Posted on April 13, 2010The morning after Darcy's marriage proposal and Elizabeth's refusal, he gives her the explanatory letter and walks away, heartbroken. Meeting Richard on the way back to Rosings, they share the brandy in Richard's walking stick, and enjoy even more brandy in the library. Meeting with Lady de Bourgh, an inebriated Darcy has an idea, and explains to his aunt that IF he marries his cousin Anne, his first act will be to sell Rosings, move the Dragon Lady to the Dower House, and Anne to town, and he will raise his adopted heirs – mother unknown as yet – at Pemberley. Enraged, Aunt Catherine tells him to get out and never darken her door again. Anne, Richard, and Darcy leave for London in the morning, stopping at Hunsford so Anne can say goodbye, Mr. Collins can toady, and Darcy can ask Elizabeth for the Gardiner's address.
Anne and Georgie stay at Matlock House, Richard stays with Darcy, who has another idea, this time about how to force Aunt Catherine to move, and he, Richard, and Lord Matlock conspire with solicitors. He then visits Bingley, and together they call on Jane at the Gardiner's. Love blooms again between B&J; even Darcy is convinced this time. Richard persuades Darcy that returning to Meryton is absolutely necessary to rescue all the young ladies and shopkeepers from Wickham. Using one of Darcy's ideas, Lady Matlock, Anne, and Georgie visit the Bingley sisters to enlist their aid in quelling a vicious London rumor that Anne and Darcy are engaged. Elizabeth comes to London, stays two days, then returns to Hertfordshire with Jane. Darcy has an idea for getting rid of Wickham forever, but requires help from Bingley and Richard. Bingley and his family reopen Netherfield two days later, and two days after that he asks to court Jane formally. Needless to say, Mrs. B. accepts him. (BTW, Jane does too.)
The following week Darcy goes to Netherfield, and meets the Bennet family again. The next morning Darcy, Bingley, Jane and Elizabeth visit the shops in Meryton, so that our rich stalwart hero can purchase Wickham's debts. Richard arrives at Netherfield that evening. The next morning at a Netherfield hunting party, Darcy tells the local gentry about Wickham's womanizing, gambling, and spending habits. Although enraged, an angry mob is forestalled by two of Richard's non-coms, who prevent Wickham from deserting and fleeing on a stolen horse. Wickham is sent to Fleet Prison. (Cheers and Hip Hip Huzzahs appropriate at this point.)
Anne and Georgie arrive at Netherfield. Jane and Bingley become formally engaged at a Netherfield picnic, and during the enjoyable day, Lydia recklessly embarrasses her family, and Mrs. B defends her outrageous conduct. Darcy gets irritated, but Anne scolds him and explains Mrs. B's actions and ignorance of London customs and manners. Darcy has another idea, which panics Richard – he's tired of the chaos these ideas create. Undaunted, the next day Darcy tells Mrs. B. that Lydia, Kitty, and Mary have to attend school if she wishes them to be socially acceptable and marry rich men. Surprising everyone, Mrs. B. agrees, and she is also forced to agree when Bingley insists that he and Jane get married in June. He says he must leave and may not return until January, implying 'if at all'. As a result, Mrs. B. decides that securing 'five thousand a year' in June is a wonderful idea.
After several increasingly friendly meetings, one fine Saturday morning, Darcy asks Elizabeth if there is any reason she would NOT marry him. She replies NO, nothing will stop her from marrying him. Upon their return to Longbourn, Mr. B. approves, and Mrs. B. is surprised with the news of not only the engagement, but as part of the settlement, Darcy had an idea of how to banish her fear of hedgerows forever. Everyone from Netherfield, except Caroline, shows up at Longbourn to find out if Darcy finally worked up his nerve, and if Lizzy agreed. Later in the day, while everyone else stays for luncheon at Longbourn, the Hursts start back to Netherfield.
WOW – it took me over 100,000 words to say that in Darcy Changes Tactics.
Darcy Develops A Strategy starts off by letting us join the Hursts on their way home. What strategy is Darcy developing? Well, I am not sure, but I do have ideas after watching his arrogance decrease a little, and his consideration of other people's thoughts and feelings increase a little. Also, he now has Lizzy's love and help to soften his disposition further. He is so intelligent and honourable, that if he thinks about what he wants to do, and how he might persuade other people to join him, instead of ordering them around – who knows what will happen? Even I don't, but I'm working on it, so please excuse the weird prologue, and join me for the adventure.
HERTFORDSHIRE Early Saturday Afternoon
The stylish little phaeton drawn by the lively, well-formed sorrel mare was just approaching the top of a small rise on the road from Longbourn to Netherfield when it was gradually drawn to a halt. Louisa Hurst, a vaguely pretty, rather easily intimidated, well dowered, educated - but more pragmatic than intellectual, glanced at her husband in surprise, but said nothing. The driver, a solidly built, middle-height, plain faced, but friendly and shrewd gentleman of the second circles named Gilbert Hurst, almost glared at the sight of their temporary home, and turned to look hesitantly at his wife.
"Louie, I do not want to go back to Netherfield right now. Can you think of anyplace we could go or anyone we could visit this afternoon? At least until later today, after Bingley and Darcy return and they can tell Caroline about Darcy's engagement to Miss Elizabeth?" He asked the question glumly, followed by a long despondent sigh.
Her eyes softening at the sound of the pet name she had not heard for a year or two, Louisa responded, "I cannot think of anywhere, but even at the risk of causing a local scandal, a dinner and a room at the inn sounds more attractive than anyplace inhabited by my sister this evening." She reached over and gently touched the strong square hands holding the mare still, but quickly drew her hand back. "Whatever you would like to do, Bertie," she smiled, as she in turn used an almost forgotten pet name. Then she shuddered, "I can think of nothing worse that just you and I present when she finds out. It is Darcy's engagement, let him tell her. So, do whatever you like, just take me with you, even if it is only for a few drinks at the pub."
"What I would like to do is go somewhere and be just the two of us, as we used to be a few years ago before your sister's pursuit of Pemberley, Darcy, and society turned our lives into a waste of time trying to satisfy her and make her happy. I watched the two Bennet sisters, your brother, and Darcy exchange looks and loving smiles today. You and I never had anything that intense, Louie, but we were good companions, and we had fun together. We used to laugh a lot, both with, and at, each other. I would like to be able to enjoy being with you in that manner again. Maybe, I am not sure, but perhaps, a child would also be nice." He was hesitant, pleading and encouraging, all in the same slow speech, looking at her with hope in his eyes.
After a few moments, she turned to him, hazel eyes glimmering with unshed tears, and laying her hand on his forearm replied, "That sounds wonderful. We will have to remain at Netherfield until the wedding, but after the big day, we could rusticate at your parent's estate for a while, because Caro will never go there again. We can make plans for our future while we are there, but no matter how we live from now on, we will not include her in them. She will only be invited for a visit or to dine. Let Charles be the real Head of the Family as he is beginning to be, and let him cope with her. I imagine Jane will urge him on, once they are married." She paused a minute, then gave a small tentative smile, "If you could get us to the stables unseen, I think that giving Crenshaw, the butler, a quid or two for the entire staff to share, would get us up the servants stairway to our rooms, supposedly unseen and unheard by anyone until my brother comes home."
His eyes rounded in surprise, Hurst leaned over to kiss her cheek and grinned, "We can hide out in my room, since it is at the end of the hall, and she will never suspect you are there. I promise to be quiet, and afterwards we can take a nap." His eyebrows wiggled up and down, and his smiling eyes and grin turned into a suggestive smirk.
Louisa giggled as she had not for a long, long time, and she reached up to hold her bonnet with one hand, while grabbing a firm hold of the rim of the seat with the other. She gave him a teasing smile, "How fast can this horse go and you still manage to keep control of her?"
Hurst almost dropped the reins in his astonishment and delight. "Why you – you little wanton –" and he proceeded to demonstrate his driving prowess. They struggled to smother their laughter and giggles all the way up the back stairs and into his room, locking the door behind them. Although no one ventured into that area of the house, they still did not make a lot of noise, just in case. After a long while, they really did snuggle down for a restorative nap.
Georgiana cast a fearful look at Darcy as he handed her down from the coach stopped near the Netherfield entrance. "I think I would like to go straight to my room, Brother. It is still light enough, and I am sure there is time to bathe and change before dinner. Please give my excuses to Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst," she ventured cautiously.
