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The Road Back - Chapters 26-29 (revised)

January 08, 2015 09:53PM
Chapter 26

Saturday, February 27, 1813 – On Route to Pemberley


It was growing dark as the caravan of travelling coaches moved slowly towards their first overnight stop at the ______ Inn some four hours travel from Longbourn. Stovall and Jane were allowed the privacy of the first coach given their status as newlyweds. Darcy, Georgiana, Elizabeth and Mrs. Annesley shared the second coach while the maid for Jane and Georgiana and the man-servants for Darcy and Stovall travelled in the third coach. A fourth coach carried nothing but the extra baggage required for people travelling for several months.

Darcy looked at the inhabitants of his coach. Both Elizabeth and his sister were sleeping. Mrs. Annesley was quite alert and reading comfortably despite the movement of the carriage. Darcy was not sure how she could do so since trying to read while travelling always gave him a serious headache. Since he also had trouble sleeping, he could either engage his companions in conversation or admire the scenery through the window. Neither was possible at the moment which allowed his thoughts to reflect on the day’s events. He honestly could not remember much of the marriage ceremony. He rather thought Jane had been beautiful. Certainly, he saw that Stovall had eyes for no one else. Darcy himself, though, was so conscious of Elizabeth’s presence and his desire for her to be taking the vows with him that he could think of little else. Without any intention on his part, he thought he had not taken his eyes from her throughout the ceremony and when the registry was signed and the bride and groom made their way out of the chapel, the feel of Elizabeth’s hand on his arm, the scent of her perfume – lavender he thought – and the rustle of her gown caused a very great sense of rightness. She belonged on his arm, that he knew for a certainty. He was quite unconscious of the small smile that graced his features and of the pleasure that it gave the woman on his arm. To those residents of Meryton who had little knowledge of Darcy except by rumour as a proud, disdainful gentleman, his demeanour gave the lie to such rumours.

Stovall and Jane had received the congratulations of their family and neighbours with ease and pleasure. Jane herself seemed so happy that when he approached her to offer her his congratulations, she shook her head saying, “No, I should thank you. I am the happiest of women!” The press of the crowd was such that it was a quarter hour before the wedding party was able to begin the short walk to Longbourn for the wedding breakfast.

The wedding breakfast had been a trial to be sure. Mrs. Bennet was at her fluttering best although he had to admit that she had set a fine table. To her credit, she did appear to be less voluble than he remembered. Perhaps being shunned by her neighbours had effected a major change in her behaviour. Elizabeth, for some strange reason, remained as close as possible for much of the meal seemingly to ease his comfort with so many strangers. If that was her purpose, it surely worked because, even when accosted by Elizabeth’s aunt Phillips and informed that he was ‘exceedingly tall and handsome’, he had been able to nod graciously. Overall he thought he had survived the ordeal quite well. In fact, even Mr. Bennet had observed quietly to him that ‘should he venture into the area in the future, he might drop by for another game of chess.’ The fact that Darcy had bested him in the game they played last night and Mr. Bennet desired a measure of revenge might have something to do with that. His own response of ‘You may count on it, sir!’ had elicited a rather odd look from Mr. Bennet, followed by a glance at his second oldest daughter standing beside Darcy. A quirked eyebrow as he leant towards Elizabeth saying, “I shall, of course, say nothing to your mother.” Was his only comment as he strolled off to speak to Mr. Gardiner.

Elizabeth had looked at Darcy with a small grimace. “I think he suspects something. Uncle will probably share some of the details but I will ask my aunt to withhold any of the details about Lydia, at least for now.” Fortunately, Georgiana had arrived with the extra carriages about then and since Jane and Stovall had changed into their travelling clothes, they began the process of saying their farewells.

The entire trip would normally only require two overnight stops but under the circumstances Stovall and Darcy had agreed on a more casual pace and three stops, allowing the newlyweds to stay abed a little later in the morning. Each of the carriages was equipped with extra blankets, warming pans for feet, a basket of consumables and such books and activities as might entertain the travellers.

Wrapped in his thoughts, Darcy was hardly aware that the coach was slowing down and had come to a stop. Looking out the window he could see the inn where they would spend the first night. Mrs. Annesley woke Georgiana and Elizabeth while Darcy left the coach and prepared to help the ladies descend. As he was doing so, the innkeeper and his wife bustled out to greet their customers. Darcy had arranged for the use of most of the inn’s rooms with a separate suite for the Stovalls. Staff came and helped carry baggage to the appropriate rooms while hot water for baths was arranged for the travellers. Stovall and Jane had, with eyes only for each other, quickly made their way to their rooms followed by the eyes and smiles of their fellow travellers.

Darcy turned to Georgiana, Elizabeth and Mrs. Annesley, “Hot water should be delivered to your rooms shortly. I have also arranged for a meal in a private small dining room an hour from now. I shall await you there.”

