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Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 19 - 21

June 25, 2022 09:20AM
CHAPTER 19

Darcy House was resplendent in all its finery as it welcomed the Fitzwilliam cousins within. Lady Chilton swept in on the arm of the Earl and greeted her niece and nephew warmly. The Viscount had arrived earlier and had been able to bring his wife Isabella with him, a family dinner being considered a safe enough activity for her and the opportunity to meet the Bennet Sisters, their favoured appellation within the ton, at length and with some intimacy was too good to pass up. The Bennets and Gardiners had arrived entirely too early to be fashionable, at Elizabeth’s insistence; she neither wanted to make a grand entry or be caught in the entrance hall admiring the décor. This was to be her first visit to the London home of the two Darcys of Pemberley. Thanks to Miss Bingley, she now preferred to address Mr Darcy as One Darcy of Pemberley whenever she could get away with it.

They had left The Gardiners and Jane to the company of Mr Bingley in the saloon, and Elizabeth had been conducted on a private tour of the residence by Georgiana and Mr Darcy. Elizabeth was making every effort to appear unruffled and calm, but from sighting the elegant town house in Mayfair from the carriage, to being conducted into its spacious and well-appointed home, she could no longer, in good conscience, ignore the full weight of grandeur and opulence encompassed by the phrase “ten thousand a year”. It surpassed Rosings in every way that mattered to Elizabeth, the rooms and furnishings bespoke a sense of taste and judgment that suggested the furnishings were chosen not just to please the eye or suit the latest fashion, unlike every room at Rosings. She could feel the weight, not just of wealth, but of inherited contentment – a kind of peace and acceptance of who you are, that was conveyed in the way each room was arranged, as well as in the casual way the siblings spoke about the house, in terms of what the rooms were most used for and by whom, rather than the cost of the chimney pieces or the number of glazed windows. It shared one aspect with Rosings that she could not like – a feeling, or rather an absence of feeling, lived-in. It left her with an odd mixture of intimidation and comfort, and she could not quite be comfortable with the sensation. She did not want to see the bed chambers, not willing to view anything so intimate yet.

It was not until she entered the library, which doubled as the master’s study as it did in Longbourn, that she understood the heart of the place. Darcy had walked in purposefully heading to his desk, absently gesturing to the full height bookshelves lining the walls, while he divested his coat pockets of notes, coins and papers to put into the appropriate drawers and receptacles of his desk. He had just finished saying that this was but a tenth of the main library housed at Pemberley when he looked up to hear Elizabeth gasp and turn on the spot, eyes burning with delight and a bubble of laughter escaping. “Oh, Mr Darcy, next time you propose just lead with this room! A tenth, you say?” Georgiana started to laugh. “Papa will say yes to anything you ask if you show him just this room, let alone the library at Pemberley!”

Elizabeth walked to the shelves, ran her hands over the gold embossed leather spines, leaning close enough to breathe them in and took a slow circumference of the space, noting the reserved décor, well-worn couches and wing back chairs by the modest fireplace, the heavy damask curtains covering the windows, the decided lack of gaudy refinements and sighed happily. She came to stand behind the desk next to Darcy, who had watched her progress with such hopeful tenderness that it made Georgiana slip away to give them some privacy. He had saved this room for last, for her, and he was amply rewarded. She rested her hand upon his, which he had placed on the back of his chair, to steady himself. She looked at his desk as she spoke. “This is your space, your favourite room at Darcy House?” He nodded, but realising she wasn’t looking at him, whispered, “Yes”.

“It is immediately and irrevocably mine also. This space feels like home. Will you mind sharing it with me?”

“I have pledged to share everything with you, my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth.”

She looked up at him then, eyes sparkling, “I love everything about this room, it whispers your name in every detail, on every spine, in the fall of the curtain, the mahogany of the shelving, the parquetry of the desk, the ceiling roses, everything. I could never leave this room and be happy the rest of my days. Except that I must see Pemberley also. I am now a little afraid of its splendour. Do you think I will abandon my first love, so easily as it has won my heart? How despicably spoiled I have become.”

Darcy smiled. “This room is but a smaller model of the library at Pemberley, but I have a separate study at Pemberley. If you like this room, I am confident you will be happy there too.” He paused, and asked hesitatingly, “And... and shall you be happy to never leave Pemberley all of your days? I confess, I would wish to leave Pemberley much less often in future, if you are there with me.”

