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The Road Back - Chapters 45-47

February 02, 2015 10:07PM
Chapter 45

Monday August 10, 1813 – Pemberley


And to Pemberley they had all come. What had seemed like such a simple idea when first considered had become, once invitations had been extended, a major undertaking. The original intent had been to invite Darcy’s two aunts and their husbands to visit; however, when apprised of the interest of his Darcy cousins to visit their ancestral home – Pemberley – Darcy had found it impossible to do anything but oblige them and had, with Elizabeth’s support, extended invitations to all his cousins.

As it came to pass, Darcy was to learn, with some relief, that of his eight cousins only five had accepted his invitation. Two families had infants that were deemed too young to travel and another cousin was a naval officer and at sea and his wife was reluctant to travel without his assistance and be so far removed from home should he return unexpectedly. It was a large, diverse and, for the most part, lively gathering.

His Aunt Amelia Gibson and her Husband George Gibson had two daughters some ten and twelve years senior to Darcy married to men of substantial wealth with incomes of six and eight thousand pounds per year. His Aunt, her husband and their daughters, who Elizabeth surmised possessed the fullest belief in the superiority of their pedigree and station in life, were more inclined to be displeased with any inconvenience and to find fault with the society they found at Pemberley. Their civility to Elizabeth upon arrival had been marked more by a sense of superiority rather than amiability. If they were not prone to effusions of delight – and neither Elizabeth nor Darcy would have expected that in any event – they were civil and polite to everyone. The restraint in their behaviour was not mirrored amongst their children who had not been there a week before all barriers between the children of the various families had disappeared as though they had never existed. Oddly enough, the two eldest granddaughters of Darcy’s Aunt Amelia had formed a close friendship with Georgiana and Elizabeth’s sisters and, as a consequence, had come to like Elizabeth quite well indeed which resulted in some consternation on the part of their parents.

His Aunt Juliana Holmes – who was a few years younger than her sister - and her husband Cedric Holmes had four sons and two daughters, all married, who were between thirty and forty years of age. Elizabeth had immediately felt a kinship with this branch of the Darcy family, all of whom were of the same modest means as the Bennet family – landed gentry with incomes of two or three thousand pounds per year – sufficient to live comfortably but able to provide only a modest dowry for the daughters and unlikely to be able to afford a season in London for them. Their manners were more open than otherwise, amiable and disposed to enjoy the companionship they found at Pemberley. If Darcy was discomfited by the exuberance of their society, he was, by the end of their stay, on friendly terms with each, if somewhat uncomfortable when in the larger community.

It was apparent from the very beginning that there existed very little sympathy between his two aunts. The rift, if such it could be called, seemed to be reflected in the characters of their extended families. The Holmes siblings had come to Pemberley to be pleased and to please and were successful in both endeavours. They possessed no shortage of intelligent conversation, a desire to enjoy the pleasures of Pemberley and Derbyshire and a willingness to take pleasure in the company they were with. Such disagreements and difficulties which are sure to arise in such a diverse group were quickly and amicably resolved.

Between the five families that had taken up residence, there were some twenty children – twelve boys and eight girls - the ages of which ranged from three to eighteen years. Of particular interest were two granddaughters of his Aunt Amelia who were seventeen and eighteen years of age. The younger girl expected to presented next spring; however, her sister had made her entrance into society last spring and was already being courted by a younger son of an earl and had waxed eloquent to the others on his handsome features, his station in life and his being in possession of a fine estate; however, Georgiana, for one, had not heard or observed any sign of esteem for the gentleman himself. She rather thought her cousin was more attached to her suitor because of what he possessed, than who he was.

Pemberley had never, in Georgiana’s memory, been so boisterous and lively. There were too many children to be quietly confined within its walls. Fortunately, the weather continued fine throughout the month and, under the direction of the various governesses, nannies and maids assigned to the task, the exuberance of the children was dissipated on the grounds which were sufficient for their enjoyment without intruding seriously on the enjoyments of their parents.

Mr. and Mrs. Thompson and their daughter had arrived at the same time and strangely enough, Darcy found their company quite pleasant. The senior Thompsons he knew to be sensible people with genteel manners and Miss Thompson had always impressed him with her manners and intelligence. If the Gibson family was reluctant to be more than civil to them, the Holmes family was uniformly pleased to have made their acquaintance. That the Thompsons were close neighbours of the Bennets was quickly apparent and undoubtedly eased their acceptance by the others. Mr. Bennet’s preference to spend much of his waking hours ensconced in the library was no surprise to the Thompsons. Nonetheless, his favourite daughter successfully enticed him to join the company in the evenings and, if he found little in the Holmes family to excite his acerbic wit, the Gibson families were less fortunate as he took some delight in gently skewering those pretensions which attracted his notice. It was done with such exquisite care that ofttimes the recipient was unaware of the wound inflicted.

The Gibsons were not inclined, in general, to afford much attention to Elizabeth’s sisters. Since neither of the latter was particularly seeking to attach themselves to that family, both parties were able to disregard the other quite civilly. Both Kitty and Mary had, over the course of their visit, grown quite close to Georgiana and were, in their different fashion, able to share activities with her. The older Gibson granddaughters were welcomed into their circle and between music, riding, sketching, reading and the conversations unique to young females; it was a most compatible small society.

Miss Thompson quickly found that the company of Elizabeth and younger married women to be more congenial and spent much of her time accompanying Elizabeth while she performed the duties of a hostess. As she remarked to Elizabeth on one occasion, “My mother was not raised on an estate and is, herself, learning all that is required. I would be foolish indeed to not avail myself of the opportunity to plague you while you are about your duties.” Elizabeth responded to the latter with a grin matched by that of Miss Thompson.

Bingley was, due to business commitments, the last to arrive. He had not been there more than an evening before he was universally a favourite with everyone. His pleasing manners, amiability and knowledge of the northern counties made him welcome to the Gibsons despite his background in trade. The two eldest daughters of the Gibson sisters were much taken with the gentleman and his manner to them did not waver despite the dedicated albeit modest attentions of the younger of the two cousins. However, it was clear, very early during his visit, that his interest was focussed primarily on Miss Darcy and Miss Thompson and the other young ladies soon resolved to enjoy his company without expectations of more than those moderate attentions he directed to them all.

