Letters Parts 21-29

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21.

Georgiana was happy as happy to see her brother as he was to see her. While the events of the past summer were still painful to both, it had marked a change in their relationship. Darcy was forced, and rather abruptly, to see that his sister no longer was a child. He should no longer treat her as one. It was time to begin the transformation from father-figure to elder brother. As long as she was unwed Darcy would have authority of her, but it was time that Georgiana became more involved in his decisions that would affect her. Her opinions, once unsolicited, now were given heed.

Their greeting complete, the first subject of discussion was Darcy’s itinerary. “How long will you remain in Town?” she asked.

“While I do not have any definite date to return to Pemberley, I had thought to remain for most of the season. I will need to travel into Hertfordshire at least once before we head north, but do not know for how long, but you shall be one of the first to know.”

“Will you take me with you to Longbourn?” Georgiana asked hopefully.

“That all depends on how long I need to complete my business. I hate to impose on the Bingleys, so I may just stay overnight at an inn in Meryton.”

“Mr. Bingley will not be happy if you do not avail yourself of his hospitality. I would like to come with you if I am able, but I understand that it might not be feasible.”

“Thank you, my dear. I first need to speak with Mr. Gardiner, the uncle of Mrs. Collins and her sisters. I plan on a call at his home tomorrow, though only long enough to obtain on his business address. Once I speak to him I will have a better idea on how long it will take to complete my business in Hertfordshire. Remember too that Longbourn is still in deep mourning.”

Georgiana seemed a little embarrassed that she had momentarily forgotten and Darcy was forced to sooth her anxiety. It was a measure of how far she had come that it did not take long for her to overcome her mortification at her lapse and to move on to topcs relating to the management of their home.

Mr. Gardiner was not in when Darcy called at Gracechurch Street, but Mrs. Gardiner graciously received him and once she heard his request, offered to send a manservant with Darcy’s coach to direct them to her husband’s business. Within 10 minutes of his arrival, he was back in his conveyance for the short trip to Mr. Gardiner’s business.

As impressed as he was with the Gardiner residence, he was equally so with appearance of Mr. Gardiner’s work premises. The owner was obviously a prosperous individual and Darcy felt more certain of the rightness of his decision to involve his co-guardian of the Collins children.

Mr. Gardiner was surprised, but appeared pleased to see Darcy. After retiring to Mr. Gardiner’s private office, and all the usual inquiries of health, the reason for their meeting was broached.

Darcy had come up with another scheme to increase the profitability of Longbourn and it required Mr. Gardiners help.

“As a landowner and farmer myself, I have often lamented the need to pay someone else for the fodder of my cattle houses in town, and another to take away the remnants thereof after its consumption. Derbyshire is too far away to service my London residence”

Darcy explained that he would rather pay Longbourn directly to supply the feed for his mews rather than some merchant who bought from the farmer and then added in a percentage for profit before selling to the London stable owners.

“Why do you need me if you plan to directly contract with Longbourn?” Mr. Gardiner asked.

“I need you because I will not be the only London household to procure from Longbourn. It occurred to me that if some of my neighbors were included in the scheme that it could be way to raise the income of Longbourn with very little alteration of the current farming scheme. If instead of selling to buyer who would in turn resell it Town, the estate sells it directly to those who consume it. The cost of labor to deliver it is reduced by the fact that the area of delivery is small.”

“It would work, but I doubt it would be as profitable as you think, especially if I am brought in. I would not be fair to my own family if I did not charge for my services of negotiating the sales and collecting the payment.”

“Indeed, and I would not ask you to do so for free. However, the reason I think this will work is that the sale of feed is not the only facet of my idea. You forget what I said about the other product involved in keeping horses in Town. Their waste must go somewhere. Why not Longbourn?”

Darcy watched while comprehension dawned. “You mean to fill the wagons at Longbourn with sacks of grain and then return them from London filled with horse manure.”

“Yes, and also possibly with ash from fireplaces.”

“I think it might work.”

“Only if I were not the man negotiating with my neighbors. I would, of course, be the one making the initial inquiries to gage their interest, but I need you to complete the bargain.”

“It would not be seemly for a man like you to be so closely linked to trade.” Gardiner said, understanding the realities of his guest’s social position.

“May I advise Mr. Philips of my idea? I need to travel to Hertfordshire soon regarding our wards and Longbourn.”

“Certainly. I will work to provide you estimations for the costs of my services in this proposed venture. It might be tight time-wise to be ready for this year’s crops…”

“I will buy from Longbourn.”

“Of that I have no doubt, but to fully implement it with the others may not be completely possible. Though I suspect they will be happy to give you their horse dung now,” Gardiner laughed.

Darcy relaxed, pleased that his plan was received so well.

“It is a good idea, sir. May I ask if you have any other business ventures in need of a man like me to keep your hands clean in society?”

“Not at the moment. I have investments, of course, but nothing that I have initiated like this.”

“Whatever gave you the idea then?”

Darcy got a sly grin on his face. “I was visiting family in Kent, reviewing estate matters and the subject of animal waste came to mind more than once, and in company other than the steward.”

Mr. Gardiner laughed and in the spirit of a new partnership, offered Darcy drink. Darcy accepted and sipped the brew. He quirked a brow in appreciation and raised his glass. “Acquaintances in trade have benefits other than purely fiscal?” his host queried.

Darcy nodded thoughtfully. “So I am discovering.”

The men sat for a few moments savoring their drinks and contemplating Darcy’s plan.

“How much additional income do you think you can generate for Longbourn?”

“That is a difficult question to answer. There will be some extra cash made, but frankly, as long as Longbourn does not lose money in the transactions then it will have fulfilled it’s more expansive purpose.”

“How so?”

“Responsible land management means that care is taken to insure that the soil is not over worked. That is why successful farming technique includes rotating the crops grown in a field as well as setting animals loose there or removing the muck from the stables to the different fields. Thus the key to this plan is not what goes to London but what comes back. I believe Longbourn will show its gains not from the coin from trade with Town but in the increase production of the crops in the coming years.”

It was Mr. Gardiner’s turn to be impressed.

Darcy left a little while later with a promise to return again before he traveled to Hertfordshire. The gentlemen wished to discuss other business opportunities. Darcy offered to deliver any letters the Gardiners wish to send to the family and Mr. Gardiner promised to acquire for Darcy a case of the contraband French brandy the men were enjoying.

It took nearly a week of exchanging letters with Bingley and Mr. Philips, but at last Darcy had a date of departure.

Darcy House, London
19th April, 1812
My dear Mrs. Collins,
By now you have likely heard that Georgiana and I will be traveling to Netherfield come Friday. Our visit will be of a short duration, as we do not wish to impose on our newly married hosts for any longer than necessary. My sister is anxious to meet with your family again. I too look forward to seeing my goddaughter and her two scamps of elder brothers, and though it is Longbourn’s estate business that draws me back to the neighborhood primarily, I do anticipate seeing you as well, my friend. I shall call upon you after I meet with your uncle and Mr. Grainger. I have great hopes for the scheme Mr. Gardiner and I have developed for increasing Longbourn prosperity and I hope it shall gain your approval.
Your friend,
F. Darcy

The Darcys had a delightful surprise awaiting them at Netherfield. Bingley greeted them when they alit from their carriage and ushered them into the house. As soon as they stepped into the parlor, two small figured raced to grab Darcy about his legs. Everyone in the room was smiling at the Collins boy’s joy in seeing their tall friend again. Though the women all wore black, there was no sorrow present.

Elizabeth rose from her curtsey and approached the new arrivals.

“I beg your and your sister’s forgiveness for our presence,” Elizabeth said with a grin. She held little Henrietta in her arms. All of the Bennet sisters were present, as was Miss Pope.

“The fault is mine, Darcy,” Bingley laughed. “I am afraid that when William heard me say you were coming to Netherfield he was quite adamant that he must see you as soon as you arrived and, well, you know how hard it is to say ‘no’ when he gives you that look of his.” He shrugged and looked slightly guilty for a moment until his older nephew suddenly let go of Darcy’s leg and then hugged his instead.

“Oh, thank you, Uncle Charles!” before Bingley could respond William returned to Darcy again.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes, though she still smiled. “Poor Jane, she will have to work twice as hard to make your children mind. Their father will always be undoing her hard work.”

“Lizzy!” Jane laughed.

“Yes, be kind to your brother. Being and uncle is different that being a father. I can spoil my nephews and nieces and then leave them to their mother.”

Everyone laughed and the Darcys asked to be excused so they could refresh themselves from their travel. Darcy had to persuade John and William that he would return in a few minutes before they let go of his legs. Fortunately, the servants had used the few minutes to ready their things and it was not long before the Darcys rejoined the family party. The two boys were happy when he pulled them to sit on either side of him. He gave them his immediate attention while they waited for Georgiana. Darcy wished to hold his goddaughter but he knew the boys needed him first. William was very loquacious while little John was content to let his brother do all the talking for him. Yet even while he focused on the children, Darcy was very aware of their lovely mother.

At last Georgiana joined the group. With the encouragement of Mrs. Annesley, she told them about her time in London since she had seen them last.

“I continue my studies with my piano and voice masters,” she explained, “though I am also exchanging visits with my friends. Fitzwilliam insists on it. And he also takes me to exhibits and museums, and well as rides with me in the park. We have been to the opera and to a play.”

“Darcy is an attentive brother,” Bingley responded. Darcy colored slightly.

“Mr. Darcy is very generous with his time,” Mrs. Annesley added.

“Yes, well, I promised my sister I would spend time with her while we were in Town and I try to keep my promises.”

Elizabeth took pity on the obviously embarrassed man and changed the subject back to Georgiana’s activities.

Darcy was pleased to see his reserved sister speak in a more relaxed manner about her time in London. He had accompanied her to several things about Town, but more often than not she was with Mrs. Annesley calling on Georgiana’s female friends, receiving the same in her home, shopping for clothing appropriate for a young lady nearing her come-out, as well as attending to her musical studies. He had taken over any other studies, determined to guide his sister’s further education in literature, history, languages and philosophy. Such lead to discussions in the evening between the two siblings and her companion on the books Georgiana was reading.

It did not take long for the youngest members of the party to grow restless just sitting quietly.

Mrs. Collins asked her brother to call for their carriage and the Longbourn party made their farewells.

“I shall ride over tomorrow after my meeting with your uncle. I should have some news for you.” Darcy said as they walked outside

“I do appreciate being kept abreast of any changes you and Uncle propose.” Elizabeth replied.

“While generally they will not affect you, they often bring the presence of different people to the manor and I would not have you or your family uncomfortable.”

“Thank you.”

“Are all of the new servants working out? My two men?”

Elizabeth laughed, “We are very well taken care-of, sir. Mr. Baggins is the envy of all the other butlers in the neighborhood with Robert’s entry into the household to relieve him of the more strenuous of duties. The women who have called all remark on our new footman! He and Mr.Baggins have come to an agreement on who will do what. And papa would be proud of his gardens. There was more work for our gardener than my father was able to do and Paul has been a godsend. Of course he splits his time between the stables and the grounds, but I have not heard any ill report.”

“And the new maids?”

“I have only hired one and her entry into the household has taken longer than the men’s. It should not be surprising as they had already been in service will this is Kate’s first position. She is very young but also very willing. Mrs. Hill believes she will be fine, but we will revisit it nearer quarter day. Hill has a few candidates to replace Lotte. I shall interview them next week and make a decision then.”

“Excellent. I am pleased to hear it. You and your children look well, as do your sisters. I know this is not an easy time, but I am grateful that you all seem to be bearing with your loss’s well.”

Elizabeth stopped their progress. “You have been a true friend, Mr. Darcy. I do not know if we would be as well today as we are without your assistance. You must know how much I appreciate your steadfastness and care.”

One look into her eyes convinced Darcy of the depth of feelings in her declaration. It warmed his heart that he could be of use to them. “It is my honor, madam.”

He remembered the letter from his cousin Anne and hurried back to his rooms to give it to Mrs. Collins before they left. He arrived in time to hand it to her and help the family into the crowed coach. If his hand lingered on hers a moment to long as he helped her in, no one said a word.

Darcy stood watching the vehicle disappear from view. The Bingleys had long since returned inside.

It was there again, that attraction between he and Elizabeth Collins. He certainly recognized it and he believed that she did as well. He had left her over a month ago, full of admiration. The time away had done nothing to diminish it. Fitzwilliam was right the only way he would be safe from her would be in marriage, either to her or someone else. The prospect of it being someone else was rapidly gaining in distaste. He needed her and he knew the difficulty lay in convincing her that she needed him.

Three children in the carriage meant that Elizabeth had to put her letter away for the ride home. Half way, their attention was gathered by a group of militia out on a march.

“I do love the sight of a man in a red coat,” Lydia sighed. She had improved under the stead influence of Miss Pope, but it only took the presence of the group of soldiers to bring back her old expression. It also unexpectedly reminded Elizabeth of their mother, for Lydia sounded just like mama. Elizabeth held her daughter a little closer and said nothing.

Back at Longbourn, Elizabeth took the children to the nursery and left them with Maggie after she feed Henrietta.

Then she retired to her room to read her unexpected letter.

5 April, 1812
Rosings Park, Kent

Dear Mrs. Collins,

I was delighted to hear that you are well. When my cousin told me he had met you in Hertfordshire I confess that I pressed him for details about you. Let me offer you my sincere congratulations on the birth of your daughter. And let me also offer you my equally sincere condolences on the loss of both of your parents. I was aghast when I learned that more tragedies befell you once you left Kent. Darcy assures me though, that you are as well as could be hoped and that he has pledged to see that your family is safe and protected. If my cousin has once trait to be admired above all others, it is that he always honors his responsibilities.

May God bless you and keep your family safe.

Miss Anne deBourgh.

The stressfulness of the day finally won out and Elizabeth could not hold the tears at bay. She lay down on her bed for a good cry. She did not know how long we wept when she felt a hand on her shoulder.

“Lizzy?” It was Mary. Elizabeth stood up and wiped her eyes. She saw a very concerned look on her sister’s face. “Your door was open and I heard you and could not stay away when you were so obviously distressed.” Mary said self-consciously.

Feeling better for the release of emotions, Elizabeth smiled at her decomposed sister. “Thank you, dearest. I just need a good cry. But it warms my heart even more knowing of your concern.”

“You hardly said a word on the way home.”

“I was missing Mama.”

“Lydia’s comment?” Elizabeth nodded her head. “I was trying to think of something to say but could not. It was as if Mama had said it rather than Lydia. I am glad I was not the only one who thought so.”

“With Papa’s passing we forget that it has only been four months since she died.”

