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Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

September 30, 2020 06:10PM
Author Note: Yes, I'm still writing on this story. I'm through Chapter 34 as of last night. I had really hoped to finish this while I had maternity leave early this year, but ... yeah. I miscalculated how much a baby plus kindergartener would be. I have notes, and bits of scene written out. I do intend to finish. I'm sorry it's languished for so long. Debra Anne had actually beta'd this chapter a LONG time ago, and somehow I never posted it.

Chapter 27

As Jane and Elizabeth alighted from the carriage in front of the Gardiners' residence, Elizabeth felt some of the tension in her shoulders dissipate. As much as she was learning to enjoy the company of Lady Catherine, her sister Anne and the Matlocks, this was still a place she had spent many a month in, as a growing child. When her feet itched to roam beyond the confines of Meryton, and she found herself standing in her bedroom wanting to go home, despite being there already, this was where she begged her father to send her, so she could flee those sensations for a while.

She was grateful, now, that he had never asked why she spent as much time up in London with the Gardiners as she had. He may have felt it necessary to tell her of her foundling status years ago, had he known some part of her heart knew it belonged elsewhere. The only problem was that with the information in hand, she felt even more adrift than she had previously.

Such were the thoughts that accompanied her as she and Jane went up the steps, were admitted, and shown to the parlour where Mrs. Gardiner entertained a friend of hers. The Bennets were to spend all morning with their aunt – Lady Catherine was proving to have self-restraint after all, and allowing her newly found daughter time away, to find solace in the well-known. Did William, perhaps, she wondered idly, have some part to play in that? She had caught a few words between him and mére last night that had not made sense to her, given how fragmentary they were.

"I see you made good time," Mrs. Gardiner said as she crossed the room to greet them.

"We did indeed," Jane replied. "It took us less than half the time to travel here, for nearly twice the distance, as it did to make it to the modiste yesterday."

"Oh, the roads were terrible yesterday," Mrs. Gardiner's friend Mrs. Baker interjected. She, like their aunt, was a well-to-do merchant's wife, and well dressed. Elizabeth's private opinion of the woman was that she could only hope Lydia came up so fortunate; the two were quite similar in disposition.

"They were," Elizabeth agreed, settling beside her aunt. "And how is your daughter?"

Mrs. Baker lit up – she was excessively fond of her firstborn. "She is proving to have quite the talent at the pianoforte. I am in the process of selecting a master for her to study with – I believe, as does her father, that her talent merits special education."

"She is – twelve, if I recall correctly?" Jane asked.

"Twelve going on one-and-twenty!" Mrs. Bakers replied with a laugh. "I was never so serious at her age; she takes after her father like that."

"Discipline is a good talent to have, to excel at the pianoforte," Mrs. Gardiner replied. She patted Elizabeth's hand, adding, "If we could have only gotten this one to spend as much time on her playing as we could with her books, she would be one of the best."

"Aunt!" Elizabeth replied with a laugh. "I play sufficiently well."

"You do indeed, Lizzy," Jane replied, a mock-glare (for being Jane, that was as close as she got to a glare in the first place) at their aunt.

Mrs. Baker laughed – she had heard this interplay before. "If only I could get my Jane to spend as much time on her books as she does her playing!" The lady shrugged. "She does well at her studies, at least. Mr. Baker is quite proud of her."

Elizabeth smiled, "You both have reason to be proud of her; I was quite taken with her the last time I saw her."

Mrs. Baker smiled in return. "She does have that effect on people."

Another cup of tea for all parties was poured, and idle commentary about the weather resumed. Mrs. Baker suddenly commented, "It is unusual to see both you, Miss Elizabeth, and you, Miss Bennet, in town at the same time, particularly as I do not believe you are staying with your aunt."

"It was unexpected for us, as well, but the situation is unusual," Jane replied.

"We are staying with," the slightest hesitation, as Elizabeth searched for an appropriate white lie, "family friends, whose family party we are joining for the Season. Father was here for a few days; he departed the day before yesterday," Elizabeth added.

"Oh? Which friends? I did not think your father to be the kind to have many friends in London," Mrs. Baker replied.

The girls glanced at each other and then their aunt, who answered for them. "My brother-in-law tends to be very particular about who he interacts with, this is true. Given that, I have no qualms about my nieces' hosts."

Mrs. Baker looked taken-aback. "I had no intention of suggesting otherwise, Madeline. You and your Mr. Gardiner would have them here in a heartbeat if you thought otherwise." She glanced at the girls, "That is, if the girls were not here in a moment themselves." She looked back at Madeline, "They are entirely too sensible to risk their well-being."

Mrs. Gardiner smiled. "I agree with that assessment."

