TSSAW Chapters 1-6

The Sister She Always Wanted

Chapter 1

30 July 1810

The carriage carrying Elizabeth and the Gardiners pulled onto the road to Pemberley. They had arrived in Lambton two days before and had spent a pleasurable day yesterday renewing old acquaintances. Madeline Gardiner could not wait to show her husband and Elizabeth the grandeur of Pemberley. She had been there many times as a girl visiting her good friend Mary Reynolds, the housekeeper’s daughter. Mary, of course was married now and living in London. Her husband, Edmund Clark, and she were the Gardiner’s close friends. Indeed, Mary was in on the conspiracy to keep news of their visit from her mother. Madeline wanted to surprise Mrs. Reynolds. She loved the housekeeper dearly and had not seen her since Mary’s last child, her godson, was born three years ago.

With growing anticipation the party marveled at the beauty of the woods as the road wound closer and closer to the great house. Suddenly the trees opened to reveal the most wondrous sight Elizabeth had ever seen. Pemberley! It was everything that her aunt had promised, and more.

“How do you like the house, Lizzy?” asked Mrs. Gardiner.

At first Elizabeth was too engrossed to answer. Finally she replied, “I have never seen a place for which nature has done more, or where natural beauty has been so little counteracted by an awkward taste. I like it very well indeed.”

The carriage continued on towards the house and the thoughts of the party turned towards its inhabitants.

“I cannot wait to see the look on Mrs. Reynolds face when we are announced.”

“Yes, my dear, it will be good to see Mary’s mother again. I know you are very fond of her,” her husband replied. “I just hope she does not hold this little deception against you and Mary for long.”

Elizabeth smiled at the easy banter of the couple. Once again she was grateful to be in their company for this trip. If it had been her parents in their place she knew that she would have had little enjoyment on the holiday. She sighed at this reflection but quickly regained her spirits and asked, “Will the Darcys be home, Aunt?”

“Mary said Mr. Darcy was in London but that Miss Darcy remained in Derbyshire with her new companion. I do not know Miss Darcy so I do not know if we will see her on this visit. I have heard that she is extremely shy around strangers so I doubt we will meet her today.”

When the carriage pulled up to the front entrance of Pemberley, Mr. Gardiner stepped down first to assist his ladies. The three were admitted inside when they requested to speak with the housekeeper about taking a tour. Mrs. Reynolds was used to this. It was one of the many obligations she had running this grand place. Putting on a resigned smile she went to greet the newest visitors. Upon seeing them, her smile became genuine as she hurried to embrace Mrs. Gardiner.

“Madeline, Edward, why did you not write to tell me you were coming to see Pemberley! Did Mary not know?”

Mrs. Gardiner laughed. “Yes she did, but I convinced her not to tell. I was sure that if you knew we were coming you would work your staff to a frenzy to present the house in its best light. However, I know that this House is always at its best so it would make little difference if you knew we were coming. Do you like your surprise?”

“Of course I do! Though I am a little put out with Mary for agreeing to your scheme. Who is this lovely young lady with you?”

“May I present my niece Miss Elizabeth Bennet? She is the second born daughter of my sister, and my favorite I might add.” Mr. Gardiner turned to Elizabeth, “I will deny ever saying that if you dare tell your family!”

“So this is the famous Miss Elizabeth Bennet. My grandson Nicolas was quite taken with you on your last visit with Madeline and Edward, Miss Bennet. Mary had written to me that he kept asking why you could not come visit him after you left London.”

“Yes, I agree. It was hard not to notice since my godson never fails to mention you when we see him. I am afraid you have him wrapped around your little finger. A splendid conquest, niece,” added Mrs. Gardiner to Elizabeth.

“Do not tell me you are trying to play matchmaker too. I get enough of that at home.” The Gardiners exchanged a knowing look. “He is a little too young for me. I am not sure I would want to wait until he becomes of a marriageable age, adorable as he is.”

All four laughed at this.

Mrs. Reynolds was the first to recover. “But, Madeline, are you sure Miss Bennet is good enough for my grandson?”

“The question is, Mrs. Reynolds, is he good enough for her?”

Elizabeth had the good sense to blush at this praise, conscious that three pair of eyes were looking on her with amusement.

“As delightful as this conversation is, we best begin seeing the house. I am quite certain you would like a tour of the gardens when we are finished. I shall send word to the head gardener that I have special guests and I expect the most attentive care to your needs. Now then, Madeline, where would you like to start?”
Smiling at Elizabeth, Mrs. Gardiner quickly replied, “The library, definitely the library.” She knew that her husband and her niece would be delighted. Both loved books. The many hours in the coach had flown by as the two of them read and discussed the books they had brought with them on the journey.

“The Library it is. Now if you will follow me it is just down the hall.”

Mrs. Reynolds ushered her friends into the magnificent room and was surprised to find Miss Darcy there. Her smile quickly faded as she resumed her normal closed countenance.
“Excuse us, Miss Darcy. I thought you were in your rooms with Mrs. Annesley at this hour. We will leave you alone.”

Georgiana noted the change of expression on her dear housekeeper’s face. She could not bear to be the source of discomfort to the woman who practically raised her. She resolved to make the effort to put the woman at ease again.

“No, it is quite all right, Mrs. Reynolds. Mrs. Annesley was feeling a little out of sorts this afternoon and I told her to feel free to rest in her room. I came here to find something to read. It seems as if you know these visitors. Am I correct?”

Mrs. Reynolds smiled again. She knew it took a great deal for Miss Darcy to say so many words in front of strangers. She decided to press the advantage.

“I see that you have found me out, Miss Darcy. Yes, these are good friends of my Mary and Edmund. May I present Mr. and Mrs. Edward Gardiner, and their niece Miss Elizabeth Bennet? Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are my grandson Nicolas’ godparents. Mrs. Gardiner grew up in Lambton.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, and you, Miss Bennet. I hope you will enjoy your tour of my home. If you will excuse me, I shall leave you to your tour.”

“Thank you Miss Darcy. From what little I have seen I believe it will be quite delightful”

“Yes, it is, Miss Bennet. Good day”

With that Miss Darcy left for her sitting room.

The tour continued and Mrs. Reynolds became more and more pleased with Elizabeth. ‘If only Miss Darcy could spend some time with her I am sure she would be good for the poor dear. Georgiana has been so withdrawn since she returned from Ramsgate last month’ she thought.

When all of the house that was open to general inspection had been seen, they returned downstairs, and taking leave of Mrs. Reynolds, were consigned to the head gardener, who met them at the hall door.

“Do not forget, you promised to take tea with me before you leave. Thomas will bring you back to me when you are finished.”

Thomas led them through the various gardens, taking pride in explaining the plethora of plants for which he had responsibility. Elizabeth was delighted. She longed to explore all of the paths opened to her but knew that was impossible. They needed to return to Mrs. Reynolds so that they could return to Lambton in time for dinner.

Upon entering the housekeeper’s study, the three were stunned to see Miss Darcy sitting there talking with her housekeeper.

“Miss Darcy! What an honor to see you again. We did not expect you to take any special note of us,” Mrs. Gardiner exclaimed.

“I found myself desiring company this afternoon. I knew that any friends of Mrs. Reynolds would be pleasant company,” she replied shyly.

“Would you like some tea now?” the older lady asked.

The tea things were brought in and the next half-hour was spent in pleasant conversation.

“Miss Darcy, please let me take this opportunity to thank you for allowing us to view Pemberley. You have a lovely home.”

“Thank you, Miss Bennet,” was all Georgiana would say. But she was struck how Miss Bennet referred to Pemberley as a home. Most people never called Pemberley a home; they did not see it as such. All they seemed to see were the fine and expensive furnishings. But Pemberley was so much more than that. Why could not people see that? And how was it that Miss Bennet could?

Elizabeth continued, “I think the secret to Pemberley’s beauty is not in just the tasteful furnishings but rather that the furnishings enhance the view from every window.”

“I agree.” Georgiana replied. ‘Amazing, she is the only person who has ever said that other than Fitzwilliam!’ she added to herself.

“We encountered you in the library. Do you spend much time there, Miss Darcy?”

“My brother and I enjoy spending quiet evenings together there reading.”

‘Finally, more than four words spoken together. This is progress,’ Elizabeth thought before continuing. “I enjoy doing the same thing with my father back home. His collection of books pales in comparison to yours but the breadth of subjects and the quality of the authors are very stimulating.”

“What do you enjoy reading, Miss Bennet?”

“A great many things, Miss Darcy!” Elizabeth laughed. “I enjoy reading histories, especially ancient history. I enjoy poetry, political treatises, biographies, plays and the occasional novel.”

“That is a great variety of tastes, Miss Bennet. One not usually associated with women.”

“I confess that it is not. What do you like to read, Miss Darcy?”

This earned Elizabeth her first smile. “Much the same thing as you do, Miss Bennet.”

“Then someday, if we ever meet again, we must compare opinions.”

“I would very much like that.” Miss Darcy smiled again. “Did you enjoy the tour of the gardens?”

“Oh yes, they are lovely. I especially enjoyed the herb garden.”

“That is not usually a favorite, Miss Bennet. What did you find so much to your liking?”

“I love seeing what the land is able to produce for our use other than flowers, Miss Darcy. The herb gardens also give a peek into the private side of the owners. It is always interesting to see what they prefer at their table. Your family appears to have a variety of tastes, Miss Darcy.”

“That is most flattering, Miss Bennet. I must say no one has commented on our produce before!”

“I must find some way to distinguish myself! But I really am interested in seeing what different foods grow in different regions. I could certainly tell the difference between the progress of the peas here compared to farther south where I live.”

Mrs. Reynolds once again smiled to Madeline when she saw Elizabeth taking pains to talk to Georgiana. ‘Yes, I was right about her,’ she thought.

“Where do you live, Miss Bennet?”

“My father’s estate, Longbourn, is in Hertfordshire. It is beautiful country but much different from Derbyshire.”

“I suppose, but I have never been to Hertfordshire.”

“Then you must trust my opinion when I say it is a very agreeable place to live. We do not possess the wildness of woods that you have here, though.”

“Did you have a chance to explore any of them?”

“No, I shall have to travel back here some time in the future to do so. Do not worry; I shall not disturb you if the family is in residence. That would not do!”
“You are welcome to come back anytime to visit the park.”

“That is most kind, Miss Darcy. But I do not know when that will be. Miss Darcy, do you enjoy walking in the park?”

“Yes, it is one of my favorite things to do when the weather allows.”

“I go for a walk every chance I can back home. My mother claims she does not know what I am about scampering all over the countryside. But there is nothing better to clear the mind than a good walk. Do you agree?”

“Yes, I find much solace outdoors. It is a balm for the soul.” Georgiana’s face clouded for a moment. Elizabeth hurried on.

“I suppose you also like to ride to get to the wilder places.”

“Yes, my brother often takes me when he is home.”

“He is away from home right now, do you expect him back soon?”

“Yes, he was loath to go and promised me faithfully he would be back five days from today.”

