Here are the next chapters of the story.

Chapter 3

            Fitzwilliam Darcy had arrived late the night before and had been unable to view much of the estate his friend was leasing.  As was his want, Darcy rode out early that morning, wishing to see what he could before meeting with Bingley and the steward for Netherfield Park.

            Riding his favorite stallion, Darcy gave in to his urge to allow Apollo to race across the open fields. Since the harvest was over, he was able to travel across the land with no obstacles in his way. In the distance, he could see an incline. The incline would be a pleasant way to see more of the area, so when he came to the bottom of it, Darcy dismounted and tied his horse to a nearby tree. Climbing up the hill, he was surprised to discover that he was not alone when he reached the top.

            Seated on a tree trunk which was on its side was a young lady, holding a book. “Forgive me, miss, I do not mean to disturb you. I did not know anyone was up here.”

            “There is nothing to forgive. Oakham Mount is a tempting location to escape the world.” The young lady smiled as she spoke. “From here, you can imagine everything however you wish. As a child, I would pretend I was a princess and all the land I could see from here was in my kingdom.”

            Darcy felt the corner of his lips tugged upwards. “I am afraid we have no one to make introductions. If you desire, I will remove myself from, did you refer to this being Oakham Mount, or will you allow me to introduce myself?”

            “I have a feeling that I can trust you, as long as you do not spread word of our meeting here.”

            “My name is Fitzwilliam Darcy, of Pemberley, in Derbyshire.”

            “Welcome to the area, Mr Darcy. I am Miss Elizabeth Bennet. My father’s estate is Longbourn. You can see my home if you look this direction.” With that, she pointed towards the west.

            “It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Bennet. I must say, your community is charming from what I have seen.”

            “Are you passing through or staying with one of our neighbors, Mr Darcy?”

            “I am a guest of Mr Bingley’s, staying at Netherfield. I arrived late last night and did not see much of the area, so I decided to take a ride this morning to see what I could. When I spied the incline, I thought it would be a good place to see more of the community.”

            “Then I welcome you to the neighborhood on behalf of the Bennet family.”

            “If not mistaken, there is an assembly to be held this evening. Will you be in attendance, as I would like to ask for a set at the dance.”

            Elizabeth’s demeanor changed. “I am afraid we will not be at the assembly. If you will excuse me, Mr Darcy, I must return home before my father becomes concerned. Please enjoy your stay at Netherfield. It was a pleasure to meet you.”

            Surprising the gentleman, he watched as the young lady disappeared quickly. She had struck him as one of the most beautiful ladies he had ever met, with her dark chocolate hair and her fine eyes. The smile she had given him made her face come to life. Why would she make such a quick departure after he asked for a dance at the assembly?

            Standing there for a few moments longer, Darcy finally made his descent to where his horse was tied. Mounting Apollo, he rode back to Netherfield’s stables, thinking of the young lady he had just met. He knew he must speak to his friend about the Bennet family. Darcy wanted to know all he could about the most amazing Miss Bennet.

            Unlike any of the ladies Darcy had met in the many functions of the ton, the gentleman found Elizabeth Bennet to be refreshing and charming.

            All his life, Fitzwilliam Darcy had a difficult time speaking with people he was known. His shy nature made it difficult for him, which is one of the reasons it was surprising that he would be so open with Elizabeth Bennet. There was something about her that was different.

            Darcy was the heir of Pemberley, one of the largest estates in Derbyshire. His mother, Lady Anne Darcy, had died when Darcy’s much younger sister was only a year old, followed ten years later when his father, Gerald Darcy, had died. At the age of three and twenty, Fitzwilliam Darcy had become master of Pemberley, as well as four other smaller estates, was responsible the numerous investments the Darcy’s were involved in, and was co guardian for his sister who was one and ten. His cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam, shared guardianship of Miss Georgiana Darcy, though he was currently on the continent, on the battlefields of France.