Monday August 23, 1813 – Pemberley

Darcy waited with some impatience in his study. He was not looking forward to the upcoming interview and would have preferred that it not take place at all. But it was his duty to protect his sister and this duty he could not shirk. It may have been that he had delayed too long in undertaking to discharge this responsibility but his impatience had a more personal basis. His wife had gone for a ride and he wished to be able to accompany her. He knew she was well attended by Georgiana and Miss Thompson but he would have much preferred to have been one of the party.

As he waited – still some minutes before Bingley would join him – he considered the problem and how he might best address it. He and Elizabeth had discussed it last night and had come to the conclusion that this meeting was possibly overdue. Hence his request this morning for Bingley to attend him at ten this morning. His uncle and aunt Matlock had met Bingley previously and had expressed reservations about his connection to trade. That they would be concerned - dismayed might be a more reasonable guess – was a foregone conclusion. Acknowledging those concerns, he had full confidence in Bingley’s gentlemanly qualities; he was quite prepared to reject any objections based on Bingley’s connection to trade.

A sharp rap on the door signalled Bingley’s arrival and he quickly entered and closed the door when invited to do so, settling himself comfortably in the chair in front of Darcy’s desk. If he was uncomfortable, it was not obvious from his demeanour although Darcy had to concede that Bingley had become less open over the past year and much more inclined to mask his thoughts and feelings. Today he simply sat and waited for Darcy to initiate the conversation and explain the purpose of the meeting.

After waiting for several moments, Darcy began, “Charles, I know you are probably wondering why I asked to meet with you this morning….”

Bingley interrupted before he could continue, “I believe I could make an excellent guess. In fact, Darcy, I have been anticipating it for several days.”

At Darcy’s raised eyebrows, Bingley smiled. “Darcy, I am not quite as naïve as I was a year ago. I realize my behaviour might have engendered some concerns.”

“And what behaviour, exactly, are we talking about?”

Bingley chuckled, “It seems to me that you should be the one telling me what behaviour of mine has raised such concern as to merit a demand, politely requested I admit, that we meet. But under the circumstances I have a disinclination to humour you on it.”

“I believe, Bingley, that when you have daughters of your own, you will appreciate my concerns more readily.”

Bingley paused for several seconds as though to marshal his thoughts and Darcy was content to let him do so. Finally Bingley rose to his feet and began to pace around the study before turning to face Darcy with an apologetic look, “I must ask your pardon. I sometimes find it easier to think and talk while walking.”

Darcy waved his hand to dismiss the apology and waited silently for Bingley to come to the point. Finally he did so.

“I believe that you are concerned that I may have engaged the interest of both Miss Darcy and Miss Thompson by my attentions. If I have, it was most unconsciously done. In fact, I ….”

Darcy interrupted, “I am more concerned that your attentions, for want of a better word, may have confused my sister and Miss Thompson.”

Bingley thought for a moment, considering what Darcy had said, “I had not thought of it from that perspective.” He nodded, “Perhaps that is the better way to look at the issue.” He paced for several moments before continuing, “When I arrived here, I determined that I would take the opportunity afforded me to become better acquainted with both young ladies. It seemed to me that being in their company for three weeks or more would allow me to get to know them better.”

He paced back and forth several times and, to Darcy’s amusement, he began to detect regularity to it. Three steps and turn, three steps and turn. It was almost like watching the pendulum of a clock – mesmerizing almost – but Bingley’s voice claimed his attention once more.

“I had gained some acquaintance with Miss Thompson after your wedding and, of course, I have been in your sister’s company with some frequency over the last few years although, for the most part, I thought of her only as your very young sister. It was not until we last met at Pemberley and then at York that I realized she was fast becoming a young lady. I…”

And here Bingley ran his hand through his hair, “I realized that Miss Darcy is too young to consider a courtship let alone marriage and was careful, I thought or hoped, in my attentions to her.” He looked at Darcy who nodded slowly.

“I saw nothing that gave me any particular concern, Charles.” Darcy did not feel it necessary to relate that Elizabeth had discussed the matter with Georgiana or that Bingley’s interest in Georgiana had been detected while he was last at Pemberley.

“Yes, well…I came here, as I said, determined to become better acquainted with both young ladies, to have them come to know me better as well and, if possible, to see if I could fix my attentions on one of them in the future. It was not - it was never – my intention to mislead either of them. I have attempted to be most circumspect in the amount of time and attention that I afforded either.” Again his discomfort was evidenced by the frequency with which his fingers tousled his hair. He grimaced, “Obviously I was not altogether successful.”

Darcy thought perhaps it was time to alleviate his friend’s distress, “Charles, please….sit down. I am not upset nor is Georgiana as far as I can determine. I cannot speak as to Miss Thompson’s thoughts or feelings. That is the province of her father. I asked to speak with you so as to find out what your intentions are in regards to Georgiana.” He paused for a second or two but Bingley gave no indication that he was to speak so he continued, “You will be departing for York on the morrow and I wish to have an answer to my question before you depart.” Darcy waited, not sure which answer that Bingley would give would please him the most. He could see that Bingley’s thoughts consumed him at the moment and he waited as patiently as possible.

Finally, Bingley’s eyes lost their abstracted look and focussed once more on Darcy, “I apologize. I had come to a decision before I entered the room. I have been contemplating how best to express it.”

Darcy waited, restraining himself from drumming his fingers on his desktop.

“I could - no I do - esteem both ladies quite highly; however, I would, with your consent, like to pay my attentions to Georgiana.” As he saw Darcy open his mouth to speak, he raised his hand to stop him. “Please, hear me out. I realize…I am well aware that your sister is not ‘out’ in society. I also realize that she is too young to even consider receiving my attentions; however, she is seventeen and will be out this fall I gather. That is your intention, is it not?”