"I will do no such thing. You are a Darcy, and were born from a long line of courageous men and women," he retorted.
"She is half Fitzwilliam, and we are renowned for our cowardice in the face of fearsome Amazons, so I will accompany and protect you, Georgie, thus making sure you get upstairs safely." Richard had overheard the conversation and held his arm out to his young cousin.
"I am a de Bourgh, and after living with my mother, I am afraid of nothing and no one." Anne declared strongly as Darcy handed her down, even as she peered around apprehensively.
Bingley stepped out of the carriage, and grinned widely, "Darce, tell Caroline I accompanied our other guests upstairs, and I will see you at dinner."
Darcy looked around at the others disdainfully, and standing stiffly erect with his shoulders squared more than usual, stated "Hurst and his wife returned several hours ago, and no doubt they broke the news, so I am sure everything will be fine, and we will be surprised at the calm and peaceful manner we are greeted. Now, let us stop quibbling and cowering in the courtyard and make our entrance. Bingley, as the Master of the house, you should go first."
"Miss de Bourgh, please let me walk with you to the drawing room, where I am sure we will be made welcome. It is not often I can offer protection to such a stalwart and lovely lady as you." Bingley bowed and held out his arm to Anne. (He heard Georgie snort softly and murmur "Who is protecting whom?" in the background.)
Richard offered an arm to Georgie, "Come on little one, I simply can not let a mere civilian be more audacious than I am."
Darcy added softly, "I will guard the rear!"
Bingley smirked down at Anne, "That way he can be the leader as we all turn to run out of danger."
"How bad do you think it will be?" Anne queried softly. (She wondered where in the world she had managed to learn these deplorable manners; surely, even her mother would not be this outspoken.)
"I do not know, but the more people there are in the room, the less likely the occurrence of a scene. My sister is nothing, if not socially conscious, especially with you and Miss Darcy present." This reply came quietly as the party was relieved of their outer wraps in the entrance hall.
Caroline looked up from her fashion magazine and raising her brows slightly at seeing Miss de Bourgh and her brother arm in arm, she arose from her seat on the sofa. "I hope you enjoyed spending the day at the Bennet's household. When I received your note I had dinner set back just a bit, and it will be served in about one and a half hours. Now that you have returned home, I am sure you will find the quiet peacefulness, pleasant diversions, and proper manners here a refreshing change. Dear Georgiana, why not sit and converse with me for a while about interesting matters, after having to spend almost an entire day with the rustics of this area. Mr. Darcy, you look tired and worn standing back there. Here, come around Charles and sit with us, and I will send for some tea to help revive you." This was said as she started to edge her way between Charles and Richard. (Georgiana thought, we have interesting matters to discuss alright.)
Darting quick glances around, but still seeing no one else, Bingley asked a trifle sharply, "Caroline, where are Hurst and Louisa?"
She stopped moving for a second, "They must have gone directly upstairs from the entry after you came in." And smiling, she continued her cautious movement towards Darcy standing a few feet away.
"No, they left Longbourn to return here several hours ago." Bingley stated firmly.
Caroline halted and frowned, "I assure you, Charles, that I have been alone and forsaken this entire day, when I awoke to the news that everyone had departed for Longbourn. I have seen no other soul since retiring to bed last night, until a few minutes ago when you walked into the room."
Bingley frowned in his turn, and a trifle uneasy said, "Darce, Richard, please remain down here until I check with Crenshaw and the footmen, although if something happened to the phaeton, we should have passed it on our way home." He strode swiftly back to the entry.
Looking at each other with concern, but unworried for the moment, everyone waited for him to return. Caroline stopped moving and stood still. After a couple of long minutes, Richard and Darcy had just moved closer together to speak in low voices, when Bingley returned, smiling broadly, his eyes dancing, and even Caroline could see he was barely keeping a straight face.
"They returned a few hours ago, but went directly to their rooms to rest for the afternoon. They will join us for dinner. Louisa's maid took them tea a while back, so they are fine. They asked not to be disturbed while they rested."
"Well, the little mystery is solved with good news. I shall go clean myself up and make myself presentable for dinner. If anyone looks for me beforehand, I will be in the billiard room. Excuse me please, everyone. Miss Bingley, it is nice to see you looking so well." And with that statement, Richard bowed and turned to walk out of the room.
"Wait for me Cuz! That sounds like a good idea, and I will join you. Miss Bingley, always a pleasure." Darcy bowed and took a long stride to join his cousin.
"I shall come with you both for I have the same thing in mind. Darce, can I join you for just a couple of minutes on the landing as we go upstairs?" Bingley asked and turned to go with them. "I will see you at dinner Caroline."
"Miss Bingley, I cannot sit with you at the moment. Please accept my apologies, but I had better go with Anne before Sally comes down and forces her upstairs to rest. Perhaps after dinner we can play a duet together or something." Georgiana waved a hand vaguely, curtseyed quickly and placing her hand on Anne's arm, turned to leave, pulling on her cousin.
"Miss Bingley, I look forward to seeing you later." With a polite nod, Anne left hastily with Georgie.
Caroline Bingley stood quietly for a moment or two, frowning in the now empty room. She tried to comprehend exactly what had happened in the few minutes since everyone's return, but really, nothing made sense except that they had all exited the room even faster than they had entered. She went back to the sofa to sit with La Belle Assemblee, but the pages went unturned as one foot beat a rapid tattoo on the carpet, her mouth tightened into a straight line, her brow knit in a deep frown, and her eyes stared stonily at nothing visible. Something was going on, but what?
Seemingly with one mind, the other five individuals quickly walked (perhaps scuttled is a more accurate description), to the stairs and started up to their rooms.
"We look like a flock of frenzied Shropshire sheep!" Richard muttered.***
"If so, you must be the ram-in-charge since you are leading!" Darcy retorted.
Upon reaching the landing, Bingley gave way to his laughter for a moment or two while his companions surrounded him, visibly exasperated at not knowing the cause of his hilarity.
Finally he gasped out "That conniving knave, Hurst, bribed all of the servants not to tell Caroline that he and my equally craven sister had returned and skulked up the servants stairway to their rooms where they still remain. They did say they would be down for dinner. Crenshaw said he would prefer I should hear about the bribery from him, rather than my pusillanimous brother."
"I agree with Crenshaw, especially if he indeed called Hurst pusillanimous," commented Richard.
"Georgie, all of a sudden I feel very weak and tired. Would you please accompany me to my room? We will let these stout hearted men decide just who will be the lucky messenger, and when the news should be delivered. Those are important decisions that mere females cannot possibly be allowed to make on their own." Grabbing her hand, Anne started pulling Georgie down the hall to their rooms.
The three men stood silently for a few moments, ruminating.
"You are the one who became engaged today, Darce."
"She is your sister, Bing."
"Richard is a hero and has been decorated for bravery in battle."
"That was merely against the French, armed only with guns, bayonets, and artillery."
There was another short silence.
"Before or after dinner?" Darcy tone indicated resignation about his forthcoming doom.
"If you tell her before dinner, I will be too upset and unable to eat." Bingley was gloomy and apprehensive.
"That may be so, but if he waits until later, I will be too fearful to enjoy the dinner. I must say, your sister does set a good table." Richard contributed.
"True. Look for my head on the breakfast platter instead of sausage." Darcy added morosely and sighed heavily. He started to turn away, then added, "The billiard room before dinner?"
"As a good host, I will make sure the decanter is full!" declared Bingley.
"You might consider adding a second or third decanter. As a gallant colonel, I believe in having a well supplied line of retreat, in case one proves necessary. In that manner, we could always make a heroic last stand."
"Huh? Richard, with your head for brandy, you are always the last one standing!" Bingley chuckled as he turned to go to his room.
"The reason he is standing is simply because he can prop himself up with his empty walking stick."
Darcy grinned at his cousin. "Maybe you should bring it along tonight, in case I need another idea."
Aghast, Richard stared at him for a second or two, shuddered, said "Are you daft, Cuz?" and hurried to his room before Darcy had a chance to think of anything.
Upon entering his bedroom, Darcy stood still for a moment, frowning and rubbing his chin in thought. Robinson, his valet, came from the dressing room with a smile, hesitated and straightened his face at the sight of the frown, but asked "Would you like to bathe, Sir? I have the water warm and ready, if you wish to do so before dinner."