            Five years had past since his father’s death. Since he had come of age at one and twenty, Darcy had been seen as a prize to be captured on the marriage market. Every matchmaking mamma and her daughter were out to captured him. Not only being from the wealthy landowner, Darcy was also the grandson of the late Lord Jerome Fitzwilliam, the former earl of Matlock. The current earl was Darcy’s uncle Henry. The connections the family had were nearly as important as the wealth of the Darcy family.

            Over the years, there had been many who had tried to achieve a match with the young man, and each attempt to compromise him was thwarted. As such, Darcy had an extreme reluctance to attending functions when he visited London. Those dinners and balls he did attend, Darcy kept from spending any time that would give a young lady the wrong intention. He rarely danced, especially if he did not know the lady.

            One of the reasons he had been reluctant to stay with the Bingleys was his friend’s sister, Miss Caroline Bingley. The lady was everything that Darcy hated in the ladies from the ton. The Bingley family had obtained their wealth from trade, as they owned several mills in Scarborough. Bingley’s father had always wanted his family to join the landed gentry, and had even sent Charles to Cambridge, where Darcy met Charles.

            Miss Bingley had made it clear that she wished to be the next Mrs Darcy of Pemberley. She coveted his wealth and status, desiring to make all the ladies of the ton envy her. The fact that Darcy could not tolerate being in the same room with her for more than a few moments, all that mattered was for her to secure him as her husband. Then no one would dare speak poorly of her being the daughter of a tradesman. All the parties and balls she would host, everyone would desire the invitations she would send.

            Entering Netherfield through a side door, Darcy used the servants’ staircase to arrive at his rooms without being seen by Miss Bingley. When the door was securely shut behind him, the gentleman made his way into the dressing room attached to his bedchamber. His valet, Perkins, was setting everything out in preparation to have Darcy looking his best, as he always did.

            “Your coffee is on the table near the fireplace, along with some toast. Did you prefer the green coat or the blue one?” The trusted valet had been with Darcy for more than a dozen years and knew his master’s needs better than the gentleman knew himself.

            “I believe the blue coat will suffice today.”

            “You should know, someone was attempting to open the door to your rooms before you arrived. It is a good thing that I keep the door locked, including the one leading to the sitting room.”

            “Thank you, Perkins. What would I do without you?” Darcy smiled. Perkins had long known the type of ladies from the ton who would sneak into a man’s bedchamber to compromise him, forcing the man to marry her. The valet protected his master from such ladies, including the so called lady who was the sister of Darcy’s close friend.

            “If not for me, Sir, you would have been leg shackled years ago. Fortunately, I keep a close watch over your wellbeing.  If you are miserable, my life is miserable. Therefore, I am your most devoted servant.”

            A chuckle escaped Darcy. “You are truly, old man.”

            Perkins sniffed. He was only five years older than his master, so being referred to as old rankled the valet. The loyal servant was used to hearing such teasing when the two men were alone. Even with the teasing to which he was sometimes subjected, Perkins was proud of the younger man. Fitzwilliam Darcy was highly respected and positions with the Darcy family were valuable livings, as it was rare that most people left the employ of the grand family. The same could be said of Darcy’s father, and his grandfather before him. Perkins’ father had been valet to the late Gerald Darcy until the gentleman died and Perkins senior retired to a cottage on the Darcy estate of Pemberley.

            “So, it appears that Miss Bingley has proven her desire marry me to be more desperate. I will need to speak with her brother today. If she believes she escaped unnoticed, she will likely request a key from the housekeeper.”

            “Have no fear, Master William, as I have obtained the only copies of the key for this set of rooms. Mrs Nichols was kind enough to see that Miss Bingley did not receive a copy of the key.”

            “Why did I even doubt your abilities? Remind me to see you are compensated for your diligence.”

            “Of course, Sir.”

            In less than half of an hour, Darcy was shaved and dressed, prepared for the day. As he left his rooms, Bingley was spotted coming from his. “Ah, Bingley, might I have a word with you?”

            “Of course, my friend. Shall we speak as we break our fast?” Bingley was smiling.

            “It would be better if we spoke in private. We can step inside my rooms, if you do not mind.”

            Once inside the room, Bingley had a feeling that he was about to receive bad news from his friend.  “What has my sister done this time?”

            Darcy made a valiant attempt to keep from laughing. “Am I that obvious?”

            “No, my sister is. What has Caroline done this time?”

            “While I went out for a ride this morning, someone attempted to enter the room from the hall. Perkins keeps the doors locked, even when I am away from the rooms.”

            Bingley shook his head.  “I should have sent her away as soon as I knew you were coming. Forgive me, my friend. I will speak with her again, this time with a threat. If she makes any attempt to compromise you, she will be the one who suffers the consequences when she is shipped off to live with our Aunt Agatha in Scarborough. She was a teacher at a school for troubled girls. Caroline fears Aunt Agatha.”

            “As long as you understand that I will not marry your sister, no matter what she does to cause a compromise.”

            “Of course, my friend. Caroline has been warned many times, now I need to stand my ground. She has always found me to be so amiable that she takes advantage of me. Not this time.  Caroline is in for a rude awakening this time.”

            “By the way, Charles, what do you know of your neighbors?”

            “Not much. We only arrived a few days before you and have not had a chance to meet many of the families. I hoped to remedy that tonight at the assembly. Why do you ask?”

            “I met a young lady this morning, and she stated her father’s estate is the nearest one to Netherfield. Longbourn, I believe she said.”

            Bingley nodded his head. “Longbourn is our neighbor to the west. I do not know the family.  Sir William Lucas of Lucas Lodge did not speak of our neighbor, though I am certain he will introduce us this evening.”

            “That is odd. Usually the masters of the local estates pay a call on new neighbors.”

            “Sir William will be able to enlighten us, I am certain. If there is an opportunity tonight, I will speak with him. Shall we meet with the steward and learn what we can about the estate?”

Chapter 4

            The men spent several hours in the study, listening to the steward discuss the crop rotation that had been planned for the following spring, as well as any repairs that needed to be done for the tenant cottages and Netherfield’s manor house.

            Bingley was dizzy with all the details that the steward gave of the estate. Looking at his friend, Bingley realized that Darcy understood what Mr Josephson had said, even asking for more details on some of the topics. After the steward took his leave of the gentlemen, Bingley poured two glasses of port, handing one of them to Darcy.

            “How can you understand everything he told us?”

            Darcy smiled over the rim of his glass. “I was trained by my father from the time I was old enough to walk. My father believed one was never too young to learn how to take care of those under his protection. When you are the master of an estate, everyone on the estate or touched by it are under your protection. At Pemberley, I am responsible for the estate and all the tenants on the lands, my servants, and the people in the villages surrounding the estate. Lambton and Kympton are vital to our ability to provide food and equipment to the estate, and the estate is vital to the income those in the villages. Without the estates, who would make purchases from the shops? If the shops were not there, where would anyone purchase what they needed? We are all interdependent. Once you realize your role, you will be able to adequately run the estate.”

            Tossing back his drink and allowing the burn to slide down his throat, Bingley took a moment to speak.  “Forgive me, though I do not see myself being able remember how to do half of what you discussed with Josephson. Perhaps I should give up on this quest.”

            “Do not judge yourself by what I am able to do. My father was different from many of the men with whom he attended school. When others spent time drinking and gambling, visiting the brothels, my father was already managing Pemberley. His father was ill for many years, leaving Grandfather from being able to tend to his duties. Father was running the day to day business from the time he was eight and ten. Grandfather passed three years later, just before Father came into his majority. Fortunately, he was close friends with my uncle, the current earl of Matlock. Their friendship is how Father met my mother. Unlike many of the ton, my parents had a love match. I do not believe he recovered from my mother’s death. Many times, I wondered why he did not remarry, though I know no one could have taken my mother’s place in his heart.”

            “Never take her place, but there is enough room in one’s heart to love more than one person at a time. There are so many different forms of love. Perhaps what they had was so precious that he knew he could never have a love come close to it and did not wish to compare a new relationship to what he had with your mother.”

