. Bennet. Your daughter, Miss Bennet, has accepted my offer of marriage. I have come to ask your blessing on the marriage. I realize that Miss Bennet is of age and your consent is not required but I am sure she would wish for that as well.”

Mr. Bennet was rather taken aback. He had not expected such a firm statement from a suitor. “If I appear hesitant, sir, you must understand my position. I know very little about you.”

“I was under the impression that Mr. Gardiner had kept you well informed of my attentions to your daughter. I have already discussed the marriage settlements with Mr. Gardiner and they will be completed in the next week. I believe Mr. Gardiner has the authority to sign them on your behalf. What information do you wish me to supply, Mr. Bennet? I am quite willing to comply.”

Mr. Bennet was not happy at the rather brusque manner of Jane's betrothed “I wonder, sir, at your even bothering to visit.”

“Mr. Bennet, your daughter wishes for your blessing. I am here simply because I wished to meet her father and the rest of her family.”

“I see. Well, if you can stay for luncheon, I will be happy to introduce you to Mrs. Bennet and Jane’s other sisters. Have you set a date for the wedding?”

“Indeed we have. Three weeks from today at your church. I may as well advise you now as to our plans. Miss Bennet plans to remain in town until the Wednesday prior to the wedding ceremony at which time she and her sister and the Gardiners will travel to Longbourn. I will join them on Thursday when I return from Portsmouth.”

Mr. Bennet’s surprise was obvious. “So little time before the ceremony! Whatever was Jane thinking?”

“I believe, sir, that she realized her mother would want to display her to all her neighbours. Miss Bennet was not of a mind to give consequence or recognition to people who have spurned her and her family for months. She is desirous of visiting her Aunt Phillips and a Lady Lucas. If anyone else wishes to call at Longbourn, she is willing to meet them. I suspect, from your daughter’s comments, that her mother will not be best pleased with these arrangements.”

“Captain Stovall, you have just made a classic understatement but I will leave it to Mrs. Bennet to prove it so. I will satisfy myself with arranging for the bans to be read. There is one issue of concern. You are a naval officer I comprehend and will be returning to duty this summer. What provision have you made for Jane once you have left?”

“Jane and I have not discussed this as yet. She may prefer to remain with her aunt and uncle, I could set up a separate establishment for her in London or elsewhere or she could join my mother in York. We will be discussing this over the next few months. Regardless of where she chooses to live, I will ensure her comfort, sir.”

The two men then spent a relatively quiet hour together and, after Stovall indicated his desire to eventually acquire a small estate, Mr. Bennet undertook to show Stovall around the property explaining many of the features and purposes of the buildings and farms. The return of Mrs. Bennet and her two daughters from shopping in Meryton coincided shortly thereafter with luncheon being ready. Mr. Bennet introduced the Captain without explaining his purpose in visiting since he, Mr. Bennet, wished to enjoy his lunch before the tumult erupted.

As a consequence, the meal was rather quiet as Mrs. Bennet had grown apathetic to the behaviour of her neighbours and no longer made an effort to engage them publicly. When Mr. Bennet stood at the conclusion of the meal and cleared his throat preparatory to announcing Jane’s engagement, he drew little attention from any of the ladies at the table. Clearing his throat once more,, “Mrs. Bennet, Mary, Kitty, I have an important announcement. My daughter, Jane, has accepted an offer of marriage from Captain Stovall who has travelled down from London this morning to let us know. They will be married from Longbourn three weeks hence. I am sure you have many other questions for the Captain and I will leave him to answer them.” With a smirk at Stovall, Mr. Bennet retired to his study.