“I am sure he will make every effort to be home in time, Miss Darcy.”

“Do you ride as well, Miss Bennet?”

”Oh no! I leave the riding to the men and more fashionable ladies!”

Georgiana gave her another rare smile. “Am I one of the fashionable ladies?” she shyly asked.

“Of course, for you are Miss Darcy of Pemberley, the most beautiful estate in all England, according to my Aunt Gardiner at least.”

“Your Aunt and Uncle seem kind people. I understand they are great friends of the Clarks.”

“Yes, I am afraid little Nicolas has become quite a favorite of mine. I only wish he were 20 years older.” Elizabeth sighed, and then burst into a big grin.

“Mrs. Reynolds said the same thing.”

“Indeed, did she now? I think it is a little too early for her to start matchmaking for her grandson!”

“Not to hear her tell it.” Georgiana replied.

Elizabeth smiled. Mrs. Gardiner then reminded her host that they had plans for the evening and needed to leave soon.
“Miss Darcy, thank you for our delightful conversation. I hope that your brother will return home safely to you soon.” Elizabeth said.

As the group rose to leave, Georgiana did the most extraordinary thing Mrs. Reynolds had seen in a long time.

“Miss Bennet, I am sure your Aunt has many acquaintances she would like to visit tomorrow. Perhaps you would like to return to Pemberley and explore some of the woods you were so praiseworthy of with me?”

Elizabeth was stunned. She quickly recovered, replying, “Thank you for your generous offer, Miss Darcy. I admit that I would love to do so if you are sure you would like me to come.”

“Oh yes, I rarely get to meet with young women near my age and I would be honored to show you some of the paths through the park.”

Looking to see if it was acceptable to her relations, then seeing the smile and slight nod of her aunt’s head, Elizabeth grinned, “Then it would be my honour to come.”

Georgiana was ecstatic. “Mrs. Reynolds, could you see that the carriage is sent for Miss Bennet tomorrow. Is one o’clock acceptable?”

“Yes it is, I look forward then to tomorrow. Good day, Miss Darcy.”

Mrs. Reynolds walked the party to their carriage.

“Miss Bennet, I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your kind efforts with Miss Darcy. I am amazed on how taken she is with you. I think I am beginning to understand little Nicolas better.”

With that they all said their farewells and the Gardiners along with Elizabeth made their way back to Lambton, each one pleased with how the day had turned out.

Chapter 2

31 July 1810

The next morning Elizabeth woke up with the same thought that plagued her the night before. Why does Miss Darcy appear so sad? She resolved to spend the afternoon attempting to draw her out even more.

The Darcy carriage arrived promptly at one o’clock. The townspeople strained to get a glimpse of who was inside. Surprise was evident when they saw an unknown woman leave the inn and enter alone for the ride back to Pemberley. Speculation was high as to who was being so favoured. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner only smiled at the news.

In no time at all Elizabeth was being shown to the front drawing room of Pemberley by Mrs. Reynolds. Before she opened the door to introduce her, the housekeeper pulled the young lady aside for a quiet word.

“Miss Bennet, I cannot thank you enough for all of your kindness toward Miss Darcy. She is normally so shy around strangers but she acts as if you are old acquaintances.”

“Yes, I noticed that too. No one was more surprised than I when she asked me back today. I dare say we both received surprises yesterday.”

“That we did! Now let me take you to see her.”

As Elizabeth was announced, Miss Darcy arose along with another older, genteel looking lady.

“Miss Bennet! It is a pleasure to see you again. Thank you so much for coming. May I introduce my companion, Mrs. Annesley? Mrs. Annesley this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

“I am pleased to meet you, Miss Bennet.”

“Indeed, the pleasure is all mine, Mrs. Annesley.”

Georgiana then addressed the housekeeper.

“Thank you for bringing Miss Bennet. Would you please see that my things are brought down shortly for our walk?”

“Certainly, Miss Darcy.”

The ladies sat and began an amiable conversation. Mrs. Annesley was amazed at how quickly this Miss Bennet was able to draw out her charge. It had taken her weeks to get more than a minimal response out of the young lady and here she was smiling and making attempts to tease.

“Mrs. Annesley, what kind of charge is Miss Darcy. Has she mastered her French and German yet? Does she read Cowper and Shakespeare? Please, I am dying to know!”

“I assure you she is a most diligent student. I never have to remind her to do her studies before the more pleasurable things. And she is most proficient on the pianoforte!”

“Really! I am pleased to hear it, though I am not surprised. Miss Darcy appears to be one of the truly accomplished women that everybody claims to know, but nobody ever can name!”

All three ladies laughed at this, while Georgiana looked a bit self-conscious at such praise.

“Miss Darcy, after what Mrs. Annesley has said, I look forward to hearing you play some day.”

“Perhaps,” was all that she would commit to say.

“If I am to show you some of the paths through the woods we should be off. Mrs. Annesley would you care to join us?”

“Oh no, I know my limits! I warn you, Miss Bennet, Miss Darcy can walk for miles and miles!”

With a delighted laugh Elizabeth replied, “Then it sounds as if Miss Darcy will be able to keep up with me!”

The two young ladies were off in no time down the path that lead next to the stream talking of all the inconsequential things young ladies are wont to do.

“Miss Darcy, I must say I envy you living in such an enchanting place.”

“Yes, Miss Bennet, it is enchanting.”

“Miss Darcy?”

“Yes, Miss Bennet?”

“Yesterday you said that you did not have the chance to meet many ladies your age. Why is that?”

“The answer is simple. There are not many young ladies my age in the area.”

“Do you not travel to London? Surely you must meet with some young ladies there.”

“I would rather be at Pemberley. As you said yourself, there is something magical about this place.”

“Yes, I can agree, yet it does not help you from feeling lonely. Miss Darcy, I am honoured to understand that you asked me here today to help fight against those feelings. We have just been introduced to each other; you really do not know me well.”

“But Mary Clark does. If you are good enough for Nicolas, you are more than good enough for me!”

Elizabeth appreciated the effort the young lady was making.

“But that still does not answer why you have not spent more time in London. Surely your brother would take you there if you asked.”

“Miss Bennet,” she sighed, “I am afraid my brother shows as much disinclination for company as I do. London holds little charm for people like us.”
“I see. Well, if you ever are in Hertfordshire you must come and see me.”

“I should like that very much.”

“Tell me about your family, Miss Darcy. I know your parents are both gone and you have an older brother, but I know of no others.”

Skillfully Elizabeth led her young new friend through speaking of her remaining family. Elizabeth sensed a strong affection between the two siblings and was pleased for Miss Darcy’s sake.

“What about you, Miss Bennet? I have met your aunt and uncle. Do both your parents still live? Do you have brothers or sisters?”

“Yes, my parents both still live. I am the second of five daughters, not a son to be found, unfortunately.”

“Why is that so unfortunate?”

“Our family’s estate is entailed away from the female line. One of us will have to marry very well to insure our future.”

“Oh Miss Bennet, I had no idea. I am afraid that I forget that I can chose to marry for love.”

“Miss Darcy, do not feel sorry for me. I am not afraid of being poor. My Uncle Gardiner would help if something happened to my father. I could always work as a governess or as a companion like Mrs. Annesley.”

“You would not marry?”

“Only for love, my dear, only for love”

“Oh!”

They continued their walk in silence. Each one lost in their own thoughts.

“Miss Bennet, would not your parents force you or your sisters to marry?”

“That is a complicated question and the answer is different for each of my sisters. As long as there were no impropriety involved I believe that neither Jane, my older sister, nor I would be forced to marry. My father holds us in too much esteem for that. I am not so certain about my younger sisters though. My mother, if it were up to her, well I would not be so sure for any of us. Fortunately, my father is alive and well, and I will soon be of age.”

“I have asked very personal questions of you, Miss Bennet. I should not have done so, but I thank you for your honesty. I have such little experience in the world, and what I have seen I did not like.”

“I understand your inquisitiveness; it is one of your many good qualities. As your new friend it is my job to exaggerate them as often as possible!”

The two ladies linked arms and continued on their walk.

“Miss Bennet?”

“Yes.”

“I would like it if you called me Georgiana.”

“Certainly,” she laughed, “But only if you call me Elizabeth.”

“I would love that, too,” she grinned back.

As they were finally approaching the house Georgiana brought up the subject she had been trying to figure out how best to broach.

“Elizabeth, would you consent to correspond with me? I have so enjoyed our time together. I think it would be delightful to continue our ‘new’ friendship.”

“The honour would be mine, Georgiana. When we are inside I shall give you the directions for Longbourn, my home.”

“I asked Mrs. Reynolds to have tea ready for us in the Library. I noticed how much you seemed to enjoy that room. Would you join me there while the carriage is readied? I know you must return to Lambton soon.”

“Of course. I would be delighted.”

Once they were settled back in the library Georgiana made her last pitch.

“Elizabeth, how much longer will you be in Lambton?”

“We leave in four days to return to Hertfordshire.”

“Would it be possible for you to come to Pemberley again before you leave? That is, only if you wish to come back. I know I am four years your junior. Many of the ladies I know do not care to spend time with such a younger person.” Georgiana dropped her gaze to her hands.

“Georgiana!” Elizabeth cried taking the young girl’s hands into her own. “I am very glad, indeed, that I know not the acquaintance of such ladies as you mention! For I cannot imagine their reluctance to be in the company of such a wonderful young lady as yourself. You may not believe me, but you are very mature for your age. I have never met a lady of sixteen with as much grace and poise as you possess, even though you try to hide it behind your shyness.”

Trying again Elizabeth continued, “Georgiana, look at me. I cannot promise that I can return; I must first ask permission from my Uncle and Aunt. If they then approve I assure you that I would love to spend more time with you.”

Slowly the young girl nodded her head. She was too overcome to speak, but Elizabeth, being Elizabeth, understood and just smiled while holding Georgiana’s hand.

“Before I forget, let me give you directions for writing. I shall send you a letter when I return home to Hertfordshire letting you know that we arrived safe and sound. I would not want you to worry about me!”

Grateful for the change in subject Georgiana provided pen and paper for her friend.

“There now, that does it. Are you sure you can read my hand?”

“Elizabeth!” Georgiana cried, laughing again, “your writing looks better than mine!“

“Really! I shall have to await your first letter to judge for myself. Then again, maybe I shall ask Jane for I know SHE will give me an honest opinion!”

Just then the carriage was announced. Mrs. Reynolds walked the two ladies to the carriage.

“Goodbye, Elizabeth. Send word back with the carriage if you can come. I will ask the driver to wait for your response.”

“I do hope I shall be able to return. Pemberley is so beautiful! I find it hard to leave.”

After one last embrace, Elizabeth was handed up into the carriage and taken back to Lambton.

“Well, Miss Georgiana, I think you have found yourself a new friend. Nicolas will be jealous having to share you.”

“Oh. Mrs. Reynolds, Elizabeth is so wonderful!”

“Elizabeth it is?”

“Yes, I asked her to call me Georgiana and she insisted I call her Elizabeth. If I could ever have a sister I wish she would be just like her.”

