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The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

February 05, 2015 11:57PM
Chapter 48

Friday October 15, 1813 – Darcy House, London


Darcy had convinced Elizabeth to cancel their engagement for the evening in order to rest. Both were feeling the stress of the social season albeit for somewhat different reasons. In this instance, each was in sympathy with the other in a desire for a quiet evening in the other’s company. Elizabeth had finished reading the latest letter from Mary detailing recent events at Longbourn and pensive air drew her husband’s interest, “What are thinking of, my love?”

Elizabeth appeared to him to be reluctant to respond, “Come my dear, tell me what troubles you.”
She finally grimaced before responding, “I doubt you will hear it with any pleasure. I wish…would it be too much to ask my family to visit us over Christmas? My mother has never seen Pemberley and feels the slight a great deal it appears. We could invite the Gardiners and Jane as well perhaps.”

Darcy attempted, probably not altogether successfully he suspected, to school his features to hide his reluctance to be in Mrs. Bennet’s company; however, he realized that this was not an unreasonable suggestion. “You may invite whomever you wish, my love and, while I admit that your mother will test my patience, she will be welcome.”

“Thank you, William. We both know she will act improperly but I will endeavour to prevent the worst. I hope to convince Jane to have her confinement here and to have Aunt Madeline attend her.” She gave her husband a teasing look, “You, sir, are the fortunate one. I have reason to believe that you and my father will spend no little time enjoying the quiet and solitude of the library during the visit.”

She shook her head at Darcy’s smirk but any amusement fled with his following words, “What about the New Year’s Day ball, Elizabeth?”

“Oh my! I had not thought of that.” Darcy could see Elizabeth thinking for several moments before abruptly coming to a decision. Her voice was firm when she finally spoke, “She cannot attend. I…we cannot afford the embarrassment should she behave in a manner remotely like that which she displayed at the Netherfield Ball. I will not tolerate it!”

“Shall she stay in her rooms or depart for Longbourn before the ball?”

“I will leave that decision to my father but I hope he takes her home before the ball and will ask it of him. She will, I know, be most unhappy and will make her displeasure known.”

“I suggest you write your father as soon as may be and talk to your sister and aunt as well. If your sister is to travel to Pemberley we may want to leave London a little earlier than planned.”

“I shall write Papa immediately but perhaps when I am done, you could give me another billiard lesson?”

“That, my dear, would be delightful. Please make that a short letter so that I might sufficient time to devote to your instruction.”

Within a very short time indeed, a servant passing the billiard room could hear the clack of billiard balls being struck and the Mistress’s laughter.


Friday October 22, 1813 – Matlock House, London

“Miss Georgiana Darcy!”

As her name was announced, Georgiana began the descent of the stairs leading to the ballroom. She was the third, and last, of the young ladies to be presented to society tonight. As she slowly and gracefully made her way down the stairs, her thoughts were a jumbled mix. I know my gown is beautiful and William gave me my mother’s diamond necklace which she wore on her introduction. I can see Elizabeth on William’s arm. She glows, she looks so happy. I hope I can find someone who will make me as happy. William looks unhappy. Elizabeth says he is not looking forward to losing me. Silly man. I will always be his sister. I just hope his countenance does not discourage all of the gentlemen who wish to dance with me.

She looked past Her brother and his wife to see her cousin step forward to offer his hand. I am so glad that my uncle ceded the first dance to Richard. As she reached the last step she placed her hand in her cousin’s and let him lead her to the head of the dance pairs. Darcy and Elizabeth took the fourth position after the other two couples being introduced. As the dance proceeded, she was warmed by Richard’s care and teasing comments which distracted her sufficiently that she became less conscious of the many eyes upon her. The grin she received from Elizabeth when their paths crossed caused her to giggle and relax further. By the end of the set, she was quite looking forward to the following dances.

Richard led her, after the set concluded, to join Elizabeth and her brother. She was to be partnered by the earl for the next set and was already being approached by a few gentlemen seeking to be included on her dance card. While she spoke with these gentlemen under the watchful eye of her brother and Elizabeth, she noticed Richard in close conversation with Miss Thompson who had been invited by Elizabeth to this ball. A surprised as she was by the invitation, it had been made clear, albeit obliquely, by Miss Thompson that she had no particular interest in Mr. Bingley. As she snuck the occasional glance at Richard, it seemed to her that he was not disinterested. To her surprise, she heard him ask for the third dance but before she could hear Miss Thompson’s response, the earl arrived to lead her once more unto the dance floor. Richard was partnering Elizabeth and Darcy had led Miss Thompson onto the floor.

The remainder of the ball had proceeded with unexpected, by her at least, quietude. She had danced with her Fitzwilliam cousins and a number of gentlemen who had been carefully screened by her aunt for suitability. She rather expected one or two of them to call the next day. The most memorable time had been with Mr. Bingley. Their dance itself was unexceptional; he was an excellent dancer and their steps and movements together could not have been smoother or more enjoyable. That he did not attempt to distract her with trivial conversation only added to her pleasure. When they did converse, it was on a topic that was of interest to both but for the most part, they danced in a companionable silence.

Since he had engaged her for the supper dance, he was able to partner her while they ate. In this regard, he was particular in seating her amongst her relations with whom she could converse comfortably. He himself did not try to monopolize her conversation but did succeed in engaging her interest on the theatre where they discussed a recent performance she had seen and on travel where they spoke of Yorkshire and some of the more interesting locations he had visited. While her attention had been largely focussed on Mr. Bingley, she had noticed that her cousin, Richard, had escorted Miss Thompson to the supper table which suggested to her that he had also just danced with her. Such a degree of interest on his part was unusual and she contrived to observe them occasionally as she ate. Richard was, as always, quite amiable and conversing with all those around him but it did seem that he was devoting an extraordinary amount of attention to Miss Thompson. That they had met once or twice at dinner parties, she was vaguely aware of but had not attributed much significance to the fact. Obviously that was a mistake on her part. She did not know Miss Thompson well; their interaction at Pemberley had been somewhat constrained but she had found her to be intelligent and kind with a rather disillusioned view of London society. Perhaps she was not a poor choice as a wife for Richard.

