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The Road Back - Chapters 30-32

January 12, 2015 12:04PM
Chapter 30

Wednesday, March 3, 1813 – Pemberley


When Elizabeth looked out her window, it was obvious that walking outdoors would not be an option today. A brisk wind was blowing and the rain almost looked like ice. She dressed and wandered downstairs anyway and found Darcy waiting for her as he had the past two days. “Good morning Miss Elizabeth! I think you will agree that a walk outdoors is not to be pursued this morning. I was going to suggest we stroll around the conservatory instead. Does that suit?”

“It suits very well indeed, Mr. Darcy.”

Offering her his arm, he led her through a circuitous route which prompted her to exclaim, “I see you are trying to ensure I cannot find this conservatory without your direction, sir!”

“You have uncovered my plan, Miss Bennet. Having seen it once, I know you will want to visit it often and will have to call on my services to guide you there.” Saying this, he then led her through a passage way and into the conservatory. It was a very large building and quite warm even in the early morning. Elizabeth released his arm and began to walk by herself stopping every few steps to admire another flower or smell a blossom. Darcy explained that they grew mainly flowers and fruit in the conservatory. Greenhouses, which lay just beyond the conservatory, were where they grew vegetables and greens for the kitchen. Their wanderings eventually brought them to an area with a fountain and several benches and a table. Darcy invited her to sit and joined her in listening to the sound of the fountain in a companionable silence. Finally she turned to him, “I believe I have a question for you, Mr. Darcy.”

“Indeed, I await your interrogation Miss Bennet.”

“There will be no interrogation this morning, sir. I am requesting, not questioning. Speak to me of you childhood, what manner of boy were you? What did you do? Who were your friends? I would know the young Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy felt acutely uncomfortable. His habits of privacy were such that he had rarely talked of his childhood with anyone. He could see Elizabeth watching him closely and was quite certain that his reluctance to disclose this part of himself was obvious to her. Yet if he expected to win her affections, he knew he could have few secrets from her. Not that there was anything particular bad about his childhood, it was simply that he was not comfortable talking about it. “Miss Bennet, I am sure you can see that I am uncomfortable talking about my past. At the risk of boring you to tears, I will attempt to do so.”

“Thank you Mr. Darcy. I am not that easily bored.”

“So be it. Never accuse me of not warning you.” He paused for a few seconds, “I do not have any memories until I suppose I was about four or five years of age. My parents were very traditional and I was in the nursery until I was twelve, I think. My earliest memories are of Christmas. I do not remember if it was at Pemberley or Matlock, since we spent alternate years at each. I can remember the Christmases mainly because my cousins were there and I had someone to play with.”

“You had no others to play with?”

“Not that I remember. Wickham was a playmate, though a year or two younger but not always available. During the summers my parents and I would visit the Matlocks for extended periods or they would visit us. I seem to remember spending whole summers in their company. James was three years older than I and Richard, a year older. Frances was three years younger and a proper hoyden as I remember her as a child. We all would roam Pemberley or Matlock on horseback as we got older.”

“When did you learn to ride?”

“I believe my father began my lessons – he taught me himself – when I was breeched at about six years of age. He and my mother both loved to ride and as soon as I could stay on my pony they often took me with them. I can still remember how proud I was to be allowed to ride by myself – well, almost by myself, since a groom always accompanied me – it was freedom to roam Pemberley where I willed. I think I may have spent most of my time, when not being schooled, on horseback. I did not realize it at the time but my father began schooling me about Pemberley as soon as I could ride.”

He became lost in thought and his contemplation lasted for several minutes before Elizabeth gently returned him to the present. “And how did he do that, Mr. Darcy?”

“Ah, sorry. I was just remembering. My father rode out regularly to inspect the estate – probably two or three times a week. Unless there was a matter of great urgency, he would bring me along. I rode in front of him on his horse when quite young and then beside him on my own horse as I became more proficient. We would visit the tenants, inspect fences, I even remember visiting the grist and saw mills. I did not realize it at the time but he was tutoring me about Pemberley just as my governess was teaching me my school lessons. He would talk to me about Pemberley, its history, my ancestors. As I grew older, he would talk to me more about the estate proper: the people - I believe he knew the history of every tenant and their family - the crops, the land – which areas were best for grazing and which best for crops, which areas always had drainage problems - the minutiae of managing an estate. He was an amiable man. I can remember him getting down off his horse and talking for an hour or more to a tenant farmer about his problems.”

“Do you do this?”

“Of course, how could I not? They must know me and be confident in my abilities and concern for their welfare. I believe my father must have known that he was quite ill since he gradually turned most of the management of the estate over to me the summer before his death. I was to have a Grand Tour after I finished Cambridge but my father put it off for a year, citing a concern about war in Europe. Since he died that year in the fall, I suspect he wanted to prepare me as much as possible.”

“What were your parents like?”

“My mother was quite beautiful. Georgiana looks much like her but mother was even more attractive. I think Georgiana and I both received her shyness, her reserve. She was most unlike her brother and sister. You have met my Aunt Catherine and can attest to her lack of reserve.”

“Indeed, I can. She bears comparison to my mother in that respect,” laughed Elizabeth.

“I had not thought of that. I think I prefer your mother’s silliness to my aunt’s proclivity to advise and importune every one she meets.”

“What memories do you have of your mother? You were twelve or so when she died were you not?”

“I was thirteen, I think. I had been sent to school – Eton – Georgiana had been born but it apparently was a difficult birth and my mother developed a fever and died shortly thereafter. I was at school at the time. I can remember my father coming to the school and bringing me home.”

“Were you close to your mother?”

“Oh yes. I can remember, if there was not company for dinner, she and my father would eat with me and include me in their discussions. Those are probably my fondest memories of her….oh and Christmas, of course. She loved Christmas. Decorating the house, her family visiting or visiting them. It was always a happy time. I remember her playing the pianoforte and people singing and playing games.”

