Welcome to our board! Log In Create A New Profile
Use mobile view

Advanced

The Road Back - Chapters 33-34

January 15, 2015 01:53PM
Chapter 33

April 16, 1813 – Gracechurch Street, London


To Mrs. Bennet’s dismay, the Darcy carriage pulled away from Longbourn following breakfast and before any of her hoped for callers could arrive. The evening before had gone much as Elizabeth had predicted. Lady and Sir William Lucas called to extend their best wishes – Elizabeth noted to Darcy that her cousin Mr. Collins would shortly be aware of the engagement, as would Darcy’s Aunt Catherine. A shrug of his shoulders conveyed his lack of concern since his aunt’s displeasure was a foregone conclusion. Their most congenial visitor was Miss Thompson who called with her parents and her brother. Her pleasure at the engagement was obvious and she clearly wished to further an acquaintance with Elizabeth and Georgiana. Expressing her regrets that they would not be making a longer visit, she expressed a desire, since she herself would be coming to stay with her brother in London for the season, upon arriving to call on Elizabeth which was agreeable to them all.

Darcy could not altogether lose his reserved manner but he did make an obvious effort to converse with those around him and, if he needed the occasional encouraging smile from Elizabeth, he was deemed to be much less arrogant and prideful than in the past; and Elizabeth’s happiness in the marriage was now thought to be more likely than otherwise by those who observed them both.

To everyone’s amazement, Georgiana and Kitty improved their acquaintance to the point that Georgiana was talking about inviting her to visit in London. Mrs. Annesley’s nod of approval did much to alleviate Darcy’s concern and he did not dismiss the idea outright.


April 17, 1813 – Gracechurch Street, London

When Darcy entered the Gardiner drawing room the next day, he was greeted by the sight of Elizabeth reading to the Gardiner children who surrounded her and he stopped in the doorway to watch. Elizabeth was unaware of his presence so wrapped in the story was she. Her voice changed timbre as she assumed the different characters in the story; only the oldest daughter Amelia was aware of his presence and, recognizing Darcy’s finger to his lips as a sign to ignore him, she did so. It took but five minutes for Elizabeth to finish the story and the pleas of her cousins for another story were, however, interrupted by Darcy’s appearance. Warmed by Elizabeth’s welcoming smile, he greeted the children with a bow to the girls and a handshake with the boys and, taking Elizabeth’s hand, helped her to rise and then bestowed a kiss on her fingers. Tucking her hand on his arm, he first addressed the children, “My apologies for interrupting your pleasure but I must borrow your cousin Lizzy for a while. If I promise to bring some special biscuits baked by my cook, will I be forgiven?” Receiving an enthusiastic response from Elizabeth’s cousins, he turned to her and motioned towards the door, “I believe your uncle is expecting us in his study.”

Elizabeth laughed, “I am not sure my aunt will appreciate your means of bribing her children, Mr. Darcy.”

“It just shows how far I will go for the pleasure of your company.”

Mr. Gardiner smiled warmly at them both as they entered his study laughing and took seats before his desk. “I am glad to see you both and, if I failed to do so yesterday in all the confusion, please allow me to offer my heartiest congratulations on your engagement. I am so very pleased for you both.”

Looking directly at Darcy, he nodded his head, “I am glad that you were able to provide me with a copy of the settlement last week since it gave me an opportunity for a thorough review. It is, I must admit, extremely complete and my suggestions are mostly minor and intended for clarification.”

"Thank you, sir. I confess that I followed the outline of my mother’s settlement with some modifications as I deemed necessary.”

Mr. Gardiner, seeing Elizabeth about to say something, quickly interjected, “Elizabeth, I intend to review the main parts of the settlement with you today. You can read the final document at your leisure should you wish to do so. Perhaps I can do that now and we can discuss my suggested amendments afterwards?”

Receiving a nod of approval from both Darcy and Elizabeth, he first wrote on a slip of paper which was then passed to Elizabeth and began, “The first number is the amount that Mr. Darcy will settle on you which will be invested in the Funds and augmented by the accumulated annual interest. Over the course of the next twenty years, the settlement could double in value. The second number is your annual allowance – your ‘pin money’ as your mother most inelegantly terms it.”

Elizabeth was in a state of shock, “So much? William, surely I don’t need that much? How can you afford it?”

“This is quite reasonable for a woman of your station, Elizabeth. I do not want you to have to ask me for money every time you need a new dress or buy a book.”

Mr. Gardiner added, “I suspect that Mr. Darcy’s income also exceeds ten thousand a year, Lizzy.”

Darcy smiled, “True, Pemberley contributes that much alone. I have two other estates, albeit much smaller, and many other productive investments. I do not contradict the ten thousand a year claim to avoid even greater interest and speculation - which is bad enough as it is.”

Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief, “I never realized or thought to inquire. I have never really thought about your income other than I knew I would not have to worry about the roof leaking or that we could afford our next meal.”

Mr. Gardiner cleared his throat, “I would hope those concerns have been eased, Lizzy? Shall I continue?” and did so after receiving an assenting nod from both Elizabeth and Darcy, “Mr. Darcy has been very generous to your family, Elizabeth. He has included a provision to provide a house in Meryton plus a living allowance for your mother, should your father die before she does. As well, he is settling a dowry of £5,000 each on Mary and Kitty.”

Elizabeth could only look at Darcy in shock, “I never…”

“Elizabeth, I spent as much to protect you and your sisters by essentially dowering Lydia by a like amount even if it was not called such. With even these small dowries, your sister’s prospects improve greatly. They will be my sisters after all and I want them to marry as well as possible. As far as your mother is concerned...well, let us hope that the security will calm her nerves to some degree.”

Elizabeth could not suppress a grin, “And if she is living in Meryton, she is not living with us. Well played, sir! Well played!” Her smile gradually faded and was replaced by a more thoughtful look, “William, I seem to be in a continual state of shock this morning. I hope there are no further surprises or I might start experiencing my mother’s flutterings!”

Both Darcy and Mr. Gardiner started to chuckle and continued until finally Mr. Gardiner wagged a finger at his niece, “Do not even joke about such, young lady…..but now that you mention it, there is one final important clause. In the event that Mr. Darcy dies before your eldest son reaches five and twenty years of …”

Elizabeth’s distress at such a thought was evident as she cried, “I do not want to even think about such happening!”

Darcy grasped her hands, “Dearest, it most likely will not happen but we must allow for the possibility. This is included for my peace of mind. I will be assured that should something happen to me, the most important person in the world to me will be looked after.”

Mr. Gardiner paused to allow Elizabeth time to regain her composure and then continued, “As I said, if Mr. Darcy dies before your eldest son is five and twenty years of age, you will be responsible for managing Pemberley and all of the other family assets. In the event that the eldest son is five and twenty, the jointure provides for a Dower House to be established for you, unless you chose to remain at Pemberley.”

Darcy had retained his grasp of Elizabeth’s hands, “Elizabeth, I wish for you to be a true partner and be involved in all of the activities that I engage in, at least to the extent you desire to do so. I would have you learn how to run Pemberley with me at your side. I have too much respect for your intelligence to not give you the scope to exercise it.”

“William, at this point I am speechless and somewhat…no, not somewhat, but very intimidated by the responsibilities that I am expected to assume.”

“Elizabeth, it will not happen overnight. I suspect that after the first fortnight your first priority will be learning the duties of the Mistress of Pemberley. There will be time to learn the others and I will be with you always.”

“After the first fortnight, sir?”

“I wish for you and me to be free of any responsibilities for at least that long.”

Mr. Gardiner hid a smile, “May I continue?.....The rest of the settlement deals with dowries to be assigned to any daughters, allowances for sons until they reach their majority, your portion of your mother’s dowry and so on. Let us review those elements with which I have some concern.”

The ensuing discussion lasted for almost two hours. By the end of which Elizabeth felt herself to be in a state of utmost confusion. After several small amendments, to which Darcy agreed, they agreed to have final copies readied within a week for signature. She turned to her uncle, “there is little chance I will understand or grasp all of the details you have presented. Are you and my father satisfied with it?”

“Yes Lizzy, I wrote your father explaining the basic elements and he is in agreement and has given me permission to sign on his behalf. This settlement will protect you more than adequately.” Mr. Gardiner rose, “I will leave you alone for a few minutes. Mr. Darcy, will we see you and your sister for dinner tonight?”

"I must visit my uncle to inform him of the engagement this afternoon but my sister and I will be delighted to dine with you tonight.”

Elizabeth tightened her grasp of Darcy’s hands which had held hers almost continuously throughout their discussion, “You are much too good to me, William! I can hardly comprehend such care and concern.”

