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The Road Back - Chapters 35-

January 19, 2015 02:03PM
Chapter 35

Saturday April 25, 1813 – London


It was with no little relief that Elizabeth sought the comfort of her bed, thankful that Darcy had been unable to stay after dinner due to pressing business matters early the next morning. The past week had been such as to limit her opportunities to contemplate and understand all that had happened and, when not under the press of one engagement or another, Darcy had consumed her attention when they were together and thoughts when they were apart. She did not think she was besotted with the man but admitted to herself that others might well believe her so. In less than four weeks, he would be her husband. She held that thought close to her heart for comfort and with no little anticipation.

She was coming to understand the man although she suspected that he was complicated enough to forever be providing her with new insights. After so signally failing to illustrate his character over the first few months of their acquaintance, she had devoted a considerable effort to decipher his expressions once they renewed their relationship. She knew that her sketch was incomplete but her ability to sense his moods was improving. He would always be reticent. That was his basic nature but, in familiar company, he was more outgoing. He would never be as easy as his friend, Mr. Bingley, nor would he ever overtly break the proprieties in public. She knew this of herself as well. With no dowry and no connections that the world valued, her character and reputation were her most precious assets. Lydia’s actions only made it more important that the latter not be tarnished. In this she knew she could trust William. However, she had hopes that, when they were able to enjoy true privacy, he could and would be even more open and thus allow herself to be so as well. She contemplated such privacy with both trepidation and anticipation. She was a country girl. One could not raise farm animals and be ignorant of the mating process. While she was not totally ignorant of the marital intimacies, she could not relate that knowledge to the marriage bed. She could feel herself flushing and thoughts skittering away from contemplating those intimacies. “I had better think less pleasant thoughts!….shopping.”

Elizabeth knew she really did not enjoy shopping. She liked new gowns as much as the next young lady but the effort and time seemed to be such a waste when there were more interesting things to do. Unfortunately, her aunt and her Darcy and Fitzwilliam soon-to-be relations were of a different persuasion and had left her little choice but to surrender to their demands. Thus she knew she would find herself, over the course of the next weeks, being dragged from one shop to another, visiting modistes, milliners, glovers and boot-makers to name but a few. It had all begun with the shopping trip planned by the Countess.

Elizabeth and her Aunt Gardiner had arrived at Darcy House to find Georgiana, the Countess and Lady Frances waiting for them. The Countess wasted no time in bundling them all into her carriage to visit her modiste, Madame Estelle. Apprised that Elizabeth and Darcy were planning to attend a ball before leaving for Pemberley, a suitable ball-gown was placed near the top of the list. When they arrived at Madame Estelle’s, an assistant, recognizing the Countess, immediately attended her. The Countess, in a carrying voice, said, “I have an appointment at two with Madame”

The assistant quickly sought and returned with Madame Estelle who welcomed the Countess.

“Madame, I am pleased to introduce Miss Elizabeth Bennet who is to marry my nephew, Fitzwilliam Darcy, in a month’s time. We are here to augment Miss Bennet’s wardrobe and to select a ball-gown.”

The heads of several other shoppers in the room snapped up and Elizabeth was quickly aware of the attention being focused on her. Two ladies, known to the Countess and her daughter, walked over to be introduced and chatted amiably with the party while Madame Estelle arranged for a private showing room. The questions directed Elizabeth’s way were not unexpected as the ladies sought to find out more about this young woman who had captured the affections of one of London’s most eligible bachelors. The Countess listened with no little appreciation as Elizabeth answered most questions cheerfully while deflecting those that bordered on impertinent, and occasionally interjecting a comment of her own to indicate the support of the Fitzwilliam family for the marriage. When Madame eventually returned to lead them to the showing room, the Countess patted Elizabeth’s hand saying, “You handled that very well, Miss Bennet.”

“Thank you, Lady Matlock. But please, can you not call me Elizabeth?”

The Countess looked at her for several seconds. She could not detect, in Elizabeth’s manner, any desire for undue familiarity, and nodded her head, “I think I would like that. You shall call me Aunt Eleanor.” Behind her back Lady Frances was unsuccessful in hiding a smile as she watched her mother warm to the young woman who would soon be her niece. She reached over to lay a hand on Elizabeth’s arm, smiled and said, “And you must call me Frances or Fran, whichever you choose.”

Elizabeth returned her smile, “Please, call me Elizabeth or Lizzy, as my family does.”

Madame returned with books of designs and swatches of fabric and arranged for refreshments as they began their deliberations. It was quickly determined that while a wedding gown was of importance, the immediate priority was for several day gowns and one or two evening gowns to be readied within days. Elizabeth demurred at first but the Countess looked at her severely and stated clearly, “You will suffer a great deal of public scrutiny in the next few weeks. I know from experience, how important it will be for you to feel comfortable in how you look. It will give you confidence to deal with whatever or whomever you may face. As well, you can be assured that most of those who will be assessing you will look first at the quality and style of your clothes. We will give them nothing to disparage. … Besides, I am sure that my nephew will be delighted to show how beautiful you are.” The last was said with a small smile and Elizabeth could see her aunt nodding in agreement. She realized that further argument was futile and simply nodded her acceptance. The Countess patted her hand, “I believe I will gift you the ball gown. It has been a long time since I dressed a daughter for a ball.” Her sly look at Lady Frances only elicited a grin from that lady, who whispered audibly to Elizabeth, “My mother and I could never reach agreement on what suited me best. I am afraid she quickly gave up on me.” The Countess simply shook her head feigning some dismay.

Elizabeth laughed openly, “That sounds all too familiar. My mother and I could never agree on the appropriate amount of lace on a dress. Any was too much for me most times.”

For the next four hours, Elizabeth felt herself befuddled by designs, fabrics and a vast array of colours and patterns. Several morning and day gowns were ordered as well as two evening gowns for delivery within days in addition to another twenty gowns that were ordered for delivery several weeks hence. Arrangements were made for a fitting in two days with the gowns being completed a day later.

