"Mama, please do not make me go!" He replied, following his mother from the room.
"Ezra, for the last time! Do not broach me on this subject again. We are going to the Darcy's! All of us!"
"Please Mama!" He pleaded again. His mother stopped abruptly and turned to look at him. "I hardly remember them. I have not been there in ten years."
"Only because you have been at school." She answered, walking again. "And you do remember them." He followed her once more. "You only want to stay because of that girl."
"Edwina, Mama! Her name is Edwina!" he cried. "And I would like to stay because of her."
She reached the stairs, and stopped suddenly. "Tell me this, Ezra. Have you reached an understanding with her?"
He looked at her. "Do you mean, are we engaged?"
"Of course not. I have only known her a month."
She started down the stairs. "Then it will wait. If it is true, then it will be so when we are home again."
"But, Mama," he cried upon her heels. "You do not understand!"
"I do not?"
"There are others..." He blurted.
"Ah, now I see. Edwina has other suitors. Am I correct?" She stated, reaching the bottom step.
"Yes," he exhaled slowly. "And I fear that if we ... I leave now, I may never know what would have happened."
"I see." Her heart softened and she smiled. Brushing a wayward curl back from his face, said, "Stay here if you must and pursue your conquest. Only promise me that you will do nothing until you speak to me."
"I do, Mama. I promise."
"We will go to the Darcys alone. I will explain your absence."
He reached and hugged her. "Thank you, Mama! Thank you!"
A tear came to her eye as she watched her son bound out the door. She and Lawrence had been blessed with only one child, and now, he was all grown. Ezra would soon be one and twenty.
How time had so quickly passed. It had seemed like yesterday that her heart had been broken as she watched Mr. Darcy marry Miss Bennet.
At the thought of her, she gritted her teeth. Why could she not get over her dislike of Eliza? She was truly happy with Lawrence and loved him more and more each day. She went to the window and pulled back the curtain. Ezra, soon disappeared around the corner.
So, why did they go to the Darcy's every year? She pondered, letting the curtain close slowly.
Perhaps it was for Lawrence's sake. After all, Mr. Darcy was his dearest friend and perchance he felt indebted to him.
For it was Fitzwilliam who had orchestrated the match between Lawrence and herself. As hurt and disappointed as she had been at the time with Mr. Darcy, she did now find herself indebted to him.
Lawrence Rockmore had came into her life when she was most vulnerable. He was patient and kind and he loved her when she thought no one else would.
Perhaps they went for her brother's sake. Charles was always there every year come what may. Even when his wife happened to go into confinement early. Benjamin, their third child was born at Pemberley thus prolonging their stay even more.
But perhaps, in some ways, it was because of her. She had never corrected her husband's assumption that they were going and so, every year they did. But did she truly enjoy it? Or did she go to spite Eliza?
Whatever the case may have been, at times she had an enjoyable trip and at others, she was miserable. Seemingly, the longer she was with Lawrence, the more she enjoyed the trip. But, perhaps this would be the year to stay home. She smiled to herself as she felt a strong hand touch her shoulder.
"What are you thinking about, my love?"
"Of our son." She turned toward him. "Apparently he thinks himself in love."
"Ahh." He smiled. "So, he persuaded you to let him stay?"
"Of course. Did you doubt him otherwise?"
Her husband laughed. "Not in the least. My son, like his mother, is very strong willed."
"But dear," she started, walking towards the parlor. "Consider this. We know nothing of this girl. We do not know any of her family or her connections. I daresay I do not even know her last name."
He put his arm around her shoulder and smiled. "It's Farlington, dear, and I have heard that her father is a gentleman and a very good sort of man. They were living in the country near Meryton, and I believe, acquaintances of the Bennet's before moving to town."
"Then no!" She exclaimed, breathlessly. "She is beneath him!"
"Because they are friends of the Bennets? My dear, please consider your words!" He replied, slightly miffed. "I am a gentleman as well."
"But my darling, my situation was different. Your family as well as mine, was a well-respected one. We know nothing of these ... Farlingtons!"
He put his arms around her. "My dear, please listen. Do you not wish him love?"
"Of course, I do. But there are consequences to think of." She huffed, turning her back to him.