“Elizabeth, one of the responsibilities I gladly assume with our marriage is to protect you to the best of my ability. This allows me to do so even after death. It is something I do for myself as well as you. You will bring so much to our marriage, do not…”

Darcy was unable to finish when he found himself being fiercely hugged by Elizabeth who held him thus for several minutes. He eventually kissed her hair and roughly said, “We had best join your aunt and uncle.”

~~~~~~

Elizabeth waited for Darcy to arrive with little pretence of calm. She knew he was to meet with his Aunt and Uncle Matlock that afternoon and she could not but be apprehensive as to the outcome. It was not Darcy’s commitment that concerned her but the possible severing of a family tie that she knew he valued was not something she could contemplate with any equanimity. Finally, she heard a carriage stop in front of the house and very shortly thereafter Darcy and Georgiana were shown into the drawing room. She looked at Darcy with a question in her eyes and his murmur, “All is well.” as he bowed over her hand produced an obvious sigh of relief from her. Darcy looked at Mrs. Gardiner and asked, “May I have a few moments alone with Elizabeth to acquaint her with my meeting with my Aunt and Uncle Matlock this afternoon?”

“Certainly, the parlour is not in use at the moment.”

Once they were assured of some privacy, Darcy sat beside Elizabeth, took her hand in his and raised it to his lips. “Truly my love, you fret too much on this. I met my aunt and uncle this afternoon and they received the news much as I expected. They were disappointed that I will not marry someone from the ‘ton’ and with connections but they recognize that I am head of the Darcy family and entitled to make my own decisions. They will be cool but civil and will accept my choice.”

“I am sure that they thought me the veriest fortune hunter!”

“I cannot deny my uncle said as much but I assured him I had absolute, incontrovertible knowledge that you were not. He did not press me on this but I have no reason to think I was not believed. He did warn me that Aunt Catherine would not take the news well and to expect some action on her part. He assured me that she would not speak for the Matlock family.”

“How did your Aunt Matlock receive the news?”

“She seemed to take it better than my uncle and had many questions about you. She does wish to meet you soon. In that regard, they have invited us to dine with them Monday next. I believe my cousins will likely be there.”

Elizabeth tried to hide her consternation at this news but was obviously unsuccessful since Darcy immediately tried to reassure her, “Do not worry unduly, Elizabeth. They will be polite; they will want to get to know you. If you are simply yourself, you will charm them I am sure. I cannot speak for my cousin’s wife but she will be civil although I would not expect anything more.”

Mrs. Gardiner knocked on the door and informed them that dinner was ready. As they took their places at the table, Elizabeth informed her aunt about the dinner invitation from the Matlocks and wondered whether she owned a suitable gown. After a few minutes discussion, Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth determined that none of her gowns was suitable and a visit to their modiste necessary. Darcy listened to their comments and when they had reached a conclusion, offered a few thoughts of his own, “Ladies, I make no observations about a gown for the dinner, only to note it is a family party; however, I know it is customary for a bride to acquire her wedding clothes. I am sure that Georgiana could assist your efforts. Perhaps her modiste would be appropriate. Georgiana can advise of the clothing most appropriate for Pemberley winters which are much colder than those in Hertfordshire although we could put off ordering those until the fall. As well, when we meet my aunt, she might be able to provide guidance on the clothing you will need as my wife. I suspect that you may well be underestimating what you will need.”

Both Georgiana and Mrs Gardiner were quick to agree with Darcy and made plans to visit Georgiana’s modiste the next day. Elizabeth’s objections as to the cost were quickly overruled by Mr. Gardiner and Darcy. Recognizing the futility of continuing that argument, she beat a strategic retreat and changed the topic of conversation. “I will concede this matter but I would like to know where I will be married? London or Longbourn?”

“Elizabeth, I really think this is something you and I need to discuss privately after dinner.”

Mrs. Gardiner nodded her agreement, “I agree. You can use the parlour and let us know what you decide.”

So, after dinner Elizabeth and Darcy found themselves once more alone. Nevertheless, neither was inclined to push the limits of propriety and, as a result, occupied adjacent chairs. Darcy, without any conscious thought, held Elizabeth’s hand and began the conversation, “I suspect that you would prefer a London wedding, would you not?”

‘Yes, in many respects I would; however, I have been thinking about this over the last day or so and I now think that we should marry at Longbourn. I feel that it would be perceived as a slight to my family to do otherwise. It might appear that I am estranged from them even though they would attend in London.”

Darcy considered her words briefly, “I can accept that. The only reason I would prefer a London wedding is that my Aunt and Uncle Matlock would be more likely to attend, but their presence at the wedding is not all that significant if they acknowledge us publicly on other occasions. So Longbourn it shall be. Am I correct in assuming that you plan to follow the same path as your sister and minimize your presence in Longbourn?”

“Indeed! I suggest a Wednesday May 19 wedding. We can travel to Longbourn Monday morning which allows my mother two days to show us off to the neighbourhood. Like Jane, I do not propose to call on anyone except the Lucas family, my Aunt Phillips and the Thompsons.”

“Very well. I think it most unlikely that any of my relatives will travel to Hertfordshire for the wedding.”

“I wonder …..?”

“Yes?”

“Well, I would like to invite the Johnson’s to attend. They were, unintentionally, the reason we met again.”

Darcy had a pensive look on his face. Elizabeth’s first reaction was that he was concerned about their being in trade but realized he could have other concerns and raised a quizzical eyebrow at him and asked, “This troubles you. Why?”

“Oh … no … I was simply wondering where they could stay for a night. Does Longbourn have room for them as well as the Gardiners?”

“Probably not! But they could stay at the Meryton Inn. Or perhaps the Thompsons could host them. My Uncle Gardiner has become well acquainted with Mr. Thompson and might be able to request such a favour.”

The Gardiners were apprised of the wedding plan and gave their wholehearted support. They had been somewhat apprehensive that Elizabeth would be so disenchanted with her family as to hold the wedding in London, which could imply an estrangement with them. They also agreed to solicit the Thompsons to host the Johnsons the week of the wedding.

Chapter 34

Thursday April 23, 1813 – Gracechurch Street, London


