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Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 32-34

August 25, 2022 04:21PM
AN: Almost complete. Just trying to figure out how best to end a character study that turned into a novel length variation and doesn't seem to want to end, despite having a HEA about 20 chapters ago. This has been, and still is, so much fun, I may have to try another one!

CHAPTER 32

Georgiana squealed in delight and spun her future sister-in-law around to view her from every angle. Elizabeth had just tried on the dress Georgiana had particularly chosen the fabric and design for, with Phoebe’s able assistance. Mrs Gardiner had brought Phoebe on this call with Elizabeth and Jane as the dresses made for her had been sent direct to Darcy House along with Georgiana’s purchases as they had all been paid using the Darcy account.

They were all happily ensconced in the mistress’s chambers which had been filled with more dresses than Elizabeth had ever seen in her life as Darcy had instructed Georgiana to select fabrics with Mrs Gardiner and choose some designs to have made according to Elizabeth’s taste and specifications. Mrs Gardiner and Phoebe had proven themselves invaluable in moderating some, but not all, of Georgie’s more enthusiastic choices and had become the best of friends in the process. The dress she was currently modelling was Georgie and Phoebe’s choice for the engagement ball at Chilton House, which had begun its life as an intimate soiree to help introduce Elizabeth to key members of London Society but was now the event of the Little Season to celebrate the Bennet Sisters’ engagements.

Georgiana had chosen a fabric of iridescent blue that shimmered with a barely discernible swirling pattern blending the various shades and rendering an almost exact match to her brother’s cerulean eyes. The fabric had also been turned into a matching waistcoat, so confident was she that this would be the dress Elizabeth chose. It had a lower cut and a sensual flowing style that was at once more regal and less formal than the current fashion and it showed Elizabeth’s petite frame to perfection. The dress had been trimmed discreetly with tiny sparkling beads on the bodice and along the short train but was otherwise unadorned.

It was a colour that Elizabeth rarely wore, and she was sceptical when she was shown it, though she immediately thought of Darcy’s eyes and wondered how it would be to look as though she was drowning in his eyes, when she routinely felt that way whenever he looked at her. When Georgie spun her towards the mirror, she could not repress the audible gasp. Phoebe joined Georgie in squealing and clapping, before stepping forward to adjust the fall of the skirt and arrange her train as though she was posing for her portrait. Elizabeth’s slightly darker skin tone carried the weight of the deep colour so well it made her glow. She finally noticed her own astonished face and began to giggle.

“I have never stolen my own breath away by what I have seen in the looking glass. Do you think One Darcy of Pemberley will approve, Number Two?” She quirked a grin at the still vibrating Georgie. “You have outdone yourself, Georgiana. This is definitely my favourite. I may have to wear this one to the wedding, and possibly every other event I attend. Can we secure the whole bolt of this fabric, Aunt? I don’t think I ever want to see another woman wearing this particular colour. It is like having his eyes upon me always...” She whispered the last almost to herself and then noticed Jane behind her, silently weeping. Instantly chagrined, she made her way to her sister. “Oh Jane, whatever is wrong?!”

“Forgive me, Lizzy, I am being silly. These are tears of joy! Stand back, we don’t want tear stains on this lovely fabric!” She started half-laughing through her sobs. “It is just, I am so happy for you, and I am already so happy for me, and I don’t know what to do with all this happiness!” She refused to let Elizabeth embrace her, so they stood clutching at one another’s arms, both crying and laughing, realising this is what it meant to burst with joy. “Lizzy, do you think we will acquit ourselves well for our future husbands? I mean, you look like a Countess in that dress already-”

“And you always look and act like a princess even in a hessian sack, Jane!”

“Yes, but there will be actual Countesses, and Ladies, Barons and Dukes and all manner of very important people. And I am just Jane Louise Bennet, marrying Charles Phillip Bingley, and I am beyond happy just for that and oh, it is just too much, Lizzy, tis too much!” Elizabeth looked closely at her sweet Jane and realised that the excess of emotion was genuine, if bewildering, happiness and not overwhelming fear. “How can I bear so much happiness?!” Elizabeth laughed and kissed her sister’s hands, the only available parts of her she was permitted to reach.