“So do I Miss Georgiana, so do I.”

Elizabeth was pleased to send word back with the coach that she was free the morning two days hence but that would be the only time she had available before she and the Gardiners left Derbyshire.

2 August 1810

As planned, the carriage was sent to bring her to Pemberley for one final meeting before she would have to leave the country. Elizabeth smiled as they pulled up to the house and she spied her new friend waiting quite impatiently for her.
“Miss Darcy,” she laughed, “Do not you know that fashionable young ladies await their guests in the most pretentious drawing room in the house?”

Fortunately, Georgiana was becoming accustomed to her friend’s teasing way. “That may be the way in town Miss Bennet, but here in the wilds of the North we prefer a more personable manner of greeting.”

Proud of her young charge, Elizabeth laughed merrily at Georgiana’s rejoinder. “Very good, Georgiana, we will make an impertinent lady out of you yet!”

Arm-in-arm the ladies entered the house filling the hall with the soft sound of feminine laughter.

“What have you planned for us today?”

Somewhat shyly Georgiana replied, “Last time you were here you asked if you could hear me play. Would you still like that?”

“Of course I would. Mrs. Annesley said you were most proficient on the pianoforte and I am eager to agree with that esteemed lady’s every word about you.”

“Stop it, Elizabeth, you are embarrassing me! Besides, you have yet to hear me play. I still have the opportunity to change your mind.”

“No, I am sure you are quite good and I look forward to being proven correct.”

They entered the music room and Georgiana showed the instrument to Elizabeth. She then commenced to play the new pieces she had been learning.

“I am very impressed, Georgiana. Mrs. Annesley did not exaggerate. I wish I could play half as well as you do.”

“Do you play?”

“Aye, but very ill.”

“I think you are better than you profess. Please, I would love to hear you play. Do you sing as well?”

“Yes,” Elizabeth said somewhat reluctantly.

“Please, I would dearly love to hear you.”

“Very well, Georgiana, but only because you have asked me so earnestly. I will play for you, but I am quite certain I could never approach your level of skill and proficiency.

Georgiana was enchanted. Oh, she realized that her friend made minor mistakes and lacked the polish that she herself had attained, but there was something magical in Elizabeth’s performance. She definitely had the “it” that music masters waxed eloquently about.

“Elizabeth Bennet, that was marvelous. You honor me with your song. What say you to spending the rest of the morning playing duets? I rarely get to indulge in the pleasure.”

“You are too kind in your praise, my friend. As much as I would love to walk in your park, I agree. A morning spent playing duets would be delightful.”

An hour later Mrs. Reynolds brought the tea and cake Georgiana had arranged with her beforehand. As she walked down the hallway she could hear melodious music and laughter coming from the music room. As she opened the door she heard a dreadful chord followed immediately by more peals of laughter.

“Mrs. Reynolds! You have caught me out! I am afraid I am making poor Georgiana play very ill indeed this morning.”

“Quite the contrary I assure you, I have never heard her play better.” The housekeeper’s eyes met Elizabeth’s and they nodded in the shared knowledge that such a comment was less about Georgiana’s proficiency on the pianoforte and more about the joyful laughter coming once again from the sad girl she had been but four days ago.

Unfortunately, such a delightful morning could not last forever and soon it was time to go.

“Do not be sad, my dear,” Elizabeth said as she headed back to the Darcy carriage. “I may be going home the day after tomorrow but the next day will bring your brother. Now you must promise me to put into practice all the teasing you have been working on that you learned from me.”

“Elizabeth! Fitzwilliam is more than twelve years my senior. I could never tease him like I tease you!”

“Hmm? Well, I of course have no brothers for experience but something tells me he would not be displeased. Shocked perhaps, but not displeased. Just pick your moment and see how well he tolerates it. Go slowly so he is not overwhelmed. And if all else fails, blame it on Mrs. Reynolds!”

“Miss Bennet! I very much like my position here! You must not put such ideas in Miss Georgiana’s head.”

Taken aback by the always-stoic housekeeper, Georgiana was about to apologize when she caught the twinkle in Mrs. Reynolds eye.

“Do you think he will mind, Mrs. Reynolds?”

“Miss Bennet gave you excellent advice my dear. And I will be here to help if Mr. Darcy decides to be difficult about it, which I predict he will not be. Thank you so much for keeping Miss Georgiana company, Miss Bennet. Be assured you will be missed.”

“Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. It was a honour to meet my Nicolas’ grandmother!”

“Thank you for inviting me to Pemberley, Georgiana. Remember to write and remember you will always be welcome in Hertfordshire.”

One last time the two ladies embraced before Elizabeth wistfully climbed into the carriage.

“Farewell, Georgiana, till we meet again!”

And with that she was gone. Back to Lambton. Back to Hertfordshire.

Chapter 3

Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, descended from his carriage with the air of a man happy to be home. His first duty, of course, was to greet his sister. Would she be any happier than when he left? He was very reluctant to leave her so soon after the affair at Ramsgate but it could not be helped. He was a man of many responsibilities and duties. Many times that meant he was called away from his beloved Pemberley. Pemberley, its warmth embraced him once again as he strode through its majestic hall. It needed a mistress, and soon. It had been without one for many years now, thus or henceforth the call for a new one became louder and louder every year. But who would she be? Darcy had looked, he could not avoid it, but no woman he met seemed to be the right one. He recalled his own dear mother. It was so evident how much in love she was with his father. He wanted a wife like that. One he could share his joys and sorrows with, not simply one who would plan his menus and join him occasionally in his bed. Alas, soon he must choose. Pemberley demanded it. There was still time to find someone he could love, but that time was running short. Two years, if he didn’t find her in two years then he would have to begin to resign himself to a marriage of convenience. Two years could seem an eternity or they could rush by like the wind… Two years.

Darcy found Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley in the music room. He was surprised to find his sister practicing a light air. She had played nothing but dark, morose pieces since he had brought her back to Pemberley. He waited unnoticed until she was finished.

“Wonderfully played Georgiana! I have not heard you play that particular piece before. Is it one of the new ones I gave you?”

Delighted to see her beloved brother again Georgiana went to meet him in the middle of the room. She surprised him with an unexpected embrace.

“Fitzwilliam! It is so good to see you. I have missed you very much. Yes, the piece I just played is a new one. I just started on it two days ago so I am very far from playing it as it should be played.”

“You could have fooled me. How are you Georgiana? You seem in much better spirits then when I left you a week ago.”

“Yes, I believe I am. I have much to acquaint you with but I am afraid I need to go and speak to Mrs. Reynolds and cook about dinner tonight. I have planned for something special to celebrate your return. I hope you will not be disappointed.”

“I’m sure I will not! Go on then, it seems you have much to do.”

After Georgiana left, Darcy turned to Mrs. Annesley. He was shocked, truly shocked at the change in his sister’s behaviour. He wanted answers to the reasons for this transformation.

“Mrs. Annesley, may I have a few minutes of your time?”

“Mr. Darcy, you are my employer sir, my time is your time.”

Pleased, he continued, “Mrs. Annesley, it would take a blind man to miss the change in my sister’s disposition today. She has obviously come out of the deep sadness I left her in a week ago. How did you do it? What have you done to bring about such a sudden change? I had noticed that she was getting slowly better under your care before I left but now, good God, she is almost serene!”

Mrs. Annesley paused before she began to answer. She had anticipated this and struggled to come up with an answer that would be satisfactory to herself and now Mr. Darcy. Miss Darcy had shared things with her that she felt uncomfortable telling her brother. Fortunately this morning she had decided that there was only one way to answer the expected question. Boldly then, she proceeded.

“Mr. Darcy, as your sister said before she left, many things have happened in your absence. However, upon reflection, I believe that it is best if you let Miss Darcy tell you in her own way and in her own time.”

At this she was silent. Fitzwilliam Darcy was not used to not getting his own way, especially in his own house! He was about to answer her with an angry retort demanding she be more explicit but stopped himself short. The woman standing before him had proved herself to be fiercely loyal to her mistress. There was no question that he owed her a debt of gratitude for her gentle handling of Georgiana since she had come into their service. Indeed, he sensed this quality in her the first time he had interviewed her. All of her references indicated this, and he had personally checked on them all. No it would not be fair to her. He saw, in her wisdom, she was right. He would have to wait on Georgiana.

“Mrs. Annesley, I see the wisdom in your answer. You are right. I need to let Georgiana tell me herself. But I wish to reserve the right to question you more on this matter after I have spoken to her.”

“As you wish sir. Will that be all?”

“Yes, for now, Mrs. Annesley. Tell Georgiana that after I refresh myself I will be in my study if she is looking for me.”

“Of course. Welcome home sir.”

“Thank you madam.”

An hour later Georgiana peeked her head into her brother’s study.

“Fitzwilliam, are you busy? Oh, I didn’t know you were with your steward. I’ll come back when you are finished.”

“Georgiana, wait! Mr. James and I were just finishing, Please come in and be seated for but a moment.”

Without a word from his master, Mr. James quickly excused himself leaving brother and sister alone. Following his steward out, Darcy gave word to the footman that he was not to be disturbed. Returning to the room he then led his sister to another pair of chairs next to the window.

“It is a beautiful sight Fitzwilliam. We are so blessed to live in a home where such views are to be seen from every window. To think that I almost threw it all away.” With this last comment Georgiana dropped her gaze, fighting back the tears that had threatened to return once more.

Tenderly Darcy moved to kneel in front of her and took her hands in his. “Dearest, please do not distress yourself. You are not to blame for what almost happened.”

“But I am the one who believed Wickham’s words of love. I did not see him for what he really is. I allowed myself to be carried away by foolish, immature romantic notions.”

“Please stop believing this! If either of us is to blame, it is I. I did not thoroughly check Mrs. Younge’s background and I certainly should never have allowed you to go to Ramsgate without me, or Richard at least. No, I should have taken better care of you.”

He continued, “If anyone is truly to blame it is Wickham. Damn him! Sorry Georgiana, when I think about how much trouble and pain he has caused this family I lose my control. He is a manipulative rake in the worst sense of the word. And you are not the only young girl he has tried to impose himself upon.”

“You mean there are others?”

“Yes, and few of them are as fortunate as yourself.”

“Oh!”

He waited for her to digest this new information.

“Was I right to say such things to you?” he asked with dread.

“Yes, I needed to hear it. It does make me feel less ashamed of myself to know that I am not alone. Do you, do you think he will try it again?”

“Unfortunately, yes I do, but I know not how to stop him without bringing shame and scandal upon us and I refuse to do so.”

“But?”

“No buts Georgiana. I will not chance ruin on your reputation for the sake of revenge. I will, however, look for situations in the future to bring him the justice he deserves.”

Strangely comforted by his words, Georgiana’s spirits began to rise.

“Fitzwilliam, please get off your knees and sit next to me again. If a stranger were to walk in right now they would think you offer me marriage!”

Whatever Darcy thought her response would be he would never have imagined this. After the initial shock wore off he threw back his head and laughed!