The sun was more promise than reality when Elizabeth walked into the kitchen. The cook and her helpers were already busy at their work and could only spare her a quick smile and word of welcome as she entered. Pausing to pocket a couple of biscuits, she looked at the cook, smiled her thanks and turned to the waiting groom who would accompany her on her walk, asking, “Are you ready, Jonathon?”

“Yes, Ma’am”

Elizabeth smiled once more and headed out the door. These morning walks which had begun when she visited Pemberley had become a ritual. It was unfortunate, she thought, that Darcy could not accompany her in London. She missed the closeness and companionship that those walks had developed between them; in fact, she felt a rather distinct sense of resentment that her time with him was being so limited by social commitments, wedding preparations and the pervasive presence of chaperones on those occasions that they were together. It was most vexing!

She forced her mind from wandering down that trail. There were more immediate concerns and, as if to reflect the seriousness of her thoughts, her walking pace gradually slowed. So much had happened in the last three days that she was struggling to absorb or rather digest it all.

The dinner with the Fitzwilliam family had taken place on Monday evening and she could look back on it now with equanimity and some small satisfaction. His uncle, the Earl, was every bit as reserved and coolly polite as William had given her to expect. His wife was much less so. She could not be sure how they perceived her but from their reaction to her answers to some of their questions, she detected some reservations. Nevertheless, their civility did not waver and she thought she discerned some warming on the part of the Earl when she was able to encourage him to talk about his sister, Darcy’s mother. Thinking about their conversations she had concluded that he seemed delighted to talk of his childhood with his younger sister and it was a topic that she knew could be explored with him in the future. Elizabeth could find no evidence in his treatment of her, nor did he disclose anything in their conversation, that hinted at any awareness of Lady Catherine’s interference although she was sure that Lady Catherine had written her brother to state her objections to the match. It was as though it had not happened. For this she could only be thankful.

The rattle of a passing coach alerted her to her surroundings once more. Checking her timepiece she realized that she must have been walking much slower than was her usual wont. By now she should have reached the park which remained some distance ahead. She glanced back and could see Jonathon ambling casually behind her, close enough to provide protection should such be necessary but providing sufficient space for her to feel a degree of privacy. She looked ahead and thought to quicken her pace and for several minutes she concentrated on her surroundings, noticing the streets to be gradually filling with people and the sounds of a neighbourhood coming awake. It was somehow both comforting and relaxing and not too many minutes had passed before reflections of that dinner had once more commanded her thoughts. She had found the Countess to be less reserved than her husband and when the ladies had withdrawn to the music room, she had warmed even more, particularly when talking about her son, Richard, who was with Wellesley’s army in Portugal, or had they moved into Spain – she could not be sure. His mother’s concern and fears for his safety were evident and Elizabeth could not but be sympathetic. That she had met the Colonel in Kent was a revelation to the Countess and Elizabeth was more than willing to share her approbation of him with his mother. In their discussions she admitted she had admired his amiability and gentlemanly behaviour and that she quite envied Lady Frances since she had no brother of her own. Lady Frances laughingly commented that brothers could sometimes be rather a nuisance, particularly when a young lady was striving to present an image of ladylike behaviour. This was greeted with sympathy from the other ladies; however, Lady Frances did admit that overall she found her brother to be tolerable enough when not being a nuisance. Elizabeth’s chuckle was met by an easy grin from Lady Frances.

“Quack! Quack!”

Elizabeth came to an abrupt stop and looked about her. Her feet had not only carried her into the park but also to the pond where she frequently stopped to feed the ducks who, having seen her approach, had swum out of the water and surrounded her, begging for food. She sought the bench nearby and, retrieving the biscuits from her pocket, began crumbling them to distribute to the noisome flock around her feet. Holding some in her hand she let them feed directly, replenishing the supply until all the biscuits were consumed. She rose and dusting off her hands, she took her leave saying, “That’s all for now, my friends. Perhaps I will come again tomorrow.”

Once more checking her time piece, she thought she had sufficient time to extend her walk a little further and began to walk up a street that she had not yet explored. For a while her attention was focused on the houses she passed. Most seem to be of an age, size and appearance that mirrored that of her aunt and Uncle Gardiner. The grounds were well-kept, the houses well maintained, at least from an outward appearance. Altogether the houses radiated a sense of comfort and well-being that a healthy income could provide. In such an environment it was possible to allow her attention to drift onto those matters which were of immediate concern.

She had found the Colonel’s siblings to be much as William had described them. Lady Frances and her husband were amiable, intelligent conversationalists and quite interested in learning about their cousin’s courtship. Elizabeth restrained her teasing and gave an abbreviated version; however, she did not hesitate to share with the Countess and her daughter that her initial opinion of William was very poor and that it had taken some months for him to convince her to change it. That any young woman would not be impressed with William from their first acquaintance was something which she could see they had difficulty comprehending. She dared not tell them she had refused his first offer of marriage, lest they think her a simpleton. The evening had passed tolerably well and William had assured her the next day that his aunt and uncle had found her acceptable – high praise indeed she thought cynically – and were prepared to help her entry into society. His aunt had invited Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner to tea in two days time, in company with her daughter, daughter-in-law and Georgiana. Elizabeth’s thoughts on this were interrupted by a call from Jonathon, whom she noted, had shortened the distance between them and was now just behind her.

“Miss Elizabeth, I think it is time you returned home. They will be breaking their fast shortly.”

Checking her timepiece, Elizabeth could see that it was indeed time to return, “Thank you, Jonathon. I had quite overlooked the passage of time.” With which she began to walk back, attempting to set a faster pace so as not to be late for the meal.