Darcy was indeed waiting when the others entered the dining room. A glass of port in his hand, freshly bathed with clean clothes, he felt invigorated. Mrs. Annesley was the next to arrive, followed very shortly by Georgiana and Elizabeth. A very simple meal of an excellent beef stew with bread and cheese was provided. Since all of the travellers were somewhat tired, none were inclined to linger too long after the meal was completed. Darcy wished to keep Elizabeth with him for a while longer but could see from her eyes that she was quite tired and propriety would require that either Mrs. Annesley or Georgiana be present. Their plans were to depart about nine the next morning so they agreed to meet to break their fast at half past seven. Elizabeth’s hopes to stay and talk with Darcy came to naught when he looked at her closely, “you look exhausted. You spent most of the night talking to your sister and you really could not sleep well in the coach. You need to get some sleep.” Saying this, he sent them all off to their rooms and himself as well.

~~~

Stovall and Jane followed the innkeeper’s wife up the stairs to their rooms where she said, “Your bedroom is here, sir. There is a dressing room on either side and a small sitting room here across the hall.” Stovall looked at Jane “I would like to wash the dirt off from our travel. Shall I meet you in the sitting room in a half hour to have something to eat?” Upon Jane’s consent, he requested a light meal of cold chicken, bread, cheese and wine to be prepared and served in the sitting room.

When a half hour had passed, Stovall knocked on the door to Jane’s dressing room which was quickly opened by his smiling wife. “I am a little hungry, husband. Shall we eat?”

Taking her arm he led her to the sitting room and seating her at the table whispered in her ear, “I have a huge hunger tonight!” and then bestowed a kiss under her ear. Her shiver and instinctive reach to draw his lips to hers led to a long slow kiss. As he deepened the kiss, she could feel his tongue trace her lips and she opened them and met his tongue with her own. His hand left the back of her chair and came to cup her face and hold her lips to his and then gradually moved to stroke her shoulder and arm. He gently broke the kiss and, with some effort at self control, said “we should eat.”

Neither had been able to eat much at the wedding breakfast. Nor had they more than sampled the consumables provided in their coach. As a consequence, they found themselves addressing the meal provided with considerable enthusiasm. It was not long before they had finished all that had been provided and were sitting back in their chairs, quite replete. Jane rose to her feet and, taking her husband by the hand, led him to the settee and gently pushed him to sit. She then turned and sat herself leaning back against him and when he wrapped his arms around her, murmured “You have no idea how long I have wanted to be able to have you do this.” Leaning her head back against his shoulder, she laid her hands over his. He could not keep his hands so idle. “I have wanted to do this for weeks” he said, and began to caress her face, arms, belly and breasts gently. Finally he sat up and rose off the settee. “I think it is time we retire to bed.” and he carefully lifted her in his arms and carried her to their bedchamber.

Jane had cause to remember her aunt’s words prior to the wedding. She had not talked of pain or enduring the situation, but rather that she was going to be married to a man who loved her and would be gentle and kind. Most disconcerting was her suggestion that, in the privacy of the bedchamber, nothing between a husband and wife was truly wrong. That had discomposed her more than anything her mother had said.

They joined together as husband and wife and Jane realized her aunt was right. He was kind, gentle and loving and she fell asleep in her husband’s arms knowing that they had taken the first of many steps together as husband and wife. As he gazed at her, he took as much pleasure from the smile on her face as she slept, as from the cries of pleasure she emitted during the night.

~~~

Stovall woke the next morning feeling quite disorientated. He could not move his left arm, something warm was pressed against his chest and his hand had closed on something warm and soft. As he swam up to consciousness, memories of the past night came alive. He treasured the pleasures of their first joining, the tenderness of waking in the middle of the night and sharing their pleasure once again. Now he felt himself becoming aroused once more and began to stroke and caress his wife’s body. Half awake she turned on her back and gave him greater access which he was not slow to enjoy for her pleasure and his own. Their eventual fulfillment left them exhausted but delighted with each other and as they drifted back to sleep, he heard her murmur “So very nice.”

The newlyweds were the last to break their fast the next morning and were greeted by studiously bland faces by the other members of the party. Apart from an “I hope you slept well!” from Elizabeth, conversation was deliberately non-consequential focusing on the food and the travel plan for the day. Stovall and Jane managed to partake of the meal with admirable composure, although Jane’s blushes were telling every time she looked up and saw Elizabeth’s smirk. Fortunately for all, the weather continued to be reasonable for the time of year and they only required one further overnight stay at an inn before arriving at Pemberley late in the evening of the third day of the trip.
As they travelled through the woods after turning off the road to Pemberley, Georgiana pointed out the window to a small building by an impressive set of stone pillars, “Look Elizabeth, there is the entrance to Pemberley!”

“Where is the house?”

“We cannot see it from here. We have to climb to the top of a ridge. The house is located on the other side of the valley. There is a spot on the ridge that has an excellent view of Pemberley.” explained Darcy. “We should get there in a quarter hour or so.”

Elizabeth continued to gaze out the window at the passing trees as the coach continued to climb. Finally, the road levelled and the carriage came to a stop. The carriage containing Stovall and Jane, which was following close behind, also stopped. Darcy was quick to exit and help the ladies to descend. Stovall did the same for Jane. Darcy led them all to a break in the trees which overlooked the entire valley.

Pemberley was a large stone house, bathed in a golden colour of the late afternoon sun, located on the rising ground on the opposite side of the valley. Heavy woods covered the slopes of the ridge behind the house. In front of the house gardens sloped down to a small, man-made pond fed by a stream that wound its way down the valley. Snow still dotted the woods although the grounds were clear with only faint tinges of green showing signs of an approaching spring.

Elizabeth could only gaze in admiration, “How well the house blends into the landscape. It looks so natural, so much in keeping with its surroundings.” She whispered almost too softly for Darcy to hear. She turned to him, “I like your home very much, sir!”

“And that is how I feel. It is my home. The place where I would spend all my days if that were possible.” Darcy’s voice was rough with emotion. He let them gaze for another minute and then shepherded them back to their carriages. “Let us be going, I suspect they await us and I, for one, would enjoy a hot bath!”

As the carriages came into view of the house, Elizabeth could see people pouring out of the house. When her carriage came to a final stop, Darcy again was out of the door before a footman could open it. Offering his hand to Elizabeth, he smiled “Welcome to Pemberley, Miss Elizabeth.” and helped her to descend. Turning to Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley, he assisted them out of the carriage and then ushered the whole party forward. “Miss Bennet, Captain Stovall, Mrs. Stovall I would like to introduce you to the Pemberley housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds, who has been filled that role for almost five and twenty years. Her husband, Mr. Reynolds, has been our butler for almost as long. Mr. Reynolds, Mrs. Reynolds, please welcome Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Captain Amos Stovall and Mrs. Jane Stovall. Now, let us move indoors out of this cool breeze.”

Once inside, he turned to the Stovalls and grinned, saying, “Your rooms are located on the third floor on the west wing. You have that wing to yourselves with complete privacy. No one will bother you and you may ignore the world around you. Ring, if you wish services. You can have your meals in your rooms at your convenience or eat with us should you so desire.” Mrs. Reynolds directed a footman to lead them to their rooms.

Turning to Elizabeth, Darcy informed her, “Mrs Reynolds will show you to your rooms. I thought we might dine at seven and I could give you a brief tour of the house. I am sure you are eager to explore our library.”