That day set the pattern for subsequent visits to other shops. The Countess would enter a shop, ask to see the proprietor and introduce Elizabeth in much the same manner as was done at Madame Estelle’s. As Elizabeth’s Aunt Gardiner explained to her after the first day of shopping, the Countess was publicly and clearly stating the Fitzwilliam approval of Darcy’s betrothed. When, upon returning to the carriage, Elizabeth subsequently expressed her appreciation, the Countess was quick to disclaim any particular credit. “It is” she stressed, “a matter of importance to my family that my nephew’s bride be accorded the respect due her position. However,” and her face took on a sterner cast, “it will be up to you to maintain and enhance that respect. Nothing I have seen of you so far would suggest that you cannot do so.” Lady Frances, who had been silently observing this exchange, leaned forward to offer her support, “Elizabeth, whatever help I can provide, it is yours.”

Elizabeth was pensive for a few seconds, “Thank you, Frances.” Turning to the Countess, she continued, “You have introduced me to a number of ladies over the last few days. I will admit that I cannot remember all of them. I trust there are a few that are most important to remember.”

The Countess nodded, “Lady ____ and Countess _____ are very important, however, I believe you will meet both again before you leave London. I would expect them to call on you if you receive visitors before departing for Pemberley.”

Elizabeth leaned back against the carriage seat and sighed, “I think I need a long, long walk. Perhaps I can convince William to take me to Hyde Park. An hour or so of walking would restore me. I do miss being able to walk with him in the mornings. We had such lovely rambles at Pemberley. I long to return.” The remainder of the carriage ride was completed in relative silence. Elizabeth was not the only lady feeling the strain of their activities. Fortunately, there was a respite of two days before the final fitting for the ball-gown.


Friday May 1, 1813 – London

Elizabeth was enjoying the courtship elements of her engagement period. The announcement of her engagement to Darcy had been published and she had already been called upon by several of her acquaintances. The Johnsons were among the first to visit and express their pleasure. Mrs. Johnson had divulged that her suspicions had been raised at a dinner where she had observed them both. When informed that both Darcy and Elizabeth hoped they could attend the wedding, their assurances not slow in being given. Other welcome visitors were Mrs. Thompson and her daughter who were come to town for the season.

As it happened, Mr. and Mrs. Thompson, along with their daughter and eldest son and his wife, had been their guests for dinner several evenings previous along with Darcy. Conversation at the table had been pleasant and, if the talk had focussed more on the political events that were transpiring and their implications for their business and professional interests than was perhaps usual, none of the participants took offence. In fact, Elizabeth had appreciated the intelligence and discernment of their guests and enjoyed the discussion and found that the time had passed most expeditiously. The subject of her upcoming marriage was, of course, a topic of singular interest and Elizabeth was pressed to divulge all of the plans that her mother was pursuing. As the ladies rose to withdraw to let the gentleman enjoy their wine in private, she did notice Mrs. Thompson stoop to whisper something to her husband. His response and her emphatic assent seemed to settle something of importance between them.

Once the ladies had settled in the drawing room, discussion had quickly turned to the particulars of the London Season. As Miss Thompson explained, it was her third season and she really did not expect that it would prove more productive or interesting than those previous. Her opinion of most of the supposedly eligible men she had met was not high and she was inclined to set a less strenuous schedule for herself to which lack of effort her mother was opposed. Mrs. Thompson was not unsympathetic to her daughter’s disenchantment but was concerned that withdrawing from the social activities would entail withdrawing from the search for a suitable husband for her daughter. And, while she was not inclined to pressure her daughter, she admitted she could not perceive alternative means of putting her daughter in the way of worthy suitors.

In the course of their conversation Miss Thompson and Elizabeth realized that they were both of a mind to further their acquaintance and, to that end, agreed to visit regularly while both were in town. Elizabeth indicated that she and Darcy planned to spend the first two weeks of their married life in London and anticipated visitors in the second week and gave Miss Thompson reason to believe a visit would be welcomed.

Mrs. Thompson started to say something but appeared to be hesitant until Mrs. Gardiner, noticing her reluctance, prompted her. “Mrs. Thompson? Was there something troubling you?”

“No indeed. I was just a little uncertain how to approach this subject.” Turning to look at Elizabeth, Mrs. Thompson continued, “The problem is that you will be at Longbourn for only a few days. I …Mr. Thompson and I would very much like to host a dinner, to celebrate your engagement, with our neighbours in Hertfordshire. Unfortunately, you will be there for two nights only. Would you…would your family be agreeable to us hosting at Netherfield a dinner on the evening before your wedding – the18th?”

Elizabeth did not conceal her surprise at the proposal and looked to her aunt for guidance. Not seeing any particular direction from that source, she responded, caution evident in her words, “For my part I would have no objections at all to such a dinner. In fact it sounds quite delightful; however, my mother may be making other arrangements and she must be consulted on this.”

Mrs. Gardiner nodded her agreement, “My sister is most likely planning a dinner but may not as yet have issued any invitations. I would suggest you contact her directly and as soon as possible.”

Mrs. Thompson promised to do so on the morrow and then proceeded as follows, “I believe, Miss Bennet, that your family including your sister and her husband and Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and their children will be staying at Longbourn for several days prior to the wedding. Is this correct?” She smiled at the puzzled expressions of assent that followed and continued, “My husband is currently inviting Mr. Darcy and any of his party to stay at Netherfield. I understand his sister and best friend, Mr. Bingley, are likely to join him. And possibly some of his other relatives. We have more than sufficient rooms and would be delighted to accommodate them all.”

Elizabeth was speechless at the offer. “I can only express my appreciation Mrs. Thompson. Your offer is most kindly done and will, I hope, be gratefully accepted by Mr. Darcy. I believe he was planning to rent rooms at the Inn in Meryton.”