"Yes, that sounds good." Darcy absently nodded and started slowly towards the dressing room, but stopped and asked hesitantly, "Have you heard of any news in the servants hall today that I should be informed about?"
Robinson gave him a careful look, but after many years of service he knew what his master expected from him. "Well, yes Sir. I should like to wish you happy, but you seem a bit worried. A boy from Longbourn delivered a note for Miss Bingley about putting dinner back, and while having a cup of tea in the kitchen, he gave us to understand that you are engaged to Miss Elizabeth. He said there was much celebrating and joy at the Bennet's home today."
"Thank you Robinson. I am a very happy man and shall soon be even happier and more contented in another month or so. Just one question, has the news spread above stairs, or has it been contained so only the staff knows about it?"
"Crenshaw sternly told everyone below stairs not to mention a word of this until the announcement is made. The personal servants of Mr. Bingley and the rest of his family heartily agreed with Crenshaw. In fact, Miss Bingley's maid emphasized what a good idea that was, because the news was bound to excite her mistress greatly. Now, you come on, Sir, and let me remove your coat, and I will fill the tub while you undress. Then you can relax for a bit." Robinson thought of the gossip in the servant's hall and decided his master was correct to be frowning.
Darcy glanced at him with a full smile, and took the liberty of teasing him a little. "Robinson, as always, your superb care in looking after my comfort, as well as your impeccable maintenance of my wardrobe, makes you the prince of valets."
Robinson smiled back, sensing that the restlessness and tumult of the past few weeks had eased.
In just a few minutes, Darcy was alone, relaxing in the hot water after saying he would sit and soak for a while, calling when he was ready to get out. Sliding down a bit to rest his head on the rim, he gloried and, yes, even gloated about the happenings of the day. In some ways, it was almost too much to absorb; Elizabeth was his and they would share the rest of their lives together. He recalled that morning in Rosings park – was it only four or five weeks ago? – when he thought his life would forever be filled with pain, disappointment, and gloom, and now there was this…this happiness that was filling him with an almost overwhelming floating sensation in mind and body. He could better appreciate the joy that had lit up Bingley's and Jane's faces when they had seen each other again at Gracechurch Street. He understood some of the suffering they must have undergone in the previous months of separation, due solely to his pride, interference, and errors. Fie on him! But for now, he consigned his best friend and his future sister to their own dreams, and resumed the pleasant diversion of trying to recall each precious second of the time he had spent with Elizabeth in the Bennet's grape arbor. Knowing Elizabeth's buoyant spirit he had expected some response to his kisses, but her passionate reaction – like a duck to water -- had exceeded his fondest hopes.*** He smiled as he thought of the responses yet to come, as he ventured further and further in their more intimate moments. Then he frowned as he thought of the suffering he would have to endure each time they stopped short of the ultimate joy until the wedding day finally arrived. No wonder people opted for arranged marriages with little or no acquaintance or knowledge of their future life-mates; they did not have to undergo the penalties that come with the restraint of passion.
Reluctantly, he began to wash himself, because his traitorous body was finding that the combination of relaxation, warm water, and memories of Elizabeth's lips and body molded against his, was becoming almost impossible to ignore. He changed the directions of his thoughts, basking in the gratitude and warmth of the good wishes of his sister and cousins, his best friend, and the Hursts upon hearing of the engagement. He had been so afraid that his family would not accept his choice for marriage after he refused to give in to Aunt Catherine's insistence that he marry Anne. But with Uncle Henry, Aunt Eleanor, Richard, and Anne, herself, standing with him, he feared the objections of no other relation or friend. Well, except for Caroline Bingley of course, and he did not like to think of what was going to happen when she was told later this evening. If Elizabeth's rejection of his proposal had taken place in front of others, he could not imagine ever again being able to endure the company of those who witnessed his humiliation. True, Richard knew the details, and undoubtedly Jane Bennet knew, and Bingley knew a bit of what had happened, but his other family members had heard only the outline of the story, thank goodness.
He again pondered the pain of his recent heartbreak, along with Bingley's and Miss Bennet's, and thought of the coming evening. Sighing, he hurriedly finished washing and called Robinson back into the dressing room. "Help me get out and dried off, and while I dress, would you please make contact with either Mr. Hurst or his valet and say that I need to see Hurst here in my room in ten minutes, or as soon after that as possible. Tell whomever you speak to that it is not an emergency, but about what needs to be done this evening." He smiled, "Then you had better rush back here to make sure I do not disgrace you, and put you to the blush when left to dress by myself."
Robinson returned in a few minutes say Mr. Hurst would be along shortly. He took the liberty of a long time retainer and gently teased his master lavishly for the correct buttoning of his shirt and pantaloons. Whereupon Darcy retorted since the most difficult things had been done, he would permit his valet to complete everything with the simple act of tying his cravat. With that accomplished, Hurst arrived just as Robinson was brushing some invisible specks of dust from Darcy's broad shoulders in his dark blue coat.
Brows raised, Hurst asked, "What can I help you with Darcy?"
"Miss Bingley should not have to hear the news while she is in the company of other people. I will tell her, but heeding propriety, perhaps your wife would go with me, and the two of us could do the deed in the privacy of the library. In that manner, you could wait outside in the hall, just in case we need your assistance." This was related as Darcy led the way to his small sitting room and gestured for his guest to have a seat.
Hurst smiled, but remained standing. "I should have known that you would bear the burden and do it as privately and kindly as possible. Of course I will volunteer my wife's services – a simple painless thing for me to do. She should be ready – as far as a husband can judge these female primping things – in about ten minutes. We can stop by here on our way downstairs, or you can wait for us to fetch Caroline to the library. Which do you prefer?"
"Let me go down to the library now, before my resolve and courage wither away."
Hurst grinned, "Please do not empty the entire decanter before I come in." He started to leave, but turned at the door and added, "It might be wise to have a small glass poured and ready for my sister's use if needed."
Hearing voices approaching the open library door, Darcy stopped his nervous pacing and stood in front of a chair as if he had just risen. After Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley entered, Mr. Hurst gave a wink and nod to Darcy as he pulled the door to, indicating he would be just outside, both to ensure their privacy and provide assistance if needed.
"Mrs. Hurst, Miss Bingley, how attractive both of you look tonight. Thank you both for coming in here a little ahead of time. Please, sit there on the sofa opposite my chair."
"Good evening, Mr. Darcy. It is a pleasure to share your company in this cozy setting; I had not previously realized how comfortable it could be in the library. Louisa said that you had something you wished to talk to me about? Some good news to share or something along those lines?" Caroline's voice echoed softly with tones of cheer and hope.
"Yes indeed. Miss Bingley. I have some very good news to share with you, and I decided that you should know as soon as possible, since you were not at Longbourn today with the rest of us. The happy tidings are that Miss Elizabeth Bennet and I are betrothed, and we will marry on the same day as your brother and her sister."
There was a moments silence, then Caroline's voice, hesitant, stricken and hoping she had misunderstood, said, "I beg your pardon?"
"Miss Elizabeth Bennet and I are betrothed and will marry on June 20th, with your brother and Miss Jane Bennet." He repeated this gently, then hoping to help her understand – really, when had this consideration for others taken place in him – he added softly, "You know better than most people about my obsession with privacy, and I have tried to keep my thoughts to myself, but you quickly discovered and have been teasing me about my admiration for her fine eyes. Before I neglect this any longer, let me thank you for your assistance in London stopping the rumors about Anne. You are a good friend to my family. I somewhat envy the man who finally impresses you and wins your hand." (Darcy was beginning to think that Richard, or possibly even Jane Bennet, had taken over his brain.)
Caroline's face had paled and she had trouble speaking, but managed to say, "Thank you, Mr. Darcy. Allow me to offer you warm…er…warmest felic…felicitations for your coming ma…marriage. Miss Eliza is…is to be wished…wished well also." Standing abruptly, she looked at her sister. "Louisa, I feel a bit tired after this long day. Would you mind taking my place as hostess at dinner this evening? Mr. Darcy, please excuse me." She turned abruptly, slumped the tiniest bit, then visibly squaring her shoulders and audibly taking a deep breath, walked with quick firm steps from the room.
