Lady Anne rose as the party of young people entered her parlor. The beauty of her face was enhanced by the rarity of the smile she now wore. “Mr. Bingley, how wonderful you have come to Pemberley at last with your bride.” She turned to Jane and held out a hand, “Please do come sit with me dear, the men would rather have a drink in the study I think.”
Jane approached the mistress of Pemberley at a gentle pace. Elizabeth admired the ability of her sister to put others at ease. As much as Jane brought calm to any situation, Elizabeth was quite the opposite. Her happy nature and inquisitive mind leant her presence a livelier turn.
Lady Anne took Jane’s hand and sat with her while Elizabeth instructed the footman to deliver her small case to the Rose bedroom.
“How do you find Brambling, Mrs. Bingley? I attended a luncheon there once many years ago and found it most pleasing for a country home.”
Jane smiled sweetly and Elizabeth could see Lady Anne was as taken with Jane’s mild manner as she had been with her own adventurous one. Elizabeth imagined she and her sister were fine company for the woman.
“Brambling Hall is a lovely home and having my sister with me is a dream come true. Managing such a house continues to provide many valuable lessons, some which I hope Lizzy shall learn with me.”
Lady Anne nodded her approval. “Your sister has a quick wit and a caring nature. I imagine she would do well as the mistress of a country home.”
Elizabeth glanced at Lady Anne and found the sparkle in her eye to be an encouragement. Did Mr. Darcy’s mother find her a suitable match for her only son? Perhaps it was her own hope that made it seem so.
The butler announced dinner and the gentlemen returned to escort the ladies into the dining room. Elizabeth’s heart soared as Lady Anne took Mr. Bingley’s free arm and left her son to escort the young lady delivered from her lake. Mr. Darcy offered his arm and Elizabeth took it, greatly pleased by his charming smile.
The dining room of Pemberley shone brightly in the soft light of the candles flickering about the room. Brambling Hall’s dining room was a sight to behold, much grander than Longbourn, but Pemberley was something from a dream.
Again Elizabeth imagined becoming the mistress of Pemberley and became nervous at the very idea. A grand home of this scale and immense beauty was an occupation of its own to manage, she was quite certain. She thought now that Mr. Darcy had many reasons for his weariness when she had seen him from afar during her stay at Brambling.
Elizabeth sat beside Lady Anne as Mr. Darcy took a seat at the head of the table. She watched him from the corner of her eye as he held a conversation with Charles. Lady Anne turned to her and Elizabeth found herself reluctant to lose sight of Mr. Darcy.
“My dear, I am quite pleased to have you as a guest at Pemberley. It is my hope you might consider the company of a lady my age to be beneficial.”
Elizabeth smiled warmly at her host and included Jane in their conversation. “I am deeply honored, Lady Anne. My sister may become a regular visitor as well. Jane and I are quite close, you see. I cannot imagine we should find a better friend than the great lady of Pemberley.”
Lady Anne’s clear blue eyes twinkled with merriment at Elizabeth’s words. “I would be pleased to have her company as often as she wishes. I imagine Brambling would run as smoothly if she were to sit at tea with us from time to time. I must warn you both, I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
Jane blushed at the generosity of Lady Anne. She was accustomed to Lizzy speaking her mind and hoped the woman did not imagine she wished to impose upon her hospitality. “Lizzy is correct, we are as close as two sisters could ever be but I would not dream of intruding upon your kindness, Lady Anne.”
The mistress of Pemberley smiled at Jane Bingley, the warmth of her welcome evident in her eyes. “I assure you, Mrs. Bingley, you could never be thought of as an intruder at Pemberley. I believe your sister was drawn to the grounds as a means of releasing me from the loneliness of my grief. My son has tried over these months to reach me, but it was Miss Elizabeth’s lively presence that found the place in my heart long shadowed and hidden.”
Elizabeth lowered her lashes as Lady Anne took her hand. Mr. Darcy glanced at the pair and Charles Bingley inclined his head in their direction. “It would seem your mother has opened her heart to Elizabeth.”
Mr. Darcy found himself staring at the young woman’s hair wondering how the weight of it would rest in his hands were her to release it from it’s pins. He looked away quickly, the picture in his head surprising him.
Elizabeth noted Mr. Darcy’s lingering gaze and lowered her lashes, her heart racing wildly at the emotions warring in her breast. The Mr. Darcy she had known from his time in Hertfordshire was far more aloof than the one who watched her now. She was certain her friendship with his mother had altered the control he had carefully exerted all those months ago.
She returned to her conversation with Lady Anne and Jane, sparing glances for the handsome man at the head of the table often enough that little doubt remained in the mind of her hostess.
Lady Anne glanced to her son and delivered the question she was certain her young guest wished most to ask herself. “William, I wondered if you might consider staying longer at Pemberley this visit? I cannot bear to think of parting so soon.”
Mr. Darcy considered his mother’s ploy. Her question was clearly a request made sweetly in the presence of their dinner guests where he could not entertain the idea of denying her wishes. He found he did not wish to deny her, for the sadness of her grief lifting was a blessing he could not have foreseen. The added presence of one Elizabeth Bennet, he could not deny the enticement she provided, settled his decision.
“Mother, I cannot bear to deny you. I would stay as long as you might require. London can wait.”
When dinner was done, Lady Anne accepted her son’s arm and stood before those assembled. Her voice was tinged with regret as she addressed them.
“I have found great joy in your company this evening, but I must retire. It seems my desire for company is tempered by my lack of stamina after all this time alone,” she turned to Elizabeth and nodded, “I shall see you come the morrow, my dear.”
The same evening, Mr. Bennet sat in his study with his cousin William Collins. The man had come from Hunsford and had yet to take a breath in his endless bout of speeches.
“Here, Mr. Collins, the study is a haven from the constant chatter of the ladies of Longbourn. Please, let us reflect upon the matters of the day quietly as we sip a good port.”
Mr. Collins halted his speech and stared oddly at his host. “Mr. Bennet, surely a good conversation with a worthy and amiable guest would serve the same purpose as peace and quiet?”
Mr. Bennet sighed and poured himself a bit more port than was his habit. “If we must speak, and I strongly suggest we must not, then let it be of the daughter you intend to have for your wife. Though I caution you against any other than Mary. The younger girls are not suited to a life of service and piety.”
Mr. Collins fell silent at the turn in conversation as he considered the meekest of the five Bennet girls. He would have preferred Jane but she was already married and well away from Longbourn. There was Elizabeth, though she lived in Derbyshire with Jane and her husband.
“Mary is a lovely young woman in her manner but Elizabeth would be better suited, I believe. She has surely benefitted from her time with the Bingleys. Lady Catherine did advise me to choose well. Mary might be a bit timid yet to become the wife of a parson with many important duties.”
Mr. Bennet sighed as he came to see his study would not be the refuge he hoped whilst his cousin was visiting. Elizabeth was the last daughter he would suggest become the man’s wife. However, he knew Mrs. Bennet would likely write to Lizzy as soon as she knew of his cousin’s desire for her hand in marriage.
“I would caution against Lizzy if I am honest. She is headstrong and opinionated. I am not sure Lady Catherine would appreciate those traits in any young woman tasked as the wife of her parson.”
Mr. Collins nodded to his host, a silly smile plastered on his face. “Lady Catherine did mention I ought choose a wife from one of my cousins here at Longbourn. With the unfortunate entailment hanging over the home, it would be a fair gesture.”
Mr. Bennet sighed and sent his cousin away. “Mrs. Bennet will be pleased to know of it. She may be better suited to match you with one of the girls still at home. Lizzy can be made to return to Longbourn but she would not arrive before your visit ended.”
The parson stood and excused himself from his cousin’s study. “I am certain Lady Catherine would allow me to come again when cousin Elizabeth has returned home. A marriage partner is an important choice, as you well know Mr. Bennet.”
Mrs. Bennet sighed when Mr. Collins entered the parlor. She hoped he might spend more time in the study with her husband.
“Mrs. Bennet, might I sit with you and discuss which of your daughters would be a suitable match?”
Mrs. Bennet clasped her hands and called for tea. Her disdain for the man set to inherit Longbourn after her husband’s death softened in that moment. “Why, Mr. Collins, I had no notion you might choose one of my girls as your wife. I must say Mary is the one I would suggest as Lydia and Kitty are still young girls.”
Mr. Collins could see both mother and father were eager to place Mary as a suitable match. He would not consider her now even had he found himself attracted to her. The Bennets did not seem the least concerned with his need of a good wife so much as their own need to see the meek Mary settled.
“I spoke with Mr. Bennet in the study and he assured me you would likely know better than he which daughter I ought to offer for, but you have chosen Mary as well. I would prefer Elizabeth as the older daughters should be married before their younger sisters. Lady Catherine might find fault otherwise and I cannot have her sensibilities offended.”
Mrs. Bennet smiled. Of course he would choose Lizzy with Jane already married. The idea had not occurred to her with Lizzy having gone to Brambling to live. “My husband and I would prefer to have Mary settled but Elizabeth would do as well. I shall have Mr. Bennet write her and have her come home as soon as she may.”
Mr. Collins nodded at this offer and took Mrs. Bennet’s hand. “You have chosen well, dear lady. With your older daughters married, perhaps it will be easier to find a match for cousin Mary?”
Mr. Darcy entered the parlor several mornings later, pleased to find his mother and Elizabeth seated together. Their heads were bent close as Elizabeth read to Lady Anne.
He watched for as long as he might without interrupting and smiled as his mother turned to welcome him. “William, do not stand about like a footman. Come sit with us.”
Elizabeth replaced the ribbon in her book and closed it gently. She was pleased to see Mr. Darcy so early in the day. She imagined he would keep to his library as his mother had indicated was his habit while at Pemberley.
“I wished to know if you and Miss Elizabeth might fancy a walk about the gardens, mother.”
Lady Anne considered his request and turned to Elizabeth. “Forgive me, dear. I should have considered you might wish to walk the grounds. My rose garden is simply divine.”
Elizabeth rose and stood while Mr. Darcy held out his arm for his mother. The lady smoothed her skirts with a trembling hand. Looking about the room, she breathed deeply and nodded to her son. “I must admit it is a lovely day for a walk in the gardens. I would have my maid come along. If I must return to the house, the two of you may continue on.”
Elizabeth turned her head and hid the smile at the woman’s matchmaking effort. Mr. Darcy sent for his mother’s maid and led them from the parlor.
Elizabeth breathed deeply as Mr. Darcy led them down the garden paths. Lady Anne was pleased to regale her with tales of each section as they walked along. They stopped and stood in the midst of a garden riotous with yellow flowers of every kind.
Lady Anne sighed deeply, her voice strong with only a trace of the strong emotion she felt. “My dear George had the gardener plant these beds with such beautiful golden flowers when Georgiana was born. I would like to sit for a time alone.”
Elizabeth glanced to Mr. Darcy and quietly left the woman with her maid standing behind her. She walked along, her heart heavy with sorrow for his mother.
Mr. Darcy spied the sadness that stole the light from her eyes. “You must not worry, Miss Elizabeth. Mother has not been to the gardens since Georgie died. Her grief has bound her for such a long time and now perhaps she may find a way to soothe her pain.”
Elizabeth turned her head away and wiped at a tear. “My heart is heavy to think of your mother in pain, Mr. Darcy. I know your own is as well, though I would do all I might to share the burden.”
He stopped and offered her a seat on a bench near the rose garden. Elizabeth lowered her lashes, afraid to meet his eyes.
He knelt before her and took her hands. “I would never wish such a burden upon you. That your heart wishes to ease our pain is a kindness beyond pity, I assure you. None other of our acquaintance has said as much.”
Elizabeth met his gaze and found her heart racing at the tenderness she found there. “Death rends the bond we treasure even between those left in its wake. I am certain your friends would say the same did they know the comfort it would bring.”
Mr. Darcy managed a half-hearted smile for her, his eyes bright with unshed tears. “They would not dear one, and your words are more precious because of it.”
He dipped his head and Elizabeth held tighter to his hands. She wished she might caress his cheek or embrace him in his grief but she simply sat with him, fighting her desire to reach out to the great man.
Mr. Darcy regained his composure and stood taking her arm and leading her to his mother’s rose garden. There was no doubt in his heart as to his admiration of this gentle woman.
The scent of the roses found Elizabeth before her eyes roamed the varied petals. Their color and number made a glorious display and she stopped to fix the moment in her mind. “I have never seen such lovely roses as these. Jane would be delighted to know of them. I shall bring her here another time.”
Mr. Darcy longed to tuck an errant curl behind her ear and imagined the softness of her skin against the strength of his hand. He must not torture himself so! He launched into a most informative speech on the variety of roses and his mother’s long history of tending them herself.
“Mother is a great lover of the gardens, her roses in particular. You might not believe me when I say she would come out here many times when we were children and work the soil with her own hands. My father indulged her efforts always, though some of the servants were frightfully afraid their lady did too much.”
Elizabeth found his story easier to believe than she might have before meeting his mother. “Lady Anne amazes me daily with her interests and talents. I am certain I have never met a gentlewoman as engaging.”
Mr. Darcy led her away from the roses and back onto the path to rejoin his mother. He hoped her time alone in Georgie’s garden had proven a balm against her grief.
Lady Anne stood and smiled as they approached. Elizabeth noted the wetness of the woman’s lashes and caught her breath at the knot which rose in her throat. Lady Anne shook her head slightly and took Elizabeth’s hand. “Shall we go in for luncheon? I find myself quite ready for a light meal. It must be the air that has done it.”
Mr. Darcy took his mother’s arm and the trio left the gardens of Pemberley amid happy birdsong and the rustle of a welcome breeze. Elizabeth turned her gaze to the grandeur of the great house and imagined again spending her days thus with Mr. Darcy and Lady Anne. For the moment, she sighed with great contentment at her situation.
Recalling her misadventure in the lake caused her to wonder if Lady Anne’s words at dinner those few nights ago were true. A matter of chance had brought her to the water’s edge and released a grieving woman from the shadow of her rooms. The arrival of Mr. Darcy would have gone unnoticed had she simply navigated the lake with care and she would not have known his favor. Stunning was the difference her actions and adventures had wrought.
Lady Anne went inside with her maid and Mr. Darcy stood with Elizabeth before the great front doors of Pemberley. His words caused her heart to leap with joy. “Miss Elizabeth, I hope you do not find my question impertinent, but is there a young man in all of Hertfordshire with any claim to your heart?”
Elizabeth gazed into his eyes for a long while before the whispered words passed her lips. “There is none, Mr. Darcy.”
Jane exited the carriage in front of Pemberley, the letter from her father secure in her hand. She wished she might have read it but plainly it was meant for Lizzy.
She worried at the news contained within and her mind was uneasy with thoughts of what their father might have to say. She had grown fond of having her favorite sister at Brambling Hall and hoped she might remain there for years to come, until she was married even.
The butler welcomed her inside and led her to the salon where Elizabeth played the pianoforte for Lady Anne. Mr. Darcy was in the library attending his correspondence.
Elizabeth’s hands ceased their effort as Jane approached. “My sister has come as I knew she would, Lady Anne. How lovely Jane! What do you have in your hand?”
Jane smiled at Lady Anne and went to sit beside her. “It is only a letter from home, Lizzy. Please do play. I would not have you distracted for my sake.”
Lady Anne took Jane’s hand and nodded to Elizabeth. “Please do continue, my dear. Jane and I shall wait to speak until you have finished.”
Elizabeth began the piece again, her heart light at the arrival of her sister. The music drew Mr. Darcy from his place in the hall, for he had grown lonesome for her company shut up in the library.
He entered and stood by the window gazing upon the beauty of Pemberley. He imagined teaching Elizabeth to ride and showing her the wilder heart of Pemberley out past the gardens and fields. He would, of course, once he made his intentions known to her father.