“That is not so very long is it?” Elizabeth heard the uncertainty in Mary’ voice and pulled her into her arms. In giving comfort, she found it returned.

“No, not so very long at all.”

22.

The militia officer recognized the battered old coach. It was on its way back to Longbourn, ‘Returning from visiting your sister at Netherfield, I would guess.’ Wickham knew more about the residents of the area than anyone would have suspected. It was a habit long engrained. If he were ever to marry an heiress, he knew it would be by guile as much as by charm. Local gossip was helpful, and procuring it often a delightful necessity. Young, ignorant servant girls were easily flattered and said more than they ought to handsome young men paying them unexpected attention.

He had another reason to explain his knowledge of the Bennet carriage. He believed the lack of credit extended to him was a result of Darcy. What ill luck that he would turn up in Hertfordshire. As always, Darcy must be the originator of his misfortune and lack of normal social cache. He had heard that Darcy spent a great deal of time at Longbourn and that he was the godfather of the youngest Collins child.

And of course, he had recognized Mrs. Collins. Wickham had long discerned that it must have been the Collins who alerted Darcy of his presence in Ramsgate. He still was angry about the failure to marry little Georgiana. He wanted to meddle with one of the younger Bennets in retaliation for loosing such a prize, but so far they had been at home in and morning. The regiment would be on their way to Brighton soon and time was running out on his intended revenge. Darcy’s renewed presence in the neighborhood would be a problem as well. He had seen the Darcy Coat of arms on a carriage arriving earlier in the day. He hoped his patience would be rewarded.

<<>>

Elizabeth was just putting Henrietta down for her nap when Miss Pope told her that Mr. Grainger had returned from Meryton with Mr. Darcy. Elizabeth had anticipated this meeting with both dread and pleasure. She had missed her friend very much, and she trusted his good nature while at the same time dismayed at her physical reaction to him when they parted the last time he was in Hertfordshire. She had weeks to suppress the feelings his touch had provoked. Unfortunately, there meeting yesterday had shown her that her efforts to forget them had failed. Yet, she refused to give into them. She had told her father she had no intentions of remarrying and nothing short of marriage would tempt her to revisit the pleasures she knew by experience existed in the arms of a man.

With a renewed vow to be face her friend as she had previously, Elizabeth sought out the two men.

She found them waiting for her in the master’s bookroom. Mr. Darcy sat in the same chair he had occupied the first time Elizabeth had ever set eyes on his. Mr. Grainger sat behind her father’s old desk, but when the gentlemen stood he offered his seat to her.

Once they were seated, Mr. Grainger explained that Mr. Darcy had devised a scheme for improving Longbourn and that they had met with Mr. Philips to discuss it. Mr. Philips agreed to the merits of the enterprise and that they had agreed to implement it, pending her consent.

“You do not need my consent, sir,” Elizabeth replied, “but I appreciate the consideration.”

“As Longbourn in your children’s birthright, and mistress of the estate, I thought you might have some thoughts on the matter,” Darcy replied. He then continues to explain his plan.

“You may be familiar with the four course system?” Elizabeth nodded and he continued. “Grainger informed me that this has been in use for a relatively short amount of times. I was not too surprised to learn this, and the yields from the estate are less than what I would have expected. They will improve over the next few years if nothing else is done, but I want to accelerate the process and have come up with a means to do so at not additional cost to Longbourn’s profits in the interim.”

Darcy outlined his idea, as well as informing her that both of her uncles had agreed to their part in his plans.

“Grainger suggested that a second wagon could be pulled back and forth to London by the horses I plan to quarter here at Longbourn. They would not be pulling the wagon collecting the refuse about Town, just the road to and from. It would increase the materials moved at little additional cost since I planned to move them back and forth already.”

“It seems a waste of fine horseflesh.”

“There is little difference between pulling a wagon and pulling a carriage. Longbourn’s cattle do to all the time. Even the carriage horses at Pemberley are available during the harvest if they are needed on the home farm.” Darcy answered.

Elizabeth was once again amazed at what this man was willing to do for her and the family. Surely any debt he felt he owed her was repaid several times over by this point.

“I cannot think of anything to add at this time.”

“I do not believe you will notice much of a difference here at the house. There will be a few more men coming and going from the stables, but they will either be my men driving the wagons or your tenants loading and unloading their contents. It is only when you are out and about that you will see them disbursing the London cargo into the fields. Grainger has assured me that that there are enough laborers amongst the tenants and their sons to staff the project. There should not be a need to bring in anyone from outside. That is another very agreeable part of the scheme. I need not be concerned for your safety with new men to the estate unknown to either me or Grainger.

Elizabeth thanked the men for briefing her and Mr. Grainger excused himself. Elizabeth called for tea and after that was brought, she was alone with Mr. Darcy.

“You are too good to us, sir.”

“I take my responsibilities very seriously, Mrs. Collins. I gave you my word and I intend to keep it. I consider your family as extended members of my own.”

“Nevertheless, you have gone beyond what I ever could hope for and I am grateful beyond words.”

Darcy was silent, seeming to measure his next words. “Maybe now you can comprehend what a gift you gave me when you sent that letter and saved my sister.”

“You have more than repaid my one kindness.”

Darcy fixed her gaze with an intenseness she had rarely experienced. “In gaining your friendship, I have received more than just one act of kindness. Your unlikely insertion into my life is a great blessing to me for which I am daily thankful.”

The conversation was quickly moving in a direction Elizabeth was unprepared to go and so she sought to divert it in the only way she could think of at that moment. She nodded and then asked if he wanted to see the boys as Henrietta was asleep.

He replied in affirmative and they finished their tea and went in search of William and John.

A few hours later, Elizabeth held Henrietta while she watched Mr. Darcy ride away towards Netherfield. He had promised to bring his sister in two days. Elizabeth was relieved there would be another person present the next time she saw him for she could feel how susceptible she was becoming to him.

Fitzwilliam Darcy lay on his back looking at the canopy over his bed. The last of the daylight had faded away hours ago and though he was not keeping Town hours, he could not sleep.

Elizabeth Collins grew lovely each time he saw her. He was not put off that she was a mother of three small children. From what he could detect, carrying three children had shaped her body very pleasingly indeed. It also showed her more than capable of birthing an heir, should he marry her.

Still, there would be obstacles. He could hear the objects of his family.

‘The daughter of some minor landowner!’

‘The widow of Lady Catherine’s parson!’

‘Three small children from her first marriage!’

‘A negligible dowry!’

‘Still in mourning!’

‘Uncles in trade!’

‘Her sister married to the son of a tradesman!’

She was not bred for the life he would give her. Longbourn was not Pemberley.

Yet, despite all of these concerns he could not imagine any other woman as mistress of his estate, partner in bed, or as mother of his children. Holding Baby Henrietta had given him a glimpse into his future; a little girl, with her mother’s eyes and his dark looks.

While he was ready to go ahead and explore a future with Elizabeth, he could sense her hesitancy, her fear, today as they spoke alone. If he knew the disadvantages of such a match, he was fairly certain that she did as well. Her months as Lady Catherine’s parson’s wife had to have been an education of the attitudes of the ton.

He had told his cousin that he would go to Hertfordshire and see what would happen. He had seen enough. He wanted Elizabeth for his wife. Mercy, in everything he had done for her since her father’s death he had acted toward her best interests, as if she was already his wife. While the arrangements he had made had not cost him much, in fact he calculated that he might actually be a few pounds better off for it all, it had made a difference at Longbourn. He had seen the accounts; the estate had not incurred more expense than it received in income from him. All of the attention he could spare from his own estate was spent on looking after Longbourn. Nothing he had ever done for his family approached this.

The time had come for him to cease to think of his actions as the effort of a guardian and allow himself to recognize them for what they were – the labors of a lover. He would win her and wed her and take her home to Pemberley.

It would begin by speaking to Bingley. He was her nearest male relative, after all. He was also the husband of Elizabeth’s most beloved sister. Surely they would help him in his task. She was still in mourning, though soon it would be half-mourning. Proprieties must be observed. Plans must be in place. And his own sister must soon be told that he intended to replace her as mistress of his homes. He doubted Georgiana would object.

<<>>

The next afternoon, after Sunday services, Darcy was found in Bingley’s study alone with his friend. He had requested a word in private, which brought about an odd look from Bingley, but the request was granted without delay.

“You have my full attention, Darcy.”

“Have you decided on a purchase of Netherfield?” Darcy began.

“No, not yet. I know Jane would wish to be near her family at this time, but I am not sure that I wish to be settled so far south nor is it certain the owners will sell it for the price I wish to pay. I have an option to extend the lease for one year, though, and I will likely do so. Why do you ask? Have you heard of another estate that is available closer to my family?”

“Nothing of that sort. My man of affairs is still looking for such a place, but I have not been told of one that seems appropriate for you. No, I asked for a more personal reason.” Darcy paused, pondering his next words. “What has your wife told you about Mrs. Collins’ first marriage?”

Bingley seemed surprised by the question. “I… I seem to recall Jane saying that Mr. Collins was a decent man who adored Elizabeth and the boys.”

“Yes?”

“Nothing much about the man other than his death was an accident that bothered the family. It seemed so odd and Elizabeth asked her uncle to make inquiries. I know that they were suspicious of Wickham, but that they had no proof of anything nefarious from that quarter. Why do you ask?”

“I was more curious if she thought Mrs. Collins might be willing to marry again?”

Bingley colored slightly. “Jane said that she suspects that her sister did not enjoy the same … felicity as she and I and that she wondered if Elizabeth would be willing to settle again for such a husband. I think she said that she declared she would not marry again. This is a very unusual line of questioning. Are you by chance looking for a husband for Mrs. Collins? You perhaps? I know she has fascinated you since you met, but I never expected you to consider marriage to someone like her.”

“Someone lacking wealth and connection – excepting you of course.”

Bingley laughed nervously. “Yes.”

Darcy stood and walked over to the window and looked out over the lawn. “I cannot get her out of my mind. Yes, she would appear to be an unsuitable choice, but who is to say that in essentials, she is entirely suited to me.” Darcy turned back to stare at his friend.

“It is a good thing Caroline is in Town with the Hursts. She would throw a fit to hear you say such things.” That earned Bingley a smile from his serious friend. “What do you need from me?”

“I honestly do not know. Advice? Speak to your wife? My observations tell me Mrs. Collins is not ready for my attentions, and she has told me herself that she does not plan to marry.”

“Then why did you ask me?”

“The need for another’s confirmation of her intentions? I do not want to risk losing her, Bingley. You can understand the fear, having fallen for Jane Bennet in a precarious time in her life.”

“Yes, I can. I will talk to Jane tonight before you and Georgiana pay your call on Longbourn.”

“Thank you. You must also know that my invitation to visit Pemberley is still open to you and your wife and all your sisters. I assume you will go to Newcastle as planned?”

“I cannot wait to take Jane to meet the rest of my family. Mary will travel with us as well. I think Caroline and the Hursts will come, especially if an invitation to Pemberley is on offer.”

“Very good; I await the advice of your esteemed wife.”

<<>>

A serene Jane Bingley met Darcy in the breakfast room. If anything, her smile to him was warmer than he has seen since the day of her marriage. Georgiana was not down yet, so Jane asked Darcy to meet him in her sitting room after he broke his fast. She then excused herself, claiming a need to meet with her housekeeper but promising not to keep Darcy waiting.

As it was, she was waiting for him when he arrived.

“Charles told me about your conversation last night, Mr. Darcy. While I was surprised you approached him, I was not surprised at your interest in my sister. I have watched you with Lizzy and with the children. Your respect and affection have always been evident. Such a friendship between the sexes is rare enough inside a marriage.”

“Since the second time we met, I have counted Mrs. Collins as a friend.”

“Now you wish for more.” Darcy nodded.

“Elizabeth told you she never wishes to marry again, did she not?”

“Yet you still seek her as a wife.”

“I want none other than she.”

“But she does not want you. That is the material point and why you asked for our help.”

“Precisely.”

“Mr Darcy, I have thought on my sister’s pronouncement for a long time. Her first husband would not have been her first choice, but she accepted him so that her sisters could have their first choice.”

“I suspected that was the case.” It fit the picture he had made in his mind of Mr. Collins.

“She gave up a dream once for me, I will not allow her fears to do so again and so I will do what I can to help you. Mr. Collins was a devoted husband, kind and loving, but it was not a marriage of true minds. She deserves a man who will adore her, yet challenge her at the same time. You have already shown you will make a good father for his children; you already care for them as if they were your own flesh and blood.

However, at this time I do not sense that my sister is ready to consider you to fill the post of husband and father of her offspring.

She has been through so much sorrow and pain in the last eleven months. Losing our father and then my departure immediately after were difficult. She has her children our other sisters and Emily for companionship, but Longbourn has changed forever.

It is my belief that you must wait a little while longer to court her. Charles told me of your invitation to Pemberley. I have heard so much about the estate and I think Lizzy will love it when she sees it. I suggest that you spend what remains of your stay here continuing to be her friend and in return I will promise you that I will bring Lizzy to Pemberly along with my two nephews and nieces when we journey North. My sister will not come unless her children are with her. Lydia and Kitty may have to come as well. Are you certain you wish to entertain all my sisters?”

“I have already told your husband they are welcome.” Jane was pleased by his answer.

“While she is there you can show her the life she would live as Mistress and Pemberley and convince her to accept it. By that time I will have a better idea of where her feelings lay and be able to advise you.”

“That is a marvelous idea.”

“She may say no.”

“I will not take no for an answer, at least not until I feel I have to no hope of winning her.”

“In other words, you will not allow her to have her way unopposed.”

“I suppose that is one way of looking at it. I prefer to think of it as giving her time to realize her true opinion on the situation.”

“As I said, you will challenge and adore my sister and I look forward to the day when I can finally call you my brother. I have always wanted a brother.”

“You have one in Hurst.”

Jane smiled kindly, “That is not what I implied, Mr. Darcy. Yes, you will do well for Lizzy.”

23.

Elizabeth decided her worry over the Darcy’s visit was for not. Miss Darcy quickly became the focus of her three younger sisters. Their circle of friends was small already without the further restriction of their mourning. Georgiana Darcy’s presence was welcomed enthusiastically, especially by Lydia who was closest in age to the young woman. Mrs. Annesley and Miss Pope sat by the four young ladies, quietly amused by the quickening friendships. A few times Miss Pope needed to remind Kitty and Lydia temper their excited voices, but nothing alarming ever emerged. It was the first time that Elizabeth was given a true picture of how far her sisters had come under their companion’s gentle persuasion. After a while they ladies begged to be excused and all the adults present smiled fondly as Georgiana was playfully dragged out of the room by the giggling Bennet girls.