"And what are the consequences? He turned her to face him. "My dear, he must be allowed to decide for himself. To marry for love without society's demands being placed upon him. If he is not given that opportunity he may well end up as your sister. Having no respect for her partner, in a loveless marriage for which she has no way out."
"But Louisa does love her husband." She inserted.
"Does she?" He replied, eyebrows raised. "Or does she simply agree to it now for the children's sake?"
Caroline started to speak, but stopped just as quickly. Lawrence reached and drew her close to him.
"Oh, Lawrence. I only want what is best for him."
"I know, dearest."
Ezra fairly ran toward the house of his beloved. He tried to contain his excitement, but it grew increasingly hard. He reached the front of the building, thinking once of ringing the bell, but decided to call on Edwina while she might still be in the garden. He moved silently down the walkway.
He approached the gate that led into the garden, but stopped short of opening it when he heard voices. He peered over and saw his most lovely Edwina, sitting upon a bench.
He stood for a moment, admiring her. Her golden hair, glistening in the sunlight, was piled on her head and hung in curls around her face. She sat, leaning slightly forward. Ezra shifted to see more of her. His gaze followed down her slender arm which was extended, and her small hand gently placed in the hand ... of ... Arden Dearborn!?
He stumbled back from the gate, grabbing his chest. His heart sank and pounded hard against his ribs. What was he doing here? He listened as Arden began to speak.
"Edwina, let us not play games. You know my heart and I think I know yours. I love you with all my being. I offer you myself, and all that I am, if you will be my wife. Will you have me?"
Ezra strained to listen, but he heard nothing. Had Edwina refused him? Surely she had, for he loved her more than Arden. Of that he was sure.
Curiosity burned within him and he peered over the gate. Arden had Edwina clutched around her tiny waist and was swinging her around him. He stopped and looked down into her eyes. She met his gaze and tilted her head, about to kiss him, when she caught a glimpse of Ezra.
"Oh no!" she whispered. Arden turned to look.
Ezra fell back and stumbling out of the walkway, ran back around the front of the house. He did not stop until he reached the street corner. Tears burst forth, stinging his eyes. His heart ached with betrayal.
"Edwina..." he breathed to himself, "How could you?"
He sank down the side of the building and buried his head in his hands. An elderly gentlemen stopped upon seeing his condition.
"Excuse me, young man? But is there some I can do for you?"
"I'm fine." Ezra spat, angrily. "Just leave me alone." The man walked on.
"Please..." another voice came.
"I said that I am fine!" He cried. He raised his head and upon seeing her, stood. Quickly, he reached in his pocket for a handkerchief and dabbed his eyes. He batted them rapidly to clear his vision.
She took a small step towards him and he responded with a step back.
"Ezra, I'm sorry." she began, holding out her hands.
"I love you."
"I know." She breathed, softly.
"But you don't love me?"
She swallowed hard. "No."
"But you accepted all my attentions." He cried. "You received them when you knew they were for naught!"
"I must be honest." She replied.
"I believe it is a little too late for honesty." He spat out.
"I did not want to tell you this way."
"And which way did you plan to tell me?" He asked sarcastically as he stepped closer. "Do you love Arden?"
"With all my heart." She smiled, her eyes dancing. "Can you be happy for us, Ezra?"
"I.." he faltered, shifting his weight. "I want to say yes, but it would not be faithful to my feelings, so for now I will say, ... not today, ... perhaps tomorrow."
Edwina lowered her head. "I am sorry that you feel that way."
Arden came around the corner and looked hard at Ezra. He placed his arm around Edwina's shoulder. "Come my love. We must tell your parents. This is not a subject for the street corner."
Ezra shifted his gaze once more to Edwina, then turned to walk down the street. Edwina watched and called after him. "Ezra! I want you to know that I wish you love and happiness."
Ezra continued walking and did not turn back.
"Come now, Edwina ... be honest!"
That night, the doorbell rang and Fawcett opened the door. "Master Ezra! We have been worried."
"I apologize, Fawcett." Ezra said, walking into the foyer. "Have my parents left for Derbyshire yet?"
"Yes sir. This afternoon."
"Very well." Ezra looked around the room, then back to the servant. "Prepare my bags for traveling."
"You are for Derbyshire?"
"Yes, Fawcett. My situation has changed. I shall depend upon you to make all the necessary arrangements. I leave in the morning." He turned and walked down the hall.
Constance Darcy stood looking out her window. Her sister sat at the vanity.
"Madelyn, I swear if you brush your hair anymore, it shall come out of your head. Hurry up! Everyone should be arriving soon."
"Oh, Constance! How very much like Papa, you are!" She smiled, passing the brush back to her maid. "Here Mary. Miss Constance is in a hurry. Although we all know why she is so nervous...."
Madelyn winked and began to giggle. Constance walked over and took the brush from the maid. "Thank you, Mary. That will be all."
The maid curtseyed and left the room.
"You should not be afraid to talk in front of Mary!" stated Madelyn. "I do all the time. She knows all my secrets."
"Then perchance, they are not secrets anymore." Constance pulled the brushed through her sister's hair.
"Oh no! Do not say that! I trust Mary." Madelyn replied. She watched her sister work to pull her hair up into a soft bun. "Do you think Thomas will come?"
"Thomas?" Constance answered stopping her work, then beginning again. "Why should I care?"
"Do not try to feign innocence! We all know how you feel about him."
"And how is that?" asked Constance, pulling tightly on the bun.
"Oww! Stop playing!" cried Madelyn. "We all know that you like him! You know that you do!"
Constance put on the finishing touches and sat down on the bed. "He is our cousin. He does not even look at me."
"If you like him, you should tell him how you feel." said she, spinning around on the stool.
"You, of all people should know that I can not. If he did not feel the same, I would be so embarrassed. Do not you remember Charles Collins?"
"I do remember. How well I remember." Her sister grimaced.
Constance sighed. "I will be glad when Frances arrives. I have missed her so."
"And I, as well. I have so much to tell Penny and Victoria."
Constance and Madelyn, who were late, slipped into the sitting room, and sat on a divan, near the pianoforte. Lizzy cut a glance toward her daughters and smiled, their father, however, was not amused. Augustus, their brother, ran toward them.
"Ha! Ha! Papa is so angry with you." He taunted, dancing in front of them.
"Augustus!" he reprimanded, walking toward them. "Take your seat beside your mother."
"Yes, Papa." Augustus stuck out his tongue as one last parting shot toward his sisters, and returned to his seat.
"How good of you to join us ... finally." said their Father, upon reaching them.
"It was my fault...." whispered Madelyn.
"It matters not who the fault belongs to, it matters that you .." began Darcy, who, while giving instruction to his daughters, was interrupted by a knock at the door.
"Mr. and Mrs. Charles Bingley and Family." announced the footman, stepping to the side of the entering family.
"Charles! Welcome." Fitzwilliam Darcy smiled, going to meet his brother in law.
Lizzy arose from the divan and went to welcome her sister, taking baby Eliza from her arms. "Oh Jane! How she has grown!"
Samuel, their youngest son, ran around the gathering in search of Augustus. Upon finding him, they promptly asked for permission to go to the trout pond.
Lizzy laughed at the young boys. "You may, but take Jonathan with you. I should like you to stay clean and dry at least until after dinner. Aunt and Uncle Holliston will be here this evening and you know what that means."
The boys looked at each other, crying in unison, "Isaac!" Then bolted from the room.
Frances and Penny moved around their mother to get to Constance. Madelyn rose from the divan with her sister.
"How glad I am to see you! It has been too long!" said Frances, taking her cousin's hands.
"Indeed, it has. I have missed you so."
Constance turned at the noise to see the remainder of the family entering the room. Her heart leapt as Thomas Bingley came through the large doors. He was as handsome as he was when she saw him last. To her, he was perfect. His smile lit up the room. Painfully, her attention was brought back to Francis, who was squeezing her hand.
"There is something I must tell you." She whispered.
Before Francis could speak, her father, grinning largely, began, "Darcy, I must tell you that I don't believe that I have ever been happier."
Darcy stood perplexed, eyebrows knitted. "Another child?"
Charles and Jane both laughed. "Oh no. Not that."
Elizabeth stood next to her husband and saw the delight in her sister's eyes.
"What is it, Jane? Tell us!"
Thomas Bingley stepped forward. "I believe I know. Please Papa! Allow me."
Charles and Jane stepped back and gave way to their son.
"A wonderful thing has happened to me. I have met the most splendid girl in all the world and I am to be married."
Constance squeezed Francis' hand and felt her body sway. Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Francis staring at her.
"Constance?" She heard her whisper.
Darcy stepped forward and shook Thomas' hand heartily. "Congratulations, Thomas. And who would she be?"
Thomas grasped his Uncle's hand. "Her name is Flora Wilmont, Uncle. She is from London, though her family estate is near Chatsworth."
Charles and Jane radiated. "We are so pleased. She is a wonderful girl."
Darcy smiled. "Oh, I am much acquainted with her family. The Wilmonts are well known in London. I must say, my nephew, that you have made a most advantageous match."
"Thank you, Uncle." He grinned.
Lizzy stepped forward and hugged him. "Congratulations, Thomas. I wish you much joy. When does the happy event take place?"
Thomas smiled. "I confess I can scarcely wait. When I return to London next week, my beloved and I will begin making arrangements. We will wait for Mama and Papa to return to Bingley Manor though, before finalizing plans. Tell me, is Fitz coming? I am desirous to see him."
Lizzy smiled. "No, Thomas, he is not. He and Isabella are still touring Brighton. My daughter in law has a vast passion for the sea. They are expected back to London within a fortnight."
"Then perhaps, I shall call on him there."
The rest of the family gathered around Thomas, shaking his hand and hugging him soundly. Constance made her way toward him.
"Congratulations, Thomas. I hope you will be very happy. I look forward to meeting Miss Wilmont."
Thomas bowed low. "Thank you, cousin. I hope to be so as well. I long for you and for my whole family to meet her. I am sure you will love her as I do."
Constance curtseyed. "If you do, I am sure we will."
"I'm sorry that Thomas is to be married." said Madelyn, later that night, lying across her bed.
"Why should you be sorry? He has not injured me. I had no claim on him." replied Constance, sitting down at the vanity. "It is nothing to me."
Francis came and sat down on the bed with Madelyn. "It is not nothing, Constance. Why are you being such a way? Did you not love him?"
Constance sighed, looking at her reflection. "I don't know. I know that I esteemed him highly, but loved? I am not sure that I did. Regardless, he did not feel the same for me and that is what matters the most."
Penny smiled. "I am glad you are taking this so well, Constance. I must honestly say that I look forward to Flora being our sister. You will love her when you know her. She is a sweet girl."
"I am sure she is." replied Constance, joining her sister on the bed.
Victoria came in and settled into a small settee. "Lord, I am so fagged. I do so hate unpacking."
"Why did you not have Mary do it for you?" asked Constance, glancing at Madelyn. "We seem to be forgetting that she is a servant."
"I don't know. I wish now that I had." She sighed, laying down across the settee. "What is this that I hear about Thomas?"
"He is to be married." replied Penny.
"He's marrying someone else?" exclaimed Victoria. "But I thought Constance liked him?"
"No! Please!" sighed Constance. "I am not marrying him! Or anyone for that matter."
"But I don't understand..."
"Its simple, cousin. Thomas fell in love with someone other than Constance, because he did not know that Constance was in love with him. See!" answered Madelyn.
"Oh..." replied Victoria, absorbing the information.
"That does not mean that he would have returned it, Madelyn." replied Constance. " This is the way it was meant to be and I shall accept it. Perhaps I shall live here for the rest of my life. I am well known for my pillow work and I shall teach all your children."
"There will be someone else, dearest." offered Madelyn. "Do not give up hope."
"And whom do you hope for, Madelyn?" grinned Penny.
"Why, Penny," smiled Constance, wickedly. "Do you not know? Madelyn is near mad for Charles Collins!"
Madelyn bolted off the bed. "That is a lie, Constance! I am not!"
Constance and the others laughed loudly.
"I have heard so as well." giggled Victoria, her face suddenly turning serious. "Is your beau coming to Pemberley?"
Madelyn stamped her feet and sat down hard on the bed. "Stop it! He is not my beau."
"I have heard that it is a common practice," began Penny, snickering. "with young ladies to reject the addresses of the man whom they secretly mean to accept, when he first applies for their favor; and that sometimes the refusal is repeated a second or even a third time."
"Well, I shall refuse him seventy times seven!" spat Madelyn. "I can promise you, never to accept Charles Collins."
Constance came around and put her hand on her sister's arm. "But you may never have another offer, sister."
Madelyn looked at her and catching the mischief in her eyes, followed along. "I know. It will be terrible and I shall have to live with it. But perhaps, I shall take up pillow work as well. There will be more work than your fingers can handle."
Constance smiled. "Absolutely, my dear. We shall worry Mama's patience and grow old together."
All the girls laughed. Lizzy, passing by her daughter's door, smiled and went on her way.
Constance being an early riser left her room and her cousins, sound asleep. She made her way to the breakfast room and ever so quietly, pulled the sliding doors apart and slipped into the room.
"Good Morning, Cousin." came the voice.
Constance turned quickly. "Oh! You frightened me. I did not expect anyone up at the time of the morning."
"I believe that you and I are the only ones that are. Our parents were up late due to Aunt and Uncle Rockmore's arrival and are still in." He laughed. "Aunt was livid, saying something about muddy roads."
Constance laughed slightly. "I am sure that it was very traumatic journey."
Thomas smiled. "Undoubtedly."
Constance helped herself to the buffet. "Everything looks wonderful this morning. I am famished. I think that in all the bustle of everyone arriving, I forgot to eat."
She put her plate down at the far end of the table, and glanced down toward Thomas before sitting down. She found him looking at her. "What is is?"
"Please do not tell me that you are going to sit all the way down there. How can we talk if I can barely hear you!" He motioned to the chair beside him. "Please?"
Constance's heart stopped and she felt herself flush. Why? What could he mean? Did he by some notion, decide now that he favored her? Had he come to his senses? Perhaps he had resolved against Flora. The maid picked up her items and moved her down beside him. Constance followed her.
"There! Is that not better?" he replied, continuing his meal.
"Yes it is." She answered, sitting down.
"So, how are you this morning?" He asked, not looking up from his food.
Constance began to eat as well. "Very well, thank you. And yourself?"
"I am in an excellent humor." He smiled, arching his eyebrows and looking toward her.
She felt faint, but returned the gesture, smiling. "And what makes you so?"
"Well, because of Flora, of course!"
Her face dropped. "Of course." She replied, quietly.
Thomas did not notice her reaction and talked on. "I find myself in desperate need of her company." He said, eating again. "I wrote to her just the morning."
Thomas took a drink from his coffee. "Yes. I asked her, with permission from Uncle Darcy, of course, to come to Pemberley."
"Oh..." Constance smiled defeatedly at her cousin. "Then I hope that she will respond soon, so we may get to know her better."
"So do I." chuckled Thomas, turning back to his plate. "I almost thought to deliver the letter myself!
"Flora is coming here?"
"If she will." shrugged Constance, looking away.
Madelyn moved to face her sister. "Look at me, Constance. Surely when he told you, you did not feel as you do now!"
Constance's eyes darted to the ground. "I confess that I was distraught. But I would have him happy than alone."
Madelyn shook her head and walked over to the window. "Oh, Constance. How you can be so understanding, I'll never know! I still think you should tell him. At least let him know how you feel."
"And what would that accomplish?" She asked, joining her. "What joy would I get? Think of Flora, sister! She loves him. Would you have her be as me?"
"I do not know her, so her feelings matter little. But I do know you and I would have you happy."
"Madelyn, I promise I will be happy. As you said, someone will come along." smiled Constance. "For now, I will be happy for Thomas."
Madelyn stared out the window. "Who is that?"
"You know who Thomas is!" laughed Constance. "Stop playing."
"No." Madelyn pointed down that the carriage pulling into the courtyard. "That?"
Ezra Rockmore exhaled deeply as the coach jerked to a halt. The footman bounded down from the top and opened the door. He stepped slowly out. His joints aching from his arduous journey. He stretched his arms and shoulders.
"I will take the carriage round to the rear and deposit your luggage there, sir. If that would be acceptable?"
"It is. Thank you, Maxwell." replied Ezra.
As the carriage rolled away, he could see towards the lake. There he spied three boys running and laughing. He recognized one of them as his cousin, Samuel. He waved to them.
"Oh, Ezra! Are you well?"
On hearing her voice, he turned quickly around. "Yes. I am well, Mama. Better than yesterday."
"What happened?" Caroline looped her arm through her son's. "Why did you not let us know you were coming? What if something should've befallen you?"
"Now, Mama," Ezra began. "You worry excessively. Besides, there was no time. I left the next morning after you. I daresay I would have greeted the messenger when he arrived here."
They entered the foyer and passed into the parlor, where the rest of the family awaited. His father approached.
"Ezra! How pleasant it is to see you! How are you, son?" He asked, shaking his hand.
Ezra grasped his hand tightly. "Very well, Papa."
Caroline watched her son warily. Something was not right. She could tell.
"Good Morning, Ezra." said Darcy, walking over. "We had thought you not to come."
"Good Morning, Mr. Darcy. I had not planned to, but my dealings finished ahead of schedule and I was able to secure the time to come for a visit."
Ezra glanced quickly at his mother. She smiled slightly, while in her mind questioning what business Ezra would have had and what had been the outcome.
Ezra looked around Darcy. "Uncle Bingley! How good to see you! Where is my newest cousin?"
Elizabeth walked over with Baby Eliza and handed her to him.
"How beautiful you are, little one." Ezra took her and smiled, nodding his head quickly. "Good morning, Mrs. Darcy. Pleasure to see you again."
"Good morning, Ezra. It is wonderful to see you. My! How you have grown since last we met." She smiled.
"True, for I am almost one and twenty. It has been ten years at least since my last visit."
"Well, you have turned in to a very handsome young man. Any young girl should count herself lucky to garner your attentions."
Ezra winced slightly. "Thank you."
Caroline could not help but smile as she watched Ezra hold the baby. She had to admit that Elizabeth's comments were true. Any girl should count herself lucky for Ezra was very handsome. Lawrence made his way over to her.
"So," he whispered. "What do you think has happened?"
"I have not the slightest." She responded. "But my heart tells me that it was a very long ride from London."
"I agree, my dear. Something is amiss."
"Who was that?" blurted Victoria, hastening into her cousin's room.
"We are not sure." answered Madelyn, from the window. "The carriage pulled away and I could not see who got out of it."
"I could not tell either." replied Victoria, joining the group at the window.
Francis and Penny rushed into the room. "Who was that? Surely the Collins' are not coming this year, are they?"
Madelyn shot a fierce glance toward them. "No."
Constance walked to the door. "I think I can solve this quandary. Why do we not go down and see?"
"I agree. Let us." nodded Victoria, walking past Constance.
"Ezra!" cried Thomas, entering the room. "When did you get here?"
"Just a few moments ago. How are you?" Ezra handed the baby back to her mother.
Thomas slapped his cousin on the back. "Particularly well. And yourself?"
"Just as so." Ezra smiled. "What is this that I hear from Uncle?"
"Papa!" Thomas looked at his father and grinned. "No, it is all true. She is a wonderful girl, Ezra. I think you will be envious of me. I have ne'er met one like her!"
The girls, who had hurried down the steps, waited outside, hoping to catch the voice of the visitor. Constance drew in her breath sharp at Thomas' comments.
"You scoundrel! Such words! And from you no less!" Ezra laughed. "Truly, she must be remarkable to put up with you!"
Thomas laughed and looked wistfully. "Indeed she is.
Back in the hall, Francis pushed ahead, "Go on in, Constance!"
"Wait! Listen!" responded Constance, straining to hear.
"That is wonderful, Thomas. I am so happy for you." smiled Ezra, shaking hands. "When does this event take place?"
"A date has not been decided yet." He replied. "But had I my way, it would be tomorrow."
"Oh, do not wish such a thing upon your poor mother!" replied Jane.
Everyone gathered laughed.
Francis pressed her way around the group. "You stand here, if you want. I am going in. Its just Ezra."
The footman moved to one side to allow them way. Darcy turned in time the catch them making their entrance.
"Ladies. Come and meet our newest guest." He motioned them toward the group.
Ezra turned to see them approaching. "Penny! Francis! It's been too long! You're all grown up."
Both girls ran to hug their cousin and Penny spoke, "We are, indeed. I thought Aunt Rockmore said that you were not coming?"
"I did, Penny, but Ezra surprised us all." Caroline replied.
"And who is this?" He asked, looking around the girls.
Georgiana stepped forward to make introductions. "Ezra, I do not believe you have met my eldest, Victoria. And this, of course, is Madelyn and Constance, my nieces."
"Good Morning, Miss Holliston. Good Morning, Miss Darcy. Miss Madelyn." He replied bowing, each girl curtseying in return.
"Ezra," began Elizabeth, "surely you are weary from your journey. Should you not like to rest before dinner?"
Ezra nodded and Elizabeth rang for the maid.
"Thank you, Mrs. Darcy." He smiled. "I am quite tired. If you all will excuse me?"
Caroline walked with her son to his room.
"So, now that we are away from listening ears, tell me. What of Edwina?"
Ezra's eyes darted to the ground. "She chose another."
"What?" she exclaimed.
"She chose another. Arden Dearborn to be exact. I overheard her accept his proposal" He answered quietly.
"Arden Dearborn? Why, he is not a suitable match for her! He has no family to speak of and certainly no connections. How did she explain herself? What did she say?"
"Nothing of importance, Mama." He replied.
"Did she not accept all your attentions?"
"Yes." He replied softly. "She did."
"So, you confronted her and told her of your feelings then. What said she?"
"Please, Mama!" He cried, opening the door to his bedchamber. "What does it matter now?"
"I thought you loved her!" She replied. "Why did she accept him?"
"Why do you think I am here suddenly? Because she does not love me, Mama, that is why!" He replied, crying. Forcefully, he closed the door.
Caroline stood in the hall, tears falling down her face. "I am sorry, Ezra." She whispered quietly.
Ezra rushed into his room, tears falling afresh. He turned to go back, thinking he should apologize to his Mother, but stopped short of opening the door. He could not face her now. The meeting would be but a lengthy explanation of his behavior, and he was not quite prepared to indulge in this. No, he would make his apologies at dinner.
He walked back into the room and flung himself into his chair; a defeated young man. Why did she do this to him? Why could not Edwina love him? Arden Dearborn would cause her nothing but grief, of that he was certain. Then she would probably come crawling back to him. Ezra scowled. Then he would tear her heart apart just like she had hurt him.
He closed his eyes and exhaled deeply. What was wrong with him? Had he now been reduced to wishing evil thoughts? No, the truth of the matter was that if she walked in the room at that very moment, he would still be in love with her as much as ever.
"Are you not at least curious?"
"I have to admit, I am."
"What business could he have had?" Lizzy questioned. "He's not one and twenty yet. I daresay that he has no more than finished school."
"I do know the particulars but Charles did say Caroline told him of a young lady in town that he was fond of." She replied.
"Ah! So, was it love that kept him there?" asked Lizzy, opening the door to the parlor. "Or did love cause him to leave?"
"I do not know, sister." Jane said, walking in.
Georgiana played and Caroline sat on the settee closest to the pianoforte, but with her back to Georgiana. As she finished the song, she looked toward Lizzy, and motioned with her eyes toward Caroline. She then rose from the instrument and joined Jane at the card table.
With Caroline's discomfort apparent, Lizzy joined her on the divan. "Are you well, Mrs. Rockmore?"
Caroline turned to her. "I am. Why do you ask?"
"Only that it appears that you are in some sort of distress."
"Nonsense. I am fine." She sniffed.
"But you are crying..." whispered Lizzy.
Caroline turned a hard look to her. "You are mistaken, Mrs. Darcy. I do not cry."
"Truly, you are crying!" exclaimed Lizzy. "Perhaps I could offer some relief?"
"There is nothing that I care to discuss with you or anyone! I am fine. I said I was fine and therefore, I am fine."
"Very well then." Lizzy replied, removing herself from the divan. "Excuse the imposition."
"Eliza!" Caroline reached, stopping her. "Please! Forgive me..."
