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Her Own Insignificance Chapter 2-3

September 08, 2022 01:53PM
Authors note: Thankyo all, for your kind words. And yes, Alida, I'm a Queenslander.

Chapter 2

With great eagerness, Lizzy opened the letter from Jane dated seven days earlier.
Jane spoke of the general goings on at home and in Meryton. She then got to the passage regarding Lydia.

Papa has now returned home with Lydia and the change in Lydia is most remarkable. She is a completely different person. When asked about her time in Brighton, it is as though she is forcing herself to speak cheerfully. She talks of it having been fun to go to plays and concerts and bands and dinner parties, however, one gets the impression that if asked to do those things again, she would have no interest in doing so. There is a remarked indifference to any officer, and she does not speak of any of them unless she is directly questioned. Her response regarding Lieutenant Wickham is distinctly un-Lydia like. Her words, and I quote, were “I found it hard to believe that one so very charming could act so very low. How he fooled us all!” is all I have gotten from her, which is followed by a rapid changing of the subject.

I do not know of what Papa and Lydia talked of during their trip home, but it has done wonders for Lydia and she and Papa seem to be much closer. Since Lydia has come home, Papa has me teaching Lydia how to do the household accounts and to my surprise, she is exceedingly good at it. She is very interested and curious about all of our expenses. Mary had been teaching Kitty, however Kitty did not show any great aptitude or interest for it. In addition, Papa has Lydia working in the kitchen this week and will have her helping do the washing next week. His reasoning there was to remind her that a poorly considered marriage choice would require her to help in household tasks if she could not afford servants. The strangest thing of all is that I have heard not a word of complaint from Lydia and she in fact seems almost cheerful helping in the kitchen.

I long for your return so we may say all again face to face.

Jane Bennet

Elizabeth shook her head amazed at what she had read. She was delighted that her father had finally taken Lydia to hand, however this change seemed almost unbelievable. It was at that moment that a servant entered followed by Mr Darcy. He bowed and Lizzy quickly stood and curtseyed. Her heart started to race slightly as her eyes locked onto his and she looked upon his smile which rendered his masculine face incredibly handsome.

She must have had a quizzical look on her face. “Miss Elizabeth, does something amuse you this morning? Have I left breakfast on my face per chance.”

She provided an answering smile. “Nothing of the sort Mr Darcy.” She asked the servant to bring in some tea and then turned back to Mr Darcy, indicating for him to sit. “I have just finished reading some letters from home.”

“I hope all your family are well?”

“Yes, they are all very well, even my youngest sister who has returned from Brighton early. I find it remarkably hard to believe, but from Jane’s account she is much changed and to all appearances, for the better.”

“That pleases you?”

“Greatly. I think that there is much that has been unsaid but I am greatly curious as to what has wrought this change. I suppose I shall have to wait for the complete picture of what has occurred until I return.”

Mr Darcy smiled a lop-sided smile. “But if I know you, your mind is busy trying to fill in all that was not said.”

“You presume to know me so well, Mr Darcy” was Lizzy’s response with a raised eyebrow. “But in this case you are right. I can think of nothing else.”

“Then let your imagination run free Miss Elizabeth and let your wildest suppositions out knowing I will say not a word.”

“I believe my youngest did have her heart engaged, I'm guessing with a young officer without sufficient funds to marry. I think my father had a long conversation breaking the realities of our financial situation to her and in terms that must have sunk in. But that is certainly enough of my youngest. The letter contained some news that would be of interest to you.” At Mr Darcy’s enquiring look. “It is news regarding the former Lieutenant Wickham.”

Mr Darcy immediately lost his smile and his whole body tensed. Lizzy wondered how she ever could have believed a word that came from Mr Wickham’s lips. “Former? What has he done now?”

“Lieutenant Wickham deserted his post at Brighton and is believed to have run off to London to escape his debtors. The worst of it was he ran off with a local shop-keepers daughter, probably just so he could pay for the carriage ride. I feel excessively sorry for her.”