Darcy, who had gone up to the nursery to visit the children, returned, informing Elizabeth and the two companions that he intended to take the boys to visit the stables and asked for Elizabeth’s consent.

“Would you join us and leave these two worthy ladies alone for some peace and quiet?”

Miss Pope and Mrs. Annesley were grateful for a chance to get to know each other better and Elizabeth agreed to his proposition.

Darcy took the hand of William and Elizabeth took John’s. Both boys were eager and their chaperones had a hard time reining them back from running. Elizabeth laughed gaily at her sons’ exuberance. It was good to see them so carefree after such sorrow.

They still asked after their father and grandparents, but that happened less and less and when it did occur, the pain was not as acute as before.

There were three of Darcy’s horses currently stabled at Longbourn. He took the time to introduce each horse to the children, holding them up so that they could pet the horses head.

“Oooohhh, so soft!” William cried out in delight as he felt the Champion’s nose. Champion was a favorite of Darcy’s and he was pleased that William loved the beast.

“If it is agreeable with your mother, you may sit atop him. He is a gentle soul and as long as I am next to you, he will not move.”

“Please mama?”

“I would not suggest it if I did not trust my horse. John is a bit too young, but it is time that Master William is introduced to the top of a horse.”

Elizabeth was worried, but then she looked at her hopeful son and friend.

“You will hold him at all times?”

“I will not let go.”

Elizabeth relented, seeing how much it meant to William and how determined Mr. Darcy was that it would be safe. She nodded and William cheered. Darcy entered the stall first and spent a few moments talking to Champion and before he put a bridle on the horse. He again spoke to the animal and patted his head before asking the groom, Paul, to bring in William and hold Champions bridle while he lifted William up.

The wonder and pride on her eldest’s face at that moment was something that Elizabeth would long remember.

“Me twew?” John asked.

Darcy laughed, “In a few more years, son. When you are William’s age I will help you sit on your first horse just like your brother.”

“Mama?” John asked his mother, the question obvious.

“No, John. Mr. Darcy said you must wait.” John was not happy and began to voice his displeasure. Darcy decided that William had spent enough time on Champion and pulled him off and took him out of the stall. Once William was safe, he reached for John, who was now crying.

John did not come willingly but Darcy would not loosen his grip.

“Excuse me while John and I have a chat,” and he walked away from Elizabeth and William. Deciding it was time to head back to the house, and seeing that Mr. Darcy in no need of her interference, they left the stables.

Elizabeth and William were in the kitchen for a snack when Darcy and John found them. John’s tears where gone and he looked content. Elizabeth raised her eyebrows in a silent question. Darcy settled John on a bench so he could have his snack too. Once the little boy was sorted, Darcy moved closer to Elizabeth.

“I told him his behavior was unacceptable and that he needed to stop his tears,” he said in a voice too low for the boys to hear.

“Was that all?”

“More or less. He needed to know I will not more such behavior. As their guardian, I am more to your sons than just a playmate. It is best to establish that in their minds now than later.”

Elizabeth nodded. They would talk about it more when the children were not present.

Darcy excused himself. When her sons were finished eating, Elizabeth took them upstairs to Maggie and then tended to her daughter. An hour later she found him with Longbourn’s steward, reviewing some matters of the estate.

Darcy stood and looked delighted when he spied his goddaughter.

“I hope I am not interrupting.”

“Not at all. Grainger and I were just finishing.”

The men remained standing as Elizabeth shifted her daughter to her other hip.

“I thought you might like to see Henrietta now that she is awake and fed.” Darcy eagerly walked over and took the baby in his arms.

“It is lovely outside. May I escort you two lovely ladies on a short walk to the garden?”

Elizabeth smiled her consent and soon they were on their way to their favorite spot on the grounds.

“She is a delight, Mrs. Collins,” he said with fondness in his voice. “I can see much of her mother in her.”

“I pray it is only in looks. I was very spirited child, Mr. Darcy. Thankfully William takes more after his father in that regard. Jonathon is another story. Put him in league with a sister and they will plague this poor household for years!”

“You cannot have been that much of a terror.”

“I am afraid so, sir. My past sins are coming back to revisit themselves upon me.”

Darcy laughed along with her, charmed.

“Do you stay long in Hertforshire?”

“No, I do not wish it impose on the Bingleys for long. I hope to conclude my business in two to three days and then we are for Pemberley. Arrangements have been made for a Friday departure.

Grainger and I will ride around the estate tomorrow to visit the tenants and I have a matter or two to conclude in Meryton.”

“So soon?”

“I did say that I had no wish to impose on your sister for very long.”

“Yes, you did. You will be missed.”

“I will miss my friends here in Hertfordshire.” They strolled along in silence. Henrietta was content just to be held. Darcy cleared his throat.

“Did your sister tell you that I have invited the Bingleys to Pemberley this summer?”

“She did mention it. I thought they would visit on their journey to meet his family in the North. Mary is to go with them.”

“I knew Miss Bennet was invited. The invitation includes all of Bingley’s family. His sisters even.”

“Miss Bingley will be thrilled!”

“You are his sister too, Mrs. Collins. You are included as well. In fact, so are your children.”

“Traveling with small children to Neitherfiled alone is a challenge, sir, but all the way to your estate in Derbyshire?” Elizabeth shook her head in refusal.

“I know it is a long trip. I ask as Henri’s godfather. I would provide a carriage and servants for the journey.” Darcy was not surprised by her disinclination to the proposal. “Please just promise me that you will consider it. Miss Kitty and Miss Lydia are invited as well. Think of it as a chance to expose your siblings to more of the world, and at little expense to your family. From what I saw earlier with my sister and yours, they ladies will enjoy the visit.”

“They may enjoy the visit; the travel there and back less so. Very well, I will consider it.”

“I believe your Uncle and Aunt Gardiner are planning a trip to see the lakes. Perhaps you can all travel together as far as Derbyshire.”

“They know well enough to leave their children behind,” Elizabeth said petulantly. Darcy laughed and turned the discussion to the earlier incident in the stable.

“I meant what I said before. I will not be just a playmate for your children. I know that is mostly how they have seen me until today, but I am more to them that that. Unless you remarry, I will be responsible for them until they are adults. There will be times when I must deny them, for their own good.”

Elizabeth sighed. “I know and since I do not intend to take another husband, you will be an important man in their lives.” Elizabeth paused. “You gained more than you bargained for when you offered your friendship last autumn, Mr. Darcy.”

Darcy struggled for a response. “No one can predict the future; only hope they are up to the task when the unexpected arrives. I shall do my best by your family and your trust in me. I pray I will not disappoint you.” He would offer more, but she was not ready to hear it and he was not sure he was ready to say it. Instead he fell back to the safety of the known.

“I have another call I must make today in Meryton. If it pleases you, I would like to leave my sister and collect her once I am finished.”

“We are delighted to have her with us today.”

“Thank you. I hope to return before too long.”

<<>>

Darcy’s business was more than just one call. He stopped by to talk to the tailor. He was pleasantly surprised to find that Wickham owed no money to Mr. Wagner.

“Made sure we knew the day the men were to be paid and presented ourselves to the paymaster to collect on their debts,” the merchant explained. “Many thanks for your advice, sir.” Darcy accepted his gratitude with pleasure and then made a few more stops before searching out his real prey.

 

George Wickham was dressed in his officer’s garb on the way back to the encampment when Darcy found him. He called to his former friend and as soon as Wickham turned to face him, Darcy tossed a small sack. From the chinking sound and the feel, Wickham knew the pouch contained coins. Perplexed he looked at Darcy for an explanation.

“When I first learned you were in Mertyon I told myself that I would only spend 50 pounds discharging your debt this time. You cannot imagine my surprise when I learned this afternoon that there were no monies owed the tradesmen. Congratulations, George. For the very first time in your adult life you are not in debt – unless of course there are debts of honor for which I have no intention of paying.”

“You mock me!” Wickham spat. “I knew I had to show you that I could make my way without you after that last demonstration. I am still the object of ridicule.”

Darcy walked closer, within arm’s length.

“Hate me if you will. If that is what it takes for you to become the man our fathers believed you to be, then I can live with your scorn. It is a small price to pay to honor the memories of two men I respect the most.”

Wickham said nothing, only stared at Darcy with resentment.

“There is enough money in there to buy passage to anywhere in the world. If you sell out your commission you would have enough to comfortably start a new life where your past means nothing.”

“And leave my home forever, never to return?”

“What home have you? You know I can never allow you to return to Pemberley. You could have had a comfortable living, security for the rest of your life. Instead you choice to waste the gift my father gave you. Many a younger sons would leap without thought had they been given what you were. Home now is where you would make it.”

“Give me one thousand pounds and I will leave England.”

“What you hold in your hand is the last money you shall ever see from me. And I warn you, should I ever hear anything about my family that I know comes from you, or if you meddle with any one of those under my protection here or in Derbyshire or elsewhere, I will find you and see you thrown in debtor prison. I still own your markers, George, and by God I will use them if you force me to.”

The two men stared at each other, neither willing to speak. Suddenly Wickham spun around and trod away, malice exuding from his carriage. Darcy watched him go, sincerely hoping that they never met again.

<<>>

Elizabeth rejoined the other ladies in the house. The two companions sat off by themselves, content to let their charges converse. Elizabeth was pleased to see even Mary participating in the discussion. She informed Miss Darcy that her brother would return from his errand to collect her before long. Her guest and her sisters all looked a little disappointed that their time together was drawing to a close.

But the ladies could not hold her attention. Her thoughts returned to her children’s guardian.

The time away from him had done nothing to diminish her awareness of him. Elizabeth knew him well enough to know that he would not be an absentee figure in their lives. He would not forget them, only exchanging the minimum of letters with her uncles in regards to them. Already he had implemented measures to increase the value of the estate and to add to their comfort. His judgments appeared sound and she could not fault his suggestions. The male servants he had installed fit in well and did their work without complaint. Moreover, in all of the changes he had instituted, he had been careful not to trod over her or compromise her position as mistress of the household.

While she was grateful for his help and friendship, Elizabeth realized that there was a price to be paid. His presence would be always welcome; her attraction to him not so. She knew what the yearnings he invoked meant. She knew they would remain unfulfilled. No man would ever hold the power of husband over her again, even if she would miss the pleasant duties enjoyed under of the title of wife.

When the Darcys took their leave for the day, Darcy could not help himself. He bowed over Elizabeth had and bestowed a kiss. It was like fire and ice, and it took an act of extreme will to let go of her hand. The look they shared afterwards was brief, but Elizabeth did not miss his intent. Though he tried to hide it a moment later, she could see that his feelings for her were more than just that of a friend.

Elizabeth tried to appear impassive, but she worried that he would see into her heart. She dared not give him any hope of something she was not prepared to indulge.

<<>>

In order to make the most of the daylight, the Darcy carriage pulled away from Netherfield shortly after 4am. Georgiana had slept through most of her abbreviated toilet and Darcy sported the simplest of knots for his cravat. It was chilly and the two siblings snuggled under their carriage rugs, heated bricks under their feet. They had said their goodbyes to their hosts the night before and most of the luggage had been loaded before sunset.

The previous two days, Darcy had spent a majority of his time with Longbourn’s steward and Bingley. The ladies in residence at Netherfield had called on the Bennets, who in returned the call the following day.

Promises of letters between Hertfordshire and Derbyshire were exchanged and all were loath to part company; but the sorrow was tempered by the prospect of reconvening at Pemberley in three months’ time. Mrs. Collins had yet to commit to the scheme, but Jane was confident that she would wear her sister down.

This helped elevate Darcy’s frustrations. He wished to court the lovely Mrs. Collins. However, he abided by his hostess’s advice to wait a while longer. Resigned to the delay, Darcy resolved to begin the process of preparing Pemberley to receive a new mistress. Elizabeth might not be coming to Derbyshire as his new bride, but his estate would be ready to welcome her the day she agreed to assume the title.

There was one matter in which Darcy was pleased by his departure. Georgiana had nary a glance of her former suitor. That was the one pain he had prayed he could spare her.

24.

Longbourn Manor, Hertfordshire
20, May, 1812

Mr. Darcy,

I am happy to report to you that yesterday the Militia at last abandoned their encampment outside Meryton and left for Brighton. I have heard no reports of any great losses by the tradesmen of the town, but there are the whispers of girls who find themselves in a delicate situation. I suppose that was an inevitable outcome of any regiment spending the winter quartered in a small community. If it comes out that a certain particular officer is to become a father, I will send word.

The boxes you ordered were delivered Monday. I will send them to Town with the next wagon. The block and tackle was installed this morning. The new workers were skeptical until I sat one in a box and pulled him off the ground myself. After that, it did not take them long to comprehend the intent of the new items and appreciate how they would help reduce the amount of their toil to improve the soil. The first load of London muck took longer to spread than I estimated. I had them take it to the northeast fallow field as you had instructed. After its disbursement, I am in agreement with you that it will take many months’ worth of loads for that entire field to be completely covered. I agree now with your estimation that it is unlikely that we will be able to improve all the fields in the current four year cycle. It will take more wagonloads to complete the task on your hoped for schedule. I can find the men to do the work here if you bring me more wagonloads.

Your servant,
D. Grainger

<<>>

11 June, 1812
Gracechurch Street

My dear Niece,

Thank you for your gracious offer to watch the children while your uncle and I travel this summer. But Lizzy, I would never forgive myself knowing that by your care of my children you had to forgo the pleasures of seeing Pemberley. Truly, the grounds are delightful.

You must not blame Jane for telling me of the invitation; Mr. Darcy himself was the source. He and your uncle have become correspondents due to their responsibilities with Longbourn and your family. When he learned that we would be touring Derbyshire instead of the Lakes as we had originally planned, Mr. Darcy asked us to Pemberley with the rest of your family. He related that he was particularly hopeful to see your sons.

I know you are hesitant to travel so far with three small children. I cannot say that I blame you. However, from what I have come to understand about our host, he will do everything possible to make the journey as comfortable for you as possible.

Please, Lizzy, do say that you will go. This past year has been very difficult for you. So many things have happened and you have suffered much loss. Allow yourself a chance to get away from all the daily worries and responsibilities. All of your sisters will be at Pemberley. I have heard how much Mr. Darcy doted on William and John and Mr. Darcy is Henrietta’s godfather. And you may never have the chance to travel so far at little to no expense to you. I should very much like to see you there.

As for my children, they will visit their grandparents while we are away. My father in particular is anticipating it; though I suspect that they will be happen to send them off with us once we return for them.