"But are they anyone I might know?" Mrs. Baker was not dissuaded.

Elizabeth quirked an eyebrow. "Doubtfully, Mrs. Baker. Lady Catherine de Bourgh is my cousin's patron; she requested the company of Jane and myself whilst in London with her daughter. They are visiting her brother, Lord Matlock, and thought perhaps we would enjoy exposure to some of the London festivities we do not normally have the chance to attend."

Mrs. Baker's expression became suddenly very understanding. "It is so kind of the first circle to take pity upon us commoners every once in a while." Her tone was not very forgiving; the pained dignity of one oft snubbed for lack of parentage and money etched her words.

"We are fortunate," Jane replied, not having heard the undercurrent to the lady's words.

"They were quite gracious to me," Mrs. Gardiner added, "when I had tea with them day before last. They seem genuinely fond of my nieces."

Mrs. Baker relaxed a little, with a strained smile. "That is good – there is nothing worse than being the recipient of false kindness."

Elizabeth felt sorry for the lady. She wondered if there was more than offended dignity behind those words – perhaps a heart once broken because of social standing? "They have been quite kind, truly; and it is honest. If anything, they seem to be as honest as the folk of Meryton – perhaps because they are less likely to lose everything, should they be censored."

"Indeed," the woman concurred, sounding as if her thoughts were a hundred miles away or more. She shook herself lightly and set her mostly empty cup down. "I should be leaving; I have promised to call on a few other friends."

Once she had left, Elizabeth asked Mrs. Gardiner if she knew the cause behind the bitterness. Mrs. Gardiner shook her head, but added, "She was a few years married when I met her, and her daughter had already been born. There is no telling what secrets her heart holds, and why."

Elizabeth nodded, and kept her thoughts on the subject to herself. Poor Mrs. Baker.

William read over his aunt de Bourgh's will, and shrugged as he handed it back to Lord Matlock. "I see nothing to be concerned with," he told the older man.

"Nor do I," the viscount agreed, his feet crossed and propped up on his father's desk.

"The wording was not significantly adjusted from the original version," Matlock said. "Catherine, of course, already approved the changes – which effectively removed any potential might-bes from the document. She wants it irrefutable, for Elizabeth's sake."

"It reads as such to me," Alexander replied. "A good lawyer can argue anything; there is no way to make it ironclad against that. We will simply have to ensure that any potential suitor of Anne's is not desirous of more than he deserves."

"Has Anne's own will been dealt with?" William asked.

"No, it has not yet been deemed necessary," Matlock replied. "Although with another heir, it should be. I will mention it to Catherine later."

William nodded. He suspected his uncle wanted his input on the will due to the assumption he would be marrying Elizabeth, although given the recent changes to Georgiana's inheritance, perhaps he just wanted the input from that side.

His uncle confirmed his suspicions a moment later. "As one who will likely be affected by that will," Matlock tapped it as it sat on his desk, "what do you think of it, William?"

"First, it is too early to tell if I will be affected by it," he replied mildly. For all he had hopes … he was afraid of pushing too fast, and losing what ground he had made up these past days. "Secondly, as I said, it reads well and clear. If I were to consider myself affected by it, I would certainly not find a reason to contest it. But I have more means than most – and I would take her penniless, anyhow."

Alexander smirked at his cousin. "Funny how falling in love changes that perspective, is it not?" William blushed and muttered something – what, not even he was sure – under his breath. Alexander laughed, and reached a lanky arm over to clap his cousin on the shoulder. "Fear not, William. I will attempt to refrain from teasing you too much in front of the lady herself."

"Thankfully," William replied grumpily. It had been too many years since Alexander has teased him so unmercifully – part, he suspected, was the same restrained, not daring to relax just yet, joy that Elizabeth was found, which William heard in half the things said by the rest of the family. Part was simply that, since assuming his father's duties five years ago, even he knew he had become far more serious than had been his wont before.

"Is that true, William?" his uncle asked, carefully not looking at him. "If she were not your cousin, I mean?"

"As I told her, even if she only claimed the Bennet name, and did not take the portion allotted her by that family, she would be acceptable at Pemberley, and that is all I care about." His voice was defiant, and he knew not why. "Georgiana would side with me, in such a case, as well."

"True," Matlock replied mildly. "Georgiana is extremely taken with Elizabeth and Jane both. While I am glad that Elizabeth is ours, if she were not, I suspect the whole family – bar one – would have been won over in a matter of moments."

A little bit of tension in his neck and shoulders, which William had not noticed, relaxed, and he agreed. "I told her as much, that the one who would have protested her addition to the family another way, is the one who is now her most stalwart champion." He glanced aside at Alexander, who was favouring him with a peculiar expression. He raised an eyebrow at his cousin, who merely shook his head and returned his gaze to his father.