The Stovalls did not come down for dinner and, in fact, were not seen by anyone for several days. After dinner Elizabeth was given a tour of the public rooms ending at the library, from which she could not be budged until it was time to retire for the evening. She and Darcy browsed happily, selecting a few volumes for her to read. When they eventually left the library, she accepted Darcy’s offer of his arm and he began leading her towards her room. As they climbed the stairs, he stopped when they reached to top and turned to her, “I expect that you will be rising early. If I remember correctly, you like to rise with the sun to walk for an hour or two before breaking your fast. Am I wrong?”

“No sir, you are quite correct. I cannot wait to explore the grounds around Pemberley.”

“I do not wish to impose on you but would like to join you on these walks. I prefer to rise early also and would like to enjoy them with you. However, I will understand if you prefer your solitude.”

Elizabeth took a minute or two to consider. “I admit to a preference to walking alone but that is mostly because I walk faster than others. I suspect that you should have no trouble keeping pace with me. As I remember our walks at Rosings, we were well matched in that regard.” She forbore to add “at least”

Darcy gave a rueful grin, “I suspect I did not show too well there. I thought you knew I was seeking you out but I have come to conclude that you did not.”

“Truly sir, I thought you disliked me and that telling you it was a favourite path would lead you to avoid the route and myself.”

“Yes, so I now comprehend. I must conclude then that my presence now will not be unwelcome?”

“I would much enjoy having you show me the pathways.”

“I will leave you here then. Your rooms are down that hall. Shall we meet at half past six?”

Elizabeth agreed and went to her rooms. As she opened the door she could see Darcy watching her. He bowed when he realized she was observing him. She nodded and entered her room after which he turned and walked to his bedchamber. Tomorrow he would begin courting Elizabeth Bennet in earnest.


Chapter 27

Monday, March 1, 1813 – Longbourn, Hertfordshire


Mrs. Bennet was still basking in the glow of Jane’s wedding and had hied herself off to Meryton to relive the day with her sister. Her hopes that she might encounter a neighbour or two who wanted to congratulate her once again were more than satisfied with the invitation to stop and visit by a woman who had largely ignored her for months. She returned for lunch tired but satisfied. The Gardiners had a more practical purpose in hand. Having decided to be present, if possible, when the letter from Lydia arrived they had remained at Longbourn for the morning with the intention of calling on the Thompsons after lunch even if the post had not arrived. As a consequence, when the Bennet servant returned with the day’s post, they were at Netherfield.

The housekeeper delivered the post to Mr. Bennet who, in his usual dilatory fashion paid it little heed until an hour had passed. There was only the one letter and the handwriting was poor and not immediately recognizable. Seeing it was addressed to his wife, he summoned the housekeeper and had her deliver the letter to her and then forgot about it entirely. Mrs. Bennet was in the parlour when she received the letter. Opening and reading it left her speechless for minutes. Her silence was broken by a screech that brought Mr. Bennet, Mary and Kitty to the room, with concern written on all their faces. Waving the letter in one hand and her handkerchief in the other, she was as incoherent as anyone had ever witnessed.

“Oh my dear girl, married! Canada, Mrs. Wickham, why did she not write? Married! Oh my nerves! Mr. Bennet, she is married! Oh, my dear, dear Lydia!”

Mr. Bennet could take no more.”Madame, cease this caterwauling!” he bellowed. Grabbing the letter from her hand, he began to read. It rendered him speechless and he collapsed into the nearest chair. The remonstrations of his daughters to explain he waved off as he read the letter a second time.

“Quiet, everyone! I will read the letter so you may judge for yourselves.”

"Halifax, Nova Scotia
November 14, 1812

My Dear Mama,

You will never guess where I am. My dear Wickham has brought me to the colonies where he has hopes of making his fortune. We were assisted in this by Mr. Darcy although my husband, how droll that sounds, says that he had no knowledge of it. George had a good laugh at Mr. Darcy’s expense. What a joke! I can hardly write for laughing! He gave George £1,000 to go to the United States by himself but instead he brought me to Canada. We plan to travel to a place called York in Upper Canada. La! These colonies seem to have so many places with English names. It almost seems like home.

We went to Gretna Green as planned and were married there. We had stopped in London for me to buy some wedding clothes and then to Gretna Green. I am the first of my sisters to be married and Jane must now come after me. I was so proud to be standing next to my dear George in his regimentals. Unfortunately he has had to resign his commission but perhaps he can join the militia in Canada. I am sure his experience in the militia in Hertfordshire will make him a Major or Colonel.

We wished to visit Longbourn before we left but Mr. Darcy apparently would not allow George to delay the trip. I so wanted to show my handsome husband to all our neighbours. How they would envy me.

I meant to write before we sailed but in the hurry I forgot. We are sending this via a ship that will stop in London sometime in the next few months. It must go to the West Indies before heading to London. I am sure it will get to you eventually unless the ship is captured by those Americans. I do not understand why they wish to fight us.

Anyway, I must hurry to complete this letter as we are preparing to leave for a place called Montreal and then on to York. George is calling me to come. I don’t know when I will meet you all again. Perhaps my sisters can come and visit me. I am sure I can find husbands for them here.

Your Loving Daughter,
Lydia Wickham
"

Kitty and Mary could hardly comprehend the letter and had to read it themselves before it could be believed. Their mother could not wait to spread the news and commandeering the carriage and the letter from Mr. Bennet was quickly on her way to visit her sister. As he watched her leave, Mr. Bennet was certain that the glad tidings would be spread the length of Meryton before nightfall. It was at this point that the Gardiners returned from their call on the Thompson family.

Mr. Gardiner looked at his brother, “Why was Fanny in such a hurry?”

“My youngest daughter has finally proven she is truly the silliest girl in the country. We have just now received a letter from her saying that she has married Wickham and they have gone to the colonies. Canada, can you believe that? Of all the countries they could have chosen……Canada!”

“Married? ... Lydia?”

“Apparently they went to Gretna Green after all! The trip to London was for wedding clothes for Lydia. Wickham must have had more funds than we knew if he could go there for such a purpose.” Mr. Bennet was clearly still grappling with the fact his youngest daughter was married, safe and had left the country.

“You are sure it was from Lydia?”

“Who else could it be from? I recognize her hand. She is as poor a writer now as ever she was.”

“This must be a great relief to you all. I can see my sister has wasted no time spreading the news.”