“But, truly, Janey, how do I look in this dress?”

After much laughter and drying of tears, Jane was able to give her honest opinion and by the end of the visit, Elizabeth’s apparel for the ball, the morning calls the days after and the concert a week hence had been chosen and the maids began packing the selections to be taken to Gracechurch Street. As much as Elizabeth was looking forward to calling Darcy House her home, she would be dressing and preparing herself for all of these events in Cheapside. Her contrarian nature secretly revelled in that knowledge, taking great joy in her humble beginnings and committing to herself never to become too high-minded despite her recent elevation to the Ton.

Lady Chilton had invited Jane and herself to stay at Chilton House but after confirming with Darcy that his aunt would not be offended, or rather that he would not care if she was offended, Elizabeth politely declined and honestly declared that she wished to share this part of her engagement period with her sister and her dearest relations in London, knowing it would be the last time she would likely ever stay with them as a Bennet daughter.

Elizabeth remained behind in her chambers while the others went to the parlour for refreshments. She dismissed her maids, gratefully acknowledging their assistance in returning the chambers and her wardrobe to a semblance of neatness after their whirlwind morning. Her eyes were drawn to the door which she knew opened directly through to the master’s chamber. She had declined entering it when she was given the grand tour, not wishing to look anywhere too long out of embarrassment at where her thoughts may lead, but it was the one room of the house where all her thoughts tended of late. A knock at the door diverted her thoughts and she turned to join her family. There would be time enough to discuss her hopes and dreams for their future.



CHAPTER 33

“Lydia! Will you please stop squashing me! I told you there wasn’t room in here for both of your bandboxes!”

“Well, I am stuck in the middle and cannot breathe with these boxes on top of me! Mary, move over a little! Why did you have to bring the biggest book you could find? Can we not have the window open? Lord, it’s so hot in here!”

Mary looked up from her well-worn edition of Fordyce’s Sermons, blinked owlishly at Lydia behind her teetering pile of boxes, then back down at her book pointedly, and forebore from speaking. Across from the three girls, and sitting forward facing in the old, slightly less well-sprung Bennet carriage, sat a delighted Mrs Bennet and a despondent Mr Bennet. They were on their way to London, having finagled an invitation to Darcy House from the sweetly unsuspecting Miss Darcy, while arranging the early transport of Elizabeth the week before through Mrs Gardiner. It was all couched in terms of a lovely surprise for Lizzy and Jane, but aware of her brother’s dislike of such things occurring in his own home, Georgie had asked his permission.

Horrified at the thought of going against Elizabeth’s expressed desire to limit exposure of her family to London until after they wed, plans were hurriedly arranged for Elizabeth and Jane to accept Lady Chilton’s kind offer to stay with her, and for the rest of the Bennet family to squeeze in with the Gardiners.

Waiting for their family to arrive at Gracechurch Street, Elizabeth was furious but could not see how the invitation could be reversed. She was in no mood to accommodate her embarrassing relations anywhere near the Darcys or the Fitzwilliams before the wedding. She still wasn’t entirely convinced that Darcy wouldn’t change his mind, but she was also tired of putting up with appalling behaviour simply because her mother was too vulgar to not encourage it and her father was too indolent to put a stop to it.

They were arriving a week before their Engagement Ball, and she was going to extract a promise from her parents that her youngest sisters would not be considered out in London and were also not sufficiently in command of their own behaviour to merit an invitation into society, particularly the ball. Meeting with the Fitzwilliams at Darcy House for tea should provide enough ammunition to force the argument. She had asked Darcy to prepare his family as best he could, but hoped the enormity of the circumstances and the rank of those in attendance would help to curb her mother’s worst inclinations, if not her sisters’.

The time was well past the hour they were expected when a footman in Darcy livery appeared at the front door with a note for Elizabeth. “Good grief, I knew it! Jane, they have gone direct to Darcy House! What was Papa thinking?” She looked up at the footman, who nodded and said the carriage was waiting to transport them whenever they were ready. Within minutes they were on their way to Darcy House, unsure of what mayhem would greet them when they arrived.

All was quiet when they entered the hall, and they made their way nervously to the morning room to see a relieved Darcy and Bingley rise to greet them. Mrs Bennet sat enthroned in the largest chair in the room, smirking contentedly, while Mr Bennet managed to look amused, and yet somehow embarrassed. He rose to greet his daughters, who returned his affections, although Lizzy was reserved in her discomfort, knowing it was largely owing to his indolence that her wishes had been undone. She immediately asked, “Where are Kitty, Lydia and Mary?”

It was Darcy who responded. “They expressed a wish to see the rest of the house and could not wait. Georgie accompanied them, they have been gone some time and have not returned, though I think I can hear the pianoforte being played-” He broke off as loud voices could be heard heralding the imminent arrival of Kitty and Lydia.

“I saw the pink room first, Kitty, that will be my room not yours!”

“We saw it at the same time, Lydia and I am 2 years older than you! It is not your place to decide where we sleep!”

“Well, I want it! I was the one who wanted to come here, and Mama arranged it all just as I wanted. She will make sure I get what I want!” The footman had opened the door just as Lydia spoke her last words and she hurried forward to her mother. “Mama, there is the most glorious pink room in the house that I must stay in. It is perfect for me, it is just my favourite colour and Kitty only wants it because I do! She always wants everything I have, and I cannot help being prettier and more popular than she is!”

Mortification and resolve crystallised upon Elizabeth’s countenance as she swept her gaze from Lydia to Darcy and finally settled upon her father, whom she held responsible for both the root cause and the present impetus for their current predicament. Having averted his eyes from hers, Elizabeth was forced to speak.

“Papa, the Bennets are not invited to reside here in Darcy House, as my express advised you. Your presence was awaited at Gracechurch Street and once we have enjoyed refreshments here, we will accompany you to our aunt and uncle’s house.”

Lydia exploded. “Of course, we are to stay here! There is no room at Aunt Gardiner’s for all of us, and Mama agreed with me-”

“I am not speaking to you, Lydia or to Mama. Papa, Jane and I have accepted Lady Chilton’s generous invitation to stay at Chilton House while you and the family are in London. You are invited to call at Chilton House tomorrow morning to meet the Countess and her youngest son, Colonel Fitzwilliam. We will discuss the rest of the family’s engagements after that.”

Mr Bennet opened his mouth, but it was Lydia’s loud guffaw that was heard, “Listen to you, Lizzy! You don’t get to decide what we do or where we go and we have been invited to stay here especially by Miss Darcy, haven’t we?” She looked around for confirmation from Georgiana, who attempted to nod and shake her head at the same time while beseeching her brother to intervene. He needed no further encouragement.

“Miss Lydia, your sister is soon to become Mistress of Pemberley and Darcy House. All invitations will be dependent on her and not on Miss Darcy. Miss Elizabeth has made suitable arrangements for her family’s unexpected change of plans, and I am not inclined to alter them.” He came to stand beside his sister, who was nodding vigorously as he spoke. It was apparent that Miss Darcy was completely overwhelmed by Lydia’s unrestrained suppositions. At that moment, a maid entered with tea and refreshments. Lydia took the opportunity to declare loudly, “Well, all of my trunks have already been taken up to my room, as I told the maid who attended us.” She waived an airy hand at the direction of the parlour maid, who had brought the tea and looked bemused as this was the first time she had seen the guests.

Georgiana’s eyes widened as Darcy looked sharply at Lydia. She spoke for the first time at barely above a whisper, “Actually Miss Lydia, our staff have strict instructions to only obey directions expressly received by my brother and myself, and they know to ask for confirmation before complying.” She looked a little chagrined at Elizabeth and murmured, “We have had other visitors on occasion overstep their position as guests and attempt to issue or countermand instructions to our staff, so my brother has had to make it very clear to them that no one, even should they be peers or peeresses, has authority over any of our staff.” Darcy looked at his sister with warm approval as she exerted herself beyond her customary diffidence.

Lydia harrumphed in response and went to sit by her mother in high dudgeon to receive her customary petting and consolation. Mrs Bennet, unable to reconcile the conflicting emotions of swelling pride (in one daughter soon being the Mistress of Pemberley) and shrivelling indignation (at another daughter’s thwarted desires) settled for patting her peevish youngest’s hand as she slouched on the settee beside her, while smiling hopefully at the future mistress.

Elizabeth ignored both and proceeded to assist Georgiana in serving tea. She spoke briefly to Darcy who then directed a footman to carry out his beloved’s wishes immediately. Mary had slipped in quietly from the music room, where she had been waylaid by the beauties of the room and its instruments, having been advised by a maid that refreshments were being served. She helpfully sat by Georgiana and engaged her in conversation about music, perceiving an opportunity to forward a friendship with Miss Darcy and hoping to shield her from the worst excesses of younger sisters.

The visit continued at a less fractious tempo, with Mrs Bennet attempting to mollify Elizabeth by showing her best attentions to Mr Darcy. As her best attentions were no less vulgar and unrefined than her worst, he bore it all with the same fortitude he displayed in Hertfordshire. Kitty and Lydia, whispered loudly in their seats about who they might meet and which Lords and Dukes they might dance with at the ball, and if they would be more handsome and amiable than Captains Denny, Carter or Sandison.

Mr Bennet, however, showed every affectation of disquiet at his circumstances and at what he perceived as Elizabeth’s high-handed management of the situation. Ever desirous of achieving his own peace and tranquillity, he did not appreciate her unmoving stance towards his wife’s unreasonable demands on behalf of her favourite and he foresaw in it more vexation and exertion to come his way. Elizabeth noted his disapproval and strengthened her own resolve. She would begin as she meant to go on, and her loyalties lay with Darcy and their future family. As much as she loved her family, her father especially, she would not purchase temporary peace now at the expense of any future harmony with her betrothed.

The Bennets were sent on their way to Gracechurch Street in one of the Darcy carriages, as Elizabeth’s first request to Darcy had been to instruct the Bennet’s coachman to take all the luggage to the Gardiner’s immediately and unload them according to the housekeeper’s instructions. Elizabeth was disappointed to note that both her father and Lydia’s goodbyes to her shared a disturbing similarity in their marked incivility. It appeared she could no longer blame her mother for Lydia’s poor behaviour when she received an example such as this from her father also.

Things did not improve when they met again at Chilton House the next day. Mrs Bennet was awed into an avaricious silence as she gazed at the opulent wealth surrounding her. Mr Bennet was perfunctorily civil, as though intending to convey his disdain for the nobility by a general lack of respect and simple manners. He had brought a book, and after introductions and a few passing remarks, opened it and left it to the rest of his party to forward the conversation. Kitty and Lydia did nothing but eat and drink noisily and flirt with the Colonel, who had appeared in his regimentals, asking all manner of inappropriate questions about his status, his rank and his prospects. His amusement was apparent, as was his mother’s displeasure. Mary and Georgiana continued their private conversation on favourite composers, so the general conversation was continued only at the very best efforts of Bingley, Jane, Darcy and Elizabeth.

The visit was blessedly short, every minute excruciating for Elizabeth, and the whole family were then taken to Bond Street on a shopping expedition. Darcy insisted on buying gifts for all of his future sisters, allowing them to make use of his accounts at various milliners, haberdashers and dress shops. Elizabeth accompanied them to provide the necessary regulation on her fiancé’s pocketbook, while Jane used her considerable talent for peace-making to mediate the parties. Mary joined her father and Darcy at the booksellers and spent her future brother’s money on a new edition of sermons and some new sheet music recommended by Georgiana. It was a more pleasant afternoon for Elizabeth and Jane, as with Lydia mollified by the tonic of shopping, they were able to revel in the bonhomie of sisterhood as Bennets, knowing their lives would soon be very different.



CHAPTER 34

A cacophony of sound reached the ears of the Gardiners when the footman opened the door and the whirlwind that was Lydia and Kitty burst into the hallway divesting themselves of bonnets and outerwear and rushing upstairs to look over their purchases in the bedroom they always shared when the Bennets came to their London relations. Elizabeth and Jane sighed, began assisting the footman to collect all the articles, following the more sedate entry of Mary, who went straight to her own room to begin reading her new book, after greeting her Aunt and Uncle. Mrs Bennet greeted her brother and sister effusively and swept into the parlour while Mr Bennet entered, absently reading a new treatise on Plato’s dialogues.

Ere long, Kitty and Lydia returned downstairs arguing over the ownership of ribbons recently purchased. Unable to mediate the dispute with any satisfaction and suggesting that if a resolution could not be reached perhaps the gifts could be returned, Jane suggested they visit with their younger cousins in the school room and partake of refreshments there, while the remaining Bennets settled in for refreshments and conversation in the parlour with the Gardiners. It was not many minutes before the topic of the ball was placed front and centre, surprisingly, by Mr Bennet, in the first words he had spoken to her at any length since their arrival in London. He had been ruminating quietly after Kitty and Lydia had disturbed the peace of the parlour.

“Lizzy, we will have no peace at Longbourn if Kitty and Lydia are not invited to attend their own sisters’ engagement ball.”

“What is that to me, Papa? This ball is the sole responsibility of Darcy’s Fitzwilliam relations, it is a ball they are giving at which they will announce their nephew’s engagement. That they have allowed me the delightful privilege of sharing my announcement with my dearest sister, whose fiancé is of no relation to them either, is due to the strength of their attachment to Darcy and his friend, and the comportment, grace, dignity and beauty of my sister. I will not demonstrate contempt for my future family by forcing them to bear with the impropriety and ungovernable wildness of our youngest sisters. Regardless of how often the Darcys come to town in future, we must do all in our power to begin well. The Bingleys will need good connections and good society to establish themselves as part of the gentry also. The ton is not the arbiter of morality and virtue, but it holds most of the keys to good opinions and only the very wealthy or strong-minded can withstand its derision for long.

I will not have my future relations’ names besmirched by children dressed up as adults, who should remain in the schoolroom to where Jane had to send them not 10 minutes ago! They have been forced upon the society of Meryton yet have been given no instruction, but the arts and allurements required for husband catching; given no discernment, but the ability to spot a handsome face above a red coat at 100 paces, and worse still, they have been given no character, but the whims and vagaries of their shallow inclinations. Jane and I have tried in vain, and as much as we love them, indeed because we love them, we can see that they are little children still and in London, for their sake and for our family name, they should be treated as such. We hoped to avoid having this conversation at this point, by making it clear that the family were not to join us in London before the wedding.”

Mrs Bennet’s gasping breaths during this speech turned into wails and remonstrances, “How can you say such things about my beautiful Lydia! And Kitty! They are good girls, and how will they catch wealthy husbands if they are not out in society? What good will it do them for you to be married to rich men if you do not introduce them to their friends, Lizzy? Jane, you cannot be so heartless and unloving as to leave them out?!”

Jane spared a glance at Lizzy. “Mama, Lizzy is right. We have been to a number of society events here at the invitation of the Countess. The way our younger sisters behaved at a simple morning call to the Fitzwilliams’, not to mention Lydia’s appalling conduct when you arrived at Darcy House, may be acceptable in the country, but it is not even close to the standard required here in London. Is that not true, Aunt Gardiner? In truth Mama, it is not acceptable anywhere, it is merely tolerated in Meryton, where we are the Bennets of Longbourn, the seventh generation of landowners and as such, hold the highest rank in our little part of the world. Even Lizzy skirts propriety here from time to time, forgive me Lizzy-”

“No, you are perfectly right, Jane. My forthright speech and teasing manner are not easily received here, and I have to be careful also that my desire for liberty in manner does not bring my family into disfavour. If Lydia and Kitty were censured for their lack of fashion, their lack of accomplishments or their ignorance, I would not heed it, but they are censured and have already embarrassed their whole family, and by extension our future families, because their behaviour bespeaks a wantonness and a lack of character that I cannot deny.”

“But Lizzy, I promised Lydia if she gave up her plans to go to Brighton with the Forsters, she would be able to come to London and enjoy all the balls and parties here!” Mrs Bennet was barely keeping her seat in her agitation and looked to her husband for support.

“Indeed, I was on the point of sending her to Brighton, Lizzy, before this new plan required I attend the family to London. Would that I had kept to my original plan, it would have saved me a deal of aggravation!”

“Papa, I was very clear about our plans for our engagements in London. Out of deference to you and to the Countess, who is doing so much more than we deserve in easing our way into their circle, we did not include the whole family in any of our London events. You know full well that London society is completely different to Meryton. I am in no way ignorant of the fact that it is populated with women of Caroline Bingley’s ilk, or worse, and if I could choose to avoid it I would, but the Darcys of Pemberley occupy a distinct place in London society, and I will be responsible for forwarding Georgiana’s place also.

By the by, I cannot believe you would countenance sending Lydia unaccompanied to a place like Brighton! Mrs Forster is barely older than Lydia herself and is her equal in ignorance, discernment and character. It would be like the blind leading the blind! And Colonel Forster has his own responsibilities, Papa. Lydia is a disaster waiting for the right circumstance to ruin us all. You know Kitty will follow wherever she leads.” Elizabeth had risen from her seat during this speech and placed herself squarely in front of both her parents.

“Papa and Mama, if you were an Earl and a Countess, they could probably get away with it, and the worst that would happen is they would be compromised or ruined, and you would have to pay off a man to marry them. I know it is unfair, but it is the way the world works, Mama. Can you afford to pay off a Duke’s son if he chooses to take liberties that Lydia may or may not be unaware that she is offering with her behaviour, Papa? No, I thought not. If you are expecting the Darcys to take responsibility then they, which means I, will exert some authority to avoid the pitfall in the first place. Which means they both go back to the school room, or better yet they get sent to an appropriate school until they are ready in every way to claim a Countess as a near relation. Papa, you know I am right. Si vis pacem para bellum.” She knelt before her father as she spoke, forcing him to look at her.

Thomas Bennet grimaced. “I wish I never taught you Latin. This is not war, Lizzy.” Elizabeth smiled at her father, wishing to soften her words, to show him they were spoken with love. “No, Papa, it is love and family, which is no small thing either.” She doubted whether he would ever find it within himself to do what was really required of him as the father of all his children, but she never doubted her love for him and for everything he gave her.

“What is this? What is she talking of? Thomas, I want Lydia to be able to attend balls and parties and take every opportunity to enjoy herself! There is nothing wrong with the way she behaves, she is just lively and loves to be the centre of everything. How will she find herself a rich husband if she is not out!”

“Mabel, my dear, need I remind you that your eldest daughters managed to catch the only 2 wealthy gentlemen to wander into your web in Meryton in the last decade. They did it without artifice, arts, allurements or asinine arrangements! They did it, in fact, in spite of our family’s best efforts at sabotaging them. And how did they do it? Entirely by being women of character who are worthy of being pleased. If you are sincere in your wish of ensuring that your daughters find respectable men of worth like Mr Bingley and Mr Darcy, then perhaps you should instruct them to become women of worth like their elder sisters.”

He took in the hurt and bewildered countenance of his wife, who despite their opposite natures, shared with him in their 5 precious gifts, and he softened. “I should say, perhaps we ought to instruct them together to become women of worth.” Mr Bennet nodded to his astonished and tearful daughters and took his wife up to their room for a private conference.
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Sufficient Encouragement: A P&P Variation Chapters 32-34

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