Upon Darcy’s nod, he resumed, “While I would wish for my sake to ask for a courtship immediately, I realize that such would be most improper and would not afford her the opportunity to enjoy her season. My intentions are…rather I wish to tell you now that I will not ask for a courtship until the end of her first season – next June. The decision to advise her of my intention, I will leave to you.” He paused once more before stating clearly, “I will attempt to attend as many events where she is present as I can arrange. I cannot devote the whole season to this as my business will keep me in the north but I will be in London for the short season and again for possibly two months in the spring.” At this Bingley ceased to speak and looked to Darcy for his response. The latter was slow in coming, as Darcy considered his friend’s comments. Finally, noticing that Bingley was starting to become a little agitated, he grinned at him, “Charles, relax. I am not displeased. I think your intentions are quite honourable and well considered.”

Darcy’s smile disappeared as he continued, “I would caution you that, should someone else ask for a courtship and Georgiana is not opposed, it will be granted; moreover, Elizabeth and I will not inform Georgiana of your intentions and we will not interfere. We consider you quite an eligible suitor but the decision will belong to Georgiana. We will advise should she seek our advice but the final decision shall be hers.”

Bingley’s nod was thoughtful, “I cannot ask or expect more than this.”

“This brings me to my last question, Charles. Why?…why Georgiana?”

Bingley nodded slowly, “I am surprised you did not ask sooner.” His countenance took on a slightly abstracted look, “I do not know if I can fully explain or understand it myself but, while I have enjoyed my conversation with Miss Thompson, I have anticipated with greater pleasure those held with your sister and lately have had to restrain myself in seeking such conversations. My regard for her is growing with every encounter. She is…” and a slightly embarrassed look took possession of his features, “she is quite attractive and you know, as well as I, of her accomplishments. It is a rare pleasure to talk to young women of matters more substantial than those that are common amongst young ladies. I have little interest in gossip, the doings of polite society or such other trifles.”

His face grew even more thoughtful and abruptly asked, “I believe that your Aunt, Countess Matlock, will be hosting a ball for Georgiana this fall. Do you know when it is to be?”

“I believe around the middle of October. We plan to stay in London for about six weeks and return to Pemberley in November.”

“Will I be invited to the ball?”

“I was not sure of your plans but will certainly arrange for an invitation for you.”

Bingley stretched as he rose from his seat, “Thank you. Now I have a rather awkward task ahead. I must intimate to Miss Thompson that I have no intentions. She is a most charming young lady and, if I had not known your sister, I would be attempting to engage her interest.”

Darcy rose and ushered his friend from the room, “I am sure you will do it handsomely Charles.” He laughed at his grimace, “Better you than me. I always make a hash of such endeavours.”

Bingley looked at him and laughed, “No, you do not bother with words. Your scowl is famous throughout London.”

“Was famous, Charles, was famous…..but no longer, I trust. Marriage to Elizabeth has quite changed me, I believe.”

Bingley shook his head, still somewhat amazed at the transformation of his friend and began to turn away before pausing to look back at Darcy. “I should tell you some news. I had a letter from my sister yesterday – Louisa – and she informed me that Caroline has a suitor, a baronet from Sussex that she met recently while visiting the Hursts. Louisa thinks it quite serious and seems to believe Caroline has moderated her behaviour. I can only hope. The other piece of news is that Louisa is with child and expects to be confined next February. I will be an uncle at last.”