Louisa also hastily arose, murmured a quiet "Thank you" to Darcy, and followed her sister with a concerned frown.
Darcy closed his eyes and leaned his head against the back of the chair, grateful that no scene had occurred. Hearing steps, he opened his eyes a slit, but it was only Hurst, so he closed them again and relaxed a little more.
"Would you like to share a drink and silence? Or, share a drink and talk? Or, go play billiards? Or, even just sit in silence by yourself, with or without the drink? Whatever you would like, you have earned it." Hurst offered.
"I think sharing a drink and silence, then trouncing the rest of you at billiards would make the evening much nicer." And a few seconds later, Darcy heard the clink of crystal as decanter met glass rim.
"The first two items I give you gladly; the trouncing you have to manage on your own." Hurst said as he handed over a glass of brandy, and then sat back in a chair and leaned his head back.
Unknowingly, even with eyes closed, their sips were somehow synchronized as they basked in the warm feeling of two men having accomplished an unpleasant chore easily and hassle free. (Why did women always keep on talking about, and reliving a scene after the deed was done?)
Georgiana and Anne were surprised to find Louisa by herself in the drawing room when they came downstairs before dinner, but they thought Miss Bingley was undoubtedly tending to last minute dinner details.
"Ah, you are here! Good! Hurst found what he says is an excellent ratafia, and I would appreciate it if you would share a glass with me. Georgie, he said it is more full-bodied than usual, which I take it to mean somewhat stronger, but I am sure that a few sips will do no harm." Louisa gestured to the footman, and after being served told him to resume his station. Seeing Anne's attentive and questioning glance, she blew out her breath and added, "I just came down from Caro's room a few minutes ago. She is not feeling well and will rest until tomorrow."
"I take it that…." Anne hesitated.
"Yes, Darcy spoke to her about an hour ago in the library. I was present, while Hurst waited in the hall. She is very subdued and quiet right now. Not speaking at all. I had her drink a glass of brandy – a rather large one – and it did not seem to affect her, but she did drop off to sleep a little while ago. Her maid remains with her, just in case someone is needed."
Anne rose and went over to sit beside Louisa on the sofa, followed by Georgie who sat on the other side. After a few moments, Anne asked "Is there anything we can, or should do to help?"
"Nothing that I know of, except to be patient with the disappearance and possible strange future behavior of your hostess. And of course, anything embarrassing she might say regarding her fantasies about a certain estate in Derbyshire."
Smiling slightly, Anne reached over to touch Louisa's hand gently, "After listening to my mother in front of all and sundry, hounding Darcy and insisting that he marry me to unite our two estates for the past few years, I doubt if anything your sister could say would cause me alarm. Perhaps in a few months when everything is settled down, you and I can sit and have a few giggles by comparing notes about our relatives."
"I like that idea!" Louisa exclaimed. "This evening I will settle for enjoying the pleasant company and hope that the ratafia will prompt some giggles."
Conversation at the dinner table was restrained at first, but soon the tension eased and the talk became general about the happy news of the day and the activities soon to come.
Learning Richard was planning to leave the next morning to return to General Cummings, Georgie tried to delay him. "Richard, wait until we return from church. G-d might not let you into heaven if you do not pay attention to him."
"Stop scolding, little one. I will be praising and thanking G-d all the way to London, since I will not be riding into battle, only boredom and headquarters rivalries. Though, come to think of it, they are almost as dangerous to one's career."
"Cuz, I will be joining you in town this week. Mrs. Bennet wants to shop in town for bride's clothes and such, and their horses are required for the farms at this time of year. I volunteered my coach to take them into town, and of course, my escort for my wonderful lady. Bingley, I am sure Jane will also be going. Am I wrong in thinking you will volunteer as an escort also?"
"As always, you are correct Darcy. I can see my solicitors and also show Jane the townhouse so she can make suggestions for any changes she thinks are needed. Plus, of course, other diversions, such as a play, a concert, or the opera would be improved with her on my arm." Bingley added with an agreeable grin.
Anne queried thoughtfully, "Wills, what day did you plan to leave?"
"I had not planned on any special day, but rather I left it for Elizabeth to tell me when to have the coach show up at Longbourn. Did you have some plans for this week?"
"Not plans as such, but with the talk of going to London, I was thinking…." Anne paused for a few seconds, then turned her glance to Louisa. "Perhaps Miss Bingley might recover from her indisposition sooner if all of us left for a few days and returned next weekend. You have two coaches here, do you not, William?"
"I also have my coach here." Bingley interjected.
"My goodness, the problem of everyone getting to London does not even exist. Louisa, tomorrow being Sunday we will not leave then, but could you bear to have your guests depart on Monday for a few days? We will return to pester you again, after all."
"Well, I would miss everyone's presence, but a few days of recovery time for my sister would be lovely. Thank you, Anne." No one present could doubt the gratitude in Louisa's face and smile.
"Good. We shall leave on Monday morning then." Anne nodded.
Darcy cautioned, "Mrs. Bennet may not be able to get herself, Jane and Elizabeth ready to leave by Monday morning."
Georgie covered her mouth to stop a giggle, while Anne gave him a dismissive 'idiotic male relative' look. "Darce, I will wager my entire dowry that if you tell Mrs. Bennet she can have the use of your almost sinfully luxurious travelling coach on Monday morning, she would have everyone on their entire estate ready to leave."
"Can I have a piece of that action too, Darcy. I will wager Louisa's dowry." Hurst added with a smile at Anne.
"I will add my dowry, and possibly double it." Georgie put forth timidly.
"When you state it in that manner, I know better. You will get nothing from me. Not a brass farthing." Darcy glowered around at his tormentors.
"Now that is disappointing of you Darce. I was going to join in the crowd so that I could become a rich second son instead of your impoverished cousin." Richard added with a woeful look.
"Bingley, thank you for remaining my friend while all others are betraying me." Darcy said.
"I would not go that far, Darcy. I was taking the time to calculate in my head how much I needed to wager and win in order to purchase Pemberley. You will surely have to sell it to pay your gambling debts." Bingley added his fuel to the flame of Darcy's indignation.
"I did not realize what a pit of vipers I was residing with. At least I can be positive that Elizabeth was not after my money." Darcy wiped imaginary sweat from his brow.
"Little did you know, but we were coaching her on how to catch and reel you in!" Hurst surprised the group with his tease.
And so, the evening passed in lighthearted merriment after all, to everyone's great relief.
*** Shropshire sheep were not a separate breed until the 1840's. However, I love the scene in the movie The Music Man when the inimitable character actor, Paul Ford, as Mayor Shinn, admonishes his townsmen to stop standing like Shropshire sheep. A wonderful tongue twister done to perfection.
*** The phrase "Like a duck to water" was used in a publication for the first time in the reminiscences, Fifty Years of My Life, by Lt.Col. Sir John Astley, 3rd Baronet, published in 1894.
If any other modernisms escaped my somewhat lax attention, please let me know so I can correct them, and impress other readers with my researching abilities.
Posted on: 2010-04-19
LONGBOURN – MONDAY MORNING
Darcy was amazed. He had not realized that simply going to London with family and friends, and some of his betrothed's family would become almost a cavalcade. Bingley's coach had left Netherfield early this morning with their valets, Richard's batman, and the necessary luggage. Now, both of his coaches were being filled with people and trunks at Longbourn. Or rather he, portraying his best 'Master of Pemberley in charge' mode, was attempting to have them filled. He would no sooner direct one of his outriders where to stow something, than Mrs. Bennet would order the item put somewhere else, which only resulted in the flummoxed man standing there, looking back and forth between the two, -- wanting to obey his master, but neither did he want to be rude to the mother of his master's betrothed. Darcy would patiently repeat the order and the entire cycle would start again.
Noting the firm clamping of the jaw, the downturned mouth, and the famous 'black scowl' forming on Darcy's brow, Mr. Bennet, while enjoying the comedy playing out before him, quelled his inner amusement, and intervened by urging his wife into the coach. Once inside, he distracted Mrs. Bennet's attention with a close inspection of the well-padded and tufted upholstery, the windows and ornate shades, and the other sumptuous accessories deemed necessary by the wealthy for their travelling comfort.