“I expect everyone in Meryton will know that she has another daughter married. I will hear nothing but complaints now that she wasn’t married at Longbourn or that I did not purchase her wedding clothes. However, if she asks to visit Lydia, I might just agree.”

Mrs. Gardiner had listened quietly to all this, “I must write Lizzy and Jane with this news. I know they will be much relieved.”

Mr. Bennet shook his head. “There is one aspect that puzzles me sorely. Lydia mentioned that Mr. Darcy had paid Wickham to leave the country. He must be aware of Wickham’s connection to Lydia. I am surprised and puzzled that he said nothing to me. Has he said anything to you, Brother?”

Mr. Gardiner had expected some such question, “Yes, he did mention it. He was not aware that Lydia was involved. In fact, the funds were given to send Wickham to the United States, not Canada. As far as we were concerned, Wickham had deserted Lydia. This will be quite a surprise for Lizzy and Jane.”

Mr. Bennet regarded Mr. Gardiner carefully. It seemed to him that neither he nor his wife was as shocked by this development as was he. But was there any reason he should question the news? He could think of none. Nor was he inclined to dispute that which appeared to salvage his family’s reputation. Nevertheless, there seemed to be several oddities that he was having trouble understanding and reconciling.

“Brother, would you and Madeline join me in my study? I have a few questions for you and privacy seems indicated.” With this, he led them there and, once everyone was properly settled, began to express his concerns. “I have been given to understand that Mr. Darcy was simply here in the role of a groomsman for Captain Stovall but, unless I am completely imagining things, he appears to have been very attentive to Lizzy.” Mr. Bennet did not miss the quick exchange of glances between the Gardiners. “Ah, so I am correct then. What can she be thinking? I believe her to dislike him greatly. Am I wrong? He is rich to be sure but I would not think that counts much with Lizzy.” He paused and, without giving either of the Gardiners a chance to interrupt, continued “Then there is this trip to Pemberley and now this letter from Lydia. And he is involved in it all.” As he expressed these seemingly unrelated events, it became clear to Mr. Bennet that they were not unrelated at all. “I must have some answers! There are too many oddities for me to ignore and Mr. Darcy is in the centre of them all.”

Mr. Gardiner looked at his wife and, receiving a slight nod from her, turned to his brother saying, “I will tell you all but first I must have your promise of complete secrecy. Neither my sister nor Kitty nor Mary must ever be told what I am about to relate. Do I have your word?”

“You have it!”

Mr. Gardiner considered his brother carefully and smiled. “Be not so grim, Thomas. This is, in truth, rather a happy story.” He then proceeded to tell Mr. Bennet about Darcy’s dealings with Wickham, their meeting in January and subsequent meetings and, finally, his efforts to discover Lydia and the plan to see her married.

Mr. Bennet shook his head in amazement. “I can hardly credit it. So this young man has taken it upon himself to restore my family’s respectability in order to marry Lizzy. He must care a great deal for her. I know I teased Lizzy about him but I was far from certain about his interest. I must say he has been much more amiable than when he was here last. Reserved but amiable and a good chess player as well! Can I assume that those rumours of his poor dealings with Wickham are as false as that man?”

Mrs. Gardiner smiled, “Yes, I am quite convinced of that. He has made Lizzy fully aware of those dealings. He has a reputation as a man of integrity and honour. There is no reason to believe he dealt with Wickham in any other fashion. In regard to Lizzy, if you saw them in a more familial setting, you would be quite assured of his affections. We also believe Lizzy may have had some effect on his manner but he has certainly been very amiable when in our society.”

“So, shall he propose then on this trip? Is that its purpose?”

“I suspect it is one of them, yes. But I also think it is a chance for Mr. Darcy to recompense Jane for his interference in separating her from Bingley.” At Mr. Bennet’s quizzical look, Mrs. Gardiner explained further. “Mr. Darcy believed that Jane was largely indifferent to Mr. Bingley and advised him accordingly which convinced Mr. Bingley to break off his attentions. Mr. Darcy attempted to correct his mistake last summer but at that point, Mr. Bingley had decided his interest was not strong enough to consider marriage and chose not to return to Netherfield.”

“Why would Mr. Darcy try to correct his error?”

“He and Lizzy had a serious argument while she was visiting Charlotte last spring. She apparently made him aware of his error and, from her report, not too gently.”

“Given her affection for Jane, I can easily imagine her anger. So where does this leave me? Should I order Lizzy to return? I am not sure I would have approved her presence on the journey if I had known of Mr. Darcy’s interest.”

“I would not order her home, brother. I believe Mr. Darcy to be an honourable man and to behave appropriately. She is properly chaperoned after all. Nevertheless, I would not be surprised if he writes to seek your consent and blessing to his offer of marriage to Lizzy within the next fortnight or so.”

“So I can impart none of this to Mrs. Bennet? A wise move, I am sure since it would be all over Meryton in an hour or two.” Mr. Bennet considered all that he had been told. “I must admit I am still struggling to understand all of these developments. You say that Mr. Darcy is giving this young Scottish lad £5,000 to wed Lydia? I cannot hope to repay him and yet, must I offer?”

“Brother, do not expend the effort. If I could not convince him that it was my responsibility, I doubt you will.”

Mrs. Gardner then excused herself to write to Elizabeth to inform her of all the doings at Longbourn. The two gentlemen continued to chat until Mrs. Bennet returned home, well satisfied that the news of Lydia’s marriage was fully appreciated by all her neighbours. Her only complaint was that Mr. Darcy had been so inconsiderate as to prevent Lydia and her dear Wickham from visiting Longbourn before they left for the Americas.


Chapter 28

Tuesday, March 2, 1813 – Pemberley


As Elizabeth came trippingly down the stairs, she could see Darcy waiting for her by the main entrance. “I hope you are dressed for the cold, Miss Elizabeth. It can be quite chilly this early in the morning.”

“I am, and the chill will not be a problem if we walk briskly.”

“Where would you like to walk first?”

