Elijah took the cloth, turning around as he wiped his eyes. “I will have this laundered and returned to you.”
“I will not fret over a handkerchief, Mr Bennet.” Darcy said, looking around the room, rather than at the young man. He had an odd feeling as they looked at each other, something he could not describe.
“Now, here is the journal I reference when making blends. And every new blend I make, I enter in the book. There is another journal that I use to keep record of the coffee blends. My sister is keeping a journal for all the desserts and treats she makes. If she makes a change to the recipe, she notes it there, for future reference.”
“You keep meticulous records. I commend you on your diligence.”
Elijah had finally calmed himself. “Thank you, Mr Darcy. Now, this is the area where I work with the teas. I have to use caution, as some of the blends are delicate flavors, and others are quite bold. And I use the table over, under the window, to make the blends of coffee. The mint is the most popular, though the vanilla bean is also well liked. We have fewer coffee blends than teas.”
“What are some of the other tea blends you make? I was so pleased with the blend that my aunt purchased, I did not inquire of others you sell.”
“The blend I made last night has some vanilla bean and strawberry leaves in a green tea. I am thinking of using the same in an oolong. Last week I made a green tea with cinnamon, peppermint, vanilla bean, and cloves. It was well received.”
Darcy nodded his head. “Sounds delicious. Do you have any left? I would like to sample a cup.”
“We do. Come, I will see if the water is heated enough to steep you a cup.”
The men made their way upstairs, and Elijah made to busy himself with the tea for his customers. He kept himself from looking at the tall, handsome man who sat next to the two young ladies. While he kept busy, Elijah attempted to quell the heartache he felt.
Darcy sampled three different tea blends, liking all of them. Once he made his purchases, and Georgiana decided what she wanted, the trio left the tea shop for Darcy House. Though Elijah enjoyed having them in the shop, he was grateful to see them go, as he felt unpredictable when in the presence of Fitzwilliam Darcy. He prayed that he would not give himself away, as a man such as Darcy would not approve of the deception being perpetrated.
~~ ** ~~
Upon arrival at his townhouse, Darcy went to his study and closed the door.
What am I doing? Why did I behave so inappropriately to Mr Bennet? He is a man, not a woman. But something about him seems…feminine. I do not understand these feelings. I wished to wrap my arms about him, embrace him, as I would Georgiana, but that would be terribly inappropriate. What if I had embraced him? If we were discovered, it could lead to being arrested! We are not related and have only a slight friendship. There is just something…something that I cannot pinpoint it. Why is it that Mr Bennet brings out my need to protect? Bloody Hell. I…I…damn it all, I cannot understand this situation. What is it that Mr Bennet stirs in me?
Darcy walked to the window, staring out at the street. Is it the overprotective elder brother in me which makes me care about Mr Bennet? Or, perhaps, the knowledge that I was quite young when my father died, leaving me in charge of everything, including my sister. Do I see myself in Elijah, as he cares for his relations?
Financially, the Bennets are in a far different situation. But what of the estate their father owned? Could I lend aid to rebuild the estate, make it profitable again? Then there would be no need to be a shop keeper. Being the heir, Elijah would be a landed gentleman, rather than a tradesman. Would not the young man prefer to keep his sisters in the gentry, rather than in trade? I would need to discuss the matter with Elijah. If nothing else, perhaps the estate could be sold. Land could fetch a good price, and that would at least give the Bennets and their relations a better life. They could afford a better living situation, and the children could have a nanny.
Yes, I will speak with Mr Bennet, offer my aid to him with his estate…like a friend, or relation would. That is it, I think of Mr Bennet as a relation, sort of like a cousin. After all the Bennet family has endured, how could I not wish to assist them?
~~ ** ~~
The following day, Darcy visited the tea shop.
“Mr Darcy, how pleasant to see you again. I pray all is well at Darcy House.”
“Everyone is well. My sister and yours are visiting a friend, so I thought I would come by to chat with you.”
Elijah’s brows were pulled towards each other, as a crease developed between them. “Is there a problem? Has my sister done something to offend you?”
“No, no…I wished to speak with you about your father’s estate. I have been thinking of the situation, and wondered if you were planning to rebuild the house and tenant homes.”
“Um…well…at the moment, it would not be possible. I cannot afford to rebuild, even something as simple as a tenant cottage. It will remain as it is for the time being.” Elijah was nervous. He had not expected this conversation to come up with someone like Mr Darcy.
“What if you had someone who was willing to loan you the funds? I would be happy to aid you in rebuilding, and you could repay me in small payments.”
“You are generous, Mr Darcy, but I could not accept such a generous offer.”
It was Darcy’s turn to wear a quizzical look. “Why would you not accept the offer? It would be years before you could afford to pay for the repairs from the profits you have from this shop.”
“Your offer is far too much. You are my sister’s employer. I do not wish to do anything that would cause a difficult relationship for Jane and your sister.”
“There is nothing I can imagine that would have an effect on our sisters. If you do not wish to borrow the funds to rebuild, what of selling the estate. I am willing to assist you in selling the lands for a fair price.”
“Again, I am grateful for your generous offer. I cannot sell the property, as my father declared in his will that his heir could not sell the property. He would understand my reasons for refusing your kind offer.” Elijah stated. He was attempting to keep his hands from shaking, his nervousness was due to his desire to keep his secret.
Darcy was frowning. “I only wish to assist you and your family. If not selling, then rebuilding the estate. There is no hardship, as my family is one of the wealthiest in England. Investments are a common fact in my life.”
Elijah was frustrated. What could he say to end the conversation? He had to say something. Darcy continued to push the offer, over and over. How Elijah wished he could tell this man the truth. How simple it would be to blurt out the fact that he was really a young lady, and thereby, did not inherit her father’s estate. But the family would be ruined if anyone learned the truth.
Finally, Elijah could no longer contain himself. “Mr Darcy, I cannot accept your generosity. Please, please understand. I…I…” Elijah turned and ran from the shop, up the stairs, and into his bed chamber. Tears had been free flowing as he spoke, and continued to flow, dampening his pillowcase.
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~
Having watched her sister flea to her bed chambers, Kitty came downstairs to discover what had happened.
“Mr Darcy, has something happened?”
“I am not certain.” Darcy replied. “I was offering your brother my assistance with his estate. I know the fire caused severe damage, but I wished to loan your family the funds to make the repairs. Or, if he wished, I could aid him on selling the property. He refused both options.” Darcy was bewildered, his eyes looking towards the path Elijah had taken.
“Certainly, my br…brother is grateful for your offer. It has been a delicate situation, and I do not know all the issues. But Eliz…Elijah is the head of our family, and I trust his decisions. He has taken such wonderful care of all of us, so if he declined your generous offer, there is a good reason.”
Darcy looked at the youngest sister for a moment, before he decided to take his leave. “Forgive me for causing your brother any difficulties. It was not my intention. Would you convey my regrets to him?”
Kitty nodded her head. Darcy then took his leave, after purchasing some of the baked goods from Kitty.
Once Darcy had left, Mrs Gardiner made her way downstairs. “Kitty, what happened? Why is your sister in her room, crying?”
“Mr Darcy offered assistance in rebuilding Longbourn. He believes that Longbourn was left to Elijah, as would be normal, if Elijah was actually a man. If Mr Darcy were to find out, what would happen to us? Our business would be destroyed, and Jane would be let go from her position. We would lose everything.”
“Let us pray that Mr Darcy lets the topic drop. I would not wish to lose our home and business. And if Jane were to be released from the Darcy’s employ, she would never be able to find a position with anyone else of quality. I have not had to fear for Jane being with the Darcys. They are good people, honorable and trustworthy. But if they were to learn that we have deceived them for all this time, that would not sit well with someone of their position.” Mrs Gardiner was concerned. “Perhaps I should start looking for somewhere, as an alternative, for us to live. If necessary, we could sell the shop, and find somewhere away from Town. Maybe Bath, or Brighton. We could set up a shop there, as we would not be known in those areas.”
“We will see what comes of the situation. If Mr Darcy allows the issue to go away, we will not need to do anything.” Kitty embraced her aunt. “I will remain down here, until it is time to close for the day. Lizzy has had to carry the weight of the family, she deserves to have some time to herself.”
Mrs Gardiner nodded her head, and returned upstairs.
~~ ** ~~
In his carriage, returning to his townhouse, Darcy went over the conversations he had with Elijah and Kitty Bennet. First Elijah had behaved in a strange manner, refusing to speak of his estate and the offer of assistance. If that were not strange enough, Kitty Bennet’s words were even more baffling. Why did she have difficulty saying the word brother? Each time she attempted to say the word, she stuttered. And was my hearing deceiving me, or did I hear her start to say Elizabeth, rather than Elijah? Miss Bennet stated that Elizabeth was Elijah’s twin, is that what caused confusion with the younger sister? Were the twins so close, that other members of the family confused them? That would be odd, as Elijah was a man, and Elizabeth was a lady. There is something quite odd about this situation.
And why, when Mr Bennet burst into tears, did I wish to gather him to me, to protect him from all the pain he has suffered? This situation is frustrating to me. I should just forget about the situation and avoid the Bennets from now on.
But how can I do so, when Miss Bennet is the best companion Georgiana could ever hope to have? And Lady Matlock, she adores the Bennet family and their shop. What am I to do about the situation?
Arriving at Darcy House, he made his way inside and to his study. He poured himself a glass of port and carried it to his desk. After taking several sips, Darcy decided he would find some more information from Miss Bennet. Simple things, such as the location and name of the family estate. From there, he could have the situation investigated.
~~ ** ~~
Jane Bennet accompanied Georgiana Darcy into Darcy House, after they had finished with their shopping. Jane was becoming quite fond of her charge, seeing that the girl was, in many ways, much like Jane had been all of her life. It delighted her to see Georgiana’s growing confidence and self worth.
As the ladies entered the house, the butler informed Jane that the Master wished to speak with her. Fretting the worst, Jane hurried to her employer.
When she knocked on the study door, Darcy called for her to enter. “Ah, Miss Bennet, you and my sister have returned. Are the shops bare of merchandise?”
Jane smiled. “I believe there are a few items left in each shop. Your sister decided to do some shopping for Christmas.”
“Very good, very good. Miss Bennet, the reason I wish to speak with you is to relate to you something that happened today. I went to the tea shop, to speak with your brother.”
“Has something happened to Elijah? My sister? Are my aunt and cousins well?” Jane was frightened. After so many lives lost in her family, it was not difficult to jump to more loss in her mind.
“Everyone is well. Forgive me, I should have alleviated your worries from the start. It is understandable that you would be worried about your loved ones, after all you have been through.”
Jane nodded her head. “I fear losing those who remain of my loved ones. The losses we have endured, I cannot think of losing those who remain.”
“Miss Bennet, I went to speak with your brother about the family estate. I wished to offer to loan the funds needed to rebuild it. Your brother refused the offer, and when I pushed him on the matter, he broke down in tears, having to leave the shop. I do not understand what I did to cause such pain to your brother. My only desire was to assist your family.”
“It is difficult for my br…brother. He has had all the worries of our family piled on his young shoulders. He is also very proud. I cannot imagine how he is feeling at the moment.”
“My only desire was to assist your family. You are all important to my family, and I wish to do what I could to be of aid. Your brother must wish to return to the life in which he was raised. If not rebuild, perhaps sell the estate and look for a smaller estate. Would that not be better for your family, to returned to being part of the landed gentry?”
“My br…brother has worked hard to keep my uncle’s dream alive, for our aunt and cousins. Hopefully, in the years to come, when my cousin is of age, she will be able to leave the business to young Edward and we can move forward with a new situation for our lives.”
Darcy was well aware of the slips that Jane had made. He noted that, like her younger sister, Jane could not say brother without stuttering. But it was when Jane slipped up, calling her brother she. She…could it be possible? Could the young man running the tea shop be a young lady? If it were true, Darcy felt he could breathe again. His attraction to Elijah Bennet was unnerving.
“Where is your family’s estate? I believe I heard you telling my sister that it was north of Town.”
Hesitantly, Jane spoke. “In Hertfordshire.”
“What was the name of the estate?”
“Sir, I cannot tell you. I know you are a kind and caring man, but I also know you well enough to realize you will investigate the estate. I cannot betray my family, as it is a difficult situation. Please do not ask me to tell you.”
“I wish to know what it is that your family is hiding?” Darcy was frowning. “If I cannot trust you, how can I have you remain here, with my sister?”
“Forgive me, Mr Darcy. I will go to my room and pack my belongings. I shall not be long. Please know that I wish you and Miss Darcy the best that life can offer.” Jane rose from her seat, and began to move towards the door.
“Miss Bennet, there will be no need for such drastic measures. I wish to trust you, as you are in charge of the most precious part of my heart, my sister. She is dear to me, and I will not allow anything to happen to her. Do I make myself clear?”
“Of course, Mr Darcy. I care deeply for your sister, as if she were my own. I would protect her with my life, if need came. I swear, on the graves of my parents, that there is nothing that would cause harm to you or your sister. My family would not tolerate such. The matter is a private one, and I only ask to keep it private.”
“Very well. Now, return to my sister, and I will see you both at dinner. By the way, a friend of mine has returned from Scarborough and will be dining with us.”
“I will inform Miss Darcy. Might I inform her of the friend’s name?”
Darcy nodded his head. “His name is Charles Bingley. We have known each other for a few years, after meeting while we attended university. He is one of my closest friends, after my cousin Richard.”
“It will be my pleasure to meet him, Sir. Shall I have a gown laid out on the bed for your sister?”
“Yes, that would be good. Thank you Miss Bennet. And please, know that you are always welcome to speak about your family situation. I will always be available to assist, if possible.”
“You are the best of men, Mr Darcy. The very best of men.”
~~~~~~~ ** ~~~~~~~