“What was your father like?”

“He was quite amiable. He had no problem talking to anyone. Both he and my mother were quite conservative. Theirs was an arranged marriage but one of the better ones. A truly strong attachment, affection developed between them and my father was distraught at her death. I sometimes wished he had remarried, Georgiana and I really missed a mother. He was an excellent father but could not replace our mother. Georgiana never knew our mother and my memories are a poor substitute. She was but nine when father died and he did not talk to her much of our mother. Perhaps the memories were still too painful.”

“What are some of your best memories of your father?”

“There are quite a few. The times we rode the estate tend to blur together and, as I got older, created a great bond between us. Even now I can be riding the estate and recall my father and me at a particular spot and discussing something, sometimes a problem but often not. There is one thing we did every year and that was to travel to our estate in Scotland for the salmon fishing. We would stay a fortnight and often my uncle and cousins would join us. The manor house is quite a bit smaller than Pemberley, more akin to Longbourn perhaps. I truly enjoyed those times. I would like to take my son there and perhaps Mr. Gardiner could join me. I know he loves to fish and there is nothing to compare to fighting and landing a ten pound salmon.”

“I am sure nothing would give him greater pleasure. I never thought to ask but do you have any other estates?” Elizabeth did not mention her thought that she and her Aunt Gardiner would enjoy the trip also even if fishing were not their object.

“I have a small estate in Ireland which is where our horse breeding takes place. I have not visited it in a couple of years and will probably have to do so soon. I also have a house in Ramsgate which is being let at the moment. I will probably sell it because of the poor memories attached to it.”

Elizabeth nodded in understanding and thought to divert his attention. “I have met your aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Was your mother much like her and is your uncle much like her?”

Darcy paused and thought for a moment, “Is your mother like your uncle, Mr. Gardiner?”

“Point taken…..but my question remains.”

“My mother was shy, reserved and not greatly fond of large crowds. She was, I think, rather position or status conscious. She would not, for instance, have befriended your Aunt Gardiner but would have been polite in her company. She was conscious of social rank but not to the extent of my Aunt Catherine. My father was probably more conservative and more conscious of rank. He was truly amiable amongst his peers and to those for whom he had a responsibility but since I rarely saw him outside that circle I cannot say how he responded. In the Derbyshire society, he seemed comfortable and got on well but that society did not encompass a large number of families. That he was quite conservative I know, much more so than I. He probably would be quite disturbed at some of the changes I have made here at Pemberley and in the management of the Darcy fortune. He was a staunch believer in the primacy of land as the only solid measure of wealth and prestige.”

“I do not understand. How do you differ?”

“Well, without getting too deep into the subject area, I have introduced crop rotation which he was reluctant to do and I have taken much of the Darcy investments out of the Funds and into manufacturing and trade where the returns are much greater. Georgiana’s dowry is the only portion still retained in the Funds.”

“Is it the returns alone that have dictated your decision to invest in trade? Or are there other reasons? Do you mind my asking?”

“I am delighted you would ask. Not many women would think to inquire. The change simply makes the most sense. I believe the future will depend more on manufacture and trade than land. I have read the treatises of a number of political economists – Smith, Ricardo – and when you consider the amount of wealth being accumulated by people in trades, one would have to be wilfully blind to ignore what the future portends. As well, the wars have inflated the value of everything including agriculture. I have concerns for the future of landowners.”

Elizabeth really did not want to get diverted to a discussion of political economy, as interesting as that might prove with someone of Mr. Darcy’s intelligence, “I know only your cousin, the Colonel, and your Aunt Catherine. What are your other relatives like?”

“The Darcy family is quite limited. My father was an only son and I have but two aunts, who were much older than my father, and only a couple of Darcy cousins. One of my aunts was quite estranged from my father. She married poorly in his opinion and I don’t remember ever meeting her.”

“Poorly?”

“Yes, although I do not know all the particulars. He was a gentleman, I believe, but with a very small estate in Cornwall. I believe she married against the wishes of her family but don’t know the particulars, as I said. My other aunt had but two children, both girls, and I have not seen them for ten years or more. They are both much older than I.” He thought for a moment or two. “Perhaps I should attempt to reconnect with my aunts.”

“And your mother’s family?”

“My Uncle, Henry Fitzwilliam, Earl of Matlock is very like my father in most respects. They met at Cambridge and it was probably that connection which led to my father’s marriage to his sister. I respect my uncle greatly, he has been very supportive since I took over responsibility for Pemberley. I doubt he would agree with some of my initiatives but also suspect he will adopt those that he believes will work. I know he is planning to introduce crop rotation as an example. The results at Pemberley have been too good to ignore. My investment advice, he is less likely to follow since it would necessitate more contact with people in trades.”

“His first son, James, is much like him. He was married several years ago and has two children although I have had little contact with them. His wife is a product of the ton and not someone I enjoy meeting. Again, theirs is an arranged marriage but not one in which I can detect much affection. The Colonel, Richard, you know. I believe him to be the best of the Fitzwilliams and he is like a brother to me. I suspect his career in the army has rubbed most of the conservatism from him. He is truly one of the best men I know. I just wish he did not have to continue in the army. We fear for his safety now that he is with Wellesley.”

“What is your Aunt like?”

“Countess Matlock? She has been the closest I have to a mother since my own died. She is truly a lovely woman and would like you a great deal. Her background is rather similar to yours in that she had little exposure to London society before her marriage. She has been trying to find me a wife for several years now. Her daughter, Frances, is very much like her and I have asked her on a couple of occasions to act as hostess for me. She has no discomfort in meeting people from trade and has all of Richard’s amiability.”

