Instead of an invitation to Rosings, that afternoon Miss deBourgh arrived at the parsonage in her phaeton, and asked Elizabeth to join her for a ride
“I decided that since our first meeting was sure to be awkward, that I would have it in my phaeton where no one would witness it,” Miss deBourgh said once they were underway.
Elizabeth smiled, immediately put at a bit more at ease by her companion’s droll comment.
“Yes, well as long as the horse promises not to spread any report of our conversation, I believe we shall be safe from any unwanted gossip.”
“No wonder Fitzwilliam fell in love with you!” Anne replied. “I feel guilty depriving you from him but it is the only way. I know that you know of my condition, Miss Bennet. Mother told me she revealed it to you last evening.”
“Is it truly certain?”
“After discussion with my doctor, I do not see how it could be anything else. But Fitzwilliam says he will arrange for me to see his doctor from Town for another opinion before we proceed. I thought it wise, just as he is to seek another opinion on the terms of my father’s will as I requested.”
“I pray that your doctor is mistaken.” Elizabeth colored immediately, embarrassed. “I did not mean…”
Anne deBourgh laughed a little, the coughed again. “No offense taken; I understood your meaning. I think, Miss Bennet… Do you mind if I call you Elizabeth? We have so much in common and I am sure we will be friends. And you must call me Anne.”
“As you wish.” Elizabeth paused, and then continued, “Miss… Anne. Since you have decided that we will be open with each other, I must know. Do you resent the interference with your matrimonial plans?”
“You mean your presence.” Anne stopped to huff. “I have watched you around Fitzwilliam. I rather thought you disobliged with him, not in any way seeking his favor.”
“And yet I gained it.”
“Did you seek it?”
“No, of course not. I… I thought he looked at me to find fault,” Elizabeth said in a rush.
Miss deBourgh seemed to find amusement in her statement. “Andrew, Colonel Fitzwilliam, thought as much. What a tangled web we weave, eh Elizabeth?” Elizabeth shrugged. “That is why I am not angry with you. I know this was not something you sought, even though you find yourself in the middle of it with me.”
“But do you love him?”
“No, not like that. I have been raised with the expectation of being Mrs. Darcy. I never really thought of becoming anything else, so love was never important.”
“Yet now you marry a man in love with someone else. Someone he would rather marry.”
“You forget, we are all doing this out of love for our family. He and I marry for my mother’s security and I suspect that you marry for your mother’s as well?” Elizabeth did not reply; a reply was unnecessary. “You are determined to make me dislike you. This shall never do. I want to know the woman who will one day take my place, who will one day become a daughter to my mother. Please, I want to be friends for however long my life will last. Will you?”
“I can try,” Elizabeth replied, moved by the sincerity in her companion’s manner.
“Good. Now as you probably know, Fitzwilliam went to Town today to review Papa’s will and to make the arrangements for our wedding, and to see that you are protected as well. He has promised to try and bring Georgiana back with him when he returns. If all proceeds as it appears it will, then we will marry sometime in the next few weeks. I know he will want to familiarize himself more with the estate before it is time for him to return to Pemberley this summer. I, of course, will remain here.”
“Do you not want to visit Derbyshire? I have heard his estate is magnificent.”
“I would prefer to remain here. I have been advised that a trip to the seaside in the warmer weather could be beneficial, so it seems more prudent to remain in the south of England, rather than expend so much effort and time to travel from the north. Perhaps you would like to join me?”
“My aunt and uncle have invited me to travel to the lakes with them this summer.”
“Oh, I would not want you to miss that! Would your family be able to spare you after you return? I can send a carriage for you.”
“You are very determined to bring me back to Rosings.”
“I am. I am also determined to be a most diligent correspondent for my sake as well as Fitzwilliam’s. He will want to hear you are well.”
“He could always return to Hertfordshire.”
“Not without me. I told you I will not leave Rosings except for the sea, or Town, if I must. I have no desire to travel.”
“I, on the other hand, do.”
The two women spent the rest of their time becoming better acquainted. When Elizabeth returned to Hunsford, she almost felt comfortable calling Miss deBourgh, Anne. She also had another invitation for tea at Rosings that evening.
Charlotte looked at her friend for an explanation for her sudden intimacy with the great family, but Elizabeth was not ready to give one, instead smiling and promising to talk to her later.
Darcy had decided that he would not tell Georgiana anything about his marriage plans until after he had conferred with his attorneys and his physician. Upon his arrival in Town he immediately sent them a note asking for a meeting as soon as possible. His servant returned with an invitation to call at his solicitor whenever he wished. Darcy was on his way as soon as his horse was saddled.