Yours, very sincerely,

M. Gardiner

Post Scriptum
I have not forgotten your promise to accept a new dress from us. My husband has already written

Monday, July 27th

One of the finest carriages Elizabeth had ever seen pulled into Longbourn’s stable yard the day before she and her family embarked for Derbyshire. It belonged to Mr. Darcy, of course, and the animals pulling them on belonged to him as well. She recognized the horses he had sent to board there over the past several months.

It was her aunt’s letter that finally convinced her to agree to take her children to Pemberley. The makeup of the traveling parties had changed, since the scheme was first put forth. Mary had left with Jane and Charles as planned. However, her uncle and aunt had invited Kitty and Lydia to travel with them and the four had left the previous week. Blenhiem and Chatsworth were two of the great houses they planned to visit on the way north. Elizabeth wondered how they would compare to Pemberley and she was greatly anticipating hearing her family’s opinion.

Instead of journeying with her two youngest charges, Emily Pope offered to stay with Elizabeth. The two women and Maggie would leave in the morning for Derbyshire. Unlike the Gardiner party, there were no stops planned other than for the children’s needs. In addition to the driver, another manservant would ride atop, along with two of Darcy’s grooms mounted on separate horses. That meant ten souls in all would be traveling together. It was an extravagance, she knew, but she did feel safer knowing that all four men were armed.

When Mr. Darcy had written to assure her that he would take care of all the details of the journey, he also assured her that there were no other additions to the house party other than those whom she already knew would attend. The Hursts would be the last to arrive, bringing Caroline Bingley with them.

The whole family would be absent for nearly a month, but that was not to say that Longbourn would be idle.

Jane was the one who broached the subject of redecorating her childhood home. Her husband and Mr. Darcy argued that the house was in need of more than just a thorough cleaning, though it would be thoroughly cleaned while they were away. At first Elizabeth refused, until Jane clarified the proposition. Bingley was providing the funds necessary for repairs to furnishings and finishes. Where paint and papers were faded and scuffed, they would be repainted and replaced. Furniture in dire need would be re-upholstered. Damage to wood and floors would be scrubbed and repaired. Anything else in need of attention would be identified and ready for her decision when she returned. Elizabeth was sensible enough to admit that Longbourn could use the attention and when she was convinced that not too much money was paid out by her new brother did she consent. The absence of the family, and in particular of its three youngest members, would allow the servants to do the work much more quickly than if the family were at home.

Mr. Darcy had also written and asked if he could send a few servants from London to help. He argued that he was paying for their labor either way and as the townhouse was unoccupied; his housekeeper could afford the temporary loss of help. Elizabeth begrudgingly agreed.

In addition, Elizabeth and Jane had spent several emotional days going through their mother’s and father’s rooms. Their parents’ personal items were to be packed away in the coming weeks. The chambers would then be cleared and cleaned. Any further changes would come later. Elizabeth was not prepared to occupy them and it would be years before William would be old enough. They would serve as guest chambers in the interim.

William was very excited and had a difficult time calming at bed time. The boys had been told that they would leave very early in the morning; so early that they would likely not wake when they got into the carriage. Of course, William claimed otherwise.

“I shall wake, Momma. I shall see every place we drive by on our way. I shall see all the trees and all the fields and all the cows and chickens. And I will make sure John does too.”

“John will need his sleep, son, but I am counting on you to help him pass the time. It is a long way to Pemberley.”

And so it was. The journey was planned so that on the third day they would arrive in Lambton. Once there, Elizabeth would have the choice of staying for the night, or proceeding on to their final destination.

When they arrived in Lambton, Elizabeth decided that even though there was plenty of light to complete the final five miles to Pemberley, they had traveled far enough for the day. A good night’s rest, and a good hour’s play before bedtime were what was most needed. In the morning they could complete their journey and the boys would be better fit to meet their hosts.

A rider had been sent ahead at the last change of horses, and another when they arrived with Elizabeth’s decision to remain in Lambton. Pemberley would expect them by noon.

<<>>

Partially hidden, Darcy watched the women and children descend from his coach and into the inn. His coachman acknowledged his master with a slip dip of the head.

His servant had arrived at Pemberley and advise him of the party’s progress and after a few questions, Darcy guessed had that Elizabeth would choose to finish their journey in the morning. Knowing she was so near, he could not help himself. He ordered a horse saddled and rode to Lambton. He would not wait another day to see Elizabeth.

When he left Pemberley, he had no intention of concealing his presence from Elizabeth. However, as he galloped along, he realized that Elizabeth likely would prefer to refresh herself and the children before they met him again. Thus, he found himself stationed where she would not see him. If he were not so enchanted by the woman, he would have been embarrassed.

His first sight of her was her head poking out to the coach. He held his breath, waiting to see the rest of her. She smiled and stepped down and he inhaled sharply.

For the first time he saw her wearing something other than the stark black of a woman in mourning. He had not stopped to consider the fact that she could now wear any color. The yellow gown she had on made her even more beautiful in his eyes. She reached back for her daughter and then the other inhabitants of the carriage exited. The entire party entered the inn.

In two minutes she had come and gone. Two minutes to know that his regard for her was a strong as ever.

Twenty minutes later he was still in the same place, thinking about the weeks ahead. His driver had seen to the horses and had come to talk with him. Darcy was at last able to move from his location and he thanked his servant from bringing the women and children safely all the way from Hertfordshire. The man confirmed that they had decided to remain for the night. Knowing that he needed to leave or visit his guests, Darcy dismissed his servant and went to gather his horse and return to Pemberley. He would return in the morning and ride with them to his home. He knew he should await them there, but he could not resist seeing Mrs. Collins face the first time she beheld Pemberley. Satisfied with his plan, he returned to make the final preparations for Pemberley to receive its next mistress, even if she did not yet know it was her.

<<>>

In bed that night, a sleeping Henrietta nestled in the covers next to Elizabeth. The journey had not been an easy one, but she could believe it would have been much more difficult had she not been under Mr. Darcy’s care. His coach, his servants, and his coin had made the world of difference. In comparison to her travels to and from Kent, this was an easy trip.

Again and again her thoughts came back to her host, Mr. Darcy. Mr. Ftzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire. A man she now admitted she was attracted to, though she tried very hard to fight it. She had not seen him in over two months yet she still remembered his touch, his gentle kiss on her fingers. The next four weeks would be the most difficultly enjoyable four weeks of her life. To be in his house, his presence would be wonderfully arduous. Every day she would experience a taste of a life she could not have. She knew it would be grand. Tales of Pemberley’s elegance and refinement came to her from its owners, her new brother and her aunt. The Darcys were wealthy, well beyond her sphere. Her association was that of a friend, and the sister of the wife of a friend. Also of an obligation, one she created for him when she took him up on his offer of assistance. It was hopeless.

She would strive to enjoy his companionship, allow him to spoil her children a little, and guard her heart against falling further under his power. Her life was at Longbourn, her son’s inheritance.

Still, a part of her was disappointed he did not come to meet her tonight. There, she had admitted it. She would think on it no more and get some rest for tomorrow she would see him and his mighty estate.

What in heaven had she agreed to?

<<>>

William saw him first. “Mister Darcy! Mister Darcy!” he cried as he climbed down from his chair. Running as fast as he could to him, William held fast to the legs of his tall guardian.

“I see you have not forgotten me,” Darcy laughed, ruffling the young boy’s newly shorn hair. “Someone has been given breeches. Well done, lad!” William showed of his new clothes. After giving the boy a nod of approve Darcy dipped his head to the others in the room, but his attention was focused on one. “Mrs. Collins, I hope I am not intruding.”

“We did not expect you to come greet us, but you are very welcome, sir,” Elizabeth replied, somewhat flustered by seeing him before she had anticipated.

“Excellent. I found I could not wait to see the children and thought I would ride alongside you the rest of the way, pointing out the land marks and spots of interest as we go.”

“That would be lovely,” she answered for them all.

“We can leave whenever you wish. My man will have my horse ready when you call for the carriage. There is no need to rush.”

“The children were just finishing their breakfast; I was about to send word to prepare the horses.”

“Let me tell them. Is there anything else I may do? Shall I see to my goddaughter? You have yet to let me hold her.”

Elizabeth laughed, as he intended, and handed Henrietta into his care. “Here,” she said, “I will be back to change her right before we leave. Since you are occupied, I will send word to prepare to leave.”

Young William had returned to the table and he and John were finishing their food. Excitedly, they left with their nurse. Elizabeth and Miss Pope also excused themselves. Darcy heard Elizabeth speak to the inn’s servant through the closed the door. He smiled when she instructed the girl to stay close in case he needed help.

Now free to give his attention solely to the little girl in his arms, he was amazed by how much she had grown in the three months since he had last seen her. He was delighted to see traces of her mother in her looks and then wondered how much of her father Elizabeth could detect. Perhaps he would have a chance to ask. He was slightly jealous of Elizabeth’s dead husband at that moment. Another man had known her most intimately and created three lovely children with her. She still bore that man’s name. He knew he wanted her to wear his. Elizabeth Collins was a discordant sound. Elizabeth Darcy was perfection. Her next child would be a Darcy if he had any say in the matter.

“And I think I shall, else I will always regret her,” he said to the sleeping babe. “Now that I have you and your mother and your brothers where they belong, I will do everything in my power to see that your mother agrees with that sentiment.” He touched the child’s soft arm, lovingly caressing the unblemished skin. “But between you and me, I do not think she will make it easy on me. Your mother is a stubborn woman, Henrietta, and she has told me before that she does not wish to marry again. I will let you in on a secret. Had she met me first, she would have married me and not needed to find another husband. I would not have been able to resist her. I cannot resist her now.” The little girl slept on in his arms.

Darcy smiled. “This is only the first of many talks you and I will share, my precious little goddaughter. I hope soon that you are my daughter as well.” He kissed her brow and walked around the room. The door opened as he said, “You will have me wrapped around your finger like your brothers do if you keep looking so adorable.”

“You have just confirmed what I had already suspected. My advice to you is, do not let them hear you admit that.”

“Or I shall forever be buying them presents?”

“Among other things, yes.” Elizabeth came and took her child. “I will just have Maggie change her and we will be on our way. Miss Pope is taking the boys for a short romp before we have to herd them into the carriage. I should like to thank you for that. I have never ridden in something so comfortable, and yet I recognize it is not new. I was relieved to see it had seen some use. With the boys and Henri…”

“The Gardiners suggested it. Undoubtedly your Aunt planted the idea in her husband’s mind and he dutifully relayed it as his own.”

Elizabeth laughed. “You take their measure well!”

“I like them, Mrs. Collins, else I would not have invited them. Your uncle is well informed and they are people of fashion, but more importantly, it is obvious that they care for you and your family. I shall enjoy getting to know them better.”

“You, sir, are a very liberal minded man. Never fear, your secret is safe with me. Now I must take Henri to Maggie. Shall I meet you by the carriage? We plan to leave in ten minutes.”

“I shall see you there.”

Darcy had thought of asking if William could ride with him, but he did not wish to be distracted so that he could concentrate on Elizabeth’s reaction when she first saw the house. He was not disappointed.

The driver knew just when to slow down and Darcy made sure he was facing her, while not obstructing her view. The house lay across the valley from them, in all its splendor. The clear sky above providing a perfect canopy of blue over his home.

He could see her gasp, marveling in the sight. She finally tore her eyes away from the edifice and to him.

“I suspected you were being modest when you spoke of your home, but I could never have imagined this.” Her gaze returned to the house.

“You approve?” he tried not to sound anxious. He knew he was blessed to own such a spectacular home, but he needed to hear her approval.

“I have never seen a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty has been so little counteracted. It is magnificent!”

“Thank you, Mrs. Collins. I cannot tell you how much I value your praise.”

The other inhabitants of the coach had been forgotten; John made their presence known. “I see, Momma?”

“I am sorry, love. Here, you and William can climb up here and get a better look.”

“Can we go down there now?” William asked.

“Sit back down and Mr. Darcy will have the driver take us there.”

When he saw them safely seated, Darcy turned his horse and ordered them continue. He rode ahead then to find Georgiana so they could formally greet them.

Brother and sister were excited, though neither told the other their hope – hopes that were very, very similar when it came to the guests they were receiving.

25.

Elizabeth did not believe it possible, but she was even more in awe of the interior of the house than she was of its exterior. Pemberley was, in a word, sublime.

It took a great deal of self-control not to gawk at the furnishings as they were led to their rooms. The nursery was delightful, spacious and well appointed. A maid had been assigned to help Maggie during their visit, something Elizabeth knew Maggie was not expecting, but appreciated nonetheless.

Elizabeth’s room was as finer than anything she had ever seen. The prospect from the windows was lovely, looking out across the valley they had crossed to arrive. Emily Pope’s quarters were near where her three sisters would reside, according to Mrs. Reynolds, Pemberley’s housekeeper.

When she was finished settling into her rooms, a waiting footman escorted her back to her hosts. Miss Pope had already arrived.

“I hope you find everything to your satisfaction, Mrs. Collins?” Darcy asked.

Elizabeth shook her head, smiling, “I dare say you know very well that they are. But yes, they are most satisfactory.”

“Then I am most pleased.”

Elizabeth tried very hard not to stare at the man who was staring back at her. She was discomposed when she first saw him at the inn, further so when he handed her out of the carriage when they arrived, and even more so when he had offered her his arm to lead her inside. She hoped he had not noticed, but she was rather afraid he did.

Now he stood there looking at her, evidently extremely pleased to have her there and to have won her commendation for his preparations for the visit.

“If you are ready, I will give you, and Miss Pope, a tour of the house. That is, unless you would rather my sister or my housekeeper do the honors.”

He looked so eager. Elizabeth blushed. “If you are sure it is no imposition?”

“Quite sure, I am yours to command, madam.”

“Brother,” Georgiana interrupted, “perhaps our guests would like some tea first?”

Darcy looked slightly aghast. “Pardon me! Of course you would wish to drink your tea.”

The maid brought in the tea service and Georgiana poured for them. Darcy’s slight faux pas was quickly relegated to amusement and before long they were off to see the house. Elizabeth was thankful that he did not offer her his arm this time. Instead they walked along unhindered so that either of the two guests could move closer to an item they deemed worthy of their closer attention.

They ended in the great library. Both Elizabeth and Emily were in awe of what was definitively the work of many generations. Neither had seen so many books in one location outside a London bookseller’s. Elizabeth could feel her host’s pride of the place when they entered. She walked towards one wall, intending to look at the titles there when a footman entered.

“What is it?” Darcy asked.

“Mrs. Collins’ nursemaid asked for Mrs. Collins, sir,” the servant answered.

Everyone looked at Elizabeth, who sighed a little. “Henrietta must be hungry. If you will excuse me?”