"Were there other matters to discuss, father?" Alexander asked.

"That was the only pressing issue for the moment," Matlock replied. "Although I have received a letter from Bennet – he said a letter should arrive at your household nearly at the same time, but sent two as insurance, as well as one to Elizabeth."

"Yes," William nodded. "My household is prepared. Will my aunt be – ah – interviewing my cousin's foster sisters?"

"I believe her intention is observation for the immediate; the girls are young yet."

"They are out in Meryton society," William replied. "The suggestion that perhaps that should not hold true in London – for their sakes' – should be floated by someone other than myself."

"Ah," Matlock said in understanding. "They will be here for a very short period of time, and I believe between their aunt and our households, we should be able to prevent too much social interaction."

"I have little doubt that there will be some word of Elizabeth's stay in this household circulating; Elizabeth said it likely they would have to explain why they were not staying with their aunt, to any other visitor who might be there," William added. "She thought, and I agreed, that portraying it as a kind condescension on my aunt de Bourgh's part and a wish for companionship for Anne, would be the best option for the moment."

"You – discussed this with her?" Matlock replied. "I do not recall you –" he paused and tilted his head at his nephew. "You were not just fetching a book from the library, then." He shook his head at William, who had summoned every ounce of composure he had, and gave his uncle a level look. "You are cousins; there is no reason to hide that you were speaking with her."

"No?" William queried in return. "With every member of the family intent on teasing her about my interest, when I have only recently managed to have her talking without arguing with me, I have no reason to conceal our conversations? It is the only way I can think of to shield her and not damage the fragile accord we have managed thus far."

Both his cousin and uncle had the grace to look abashed, although his uncle came back up with a glare. "Given your acknowledged interest, it would be better for her reputation, cousin or not, if they were not concealed conversations."

"Her sisters were aware. Anne and I had been telling her of her father. Then Jane and Anne left, so that Elizabeth and I could speak of Wic – George." Several years' habit of referring to Wickham by his family name had not yet died. "Anne is still not entirely comfortable with the topic of George."

"It will be a while before he regains the trust he had," Matlock replied, apparently choosing to pick his battles. Sometimes the older man knew when he was outsmarted.

A wry shrug, as William stood. "I have a feeling that is not precisely the issue, but only a feeling." He tilted his head at his uncle. "Anything else, before I leave to tend other business?"

"A feeling?"

"And only a feeling," William replied firmly.

Matlock eyed his recalcitrant nephew for a moment, then shook his head. "Nothing else."

"She called? And apologized?" Elizabeth's eyes were wide in surprise. "Are you quite sure we are speaking of the same Miss Bingley?"

Mrs. Gardiner hid a smile. "Indeed we are, Lizzy. She seemed in earnest, although I admit Mr. Bingley," Mrs. Gardiner shot a look at her other niece, "seemed surprised by such a frank admission on his sister's part as I was."

"I admit to some amazement; it seems quite out of character for her," Elizabeth shook her head. "If Mr. Bingley," a second, similar look at Jane, "was caught unawares by such an admission, then perhaps it is indeed in earnest. If it were not for that, I would suspect her motives to only be her allowance and its continuation."

"Perhaps she wishes to make amends in general," Jane replied. A trace of a blush lingered on her cheeks, likely from the looks her companions were giving her every time Mr. Bingley's name was mentioned.

Elizabeth gave Jane a smile. "Perhaps, for once, I shall take your view on the matter. A frank apology to my dearest aunt goes a long way towards reducing some of my dislike of her."

"Now," Mrs. Gardiner added, "I do not know if she meant for me to inform you of her apology, although I can scarcely believe she would think otherwise. Still, knowing you are to visit for tea tomorrow, I thought you should be warned ahead of time."

"So I do not disrupt a fragile attempt at peace, you mean, with my impertinent comments?" Elizabeth replied sweetly. Her voice dripped with innocence.

Mrs. Gardiner did not roll her eyes, although Jane did. Elizabeth's expression grew pensive, and Mrs. Gardiner questioned the reason.

"It seems a very Miss Bingley move, to be apologetic and wishing to make amends, after discovering that our connections are not so very low after all. Are her motives pure? Or is she hoping to be thrown into my relatives' circle?" Elizabeth replied.

"I asked her much the same," Mrs. Gardiner replied. "She said she expected some of the acquaintance would be unavoidable in the future, and that she felt she should reconcile herself to the 'new reality' of the situation."

Jane took the opportunity to tease her sister. "She meant, I suppose, William's obvious attentions to you, dearest Lizzy. He quite danced attendance on you while she was there yesterday."