She could not regulate her thoughts so as to exclude the meeting with the Countess that had taken place the previous afternoon. Nor did she want to. She had found it had been more pleasurable than she had anticipated. Her own aunt had clearly surprised the Countess with her manners and gentility and over the course of the hour they had warmed to each other to the point where both had, at one point, turned to regard Elizabeth closely. She had felt somewhat akin to an exhibit on display and said as much only to be reassured by her aunt that they were simply considering which styles would suit her best. They were making plans to visit a modiste for that purpose. Both Lady Frances and Georgiana expressed an interest in being one of the parties and Elizabeth was more than willing to comply, particularly if it meant she could avoid having her mother involved. She could hope that, knowing a Countess was helping her with her wedding clothes, would suffice to dissuade her mother from journeying to town for that purpose. Her aunt seemed to have guessed her reasons and had gone so far as to express an appreciation for the Countess’s help since it would allow Elizabeth’s mother to concentrate on planning the wedding.

If the Countess and her daughter were amiable, Lady Elaine was civil but only barely so and contributed little to the discussion. After one or two aborted attempts at conversation, Elizabeth directed her efforts elsewhere and paid her only such civilities that met with the approval of both of them. While most of her attention was directed to the Countess and Lady Frances, she consciously tried to ensure that Georgiana was included in the discussions. In this, she was assisted by her Aunt Gardiner and she could see that Georgiana was losing some of her shyness when discussions focused on Pemberley, music and shopping. By the time they left, plans had been laid to visit a modiste within a day or so.

When she had related these matters to Darcy later that evening, he had been quick to indicate his regard for his cousin, Richard.

“We owe much to him. It was only with his good advice and counsel that I was able to see how grievously I had offended you in my first offer of marriage. He has ever been your strongest supporter and encouraged me to amend my behaviour and to try to convince you that I could be worthy of your respect.”

“I found him to be most gentlemanly and …” here she cast a teasing look at Darcy, “his manner of discouraging any expectations on my part was most skillfully done.”

Darcy spoke with no little trepidation, “Did you have any? Expectations I mean?”

Elizabeth had turned thoughtful, which she could see did little to ease Darcy’s concern and when she spoke again it had been with measured words. “I cannot be less than truthful. Given how poorly I thought of you at the time, the attentions of the Colonel were welcomed. No woman can be insensible to the attentions of an amiable, honourable man.” A pause had lasted for several moments before she continued, “However, your cousin was very careful to indicate that he was not free to marry without consideration of a substantial dowry.” She laughed, “I believe the figure of 50,000 pounds was mentioned.” She looked up at Darcy, “Do not concern yourself on this, William. I know my affections were not engaged, since I viewed the situation with only a minor regret which lasted no longer than the end of our walk that day.”

The sombre expression on Darcy’s face did not ease and Elizabeth grew somewhat concerned, “What is the cause of that dour look, Mr. Darcy? You are not jealous of your cousin surely?”

“No…No…I simply began thinking of my behaviour to you in Kent. I still cannot think of ….”

“No more, William! No more! We have left that behind, have we not? Truly, neither of us behaved properly that night. You must accept my philosophy on this.”

“Remind me of that philosophy please.”

“To think of the past only as its remembrance gives you pleasure.”

“You have so little to regret that …”

“Mr. Darcy, I shall get quite angry with you if you continue like this. Enough, sir! The past is past!”

Elizabeth’s voice had risen slightly as she spoke and her Uncle Gardiner looked up from the book that he was reading to glance at them both. His raised eyebrow had been met by a firm shake of the head from Elizabeth and he returned to his book, to all appearances oblivious to the couple on the other side of the room. Darcy finally managed a small smile, “I bow to your wisdom on this.”

“Clever man! Now, let us talk of more enjoyable matters.” Darcy leaned forward and took her hand in both of his, running his thumb over the back of her hand. Elizabeth could feel the heat of his hand and a small frisson of delight at his touch. She could only look at his hands and hope he did not observe the flush of colour that his actions engendered. Her mouth was dry and she wetted her lips to as though to speak although no words came forth. She could not realize how her action affected Darcy with the sudden desire to kiss her and he leaned forward. Only his realization of her uncle’s presence stopped him from such an action. Instead he cleared his throat, “ah…I find myself…I mean…’

“You are babbling, sir!” Elizabeth’s chortle of delight forced a small smile from Darcy.

“Indeed I am, Miss Bennet!”

“Miss Bennet?”

“Babbling, Miss Bennet. Babbling! See to what a state I have been reduced!”

“And I am at fault here, sir?”

“Indeed you are. I find myself wishing that your sister would return sooner from the north so that we might be married sooner. The next month seems interminable to me. That we can spend so little time together only increases the torture. The wait until I can take you to Pemberley as my bride … as my wife... is torturous indeed.”

Even now, in the cool morning air, Elizabeth could remember the heat of his hands and the passion underlying his words. She had been unable to respond herself as she wished, contenting herself with grasping his hands even tighter. His leave-taking shortly thereafter had given her the opportunity she sought. After he raised her hands to press a kiss on her fingers preparatory to leaving, she had halted his departure by placing a hand on his chest and brushing her lips against his. Stepping back quickly, her demure, “Good-night, William.” accompanied by a slight smile had frozen him in place. Only a discrete cough from her uncle who had finally made his way to the door had been, she was convinced, all that prevented her betrothed from returning the favour more vigorously. At the time she had wished her uncle to have been a little slower but now she conceded his timing to have been fortuitous. Shaking these thoughts away and concentrating on the present, she became aware that the Gardiner house was but a short distance away. Checking her timepiece once more, she realized that she had been gone almost two hours and that her aunt was likely to start worrying about her. Given her aunt’s condition, she did not want to cause her any unnecessary concern and, quickening her pace, she finally entered the house, greeting her aunt and cousins cheerfully as she joined them in the dining room to break her fast.