“Of course,” Darcy replied. He sounded a little disappointed to her. She was disappointed. It had been an enjoyable tour and Elizabeth anticipated a delightful four weeks, but the reality of her situation intruded before the first afternoon was over. As much as she now wished to spend her days exploring Pemberley, she still had her children to look after – despite the help of servants.

<<>>

Unwilling to relinquish her just yet, Darcy offered to take Elizabeth to the nursery himself. They spoke very little along the way.

The fantasy Darcy had built, his anticipation of a month of unimpeded wooing, was over as soon as the footman found her. His mind knew her children would be with her, his romantic heart ignored that foundational fact.

Elizabeth’s entrenchment in the lives of her three children was another example of how bad a match she was for him. Women, mothers of his circle, had very little to do with their offspring after their births. Servants tended the children. Wet-nurses nourished them.

That was not how the Collins children were being reared. Yes, they had a nursemaid, but their mother saw them often every day. Elizabeth Collins was even William’s first tutor. It was a sign of their comparative poverty.

Once again the seeds of doubt crept in. He had never truly courted Elizabeth, he had not spoken his intentions to her. He could walk away and only the Bingleys knew of his previous intent; he had not yet engaged his honor.

As quickly as the thought occurred, it was banished by Elizabeth melodious voice.

“I beg your pardon, Mrs. Collins. I was not attending to the conversation,” Darcy admitted.

“I just thanked you for your escort. I would have been lost had I tried to find the nursery on my own.”

His reservations were obliterated by her smile. She was meant for Pemberley. It was just… right for her to be there by his side. A calmness settled upon him; a gentle smile graced his handsome face.

“It was my pleasure. Soon you will know Pemberley as well as you do Longbourn, of this I am certain.” Elizabeth blushed at his words. “Before you go in, I was wondering if you have any objections to my taking the boys to the stables. I would like to show William the pony I procured to start teaching him to ride. We are still agreed that I will begin his lessons this summer?”

“Of course, but you bought my son a horse?” Elizabeth asked, taken back by such an extravagance.

Darcy laughed softly. “No, I did not say that. I procured one – temporarily. He belongs to my neighbors, the Marshalls. They own Monksbridge Manor. Marshall bought it for his youngest son Robert. Robert is older now and has a larger horse. They have no need of the animal for at least another year when youngest Miss Marshall is old enough to begin riding.”

“A rather convenient arrangement then for you both,” Elizabeth opined.

“Quite so, for the moment at least.” Darcy could have said more, but it was not the time for declarations. “May I take the boys to the stables?”

“Yes, though John may be asleep.”

“If so, I will let him rest and just take William.”

As Elizabeth had predicted, John was asleep when they arrived. William was engrossed playing with the set of toy soldiers. When he realized the two adults were in the room, he excitedly showed them his find. Elizabeth acknowledged their presence then left to tend to her daughter. Darcy lowered himself onto his haunches to examine the figures.

“I can see how much you are enjoying the soldiers right no, William, but I have something I would like to show you outside.”

The boy looked up to his friend, and then back to his treasure. “They will be here for you to play for your stay,” Darcy said reassuringly. “I really would like to show you my surprise while John is resting.” At the mention of ‘surprise’, William jumped up and started towards the doorway his mother had just passed through.

“I will tell mama.”

“Wait, son. Your mother knows of my plans. You need not disturb her now. Come, let us find your shoes and be on our way.”

Fortunately, Maggie was ready with the needed footwear and Darcy and William were soon on their way.

The pair made quite a contrast. Darcy had to remember to walk slowly, his long legs covered much more ground than the youngster at his side.

“Can you tell me yet?” William asked once they were outside.

“Almost.” Darcy stopped walking and again lowered himself so that he could look the boy in the eye. “Before we go any further, you must promise me that you will stay right next to me and not leave my side. Do you promise?”

William nodded his head. “I need to hear you say you promise,” Darcy persisted.

William continued to nod. “I promise, Mister Darcy. I do,” he said fervently.

Darcy looked him in the eye. Once convinced that the lad was sincere. He smiled and stood again. He took William’s hand and led him the last way to the stables. The younger was excited to see so many horses at once and chattered non-stop as they made their way past numerous stalls. Finally they arrived at their destination. Darcy allowed the boy to climb up on the door so he could see better while he steadied him. William was delighted with what he saw.

“What is his name?” he asked.

“Her name is Misty.”

“Misty. She is much smaller than the rest of the horses.”

“Yes she is which makes her the right size for you to learn how to ride. Would you like to learn to ride while you are here at Pemberley, William?”

The child’s eyes grew large and then a smile stretched from ear to ear. “Would I!” he nearly shouted, and then he lunged off the stall door towards his tall friend. Darcy, who had anticipated his leap, and caught the boy and held him fast. Young William was content to stay in his arms and looked back at the pony. He rested his head against Darcy’s chest, still looking at Misty. “Thank you,” he sighed happily.

Darcy was too moved to speak. He took time to collect his emotions before he managed to answer. “You are very welcome, William. I look forward to teaching you.”

William chose to wiggle so show that he wanted down and the moment was at an end. Darcy lowered the boy to the ground. He shook his head to clear his thoughts and then signaled to his head groom to come over.

Thus began William Collins’s formal education in the art of horsemanship.

<<>>

When at last they returned to the house, John was awake and Elizabeth was playing with Henrietta. William was so excited that his words made little sense, even to his mother.

“Speak slower, son,” she laughingly said.

“Mr. Darcy took me to see the pony, Misty, she is the right size for a boy like me to learn to ride Mr. Darcy and Evans are going to teach me and I cannot wait until tomorrow because they said I would start to learn about putting on the tack and brushing Misty’s coat and then maybe the day after that I can go out into the yard and get on Misty and maybe even hold the reigns myself.” William said without pause. The adults smiled at the boy’s enthusiasm. John, however, comprehended that his brother had a special treat that he did not. Darcy saw John’s lip quiver and could see that the lad was about to cry. He went over to the boy and picked him up.

“Do not be upset, John. Though you are still too young to be around horses, even a little one like your brother was today, I promise you that in a few years when you have grown big and strong like William that I will find you a pony and teach you to ride, too.”

John, who’s eyes never left Darcy’s while the he spoke to him, calmed. “Pwomise?”

“I promise.” Darcy looked over John’s head, gazing purposefully at a wide-eyed Elizabeth. He knew he would be discussing his vow to John with her later.

Later that evening, after the children were tucked in and kissed goodnight by their mother, and the adults had eaten, they were all together in one of the drawing rooms. Miss Pope and Mrs. Annesley were once again sitting together, away from the Darcys and Mrs. Collins. Brother and sister informed their guest when they expected the rest of the party. Elizabeth already knew which days her sisters were scheduled to arrive. She was also informed of the different activities the hosts had planned. Once that was done, Elizabeth watched as Georgiana nodded slightly to her brother before excusing herself to go speak with the other ladies. Amused, she waited for her companion to speak whatever was on his mind – though she had a good idea what he wished to say.

“I meant was I said to John. I intend to teach him to ride someday, too.”

“Mr. Darcy…”

“Darcy,” he intereupted. “We have known each other long enough that I think a little less formality is acceptable.”

“Very well, Darcy…”

“May I call you Elizabeth when we are speaking privately?” he interrupted again. She was of a mind of refuse him, and started to, until she saw the earnestness on his visage.

“When we are alone.”

“Thank you, Elizabeth. I suppose asking you to call me Fitzwilliam is a bit too much?”

“It would not be proper.”

“No it would not, but it would please me nonetheless. However, I can wait. Please continue.”

“I have forgotten what I wished to say.” Elizabeth blushed.

“I just told you that I intend to teach John to ride someday.”

“Ah yes. Please sir, I John will not remember and I will not hold you to such a promise. You have been very gracious with your presence in my sons’ lives this past year, but you have many other responsibilities you must have neglected. I know very well that you will not be in Hertfordshire as much now that you have a better understanding of Longbourn. The need to return, unless to visit Bingley, is not as pressing as it was this spring.”

“I assure you, Elizabeth, that I have every intention of keeping my word. I am a man who takes his obligations seriously. I consider one of my most important ones that of seeing to the welfare of my wards. You shall not get rid of me so easily.”

“Time will tell, then.”

“Doubt not my constancy, Elizabeth.” He nearly reached over to touch her hand, but held back. He had made every effort not to touch her again, unless it was absolutely necessary for her safety. Something told him to refrain, to wait and bide his time. When he touched her next, she would have no doubt of his feeling for her.

<<>>

Alone in bed that evening, Darcy lay awake thinking about the day. So much had happened. His future wife had finally come to Pemberley and he had held both of his future sons, promising them to teach them just as his father had taught him. He hoped in five to six years he would do the same with his and Elizabeth’s children. He also held his god daughter and looked forward to the day when she would be just his daughter. Elizabeth had consented to his calling her by her name. Now he had to win her consent to take his.

<<>>

Elizabeth fell asleep long before Darcy, but that did not mean that she did not think of him. She found that she could not not think of him. He had worked his way into her heart.

She was very afraid.

26.

The next two days the party remained unchanged. Elizabeth spent much of the day either with her children or with the other ladies. Darcy, besides his lessons with William, spent several hours with his steward or secretary either in his office or occasionally riding about the estate. Elizabeth had never met Charles Thompson before. She was surprised when Darcy introduced her to his man of letters.

“A few years ago I found myself overwhelmed by the amount of correspondence necessary to maintain all of my interests and decided to look for someone to help. Thompson came with impeccable recommendations. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made. He is one of the reasons I felt comfortable making my promises to you and your sons.” Thompson looked a little embarrassed by the attention, but claimed his success was due to such a fine employer. He quickly obtained consent to leave, claiming the need to attend to the directions Darcy had just given.

“His father is a clergyman,” Darcy explained once his man was gone. “He received an education, but unless he can find a wealthy patron, has little hope of a career in the church other than as a curate.”

“He could go into trade, or apprentice himself.”

“He prefers the path he has chosen. I am very happy to have him. He is an excellent personal secretary with a competent grasp of my business interests.”

Elizabeth sat down in a chair facing Darcy, a desk between them once he took his seat.

“I am afraid to know just how wealthy a man you are, to need a steward and a secretary.”

“Enough to justify the expense.”

“Enough to be generous to me and my sons; I want to thank you for all that you have done for them and for Longbourn.”

“I think you overestimate my generosity, Elizabeth. In a year, it is my hope that once profits and expenses are tabulated, that I will have made money on our ventures. And if not, what good is all of my money if a little of it could not be parted with to buy me peace of mind to know that Longbourn’s inhabitants are prospering and well?”

“I still thank you.”

“You are welcome, but I hope you know that I would do anything for those I consider under my care and protection?”

“I do, which is why I consider you one of the best men I have ever known.”

“You honor me, Madam.”

They each had more they wished to say, but neither felt up to the task and so they sat there in an awkward silence.

“The Gardiner party should be here in the next few hours,” Darcy finally said, conceding that it was not the time or place for any more wooing.

“Yes, Georgiana said so this morning. Emily’s holiday from my sisters is about over.”

“Are you pleased with the progress Miss Pope has made with her charges?”

“Very much so; frankly, I do not know what I would do without her.”

“You would manage.”

“Had you met my sisters before Miss Pope came to live with us, you would have a less charitable opinion of my ability to manage them. Miss Pope has been a godsend.”

“Then I applaud your willingness to seek help when it was needed.”

“You are determined to flatter me this morning, Darcy.”

“What if I am?” Darcy smirked.

“Then I should leave you to whatever tasks I interrupted.” Elizabeth smirked back. “Miss Pope and Mrs. Annesley asked to meet with me this morning. They have been plotting what to do with their charges.”

“Yes, I know. Mrs. Annesley told me that she and Miss Pope had been discussing these new few weeks.” Elizabeth raised her brow at that remark. “Come now, Elizabeth. You know that your family’s visit is as much for Georgiana’s benefit as it if for yours. This is her first chance to play hostess for anyone other than family.”

“The Bingleys have come before. Miss Bingley made it a point to let everyone know.”

“Bingley’s sisters have only been here once before and Georgiana was not hostess then. We do not have any female cousins her age and while she has friends in the neighborhood, we both know this is different. She and Mrs. Annesley have spent many hours preparing for this month. Mrs. Annesley felt that Georgiana was ready and once Miss Pope arrived the two older ladies have been able to further discuss the wants and needs of their charges.”

“It sounds like I am not the only one satisfied with their ladies companion.” Elizabeth replied.

“We both have been fortunate in our choices of employees. After my previous hire proved so ill-judged I was determined to find a woman of the highest moral character. She came well recommended by someone I know and admire who had known her for many years.”

“It does help to have the personal connections. My acquaintance with Miss Pope in Kent made me confident she would be a good influence on my sisters. I am not sure I could have welcomed a stranger into my home. I doubt I would have even thought of hiring for such a position had I not had her in mind to start with. Yes, we are fortunate to have found two such women.”

<<>>

The Gardiner party arrived in the early afternoon. Elizabeth was amused to see the reaction of Kitty and Lydia to the house. She rather thought she had looked just as awed as her sisters did upon her first glimpse of Pemberley.

Lizzy fell upon her family, laughing and shedding tears of joy.

“Where are the children?” Mrs. Gardiner asked.

“John and Henri are sleeping in the nursery. William is with Mr. Darcy for his riding lesson.”

“William is learning to ride?”

“Darcy said he was old enough. He said he was of the same age when he learned.”

“I hope he is not too disappointed to return to Longbourn and not be able to continue.”

“I expressed the same concerns but Mr. Darcy said that William should not have too much trouble finding a horse for to ride in Hertfordshire. After all, if Darcy could borrow one here from his neighbors, we should be able to find some pony for William to ride occasionally, too.”

“Mr. Darcy borrowed a horse for William?”

“He is my children’s guardian, aunt.” Mrs. Gardiner gave her a questioning look, which Elizabeth ignored. “Enough of this; come inside. If you wish to refresh yourselves before you meet Miss Darcy, Mrs. Reynolds said she can be summoned anytime to take you to your rooms.”

It was decided that the newcomers would greet their hostess first and followed Elizabeth into the house. Once all of the re-introductions were made, the group sat down for some refreshments. Kitty and Lydia sat near Georgiana and soon the three youngest girls were engrossed in conversation, though it appeared that Georgiana did little more than listen to the other two. Elizabeth glanced at the two ladies companions and shared an amused look as it was apparent that they had noticed as well.

She then turned her attention to her aunt and uncle and asked them about their journeys since they last saw one another. They were eager to share their impressions of Blenheim and Chatsworth.

“Though your sisters were more interested in speculating about the inhabitants of those fine houses than any real appreciation of the contents.”