            Darcy was shocked with his friend’s statement. He had never thought of his father not wishing to remarry being from such an aspect. “I do believe that is one of the most profound things you have ever told me. My thanks, Bingley. You have given me a new way to look at the situation.”

            A smile grew on Bingley’s lips. “I surprise even myself at times. Why do we not enjoy some refreshments and then spend some time in the game room?”

            “Yet more profound suggestions from you. Bingley, do not wear yourself out with all the ideas coming at once.” Darcy gave his friend a good natured slap on the shoulder as the pair left the study.

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            Caroline Bingley was furious with her brother keeping their guest too busy to spend time with her. How was she ever to capture the hand of Fitzwilliam Darcy if he did not see how perfect she would be as his wife?

            “Why did Charles decide we should come here? This estate will never do, we need to find a place near Pemberley. How can I prove to Mr Darcy that I would be the perfect mistress for his home if he is too busy with all the problems that this worthless estate requires?” Caroline was fuming and relaying her frustration to her elder sister.

            “Caroline, you must calm yourself. This is the perfect estate for Charles to learn from. Though Mr Darcy is busy with our brother, in such a rustic location would prevent from other ladies catching his eye. Everyone in this community is beneath such a gentleman as Mr Darcy to even look at, which gives you a great advantage.  He will see your superiority over the inferior nobodies, which will make him appreciate your qualities.”

            Her sister’s words improved Caroline’s attitude. “Tonight, at the assembly, I will show how superior I am. My new gown will be perfect, as it is the latest in town. No one in this backwater nowhere will have such a gown.”

            Louisa Hurst, nee Bingley, knew her sister would be spending the rest of the day preparing for the assembly. Though she was pleased with her marriage to a gentleman who was heir to a small estate, and desired her sister to be settled elsewhere, so that Louisa could have the freedom to spend time with her husband, Gilbert Hurst.

            “Louisa, did you hear me?” Caroline was annoyed.

            “Forgive me, I was woolgathering. What did you say?”

            “I was trying to decide how to wear my hair. Should I have my maid place feathers in the styling I wore at the Milton’s ball in London?”

            “Does your maid know how to perform such a style?” Louisa inquired.

            “Of course, she does. She was the one who designed my hair style that night.”

            “But Caroline, remember that the new maid was not with you when the Milton’s ball. You have had two maids since then.”

            This caused Caroline to pause for a moment. “I will have to explain the design to my new maid. Surely she is capable of such a design.”

            It was well known that Caroline did not have the ability to keep a maid, as she was a difficult person to please. In the previous year, Caroline had already gone through five maids, and would likely change from her current maid before the year was over.

            The rest of the afternoon saw Caroline and her sister sequestered in her dressing chamber, as the woman determined exactly what she would wear and how to style her hair. Miss Bingley was determined that Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy would find her irresistible and request her hand.

            “When I am mistress of Pemberley, I will begin changing the rooms to fit my tastes. Lady Anne Darcy may have been the daughter of an earl, but her preference for understatement in her décor would never be approved. Her choices were simplistic, nothing at all to show her wealth or status. If I remember correctly, her mother died when Lady Anne was a young girl, so she was not given the best of examples from which to learn.”

            “Which rooms would you improve first?”

            This question gave Miss Bingley pause. “Though I have not already seen the specific room, I am certain the mistress’ chamber will need a complete update. The paper on the walls, furnishings, bedding. All will require to be replaced.”

            “What will you do with all of Lady Anne’s belongings? I would not be surprised to learn that the mistress’ chambers have remained the same as when she was alive, including her gowns.” Louisa inquired.

            “I will have them packed and placed in the attic at Pemberley and at Darcy House. If Miss Darcy wishes them, she is welcome to all her mother’s belongings. Nothing of Lady Anne’s will be kept in my home, as her tastes are far different from my own.”

            “Very good, sister. I look forward to seeing your improvements. You will invite my opinion on some matters, will you not?”

            “Of course, Louisa. You will be staying at Pemberley for a time after the wedding.” Caroline smiled wickedly at the thought of all the changes she would make when she was Mrs Darcy of Pemberley.