Darcy could only respond with congratulations and commented that expecting Caroline to change seemed rather hopeless. Laughing they separated, Bingley to seek his rooms to finish his business for the day and Darcy to the stables in the hope that he would encounter his wife.

~~~


After ascertaining from the butler, Mr. Reynolds, where Miss Thompson might be found and having been told she was walking in the front garden, Bingley set out in search of her. He had spent several hours and completed his business dealings for the day and had one last chore to attend before he departed for York in the morning. It was not a task he viewed with any pleasure but it must be done. He could not, in good conscience, leave the lady in doubt as to his intentions. He would not repeat the mistake that he had made in Hertfordshire.

Miss Thompson had, unbeknownst to Bingley, been considering that gentleman carefully for the last few days. She had been conscious of a slight change in his attitude during their recent conversations. It was not until yesterday that she realized what had changed. He no longer was as intently focussed on her when they talked. His questions were more superficial and his interest had lessened. He was, in fact, treating her more casually. She had been aware very early in the visit that he was also paying particular interest to Miss Darcy, although she conceded his attentions to either of them were quite circumspect. She quite liked Miss Darcy and felt no displeasure about his attentions to her and had not noticed, until last evening, that his affections might be engaged. That changed last night. Perhaps it was her own impartiality that made her more aware but it had become clear, to her at least, that he was having trouble not watching Miss Darcy. It was with a sort of wry amusement that she observed a similar problem on the part of Miss Darcy. That she could view their interaction with such equanimity was, she thought, the surest proof that her own affections had not been engaged. She might have been able to develop an affection for Mr. Bingley but she would not mourn his loss. If she were to meet the gentleman before they separated, each to their own home, she would attempt to relieve him of any apprehensions he might harbour.

Thus it was that, when Mr. Bingley encountered the lady while she walked in the garden, they were able to converse quite pleasantly for some quarter hour until finally Bingley realized he should take his leave, “Miss Thompson, I must leave early tomorrow morning for York. I was not sure that I would have the opportunity to express my appreciation for the pleasure that your company has provided these past weeks.”

“Mr. Bingley, I have enjoyed our talks also. I hope you have a safe journey home. I know I am looking forward to returning to Hertfordshire.” She hoped that the openness of her countenance and the absence of any sign of unhappiness at their separation would reassure the gentleman that her heart had not been engaged. Indeed, she found it quite easy to assume the mien that she presented.

After a few more civilities between them they parted, each satisfied that the other was not unhappy with the separation. Bingley had one more small but important task to perform before he departed in the morning. However, it could wait until after dinner.

So it was that when the gentlemen had rejoined the ladies in the music room after dinner, he sought an opportunity to talk to Georgiana and, finding her assisting Elizabeth with serving tea, he approached them both.

“Mrs. Darcy, I wish to express my appreciation for your invitation to Pemberley. I don’t know when I have had a more enjoyable time here. I will be retiring shortly so as to depart as early as possible for York in the morning and wished to take my leave of you now in the event I did not see you then.”

“Mr. Bingley, you are always welcome. In fact, you are the perfect guest. Amiable with everyone and willing to be pleased. I hope we see you in London this fall. William did suggest you planned to visit then.”

“Indeed I do plan to visit and look forward to it.” Turning to Georgiana, he bowed, “Miss Darcy, I take my leave of you also. I know you are looking forward to the season in London. I understand that your Aunt and Uncle Matlock will be hosting a ball in your honour. I hope to attend and would like to solicit a set with you now, if I may?”

Georgiana looked at Elizabeth who gave an almost imperceptible nod, “I would be most pleased to save you a set, Mr. Bingley. Do you have a preference? I believe I must reserve the first two sets but the others are available.”

“I would wish to have the supper set, if I may.”

“I will be sure to mark it so on my dance card, Mr. Bingley.” Georgiana was aware of the fact that it was the custom for those who dance the supper set, to dine together. It provided both with the opportunity to converse for almost two hours.

With that Mr. Bingley took his leave of the remainder of the company and retired to his rooms to complete his preparations to depart early in the morning.

Wednesday August 25, 1813 – Pemberley

Darcy and Elizabeth were enjoying a quiet hour of solitude in her sitting room when a maid appeared asking if his Aunt Holmes and her husband could speak with them in private. Assent was readily given and within ten minutes they were shown into the room. Elizabeth had ordered tea and biscuits and busied herself ensuring they all were served while her mind ran over the possible reasons for the visit and, not finding anything of note to worry her, she decided she would leave it to them to reveal their purpose. Finally, after several minutes of casual conversation, Darcy’s aunt set down her cup and smiled at Elizabeth, “Lest you be concerned, we have no problems to lay in your lap. Quite the reverse, in fact. Cedric and I wish to thank you on behalf of our whole family for your kindness in inviting us to Pemberley. I have spoken of Pemberley to my children for years but we were never in a position to visit and, as you know, we have been estranged for over forty years. Elizabeth, William we would be delighted to have you visit us – perhaps next summer or earlier if that is your desire.” She looked expectantly at Elizabeth and Darcy.

Darcy was not slow to answer, “I am sure that Elizabeth and I would be delighted to visit. We cannot set a date but I see no reason why we could not visit next spring or summer.” He paused before continuing, “Aunt, forgive me if I touch on a private matter that you may not wish to discuss but…”

His aunt laughed, “You wish to know what caused the estrangement. I thought you would ask before now but, since you did not, believed you knew the particulars.”

"No, my father did not speak of it and I did not know of your existence until I encountered your name in one of my father’s journals. I even had to appeal to Aunt Amelia for your location.”

His aunt looked quite dismayed and Elizabeth reached over to grasp her hand while her husband placed a hand on her shoulder. She mastered her feelings, “I did not realize your father was so angry. Perhaps I should have for he and his father were of like minds in certain respects.” She gathered her thoughts and, speaking slowly and very quietly, began to explain her history with the family. As she spoke and relived those past events, her voice thickened with emotion and her distress became more obvious. Without realizing that she had done so, Elizabeth had moved closer and taken one of her hands in her own. The tale was a simple one. Juliana Darcy fell in love with a man that her father and family deemed unsuitable.

Giving her husband a watery smile, she explained, “Cedric had no title, no connections and was a country gentleman with a small estate perhaps a fourth the size of Pemberley. My father had arranged a marriage with the son of an earl who would inherit the title. He was wealthy and well connected. I did not like him and would not agree to the marriage. I fought it for five months until I came of age. With the help of a close personal friend, I arranged to visit her and then eloped with Cedric to the protection of his family. We were married there a few weeks later. My father … disowned me and my sister and brother, your father, supported him. I did make one attempt to reconcile with your father after my father died but my letter went unanswered.” Tears were streaming down her face as she relived memories that were still fresh after more than forty years. Her husband held her close and dried her eyes with his handkerchief.

She looked at Darcy, “I have never regretted my decision – never! I have a wonderful husband and six fine children. I feel myself blessed. That I have been able to return to my childhood home now has been wonderful. And to see you both so happy. I….I do not have the words to express my happiness.” She gathered her composure before continuing, “Elizabeth, I have nothing but admiration for the manner in which you have been our hostess. I cannot imagine doing as much after being married for but a few months. I insist that you allow us to return your courtesy. You must visit us and let us show you the glories of Cornwall.”

“Aunt Juliana, you may be assured that we will visit and I hope, as soon as may be.”

Darcy’s thoughtful expression changed and he spoke decisively, “Aunt, Uncle you and your family are welcome to visit Pemberley whenever we are here. You would be most welcome and, indeed, may visit even if we are away. All Mrs. Reynolds will require is sufficient time to prepare rooms for you. I would also extend that invitation to include Darcy House in London. Unfortunately, I do not expect we could accommodate your whole family there at one time but should you or any of your children visit London, you must stay with us.”

Elizabeth was quick to second her husband’s invitation and Mr. Holmes’s pleasure at the graciousness of the offer was apparent. He was quick to express this appreciation and the two couples spent an agreeable quarter hour discussing some attractions in London that would make a visit most enjoyable. Plans were laid for his aunt and uncle to visit while the Darcys were in London and for them to attend Georgiana's coming out ball being hosted by the Matlocks. As Darcy was to note later, they would also have to ensure that an invitation was extended to his other aunt and uncle, which was speedily done; however, a prior commitment to attend the wedding of a close relation at that time would prevent their attending. Their regrets were heartfelt and accompanied by assurances that they would be pleased to call on the Darcys in the spring.


Chapter 46

Saturday August 28, 1813 – Pemberley


Elizabeth found herself the last to arrive for breakfast. For some reason she had found herself tired and chose to sleep later than her usual wont. She realized that William must have noticed her fatigue and chose not to disturb her rest. He was, she had been informed, out with the men fishing and would not be back until luncheon. There were several letters awaiting her perusal but the one she sought first was from her sister, Jane. She thought she knew what news it contained but, even so, there was always some fear with childbirth.

Gracechurch St., London
August 20, 1813

Dearest Lizzy,

Wonderful news! Our Aunt has had her baby, a healthy boy who is to be named Amos William Gardiner in honour of the husbands of their favourite nieces. Our Aunt is in excellent health and spirits and, according to her, this was her easiest delivery. Our uncle is beside himself with joy in that both child and mother are healthy.

It was, to be honest, an interesting experience for me. I am now about four months along and have felt the baby quicken several weeks ago. I think seeing how our aunt handled the confinement was good for me. I was too young to remember our mother’s confinements and, unfortunately, if her behaviour then was similar to that she displayed for our aunt’s then I am resolved that she will not attend me. My uncle had to remove her from the birthing room since she was creating such a disturbance. She was very affronted and removed herself to Longbourn the next day. I will have to discuss with my aunt where I shall hold my confinement. I would prefer to stay with my aunt but fear that my mother’s behaviour will be even more unseemly. I also am not sure that it would be fair to impose on my aunt when she is burdened with an infant and young children.

I know you will offer to have me at Pemberley and I believe that my husband’s mother would be delighted to have me with her. I believe I would be comfortable with her. I cannot decide at the moment and will seek guidance from our aunt. I am enjoying being with child now. I am well but missing my husband most dearly. I worry for his safety and pray for his return. Perhaps I should not say this but I find my bed cold and empty without him.

I have not heard from Amos as yet. He warned me that letters would be slow to arrive and depended on the departure of a navy vessel for England. I cannot send him a letter since I do not know where he is stationed until such time as I receive a letter from him. He sailed under sealed orders and did not know his destination in advance.

I am glad that Kitty and Mary are enjoying their visit with you. They both needed to be removed from Longbourn although Mary seems more comfortable there now that she is the only daughter home. I hope you take Kitty to enjoy a season in London. I gather from your last letter that her comportment is much improved. She is now of an age where she can seriously begin to consider a suitor. Thanks to the goodness of your husband she has some portion to offer a gentleman and under your guidance I am sure that her manners will continue to improve. It is unfortunate that she never learned to play the pianoforte but, from your letters I gather she has developed some level of accomplishment at sketching. She is a good creature and removed from Lydia’s influence has become much improved in company. I am glad that she is surrounded by young women of sense and sensibility.

You have not said much of yourself or your husband but your happiness radiates from every page of your letters. I know you have assumed a huge burden this summer with so many guests but my faith in your capabilities is second only to that of your husband I am sure. I remember standing in the Pemberley Gallery and Mr. Darcy talking about the great Mistresses of Pemberley. You may not have known it then but he was not looking at a picture when he spoke but at you. I only hope that you do not tire yourself too much. Remember you are still a newlywed. Make sure you save time to be with your husband. Tell him from me that he must try to do likewise and not let you overburden yourself.

Enough scolding!
Your most affectionate sister,

Jane Stovall


Elizabeth placed the letter on the table while she finished eating and then, after determining where her father and sisters were to be found, she finished her breakfast. Since her father was in the library, she would speak with him first. As she ate, she considered Jane’s situation. Why, she thought, could not Jane be confined at Pemberley? If her aunt and uncle were to visit for Christmas, her aunt could be there for the confinement. Her parents could also visit but she would have to have some assurances from her father that they would leave before the new year. She would broach the subject with him this morning. He and Mary would surely leave within a few days now that her mother was at Longbourn. Kitty might return also but, since the original plan was that she would return to London with the Darcys, as Elizabeth was sure Kitty would choose to remain at Pemberley with Georgiana.