Mr Darcy shook his head. “He will never learn to curb his spending habits or control himself.”

“He will never learn unless he faces consequences for his actions. I say this as his circumstances must be quite dire. Would there be any chance that he would try and approach you? Potentially blackmail you using Georgiana?”

“I think he knows that that would be a dangerous choice; he can push neither myself or Richard any further. I believe if Richard caught word of it, he would hunt Wickham down. But if desperate enough ...it is a possibility. I thank you, Miss Elizabeth for the warning. I will write to Richard when I return home.” Mr Darcy became contemplative. “You are right about Wickham never facing the full set of consequences for his actions. It certainly is time that he did.”

At that moment the servant returned with the tea, which Elizabeth served out. “Let us think no longer on Mr Wickham. What brought you here today?”

Mr Darcy’s eyes locked on hers again and it was as though time stood still. She could feel her heart beating fast in her chest and she could not hide to herself how much Mr Darcy affected her. “I had hoped we could go for a walk like we did at Rosings.”

“Unfortunately, with my Aunt and Uncle out, they were expecting me here, so I am not in a position to leave. Though a walk would be very pleasant. You will have to content yourself to tea inside with me,” she responded with a smile.

“A disappointment I can bare.” He looked steadily into her eyes and she felt a tingle go down her spine. “I am fortunate I have caught you alone. I wish to apologise to you over my behaviour to you both in Meryton and then at Rosings and it merited the severest reproof. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. The recollection of what I said then, of my conduct, my manners, my expressions during the whole of it, is now and had been many months, inexpressibly painful to me. Your reproof, so well applied I will never forget ‘had you behaved in a more gentleman-like manner.’ Those were your words. You know not, you can scarcely conceive, how they have tortured me;- though it was some time, I can confess, before I was reasonable enough to allow their justice.”

“I was certainly very far from expecting them to make such a strong an impression. I had not the smallest idea of their being ever felt in such a way.”

“I can easily believe it. You thought me devoid of every proper feeling, I am sure you did. The turn of your countenance I shall never forget, as you said that I could not have addressed you in any possible way; that would induce you to accept me.“

“We will not quarrel for the greater the share of the blame annexed to that evening,“ said Elizabeth. “The conduct of neither, if strictly examined, will be irreproachable; but since then, we have both, I hope, improved in civility. I for one, am most heartily ashamed of my opinions and of what I said. I, who prided myself on examining character, was blinded by prejudice to so wholly mistake your character and charmed by one not deserving of any notice.”

“What did you say of me that I did not deserve? For, though your accusations were ill- founded, formed in mistaken premises, my behaviour could hardly induce you to think well of me. The letter I wrote, did it soon make you think better of me? Did you, in reading it, give any credit to its contents?”

“With the charges I had laid to you on Lieutenant Wickham, I immediately realised how foolish I had been. Your treatment of him was nothing less than honourable and his behaviour, to you and others, abominable. I realised how easily I had been preyed upon and used, all because he found an easy target for his story to advance himself in our society.”

She paused to collect herself when addressing the sections regarding Jane. “It was harder to read the section on Jane and it took longer to give it the justice it deserved, however, on reflection, I recalled what my friend Charlotte had said about Jane’s serene countenance. I realised that I probably would have provided the same advice were I in your situation.”

Elizabeth dared not look at Mr Darcy as she spoke the next bit. “I view everything as either being before the letter or after the letter. For the last few months I could scarce think of anything else. I reviewed every interaction we ever had but in a completely new light. The more I thought of it, the better I felt that I understood you. Slowly, every one of my prejudices against you were removed.“

“I knew,” said he, “that what I wrote must give you pain, but it was necessary. I hope you destroyed the letter. There was one part especially, the opening of it, which I should dread your having the power of reading it again. I can remember some of the expressions which might justly make you hate me. When I wrote that letter I believed myself perfectly calm and cool, but am since convinced that it was written in a dreadful bitterness of spirit.”