Mr. Summers had faithfully served his father for many years before he began serving Darcy. Summers welcomed him into his offices and offered him a drink. Darcy politely declined, wanting to inform him of the reason for his visit.
“What may I do for you, Mr. Darcy?”
“I am to be married.”
“Congratulations sir! Who is the lucky young lady?”
“That is why I am here. There is still some doubt whom shall be the next Mrs. Darcy.”
Darcy explained the situation as dispassionately as he could. “Thus, I need for you to search out Sir Lewis’ will at the archdeacon’s court, as well as any documents Lady Catherine signed to determine the true legalities of the situation. Her solicitor is Mr. Myers. She has given me letters authorizing him to draft the changes to her will that our agreement stipulated, provided of course that I do marry Anne.”
Summers pinch the bridge of his nose. “While such conditions are possible, they are very irregular. I will send a message to my colleague tonight asking for a meeting tomorrow morning. If I may, sir, I will deliver your charges to him for Lady Catherine’s sake, saving you the inconvenience. I know what to ask for, now that I have a better idea of the situation.”
“When might you have an answer for me? I would like to return to Kent as soon as possible and I want to go knowing my future.”
“Myers should have a copy of the will, so while I will make sure to check it with the official one on file, I will likely have an answer for you Monday. Once I know, I will send a note.”
“I will be waiting to hear from you.”
Darcy stood and made to leave. “It is my pleasure to be of assistance,” Mr. Summers replied. As soon as he was alone, the attorney sat down to compose a note. Not only was Darcy curious to know the exact disposition of the Rosings estate, now he was too.
Next, Darcy made his way to Elizabeth’s London relatives. She had given him her uncle’s business and home address. Darcy considered calling on Mr. Gardiner at his work, but he decided not to take the coward’s way out and made for Gracechurch Street where he knew Jane Bennet was still in residence.
The house itself appeared large from the street. A servant answered the door and when Darcy was asked to step inside, he noted how the interior décor suggested a prosperous owner. The manservant disappeared with Darcy’s card and was gone for several minutes before he returned and asked Darcy to follow him. As he walked behind the Gardiner’s man, Darcy felt a rush of anxiety. He had no idea what was awaiting him and he hoped it was better than he feared.
A door was opened and he was announced. Jane Bennet stood next to a woman perhaps ten years her senior, dressed very fashionably. Miss Bennet smiled the same smile he had always seen from her, but then her gaze was directed behind him, as if expecting another person. Her smile faltered for a moment when she must have realized he was alone, but in the next moment her face showed no betrayal of her emotional state. It was all so very subtle, but Darcy, a keen observer when he chose to be, caught the moment. He would have much to think on later when he was alone.
Showing her good manners, Miss Bennet immediately made the introductions.
“Aunt, this is Mr. Darcy. We met when last autumn in Hertfordshire when he was one of the party who came to Netherfield. Mr. Darcy may I introduce my aunt, Mrs. Gardiner?”
When all of the necessities of the introductions were over, Mrs. Gardiner ordered tea as the three sat down.
“Thank you for receiving me.”
“You are welcome, sir.”
“I come on behalf of Miss Elizabeth. I have been visiting my aunt and cousin at Rosings these past several weeks and was in often in the company of the Hunsford party. When my aunt, Lady Catherine deBourgh, learned that Miss Elizabeth and Miss Collins were to travel to London via the post, she offered her carriage instead and would not take no for an answer. Miss Elizabeth, after she accepted, said she needed to inform you of the change since your husband was to send a manservant to meet them. Since I had business in Town, I offered to tell you in person, and to make any needed arrangements.”
“Elizabeth was correct; a letter would have sufficed, but I thank you anyway for relaying the message.”
“It was my honor to assist them, madam. You can rest easy that my men will see your niece here safely.”
“I thought you said Lady Catherine was sending them in her rig?”
“Yes, well, depending on several circumstances which I am not at liberty to divulge, female members of my family may be returning to Town that day and if so, Miss Elizabeth and Miss Lucas will join them. Whomever is in the traveling party, you can be assured that all proprieties will be observed and your niece and her friend will enjoy the protection and comfort I insist for my own family.”
The tea things came then. There was a lull in conversation while Mrs. Gardiner served the tea. She initiated the conversation again when she was finished.
“Do you remain in Town long, sir?”
“No, no. I return to Kent on Thursday.”
“Ah, so that is why you said your carriage might be used to return Lizzy to us. I was a bit confused how you would be involved if you were in London.”
“I apologize for my lack of clarity. I return on Thursday but I do not know how long I am to remain. My sister may be traveling with me, but as of yet, that is undecided.”
That subject seemed to come to an end. Fortunately, Mrs. Gardiner was well versed in the art of small talk.
“It may come as a surprise, but I have visited your estate before, Mr. Darcy. I spent many years of my youth in Lambton.”
“Lampton is but five miles from Pemberley!”
“Indeed. And Derbyshire is my favorite county.”
“You shall have no argument from me, madam. Pray, tell me how you came to live there?”
“My father practiced law there, for a time. He assisted Mr. Jackson when he became ill.”
“I remember my father mentioning something about that.”
“Yes, they knew each other from London, and when the letter came from Mr. Jackson asking for my father’s assistance, he took us with him. We stayed much longer than my father ever dreamed, but I was happy for it. Afterwards my father returned to Town. I met my husband here. He had been expected to follow his father into the law, but my father was kind enough to point Mr. Gardiner into a more suitable career in business.”
“It appears he has done well.”
“Thankfully, he has.”
Darcy turned to the other lady. “Have you been long on London, Miss Bennet?”
“I have spent most of the winter here, sir.”
“Will you return to Hertfordshire with your sister? Miss Elizabeth said her father wishes her home.”
“Yes, I will. I have been away from home for many months now and I am ready to return to my mother and sisters. As much as I have enjoyed spending time with my cousins and my aunt and uncle, I miss Longbourn.”
“As one who prefers the country myself, I understand the desire for the comforts of home.” Darcy finished his last bit of tea and rose. “I thank you for receiving me. If you should ever find yourself in Lambton again, I would hope you would have time to come to Pemberley, Mrs. Gardiner.”
“Thank you, sir. Pemberley is not to be missed, if one can help it.” The ladies stood and fare-welled their unexpected guest.
Back in his carriage, Darcy rapped the roof to signal his coachman that he was ready to depart. Soon the familiar cadence of wheels and hooves over cobblestone overtook the other sounds of the city. In the swaying cabin, Darcy reviewed his visit. At least in Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth had one relative she would not be ashamed to claim. And surely such a refined woman could not be married to an unrefined man, if their residence was any indication of his worth. Such wealth could only be amassed by a man who knew his way in the world.
As for Miss Bennet, she seemed as serene as always, except for the first moments of his arrival. She did not ask after the Bingleys, which could have meant Bingley truly meant little to her. But if she had asked, Darcy knew himself well enough to know he would have viewed it as evidence that she was a bit too obvious in her preference to Bingley.
“You cannot have it both ways, old man,” he said aloud to himself, since no one was there to listen. No, he would have to credit her lack of obvious curiosity to her good manners. She had hoped he had not come alone, her gaze over his shoulder had given that away. He would need to speak to Elizabeth about it when he returned to Kent. He had a suspicion that his belief that Miss Bennet’s heart had not been touched was in error. This realization did not sit well with him and he wondered what other offenses Elizabeth had against him if she did not recognize his interest in her before his near proposal.
That Sunday after services, Lady Catherine extended an invitation to the Collins’s and their guest to dine at Rosings the next day. Elizabeth watched her with great fascination. She could not identify what had changed, but somehow the great lady was different.
After the party had returned to the parsonage from church they ate a light repast and Charlotte invited Elizabeth to join her in the garden. Elizabeth knew her friend would demand an explanation.\
“Sally said that you received to visitors the other night while we were away at Rosings. I was very surprised to hear of it, since you said nothing.”
“Mr. Darcy did stop by to inquire after my health and Lady Catherine came a few minutes later to express her concerns.”
“You should not have been alone with him. Mr. Collins has voiced his displeasure to me when he heard.”
“Charlotte, nothing untoward happened! If you ask Lady Catherine, she can tell you were on opposite sides of the room when she arrived. I can also tell you that to hear any hint of gossip maligning her nephew would displease her greatly. Please, assure my cousin of the innocence of the visits and implore your servants to not spread any falsehoods about that night.”
“I will, but you still have not said why they called. It is all so highly irregular.”
“They came to inquire after me. Once I assured them I was well, I only had a headache; they were satisfied and took their leave.”
“Is that all? I ask in case my husband demands it of you.”
“It is a private matter, Charlotte, and I cannot break confidences. I was asked my opinion on a matter and I gave it. I can say no more. If that is not enough for Mr. Collins, then by all means, he can speak to her ladyship himself, though I doubt Mr. Darcy or Lady Catherine will be pleased that anyone is delving into a private matter.”
“Very well; I will tell my husband what you said and I will speak again to the servants, reminding them of the consequences of incurring our noble patroness’s ire.”