Elizabeth looked around and pointed to a path that appeared to lead down to the pond and then along the stream. “That appears quite interesting.” At which she set off at a brisk pace, her breath visible in the cold air. Darcy was quick to catch up and walk beside her. They continued this way for several minutes and let the exercise gradually warm their bodies. Conversation seemed unimportant and Darcy was content to let the silence continue. After a quarter hour had passed, he ventured to say, "Miss Bennet, one of my mistakes at Rosings was, during our walks, to fail to take advantage of the opportunity they provided to get to know you better and to allow you to know me better as well. I would like to avoid repeating that mistake if you are willing.” Elizabeth looked at him with a question on her lips but he continued before she could utter it. “What I had in mind was for us to take walks like this daily and talk about those things that have created misunderstandings in the past and perhaps about our own past. I am willing to try and answer honestly any question you might have, as hard as that might be on occasion. In essence, I want to get to know you and have you know me.”

Elizabeth pondered his words. She knew her feelings for the man beside her had changed markedly over the past year. She believed herself to be falling in love with him and certainly her uncle and aunt seemed to think so. She had come to know him better through his letter, her observations and their few talks. But did she really know him well enough to be confident that the changes she could see would last? The difference between the man at the Meryton assembly and the man who walked beside her were such that the opportunity to explore his character must be taken. “I indeed would like the opportunity to get to know you better, Mr. Darcy.” She paused and asked, “How do you propose we proceed, sir?”

Darcy grinned at her, "I had in mind giving you the opportunity to expose my faults first. Each day we will seek the answer to a question from the other. Since a single question may be insufficient to explore the issue, additional questions as necessary seem reasonable. I will allow you the privilege of asking first.”

“May I suggest we start this tomorrow? I would like to consider my questions carefully.”

“By all means, tomorrow is quite satisfactory. Let us enjoy this walk. I would also hope that our discussions do not prevent us from enjoying the grounds. I could only wish that it were May or June when the paths are truly beautiful.”