She was truly thankful for Elizabeth's guidance when her turn to exhibit arrived. She had chosen two pieces that were enjoyable listening, required a decent degree of competence to perform and, most importantly, that gave her pleasure to play. Lost in the music, she had been scarcely conscious of the audience and the applause that greeted her when she was done both surprised and pleased her. As she returned to Elizabeth’s side, it was impossible not to observe her sister’s joy. With her hand resting on her stomach, Elizabeth murmured to her, “I just felt the babe’s quickening!” and looking up at her tall husband, she rolled her eyes and whispered, “And I fear his protectiveness will only increase. I dare say that if it were not your coming out, he would whisk me home right now.”

Georgiana looked over at her brother. She could not see that he was any more attentive than usual. His discomfort with such public occasions led him to remain by Elizabeth’s side as much as possible although she admitted that he had improved greatly in terms of sociability in the last year. Nevertheless she harboured no doubt that he would remove Elizabeth if she displayed the least sign of discomfort or fatigue and suspected, as well, that Elizabeth would hide any such signs as long as possible. Given her brother’s sensitivity to his wife, she rather thought Elizabeth would have limited success. She found herself quite happy with this thought. Turning back to Elizabeth, she ventured to say, “You must not stay should you feel tired. My uncle and aunt will surely look after me.”

Elizabeth nodded, “I do not plan to dance anymore and, should I feel tired, I believe I can retire to a room to rest. And …” she looked past Georgiana, “I believe your next dance partner approaches.”

Georgiana turned and smiled slightly at the young man who had come to claim her for the set. Lord Albert Knowles was the second son of the Duke of ______ and had been gifted a comfortable estate by his father. She had not met him previously but knew that her Uncle Matlock was supportive of a connection with that family. Their dance together was unexceptional and such conversation as was to be had was unmemorable and, at the end of the dance, Georgiana was surprised at his request to call on her the next day.