“The letter, perhaps, began in bitterness, but it did not end so. The adieu is charity itself. But think no more of the letter. The feelings of the person who wrote, and the person who received it, are now so widely different from what they were then, that every unpleasant circumstance attending to it, ought to be forgotten.”

“Elizabeth, you are too generous to trifle with me. If your feelings are still what they were last April, tell me so at once. My affections and wishes are unchanged, nay stronger, for I respect your integrity even more. But one word from you will silence me on this subject forever.”

Somehow during the course of the conversation they had both come to sit on the edge of their seats, so their knees were nearly touching and their faces were closer together than what propriety strictly would allow. Elizabeth found her feelings all jumbled, astounded that he could still love her, gratitude and excitement, especially as his eyes were locked on hers. Her heart was thumping in her chest and she knew that she could not ruin this chance. “My feelings are completely different from what they were in April. Your presence affects me greatly - my feelings are completely confused by you. However I know that you want a wife that loves you. I most definitely like and respect the man that you are, but at this moment, I cannot say with surety that I return that affection, but I think it is possible that I could. I think it very possible in fact.”

Mr Darcy’s, previously pensive look now broke out into the largest smile that Elizabeth had ever seen on him, rendering it strikingly handsome. He took Elizabeth’s hand in his and knelt before her. “Miss Elizabeth, will you allow me to court you?”

Elizabeth could not help but smile in kind. “Nothing could give me more pleasure, Mr Darcy.” Mr Darcy brought her hand to his lips, his eyes never leaving hers.

When Elizabeth regained her senses Mr Darcy had gone back to sitting in his seat but he still retained her hand in his which she found she quite liked. “However, I do put some conditions on this courtship.” Mr Darcy lifted an eyebrow. “I would like to keep this quiet, only my Aunt and Uncle and my father are to know. This period is for us to get to know each other properly to determine that we are suited together.”

“I already know we are suited together. It is only you that needs convincing.”

“I disagree,” replied Elizabeth with an impertinent smile. “Now that I am no longer trying to pick fights with you, you may find me as dull as every other lady of the Ton and you may bore of me.” Mr Darcy protested of the possibility. Elizabeth held up her hand. “We may determine that we are not as well suited. Even if there is strong love at the start, if two people are not suited, eventually one or both end up making too many compromises becoming unhappy, which grows to indifference, resentment or at worst, disgust. That is not a fate I would wish for either of us. However, if it is known to my mother, I will be robbed of my choice.”

It was more Mr Darcy’s turn for an impertinent smile. “What I am hearing is that to ensure I get my wish I should enlist your mother's assistance. I am sure she would wish to be useful.”

“Teasing man,” replied Elizabeth. It was at that moment her Aunt and Uncle were announced. Both Elizabeth and Mr Darcy shot up to standing, blushing profusely.

Mr and Mrs Gardiner were quiet and clearly surprised to find Elizabeth not alone. Mr Darcy took the opportunity to start. “Mr Gardiner, could I have a private word?”

Elizabeth interrupted. “We might as well tell them both. All you say will be repeated to my Aunt, and it will speed up the process of it is done together. I also suspect that Aunt and Uncle have a lot of questions for me.”

“Mr and Mrs Gardiner, I have asked Miss Elizabeth if I could court her and she has accepted...that is if you consent to the courtship, Mr Gardiner?”

“As Mr Bennet granted me the right to do so, I’m delighted to consent to allowing this courtship.” Here he exchanged a look with his wife.

“This seems rather unexpected. Lizzy, we suspected that something had been up by the way you've clearly been holding back. I take it your degree of familiarity with each other is greater than you've led us to believe,” said Mrs Gardiner.

“The opinions I expressed last Christmas had been coloured by the testimony of Lieutenant Wickham, whom I now know to be a man not to be trusted. I had severely misinterpreted Mr Darcy’s character.”

