It was decided that the men would take two carriages to escort the Gardiners and their nieces. Bingley would ride with the sisters in his carriage, while Darcy would travel with the Gardiners in his. Bingley had sent word to the Gardiner home, informing them of the change in plans, and an invitation to dine with the family before the ball was sent to Darcy.
The men arrived at Bennet Sisters Boutique just as Jane was coming down the stairs in the back. Hannah unlocked the front door, allowing the men to enter.
“You are a few minutes early, Mr Bingley.” Jane said as she looked at the clock, mounted on the wall.
“I am, Miss Bennet. With such delight as knowing I would be in your company this evening, I could not stay away any longer.” He took hold of her hand and bowed over it. After Jane curtsied, Bingley turned her attention to his friend. “Miss Bennet, I would like to introduce you to my dearest friend, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley. Darcy, this is Miss Jane Bennet, owner of this very shop.”
Jane curtsied to Darcy. “We have heard much about you, Mr Darcy. Your aunt has been extremely supportive in her patronage. And your sister is delightful. My sister and Miss Darcy have become fast friends.”
Darcy bowed. “My thanks to you for the compliment. I adore my sister and it pleases me to hear others speak so highly of her. And Lady Matlock is extremely supportive, when she feels the person to be worthy. This tells me a great deal of you and your sister.”
Just then, the sound of footsteps, hurrying down the stairs, was heard. When a beautiful young lady came around the end of one of the walls, Darcy’s heart nearly stopped. He was amazed at the young lady who had just joined them.
“Lizzy, Mr Bingley arrived a bit early. Are you ready to leave?” Jane asked her sister.
“I am. But it appears we have an addition to our group.” Elizabeth smiled.
Bingley stepped forward. “Miss Elizabeth, this is Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
“Ah, the infamous Mr Darcy of Pemberley. I thought you were not due to be in Town until the end of the week.”
Darcy frowned. How could the young lady know what was his itinerary? “Originally, I planned to be here on the Friday. But the situation at Pemberley was not as severe as I had thought, so I was able to return early. How did you know my plans?”
“Your sister and Lady Matlock told me Saturday, when I took tea with them at Matlock House. Your sister is quite proud of you, Mr Darcy. I am pleased to finally meet such a paragon of virtue, as she has described to me.”
A blush crept over Darcy’s cheeks. “I am not a paragon of virtue, Miss Bennet. Believe me, I am being idolized by a naïve younger sister. She has little contact with other men.”
Elizabeth chuckled. “Sir, I believe she would think the same even if she knew every man in the world. She has you on a pretty tall pedestal.”
“Well, shall we be off?” Bingley asked, seeing his friend was embarrassed.
The ladies nodded their heads and everyone was soon outside the shop, with Hannah locking the door behind them.
~~ ** ~~
Everyone enjoyed a delicious repast at the home of the Gardiner family. Darcy was impressed with the fashionable townhouse, surprised to see such a quality home in Cheapside. The men and women loaded into the carriages to make the journey to the home of the Jameson family.
When the carriages came to a halt, Darcy and Bingley jumped down from their carriage, handing the ladies down. Bingley offered his arm to Miss Bennet, while Mr Gardiner offered his arm to his wife. Darcy looked uncomfortable at first, but finally offered his arm to Elizabeth, who took hold of it lightly. Darcy was certain that Elizabeth could hear his rapid heartbeat from being so near her.
Their hosts were standing in the foyer of the elaborate house. Mr and Mrs Gardiner went first, introducing their nieces to the Jameson family. Mrs Jameson smiled and welcomed the young ladies.
“Your aunt informed me of what beautiful young ladies you are, though she understated her praise. You are both very beautiful. And talented, from what I have heard recently.”
Jane blushed. “Thank you for the compliment, Ma’am. And thank you for inviting us to attend.”
Mr Jameson recognized Darcy. “My dear boy, it has been an age since we have seen you at any gathering. What an honor for you to be here.”
Again, Elizabeth watched as Darcy turned red. The younger Jameson son moved towards Elizabeth.
“Miss Elizabeth, as we are both the younger sibling, I was hoping you were not engaged for the first set. Would you do me the honor?”
With a smile, Elizabeth nodded her head. “As I am not engaged, it would be a pleasure to dance with you, Master Geoffrey.”
“And you, Miss Bennet, may I have the pleasure of the second set with you?”
Jane agreed and the group moved further into the house. Bingley had already asked Jane for the first set, which would leave Darcy alone. Normally, Darcy would not mind this, as he was not fond of dancing. At most balls, Darcy would be found skulking around the exterior of the ball room. With all the matchmaking mammas and their daughters looking for a suitable husband, Darcy did not wish to give rise to any expectations of any of the ladies.
But Darcy found himself disappointed. Hearing Elizabeth accepting dance sets with other men was difficult. And this was confusing, as they had barely met an hour before. There was something about Miss Elizabeth Bennet which had stirred his heart. He had never felt such feelings in his life. The sparkle in her brown eyes captured his heart, nearly making him gasp each time he saw them. Her voice held a musical quality to it, making Darcy feel light.
Seeing the looks Elizabeth was receiving from other young men, Darcy decided it was best for him to strike while he could. “Miss Elizabeth, I pray you will honor me with a set tonight.”
“As I have only promised dances to Master Geoffrey, my uncle and Mr Bingley, I believe there is plenty of room on my dance card to squeeze you in.” Elizabeth smiled.
“Then I would request the dinner set. And, if I might be so bold, might I have the final set of the evening?” Darcy asked. This was the first time in his life he had ever asked a young lady, outside his family, for more than one dance. His mind could not comprehend what caused him to ask for the one set, let alone a second of this young lady.
Elizabeth was surprised. “Y…y…yes, Mr Darcy, I can promise those sets to you.”
“Good. Oh, there is my cousin. If you would excuse me, I should speak with him.” Darcy did not wait for a response from Elizabeth, before he walked away.
“My, did I do something wrong?” Elizabeth asked.
Bingley was shocked at his friend’s behavior. “No, Miss Elizabeth. My friend is extremely shy. He rarely dances, for fear of encouraging the matchmakers in believing they have a chance. For Darcy to ask for a set is amazing, but I nearly had to sit after hearing him ask for a second set in the same night.”
“Should I turn him down? I would not wish to cause Mr Darcy any difficulties.”
“He asked you for the sets, Miss Elizabeth. If you have no objections to dancing with him, then dance. He is a fine gentleman, one of the best men I have ever known.”
Elizabeth was confused. “Very well. Oh, it sounds as if the musicians are warming up. Shall we make our way into the ball room?”
~~ ** ~~
Geoffrey Jameson collected Elizabeth for the first set, leading her to the dance floor. They were followed by Bingley, Jane, and the Gardiners. The first dance began, and Elizabeth was pleased at being led about the floor, twirling and swaying to the music.
Across the room, Darcy watched every move Elizabeth made. Every smile, every twinkle in her eyes, every musical note which flowed from her voice, were all combining to make Darcy extremely jealous.
Viscount Landry, Anthony Fitzwilliam, eldest son and heir to Lord and Lady Matlock, approached his cousin. “Darcy, I heard you had returned to Town earlier than expected, though I am surprised to see you here tonight. I would have thought a ball would be the last place you would be found.”
“Bingley talked me into attending. We are going to Hertfordshire the day after tomorrow, to inspect an estate he is interested in. He escorted the two eldest daughters of the gentleman who owns the estate, and their aunt and uncle.”
“Ah, the infamous Bennet sisters. I have heard much about them, as my mother and Georgiana are extremely fond of the young ladies. According to my sister, our mother thinks Miss Bennet would be a perfect wife for me.” Viscount Landry stated. “Which one is which?”
“The blonde dancing with Bingley is the eldest, Miss Bennet. The one dancing with Geoffrey Jameson is Miss Elizabeth, the second eldest.” Darcy continued to watch Elizabeth’s elegant performance on the dance floor.
“The blonde is incredibly beautiful, but I am drawn to the other one. There is something delicious about Miss Elizabeth. I will need to add my name to her dance card. Perhaps I can still secure the supper set, so I can spend more time with her.”
Darcy continued watching the dancers. “You are too late. I have already asked for the supper set.”
The viscount was surprised. “You, Darcy? You never dance unless it is family. What has happened to change your policy on not dancing with young ladies who are not related to you?”
“I decided to ask her, and she accepted my request. I came with her family and Bingley, it would look suspicious if I had not requested a dance from her.” Darcy refused to look at his cousin, and was not planning to inform Anthony of his decision to dance twice in the evening with the same lady.
“Well, I will take whatever set she gives me.” Viscount Landry smiled at the vision before him. “And I will even ask her sister for a set. My mother would be thrilled if she were here.”
“Where is your mother?” Darcy inquired, still not moving is vision away from watching Elizabeth.
“She was not feeling well tonight. As a matter of fact, she would be pleased to have me bring home some of Miss Elizabeth’s medicinal remedies.”
“Their shop is closed for the night.”
Anthony wore a rakish smirk. “My dear Darcy, I am certain Miss Elizabeth would wish to be of assistance to my beloved mother.”
“Anthony, she is not the sort of young lady you are used to dealing with. She is the daughter of a country gentleman, not a member of our society.”
“All the better, Darce. The sweet nature and naïve nature of country girls makes it simpler to win their trust. I can guarantee that, by the end of the night, Miss Elizabeth Bennet will be opening the front door of their shop and allowing me to choose anything I wish.” Anthony gave his cousin a devilish grin before he left Darcy standing near the wall.
Darcy was furious with his cousin. What is Anthony thinking? He thinks he can count Elizabeth as one of his conquests? I will not stand for his behavior, he will not harm her. If I need to, I will speak with his mother. Lady Matlock would not stand for her son to ruin a maiden such as Elizabeth Bennet. I must make certain that he does not have a chance to cause her any harm.
Then Darcy realized he was thinking of her as Elizabeth, not Miss Elizabeth. He shook his head, then decided to step outside on the terrace, for some fresh air.
~~ ** ~~
With a glass in hand, Darcy took a seat by the fireplace in his bedchamber. His thoughts continued to flow back to the events of the evening.
The supper set at the ball was delightful. He had never enjoyed a dance more. Miss Elizabeth was like no other woman he had ever known. They seemed to be made for each other, and for half an hour, he felt there was no one else in the room. But, all too soon, the set was done. Realizing the other people surrounding Darcy, he was embarrassed at the fact that the young lady had so touched him. He followed Bingley and Jane to the dining room, finding a place at one of the tables. Mr and Mrs Gardiner made their way into the room, joining their nieces.
“Mr Darcy, you are quite a dancer.” Mr Gardiner stated. “You seemed perfectly natural in your steps.”
“I have often been the partner when the dance master is teaching my sister.” Darcy said, his cheeks burning a brilliant shade of red.
“Well, your master is impressive, if your abilities are a result from his instructions.” Mrs Gardiner agreed with her husband.
“Indeed, I felt quite inadequate as his partner. It was fine to have him as a partner, as everyone was watching him, not noticing my missteps.” Elizabeth chuckled.
“Miss Elizabeth, I cannot imagine any of your steps being in err. I have watched you, and am quite impressed. Who was your dance master?” Darcy asked, attempting to change the focus of the conversation.
“Why, that would be my sister, Jane.” Elizabeth responded. “We often learned new steps together. Jane has always learned quickly, after watching a dance performed once or twice, she is expert at the steps.”
“Miss Bennet, I must applaud you.” Bingley said jovially. “What a talented woman you are.”
Jane blushed scarlet. “It is nothing, really.”
“You are a magician, to be able to have so many talents. Your products and your shop, and dancing perfection, you are indeed an angel.”
Darcy had a difficult time not shaking his head. Bingley was often believing himself to be in love, though he rarely described the young lady as an angel. He hoped that his friend would one day find someone to marry.
As the supper was coming to an end, Darcy’s cousin approached the group. “Darcy, you have not introduced me to your friends.”
A nearly silent hiss came from Darcy. “Anthony Fitzwilliam, you know my friend Bingley, and this is Mr and Mrs Gardiner of Gracechurch Street, and their nieces, Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Mr and Mrs Gardiner, Miss Bennet, and Miss Elizabeth, this is my cousin, Viscount Landry, Anthony Fitzwilliam, heir to Matlock.”
The viscount made his greeting to all at the table, before settling his attentions on the young lady sitting beside his cousin. “Miss Elizabeth, I have heard so much from my mother and Georgiana of you. It is a pleasure to finally meet you.”
Elizabeth thanked him and asked after his mother. “She was unable to attend tonight, as she was not feeling well. I wish your shop were open this evening, as I would wish to purchase something to make her well.”
“What is wrong with Lady Matlock?” Mr Gardiner asked.
“She has had an upset stomach all day.” Anthony declared.
“Well, there is no need to make a trip to our shop. I recommend some peppermint. It is wonderful in tea as well. Or you can mix some peppermint with ginger and lemon juice. The mixture works wonders.” Elizabeth stated.
Anthony was disappointed. He wanted to prove to his cousin he had a way with ladies. “I will relay this information to my mother. Now, I pray that you have a space left on your dance card for me to have a set. Perhaps the final set of the night.”
“I am afraid my card is filled for tonight, including the final set.” Elizabeth grinned at the viscount. She could tell he was a practiced rake, though she did not wish to offend Lady Matlock’s son.
“Tis my darkest hour.” Anthony said, mock sadness displayed on his face.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy remembered the looks of those surrounding them as he led Elizabeth to the dance floor for the second time in the evening. He realized that he was showing her preference, but it could not be helped. There was something which had drawn Elizabeth Bennet to him, and he did not care about anything else around him.
But once he was away from her, he could not believe his behavior. He was Fitzwilliam Darcy, Master of Pemberley, not some schoolboy who was experiencing an adolescent fixation.
And Miss Elizabeth Bennet was far beneath his notice. He could not imagine what had compelled him to act as he had. Surely, she had been born a gentlewoman, but her father was a small time country farmer, no more than a squire. And he was selling his estate. He would be a gentleman, but of no consequence. Miss Elizabeth and her sister were in trade, having lowered themselves to be beneath his society. Even though Lady Matlock supported the Bennet sisters, it was in their business she was supporting.
His family could never accept his courting someone such as Miss Elizabeth. Especially when his other aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, was adamant that he marry her daughter, Anne. Anne was not someone Darcy would ever consider marrying, for she was a spoiled, pampered young lady who never did anything for herself. She simpered and whined constantly. And she was frail, too frail to consider having a child. Darcy required an heir. He required someone who was healthy and strong, someone who could carry his heir.
The thought of a strong, healthy female body brought Darcy’s mind back to Elizabeth Bennet. She had a perfect form, and it was obvious that she was in good health. She was not too tall, with a figure which had ample curves in all the correct places. He could feel his body responding to his thoughts. Why could she not be the daughter of a peer or some wealthy land owner? Why did she have to be so far beneath me in consequences? I finally find a young lady who I am attracted to in such a way, and I cannot have her. It is not fair.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth laid on her bed, unable to sleep. Her mind continued to flow back to the ball. She had never enjoyed dancing so much as she did that evening. At functions in the neighborhood surrounding Longbourn, she had danced many times, but most of the men had not learned to dance properly or were clumsy. She could not remember the last time she had made it through a function where she had returned home without trampled toes.
The one partner she could not erase from her mind was Fitzwilliam Darcy. He was so handsome, tall, athletic build, with wavy dark hair and ice blue eyes. His eyes, so piercing, as if he could see inside her. Elizabeth had difficulty thinking when he stared into her eyes. And he was strong. When she held his arm, she could feel the muscles in his arm flex and hold her. She felt safe and secure when he was near her.
But she was certain that there was a truth universally known. A gentleman of high society does not marry someone who is incredibly beneath him, especially when the young lady was now in trade. And Elizabeth Bennet knew that she was definitely in trade.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
The shop opened at ten the following morning, as usual. Hannah had made a fresh batch of biscuits to share with the customers, as had become the normal routine of the day. They offered tea to their customers as well, in a sitting area in the corner of the shop.