Georgiana was fully engaged for the remainder of the ball although her attention frequently drifted back towards her brother and his wife. Elizabeth had, as she stated, danced no more but, her arm firmly resting on that of her husband, she had moved casually around the room stopping to speak with acquaintances and leaving behind her smiling faces. She was to learn later that her brother had eventually insisted that Elizabeth remove herself to a room to rest until the ball was complete.

~~~

Richard had arrived at the dance with the object of determining whether he wished to try and engage Miss Thompson’s affections. He remembered their first meeting; she had been invited, along with her parents and her brother and his wife to a dinner party hosted by the Darcys. It had been a rather large and mixed affair with a mixture of Bennet, Fitzwilliam and Darcy relatives along with a number of particular friends of the Darcys. He rather doubted that Darcy House had seen anything similar for over ten years. He had been introduced to Miss Thompson when she arrived but the press of people had prevented any opportunity for conversation. Fortunately, although he was later to suspect that chance had little role in the matter, he was seated by Miss Thompson during dinner and their conversation, full of the commonplace topics at the beginning, had quickly taken a very different tack as the meal progressed.

"Mrs. Darcy tells me, Colonel, that you are only lately returned from Wellington’s army. I understand you were injured at the battle of Vitoro – have I pronounced that correctly?”

“You certainly pronounced it as I do anyway, I am not in a position to judge its correctness. Indeed I have been back almost a month now.”

"Will you be required to return?”

Richard was not sure how much to divulge in this matter. My parents have convinced me to resign my commission. I will be simply Mr. Fitzwilliam in a month or so.

“Your parents must be very relieved at such news. I am sure that mine would be if one of my brothers was similarly situated.”

Richard smiled, “I have good reason to know they are mightily happy; although there remains the question of my future employment. As a second son, I must make my own way in the world. Fortunately, I believe my prospects are reasonably bright. But enough of such dismal topics, your family is now established in Hertfordshire I believe. How do you find it there?”

Miss Thompson was willing to let him divert the conversation to other topics and responded by praising the area and noting that she had been invited by the Darcys to visit almost a month at Pemberley during the summer. They spent much of the remainder of the dinner conversing on the beauties of Derbyshire and Pemberley and their conversation was joined by Richard’s sister, Lady Frances. Both Miss Thompson and Richard regretted the separation of ladies and gentlemen that occurred when the meal was complete.

Richard casually surveyed the room when the gentlemen returned. Miss Thompson was an attractive young woman and her countenance was enlivened by her intelligence and a distinct sense of humour. He found her comments on the other guests that had been visiting Pemberley had displayed a sense of the ridiculous without descending into that malice which seemed to permeate much of London society. He finally saw her sitting amongst a group of young women and foresaw little opportunity to further engage her in conversation. Casting another glance in her direction, he perceived that she had discerned his attention and awarded him a slight smile before returning her attention to those surrounding her. Opportunities to converse with her further had not been available until shortly before she was to depart with her family. He had just returned his coffee cup to the table when he felt her presence beside him. He recognized her delicate perfume before turning to face he and knew he wished to further their acquaintance. To this end, he began, “Miss Thompson, it has indeed been a pleasure to have met you tonight. Are you finding the season to be interesting so far?”

“I admit Colonel that I find little enjoyment in most of the Season’s activities. Dinners like this one tonight have proven to be a very welcome respite.”

“Forgive me if I am being impertinent but your days or rather evenings must be full of events. I remember my sister complaining because she was never home for an evening to rest.”

She laughed, “That is all too true if one allows it to happen. I have convinced my mother to be more circumspect with our endeavours. We shall attend the theatre two nights hence and have been invited to a ball by the Samuelsons. Do you know them?”

“Paul Samuelson?”

“Indeed.”

“I have only heard of him. I believe my Cousin Darcy knows him rather well.” I wonder if Darcy has received an invitation?

Before she could respond further, she was reminded by her mother that they were to depart and she took her leave of him.

His appeal the next day to Darcy had convinced the latter to solicit - successfully - the Samuelsons to substitute Richard for the Darcy presence at the ball. He had attended and had requested, again successfully, two dances – the first and, subsequently, last - with Miss Thompson. His enjoyment seemed to have been matched by hers and during the dance, they had somehow contrived to be in each other's company on the one occasion when she had not danced. As their final dance was concluded, he had taken the critical step, “Miss Thompson, may I call on you tomorrow?”

She had appeared a little surprised at the request but there appeared no uncertainty in her mien when she responded, “I should like that very much, Colonel.”

“I will call at two o’clock, if that I agreeable?”

“I look forward to seeing you, Colonel.”

As they left the dance floor, she handed him her card with her address which he took and then bowed over her hand before taking his leave of her.

He had called upon her at home three times since the Samuelson ball and been invited to dine with them once. Such occasions had permitted them to discuss a variety of topics although the presence f others had limited them to such topics as would be appropriate for a drawing room. He had come away impressed by her sense, sensibility, good humour and kindness. That she had a carefully hidden wit was obvious from the mirth that flickered across her features when some absurdity occurred. Nevertheless, he knew that more precipitate action was required if he were to forward their acquaintance.

Her presence tonight at the Matlock ball had been at his request and he knew his parents were almost quiveringly sensitive to his interest in Miss Thompson. He had been present when Elizabeth had introduced her to his parents and, if Miss Thompson was not aware of the focussed interest of his mother, he most certainly was. He had previously asked her for the supper dance and tonight, he planned to ask for a second dance. If he could arrange the opportunity he planned to ask her if he could court her.

Later, after they both had finished eating he assisted her from the table and they began to stroll around the room. Realizing that he might not be afforded a more opportune moment that evening, he directed their steps toward an open door opening onto a balcony, to which he gestured. “Miss Thompson, would you allow me an opportunity to speak to you in private?”

Receiving her surprised assent, they stepped onto the balcony which was unoccupied He ensured that the door remained open and that they were visible from within the ball room. He thought he saw his mother watching him but the room was too crowded for him to be certain of that. He found himself uncharacteristically nervous. He knew what he wished to say but his throat seemed tight and her questioning gaze at him did nothing to expel his sudden fit of nerves. “Miss Thompson, I wished…” he grabbed hold of himself and willed a posture of calmness that was more feigned than otherwise. He tried again, “Miss Thompson, I find myself bereft of the poise that I normally possess. I asked you here for a purpose.” At last I am starting to make sense. “I have been much in your company for the last several weeks and have developed a sincere appreciation, esteem for you. I wish to ask whether you would be agreeable to my courting you?”

That she was surprised by his request was obvious and it was several moments before she responded, “Colonel Fitzwilliam, you find me quite discomposed. I…I would welcome such a courtship, sir. Very much, in fact!” She raised her eyes to search his face, “I would very much wish to know you better.”

“I will call on your father tomorrow morning at two then for his consent. Perhaps I might, if the weather is favourable, arrange for us to walk in Hyde Park.”

“I would look forward to that.” She then became conscious that the musicians were preparing to begin to play, “Unfortunately sir, I must return to the ball. I am to dance the next.”

Raising her hands he brushed them with his lips and then returned with her to the ballroom. They had but a few moments before she was claimed by her next partner for the dance. As it turned out, Richard was unable to obtain her attention again until she and her family departed. He assisted her into her coach under the questioning looks of her parents and could easily surmise that she was to be quizzed on the drive drove home and her own rueful smile, as she accepted his help, left little doubt that she understood what was to follow. He watched her carriage drive away before returning indoors only to meet the inquisitive stare of his mother. He gave her a little shake of his head to indicate he did not wish to discuss the matter as yet. He knew he had bought some time but that his mother, and his father, would not be gainsaid for long.


Chapter 49

Saturday October 23, 1813 – London


Richard Fitzwilliam had little difficulty in ascribing the word "eventful’ to his day so far. As he walked in Hyde Park with Miss Thompson on his arm, he could not control the large smile that spread over his face. She had, so far, been content to let him talk about superficialities until they arrived at the park. Her quiet he knew to be somewhat uncharacteristic. That she had many questions to ask was a certainty but only a few of the more important ones should be addressed now.

“Miss Thompson, obviously you realize your father has consented to the courtship. I suspect you have many questions to ask of me, do you not?”

“I do indeed, Colonel.”

“Perhaps we can start by called me Mr. Fitzwilliam. My resignation is in process and officially I will be a civilian again in less than a fortnight.”

She gave him a slight grin, “That will be no hardship on my part, Mr. Fitzwilliam. And how shall you like being a gentleman?”

He met her teasing look with a grin of his own, “I shall like it very much, I think. You are, I believe, the first to name me so. I thank you. Now, as to your questions?”

She waited for several moments before responding, “I know my father gave his consent but your visit with him lasted over a half hour. My father knew you would ask for his consent since I had talked to him earlier. Whatever could you talk about for so long?”