They walked briskly for an hour with Darcy showing points of interest or describing alternate paths that could be of interest.

~~~

That evening Jane and Amos joined them for dinner. Conversation was cheerful and plans for the following day were discussed. Darcy would be required to meet with his steward for several hours following breakfast but promised to conduct them on a tour of the grounds after luncheon. When they had finished the meal, they moved to the music room where first Elizabeth and then Georgiana were induced to play for them.

Elizabeth played for a half hour with Darcy turning the pages. She found it difficult to concentrate due to his closeness, and the casual brush of his arm as he turned the pages seriously discomposed her. She hardly knew whether he was deliberately brushing her shoulder or whether she was leaning towards him and encouraging the contact. She did know she wanted it to stop and yet to continue. With no conscious action on either part they reduced the space between them until they were sitting nearly hip to hip with Elizabeth occasionally brushing against him as she swayed while playing.

Darcy found himself wishing for her full attention and abruptly rose from the bench when Elizabeth finished the piece she was playing. Taking her hand, he softly suggested, “Come, let us sit over there,” nodding towards a settee behind the pianoforte. “Georgiana, would you favour us with some music?”

“Of course, Brother.” and a smiling Georgiana moved quietly to the instrument. Before she had begun however, Amos whispered in Jane’s ear and then observed to the room, “Jane is rather tired. I think we will retire early.” They rose and quickly left the room to hidden smiles from both Elizabeth and Darcy. As Georgiana began to play, Darcy took Elizabeth’s hand and murmured softly, “You have no idea how much I enjoy listening to you play. To sit beside you while you do so, just enhances my pleasure.”

“You derive pleasure from discomposing me, sir? That is most unkindly done.”

“So my presence discomposes you. I find I can tolerate your censure quite well while enjoying your blushes.” As he spoke his thumb was stroking the back of her hand causing her to shiver as goosebumps ran up her arm.

“Are you chilled? Let me get you a shawl.” Darcy made as if to rise but her grasp of his hand tightened. “No sir, I am fine. Please do not bother yourself.” As he settled back beside, she relaxed and placed her other hand atop his and intertwined their fingers. “Please, let us listen to your sister. I have so rarely heard anyone play so well and with such feeling. It is a joy to listen to her perform.”

They sat in a comfortable silence, hands entwined, with Elizabeth gradually relaxing and her head resting on Darcy’s shoulder. He realized the impropriety of their position but could not bear to disturb her comfort, or the feel of her body against his, or lose the scent of her hair. He was very aware of his arousal and only his strictest control and Georgiana’s presence prevented him from kissing those lips that were so close to his own. He shifted slightly to ease the discomfort. Elizabeth felt the increasing rigidity of his body and thought he was uncomfortable with the contact. She knew it was most improper but it felt so comfortable that she was reluctant to move, but murmured to him, “I am making you uncomfortable. I should move.”

“No, please. I do not wish you to move. If I am tense, Miss Bennet, it is simply to avoid doing that which would merit your strongest reproofs. You do not know the effect that you have on me and I cannot tell you.”

“Oh!” Elizabeth blushed deeply. She was pretty sure she knew exactly what Darcy wanted to do and was also sure she should disapprove even as she wished for him to act on his desires. She simply squeezed his hands gently and straightened her body a little without breaking contact with his.

Darcy recognized her desire to maintain contact but reduce his tension and chose to change the subject of conversation. “Miss Bennet, I was planning to visit some of my tenants over the next week or so and was wondering if you would be interested in joining me. Georgiana would accompany us and it would give you a chance to see more of the estate.”

“I think that would be most interesting.” She looked at him with a question in her eyes, “How would we travel? Surely it is too far to walk.”

“Most definitely! I have a gentle horse that you could ride or we could go by carriage. I think the horseback ride would be more enjoyable for you since we would not be restricted to the roads.”

“I have ridden very little and not for some time. Perhaps a carriage would be best.”

“Would you allow me to give you a few lessons before we venture off?”

Elizabeth thought for a minute or two, “I suspect you are quite determined on this, are you not?” Her smile robbed her words of any censure.

“I am, but your enjoyment is my first concern. I truly think you would enjoy the ride.”

“I have no riding clothes.”

“I am sure Georgiana can find some that might not fit you too ill. Shall I ask her?”

“Very well. When are these lessons to begin?”

“We are engaged to tour the grounds tomorrow after luncheon. Perhaps the following day, should the weather permit.”

“Very well, sir. You shall walk with me in the mornings and I shall ride with you in the afternoons. You will grow tired of my company quite quickly, I fear.”

“Who is fishing for compliments now?” Hearing them laugh together drew Georgiana’s attention and she left the pianoforte to join their conversation. Apprised of their plans, she readily agreed to find a riding outfit for Elizabeth and to accompany them on their rides to visit the tenants. She also assured Elizabeth as to Darcy’s competence as an instructor.



Chapter 29

Wednesday March 3, 1813 – Pemberley


The morning was overcast with a grey sky but somewhat milder temperatures. It had rained overnight but the pathways did not appear to be unwalkable. As they began their walk, Elizabeth considered her thoughts from the previous night. Speaking carefully she began, “The first time I saw you, I thought ‘what a handsome man’ and then when we were first introduced to Mr. Bingley and yourself, you barely acknowledged our existence, turned and walked away from us. Later you insulted me personally and then, by implication, every other woman in the room except Mr. Bingley’s sisters. Do you remember your words because I cannot forget them – ‘She is tolerable, but not handsome enough to tempt me, and I am in no humour at present to give consequence to young ladies who are slighted by other men.’ And ‘there is not another woman in the room with whom it would not be a punishment to me to stand up.’ As the evening progressed, you gave every impression of holding all of us in contempt, as below you, unworthy of even the slightest consideration from you. That evening laid the foundation for my disapprobation and coloured all of our subsequent dealings. I have managed to look past your behaviour but it still puzzles me exceedingly, even now. Why? How could you have been so arrogant, disdainful, even cruel to people who wished only to think well of you? On a personal basis, I suspect you have no idea how hurtful your words were to a young woman of just twenty years who, by no means, believed herself to be a beauty! I am concerned, if you will, that that man will somehow reappear.”

Darcy could sense the hurt that underlay Elizabeth’s question. She may have been able to forgive his behaviour but clearly she had not forgotten. First, he had to apologize for the personal insult, “I was wrong to speak so. Very wrong! It was not long before I found you to be one of the handsomest women of my acquaintance. I also owe you an apology for the incivility of expressing such sentiments in such a public setting.”

Darcy walked on, head bowed in thought. He spoke not for several minutes until Elizabeth feared he would say no more. She could feel a twinge of anger and tried to suppress it. Fortunately, Darcy continued as though there were no interruption.

“The question of ‘why’ speaks to the heart of my character. The easy answer is that I was worried about Georgiana, since Ramsgate was only a month or two in the past and she was still suffering from Wickham’s cruelty. Another factor is that I have always been extremely uncomfortable in crowds, particularly when I know few, if any, of the people – I simply did not want to be there that night. Also Bingley, who is like a brother to me, can be, on occasion, the most annoying and persistent individual and that night, given the first two conditions I mentioned, I spoke with no intent, no consideration other than to get him to desist in bothering me. That would be the easy answer.” He paused and looked at Elizabeth. He saw no absolution in her eyes and he shook his head, “That would be the obvious answer and one that contains some truth but it would be a very incomplete one.”

His walking pace had slowed as he considered how best to express his thoughts. He looked up and noticed that the path divided up ahead. “I think we should take the left fork since it will keep us in sight of the house. For your protection, we need to observe the basic proprieties. I would not have your reputation harmed in any form.”