“What do you find so amusing brother?” Georgiana teased.

“Who are you and what have you done with my sister!” he mockingly replied. “Truly dear, that was the last response I would have expected, not that I am displeased. It is obvious that there has been a change around here since I left. Will you tell me about it?”

Much relieved over her brother’s acceptance of her teasing, Georgiana began to acquaint him with her meetings with Mr. & Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth Bennet.

“You say Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner are little Nicolas Clark’s godparents?”

“Yes, they are delightful people and their niece Elizabeth is a wonderful young lady.”

“Elizabeth is it?”

“Mrs. Reynolds said the exact same thing!” Georgiana grinned. “I asked Elizabeth to call me Georgiana and she said only on the condition I call her Elizabeth.” She then told him of her two visits. “I asked her to write to me. She said she would as soon as she was home to let me know she had arrived safely. They left Lambton for Hertfordshire yesterday morning. Oh brother, I wish she didn’t live so far away.”

“Miss Bennet certain sounds like a nice young lady. I suppose it would be good for you to have a correspondent closer to your age.”

“Thank you brother. I hope to meet her again someday. I’m sure you would like her, too.”

“If it will make you happy, I am sure I would like to meet her. Now run along and get ready for dinner. I cannot wait to see what surprises you have in store for me.”

“Dinner will be ready in an hour Fitzwilliam.”

Darcy escorted his sister to her room and then headed straight for his housekeeper’s study.

“Mrs. Reynolds, may I have a few minutes of your time? I know it is nearly time for dinner but I have a matter to discuss with you that cannot wait.”

“I have been expecting you.”

“You have?”

“I received a letter from Mary today. Actually, it arrived express in response to the express I sent her. She enclosed a letter for you as well. Why don’t you read it first and then we can talk?”

Dear William,

As soon as I read my mother’s letter I sat down at once to answer her and to write this to you. Mama had a distinct feeling that once you became aware of Georgiana’s association with Miss Elizabeth that you would fall into the overprotective, overbearing Darcy Mode. Don’t forget that we grew up together and I know you almost as well as my mother.

About Miss Elizabeth Bennet’s Aunt and Uncle. I may have grown up with you but you do not know of the children who were my friends in Lambton. My best friend, though several years older was Madeline Gardiner (nee Simpson). After I married Edmund and settled in London the Gardiners became some of our closest friends. Indeed, they are little Nicolas’ godparents. Through the past 8 years I have come into contact with their eldest two nieces, Jane and Elizabeth, quite frequently. Jane is a sweet woman but Elizabeth is our favorite. She has shown herself to be a dependable, thoughtful, intelligent, and lively young woman. She has little Nicolas wrapped around her finger. Truly, I would be thrilled if he would find such a young lady to marry, in about 20 years!

I had a feeling she and Georgiana would become good friends once acquainted with each other. Indeed I truly believe that Elizabeth will prove to be a fiercely loyal friend for Georgiana and will not be afraid to challenge even you in her defense of your sister. Trust me William, you could not find a better friend for Georgiana.

Yours,
Mary

PS. Ask mama how she liked her surprise!

Looking up at his housekeeper with admiration in his eyes he said softly, “Kate, you always seem to know what is best for the Darcys. How can I ever thank you?”

“You know I just want to see the two of you happy, William”

“Yes, I know. Tell me more about Miss Bennet. It seems that if she is to be Georgiana’s friend I should get to know as much about her as possible.”

Mrs. Reynolds spent the next little while telling Darcy all she had observed.

“So you approve of her then?”

“Truly sir, I believe that there are few who would not. After all, if she is good enough for Nicolas how could I not approve?”

“Then I am sorry I missed making her acquaintance.”

“So am I.”

Darcy shot his housekeeper a quick look, but Mrs. Reynolds managed to maintain an even countenance.

‘You two would do very well together William. But would your devotion to duty get in the way of seeing the prize before you?’ she thought to herself. ‘I hope not. Miss Bennet’s very presence appeared as if she belonged here… at Pemberley. I was sorry to see her go’ she mused.

“William, I know you are the master of this house, but I must get back to my duties or you will be in danger of a cold supper. I would not venture to incur your sister’s displeasure tonight. She worked very hard putting the menu together.”

“And what would that menu be?”

“Oh no sir! Miss Darcy would never forgive me if I spoiled her surprise!”

“Point taken! Again I thank you.”

“Now, be off with you.”

“I forgot to ask you about your surprise!”

“Later, sir. I have work to be done and you have to make yourself ready to arrive on time for dinner. ”

“I shall expect a visit in my study then tomorrow morning madam!”

“As you wish.”

Darcy arranged to speak to Mrs. Annesley the next afternoon.

“Tell me your impressions of Miss Bennet.”

“Well sir, the first opportunity I had to meet Miss Bennet occurred on her second visit. I was feeling unwell the day before when her Aunt and Uncle came so I was not there on the two occasions Miss Darcy first had to interact with her. However, I was with Miss Darcy when Miss Bennet came that second day. I was astonished at the rapidity with which Miss Bennet was able to draw out Miss Darcy. To be perfectly honest, I was a bit jealous of the young lady. She was able to compliment Miss Darcy in a most unaffected way as too not make her too uncomfortable and to be able to instill some self-confidence in her. I was impressed. She tactfully pushed Miss Darcy to emerge from her shy exterior, but never harshly or with any meanness of manner. She seemed to naturally understand how and when to stop. I would certainly never wish to cross verbal swords with that lady for I fear she would make quick work of me, but in such a sweet manner that she would fail to offend!”

Darcy was curious. What kind of woman was this Miss Bennet? He knew Mrs. Annesley was at the end of what she felt she could impart. Perhaps a few well-chosen words would elicit what she wanted to say, but was afraid would harm her relationship with Georgiana.

“Mrs. Annesley, I appreciate the fact that I am placing you in an awkward position. I pay your salary but it is Georgiana with whom you have to maintain a trust. You now know her disappointments, especially the Ramsgate affair. It is obvious that she has taken you into her confidence. I would not wish to force anything from you that could damage the bonds that you have so carefully cultivated. Is there anything else about Miss Bennet’s relationship with Miss Darcy that you can, in good conscience, tell me?

Darcy waited patiently as the woman before him weighed her words.

“Mr. Darcy, It is true that I have spoken often with Miss Darcy over the last several days about Miss Bennet. It is obvious that Miss Darcy holds her in the highest regard and has developed a deep affection for her. Naturally I would be concerned about this because of the incident at Ramsgate, which you have mentioned. However, from what Miss Darcy and Mrs. Reynolds have told me, as well as my own observations, I believe every effort to develop this friendship has been initiated by Miss Darcy from the beginning. In no way has Miss Bennet tried to ingratiate herself into Miss Darcy’s life. That is not to say she has been indifferent. She accepted Miss Darcy’s overtures with joy and sincere pleasure. In conclusion, I must say I believe Miss Bennet to be a remarkable young woman and I do not believe I could have chosen anyone better to be Miss Darcy’s friend.”

“Thank you for your candor Mrs. Annesley. I appreciate your efforts to protect my sister. I shall take what you have said into consideration on this matter. Good afternoon Madam.”

With that Darcy dismissed his sister’s companion and once again sought out his Housekeeper.

“Mrs. Reynolds, remind me not to doubt your judgment ever again!”

“Has Mrs. Annesley convinced you then?”

“As much as is possible under the circumstances. Send my best wishes and my thanks to Mary in your next letter.”

“I already have.”

They both smiled and then went to fulfill their own obligations.

Chapter 4

After spending two long days in the coach returning to Hertfordshire, Elizabeth was excited to see the familiar landmarks drawing them closer to Longbourn. At last, late in the afternoon, the travelers beheld their destination. Squeals of delight from the Gardiners’ four children filled the air as the coach pulled up in front of the house. Elizabeth was the first to descend into the welcoming throng and Jane was the first to greet her. As the sisters released their embrace, Mr. Bennet approached to give his favorite a kiss on the cheek, as much from affection as from relief at seeing her well.

“I am glad you have come back Lizzy. All I had to keep me sane whilst you were away is your dear Jane here. Between your mother and nieces and nephews I could barely get any time alone with her!”

“Father!” Elizabeth scolded, “Hush now. The last thing I want right now is for you to get Mama started!”

“You are right of course Elizabeth. I will behave myself this evening in honor of your safe return.”

“Thank you Papa. I see you understand me, as usual.”

The children took turns receiving their hugs and kisses from their happy parents. More than once the phrase “did you bring me anything?” was heard as the party moved into the house.

It was hard to tell who was happier to see the other, Jane or Elizabeth. The two had an uncommonly strong bond between them. Jane thought nothing of pouring her heart out to Elizabeth and Elizabeth felt the same towards Jane. So Jane had no difficulty telling from her sister’s body language that she was excited and had something to tell her that she did not wish to share with the rest of the family. But there would be no time to share confidences until the next day. As much as Jane wanted to talk with her sister she knew that Elizabeth was most likely exhausted and needed a good night’s sleep more than a late night chat.

The next morning after breakfast the Gardiners left for their home in London. Mr. Gardiner needed to be at his business the following day and he was loath to part from his children again. As the families gathered to say their goodbyes, Mr. Bennet took his brother aside to thank him again for taking his Lizzy with them and for bringing her back safely.

“Of course I had to keep her from climbing up the rocky outcroppings to get a better view of the landscape a few times, but all in all she was everything that a lady should be Thomas.”

“I am only surprised that she did not persuade you into letting her climb a tree as well Edward.”

“Well, there was one instance that I could see her thinking about it, but then she realized she could get a better view from the church bell tower.”

Both men shared a chuckle over this only too believable escapade.

“We look forward to seeing you at Christmas. I hope you have a safe journey home,” Mr. Bennet farewelled.

“Thank you again Aunt and Uncle for taking me with you. I shall write to you next week, Aunt,” Elizabeth added as the last of the occupants of the carriage sat down.

“Goodbye!”

Elizabeth and her father watched the carriage until it disappeared from sight. Taking his daughter’s arm, Mr. Bennet led her towards his study. “Now tell me all about your travels, the parts you cannot tell your mother, that is.”

Elizabeth laughed and began to tell him of all the places they visited and, most importantly, her new friend.

“I don’t think you should tell Fanny too much about Miss Darcy Elizabeth. I think we can both imagine her response if she finds out her true station in life. If I were you I would prepare yourself to evade her inquiries as much as possible.”

“Unfortunately, I agree. I shall correspond with Georgiana of course. I only hope Mama will not notice how fine the Darcy’s stationary is. I’ll warn Georgiana in my first letter, which I should write this afternoon, to keep things simple. She will understand. I plan to tell Jane all about her of course. I could never keep anything from Jane!”

“Never say never Lizzy. There may come a day when this will not be possible.”

“I know Papa. I just hope that day does not come any time soon. I should go to her now. We haven’t had the opportunity to be alone yet. I was too tired last night and I would rather not wait until tonight. Goodbye Papa.”