Mrs. Gardiner took the opportunity to quietly ask if the Thompsons would object to hosting Mr. and Mrs. Johnson as they hoped to attend the wedding. Mrs Thompson was quick to agree and offered to extend the invitation. Mrs. Gardiner was not unaware of the unstated object of the Thompson’s invitation. They were, in essence, attempting to cement and deepen an acquaintance to a higher level of society. It would be interesting, in her opinion, to see if any of the Darcy connections availed themselves of the offer.

When the gentlemen rejoined the ladies, Darcy quickly informed them all of the Thompson’s generous offer which he had accepted on behalf of himself, Georgiana and Mr. Bingley. He declared his intentions of extending the offer to his Fitzwilliam relatives and was hopeful that some would accept. As he mentioned privately to Elizabeth later that evening, he did not anticipate that his Uncle Matlock would accept the invitation since it would mean staying in the home of someone directly connected to trade. Nevertheless he thought his cousin, Lady Frances, and her husband would accept.

~~~


The following night Darcy and Elizabeth attended a performance of ‘Love’s Labour Lost’ at Covent Gardens in company with the Gardiners and Lady Frances and her husband. As they had expected, their entrance to the theatre had drawn considerable attention and a steady stream of well-wishers had slowed their progress to the Darcy box. While a few of those seeking an introduction to Elizabeth were friends of Darcy, most were mere acquaintances and curious to see and meet the woman who was to become Mrs. Darcy. Elizabeth smiled, nodded acknowledgements as Darcy maintained their movement to their box, stopping to talk only with those with whom he was well acquainted. Darcy’s discomfiture had been increasingly obvious as they entered the theatre and Elizabeth could feel his tension through her grasp of his elbow. She squeezed hard to capture his attention and murmured “William…William!” Once he glanced at her, she continued, “I am with you and we can get through this together.” Recalled to their situation, he realized that she was as stressed by the attention as himself and he gave her a small smile to ease her concern, laid his other hand atop hers and intertwined his fingers with hers. He was able to greet those who presented themselves with tolerable humour but it was only when they finally reached their box, that she could feel him begin to relax. As expected, they remained an object of attention by many in the theatre. She was very conscious of the eyes turned their way but, since they were there to enjoy the play, it was no hardship to ignore the gazes focused on them and devote themselves to enjoying the performance on the stage. The intermissions saw several visitors, among which were Darcy’s Aunt and Uncle Matlock. Their visit and the civility displayed to Elizabeth signalled quite publicly the approval of the Fitzwilliam family and was duly recognized as such by those members of society present that evening. When the Earl bowed over her hand, she thought she heard an audible murmur in the audience. The small smile that graced the Earl’s visage seemed to suggest that he heard it as well. When the Countess embraced her and whispered, “I suspect the best performance of the evening is taking place in this box.” Elizabeth could do naught but chuckle her agreement and express her thanks to both the Earl and his wife.

~~~


This very day the Darcy carriage had delivered her to Darcy House early in the afternoon. Anticipating an afternoon in quiet conversation with Darcy and his sister and possibly a walk in Hyde Park, she was slightly surprised to be shown into the drawing room where Georgiana was seated at the piano. Darcy greeted her and introduced her to a much older gentleman standing by the pianoforte. “Elizabeth, may I introduce Georgiana’s Dance Master, Mr. Ambrose Peddle. Mr. Peddle, This is my betrothed, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.” Darcy paused and then gave her a slight grin. “We are going to learn a new dance this afternoon…the waltz!”

Elizabeth’s gasp was quite audible. “But…but…Is it proper? We are not married after all?”

Darcy reached over and grasped her hands, drawing her towards himself. “It is not improper at all and has been introduced at several private balls over the last year. We do not have to dance should it be played but I thought that if circumstances permit, we might wish to do so. It can do no harm to learn at least.”

Elizabeth’s uncertainty was obvious and only overshadowed by a reluctant desire to try something the reputation of which polite society viewed as scandalous. Her agreement was won but with an underlying trepidation. With Georgiana providing the music and under the tutelage of their Dance Master, she was introduced to the various postures that embodied the waltz. The dance did incorporate sufficient similarities in terms of steps and movements to those dances with which she was familiar so that it was possible to quickly become comfortable with that aspect of the dance. It was the unfamiliarity of being partnered by Darcy, and the continuous and close contact that prevailed, which most seriously discomposed her. Nonetheless, after two hours of such contact she was sure that even her reservoir of blushes and flushes was exhausted. It was with no little relief that she greeted Darcy’s departure on urgent business following the arrival of his steward from Pemberley. Apologizing for being unable to walk with her in Hyde Park and promising that he would attend her before she returned to Gracechurch Street, he joined his steward in his study. Left to their own devices, Elizabeth looked at Georgiana and laughed, “Whatever shall we do for the next hour. Truthfully, I am no longer in need of the exercise provided by a walk.”

Georgiana looked thoughtful, “Actually, there are a number of questions that I wished to talk with you about but have simply not had the opportunity to do so. Perhaps we could move to my sitting room?”

Elizabeth’s surprise was obvious and was tinged by a slight concern. Nonetheless, she readily agreed to the suggestion and they chatted on inconsequential topics as until they arrived. Once the door was closed, ensuring their privacy, Elizabeth made herself comfortable on the settee and calmly awaited Georgiana’s conversation. She was required to wait several minutes as the younger woman was obviously struggling on how best to introduce the topic which concerned her. Seeing her struggles, Elizabeth began to worry that something of a most serious nature was at issue although she could think of nothing that would cause such obvious anxiety in Georgiana. She forced herself to remain calm and let her initiate the conversation. Georgiana had walked slowly around the room before coming to a stop in front of a window out of which her gaze was focused.

At last Georgiana turned to face Elizabeth and broke the silence, “I am sorry. You must be thinking me quite the fool.”

“Not at all. I am simply worried that something has distressed you so. Will you not speak to me of it? I can assure you that I can imagine very few topics of which we may not speak.”

“Elizabeth, can I ask that our talk remain in confidence between us?”

Elizabeth considered this request for several moments, “I can agree to that only in so far as doing so will not cause harm to you or someone else.”