Elizabeth laughed, “As far as they have come since Miss Pope arrived, they are still girls at heart. If there has been any blessing in the loss of our parents, it is that they were removed from society for which they were not prepared.”

“I would not mind seeing a bit of that girl in you from time to time, Lizzy,” her aunt replied.”

“If we remain long enough at Pemberley, you shall get your wish! Other than answering a few questions about my preferences for the children’s food and other basic needs, I have been left to my own leisure. If not for caring for Henri, I would feel quite lazy.”

“You have earned your holiday. I dare say it is your first since you were newly married.”

“That seems a lifetime ago.”

“In many ways, it was,” Uncle Gardiner opined.

The door to the room burst open their host barreled in, a joyful William riding high upon his shoulders. When Darcy saw his newest guests he looked chagrined as he reached up and grabbed William by the waste. “Down you come, lad,” he said before lowering him to the floor, resting his hands on the boys shoulders. “Please excuse us. I promised William that if he correctly named all of the parts of the tack when we saddled his pony that he would earn a reward. I am pleased to announce that he did so and kept my word by giving him a ride on my shoulders.”

“Because Mister Darcy says a gentleman always keeps his word,” William said with pride.

“Exactly; now on with you.” The youngster ran to greet his aunts Kitty and Lydia. The adults looked fondly at the child who excitedly told his aunts about his latest riding lesson.

When he was done, Darcy welcomed his guests, apologized once again for his unusual entrance and then excused himself to go and avail him of his valet’s services. The Gardiners took that as their cue to leave the room as well. Elizabeth left with them, her arm laced through her aunt’s.

“Is there something you wish to tell us?” her aunt pried.

Elizabeth blushed, but shook her head. “I will not pretend to feign ignorance, but truly, Aunt, he is only a friend and I do not wish for anything more.”

“You should be prepared, though. He carried William in on his shoulders! Surely that spoke volumes.”

“He knows I do not want to re-marry.”

“He may know that is your intent, but it does not follow that he agrees with it. I hope you know what you are doing…”

“I do!” Elizabeth interrupted. “Please, enough of this.”

“Very well, for now, but you will be here for a month and he is not going away.”

<<>>

Darcy was well pleased as he looked at his guests seated around his table. It had been a long time since he had seen his sister so … content … in any gathering outside the confines of her family. Elizabeth’s younger sisters were keeping her quite well entertained, albeit with the occasional moments when Miss Pope reminded them to contain an overabundance of their high spirits. Fortunately, those events were few and the two ladies companions appeared mostly pleased with how the day was progressing with their three charges. The Gardiners did nothing to injure his already high opinion of them and Elizabeth was, she was a delight. Gone with her mourning clothes was the sadness that had often accompanied them. The light colors a perfect metaphor for her burgeoning liveliness. Not that she was dull before, but here at Pemberley, away from the duties of Longbourn, she was free to be completely at ease.

“Are you ready to test my trout stream tomorrow, or should we wait for Bingley?” Darcy asked Mr. Gardiner.”

“Is my nephew much of a fisherman?”

“He is, or rather, he was until his marriage. As besotted as he is with his wife, one must wonder if fishing holds the allure it once did?”

Mr. Gardiner chuckled. “Ah yes, I do recall the struggle to reconcile my desire to fish with my desire to spend every moment with my lovely bride. I can assure you, if it is a strong love, it will survive.”

“You speak of Mrs. Bingley, of course.”

“Quite.”

Darcy could no longer hold in his mirth and both men enjoyed a good laugh at the absent guest’s expense.

“Edward!” Mrs. Gardiner chided. The effect of the rebuke was lost because of that lady’s laughter.

“We will strive to behave, my dear.” Mr. Gardiner returned his attention to his amused host. “I see no reason to waste such perfectly fine weather waiting for him. If you do not mind, I plan to be up with the fish.”

“Excellent! I will have a man ready for you with tackle: he has been instructed to take you to some of my best spots. Not all, mind you. I intend to join you on a later date. It is rare that I have the chance to partake with a fellow aficionado.”

“I look forward to it, Mr. Darcy.”

“Just Darcy will do.”

“Likewise, Gardiner.”

Darcy nodded his head and took a bite of food. He turned his attention toward Elizabeth. He could see that she was delighted with the exchange she had witnessed. That in turn made him even more satisfied with the outcome.

27.

Elizabeth was once again on the stops of Pemberley awaiting the arrival the arrival of her family. This time she was joined by her host. The situation could have been awkward, the two of them together as if she was mistress to his master of the manor, but she would not think on such things and Darcy acted as if there was nothing out of the ordinary for her to be there with him.

The carriage had barely come to a stop before Elizabeth rushed down. She had not seen Jane or Mary for two months and immediately fell upon them both as they immerged from their conveyance.

Her radiant face was awash with tears when she finally released them. Jane laughingly retrieved her handkerchief and offered it to Elizabeth, who took it and wiped dry Jane and Mary’s damp cheeks before her own. Arm and arm the three sisters marched inside, the two forgotten gentlemen trailing behind them.

Eventually they became aware of their opulent surroundings. “I knew Mr. Darcy was rich, Lizzy, but my goodness!” whispered an awed Jane.

“And I thought Netherfield Park quite grand,” replied Mary.

“It does take some getting used to, but the interiors are so tastefully done, not ostentatious at all. One knows one is in the house of a very wealthy family for sure, but it does not feel like a gilded cage. And the grounds are simply delightful. Come, let us greet the rest of our family and our hostess and then Mrs. Reynolds will take you to your rooms.”

Darcy and Bingley shook hands in greeting and then watched the sister walk away, leaving them alone in the courtyard with the servants and their luggage.

“How quickly we have been left behind,” Darcy quipped.

“It has been many months since I have seen such a joy openly displayed. Considering the past year, it warms me to see it.”

“Oh, I agree. But it does the ego no good to be so quickly cast aside.”

“They will remember us, eventually. If I am very lucky, it will be after I have a chance seek out your trout.”

“Gardiner wondered if you would still be interested.”

“Of course! I have saved my arm for casting my lines at Pemberley. Jane gave me leave to partake earlier on our travels but I graciously eschewed it then, choosing to spend my time with my wife and new sister.”

“How noble of you.”

“Not at all, I assure you. I knew if I abstained until now that my dear wife would not begrudge me an entire day’s fishing excursion while I am here.”

“Bingley, if you will forgive me, but that type of Machiavellian reasoning sounds more apropos coming from your sister Caroline than from you.”

Bingley shrugged and smiled and went into the house to find his wife.

<<>>

If Darcy was content the night before at dinner, that night he could be called truly happy. So much so that he felt compelled to stand and address the party.

“I not a man known to overflow with words; I usually leave such things to Bingley.” His guests laughed, Bingley the loudest. “But tonight I am compelled to speak. It has been many years since Pemberley has been filled with such good company, not since my parents were both still living. Once my mother was gone, and then my father, it has just been Georgiana and me. Now my sister is preparing her debut – sooner than she or I would like, I am afraid – and Pemberley is once again to be taking its place in the neighborhood. I would like to thank you for being the first to come and fill my home again. We all have known deep sorrow with the passing of loved ones. And yet, it is the sharing of such sorrow that has brought us all together today. Tonight marks the first evening that we have all been together where no one of our number is in mourning,” Darcy paused and smiled slyly, “and I must say that you Bennet sisters look lovely in your frocks!”

“Hear, hear!” interrupted Bingley. The other chuckled.

“Let me finish, Bingley. Who knows when I will ever have so much to say again?” Bingley laughed, of course, and Darcy continued. “I would like to offer a toast of remembrance. To my parents, to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, to Mr. Collins and to the late Mr. and Mrs. Bingley. We remember them tonight, not in sorrow, but in gratitude for the time we were given with them and for the places they have held in our lives. May we always strive to be better persons because we knew them, and to live our lives and make choices that reflect the good they crafted and cultivated in us.”

With that they raised their glasses and took a drink. Darcy continued.

“And now, my friends, eat; be merry; and enjoy the finest Pemberley has to offer.”

It took a few moments for the room to fill with the sounds of eating and conversation, all but the three Miss Bennets were affected by Darcy’s speech. The rest knew enough about the man to know how extraordinary of a moment they had just witnessed. Darcy was a quiet man, a private man, who rarely felt compelled to put himself on display. For him to do so, in front of them, only two of whom were very well known to him showed how deeply he felt about his topic.

After dinner, the ladies left the men to their own devices for the traditional separation of the sexes. Darcy had contemplated dismissing this custom, but felt to do so would defeat one of the purposes of having guests. His sister needed the practice in preparation for her coming out. Once the men were settled , Mr. Gardiner wasted little time opening the conversation. “Darcy, just what exactly are your intentions towards my niece.”

Darcy was thankful that he waited to take a sip of his drink; then he glared at his friend.

“Do not look at me like that, Darcy,” Bingley chided. “When my uncle inquired of me about what I knew, I told him he should be asking you.”

“Neither I nor my wife are blind, Darcy,” Mr. Gardiner continued.

“If I thought Mrs. Collins would accept my suit, I would ask her to be my wife today. However, she is not, as both of you are well aware.”

Neither man contradicted him.

“I hope Caroline’s presence does not complicate the situation,” Bingley finally replied.

“Have you told her I am not interested?”

“Yes, but that does not mean she believed to me. However, she cannot say that she was not informed of your disinclination. I will speak to Louisa tomorrow after they arrive to remind her not to encourage Caroline.”

“Back to my niece. What is your plan?”

“To continue to woo her with friendship. I intend to ask her to marry me before she leaves for Hertfordshire, but I doubt she will accept me.” Mr. Gardiner looked surprised: Bingley did not.

“Then why ask?”

“I will ask on the hope that she will have changed her mind about remarrying by then. If she has not, then I will tell her that my offer will remain open, should she change her mind.”

“She may never, son.”

“It is a risk I am willing to take. I am also convinced that she needs time to reform her thinking when it comes to me. I know I needed several months to accept that I could marry no another; I believe she deserves the same chance to realize she needs to be married to me to find happiness.”

The three spent some moments in silence, enjoying their drinks.

“If you can, you should get her to talk about her marriage to Collins. Perhaps that will help you understand how better to win her, or help her understand that you are not him.”

“No, I certainly am not,” Darcy agreed. Inwardly he was relieved that the Gardiners knew of his intentions; what Mr. Gardiner knew Mrs. Gardiner was soon to know as well if he were any decent judge of people. He could use all the help with Elizabeth that he could get.

<<>>

The arrival of the Hursts and Miss Bingley the next afternoon was different than that of the previous two parties. Neither of their hosts were there to greet them. Instead Bingley was the one to welcome them to Pemberley.

Caroline looked about for Mr. Darcy while her brother handed her out of the coach. A frown appeared when she saw that neither Darcy nor Georgiana were about, though she said nothing.

Later, when all of the adult guests were gathered in a drawing room, Darcy brought William with him to the gathering after his lesson was over.

“How did he do today, Mr. Darcy?” Mr. Gardiner asked. Darcy smiled fondly at the lad.
“He did well. He remembered the all the names of the tack again and his seat on the pony continues to improve.”

“Well done, William!” his uncle exclaimed. The boy beamed with the praise. “You will be a gentleman riding about his estate before you know it, just like your teacher.”

“He has a few years ahead of him first, Uncle. I am in no hurry for my sons to grow up!” most of the adult chuckled. Elizabeth stood and came to take her son’s hand. “Now if the rest of you will excuse me, I will return William to his brother.”

After they had left, Miss Bingley moved to sit near Darcy. “I had wondered where you had gone off to, sir. You have always received us before when we have come to Pemberley.”

“Another guest had need of me, madam, which is why your brother offered to greet you in my stead.”

“Yes, well, it was good to see Charles looking so… much like Charles always looks. But I am surprised you do not have a groom teaching the boy to ride. William Collins is not your son and heir. A great man you like has much better things to do with his time when home on his estate. It takes a fine master to keep Pemberley so magnificent.”

Darcy’s face immediately became solemn and grave and Caroline wondered what on earth she could have said to affect such a change.

“Miss Bingley, I am afraid I owe you an apology. It is clear to me now that you have come to Pemberley under false assumptions. While I issued the initial invitation to Pemberley to your brother and his family, I latter issued another invitation to my goddaughter and my other two wards. William, John and Henrietta Collins are just as much my guests as is your brother. If I choose to teach one of my guests to ride a horse, it can certainly be no concern of yours. Or would you rather have me ignore you as you would have me ignore them?” Darcy stood abruptly, announced, “Now if you will excuse me, I have other duties that need my attention,” and left the room.

Miss Bingley looked around to see who had witnessed the rebuke. Thankfully Darcy had spoken very softly. Louisa looked at her worriedly and the normally obtuse Mr. Hurst smirked at her discomfort. No one else betrayed that they had heard Darcy’s words. Her sister moved to sit in the place Darcy had just vacated.

“Why did you question Mr. Darcy so? You should know better,” Mrs. Hurst whispered urgently.

“He should have been there to greet us,” Caroline whined.

“If you have learned anything about the man in the years you have pursued him, you should know that he is a man who takes his responsibilities very seriously. If he feels it his responsibility to teach his ward to ride a horse, then he will teach his ward to ride a horse. To say otherwise is to question his honor! No wonder he was so displeased with you. Be very, very careful of what you say about the Collins children, sister, or you will find yourself banished from Pemberley faster than you can finish your cup of tea.”

Satisfied that she had carried her point with her sibling, Louisa Hurst turned her attention to her hostess and inquired about dinner. Before long, her sister joined her in the general conversation until it was time to retire to their rooms to change. Bingley walked with Louisa so they could speak privately.

“What did Caroline say to Darcy to chase him out of our company?” Louisa related the exchange. Bingley sighed. “I hope you now understand that he will never offer for her.”

“I do, though I doubt she will listen to me any more than she will listen to you.”

“I only ask that you do not encourage her.”

“I will try to make her see reason. As long as she does not doing anything else unwise. I have no desire to be the one to escort her away from here. Hurst would be most displeased.”

“Thank you.”

Louisa patted his hand. “Go enjoy the smiles of your wife, Charles. I am partly to blame for her attitude in that I did encourage her in her pursuit, even when you warned us both of its futility. When I saw Darcy smile today, truly smile, and then how it was wiped away by Caroline’s petulant remarks, I finally knew then that hers was truly a lost cause.”

Dinner that night, and in the days to follow, lacked the warmth and camaraderie of the evening before. While Louisa Hurst’s attitude towards the other guests had improved, her sister’s had not, though she made the effort to be civil to all. Mr. Hurst was content as long as he was left to eat in peace at night and enjoy his sport during the day.