Elizabeth found Jane in the front parlor. Wishing for privacy, Jane suggested a walk through the garden. The sun was shining pleasantly and soon Jane was lost in Elizabeth’s descriptions of all the places she and the Gardiners had visited.

“But I saved the best for last Jane. Whilst we were staying in Lambton we visited Pemberley, the home where Mary Clark’s mother is housekeeper. Aunt Gardiner forbade Mrs. Clark from telling her we were coming so her mother was quite surprised and delighted when we arrived.”

“Did she show you the house personally then?”

“Yes she did, and she arranged for the head gardener himself to show us the grounds. Well, some of the grounds. Oh Jane, Pemberley is magnificent! I wanted never to leave the place. Indeed Netherfield is nothing to it! And that is not the end of it. When we were beginning our tour we came across Miss Darcy alone in the Library!”

“That must have been awkward.”

“At first yes, but Miss Darcy was very gracious, if not very shy, and quickly excused herself so that we could see the room.”

“She must be a sweet girl.”

“She is!”

“Lizzy, you say that with great conviction! How could you be so well informed?”

“Because I have yet to tell you what happened when we finished our tour of the gardens. Mrs. Reynolds invited us to her Study for refreshments before we headed back to Lambton. When we were admitted we were very surprised to find none other than Miss Darcy as well!”

“In the housekeeper’s study?”

“Yes, not only was she there but she stayed with us until we left!”

“Truly?”

“But wait, it gets even better. Miss Darcy and I had the opportunity to converse with each other before it was time to go. I must say that she is a wonderful girl. A little shy around strangers perhaps but she is a delight to be with when she warms up to you. Anyway, as we were preparing to leave miss Darcy asked if I could return to spend the next afternoon with her at Pemberley!”

“I cannot believe it Lizzy. Why would she so single you out? Well, I can understand anyone singling you out, but this is indeed a surprise!”

“Oh Jane, I am well aware of it.” After my Aunt and Uncle gave me their approval to go, the next afternoon the Darcy Carriage came and picked me up and took me back to Pemberley. I met Miss Darcy’s companion, Mrs. Annesley and then Miss Darcy took me for a walk through the woods.”

“I certainly hope you did not tire her out!”

“Actually, I think I finally found my equal when it comes to walking. We had a delightful time. The longer we were together the more open she became. Before we made it back to the house she asked me to call her Georgiana!”

Jane could only look at her in amazement. Finally she ventured. “She asked you to call her by her Christian name after so short an acquaintance?”

“Yes, and I only agreed once I asked her to call me Elizabeth in exchange. I know it is quite astonishing. But Jane, the amazing thing is that I felt drawn to her as well. It was as if I was talking to a sister! Before we left she asked me to write. How could I refuse her, Jane! She is such a sweet girl and I feel… well, I feel protective about her. There is a sadness in her that is heartbreaking. She lost her mother at a very young age and her father 5 years ago. She has an older brother of course, and a few other relatives but she seems very lonely at times. I hope our correspondence will bring some cheer into her life.”

“Knowing you Lizzy, I’m sure that it will.”

“But I have more to tell! Before I left, Georgiana asked me to come back to Pemberley again! I told her I would have to ask Aunt and Uncle first. I had one more morning they could spare me so I went one last time to Pemberley. Georgiana played the pianoforte for me. Jane I wish I could play half as well as she does. When she was done she asked me to play for her. Then she suggested we spend the rest of the morning playing duets. I don’t think I have ever had such a delightful time at the pianoforte.”

“It sounds as if I have someone else to share you with now my dearest Lizzy. I am sure you will remain strong friends. I am glad for both of you.”

“Oh Jane, any other sister in England would be jealous. But not you dear sister, you are too good.”

“Stop teasing me Lizzy. Come, I think you have a letter to write.”

“As I said, you are too good!”

Jane was right, of course, so Elizabeth sat down in the breakfast room to write her new friend.

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dear Georgiana,

We arrived safely at Longbourn late yesterday afternoon. I’m afraid with all of the commotion of bringing the trunks in, unpacking and resting that it was time to go to bed and I had not the opportunity of writing my dear new friend to assure her of my safe arrival home. The Gardiners returned to London this morning and first my papa, then my dearest Jane would not leave me until I regaled them with my adventures and still I had not the chance to write my dear new friend to assure her of my safe arrival home. Then it was time for lunch and still I had not the chance to write to my dear new friend to assure her of my safe arrival home. But now I am free and here I am writing my dear new friend to assure you of my safe arrival home.

Nothing here has changed but the weather. It is warmer and drier than when I left but that is unremarkable because it is now the middle of summer!
I would like to tell you more of my family. My Papa is a private man who loves his books and his port. He spends much of his day reading when he doesn’t have estate business to occupy him. I am the only one allowed unlimited access to his study where he keeps his books. We spend many hours there together. Sometimes reading by ourselves, other times discussing a book we have read. He has a very dry wit, so I pity the poor fool who plays into his hands.

Mama is, Mama. I sometimes wonder how my parents came to be united. She is so different from papa. Since my eldest sister Jane turned 15 she has dedicated her life to finding husbands for all her daughters. I know this is her role in life, I just wish she would forget I exist sometimes when she is matchmaking! I need to stop here and ask you a favor. When you write to me, would you use a Lambton address? My reason for asking this of you is because I would never hear the end of it if she knew I was acquainted with such a “rich young lady who is in a position to put me in the paths of rich young men”. I hope you understand.

I have told you a little about my older sister Jane. Jane is best described as ‘an angel’. She is a goddess with the sweetest disposition to go with her beauty. She is so unaffected that she does not know how beautiful she really is. If she were not so amiable and I didn’t love her dearly I could be quite jealous!

My next youngest sister is Mary. Mary loves to read, especially Fordyce’s Sermons. We are provided with bits of wisdom from Dr. Fordyce daily. At least she doesn’t chase after any male out of drawstrings.

That brings me to my next sister, Catherine, or Kitty as she prefers. She also prefers to dress up her bonnets and read all of Mama’s fashion magazines. She is too much under the influence of my youngest sister Lydia. Lydia, at 15 is near the same age as you but that is where the similarities end. Jane and I have tried to work with her but it has done little good. She is obsessed with being the first one married and Mama has aided this unwise desire by allowing her to come out already. I must say that if you need ladies to fill out a ballroom all you have to do is invite the Bennets and you would have no need to invite many other ladies!

I may tease about my younger sisters but I do love them all dearly. I believe, as they grow older they will settle down and become the ladies I know they can be, if Jane and I don’t throttle them first.

I am very curious to know how you fared when your brother returned home? Were you able to tease him? Did he find you at all impertinent? You must tell me all!

I think I shall stop here. I know you can afford to receive longer letters but I have other things I must attend to before dinner. I shall look forward to hearing from you soon.

Your new friend,
Elizabeth Bennet

Three days later, Darcy and Georgiana were sitting down to lunch when the letters for the day were brought in to them. Georgiana’s face lit with joy as she realized she had a letter from her new friend. Impatiently she broke the seal and began to read. Darcy was fascinated watching her face move from an initial anxiety to concentration and finally to mirth. Georgiana could not prevent laughter from escaping as she perused her letter. Satisfied, she put it down and turned to regard her brother.

“I take it that Miss Bennet arrived home safely?”

“Yes she did. Oh Fitzwilliam I could hear her talking to me as I read.”

“Then you enjoyed her letter?”

“Fitzwilliam! Honestly! I know you heard me laugh and I am positive you were watching me the entire time I read it. I do need to ask your permission for something. Elizabeth asked me to use a Lambton address when I write. Is that permissible with you?”

Darcy furrowed his brow at this. “Why did she ask you to do that?”

“She has a very good reason for it and it makes me value her even more. I need to read a portion of her letter to you.”

‘Mama is, Mama. I sometimes wonder how my parents came to be united. She is so different from papa. Since my eldest sister Jane turned 15 she has dedicated her life to finding husbands for all her daughters. I know this is her role in life, I just wish she would forget I exist sometimes when she is matchmaking! I need to stop here and ask you a favor. When you write to me, would you use a Lambton address? I would never hear the end of it if she knew I was acquainted with such a “rich young lady who is in a position to put me in the paths of rich young men”. I hope you understand.’

“She is right, and very wise in her request. I would also think it would help to find you some less elegant stationary in which to enclose your letters. Unfortunately I am well acquainted with such matchmaking mothers as she describes. I’ll ask Mrs. Reynolds to see to the paper for you.”

“Thank you brother. If you would excuse me I shall go and answer Elizabeth directly.”

“I doubt Miss Bennet wishes you to not finish your lunch so you can answer her.”

“Fitzwilliam! I was finished before you. The only reason I had not excused myself was to be polite to you!”

“Go write your letter.”

“Yes sir!” she sad mockingly as she dropped a curtsey to take her leave.

Pemberley, Derbyshire

Dear Elizabeth,

I received your letter as I finished lunching with my brother today. Since his return we have fallen into a quiet rhythm.

I wake
I dress
I eat breakfast, with Fitzwilliam
I study
I eat lunch, with Fitzwilliam
I practice my pianoforte
I have tea
I go for a walk
I dress for supper
I eat supper, with Fitzwilliam
I spend the evening in the Library, the music room or the drawing room, with Fitzwilliam
I ascend the stair to my rooms, with Fitzwilliam
I sleep, by myself

I miss our walks and our duets, Elizabeth. Mrs. Annesley can’t keep up with me and Fitzwilliam is usually too busy with the estate to join me.

I know you are interested in how my first foray into teasing my brother went.

Well, I became upset about something and Fitzwilliam came and knelt before me and took my hands to comfort me. Once I began to feel better I asked him to return to his seat because if a stranger had walked in on us at that time he would have thought him offering me marriage. After my brother got over the initial shock of such things coming from me he started to laugh. When I asked him, most impertinently, what amused him he said, “Who are you and what have you done with my sister?” He was pleased to see me so. I have continued to try and tease him because he encourages me to do so. I find that when we interact this way he then appears to me less of a father figure and more of a brother. I admit I like this new type of camaraderie between us. Thank you for encouraging me in it.

I shall be given some less elegant paper in which to enclose my letters to you. I talked with my brother about your request and when I explained everything to him he agreed with the wisdom of your request and even suggested the less fine paper. He is truly the best of brothers and the best man I know. Not that I am acquainted with very many men!

I shall close now. Please respond soon.

Your new friend too,
Georgiana Darcy

The letters between the two continued in much the same lighthearted manner. Elizabeth was delighted in the mischievousness Georgiana was displaying. Georgiana loved to hear about a world different from her own as if told by a master storyteller.

Come September, Elizabeth received her customary letter a few days earlier than expected.

Darcy House, Hanover Square, London

Dear Elizabeth,

As you see I am now in London. Fitzwilliam decided to bring me with him at the last minute. Actually, I begged to come. My Uncle and Aunt are in town right now and I wanted to be able to spend time with them rather than to be left alone at Pemberley. I find that I desire company more and more thanks to you. I was secretly, selfishly, hoping you might also be visiting your relatives in London at this time, but I know that is not the case…

…And so I am stuck with the visits of Caroline Bingley. I know she only comes for a chance to see my brother but he avoids her if at all possible!