“I thank you, sir, but hope you are not trying to deflect my question.”

Darcy laughed, “Hardly, Miss Elizabeth. I know well enough that you will not be persuaded to relinquish it. I am simply trying to find the proper words. Last summer I faced this same question from my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. The answer I found then is, I believe, still correct. I had been a selfish being all my life, in practice, though not in principle. As a child I was taught what was right, but I was not taught to correct my temper. I was given good principles but left to follow them in pride and conceit. Unfortunately an only son, and for many years an only child, I was spoiled by my parents who, though good themselves (my father particularly was all that was benevolent and amiable), allowed, encouraged, almost taught me to be selfish and overbearing, to care for none beyond my own family circle, to think meanly of all the rest of the world, to wish at least to think meanly of their sense and worth compared to my own. Such I was from eight to eight and twenty; and such I might still be, if not for you. You taught me a lesson, hard indeed at first, but most advantageous. By you I was properly humbled. I came to you in Hunsford without a doubt of my reception. You showed me how insufficient were all my pretensions to please a woman worthy of being pleased.”

“Had you then persuaded yourself that I should accept?”

“Indeed I had! What will you think of my vanity? I believed you to be wishing, expecting my addresses.”

“My manners must have been at fault, though not intentionally, I assure you. I never meant to mislead but my spirits oftentimes lead me wrong. How you must have hated me after that evening.”

“Hate you! No! I was angry at first perhaps but my anger very soon took a proper direction.”

“Mr. Darcy, I am puzzled by one aspect of your behaviour. Do you present as forbidding a countenance when attending balls or in society when in London?”

Darcy considered her question carefully, “Truly Miss Bennet, it depends. When I am in company of friends I suspect my behaviour is a little more amiable. After all, I was not too forbidding at Netherfield during your sojourn there, was I?”

“Except when I and Mrs Long shared a similar experience, I would admit you were not quite as forbidding.”

“Mrs. Long?”

“We both were in your company for a full half hour without a word being said, she at the assembly and I in the Netherfield library.”

“I have no recollection of Mrs. Long but I can assure you that not only did I spend the half hour not speaking, I don’t believe I read a single page of my book.”

“Why did you not speak?”

“I was trying to ensure that you had no expectations. Little did I know you probably welcomed the silence and would have been even happier if I were not there at all.”

“Let us not relive such poor memories.” Elizabeth looked at Darcy, “on what does your behaviour at balls depend?”

“I am required to accept invitations to many balls held by family or friends. In their company I tend to find it much easier to converse; however, one cannot be forever in such company at a ball. I came into society at about the same time my father died; I became one of the favourite objects of every match-making mother in society. If you remember the Meryton Assembly, I doubt I was in the room for a quarter hour before I heard the words ‘ten thousand a year’ and ‘Pemberley estate’. I have been pursued in this fashion for over five years. I adopted that countenance to discourage such advances where possible.”

They walked on in silence for a short distance until Darcy turned to face Elizabeth, “I trust, Miss Elizabeth, that I have answered your question satisfactorily. As to whether that man who first made your acquaintance will re-emerge, I should not speak on my own behalf. Truly, I believe he has vanished.”

Elizabeth found her anger had dissipated completely. “I believe, Mr. Darcy, that you have indeed answered all my questions. Perhaps more fully than I had anticipated. I know it could not have been easy for you to do so. “

Darcy nodded and they walked in silence for a few minutes until Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow at him, “I believe sir, that the opportunity to ask a question is now yours. Ask away, sir and I will endeavour to answer.”

“While I was delighted to encounter you most unexpectedly in London, I admit I was also puzzled. It appeared to me that you and your sister were living with the Gardiners, rather than simply visiting. I cannot tell you why I reached that conclusion but you seemed more like their daughters than guests. If my conclusion is correct, how and why did it come about?”

“You would not accept the simple answer that we had long desired to partake of London society?” Seeing Darcy’s negative shake of the head, she gave a rueful smile, “I thought not.” She rubbed her hands together as though to get some warmth into her fingers. “I think we should begin to return now.” With which she abruptly turned and began to retrace her steps. Surprised, Darcy was quick to catch her up.

“When we received the news that Lydia had eloped, my family expected to hear from her shortly about her marriage. Even Jane, to whom I had imparted your dealings with Wickham, had such hopes. I did not and knew our family’s reputation was ruined. My expectations were met, unfortunately. I anticipated the censure that we experienced and the extent to which my parents had failed us was borne upon me. The criticisms in your letter were hurtful but true. The behaviour of my mother and two youngest sisters was such as to warrant the greatest concern. It was my father’s duty, his responsibility to control such behaviour and he would not, preferring to tease, ridicule and laugh at them and be concerned with his own peace and quiet rather than his family’s reputation. I had begged him to keep Lydia home, to not allow her to go to Brighton, but he would not. He would not see that her behaviour, her want of sense – indeed her wildness - could lead to a wanton disregard of propriety. If not with Wickham, then with some other man - equally unprincipled.”

She looked at Darcy. “Our lives became a torture to bear, particularly for Jane and myself. Our father, who perhaps should bear the greater part of the responsibility for our distress, was the least affected, since society had never held much of his interest. He simply retired to his study and ignored the world as he had always done. I think I began to resent him. I know I could no longer enjoy sharing the privacy of his study and I suspect he knew why, although he said nothing. Nor could I pretend to share his disparaging comments of my mother and sisters. The cost of his negligence had become much too dear.”

Elizabeth considered how best to explain her feelings. “I had two examples of men who accepted and acted upon their responsibilities, yourself and my Uncle Gardiner. I was, of course, much less familiar with you but from what little I could observe, you were assiduous in handling your business concerns (as Miss Bingley once noted), you are obviously a concerned and devoted brother to your sister, and finally, I sense a dedicated and careful manager of your estate. My uncle I am much more familiar with and he possesses those attributes that I would wish in a father or a husband. He would not neglect his estate such that it was less productive than it could be, does not permit my aunt (if she were so inclined which she is not) to overspend and waste the family income, he does not neglect the upbringing of his children, nor does he slight or disparage his wife. Quite the contrary, in fact. My father is not responsible for the entail that binds Longbourn, but he is responsible for the fact that his daughters have no dowry and most have less sense than the veriest goose. He could not take the trouble to economize and provide for his wife should he die before her, nor would he ensure a proper training of his daughters instead of leaving it in the hands of a woman of little education and poor understanding. As a consequence, she has felt the fiercest need to find husbands for her daughters and to provide for herself should she be widowed. My mother has little sense but I doubt she would have pushed a match between Mr. Collins and me, if it were not for a fear for her future. My father supported my refusal but it should not have been necessary in the first instance, if he had taken the least trouble to redirect Mr. Collins’ attention to my sister Mary who might have made him a decent wife.”

“You were always close to him though, were you not?”

“Yes, I was his favourite. Perhaps most like him in those respects that he cherished, intelligence, love of books, and a willingness to discuss the import of what we read. He taught me, guided me as I grew up. I love my father, but it is difficult now to respect his behaviour.” She looked up at Darcy. “I tell you this in confidence. I would never want to say as much to my father.”

“Of course.”

