“Mr Bennet, it is a pleasure to see you again.” Lady Matlock stated, as she entered the tea shop. “I decided I could not survive another day without some of those delicious biscuits you sell. They are a weakness of mine.”
“Which would you prefer today, my Lady? We have some of the lemon ones, which are still warm from the oven. And I believe you enjoyed the ones with jam fillings.” Elijah walked behind the counter of the display of baked goods.
“So many selections. I will need to have some to take home with me, as I am having Lady Susan for tea this afternoon. I have been raving about your delectable treats, so I must have some to offer her.” The lady walked back and forth, in front of the display. “Oh, you have those beautiful tarts. They were my husband’s favorites. I must have some of those, make it a dozen. And a dozen of the eclairs. The biscuits…oh, I cannot decide. Give me a dozen of each type. My younger son will be home tomorrow for a visit, so he will be delighted to have the treats.”
“Very good, my Lady. I will box them up for you. Would you care for something to nibble while you wait?”
A grin came to Lady Matlock’s lips. “Yes, I will take a jam filled biscuit and a lemon one. With a cup of that tea blend I like.”
“The mint lemongrass black?”
“Mr Bennet, you are remarkable. How is it you can remember all my preferences?”
“It is a necessity for a shop clerk to have a good memory. And I must confess, I keep a journal in which I write down the preferences of all my regular customers.” Elijah said, with a smile.
“My goodness. Now, correct me if I am wrong, but your uncle owns the shop?”
“He did, my Lady. We lost him in the epidemic near seven months back. My aunt is in fragile health, as her heart was weakened, so my sisters and I came here to assist our aunt.”
“That is very kind of you. It brings me comfort to have my men near me. To have lost her husband, you poor aunt must be suffering. You have taken the position as head of the family then?”
“The only other man in our family is my cousin, and he is a child of six. My father, and my other uncle died just before my Uncle Gardiner. I have no choice but to take charge for my family.”
“That is commendable, Mr Bennet. And your sisters, are they assisting you here?”
“Only my younger sister, Kitty, is here, as my elder sister, Jane, recently took a position as companion. And I owe you my gratitude for her being able to obtain the position.”
Lady Matlock was surprised. “How am I involved with your sister’s position?”
“Your nephew, Mr Darcy, came to the shop. He enjoyed the tea you had served him, and wished to purchase some for his home. While I was serving him and his friend, I heard him speaking of needing a companion for his sister.”
“Your sister is the young lady he hired? Then I have no fear of her being a good influence on my niece. I will be seeing them tomorrow evening, as they are to dine with us.”
Elijah was pleased with the acceptance of such a grand lady. It would go a long way in establishing Jane as a companion, so even when Miss Darcy no longer requires a companion, Jane will be able to find other positions with ease.
He served Lady Matlock her treats and tea, then went about boxing the items she wished to take with her. The lady was elegance and grace, kindness and generosity combined. She never treated Elijah as a servant, always carrying on a conversation.
Once she had finished her refreshments, Lady Matlock paid for her treats and left, leaving behind a bonus for Elijah’s service. Kitty came down the stairs in the back of the shop. “Elijah, I have the children resting, and Aunt says she is going to rest a bit. Do you wish for me to work down here? I can cover for you, so you can take a break.”
“Kitty, you are kind. I appreciate the thought, but I will be fine.”
“Are you certain? You rarely leave the shop.”
“I know. Though it is my dearest wish to take a long walk in the park, it is best I do not. I have a tendency to forget myself when doing things as it did before. It would cause more harm than good, as I would easily give myself away.”
“You have taken on all the worries for the rest of us. It is a shame you are not able to enjoy yourself once in a while.”
Elijah shook his head. “No fretting, my dear Kitty. I made the choice, and must continue to live this life. One day, when we have made a fortune, I will be able to emerge once again as a young lady, and Elijah will be able to disappear. Until then, Elijah I must be.”
“Well, I still think it is not fair.” Kitty walked over to the display. “My goodness, you have sold quite a lot today.”
“Thanks to your wonderful skills. Lady Matlock came again. She had to have tarts, biscuits, and more. She said she was raving to Lady Susan, who is to take tea with her ladyship this afternoon.” Elijah chuckled. “Lady Matlock is our best customer.”
“She is indeed. Well, looks like I will be making more goodies tonight. What would you prefer? I think I have the ingredients to make more of the lemon biscuits. I should make some scones. Let me check the supplies and make a list of items we will need.”
“Good, as I need to speak with Mr Garvey at the mercantile. He wished to make a trade for some tea for his home. Evidently his wife heard about some of our blends, and she suggested he offer to trade for other goods we need.”
“What a wonderful plan. I will make a list.” Kitty then hurried of the stairs, closing the door at the top.
Elijah went about some bookkeeping while the shop was quiet. As he looked at the figures in the ledger, he was impressed. The profit margin was rising. He would order the medication Mrs Gardiner required, so they had an extra bottle on hand, in case of lean times.
Looking up as the bell on the door tinkled, Elijah saw the two young ladies, near his age, who entered with what appeared to be their mother. He went about serving the ladies, then returned to his ledgers. Every once in a while, Elijah looked up at the young ladies. How he wished he could be Elizabeth Bennet once again, wearing pretty gowns, taking strolls in the park, having her hair grown out again. The thought of being the young lady she was was nearly overwhelming. But the family came first, and Elijah was the only way to protect them. In the coming years, when Master Gardiner came of age, he could take over the business, allowing Elijah to fade away, and allowing Elizabeth to return.
Once the young ladies and their mother left the the shop, Elijah closed the doors and window, pulling down the blinds, and preparing to do his nightly chores. Elijah made his way up the stairs, to settle in for the evening with his family. With one of his little cousins sitting on his lap, he read to the children, then they were off to bed. Yes, this was his life for the foreseeable future. But Elizabeth Bennet was still hidden, deep inside.
# # #
“Miss Bennet, I am so pleased to have you as my companion.” Georgiana Darcy exclaimed. “I fretted that my brother would hire someone who was strict and insisted on my coming out.”
“I remember how I felt when my mother insisted I be out in society. Granted, in the country, a girl being considered out is far less an ordeal than it is here, in Town. And all of society watching your every move, no…I cannot blame you. Hopefully next year you will feel more confident and be able to take your place.” Jane Bennet stated.
“I doubt I could ever be prepared to be in society.” Georgiana shook her head.
“Well, there is nothing to fret over at the moment. I believe it is time for you to practice on the pianoforte.”
Georgiana’s eyes lit with joy. One of her favorite things in the world was music. It lightened her heart and soul when she played the pianoforte. The other favorite activity was art. She had a gift for sketching and painting. She had always felt it to be a connection with the mother she had never known, as Lady Anne Darcy was known for her artistic talents. Many of her paintings hung on the walls of Pemberley.
The pair walked down the hall, to the music room, and Georgiana began shuffling through the stacks of sheet music. Finding a piece she wished to practice, Georgiana sat down and began.
While her charge fingered the keys of the pianoforte, Jane pulled her stitchwork from the basket she kept near the chair she favored. It was in the back corner of the music room, where she was able to keep watch over Georgiana, yet blend in to the background.
Jane was stitching some new handkerchiefs for her sisters. As the holiday season was nearing, Jane wished to have something to present her loved ones. She looked down at the handkerchief she was currently working on. Due to the fact it was for Elizabeth, Jane had made the design a bit more masculine, with her initials stitched in a soft blue color. Seeing her sister having to pretend to be a man had been painful. Lizzy had given up so much to protect the family, her freedom to be herself being top of the list.
She found herself humming to the tune that Georgiana was playing, bringing back fond memories of Lizzy playing the pianoforte at Longbourn. How she missed those days. As the music came to an end, Jane clapped lightly.
“Very well done, Miss Darcy. Very well done.”
“You seemed to have enjoyed the song.” Georgiana said.
“I remember my sister playing that very song, while I sat with Mamma and our other sisters. It was a pleasant time.”
“Which of your sisters played the pianoforte?”
Without thinking, Jane spoke. “Lizzy was the most talented on the pianoforte, though Mary enjoyed practicing often. Mary had the technique, though Lizzy had the soul for the music.”
“I do not recall you speaking of a sister named Lizzy.” Georgiana searched her mind for the names of Jane’s family.
“Oh, yes, Lizzy, she was Elijah’s twin. Elizabeth. She was lost in the epidemic. We do not discuss her often, as it pains Elijah. They were very close.”
“That would be terrible, not only to lose a sister, but your twin. Your brother has had to endure so much.”
“He has. More than most know. If it were not for Elijah, we would have lost everything. He was able to pull all we had left, together, and keep us going. My aunt has often stated she would have died if not for Elijah.”
“They live above the tea shop?”
“Yes. My uncle purchased the shop with the apartments upstairs, so to make everything simpler for my aunt. She had always wished for a tea shop, as her father had when she was a child. Fortunately, Uncle had purchased supplies that fill the storeroom in the basement of the shop. Teas, herbs, spices, and coffee, from all over the world. The basement was filled just a fortnight before his death. He never saw the shop open.”
