Chapter 19

            “William, we must speak about our aunt. She is growing more irrational by the day. Father is concerned that we will need to take steps to protect the family.” Richard relayed the information to his cousin.

            “What does your father suggest? I will not marry Anne to appease Lady Catherine.”

            “Father stated that he would support your decision, and if it is not to offer for Anne, he will inform his sister.”

            Darcy shook his head. “How many times have I told your father, Lady Catherine, everyone, that I had no intention of ever marrying Anne? Does he truly believe I would suddenly change my mind?”

            “He was certain of your decision, but you know he had to ask one final time. Father said that your mother would never have made an arrangement for you or Georgiana, as she did not wish for an arrangement for her own marriage. But Father would not argue to keep Rosings in the family. Anne will never be strong enough to marry anyone else, nor will she be able to have children. With no heir, the estate will revert to one of the de Bourgh distant cousins. Lady Catherine does not like to accept the fact that Anne is the mistress of Rosings, not our aunt.”

            “I have promised Anne that when she decides to take her place as the mistress, I will do what I can to assist her with her books. The way Lady Catherine spends on the gaudy decorations, there might not be any funds in the coffers.”

            Bingley entered the room, a note in his hands. “Mrs Nichols has succeeded. Hurst and my sisters are on their way north. Most likely, they will not stop until they reach Gretna Green.”

            “We should give your housekeeper a bonus for her acting ability. I have no doubt that she gave quite a performance.” Richard laughed. “What I would not give to have seen the show.”

            Looking around, Bingley was curious. “Where is Miss Darcy?”

            “Georgiana wished to spend time with the ladies at the dower house.  For some reason she seems to be quite taken with Miss Elizabeth.” Darcy said as his forehead creased.

            “You do not understand why your sister wishes to know Miss Elizabeth?” Richard looked at his cousin with disbelief. “Never have you spoken of any young lady in your letters to Georgie. In the short time you have been here, you have managed to speak of Miss Elizabeth in each letter you have sent to your sister.”

            Not having realized his change in behavior, Darcy was surprised to be told that he had acted in such an unguarded manner. It pleased him to see that Georgiana appeared to like Elizabeth, as it would go a long way in his being able to convince the lady to accept his hand. Knowing that Georgiana would gain a sister whom she liked would be a blessing, as it had been a struggle for the younger Darcy with her brother and cousin as her guardians. What did two young men know of raising a girl?

            “Darcy, did you hear me?” Richard snapped his fingers in front of Darcy’s face.

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

            “What are your intentions with Miss Elizabeth?”

            Smiling, which showed his rarely seen dimples, Darcy replied. “I hope to ask Miss Elizabeth to be my wife. Do I have your approval?”

            “From what I have seen of the young lady, she is a perfect match for you. Intelligent, challenging, caring, and devoted to those she considers dear to her. Her lively nature and teasing are a bonus, as you are too reserved. I do not think I have ever seen you smile as much as you have since we arrived.”

            A sudden look of caution came over Darcy. “What of your parents? Will they approve of my choice? Not that it would change my mind, as I am quite set in my opinion, but will your parents support Elizabeth?”

            The use of her Christian name made Richard pleased. He refrained from teasing his cousin as he spoke. “Mother will be thrilled. My brother and I have disappointed her with our lack of wives, and you know she thinks of you as one of her sons. You will become her favorite.”

            “Your father?”

            “Mr Bennet is a gentleman, making you equal. Miss Elizabeth has been raised as a gentlewoman, even though she has not experienced London society. Since you do not like being in society, there should be no issue. Father will accept Miss Elizabeth, once he sees how happy she makes you and Georgiana.”

            “From your words, I take it that you approve of her.” Darcy watched his cousin closely.

            “Any woman who can make you happy is someone I approve of wholeheartedly. Yes, you have my support in your decision.”

            “Then the only concern we have is Lady Catherine.”

                                                            ~~ ** ~~

            Georgiana Darcy had long wished for a sister. Her mother had died shortly after her birth, leaving Georgiana to be raised mainly by men. Between her father, brother, and cousin, it was not surprising that the young lady would want female companionship.

            When she received her brother’s first letter from Netherfield, Georgiana thought it was an oddity. The following letters continued speaking of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, speaking openly of their debates, her intelligence, and her kindness. Her curiosity was peaked, as Georgiana could not imagine her brother being so taken with a young lady.

            Since meeting Elizabeth, the younger Darcy understood why her brother was taken with her. The more she was with Elizabeth, the more she hoped that Elizabeth would be her sister.

            “Georgiana, do you wish to practice your music? Mary is not having her lesson until later. Mamma is busy with some of the tenants today.”

            “What does your mother do with the tenants? Our housekeeper, Mrs Reynolds, has pretty much taken care of everything at Pemberley.”

            Elizabeth was not surprised, as the girl had no female role model to learn from, except for Lady Matlock. “Mamma visits each tenant’s home, learns of their family, any needs they may have. Our tenants are very kind and accept Mamma. They think she is a wonderful mistress for the estate, and they appreciate how she watches over them. She has a ledger in her office with all the tenants listed, their family names, birthdates, marriages, and more. Mamma sees that all the children receive a gift of sweets for their birthday, and Christmas is quite a celebration here. The tenant’s wives assist us to create a large party for the tenants and servants. Longbourn is a special place, where all who live here are decent and good to each other. Mamma has set a good example for all of us, teaching us that we all need to work together to achieve our goals. The fields cannot be planted without the tenants. Without the crops, the tenants cannot afford to pay their rents. Without the rents, there is no income for the estate. Without the servants cooking and cleaning, our lives would be less comfortable. We all depend on one another.”

            “I had not thought of the tenants in such a manner. William always reminds me that our servants deserve our respect and kindness, as they are vital to our lives. But you are correct. Without the tenants, and the rents, we would not have the income to live as we do.” Georgiana was impressed. “What sort of things does your mother do for the tenants?”

            “My mother takes baskets of food, some fabric or soap for the family to use. Candles, there is always a need for candles. We have one of the tenants whose wife makes the candles, and the estate purchases them from her. Our cook also makes the best treats for the children. It brings her pleasure to know her effort brings the children great joy.” Elizabeth was proud of her mother’s generosity. “If anyone becomes ill, Mamma sees to they have the care that is needed. The apothecary, a physician, medicine, whatever they need, Longbourn sees that it is provided.”

            “I am certain that Pemberley is similar, as our tenants enjoy living there. But I have never thought about visiting them and learning more about them.” Georgiana replied.

            “Perhaps you should speak with your brother, ask his opinion on the subject. Then you might speak to your housekeeper when you return to Pemberley.”

            “I believe it would be best if I wait until William is married and I can learn from my sister.” A look spoke volumes as to who the young lady was Georgiana wished to be her sister.

            “Has your brother spoken of marrying someone?” Elizabeth was unsure if Darcy had informed his family of their courtship.

            “Miss Elizabeth, my brother informed me of his courtship with you. Just so you know, I highly approve, as does Richard. If only you would move past the courtship and become engaged, as I wish to call you my sister.”

            Elizabeth’s cheeks warmed with the young lady’s words. “It is a man’s place to set the pace of a courtship and a betrothal.”

            “If William was to ask for your hand, would you accept him?”

            “Miss Darcy, it would not be proper to discuss such matters.”

            “Georgiana, please. I long to have you as my sister. Please, Miss Elizabeth, can you tell me if you would accept my brother if he were to propose to you?”

            “Our acquaintance is of short duration. How could your brother wish to marry me after such a short time?”

            Georgiana reached out her hand and placed it over Elizabeth’s. “Have you never heard of love at first sight? William is in love with you, of that I am certain. He is completely besotted. One thing I know for certain is that William does not give his heart away easily.”

Chapter 20

            The day after Miss Bingley and the Hursts left Netherfield, Bingley and his guests returned to the manor house. Mrs Nichols was pleased to welcome the men and Miss Darcy, having prepared rooms for Richard and Georgiana, as well as having Bingley’s and Darcy’s rooms cleaned.

            “Mrs Nichols, I cannot thank you enough for all you have done. Hopefully it was not too difficult for you, dealing with my sisters.” Bingley stated to his housekeeper.

            “Mr Bingley, it is I who should be thanking you. Forgive me for saying so, but making falsehoods to your sister was extremely satisfying.”

            Mr Barnes, the butler, stepped forward. “Mrs Nichols missed her calling, Mr Bingley. She should have had a career on stage with the performance she gave in front of Miss Bingley.”

            “We wish we could have seen the look on Caroline’s face. Are you certain they have left for Scotland?”

            The housekeeper nodded her head. “Miss Bingley demanded they leave immediately for Gretna Green, as she planned to save Mr Darcy from doing something devastatingly wrong.”

            “I have invited the Bennet and the Lucas families to dine with us on Thursday. Can you speak with Cook and determine if we need anything brought from London or elsewhere?” Bingley inquired. 

            “Of course. Who will be your hostess?”

            Bingley turned to his friends. “I received word that my Aunt Rose will be arriving in the morning.” Looking back to Mrs Nichols. “Once my aunt arrives, she will act as hostess.”

            “Very good sir. I will speak with cook in preparation. Which rooms would you prefer for your aunt?”

            “Put her in the rose room in the family wing.” Bingley felt confident in making such a choice. He had never made a decision on such a topic. Feeling good about his choice and the fact that he did not have to give in to Caroline. Having his sister off on a wild goose chase was giving Bingley courage he had never felt before.

            “Miss Darcy, would you prefer different rooms or are the ones you were given adequate?” Bingley inquired. He wished to do whatever he could for his guests to make them comfortable.