~~~


The next day Elizabeth and Georgiana were sitting comfortably in her private sitting room along with Mrs. Reynolds; scraps of paper littered the top of the low table before them containing the notes they had prepared for the annual Harvest Festival to be held towards the end of September. This would be the first in several years that the family would attend and the first in over fifteen that a Mistress would host. While Elizabeth had met most of the tenant families, that day she would meet them all together and host the whole affair. She was determined that the event would be memorable. They had completed the initial preparations and now Georgiana and Mrs. Reynolds were regaling her about past festivals. However, she had plans to go riding with her husband and indicated as much to the others. They rose to leave as did Elizabeth, until she felt overcome with dizziness and dropped back into her chair. Mrs. Reynolds was quick to move to her side with an exclamation of concern. Georgiana was too surprised to react at all.

Mrs. Reynolds seemed unsurprised at the events and, after ascertaining that Elizabeth had recovered, urged her to return to her bedchamber, “Come Mrs. Darcy. We must get you into bed.” And with the assistance of Elizabeth’s maid, Julia, called by Georgiana, she was undressed and placed in her bed, protesting all the while that she was not ill. Once this was done, Mrs. Reynolds asked Georgiana to send a footman to find her brother and bring him to Mrs. Darcy’s room. Once Georgiana had departed, Mrs. Reynolds and Julia sat beside the bed and looked at each other rather than at Elizabeth. Julia nodded to Mrs. Reynolds who began to speak and question Elizabeth. The three women talked for nearly a quarter hour before they were interrupted by a demanding knock on the door and Darcy’s voice asking to enter. Mrs. Reynolds was quick to open the door admitting Darcy and ushering herself and Julia out of the room. While Darcy had eyes only for Elizabeth, he did not miss the happy smiles on the faces of both ladies which puzzled him greatly.

It was a matter of several quick strides and he had grasped the hand that Elizabeth held out to him, “Lizzy, are you well? Georgiana said you fainted.”

“Not fainted, dearest, just dizzy.”

“What is the problem? Are you ill? Shall I send for the doctor?”

Elizabeth considered her answer carefully, “Truly, a doctor is not necessary….not immediately, at least, but it would be helpful to see him in the next few days perhaps.” She placed her fingers over his lips, “Please, let me finish.” She paused, “Are you familiar with a woman’s courses?”

“Yes, I had to learn as Georgiana grew up.” She could see only puzzlement on his face.

“Well, perhaps, you have not noticed that I have not had any since July.”