Please write to me soon.

Your not so new friend now,
Georgiana

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dear Georgiana,

I hope your society in London is expanded beyond your aunt, uncle and Miss Bingley. She sounds so, so, typical of the ton!

The invariable monotony around here has suffered a somewhat unwelcome blow. The War Office, in its unquestioned wisdom, has decided to inflict upon us a regiment of militia in the nearby town of Meryton. My mother and two youngest sisters are ecstatic! I am doomed! I am sure she has paired me up with at least 5 officers already. Save me please Georgiana! But we bear this with all the grace and gentility expected of us. They cannot be stationed here for more than 6 months I am sure.

If you hear any frustrated screams coming from the direction of Hertfordshire, be assured that it is most likely me you are hearing!

If I can endure this, you can endure Miss Bingley!

Write back soon, I need the diversion from all the talk of red coats.

Your approaching to be old friend,
Elizabeth

Darcy House, Hanover Square, London

Dear Elizabeth

My brother has informed me that he is to accompany his friend, Charles Bingley and his family to an Estate he is leasing in Hertfordshire called Netherfield. Is it anywhere near your family’s estate? If it is I think I shall beg Fitzwilliam to allow me to come with him. I know Charles wouldn’t mind. The only downside to this is close contact with Miss Bingley. Yes, she is Mr. Bingley’s sister. I would gladly put up with her for a chance to see you. Write soon so I can begin making any necessary battle plans.

Your now old friend
Georgiana

Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dear Georgiana,

You may not believe me but I had just finished a walk that takes me right near Netherfield when I received your letter! Netherfield is but 3 miles from Longbourn. Make your plans accordingly.

Your newest old friend,
Elizabeth

Georgiana couldn’t believe it. She would see Elizabeth soon if she had her way. So she began to execute her well-laid campaign to accompany her brother. She had no need to be have worried for Darcy really could not say no to her. After Ramsgate he preferred to keep her close when she was not safely at Pemberley. Besides, he was curious to meet her friend. It was obvious how much she enjoyed their correspondence and from what she had read to him, she sounded like a witty young woman. Yes, he would ask Bingley if Georgiana could come. He knew Bingley could not say no to her either.

Chapter 5

Darcy was in an ill mood. He had hoped to leave London a week ago but duty, unfortunately, got in the way. His solicitor had approached him the day before his intended departure with news on one of his investments that could not be ignored. It took 3 days to deal with the crisis. In the meantime Georgiana had come down with a cold. She was finally well enough to travel yesterday. They were delayed from departing just after breakfast by a small problem with the carriage. By the time he escorted Georgiana into Netherfield they barely had time to change for dinner. Caroline Bingley promptly attached herself to his arm and he was too tired to gain his release. That morning Bingley insisted on showing him around the estate. It would be a good beginning for his quest to become a respectable landowner. Netherfield was big enough to stretch him but not so large as to overwhelm him. Bingley could see nothing wrong with it, unfortunately; but Darcy’s practiced eye saw many things that would need attention. This would end up being a working holiday. His problem was how to guide Bingley without making it seem that he was taking over for him. This would need further consideration before he could begin. If only he could find some time alone away from Miss Bingley for his contemplations.

Now he found himself on the way to the local assembly. He hated assemblies! He did not enjoy the dancing or any of the inane conversation attendant upon it. He did not want to bring Georgiana but when he voiced the possibility of his staying home with her, Miss Bingley declared that she could never willingly leave guests unattended in her home. So here he was, in a carriage, on the way to a very unwelcome evening.

Georgiana, on the other hand, was ecstatic! She knew she would not be dancing no matter how much she wanted to. She wasn’t yet out, but she was permitted to attend as long as she stayed to the sides of the room. She did not care, she would see Elizabeth again! They had decided to have some fun while they could. In their letters they planned that they would not acknowledge their acquaintance until Elizabeth felt the time was right. Georgiana was secretly hoping to get a good look at Caroline Bingley’s face when she discovered her “dear Georgiana” knew some inconsequential country miss! Georgiana clued her brother in on the charade on their journey to Hertfordshire. She knew he normally didn’t approve of disguises but she could tell that he was anticipating some amusement from it as well.

At last the Bingley party arrived at the assembly rooms, fashionably late of course. They couldn’t help notice that all eyes were drawn to them as they entered. It was to be expected. The low murmurs started almost immediately and Darcy heard the inevitable “Yes 5,000 a year”, “10,000 at least” and “such elegance”. It was enough to make him retreat even further behind his mask of indifference. Sir William Lucas greeted Mr. Bingley with a strange combination of pomposity and civility that was unable to offend but likely to bewilder. Bingley did his duty and quickly engaged the eldest Miss Lucas for his first dance. Darcy led his sister to the side of the room and waited for Bingley to finish. Georgiana quickly located Elizabeth who noted her presence with an almost imperceptible nod.

Once Bingley escorted Miss Lucas back to her father he gathered his friends and made his way to greet Mr. & Mrs. Bennet. He sincerely hoped that the angel standing next to Mr. Bennet was one of his daughters and he would be able to be introduced to her.

“Mr. Bennet, this is a surprise. I have heard you rarely attend an assembly!”

“Mr. Bingley, this is true. However, when the possibility for extra diversion arises I can be dragged away from home readily enough. May I introduce my wife and eldest daughter? Mr. Bingley this is my wife Mrs. Frances Bennet and my first born Miss Jane Bennet.”

Somehow Bingley managed to speak. “It is an honor to meet you both. Miss Bennet, would you do me the honor of the next dance ith me if you are not yet engaged?”

“Yes, Mr. Bingley, I am not engaged.”

Bingley heard a throat clear next to him. “I beg your pardon! May I present my friend Mr. Darcy and his sister Miss Georgiana Darcy.”

“It is a pleasure to meet you both.” Darcy withdrew a few steps after this. “Let me introduce you to my other daughters Miss Darcy.” Mr. Bennet signaled for Elizabeth and Mary to join him. “These are my next two daughters Elizabeth and Mary. My two youngest are there dancing,” he pointed them out in the set.

“It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance. May I introduce my brother?” Georgiana was startled not to find him at her side but motioned him forward again. “Miss Elizabeth, Miss Mary this is my brother Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

“So this is the famous Miss Elizabeth Bennet. It is an honor. Miss Mary Bennet, I am pleased to meet you as well.”

Elizabeth laughed at this.

“What makes you laugh Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy frowned and replied coldly.

“Well Mr. Darcy, that was the exact same thing Mrs. Reynolds said the day I met her at Pemberley.”

“Excuse me. Georgiana, would you like something to drink?” Darcy said rather tersely.

“Yes, could you bring me some punch?” she answered awkwardly. Darcy bowed and left abruptly.

“Georgiana, I do believe you have grown since last we met.”

“Perhaps a little Elizabeth. Have you read the book I suggested?”

“Yes, we shall have to discuss it later.”

“Will you excuse me Elizabeth, I need to get my punch from my brother.”

“Of course dear, I shall speak with you later.”

Mr. Bennet watched the scene unfold before him with great amusement. It was obvious that the two ladies had planned their mischief and the look on his wife’s face was priceless. Yes, it was worth a night of suffering through another assembly for that alone!

Mrs. Bennet was speechless. Where in the world had Elizabeth met Miss Darcy? The wheels turned and turned and it was not long before she put Pemberley, Mrs. Reynolds and Miss Darcy together. Some friend indeed! Miss Darcy was obviously very rich. She quickly calculated the advantage of such an acquaintance to her dear Elizabeth and was quite disposed to further it for Miss Darcy was in the position to put Elizabeth, and all her daughters, in the paths of rich men! Oh this night was turning out very well. Mr. Bingley couldn’t keep his eyes away from dear Jane and Elizabeth had a wealthy friend! She was so pleased that she forgot all about her smelling salts for one evening.

Georgiana made her way over to her brother, none too pleased with him. “Fitzwilliam Darcy, how could you insult my best friend like that?”

“Who did I insult?”

“Elizabeth! You were rude! You should have asked her to dance! What is wrong with you? Now go over, apologize and ask her to dance!”

“Do I have to?”

“Do I need bother answering that?”

“I’m sorry, you are right Georgiana. I should not let my distress over the last week affect me so. It is not fair to you.” here he paused, “She is tolerable I suppose,’” he teased.

“Tolerable enough to tempt you then?”

“Yes, just enough. Never fear Georgiana, I shall try not to embarrass you again.”

“I am counting on it!”

Darcy made his way over to Elizabeth, bowed and asked her to dance. Upon her acceptance he led her to the set forming.

“Miss Bennet, my sister has pointed out how rude I was to you earlier. I do apologize for my words and behaviour. I am afraid you have caught me in an unpleasant mood tonight.”

“Your apology is accepted as long as you promise to do your best to improve your mood sir!”

“Very well, a very reasonable request. I shall behave as close to an affable gentleman as I can for the rest of the evening.”

“You misunderstand me sir! I did not mean for just this evening. I was referring to the remainder of your stay in Hertfordshire!”

“I will try for your sake madam.”

“Good! Now let us talk of other things. I am very happy you have brought Georgiana into Hertfordshire. I have found that I have missed her very much.”

“Georgiana would never have forgiven me if I did not bring her with me.”

“You certainly are the good brother!

“Forgive me for asking a personal question Mr. Darcy, but are your sister’s spirits improved as much as her letters imply. I could not help but noticing when we met that she was struggling mightily with something, though she tried to hide her emotions.”

“That is a personal question but I do not mind answering it. She is much improved, due mostly to you Miss Bennet.”

“Me, Sir!” she cried quite surprised.

“It is impossible to deny that her spirits began to improve upon your acquaintance. Your letters were no less crucial. I watched her become more and more at ease with herself with each successive one.”

“All I did was attempt to amuse her with pictures of life here.”

“It seems to have been the perfect tonic.”

“Is the reason then for her distress gone?”

“As much as it can ever be,” was his enigmatic reply.

Elizabeth had enough sense to drop the subject. If Georgiana wanted to discuss it with her then she would listen. If not then she would honor her privacy.

“You dance very well for a gentleman who does not like the amusement.”

“Who told you that? Oh yes, I imagine I know your source of information.”

“Well, you are one of her favorite topics!”

“Should I be concerned?”

“Of course! You have no idea how observant your sister truly is!”

“Then I AM concerned Miss Bennet. Is it safe for me to remain in Hertfordshire?”

Elizabeth laughed, “You are safe from me, but I wouldn’t be so sure about my mother! Mr. Darcy, I must speak frankly. I would be careful of showing any particular interest in any young lady here unless you are serious. The country does not have the same sophistication as in town. You do not need to be hounded after by every young woman of marriageable age in the country, young ladies being driven by their matchmaking mothers.”

“That is an extraordinary speech Miss Bennet and I thank you for your concern but I am accustomed to being chased. One of my most ardent pursuers is here tonight.”