She had been speaking partly in jest, but she caught the change in his inflection, felt his fingers grip hers tighter where they lay entwined upon the chair. She was a social creature, but for the most part she had lived in a small country village, dining with four and twenty families, with short trips to London to visit family, but no wider connections to speak of, and she had not felt the loss. Her favourite pastimes were long walks in the country and reading for hours at a time, why on earth would she ever need to leave Pemberley? She recognised in him the fear that she would be like many other women, seeking to aggrandize herself in her elevated station by constant society, shopping and public displays. He had been amongst such women, endeavouring to find a bride for some 8 years, was it any wonder he might doubt the grounds of her attachment?

“If I am with you, Fitzwilliam? I feel at home here because this room resonates with your life, your essence. I don’t think I could feel at home where you are not. My heart resides here.” She pressed her hand to his heart, and he clasped it tightly. “If you are in Pemberley, there will I be also.”

He was too moved for speech, so he crushed her to his heart, and she felt the depth of his emotions in the steady pounding at her ear. “Do we have to wait until August to wed?” His body stilled at her words but the hope in his voice was unmistakable, “You are not teasing me, you are willing to marry before you visit Pemberley with your aunt and uncle?” Her eyes sparkled with mirth and unshed tears, “I was mostly teasing about that, Mr Darcy but I was in earnest when I said I will not marry a house! You know I cannot do without you, Fitzwilliam, and although your house, your Darcy legacy and your family may terrify me, I should have made it clear to you, that none of those things can frighten me away from you. Forgive me for allowing any doubt to remain.” Her face was turned toward him, willing him to believe in her, to trust to her steadfast love for him, even though it was newer than his. His lips responded with an eloquence that went beyond mere words.

Sometime later they found Georgie in the music room and directing a footman to invite their other guests to join them there, they took some light refreshments and listened to Georgiana and Elizabeth play and sing, solo and in duet, until it was time to make ready to receive the rest of the family for dinner. Elizabeth was grateful for the relaxed atmosphere of the informal gathering as it gave her time to restore her equanimity and brace for whatever the rest of the evening would hold.

The arrival of Viscount Harley and Lady Isabella as their first guests allowed Elizabeth an opportunity to focus on the one Fitzwilliam she had not yet met. Armed with some salient information on her tastes by Richard, Elizabeth discovered a well-bred and friendly woman, if a little highly-strung which could be easily forgiven under the circumstances, who reminded Elizabeth of her mother, though with some little more wit and sense. She expected her flighty manner and agitation were probably symptoms of her condition and would be tempered if a happy outcome was to be the result. She sympathised, and in her manner of speaking and selection of conversation topics, soothed her as much as she was able. Viscount Harley recommended himself to her in his solicitude for the comfort and well-being of his wife, though she detected an archness in his manner that spoke of a discomfort in his companions. For a Viscount and his father an Earl, to be in polite company with a tradesman, no matter how successful or genteel, did not sit well with him, though he endeavoured to hide it. Elizabeth felt it was not an unforgivable disposition, and as he was valiantly attempting to mask it, would not hold it against him.

All rose at the entrance of Lord and Lady Chilton and with no introductions required, the Earl moved immediately toward Mr Gardiner to greet and inquire after him. He made free to sit beside him and engaged him in conversation. It was apparent that Mr Gardiner’s business acumen had preceded him at the Earl’s discreet investigations, and active as he is in the political sphere, he had discovered a reason to shelve his initial disdain in order to garner an expert opinion on the economic implications of the uprisings in the north. Their conversation proceeded apace and was interrupted only by the dinner bell. The correct order was assumed, and the assembled party sallied forth to dine on a sumptuous four courses at a table generously laden with the best of ingredients supplied directly from the home farm at Pemberley.

There was a formality to the affair at its beginning that made Elizabeth long for the ease and confidence of Longbourn family dinners which were noisy, haphazard events that encompassed all manner of conversation and discourse and were almost always accompanied by laughter and gaiety in every quarter. There was a friendliness to Longbourn events that could not embarrass her, though she knew she would be embarrassed when these two worlds collided, as they must, upon their marriage, indeed, upon their public engagement. Tonight could not be considered the rule, but merely an exquisite exemplar and perhaps the first feint in the battle to establish herself as a suitable Mistress of Pemberley. That all her family were neither this refined nor polished did not need to be elaborated on. The Fitzwilliams could boast of at least one aunt of less than polished temper or intelligent conversation, so the embarrassment needn’t only be on her side. That their aunt was a Lady, while her mother wasn’t even a gentlewoman, was hardly relevant. One gave deliberate offence, the other accidental. Whenever both mouths were opened, their vulgarity was guaranteed.