Seeing no comprehension as yet on her husband’s face, Elizabeth chortled, “We may expect to be parents in early May next year.”

“Oh…..Oh!” In a second he was beside her on the bed and wrapped her in his arms.

Resting her head on his chest she smiled up at him, “I think I can assume you are pleased.” She felt rather than saw his agreement, “I was so busy with our guests and ensuring that everything went well that I did not notice their absence myself. I know I have been a little more tired than usual and both Julia and Mrs. Reynolds suspected something as a result but said nothing to me. I noticed that I was a little more tender…” and Elizabeth placed a hand on her bosom,”…than was usual but thought nothing of it.”

Her husband wiped his hand across his mouth and she could see the hope and joy that she felt mirrored in his eyes. “Elizabeth, it is certain?”

“As much as it can be at this stage. I have not felt the babe quicken but I am … I believe I am carrying our child.” She did not want to allow her emotions free rein as yet. She knew that women sometimes lost a babe early but could not let herself think on that possibility. She felt strong and healthy.

“What can I do to help you? You must get enough rest. Should we cancel our plans to visit London?”

“There is not much anyone can do as yet. Fortunately, I have not been sick although I find myself eating less than usual. Julia and Mrs. Reynolds will take care of me. The important thing is to take enough rest. I think I can trust to them and…” she looked pointedly at him with a small smile, “…you to ensure I do so.”

She paused while she considered his last comment, “I do not see that we need to avoid London. If I am rested, I can attend with Georgiana. I may have to limit my dancing… “She smirked at her husband, “a hardship which I am sure you will suffer gladly.”

“As long as I am allowed to dance with my wife, I have no objection to her not dancing with others.” He chuckled when she poked him in the ribs and then turned serious, “I am known as an unsociable man and we can use that to limit the number of engagements we attend. We will not attend parties and events simply to allow others to scrutinize you or because society demands it of us. I do not want you to tire yourself and I know you well enough by now to know that you will feel an obligation to do as much as you can for Georgiana. I will insist that you come first and I know that Georgiana will agree with me. Your health and that of our child must come first.”

Without a conscious thought his large hand had encompassed her stomach and she placed both of hers atop his, linking their fingers. Seeing the pensive look on her face he asked, “What frets you, my love?”

She looked up at the man she loved so dearly. Could she burden him with her uncertainties when she knew he was harbouring his own? After several moments she confessed, “I want this child so very much now that I realize he is here and yet I worry that I will be a good mother. Am I ready? There are so many questions that my mind is all confusion.”

Darcy smiled and squeezed her gently, “Much as I had no doubt that you would be an excellent Mistress of Pemberley, I have none that you will be a most excellent mother.”

“Well, as long as one of us is confident in my abilities, I shall have to be satisfied.”

“You realize, my love, that you have referred to the babe as ‘he’. Are you that convinced?”

Elizabeth laughed, “Not at all.” She paused and grew thoughtful, “I expect you would prefer a son.”

Darcy heard the question in her voice, “I prefer only a healthy wife and babe. Son or daughter will be greeted with equal love and joy.” She heard the determination in his voice, “This child and you are my main concern.”

Elizabeth knew that his instinct to protect her would emerge stronger with a desire to extend that protection to their child. She suspected that she would have some battles in the future as he attempted to constrain her activities; however, for now she was content to allow him free rein to do so.

Some time later, assured that Elizabeth was feeling well, they ventured downstairs to join Georgiana, Mary and Kitty for tea. Mr. Bennet had been requested to join them and did so shortly thereafter. Swearing them all to secrecy, they announced their joyous news. Kitty and Mary were pleased but Georgiana was overjoyed at the news. Mr. Bennet was silent while the young ladies exclaimed their happiness and did not venture a comment until he felt Elizabeth’s quizzical gaze. Getting to his feet he went to stand before her and, taking her hands in his, he pulled her upright hugged her fiercely, “Oh, my little Lizzy. I am struggling to accept the fact that you will be a mother…a most excellent one to be sure. I…” and, releasing her hands so that she could sit once more, he waved his hand and grimaced, “your mother will be overjoyed.”

Elizabeth quirked her lips, “We must talk about that Papa, but not now.” We must discuss how to ensure my mother does not intrude.

The subject of conversation did not depart appreciably from matters pertaining to the babe. Darcy noticed however that Elizabeth had become distracted and a little pensive.

“Elizabeth, what troubles you?” Both Kitty and Georgiana ceased their talking to look between Darcy and Elizabeth with questioning gazes.

“I am not troubled so much as uncertain…”

Darcy quietly asked, “Uncertain? About what?”

Elizabeth shook her head, “I would wish the child to be born here – at Pemberley. This is now my home. This will be his or her home. Our children should be born here. Of that I am certain. It is just that…”

Darcy waited patiently for several moments before prompting, “Just that…?”

Elizabeth smiled weakly at him, “I was hoping that Jane and my aunt would attend me and that seems unlikely since Jane will have a babe only a few months old and Aunt will not wish to travel so far with an infant when the weather is so uncertain.”

“I agree that Jane is not likely to wish to travel. I would not want you to do so if you were she. But your aunt…I do not agree. I think we can inquire as to her thoughts. I can….I will surely provide a most comfortable carriage and attendants for her trip.”

Elizabeth nodded slowly and then decisively, “We will leave this for now and discuss it with my aunt and Jane when we are in London. There is time to consider what is best.” Looking at Georgiana, she thought her be rather pensive and inquired as to the cause. Georgiana did not deny her observation but was reluctant to reveal the source of her concern until finally she blurted, “You will not be able to engage in the season in the spring, will you Elizabeth?”

“I had not thought that far ahead to be honest.” Elizabeth paused to think about the matter, “I would not want to travel with so young an infant and I will not be parted from the child.” She looked at Georgiana with some distress, “I am sorry. I had not thought of this.”

Darcy interjected, “If we are at Pemberley, we shall stay there until it is safe for both Elizabeth and the babe to travel.” In a somewhat hesitant voice, he suggested, “Perhaps our Aunt could assume the role. She has done it with Frances, after all. I had wished to be present for your first season, Georgie but I must be with Elizabeth.”

Georgiana nodded decisively, “Of course you must. I have decided that I will not attend the spring season unless Elizabeth is with me. I will stay here at Pemberley with you both.” She looked at Elizabeth and her brother and smiled tightly, “and I will not be dissuaded on this!”

And so it proved to be. After over a half hour of arguing and discussing, Georgiana remained firm in her decision. Kitty, who had remained silent throughout the conversation, expressed her support for Georgiana and her willingness to forego the spring season as well. Elizabeth suppressed her surprise at this decision, since she had expected her sister to have been looking forward to the season with great eagerness. That she was willing to forego the pleasure under the circumstances spoke well, she thought, for her increasing maturity. An idea which had been floating nebulously in her mind crystallized and she gave it voice, “Well, if we are not to attend the season next year, we must hold a ball here at Pemberley while I am still able to organize it. I think a ball on the first day of the new year would be appropriate, do you not agree, William?”

Her arch look at Darcy discomfited him. She knew that hosting such an event would severely tax his tolerance for society; but she also knew that he would agree for Georgiana’s sake. He nodded his approval glumly which drew quiet laughs from the three ladies and a hug from Georgiana, “Thank you, Brother!”

The rest of the evening passed in quiet conversation until Elizabeth admitted that she was feeling rather fatigued. In a matter of minutes they had removed to their chambers and readied themselves for bed. Passing instructions that they were not to be disturbed, they settled on the settee in their sitting room and shared a glass of wine and their thoughts on the weeks to come.

Later, as they lay in his bed, Elizabeth rested her head on his chest as Darcy began to express his happiness about the child she carried. If he had any concerns about her health, he did not voice them and, since his words of endearment were accompanied by gentle caresses, it was not long before love-making consumed their whole attention. The quiet conversation that followed spoke of their hopes, dreams and fears for the child and their abilities as parents.

Mr. Bennet and Mary departed for Longbourn several days later – without Kitty who much preferred to remain with Elizabeth and Georgiana - but not before Elizabeth and her father had a protracted discussion concerning the desirability of Mrs. Bennet’s absence at the birth of a grandchild. As Elizabeth noted, her mother’s behaviour at Mrs. Gardiner’s delivery was so disturbing as to require her removal from the birthing room. That she would be more restrained at the birth of a grandchild was too remote a possibility for any sensible person to consider. Mr. Bennet reluctantly agreed that she would not be allowed to attend and to accept the disturbances that would ensue in his household. Elizabeth suggested that it was equally important to prevent their mother from intruding on Jane, and Mr. Bennet agreed that a similar restriction would apply. Noting that his brother had not hesitated to remove Mrs. Bennet from the birthing room, he suspected that Jane would have a capable champion as long as she wished for that support.

Chapter 47

Friday October 1, 1813 – Matlock Manor, Derbyshire


As the carriage rolled to the front steps of Matlock Manor, Darcy felt a surge of excitement to see a very familiar face amongst those awaiting their arrival, “Richard! He’s home!”

Elizabeth and Georgiana jostled to view out the nearest window and their excitement was palpable. The carriage had hardly come to a stop before Darcy had exited, not even waiting for the footstep to be lowered. He did repress his urge to immediately envelop his cousin in a hug and assisted the three ladies accompanying him to descend.

The earl, countess and Richard had, by the time Darcy handed down Kitty from the carriage, begun the greetings. The earl, with a small smile on his face, waved Richard forward. “I would not dare stand between my youngest son and his favourite cousins.” Richard grinned, stepped towards Elizabeth and bowed over her hand, “Miss B…Mrs. Darcy, you cannot know how much pleasure it gives me to see you married to my scowling cousin. You have my utmost respect for taking on this challenge.”

“Careful Richard, I am still better than you with the foil!”

“Ha! If you challenge me, I will select a horse race. You won’t have a chance.” He clasped hands with Darcy and was enveloped in a quick fierce hug, “I am glad to see you home and in one piece, cousin.”

Richard winked at Elizabeth, “Oh and Mrs. Darcy, you must call me Richard and I shall call you Elizabeth.” He then moved quickly to hug Georgiana and then sought an introduction to Kitty, “Miss Catherine, I am most pleased to make your acquaintance. I see that the reports of the beauty of the women in Bennet family are well founded.”

The countess looked at Elizabeth closely and then moved to her side and arm-in-arm they entered the manor house. As they walked the countess spoke softly and intimately, “Do you maybe have some news for us all?”

Elizabeth laughed softly, “You are as perspicacious as my mother. She can spot a woman who is only in her first month. We plan to announce it tonight.”

“Fitzwilliam must be delighted…and very over-protective I imagine.”

“He is trying to be reasonable and we have not had any serious disagreements ….yet.” Elizabeth laughed again, “We are both very pleased.”

“Have you felt the quickening?”

Elizabeth smiled happily, “Not yet. The doctor assures me the child will arrive early in May...” She chuckled, “…which Mrs. Reynolds had told me a day earlier. She thinks I should feel the quickening quite soon now.”

Laughing and talking softly together as they proceeded indoors, the countess was only recalled to her hostess duties by a quiet cough by the earl. Not releasing Elizabeth’s arm, she turned to her guests, “Miss Bennet, your rooms adjoin Georgiana’s and she is in her usual rooms. She will show you there. Darcy, now that you are married I have moved you and Elizabeth into the Blue suite.” Turning, she began to lead Elizabeth to her room and Elizabeth, looking over her shoulder simply smiled at her husband. The three men simply stood and watched the four women walk up the stairs. The earl turned to Darcy with a rather odd look in his eye, “It seems I have acquired another daughter rather than a niece.” He shook his head, “Fitzwilliam, why don’t you wash the dirt off and join me and Richard in my study for a brandy.”

“With pleasure, Uncle.” As Darcy moved to walk upstairs, Richard accompanied him for a few paces – far enough that his father could not hear, “We will have to talk at some point about how your marriage came about. Not now, but later. Perhaps we can ride tomorrow?”