~~~

Elizabeth was enjoying a quiet, for once, luncheon with her aunt later that day when they were disturbed by a maid bearing a message which she handed to Elizabeth. “Andrew, from your father’s estate, Miss Elizabeth, just delivered this. He said it was urgent but that no reply was required.”

“Thank you, Millie.” Elizabeth’s apprehension was obvious to her aunt who waited while her niece opened and read the letter. “Oh my, I think …” the tremor in Elizabeth’s voice brought her aunt to her side, “I think William must see this at once!”

“What is it, Lizzy?”

“Here, please read it yourself.”

April 23, 1813
Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dear Lizzy,

Now that I think on it, I have just had the most amusing morning in years and all courtesy of your cousin’s patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh. You know that only the most diverting of follies would lead me to write unless absolute necessity inspired me.

Just as we were getting up from the breakfast table, we were visited by your betroth's aunt, Lady Catherine. Given the condition of her horses, which I noted afterwards, she must have driven all the way from London that very morning. They were quite blown, the horses that is, not Lady Catherine, although in retrospect that is not a poor description of that lady also.

I thought her purpose was to voice her objections to your engagement and I was not to be disappointed. She was most seriously displeased to find that you were not at Longbourn but, instead, visiting in London. She took it upon herself, to assuage her disappointment I have no doubt, to inflict on me all that she had planned to bestow on you. You are greatly in my debt, daughter – most greatly and I will insist on some suitable recompense.

I will not insult or bore you with all of the foolishness that Lady Catherine spouted. I have rarely seen so much pomposity, stupidity and arrogance encapsulated in one person in my whole existence. I suspect that having surrounded herself with those who not only flatter but are afraid to dispute her opinions, she no longer can distinguish between facts and her wishes. If one of those advisors is her doctor, she could be breathing her last while being reassured that she is well.