She had chosen to be seated in the appropriate consequence for one of her station, and not as the betrothed of the master of the house and was therefore seated centrally between Viscount Harley and Colonel Fitzwilliam and across from her sister. She was pleased to see the elder Fitzwilliam begin to relax his demeanour as the conversation between Bingley, Mr Gardiner and Jane demonstrated warmth, intelligence and propriety. The Colonel was enjoying a lively conversation with Georgiana and Mrs Gardiner on the delights of Lambton, while Darcy had engaged the Earl in a political discussion that had flowed from the Earl’s earlier conversation with Mr Gardiner. Elizabeth noted Lady Chilton’s eyes crinkle in resignation as her husband boorishly called down the table to Mr Gardiner whenever a point needed to be confirmed with him. She giggled a little, under her breath, to see the breach in manners displayed by the Earl and began to see that her idiosyncrasies and her impertinent ways could actually be forgiven more easily in the rarefied circles she would inhabit with Mr Darcy, than in her own. She would just be an eccentric wife of One Darcy of Pemberley, rather than an ill-tempered and impoverished hoyden with no dowry, who blew in with muddy hems and soggy stockings and boots. The Countess looked quizzically at her expression and Elizabeth decided to relate her immediate thoughts. Lady Chilton laughed and agreed, “Tis true! Lady Catherine is forgiven much rude and thoughtless behaviour only because people are not offended by her wealth. Being the daughter of an Earl, and the sister of one, affords a certain privilege to behave as one wishes. I know she thinks she is the centre of the universe and has set up Rosings such that if she never left, she could easily believe she was responsible for making the sun rise and set, but she has never had any real power. I mean, look at Fitzwilliam. She has been declaring almost daily since Anne was in swaddling clothes that he was intended for her. It would have been nice if it worked out, they always got on well as children, and it would have tied things up nicely-“

“Oh, Swizz was never going to marry Anne, Aunt Gwendolyn, we all knew that! And as Anne never really wanted to marry at all, she is happy he took so long, or rather is taking so long, to find his bride, because he shielded her from any further pretensions of Lady Catherine to foist her on any other unsuspecting relations,” Georgiana tossed her head toward Harley, “or any more single, eligible men! Anne’s last letter to me suggested she was delighted to be on the shelf at six and twenty and was looking forward to seeing out the rest of her days enjoying her inheritance, beginning with getting the Dower House habitable again!” Georgie finished with a smirk.

Elizabeth laughed, delighted to hear further examples of glorified eccentricity, and instantly diverted by Georgiana’s pet name for her brother. “So, One Darcy also goes by the moniker, Swizz?” she asked in a loud stage whisper across the table at just the moment all other conversations had paused. Georgiana giggled helplessly as Darcy blushed and cleared his throat. “Fitzwilliam is not the easiest name to learn as a child, and she did not like William or Will, or Fitz, unfortunately. Swizz I have been and Swizz I shall remain, to her alone, though I do prefer she avoid using it in company.” He frowned down the table at her, but as she brushed it off by dissolving into girlish giggles, Elizabeth knew she wasn’t in too much trouble. She loved this little glimpse into the siblings’ relationship, which added weight to her hopes of a genial future within this family. The Colonel added, “Indeed, I have been given lashings for even daring to think about calling him Sw-”, he broke off at a dangerous narrowing of Darcy’s eyes and gestured to Elizabeth, continuing in another stage whisper, “that gentleman seriously has no sense of humour!”

The meal continued in a similar vein, relaxing into something more friendly and less formal than it had begun, as the wine flowed freely and conversations swirled about, collecting in private clusters, then billowing out occasionally to encompass the whole table before reverberating back as tangential eddies were taken up and followed amongst the various interlocutors. Elizabeth’s delight in the evening increased as she let down her guard and her table mates each kept her entertained with the political and social machinations associated with the earldom, which lecherous peers to avoid at the Matlock Ball - with far too much detail even for Elizabeth’s tastes, and more importantly, which London society matrons’ talons to be most wary of when traversing the ballroom. She was laughing so hard at the Colonel’s description of the Countess of Abergavenny’s wardrobe mishap while she was parading her debutante daughter before Darcy at the Matlock Ball three years ago, she was unable to speak for a full minute and was almost going to have to excuse herself. “Lady Alice, or Godiva for those in the know, has not made an appearance in London society since then, though she does stay in London for the season as the Earl maintains his seat in the House. I do feel for her, but she would choose the most inappropriate gowns for her, ahem, girth!” The Colonel’s words unintentionally helped to chasten Elizabeth’s mirth, it was a funny story, but for it to keep her away from all society for 3 years was more pitiable than laughable. She hoped if something similar happened to her, she would have the confidence to laugh about it with her friends and detractors, than hide away in shame.

