Mr and Mrs Bennet remained in Town for three days after the opening of the shop. One of the days, the couple went to a nearby park. Taking a seat on a bench, Thomas decided he needed to speak with his wife.
“Fanny, with all that has happened at Longbourn this past two years, I was wondering if we should continue to keep the estate.”
“But Thomas, it is your ancestral home. How could you consider leaving it? What would we do?” Mrs Bennet was worried.
“We could sell the estate. Since we learned of the death of my cousin, Mr Collins, and we have no sons of our own, there is no one to pass the estate to when I am gone. The estate would be lost then, returned to the crown to be given to someone else. Since our girls cannot inherit, due to the entailment, why should we continue building the up the estate? We could sell the estate and buy a house in Town. You would be closer to your brother and his family, which I know you would like, and we would be closer to Lizzy and Jane. I know you have been missing the girls since them came to Town, and it would be nice to be near them.”
“How long have you been thinking of this move, Thomas?” Mrs Bennet asked.
“Near a month. I have had an offer for the estate. Mr Charles Bingley approached me with an offer. He had been interested in Netherfield Park, but the damage it sustained from the fire has left it uninhabitable for some time to come. He seems to like the neighborhood, even after all the devastation. And the sum he is offering is far better than we would be able to achieve during the remainder of my life. From what I understand, he is planning to raise sheep and horses, so much of the estate would be utilized for the animals rather than crops.”
“Perhaps we should speak with Lizzy and Jane before we make a decision. It would be strange to move to Town, but I would like being closer to our girls and my brother. What area of Town would we be able to purchase a house?”
“I was thinking we could find a house within a few miles of the shop. Perhaps somewhere between the Gardiners and the shop, so we would be close to both. As a matter of fact, I heard of a townhouse, only a mile from here, which requires some repairs, and could be acquired for a reasonable price. It has eight bedchambers, a formal dining room, a breakfast room, a music room, a drawing room and two sitting rooms. And, most importantly, a large library and study for myself. If we have a little assistance, we should have the house livable in no time.”
Fanny was well aware of the sort of assistance her husband spoke of. “Well, you have seriously planned this discussion. Were you planning to show the house to me before purchasing it?”
Thomas Bennet chuckled. “Of course, my dearest. I believe you will like the house. And our eldest daughters will be thrilled when they know there is a conservatory connected to the house, with a small garden area surrounding it.”
“My, my. A music room for Mary, gardens and conservatory for Lizzy and Jane, we could turn one of the rooms into an art studio for Kitty, and another room into a sewing room for Lydia. The library for you and space for me to set up to my own preferences. Would we bring our servants from Longbourn? I cannot imagine leaving Mr and Mrs Hill, and Mrs Josephson behind.”
“Not only the Hills and Mrs Josephson, but Sally, Fred, and Maggie. I am certain they would all wish to come with us. We can hire someone to tend the animals in the mews, as I am sure that Mr Lodge would not wish to move, with his family living near Meryton. He may have someone he might recommend to us.”
Mrs Bennet leaned into her husband, as he wrapped his arm about her shoulders. “It will be a huge change for our family, Thomas.”
“I know dearest, but does that mean the change is not a good one?”
He was rewarded with a smile from his wife. “My dear husband, any adventure with you is well worth the journey.”
~~ ** ~~
The dinner with their daughters that evening had a unique conversation. Knowing how isolated the younger sisters were, due to hiding Elizabeth’s gift, and the damage to the estate and the neighborhood surrounding Meryton, Elizabeth and Jane found the idea of their family giving up the estate and moving to Town to be a pleasant one.
“Our sisters could make friends, now that I live separately, and Mamma, you would love spending time with Aunt Helen. Papa, your book room at Longbourn has been so cramped for so long, to have a large library would be wonderful.” Elizabeth said. “Though, it could cause a problem with Mamma being able to pry you from the library. Perhaps you could set up your bedchamber in there.”
Mr Bennet laughed, as his wife shook her head. “Please, Lizzy, do not give your father ideas. It is difficult enough to get him to leave the book room now.”
“So, Jane, what is your opinion?” Mr Bennet asked as he chuckled.
“I like the idea of you being close, and that you will not be struggling at Longbourn. I know it will be difficult to restore all the farms, and if Mr Bingley prefers to raise sheep and horses there, then it would be a perfect solution. Will there be funds to invest after the purchase of a house?”
Mr Bennet looked at his wife before he spoke. “There would be a considerable amount left. With Lizzy assisting me in making the repairs to the house, we would be saving a tremendous amount. I would have enough to purchase this building as well.”
The words took a moment to sink in, before the sisters responded. “Then we could pay you the rent, which would give you a monthly income. But it would not be enough, would it?” Jane asked.
“Your uncle has several other investment opportunities which would allow us to build up our income. We would save enough to allow us to live comfortably, and then with the rent from here, and any interest from investments, I believe we will be able to set aside money for you girls.” Mr Bennet stated.
“I do not require any money set aside for me, Papa.” Elizabeth said. “I do not plan to marry, and do not require a dowry. Whatever funds you would put aside for me, I would ask they be used for Jane.”
“Lizzy that is silly. You have just as much chance at marrying someone as I do.” Jane argued.
~~ ** ~~
Fitzwilliam Darcy was riding his favorite stallion across the land of his estate, Pemberley, in Derbyshire. He had been master of the estate for nearly five years, having taken control of it when his father died. Darcy’s mother had died ten years before his father, when his sister was a baby, leaving Darcy to become more of a father than a brother and guardian to his much younger sister. He shared custody of Georgiana with his cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, who was the second son of Lord and Lady Matlock. Richard was in France, battling Napoleon’s army.
Darcy was highly respected by his tenants and servants, and well-spoke of by his neighbors and friends. He treated his tenants and staff well, realizing that they were the reason he led a comfortable life.
Though he had few close friends, Darcy was sought after by many. Between his business sense, his wealth, and his rank in society, many wished to be close to the man for personal gain. This was one of the reasons Darcy disliked society. He felt that few accepted him for himself, not his wealth or status, not as a suitable husband for their unmarried daughters or nieces. Every dinner or ball he was invited to, Darcy kept to himself, near the back of any room, avoiding any possible compromising situations. Dancing was avoided, as he did not wish to give any young lady the slightest notice.
But he did have two close friends, his cousin Richard, and Charles Bingley. Darcy had met Bingley when at the university. The two were complete opposites, with Bingley being charismatic and friendly with everyone. The Bingley family wealth had come from trade, which made the family new money, and society frowned on such people in the upper circles. Bingley’s father had wished to become a member of the landed gentry, but his death when his son was still young, left the purchase of an estate for Bingley. Fortunately, Bingley had his close friend to give him advice on what to look for in an estate.
Darcy had received a letter from Bingley, stating he had found the perfect estate to purchase. He wished to have Darcy look at the property before making a final offer to the owner, for Bingley was nervous at the thought of making such a large step. Darcy informed his friend that he would be in London in a fortnight, and they could make arrangements to visit the estate afterwards.
Bingley’s love of horses had been clear from the day they had met. The desire to raise horses was not a surprise. The sheep Bingley wished to raise would come from Ireland, and would make Bingley a tidy profit from the wool and meat. Bingley had already made arrangements to have the sheep brought from Ireland, and was making plans to purchase some fine horse stock to add to his existing herd.
“Mr Darcy, forgive me for being delayed.” The Pemberley steward approached. “Shall we look at the tenant cottages now?”
“Yes, Folsom, let us take a look. I wish to have all the work finished so I may return to London in a fortnight. My sister’s birthday is fast approaching and I wish to make arrangements to celebrate with her.”
~~ ** ~~
Lady Matlock was pleased to her niece practicing the pianoforte with a confidence Georgiana had rarely shown before. Though Georgiana was an excellent musician, her natural shyness did not allow her to show the emotions which would make her playing spectacular.
Since the day of the grand opening of the Bennet Sisters Boutique, Georgiana had a different attitude. It was clear to see the girl was pleased with meeting the owners of the shop, especially Miss Elizabeth. Lady Matlock was pleased with what she had seen in the young lady, especially her genuinely kind manners. It was clear to see the young lady was knowledgeable on many topics, but her passion for what she and her sister made was obvious.
The fact that the young ladies knew the benefits to the herbs and flowers they used in their products was surprising. She had expected them to give some sort of information claiming the products would cause the user to look younger and other such nonsense, such as traveling salesmen would use to convince people to purchase their wares. Elizabeth Bennet was able to tell of the true benefits of each product, from the calming effect of lavender, to the ability to assist people with breathing difficulties using honey. Lady Matlock had spoken to her local apothecary the following day of what Elizabeth had told her of the ingredients, and the apothecary was quite impressed with such knowledge in a girl so young.