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, while trying to keep from blushing. "Or her brother's wishes towards you, given he sat in easy distance of you their entire visit."

"Perhaps both," Mrs. Gardiner interjected with slight smile.

The girls glanced at each other and replied in tandem. "Perhaps."

"I should check on the children," Mrs. Gardiner added. "Do either of you wish to join me?"

Both readily assented, and followed Mrs. Gardiner to attend to their cousins.

Word that the Matlocks hosted the Bennet girls as friends to their niece spread in the hypergeometric fashion that gossip does. By the time it reached Caroline, in a parlour half way across London, she was surprised. It was a plausible reason, and she was grateful to have a chance to start her campaign early.

"Are these Miss Bennets being spoken of as staying with the Matlocks the same hoyden, country nobodies you had the misfortune to meet in Hertfordshire, Miss Bingley?" her host asked. "Scandalous, to think they would fabricate such a report."

"It is not a fabricated report. I visited Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth at the Matlocks' yesterday," Caroline replied. "They are to visit for tea, tomorrow."

Her host, Miss Bradshaw, arched an eyebrow. "You have been introduced to Mr. Darcy's aunt?"

"His uncle, Lord Matlock, was in attendance as well," Caroline replied. "They are quite welcoming to the Miss Bennets, and pleased to treat them as family."

"You sound far less censuring of them than you did three months ago," Miss Bradshaw replied. "Have they improved in essentials, after being exposed to such personages?"

Caroline gave a half smile. "In essentials, I believe they are much as they ever were. Miss Bennet is a good, sweet kind of girl. I look forward to knowing her better. Her sister, Miss Elizabeth, improves upon acquaintance."

Miss Bradshaw nodded. "Particularly when it allows one to make the acquaintance of Mr. Darcy's family."

Caroline hid a wince. Would that she had held her tongue better, in her relief at returning to London in late November! Her self-appointed task of easing Miss Elizabeth's entrance into Society as the younger de Bourgh sister would be off to a better start. "I am pleased with that acquaintance, indeed," she replied. "However, given the large number of guests at the time, I was unable to speak above a few words to anyone but Miss Bennet."

"Large number of guests?" Miss Bradshaw was surprised.

"Indeed. Most of the family has gathered in London, and Mr. Bennet apparently came to ensure his daughters' comfort. It was quite the merry party," Caroline replied. "I believe at least two of the guests departed in the latter part of the day."

Miss Bradshaw frowned. "Most of the family has gathered in London? Including the de Bourghs?" She gave Caroline a sideways glance. "Lady Catherine corresponds frequently with my mother, and has often told Momma about her plans for Miss de Bourgh and Mr. Darcy. Momma has long thought that perhaps she was warning me off of her nephew. Do you think it is possible Lady Catherine and Miss de Bourgh have come to London to announce her engagement to Mr. Darcy?"

Caroline shook her head. "I saw no indication of such an announcement forthcoming." Not with the elder Miss de Bourgh, at least, she thought with a touch of disappointment. She tilted her head. "Perhaps Lady Catherine has determined Mr. Darcy will not offer for his cousin, and intends to encourage him by giving Miss de Bourgh a London Season."

Miss Bradshaw made a noise of neither agreement nor disagreement. "With your particular acquaintance with their guests, are you likely to be given an invitation to their first ball of the Season?"

Knowing Miss Bradshaw as she did, Caroline suspected she was angling for an invitation herself. "The idea was not raised with me while I visited, although there is still plenty of time yet," she replied. "Perhaps your mother's own acquaintance with Lady Catherine will prove advantageous for your own attendance?"

The slightly younger girl's eyes brightened. "That is an excellent suggestion, my dear Miss Bingley. I thank you for the thought."

Another acquaintance of Miss Bradshaw's was announced, and Caroline found herself repeating much the same information about the Bennets as she had spoken previously. The first-hand confirmation of the report – and a dispelling of some of the distortions already creeping into the story – quieted some of the girl's more vicious comments. Caroline was not the only lady of the Ton with hopes regarding Mr. Darcy. Miss Dreyham was again distressed upon hearing of the Miss Bennets' previous acquaintance with Mr. Darcy, and there was little Caroline could do to quiet her. At length, she owned it was time to leave, and did so, hoping she had done more good than harm.

Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

JessicaSSeptember 30, 2020 06:10PM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

Lucy J.October 09, 2020 06:29AM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

Ariadne OOctober 03, 2020 09:20PM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

EvelynJeanOctober 01, 2020 06:38PM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

TashaOctober 02, 2020 11:33PM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

TrudieOctober 01, 2020 07:06AM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 27

LizzySSeptember 30, 2020 07:42PM


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