How she can believe that her wish for an engagement between her nephew and her daughter creates an obligation which that nephew must honour, in preference to his stated and public intention to wed another, is not something I can credit. But she does!

I was most amused by her request of me to break the engagement in order to free her nephew to marry her daughter. I could not help but observe, to her obvious displeasure, that even should I do so, there was no guarantee that Mr. Darcy would offer for her daughter and that, having declined the opportunity to do so for five years or more, it seemed unlikely he would do so now.

Having exhausted all arguments, logical but mostly illogical, to convert me to her way of thinking – may the good Lord preserve me from that – she made a final effort. She offered me 25,000 pounds to break the engagement. When I gently suggested that, even should I accept the offer, since both you and Mr. Darcy are of age, my consent is not required in the first place and, in the second instance, only you and Mr. Darcy could do so. I assured her that I would not presume to act for you in this matter and that your affections had been fully engaged such that breaking the engagement would be as frivolous and ill-considered as her proposal. Needless to say, she was not amused – a point she made several times in fact. That she had insulted my honour I could not bother to even mention to one so lost to the very concept. Obviously, she believed me devoid of such an attribute. Perhaps she thought it reserved for her exalted position.

I do not know her intentions when she left. Her horses were exhausted and I believe that this letter should arrive in London before her carriage. I would suggest you apprise Mr. Darcy of her activities and forewarn him of her probable presence.

Your loving father,
Thomas Bennet


“Yes, we must inform Mr. Darcy, Lizzy, and I think we must include your father’s letter which I will arrange to have delivered immediately. Write a short note to accompany it while I make the arrangements.”

“I believe he is at home. I do not expect him to visit until somewhat later.”