“I noticed the lady from your party who has not let you out of her sight.”

“Miss Bingley does not know how to take a hint.”

“Georgiana agrees.”

He smiled at this reference to his sister.

“I hope you and she will have many chances to meet.”

“Yes, and I am determined to find out which of the two of us is better walker!”

“I think I would put my money on you, but don’t tell Georgiana I said that.”

“Mr. Darcy?

“Yes?”

“If you danced next with Miss Bingley you wouldn’t have to worry about her advances the rest of the evening.”

“An excellent suggestion Miss Bennet. I believe you are right.”

“When should I call on you with Georgiana? Tomorrow?”

“Mr. Darcy, for your sake and as well as mine I think it best you wait a day at least. I was serious about my mother. I’m sure you will be receiving an invitation to dine with us as soon as she can figure out a way.”

“Thank you Miss Bennet. I appreciate your discretion. It seems that this will not be easy on you. I will speak to Georgiana about it.”

“I will likely be taking a walk to Oakham Mount in the morning. It is a pleasant view.”

The music ended and he led her back to his sister.

“I’m sure it is. Thank you for the dance and the conversation, Miss Bennet. You have improved my mood immensely.”

“I hope it will last past the next dance. Thank you Mr. Darcy.”

“Ladies.”

Darcy bowed and left to find Miss Bingley. He didn’t want to but Miss Bennet was right. It would be best to get it over with so he could find more pleasurable things to occupy the rest of the evening. Funny, he thought, he couldn’t remember enjoying a dance as much as he had the last one. Maybe country assemblies could be pleasant after all. Then he found Miss Bingley. Yes country assemblies have one advantage; he normally would not have to put up with Miss Bingley because she would never be caught dead at one unless Bingley insisted she go. Next time he determined to attend one without Bingley!

Mr. Bennet sent his three youngest daughter home with their mother first. The entire party could have squeezed into their carriage together; they had done so many times. But tonight Mr. Bennet wanted to have his two eldest to himself for a while.

“Lizzy, your Miss Darcy seems to be a pleasant sort of girl. She is too full young to be out yet though. I’m glad her brother has more sense about it than I did with your two youngest sisters.”

“Papa!”

“No child, you know I am right. Pretty soon you will realize, as if you hadn’t already, that your father is not without fault.”

“Papa!” cried Jane, “Do not tease us so. You are the best man I know!”

“Better than Mr. Bingley?”

“I have just met him tonight. How could I know his character upon such a short acquaintance?” Jane said to her father but she could not look him in the face as she spoke.

Mr. Bennet had observed many things that night. It was obvious that the new young master of Netherfield was quite taken with Jane. Then again, she tended to have that affect on men. The amusing thing was that she could not see it herself. This time however, Mr. Bennet could see that she was quite impressed by the gentleman herself. Things could get interesting. He just needed to decide if he was ready to begin to let her go. He always knew that time would come. Did it just begin tonight?

“Father,” Elizabeth began, “Thank you for taking the time to speak with Mr. Darcy and Georgiana. I know neither of them are comfortable around so many who are unknown to them.”

“I have to admit to being selfish Lizzy. I found their company pleasing and it gave me an excuse to avoid your mother.”

“Papa! What are we going to do with you!”

“Leave me alone with my books and port!”

The carriage had returned and Mr. Bennet led his daughters from the assembly rooms back into the familiar confines of their family carriage.

Mr. Bennet’s thoughts turned to his second born. It was obvious that she shared affection with Miss Darcy. The poor girl could hardly stand it when Elizabeth left her to go and join the dance. And speaking of dances, her dance with Mr. Darcy had been most interesting. The young man had obviously apologized for his earlier uncivil behavior. Fortunately Lizzy appeared to have forgiven him quickly. It appeared she had then set out to make him more at ease. The gentleman then seemed pleased with his partner and had spent the rest of the set in amiable conversation. Later in the evening Mr. Bennet had an opportunity to speak with both Mr. Darcy and his sister. He found that under their reserve lay a biting sense of humor and great intelligence. He was struck with the thought that he had finally found a man worthy of his Elizabeth. Yet he was a man of the highest circles in society. He would never dream that such a man could lower himself and wish to connect himself with a family such as his. No, he had better keep an eye on Lizzy. He did not wish to see her hurt because he knew her well enough to know that she would be capable of seeing his superiority over every man she had ever met. She was not aware of it yet, but if her intimacy with Miss Darcy continued, she would see it soon enough.

“Thank you for coming tonight father. I needed your support to deal with Mama. I knew how she would be once she found out all about Miss Darcy.”

“You are welcome Lizzy. I had an inkling of what you would be facing and I knew it would not do to leave you alone. Jane is too good to stand up to your mother!”

“Papa!” Jane blushed.

“I enjoyed myself tonight girls. I am very proud of you both. Indeed, I believe I could not stand more than 4 silly women in my house!”

“Papa!” Jane and Elizabeth said together. At that all three began to laugh as they entered the gates to Longbourn.

Chapter 6

Elizabeth was the first to rise the next morning. She was dressed and downstairs before any of the family was awake. She went to find Mrs. Hill to tell her where she was going, and to grab a piece or two of bread in case she got hungry along the way. It went against her ideas of independence to have to tell anyone where she was going on her walks but this was a concession she had made to her father years ago. Elizabeth was 14 when she realized that long walks were much preferable to sitting inside with her mother. Alas the day finally came when she was caught outside in a violent thunderstorm. By the time she made it home she was thoroughly soaked, her mother was in bed with hysterics and her father was showing uncharacteristic signs of distress. Only her promise to tell him, the housekeeper or the butler in what direction she was headed placated her father enough for him to allow her to continue her walks.

After a short word with Mrs. Hill she was off on the path toward Oakham Mount. She was not surprised when she spied Mr. Darcy and Georgiana approaching the fork in the path that would lead to the ascent.

“Mr. Darcy, Georgiana, I am very surprised to see that you are of the same mind as I, and so early in the morning!” she said trying not to smile.

“We were informed that this path leads up to a view that is particularly fine first thing in the morning.” Mr. Darcy answered smoothly.

“Indeed, but where would you get such information. You only arrived in the country the night before last.” Elizabeth parried.

“A man of my means has his sources of information Miss Bennet.”

“But are you sure that they are reliable?”

“If they are not then my sister here has a great deal of explaining to do.”

“Fitzwilliam! Stop! She we take the path together Elizabeth?”

“Georgiana, how could I say no when I suggested it in the first place!”

With that the three laughed and began the slow climb. Once they reached the top Darcy left the two ladies to themselves while he inspected the countryside before him. He loved the smell of the soil, the grain, and the early morning dew. It never failed to stir within him memories of accompanying his father as he toured their estate. Would Bingley ever come to love that smell as he did?

While Darcy was alone with his thoughts Georgiana began speaking with Elizabeth.

“Thank you for suggesting this walk this morning. Fitzwilliam and I had a long talk last night and he helped me understand the difficulties you will be facing whilst I am in the neighborhood. I never stopped to think about it before. You always said I would be welcome in Hertfordshire, I just never imagined how much your mother would welcome me. You did try to warn me, but I am still happy I came.”

“To be honest Georgiana, I rather forgot about my mother when I first issued the invitation. But even if I had remembered I still would have issued it all the same. Truly I am glad you are here. I’m just sorry you have to put up with Miss Bingley for the pleasure.”

“What did you think of Mr. Bingley and his sisters?”

“Mr. Bingley is just what a young man ought to be,” said she, “sensible, good-humored, lively; and I never saw such happy manners! So much ease, with such perfect good-breeding!”

“Yes he is, and his sisters?”

“Their manners are not equal to his.”

“That was diplomatically spoken.”

“Yes, I believe my sister was not as displeased with their manners as I was. But then again, Jane rarely if ever thinks ill of anyone. I must find it in myself not to voice my opinions of the those ladies for Jane’s sake.”

“Because Mr. Bingley likes your sister?”

“It was that obvious to you, too?” Elizabeth laughed.

“Mr. Bingley kept singing the praises of ‘the angel’ he met last night. I only assumed he meant your sister since he never seemed to stay away from her for very long.”

Elizabeth smiled. “Did you enjoy yourself last night? I know you and your brother do not like to be much in company with strangers.”

“Not everyone there was a stranger to me Elizabeth. Your presence was the only reason I asked to go and I did enjoy meeting your sisters Jane and Mary and speaking with your father. He seems to be a well-read man.”

“He is, but he will more often than not choose a position opposite of his own regarding a book just to see if he can unsettle the person he is talking with about it.”

“How can you tell when he is serious?”

“Years and years of practice. Is Mrs. Annesley not with you Georgiana?”

“Her only daughter Rachael, was married last year and now is with child. The baby is expected after the New Year. When she found out that I had convinced Fitzwilliam to bring me with him to Hertfordshire she asked permission to go and see her Rachael to help prepare for the baby. She will then journey to Netherfield on December 1st.”

“I hope she is able to assist her daughter, and enjoy this time with her. Is this her first Grandchild?”

“Yes, her son is not yet married. He is in the Army.”

“Oh my, never let my youngest sisters know that or else they will be asking you for details of the young Mr. Annesley! What about your studies Georgiana? I know your brother would not allow you to totally neglect them.”

“Before she left, Mrs. Annesley and I discussed a schedule of study for me. I have brought some books, in French, which will serve the dual purpose of working on that language as well as becoming more familiar with those writings. I have their counterparts in English so that I can compare what I thought they were saying in French to what I believe they are saying in English. It should prove to be a most enlightening experience as well as a truer gauge of my progress. However, the major project we devised has nothing to do with books.”

“I am interested, please tell me more!”

“Since I am due to come out next year we thought that it would be wise to further my education in ‘life’. I am to observe people and how they interact with each other in different situations. I am to take close look at how different women manage their homes. It is hoped that by seeing people in such different settings than I have been accustomed to, that I will learn what I feel will work for me and what will not when I have a home and family of my own.”

“My respect for Mrs. Annesley grows by the day. That is a very wise set of challenges to issue you Georgiana. It will help you become a greater lady than you already are.”

Elizabeth smiled at her blushing young friend. She was growing into quite an accomplished lady! Observing Georgiana’s progress as she reached her potential would be a fascinating, enjoyable experience.

“Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth called out to get his attention. “I thank you for bringing your sister out to meet with me this morning. It is time that I should be returning to my home. I hope to see you two there in a few days.”

“Yes, Miss Bennet. If the weather holds we will call tomorrow.”

“I shall look forward to showing you my home, Georgiana. Though it will not take nearly the time it took you to show me Pemberley!”

“I am sure you have a lovely home Elizabeth.”

“I shall leave the two of you here to enjoy the view a little longer. Good day Mr. Darcy. Good day Georgiana. Take care on your way down. It is not at all dangerous, but you are not yet familiar with the grounds around here.”

After she had gone Georgiana turned to her brother who was once again lost in his thoughts.

“Fitzwilliam?”

“Hhmm, yes Georgiana?”