There was one question that Elizabeth longed to ask “Will your family accept me?” But she knew that this was not the time to ask that question. Given the little that Darcy had told her of his relatives and her experience with his Aunt Catherine and himself in Meryton, she was not sanguine that they would ever accept her. That question would have to wait and instead she grinned, "Tell me, were you ever punished? Did your father ever take a hairbrush to you?”

Darcy started to laugh, “Oh yes, I could get into my share of trouble particularly when my cousins were around although I never remember a hairbrush being involved. I think the harshest punishment I received was when I spoke meanly to one of the servants. I don’t remember the particulars but I think he did not do something I asked of him and there was a good reason for his response. Anyway my father first gave me a lecture on the proper treatment of servants and then had me muck out the stables for the next five days. That lesson stuck.”

“Did you ever get into mischief type trouble?”

“You mean the kind of trouble one gets into by bringing a frog to the dining table?”

“Exactly! What happened?”

“I must have been seven or eight and vastly interested in frogs and snakes. I probably caught the frog down by the lake and, I presume, thought it would be a fine idea to share it with my parents. Bringing it out and displaying it on the table did not go over too well. I believe it jumped into my mother’s lap. She shrieked and it went flying. I was so busy trying to capture it, I missed what happened next but I think some china hit the floor. Anyway by the time I captured it again, my father had me by the scruff of my shirt and the frog, I, and my father proceeded outside. The frog got his freedom and I, a dozen of my father’s best on my bottom. I do not think I was allowed back to table for a week, not that I could sit well anyway.” He chuckled. “I believe my parents eventually got a great laugh out of it.”

Elizabeth laughed.”It is good to see you do something that I might have done.” She sobered and looked at him carefully, “You know, apart from your cousins, I have not heard you mention friends. Did you not have any?”

A rather pensive came over his face, “I have friends, of course, but not a great number of them. I may have made several at Eton and quite a few more at Cambridge but I was generally very reserved and did not enjoy many of the activities of my peers. Those friends I did make, I still have today. I would like them to meet you; they would like you and envy me. Wickham, of course, you know about. We were rather close as children but as we got a little older I sensed a change in him which I failed to understand at the time. It is now clear that, perhaps due to his mother’s influence, he began to resent our relative positions. I found him to be increasingly spiteful and inclined to disparage me when the opportunity arose. When we entered Cambridge, he quickly adopted the more dissolute ways of the richer students. Of course he did not have the income to support his endeavours and frequently used his Darcy connection to incur debt. I was forced on several occasions to pay his debts and, in one case, to indemnify a father for his daughter’s …. ah …. distress. I did so to hide his behaviour from my father who was quite ill and wished to think well of Wickham. Perhaps that was a mistake but it seemed best at the time.”

“I cannot fault your decision, sir. Particularly when your father was ill and additional distress would have made his condition worse. Now I believe it is your turn to question me.”

Darcy consulted his watch, “I think our time has lapsed for today. I will importune you tomorrow morning, if you agree. It is almost time to break our fast.” Offering Elizabeth his arm they strolled back to where breakfast was being served. Georgiana was at the table and greeted them with delight, bubbling with plans for the day. While Darcy had to meet with his steward for several hours, Georgiana and Elizabeth made plans to practice a duet on the pianoforte and for a picnic lunch in the conservatory afterwards. Due to the rainy conditions, riding was not a possibility.

~~

Dinner that evening was a quiet affair. Jane and Amos did join them for the meal and a pleasant hour was spent afterwards in general conversation. The Stovalls retired early and since Elizabeth wished to visit the library, Darcy and Georgiana joined her to spend several hours in reading poetry and discussing books. It was time well spent, both enjoyable and rewarding as they each became more familiar with the thoughts and opinions of the others. For Georgiana, in particular, it was a revealing insight into the woman she was sure would become her sister and, as well, into her brother who she thought, perhaps because she was getting older, seemed less like a parent and increasingly like a brother. For them all, there was no little delight to be found in their similarities of taste and opinion and, as much again in their differences, which could provoke debate and argument. If the latter flowed from strong opinions, the manner of expression never less than respectful; the winning of such arguments being insignificant compared to the pleasure of the exchanges themselves.


Chapter 31

March 15-21, 1813 - Pemberley, Derbyshire


Elizabeth checked her timepiece once more. Only five minutes had passed since the last time she had checked. “This will never do! I must order my thoughts.” She deliberately made her mind review the past week. She could not remember when she had last enjoyed such pleasant company and interesting pursuits. Her morning walks with Mr. Darcy had continued either on the pathways or in the conservatory and, if they had not been as insightful as the first several, they had provided her with a better appreciation of Mr. Darcy’s character and likes. His knowledge of the world and experience greatly exceeded her own and yet he was willing, nay eager, to share it with her. Her riding lessons were proceeding apace and her confidence in her abilities was growing. She was under no illusions that her skills matched those of Georgiana but she no longer feared falling from her horse. “And my new riding habit looks very good if Mr. Darcy’s reaction was anything to go by!” This produced a satisfied chortle from her when she remembered his eagerness to assist her in mounting and dismounting. Riding could not replace her love of walking but it was one more thing that she could enjoy with Mr. Darcy and the visits to the tenant farms had been illuminating in terms of Mr. Darcy’s character. It was clear from the start that he was comfortable talking to his tenant farmers and that they were equally comfortable talking of their needs and concerns with him. Their relationship was clearly not a new one. As well, the condition of the farms and buildings provided clear evidence of his care for his estate. Buildings were solidly constructed and well maintained; ditches were clear of rubbish; fences, sturdy although hedges were frequently used in place of fences.

She and Jane had also managed to visit all the ladies that their Aunt Gardiner had suggested. Georgiana had, in fact, accompanied them on the visits and had seemed to enjoy the experience. Elizabeth thought their Aunt Gardiner may rue her promotion of those visits since she and Jane had been told some interesting stories about their aunt’s younger days. The one involving their uncle’s courtship would make a particularly effective tease. She looked at her watch once more. “Ten minutes to wait. Perhaps I should make my way to the drawing room now.” Elizabeth could wait no longer. Rising she dipped a cloth in cool water, wiped her face and hands, checked her gown and hair and moved decisively out of her room.