Elizabeth wrote a brief note addressed to Darcy and sealed her father’s letter inside. One of the Gardiners’ grooms was waiting when she had finished and within minutes was on his way to Darcy House.

~~~

Elizabeth was not altogether surprised to see Darcy enter their drawing room later in the afternoon. His note, after receiving hers, had suggested he would do so if circumstances permitted. She could not help look up at him with an obvious question on her mind. His slight smile was reassuring as he bent over her fingers and brushed them with his lips. After greeting Mrs. Gardiner, he remarked that the neighbouring park looked quite inviting and asked if Miss Bennet would enjoy a stroll with him. Mrs. Gardiner was not insensible of the notion that they wished to discuss Lady Catherine’s activities and readily gave her consent to the outing.

Darcy and Elizabeth walked in silence for some few minutes. Elizabeth after a quick glance at Darcy’s mien could tell he was thoughtful and guessed he was trying to decide how best to express his thoughts. This deliberateness was, she now recognized, an essential part of who he was. When he was ready, he would speak. Until then, she would not press him.

Finally, he shook his head. “Elizabeth, I must thank you and your father for the promptness of the warning in regards to my Aunt. I must also, at some point, apologize to your father for her behaviour. It was most unconscionable.”

Elizabeth smiled, “I doubt you need apologize to my father. I suspect he derived considerable amusement from her visit.”

“Nevertheless, I feel compelled to do so.”

“Can you speak of what happened? Did she go to your uncle?”

“Yes, to both questions. Lady Catherine did indeed call on my uncle. Fortunately, I had enough time to warn him that she might visit and was myself present when she arrived.”

“I suspect she was not happy to see you.”

“True, and when she was told that we had been informed of her meeting with your father, she did not seem inclined to stay overlong. My uncle was quite irritated with her behaviour – I think he called it ‘presumptuous’. He was also not inclined to support her desire for an attachment between Anne and myself since he felt that Anne’s health would prevent her from fulfilling any of the duties required of my wife, quite apart from any consideration of mutual affection.”

Elizabeth could tell that what he had to say next was quite distasteful. His lips had compressed to a thin line but then curved into that slight smile once more. “My uncle was very disturbed by my aunt’s attempt to bribe your father. He described it as frivolous as it was ill-considered. I must admit I was both shocked and …amused to hear him view the whole episode with the same disparagement as your father; particularly since I had decided that showing your father’s letter to him would be most impolitic. I was uncertain that my uncle could appreciate your father’s rather impertinent perception of Lady Catherine.”

“What happened next?”

“My uncle simply told Lady Catherine that the engagement had his blessing and that any public opposition on her part would not be tolerated. After some further huffing, Lady Catherine departed for Kent. I have no reason to believe she will change her stance, but I do not expect her to oppose the Earl on this.”

“We have reason to thank him, then.”

“I believe he was motivated mostly by a desire to avoid a split in the family – a severing of the Darcy-Fitzwilliam linkage.”

“Whatever his motive, I appreciate it.”

“Your father’s letter gave me cause for concern on another issue. His joking reference to my aunt’s doctor made me question whether my cousin, Anne, is receiving proper attention. I mentioned this to my uncle and he admitted he had not thought of that. We, neither of us, know my aunt’s doctor and my uncle has decided to investigate further to ensure Anne is receiving proper care.”

“I had not thought of that.” Elizabeth shook her head, “I cannot conceive of someone not availing themselves of the best care if they can afford to do so. Surely your aunt would not be so … so misguided?”

“I cannot answer for her actions. I would hope not but she is not one to take correction or advice easily if it does not agree with her prejudices and opinions.”

They continued to their walk. By now they had completed a full circuit of the park and were moving toward a set of benches that ringed the small pond. Once seated, Darcy took her hand in his and, with what she now could see as embarrassment, asked, “Can we speak of a more … ah, pleasant topic?”

Elizabeth’s curiosity was now aroused, “Certainly, sir. There can be no shortage of more agreeable topics.”

“Actually, I wish to know your preferences after we are married.”

Elizabeth made no effort to mask her confusion. “Preferences, sir?”

His embarrassment was causing a slight flush to appear on his face, “Yes … well … actually I was thinking of where we might spend the first few weeks of our marriage.” Suddenly, the words came pouring out as though he needed to loose them as soon as was possible. “I had thought we might spend the first two weeks in London and then in early June, go to Pemberley. However, we could go to Pemberley directly or to another location … Bath, The Lakes … I wish you to be happy and for us to enjoy the time together … alone.”

Elizabeth had not given much thought to where they would go after the marriage. “I do want to be at Pemberley as much as possible, I feel at … at home there. But I would not be opposed to spending time in London. Once I am ensconced at Pemberley, you will find it difficult to get me to leave. Jane will not wish to leave London once her husband sails and my Aunt Gardiner will be unable to travel this summer. Perhaps a fortnight in London before we go to Pemberley would be best.” She thought for a few seconds, “Are we likely to be plagued by callers, if we stay?”

“We will simply take the knocker off the door for the first week.” Darcy suddenly smiled, “And we can attend a ball while we are here and I can show my beautiful wife to the world. While I would like to insist that, for this ball, you dance only with me, I realize that is not possible! However, I will offend the proprieties by insisting on three dances – the first, supper and last dances. Oh, and if there is a waltz, which is unlikely, you must dance that with me.”

Elizabeth blushed deeply, “Such punishment I find I can bear quite easily. I must warn you though that I have not learned the waltz so will have to sit it out.”

"That may be less of a problem than you believe. I am sure that with a few lessons you will dance it admirably. Perhaps Georgiana can play for us while I teach you.”

“And where exactly did you learn to waltz, sir?” The raised eyebrow which accompanied this question encountered a complacent grin from Darcy.

“I had the services of a most excellent dance instructor…for Georgiana! She was being taught and I attended a lesson or two. I think I have learned enough to avoid damaging your toes too greatly.”

“I look forward to being instructed, sir” her cheeky response elicited another grin from Darcy, “Indeed, and I to instructing.”

“I think we should be returning home. I believe the dinner hour fast approaches.” Elizabeth was less concerned about her meal as she was to recover her equilibrium in the privacy of her room. The thought of waltzing with Darcy, to be held so intimately in his arms was both disconcerting and, she realized, alluring.

They returned to the Gardiner’s home in much better spirits than when they had departed. Elizabeth was able to relate to her aunt all that had transpired at Matlock House with Lady Catherine’s visit. Their intentions to remain in London for a fortnight following the wedding also met with her approval; and the Matlock's plans to host them for a dinner before they left for Pemberley were discussed and approved.





Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/16/2015 08:08PM by Amy I..
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Road Back - Chapters 33-34

PeterJanuary 15, 2015 01:53PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 33-34

LisetteJanuary 18, 2015 12:39PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 33-34

IrishJanuary 18, 2015 05:41AM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 33-34

terrycgJanuary 17, 2015 07:52AM

Oops! - Edit please

PeterJanuary 16, 2015 02:03PM

done (nfm)

Amy I.January 16, 2015 08:09PM

Thank You! (nfm)

PeterJanuary 18, 2015 12:41PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 33-34

RoxeyJanuary 15, 2015 10:17PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 33-34

ShannaGJanuary 15, 2015 04:30PM



Author:

Your Email:


Subject:


Spam prevention:
Please, solve the mathematical question and enter the answer in the input field below. This is for blocking bots that try to post this form automatically.
Question: how much is 7 plus 14?
Message: