“Georgiana, I received a letter from Aunt Catherine. She has invited us to come to Rosings for a visit.” Darcy said, as he entered the music room.
“William, do we have to go there? You know that Aunt Catherine and Anne frighten me.”
“You have not seen them for more than a year.” Darcy knew how his sister felt, as he had no real desire to be in the company of his mother’s elder sister and her sickly daughter. Lady Catherine de Bourgh had plotted for years to ensnare her nephew as a husband for her daughter, a plot that had never intrigued him. Anne de Bourgh was a spoiled, selfish girl, used to getting her own way. Having been told all of her life that she was meant to be Mistress of Pemberley, wife of Fitzwilliam Darcy, Anne had accepted her mother’s decision. When Darcy had last visited, Anne had demanded he wait on her every whim. Darcy did not appreciate his cousin’s behavior, and refused to do as she insisted. A loud disagreement had ensued and Darcy had not been to Rosings since.
“And why would you wish to make the journey? Has Anne found someone to marry her, thereby releasing her demands on you to marry her?”
This was quite rude of the girl to speak to her brother in such a manner. “Georgiana, that is more than enough. Just because I do not prefer to spend time with Aunt Catherine and Anne, does not mean that we ignore our obligation to them. Aunt Catherine requires assistance, as her clergyman left some months back, and she is not having any luck in locating a replacement. As I have interviewed clergy before. Anne is incapable of interviewing someone for the position, and Aunt is at her wits end.”
“I do not wish to go, Brother. I know I am being selfish, but it is dreadful to see how they treat you. Anne is horrid, the way she orders you about and says that you will marry her. Please tell me that you will never succumb to their demands.”
Darcy gathered his sister in his arms. “Have no fear, my dear sister. I have no desire to marry Anne, and will never give in to their demands. I have my valet assist me by locking my rooms, even when I am not in them. Rogers also sleeps in my dressing room, with the door open, when I stay at Rosings.”
Georgiana’s eyes grew round with surprise. “My goodness, that is terrible, to have to worry about them attempting to compromise you.”
“I have told Aunt Catherine and Anne that any attempt to force me into a marriage would only serve to make them appear foolish, as I would not marry Anne.”
“Why does our aunt insist on you marrying Anne? Why does she insist that our mother wished for the match?”
Jane had grown nervous at the conversation becoming intimate. “Excuse me, Mr Darcy, Miss Darcy, I will be in my rooms.”
Darcy had nearly forgotten she was in the room. “No, Miss Bennet, I ask you to stay. As the topic could involve you needing to protect my sister, you should know the particulars.”
Jane nodded her head and took a seat in one of the nearby chairs. She folded her hands in her lap and attempted to calm herself.
The siblings moved to sit on the sofa across from the chair. “Miss Bennet, Lady Catherine de Bourgh is my mother’s elder sister. She has only one child, named for my mother. Anne was sickly as a child, so my aunt indulged her every desire. She is not as frail as she lets others think, but Anne does not like anyone forcing her to do anything against her wishes, so she pretends to be ill.”
“How dreadful. And her mother allows the behavior?”
“Indeed, my aunt encourages Anne’s fits. The greater the fit, the more indulging Aunt gives. And our aunt has insisted, since after my mother’s death, that she and my mother had made an arrangement for me to marry Anne. My father denied any such arrangement was ever made, and that my mother did not wish for me to wed Anne. As a matter of fact, my mother had refused to even speak with her sister for the last year of Mother’s life. I still do not know what the falling out was about, but it was obvious that something terrible had happened. Father would not discuss the situation either.”
“And so your mother died, still angry with your Aunt?” Jane asked.
“Yes. And Aunt Catherine has denied that there was any issue between them, and that they wrote each other frequently during Mother’s final year. I have searched through Mother’s correspondence from her final year, and there was none from Aunt Catherine.”
“What about Uncle Henry?” Georgiana inquired. “Would he know what happened between his two sisters?”
“He says there was nothing of which he was aware that would keep them apart.” Darcy shook his head as he spoke. “No one knows for certain.”
“If you wish me to accompany you, I will.” Georgiana said, her voice soft as her face was tilted down.
Giving a few moments of deliberation, Darcy decided. “We will wait until after the new year. If Aunt Catherine does not find a fitting clergyman by then, we will make our way to Rosings. Should we plan on remaining in Town for the holidays, or shall we make our way to Pemberley?”
Jane had not thought about being away from her relations for the holidays, and it made her melancholy to realize that she would have to go wherever Georgiana did for the holidays. The Darcys were generous, but she could not expect them to be so kind, especially as she was so new to the position.
Darcy noticed the silence that had come over his sister’s companion. “Miss Bennet, you will wish time to be with your relations for the holidays.”
“My duty is to Miss Darcy. I go where she goes, and my family will understand if I cannot be with them.” Jane said, sitting straight and tall.
“Have you ever experienced Christmas away from loved ones?” Darcy asked, aware that most likely she had not.
“Last year, the holidays were not so bright for our family. Most in my family were ill or dead by Christmas. And there was not a shilling to spend on even a pair of socks for the children. This year, they will have a proper Christmas, Elijah will see to all of them.”
“Brother, I wish to remain in Town for the holidays. If we make the journey to Pemberley, we risk the chance of being snowed in for weeks, possibly months. If I remember correctly, Aunt Rachel stated they were celebrating in Town, as Richard will not be able to make the journey to Matlock.” Georgiana was desperately trying to justify her decision to remain in London, when she had always been excited to see Pemberley decorated for the Yuletide.
“I believe you are correct, Georgie. Richard may have to return to duty at any given time, so if we wish to see him and the rest of the Fitzwilliam family, we had best remain in London.” Darcy was proud of his sister’s choice.
“Please, do not remain in Town on my account. My family would wish me to fulfill my duties.” Jane pleaded.
“No, Miss Bennet, we do not remain here for you. My cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, is on leave from the war on the continent. But there is still unrest and upheaval, and Richard could be called away to the fight. It is preferable that we remain here, so we can spend time with him.”
Georgiana looked at Jane. “Richard is my other guardian, Miss Bennet. He is the second son of Lord and Lady Matlock.”
Jane nodded her head. “I can understand your desire to spend time with a cherished loved one. Especially since he is in danger constantly, having to face constant battles.”
“He has been injured twice, and it makes my aunt nervous every time he is called to return to the continent.” Georgiana felt her eyes beginning to swim in unshed tears.
“Well, let us pray he will be with us for many years to come.” Darcy felt emotions welling inside him. “Miss Bennet, I wonder if you would be willing to assist my sister in making a list of items we could use to make baskets for our servants and staff. Something to give them as a holiday gift.”
“Of course, Mr Darcy. I would welcome such a challenge.” Jane was grateful for the challenge.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
# # #
“So, Kitty, what are you planning to make this week?” Elijah asked. “I came up with an idea to encourage more customers.”
“What is your idea?” Kitty was curious.
“I wish to post a sign saying what specials we will have each day of the week. We can have the usual scones and biscuits, but then, each day, we have something different. One day cakes, and another day, pies. That way, the customers will come in frequently, so they know when the items will be for sale.”
“That is a wonderful suggestion. Lets see, we could have jumbles one day, Rout cakes, ratafia cakes, gooseberry tarts, cherries en chemise, butter buns, battered apple tart. That would give us one of these for each day of the week, and we can have the Chorley cakes, lemon biscuits, scones, shortcake, custard tart, and other items.”
“What about Bakewell tart, apple crumble, Manchester tart, Shrewbury cake, trifle, Banbury cake. I would like to expand to serve more. Lady Matlock has been telling everyone how much she love our shop.” Elijah declared. “I need to blend some more teas tonight. We are beginning to run low on some of the blends.”
Kitty smiled. “That is wonderful. We have had a very good week.”
“We have. I will be excited to tell Jane when she comes home tomorrow.” Elijah replied. “It will be nice to discuss happier circumstances rather than having to discuss how to scrimp and save to keep the shop open.”
“I spoke with Aunt earlier. We will actually be able to have a Christmas this year for the children. Aunt is feeling a bit stronger. She asked if she could aid me in the kitchen next week.”
“Wonderful. I know she has had a difficult time, losing Uncle and her son, as well as the others of our family. And then add in her own health. But we are moving forward. And we should only look to the past as the memory brings us pleasure. Perhaps we could discuss some new clothes for the children. They have all grown so much.”
“They would be so grateful to have such gifts. And perhaps we could give them each a toy. Nothing elaborate, just something simple. I could make rag dolls for the girls.”
“And I can assist you. Aunt Helen may wish to do stitch work as well. And books. I wish to purchase a book for each of the children. It has been so long since we could afford books.”
“Eli…Elijah, we received a letter today from Mr Collins.” Kitty hung her head.
“What did he have to say this time?”
Mr William Collins was their father’s heir, as his distant cousin. Since the fire and epidemic, all they had received from the man was hateful letters degrading the family. To say that Mr Collins was furious over the damage to Longbourn would be an understatement.
“More of the same. He has spoken with a solicitor about suing us for our shares of Mamma’s dowry settlement. He feels that he is owed that much to pay for rebuilding Longbourn to what it had been. You are well aware of his belief that it was our fault for the fire. To him, if we had been proper young ladies, God would not have showered lightning bolts from the heavens to punish us.”
“Will that man never move forward? We lost so much, how can he believe us gaining anything from the fire? The interest from Mamma’s dowry is not enough to take care of four adults and three children. Does he believe we are sitting in the lap of luxury?”
Kitty shook her head. “He is only concerned for what he can gain, nothing for what can be done to aid others. It is difficulty at times to believe he was a man of the cloth.”
“Until we receive word from a solicitor, we will continue on with life as we have been. And we need to pray that God will keep Mr Collins from stealing what little we have.”
“I hope he does not learn that our business is growing.” Kitty sighed. “If he learns such, he will make an attempt to take the business from us.”
~~ ** ~~
“Mother, Mrs Jenkinson said you wish to speak to me?”
“Anne, please come, take a seat.” Lady Catherine motioned to the chair next to her own. “I received a letter from Mr Collins. He is having difficulty with his estate, and wishes to speak to me of assistance. We should look to his arrival next Wednesday. His father in law is traveling to Ramsgate, and will be able to bring Mr Collins here, on his way.”
“And what does that mean to me, Mother? I have nothing to do with Mr Collins, he was your clergyman.”
“But one day, you will be Mistress of the estate, and you will need to know how to deal with people. You will not always have me to handle problems for you.” Lady Catherine said.
“Mother, you will live forever, as you refuse to ever give in on anything. Rightfully, I am the Mistress of Rosings, and have been for the past two years. But you refuse to acknowledge my rightful inheritance. Besides, you have told me, all of my life, that I will be marrying my cousin, so I will not need to worry over anything, it will be for Darcy to take charge of anything that needs to be handled.”
“Perhaps that is the reason Darcy has not settled down to marry you. He wishes for you to take an interest in the running of Rosings, to prove you will be able to be Mistress of Pemberley.”
“Well, I do not care one bit. So either accept that fact, or not, it matters not to me.”
Lady Catherine was frustrated with her daughter. If only Anne would be involved, show some interest in something, she was certain that Darcy would be pleased. Finally, she shook her head. “Then you should go to your rooms, and do whatever it is that you do there.”
~~ ** ~~
“Mr Bennet, it is a pleasure to see you again.” Darcy said as he entered the tea shop. Georgiana and Jane followed him into the shop.
“The pleasure is all mine, Mr Darcy. I pray that all is well for you and your sister.” Elijah stated, giving Jane a smile.
“We are well, Sir, especially since we have your sister with us. Miss Bennet is wonderful, and has become a dear part of our lives.” Darcy announced.
Deep inside, Elijah felt a pang of jealousy. Knowing his situation, Elijah would not be able to have a relationship. As much as she wished to have a husband and children of her own, what man would understand why she had pretended to be a man? No, Elijah would have to continue as a man until his cousin was of age. Then Elijah would leave, perhaps travel somewhere far away. Once his hair grew out, Elizabeth Bennet could re-emerge in the world. But even that was questionable, as Jane had informed him that the Darcys thought Elizabeth to be dead. It would be a lonely life for Elijah Bennet.
“Elijah, I see you have the new items. How are they being accepted?” Jane said, looking at the display.
“Most have been extremely popular. It is a good thing that you came this early, as we have been selling out of many items each day.”
“Wonderful. I am pleased to hear such news.” Jane was delighted that her family was making such wonderful accomplishments. “I wish to try the cherries en chemise. I have never had such a treat before.”
“I knew you would take a liking to them, as cherry is one of your favorite fruits. Miss Darcy, what would you care to try?” Elijah chuckled.
“I believe I will have to try the cherries en chemise as well. The meringue is calling to me.”
“And you, Mr Darcy?”
“I will have to concur with the ladies, as the cherries en chemise look tasty.” Darcy stated. “I am surprised that my aunt is not here, as cherries are her favorite.”
Elijah leaned over, as if to tell a secret. “I have some in the back, just for her. She is having a dinner party tonight, and wishes to have them to serve her guests.”
“Since she discovered your shop, Mr Bennet, I believe my aunt has had a higher number of dinner parties and teas. She loves serving your treats to her guests.”
“And we are pleased to serve her. Lady Matlock is a dear customer. Our sister, Kitty, has been searching for more recipes, as she wishes to broaden her skills.”
“Wonderful.” Darcy said. “And how is the tea selling?”
“Nearly as good as the treats. I have had to order some more supplies in, as we are running low of some items.”
“Miss Bennet was saying that you do all the blending here, in the basement. Where did you learn to make the blends?”
“My aunt and uncle. Some blends were from Aunt’s family shop, and the rest came from Uncle, when he learned before opening this shop. It has been interesting to learn the blends, what works well with other herbs and the different types of teas. Would you care to see the supply room, where I prepare the blends?” Elijah offered.
“If you would not mind, I would love to see the behind the counter scene.” Darcy replied.
Elijah called up the stairs to her younger sister, asking her to mind the counter. He did not wish for Jane to be left with the duty, as she was working for the Darcys, not for her family. When Kitty came down the stairs, Elijah escorted Darcy to the staircase leading to the basement.
The basement had a few windows, though they had been covered, to protect the items they had from becoming damaged by sunlight. Elijah picked up a candle from the shelf near the bottom of the steps, and lit it. He them moved to the work bench, where a lantern was found. When it was burning bright, Elijah turned around and held his arms out. “This is the heart of our business. The teas and coffees we serve and package come from this room. My uncle had the room filled before his death. And it has lasted us until recently. But that is good, as it means we have been doing wonderfully at selling the items.”
“Your uncle prepared for taking care of your family, with so much merchandise.”
Elijah could feel his eyes tearing up. “He did. I cannot say enough good of my uncle. My only regret is that he never saw the shop become a success.” He reached into his pock for a handkerchief, but found none in his pocket.
Darcy realized Elijah was becoming emotional, and reached in his coat pocket for a handkerchief, holding it out to the younger man.
“Thank you, Mr Darcy.” Elijah said, accepting the cloth. As he touched the cloth, his hand came in contact with Darcy’s, sending a shock through both of them. They stood, looking at each other, for only a moment, a moment which seemed to last for an eternity.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~