“It will not, I assure you!”

“Very well, you must know that you have piqued my interest and concern. Of what do you wish to speak that requires such privacy?”

Georgiana’s blush surprised Elizabeth but not as much as the words that followed, “I wish to…I want to know…Oh!…” finally she blurted, “Your sister Jane and Mr. Bingley. What is their history because I am sure there must be such?”

Elizabeth did not try to hide her surprise from Georgiana. “I am all amazement. From your demeanour I was anticipating something truly worrisome.” She thought for a few moments and continued, “their history?....well…you know Mr. Bingley leased an estate – Netherfield - near Longbourn almost two years ago, do you not?”

At Georgiana’s nod she continued, “He took possession around Michaelmas and within two months his attentions to my sister were such as to lead to an expectation in us all that he would be making her an offer of marriage very shortly. However, after a ball at Netherfield towards the end of that November, in which he danced at least four times with Jane and his attentions were such as to discourage others from seeking her to dance, he departed Netherfield and Hertfordshire never to return. My sister was…devastated to be truthful. She had come to esteem Mr. Bingley a great deal and, as well as losing his affections; she was mortified by the manner in which he cut the acquaintance. She was hurt for quite a long time although her hurt gradually turned to anger over his treatment of her. Eventually that anger dissipated and she thought little of him. We – neither of us – had seen him since the Netherfield ball until we met in York. I think it is fair to say that my sister feels no more for him now than for any other man of her acquaintance.” Elizabeth grinned, “I dare say that Jane would now think her previous attachment to Mr. Bingley a pale shadow compared to that she now holds for her husband.”

Elizabeth paused, “Does that answer your question?”

Georgiana’s countenance became paled, “Elizabeth, when…when my brother explained what happened when you refused his proposal in Kent, he indicated that one of the reasons was that he had separated your sister from a young man who was very interested in her. Was that Mr. Bingley” Was that why Mr. Bingley did not return to Netherfield?”

“Yes, although in fairness to your brother he did not believe my sister to have an affection equal to Mr. Bingley. From what your brother has related, Mr. Bingley himself came to believe that he was not ready for marriage at the time else he could not have been worked upon.” Elizabeth was not prepared to divulge the particulars of Darcy’s involvement in separating Bingley from her sister. “I suggest that if you need to know more that you apply to your brother since I believe Mr. Bingley spoke to him of his intentions.”

Georgiana was clearly unsatisfied with this answer but Elizabeth also thought her to be reluctant to approach her brother on the subject. “Georgie, do you mind telling me to what these questions tend?”

After a few silent minutes, Georgiana responded, “Mr. Bingley visited us at Pemberley last winter. He seemed much changed. Quieter, amiable but not as…as lively, perhaps, as in the past. He seemed much different – older I guess. When we met again in York, he appeared to have become even more like William – serious and much involved in his business activities.”

Elizabeth nodded in acquiesce. “I agree, Mr. Bingley has grown quite markedly.”

“Elizabeth, Mr. Bingley did not, I think, pay me any particular attentions but looking back on our conversations I see that they were much different than in the past.”

“Different? In what way, Georgie?”

“While we talked of my activities, we also spoke about his businesses, social activities in York, what life was like there.” As Elizabeth listened to Georgiana she smiled to herself, “Well done, Mr. Bingley!”

“Georgiana, do you feel Mr. Bingley paid you any particular attentions?”

“Not really. He seemed to spend an equal amount of time with other young ladies.”

“Let me ask an important question. How do you feel about him?”

Georgiana’s mien became pensive, “I hardly know. I…I think I would like to know him better.”

Elizabeth considered the young girl in front of her for a few moments. Georgiana grew a little restive under her gaze and opened her mouth to speak when Elizabeth interrupted, “First of all, you are not out yet so questions of his attentions are moot. Your brother would not allow Mr. Bingley to pay his addresses until you are out and I am sure Mr. Bingley is quite aware of that fact.” She paused for a second and continued, “Second, you are not yet seventeen and your experience or knowledge of men is quite limited.” She grimaced, “You certainly met one of the worst already. Most men are not like Mr. Wickham but you have not been in company with many of them even considering those that are family. I believe you should experience a full season before even considering any possible attachments. I have not spoken to your brother on this and do not know his opinions. I am sure he is in no hurry to see you married and will afford you all the time necessary. You need to meet and become better acquainted with a wider variety of men before accepting one as a husband. Be assured that your brother and I will always be available for help and guidance.”

“Georgie, I seem to remember that we held a rather similar conversation some weeks ago. Nothing has really changed. You will come out - probably this fall, you will meet and get to know a wide variety of men and women and your brother and I will be there to support you. If Mr. Bingley or any other man has intentions towards you, there will be more than sufficient time for you to get to know him and decide your wishes.”

The two young women continued their conversation until interrupted by a knock on the door and William’s voice requesting permission to enter. Informing them that it was time to travel to Gracechurch Street for dinner, he shepherded them down to the carriage which awaited them. His attempts to find out what they had talked about were frustrated by Elizabeth’s quip that “Young women need some secrets even from brothers!”

Chapter 36

Saturday May 8, 1813 – Gracechurch Street, London


Elizabeth was just finishing her breakfast when her aunt entered the room with a smile on her face and placed a letter beside her.”I think you have been waiting for this, Lizzy. A letter from Jane!”

"Oh, I was wondering when I would hear from her. I realize we have been apart for little more than a fortnight, but so much seems to happen every day.” Without further ado, she opened her letter.

May 2, 1813
York, Yorkshire

Dearest Lizzie,

I was thrilled to receive your last letter. You may be assured that we will return in time for the wedding. We will be in London by May 15 and will travel with you to Longbourn on the following Monday. I will be honoured to be your bridesmaid. I also understand your reasons for being married in Longbourn, I find myself feeling as much anger now by the treatment we received as I did several months ago. It is, I admit, most unchristian of me and I am sure I can hear you saying, ‘most un-Jane like’. Perhaps time will lessen my ire. I hope so. Since I will have little time to acquire a gown for the wedding when I return to London, I decided to visit a modiste here in York. I found one that was highly recommended and she will have the most beautiful blue silk gown ready before I depart.