With every pretence of calmness and certainty, she walked through the hall, down the stairs and towards the drawing room. If any of the staff had thought to observe her closely, they could only have discerned her inner turmoil if they recognized that deliberate calmness as the mask it was. Before she entered the drawing room, she spoke to the footman in the hall. “Is Mr. Darcy in the drawing room?” Upon being told that he was not, she nodded and entered the room. She was not about to indicate her eagerness by sending the footman to find him. She took a comfortable chair by the window and tried to make herself relax. She was rather sure she knew why he had requested this private interview but the formality of it rather perplexed her and, she admitted to herself, discomposed her greatly.

She was not so wrapped in her thoughts that Darcy’s appearance startled her. In fact, Elizabeth had become aware of Darcy as soon as he entered the room and crossed to stand before her. He looked oddly disconcerted notwithstanding the fact that this audience was at his request. Striving to maintain her own composure, she greeted him, “Mr. Darcy.”

“Miss Bennet, I … “pausing, he looked around the room and shook his head. “It will not do. There should be no one in the conservatory; I would prefer to hold this conversation there if you have no objections.”

“Since I do not know the subject of this conversation that you have mentioned, I do not know if I should object or not; however, it shall be as you wish Mr. Darcy.” Taking the arm offered by Darcy she strolled in silence beside him. Neither was inclined to talk and the mind of each was too busy to admit idle chatter. He was trying to calmly and logically order the jumbled mass of his thoughts while Elizabeth was sure she knew of what he would speak and her response but even so, it was difficult to control her nervous anticipation. If Darcy’s disastrous proposal a year earlier was remembered, it did not cause undue concern for either. The mistakes and misunderstandings which had led to so much misery were now behind them both. Fortunately, it did not take long to reach the conservatory and their favourite spot by the fountain.

Darcy led Elizabeth to one of the benches where he assisted her to sit down and then, himself. Her hands were clasped in his, the look in his eyes, she now recognized admiration, desire, love. “Miss Bennet you must know how ardently I admire and love you. You are the only woman I have ever loved and while I thought I loved you a year ago, that love was a pale shadow of what I feel today. I wish for you to be my partner in life, to bear my children, to bring love and light into my life and to allow me to love and care for you as long as I live. Will you marry me?”

Elizabeth could not help but compare this proposal with that which she received from Mr. Darcy almost a year ago. The last man she could be prevailed upon to marry had become the one man she most desperately wanted to marry. “Mr. Darcy, I am most happy to accept your offer. There is nothing I want more than to be your wife.”

Darcy stood and pulled her to her feet and releasing Elizabeth's hands, cupped her face with his hands and she felt him gently pulling her face towards him as he bent to kiss her. Closing her eyes Elizabeth felt the gentle pressure of his lips on hers; she grasped the lapels of his coat and felt his hands move down to her shoulders and then around her back pressing her body closer to his. He broke the kiss gradually and leaning his forehead against hers, he whispered, “I had not intended to ask you so soon but intended to wait until we heard from your sister in the summer. But I could not wait. You are so lovely and I love you so much, I could not wait.” His lips once more sought hers. She could not help herself; it was too delicious and she felt her body getting unusually warm and realized that her hands had somehow found their way around Darcy’s back. With a gasp, she brought them back and pushed herself gently but firmly away from Darcy, breaking contact while trying to regulate her breathing. She could see that Darcy was similarly affected.

Darcy released her but sought her hands to prevent her from moving away. “Elizabeth, I am most sorry. My behaviour was most inappropriate. Please … accept my apologies!”

“Mr. Darcy, I am equally at fault. Truly there is no need to apologize.” With a shaky laugh she continued, “However, I am going to have to watch myself around you. I enjoyed being kissed altogether too much, sir!”

"I know I probably should have waited until we heard back from your sister that she had married Simpson but I cannot wait so long. I have waited for a year to have your love and your hand. I could wait no longer.”

“I, sir, am glad you did not!” She tucked her arm onto his and turning with him began to walk out of the conservatory. “I believe that the others are awaiting us at dinner, Mr. Darcy.”

He stopped, “Will you not call me William now? I want to be able to call you Elizabeth as I have when thinking of you.”

“I think I will like calling you William. Of course, I reserve the right to call you Mr. Darcy when I am annoyed with you or when teasing.”

“As long as I can call you Lizzy when we are alone.”

“How long … have you called me Elizabeth?”

You will hardly credit this, but almost from the beginning. I think it was when you came to Netherfield that you began to haunt my dreams.”

“So soon! I had no idea.” Elizabeth looked at Darcy scrutinizing his face, perhaps more closely than she had ever done before. How could I have been so blind to his feelings? She touched his cheek with her fingertips, “I think we must join the others. We have an announcement to make.”

“Before we do so, first I wish to know when you knew you loved and trusted me enough to accept my offer. You must have known I would make one.”

“I cannot say for certain … but I think the last vestige of uncertainty disappeared during our talks and in particular when we discussed our very first meeting.” That this admission relieved Mr. Darcy was evidenced by the relaxation of his features.

"You have, I suspect, no idea how happy I am to have earned your love and respect.” After a short pause, he continued, “I also think we should discuss when to announce our engagement but perhaps we can leave that for later.”

“Yes, I would like to simply enjoy the pleasure of the engagement before considering the practicalities.”