Mrs. Bennet was not to be consoled. Only three weeks to the marriage ceremony and no grand procession of calls on the neighbours. It was not to be born. Captain Stovall now fully appreciated Mr. Bennet’s strategic retreat and viewed it with reluctant admiration. By dint of sheer repetition, he was able to finally convince Mrs. Bennet that the arrangements were fixed; however, he was unable to prevent her from planning a dinner party that would encompass most of the leading families and a wedding breakfast. He suspected Jane had anticipated such endeavours on the part of her mother. How many of the neighbours would accept the invitations was an interesting question which he did not raise with Jane’s mother. Under the circumstances, he hoped that enough families did attend to restore the Bennet family to some degree of social acceptability. If the price was two meals in the company of strangers, he could well bear it.

Mrs. Bennet’s plans to come to London to prepare Jane’s wedding clothes was a matter he left to Jane and Mrs. Gardiner. It was with no little relief that he was able to take his leave of them all and return to London. That Yorkshire was well removed from Longbourn was a source of no little comfort to him.

Chapter 21

Monday, February 8, 1813 – Gracechurch Street. London

Elizabeth settled into the overstuffed armchair, tucked her feet under her and wrapped her robe more closely around herself. Her thoughts were increasingly coalescing around one central realization. Fitzwilliam Darcy was indisputably in love with her and she had suddenly realized that she very much reciprocated those feelings. She could not identify the moment or the setting when she knew her feelings. She was there almost before she knew she had begun. That he was, in fact, the best man for her to marry was something she was only beginning to accept tonight.

It had not been an exceptional evening, rather they had spent it in quiet conversation. She and Mr. Darcy had been permitted to sequester themselves somewhat in a corner of the drawing room and had spent over two hours just talking.

She could not remember how the conversation had begun but it had not been long before she had inquired about Pemberley. When he began to describe its features, his natural reserve seems to fade away and his face and voice took on an animation she had never seen him display. Questions about its scenic attractions had led to a discussion of his favourite paths and trails most of which were most accessible on horseback. His enquiry as to ether she rode, elicited the answer “yes, but poorly.” which was subsequently found to be caused by having to learn on farm horses rather than a riding horse of a size appropriate for her. While Darcy did not outright suggest that he would teach her to ride a proper horse, Elizabeth was sure she could hear that thought about to be expressed but nobly suppressed. When queried about trails and paths that could be walked, Darcy was quick to mention the gardens and the paths surrounding the house and leading into the hills and was most eager to show them to her.

But it was when he began to talk of the tenants and their families, the crops they planted or sheep flocks tended that she was able to discern his pride, respect, love and care for Pemberley. It was clear he recognized his responsibilities and from the manner in which he discharged them, Elizabeth was sure that he would discharge his responsibilities as a husband and father with just as much love, respect and care. It was at this point, she realized, “I am falling in love with this man.” The expression on her face must have changed because Darcy had stopped speaking and was looking at her with a questioning look. She shook her head as if to say “it is nothing.” and immediately began to speak of Longbourn, drawing some parallels with her activities there. Darcy accepted her reluctance to explain and was quick to acknowledge her understanding of the problems of managing an estate. This led to a discussion of those aspects with which Elizabeth had little experience such as crop rotation, arranging contracts to sell Pemberley’s production, management of the various components of the estate such as the grounds, stables, and household. She only then began to understand how much responsibility he had assumed at the age of two and twenty. She could, however, remember his words, “I do not think I could have survived those first two years after my father’s death, if he had not hired very good people at key positions. It took me that long to learn the tasks I faced and to gain the confidence of those who reported to me.” She realized this was a very pointed statement on his part because she had just finished asking about the duties that his wife would expect to face. He had concluded those remarks with another very deliberate statement, “Mrs. Reynolds is one of those people. I have basically turned over management of the house to her. But she very much wants a Mistress to take on the role and has been hinting rather frequently for a year or so about my need to find a wife. I am quite sure she is looking forward to having a Mistress.” Elizabeth knew he was attempting to allay any fears she might have about becoming his wife but oddly enough she felt confident that she could learn those duties.