Elizabeth changed the sign in the front window, announcing the shop was open for business. It was a beautiful day outside, bright sunlight streaming into the shop.
A few customers came and went in the shop, and, near midday, none other than Mr Darcy arrived. “Good day, ladies. I came to see if you had a letter or anything you wished taken to your family tomorrow.”
“It was kind of you to make such an offer last night.” Jane declared. “I have a letter for my mother, and a bottle of lotion she had asked me in her last letter to send her.”
“Very good, Miss Bennet. I will make certain nothing happens to the bottle. An you, Miss Elizabeth, do you have a letter for me to carry to your family?” Darcy asked.
“I do. If you could give me a few moments, I will go upstairs to retrieve it.”
Darcy nodded his head. “I have been looking forward to visiting the shop. My sister wrote to me, telling me how nice it is. I admit, I am pleased with what I see. It is the sort of shop which makes one feel comfortable.” Darcy walked about the room, looking at the items which were displayed. The simple elegance of the bottles, tied with ribbons, with tags describing the product, were tasteful.
The bell over the door rang, announcing someone entering the shop. A young boy, approximately ten years of age, entered the shop with a bunch of fresh flowers. “There be a Miss Elizabeth Bennet in this shop?” He asked.
“She is upstairs. Might I be of assistance?” Jane asked. “I am her sister.”
“I was told to deliver these here flowers to the lady, and nobody else.” The boy took his job seriously.
“Then I will send our maid to retrieve her. While you wait, would you like a biscuit? They are fresh made this morning.” Jane motioned to the platter with the treats on it.
The boy’s eyes were round with delight. “I thank ye, Miss. You be kind.”
Jane smiled and asked Hannah to inform her sister to come down quickly.
Shortly after, Elizabeth returned to the display room. She was surprised to see the flowers the young boy held for her. “I am Elizabeth Bennet. Might I inquire as to who sent the flowers?”
“The gent didna say. He gived me shilling to brings em here.” The boy said. “There be a note, he says.”
Darcy watched, a frown developing on his face. He did not like someone sending flowers to Elizabeth, as he felt that was inappropriate.
Opening the note, Elizabeth began to read. Her brows began to pull together, as she was apparently confused.
“Who sent the flowers, Lizzy?” Jane asked.
“I do not know. The note does not say. It only says that he finds me to be beautiful and we will meet again soon.” Elizabeth handed the note to her sister.
Darcy walked over to the sisters and asked if he could take a look at the missive. The paper was quality stock, and there was something familiar about the handwriting. Could it be Anthony playing games? I cannot believe he would be so inappropriate as to send something so personal to a young lady he only met last night.
“If you would like, I can investigate who would have sent the flowers.” He offered.
“I am certain it is not necessary, Mr Darcy. It is most likely a friend of my uncle’s, and he is teasing me. It is well known that my sister is the beauty in our family. Perhaps the flowers were meant for her rather than me.”
“It is highly inappropriate for a man to send flowers and messages to someone who is not related or attached to you. It is suspicious that he would not wish to speak openly to you. If you change your mind, I will be willing to do what I can to investigate the situation.”
Elizabeth smiled. “I thank you for your kindness, Mr Darcy, but I am well able to protect myself from harm. As I said, it may even be meant for Jane. We will use caution, though I am certain all is well.” She was confident that she could protect herself from anyone, her magic had come in handy in the past, when a pack of wild dogs had attacked her. She had been able to defend herself from the attack and send the dogs into a shack, where she locked them in, until her father could deal with them.
Darcy was still unconvinced and planned to check into the situation. If it was his cousin who was behind the flowers and the mysterious missive, he would see that Anthony stopped before any harm was done to the young lady.
~~ ** ~~
Georgian Darcy was seated in the drawing room of Matlock House, sharing some tea with her aunt. The butler entered the room, announcing, “Mr Darcy is here to see his sister.”
“William.” Georgiana said as she stood and made her way across the room. “I heard you had returned early. It is wonderful to see you.” The siblings embraced.
“How I have missed you, my little imp. It is a pleasure to hold you once again.”
“Are you here to bring me to Darcy House?” Georgiana asked.
“Not today. I was hoping our Aunt would be willing to keep you until Friday, as we had planned. I am going to Hertfordshire tomorrow with Bingley, to look at an estate.”
“Miss Elizabeth’s family estate?” The girl asked.
Darcy nodded his head. “So, you are fond of Miss Elizabeth and Miss Bennet?”
“We all are, William.” Lady Matlock replied, stepping to her nephew. After placing a kiss on his cheek, Lady Matlock stepped back. “You are too thing, Nephew. You have not been eating properly.”
With a laugh, Darcy motioned for the ladies to return to their seats. “I understand that you were not feeling well last night.”
Lady Matlock frowned. “I had an upset stomach, nothing more. How did you come to learn of it?”
“Your eldest son informed me last night. I attended the Jameson ball with Bingley, and Anthony was there.” Darcy stated.
“So you have met Miss Bennet and Miss Elizabeth?” Lady Matlock asked, her eyebrow cocked upwards.
“I have, and I even danced with them.” Darcy announced.
This caused Georgiana to nearly choke on her tea. “William, you never dance with anyone outside our family.”
Just then, footsteps were heard coming towards the drawing room. “He not only danced with both of the Bennet sisters, he danced the supper set and the final set with Miss Elizabeth.” Anthony said as he entered the room. “I was not the only person in the room who was completely amazed by my cousin’s behavior.”
Darcy blushed. “Miss Elizabeth is a kind young lady, and I enjoyed spending time with her. Bingley danced twice with Miss Bennet, but nothing is being said about his behavior.” It was clear that he was becoming embarrassed.
“Mr Bingley dances with everyone, William.” Lady Matlock said. “You, on the other hand, rarely dance with anyone. And to dance twice with one young lady, you practically declared your intentions to everyone.”
“I cannot marry someone in such low social standings, so I do not understand why you would think I am declaring myself to such a young lady as Miss Elizabeth. I like her, and enjoyed our time together. There is nothing more to say.”
“Oh ho, you have thought about her in such a manner?” Anthony asked. “This is too delicious. The great and powerful Fitzwilliam Darcy is smitten with a country gentleman’s daughter of no consequence. Wait until Richard hears of this.”
“You will tell no one, Anthony.” His mother decreed. “If you do, I will take you over my knee and tan your hide. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes, Mother, though I cannot believe you would deny me such a treasure.”
“Anthony, I was at the Bennet Sisters Boutique just now, and someone sent a bundle of flowers. The note which arrived with the flowers was not signed, and claimed to be from an admirer. The handwriting was familiar. Did you take liberties in sending such a gift and note to Miss Elizabeth?” Darcy asked, not giving anyone a chance to ask why he had been at the boutique.
“That would be highly improper, Cousin. Besides, I may flirt with the young lady, but I would never treat her ill. My mother is fond of her, as is your sister. I know where to stop my teasing. I swear to you, I had nothing to do with any flowers sent to Miss Elizabeth.” Anthony swore. Darcy could tell his cousin was being truthful.
This caused Darcy some concern. If not his cousin, who had been so improper as to send Elizabeth flowers.
Before Darcy could think more on the matter, Lady Matlock spoke. “William, I must tell you that your aunt is in Town, and she sent a summons demanding my husband attend her immediately. He has been gone for nearly two hours.”
“Why is Aunt Catherine in Town? She rarely comes.”
Lady Matlock snorted a laugh. “She felt Anne should begin having her trousseau made. Catherine is certain that you will be ready to do your duty to the family and ask Anne for her hand. Though she demands that you are engaged to Anne, she expects you to be proper and ask anyway.”
“And I believe Aunt Catherine has read today’s newspapers.” Anthony stated. “I must say, if I had not been at the ball and watched with my own eyes, I would have insisted that the report was a bald faced lie.”
Darcy frowned. “My paper was not arrived before I left the house this morning. What are you on about?”
Anthony walked over to the sideboard and picked up the newspaper. Handing it to his cousin, Anthony then walked over to take a seat in one of the chairs near his mother’s.
The Jameson ball was filled with joy and excitement, but none more so than watching Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy dancing, not only one set, but a second set, with the same unknown young lady. From the look on the young man, it is obvious that he is extremely taken with the young lady, and that she returns the sentiment. Is it possible that the most eligible gentleman in England has finally been caught?
Darcy groaned. How could it be? How could he have let his guard down so far that it was clear to everyone to see?
“So, Nephew, are you truly taken by Miss Elizabeth?” Lady Matlock had been watching Darcy as he read.
“I found her interesting, and far different from the ladies I am use to meeting. But she is in trade, which does not allow me to consider her. Even if she were not in trade, her father is no one of consequence, and she would not be accepted in our circle.”
Lady Matlock laughed. “William, I have never thought you to be such a fool, but now, I can honestly say that you are a fool of the highest circle.”
Darcy’s brows grew together, with a deep crease between them. “I do not understand you, Aunt. Are you honestly stating you would approve of someone such as Miss Elizabeth marrying into our family?”
“You only met her yesterday, and you are speaking of marriage?” Lady Matlock’s eyebrow arched. “William, Miss Elizabeth is the sort of young lady who is worthy of being loved and cherished. She knew what it would do to her chances to find a husband if she and her sister opened the boutique. But, to aid her family, who were suffering after the drought last year, she gave up on her chances to find a good match so that she could protect her family. She is intelligent, beautiful, kind, and a wonderful young lady. Whoever wins her heart will be one of the most fortunate young men in all of England. And, to answer your question, I would not find it a hardship to have Miss Elizabeth as a member of my family. As a matter of fact, if Richard were not in France, fighting in this war, I would push him towards her.”
Darcy was amazed. “But Richard is your second son. He requires marrying an heiress, for he has no inheritance.”
Lady Matlock smiled. “On the contrary, Richard and you were never informed. My uncle left Richard the small estate of Waldon Park. You are familiar with the property, I am certain.”
This was shocking. Waldon Park was located only five miles from Lambton, the village near Pemberley. “Why did you keep this news from everyone?”
“He could not take possession of the estate until he was thirty and married. He turns thirty next year. The income from the property has been accruing in the bank for him, and it will be more than enough to live comfortably. I wrote him a letter last week, informing him of his inheritance. I also informed him of Miss Elizabeth, and that he would be welcomed home to Matlock and their townhouse if he wished to resign his commission and return. We would see to him having an allowance until his birthday.”
“But…but…” Darcy could not think straight. He knew he was taken with Elizabeth Bennet, but did not know what to think of what his aunt had told him. “I need to think. Georgiana, I will return on Friday to bring you home. Aunt, I thank you for your words. You have given me much to think of. Give my uncle my regards.”
With that, Darcy turned and left the room, leaving his surprised family in his wake.
~~ ** ~~
Darcy and Bingley rode in silence to Longbourn. Bingley was concerned for his friend, as he was certain something was wrong with the young man. Though Darcy was a serious man, somber and taciturn, but he was even more withdrawn than usual during the ride.
Finally, as they stopped for the horses to rest and they entered a posting inn for refreshments, Bingley inquired of his friend’s mood. “Is there something wrong? You have not spoken since we left London.”
“Just many things to think about. I had an interesting discussion with my aunt, Lady Matlock. My other aunt was in Town as well, and I was avoiding her yesterday.”
“Why ever for?” Bingley asked.
“You have never met Lady Catherine. She is…a force unto herself. You are fortunate not to be known to her.”
“Ah, the aunt who wishes that you marry her daughter. You have told me of her. Why would you avoid her?”
Darcy shook his head. “Did you read the paper yesterday?”
“No, I was busy with my solicitor, then went to Mr Gardiner’s warehouse. I was hoping to visit the Boutique, to pay a call on Miss Bennet, but never had the time to do so. Then I ate a late supper in my rooms and went to bed.”
“There was an article in the paper which spoke of my dancing with Miss Elizabeth. Lady Matlock and my cousin, Anthony, showed the paper to me.”
“Oh.” Bingley said. “It was unique of you to dance with someone you barely knew, and then to dance a second dance with the same young lady…it was bound to cause a stir. Do you regret your decision to dance with Miss Elizabeth?”
“No, not in the least. But I wish it was not a matter for the newspapers to titter about. So I decided to dance twice with the same young lady. It should not matter to anyone outside myself and the young lady.”
Bingley laughed. “You and I should change lives. As it is clear they did not comment on my dancing twice with Miss Bennet, it is the fact that the great Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley, the richest and most eligible man in England, danced with a young lady, especially someone who was relatively unknown to society.”
“It is not funny, Bingley.” Darcy glared at his friend.
“No, it is ironic. The one man who disdains society and would prefer hiding at his estate, who is so extremely shy and dislikes parties, is the one man everyone wishes to know and become close to. You were born into the wrong life, my friend. You should have had my life.”
Darcy gave his friend an evil smile. “But then I would have inherited your sister as well. I think I would rather deal with society.”
After a few moments of laughter, the men strode out of the dining room and mounted their horses, riding off for the final miles to their destination.
~~ ** ~~
Lord Matlock entered the dining room to break his fast. “Good morning, my dearest.” He said to his wife, who was enjoying her repast.
“You were late coming home last night, Henry. I was becoming worried.” Lady Matlock said as her husband filled his plate from the sideboard.
“After meeting with Catherine, I felt it was imperative that I speak with our solicitors. There was a great deal I needed to go over with them, for not only our sakes, but for our nephew, his sister, our children, and Anne.”
“What has Catherine threatened?” Lady Matlock became concerned.
“Allow me to eat, then we will discuss the matter. Is Anthony up and about? I would like him to be a part of the discussion.”
“He and Georgiana will be down shortly. He was planning to escort Georgiana and me to the museum today.”
Lord Matlock looked apologetically at his wife. “I pray you are not too disappointed on changing your plans. It is important. And perhaps it would be best for Georgiana to sit in on the discussion as well. I will have to speak with William when he can come here.”
“He will be here tomorrow to pick up Georgiana. He went to Hertfordshire with his friend, Bingley, today. Bingley is looking at an estate to purchase. It happens to be the Bennet family’s estate.”
“Small world. I take it that William met the sisters through his friend, as I was told Bingley was at the ball at Jameson’s house.” Lord Matlock said.
“As I was there, I can tell you that William and Bingley escorted the young ladies and the Gardiners to the ball.” Anthony said as he entered the room, Georgiana holding his arm.
“Good morning, you two. Georgiana, I believe you look more like your mother every day.”
Georgiana leaned over to place a kiss on her uncle’s cheek. “You are sweet, Uncle Henry. Which means you probably have something to discuss that will make me unhappy.”
Lord Matlock feigned surprise. “How could you say such a thing?”
“Many years of being around you, Uncle. What has happened? Is Will alright?”
“Your brother is well, as far as I know. I wish to have a meeting with all of you. After my meeting with Catherine, I feel it is important to take some measures to protect our family from her meddling ways.”
Anthony’s eyes rolled. “Now what is that vulture attempting to do? Never mind the question, it has something to do with the newspaper article and how she plans to force Darcy into marrying Anne.”
“You know your aunt very well. Once we are finished eating, I wish you to join me in my study. I will go over the papers our solicitor has prepared for us.” Lord Matlock said.
The conversation turned to trivial topics rather than continue in on the subject of Lady Catherine de Bourgh. They all knew that the meeting, after their meal, would be difficult, as every discussion having to do with the Mistress of Rosings Park was filled with emotions. And usually, the emotions are not happy ones. Lady Catherine did not bring out the best in her family. And Lord Matlock’s expression expressed the frustration he had suffered the day before.
Unfortunately, the family dreaded dealing with Lady Catherine and her daughter. Though Anne was allowed some lead way, she was still avoided by most of the family.