Their conversation turned to less personal topics as they left the conservatory and walked down the hall towards the dining room. When they entered the dining room, they were the immediate object of everyone’s attention. Georgiana only had to look at Elizabeth entering on Darcy’s arm and was immediately running with a smile on her face to envelope Elizabeth in a hug. “Oh, I am so happy. You will be my sister, truly.” She was literally bouncing with pleasure until finally Elizabeth extricated herself with a laugh, “Gently Georgiana, gently.”

Jane and Stovall were no less eager to extend their congratulations and Darcy could tell from the tears running down Jane’s cheeks that her joy was overflowing. Once they had settled at the dining table and began to eat, the questions quickly turned to the questions of when and where the wedding would take place. Darcy looked at Elizabeth before commenting, “We have not discussed these matters as yet. I would wish to know Elizabeth’s preferences.”

Elizabeth was thoughtful but stated firmly, “I do not wish for along engagement. I would marry next week if that were possible. As to where, it matters not.”

Darcy grinned, “While I am very much in favour of an early marriage, I am afraid next week is too precipitous. I must, before we marry return to London to inform the Matlocks and visit my solicitor to draft the settlement papers. Since Bingley is expecting me to visit York and you and the Stovalls will be visiting his family, the earliest I could return to London is mid April and you,” gesturing at the Stovalls, “will not be returning until May, if I remember correctly. I am sure you want Jane to stand with you?” He looked at Elizabeth rather tentatively who nodded her agreement, “Would a mid May date be acceptable? That is about two months from now.”

Elizabeth looked rather disappointed which Darcy took some pleasure in observing. “Yes, I suppose that makes the most sense. I really would prefer not to be married in Longbourn…would the Gardiner’s church or yours be acceptable?”

“May I suggest that you write your Aunt Gardiner for her advice. My preference would be for a small quiet wedding. With a special licence we could be married anywhere…Darcy House perhaps?”

Stovall, in a rather hesitant voice, interjected, “This really is not my business but would not society be more accepting of a large public wedding?”

Both Elizabeth and Darcy considered this suggestion thoughtfully. Finally Darcy spoke, “I think I should discuss this with my Aunt Eleanor and Elizabeth with her Aunt Gardiner. I know we cannot escape some public exposure and, I admit my desire to have Elizabeth on my arm at the theatre and at least one ball.”

Georgiana burst out laughing, “Elizabeth, who is this man? What have you done to my brother? Wanting to attend a ball indeed!” Elizabeth could not suppress a chuckle, not that she tried hard to do so, and even Darcy joined in the general laughter.

The conversation remained good-natured throughout the meal with much teasing of the engaged couple. Afterwards Darcy and Elizabeth retired to his study to write their various letters; Darcy, to Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet informing them of his offer of marriage and Elizabeth’s acceptance, along with the tentative travel plans and another letter to his solicitor outlying the terms of the marriage settlement to be drafted; Elizabeth, to Mrs. Gardiner for which four pages were barely enough to contain her effusions of happiness and to seek such advice as was necessary, and to Mr. Bennet, assuring him of her affections for Mr. Darcy; the latter letter to be enclosed with the letter from her betrothed.


Chapter 32

April 15, 1813 – Longbourn, Hertfordshire


The silence in the carriage was a comfortable quietude and permitted her thoughts to roam. Her brother and his betrothed were resting, attempting to gain such repose as would be needed to weather the activities they anticipated when they reached Longbourn. For herself, Georgiana had much to think on. She would meet the Bennet family for the first time later this day and, if her brother’s cautionary comments were merited, she expected a lively and possibly somewhat indecorous stay. Fortunately, they would be venturing on to London on the morrow. For now, Longbourn was not the focus of her thoughts; her stay, in company with her brother, with Mr. Bingley in York had taken possession of them to the exclusion of almost everything else.

Over the course of their fortnight visit, Mr. Bingley had been in her company almost every day. At first, she had thought it the pleasant coincidence of simply being a guest in his house but, on too many occasions it would, in retrospect, appear that he had deliberately sought her company. His manner was most proper – in fact, he was much less familiar or perhaps more restrained than she had hitherto remembered him to be in such situations. In her memories of him, he was rather boisterous, very amiable and treating her much like he would a younger - much younger - sister. No longer. She puzzled as to the reason for the change and considered whether she could or should discuss it with Elizabeth. The thought of doing so with her brother made her extremely uncomfortable; for what reason she could not discern, but there it was. She thought that Elizabeth would be less … judgemental perhaps. When she had an opportunity, she would confide in her soon-to-be sister.

With that resolved, she let her mind drift to the several conversations that she had enjoyed with Mr. Bingley. She remembered his courtesy and kindness at the dinner party he hosted to introduce her and her brother to his relatives. Recognizing her reserve and shyness, he had made an extra effort to include her in the dinner conversations by placing her at his right hand at the table and engaging her and those near her in talk about music, Derbyshire and her travels. She was sure that it was no coincidence that those surrounding her found such topics of interest and she was able to contribute to them. It had not taken long for her to relax and enjoy the conversations that surrounded her.

She also owed him, and Elizabeth, a debt of gratitude. Elizabeth had warned her that she might be asked to play and that, if she were able to do so, it would be good practice for her ‘season’. Mr. Bingley had indeed asked her prior to the dinner if she would be willing to play and, thanks to Elizabeth’s advice, she had several pieces prepared and was able to comply with his request. When the time came, she felt the usual nervousness but calmed a little when Mr. Bingley offered her his arm to escort her to the pianoforte. If her subsequent performance was not one of her best, the company had certainly not minded and the compliments that followed were more than sufficient to gratify the vanity of any young lady. In fact, several of the other young ladies present had approached her afterwards with plans to visit and play the pianoforte.