Her reserve with him was falling and her trust, rising. He had, with some hesitancy, asked about life at Longbourn once news of Lydia’s behaviour was made public. She had little reluctance in relating the actions of her neighbours but did not dwell overmuch on the forces which had driven Jane and herself to move to London to live with her aunt and uncle. Her initial reluctance to discuss her family was somewhat eased by Darcy’s quiet sympathy and understanding. She admitted to dissatisfaction with her father’s abdication of responsibility for his family while acknowledging that she owed much to his kindness and consideration for her. She acknowledges to him the validity of his criticisms of her family but also the pain that criticism had caused because she loved them despite their flaws. His acceptance of them she knew to be critical since she would always want to maintain her ties to them.

Her thoughts continued to wander and she could not help but smile when they centred on the dinner party to which they both had been invited the previous Saturday. Darcy had been a fairly regular visitor to Gracechurch Street but this was the first occasion, since their meeting at the Johnsons, which was not simply a family event. She knew he had decided to attend because of her presence and could not help be a little flattered. When they arrived, he was already there and in conversation with another guest. He recognized her arrival immediately and she felt his gaze almost before she saw him. She now knew it contained nothing but admiration and it warmed her rather nicely she thought to herself. If he was somewhat circumspect in his attentions, it did not take him overly long to greet her party. His reserve was very much in place but it no longer hid from her his pleasure and happiness in her company.

This evening they were able to sit together at the dinner table and it was probably only the size of the party, some ten couples, which failed to make their increasing absorption in each other obvious to one and all. Nonetheless Mrs. Johnson, sitting almost across from Elizabeth was observing them with a small smile. Leaning towards Mrs. Gardiner who was sitting next to her, she murmured, “I believe Mr. Darcy is quite interested in your niece.”

Mrs. Gardiner knew she had to be very cautious in her response, “They became acquainted more than a year ago when they met in Hertfordshire. They are but friends, I believe.”

“It would be an excellent match for her.”

"Undoubtedly, but I do not believe Mr. Darcy is looking to take a wife.”

Mrs. Johnson looked somewhat disbelieving but did not press the subject further and Mrs. Gardiner thought she had better warn Elizabeth to be more circumspect in her attentions to Mr. Darcy. When the ladies did move to the drawing room following dinner, she was able to caution her niece; however, it proved to be a case where excellent advice was adhered to in a manner that was most wanting. Their hosts had decided upon some dancing and had hired musicians for that purpose. Darcy was not slow to request the first and last dances from Elizabeth who was pleased to comply. He then secured Jane, Mrs. Gardiner and the wife of their host for subsequent dances.

As he lined up across from Elizabeth, he thought back to their dance at Netherfield. Tonight, he vowed, would be different. At their first coming together, he leaned slightly toward her saying,

“Shall we have conversation, Miss Elizabeth?”

“Do you plan to talk about the size of the room or the number of couples, sir?”

“Only under duress, I assure you. “

“What say you about books, then?”

“I thought you could not think about books at a ball.”

“True, true. ….. Well perhaps we can be silent and enjoy the dance, sir.”

“I would by no means suspend any pleasure of yours, Miss Bennet.”

And so it proved, to the pleasure of both. They were, each of them, excellent dancers in terms of grace and timing and could appreciate the skill of their partner. The touches of their hands when they came together tended to linger a little longer than necessary and their smiles, small though they were, could be detected by a dedicated observer. Their enjoyment in each other did little to stifle Mrs. Johnson’s suspicions but, upon mentioning those suspicions to her husband, was admonished to not give further voice to them. She was advised that Mr. Darcy set great value to his privacy and his marriage prospects was an area to which he was particularly sensitive. This proved no hardship to her since she was not a gossip by nature. In this case, she was quite satisfied to observe and wait.