“The censure of our neighbours was a concern of course. You must understand the position in which Jane and I found ourselves. We were both of marriageable age and had come to realize that there were few, if any, eligible gentlemen amongst our neighbours to whom we could wish to be attached. We both wished to be married to men we could respect and esteem and who would return that respect and esteem. We did not expect such as this.” And she waved her hand to indicate Pemberley and its grounds. “A modest but respectable living would suffice. But even that seemed to be denied us in Hertfordshire. When our Aunt and Uncle Gardiner visited us last Christmas, we asked if we could move to live with them. They understood our distress and persuaded our father to let us join their household. None of us really anticipated that Jane would marry so quickly nor so well. She is truly happy, I think.”

They walked on in companionable silence for several minutes until she looked up at Darcy. “Well then, Mr. Darcy, have I answered your question?”

“Indeed Miss Bennet. I presume then that you were not chasing me to London?”

Elizabeth glanced quickly at him and the small smile on his countenance sufficed to tell her that he was teasing. “Vanity, sir! Vanity!” They both laughed and continued to walk towards the manor house. “Truly, I had no expectations whatsoever of ever meeting you again. I thought the societies in which we each moved to be so very far apart as to preclude such an encounter. I hope that I do not feed your pride too greatly when I admit that our meeting has given me much pleasure.”

“What did I once say ‘pride – where there was a real superiority of mind – will always be under good regulation.’ How insufferably pompous I was then.”

“I will not dispute your conclusion, Mr. Darcy.” With a smile she ran up the steps to the entrance and into the main hall. Handing her outerwear to a footman, she turned to Darcy and inquired, “Now sir, you must direct me to the dining room. I have a hunger that is barely under good regulation at the moment.” Darcy laughed - drawing a surreptitious and surprised glance from Reynolds, his butler - and offered Elizabeth his arm saying, “Let me be your guide then. I find I have a hunger that exceeds even my pride.”

They entered the dining room in good spirits and found themselves to be the first to partake. Georgiana joined them shortly thereafter and they planned those activities which would occupy their attention for the remainder of the day.

~~

Elizabeth had spent the morning after breakfast exploring the house in company with Georgiana and Mrs. Reynolds who, by virtue of more than twenty years experience as housekeeper, had conducted countless tours for visitors and knew much of the recent history. Georgiana added a personal perspective from incidents related to her by her brother and father. If Mrs. Reynolds was particular in her attentions to Elizabeth as the prospective future Mistress of Pemberley, it was not readily apparent to either young woman. Elizabeth, for her part, found little to criticize and much to admire in respect of furnishings. As was the case with Darcy House, an elegant simplicity in style was married with functionality and quality to produce a comfortable place for people to live and, if some rooms were a little dated in style, the defect was not such as to necessitate urgent changes. Elizabeth noted and commented accordingly and her sensible attitude was clearly appreciated by Mrs. Reynolds, who could find no fault with her master’s apparent choice of a bride.

Darcy joined them for luncheon and solicited Georgiana’s help to outfit Elizabeth with a riding habit. Georgiana’s enthusiasm was infectious and as soon as they finishing eating she and Elizabeth repaired to Georgiana’s rooms to search through her wardrobe. After a search of an hour they were able to find garments that would fit Elizabeth. Darcy was informed that they would join him in a half hour at the stables.

While awaiting the ladies, Darcy consulted with the Stable Master to select an appropriate horse for Elizabeth. They settled on a mare of eleven years and fourteen hands high. She was of a gentle disposition and suitable for an inexperienced rider and had, in fact, been Georgiana’s first full sized horse after graduating from ponies.

“Oh, you are going to have Elizabeth ride Sugar.” Georgiana turned to Elizabeth, “I rode Sugar for several years and you will love her. Give her a carrot and she will follow you everywhere.”

“She is smaller than our farm horses. I won’t have so far to fall at least.”

Darcy smiled encouragingly, “Rest assured, I will not let you fall. We will spend the first little while letting you get used to riding her and will stay here in this paddock.” Getting Georgiana’s attention, he suggested, “Georgiana, why don’t you saddle Susan to accompany Elizabeth while I walk and guide Sugar. Have Mr. Henson saddle Ben for me.”

Darcy turned to Elizabeth, “I have a carrot. Why don’t you introduce yourself to Sugar before we get you mounted.” Elizabeth approach the horse with a carrot in her palm and, after it had been gobbled up, stroked the horse’s nose and patted her neck. Sugar snuffled and then gently butted Elizabeth in the chest. “Asking for another carrot.” laughed Darcy. “Maybe tomorrow, Sugar.”

Darcy led the horse towards the mounting block and assisted Elizabeth to mount, adjusting the stirrups as necessary. Handing her the reins, he led the horse towards and into the paddock, noting Elizabeth’s posture and suggesting such changes as were necessary to ensure her comfort and feeling of security. Georgiana joined them, riding a grey gelding and leading a tall black gelding. Releasing his grasp of Sugar’s reins, Darcy mounted his horse and with Elizabeth on Sugar between them, Georgiana and Darcy completed several circuits of the paddock at a walking pace.

"Elizabeth, you look fairly comfortable on Sugar. Your posture is good which is most important. Are you ready to go a little faster?”

Elizabeth was indeed feeling comfortable and rather bored by the slow pace. “I think a slightly faster pace would be delightful.”

Darcy and Georgiana increased the pace to a slow trot after instructing Elizabeth on the appropriate signals to get Sugar to respond. Seeing that she was doing quite well, Darcy led them out of the paddock and on to the grounds for a short distance, letting Elizabeth get familiar with handling her horse.

Darcy was keeping a careful watch on Elizabeth and could see that her posture was showing signs of fatigue. “I think we should return now, Elizabeth. You have been riding for about an hour and I suspect you will feel some soreness tonight.” They returned to the stables. Darcy assisted his sister to dismount and turning to Elizabeth, placed his hands around her waist and lifted her down. Elizabeth had instinctively placed her hands on his arms and was disconcerted by the contact and his nearness once her feet touched the ground. Never had a man held and lifted her in this fashion and she wondered if she would ever stop blushing when in close proximity to Mr. Darcy. Looking up, she was frozen by the look in his eyes and they stood there, gazing at each other until Georgiana’s cough brought them back to reality. Darcy quickly dropped his hands and stepped back. Obviously embarrassed at his behaviour in front of his sister, he gestured to them to walk to the house and deliberately ignored Georgiana’s smirk. “Miss Elizabeth! Please excuse my behaviour just now. It was most improper.”

Elizabeth shook her head, “If my pardon is required, sir, it is most willing given.” A most unladylike snort was heard from Georgiana which prompted a teasing response from Elizabeth, “Georgiana, are you feeling well? You have been coughing and snorting. I hope you are not ill.” This was vehemently denied by Georgiana who quickly changed the subject and praised Elizabeth’s riding. “I think you should not need too many lessons, to become a competent rider, Elizabeth. Will we ride again tomorrow, Brother?”

“Yes, weather permitting. I would like to venture a little further afield if Miss Elizabeth is willing.”

Chatting comfortably they proceeded into the house and to their respective rooms to bathe and rest. The meal and evening passed in quiet comfort. Jane and Stovall joined them for dinner and Darcy and Stovall repaired to the billiards room afterwards for a quiet hour before rejoining the ladies in the music room. The newlyweds again retired early while Elizabeth and Georgiana amused themselves and Darcy with a wide ranging medley of Irish, Scottish and English ballads. Even Darcy was persuaded to join in singing Greensleeves. Elizabeth accompanied Georgiana to her rooms for girl talk, leaving Darcy feeling quite deserted. However it only took Elizabeth’s smile and expressed wish to see him in the morning for their walk to buoy his mood and he wished them pleasant dreams.
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Road Back - Chapters 26-29 (revised)

PeterJanuary 08, 2015 09:53PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 26-29 (revised)

AlyssaSJanuary 16, 2015 02:26PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 26-29 (revised)

RedsonJanuary 10, 2015 02:32PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 26-29 (revised)

terrycgJanuary 09, 2015 02:15AM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 26-29

ShannaGJanuary 08, 2015 05:36PM

I completely agree. (nfm)

LisetteJanuary 09, 2015 08:20PM



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