“He wished to ensure that I could support a wife properly and comfortable. I assured him I could and provided the information to assuage his concerns.”

“As I am an interested party, could you share that with me?”

“Of course, I had planned to do so when the opportunity arose.” His face took on a look that she was coming to learn indicated he was deliberating on how best to answer and that he would answer when he was ready. She schooled herself to patience.”

When he finally spoke, she later realized she should be amazed that he would confide in her to the degree he had. For now, she listened.

“When I arrived home I went to stay with my parents. The Darcy’s stopped for a short visit of a few days before continuing on to London. As first I thought my cousin had anticipated my situation but now I believe it was simply his foresight. He saw an opportunity and seized it.” He glanced at her and saw her confusion.

“I am not making a lot of sense am I.” He shook his head, “please, be patient….As I was saying, my cousin saw an opportunity, in this case a decent small estate being sold cheaply because the owner needed funds desperately. He bought it, I suspect, for one of his sons but when he realized my situation, he – in conjunction with my parents and siblings – gave it to me. I am the proud owner of a small estate with about fifteen hundred pounds a year which could be increased to two thousand according to my cousin. The property has been neglected although the manor house is, apparently, in decent shape. With my pension and income from savings I will have an annual income of about twenty five hundred pounds a year. More than enough to support a family although we will not by any means be wealthy. He paused following the last statement and looked at her, “I realize that it may be less than you are used to and we will not be making much of a presence in London.”

Miss Thompson strolled beside him in silence for a minute or two before, answering the unasked question. That she smiled at him with no reservations before answering eased his concern, “Mr. Fitzwilliam, I am much relieved. I do not need a lavish house or income. My concern was that we might depend upon my dowry. I am much relieved we shall not.”

“Your father spoke of that. I am sure he was concerned that I might be a fortune hunter….”

“No, I do not think so. I told him that I was sure you would not have spoken, if my dowry was an issue. I cannot tell you how or why I believed that but I have come to the conclusion, Mr. Fitzwilliam, that you are an honourable man. Your cousin Elizabeth certainly thinks highly of you.”

They walked in silence for a few minutes, basking in the sun and coolness of a late October day before she put words to her thoughts, “I have found that, despite living my life in the city, I quite prefer to live in the country. Visiting the city for few weeks for the theatre and exhibits is wonderful but I am quite content in the country.” She paused for a moment before asking, “Where is this estate to be found?”

“About ten miles from the Darcy’s estate at Pemberley. Do you remember the small village of Lambton?” at her nod, he continued, “Holsten is about five miles east of Lambton while Pemberley is five miles west. According to Darcy, the road between them is in good shape. I expect we…I will see much of the Darcys when..” His face got slight red from embarrassment at his mistake.

“I apologize, that was very presumptuous of me.”

“Indeed it was, Mr. Fitzwilliam; however, I am not offended. Not at all.”

She exerted herself to continue the conversation, successfully diverting it to topics of lesser significance. Unfortunately he could not speak of the condition of the manor house or the number of rooms since he expected his first survey of it would not occur until Christmas when he visited the Darcys.

As they neared the exit where their carriage waited for them, she raised the issue that she knew would have to be addressed. That she was extremely uncomfortable doing so quickly became apparent to Fitzwilliam as she became silent and looked worried. “Come, Miss Thompson, I know not what has you so unhappy, but I am sure it cannot be as bad as your expression suggests.”

She laughed and he thought he detected a touch of bitterness in her voice as she responded, “I do not know if you are right or not, sir.” She walked in silence for several moments looking at the ground in front of her feet. “Oh, there is no easy way to say this. Your parents, they…they refused to attend the Darcy’s wedding because the only available accommodation was with us. It was not stated so but that is what we believed. How…how will they feel about this courtship and …and me?”

“I have spoken to them already.” He placed his other hand over hers on his arm and squeezed, “Janet, I expected my father to object. In this I was not disappointed. My father is most unhappy with the connection to trade; nevertheless, once he had voiced his objections – twice I might add – and I had made him aware of the firmness of my intentions, he limited himself to grumbles. I suspect the fact that Darcy wed Elizabeth, whom he has come to regard with approval despite her connections to trade, has done much to assuage his ire. I do not know how he will treat your parents but I have no doubt he will be civil. He will accept you as my wife, should you accept me.”

“I beg your pardon!” she came to a complete stop and gazed at him.

He thought back to what he said and his countenance once again assumed an embarrassed mien, “I apologize once again. I am…I am too precipitate.” He squared his shoulders and faced her directly, “Janet, Miss Thompson, I spoke out of turn but I will be frank. There is very little doubt in my mind that I will make you an offer. Its timing and its acceptance or rejection are both yours to command. I will say no more at this time.”

He placed her hand on his arm once more and continued to walk towards the waiting carriage. After they both had seated themselves and the trip back to her home begun, he resumed their previous conversation. “I have told you of my father’s reaction. My mother surprised me. She was rather silent during the discussion with my father, the reason for which became clear as I was about to depart. She observed my interest in you last evening and that I had spoken with you privately on the balcony. She suspected that I had made an offer of marriage or courtship. She discerned our pleasure when we returned to the ballroom and a little later she spoke to Elizabeth who was most complimentary of you. I have observed that she has a great deal of respect for Elizabeth. As a consequence, you may expect an invitation to tea for you and your mother to meet her on Monday next.”

The remainder of the ride was conducted in relative silence as the young lady had much to think on. She had formed a very good opinion of the gentleman sitting across from her in the carriage but she had yet to take his full measure as a possible husband. It seemed that he was less uncertain but, as she suddenly realized, he was not going to pressure her to make a decision in haste but, instead, would allow her to proceed at a pace with which she was comfortable. When he finally escorted her to her door and bowed over her and kissed her fingers, she knew that his openness and consideration had advanced his suit quite a bit and this, she thought, was only the first day of their courtship.


Chapter 50

Sunday November 8, 1813 – Matlock House, London


Georgiana was grateful for the solitude. Kitty had gone to visit the Gardiners and would not be home till late while her aunt and Uncle were visiting their daughter, Lady Frances, and were not expected back for hours. Richard, of course, was in company with Miss Thompson and had little thought for anyone else at the moment. She needed this time to herself - to sort out the events of the past week. A week ago, she had been looking forward to a ball and dancing the first set with Mr. Bingley. Now she found herself having to decide whether to accept a courtship with a man that she was increasingly inclined to dislike. If it were left to her solely, she would refuse; but it might not be that simple and she needed the advice of those closest to her and whom she trusted most.

She was still trying to comprehend how it had come to be and yet her mind seemed always to be grasping futilely at wisps of thought. “I must gain come control. Elizabeth would not behave so.” She thought of her sister and then she remembered something Elizabeth had confided some months ago. When she – Elizabeth - had been beset by confusion and uncertainty, she had…what was her expression. Oh yes! “I forced myself to look back to when I was content, not confused, and then look at subsequent events as they happened.” Georgiana began to recall her last contented or happy time.

It was at the _____ Ball. She had been looking forward to dancing the first set with Mr. Bingley which he had requested two days previous to the ball. Instead of dancing the first set with Mr. Bingley, she had sat it out. He had not attended the ball at all. That was a disappointment enough but she had masked such feelings and circulated amongst the crowd meeting and talking with a few acquaintances. Questions as to Mr. Bingley’s absence she deflected as best she could since she had no explanation to give and then, stopping at the refreshments, had stepped away from the table to once more gather her composure which was starting to fray. That eavesdroppers never hear good of themselves was once again afforded validity as she listened to a conversation between two young ladies with whom she had a slight acquaintance.

“I do wonder that the Matlocks are sponsoring Miss Darcy.” said one lady. “I know she is their niece but surely they must be despairing of her. I mean look at her, she’s as tall as a man and hardly slim. Poor Mr. Fairly looked embarrassed to be dancing with her. She almost dwarfed him. It is not even as though she were pretty. I have heard her features called handsome but I do not see it. There is nothing particularly attractive about any of her features.”

Her companion tittered, “Yes, if it were not for her dowry, no one would pay her any attention at all. Her thirty thousand pounds will be needed to find her an eligible suitor. I mean really, she has no conversation, attempts to discuss music and the theatre with men when she can be convinced to talk at all. Why I remember that just the other night I listened to her….”

At this point Georgiana forced her leaden legs to move away and, as she did so, spotted her Aunt Eleanor searching the room, presumably for her. With some relief she rejoined her aunt. That she was able to maintain her composure for the remainder of the evening was something she could only wonder at afterwards. Even now she could not recollect who partnered her for the various dances.

Her aunt had noticed something was amiss with her but had been satisfied when told by Georgiana that she had simply heard some malicious gossip which had discomposed her for a few moments. In truth, she was sure that the hurtful comments would have been forgotten immediately if Mr. Bingley had been present. However he was not and since he had been calling once a week at least his absence concerned her slightly. Furthermore, she had expected to encounter him at a dinner two nights after the ball and his presence at one or two other social events that week would not have been unexpected. Georgiana found herself confused by his absence and worried by his failure to explain that absence. She remembered too well that he had fled Hertfordshire and Jane Bennet with no explanation. Her first thought had been that he had decided that she was too plain and uninteresting to pursue, but her common sense quickly overrode such fears. As well, he had shown himself to be too honourable to behave in such an ungentlemanly manner. No, the reason for his absence was unknown but she trusted that he could and would explain all.

Her uncle’s request to speak to her last Thursday morning had only compounded her uncertainties. He had called her down to his study to, as he put it, “apprise her of a serious courtship offer.” As it turned out, he had been approached the previous night by Lord Albert Knowles who wished to enter into a courtship with Georgiana. Despite being told that Lord Matlock could not sanction any such offer, he had persisted in presenting his case, which Lord Matlock eventually agreed to convey to Georgiana’s guardians. Lord Albert was advised that he would have to obtain Georgiana’s consent to such a courtship before her guardians were likely to approve it. Lord Albert appeared, he thought, rather unimpressed with such a nicety but agreed to do so the next day. Accordingly, the earl fully expected him to arrive shortly to make such an offer.

If the earl had reservations about the whole business, Georgiana could not detect them. He waxed eloquent about the young man’s noble lineage – after all, the second son of a duke was an excellent connection with a standing in society that was superior to her untitled position. That such a connection would be of benefit to the earl himself, he readily admitted. His efforts in the House of Lords would be enhanced by the support of the Duke of _____ and, as he pointed out to Georgiana, the eldest son was sickly and his wife was still childless after four years of marriage. Georgiana might well become the Duchess should an offer of marriage be made.

The earl waxed no less eloquent about Lord Albert’s financial prospects – he had a decent estate and a fine income from it – and was well-featured and quite amiable which, the earl suggested, given Georgiana’s reserve would complement her very well. Lord Matlock asserted, perhaps with more confidence than was warranted, that even Georgiana’s brother would have supported a courtship with Lord Albert. Georgiana’s protestations that she barely knew the gentleman and had developed no affection for him were dismissed with the brusque, “Georgiana, you must be sensible about this. Your brother was fortunate to marry a woman for whom he had a great affection and who returned it. As much as I have come to esteem Elizabeth, you must realize that such marriages are highly unusual amongst our station. I did not love your aunt when I married her. I barely knew her but we have grown to esteem each other highly.” He had paused then and more gently stated, “It may seem cold but many solid marriages arise from such arrangements since there is a commonality of station, pedigree, education and background. A young woman cannot afford to wait upon the arrival of a gentleman who holds her in deep affection before the marriage. Marriage is too important a matter to be left to chance, Georgiana. One must be practical in such matters after all.”

Lord Matlock’s endeavours at extolling the manifold merits of Lord Albert were only brought to cessation by the appearance of the gentleman himself who, after the proper civilities were expressed, requested and was granted a private interview with Georgiana. Grasping the opportunity, she began to consider the gentleman while he made conversation with her uncle. He looked every inch the gentleman, taller than herself by several inches, well-formed although of a slender build. His manner towards most of their acquaintance seemed amiable enough, though he appeared to her to be fully conscious of his rank in society. His apparel was of the finest quality and, if he appeared to be somewhat of a dandy, he was not excessively so. As she appraised him, she realized that he was giving equal attention to her. In that appraisal she could find no particular regard and his gaze appeared rather cool than otherwise.

Georgiana’s assessment of Lord Albert Knowles was not too far off the mark. The gentleman had a firm conviction of the merits of his station in life; an opinion that had been fostered by an overbearing father possessed of the conviction that the rest of society, except for those few of equal or superior rank, were of lesser worth than himself; and, if truth were known, his Grace the Duke of ____ was not convinced that even those few of equal rank, merited his consideration. By virtue of this conviction, he had imparted to his children that their opinions and wishes were such as to assure their acceptability by others, regardless of the merits of such opinions and wishes. Fortunately, his Grace had, with the assistance of tutors and governesses managed to instruct his children in proper comportment and their belief in their own superiority was well masked by civility towards others. Unfortunately, his Grace, who was himself a reasonably intelligent and educated gentleman, had not managed to inculcate in his children his own respect for learning. Hence while reasonably intelligent, Lord Albert had acquired a gentleman’s education at university, which is to say that he was much less acquainted with his books and tutors than he was with the other attractions and activities which a wealthy young gentleman could enjoy. That he did so without incurring a reputation for dissolute behaviour is a tribute to his intelligence and discretion. This is the gentleman that Georgiana was considering and he was not one that she instinctively liked.

Yet his voice when he spoke was quite pleasant albeit lacking any particular emotion, “I believe, Miss Darcy, that your uncle has informed you of my purpose here today?”

At the brief inclination of her head, he had continued, “I am come to you today to seek your consent to a courtship. My parents – my father in particular – are quite desirous of my, as he put it, ‘settling down.’ If they have other concerns, I am not privy to them. I have taken no little time to observe you in the past month and am convinced that you would be a suitable partner in life should it come to that. Your station in life, while inferior to my own is acceptable. That the Earl of Matlock is your uncle is sufficient to ameliorate such connections to trade as may exist. Your presence, countenance, dowry and accomplishments all establish that you would satisfactorily adorn any gentleman’s arm. However, I realize that this offer has most probably been a surprise to you and that it is the custom for ladies to wish to get to know their partners in life before accepting any offer of marriage. For this reason, I am disposed to offer a courtship at this time rather than an offer of marriage as I had intended. Do I have your agreement, Miss Darcy?”

Georgiana could not help but feel that he had considered his question to be worthy of only one answer and, she admitted to herself, the temptation to reject it based on his manner of soliciting her agreement was very strong. His arrogance was beyond anything she had previously encountered and she could not like it – not at all. Nevertheless, she schooled her features to suppress her ire and replied, “You must appreciate, sir, that this offer comes as a complete surprise to me. I would ask you to allow me some time to consider it.”

His surprise at her response was obvious, “Consider it? Miss Darcy I…” Then he bit off his words and nodded his head, retreating to a nearby window from which to inspect the street below.

Georgiana had first thought that she should not take overlong to consider this offer, but as she pondered the situation she knew that she needed her brother and sister to advise her. Looking at Lord Albert she realized quickly that his affections were not engaged. Thus, delaying her response might irritate him, wound his pride perhaps, but his heart was in no danger. Her thoughts skittered as the tidbit of gossip she overheard surfaced. Perhaps she was not such a poor prospect as that overheard comment would imply. Certainly accepting it would not have pleased the young ladies, a thought which had given her no little satisfaction at the time but she knew was hardly a basis for accepting.

That her uncle would appear to favour the offer greatly, she knew. That the absence of Mr. Bingley had left her feeling rather bereft was not something she recognized at the time but now knew had affected her decision, perhaps making her more cautious. She could not see that Lord Albert was an unsuitable suitor. She simply did not know what to do. She would prefer to reject this offer but her uncle’s words seemed to suggest that doing so would be a bad mistake. How she had wished she could speak to her brother and Elizabeth. There were implications in the situation which she did not feel capable of assessing properly.

Finally, she had turned to Lord Albert, “I apologize, sir for making you wait upon my response and thank you for your patience in doing so. I appreciate the honour that is involved but, as I am sure you can appreciate, this offer has come as a complete surprise to me. I must ask for your further patience as I consult with my brother and his wife.”

That Lord Albert’s displeasure had increased was obvious only to the most careful observer. Perhaps the length of time she had taken to consider his offer warned him that an acceptance was not assured. His manner remained polite as he responded, “I would assume from your request that you might have reservations about the offer, Miss Darcy. Might you share them with me?”

"My reservations, Lord Albert, are as I have stated them. Your offer is quite unexpected and I wish to discuss it with my brother and wife.” She looked at him directly as she continued, “I understand that courtship is intended to lead to an offer of marriage. I would not wish to enter a courtship if I am not prepared to give serious consideration to such an offer. It would do no credit to either of us to be precipitous in this matter.”

Lord Albert was now clearly displeased by her decision but made every effort to mask his feelings and respond with civility, “Very well, Miss Darcy. When might I expect a response?”

“I will talk with my other guardian, Richard Fitzwilliam, today and he will send an express to my brother. I would think he would be here within a week or less.”

“Then I will restrain my impatience and await your brother’s arrival.” He hesitated, “May I call on you tomorrow? At eleven, perhaps.”

“Of course, My Lord”