For Elizabeth, if the first dance was pleasurable, the second was an exquisite torture. She was acutely aware of the male with whom she was dancing. His size was impressive, he was indubitably handsome and he moved with an assurance that she had rarely seen. His touch was firm but there he left no doubt that the pressure was intentional. Not a word was uttered between them from start to finish but they moved in perfect harmony each with a focus solely on their partner. Even when separated, that focus remained fixed. It was only when Elizabeth thought about dancing the waltz with Darcy that her attention lapsed. The thought discomposed her to the point she missed a step causing Darcy to look at her with a raised eyebrow. A grimace and a shake if her head was all she would acknowledge. Fortunately, they were both sufficiently skilled such that her lapse was unnoticed. When the dance ended and Darcy was returning her to her aunt and uncle, he leaned down and whispered, “What caused you to misstep?” Her reply of, “I thought of us waltzing.” caused a deep chuckle from Darcy, which she found rather intriguing and disturbing as her complexion took on a rosier hue.

Her aunt and uncle were watching them as they approached. During the last dance, Mr. Gardiner had murmured to his wife, “I think there is no longer much doubt of the feelings of our niece. I hope there is not too much heartache ahead but I fear the worst.” Mrs. Gardiner only shook her head, “I warned Lizzy to be more circumspect. Obviously she is unaware of how open her countenance is to the experienced observer. Already Mrs. Johnson has made her suspicions clear to me. They will only be made more solid by now.”

“Shall I talk to Mr. Darcy, do you think?”

“I think you may have to. And soon.”

After Darcy and Elizabeth joined the Gardiners and Jane and Stovall, they made preparations to leave. Calling for their carriages and taking leave of their hosts, they collected their outerwear and waited for the carriages. Mr. Gardiner took the opportunity to ask Darcy when he planned to call again.

Darcy replied, “If Miss Elizabeth is not otherwise engaged, I plan to call Tuesday evening next.”

Mr. Gardiner looked over at Elizabeth who gave a slight nod and responded, “Tuesday will be fine. Perhaps you could dine with us. I do wish to speak with you in private that evening?”

Darcy was puzzled and could see no particular need for a private meeting but was not prepared to take issue with it, answering, “Most assuredly. I will attend you when I arrive. “

With the arrival of their respective carriages, Darcy and the Gardiners took their final leave of their hosts.

Tuesday, February 9, 1813

Darcy had arrived shortly before dinner and was shown into Mr. Gardiner’s study almost immediately. He was still ignorant as to the reason for the interview but could see that Mr. Gardiner did not appear unduly worried or concerned. After accepting a glass of port, he waited for his host to reveal the reason for their meeting. To his surprise Elizabeth entered and sat in the other chair fronting Mr. Gardiner’s desk. Finally Mr. Gardiner, with obvious reluctance, began,

“Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy, you are both, I am sure, wondering why I asked to speak with you tonight. Mrs. Gardiner and I are obviously aware of your interest in Elizabeth. From what we can determine based on Saturday evening, our niece is definitely not disinterested in you.”

Darcy found it hard to control his expression of obvious pleasure in these words and the blush colouring Elizabeth’s face and satisfied himself with a restrained, “really?”

“Oh yes and that is why Mrs. Gardiner and I are concerned. It was becoming increasingly obvious to us and others that the affections of both of you have been engaged, to the point that Mrs. Johnson commented on it to my wife.” Mr. Gardiner considered the young man sitting in front of him. He had grown to quite like him and thought him an excellent match for Elizabeth.

Mr. Gardiner nodded his head in some satisfaction but knew he had to admonish the two young people in front of him. “This is all well and good but you both must learn to regulate your behaviour in front of others else your affections for each other will be the subject of gossip and that, most assuredly, will not serve your purposes at all. Mr. Darcy, you are a well known public figure and your attentions to any eligible young woman will most likely be noted in the gossip sections of the daily papers. You must be more circumspect for Lizzy’s sake as well as your own. Am I understood?”

Darcy and Elizabeth acknowledged the truth of Mr. Gardiner’s warning and agreed to be more circumspect, a promise Mr. Gardiner did not expect to survive their next public encounter. He sighed and excused them from his study.

Thanks to Alida for a great Beta job.

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