Darcy smiled, nodded and whispered, “Very well, but do not distress yourself. All is well.” As he prepared to rejoin his uncle and cousin, his thoughts veered pleasantly to the change that had taken place in the opinions of his Uncle and Aunt Matlock in a little less than six months. The young woman that his uncle had freely disparaged – although Darcy had not revealed that to Elizabeth – was now considered a welcome and valued member of the Matlock family. That Elizabeth had been able to win his uncle’s approbation did not surprise Darcy, but that she had done so in such a short period of time astounded him.

~~~


The cousins did indeed go for an early morning ride the following day. Richard listened quietly, if not altogether approvingly, as Darcy explained how he had located Lydia Bennet, arranged for her to travel with her prospective husband to the Canadas and the letters which had been provided to establish the legitimacy of her marriages. “I admit, Richard, that I was banking that no one would be inclined to question a marriage when the parties were an ocean distant. The fact that she is rightfully married now gives it even more legitimacy.”

“Are you sure of that marriage?”

“Simpson would only receive his funds when he provided proof of the marriage. In this case, my agent was on the scene. It is valid.”

“The only loose end, Darcy, is Wickham. I could wish he was truly dead but perhaps it matters less now since the chit is safely married.”

“I have to believe that the threat of a death sentence or debtor’s prison should he return will silence him. Also, as time passes, any revelation he makes becomes less significant.”

They rode in silence for some time, before Darcy, pointedly not looking at his cousin, asked, “How serious was your injury? You made light of it last night, but I suspect you have hidden the worst.”

Richard grimaced, “I thought I had but mother quizzed me quite thoroughly and learned the whole of it.” They rode in silence for some seconds before he continued, “It was a near thing. If one of my men had not killed the bugger, I would not be here now.”

“Aunt Eleanor seems to think you will not return to action. Is this the truth?”

“Yes, I will never regain my strength in that arm. Even now it aches from our exertions which are mild compared to those required of a cavalry officer.”

“Will you retire? Can you afford to retire?”

“Two separate questions, cousin. To the second, the answer is yes albeit with a limited income and consigned to a life as a bachelor. To the first question, I do not know. I could serve as a staff officer if I can find such a position. That is what I would prefer…unless I can find a young lady with a substantial dowry and a fondness for worn-out soldiers. I admit my envy for your felicity in marriage and would like to be as fortunate; however, I suspect that might be difficult to achieve.”

“You are on leave for how long?”

“Until the new year, it seems.”

“You will attend, of course, your family’s ball at which Georgiana will come out. Will you participate further? If you are looking for a wife, it would seem advisable. Elizabeth and I plan to attend several balls and host two or three dinners before returning to Pemberley. We would very much wish for your presence.”

“Georgiana has promised me a dance at her ball. I will concede the honour of her first set to my father but will ask for the second set. Beyond that I am not prepared to say.”

Darcy decided there was nothing to be gained for pressing the issue at this time. He would have to talk to his uncle and aunt to see what arrangements could be made for his cousin’s future. He had acquired a small estate that might serve and was more than willing to assist. Perhaps he and his uncle could talk with Richard before they left for London. “Actually Richard, I have some thoughts which might interest you and perhaps your father and I could talk with you tonight about them.” He would say no more despite being pressed by his cousin and the latter was forced to be content with agreeing to discuss the matter later that day. The two cousins rode in companionable silence for the remainder of their time, returning tired, dirty and content.

~~~


Their stay at Matlock was not of long duration. Georgiana’s coming out ball was in three weeks and there was some urgency to return to London. Gowns were to be made, and plans for the ball itself to be completed. Lady Eleanor had sent the invitations already but there were numerous tasks to be completed in the coming weeks. Darcy’s thoughts were, for the most part, directed towards Elizabeth rather than the ball. During their stay, his aunt had tried to change Elizabeth’s mind about having the baby at Pemberley but Elizabeth was adamant. She conceded that doctors were better in London but she herself would be happier and feel more secure at Pemberley. Finally conceding the point, the countess turned her attention to Georgiana’s season in the spring. When apprised of her decision to remain at Pemberley with Elizabeth, her disapproval was expressed very strongly. It took repeated statements from Georgiana that she would not be happy to participate without her sister at her side, to finally convince Lady Eleanor who, at last, sat back and stated, “I do not recognize this Georgiana. The young girl I knew would not have been able to carry her point like this.” She looked at Elizabeth with a rueful smile, “I blame this on you, you know; however, I cannot be too unhappy. She has improved marvellously in the past months.”

Elizabeth accepted the praise calmly with a slight nod, “I think having my sister Kitty as company has helped them both as well.” She turned to Lady Eleanor, “We have decided to host a ball at Pemberley – on the first day of the new year. I have never organized such. The Harvest Festival we held last month was, I suspect, a small effort compared to that required to host a ball. I would much appreciate your guidance; if you would permit me to assist you in preparing for your ball, I am sure that the lessons will help me greatly.”

Lady Eleanor was more than agreeable to the suggestion and the following hour was spent outlining the various tasks that were necessary. The subject was addressed the next day as well when Elizabeth sat down with Lady Eleanor and the Matlock housekeeper. Elizabeth’s countenance was slightly rueful when she was finally convinced to rest that afternoon by her husband, “I suspect that I will be thankful for Mrs. Reynolds and hope that she isn’t too distressed by the work I expect to lay on her.”

“Nonsense, Elizabeth. She will love the chance to show Pemberley in all its glory. I assure you of this.”

“I trust you are right, my love. I trust you are right.” Darcy lay beside his wife as she drifted off to sleep. Once assured that she would not wake, he carefully rose and went to sit by the fireplace to read until it was time to wake her once more; however, his thoughts were shortly drawn back to the discussion that had been held with his uncle and Richard the previous evening. He had been quite surprised and pleased that his uncle was in a position to support his proposition financially. That Richard would feel honour bound to reject any large gift he knew in advance; however, even his stubborn, independent cousin could not reject what essentially would be a wedding gift from his relations. That his cousin would be settled in close proximity to Pemberley added no small amount of gratification.
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The Road Back - Chapters 45-47

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In defense of Bingley

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 45-47

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