“Oh, that is a pity! I would much prefer to laugh with Lady God- Alice about it than at her, she cannot have lost all her friends in London, surely?” She had directed the question to the Colonel, but it was Lady Gwendolyn who answered Elizabeth.

“The ton is not known for its mercy as an entity, , Miss Elizabeth, but you need not spare much sympathy for Lady Alice. She was ruthless in her pursuit of both Harley and then Fitzwilliam over the last few years, and never forgave Isabella, who won Harley despite the malicious rumours she spread about her that year. She married her daughters off to a couple of French comtes I think, penniless refugees, but titled all the same. She has not been much missed or pitied for all that.”

Elizabeth gave an involuntary shiver at the power the London ton seemed to hold over some people, although it was a toothless tiger in many respects. What power it did have was only given to it by the Caroline Bingleys of society, so desperate to gain or maintain admittance, their very character, the essence of who they were as people was subsumed by it. It was no wonder it produced women who had more colour and interest in their extravagant headdresses than in the heads upon which they were displayed. Or, perhaps worse, it forced them to hide their colour from the world at large. She decided she was going to enjoy the Matlock Ball, purely because the ton would not want her to.



CHAPTER 20

Matlock House was one of the larger residences in Berkeley Square and as such was superbly suited to host one of the Season’s most anticipated balls. Arriving late, but not too fashionably late allowed the Bennet Sisters to admire the décor, furnishings and spaces before they were swallowed in the crush of guests in every room. It also ensured there was no grand entrance before a gallery of whispering vixens and viragos. Accompanied by the Gardiners and in the party belonging to the Chilton Fitzwilliams, the sisters could have passed unnoticed but for them both being resplendently dressed and coiffured and on the arms of two eligible gentlemen who made no effort to disguise their admiration.

Darcy had wished to engage Elizabeth for every dance, but she had agreed to the first, the supper and the last set, which was always a waltz, and had insisted that Darcy dance at least 3 other sets with some other ladies, and not just of his own party. She was happily ensconced with Lady Gwendolyn, who had claimed the Bennet sisters for herself and was busy introducing them to her various acquaintances and she shooed him away with Bingley to go and be sociable. He grudgingly agreed and began to look around as he meandered through the public rooms, greeting particular friends and indifferent acquaintances with an ease and affability that surprised everyone. The younger sisters and daughters of notable families whom he had formerly barely looked at, he greeted with sincere smiles, and invariably asked the least forward to reserve an available set for him. Bingley laughed at him as they walked away from a group of women who were staring at him in astonishment, and he began to laugh himself. “I confess it is not as hard as I thought it would be, and I think I have discovered the trick of it.” He bent closer to whisper his secret, “I need to think less, Bingley, and just accept whatever inanity is being spoken of as the only thing before me. And also laugh more, and it seems genuine the more I do it and sometimes it even feels genuine. I am trying not to look at Miss Elizabeth because I do not think I can cope seeing her laugh, smile and dance with other men, and I want her to see me making an effort at being more sociable. I do think it will make these events overall more bearable, eh?” Bingley shrugged his shoulders, unable to fathom the complexities of his deeply private friend, and not wishing to complicate an otherwise enjoyable evening with unnecessary introspection.

Elizabeth had discovered that she was almost equal to the task she set before herself; having been asked and agreed to several dances by some very eligible gentlemen, approved of by Lady Gwen and Mrs Gardiner, had endeavoured to scratch beneath the surface of two beautiful debutantes, the daughters of the Earl of Chatham, who being close in age, elected to come out a little later and a little earlier than was custom, at 19 and 17, so they could enjoy their first season together. Jane and Elizabeth saw a little of themselves in the pair, who clearly drew strength and confidence from each other. As they moved on to greet some other guests, Elizabeth continued to peer about her, searching for something.

“Lizzy, you are quite distracting me! If you insist on following his every movement, why did you insist he leave you here?”

“I’m not looking for him, I’m just looking,” she replied as she spotted him smiling and conversing with an attractive brunette in a magenta gown who was looking up at him with obvious admiration as she daintily played with the pearls at her throat. “He seems to be performing admirably, Jane, I’m sure that is the second young woman he has smiled at and talked to for more than half a minute. He hasn’t looked disdainfully at anyone! He is definitely not stalking up and down glaring at anyone, so that is good, is it not?”