On happier topics, Amos and I are thoroughly enjoying our stay in York. I very much like the country and the people here; and, once I find myself comfortable with the local dialect, I am sure I should get on famously with everyone. Until then, I frequently seem to require a translator by my side. As you remember, Mother Stovall is a dear heart and his sister, Emily, is much the same. I regret you had to leave before becoming acquainted with her. She reminds me very much of Charlotte – sensible and intelligent with a good heart. We visited with her and her husband for several days; they are very comfortably situated and will find their family enlarging in August. They are both so happy about it that I find myself envying them greatly. I hope Amos and I do not have too long to wait.

I have the most wonderful news. If you remember, Mr. Bingley invited all of us to dine one evening. It was, unexpectedly, a most enjoyable evening and, as I told you afterwards, I found Mr. Bingley as amiable as ever and someone who could be a good friend. I was able to compare Mr. Bingley with Amos. I think I could have had a contented life with Mr. Bingley as a husband but Amos has given me so much more – joy, a feeling of security – I am simply so glad I married him that I cannot find the proper words. I am a foolish woman but a happy one.

I believe Mr. Bingley has demonstrated his friendship and perhaps a small desire to make amends for his abrupt departure from Hertfordshire. Apparently Amos had mentioned to him that he was looking to acquire an estate in Yorkshire. Mr. Bingley is planning to do likewise and has been actively searching for months. In the course of his efforts, he came upon several estates that he felt were not suitable for him but might satisfy our wishes. He was gracious enough to visit several estates with us and one has proven to be most satisfactory and can be purchased at a good price. The house is smaller than Longbourn but Amos feels it can be expanded at a reasonable cost. The estate is located some forty miles from York but only ten from Scarborough - the latter fact pleases Amos greatly since he hopes to purchase a small boat and sail it from there. He is making arrangements to purchase the estate – Edgemont - and we hope it to be completed before we depart York. Amos proposes to have the manor house expanded later in the year after we finish identifying what is to be done.

We will not remove to the estate until Amos quits the navy; when that will be is not known to us at this moment. We have discussed another matter; when we are ready to occupy the estate, we hope that his mother will live with us for part of the year. We expect she will want to spend some time with her daughter also. I would hope that you and Mr. Darcy will be amongst our first visitors. I know Amos would value any advice that Mr. Darcy could impart.

I should mention that Mrs. Stovall offered to have me live with her while Amos is at sea but I think I would rather live in London. The Gardiners have offered to have me live with them and I will be glad of their company. As well, London is much closer to Portsmouth. Amos and I will travel to Portsmouth following your wedding and take rooms there until he must put to sea. I know you will offer to have me stay with you at Darcy House when you are in town but truthfully, I feel more comfortable living with my aunt and uncle. Please do not take offence but I find myself a bit intimidated by Darcy House.,

Speaking of houses, our mother has written me several letters, all of which seem to presume that Amos and I will be returning to Hertfordshire to live. She seemingly has designs on several estates in the area which she considers suitable; however, from my experience, none of them are appropriate for us and truthfully, I dread living in such close proximity to our mother. I fear she would leave me no peace and quiet. Since removing to London, being married and not having to suffer her nerves, I find myself more content and so much happier. I have yet to inform her that we will not be living in Hertfordshire, nor that we will be buying an estate in Yorkshire. I find I can bear the pain of waiting to deliver that news very easily – I am a most undutiful daughter. Since we will be visiting at Longbourn for the wedding I will most likely have to reveal our plans at that time. I suspect our removal to London will be a relief.

I have just realized that this is the first letter I have written to you as Jane Stovall. You have no notion of how pleased and proud I am to carry that name and of the man I married. I can only wish that you and Mr. Darcy can experience the same joy in your marriage as I do in mine. I remain, as ever,

Your most affectionate sister,
Jane Stovall


“Oh Aunt, she sounds so happy. They will buy an estate in Yorkshire! Mama will be so unhappy. I am sure she believed Jane would settle near Longbourn. Here, you must read this yourself.” With which she passed the letter to her aunt while commenting, “I admit to some surprise that Mr. Bingley offered to help them. It must have been somewhat embarrassing for all concerned at first but Jane appears to have survived the experience with little distress.”

"Your uncle and I have never gone so far north as Yorkshire. I can see us visiting Jane when they move to … Edgemont? Yes Edgemont! We will be able to visit our two favourite nieces on one trip. Now, if only your uncle can find time from his business for such a tour.”

“That would be so lovely. Do you suppose that you and uncle and the children could visit us at Pemberley this winter? I know I am being a little presumptuous to be issuing invitations when I am not yet Mistress but, if it is possible, I would love to have you visit.”