Caroline Bingley was careful to keep her temper in check. It helped that Darcy made every attempt to spend some part of the daytime in his female guests’ company, though there were some days when he was ensconced with his secretary and his steward for the majority of his time. He also continued to teach William to ride, though not every day.

There was one appointment, however, that he never missed. Each morning, before breakfast, as the weather permitted, he and Elizabeth took a walk. On those days when it was too wet outdoors they met in the library where they could discuss whatever they wished, or they could refrain from talking and read instead.

Darcy had instigated the early morning meetings with Elizabeth knowing that Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst where more apt to keep Town hours rather than to the country’s. They often were asleep so late that they were forced to have a tray of food delivered to their rooms if they wished to eat to any sort of breakfast. No one seemed to mind their absence, except perhaps Darcy’s cook.

Mrs. Gardiner was as liable to be at Pemberley as she was to be out visiting her old acquaintances in and around Lambton. When she could spare her husband, which was often, Mr. Gardiner could be found with a rod in his hand trying his luck at catching Darcy’s fish. Mr. Hurst was happy to join him. Mr. Bingley did partake of the fishing, though not as avidly as his brother and uncle. He was more disposed to spend time with his wife and the other ladies, gallantly offering to accompany them on the many outings and diversions Georgiana had planned with Mrs. Annesley’s gentle guidance.

Georgiana quietly flourished in her role as hostess, the company of the younger Miss Bennets helping her somewhat overcome her normal reticence around the Bingley sisters. Mary, Kitty and Lydia were quick to befriend Georgiana, and for the first time in her life, she experienced the wonder of being a considered and treated as a sister.

Mrs. Annesley and Miss Pope where quite pleased with how the girls were getting along and told their respective employers.

Most importantly, Darcy was able to watch Elizabeth emerge from her mourning, taking time away from her heavy responsibilities at Longbourn to enjoy some carefree time with her friends, family, and most importantly, with her children.

28.

About a week after the last of their party arrived, around breakfast time, a large packet arrived from Longbourn.

Darcy removed the ribbon holding several letters together. “It appears we both have letters,” he said as he looked at the grouping. He passed the one addressed to Elizabeth to her. “Shall we read them now and compare the contents?”

She nodded and opened the note from Mrs. Hill. The refreshing of Longbourn was moving ahead even quicker than expected.

4 August, 1812

Mrs. Collins

Work on Longbourn is well ahead of schedule, the reason being that the afternoon after you left two carts arrived full of men and women from Darcy House. These were in addition to the three girls who came in Mr. Darcy’s carriage that carried you and your children to Derbyshire. You can imagine my surprise when Mrs. Thomas introduced herself as Mr. Darcy’s London housekeeper and said the whole lot of them were here to help wherever they were needed. She apologized for the unexpectedness of their arrival and said that they had brought along everything they would need for the week as well as food for the next two days.

Before I knew what was happening, she had us in the kitchen and introduced the cook they brought along to our cook and her servants were carrying in crates of bread and vegetables, cheeses and a joint of ham.

After I had a chance to gather my wits, which was no mean feat and did not happen for many minutes, we sat down and discussed all the work that was to be done. Mr. Grainger must have been anticipating the extra help because he immediately joined us and said that in addition to all the work I knew was to happen, that he had just purchased enough whitewash to cover the kitchen and servant quarters and that that would be the first item to be accomplished.

Who ever heard of the servant’s areas to be the first to be completed? Mr. Grainger said that Mr. Darcy had requested the extra expenditure and provided the funds.

The staff are very pleased with the results. Seeing as the family is all gone, it was a simple matter to declaring the parlor the sleeping quarters of the women and the dining room for the men. By the dinner the next day everything in the servants’ rooms were cleaned, scrubbed, painted and put back away. Work on the rest of the house commenced and the extra hands have done wonders.

Mrs. Thomas said they will remain at Longbourn for a total of ten days and then return to Town. At which point the other half of the servants from Darcy house will come and take their place. When I asked about this she just laughed and looked a little embarrassed and told me that she had little choice in the matter. When she gathered the staff and asked for volunteers, saying that they would be paid their full half pay and be given two full days off here in Hertfordshire, that everyone raised their hands in willingness to go. She said that the grooms who shuttle the horses between Town and Longbourn had told everyone how pleasant they found Longbourn. For quite a few of them, this is the first time away from London. Mrs. Thomas said it is a nice respite from the heat and smell of the Capital in the summer.

She says that for the moment, the maid she is training to someday take over her duties as housekeeper is in charge of Darcy House but that she will be here overseeing the second set of servants when they arrive.

I am very excited to see this old house looking so grand. If you mother were still alive, she would have a fit to see it so well again. There is still much to do, and the wall papers still be hung, but I know you will enjoy the fruits of your planning and our labor for many years to come.

In case you are concerned about the cost of feeding so many extra mouths, do not. Mr. Darcy provides Mrs. Thomas with enough money to feed three times as many as are here. She said prices for food are much lower here than in Town and by the time she finishes her household accounts for the month that she expects her expenses to be lower than if they all had remained in London!

I hope that I have not overstepped myself too much, but I asked Mr. Grainger and he agreed with me. I have given our servants extra time off to match what the Darcy House servants have been given while they are here. We are so much further along than I had hoped for that it did not seem too great an evil. They were very happy when I told them and have worked just as hard as they had before I gave them the news of the second unexpected boon – the additional help being the first. It did not seem right to ask them to work why the others were off. If you do not approve, send word immediately.

I hope you are enjoying your time away.

G. Hill

“Did you know half your Darcy House staff is at Longbourn as we speak?”

Darcy looked up from his letter. “No, other than the few I told you would be coming, I had no idea my housekeeper would send so many, nor join them. But London can be dreadful in the summer and it does please me that my people can have a little respite.”

“I would suggest, then, that you do not return to Town until my family is back at Longbourn,” Elizabeth replied dryly.

“I had wondered why there was a letter from Mrs. Thomas with Grainger’s and Mrs. Hill’s,” Darcy said blandly.

Elizabeth rolled her eyes and waited for Darcy to finish the two missives addressed to him.

“Mrs. Thomas is very apologetic. I gave her leave to see to send whomever she wished, but she knows I had no idea ALL my staff would want to go.”

She nodded her head in acknowledgement, and a small laughed escaped. Darcy was watching her, and could not help but laugh as well. That was all it took and they were both chucking over the situation. When they calmed, Elizabeth asked if there was anything else from his letter about Longbourn.

“Nothing much. The London enterprise does well. Grainger believes the will have enough material to cover the field a week to two sooner than we projected.”

“I am very curious to see the results. I know my steward is enthusiastic about it.” Elizabeth paused. “I suppose I should thank you for all the work being done now inside Longbourn by servants. I have a feeling it was your idea.”

“Your thanks really do belong to your sister, Elizabeth. Bingley told me she asked him for some funds to redecorate the master and mistresses chambers for you and it grew from there. My contribution to the scheme was the offer of some of my staff and to repainting the servants area. I have found that a little courtesy goes a long way. If you let them know you appreciate them, they will be even more loyal to you.”

“And a makes a spotless kitchen possible.”

“There is that.”

“Then may I thank you for the paint?”

“Yes and you are welcome.” Darcy paused, trying to find the right words before he continued. “Elizabeth, I know that you are uncomfortable with the amount of money you think I am spending on you and your family. Please, believe me when I say that it is not as much as you think once all the parts are weighed against each other. But even if it were much more than the reality, I would not begrudge a brass farthing of it. I was brought up to understand the great responsibility that comes with my heritage as master of Pemberley. I am responsible for the welfare so many lives and I take that God-given duty seriously.

What I am trying to say is that I take pride in caring for those entrusted to me. You and your children and your sisters and even Longbourn now are mine to protect until I can pass that office onto William. It is not a heavy burden, but an honor to me. So please, let me do as my conscience says I must and accept the occasional bit of paint I buy for Longbourn.”

Elizabeth did not respond immediately. “I sometimes feel like I have taken advantage of you.”

“You saved my sister.”

“Perhaps, but if I did, the debt was repaid long ago.”

“You ceased to be a debt to me months ago. You are my friend, and those I call friend are few. If any of my friends are ever in need, then I do what I can to help them, as I hope they would do for me. And really, when you think about it, what have I bought for your family other than some toy soldiers and some whitewash?”

“You provided extra servants, have leased part of Longbourn for your horses and sent your entire London household to Hertfordshire without any cost to me!”

“I concede part of that point, but you forget I benefit from it as well by having happier servants. And as I told you happy servants make loyal servants. In the end, I believe I have made a most advantageous bargain.”

Elizabeth shook her head; there was no use arguing with the man. She needed to swallow her own pride and accept his generosity graciously, no matter how humbling it was to do so. He really was the best man she knew.

And so in the end, Elizabeth decided to let the matter drop and asked him to explain more about his estate and how he planned to implement what he did at Pemberley at Longbourn and to show her them, if it were possible. She wanted to learn as much as she could from Darcy so she would be a better mistress of her own smaller estate, capable of discussing changes to it with her steward, and storing up knowledge to impart to her son as he grew into a man.

<<>>

The Gardiners had always intended to be the first of the party to depart. Mr. Gardiner’s business only allowed him so much time to be gone from London. Kitty and Lydia, however, would not travel with them. They would return to Longbourn with Mr. and Mrs. Bingley and Elizabeth and her children.

However, before the party broke up, they would have a picnic.

Fortunately, the weather cooperated and clear blue sky, devoid of any cloud, greeted Pemberley’s inhabitants. The servants spent the morning preparing for the event. A canopy of sorts was erected to give shade to those who wished it and blankets and chairs were set out for those desiring to sit in the sunshine. In addition, several held a variety of food and drink. If it resembled more dining al fresco, than a leisurely picnic, no one mentioned it.

Darcy had a treat planned for the boys.

“A kite!” exclaimed young William when Darcy brought out his surprise. Darcy laughed and ruffled the lad’s hair.

“Come on, boys. There should be plenty of room to get this flying as long as the breeze continues.”

Bingley jumped up with William and John. Darcy gave him a disapproving stare – which lasted only a moment before the corners of his lips turned up. “You can come along too, Bingley.” The men grinned at each other before moving out into the open ground. Darcy decided to let Bingley do the running to get the kite up in the air. William and John cheered as it caught the wind and flew high above them. The men showed the boys how to hold on the string and then gave each a try. When John took his turn, Darcy stood right behind him, holding his arms to help. The children’s pleasure was the men’s delight. When the kite inevitably fell from the sky while it was John’s turn, the boy started to cry.

“There, there, son. It is all right That is how we learn. I have had plenty of kites crash like that. It happened to me when I was a boy. Bingley will help get it up in the sky again.”

Soon enough, it was so and John forgot all about his tears.

The rest of the party watched the four in amusement, talking among themselves. Jane used the opportunity to ask Caroline and the Hursts if their plans to leave Pemberley remained the same. Elizabeth knew from Jane that Miss Bingley would have stayed as long as she could at Pemberley, but to do so meant she would travel with the residents of Longbourn all the way back to Hertfordshire; all the residents of Longbourn, specifically her three small children. One child was too many for her liking and so she would go with the Hursts next week.

Elizabeth excused herself to go and tend to Henrietta, who voiced her need for nourishment. Jane accompanied her to a spot provided for by Darcy for such a circumstance. Assured of her privacy, Elizabeth start to feed her daughter. Jane looked on. Three children at her sister’s breast had accustomed her to the sight.

“How much longer will you continue, Lizzy, now that she had begun to eat food?”

“Several months, at least. I kept up with the boys until after each was a year old. Knowing this will be my last, I want to delay it as long as possible,” Elizabeth answered, a wistfulness to her voice.

“You are young; you may very well marry again.”

“I have told you before, Jane, I have no desire to remarry.”

“No desire? Lizzy, dearest, now that I am a married woman I cannot see why you would never again wish to…” Here Jane stammered and blushed, as did her sister.

Elizabeth laughed softly. “Marriage certainly opens ours eyes to a whole new world of possibilities, even in the words we speak. Yes Jane, I admit there are things that I miss, but not enough to drive me into another man’s arms to find them again. Please, leave it be.”

Jane sighed, “Very well,” then moved over to sit next to her sister. Taking Elizabeth’s hand, she placed in on her own stomach. Elizabeth’s eyes widened.

“Are you?”

“I have suspected for a while but finally felt it a few days ago.”

Elizabeth would have thrown her arms around her sister, but had her daughter to hold with her other arm. She settled for pulling Jane close and laying her head on her elder sister’s shoulder.

“I had wondered. Does Charles know?”

“Yes, he knew of my suspicions and we decided to keep it between us for a few days after they were confirmed.”

“I am so happy for you. I know how much you have loved my children; I can only imagine how much more you will love your own. Charles must be ecstatic and it explains why he was so quick to join Darcy.”

“I do not think he needed the excuse to play with the boys.”

“No, probably not,” Elizabeth grinned in agreement. They sat in companionable silence while Henrietta finished, each thinking about the future Bingley baby. They returned just in time to overhear Bingley ask Hurst if he wished to take his place with the kite.

“Really Hurst,” Caroline drawled, “why would you want to run around like a small child?

“Have you never flown a kite, Sister?”

“Of course not!” said Caroline, clearly affronted by the idea.

“I should not be surprised; it would explain a bloody thing or two,” Jane and Elizabeth heard him mutter. Both ladies tried not to laugh, and somehow succeeded, though with difficulty.

Hurst decided to accept Bingley’s offer and Darcy offered to give way. He requested to hold his goddaughter and Henrietta contentedly snuggled into his chest as he sat in the chairs his servants had transported to the scene of their outing. Soon the baby was asleep.

“It will not be long before she is crawling about, no longer content with being held so frequently” Darcy said in a low voice.

“Part of me wishes she would always stay so small, yet another yearns for the day when she can do things for herself and talk to me, telling me what she wants.”

“That is what servants are for, Mrs. Collins,” Miss Bingley interjected.

“If that were so, then who takes car e of the children of the servants? No, parents are meant to care for their offspring and train them up into adulthood.”

“Are you implying my parents, or Mr. Darcy’s, skirted their duty in relying on servants to help raise their children?”

“No indeed, for I am certain that your nursemaids appreciated their income. I only meant that for most of the world, parents do not possess the means to afford such help and must bring up their children without it. While I would not wish to be poor, I do appreciate the opportunities my situation gives me, both in what wealth I do have and what wealth I lack.”

Miss Bingley grew tired of the conversation and moved away to talk to her sister again.

“I feel sorry for any children she will have,” Darcy said quietly to Elizabeth, once Caroline was far enough away to not hear him. “Unlike your children, who know who their mother is and that they are loved.”