Mr Darcy interrupted here. “I got to know Miss Elizabeth’s character much better whilst I was visiting Rosings. We spent much time in each other's company and I found I could fight my attraction to your niece no longer.” With a rueful smile he continued. “Though I understood her character, I had failed to understand her feelings and took it for granted that they reflected my own. I proposed and Miss Elizabeth rightly refused.”

Mr and Mrs Gardiner both gasped softly in surprise. Mr Darcy confined. “My proposal was awful. It was both rude and disrespectful. Any woman of character would refuse it and Miss Elizabeth is a woman of character. If anything, I admire and respect her more for it and am exceedingly grateful she has allowed me to court her.” With that he could not help but taking her hand and gallantly bestowing a kiss on it, making Elizabeth blush.

“Do not take all the blame of this yourself in front of my relatives. I did not behave well myself. I was too assured in my confidence in my abilities. I fell prey to Lieutenant Wickham’s lies and easy charm, and instead of hearing both sides of the story, as I was warned to do by nearly all, I relished an absurd assurance that I was in the right. It clouded my judgement. So I found out my folly when Mr Darcy wrote me a letter acquitting himself of my unjust accusations. Unfortunately he had left Rosings by this time, and I have had the last few months to think of nought else.”

Mrs Gardiner nodded. “Well that does address our questions.”

“Uncle, I have one condition on the courtship and that is that my mother does not find out about it. You know why.”

In response her uncle merely nodded. “That is sensible.” Mr Darcy stayed and chatted for another half hour as they discussed their plans. With Mr Darcy and Elizabeth courting, Mr and Mrs Gardiner decided to change their plans and instead of travelling to the next town tomorrow, which would have been their Northern most point before returning to London, they decided to stay for another three days in Lambton. Besides dining at Pemberley that night, they would go for a carriage ride and picnic the next day, followed by Darcy showing them some of the wilder sights of Derbyshire the day after. Mr Darcy said that after they left he would return to London, stopping at Longbourn on his way. With plans for the next few days made, he bid them adieu.

Chapter 3

Elizabeth dressed with care for dinner. She had mostly packed dresses suitable for travelling in, and only had one dress that was suitable for attending dinner at a place like Pemberley. She smiled each time she thought about Mr Darcy, about every look and touch, the kisses on her hand. She looked forward to seeing and speaking with him again and waited impatiently for the time to come to leave for Pemberley. It was with final relief and great anticipation she climbed into the carriage to go to Pemberley that night with Mr and Mrs Gardiner.

As their carriage pulled up in front of the grand house, they saw Mr Darcy descend the front steps to wait on them. Mr Gardiner handed his wife out, and Elizabeth found her heart beating wildly as Mr Darcy took her hand to assist her out. He had the most becoming smile and Elizabeth was struck by how truly handsome he was. He, in turn, could do nothing but stare at her as she turned the most dazzling smile on him.
As he placed her arm on his, he leaned in to whisper in her ear “you look beautiful Elizabeth.”

In return Elizabeth whispered back “and you, sir, are most handsome.” Elizabeth blushed at her own daring as she’d never spoken like that to a man before. “I must admit it feels so much better to have spoken all that has weighed so heavily on my mind for the last few months.”

Mr Darcy concurred and with Elizabeth's arm on his own, he led them inside into the parlour where the others waited. Mr Bingley greeted them all happily with his usual cheerful self. Miss Darcy was nervous but gladly happy with the change in company. Mr and Mrs Hurst greeted them politely, but with nothing else. Caroline , though her words were civil, her manner was haughty.

Mr Bingley kept the conversation going, conversing happily with the Gardiner’s comparing Derbyshire to his home in Scarborough, with the discussion moving to preference for the country or seaside.

“I think I can live anywhere happily,” said Mr Bingley. “When I'm at the sea, I love the noise of the waves crashing and the smell of salt in the air and looking out over the ocean into the distance. Yet once I’m in the country, I like the greenery and space and the ability to ride and hunt.”

“What about yourself, Miss Bingley?” asked Mrs Gardiner politely. “Having grown up near the seaside, where is your preference?”

Gushing, Miss Bingley replied “oh, most definitely the country over the seaside. Who could not love country such as this? It is so much more peaceful. The seaside is noisy as you always hear the waves, and it is worse at night. Storms are frightfully more fierce near the seaside. Most definitely the countryside for me.”

Mr Bingley interrupted here. “You probably don't like it as you nearly drowned at the beach when you were little.”

“What on earth are you talking about brother?” asked Miss Bingley crossly.

“You used to love going to the beach as a child until one time you managed to let go of the nurse's hand and ran straight into the waves. A wave came and knocked you into the water. I thought it was hilarious at first until the wave washed you further into the sea. Father had to dive in to grab you. You were completely sodden and freezing. After that, you were terrified of the sea. For years you refused to even go down onto the beach at all.”

Miss Bingley looked askance at her brother having shared something so traumatic and personal with all in the room. This did provide an interesting insight into Caroline’s character and Elizabeth took pity on her clear discomfort. “I must admit that there were no dangers like that in the country, not unless one wandered into one of the deeper lakes or dams, or got stuck outside during a snow storm, and even then we did not have many of them. For all my walking around Longbourn and Meryton I suffered no mishap worse than the odd twisted ankle.”

“But Lizzy, I remember you saying you had broken your foot once,” interrupted her aunt.

Elizabeth smiled. “Yes but that was not from walking. I had decided to offer our horse an apple...I must have been eight at the time. Well the horse was so excited by the prospect that it came charging at me and stopped...on my foot.”

Georgiana cried out. “Oh my, that must have been painful!”

“Yes, very much so, but it felt worse when it took its hoof off my foot and I then tried to walk on it. I managed to walk back to Longbourn and the doctor informed me that I had broken two of my toes.”

Mr Gardiner chimed in. “You haven't said the best part of the story. I remember your father writing to me of it. He said you'd limped back next to Jane and chatted away to her and it wasn't until you entered your father’s study, trying to hide your pain that you said to your father rather matter- of- factually ‘I think I've hurt my foot papa’ and then you started to cry.”

It was now Elizabeth’s turn to blush. “I didn't want her worrying too much or going to tell Mama first ...."

Mr Darcy looked at her thoughtfully, understanding dawning “And that, Miss Elizabeth, is why you prefer to walk rather than ride?”

“Yes, I suppose it is.” It was time to move the topic of conversation off herself. “Well, it looks like our topic has changed and it is mighty cruel of you all to have the single ladies to reveal their childhood traumas for your amusement without the rest of you sharing.” She threw a quick glance at Caroline, who was watching in interest, before turning her attention to Mr Bingley. “And it was very very meanly done Mr Bingley, to reveal such of your sister and to admit to having found it funny, do you not agree Miss Bingley?”

“I think you are right, Miss Eliza. How should my brother be punished?”

Mr Bingley held up his hands in mock surrender. “I'll do whatever the ladies decide. Would you like me to jump into the lake, perhaps?”

Elizabeth laughed. “I don't think that is necessary. We have revealed our childhood mishaps that have led to life long dislikes and fears. Now I think it is only fair you reveal what you do not like now because of something that happened in childhood.”

Despite Caroline’s intense dislike of Elizabeth, she could not help but feel some level of satisfaction in the turn of this conversation, especially away from herself. And to the discomfort of her brother. “Yes Charles, do tell.”

Mr Bingley just smiled easily. “Well I will admit that I don't like goats. When I was young and returning home, my hat was blown off and into the yard of an old woman. I went to fetch my hat, when all of a sudden I heard a ‘maaa’ behind me. I turned to see a goat charging at me. So I turned and ran for the nearest tree and climbed up it and I was stuck there as the goat butted is head for I don't know how long. Eventually the old woman who owned the goat returned home from the markets and held the goat back as I fetched my hat and beat a hasty retreat. I can still hear her laughing in my head,” said Mr Bingley, shaking his head as he spoke.

Elizabeth could see Caroline was clearly amused by the story. “Is your brother forgiven?”

“I'll think on it,” was her reply.

Elizabeth turned her focus. “Mr Darcy, as our host, surely it is your turn next.”

Mr Darcy’s dimple came out as he bowed slightly to Elizabeth. “As you wish.”

Caroline interrupted. “Surely one like Mr Darcy should not be expected to reveal such in company.”

“It would be ungentlemanly of me not to after you two ladies revealed your fears. It is no trouble. When I was only four, my parents had taken me to London. We were going to a large exhibition. My parents had run into someone they knew and were busy chatting with them and I was merely a boy of four, bored easily of conversation. So I wandered off. By the time I turned back to look for my parents I had no idea where I was or how I’d got there. There were so many strangers around and noone familiar. So I got myself more lost trying to look for them. My parents had alerted the staff, and there were many looking for me. Eventually a staff member took me by the hand and helped me to return to my parents. I guess from that moment on, I'm not very comfortable in crowds.”

Mr Hurst piped up then. “This might not be from my childhood, but I think it still counts. When I was sixteen, we were served some very lovely crab meat. But it must have been left out too long. I suffered the most awful gut pain. I could not eat or hold down anything for days. I haven't been able to eat crab, lobster or any form of shellfish after that.”

“I know what you mean there with the association of food to illness. When I was pregnant with my last child and as you know pregnant women’s tastes can change, I could not tolerate strawberries. I was offered some when I was visiting a friend, and ate some so as not to appear rude. It set off the most horrendous bout of morning sickness that even too this day I still can not eat them,” said Mrs Gardener.

Louisa admitted to a fear of dogs from a childhood dog bite, Mr Gardener to disliking snow having been caught outside during a snow storm, and Mrs Annerley to a fear of bees after falling into a hive.

Lizzy turned to Georgiana. “Miss Darcy, do you have any fears from unfortunate childhood incidents?”

With so many eyes turned towards her she managed to stammer out softly “Venetian glass vases.”

Everyone looked surprised at this. “I think there's a very good story behind this,” said Elizabeth mildly, encouraging Georgiana with a smile to proceed.

“Oh yes, dear Georgie, do tell us,” cooed Caroline.

“I was visiting my Aunt Catherine, Uncle Lewis and cousin Anne with father. Father had some business or other to finish with Uncle Lewis. Well, Aunt Catherine had a large venetian glass vase at the end of a hallway. Aunt Catherine was very strict on being prompt and I was running late for dinner, literally. I was running down the hall and slipped, running straight into the vase and shattering it. I fell and when I put my hand down, I cut it on a shard of glass and started bleeding all over the tile floor. Aunt Catherine came to see what the ruckus was to see her vase broken and blood all over the floor and she started screaming at me. It was only when Uncle Lewis came out that he thought to call for someone to fetch the doctor and for a servant to look at my hand. I ended up with five stitches in my hand. I've still got a little scar from it.” And here she offered out her hand, running her finger over a faint scar on her thumb. “Though I think I'm more scared of my Aunt Catherine.”

Lizzy smiled. “I can understand that, having met your Aunt Catherine. I can imagine her terrifying a young child. She's a very...” and here Elizabeth looked for some diplomatic words “...strong and forceful woman.”

Caroline looked suspiciously at Elizabeth, jealous at her having met some of Mr Darcy’s relatives when she had not. “Oh, and when did you meet Lady Catherine, Miss Eliza?”

With the utmost nonchalance, “Oh back in April when I visited my dear friend Mrs Collins, the former Miss Lucas. We were often at Rosing's together, were we not Mr Darcy?”

Mr Darcy smiled back. “Yes, frequently.”

Caroline realised there existed an even greater degree of intimacy between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth, but could not work out how to respond as it was time for dinner, and she had been placed far from Mr Darcy.

Mr Darcy placed Elizabeth on his right side, with Mrs Annerley on his left. Next to Elizabeth was Mr Hurst, then Mrs Gardiner, then Mr Bingley, with Georgiana at the foot of the table. Next to Mrs Annersley was Mr Gardiner, Louisa and then Caroline.

Though Caroline attempted to monopolise conversation with Georgiana, Charles and Mrs Gardiner ensured the conversation was quite lively and it pulled Georgiana into their animated conversation.

Mr Darcy, on the other hand, took full opportunity to monopolise his intended as far as possible, but to also show his abilities as a good host. “Miss Elizabeth, do you always like to make people reveal their vulnerabilities in public?”

“Was it not entertaining? Do you not think you now have greater insight into all of your guests?” and then in a lower voice. “Did you know of the incident with your sister and your Aunt?”

My Darcy’s visage turned dark. “No, I must have been away at school when they made that trip. Admittedly that behaviour from Aunt Catherine doesn't surprise me. No wonder Georgiana is so timid around my Aunt.”

“Mr Darcy, you can't protect everyone from everything. Our mistakes and misdeeds, accidents and adventures are the things that make life interesting. It would be very dull, sir, if noone ever suffered anything. Noone would have any good stories to tell, and dinners would be far less entertaining.”

Mr Darcy then turned the conversation to include Mrs Annersley. “Will you join us tomorrow for the carriage ride and picnic?”
And so the conversation pleasantly ambled from picnics, to the sights around Pemberley, to boyhood memories of escapades, all painting Mr Darcy in a more favourable light to Elizabeth. Caroline was shooting jealous looks at Elizabeth all through dinner, however was too far away to affect Elizabeth’s or Mr Darcy’s enjoyment of it.
Mr Gardiner also contributed greatly to the conversation, making it a very animated end of the table as they then spoke of the merits between different Shakespeare plays. Though keen for time alone with Darcy to help sketch his character more, she decided she could subtly interrogate him at the dinner table.

“With such a place as Pemberley here, I'm surprised you could ever pull yourself away from it. How much time do you spend in London or away?”

“As little as possible. This is home, this is where my heart lies. I find I need to go to London at least twice a year for business, and I've usually spent the Season there, though I'd be more than happy to forego the Season completely. It is good to catch up with friends and to see the amusements of London, but I feel I've had enough after about a month, and long to return here.” All this time he was looking at her speculatively, knowing this was an interrogation, rather than general conversation. “What of yourself, Miss Elizabeth? Do you rather wish for a future in town or one in the country?”

“I think our tastes coincide. London is amusing, but I prefer the freedom of the country. I believe I last at most three weeks before I am craving the countryside.”

Mr Gardiner concurred there. “I’m fairly certain I see the signs of wishing for home after about a week. When inside, you'll find her standing or pacing, finding reasons to go to the window continuously. I do not believe you could adjust to living permanently in London.”

They're conversation extended to others so as not to appear rude. This elicited one of the longer conversation she had had with Mr Hurst, as he claimed a preference for town as ‘fishing and shooting ducks can only entertain you for so long.’

The more she knew of Mr Darcy and his preferences, the more she esteemed and admired. As dinner was completed, the sexes separated, with Georgiana leading the way. As Elizabeth had not spent time conversing with Georgiana at dinner, she moved to sit near her in the drawing room. Caroline, not wishing to be outdone and to show her superior relationship with Georgiana, moved to sit next to Georgiana on the settee. Mrs Gardiner started a conversation with Mrs Annersley, and Louisa obediently sat with her sister.

Caroline was the one to start the conversation, and started talking about the new piece of music that Mr Darcy had purchased for her and which Georgiana had been working on. Georgiana, rather mildly expressed her delight but frustration over some of the sections she was still trying to master. Caroline indicated it was a piece she had the previous season and it seemed like an invitation for Miss Darcy to ask her to play to demonstrate.

As such, Miss Bingley moved to the piano to start demonstrating with Louisa turning the pages, allowing Elizabeth some time alone to get to know Georgiana better. “Your brother and I were talking at dinner about our preference for the country rather than London. Can I assume that you hold the same preference, especially when your home is as beautiful as Pemberley.” It was a safe topic Elizabeth figured would help the shy young girl to open up and it worked as expected. Georgiana’s face lit up as she expressed her love of the space and freedom and clean air of home. This led Elizabeth to talk of her home and her favourite rambles, whilst Georgiana spoke of her other love, horse riding.

The men entered soon to the sound of Caroline’s playing. To Caroline’s disappointment, beyond a cursory glance at Caroline, Mr Darcy’s eyes immediately searched for Elizabeth and he was delighted to see his little sister in an animated conversation with his love. Mr Darcy and Mr Bingley came to sit by the two women.

Caroline finished her piece and all politely applauded. Mr Darcy, with all politeness complimented her. “Expert playing as always Miss Bingley.” Caroline beamed at the praise, so rarely granted from Mr Darcy.

Mr Darcy looked sideways at his sister and with an imperceptible nod, prompted her. “Thank you, Miss Bingley. You must spend some time helping me with the fingering on some of those trickier parts.”

“Absolutely, dear Georgiana. Now you must play some of those magnificent pieces I heard you practising earlier.”

Georgiana demurred, but Elizabeth said she would help turn the pages and the two comfortably continued their conversation at a slower pace, as Georgiana played. In her turn, Elizabeth searched through the music to find a familiar piece to play for the entertainment of all. Caroline tried to talk to Mr Darcy whilst Elizabeth played, however, his eyes did not leave Elizabeth’s form, and he certainly no longer cared that his admiration was seen by all.

The night continued comfortably, but it did not allow any further private conversations between Mr Darcy and Elizabeth until they went to leave and Mr Darcy very slowly escorted them out.

“I did not get the chance to tell you that my uncle and I have both written to my father of the courtship,” said Elizabeth.

Mr Darcy nodded slowly as he clasped her hand where it lay on his arm. “I also have written a letter, this time to my cousin Richard. I believe your warning on Wickham is fortuitous. He always turns to me when all other options are exhausted. Eventually he will reach out and I can only presume that he will attempt blackmail. You were right that he will never learn to control his excesses in behaviour unless he feels the full force of consequences for his actions, without having someone who picks up after him. I will get Richard to help find him and turn him over to the authorities. We know of his former haunts in London and should be able to find the hole he is in, hopefully before his mind turns to approach me for help.”

Elizabeth smiled, clearly pleased with the action. “I am glad you no longer feel responsible in helping him out.”

“Let us talk no more of Mr Wickham. I would not have thoughts of him spoil this night.” He looked at her with a raised eyebrow and lopsided smile. “Did I pass your examination of my character?”

It was Elizabeth turn to return the smile. “It looks most promising, Mr Darcy.”

By now they had reached the Gardiner carriage. The Gardiner’s expressed their appreciation for a lovely night and they bid their host farewell. Mr Darcy handed Elizabeth into the carriage, with a parting kiss to her hand and a lingering look. They watched each other as the carriage moved away from Pemberley and down the drive. Elizabeth did not revert her eyes to inside the carriage until she could no longer make out Mr Darcy.

“Well, that was a very pleasant evening,” said Mr Gardiner. “Good food and excellent company. I believe this also was rather profitable. Mr Darcy, Mr Bingley and I were discussing a rather promising venture. I've invited both men to dinner when we are all in London again.”

“I hope you don't wish me to marry Mr Darcy just because it suits your business interests?” asked Elizabeth with an arch smile.

They all laughed at this. “Is this time with Mr Darcy helping you to determine if you could be happy with him?” asked Mrs Gardiner seriously.

“He is everything a man should be. Handsome, intelligent, honourable, respectable and incredibly rich.”

“Seriously, Lizzy,” scolded he Aunt. “You will need to make a decision. If you are decided against him, it would be cruel to string him along.”

In a soft contemplative tone. “Yes Aunt, I think I could be very happy with him.” Elizabeth spent the ride to the inn contemplating how pleasant a dark and intense set of eyes in a handsome gentleman's face could be.

Her Own Insignificance Chapter 2-3

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