“Thank you for the time alone with Elizabeth.”

“You are welcome, but I was content to be lost in my own thoughts for a while. It is so peaceful up here.”

“I noticed your absentmindedness. Is there anything the matter?”

“No, I was just trying to decide how to proceed with Bingley?”

“Forgive me, I am not understanding you.”

“I came to Hertfordshire to see him settled into the estate. I see many things that will keep him busy and train him if he ever buys his own. Unfortunately, he sees no such problems with Netherfield. I am trying to decide how I can help him see without seeming to be overbearing. It is a sensitive business sister. I do not wish to offend my friend.”

“Of course you feel this way. I believe you are an honourable gentleman to treat your friend so. I am sure you will find a way to accomplish this without straining the bonds of your friendship.”

“Thank you, Georgiana, for your continued faith in me. I think we should be going back now as well. I would not want to alarm Miss Bingley with our absence. Not that she will be out of bed and downstairs much before noon!”

They made their way back down again and back to Netherfield. Not surprisingly, they did not see its Mistress before noon.

Mr. Darcy called on Longbourn the next day with his sister. The visit went much as it could have been expected with plans made for a walk in two days.

When Elizabeth called at Netherfield for Georgiana to set out for their walk, she was surprised that Darcy insisted on accompanying them.

“Mr. Darcy, you will be allowed to accompany us only if you promise to give the two of us time alone. How are we to talk of things only girls do if you are within hearing distance at all times.”

“Perhaps that is why I wish to accompany you then, to protect my honor and good name!”

“You will do Mr. Darcy,” Elizabeth responded. “Just remember that I did try to warn you.”

“Let us be off then before Miss Bingley decides to join us,” warned Darcy.

“Then by all means let us go,” the two ladies chorused.

Darcy gave each lady an arm and the three of them set off. Once they were safely out of sight from the house Darcy, true to his word, let the ladies go on ahead.

“Will you be attending the function at Sir William’s tonight, Georgiana?”

“No, I think it best I stay home. My brother agrees with me that it is best that I remain here. To be honest, I could use an evening of peace and solitude.”

“In other words without Miss Bingley fawning over you and your brother.”

“You will take pity on him then?”

“I make no promises, but I will see what I can do. It is certainly good of him to allow us some privacy.”

“I told you he is the best of brothers.”

“I have always wanted a brother.”

“Someday you shall have one when one of your sisters marries.”

“That is true, but then I would be losing that sister to the home of her husband.”

“It is inevitable, especially with one so beautiful as Miss Bennet. I wonder her still being unmarried.”

“She is determined to marry for love, as I am.”

“I hope I can find a man who will love me for something other than my money.”

“If that is what you wish I am sure your brother will protect you from such unscrupulous men.”

Georgiana colored at this. Elizabeth noticed but once again chose to let the younger girl disclose the matter when and if she was ever ready.

“Mr. Darcy!” Elizabeth called. “How much longer do we have before we need to return to Netherfield? There is a fork in the path just ahead and I need to decide which way to go.”

“I believe we have the time to take the longer path Miss Bennet. I am curious who will be the one to return the most refreshed and I think a good long walk is the means to settle this question.”

“How much?”

“A crown, just enough to make it interesting.”

“Of what are you speaking Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam?” Georgiana queried.

“That is between Miss Bennet and myself. It is of no consequence dear.”

“Humph!”

“That is not very ladylike Georgiana!”

“Neither is speaking in riddles in front of me, Elizabeth!”

“True, but it will not get us to divulge our secrets. Right Mr. Darcy?”

“I would never question a lady.”

Upon striking out on the new path the party made its wandering way back to Netherfield. When they arrived Miss Bingley was visibly displeased to have been left behind. Darcy ignored her and had refreshments brought to the two ladies.

“Do you have an answer to your question, Mr. Darcy?” Elizabeth dared.

“No, I think I shall have to wait until another time to have my curiosity satisfied.”

Elizabeth smiled at this reply and made her excuses to leave and head back to Longbourn.

That night at Lucas Lodge Darcy spent most of the first part of the evening wishing he could have stayed with Georgiana. However, he could not leave Bingley and so he was forced to his usual prowl around the edges of the room. The regiment’s officers were in attendance. For once he was thankful for the distraction of a red coat since it deflected some of the attention away from him. He was quite delighted when Miss Lucas opened the instrument and asked Elizabeth to play. Georgiana had told him that she had much enjoyed hearing her play. Now he realized that she was accurate in her praise. Miss Bennet’s playing was enchanting! No, it was not technically as good as Georgiana’s playing but there was something to her performance that drew you and set your soul into the magic of the song. The spell was finally broken when Elizabeth was succeeded to the pianoforte by her younger sister Mary.

In the aftermath of her performance Miss Bingley sauntered up to him.

“I can guess the subject of your reverie.”

“I should imagine not.”

“You are considering how insupportable it would be to pass many evenings in this manner”

“Your conjecture is totally wrong, I assure you. My mind was more agreeably engaged. I have been meditating on the very great pleasure which a pair of fine eyes in the face of a pretty woman can bestow.”

“And may I ask who inspired such reflections?”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”

“Miss Elizabeth Bennet!” repeated Miss Bingley. “I am all astonishment. How long has she been such a favorite? And pray, when am I to wish you joy?”

“That is exactly the question which I expected you to ask. A lady’s imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony, in a moment. I knew you would be wishing me joy.”

“Nay, if you are so serious about it, I shall consider the matter as absolutely settled. You will have a charming mother-in-law, indeed; and, of course, she will be always at Pemberley with you.”

The next day Miss Bingley, Mrs. Hurst and Georgiana called on the ladies of Longbourn. In the course of the visit, Miss Bennet was invited to dine with them at Netherfield the next day, as the men were engaged to dine with the officers. Georgiana felt it very rude that Elizabeth was not included in the invitation and at the first chance to speak with her alone begged for her to ask if she could dine with the Bennets whilst Jane dined at Netherfield. Elizabeth understood her plight and asked her mother if she could extend the invitation. Seeing the opportunity to further the intimacy of Miss Darcy with Elizabeth, she quickly made the invitation.

“Miss Darcy, I’m sure you would find many more things to talk about with girls closer to your age. Would you care to join us when Jane dines at Netherfield?”

“I would be delighted Mrs. Bennet. I shall have to ask my brother’s permission of course, but I am sure he will agree. He knows how much I enjoy the company of Miss Elizabeth. I will send back a note to confirm my acceptance.”

Mrs. Bennet made a note to talk with the cook about the meal tomorrow.

That next morning Hertfordshire awoke to gray skies. It threatened to rain all morning but the weather held. Mrs. Bennet insisted Jane ride Nelly to Netherfield.

“My dear, you had better go on horseback, because it seems likely to rain; and then you must stay until the gentlemen return.”

“That would be a good scheme,” said Elizabeth, “if you were sure that they would not offer to send her home immediately.”

“Oh! But the gentlemen will have Mr. Bingley’s chaise to go to Meryton; and Miss Darcy will have her own.”

“I had much rather go in the coach.”

“But, my dear, your father cannot spare the horses, I am sure. They are wanted in the farm, Mr. Bennett, are not they?”

“They are wanted in the farm much oftener than I can get them.”

“But if you have got them today,” said Elizabeth, “my mother’s purpose will be answered.”

She did at last extort from her father an acknowledgment that the horses were engaged: Jane was therefore obliged to go on horseback, and her mother attended her to the door with many cheerful prognostications of a bad day. Her hopes were answered: Jane had not been gone long before Miss Darcy arrived in her carriage and it began raining hard. Her sisters and Georgiana were uneasy for her, but her mother was delighted. The rain continued the whole evening without intermission: Jane certainly could not come back on horseback.

“I will send her back in my carriage Elizabeth. All will be well.”

“Thank you Georgiana. I admit I am anxious for Jane.”

The Darcy carriage returned, not with Jane, but with a note.


Elizabeth,

Your sister was caught in the rain and has taken ill. Miss Bingley has installed her in one of the guest rooms where she is resting now. I will stay with her tonight but I am sure she would do better if you were here with her. Please come in the morning. I will send our carriage at 10 o’clock. Please send some clean clothes for your sister back with the carriage. The driver has been instructed to wait for you.

Georgiana

Elizabeth slept ill that night with worry for Jane. She decided that she could not wait for the carriage and set out at a rapid pace for Netherfield taking no notice to how dirty her skirts were becoming.

Georgiana received her and took her directly to her sister, but not before the rest of the party took in her appearance. As soon as Georgiana and Elizabeth were gone Miss Bingley began abusing her.

“She has nothing, in short, to recommend her, but being an excellent walker. I shall never forget her appearance just now. She really looked almost wild.”

“She did indeed, Louisa. I could hardly keep my countenance. Very nonsensical to come so early! Why must she be scampering about the country, because her sister had a cold? Her hair, so untidy, so blowsy!”

“Yes, and her petticoat; I hope you saw her petticoat, six inches deep in mud, I am absolutely certain; and the gown which had been let down to hide it, not doing its office.”

“Your picture may be very exact, Louisa,” said Bingley; “but this was all lost upon me. I thought Miss Elizabeth Bennet looked remarkably well when she came into the room this morning. Her dirty petticoat quite escaped my notice.”

“You observed it, Mr. Darcy, I am sure,” said Miss Bingley; “and I am inclined to think that you would not wish to see your sister make such an exhibition.”

“She would have no need.”

“To walk three miles, or four miles, or five miles, or whatever it is, above her ankles in dirt, and alone, quite alone! What could she mean by it? It seems to me to show an abominable sort of conceited independence, a most country-town indifference to decorum. Why couldn’t she wait for the coach to be sent for her? ”

“It shows an affection for her sister that is very pleasing,” said Bingley.

“I am afraid, Mr. Darcy,” observed Miss Bingley, in a half-whisper, “that this adventure has rather affected your admiration of her fine eyes.”

“Not at all,” he replied; “they were brightened by the exercise.”

When the clock struck three Elizabeth felt that she must go, and very unwillingly said so. Miss Bingley offered her the carriage, and she only wanted a little pressing to accept it, when Jane testified such concern in parting with her, that Miss Bingley was obliged to convert the offer of the chaise into an invitation to remain at Netherfield for the present. Elizabeth most thankfully consented, and a servant was dispatched to Longbourn to acquaint the family with her stay and bring back a supply of clothes.

“Elizabeth, I am sure Miss Bennet will be very much relieved to have you here with her. I would have stayed with her, but I am sure she would much prefer her sister.”

“Thank you for staying with her last night Georgiana. Jane told me how much she appreciated your attentions.”

“I would do anything for you and your family Elizabeth. Shall I see you at dinner?”

“If Jane feels well enough for me to leave her.”

“Very well then Elizabeth. It is good to see you. I just wish the circumstances were different.”

With that Georgiana went to see what time dinner would be served and to make sure a tray would be prepared in case Elizabeth could not join them. Somehow she knew Miss Bingley would conveniently forget until after it was too late for a hot meal to be sent up.

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