Happy Thanksgiving. Sorry, was a day late and more than a dollar short, but hope you like the post. Being a day for giving thanks, I thank all of you for your kindness over the years. I would also like to thank the millions of people who work hard to bring us food each and every day. Without them, we would all be in trouble.  From the farmers, the ones who harvest the crops, the factories that can and bottle food, the truck drivers who deliver to our grocery stores, and the stores themselves. So many people who make our lives so much better. 

Here are the next 2 chapters. It has been fun reading the comments everyone has left. I often laugh that I don’t write the stories, they just seem to have a life of their own, and when I think it will go one way, the story tells me it wants to go another way. So even if I have a way I want to take the story, who knows where it will go. Enjoy, and have a bite of turkey for me. Or some cranberry sauce.

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Chapter 5

            “Bingley, it is good to see you.” William declared as he shook hands with his friend.  “What a pleasant area to choose an estate.”

            “It is good to see you.  I must admit, I am fond of the estate and the neighbors. It has kept us busy with hunting and dinners.  And the people here are very kind.” Charles Bingley replied to his university friend.

            “You remember my parents, do you not?” William asked. When he noted Bingley’s nod, William turned his attention to the young lady in the wheeled chair.  “This young lady is Miss Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, who is soon to become Mrs Fitzwilliam Darcy.”

            The news surprised Bingley. “I had no idea you had been planning to become engaged.  Congratulations to you both.  Miss Fitzwilliam, I can remember my friend declaring you to be nearly a goddess.  It pleases me to see that my friend has not exaggerated.  Welcome to Netherfield Park.”

            “Ah, and last, but not least, may I introduce you to my grandmother, Lady Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, the Dowager Countess of Matlock. Grandmother, this is our host, Mr Charles Bingley.”

            “Mr Bingley, it is a pleasure to meet the young man who was so kind to my grandson.  He speaks highly of you.”

            “It was your grandson who did the kindness, your ladyship.  I am the son of a tradesman.  Many at university did not approve of new money, especially one from trade, attending the same schools as the upper circles of society.  William saved me from many difficult situations.”

            Lady Elizabeth noted the humbleness of the young man before her.  “William is not comfortable in large groups and having your pleasant nature to keep him from retreating to his rooms, reading books rather than socializing, has aided my grandson.”

            “Please, everyone, come inside.  I have instructed my staff to heat water for anyone who desires a bath.  There is food prepared for you.  As you have had a long journey, I assumed you might prefer to dine in your rooms rather than a formal dining room.”

            “You are generous, Bingley.” William clapped a hand on his friend’s shoulder.  The servants escorted the group up to the guest wing on the second floor, while William and Bingley continued to chat.  William had carried his betrothed up the stairs and was waiting for the footman to bring the chair up to them.  “Are your sisters here? You did not state, though you know how I feel with regards to your sister, Miss Bingley.”

            “They were, though Caroline was displeased with the neighborhood, so she convinced Louisa to return to town to enjoy a few parties to which she had received invitations.  She also desired to do more shopping, now that she is engaged. Who would have thought she would catch the eye of a cousin of the Duke of Modena?  Viscount Franz Taaffe is a good man. Can you believe Caroline will move to Austria?”

            “That will leave you all alone. Who will be your hostess, as you had planned on your sisters being here to assist you?”

            Bingley smiled.  “My father’s sister, the one from Scarborough, is on her way.  She will be a better hostess for the situation, as Caroline has become unbearable since her engagement.  How could I expect her to host, in her words, such country nobodies as live here, when she is to marry the cousin of a duke?”

            “You are enjoying the change far too much, my friend.” William laughed.

            “After meeting my sisters, can you blame me for being pleased with the change of hostess? Besides, I am courting a young lady who lives near here.  A Miss Bennet of Longbourn.”

            Gerald heard the name and realized that the young lady was likely related to Mr Gardiner.  “Would they have a relation with a warehouse in London?”

            A curious look came over Bingley.  “Miss Bennet’s uncle owns Gardiner’s Imports, near Cheapside. How would you know him?”

            “I met him recently. His wife is from Lambton, near Pemberley.” Gerald replied.  “A very kind man.  I mentioned our trip here, and Mr Gardiner informed me he was from the area.”

            “Miss Bennet has spoken of him with kindness.  She has spent much time with the Gardiners over the years.  Miss Bennet is the middle of three daughters of the Bennet family. The eldest, Mary, married the heir of Longbourn, Mr Collins.  He is a clergyman in Kent.  They have not been here since I arrived.  After Miss Katherine Bennet, the youngest of the sisters is a Miss Lydia.  Miss Lydia is considerably younger than Mrs Collins and Miss Bennet, being only ten years old.”

            Bingley showed his guests to each of the suite of rooms selected for them.  His housekeeper, Mrs Norris, had seen to all the needs of the guests, and soon baths were drawn for each of the ladies, and trays were delivered to the sitting room attached to the bedchambers Lady Elizabeth and Lizzy would occupy.

            Everyone retired early that night, as it had been a long day on the road.  The Darcy family had spent the following day in leisure, with William and Gerald riding out with Bingley to inspect the estate.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            “You have chosen a magnificent estate to learn how to run.  The staff keep the manor house in excellent condition, there are only a few minor repairs needed.  The tenant homes appear sound, that is important.” Gerald Darcy announced to Bingley.  “One thing to remember when you own an estate. Always take care of those who work for you.  Whether it is the tenants who work the land or the servants in your home, without them, you would not have the comfortable life of a gentleman.  Make sure they have a sturdy roof, food on the table, and clothes on their back, and if they have medical issues, see that they have care.  If you do these things, you will have their loyalty and respect.”

            Bingley was pleased to have the advice. His father had dreamed of becoming a member of the landed gentry, but he died before his dream could be accomplished. So, it was left to Charles Bingley to bring his father’s dream to fruition.

            Bingley could think of no one better to receive training in such a topic than his closest friend and his friend’s father.  Pemberley was praised throughout England, and the Darcys were highly respected by all who met them.  The positions as tenants or servants at Pemberley were highly coveted, most being passed down within the families already part of the grand estate.

            Bingley had noted how the staff at Darcy House in London appeared to be happy to be at their positions and appreciated the family who watched over them. Gerald Darcy was correct.  If one did not take care of the people who work for you, who make your life comfortable, your home would always be uncomfortable.  Charles Bingley had been witness to the opposite in how his sisters treated their servants.  The only reason his sister Caroline had a maid was there were desperate people in need of money. Even that being so, Caroline had been through three maids in the year.  But soon, Bingley would not be responsible for his sister.  Another month and she would marry and be someone else’s problem.  And both of his sisters would move to the continent, leaving Bingley at peace.

            “Tomorrow there is a dinner at the Bennet home, in your honor.  Mrs Bennet may be a silly woman, but she can set a wonderful table. You will meet Miss Bennet.”

            William looked to his father, who nodded his head ever so slightly. “It would honor us to dine with the Bennets.  And we look forward to meeting the angel who has captured your heart.”

            The smile that grew on Bingley’s face was larger than anything his friend had ever seen before.  William hoped that Miss Bennet was as good a person as his friend made her out to be. At least, if Bingley were to marry the young lady, it would be a step up in society, as her father was a member of the landed gentry. Not a giant leap as his sisters had made, but comfortable enough for Bingley. Mr Bennet’s estate made him more a country squire, but he was a gentleman, and from what Bingley had said, came from many generations of gentlemen.

            “Well, we should return for tea.  And I am certain that there will be discussions of a certain wedding.” Bingley teased.  “When do you intend to wed?”

            “If my mother has her way, it will be two months at a minimum, as it will be the event of the year. If Lizzy and I have our way, it will be a few weeks.”

            Gerald laughed.  “Son, allow me to give you a lesson when it comes to ladies.  You will never win when it comes to planning events.  I have never argued with your mother in the details of any plans she makes and I have enjoyed every dinner party, ball, and evening at the theater.  The reason I am able to enjoy them is watching the pleasure shining from your mother’s eyes.  Another piece of advice, when your mother is planning your wedding, nothing will change her mind. So, you will need to just accept her decisions.  The only thing important for your wedding is the young lady you are to marry.  As long as Lizzy is the one coming down the aisle towards you, nothing else matters.”

            It was William’s turn to have a smile that spread clear across his face. Gerald laughed. Young men in love.  There was nothing as wonderful in life.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            “Your ladyship, it is such a pleasure to have a countess in our home.” Mrs Bennet said as she greeted Lady Elizabeth.

            “I am no longer the countess, but the dowager countess.  My son’s wife is the new Lady Matlock.”

            “It is still a pleasure to have you with us.  And this is your daughter and her family?”

            “My youngest daughter, Lady Anne.  The men are her husband, Gerald Darcy, and her son, Fitzwilliam Darcy. This young lady is my granddaughter by my second son, Miss Elizabeth Fitzwilliam, though she goes by Lizzy.”

            “What an honor it is to have all of you here with us.  Mr Bingley has informed us that the younger Mr Darcy and Miss Fitzwilliam are to marry.” Mrs Bennet stated.  “Will it be a grand affair in London?”

            “We have yet to decide.” William replied. “While we are in town, my betrothed will shop for her trousseau.”

            “I can remember taking my daughter, Mary, to town to purchase her trousseau.  My brother owns an import business and has some of the finest silks in England.”

            Gerald was standing beside his son when Mrs Bennet spoke of her brother. “Mr Gardiner, yes, we planned to visit him while in London.”

            The news surprised Mrs Bennet.  “You know of my brother?”

            “Yes, his wife is from a village near our estate.  We know the Dimsworth family well.  Mr and Mrs Gardiner were in the area recently, and Mr Gardiner came to Pemberley to bring something to my niece.  He is a good man, and we look forward to visiting his establishment.  I believe he owns a bookshop.”

            Mr Bennet had entered the room as Mr Darcy spoke. Hearing his brother-in-law’s name, Mr Bennet spoke.  “One of my favorite reasons to make the journey to town, to visit Gardiner’s bookshop.  He sets aside anything he knows I might enjoy and has even found some first editions of classics.”

            After they made the introductions, the Longbourn housekeeper entered the drawing room to announce dinner.  Lady Elizabeth sat to the right of Mr Bennet, who sat at the head of the table. To his left, Lady Anne sat with Lizzy at her side.  Gerald Darcy took the seat to Mrs Bennet’s right, and Bingley was to her left. Next to Bingley was Miss Katherine Bennet, known as Kitty. Next to Gerald was his son.  The Bennet’s youngest daughter was too young to join the family dinner, and she remained in the nursery.

            “Tomorrow night is an assembly in Meryton.” Mrs Bennet announced. “And next week will be a dinner at Lucas Lodge.  Did Sir William send you an invitation?” she inquired of Bingley.

            “Sir William came to invite me personally, extending the invitation to my guests.  As soon as my aunt arrives at Netherfield, I plan to hold a ball.”

            “Your aunt, she is coming from the north?”

            “Yes, Agatha is my father’s sister, and she is coming from Scarborough to stay with me for as long as I require her aid.”

            “Your sister is to marry soon. Will you be leaving to attend the wedding?” Mrs Bennet continued to question Mr Bingley.

            “No, Caroline determined that they would hold the wedding on the continent, at her betrothed’s family estate. As he is cousin to aristocrats, there will be many of them in attendance, so it was wisest for the wedding to be more convenient in location.  I do not do well on boats. The motion makes me ill, even watching the ships sailing makes me queasy.  So, I will remain in England.  When they come here, I will host a ball for them.”

            “Are your other sister and her husband making the journey?”

            “Yes, they will be there.  Mr Hurst will escort Caroline down the aisle to her groom.”

            “How nice, to have family be there for such a special occasion.  I remember my wedding.  My parents had died the year before, from an outbreak of fever that came through the county. So, my sister and her husband, and my brother were my only family on such a momentous day.  My brother gave me to my husband, and I am forever grateful for his kindness.  But your sister must be planning such an elegant event, with her husband’s family being there.  How I wish I could have planned such a wedding for my Mary, but she did not wish for anything elaborate. With marrying my husband’s heir, I would have liked to give her an appropriate wedding, but she would not hear of such. Perhaps when my Kitty weds…”

            Bingley was certain she was pressing for the man to declare his love for her daughter, but he felt determined not to rush Kitty’s affections for him.  He believed she cared for him, but Bingley wished for a love match. How could he know for sure if she loved him?  Perhaps he would speak with his friend the following day. Obviously, William had a love match with Lizzy, and it would be good to have advice from someone who knew what it was like to love so dearly.

            After the meal, the men stayed in the dining room, enjoying some port and cigars.  The ladies followed Mrs Bennet to the drawing room, where she inquired if any of the ladies performed on the pianoforte.

            “Since my Mary left with her husband, we have had no one to perform for us.” Mrs Bennet declared.

            “And where does your daughter and her husband reside?” Lady Elizabeth inquired.

            “Mr Collins is the parson at Hunsford Parish. From what he has told us, it is next to the grand estate of Rosings Park, and his patroness is Lady Catherine de Bough.  From what my son-in-law has informed us, she is a grand lady, very knowledgeable.”

            “I know Lady Catherine well.  She enjoys passing along her opinions, and the estate is pleasant, though a bit too gaudy for my taste.” Her ladyship said.  “Lady Catherine is my eldest daughter.  I cannot agree that she is knowledgeable, or that she is wise, but she believes her way is the only way things should be done.”

            “Your daughter? Why, how amazing we should meet. From what Mary has told me, your daughter has been quite generous with her advice and instructions.  Mary invited us to visit Hunsford Parsonage next year.  Mary has high hopes that we will receive an invitation to visit Rosings. It would be such an honor to be welcome into such a grand house.”

            Lady Anne gave a slight chuckle.  “It is grand, though not comfortable.  My sister prefers things to be elegant, though that usually means they are painful to sit upon or find any rest. Forgive me, Mrs Bennet, do not think ill of my mother and I for speaking so of my sister, she is just different from how we were taught.  If you were to visit Lady Catherine’s Rosings, and then visit our estate in Derbyshire, you would find they are vastly unalike. My husband and I prefer quality, but comfort is important to us. What good is a chair that only causes pain? Or one that is ornate, yet only a child can sit on it because it is fragile? Sometimes I tease that the reason for my sister’s foul attitude comes from having had to sit on one of those uncomfortable chairs.”

            They surprised Mrs Bennet with their words.  How could a countess, even a dowager countess, speak so about her daughter’s choice in décor? She would have to keep their words in mind if she were to visit Rosings Park.

            “Lizzy, you are the only one of us who plays the pianoforte. Would you be willing to perform?” Lady Elizabeth inquired of her granddaughter.

            “It has been some time since I last played, Grandmamma. I am afraid I would only make a fool of myself in front of our hosts.” Lizzy replied.

            “Mother, I heard her practicing a few weeks ago, and she is correct.” Lady Anne teased.

            “Well, that is one thing we will have to work on.  Lizzy, you were a wonderful pianist. Your masters always found you to be wonderfully talented. When we arrive in London, I will hire masters to work with you once again.” Lady Elizabeth determined.

            “Yes, Grandmamma.” Lizzy smiled. She knew her grandmother was testing her to determine if she would still do as her ladyship directed.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            Later in the night, as Mrs Bennet was ready for her bed, she wondered about what the two ladies had to say regarding Lady Catherine and Rosings.  According to her last letter from Mary, her daughter could not praise her husband’s patroness enough.  The letter sounded as if Mary was in the presence of royalty.  Yet Lady Catherine’s sister and their mother spoke as if the grand lady’s tastes were horrible.

            Was not beauty more important than comfort?  All her life, Fanny Bennet nee Gardiner had thought beauty was more important.  She always tried hard to impress as the most beautiful girl in the area.  Ribbons and lace helped to make her looked pretty. Fanny had believed the truth to be appearances were important.  Yet here were two fine ladies of high society declaring they preferred comfort over the appearance of beauty?

            Appearance had never impressed Mary, yet she could not say enough about the splendor of Rosings and all the advice she had received from her ladyship. Perhaps her eldest daughter’s opinion was overwhelmed when she first saw the grand estate.

            As Mrs Bennet and her family had never been inside a manor house that was ornate and florid, the lady was unsure if her opinion was mistaken. If two ladies of superior knowledge, and had been inside many impressive homes, thought little of such appearances, she might need to change her view.

            Seeing that Mr Bingley’s guests and Mr Collins’ patroness were so different, Mrs Bennet decided against informing Mary of the identities of those visiting Netherfield.  As Kitty and Mr Bingley were growing closer towards an understanding, the mistress of Longbourn did not wish for anything to come between them.  Instead, Mrs Bennet determined to learn from the ladies, become a better hostess and improve her taste in all that mattered.

Chapter 6

            “If you had done what I asked you years ago, we would not have this problem now.”

            “Do not blame me, I did as you asked.  Is it my fault that the chit survived? I believed she was dead when I took the cross from her.”

            “You will have to make up for your mistake.  I insist that she be out of my life forever.”

            “Where can I find her?  How can I find her alone?  You have said that she uses a wheeled chair to move about, so she would constantly have others around her.”

            “I will discover and send word.  Now you must leave.  No one can know you have been here.”

            “No one will discover me. Can we not enjoy our time together?”

            “There is no time.  You have your duties to perform, so that no one realizes you are missing.  It is vital that no one becomes suspicious of your behavior.”

            “You can rely on my discretion.  My devotion to you is far greater than you can ever imagine.”

            “Then you had best heed my words.  Make sure you place her in the grave she escaped when her family died.  I will not tolerate her existence any longer.”

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            Mrs Bennet and her two youngest daughters were shopping in Meryton when they noticed the Darcy carriage coming to a stop outside the dressmaker’s shop.  This was surprising, as the lady was certain there were better seamstresses available to people of such high status.  Most likely the best that London offered would be available to the wife, daughter and granddaughter of an earl.

            The mistress of Longbourn hurried over to the ladies as they exited from the carriage. 

            “Good day, Mrs Bennet.  How are you on this fine day?” Lady Anne inquired when she spied the lady.

            “I am well, your ladyship. And you? Are all of you enjoying your time in our quaint community?”

            “We are enjoying every moment.  I have never really been fond of time in town, preferring the time we are in the country far more.  There is something about the clean air, the beauty of nature, and relaxed atmosphere of the country that has always drawn me to living either at my family estate or now, my husband’s estate.”

            Mrs Bennet had not seen William come from inside the carriage, stepping down and turning to lift his cousin from her seated position.  When she finally realized the young couple was near her, Mrs Bennet acknowledged them. 

            “Miss Fitzwilliam. I would have imagined you shopping at the finest modiste in London, having the finest gowns in the current fashions. Do you not attend all the fine dinners and balls?”

            Lizzy laughed.  “I rarely make the journey to town, as I share the opinion of my aunt’s view of nature.  Fortunately, I have such kind family members who aid me in spending time outside.  The seamstress in Lambton is very talented.  She also keeps current on the latest fashions. As for balls, I cannot dance, so I rarely ever attend. When I do, my cousin finds himself the center of attention, as all the mammas with their unmarried daughters who set their caps for him.”

            “Ah, but that is no longer an issue, my Lizzy.” William said with a smile. “I am no longer available.”

            “And you believe that will stop the ladies from tempting you to leave me? Come now, William.  You are more intelligent than such a notion.”

            “But I do not intend on turning my attention from my betrothed.  When they realize that they cannot turn my attention from you, and that you are the only woman I will dance with, they will soon lose interest.”

            Lady Anne let loose a laugh.  “My dear son, you will never understand women. Even when you become married, women will still try to tempt you from your wife.  Why do you think your father dislikes attending balls? He is an excellent dancer, but he will only dance with women in our family or the wives of his closest friends.”

            This confused Mrs Bennet with the conversation. Could people in the highest levels of society truly behave in such a manner? The families of standing would not tolerate such behavior in the community surrounding Meryton.  When Lady Lucas’ sister had visited two years earlier, she attempted to flaunt herself before the neighbors at an assembly.  Her gown was far too revealing, and her behavior was such that the lady found herself riding in a post carriage away from the area, after Lady Lucas declared she would no longer have any association with her.

            It was truly eye opening for the mistress of Longbourn.  Being the daughter of a country solicitor, she learned to be a gentlewoman; she learned what she could from her husband’s mother before the lady died only six months after Fanny had married Thomas Bennet.  But in the short time she was in the presence of the Darcy and Fitzwilliam families, she learned more than she would have thought possible.  There had been a time she had wished for her husband to purchase a townhouse in London, as Fanny had dreamed of grand balls and dinners, making her purchases from the finest shops.  Now, Fanny discovered that what she had dreamed of was far different from what was now discovering. She decided it would be best not to write to Mary, as Mary held devotion to every word Lady Catherine spoke. Mrs Bennet was certain the grand lady of Rosings Park would not appreciate learning that the mistress of Longbourn was no longer as impressed with the grandeur she thought was the fashionable manner to live.