“It is what you asked him to do, is it not?” Jane was not really attending as the Earl had just returned with two gentlemen who had asked for introductions, and she gripped Elizabeth under the arm to draw her closer. Both were sons of notable peers, had heard about the country charms and native beauty of the Bennet sisters and applied for both of their hands for their next open sets. Both were given and the usual small talk engaged in before they also departed in the natural ebb and flow of a large social gathering.

“I believe I shall declare my card full, Jane. I will need one set prior to the supper set to rest my feet and one at least between supper and the last set. Aunt Gardiner, I find I am feeling overheated, would you accompany me to the courtyard? I believe it is quite large enough to get lost in, according to Lady Evelyn.”

“I believe I shall join you too, Lizzy, it has become rather warm in here. Perhaps Uncle Gardiner could fetch us some punch, also?” She smiled prettily at her uncle, who needed not such inducements to agree with alacrity. The three ladies entered a slow-moving procession that eventually disgorged them into a beautifully landscaped walled courtyard, lit with sconces at regular intervals. Elizabeth took a deep breath, tilting her head to the night sky and told herself she was having a magical night. The cool air in her lungs and the quieter surrounds helped to convince her it was so.

When her uncle returned with the punch he was assisted by Darcy and Bingley, carrying the extra cups, and followed by a veritable bevy of beautiful ladies vying for their attention. Introductions were made as the cups were handed over, but Elizabeth paid scant attention as her insides did several somersaults as she witnessed the ease and friendliness exhibited by her formerly taciturn fiancée. In an effort to ignore her rebellious stomach, she drank a little too fast and coughed rather indecorously, which drew solicitous attention from Darcy, and only made her short with him. Her embarrassment was expressed in uncharacteristic disdain for his companions and drew from her aunt an admonishing glance. She took another slower sip, and with a smile as genuine as it was brittle, attempted to catch the tone of the conversation and appear interested in their concerns. She must have managed it as her companions discernibly relaxed, but her thoughts had turned inward seeking a root cause for her disquiet.

When Darcy escorted her into the ballroom for the first dance and they took their places opposite one another midway down the line, she put aside her concerns and gave him a genuine and brilliant smile. His returning grin was incandescent, and he was unable to glance elsewhere for the entire first dance. He finally felt completely at ease and so comfortable in her company that they did not exchange words for many minutes. Their complete focus on each other was as clear a declaration of their understanding as any announcement could be. Darcy began to tease her about needing to have some conversation or perhaps they could recite love poems to one another, given theirs was a fine, stout love? She responded in kind and they laughed and traded sonnets and mildly inappropriate limericks for the rest of the dance. Elizabeth felt she had finally regained her equanimity at the close of the dance, until she was claimed by another gentleman and watched Darcy bow over her hand and turn to claim his next dance partner.

Elizabeth had never experienced such a tumult of sensations with such intensity in her life and she did not know what to do with them. She could scarcely identify each wave of feeling as it crashed over her and left her short-tempered and unable to enjoy any of her dances, least of all her next, the supper dance, with Darcy. She watched him smile, laugh and be smiled at and laughed with by a succession of attractive, wealthy and titled women and noticed that as often as she looked at him, he was not looking at her.

She was a rational creature, and she knew she had asked him to exert himself. She was unable to account for her want of spirits at this her debut into the society he was born to dwell in. She saw nothing of his cold disdain, his hauteur or his contempt for the women who had been stalking him since he came of age almost a decade ago and she could not reconcile this paragon of social virtue with the man she had fallen in love with. They were again enjoying a companionable silence during their dance, by Darcy’s reckoning, but Elizabeth had been stewing over the fact that he had spent dance after dance actually talking with his other partners, and now could not be bothered to speak to her! Her dissatisfaction began to become apparent to Darcy in her hurried releases and her alternately glittering and downcast eyes. She could no longer look at him and by the end of the dance was barely touching him. Rather than endure the second set, he deftly slipped them out of the line and escorted her past the supper tables and out into the courtyard, looking for the most private space propriety could afford them. He led her to a low stone wall surrounding some exotic plant life and in the shadow of two sconces and entreated her to sit beside him. She refused and tried to pull away, shaking her head, breathing heavily and attempting to compose herself. He gripped her hands tighter and drew her to him, forgetting propriety as he looked up into her tense face and kissed her hands, willing her to look him in the eyes.

“I don’t know what is wrong with me, but I am so angry at you, Fitzwilliam! You have spent the night talking and laughing with everyone else, and we spend 15 minutes together and you can think of nothing to say to me! I thought I was the one worth talking to!” Her eyes were full of unshed tears, and she stepped back as he released her in surprise and some anger himself. “I cannot do this here, I cannot embarrass myself and your family, can you please, please not ask it of me? Not here, not now, I need to get through this night, I need to be seen to behave better, for my own pride, Mr Darcy, please.” The force of her speech brought some regularity to her breathing, allowing her to blink the tears away. She found the strength to look him in the eyes and taking his hands in hers, she pulled him to standing. She had seen the answering flare of anger and confusion and knew this conversation could not be had here. “Please, Mr Darcy, can we continue on as though this has not happened?” She gestured to herself and had unconsciously reverted to the formal address, though they were alone, as she needed some distance from the turbulence in her heart. She heard the hurt in his reply.

“Of course, Miss Elizabeth, I will endeavour to continue as we were before. We will need to speak of this as soon as you are able, I cannot like leaving things as they are for too long. If I have-”
“Please, Fitzwilliam, I do not want the dam to burst. I will ask for an opportunity for a private interview at Gracechurch Street tomorrow. Perhaps a walk in the park?” She had forced a lightness and levity to her tone that she did not feel. “I hope I will have a better sense of the state of my own mind by then.” She let go of his hands to slip her arm beneath his elbow and allowed him to escort her slowly back to join their party at supper.

Schooling both of their features to almost their former serenity, they discovered they were quite equal to the performance and artifice necessary to keep their friends and acquaintances complacent. Jane was perhaps the only one not fooled, but she knew her sister well enough not to ask and after briefly assessing her genuine soundness, focussed all her attention on her delightfully uncomplicated suitor. The rest of the ball was conducted in much the same way as it began, although the consciousness of distance between Elizabeth and Darcy dampened both their enjoyment of the ball and each other. It was heralded a great success by the Fitzwilliam clan, and despite her internal struggles, Elizabeth had apparently charmed Lady Gwen’s friends and made all the right enemies, the names and details of which she would have to apply to Jane for as she could not remember a single one.

The ball was ended on a waltz, which had two very salutary effects. Both Elizabeth and Darcy were nervous entering into the physical intimacy of the dance but discovered that more than 10 minutes locked in each other’s arms and looking only upon each other’s faces was beneficial in reminding them why they were there in the first place. Both of their smiles were heartfelt and genuine by the end of the dance. And by the end of their dance, both Jane and Bingley had discovered that a waltz was the perfect occasion to ask for and be granted a hand in marriage.



CHAPTER 21

The news of Charles Bingley and Jane Bennet’s engagement was announced to Lizzy overnight as the precursor to a two-hour long dissection of Elizabeth’s overwrought emotional state. They had left the ball not long after the waltz, grateful they had lasted to the end and were able to finish on relative, if not equal, high points. Jane, truly ecstatic at her straightforward felicity, could not help but laugh at Elizabeth’s irrational reaction to Darcy’s behaviour, admonishing her to show some faith in that gentleman’s steadfast and unwavering love for her and pointing out exactly how well he had obeyed her strictures. As the sun began to pierce the London fog settling over Gracechurch Street, Elizabeth had identified the main source of her discontent. Though she was worried about how to explain herself to him later that day, she could no longer keep her eyes open and quietly joined Jane in slumber. Rising blearily at noon, she left Jane snoring quietly, completed her toilette and joined the children in the nursery for luncheon. Her Aunt had risen earlier to see the children but had returned to bed not long after Lizzy had woken. She had asked for and received permission to receive Darcy later that day, though a walk in the inclement weather was out of the question.

He presented himself at 2pm and was conducted into a lesser used drawing room at the back of the house to find Elizabeth waiting for him alone, reclining on the couch by the window. He looked tired, concerned, and confused, but utterly handsome for all of that. Elizabeth felt a fresh wave of guilt as she rose and watched him enter. He came to sit beside her on the settee and the maid entered to arrange the tea and pour for them both before retiring to a distant table out of earshot, to polish the silverware. Mr Gardiner was definite about propriety, but Lizzy knew Anna to be completely trustworthy and discreet so had no qualms about conducting a private conversation with Darcy in her presence. She put her tea down, turned completely to face him in her favourite defensive position, legs curled up on the squab beneath her skirts, her back against the arm of the couch, chin on her knees. He turned his body to look her squarely in the face, unable to resist glancing down at her stockinged feet peeking out from beneath her loose morning dress, crossing his knee awkwardly towards her. He looked slightly ridiculous, attempting to shift his stiff and tall frame to mirror her position and she suppressed a smile. She would have to teach him to slouch, amongst many other things. She reached for his hands and leaning towards him, tugged his limbs about and rearranged his person until he looked more comfortable and only when he caught her hand up to his and pressed her open palm to his mouth, did she stop to consider how much she affected him merely by her touch.