While it was gratifying to have been able to perform in such company, it was the quiet conversations with her that Mr. Bingley had somehow managed to hold, despite being always in company, that pleased her greatly. He was interested in her opinions and was not hesitant to seek such out encouraging her to talk about her music, her studies – he had enjoyed histories most when attending Cambridge and found her most willing to engage in discussions of such. They talked of Pemberley and her love of the country life. In the course of their conversations he had managed to let her know about the activities that society could enjoy in York including travelling theatre groups and musical concerts. In fact, he had arranged to escort her brother and herself to a concert and to a Shakespearean play while they were in York. If neither were quite to the standard of a London performance, she found nothing wanting in either and quite enjoyed both experiences.

She could not say that he had paid her particular attention; if anything, he gave equal attention to every young lady. It almost seemed deliberate, could it be so? His manner was such as to be amiable to one and all and, in fact, the only occasion that he seemed even a trifle ill at ease occurred when he was introduced to Mrs. Stovall. From their conversation, it was obvious that they had met during his time in Hertfordshire but that would not account for his discomfort. Had he been much in her company there? And did it matter? She thought perhaps Elizabeth might be able to clarify that situation. Should she even ask? After all, Mr. Bingley was but a friend of her brother.

She looked across the carriage and became aware that her brother was watching her. Seeing that she had noticed his interest, he murmured quietly so as to avoid waking Elizabeth, “You seem very preoccupied, Georgie?”

Georgiana was careful to moderate her voice and wished to avoid disclosing her thoughts on Mr. Bingley, “I have just been thinking about our visit to York. It was very enjoyable and I quite like York itself. Mr. Bingley though is much changed from what I recollect him to be like. Much more serious and involved in business.”

“Indeed. He is much changed. He has, I believe, a purpose in life beyond simply becoming a gentleman which his father had demanded of him.”

“He is surely a gentleman, is he not brother?”

“I believe so; however, once he acquires that small estate that we visited with him, he will be more firmly established as such in the eyes of society. Did you like the estate?”

“Very much so! The park is beautiful and the hills and valleys remind me of Derbyshire. Will he buy it do you think?”

Darcy nodded his head, “Yes, he intended to offer on it as soon as may be. I think it will suit him well.” Darcy was not unaware of Bingley’s attentions to Georgiana but he also noted how circumspect such attentions had been and saw no reason to be concerned. He rather approved of the new Bingley but was not about to circumscribe Georgiana’s choices before she had even ‘come out’. “I have asked Mr. Bingley to be my groomsman and I also believe he intends to visit Pemberley this summer to get some advice as to managing an estate. I look forward to his visit since I have seen so little of him this past year.” Georgiana rather thought she would enjoy that visit also but limited her response to a simple, “I would enjoy his visit also.” Darcy was satisfied that her heart had not been engaged as yet and that a visit by Bingley could be safely accomplished.

~~~

Elizabeth had remained as if asleep during the conversation between the Darcy siblings. She had an immediate concern - her father. She had included a note to him when Darcy had sent his letter requesting her father’s permission and blessing to the marriage. Her father apparently did not credit her words if his response was a guide to his thoughts. She no longer need have the letter in her hands to remember it,

My Child,

I do not understand what you are about! I thought you always hated this man! To be sure, you seemed to bear his company well enough at Jane’s wedding but I failed to detect any particular regard.

Do not be afraid that I shall refuse my consent. Indeed, I could hardly refuse such a man, particularly given his assistance to our family. I have no doubt that he will be able to provide you with all manner of material things but I would not wish you to enter a marriage of unequal affections or to see you married to a man you could not respect.

Your letter does give me some comfort but I do not understand how you could change your opinion of Mr. Darcy so radically. I can only hope that you will satisfy my concerns when you visit us on your return to London. Be assured that the news of your engagement will be held in confidence until you arrive. I will leave you with the pleasure of informing your mother.

Your loving and concerned father
Thomas Bennet


She knew that William intended to meet with her father immediately and, if it were not for the need to introduce Georgiana to her family and shield her from the worst of her mother’s flutterings, she would ask to be a part of that discussion with her father. Elizabeth made pretence of waking and looked about. Her companions had fallen silent as she sat up and she grinned at them, “I was awake for most of your talk and would only add that I approve of the new Bingley very much although I saw less of him than either of you.” She looked at Darcy, "William, I would like to be present when you meet with my father. He is concerned about my regard for you and cannot forget how poorly I thought of you at one time. My letter did not assuage his concerns.”

Darcy considered this suggestion, “There is no reason that I can imagine why you should not be present. Your father’s consent and blessing has been given. My desire to meet with him is to assure him of my regard for you and allay any concerns he might have. Your presence and contribution can only help.”

“Thank you, William. I know it is not the custom for a lady to be present but, in this instance, I think my knowledge of my father will be helpful. I would suggest though that we delay a meeting until I can ensure that Georgiana is comfortable.”

Georgiana thought to ease the problem, “Perhaps I could claim a headache and be excused to my room when we arrive? That would allow you to meet with Mr. Bennet then.”

Elizabeth smiled, “I think this an excellent suggestion Georgiana although your brother, who opposes any form of deceit, will probably disagree!”

Darcy suppressed a smile, "I suspect this will not be the last time I regret ever uttering those words with two such duplicitous women in my life. Yes, Georgie, your headache would be most convenient.”

Elizabeth regarded Georgiana with some concern, “I must warn you Georgiana that my mother is unaware of the particulars behind my sister’s ‘marriage’ to Mr. Wickham and will likely mention his name with some frequency. In her eyes, the fact that they married has completely offset the impropriety of his and Lydia’s behaviour. She can only see that another daughter has married and since Lydia has always been her favourite, she sees it as a double blessing. Her only cause for lamentation is that Lydia is an ocean away – too far for even my mother to travel although I am sure my father would not discourage too much any plans she might make to visit them.”

Georgiana nodded, “Please, do not fret about this. I find I can now easily bear the mention of his name.”

~~~

Mr. Bennet looked up from his breakfast of ham and eggs and addressed his wife, “Mrs. Bennet, I should advise you that we are to expect company around noon.”