“How sad. And your aunt, did you once say she was from the north?”
Jane nodded her head. “She was born and raised in the village of Lambton.”
“Lambton, why that is less than five miles from Pemberley.” Georgiana exclaimed. “What was her family’s name?”
“Knox. Her parents were Arthur and Susan Knox.”
“I will have to tell Brother. He will most likely remember them.”
“Remember who?” A male voice came from the doorway of the music room.
“Fitzwilliam Darcy, how many times do I have to tell you not to surprise me such.” Georgiana said as she hurried across the room to embrace her brother.
Chuckling, Darcy wrapped his arms around her. “Forgive me, Sprite. I overheard the last bit of your conversation, just as I was reaching to knock on the door. So who is it I may remember?”
“Mr and Mrs Knox from Lambton.”
“The couple who owned the tea shop in Lambton? Why would you ask if I remember them?”
“They are the parents of Miss Bennet’s aunt.”
Darcy was surprised. “Miss Helen Knox is your aunt?”
It was Jane’s turn to chuckle. “Yes, though her name is Mrs Helen Gardiner now.”
“How wonderful. I wondered what had come of her. She left to tend an aunt, and then I heard a year later that she had married.”
“Her aunt lived in Meryton, which was three miles from my father’s estate, in Hertfordshire. She met my mother’s brother, Edward Gardiner, while she was staying with her aunt. When her aunt was recovered, Aunt Helen remained, as my uncle was courting her.”
“It pleases me to know she ended up in a good marriage, though it saddens me that she has endured such strife since.”
“She was broken hearted when Uncle Edward passed, but she has the children. She often says that each is a piece of their father. The eldest, Martha, has her father’s laugh. Little Edward looks similar to his father, and the baby, Julia, has her father’s brilliant blue eyes. Seeing them soothes the pain that loosing Uncle and their second son, Jeremy, caused.”
Georgiana turned towards her brother. “William, I learned that Miss Bennet had a sister, Elizabeth, who was a twin to her brother, Elijah. Her sister died.”
“Forgive me, Miss Bennet, as I do not recall your speaking of her. How did she die? Like the rest of the family?”
“Yes, she left us towards the end of the epidemic. It has been painful for my brother, as you can well imagine.” Jane wished to change the subject. She must remember what she had said, so she could tell Elijah and Kitty when she saw them next.
“You have my condolences on the loss of so many of your family.”
“William, I wish to visit the tea shop. I have heard you, Aunt, and Miss Bennet speak of the delicious treats and the teas. I wish to see everything for myself.”
Looking from one young lady to another, Darcy made the decision. “Tomorrow afternoon, we will make our way to the tea shop. I have an order at the bookshop that is near the tea shop, so we can go to both places. How does that sound?”
“Oh, thank you, William. It sounds extremely fun.”
~~ ** ~~
of “Mother, you have frightened away another clergyman.” Anne de Bourgh stated with a huff. “Soon there will be no one willing to take the living.”
Lady Catherine de Bourgh sighed. “I miss Mr Collins. He did everything he was told to do. Now that he has left, I cannot find his replacement. There must be one man of the cloth that is perfect as he was.”
“Please, Mother, you only liked the sycophantic man for his boot licking. The man was a toad, jumping through hoops for you. If you had told him to jump from the top of the highest mountain, he would have, after thanking you repeatedly, declaring you to be the most magnanimous and benevolent lady there ever had been. I believe he thinks you to be royalty, the way he grovels at your feet, each time he saw you.”
“It was unforgivable for Mr Collins to have abandon me. I do not know if I will ever find clergyman to fill the position. It is not to be borne, leaving a valuable living to go traipsing off to some wild country.”
“As you well know, Mother, Mr Collins inherited his cousin’s estate. There were no other males in their family, and the estate was entailed to the male line. You would expect the man to give up his inheritance to stay here and be your clergy?”
“I would. Especially since the estate was in ruins. The family left it uninhabitable, why go there?”
Anne was losing patience. “Mother, Mr Collins went to see what could be done about his inheritance. While he was there, he courted the daughter of one of the neighboring estates. Now they are married and living in the small house he had built on the estate.”
“He should have sold the land and stayed here. Then he would have had a steady income and money in the bank. But no, he insisted on staying in that horrid county.”
“Well, you have written to Cousin Darcy, and he will assist you in finding another clergyman.”