“Perhaps motherhood will change her?”

“I will hold on to that hope. Unfortunately, too many of my peers grew up rarely seeing their parents. We would talk about it at school. Though no one said it, there was a jealousy towards the lucky ones of us who had parents that actually sought to spend time with us.”

“Were you one of the lucky ones?”

“I thought I was; then I met the Bennets and Collins and I started to question it. My mother never gave me the time you give your children.”

“I cannot afford the help to not give them my time.”

“I was listening to your discussion with Caroline, Elizabeth. I believe you would count it as ‘a blessing of not too much wealth’. You like being with you sons and with Henri. It gives you pleasure.” Darcy smiled, showing his approval.

“Rather plebian of me, Darcy.”

“A refreshing change for me, I assure you. I am glad you are not so rich as to be able to constantly leave your children to the care of others.”

Elizabeth would have responded had not the competing sounds of the laughter of their unmarried sisters just returning from a walk and the crying of John not assailed her at the same time. William came racing towards her to tell of John’s injury. She was able to quiet him before he reached them, allowing Henrietta to remain asleep.

“Mama, John fell!”

Bingley followed holding the sobbing child. “He will be fine. He just fell and bumped his knee. I think the tears are more a function of his fatigue than anything.

“Shhh John, here is your mama.”

Bingley passed the boy to his mother, who soothed her son with words of love and concern. Everyone was watching. Soon the crying was down to sniffles and then a few hiccups.

“Would you like for me to read you a story?” Darcy volunteered. The little boy, thumb in his mouth, nodded.

“Here, let me take Henrietta,” offered Kitty, a look of fondness on her face. Darcy carefully moved the sleeping baby off his chest and into Miss Catherine’s arms.

Darcy looked up, amused to see all of the adults gathered around him waiting to hear him read. Georgiana smiled, an eagerness evident in her visage. Next to her were Elizabeth’s younger sisters, including Kitty holding her niece. Even Miss Bingley drew near, though Darcy doubted she anticipated much pleasure in the event, but her sister was there and so would be Caroline. Mr. Hurst had abandoned the kite and come over as well. The Gardiners were obviously amused, and sat near enough to observe, as did Miss Pope and Mrs. Annesley. Jane gave Elizabeth a knowing look as she took a place next to her husband, with William coming to sit with them. Elizabeth settled John in her lap.

Seeing that everyone was waiting for him, he went over to where a servant had left some books chosen in case the children required a story. He looked at the titles and smiled as he picked one out. When he was seated he began…

“There once was a boy, whose name was Jack…”

Elizabeth would later look back on the afternoon as the day her heart began to truly mend. Darcy had been so kind, so solicitous to her children’s needs as the only little ones in a party of adults. He did not think them a nuisance, or something for the servants to take care of instead of him. No, he cared for them the way her late husband had doted on her sons. To him, they were no burden. They were honored guests.

29.

The next morning the Gardiners departed for home via Mrs. Gardiner’s parents, who were keeping their four children while they were away.

“I hope to see you again at Pemberley, sir,” Darcy said as they were leaving the house to enter their carriage.

“I thank you for the offer of another visit. We shall see. I suppose much will depend on my niece?”

“While I will not attempt to claim that I do not understand you, no, it is not entirely up to your niece. I have enjoyed you and your wife’s company and someone must come and catch my fish.”

“Yes, well, Lizzy living here would mean we would come again. Alas, have you made as much progress as you wished?”

“I would say yes though I do not expect her to accept me now.”

“You are an extraordinarily patient man, Darcy. I wish you well. You know you have my blessing, should there ever come a day when you require it.”

They shook hands and Darcy nodded his understanding. Next he gave attention to Mrs. Gardiner, offering her his assistance into the carriage. “Good luck, sir,” was her final comment as he shut the door so they could be away.

He was grateful for the encouragement; he was sure that he would need as much luck as he could get to win Elizabeth’s hand.

<<>>

As far as Mrs. Annesley and Miss Pope were concerned, to that point the house party was a success. Both ladies were pleased by the responses and behavior of their charges, especially Lydia. They agreed that Georgiana’s gentleness had a greatly affected her. For the first time in her life, Lydia had an example, Jane and Elizabeth notwithstanding, of superior grace and breeding and could see what a beautiful and wealthy young woman should be. While Lydia would always be lively, she became less and less untamed in her behavior.

At the same time, they also acknowledged that Lydia had had a positive influence on Miss Darcy. Lydia could draw her out, not unlike Elizabeth did. Without realizing what was happening, Georgiana became more confident in the presence of young women her age, venturing into conversations with an ease she had never displayed before. Perhaps Lydia’s appreciation for her had done the trick when school had not, or maybe Georgiana was a little older and wiser. Whatever the reason, Mrs. Annesley was very pleased.

So the plans for the main social event proceeded; Pemberley would host a dinner party. With Mr. Darcy’s blessing, invitations to several families from the neighborhood to Pemberley were written and delivered. Invited were the Halleys, the Tells, and the Marshalls of Monksbridge Manor as well as Pemberley’s vicar Mr. Mitchell. Darcy’s cousin, Bartholomew Arnold, who was engaged to the Tell’s daughter Amelia and was now installed in the living at Kympton was also included.

All four of the girls were part of the preparations, though Georgiana was be the hostess. Mrs. Annesley, as a widow of a clergyman herself, was the more knowledgeable of the two ladies companions. It was her suggestion that the other four ladies of the party be asked to lend the younger girls words of wisdom. Miss Bingley, while unmarried, had been hostess for her brother before his marriage. She was more than eager to impart her wisdom on the young girls. Mrs. Hurst was also a fount of information. However, the voice who carried the most weight was that of the wizened of housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds. She had been the one who saw to the all of the details for the many years when Mr. Darcy and old Mr. Darcy had entertained. Before that, she watched Lady Anne Darcy direct the preparations for such events with aplomb. Elizabeth laughingly confided to Miss Pope that she made notes of all that she learned from the esteemed servant each night before she went to bed.

There were discussions over the seating arrangements. The replies to the invitations supplied that the party was of an even number, though the ladies outnumbered the gentlemen. Not wishing to lose an opportunity, Mrs. Annesley had each of the young ladies tell her what they would do is the numbers were odd, and if there were more gentlemen than ladies. Miss Bingley had much to say on the matter, and almost all of it was useful. They talked about the separation of the sexes after the meal, and planned entertainment for the ladies while the gentlemen were absent. Again, Mrs. Annesley used the occasion to canvas the girls, asking them what they should do if the men declined to leave the ladies after the meal. Here Miss Bingley was not as helpful, but Mrs. Hurst was.

Through it all, Elizabeth came to a better understanding of Jane’s new sisters. They might think themselves above the Hertfordshire populous, but they knew how to entertain on a level higher in society that the Bennet sisters ever did before Jane’s marriage.

And while the women nattered on about the dinner, Darcy kept Bingley and Hurst occupied. It was obvious from Hurst’s enthusiasm for the sport Darcy provided, and by his general decline of drunkenness that Mr. Hurst was enjoying his visit to Pemberley. As long as Bingley was able to spend some time with his wife during the daylight hours, he was as well. On occasion, Darcy even invited his secretary, Thompson, to join them.

<<>>

The two things Darcy refused to curtail to entertain his other guests was his appointment with William to teach him to ride, and the time he spent early each day with Elizabeth. Spending time with the two of them had furthered entrenched them both into his heart and he dreaded the upcoming separation that must happen when they returned to Longbourn. He hoped she was of a similar mind. Each time he saw her he had to stop himself from begging her to stay forever. He forced himself to remember the plan he had devised to bring up the subject, and the place he wished to take her to plead his cause.

On this morning, the day before the dinner, they had met for a short walk and then separated to continue with their days. Elizabeth was surprised but pleased when Darcy came in search for her.

“Come, I have had the most extraordinary letter today and I think you will derive some comfort from it,” he told her when he asked her to come back with him to his study.

They walked back together, so quickly that Elizabeth laughed and told him to slow down. Darcy smiled back, guiltily, but decreased his pace immediately. She was scarcely seated in his room when he shoved a letter into her hands.

21 August, 1912

Darcy, I suppose you are as astounded to be receiving a letter from me as I find myself writing it. I have debated whether or not to do so. The thought of sending no word of my departure, forever leaving you wondering when I would turn up next in your life was quite appealing, but in the end I decided to do the decent thing. This courtesy I extend for the same reason you refrained from running me off any sooner than you did – for the memory of our departed fathers.

I did love your father, and not for the all favor her showered upon me. He was the best man I knew, other than my own father. Your blunt reminder of that in Meryton has at least that for it, though I still bitterly resent you for another, unexpected by both of us outcome.

You made me stop and think of what had become of my life, damn you. It is bloody nuisance to contemplate such and realize that those men you so looked up to as a child would be thoroughly disappointed in you. Not that you would know of what I speak. Our fathers would be proud of the man you are today, other than your miserable pride that is.

Elizabeth stopped and looked up at him, amazed that he shared such a letter and wondering what was in it from such a man she would find comfort in.

“Keep reading,” was Darcy’s reply to the unasked question.

You are also the reason I stayed in Hertfordshire until the regiment departed for Brighton. I wanted to show you that for once in my life I could do something you did not think I could. It is a rather petty reason, but it was motivation enough. And because of your obvious hand in warning the merchants, I and my fellow officers left that town with more coin in our purse than normal because of lack of debts to pay. The residents of the town will welcome another regiment with open arms and close credit. I cannot remember the last time I stayed so long in an area and did not leave debts for you to assume.

And so remembering you father I still resented the fact you have all the advantages in this world while I have none. I have come to conclude that you are to blame. Your father paid for an education that would have advanced my position in the world, had I taken the living. I would have been above my father. Stupidly, I threw that away, even though we both know I would not have made a good clergyman. Had I not, as a child come to realize the differences of our station and how our lives would change when we became adults, I would not have decided to become everything that you were not. Whereas you were reserved, I was charming. You cared for your studies, I cared only enough to see me advance. You embraced duty, I embraced pleasure. I indulged my whims and watched in glee as you were punished for many of my misdeeds.

Now, as I contemplate how well I succeeded in not being you, I realize that quest for an identity of my own outside of your considerable shadow was the biggest miscalculation of my life. Had I followed your example, I have no doubt that you and I would have continued on as friends, thick as thieves, and that your blasted loyalty would have been secured. I could have taken orders and be installed in Kympton as I write. You would have included me in your circle of friends as you do Charles Bingley today and you would have seen to it that I was introduced to women of decent fortune who were looking for a husband instead of my trying to capture a woman on my own with only my continence and my manners to recommend me. Handsome young men like me ought to have something to live on. A pox on being born poor in England!

So I concluded that my chances to regain what I had lost because of my repudiation of your influence in England are slim. I began making inquiries into leaving England to make my fortune in a land where I am unknown, except that I am educated and can please when I choose to do so. The Continent is out, as is America, due to our present state of conflict. Instead, I have accepted a place on a ship going to Australia. You could say I am transporting myself voluntarily. There is a need there for free settlers and I am the sort of man they were seeking to help settle the land. My status there will be greater than it is here and since I am not a convict, I expect to land on my feet.

Before you laugh at me, I will have you know that I am not a thief or a murderer. The only person I have ever really taken from is you. I left debts that I knew you would discharge and since you are to blame for my present circumstances, is only right that you have done so.

My ship leaves in three days. Three days to enjoy England one last time. I doubt I shall be back. I might die on the way there, and once established, why should I return?

So I bid you farewell. Take care of Georgiana; I would have made her miserable. And if you should feel inclined to send a gift to me once you have word that I am in Australia, I will not reject it. Knowledge of my being on the other side of the world should be worth something to you.

I will send word once I arrive. I doubt I shall ever do so again, unless I need more money.

Yours, etc.
G. Wickham

Elizabeth looked up at her friend when she finished. “What a letter to write!”

Darcy laughed, “Tis may sound odd, but it really doesn’t surprise me. George was always an amusing companion when he chose to be. He brought great pleasure to my father and before he changed so much while we were children, he was my greatest friend. He could always cheer me out of my melancholy moods.”

Elizabeth looked at him oddly. “Are you seriously considering sending him more money? He tried to run off with your sister for her money.”

Darcy immediately sobered. “Yes, I will send him something once he sends word he has arrived. He knew exactly what he was doing by wording that the way he did. I will give him one last gift in honor of my father and his father. I have no doubt he will put it to good use now. Elizabeth, you might not be able to see it, but he WAS apologizing and saying goodbye. He will always be a rogue, but now he is ready to be a responsible one, knowing he has a second chance and will not get a third. And it will be a relief to know he will be half the world away from me for good.”

She shook her head. “How is this all supposed to reassure me?”

“He said he was ‘not a thief nor a murderer’. Why would he lie about that when he was being honest about everything else? I know you wonder about Mr. Collins death, but I do not think Wickham was responsible for it anymore. No evidence has ever turned up that your husband died by anything other than an accident. I know your father and uncle made inquiries. If you wish, I shall continue, but after reading this letter I feel confident in saying that George Wickham did not harm him.”

“He did indirectly. Had it not been for him, William would have been with me that night,” Elizabeth said, somewhat distraught.

Darcy was disappointed; he had sought to bring her comfort and instead she was upset. Fool! He thought. He should never have shown her that blasted letter.

Elizabeth reached over and briefly touched his hand. He twitched at the contact. They rarely touched each other . He had gone out of his way to avoid it. He knew how much it affected them and was saving the use of it for when he was ready to declare himself.

“I am sorry, Darcy. I know you were trying to help me.” Elizabeth sighed. “I suppose I am more upset by the realization that I have not thought of my husband’s death since I arrived in Derbyshire. It is as if I no longer care and that realization is why I reacted the way I did.”

“It has been a year, Elizabeth. You are allowed to make a life without him. Though you will always have part of him with you in your three children, but I think you already understand that.”

“Of course.”

Neither said anything for a long time. Darcy felt a sinking sensation as he contemplated the very real possibility that Elizabeth was not ready to accept what he had to say to her, even as he knew he had to say it before she left.

But he would not say it then. He could not say it then and call himself her friend. “Forgive me, Elizabeth. I did not mean to dampen your spirits.”

“No lasting harm was done, but I need to go to the nursery now to see to the children.”

“Of course.” The same response she had just given him.

After Elizabeth left, he fell back onto his chair and grunted in exasperation. He had made a muddle out that interview. However, as he reviewed their interaction, he became less agitated. She had said she had not thought of Collins since she had arrived. Pemberley had begun to weave its magic over her. That thought made him smile at last.

to be continued