            Smiling, Georgiana responded. “The rooms are very pleasant and, as they are close to my brother’s rooms, I believe I am quite comfortable. Thank you for your kindness to see to my comfort.”

            “Do you intend on practicing the pianoforte this afternoon?”            Darcy inquired.

            Georgiana looked down at her slippers before speaking. “I would like to speak with you, if you could spare the time. There are things that Elizabeth told me that I would like to know if we could do at Pemberley.”

            “Of course. Shall we talk in private or in the drawing room with Bingley and Richard.”

            The young lady thought for a moment. “Perhaps we should include Mr Bingley and Richard. They might learn something from the conversation.”

            The men all exchanged glances with each other, then followed Georgiana into the drawing room.

            Once everyone was seated, she began. “When I was speaking with Elizabeth, she explained what her family does for their tenants.  Her mother visits the tenants, keeps records of their families, even their birthdates. If there is anyone in need, Mrs Bennet sees to them. Food, clothing for the children, fabric for the families, and any medical care. Do we do such at Pemberley?”

            “I assume Mrs Reynolds has handled that, as she took over many of our mother’s duties to the house. I have never thought to ask Mrs Reynolds. Perhaps it is time that I learn more. My duties have been to the farms, cottages, livestock, and investments. It is foolish of me to not consider such duties.”

            Seeing his sister’s cheeks darken, Darcy inquired if there was something wrong.

            “No, no, nothing wrong, I do not think.” She could not lift her eyes to meet her brother’s. “It is just…when Elizabeth said she would be happy to teach me, I told her I would prefer to wait until you married. As my sister, she could show me.”

            It was Darcy’s turn to have reddened cheeks. The two other men managed to contain their laughter.

            “What was Miss Elizabeth’s reaction?”

            “We discussed my awareness of the courtship, and that you are in love with her. I have never seen you so besotted, and I…I…I wish you would just marry and not have to wait around. You deserve happiness. Elizabeth is your happiness, I know she is. Please, William, just propose to her. She loves you just as much as you love her.”

            Darcy’s eyes quickly snapped to look at his sister. “Did Miss Elizabeth say so? Did she tell you that she loves me?”

            “Not in so many words, but I can see it in her eyes. When we spoke of you, there is a peaceful feeling comes over her and her eyes sparkle.”

            “That does not prove that she has feeling for me.” Darcy shook his head. “I cannot expect her heart to be the same as mine.”

            Richard reached over and swatted his cousin’s arm. “Do not be a fool. When the pair of you are in a room together, I doubt you remember there are others in the room.”

            His eyes widened as Darcy listened to his cousin. Could it be possible? Could Elizabeth Bennet have lost her heart to him? Were his sister and cousin correct?

            “Though I have been busy with knowing Miss Bennet better, even I can see that Miss Elizabeth has feelings for you. Why do you think my sister is hell bent to get to Gretna Green? Mrs Nichols never told Caroline that Elizabeth was going with you. My sister assumed that it was so.”

            “Your sister would assume any females I even look at to be a rival for my attention.” Darcy stated. “So, it was simple enough to make her think I would be running off to elope with Miss Elizabeth.”

            “William, I am begging you, speak with Elizabeth. I know she is in love with you. There is no need to have a courtship. You should marry right away.”

            Frowning, Darcy looked at his sister. “Just why should we marry right away? Is there some reason I should marry quickly?”

            “Well, yes. I do not wish for Aunt Catherine to cause you and Elizabeth any problems. I heard Aunt Catherine when she was at Matlock House. She is determined to force you to marry Anne.  Anne does not wish to marry anyone; she has told me. But she does not have the strength to fight her mother. If Lady Catherine forces Anne to marry you, our cousin would be helpless to stop her mother.”

            “Have no fear, my dear sister. There is no possible way our aunt can force me into marriage to our cousin.”

            “If you were already married to Elizabeth, our aunt could do nothing but rant about her disapproval.” Georgiana looked at her brother with a desperate plea on her visage.

            Richard nodded his head. “If the two of you are in love, there is nothing stopping you, and your sister has a good point. If you are married, Aunt Catherine can do nothing but complain.”

            Darcy turned his head and looked at his friend. “Do you wish to add your opinion?”

            Bingley bit his lip. “I believe it is safer if I remain silent on this subject.”

            “Wise man, Bingley.” Richard declared. “So, William, what do you plan to do about Miss Elizabeth?”

            Standing, the master of Pemberley began pacing. The other people in the drawing room watched him, back and forth, for several moments. Returning to his chair, Darcy looked down at his hands, twisting the handkerchief he had pulled from his pocket.

            Finally, he looked up at his sister. “You are certain that she cares for me?”

            “More than cares, William. Elizabeth loves you. If I were allowed to wager a bet, I would place everything I have on the two of you being a love match.” Georgiana reached over and took hold of her brother’s hand, squeezing it lightly.

            “Then I will speak with Miss Elizabeth. Tomorrow.”