Darcy ignored the oohs, the aahs, and other rapturous exclamations from the interior, and even went so far as to lift some trunks onto the rack himself – anything to hasten their departure. He hustled Georgie, Mary, and Georgie's and Anne's maids, Sally and Hattie, into the coach to join Mrs. Bennet, while he practically dragged Mr. Bennet back out into the courtyard. He then quickly directed the coachman to leave at once, but to proceed slowly until the other coach caught up with them. He turned his attention to the remaining coach, only to find that his excellent staff had already completed the work without direction from either their master or Mrs. Bennet. Telling Lydia and Kitty that they would need to finish their examination of the interior luxuries some other time, he watched as Elizabeth and Jane bid their Papa and sisters goodbye, and helped both of them and his cousin Anne into the carriage. He and Bingley shook hands with their future father, climbed into the coach and – finally – off they went. After some discussion, it had been decided that propriety, even if stretched to the breaking point, would be adhered to by having Anne serve as chaperone. After all, Mrs. Bennet was in the other coach. (At least that had gone according to plan.)
Leaning back to relax in comfort, he looked heavenward, shook his head, and blew a long breath outward. He heard strange muffled sounds from the seat opposite and looked to see Anne, Jane, and his Elizabeth with red faces trying to smother their giggles. He gave them his most dire warning look and said ruefully, "Laugh if you must, but the Master of Pemberley and the Mistress of Longbourn both left the field of possible contention with honour intact and proper manners upheld."
The three girls, joined by Bingley, gave into their mirth, and after a few moments he joined them. It had been a silly situation.
Anne teased him, "You will have to thank my mother the next time you see her, Wills. Without all of those years of practicing restraint with her commands and outbursts, you might not have been so…Is diplomatic the word I want?…somehow diplomatic and Darcy do not belong together…but, yes, diplomatic and successful this morning."
He grinned at her jibe, and what with conversation, laughter, and word games being enjoyed with friends, family, and his loved one, the trip to London became the shortest and most pleasant he had ever experienced.
Gracechurch Street - Monday Afternoon
The large travel-coaches drew attention from both passers-by and park-goers as they rumbled and rattled their way down Gracechurch Street. Coaches were not rare in this neighborhood, but two of them with identically liveried retainers and door-crests were never seen before pulling up in front of the Gardiner residence together. All four of the children came bustling out from the side yard to hold onto the iron fence railings and jump up and down while calling excitedly.
"Look at all those big horses!"…"Cousin Liiizziee! Cousin Jaaneee! Are you here?"…"Mr. Bingley, is that you?"…"That coach is huge"…"Oh look! I see Cousin Mary and Aunt Fannie!"…"Who is that tall pretty lady?"…"Cousin Jane, Mama said you and Cousin Lizzie were coming, but who are all these other people?"…"Uh oh! Mama is coming down the steps, we better behave." They quieted down until the side-yard gate to the front walk opened, and then they hurried through for affectionate greetings to, and from, their cousins, and fairly creditable bows and curtseys upon introduction to the strangers.
Asking Mrs. Gardiner's advice, Darcy directed the coaches to the stables in the rear to unload the Bennet's trunks, and then one coach could take Sally and Hattie to Darcy House with the rest of the luggage. He soon rejoined everyone as they found seats in the drawing room, and claiming a spot next to Lizzy, found himself being cautiously examined by a small girl, huddling as far away from him as possible and still remain in Lizzy's lap. Knowing his height could frighten little children, he smiled, put his hand out a little, and softly introduced himself. "Good afternoon. You are Beth, I think. My name is William Darcy and I am a friend of your Cousin Lizzy. Would you be a friend of mine too? I would like that very much."
Beth looked suspiciously at him and his hand, cuddled closer to Lizzy, and gave her a questioning look, as if asking for verification of his claim.
Lizzy smiled and hugged her, saying, "Yes, he is a very good friend of mine. In fact, in a few weeks Mr. Darcy and I will be married, and after that, whenever you see me, you will see him too". Leaning over to whisper in her ear, "And not only that, after we are married, we will be living in London some of the time, because he has a house here. We will be able to visit each other often. So maybe you better shake his hand and become his friend."
Beth's eyes became round and she appraised Darcy with care for a few moments, then asked him timidly, "Married?" and at his nod, added, "Like Cousin Jane and Mr. Bingee?" Upon receiving a smiling affirmative, she extended a hand carefully.
Darcy took the small hand with his very large one, gently shook it, then turned it over, and leaning forward, softly placed a kiss on the back. Surprised, Beth turned her glance to see her cousin staring back with widened eyes, raised brows, and pursed lips uttering a long 'oooo' of wonder. She squirmed out of Lizzy's lap, ran over, and pulling on her mother's sleeve, started whispering in her ear, while turning back to point at Darcy and then the back of her hand. At the beginning of the interruption Mrs. Gardiner had frowned, but after a quick glance at Darcy, smiled and exclaimed over the back of the tiny hand, and showed it off to Georgie, Anne, and Mary, who were sitting opposite her. Georgie looked at Beth with simulated awe and declared Mr. Darcy never kissed her hand, and she was his sister. Anne also declared it was not fair, because all he had ever done was to get her in trouble when they were children, and he was more likely to steal her dessert than kiss her hand.
Mr. Gardiner came home at that point, and after he met the newcomers and fondly greeted his sister and nieces, everyone adjourned to the dining room for a hearty luncheon of breads, meats, cheese, and fruits. Hugo and Beth were sent upstairs for snacks and naps, but John and Rebecca were allowed to stay and listen to the conversation of the adults, which was chiefly about the new engagement and the wedding plans. The hubbub was accompanied by the background tones of Mrs. Bennet moaning excitedly and happily to Mrs. Gardiner about all of the shopping that must be completed in a short time for her girls to be presentable in a month. She just knew she would be driven to distraction, but she was determined to keep her nerves under control because she needed to save as much money as possible. Startled by that declaration, since prior to this, Fannie did not know money could be saved when shopping, Mrs. Gardiner vowed to help in every way that she could, starting by providing names of the lesser known, less expensive, but just as capable modistes, who would turn her nieces out in style for a fraction of the prices demanded by the Ton's fashionable shops. At the other end of the table, the masculine voices were preoccupied with the upcoming all-important horse races, and the names and lineage's of several favorites (with a couple of rumored surprises) were discussed and debated.
When they were through eating, Mr. Gardiner said, "I understand from Lizzy that our guests must soon be on their way home. In that astounding letter your courier delivered yesterday – and I thank you very much for that, Mr. Darcy – my brother, Thomas, said you gentlemen would be bearing another letter for me. I will say that it would be difficult to surpass our surprise at the happy news yesterday. You should have heard my wife repeating 'Mr. Darcy and Lizzy' over and over again with a different tone of voice each time…question, doubt, surprise, another question, but finally she reached joy, and was almost jumping up and down. Now, Madeline, do not look at me like that, you know it is true. Come gentlemen, we can have a glass of port and blow a cloud in celebration using the privacy of my study. Please excuse us for a little while ladies, and we will rejoin you shortly."
Recalling his interesting and intelligent conversation with Mrs. Gardiner on his previous visit, and conversing with Mr. Gardiner during luncheon, Darcy was not surprised to find Mr. Gardiner's study similar to his own. It was a large room featuring a big working desk, with several large comfortable chairs for guests, some closed cabinets, a sideboard with decanters, glasses, and a humidor, a few scenic paintings interspersed on the four walls given over to well filled bookshelves. Taking Mr. Bennet's letter from his breast pocket and laying it on the desk, he sat in one of the large padded chairs, gratefully accepted a glass of port, and a couple of moments later chose an aromatic cigar from the humidor Mr. Gardiner was holding out. Rolling the cigar softly between his fingers and sniffing it, he stared suspiciously at Bingley and said accusingly, "If these are the same as the ones you had in Netherfield, you said they were from a new-found supplier, just starting out in business."
Bingley reddened slightly, but protested, "And so they are. Mr. Gardiner had invested a bit to help out the maker, and once I sampled the wares, I visited the small shop, purchased some merchandise, and convinced the man he needed another investor to enlarge the premises and hire additional help. Considering the reactions of my neighbors in Hertfordshire, I expect to start reaping a profit in the very near future. Therefore, when I finally purchase my estate, it will make Pemberley look like a yeoman's farm."
Mr. Gardiner sat behind his desk, saying, "I will see what my brother has to say while you two discuss the finer points of sharing information." By the time the cigars were lit and drawing perfectly, he had read through the short letter and looked at the two young men opposite him. "Thomas writes that he has already informed you that instead of sending mail and messages to and from Longbourn, I should take care of the marriage settlements for both of my nieces. Is this your understanding also?" Receiving their nods, he continued, with a cautionary smile, "I had better warn you that not only am I a hard-hearted and long-headed businessman, I am also the extremely protective uncle of two of the loveliest and most charming ladies in the country."
Darcy grinned, having capably managed Pemberley and learned how to size-up strangers and tradesmen these several years, he had already decided his future uncle was astute, protective, and doting. Bingley, having reached the same conclusions some weeks ago, smiled and raised his glass in salute. Having satisfactorily settled business matters, they went back to horse races, investments, and the latest war news while they relaxed for about thirty minutes.
Upon rejoining the fairer sex, they learned that both the Gardiner carriage and the smaller Darcy town carriage would be required to carry the entire ensemble of eager shoppers on the morrow. (Darcy paled at the thought of his shopping-mad sister and Mrs. Bennet combined in wholehearted pursuit of bargains.) However, he brightened when told that they would all be at Darcy House for tea in the afternoon, and brightened even more when Mrs. Gardiner extended an invitation to dinner that evening, and also on the morrow. Georgie and Anne both declined for that evening, but were enthusiastic about the entire day spent together tomorrow. And with the gentlemen promising to return to their lady loves in a few hours, farewells and fond glances were exchanged.
With only family remaining, Mrs. Gardiner took hold of her sister's arm and exclaimed, "Fannie, you simply have to sit here beside me and tell me what has been happening at Longbourn, and how these two daughters of yours managed to become engaged within a few weeks."
Mrs. Bennet obliged by prattling on, happily describing her version of the exciting past month. Strangely, for one usually attentive and mannerly, her hostess was seen to smother a yawn or two. Rather tired and worn from the uproar and activity of the past few days, Mrs. Bennet was also soon yawning frequently, and slowly winding down her monologue said, "Madeline, if you would not mind showing me to my room, I will finish the story later. I think a short rest until tea time is what I need right now."
"Oh, Fannie, of course. How rude of me to force you to remain and talk after your long journey today. What was I thinking of, to keep you downstairs. Come, and I will have you comfortable in a trice." And leading her weary sister up to a quiet room, Mrs. Gardiner rang for a maid to help her get settled. Rushing back to the drawing room, she went to sit in the middle of one of the sofas and declared sternly, "NOW! You two sly young minxes come over here this minute and tell me what really happened since I saw you last, and not that fairy tale your mother is handing out."
Laughing, the dutiful young ladies did exactly that.
Darcy House - Tuesday Afternoon
Two carriages halting at Darcy House were given only casual glances, except by Lady Norton who peeked through her curtains from across the way, just in case the visitors were noteworthy enough to talk about with her cronies at the card party tomorrow. She was disappointed upon seeing only a large party of young school friends of Miss Darcy, along with a couple of their mothers, stopping for tea after a shopping expedition – no one worth bothering about. (Little did she know!)
Meanwhile, a thunderstruck Lizzy was staring at the mansion and gripping Jane's forearm so hard that slight bruises could be seen the next day. "Oh Jane! What have I done? I will never be able to manage a house like this!" She turned frightened eyes to her sister, her face pale and pleading for reassurance.
"Of course, you can. Georgiana will help you, and I am sure there is an excellent housekeeper to teach you what you will need to know." Her no-nonsense tone braced Lizzy a little, and loosening the painful grip on her arm, Jane urged her fearful sister forward and up the steps as the door was opened.
Mrs. Bennet's eyes were filled with awe as she gazed at the house, then looked around at the square, and she tried to come to grips with the reality facing her. "Madeline. That house. This neighbourhood. My Lizzy is going to live here. She will be the Mistress of this place. Oh, Madeline! I simply can not believe it." And as her sister murmured soothing comments urging her up to the entrance, she confronted the breathtaking evidence of her daughter's future status.
As the footmen assisted with parcels, bags, and outerwear, Darcy and Bingley hurried from the study to greet their loves, who had deserted them since dinner the previous evening. In a few moments, Georgie was leading the way to the drawing room, promising some refreshments would be served shortly. With Elizabeth gracing his arm, Darcy had just started following everyone else when he stopped to look back at the entry, slightly puzzled because someone seemed to be missing. There, still gazing around with wide eyes, but not moving forward, stood Mrs. Bennet. He whispered for Lizzy to keep going and he would bring her mother. Though worried about what Mrs. Bennet might say, she nevertheless went with the rest.
Her glance moving from the suit of armor, to the historical tapestry, to the paintings, the silk hangings, the decorative molding around the painted scenes overhead, the black and white tiled marble floor, the footman at his post, and the aloof butler, she soon reached the sight of the tall handsome figure, who owned all of this luxury. "Oh, Mr. Darcy. This is just so…I never expected…." She stiffened slightly and somewhat abashed, admitted, "I taught my daughters how to run a household. But something like this…Mr. Darcy, I never imagined that Lizzy would live in such a place."
"I have no doubts at all that Elizabeth is intelligent enough to build on the solid foundation of knowledge you gave her." Darcy complimented her.
She gave him a bewildered look, and appeared to be almost on the brink of tears. "But I was not able to teach her…Mr. Darcy, I can not think of how to act or what to say myself. My nerves, you know, are not the steadiest. Longbourn cannot compare with…and Lizzy…I was not able to…."
He examined her closely, seeing her real concern for her daughter, and then he remembered some of what Anne had said to him about Mrs. Bennet. She has lived in a small village all of her life…She has no way to know the high priority placed on good manners in London…You are the only person she knows from the first circles. He sharpened his gaze and asked intently, "Would you trust me, Mrs. Bennet, if I tell you what to do?"
She peered at him carefully, questioning exactly what he wanted to know. Then she thought of his actions the past two weeks; first, he had convinced her how much the younger girls needed schooling; next, he became engaged to her strangest daughter; and finally, he had promised that hedgerows would never be part of her future, only security and comfort that he would provide. She was not sure if she liked him very much. He was smarter and stranger even than Lizzy. But trust him – oh yes, that she did – he was a person who would always do the honourable thing. She gave him a small smile, "Tell me, Mr. Darcy and I will do it."
"If you think this house is grand, wait until we visit Matlock House where Richard's parents live. But I will tell you what to do when you get there." He grinned at her and winked, which caused her to give a small start. "You must never mention cost or expense. You just casually look around, silently comparing every house with the home of your daughter. Then you pay the hostess a compliment – not a gushing one – just a small compliment. Such as – ah – 'the blue of the sky in that tapestry looks as vivid as the real blue sky outside'. Or, 'that is the prettiest cherub I have every seen,' and point to one of those silly infants with wings who are painted on the ceiling. That is simple enough, is it not?"
Mrs. Bennet went from wide wondering eyes to a small frown for a moment. Again, she moved her glance around the entry, but this time, it darted swiftly from one object to another, and finally, eyes dancing, she said with a hint of a giggle, "Mr. Darcy, the contrast of the checkerboard flooring is quite dramatic and attracts the eye. When we are shopping tomorrow, I shall try to find some giant chess pieces to place in the corners."
Darcy gave a burst of laughter, and was startled as he saw a glimpse of Lizzy's charm fleetingly transform Mrs. Bennet's face. (The Bennets' marriage was no longer quite so mysterious.) Holding out his arm for her to grasp, he said, "We better join the others, but I will anxiously await your opinion of the rather insipid shepherd and shepherdess on the mantle in the drawing room. But my mother loved them, so I will keep them there always." He added in a soft sotto voce, "Please do not embarrass me by mentioning that to anyone."
She smiled, and with friendlier feelings for each other than they had thought possible, they sipped tea and snacked on fruit accompanied by light-as-a-cloud pastries. (Mrs. Bennet disagreed and thought the figurines charming. But that was men, and what did they know of figurines anyway)
Off duty for the day, Richard arrived to add to the congeniality, but upon introduction to Mrs. Gardiner, he looked at her closely with a crease between his brows. "Darcy told me you were from Lambton and had visited Pemberley several times as a child. Did we ever meet? I feel that we did, but I surely would recall every moment spent with such a lovely young woman as yourself."
Mrs. Gardiner's pleased laugh sounded together with Darcy's scolding plea of "Richard, behave!"
"We were both at a couple of the Pemberley Harvest Festivals frolicking with all of the other children. I think we shared two or three of the same dances when we were eleven or twelve, though as children, we were not partners, only part of the mob." Mrs. Gardiner replied.
"Ah yes! The joys of youth! Eat and drink all you possibly can; try to out-do the other boys in fighting, wrestling, and dancing; and impress all of the girls with those feats and fancy footwork. I can only hope you do not remember me because I trod on your toes or almost knocked you down in my efforts."
"Goodness, no. You were a model of dignity and propriety." Mrs. Gardiner looked to the heavens and joined her hands as if in a prayer for forgiveness, while his relatives present hooted in derision at the very notion.
Richard donned his 'imperturbable colonel' look and ignored everyone for a few moments. Then he announced, "I do hope no one here has plans for Thursday evening. My mother requests – and you may rephrase that as a command – your company at dinner. If that is not enough to coax you to Matlock House, my father will come back from Rosings for the occasion. Actually, my mother is eagerly looking forward to meeting the two young ladies that somehow snatched away two of London's most eligible bachelors. Mrs. Bennet, she said she would not be surprised if you were declared the 'Queen of Matchmaking Mamas'. Mrs. Gardiner, you and your husband are also invited. Miss Mary, you must be there also. Bingley, you too, of course." He nodded at each in turn.
Mrs. Bennet paled and her voice became shrill, as it always did when excited. "An earl and a countess? Oh my, my poor nerves! Matlock House! Oh dear! What ever shall I do?"
Darcy loudly cleared his throat, sat very erect, stared pointedly at Mrs. Bennet for a moment – then nodded and winked at her.
Moving their astounded glances from Darcy, everyone watched in fascination as Mrs. Bennet straightened and her features gradually calmed. She winked and nodded back at Darcy, glanced around for a moment, then said graciously, "Mr. Darcy, the flower arrangement on that table is lovely, especially in the way the colours of the flowers pick up the pastel hues of the carpet design. Quite effective."
"Why thank you, Mrs. Bennet. You know precisely what to say to please a host or hostess." Darcy responded with a small smile of satisfaction.
There was dead silence, until Richard plaintively asked, "I say, Darce, perhaps I could have a glass of wine instead of more tea?"
Gracechurch Street Wednesday Morning
Darcy's carriage halted at the Gardiner's, followed by a sporty curricle drawn by a pair of spirited grays, being driven by that known top whip, Darcy, with Bingley beside him, and on the perch behind them, eleven year old Lenny, just promoted to the post of tiger, wearing his yellow and black striped waistcoat with his uniform.*** The gentlemen quickly joined Anne and Georgie and were almost to the steps when the Gardiner children bounded out of the front door, followed closely by Jane urging them to calm down, walk instead of run, and greet their guests politely. John, eight, and Hugo, five, sketched hasty bows, but they had eyes only for the sporting vehicle, splendid horses, and the nattily attired tiger, who was scarcely bigger than they were. Their voices beseeched Darcy for permission to closely examine these fascinating boyish wonders, which was granted with a big smile. Rebecca, age seven, who worshipped her older cousins and tried to imitate them, did manage a respectable curtsey, a formal hello and how are you, and a hug for Bingley, before following her brothers. Three year old Beth halted in front of Darcy and holding up her arms, waited to be picked up so that she could touch the lintel as they passed through the doorway. Darcy traded her a kiss on the hand for one on his cheek.
Jane greeted her betrothed with, "This does not bode well for my skill at managing children."
"Nonsense!" Bingley said with a loving look. "John and Hugo are well behaved and have excellent manners. Any small boy would get excited at the sight of those grays, the curricle, and Lenny with his striped vest."
Jane grinned and arched her eyebrows, "I have heard that grown men get just as excited about horses and racing vehicles. When this happens do you maintain your decorum?"
Bingley laughed and gave her a fond look. "It all depends on the company. I am afraid that a crowd of men simply becomes loud, perhaps somewhat rowdy, and even jostles each other around. On the other hand, when I am in your company, horses or carriages are the last things I notice."
Jane coloured slightly, but jested back, "In that case, I look forward to talking to you about the lace and ribbons I purchase today, while my uncle and William talk about the favourites for Ascot."
Bingley gave her a mock salute and slight bow, "Your wish is my command, Lady Fair."
By this time they were entering the drawing room and Lizzy, rising from the sofa, exclaimed, "William, what a nice surprise! Are you going shopping with us? That will make today quite entertaining, seeing you in the shops, picking and choosing styles and trimmings."
Walking over to give Lizzy a hug, Anne made a face and said tartly, "The big mean oaf does not trust me and came along purposely to make sure you were informed correctly."
Lizzy answered cautiously, "What do I need to be informed about that brings your mean oaf cousin, 'Darcy the Dictator' here, and causes you to be unhappy?" (Mrs. Bennet shook her head at the impertinence of her daughter and Miss de Bourgh talking about Mr. Darcy that way. So shocking. Why he had always been such a nice man!)
"After breakfast this morning, Sally told him that I needed to come home by two o'clock and rest for the afternoon. He nodded meekly and said he would see to it. He then proceeded to forbid me to coax Georgie into keeping silent on the matter, and decided he should to start his day by seeing his fiancée and being a tattletale."
"You will not get your way here either." Lizzy declared firmly. "If Sally says 'no shopping', then we will have you back at home by two."
Mrs. Gardiner leaned over to ask Jane sotto voce, "Who is Sally?"
"Her maid. She was Anne's wet-nurse as a baby, and she has guarded Anne's health like a ferocious Irish wolfhound, ever since her illness started years ago." Jane whispered back.
"I am feeling fine and do not need to rest." Anne pouted.
Darcy felt he had remained silent long enough. "Well, if you want Richard to find out you disobeyed Sally that is all right with me. But if you think I am going to take a chance that Aunt Eleanor or Uncle Henry would find out before dinner tomorrow night, you better think it out again; you know very well that our aunt can frighten even your mother." Making an effort to quiet his indignant voice to some degree, he turned to Lizzy. "Bingley and I have appointments this morning, but I have arranged for a simple luncheon at Darcy House at one o'clock. By two, Anne can be upstairs enjoying one of her new novels. The happily engaged couples can go either driving or walking in Hyde Park. Mrs. Bennet, Mrs. Gardiner, Mary, you can go to the park with us, or Georgie says that she knows some hidden shops that have laces, ribbons, and other trimmings which cannot be found anywhere else. With the exception of Anne's having to rest, and our morning appointments, all other plans are flexible."
Anne glowered; Jane cast a fond glance at Bingley; Mrs. Bennet brightened at the mention of laces; Mrs. Gardiner and Mary both shrugged, and Lizzy laughed. "So this is what marriage to the 'Master of Pemberley' will be like. I must say, I think it will be interesting."
Darcy thought about what he had said and how he had said it, and looked a little abashed. "I could have phrased that differently. But I have no doubt at all that the future Mistress of Pemberley will teach me how to manage better."
Mrs. Bennet rolled her eyes slightly; she would never understand these two people, but somehow they understood each other.
"Finally, alone at last!" Darcy smiled down at Lizzy.
Eyes sparkling up at him, and holding his arm a little tighter, she replied, "That is true only if we do not look around to see Jane and Charles a few yards in back of us, the maid and footman trailing behind them, and several hundred people in the park around us. And, unless I am greatly mistaken, we are already attracting attention. People recognize you, but it is easy to see they do not know who I am. So many turning heads, pointing fingers, and moving lips!"
"They will soon be changing the direction of their stroll so they can purposely encounter us and try to satisfy their curiosity." Darcy made a moue of distaste. He had been so eager to walk with Elizabeth that he had forgotten how crowded Hyde Park could be. "I have it. Jane and Bingley's engagement has already been published in The Times, so if you are introduced merely as her sister, we might be left alone for today. Perhaps the interest and inquisition we suffer today will not be too unbearable if we do that. Our announcement will be in the paper tomorrow and everyone will know after that."
She peered up at him with a deep frown and said, with pain evident in her voice, "William, I am proud and happy that I will soon marry a man whom I love with all of my heart."
He stopped, turned to look at her closely, and almost shivered with cold and fear as he realized how his words must have hurt her. "Elizabeth, please forgive me. I have been a selfish being all of my life. I have become arrogantly proud of myself and my family, ignoring everyone else and guarding my privacy. I may not be able to change overnight, but I promise to try." His dark eyes pleaded with her as he brought his other hand across to briefly hold hers as it clasped his arm.
Her frown diminished as she scanned his features and asked hesitantly, "Perhaps a compromise?"
Damn, he wanted nothing more than to grab her, hold her tightly against him, and kiss her until they were both senseless with desire. Instead, he closed his eyes for a moment, exhaled every bit of air from his lungs, and started walking again. "I will rely on your intelligence to fashion a compromise, because I am unable to think clearly at the moment."
"When acquaintances and social climbers stop us, introduce them to Jane's sister. If you chance to see and talk with any close friends, or someone you admire, I am positive they would be happy to meet your fiancée and congratulate us. Do you think that is reasonable?"
"Miss Bennet, you had better be more careful demonstrating your intelligence to your betrothed. Be warned, because you may shortly find yourself in my – what did Anne call it? – Ah! -- my aptly named sinfully luxurious travelling coach, being passionately ravished all the way to Scotland." He may have grinned a little, but she could tell he meant it, because his eyes were so focused and intent on hers that a small frisson of answering desire passed down her spine. In turn, he both saw and felt, through her hand on his arm, the slight quiver of her body, while her eyes appeared to glaze slightly and a small flush reddened her cheeks. Suddenly, coming upon a chance acquaintance or social climber might be a worthwhile distraction for his mind and treacherous body.
Two hours later, sitting in the quiet drawing room with some tea, Lizzy said, "William, please do not say 'I told you so' because it is not necessary. Are there any people in London that we did not meet this afternoon?"
Bingley grinned, "Now, Lizzy, you have to admit there was a mesmerizing effect in the sheer awfulness of it. My favorite was the matron in the green silk with the purple and red bows, dragging her three plain-faced daughters over, knowing that Darcy could not have forgotten that they attended the same ball two years ago."
"That was Mrs. Hazelton." Jane put in quietly.
Horrified, Bingley protested, "Jane, I beg you, never invite that woman to our house for any reason. I know how kind you are and how you dislike hurting people, but still…."
Jane gave him a small smile and fond glance, "I shall be perfectly content saying hello to Mrs. Hazelton every two years at someone else's ball."
Darcy said, "I think the prize should go to that supercilious dandified son of one of the matchmaking mamas trying to find an heiress, when he said with his affected lisp, 'I did not realize there were proper people in Hertfordshire!' If his shoulders had been padded any higher, his ears would have been invisible."
"I must remember to tell Caroline about his orange waistcoat." Jane said.
Bingley protested again and shuddered, "Not unless you have a great desire to see me wearing the same. She would hound me until I obtained one."
"I remember him," Lizzy declared, "because his legs were full of lumps. The poor man must have been in pain, because he walked strangely too."
Darcy and Bingley smirked and Darcy explained, "If a man's – excuse me – but if his lower limbs are not muscular enough, there are tailors that sell pads to, well, uh…make them appear muscular, but occasionally the padding will slip and bunch up. Also, boots and shoes can be custom made to add height to a person who wishes to appear taller, but I understand it takes a bit of practice to walk in them."
Lizzy and Jane's mouths opened in wonder at these revelations of some men's vanity, and how they attempted to improve their appearance. Lizzy, stifled a giggle, then whispered loudly enough for all to hear, "Jane, as soon as I can, I am going to inspect one of Darcy's shoes. I have long suspected that no one could really be that tall."
Their mirth was interrupted by the return of the shopping party, who were elated at the many bargains Georgie had led them to find. Darcy rang for Mrs. Wendover to bring in the lavish tea and snacks the inspired cook had created, and while waiting for the treats to be served he went to have a quiet word with Mrs. Gardiner.
"Please accept an invitation to dinner tonight for your entire family and all of the Bennet ladies. It is past time we gave your household an evenings rest. You simply can not refuse, because my staff has been excited and busy all day sprucing up the children's nursery and finding long forgotten treasures. Bingley and I have some provisional papers for your husband to look over and approve or change. And this way, Anne will not be able to argue that she simply can not endure staying home alone and must go along. Last of all, none of you have as yet toured the house, and if I do not take you around before you meet my aunt and uncle tomorrow, they will rake me over the coals." And unconsciously, he flashed his dimples.
"Mr. Darcy, you are altogether too persuasive. I do not know that we will bring all of the children, but yes, my family will come. I am sure that my sister will agree also. But I am only doing this so that you do not get a scolding, which I do not really believe would happen anyway. Although, refusing the invitation has its attractions, if only to see what other fancy excuses you can think of to persuade us." Mrs. Gardiner smiled back.
"Ah! I have just discovered another of Elizabeth's teachers. No wonder her wit is so fast and acute, with someone like you to emulate as she was growing up." The more Darcy was around the Gardiner's, the more he realized what powerful influences they must have been on the thoughts and manners of the older Bennet girls. He excused himself and went over to talk to Mrs. Bennet, who readily accepted the invitation. While he was still standing next to her, Georgie and Mary came over to ask if they could both remain at Darcy House tomorrow in order to practice a duet and other pieces before the dinner at Matlock House. Georgie added that Mary could bring the necessary clothing to change for the dinner with her in the morning, saving time and trouble going back and forth to Cheapside. Mrs. Bennet and Darcy both agreed without hesitation, and the two girls wandered over to a corner discussing which composer they would favor with their skills.
The tea and delectable snacks were served and everyone was settled with their chosen treats when Richard entered, rubbing his hands, "I timed it just right. We had so many meetings today that lunch was nothing but bread and cheese which we ate while walking down the hall to hear another general drone on and on about nothing in particular." Piling a plate high with small sandwiches and fruit, he went over to sit near Darcy, and looking at Elizabeth asked, "How did the shopping proceed today? Have the wedding gowns been decided yet, and if so, are you allowed to describe them?"
Lizzy grinned at him. "As if you were really interested, but the final decisions are still to be made, so you must remain in suspense. If you wish to go with us someday, I warn you that hearing my mother and I fight over the amount of lace that should be used would make Wellesley promote us to the highest rank of general."
"It would certainly be much more interesting than the arguments I had to endure today, and none of the generals are beautiful and charming. By the way, where is Anne? I do not see her."
"Oh, you left early this morning and do not know," Darcy interjected, "Sally came down and said that Anne needed to rest, so…."
"WHAT!" Colonel Fitzwilliam's parade ground bellow was probably heard outside, as he hastily set his plate on the table, spilling some of it, and leaped to his feet. "You should have sent for me immediately!" And he rushed from the room, and next they heard the sounds of his boots pounding up the stairs two at a time.
Stunned, everyone in the room stared at each other or the food scattered on the Aubusson carpet. Lizzy's brows contracted in thought for some seconds, then her face lightened and she covered her mouth to hide a smile. She glanced at Jane who was frowning and pursing her lips, but her eyes suddenly rounded and she smiled also. Nodding at each other, they looked at Georgie who appeared very concerned, but when she noticed Lizzy smiling, she stopped worrying and began puzzling about Lizzy's amused look of satisfaction. In a few seconds, her face lit up and a delighted "Oh!" escaped, and the three of them began to giggle, joined soon by Mary, who also solved the problem. It was not long before the muted giggles erupted into laughter at how blind and slow they had been.
Mrs. Gardiner and Mrs. Bennet remained silent, staring with blank faces at the foolish quartet.
Darcy gestured for one of the maids to pick up Richard's spilled food. He was irritated and puzzled
by both his cousin's outburst, and the four females in the room who were laughing for no discernable reason.
The girls slowly quieted and Bingley, also befuddled, asked petulantly, "And just what is so funny?"
The laughter started again, so Darcy calmed himself with some tea while he patiently waited a few moments longer for decorum to return.
Lizzy finally exerted enough control to sputter out, "Aunt Catherine was hounding the wrong nephew."
Darcy embarrassed himself by choking and spewing tea all over.
*** Tiger: -A boy employed as a cute groom to ride on the back of a curricle or other small carriage. The name tiger derives from the yellow and black striped waist coat worn by these grooms. From Carriages of the Regency Period found at: