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Excessively Attentive - Chapter 29

August 19, 2023 02:21AM

"Country manners? I find them charming!" Darcy could hear Bingley's voice echo in his ears from that first night in Meryton. The boisterous Mrs. Bennet and her two youngest daughters descended in a tumult from their carriage just as Darcy and Georgiana cleared the exit of their own carriage. The staid Miss Mary glanced out of the second carriage cautiously before she stepped down a moment later. He wondered if she had been blocked in a carriage before by her gregarious mother and sisters failing to clear the exit before going into conversation with another party. Mr. Bennet, who had ridden with Darcy and Georgiana, stepped in to move his lady and daughters along from the second carriage and towards the entry of Matlock House.

He entered before the Bennets, as required by status and familiarity, but with an ear on the chattering. "Lord Matlock, Lady Matlock, may I present Mr. and Mrs. Bennet?" Mr. Bennet introduced his daughters, as Jane and Elizabeth circled over to their father. Those introductions made, Elizabeth tugged on Mrs. Bennet's arm, and with a trepidatious glance at Mr. Bennet, led her to Aunt Catherine. Jane walked along Mrs. Bennet's other side, her arm linked as well. Darcy felt Elizabeth's worry and concern from across the room, but felt he could not yet intrude.

"Did Lizzy not find us the handsomest cousins, Kitty?" he heard Miss Lydia say at a volume that appeared to pass as her version of discretion. Aunt Sarah's expression flickered in what appeared to be more amusement than distress.

"And a Colonel, no less!" Miss Kitty replied, more muted but still audible. Darcy suppressed a smirk and the temptation to see if Richard had overheard. Aunt Sarah moved towards the girls, Cassandra in tow, and started a general discussion on fashion. Miss Lydia's attention was quite captured from discussing the 'handsomest cousins.' He noted that Miss Kitty's attention kept wandering in the direction of her next older sister, or, perhaps, that sister's conversation partners.

Richard and Alexander were currently occupied with Miss Mary. From the snippets of conversation Darcy could overhear, it appeared that she read more than the sermons she liked to quote. He wondered if this was a recent change. Still, both Fitzwilliams enjoyed discussing politics and national events, and had the first-hand experience and knowledge to assist Miss Mary in understanding some of the more complex issues she broached.

True, the younger Bennets lacked the refinement often found in his circle, a refinement typically grafted on during schooling. They seemed little versed in filtering their conversation based upon the company. Aside from that, however, the Bennets were not unlike his own Fitzwilliam relations, effusive and passionate under the veneer of formality. Artifice was as limited in Mrs. Bennet as it was in Elizabeth, albeit solely directed at ensuring her and her daughters' continued security.

A glance in Elizabeth's direction showed two characteristically verbose women stumbling over even the slightest of civilities. "Was it wise," Uncle Randall quietly asked, "to insist on this first meeting between the ladies occur in such an extended familial gathering?"

Mr. Bennet shrugged, a quick, almost implied gesture. "Is any of this wise?" he replied. He shook his head. "Of the options, this seemed to be the best at controlling my Fanny's response." With a slight glance at Darcy, he added, tone sardonic, "She has discretion enough to not intentionally insult the daughter of a peer." Darcy flushed at the slight scolding, perhaps only in his mind.

His uncle raised an eyebrow at the comment. "Your younger girls have not had explicit schooling, have they?"

Bennet shook his head. "None of the girls have been to school, nor did we take on a governess. I had my own intentions with education, and I endeavoured to ensure they gained at least a modicum of learning." He pursed his lips. "I confess, however, as I am not artistically or musically inclined, the girls have been taught the history of those subjects, but little in the way of execution." He frowned, apparently as a thought occurred to him, but he did not voice it.

"Your own intentions with education, sir?" Darcy asked.

"Indeed. I was a younger son, you know – or perhaps you don't." Bennet paused to muse over that point. "Not being current or particularly relevant gossip, it is unlikely to have been a topic raised during your short stay in Hertfordshire." He smiled wryly. "Country memories may be long, but they can be easily distracted when excited."

Uncle Randall shared that smile. "If what my son and nephew have relayed to me is accurate, the area was quite beside itself between the regiment and my nephew's friend moving into the area."

"Quite," Bennet agreed. "Many of the county's boys have gone to war, and not enough have returned. But my own aspirations were foiled by an elder brother who felt he was called to other duties, namely as a missionary. After my own father passed, the entail required one of us to accept that duty. My brother's work could not be as easily set aside as my own, and he disowned himself. My more advanced studies at university were set aside for the more gentlemanly pursuits of managing a small estate."

"Why not select a steward and continue those studies?" Darcy asked. He certainly had considered doing such himself. But for Georgiana's age and Aunt Catherine's manoeuvrings to take over Pemberley in the wake of his father's death, he thought it likely he would have followed through. Indeed, he considered it possible once Georgiana no longer required his chaperonage, provided Elizabeth was amendable to his pursuit of scholarly endeavours.

"Were it a larger estate, perhaps," Bennet allowed. "The cost of a decent steward, living in London, and the continual upkeep of necessary terms with university, however, would have quite prevented me from marrying and attempting to cut off the entail." He glanced at his wife. "I have maintained some of the contacts I made at the time, and keep abreast of advances in my fields of interest. My contributions, however, are limited to correspondence-driven musings with those actively engaged in furthering our knowledge of the natural world."

"And five daughters," Uncle Randall noted.

A true smile on Bennet's face, however fleeting. "Yes, five wonderful daughters. I may tease the younger three about being silly, but it is as much their age as anything, I believe."

"They will need more discretion," Uncle Randall replied. "And soon, I fear."

Bennet frowned, while Darcy winced. "For Lizzy's sake, I know. They will not have the luxury Lizzy and Jane did in that regard, for all those two did not need it."

"What of your brother?" Darcy asked.

"Malaria, around the time Mary was born," Bennet replied. "A brother missionary sent the letter along with most of his effects. The local lady he was betrothed to kept a few items for remembrance." Bennet's gaze wandered over to his middle daughter. "I have been debating giving Mary his letters, journal, and Bible. She seems the most likely to follow that path, and perhaps it would aid her decisions."

Movement caught their attention. The two mothers appeared to have come to sufficient accord to move to a settee, and Aunt Sarah gestured for minimal refreshments to be brought 'round. Bennet and Uncle Randall moved to sit opposite the ladies. Darcy could see a calculating expression on his aunt's face as she watched each member of the party in turn – not even excepting himself or her own sons. When he caught her gaze, she gave him a brief smile before moving to her next observance. Elizabeth retreated from the settee after a moment, moving to Darcy's side. Jane remained with her mother.

"How do you fare?" he asked in as much an undertone as he could manage.

"Well enough, I suppose," she replied in kind. "I left to avoid being treated to a double dose of childhood stories."

"It would be interesting to hear how you differed between households," Darcy replied.

"I know enough of Mama's stories about me," Elizabeth returned. "I need not hear their telling again. It would be any that mère may have which would be of interest to me." She glanced around the room, much like Aunt Sarah had. Her gaze settled on her second youngest sister. "Kitty looks quite out of her depth, and aware of it."

"I noticed she has been glancing the way of my cousins frequently."

"She is unused to Mary being more of notice than she is, and Lydia is oblivious." Elizabeth sounded almost amused. "Here is her first exposure to the idea that learning may be of more benefit than a pretty face."

"That certainly depends on the individuals involved," Darcy grumbled. "Too many of my cohort would prefer a lady who simpers thoughtless agreements, and have quite spoiled the ladies of the Ton in that regard."

Elizabeth snickered quietly. "Then my impertinent manners shall garner me as much praise as they did in Hertfordshire?"

Darcy attempted to suppress the blush. "You heard her?"

"Indeed," Elizabeth replied, half-smiling. "She did not even wait for the door to shut."

"I wonder at your tolerance earlier."

"She has apologized to my Aunt Gardiner," Elizabeth shrugged. "Jane should like to have peace if not friendship with her. Between the two, there is reason enough to allow her time to pay off arrears of civility."

"That would be twice you have granted leniency where I would be hard-pressed to do so. It is fortunate you do not possess my weakness of temperament," Darcy replied.

Elizabeth's eyes danced. "The weakness you profess to own, or the ones known to all your friends and relations?"

"I dare say the company of my most obvious and vexing weakness would render the boredom of a dreary Sunday afternoon in my own house irrelevant indeed," Darcy replied airily, but with a pointed look at his companion. Her answering blush and flummoxed expression pleased him. He enjoyed besting her occasionally, although perhaps it was a mite unfair to do so at the moment. He relented – just a smidgeon – and owned, "If we held a similar weakness of temper, you would not be quite so friendly with me. So it is fortunate for me."

Dinner was announced before Elizabeth could respond, and Darcy offered his arm to escort her in. While she was not subdued for the remainder of the evening, Darcy noted a touch of introspection in her expression which not even the lively conversation between all her sisters removed.

After dinner, Elizabeth circulated among the various groupings which had formed and mostly held over the evening. Miss Kitty had drifted to the Fitzwilliam scions and Mary. She appeared to be asking simple, but pertinent questions. Anne and Miss Lydia settled in with Aunt Sarah and Cassandra. Darcy was amused to note that Anne had as many questions about fashion as Miss Lydia did, until he recollected that Anne's semi-self-imposed seclusion from society left her as out-of-touch with the Ton as Miss Lydia would be.

The evening wound down, and the guests, himself included, gathered at the door. The Bennets entered the carriage after a controlled goodbye to their hosts and a flurry of hugs and farewells to Jane and Elizabeth. Their carriage left, headed for Darcy's townhouse. Georgiana was already handed into his own, while their family returned to the house, but Darcy lingered to the side to catch Elizabeth's attention momentarily. She stepped to his side, while Jane engaged the seated Georgiana in conversation to provide them a modicum of privacy.

"Thank you," she said quietly.

"I did more to discompose you than I did to keep you upright," he replied, now a bit regretful for the flirtation earlier.

She shook her head and smiled briefly. "We do not share the same weaknesses of temperament," she replied, looking up to catch his eyes. "It is quite fortunate for me, as well. Good night, William." With that, she turned to the house, and Jane followed. Were he less giddy from her words, he might even think to be vexed by her leaving so quickly or Georgiana's ill-concealed smirk the entire way home.

"Some prices are just too high, no matter how much you may want the prize. The one thing you can't trade for your heart's desire is your heart." -- Miles Vorkosigan, "Memory", Lois McMaster Bujold

Excessively Attentive - Chapter 29

JessicaSAugust 19, 2023 02:21AM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 29

RaeKAugust 22, 2023 02:35PM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 29

Anne VAugust 20, 2023 01:23AM

Re: Excessively Attentive - Chapter 29

JessicaSAugust 20, 2023 02:50AM


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