~~~

As she sat at the pianoforte, her fingers casually running over the keys, unaware of what melody was issuing forth, her thoughts focused on the moment she had realized that unless her brother suggested otherwise, she would not accept Lord Albert’s offer. The morning following her conversation with Lord Albert, her aunt had been seated at the breakfast table and opening her morning’s mail. Looking up at Georgiana, she had blurted, “Well, that explains what happened!”

“Of what do you speak, Aunt?”

“Mr. Bingley! He has just written to express his regrets. Poor man. I am glad he is better.”

“Better? Aunt I do not comprehend you?”

“Mr. Bingley writes that he was taken quite ill the day before the _____ Ball. A violent fever rendered him insensible for almost a se’enday he says and it is only recently that he is out and about. He sends his apologies for missing the ball and regrets the loss of the dance you promised him. And, let me see…” Turning to the second page, she continued, “Ah yes, he expects to be out in company as soon as the doctor declares him healthy. Lady Matlock looked at her niece noting her sudden smile, “Georgiana dear, whatever is the matter? Have you developed an affection for Mr. Bingley?”

Georgiana could not control either her happiness or her blushes, “Yes aunt, I do not know for sure but I do enjoy his company more than any man I know.”

“I will say nothing against Mr. Bingley. But you have not yet made an acquaintance with many gentlemen who could be potential suitors. I would urge you to be very cautious in your behaviour to him.”

Unfortunately, she had not been allowed time to enjoy the prospect of further attentions from Mr. Bingley. Lord Albert was to call at eleven but it had taken her maid only a few minutes to prepare her appearance for the outing. As she looked back at her encounters with Lord Albert – of which there had been only a few – she could recall little that spoke to his benefit. They had been sitting in the sitting room with only a maid, safely and discretely sitting in a far corner, for company. Seeking to discover more about the gentleman she had begun to question him about his estate.

“I understand, Lord Albert, that your estate is located in Devon. Is the country there much like Derbyshire?”

“Yes, it is although perhaps slightly less wild. The hunting is very poor though.”

“Are you there much of the year?”

“No, I have not been there for two years or more. I organized a hunting party three years ago and it was so poor we had to give it up after only a week.”

Georgiana was nonplussed as to how to continue the conversation. “That is very unfortunate, I am sure. But may not the park afford some excellent trails for riding?”

Lord Albert nodded slowly, “Certainly it does, but that amusement palls quickly and my guests were quite eager to depart.”

She thought she might ask after some features of the house. “What is the manor house like?”

He appeared to be surprised at the question but responded, “Ah, I forgot that ladies are interested in such features. I am desolate to say that I really cannot remember much about the house. It is not fashionably furnished and while it has been maintained it is not located, I believe, where I wish to be overlong.”

Georgiana’s misgivings were increasing the more he revealed. Her brother she knew was intimately involved in the running of his estates and their management absorbed a considerable portion of his time every day. Perhaps the same was true of Lord Albert and so she asked, “It must be difficult to manage your estate from afar. I know my brother receives many reports about his every week.”

Lord Albert looked at her in surprise, “Does he? I am sure I do not understand why he would waste his time so. That is what stewards are for, surely.” He paused for a moment or two before continuing, “As long as I receive the income I expect from my estate, I leave the getting of it to those I have hired for that purpose.”

Georgiana had some difficulty in masking her disapproval and did so successfully only by leaning forward to refill her cup with tea. Fortunately, Lord Albert was inclined to begin talking of some hunting parties that he had attended over the summer and the remainder of their conversation suffered a surfeit of information – from Georgiana’s perspective – about guns, birds shot, fishing and other such activities which attend such parties, none of which she found to be of particular interest.

She found it particularly irritating that he had made but a token attempt to acquaint himself with her interests and thoughts. While he might initiate a conversation about a play or exhibition that she had attended, it did not require much time for the conversation to devolve to his interests and she quickly determined that a simple question from her was sufficient to allow him to expound on those activities. That her interest in them was limited never seemed to occur to him.

Georgiana could see no reason to accept Lord Albert’s offer and rather regretted not doing so immediately; however, she knew that, given his station, such a rejection might be impolitic in the extreme.


Chapter 51

Wednesday November 11, 1813 - Pemberley


A letter had been placed on the tray delivered to the Darcy’s private sitting room where they had decided to break their fast this morning. Jane was inclined to rise late and, with no other guests, they preferred to enjoy the privacy of their own chambers as much as possible. Darcy accepted a cup of coffee from Elizabeth before picking up the letter. Breaking the seal, he observed to Elizabeth, “It’s from Richard. I wonder…?”

Elizabeth glanced up from buttering a biscuit to see a frown cross his face, “Problems…?”

'Hmmm….problems? I do not know. Here read it and share your thoughts with me.”

Matlock House
November 7, 1813

Dear Darce,

This is a rather difficult letter to write. First, the important news, Lord Albert Knowles has asked to court Georgiana who has, with considerable foresight, asked for some time to consult with you and Elizabeth. I am writing to request your immediate presence and that of your wife, if possible, in town. If the offer is accepted I believe Lord Albert will request that Georgiana remain in town for an extra month or until Christmas; however, it appears that Georgiana would still prefer to leave London no later than the end of November.

I admit I am a little uncomfortable about this courtship offer. I have not detected any particular interest on the part of Georgiana towards Lord Albert. And I cannot discern any particular interest on his part either in the few times they had been in company together. My father favours the young gentleman; however, I suspect that it is the connection to the Duke of ____ that is of primary importance to him. I believe there may be issues in the House of Lords where the Duke’s support might be critical. In any event, my father reminded me that their Graces and their son should be invited to your ball on the 1st of January if the offer is accepted.

When I spoke with Georgiana, I was quite pleased by her attitude. She displayed considerable poise in dealing with it. I suspect many young ladies of her tender years might have accepted without giving any thought to the merits of the offer or the man himself. She has professed no particular regard for him and, as I remarked above, I had never detected that she derives any noticeable pleasure in his company. Rather the reverse in fact. I thought it interesting that she was quite firm about her desire to return to Pemberley as soon as may be. The most that she would admit was that he was pleasant-looking and that being the son of a duke he was possessed of excellent connections. As I write this, my suspicions that my father has pressed her to accept the courtship, are becoming firmer. It is to her credit she has not done so.

While a courtship does not necessarily require the couple to wed, the opprobrium attached to a rejected proposal will tarnish Georgiana’s reputation as well as that of Lord Albert. I would prefer to avoid such if at all possible. In this I am sure we are of a like mind. I could also wish that I were present when this letter is read. The little I have seen of the gentleman does not predispose me towards him and I wonder at the opinions of you both.

I plan to bring both Georgiana and Miss Catherine to Pemberley and expect to arrive mid afternoon on the 2nd of December. I will visit with you for a day or two before stopping off at Holsten for a few days on my way to Matlock Manor.

Your bedevilled Cousin,
Richard


PS My courtship of Miss Thompson is proceeding excellently I believe. I am increasingly of the opinion that we will suit exceedingly well. I can only hope that she is of a like opinion.

Elizabeth put the letter down and her surprise was evident to her husband. Her first words mirrored his thoughts, “I do not understand this at all. There was no obvious interest from Lord Albert prior to our departure.”

“Do you subscribe to Richard’s thoughts on my uncle’s involvement, Elizabeth?”

“It is possible, I suppose. Certainly Lord Albert possesses all the attributes that your uncle would wish to see in a suitor. Wealth, connections and breeding!” If her tone was a little acerbic, Darcy was not prepared to fault her and his grin drew a most unladylike snort from his wife.

His grin faded as the other questions arose in his mind. His next question was thoughtful, “What is your opinion of Lord Albert, Elizabeth?”

Elizabeth sipped her tea and deliberately broke open and buttered another biscuit. “Mmm, these biscuits are delicious. I must remember to thank Cook for baking them.” She slowly ate half of the biscuit and Darcy was content to let her deliberate. She had told him that she was increasingly inclined to consider a matter thoroughly before expressing an opinion. “After all,” she opined to him one day, “my reliance on first impressions has been proven faulty on at least one important occasion. I must be more cautious in the future.”

His patience was rewarded when she finally responded, the remainder of the biscuit in her hand, “I first must admit that I was in Lord Albert’s company only a few times – he called on us twice in town and then two balls and a dinner, I believe. And we did not converse a great deal on any of those occasions even when he called on us at Darcy House. It is difficult to form a solid opinion on so little.”

“Nonetheless, I detect that you have reached some thoughts, sketchy though they may be. I would hear them Elizabeth. You know how much I value your opinions.”

“Then I shall share them with you, poor though they may be.” Her rueful smile gave truth to her words. “I was, as I said, but little in his company and my impression from his behaviour was that even that little was a bit too much for his liking. He sat beside me for an entire dinner and addressed but a handful of words to me the whole time whilst talking amiably with several others around us. Those he addressed were all well connected. Did he consider me beneath his attention? I do not know but that seemed a reasonable supposition at the time. As it was, I was not so enamoured of his conversation as to take exception to his incivility or miss the lack of it. He appears to be a capable dancer but I know of no other good of him.”

She paused and thought for several moments trying to recall their conversations, “When he called on us, he did not really distinguish himself amongst the other callers. He stayed the approved time. He did not single me out for conversation and spoke only briefly to Georgiana as I remember. I gather he attended Oxford, I believe, but it was not apparent, from such discussions as I overheard, that he attended for purposes of acquiring any learning. Certainly his acquaintance with his books must have been brief and unsatisfactory. His opinions seemed ill-formed and poorly expressed. His father might have better spent the cost of his education on helping the poor….better value to be sure!”

She refilled her teacup, adding a dash of cream and stirring for several seconds. As she raised the cup to her lips, she paused to state, “I cannot see what would attract Georgiana to him. His life seems to be one of visiting friends to hunt or ride or simply visit. Much of his time is spent in London and his activities are probably those of most young men of a similar age. I have heard nothing of dissolute behaviour but neither have I heard of any characteristics that would raise him in my esteem. As I said, I fail to see that she would wish for a courtship with him.” She looked at her husband, “Do you comprehend more than I?”

“No, my dear. I most unhappily do not. I probably have been in his company even less than yourself. I had no knowledge that he would apply for a courtship and did not make an effort to discover his background.” He shook his head, “What little I do know is not particularly favourable, although it is also, I regret to say, not uncommon amongst young men of his station.”

Acknowledging her raised eyebrow with a slight grimace, he continued, “As you say, he spends his time in London and visiting the estates of friends and relations. His own estate is not small and should require a considerable amount of his time to manage properly; however, that responsibility seems to be left to his steward. You know my feelings on such behaviour. It does not recommend the gentleman to me. But, apart from that, I know no ill of him.”

“William, I have seen Lord Albert only a few times in company with Georgiana. Never did I see any sign of particular attentiveness on his part. Nothing at all that would have caused me to suspect an attraction. Why ever is he asking for a courtship? What can he mean by it?”

“I know not.” His air of abstraction deepened and she was content to let him deliberate on the matter. She rather expected that he would not be content to let the matter rest. She congratulated herself on her judgement minutes later when Darcy returned his attention to her, “It will not do, Elizabeth. I must go to London!”

Elizabeth’s wry smile drew a chuckle from him, “Ah, so you have already decided what I should do?”

“No, my love. Only that you would not be content to leave matters in such an unsatisfactory state. You wish to ensure your sister’s happiness.”

“I wish I could bring you with me but ….”

“And you will. I am not so delicate that I cannot survive such a trip quite well. If you send an express to Richard to halt an announcement of the courtship if it is not already been announced, we can afford to travel with less haste. Since the courtship has not been accepted or made known to society, an extra day will not materially change the situation.”

She smiled at her husband who, she could see, was attempting to marshal arguments to dissuade her. “I would wish to be with you and Georgiana will need us both. I do not want to leave Jane but she will be well without me for a week or so.”

The discussion that followed finally convinced Darcy that her mind was not to be altered and he eventually called Reynolds and ordered his most comfortable carriage to be prepared to leave in two hours and then gave directions to have his valet prepare a travelling kit. While he was giving these directions, Elizabeth called Mrs. Reynolds to request that a basket of consumables be prepared for the trip. Directions were then given to her maid to prepare her travelling kit.

He finished his coffee and rose from the table, “Come, Lizzie. Let us put aside these troubles for a few minutes and venture out for a short walk. The day is lovely and we have had too few opportunities to be out walking since we returned. I have heard too much of Lord Albert today and what I have heard pleases me very little. A good brisk walk should clear my head of such dismal thoughts and your company will allow me to contemplate this trip with less displeasure. I do not anticipate being away for more a week and such business that waits upon me, will surely not suffer for the delay.”

Elizabeth stuffed the remainder of the biscuit in her mouth and washed it down with the last of her tea. Accepting the proffered hand of her husband to help her rise – although she was usually quick to decry the nicety of such help – they quickly left the room to don their outer wear. She knew she would have to make her apologies to her sister before she left but they were only to be gone for a week and Jane would be well taken care of in her absence.
SubjectAuthorPosted

The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

PeterFebruary 05, 2015 11:57PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

PeterFebruary 07, 2015 01:03PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

PeterFebruary 07, 2015 05:53PM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

LisetteFebruary 06, 2015 08:41AM

Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

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Re: The Road Back - Chapters 48-51

PeterFebruary 06, 2015 02:46AM

"Next morning at 2" means at 2 pm. (nfm)

GracielaFebruary 06, 2015 02:33AM



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