“Let us wait and see. I am not sure I wish to travel that far with an infant. But … let us see what develops. Now I believe that Mr. Darcy plans to call on you shortly to visit his home and perhaps take a walk in Hyde Park with Georgiana. You had best prepare yourself.”

~~~


Darcy was also just finishing breakfast that morning when a footman delivered his personal mail. A quick scan of the three letters led him to open that from his Aunt Catherine first on the principle of getting the worst news over with as soon as possible. He found nothing new. His aunt abhorred his engagement, his choice of a wife, his failure to perform his duty to Anne, his uncle’s acceptance of the engagement, his … in short, she was most seriously displeased with him, Elizabeth and, apparently, his uncle. He could not ascertain from the letter that she planned to take any further action and hoped that his uncle’s warnings to her of the danger of doing so had been believed.

It was with some pleasure that he opened Bingley’s letter to learn that Bingley would indeed be his groomsman for the wedding, expected to arrive in London several days before the wedding and planned to stay for a fortnight before returning to York. Unfortunately, he could not stay at Darcy House on this visit. He and Elizabeth could not be expected to entertain visitors that soon after their marriage.

Finally, Darcy opened the letter from his Cousin, Richard Fitzwilliam.

Darce,

February 8, 1813
Greetings from one who has finally managed to keep a solid meal down for the first time in a week. I suspect I have been an endless source of amusement to the sailors on this tub they call a ship but the humour in it has not struck me as yet. I am truly thankful I decided to cast my lot with the army and not our naval forces. I would make a truly awful seaman. According to the sailors on this ship we have had decent weather so far. I fear for my life if we run into bad weather and I have been told that the prospects do indeed look poor for tomorrow.

I have read your letter several times and put off answering until I felt capable of directing my attention to doing so. I am sure that my thoughts are very little different than yours. Unless Miss Bennet’s sister can be found married to Wickham, I do not see how you can possibly attach yourself to her for several years. The damage to the Darcy name and to Georgiana’s prospects would be too severe to contemplate such an action. It grieves me to be so blunt but I see no other course. That the reputation of a young lady of Miss Elizabeth’s worth should be so damaged by the thoughtless actions of a younger sister is appalling. Her marriage prospects may be irreparably damaged. I am so very sorry for her and for you.

February 16, 1823
As I mentioned above the sailors were not hopeful that the fine weather would last. It did not. We began the stretch to cross the Bay of Biscay and were subject to a truly terrible storm. If I thought I was sick before, I now experienced absolute misery. Fortunately, my man was able to get me water to drink but I kept very little food in my stomach. I have been told that the winter storm was so severe the ships were forced to run before it and were driven part way to the Americas. I asked the Captain why this was so and he simply said that trying to fight the storm would have caused major damage to the sails and masts. As it was, two sailors died, one washed overboard and the other fell from the rigging to the deck. They are now trying to round up all the ships in the convoy which have been scattered across the face of the ocean. Again, according to the Captain, the winds which so dispersed us may also have allowed the French navy to escape the blockade. We have to be concerned that they may be preparing to attack us. We have some escorts but they may not be sufficient. We can only pray.

March 11, 1813
I can finally relax with two feet firmly planted on terra firma. My regiment has at last joined Wellesley’s army here in northern Portugal. It took us almost two weeks to make Lisbon after the storm and we marched immediately upon landing. Of course, given our condition, it was a poor excuse for a march. Fortunately, there are no immediate plans for meeting the French. My men are not fit to fight as yet and could be routed by a battalion of aged grandmothers. I suspect we have a month or two to work up our men and develop battle plans. Right now my main concern is getting my regiment healthy and fit. Our horses did not do well on the crossing and are in even worse shape than my men.

I am comfortably situated at the moment in an inn that has been commandeered for officers. It is warm and dry which, after several weeks on board a ship, is a definite relief. I have nothing but admiration for men who make a career in the navy, admiration but no envy. It is not a life I would want at all. I have to close off this letter now since they are collecting mail for delivery home.

RF


He would have to write Richard with the news of his engagement. He could not write of the scheme that was underway to salvage the Bennet reputation. Such could not be put in writing. He was glad that Richard was safe but also knew that, by now, Wellesley’s army would most likely be moving against the French forces in Spain.

~~~

Darcy took up his aunt’s letter once more. He knew he must respond immediately and forcibly. Perhaps if he was sufficiently forceful, he could dissuade her from any further interference. Knowing his aunt’s temper, he was not overly optimistic that he could convince her to accept Elizabeth. He would be satisfied if she simply was quiescent. He also knew it would not be an easy or pleasant letter to write. Moving to his study, he took pen in hand and began. Some two hours later, he reviewed his final effort.

Lady Catherine,

It was with extreme displeasure that I read your most recent letter. I had hoped, after the debacle of your ill-advised visit to Hertfordshire, that you would have come to realize the impropriety of your behaviour. Of that I will say no more. You know my feelings on that subject. That you could now write in such a disrespectful and slanderous manner of one, whom I hold in the utmost respect, has angered me greatly. Miss Bennet has done nothing to earn such disapprobation as you have expressed. I am insulted on her behalf as well as my own. I cannot credit that you could speak so of one whom you invited into your own home but a year ago and appeared to view with some approbation. Nor can I credit that you would think so poorly of my judgement as to question the merits of the woman whose hand I have been fortunate enough to have been given.

As far as I can determine, Miss Bennet’s only real fault, in your eyes, is that I have asked for her hand in marriage and not that of your daughter, Anne. As I attempted to make clear previously, I have never entertained any intention of offering for my cousin. I like and respect Anne but only as my cousin. Marriage, and all that it entails, was never a consideration. Your claim that my mother was somehow complicit in such an agreement is, I believe, a product of your hopes and aspirations. I know my father never spoke of such to me.

As to my Aunt and Uncle Matlock, be assured that they have met and approved Miss Bennet both privately and publicly. I would caution you not to expect any support from that quarter as I hope that my uncle made abundantly clear when you last met with him.

I cannot, I will not tolerate such disparagement of Miss Bennet now or when she becomes my wife. It grieves me to write so but if you cannot accept and accord her all the respect and consideration that is due my wife, I must inform you that all further converse between us will cease. You will no longer be welcomed at any of my properties nor will I visit Rosings Park again. Anne, of course, will still be welcomed, should she choose to visit. This is my final word on the matter. I will only reconsider should you make a full apology to me and to Miss Bennet.

As one of my closest relatives, your behaviour to Miss Bennet shames me, Madam. I had thought better of you than this.