“Georgiana, your practicing is growing stronger every day. I am so pleased with you.”
“Thank you, Aunt Rebecca.” Georgiana replied. “I have felt different these past few days, and I believe it shows in my music.”
“You are correct, my dear. Your brother will be pleased to hear you play. When is he to arrive?”
“The end of next week. He plans to take me to the opera on Friday next.” Georgiana smiled, thinking of attending the performance.
“Very good. I know he has missed you, as he is always loathed to be apart from you.” Lady Matlock stated. “I was thinking of inviting some young ladies to tea on Saturday. What would you think of our entertaining?”
A change came over Georgiana. “It is your home, Aunt, and there would be no need for me to be consulted on such matters.” She was becoming withdrawn at the thought of who her aunt might invite.
“I was hoping you would be of assistance to me, as I wished to invite the Misses Bennet to join us. I was impressed with their shop and their manners, and thought you had come to like them as well.”
Georgiana’s eyes lit up. “Oh, yes, I do like them. Especially Miss Elizabeth. She is so nice, and intelligent. I would love to know the young ladies better.”
“Very well. I will send an invitation to them. I thought that my daughter could invite some of her friends as well, so we could introduce Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth to more potential clients.”
“That is a wonderful idea, Aunt Rebecca. I would like to see the shop be successful. They are such kind ladies, and they are working hard to help their family.”
“What do you know of their situation?” Lady Matlock inquired.
“I know that their father’s estate is in Hertfordshire, and the entire neighborhood around the estate had suffered tremendously from drought last year. There were so much lost, between the crops and some fires at their neighboring estates. Mr Bennet did all that he could to keep his estate going, but it was due to his daughters and their uncle, Mr Gardiner, that the family did not lose everything. Mr Gardiner was the one who suggested the shop, as he was certain the sisters would be successful.”
“What of their family estate? What will become of it? Will the family be able to recover from the loss during the drought?”
“I am not certain, Aunt. I did not think it would be proper for me to ask such, and what I had learned was told to me freely. Miss Elizabeth stated that she and her sisters were born gentlewomen, but circumstances deemed their employment necessary.”
“Well, I would like to know more about the young ladies. I know they are technically in trade now, but they are, as you said, gentlewomen by birth.”
~~ ** ~~
Darcy smiled as he read his latest missive from his sister.
I went shopping with Aunt Rebecca and Uncle Henry yesterday. I know, that is not surprising. But the shop we went to was new and it is already my favorite shop on Bond Street.
Uncle Henry has done business with a Mr Gardiner, who owns an import warehouse. Mr Gardiner is a wonderful man, and Uncle Henry has been impressed with the quality of the items he has purchased. Well, Mr Gardiner’s nieces have been making scented soaps, bath waters, lotions, and some medicinal salves and ointments. They had sold some of the items at Mr Gardiner’s warehouse, and everyone was pleased with them. So, with Mr and Mrs Gardiner’s help, Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet have opened their own shop. The selection of items they make is superb, and the young ladies are wonderful. Their parents had come to Town for the opening day, and I enjoyed meeting them as well.
I know you will roll your eyes when you receive the bill, but I just could not choose which items to purchase, so I bought extra. I sent some items for you to try, and some to give to Mrs Reynolds and Cook. I have already given some to our staff at Darcy House. Aunt Rebecca has purchased many of their products as well, as there were so many wonderful items and scents to choose from. Our uncle even selected some items for his own toilette.
Your letter announcing your intended arrival and plans for the opera was cherished. I cannot wait to see you, and the opera will be thoroughly enjoyed. I have a new gown to wear that evening.
I had best end the letter so I can send it on its way to you. I love you and miss you terribly, William. Give my love to Mrs Reynolds and Cook, and everyone else at Pemberley.
Your sister, Georgiana
Darcy was amazed at his sister’s enthusiasm. Since her journey to Ramsgate, six months previously, she had been extremely withdrawn and melancholy. Then, with one shopping trip, she was a changed person. Remarkable was an understatement. He could not believe a shopping trip could make such a difference.
He opened the parcel which had come with the letter. Inside were several bottles, including a sandalwood and lemon lotion for after one shaved. There was a cinnamon, clove and orange lotion and bath water. Then there were bottles containing scents which were more feminine. He rang for Mrs Reynolds to come to his study.
“Yes, Master William, you asked for me?”
“Ah, Mrs Reynolds, come in. It seems my sister has found a new shop in Town and she has sent gifts for you and for Cook. I must confess, I opened the bottles and found the fragrance blends to be pleasant. She sent some for me as well.” Darcy smiled as he motioned to the open parcel on his desktop.
“Your sister loves giving to others.” Mrs Reynolds smiled. “She is such a sweet natured girl.”
“I agree with you, and have no intention to change that trait in her.” Darcy said. “So you can expect many gifts in the future.”
“I do not believe I deserve such kindness, but I am grateful for the gifts and the thought behind them. I will take the items to Cook. I am certain she, too, will enjoy them.”
Darcy was pleased to see his staff’s devotion to his sister. The main members of staff at Pemberley and Darcy House had been with the Darcy family for many years. Their loyalty and dependable service were rewarded in their living conditions and pay. Darcy held the firm belief in treating people fairly and how he would wish to be treated if he were doing the work. It was a view he had grown up with, even though it was not considered a popular view amongst the ton.
Due to the devotion of their housekeepers, cooks, butlers, and Georgiana’s maid and Darcy’s valet, the two felt the support one would expect from parents. The orphaned Darcy siblings knew Mrs Reynolds, in particular, was a motherly figure to guided Georgiana and saw to the running of Pemberley.
Thinking of the mother he had lost when Georgiana was a small child, Darcy wondered how life would have been if she had lived. Would their father still be alive? Would Georgiana have been so withdrawn from society, to the point that she was easy prey to men who were only out for her dowry? Would Darcy have lived a carefree life rather one filled with responsibilities?
Lady Anne Darcy had died due to a respiratory problem. The physician from Lambton was very old, and his remedies did nothing for Lady Anne. After giving birth to Georgiana, Lady Anne was weak. Her body was unable to recover quickly, which allowed her to take a fever. Due to the fever and the respiratory problem, Lady Anne deteriorated in a matter of days, finally dying as she was gasping for breath. She had had the breathing problem for many years, and she claimed it felt as if someone was sitting on her chest when she tried to breathe. The physician would usually have her hold her head over a pot of boiling water, allowing the steam to open her airway. But that treatment did not work in her final hours.
Gerald Darcy was devastated by his wife’s loss. He spent some months isolated from his children and relations, until one day, his then twelve year old son, insisted on speaking with Gerald.
“Father, Georgiana and I need your assistance. I cannot see to her needs, I do not know what a baby girl requires. I am too young to run the estate, and Mr Wickham said that the Rolling’s cottage roof collapsed. What should we do? Please, Father, help us.”
The young boy knelt down on the floor, folding his hands together, pleading for his father to come back to them. Seeing his son willing to humble himself to benefit his baby sister and those dependent on Pemberley for a living, Gerald Darcy realized how selfish he was being. After all, Fitzwilliam had lost his beloved mother, and Georgiana would never know Lady Anne.
That day, Gerald Darcy made a vow to his wife. He would see their children were taken care of, be the father they needed and deserved, and see to their futures by taking care of their inheritance.
But Lady Anne’s preferences and tastes were still adhered to at Pemberley and Darcy House. No one had any remodeling done after her death, as she was still very much a part of both homes. Unlike her elder sister, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Lady Anne had simple tastes, preferring comfort and elegance to the ornate and garish decorations of Lady Catherine’s home of Rosings Park. There was no desire by the Darcy men to change the décor, so everything was left as Lady Anne had decorated.
Gerald Darcy survived his wife by ten years. By then, Fitzwilliam was an adult and was able to take up the reins. The last two years of his life, Gerald was instructing his son on running the estate and making investments. When Gerald finally rejoined his beloved Anne, he was certain his son could manage on his own.
Fortunately, Lord Matlock was close to Gerald, and would watch over Fitzwilliam. Whenever Fitzwilliam was at a loss, he knew he could speak with his aunt and uncle.
The steward for Pemberley when Gerald was alive was Peter Wickham. The man had taken tremendous care of the estate, though he only survived a year after Gerald Darcy had died. The search for a new steward was difficult, and Lord Matlock had assisted Darcy in finding the man who filled Wickham’s position. Marcus Whittier was intelligent, practical, and honest in his duties. He was married, and blessed with three sons. The sons were being raised to work at Pemberley, one as an undergardener, one was being trained as a footman, and the final one was learning from their father, to one day take a position as a steward.
Darcy found himself drifting off to sleep as he dreamed of his mother, and the last picnic he shared with her in the gardens of Pemberley.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
“Lady Matlock, your invitation is generous.” Elizabeth Bennet stated. “Unfortunately, my sister and I will be working. The store is open on Saturdays.”
“Lizzy, I will be fine here without you. You should go.” Jane said, encouraging her sister. “Hannah is here, if I require assistance. And I am certain our aunt would be kind enough to come, if I were to ask.”
“It is not fair to you Jane.” Elizabeth did not wish to leave her sister alone. “We were busy last Saturday.”
“As I said, Aunt Helen would most likely be able to assist, and I know Hannah is willing to come down to aid in the shop.” Jane turned her attention to Lady Matlock. “My sister will be honored to join you for tea on Saturday.”
Lady Matlock chuckled at the sisters. “Very well. But I believe in being fair, so the following Saturday, Miss Bennet is invited to join us, while Miss Elizabeth tends the shop. Will that satisfy both of you?”
Elizabeth smiled. “Indeed, Lady Matlock. That is very kind of you to find such a solution. And I believe I can speak for my sister when I say we are grateful for your support in our business. Your endorsement of our products to your friends is most likely the reason we have been so busy since opening.”
“Next week we will begin making more stock, as we are beginning to run low. It will be a new experience in making everything here, rather than in the sunroom at Longbourn. We have more room here, and our uncle made certain we had everything set to our specifications, so we have counters and tubs, and cooking stoves, bottling area and such.” Jane described the processing room with enthusiasm.
Lady Matlock was intrigued. “Would you mind if I were to bring Georgiana here to watch you as you work your magic? I think it would be interesting to watch the two of you at work.”
Hearing the word “magic” made Elizabeth’s heart skip a beat, until she realized the lady was speaking of their talents with herbs and flowers in making their products. “I cannot see why there would be a problem. Not that it is impressive as we are making everything, but you are welcome to come by whenever you wish.”
“My nephew will be returning to Town the end of next week. Georgiana will need something to keep her mind off her being anxious for his return, and she will learn more of what goes into making such wonderful products. We will set a day next week when we would be able to come to watch.”
“Thank you, lady Matlock.” Elizabeth said. “Now, if you do not mind, I promised to meet with our uncle by one this afternoon, as he has a supplier he wished for me to meet with. The man sells bottles and jars, and I wished to speak with him. Jane, I will return before five. Lady Matlock, I will see you on Saturday.”
“How are you traveling to your uncle’s warehouse?” Lady Matlock asked.
“I walk. It is not too far, and the exercise does me good.” Elizabeth said.
“Goodness, I can give you a ride in my carriage. There is no need for you to walk so far, and then have to walk back after your meeting.”
Elizabeth finally agreed to the conveyance in the Matlock carriage. On her arrival at her uncle’s warehouse, Elizabeth was informed she could find him in his office.
“Uncle Edwin, I was given a ride, so I arrived early.” Elizabeth said as she entered the office. She had not noticed a young man sitting in the back of the room, reading through papers. “Forgive me, I will wait out in the warehouse.”
“No, Lizzy, please stay. You might be interested in this young man. Mr Charles Bingley, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Lizzy, Mr Bingley is the gentleman who is interested in purchasing Longbourn.” Mr Gardiner said.
“It is a pleasure to meet one of the Bennet sisters. I have heard much with regards to your family, and feel as if I have known you for years.” Mr Bingley stated as he rose to his feet.
“I am pleased to meet you, Mr Bingley. What brings you to my uncle’s warehouse?”
“I have been reading over the paperwork your father had drawn up. I have a friend who is coming to Town next week and we will journey to Longbourn to visit the estate. You father and mother have already returned there, if I am not mistaken.”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “Yes, my parents left two days ago for Longbourn. They are preparing to pack the family’s belongings, as they are to lease a house in Town until decisions are made of the estate. It will be pleasant to have them here, close to us.”
“As my parents are deceased, I can imagine how dearly you miss them when you are apart.” Mr Bingley said.
“Lizzy, your aunt wished me to invite you and Jane to dine with us tomorrow evening. Mr Bingley will be joining us, and I am certain he would enjoy hearing all you can tell him of the estate.” Mr Gardiner added.
“I know of no other engagements, so I will accept for Jane and myself. I need to speak with Aunt Helen, ask her if she can assist Jane at the shop on Saturday.”
Mr Gardiner was concerned. “She should be able to assist your sister. Where will you be?”
“I was invited to tea at Matlock House. Lady Matlock wishes to introduce myself and Jane to as many people as she can.”
Bingley looked surprised. “What a small world. The friend who is to journey to Longbourn with me is the nephew of Lord and Lady Matlock.”
“Would that be Mr Darcy of Pemberley?” Elizabeth asked, surprised at such a turn of events.
“Indeed. Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
“I met his sister last week. I believe she is residing at Matlock House while Mr Darcy is at his estate. Miss Darcy is a sweet girl, and I took quite a liking to her.”
“She is a sweet girl, though I must admit to being surprised you were able to speak with her. She is usually quite shy with strangers.” Bingley added.
“Lizzy can inspire anyone to come out of their shells and speak with her.” Mr Gardiner chuckled. “She is able to make people feel at ease with her.”
Elizabeth began to chuckle. “Well, I found Miss Darcy to be a wonderful young lady and I look forward to seeing her Saturday at Matlock House.”
~~ ** ~~
The Bennet sisters had arrived at the Gardiner home before Mr Bingley, the following night. When Bingley arrived, he was shown into the parlor. Mr Gardiner stood and made his way to welcoming his guest.
“Mr Bingley, it is a pleasure to have you join us this evening. You have met my wife and my niece, Elizabeth, but you have yet to meet her sister, Miss Jane Bennet. Helen and Jane, this is Mr Charles Bingley, the gentleman who is interested in purchasing Longbourn.”
Jane curtsied to Bingley, and when she lifted her eyes, she blushed. In one look, she recognized the man she had dreamed of one day marrying. All her life, Jane had always pictured the gentleman she would one day meet and marry. He was a kind man, with a quick smile and never thought ill of others, much like herself. He was also would be handsome, fair haired rather than dark, green eyes, and not too tall. Charles Bingley was average height and weight, reddish blonde hair, green eyes, and very handsome with a smile upon his lips.
Elizabeth noticed her sister’s change in behavior, as Jane could not even find words of greeting. Jane was naturally easy with everyone, yet she could not say a word. Most people would be unable to detect the difference in Jane’s behavior, as she was still smiling and demure, but Elizabeth knew something was happening.
Finally, Jane was able to find her voice. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mr Bingley. I hope you like Longbourn. My sister said that you will be visiting there soon.”
Bingley was stunned at the beautiful young lady before him. “Ah…ah…yes. My friend…we are to…when he arrives in Town. He will go… we will…to see.”
Elizabeth had a difficult time not bursting out in laughter. “Jane, his friend, Mr Darcy, will be arriving in Town the end of next week. They will then make plans to visit Longbourn.”
“Mr Darcy? Miss Darcy’s relation?” Jane looked at her sister.
“Yes. Miss Darcy’s elder brother, and nephew of Lady Matlock.” Elizabeth smiled at her sister.
“Miss Darcy is such a sweet girl. And we have been pleased to become acquainted with Lady Matlock. She has become a dedicated client of our shop.” Jane said.
“When Lady Matlock likes something, she is devoted to promoting it to her friends and family.” Bingley said, finally able to speak properly. “And, from what I have heard of your shop, your products are wonderful. I was planning to visit there soon.”
“You are welcome to visit anytime, Mr Bingley.” Jane smiled. “We are open all week, except for Sundays.”
“My nieces are hard working. They make the products themselves, run the shop, and Lizzy even handles all the bookkeeping and ordering supplies.” Mrs Gardiner stated. “We are so proud of them.”
“I can understand why.” Bingley replied. His gaze continued to return to Jane.
The maid appeared and announced that dinner was served. Mr Bingley offered his arm to Jane as they walked towards the dining room. Elizabeth followed behind her, smiling at her sister’s obvious admirer.
During the dinner, Bingley asked many questions about Longbourn. Though Elizabeth was better suited to answer the questions of the tenants, the land, the water accessibility, the potential grazing areas he could hold his sheep, the younger of the two sisters kept silent as much as she could. She wished to allow her sister to converse with Bingley, as she could see the way the young man was enthralled with Jane.
Finally, Jane knew it was best if Elizabeth answered questions. “Lizzy has worked with our father on estate matters. Papa taught my sister as he would have a son. Lizzy, perhaps you should answer Mr Bingley’s questions.”
“I am certain that Papa will be able to answer the questions when Mr Bingley journeys to Longbourn. There must be more pleasant subjects to speak of.” Elizabeth said, the desire to keep the focus of Bingley’s attention on Jane.
Bingley smiled. “Miss Bennet, Miss Elizabeth, I just remembered that I was invited to a ball on Tuesday next. Would the two of you be willing to attend with me? My sisters were also invited, but they are in Scarborough for another month. You could take their places. The ball is being held at the home of Mr Franklin Jameson. I believe you, Mr Gardiner, are acquainted with the family.”
Mr Gardiner nodded his head. “I have known Mr Jameson for many years. As a matter of fact, we received an invitation to the ball.”
“That is wonderful news.” Bingley said. “If you would be willing, I can bring my carriage to take us all to the ball.”
“There is no need for that, Mr Bingley.” Mrs Gardiner said. “If Jane and Elizabeth were to attend with us, we would need to collect them from their home.”
“I would be pleased to collect them, and we would then come here for you. My carriage is comfortable, and there is more than enough room for all of us.”
Mr and Mrs Gardiner exchanged looks before they came to a decision. Mrs Gardiner replied. “If my nieces are willing to attend, we will accept your kindness, though we will have one stipulation. You must dine with us before the ball. I know the Jameson family put on a wonderful meal during the ball, but it will be later in the evening. We could enjoy a light meal beforehand.”
Mr Bingley’s smile lit up his face. “I would be pleased to accept your stipulation.”
~~ ** ~~
Saturday, Lady Matlock sent her carriage to convey Elizabeth to Matlock House. Mrs Gardiner had arrived at the shop during the morning hours, planning to remain with her nieces even after Elizabeth returned from taking tea with Lady Matlock.
“Aunt Helen, I cannot thank you enough for your willingness to fill in for me.” Elizabeth stated for the tenth time.
Mrs Gardiner laughed. “Lizzy, as I have told you, it is a pleasure to spend some time with Jane. And I am excited to see what new products you have. Your uncle was telling me that you received some new herbs to experiment with.”
“Lizzy has been working on some recipes from Grandfather Bennet. She is attempting to improve on the effectiveness.” Jane said, a proud tinge to her voice.
“And Jane has been working on a new lotion which includes some new oils. We received some extract of jasmine, which is heavenly.” Elizabeth bragged. “Next week, we have decided to leave Hannah in the shop, while Jane and I work in the back room, mixing more product.”
“This is wonderful, as it means you are busy selling. Your uncle is proud of both of you, as am I.”
Both of the sisters smiled.
When time arrived, and the carriage pulled up in front of the shop, Elizabeth donned her bonnet and pelisse, and left the shop.
She was surprised to see how many people were at Matlock House when she arrived. Giving her bonnet and pelisse to the footman, Elizabeth was escorted to the drawing room, where Lady Matlock was entertaining a dozen ladies.
“Ah, here she is. Miss Elizabeth Bennet, welcome. Allow me to introduce you to some of my friends.” Lady Matlock stood and crossed the room, taking Elizabeth’s hand. “Ladies, this is my friend, Miss Elizabeth Bennet, of the Bennet Sisters Boutique. If you have not visited the Boutique, you are missing quite an amazing shop. Miss Elizabeth and her sister make all their products. I have quite fallen in love with their bath waters and lotions. And our cook now keeps Miss Elizabeth’s salves and ointments on hand for illness and injuries.”
An elderly woman approached them. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Elizabeth. I am Lady Diana Montford. My daughter brought some of your lotion to me, and I am thoroughly pleased with it. My skin is always so dry when I am in Town. The lotion has made my skin smooth and soft. And the scent is wonderful. You and your sister actually make the items yourselves?”
Elizabeth nodded her head. “I am pleased to see you are enjoying the lotion. My sister is responsible for the toilette products, while I am the one who creates the medical items. We come from a family which has a long history of using nature’s bounty to bring comfort and care to themselves and others.”
“Splendid.” Said another lady, near Lady Matlock’s age. “I am Mrs Emily Josephson. I look forward to visiting your shop. It is on Bond Street, is it not?”
“It is. Next to Mr Billingham’s book shop. One of my favorite locations when I take a few moments from the Boutique.” Elizabeth confided. “My sister always knows where to find me, as she knows of my thirst for reading.”
“Ah, an intelligent young lady.” Lady Montford stated. “It pleases me to see young ladies using their minds, not just their beauty and wiles to catch a husband. Young ladies should use their minds to improve the world. I told my daughter just the other day that she should encourage my granddaughters to read more.”
“It would be hard to keep me from reading, whenever I have some spare time. Usually, in the evening, my sister and I spend time in the parlor together. I am usually reading, while my sister is usually embroidering.”
The rest of the visit went by pleasantly. Elizabeth spoke of learning from her grandfather which herbs were beneficial for healing. Her father’s father was far more magical than Thomas Bennet, though that was not something Elizabeth could state to anyone. By the end of the visit, the other guests were thrilled with learning more from the young lady, and promised they would be visiting the shop in the near future.
~~ ** ~~
Tuesday morning, Charles Bingley was shown into the study of his closest friend.
“Darcy, I did not expect you until the end of the week. You cannot imagine how surprised I was to receive your message.”
“Everything was resolved quicker than expected at Pemberley, so I decided to return to Town sooner. I wish to finish things so I can spend time with Georgiana next week, as she turns sixteen.”
“Your aunt invited me to a dinner she is having in honor of your sister’s birthday. And do not fear, I can see from the look in your eyes you are panicked. Your aunt only invited me as she knows we are close friends. Other than me, all the other people at the dinner will be family.” Bingley smiled. “Your aunt knows I think of Miss Darcy as a little sister.”
“I admit, I was concerned for a moment. Georgiana is not even out in society.”
“I know. Now, when do you wish to make the trip to Hertfordshire?”
“We could go tomorrow. If we ride out by sunrise, it will give us time enough to journey there, speak with the owner and steward, look around the estate, and return by supper.” Darcy stated.
“Well, I am not certain how awake I will be in the morning. I am attending the Jameson ball tonight. And, as I am escorting the Gardiners and their nieces, I cannot change my plans.”
“Gardiners, where have I heard their name before?” Darcy asked.
Bingley smiled. “Mr Gardiner is the brother in law of Mr Bennet, the current owner of Longbourn. It is the two eldest Bennet sisters who are attending the ball tonight. The eldest…well, let me state that she is an angel.”
“Good God, Bingley, not again. You always believe yourself falling in love after a brief encounter.”
“Darcy, wait until you meet Miss Bennet. She is amazing. Beautiful, intelligent, the sweetest nature I have ever known. And did I say she is beautiful? The most beautiful young lady I have ever met. She is truly an angel.” Bingley’s eyes glazed over as he spoke of Jane Bennet.
“Bennet, I know I have heard of a Miss Bennet recently.”
“Of course you would. Lady Matlock is very fond of the young ladies, and has taken your sister to visit their shop.”
“Bennet Sisters Boutique? Georgiana sent me some of their products. And my aunt is fond of the young ladies?” Darcy was surprised.
“She held a tea for Miss Elizabeth on Saturday. From what I have heard, Miss Elizabeth was well accepted by Lady Matlock’s friends.”
“I will have to speak with my aunt. The Bennet sisters are in trade, far beneath our family in society.” Darcy declared.
“There is no reason to think poorly of them, Darcy. They are both fine young ladies. And they were born gentlewomen.” Bingley was frustrated with his friend’s behavior. “You should join us this evening. I am sure you were invited to the Jameson ball, and if you were not, I am certain they will overlook your joining us. I believe Mr and Mrs Gardiner had been informed to bring their nieces, and I was supposed to bring my sisters and Hurst. My sisters and Hurst are in Scarborough, so we could take you with us.”
Darcy thought for a moment. “Why would the Jamesons invite a family in trade?”
“Mr Jameson has done a lot of business with Mr Gardiner’s warehouse. They have become friends over the years, and Jameson has no difficulty with Mr Gardiner being in trade.” Bingley stated. “Much like you having no difficulty in accepting me, though my father was in trade.”
This statement surprised Darcy. He knew the Bingley family wealth was from their mills in Scarborough, but Charles had not worked in the mills. When Walter Bingley died, his brother took over the day to day business. It was in the entire family’s best interest for Charles to become a member of the landed gentry, as it would improve the social standing of the Bingley family.
“Forgive me, Bingley. I did not mean to insult you or your family.”
Bingley looked at his friend, his frustration dissipating. “Sometimes I believe you forget where I come from. I was not born to your social circle. But we are friends, are we not?”
“We are, Bingley. And a better friend I could never find. So, you are escorting the Gardiners and the Bennet sisters tonight. Perhaps I will join you and meet these family members of Mr Bennet of Longbourn.”