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A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

January 19, 2017 03:59PM
AN: thanks again for comments. To reassure those asking, this 'book' is 65 chapters and ODC gets their HEA in this book. Because of comments and questions, I'm working on follow up parts to cover the resolutions for the rest of the girls.

Chapter 51

Late the next morning, Mrs. Williams, Darcy, and Georgiana were welcomed to Ambleside. After the initial greetings, the men headed for the steward’s office. Jane invited Mrs. Williams and Georgiana to have a tour of the main rooms of the house which she conducted. As they visited each room, she talked about her tentative plans for updating things. As they finished, she led them out onto a patio outside the parlor, overlooking the garden.

“Mrs. Harmon will bring refreshments out here. It is much more pleasant than the parlor. Everything there is all askew. We will have men in there shortly removing the furniture so the painting can begin.”

Mrs. Williams said, “It is always inconvenient to entertain when one is refreshing the house. Thank you for inviting us. It does sound like it will be quite lovely when you finish.”

Jane smiled. “I hope so. As you can see, the gardens are in serious need of care as well. We cannot do everything at once, so we are making up a list of things to correct and placing them in priority order. A kitchen garden is more important than a cutting garden right now. As they can, the gardeners will be tackling these beds once the kitchen garden is in better shape. They were able to get a start on it once Mr. Bingley signed the lease, but now we can concentrate on it. At least the kitchen gardens are already producing. I am afraid we will have to start over again in the conservatory. Everything there has died.”

Mrs. Williams replied, “I am afraid this is a never ending story. There is always something that needs attention. I am sure Fitzwilliam can give you some starters for your conservatory. I will mention it to him.”

Elizabeth added, “Thank you. At least Mr. Garner can be assured that there will always be something for him to do.”

Jane replied, “Indeed he can. We anticipate at least a year until we can feel that we will be on the way to correcting the neglect. We have already had a number of tenants express their gratitude that many things which have been overlooked for years are being attended to. It has certainly been enlightening. If you can help us obtain some of the cuttings and seedlings, I know it will make our winter fare much more varied next winter. Thank you.”

The ladies then began to talk of possible plans for entertaining once the Musgroves arrived. Georgiana finally made an effort to participate.

Mrs. Williams said, “I do not anticipate us visiting terribly often. I know Fitzwilliam and Mr. Musgrove will visit daily to assist Mr. Bingley. However, you will not want to entertain while you are overseeing the workmen, and, of course, you have all the tenants to continue visiting.”

Georgiana said, “Perhaps you would appreciate coming to Pemberley instead? That way, you will not have to listen to the noise of the workmen and can have a break from the chaos and dust.”

Jane said, “Are you sure you and your friends would want the company of us older girls?”

Elizabeth made a funny face as Jane asked that, and Georgiana giggled. “I am sure we would truly enjoy your company. I do not have any secrets from aunt, and we expect to take picnics, walks in the woods, some sketching, and some reading together. Surely we would enjoy more participants in all of those. And if we wanted some time apart, I am sure aunt would appreciate the company.”

Mrs. Williams smiled. “Indeed I would.”

Georgiana continued, “And you could practice on my piano until your own has been tuned.”

Mary exclaimed, “Then of course we most happily accept. I cannot bear to practice on our horrible instrument.”

Elizabeth giggled. “Not that we needed that inducement to want to visit.”

Jane said, “Well, then, we shall plan to come at least a few times each week while you have your visitors. In return, as soon as the dining room is presentable, we shall invite all of you here to dine.”

Mrs. Williams said, “Since you are joining us the day after the Musgroves arrive, that seems quite fair. It appears that this summer will be socially busier than any I have attended here since Anne’s passing.”

Georgiana asked, “Could you tell us something of those summers here when Mother was alive?”

For the next hour, the girls heard stories of a young Fitzwilliam and his cousins interspersed with stories of balls and picnics. Georgiana had never heard most of these stories. They allowed her a better insight into the young child her brother had been. As they listened to the stories, Elizabeth also found herself developing even more admiration for Fitzwilliam Darcy. Although he had had his share of scrapes, he had always acted with integrity and an eye to his duty even when still a child. Why must these stories increase her admiration when the situation seemed to be hopeless?