“Forgive me, Fitzwilliam.”

He continued to kiss her hand and then rested it upon his cheek, entwined with his own as he looked up. “I cannot forgive you for your innocent gestures, Elizabeth, they delight me, and I do not wish you to stop.”

“I am glad for it delights me also, but I meant to apologise for my behaviour last night. I am embarrassed to have to relate the feelings that came over me at the ball, I confess I had no inkling I would react so badly. I am only glad that it was not more obvious to everyone else. I should have hated to embarrass you and your family after all their efforts to ingratiate me into polite society.”

“You expressed anger at me, Elizabeth, can you tell me what I did that offended you?”

“You did everything I asked, and you did it so well and were so charming to everyone in the room that I began to realise how much I wanted my tall, stern and forbidding Master of Pemberley back. The one who would smile just for me, laugh at only my witty rejoinders and devastating repartee, the one who would open up and talk just for me, and not for anyone else. I was jealous of every smile you gave, every laugh I heard and every word you uttered to every other woman in the room, Fitzwilliam. I realised that I had expected you to fail because I was to be the only one for whom you should be winsome, charming and easy with. Well, excluding Georgie. In my jealousy, I began to feel that I was no longer special, that my One Darcy of Pemberley no longer saw me as his One Bennet of Longbourn and my confidence was so shaken that I was filled with a desperate kind of rage. I wanted to scream and have nervous fits and demand you pay attention to me! In short, I became my mother!” At this she buried her head in her knees, still gripping his hands she pulled them to cover her head to fully express her humiliation. She continued, her voice barely audible, “But the rational half of me, (thank the Good Lord for my father) instantly came alive to this unreasonable and completely unexpected sensation and I was at war with myself before I even knew what was going on.”

He kissed her head until she raised it and smiled into her teary eyes. “Is that all? You were jealous of the smiles, dances and conversation I gave to other women on your orders?”

“Yes! I am a ghastly harridan who can no longer be seen in polite society, Mr Darcy! I masked it until the end, but I wanted to do violence to every woman who dared to breathe in your direction. I thought I would find it funny, like I did with Miss Bingley – who we didn’t even see at the Ball - but Fitz, you never once smiled at her. It was obvious you cared nothing for her. And I was so spoiled in Kent, to have you essentially all to myself for those glorious few weeks - being the only woman in your life for that serious part of our courtship, where I began to truly see you for who you are. I don’t want to share you with anyone, and I am genuinely concerned for my state of mind. I don’t think it’s wise. I theoretically want you to be comfortable and easy in the company of other women at events, but I don’t want to feel like clawing out their eyes afterwards! I have to ask, Fitzwilliam, did you enjoy yourself? Did you think of me, while you were away from me? I confess I could not think of anyone else and I have to assume that my practiced good humour carried me through because I cannot recall a single conversation I had last night, with anyone but you. I don’t know if I can spend another night in such mental anguish! Perhaps, once we are wed, it will be better?”

He kissed her head, bowed in defeat once again, and laughed against her hair. “Oh, my dearest Lizzy. It was an effort of will not to look at you every moment, though I could not bear to see you dancing with other men, so I did not look at you at all then. But you were in my thoughts every moment. I will admit that I was happily surprised at my ability to feign amusement and interest, and while it wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, I realised that it all came from my complete confidence in you, that as a man who is essentially betrothed, I was untouchable. Although our betrothal is still largely unknown, I felt completely free to be myself, without fear of giving too much consequence. You gave me the freedom to be comfortable amongst virtual strangers, Lizzy! I confess it was the most pleasant time I have ever had at a ball, and it made me happy to think that it might presage future felicity for me, because I knew you would not want to be forever away from society, unlike myself.

Until I perceived your tension, I was delighted to think that I could be giving you pleasure in a way that was not completely unpleasurable for me also. I would do anything to make you happy, and if standing by your side, glowering at everyone else and smiling only for you is what will make you happy, I will revert to my natural state at your command.” She laughed and pushed him backward on the couch, pleased to feel the tension completely leave them both. “Oh, it was very wrong of me to ask you to make such changes, going against your nature in such a public way, and then become furiously and outrageously jealous when you proved how truly amiable you are! Really, Fitzwilliam, you should be more angry with me.”