Lizzy sat back down. "I do not want to pry, Caroline. I only offer a listening ear to you." She exhaled a short breath. "Pray, why is it this way? I do not understand this. It's been more than twenty years. And still, we are not yet friends, not truly. You come to my home every year, and we talk, but not as friends. We do have things in common, you know. My sister is your sister. My nieces and nephews are yours. Can we not move beyond this?"
Caroline looked at her, eyes brimming. "Yes, I think so. I would like that."
Lizzy stood up and took her by the hand. "Then join us at the table. A game of vingt-un is particularly good for anyone and there, you may tell us of your troubles, if you wish."
"I thought I should find you here."
"And indeed, you did." answered Constance, turning to face her visitor. "Good evening, Francis. Why are you in search of me?"
Francis picked up Constance' flower basket, and followed her. "Aunt Darcy was seeking you and I told her that I knew where you were."
"How did you know that I would be in the garden?" questioned Constance.
"Is not this where you usually hide?" smiled Francis, looking slyly at her.
"I am not hiding." replied Constance, glancing back at her cousin. "I just prefer the garden at this time of day."
"Very well." Francis sighed, continuing to follow her. "Nonetheless, Aunt Darcy wishes you to come to the parlor. I think she wants you to play."
"Why? When I perform so ill! Madelyn plays so much better!" exclaimed Constance, taking her basket from Francis. "Why does Mama persist always in putting me before anybody? If my vanity had taken a musical turn, my mother would be priceless to me!"
Both turned and walked toward the house. Frances stopped and picked a peony from the garden bed. "Constance, do you think that Flora will come?"
She took a deep breath and battled herself to gain control of her emotions. During her time alone in the garden, she had determined that she would free her heart of Thomas Bingley.
In speech, belying believability, she said, "I think so. I hope that she does. I long to meet her."
"Really?" replied Francis, starting up the steps to the courtyard. "Do you not dread it?"
"To be faithful, I must say yes. But Thomas has determined to marry her and that is all there is."
Frances stopped on the steps and blocked the way for Constance. She turned around. "But did you not hope?"
"Hope?" Constance repeated, shifting her eyes to the ground. She thought for a moment. "I think that it should be dreamed. I dreamed of being his love, but I know that he does not now nor will he ever love me. He does not think of me in such a way. So, I shall be happy for him. How can I regret something that never was?"
"Very well, Constance," stated Frances, "as long as you're content within yourself."
Constance smiled. "I am. I shall be."
Frances grabbed her hand and pulled her to the top step. "Come, cousin. Let us go in and hear how very ill indeed you play!"
"Oh, Frances!" She laughed. "It is not all that bad."
Ezra looked down on the scene in the courtyard. He knew Frances, because of the visits from his Aunt Bingley, but he had not seen Constance in a long time.
When he had last visited Pemberley, she was but nine years old and he, eleven. At that particular age, boys rarely found someone of the other sex worth their notice. But now, he noticed her very much. Her bonnet pushed back, revealed an abundance of dark curls. She had truly grown into a lovely young woman.
They soon disappeared into the house and Ezra went back to his chair. His thoughts turned again to that angry subject: Edwina. He should have the happy position of his cousin Thomas, however fate would not have him announcing his expected felicity to his family. Edwina attached herself to Arden. He was the cause of all this. He fancied and flattered her until she could not be about her senses. That was the only way he could surely have her.
'But, marry him she will and I will be left to stand alone.' Ezra felt the tears welling up again. He roughly rubbed his eyes and stood up.
"This is enough!" He walked to the door and flung it open.
Quickly, he made his way down the stairs towards the parlor. As he walked, a soothing sound began to make its way towards him. The closer he got to the door, the more at peace he felt. He stood outside and listened. He exhaled slowly. Surely Miss Darcy had the most angelic voice he had ever heard.
"Good evening, Ezra!"
Shaken, he turned, relived to find it only Penny.
"Good Evening, Penny." He replied.
"What are you doing out here?"
"I was listening." He smiled. "Tell me, did Miss Darcy partake from the masters? Or is it natural? Her voice is lovely!"
"Oh!" laughed Penny. "That is not Constance!
"It is not?" he asked. "Then who is it?"
"That is Madelyn!" she replied, opening the door to the parlor.