As the visitors prepared to depart, Darcy indicated that he would return the next day to continue working with Bingley and Garner. Mrs. Williams and Georgiana indicated that they planned to stay at Pemberley overseeing arrangements for their guests.

At dinner, Jane asked about Bingley’s day. He replied, “It has been interesting watching Garner and Darcy interact. Darcy seems to know exactly what question to ask as a follow up to the various things Garner reports. When Garner left, I asked him how he knew what to ask. He smiled and said that it was simply experience and that I would soon have the same ability. I am not sure though.”

Jane said, “I am sure he is correct. Learning to manage an estate is like managing anything. At least we have an excellent steward in Mr. Garner. The neglect when we arrived was shocking. He has already begun to have a positive impact.”

Bingley agreed. “The owners did not replace their steward when he died. They live in London and do not care at all about Ambleside except for the income it can bring. Since the house had not brought income, it was not worth having a steward oversee everything. They dealt directly with the tenants through the mail, and that neglect shows. I am glad Darcy can help Garner and me to bring everything back to life.”

Elizabeth asked, “Have you plans to meet all the tenants and assess the situation?”

“Yes. Garner has met with most, at least briefly. However, we must spend more time with all of them to better understand their situations. That is what we will be doing over the next week. I am happy that you ladies are making your own assessment of things with the tenants. I think you will notice different needs than we will. Once the Musgroves arrive, Musgrove will offer his own insights into how we might remedy some of the outstanding issues we see. Although I worry about tackling all of this, I admit that I look forward to seeing things improve.”

Mary said, “Well, I am sure you will be successful. With such assistance, how can you not?”

Jane continued, “I received a letter from Caroline today.”

Bingley asked, “What did she have to say?”

“She describes the Findlay estate as lovely. Louisa has hosted a dinner to help introduce her to the neighbors, and she finds them all quite interesting. She says the country is not quite as dreadful as she used to find it.”

Bingley said, “At least she seems happy.”

Elizabeth said, “It sounds like she will enjoy Sussex. It is nice that your sisters have settled so near to one another.”

Mary added, “Unless Elizabeth and I find someone here, that is not too likely for the Bennets. Have you any serious prospects for us?”

Everyone chuckled while Bingley answered, “Not as yet. However, stranger things have happened. I know that Jane would love to have you settled nearby.”

They spent the rest of the evening discussing conditions in the house, gardens, and estate and what seemed to be the most pressing problems. Mary had less experience in tenant issues and found the discussions enlightening.

As she and Elizabeth went toward their rooms, she said, “You know, I do not believe I ever heard Mother and Father discussing such things.”

Elizabeth agreed. “Mother does not concern herself with the tenants. Jane and I learned about it from Mrs. Hill. I believe her plan was to begin sharing this with you when you returned home. We would discuss our findings with Father almost daily. I am glad you can begin to do some of it here.”

“I had never come along when you invited me as I didn’t think you really wanted my assistance.”

“Oh, Mary, I am sorry you did not feel wanted.”

“It was my own insecurity, I think. I am glad we are all now truly friends as well as sisters.”

“As am I.”

“Well, I plan to learn from you and Jane and continue on with Mrs. Hill when I return home. Do you think we can ever convince Mother to expand her interests into the estate?”

“I know Father has tried without success. We have been lucky that Mrs. Hill is happy to fill that role when necessary. It seems to me that she always knows absolutely everything that is going on at Longbourn.”

“When I do get back home, I will be sure to spend time with her. Oh, Lizzy, there is so much for us to do, I had no idea.”

“Well, I think it all depends on your expectations and sense of duty. I know you were just coming up to the age when Father would have had you begin helping whether you felt wanted or not, but then off you went to London instead. I think he has done an admirable job of helping us move forward without Mother’s assistance. At least we have others who can show us what should be done. We can then choose whether we will do it or delegate it to our housekeeper as Mother does.”

“It seems to me more our responsibility than the housekeeper’s. Of course, I may not end up with an estate to assist with so it may not matter at all.”

“The insights gained will apply whether it is to tenants or simply to servants.”

“Yes, I can see that. Good night, Lizzy.”

As Mary lay awake for a time, she considered all the little things a mistress could do to improve the conditions for tenants on an estate. Given her interest in the morality behind things, she thought she had been lax to overlook those opportunities in the past. Well, that would end now. Since she had had her vision expanded, she would never narrow it again.

Chapter 52

Over the next few days, Jane and her sisters managed to introduce themselves to the remainder of the tenant families. They found two who were expecting additions to the family quite soon, one being a first baby. They also noted a couple of instances where Jane thought the family could benefit from some counsel from the vicar. She met with him to discuss her concerns, and he promised to meet with the family in question quite soon. After learning of the babies, whenever the girls were relaxing for the next few days, they made baby items which they delivered on their next visit.

As they were working on those baby items, Mary said, “Lizzy, this is the kind of thing you meant, isn’t it? I recall you and Jane making baby clothes a time or two in the past and never even considered who they were for.”

Elizabeth smiled. “Yes, it is. Once we began visits with Mrs. Hill, we would work on projects like this that could provide some nice little extras for a new baby. I will admit that I do not like this fine sewing, but it is for a good cause, and I feel I could do nothing less. There is a nice satisfaction in knowing that we are helping someone in need.”

Jane added, “Of course, at Longbourn, we knew the recipient intimately. I hope someday that will be true at Ambleside. But, because we do not know them well, projects like this will give us a chance to become better acquainted. At the same time, it lets the tenants know that we care and are concerned about their situations.”

The girls attended the charitable circle meeting at the Johnstone’s and were warmly welcomed. The group was currently helping to provide clothing for a small family who had recently lost everything in a fire. The rebuild of the home was well underway, but clothing and linens were greatly needed. Each of the girls eagerly selected a project and began to work. Since they were new to the group, they spent more of the morning listening than talking as they became better acquainted with their neighbors.

Mrs. Lawrence said to Jane, “Mrs. Bingley, I can see what an asset you will be to the neighborhood. Why, you have just arrived and are already come to the work. It is truly inspiring.”

Jane smiled. “Thank you. I have had excellent examples about what a difference such a group can make. As this is to be our home, I definitely want to do all I can to support and sustain the community. It is certainly lovely to see how many women are involved here even though our village is so small.”

Mrs. Allen said, “We have a very strong community spirit. I hope you will enjoy making your home among us. But surely your sisters will not be staying as well, will they?”

“No. They are visiting to help us begin the repairs to Ambleside. Although Miss Bennet may stay longer, we expect for Miss Mary to return to our parents in Hertfordshire sometime after the end of the summer.”

As they sewed industriously, the girls learned about the families of their new neighbors who, in turn, learned of the five Bennet girls and recent marriage of Mrs. Bingley. By the time they finished for the morning, Jane was considered an important new addition to the group, while her sisters were warmly welcomed for as long as they stayed. They planned to join the group again for their next meeting in two weeks.

Darcy arrived one morning with a wagon trailing him. As Bingley asked about it, he replied, “Mrs. Williams indicated that your conservatory suffered the most from the neglect and thought we might help replenish your plants. If you can call your gardeners, we can unload some seedlings and cuttings, along with a few plants, that can help you start again. Mrs. Bingley and Miss Bennet mentioned the problem when my aunt visited the other day.”

“That is very kind of you. It will make a big difference come winter.”

“I hope it will.”

The gardeners arrived and helped unload the wagon. It then returned to Pemberley while they all worked together to move everything into the conservatory. The men would be at least a week getting the new plants situated in place.

Finally, the Musgroves arrived. Georgiana was thrilled to have her new friends visit. After the guests washed the dust of travel away, Darcy showed Musgrove around while Georgiana conducted a tour for her friends. The men were done quickly as neither was interested in the scenery. Mrs. Williams enjoyed hearing the giggling from the three girls as Georgiana showed them around the house.

The next day, the Bingley party came to Pemberley for dinner. After introductions, the women spent some time getting to know Henrietta and Louisa. As they chatted, Elizabeth privately noted that neither was very like her own sisters of similar age. Louisa was relatively comfortable in conversation, Henrietta a little quieter, but neither exhibited the tendency to giggle and inflict inane comments into the conversation which both Lydia and Kitty still did. They had obviously benefited from learning in that they were conversant on a number of subjects. They were also kind, both making an effort to draw Georgiana into the conversation.

As the ladies chatted, Darcy and Bingley described the situation at Ambleside to Musgrove. They made plans for Musgrove to join Darcy in his visit the following day, while the ladies were making plans to get together at Pemberley in two days. The painting in the parlor at Ambleside was almost complete and progress made on the draperies, so the Pemberley party would visit Ambleside with the girls by the end of the week. The re-upholstering would take a little longer to be complete.

As they sat down to dinner, Musgrove said to Mary, “Miss Mary, I must offer you my thanks. After our conversations this spring, you spurred me to think more deeply about the contributions I can make at Uppercross.”

“Oh? I had no idea they would have any impact.”

“Well, they did. I took a look at the estate, the village, and the situation of our tenants and had a long discussion with my father about some possible improvements we might effect. Finally, we decided to work with our vicar to establish a class to help educate some of the men who have returned from fighting on the continent with injuries that will no longer allow them to contribute much on the farm. We have six such tenants who are almost completely illiterate. We thought that they might find work as clerks or something similar if we could get their level of education adequate.”

“How wonderful. Has the class started?”

“Yes, our vicar is meeting with these men three evenings each week. All of these men were excited at an opportunity to contribute once again. They have felt that they are a drain on family resources. I think they are all clever enough that they will become quite capable. Father and I will both use our contacts to help them find suitable employment once they are capable.”

Elizabeth, sitting at the other side of Musgrove, said, “Mr. Musgrove, that is a truly wonderful charitable effort. I think Ambleside has one tenant who might also benefit from such a program. He returned with his left arm almost unusable. He is helping his parents on the farm, but I could see the worry in their eyes as we met with them.”

Jane added, “Yes, there must be some way we could help him be productive again.”

Darcy said, “You know, I too have a few tenants who are no longer able-bodied thanks to their service. Perhaps we could combine efforts with our dame school.”

Elizabeth asked, “What is your dame school?”

“We believe it is important to provide at least basic literacy skills to our tenants, so we have a school for all the younger children, usually ages six through nine, so that they might learn basic reading and figuring. It is taught by Mrs. Williams’ former governess who retired from service about five years ago. She returned to Pemberley to a cottage where she holds the school as payment of the rent on the cottage. I believe she would relish the opportunity to help Bingley’s tenant gain some literacy, and mine reach a level where a clerkship might be possible. You have had an excellent idea, Musgrove.”

Musgrove blushed and replied, “Well, actually, it was something Miss Mary said that caused me to think of it, so I believe the credit should really be hers.”

Mary blushed as well at the praise. Elizabeth asked, “You think your school teacher would take on the additional work?”

Mrs. Williams answered, “She has a real gift for teaching and enjoys it tremendously. There has been a similar school here for more than fifty years. The Darcys have all felt no mind should be left in complete darkness and should benefit from some attempt at literacy. The ‘dames’ have often been former governesses, although one of the spinster sisters took a turn at the school some thirty years ago. She taught for three years before she unexpectedly found a suitor and married away from Pemberley. The goal has never been this defined before. I am sure she will treasure the opportunity.”

Louisa asked, “Charles, is that why you and Father were gone so often and why Mr. Wentworth visited every day?”

“Yes, we were working out the logistics and getting everything started. The men were quite excited to start.”

After a short interlude for conversation following the meal, the Bingleys and Bennets returned to Ambleside. As he watched their carriage leave, Darcy became quite introspective. He excused himself to complete some work in his study leaving Musgrove with the ladies. “I should be able to complete everything within an hour. I hope this is acceptable.”

Musgrove replied, “I am sure I can read while the ladies visit. I heard the girls say something about a visit to Miss Darcy’s room.”

Georgiana replied, “If that is fine, we girls will leave Aunt Edith with you and go up to my room.”

Mrs. Williams replied, “Yes, you may go.”

Darcy retired to his study and quickly completed his paperwork. However, he sat there considering after he affixed his signature to the last document. If someone had entered the room, he would have thought Darcy unhappy with the paper. In reality, he did not even see it. He was considering something quite different.

“Why had I not thought of Miss Bennet before? Look at her compassion for that tenant of Bingley’s. I know she was kind to help deflect some of the unwanted attention at certain of our social events. She is witty. She has strong opinions but is willing to consider those who think differently than she does. True, she does not bring a great deal to the marriage, but she does have some good contacts. Why am I only now recognizing how she might be just what I am looking for? Perhaps it was her age but as she is now eighteen, that is certainly not against her. I know I wondered if I might be attracted before but ruled it out. I had thought I should wait until Georgiana is settled, but perhaps there is no need. They are already friends. Hmm.” He sat there considering this for another quarter hour before returning to the parlor and challenging Musgrove to a game of billiards.

As they played, Darcy asked, “What did you think of Miss Anne marrying Captain Wentworth? You were near neighbors, I believe.”

“I will admit to some mixed feelings because I had recently begun to think that she might be someone I could happily marry. Our local prospects are somewhat limited, and Anne Elliot is one of the kindest people I have ever met. As our family is second only to hers in the neighborhood, it seemed a natural choice. However, even before she left for London, I could see she was not interested in me pursuing her. He seems to make her happy, so I think it a good thing for her. At least he values her as her own family never did. Why do you ask?”

“At her wedding, I could see some of your admiration for her and wondered that you had not pursued her before she came to town. I have spent my adult years trying to determine just what I want in a partner. As you need someone to help you manage an estate later, I too need someone special to help with Pemberley. Most of the debutantes I meet seem to be uninterested in the work of an estate wanting only its prestige.”

Musgrove nodded as he lined up his shot. “Although Uppercross is nothing compared to Pemberley, even I have seen that. My parents have a good partnership and that is the sort of relationship I would like. The London season is a little too rich for my blood, so I am more likely to look in Bath. However, I will admit that I have been thinking that perhaps, Miss Mary Bennet is someone worth considering. Her thinking challenges me in ways that no one else has ever done. She is a bit young, but I would be willing to wait for her.”

“I know what you mean. The Bennet ladies seem to be intelligent, independent thinkers. I think Mrs. Bingley will be the making of my friend. She has such strength underneath her serenity. She also seems to be able to curb some of his impulsiveness. You could certainly go further and not find a better choice than Miss Mary.”

“I think I may ask Bingley for permission to pay court to her. After all, we are only visiting for six weeks. I would like to secure my position before she has her season. However, I would like to see her enjoy what her sisters had, so would not press for marriage before next spring or even later should she like a little more time.”

“That sounds an excellent plan. Will you talk to him tomorrow when we visit?”

“If you could contrive to give me a few minutes alone with him, yes, I will.”

“Consider it done.” Darcy looked at his friend and thought, “I wonder if I should speak to Bingley as well? I will have to sleep on it before making such a precipitous decision. I never even seriously considered Miss Bennet before tonight and yet she has been present in my heart for months. Look how comfortable I am in her company. How could I have been so blind?”

They continued to play a few more games before deciding to call it a night. While Musgrove anticipated a restful night, Darcy expected to spend most of it pondering. He was surprised to fall asleep quickly and sleep deeply. However, he awoke knowing that he, too, must speak to Bingley about permission to court.

Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 01/20/2017 04:18AM by Amy I..

A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

ShannaGJanuary 19, 2017 03:59PM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

Linnea EileenJanuary 26, 2017 03:36PM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

ShannaGJanuary 26, 2017 07:58PM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

Lucy J.January 20, 2017 08:18AM

Hurrah! (nfm)

Maria VJanuary 19, 2017 08:21PM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

EvelynJeanJanuary 19, 2017 07:50PM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52-mods-correction?

ShannaGJanuary 19, 2017 11:53PM

corrected! (nfm)

Amy I.January 20, 2017 04:18AM

Re: corrected!-thank you. you are awesome <nfm> (nfm)

ShannaGJanuary 21, 2017 05:50PM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52-mods-correction?

EvelynJeanJanuary 20, 2017 02:17AM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

KarenteaJanuary 19, 2017 06:01PM

Re: A Kindly Aunt 51 & 52

BrigidJanuary 19, 2017 07:57PM


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