"His Lordship's manor is coming in sight, Mr. Bingley!" shouted the footman, from atop the carriage.
Louisa slid up on the edge of her seat to better her view. Just over the next hill, as they were told, Burchfield Landing came into scrutiny.
Although they were still a good distance away, one could tell that the extensive home bordered an immense lake. Far-reaching fruit orchards sheltered the beautiful manor. A large white gazebo was situated to one side of the house, with steps extending down to the landing.
"I had heard about it, but now I believe. It is true!"
Caroline leaned forward and followed her sister's gaze. "What is it?"
"Burchfield Landing! Absolutely breathtaking!"
Caroline harrumphed and flounced back. "Breathtaking? I say ordinary. There's no particular feature about it that cannot be compared to."
Bingley smirked and shook his head. "Surely you do not mean that? Look!"
Caroline refused to look out the window. "I have saw it and I see nothing that is exceptional! Certainly nothing that is breathtaking! The grounds are well kept, I grant you, but not exceptional."
Louisa and Charles stared at each other in disbelief.
"Good grief, Caroline!" blurted Bingley. "What more could you want?"
"Charles, why must I agree with you? Do I not know my own opinion?"
"Certainly, but when considering Bingley Manor, this is infinitely better, and Lord knows that its occupants are of the highest caliber. Had we not been friends with Darcy, I dare say, we should have never been invited here!"
"I did not say that I find any fault with Lord and Lady Burchfield, and I do not argue that it is with all kindest that we have been invited, I am only saying....." Caroline's voice trembled and she trailed off. "Oh, never mind!"
Louisa saw her need and obliged her with a rescue. "I know, my dear, exactly what you are saying. Although it is a fine house, I prefer more elegant manors, like Pemberley, for instance."
Their brother shook his head and turn back towards the window. Louisa caught her sister's eye and gave a knowing glance. Caroline smiled.
Ensconced in his library, his Lordship sat with his paper, near the fire. Although it would turn out to be a lovely spring day, this morning the fire felt very welcome.
Lord Burchfield, a tall thin man of forty, had came into his own when he was young. The library, where he spent most of each morning, was his refuge. It was generally thought, that he kept this room cooler than the rest of the house to discourage visitors.
Its furnishings bore a manly appearance. Two large leather chairs facing the fire, were the only items fitting to be sat upon. A divan was there, but was not welcoming. No one had sat on for any length of time, in years. A great mahogany desk was placed in one corner and all sorts of books lined the walls. The colors in the room were drab and dark, and as a result, making it unappealing. For this reason, no one dared enter the room, save Darcy, who had come in at that very moment and made himself at home.
"So, my Lord," he started. "What plan you for today?"
"Now Darcy, must we...." he began, not looking up from his paper.
Darcy exhaled loudly. "Monroe. How do we spend today? At sport, perhaps?"
"What else?" He smiled, folding his paper and leaning forward. "The ladies have planned their outing for this morning and I made plans for Samson to escort them."
"Should Lady Burchfield mind that you don't attend her? Has not her sister just arrived?"
"Even so, I think it matters not. She is far too taken with her sister today to notice much." Lord Burchfield rose, upon hearing the door open. "And here you are, ladies, please join us. Could I interest you in some refreshment?"
Lady Margaret Burchfield swept into the room and with her, her sister, a handsome lady, dressed in a fine Paris fashion. She looked boldly at Darcy and never did once, as some ladies do, shift her eyes modestly. Darcy knew of Lady Burchfield's sister, but he had never met her.
"No, dear," replied his wife. "We are on our way out. Will you be joining us?"
Darcy's gaze was steadfast. Her fragrance, arriving before her, filled his senses. He blinked his eyes several times due to its heady effect. Recovering himself, he bowed.
"I had thought to stay here and entertain Darcy, my dear..." began Lord Burchfield.
Darcy was ashamed and pleaded within himself to look away from her, but he could not. She was mesmerizing. Her features were flawless. The whiteness of her skin, like fine porcelain, was enhanced by the darkness of her hair that rested in large curls, piled upon her head. A soft pink ribbon was interwoven and small wispy ringlets framed her face.
He owned up that her figure was pleasing, not too heavy and certainly not too small. He instantly wanted to know more of her for if he had ever seen anyone like, he did not know.
Lord Burchfield's voice interrupted his thoughts. "Should Samson not be escort enough?"
"Oh, Dear, of course. Naturally you would want to stay." She grinned, slyly at her sister. "I think Samson should be delight to join on our shopping excursion." replied her Ladyship, turning to Darcy. "And good morning to you, Mr. Darcy! I am glad you are with us. Will you be staying until the Soiree`?"
"I am, and with your blessing, Lord Burchfield has given me permission to invite some of my friends. I hope you do not mind. They should be here this morning."
"Oh no, I adore company! Tell them they are very welcome!" She turned to leave, but suddenly stopped. "Oh! How cruel of me! I did not introduce you! Mr. Darcy, may I present my sister, Lady Topaz Stallworth."
Nervously, Darcy bowed quickly. "Lady Stallworth, a pleasure. May I take a moment and be allowed to offer my most sincere condolences on the passing of your husband and to please ask your forgiveness for my tardiness."
"Indeed, Mr. Darcy, you are, for dear Bronson has been passed over a year now, but I accept your sympathies with gratitude. May I ask how you were acquainted?"
"Several years ago, my father and your husband were close acquaintances. Lord Stallworth visited our home many times, however upon the passing of my father, I fear the acquaintance was not kept as well, as I am now sorry to say, this is our first meeting."
"So," she stepped closer. "You are of Pemberley?" He nodded and she continued. "I have heard much of your home, but tell me, is it as grand as that? Many of my friends have said that it is very beautiful."
"I'm afraid that I would be prejudice in my answer, my Lady, for Pemberley is my home and is above all, most dear to me. So I can say that I find myself in agreement and I thank you for your compliments."
He smiled and watched her eyes dance as her brightly colored lips moved again. "So, you are planning some sort of activity with this brother of mine?"
"We are," He replied, "but nothing of the excitable nature, very dull indeed."
"I see." She answered, turning to her sister. "Well Margaret, since nothing but dullness is afoot, shall we be off?"
Lady Burchfield laced her arm through her sister's and led her towards the door.
"Indeed, dear sister. Let us locate Samson and see his surprise at his task for the day. By the way, dear," she called over her shoulder, while exiting the room, "it is frightfully cold in here."
Suddenly, Lady Topaz stopped and turned around. Waving her hand dramatically, "Goodbye, dear brother! Adieu, Mr. Darcy! Parting is such sweet sorrow!"
And with that, the door closed with a loud thud. Laughter could be heard fading down the hall. Darcy blushed slightly at the thoughts running through his mind.
Lord Burchfield sat back down. "Oh my! That Margaret! She is always of the silly nature when her sister is near."
Darcy continued to stand and stare at the door as if willing it to open again. He finally came to himself and sat down, hoping that Lord Burchfield had not noticed his stupor.
The carriage rolled to a jerking halt and Caroline bounded out of it, barely missing the path of a passing carriage. Louisa followed very quickly and both sisters waited impatiently at the door.
"Charles, please hurry." urged Caroline.
"Why? It is only Darcy!" answered Charles, lumbering down stiffly from the carriage. "Josten, please take our luggage to the rear and find the footman."
Caroline stood poised, ready to ring the bell. Charles took his time in gathering his hat and coat. He turned and began toward the door.
Caroline sighed. "Really, Charles! Take a little care and smooth out your coat."
"Louisa!" answered Charles angrily. "Advise your sister to leave me be or else we shall go home."
Louisa jumped at the harsh sound of her brother's voice, but turned to her sister. "Caroline, Charles would like you to..."
Caroline rolled her eyes. "I heard him." Caroline thought better to not offend her brother and replied. "...and tell him that I apologize for my behavior."
Louisa, feeling ridiculous turned to Charles. "Our sister says..."
Charles smiled and knocked on the door. "I heard her and accept."
Darcy had finally relaxed enough to begin with his paper again, when the door clicked. He jumped to his feet.
"Come." answered Lord Burchfield.
The footman entered. "My Lord, Mr. Darcy's guests have arrived. May I show them in?"
Lord Burchfield rose. "Certainly." He turned to Darcy. "Now I shall meet this Bingley that you talk so much of. I hope that he is all that you say he is."
Darcy smiled, half wishing that he had not invited Charles now. For where Charles was, a particular sister would always be, and with Caroline stirring about, how would he ever...