“Well, I am concerned that your fears about turning into your mother appear to be not as groundless as I would have assumed...” This jibe earned him a cushion to the head, which would have devolved into something even less seemly for the Master of Pemberley, had Anna not chosen that moment to clear her throat noisily, and the two with clasped hands bent on merry mischief-making were recalled to their proper place. Leaning back to regard his fiancée, Darcy was struck anew with how young and free she made him feel. He had not interacted with another person with so little regard for propriety since Georgiana was a girl, and he could feel himself physically relaxing in response, shedding his stiff and unyielding posture in concert with his emotional release. His anticipation for their wedding grew with their every conversation, and knowing she was wishing to marry sooner also, increased it exponentially.

Elizabeth’s loose bun had tumbled down around her face and Darcy itched to run his hands through it as she sat more sedately next to him and rearranged all that was disarranged about her person. She smiled up at him as she leaned back and into his side as they continued to talk, both going over their expectations, renewing their professions and making plans for an earlier wedding. They talked of Jane and Bingley, of their next social engagement, and had just begun discussing when and how to approach her father and mother when Jane entered the drawing room and claimed Darcy’s heartfelt congratulations. Bingley had been invited to join them for a late dinner and was expected soon, while Mr Gardiner had spent a few afternoon hours at his warehouses superintended the arrival of a shipment of fabrics from the orient. It was occasionally taxing to straddle the life of a gentleman and a businessman, but he was willing to do whatever was necessary to forward the prospects of his dearest nieces. The contacts and networks he developed at these events did not hurt his business or political interests either.

The ball was the main topic of conversation when all were gathered, with much canvassed to Elizabeth’s benefit, as her emotional state had rendered her unable to recall much of the conversations or introductions for almost the entirety of the event. Piecing together bits and pieces she was able to satisfy herself that she had not embarrassed the Fitzwilliams or Gardiners and would most likely be able to conduct future conversations with new acquaintances without much difficulty. Many of these new acquaintances would be invited to a small soiree at Chilton House when they returned to town in a few weeks as Lady Gwendolyn was insistent upon announcing their engagement properly. There would be the usual announcement in the Times once Mr Bennet’s permission had been applied for and received, but as the Fitzwilliams were aware that Darcy would wish to disappear with his betrothed once wedded, she insisted their now shortened engagement period would have to be conducted as publicly as possible during the little season. Understanding the value socially for this public recognition in reducing and forestalling any suggestions of impropriety in what would appear to be a speedy engagement and wedding in the eyes of the ton, Darcy and Elizabeth agreed, happy to forego a more private engagement in favour of a completely private honeymoon.

It was during this conversation that the suggestion of a double wedding was raised. Neither sister was willing to forego standing up for one another, and it became apparent that one or the other couple would either have to wait a few months or submit to a reduced honeymoon period in order to accommodate this necessity. Both gentlemen were amenable, and the sisters overjoyed at the thought of sharing the busy and exciting anticipation and preparation period, witnessing one another’s wedding day and sharing an anniversary every year, without either having to feel a longing to expedite their own situation, was an expectation of exquisite felicity that once expressed became a necessity. There was no consideration given to the possibility of jealousy or bitterness at sharing the bride’s limelight for these two self-effacing sisters. The more the subject was canvassed, the more the idea took hold and became a thing of absolute necessity, going so far as to consider making a joint announcement in the Times and applying to the Fitzwilliams to announce the engagements of both sisters at their soiree.

Plans were made to return to Hertfordshire at the end of the week, which would give Elizabeth and Jane three mornings to make the social calls with Lady Gwen that the Countess deemed absolutely necessary and effect the Bennet Sisters early introduction to society before their engagements were announced. Elizabeth was amazed at the almost military precision and strategy that came into force and was grateful to have the Earl and Countess working for them in this process and not against them.

© Janine van der Kooy
SubjectAuthorPosted

Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 19 - 21

Janine van der KooyJune 25, 2022 09:20AM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 19 - 21

Janine van der KooyJuly 23, 2022 03:19PM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 19 - 21

Lucy J.June 27, 2022 02:05AM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 19 - 21

MichaJune 26, 2022 04:37PM

Re: Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 19 - 21

EvelynJeanJune 26, 2022 04:17AM



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