“Company, Mr. Bennet? Who?”

“Our daughter, Elizabeth, Mr. Darcy and Miss Darcy will be breaking their journey to London and visiting us until tomorrow.”

“Mr. Darcy! Here! Oh my saints! Hill! Hill!”

Mrs Hill made an appearance and was instructed to ensure that rooms were readied for the visitors. Mrs. Bennet, once that had been communicated began to give free rein to providing an appropriate dinner, “We must invite the Lucas family, the Thorntons and ….”

Mr. Bennet could not let this proceed further, “Mrs. Bennet, we shall entertain as a family only tonight. Mr. Darcy will not appreciate being inundated by local families.”

Mrs. Bennet was sure that her husband quite misunderstood the situation. Surely he must realize the need to impress their neighbours with Mr. Darcy’s presence. How better to accomplish that than with a dinner that included the major families in the neighbourhood. Unfortunately, Mr. Bennet did not agree and, after finally establishing that Mr. Bennet’s obstinacy on the matter exceeded hers, she was forced to limit her efforts to providing a meal with two courses as befit someone with ten thousand a year. In the excitement of planning the meal, she quite forgot to ask why they were only staying a single night or even staying at all since London was but an additional three hours further travel. Mr. Bennet, in the interest of sparing himself the extreme effusions of delight that his Lizzy’s engagement would produce in her, did not volunteer that information. As a consequence, Mrs. Bennet was under reasonably good regulation, for her, when the Darcy carriage rolled to a stop in front of Longbourn.

Darcy was first out of the carriage and immediately turned to assist Elizabeth to descend. She wasted no time hugging her father and greeting the others with hugs and exclamations of pleasure. While she was doing so, Darcy handed down Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley from the carriage and then introduced them both to Elizabeth’s family. If Georgiana was overwhelmed by the exuberance that surrounded her, she hid it well. After they were all ushered inside and relieved of their outerwear, the travellers chose to visit their rooms to refresh themselves. When Elizabeth and Darcy joined the others, he excused Georgiana from appearing on account of a headache from travelling. A speaking glance from Elizabeth to her father caused the latter to invite Darcy to his library. He was a little surprised to see Elizabeth accompany them. Mrs. Bennet was equally surprised and was about to remonstrate with her daughter when Mr. Bennet interceded, “Ah, yes I wish to speak with Lizzy also.” He closed the door before Mrs. Bennet could organize her thoughts sufficiently to question it further. Mr. Bennet bade them sit in front of his desk but, before sitting down himself, he opened the door to find his wife outside. This prompted him to dismiss his wife to the drawing room, call Mrs. Hill and station her in the hallway to ensure the privacy of the conversation that was to take place.

Once settled, he looked at the couple in front of him. He made no effort to conceal his concern, “I am not sure of the purpose of this meeting. I have given my consent and blessing since my daughter has accepted the offer of marriage.”

Darcy could see some underlying distress in Mr. Bennet and he knew the cause. “Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth has asked to be included in this discussion because she knows of your concerns. I realize that your opinion of me, and Elizabeth’s at one time, was based on my manner towards the people of Hertfordshire when I stayed with Mr. Bingley. I very much regret my behaviour now and it is a tribute to your daughter that she forced … induced me to change from the man I was then.”

“Forced you to change….” Mr. Bennet's amazement could not be hidden.

Darcy looked at Mr. Bennet and then at Elizabeth. He could see no way to convince Mr. Bennet without divulging all of the history between Elizabeth and himself. He quirked an eyebrow at Elizabeth, “Shall you reveal all?” Receiving her assent, he turned to Mr. Bennet who was obviously taken aback by the last exchange between Darcy and Elizabeth, “Tell me all?”

Darcy nodded, “Yes, it is rather a convoluted and long story.”

“In that case, let me order tea and coffee before you start.” Which direction Elizabeth communicated to Mrs. Hill. Once they were settled with their beverage of choice, Elizabeth began her tale, “It began father, rather to my subsequent amazement, with William finding me quite attractive very early in our acquaintance – which he endeavoured, and successfully I might add, to hide from me in order to avoid raising any expectations on my part. Of course, I was smarting from William’s insult at our very first encounter which caused me, to my embarrassment, to credit Mr. Wickham’s lies and, as a consequence, to most profoundly dislike William. There matters stood until we met again in Kent.”

Darcy had not anticipated her omission of his involvement with Bingley and could not let it pass,”I think you should inform your father of my interference in Bingley’s attachment to your sister.”

Elizabeth was obviously reluctant to do so but conceding that it was pointless to argue now that it had been raised, continued, “You see, when Mr. Bingley first quit Netherfield, he did intend to return ….”

Over the course of the next hour she described in some details all of the events that had transpired with Darcy supplementing some aspects from his better knowledge. Finally Elizabeth looked at Darcy but spoke to her father, “Papa, my opinion of William began to change when I read his letter after his first proposal. I suppose I read that letter a hundred times. It changed how I viewed myself, my family and my expectations; however, I never thought to meet William again and any hopes that he would renew his offer died when Lydia ran away with Mr. Wickham. That I would meet William in London at a dinner hosted by a friend of my uncle was more than I could contemplate. Since then my feelings have grown to the point where I considered him to be the best of men. If you are concerned about my affections, be assured that I both love and respect my future husband.”

Mr. Bennet had largely kept silent throughout the tale spun by his daughter. He could not doubt her sincerity or the depth of the feelings of both. “You say Mr. Darcy’s letter changed how you viewed your family. It did appear to me that you were unhappy with your mother and, to some extent with me. It seemed that we no longer shared the same pleasure in the foibles of our family. Was that the case?”

Elizabeth was reluctant to answer because of the implied criticism of her father. Mr. Bennet, seeing her reluctance, spoke a little more sharply. “I see that you wish not to answer. From that it is not hard to discern that my supposition is correct. You were unhappy with me!”