Fitzwilliam Darcy


Folding and sealing the letter, he found he needed to contemplate a happier event. Elizabeth and her aunt were to visit Darcy House this afternoon for tea and to review his …. her home. He had not made any significant alterations to the house when he became Master and, in fact, he was certain that nothing of significance had been altered since his mother had died. The furnishings were desperately in need of refurbishing. Elizabeth had visited the house on several occasions and he knew she was quite pleased with it, despite the fact that parts of the house were dated but she had only seen a few rooms at most.

~~~


Darcy had been waiting in the drawing room when he heard the sound of a carriage drawing up in front of the house. Checking his time piece for only the ninth time in the last quarter hour, he knew that Elizabeth was arriving as planned, accompanied by Mrs. Gardiner. He suspected that his eagerness to greet her was quite evident to Mrs. Hodgkins as he joined her in the foyer as Elizabeth and her aunt entered.

"Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth … welcome to Darcy House. I cannot remember if you have been introduced to Mrs. Hodgkins, my most excellent housekeeper?”

Mrs. Gardiner responded quickly, “I do believe we have met before though I cannot remember if we were actually introduced at the time. Nevertheless, it is a pleasure to meet you Mrs. Hodgkins.”

“Thank you Mrs. Gardiner and Miss Bennet it is a pleasure to meet you again as well. I believe we were introduced when you visited Miss Darcy.”

Elizabeth acknowledged the greeting with a nod of her head, “I remember that well. I have been most impressed by how efficiently things are accomplished here in Darcy House. I am sure that is a credit to you and Mr. Hodgkins.”

Darcy took Elizabeth’s hand and placed in on his arm, “I thought we might review the main rooms that you have yet to see and have tea afterwards, if that is agreeable?” Upon being assured that it was quite agreeable to both ladies, he continued, “I know you have seen the music room upstairs and the drawing room, and dining room on this floor. I thought we might look at the Mistress’s chambers today.” There are other family rooms on the second floor while the third floor contains the guest rooms and the nursery. I would hope that you could view them at a later time.”

They walked up a wide stairway to the second floor to a landing area that contained several chairs and opened a door that faced the stairway. He ushered them in explaining, “This is the Mistress’ private sitting room. Georgiana has used it on occasion in the last year or two and had it refurbished to her liking.”

Elizabeth walked into the room and gazed around. It was a comfortable size with book shelves, a settee and wing chairs ringed a small table in front of the fireplace. A writing desk was against a wall framed by large windows. It exuded a light, airy feeling. The furniture looked well upholstered although perhaps a little faded but not ornate. She thought she could feel comfortable here. She looked at Darcy and could see he was expecting some comment. “I like it very much. I was just thinking to myself that I could feel very comfortable here. I would not change a thing.” She smiled, “I think Georgiana and I share a similar taste in furnishings.”

Darcy was a little surprised, “Are you sure that you do not want to refurbish this room?”

“Indeed. I see no reason to change a room that appears to me to be admirable in comfort and furnishings. I may wish to add a few personal things but that can happen later. The upholstery is perhaps a little faded but that simply adds to its comfort.”

Darcy nodded, noting a smile of appreciation from Mrs. Hodgkins that she failed to suppress. ”Very well. Let us look at your bedchamber and dressing room now.” and leading them back out of the room he proceeded down the hall towards the front of the house finally stopping to wave them through into a small rather ornate room. “This is your dressing room and the Mistress bedroom is through that door.” He pointed to a door on the opposing wall. “These rooms have been cleaned but have not been refurbished for almost twenty years. Is that not correct, Mrs. Hodgkins?”

“Yes sir, not since before your mother passed on, Mr. Darcy.”

Elizabeth walked over and entered what was to be her bedroom and gazed in some astonishment. The room was more ornate than was typical of the house in general. The wall paper was of an intricate, busy design that she could not like. The furniture reminded her somewhat of Rosings Park – a little too ornate to be truly comfortable - and there was too much of it. The curtains were a dark gold colour that matched the wallpaper but seemed to soak up any light that entered the room. She could not sleep here in any comfort. She could not hide her thoughts since Darcy was quick to notice her reaction. “You do not like this room?”

She could not prevaricate, “Well, it is very different from any other room. It reminds me somewhat of Rosings Park.”

Darcy smiled, “My mother and my Aunt Catherine shared somewhat similar preferences in furnishings although I believe my mother’s taste was a little more restrained in that regard.”

“I must admit I find it rather discomforting. I would like to see a complete change here but I feel that it should wait until later when I have time to consider how best to do so.” Elizabeth was not prepared to discuss with Darcy that she did not expect to sleep in this room with any frequency, if at all. It was her intention that they share a bed every night and she rather thought his bed would be hers also. Her talks with her Aunt Madeline had given her to believe that her marriage would benefit from such closeness. She would retain this room for periods when she was ill and needed to separate from her husband.

Darcy was not terribly surprised by her reaction, given how she had viewed the other furnishings in the house with such appreciation. “Very well. Although we could arrange to visit some furniture shops to select and order new furnishings, there is, I am sure, time enough for that.” Observing that Elizabeth was not in favour of such an effort, he did not press the issue, “Very well! Shall we return to your dressing room?”

Elizabeth and her aunt walked back into the dressing room which was furnished in a fashion similar to the bedroom. Elizabeth wandered around touching the dresser, chairs, opening a door into a very large closet with racks for dresses and shelves for other items. She gasped at its size, “However am I to fill this room. I could never need so many dresses.” Her aunt laughed, “I imagine you will not need so much space right away but I suspect that over time, this closet will be filled.” Elizabeth just shook her head and wandered over to inspect an extremely large tub. “Ah, I think I am going to enjoy having a bath here!” she thought to herself. She stuck her head into another small attached room which turned out to be a water closet. Turning back into the middle of the dressing room, she looked at Mrs. Hodgkins. “I think I would like to have some of the furniture removed – the room is too cluttered for my taste. Perhaps several chairs could be removed. I would also like to replace the other furniture with a simpler style – perhaps like that in the sitting room. As well, the wallpaper should be replaced with a lighter colour - yellow, I think – and the curtains likewise with a brighter light colour. The rugs are too elaborate for my liking – a simpler design in a warm brown perhaps. Would it be best do you think to leave this till after we are married?”

Although the question was directed to Darcy, Mrs. Hodgkins, with his tacit approval, responded, “Actually Miss Bennet, the changes you have suggested are very much in line with those Mr. Darcy expressed earlier this week. I have tentatively, subject to your approval, placed an order for new furniture and we can have the room completely redone by the time you return from Hertfordshire.”

“That sounds excellent, Mrs. Hodgkins. I can see why Mr. Darcy has such confidence in you. I think you are going to make my life very much easier.”

Mrs. Hodgkins nodded in appreciation, “Thank you, Miss Bennet.” Everything she had seen of this young lady had impressed her. Her taste, intelligence and kindness were all that she could have hoped for in the next Mistress. “Miss Bennet, while I have your attention there is another item I would address.” At Elizabeth’s inquiring look, she continued, “Are you planning to bring a ladies maid with you?”

Elizabeth was rather surprised, “I had not thought of that at all. There really is no one at Longbourn that would suit particularly. I suppose I will have to employ one.”

Mrs. Hodgkins nodded, “I thought that might be the case. In general,” and she looked at Darcy, “Mr. Darcy prefers to hire from within our current staff but, in the case of his valet he did not do so and perhaps your maid should be treated so as well.”

Darcy noted Elizabeth’s puzzled expression, “My valet and your maid will be closer to us than any other member of the staff. They will become aware of personal matters that require the strictest privacy. If they are hired from outside the regular staff their first loyalty will be to us. However, I am not overly concerned if you decide to hire from within. My valet was hired because there were no suitable candidates on staff. The choice is yours. I would mention that my uncle has followed the practice of hiring personal staff from without for the reasons given.”

Elizabeth looked at Mrs. Gardiner, “Aunt, do you have some thoughts on this?”

Mrs. Gardiner shook her head, “Not really, I can see the merits though in hiring from outside but personally I would prefer to hire from within.”

Elizabeth looked conflicted, “Mrs. Hodgkins, is there someone who is well qualified on staff now?”

“No Miss Bennet, there is not. Neither here nor at Pemberley as far as I know.”

“Well then, it seems the matter is settled. Can you arrange to interview some candidates?”

“Again I took the liberty to advertise and believe we could have several to interview the day after next.”

Elizabeth nodded, “Very good. I do not leave for Longbourn for a week at least. I will not need a maid while there and can use my sister’s should a need arise.”

Darcy had waited patiently for this discussion to conclude and, seeing the opportunity to continue the tour, suggested that they return to the main floor to view the rooms there. As they walked down the stairs, Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow at Darcy, “Are there rooms on this floor that I have not seen?”

“I do not think you have seen our dining rooms. And I know I have not shown you my billiard room.”

Elizabeth grinned impishly, “I have never seen a billiard room. I shall be quite interested.” She leaned a little closer to Darcy and whispered, “Shall you teach me how to play?”

Darcy’s blush produced a chortle from Elizabeth which was replaced by a blush of her own when he murmured, “I shall take great delight in instructing you….I shall endeavour to ensure that you enjoy the lessons.”

When they reached the main floor, Darcy led them on a tour of his study and the billiard room. The latter room drew a pointed look from Elizabeth and a slight smirk from Darcy that was missed by the rest of their party. Mrs. Hodgkins then led them to the dining room, informing Elizabeth that it could seat two and forty people. Elizabeth could only gaze around with great pleasure evident on her countenance, “What a beautiful room, those chandeliers are exquisite.”

Darcy looked around, “I cannot remember when we last hosted a dinner in this room with that many people. Do you remember, Mrs. Hodgkins?”

“No sir, not since I have been here, which covers some fifteen years.”

Darcy nodded thoughtfully, “We have hosted smaller dinners, of course, but not since my mother died has there been a hostess for Darcy House with a desire to entertain. In truth, most of our meals are taken in the morning room. Follow me.” Leading them back out of the room and down the hall, he opened a door into a small dining area that could accommodate about six people. Again it was tastefully furnished, albeit in a rather plainer fashion than elsewhere, with a small writing desk and sideboard in addition to a table and chairs. “Georgiana and I take all our meals here unless we are entertaining.”

Elizabeth admired the room, “I particularly like the windows. They have an eastern exposure I think, which should make the room delightfully bright in the mornings. I like it very much. In fact, I have seen little that I do not like. I do fear that you will have some difficulty in prying me out of your library though.”

Darcy smiled, “I am glad you approve. I know we have only looked at a few rooms but the rest can be viewed when we have more time. Shall we have tea?” That being agreeable to them all, they repaired to the drawing room. Before leaving to attend to her duties, Mrs. Hodgkins arranged to meet with Elizabeth in a few days to interview candidates for the position of her maid.

Mrs. Gardiner led their return to the drawing room and Darcy managed to delay Elizabeth from following her by a gentle pressure on her arm. Conscious of the lack of privacy, he was reluctant to be overly bold and was content to have her walk slowly with him. Taking the chance for a few moments of relative privacy, he whispered, “You cannot know how much I am looking forward to having you here every day. It seems that we have so little time together and when we are in each other’s company, there are chaperones everywhere. She could hear his frustration in his voice and, truth to tell, she thought her own not much less. Yet she also knew that until they were married, they must remain circumspect in all particulars. A quick glance assured her of their privacy since her aunt had entered the drawing room. Gently brushing his lips with her hand, she quirked her lips, “Soon my love. Soon!” At that point her aunt appeared in the doorway ahead and pointedly raised an eyebrow which elicited a chuckle from both Darcy and Elizabeth and a very quiet “Not soon enough!” from Darcy before they joined her.
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Road Back - Chapters 35-

PeterJanuary 19, 2015 02:03PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 35-

IrishJanuary 23, 2015 01:57PM

I agree--lovely! (nfm)

RedsonJanuary 21, 2015 11:08AM

Lovely! (nfm)

LisetteJanuary 20, 2015 10:01PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 35-

terrycgJanuary 20, 2015 05:05AM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 35-

RoxeyJanuary 19, 2015 09:18PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 35-

ShannaGJanuary 19, 2015 04:55PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 35-36 (nfm)

PeterJanuary 19, 2015 02:04PM



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