            Mrs Bennet accompanied Darcy and Fitzwilliam families inside the shop, introducing them to Mrs Evelyn Brooks, the seamstress of Meryton.  As the ladies began speaking, Fanny Bennet held a different opinion of the seamstress she had taken for lesser quality for years.  As Mrs Brooks spoke of some of the newest fashions and showing the ladies some of her sketches of designs she had made, it filled the conversation with excitement. A sense of pride filled Mrs Bennet, pride in the area she had known all her life, and her view of what was important was transforming.

            Fanny Bennet, nee Gardiner, had been born and raised in Meryton.  With their father being the solicitor, had always desired the world she had read and heard about from her friends.  When she was a child, the family who lived at Netherfield was that of Sir Jerome and Lady Margaret Ashford.  Their daughters, Sarah and Cassandra, had always spoken of Meryton as being far beneath them, and speaking of the grand homes in London and the fancy estates they had visited.  From an early age, Fanny had been told by those who were superior to her family in a situation there was better.  She set her sights on Thomas Bennet, as he was heir to the second biggest estate in the area. 

            Love had not been a part of her decision.  All she had thought of was marrying a man who would raise her importance.  Fanny could imagine was the parties and having a townhouse in London so the Bennets could live as Sarah and Cassandra Ashford had described.   

            As everyone was preparing to go their own way, Charles Bingley approached on horseback.

            William looked at his friend, noticing the normally jovial young man was far from jovial.  Something was wrong.  “Bingley, what is wrong?”

            “My sisters learned of your arrival and they have returned.  Caroline is determined to be closer to you. As you have not formally announced your engagement, she is certain that you have not serious about such an attachment.” Bingley’s eyes looked down before looking at Lizzy, who sat straight in her chair.  “Could we go somewhere to speak in private?”

            Mrs Bennet overheard the conversation and suggested the church would be open and no one would disturb them there. At them, the lady led them across the dirt road, past two other buildings, then turned to the right.  They all made their way to the church, allowing Mrs Bennet to introduce them to the clergyman, Mr Copperton. 

            “Please make yourself comfortable.” The elderly many motioned to the group.  “I will be in the rectory, if you require anything.”

            William nodded his head.  “Thank you, sir.”

            When the clergyman had left them alone, William’s attention returned to his friend after sitting Lizzy on one pew.

            “Tell us what is wrong.”

            Bingley felt uncomfortable, far more so than he had ever felt before. “Caroline has decided that she plans to win your hand in marriage.  I have tried to tell her otherwise, but she refuses to accept what I say.  Knowing you are the heir to one of the largest estates in England, not to mention the grandson of an earl, Caroline is determined that she will achieve all she wants in her life in marrying you, except for a title.  She would be able to remain in England and have the life she desires.”

            William groaned. “It thrilled me when I learned your sister had left Netherfield.  Had she been here, I would have likely declined the invitation.  What of her betrothed?”

            “I am sorry, William.  I wish I could send her away. As for her betrothal, she has informed him she needs more time to prepare for the move.  Though she has not ended the engagement, she is hoping to do so soon.”

            His friend nodded his head.  “Have no fear, I do not blame you for her behavior.  It has always amazed me you have been able to tolerate the foolishness of your sister.  Did the Hursts make the journey as well?”

            “They did.  Louisa and Gilbert claim to have attempted in dissuading Caroline, but you know how my sister can be when she makes up her mind.”

            Elizabeth reached to place her hand on her cousin’s cheek, pulling his attention from what he had been told.  “Do not fear, Will.  Between your parents, Grandmamma, and myself, we will aid you in keeping Miss Bingley at bay.”

            A smile graced his lips.  “Bingley, I wonder if you can have my rooms at Netherfield changed.  Perhaps I could have the room that connects to the room of my betrothed.”

            Lady Anne gasped just before she chuckled.  “How completely inappropriate, Fitzwilliam Gerald Darcy.”

           “But it will make an absolute statement to anyone who believes I am available.”