Elizabeth knew she could no longer avoid the issue and, looking at her hands clasped in her lap, replied, “I was unhappy that my mother and two youngest sisters were not checked in their behaviour. I was quite unhappy that Lydia was allowed to go to Brighton and made my objections known to you at the time. The damage that was done to our reputations by her subsequent actions was intolerable. And yet, I could not forget your kindness and consideration to me and to Jane. Nevertheless I was becoming more bitter every day. I did not want that and our removal to our aunt and uncle was a means to restore my love for you and my family.”

Elizabeth looked up at her father, “Papa, Mr. Darcy’s letter and my own consideration helped me to decide what I wished to find in a husband should I be so fortunate as to find a man willing to live with my impertinence. I believe I have found the best man for me.”

“In that case my dearest Lizzy, I could not lose you to a better man.”

He was silent for a few minutes and Darcy and Elizabeth were content to let him grapple with all that he had been told. Finally, he put his two hands on the desk and looked at them both, “The past is past. Let us now discuss practicalities. My brother Gardiner has offered to discuss and approve the settlement. It will be more convenient thus to avoid the repeated trips between Longbourn and London. The next issue is when do you want to marry?”

Darcy glanced at Elizabeth before answering, “We would prefer a date four weeks from now – mid May. We realize that it allows little time for elaborate preparations but neither of us wants such.”

Elizabeth spoke very firmly, “I know my mother will wish for three months or more in order to show me about the neighbourhood but I am of no mind to comply with her desires in this matter. I would wish for a shorter time period but also wish to have Jane stand with me and she will not return until then. I feel much as did Jane; our neighbours shunned us when misfortune fell upon us. I do not seek or want their goodwill now. I wish only for my family and friends at my wedding. If my mother wishes for others to attend, I will not object but neither will I be overly obliging in the matter.”

Mr. Bennet looked thoughtful, “Your mother will be distraught I am sure. Will you marry here or in London?”

Darcy spoke before Elizabeth could answer, “We have not irrevocably decided. There is much to favour London but we had intended to discuss this with my aunt, Countess Matlock, and with Mrs. Gardiner. There are some valid reasons for holding a more public wedding despite my distaste for such attention.”

Elizabeth shook her head at him, “If William had his way, we would have married at Pemberley the day after he proposed.”

Mr. Bennet laughed, “You would have had a short marriage to be sure since Mrs. Bennet would have hunted you both down with malice aforethought.” He paused for a few seconds, “May I suggest that you leave the matter of where the marriage is to take place open for now and not discuss the London possibility with Mrs. Bennet. She will believe it to be held at Longbourn unless told otherwise. Let her enjoy the prospect of the marriage, she will be unhappy enough that it is to take place in a month.”

With that, Darcy and Mr. Bennet moved to the drawing room while Elizabeth went to find Georgiana to have her join the others and then to see her mother who had retired to her room. Elizabeth preferred that she alone experienced her mother’s initial effusions which were sure to occur. To her astonishment, Mrs. Bennet was silent for several minutes until she could fully comprehend what she had heard. At length she recovered her voice,

“Good gracious! Lord bless me! Only think! Dear me! Mr. Darcy! Who would have thought it? And is it really true? O my sweetest Lizzy, how rich and how great you will be! What pin money, what jewels, what carriages you will have! Jane’s is nothing to it – nothing at all. I am so pleased – so happy. Such a charming man! So handsome – so tall! O my dear Lizzy! Pray apologize for my having disliked him so much before. I hope he will overlook it. Dear, dear Lizzy. A house in town! Everything that is charming! Three daughters married! Ten thousand a year! O Lord! What will become of me? I shall go distracted.”

Such profusions of delight left no doubts as to her opinion of the match. Even being told that it was to take place in a month’s time did little to dampen her elation. She barely had time to solicit Elizabeth for Darcy’s favourite dishes before the need to inform her neighbours of the happy event took precedence. Upon being told that Elizabeth intended to take her betrothed and his sister for a walk, she was adamant that Elizabeth must accompany her on the calls she planned to make.

When they rejoined the others her behaviour towards Darcy was so restrained as to cause her husband to look at Elizabeth with a quizzical eye. “I believe we can credit you with such a transformation, Lizzy!”

When Mrs. Bennet outline her plan to call on the neighbours with Elizabeth in attendance, Darcy interjected to say that he had requested Elizabeth to walk with him and his sister in order to alleviate his sister’s headache. Not wishing to jeopardize her now most favoured daughter’s incredibly advantageous engagement, Mrs. Bennet was required to concede the issue with only a few additional complaints. Her displeasure was substantially reduced by the offer of the Darcy carriage with which to undertake her visitations. Kitty, who had been subdued throughout asked to accompany her sister on their walk, citing a desire for exercise and a desire to become better acquainted with Miss Darcy. If she had motives such as wishing to avoid being conscripted to join her mother, no one was of a mind to question them.

After they began their walk with her arm on his and his other hand overlapping hers, Elizabeth looked at her betrothed and teased, “Do not be under any illusions, William. My mother will display us both sometime today. I have no doubt but that we shall be receiving visitors before and after dinner tonight. I suggest we prepare to depart tomorrow morning immediately following breakfast or we might well be inundated by the neighbourhood and might fail to escape for a week.”

Seeing his grimace, she could only laugh, “All those lessons in amiability you learned shall be of use tonight.” Looking back, she could see that Georgiana and Kitty seemed to be conversing comfortably and brought this to Darcy’s notice. “I shall ask Kitty to keep company with Georgiana tonight. Kitty has become much more sensible and restrained since Lydia departed. The consequences of unrestrained behaviour were such as to make her more conscious of propriety and proper behaviour. I think she and Georgiana will get on well.”
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The Road Back - Chapters 30-32

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