It did not occur to him that she would not, or perhaps could not, accept his proposal. In his mind they would be married in time.
He would speak on it with his mother later but he knew she would be pleased. She had wished for him to marry for some years, and with Georgiana lost to them the time had come for him to open his heart and his home to the beautiful young lady delivered to him by chance.
Elizabeth finished the piece of music and stood with her hands clasped before her as his mother praised her efforts. “Oh my dear, it is wonderful to have such sweet music in the salon once more. Do come sit with us and see what Jane has brought. William, will you send for tea?
Mr. Darcy heeded his mother’s wish and Elizabeth sat upon the sofa across from Lady Anne and her sister. She glanced at Mr. Darcy as he strode from the room with the butler. She hoped he might return and sit beside her for tea.
Jane passed the letter to Elizabeth and turned to Lady Anne. “The footman brought it this morning and I wished for Lizzy to have it before I misplaced it. I seem to be more forgetful lately.”
Elizabeth held the letter and felt her heart pinch at the sight of her father’s hand on the paper. She did indeed miss her father and his study. She had no plan to return to Longbourne in the near future, but if she did it would be at her father’s request and before the winter months made travel difficult.
When Mr. Darcy left for London again, perhaps she would encourage Jane to make the trip with her. Charles had kept the lease upon Netherfield for the time being and she did think perhaps Jane might persuade him to accompany them for a brief visit.
Mr. Darcy returned and took his seat beside Elizabeth as she hoped. She placed the letter in her skirt pocket. There would be time later while his mother rested in her rooms to read it and make her reply. His weight on the sofa beside her caused her wish for his companionship always. He held a letter out for his mother and sighed.
“I shall have to leave Pemberley in but a few days to attend a matter in London. Would you care to accompany me or will you stay here? Richard’s mother would be pleased to have you at Matlock House. She is quite concerned and has said she will travel to Pemberley if I do not bring you to London.”
Lady Anne considered her son’s request as tea arrived. She had not left Pemberley for some time but she could see the yearning in his eyes for her company. “I suppose Miss Elizabeth would encourage me to accept your request, William, but I would be loathe to do so I admit. I suppose I should not have gotten my hopes up that you might stay longer.”
Elizabeth shook her head, unable to hide her smile at Mr. Darcy’s eagerness for his mother’s acceptance.“I say you must go, Lady Anne. Your family will be most happy to have you in Town and I will be here when you return.”
Mr. Darcy gazed at Elizabeth, grateful for her encouragement, and took her hand. Jane sipped her tea to hide the smile that threatened at his actions. Lady Anne watched the young couple with an air of approval.
Miss Elizabeth Bennet would soon become her daughter, she was sure of it, and the thought of it pleased her so. Never had she admired the women that had gone before. So many of them cared only for the Darcy money, the horrible Miss Bingley came to her mind at this thought. She would speak with William and find his thoughts on the matter. She turned her gaze upon Elizabeth and proclaimed her conditions of surrender.
“I shall go to London, William, but on the condition we do not stay there for more than a fortnight. Town has never appealed to me greatly.”
Elizabeth walked about the grounds of Pemberley alone after Jane had left for Brambling Hall. Mr. Darcy remained with his mother, and as much as she longed for his presence she would not take him from Lady Anne’s side. There would be time for them to wander Pemberley in the months to come.
She walked for a time before recalling the letter from Longbourn in her pocket. She spied a log ahead and hurried there to sit in the afternoon sun and read the news from her father.
Again she allowed her eyes to rest upon his handwriting before she opened the missive. She dearly loved her family, even her sisters with their constant arguments over ribbons and redcoats. But the pang of loneliness for her father’s company grew sharp in her breast.
Brushing away a silly tear, she opened the paper and smoothed it across her lap. Mr. Bennet wished for her to return to Longbourn as soon as she might and perhaps persuade Jane and Bingley to accompany her. There was a pressing need for Lizzy’s presence but she could not imagine why that might be.
Her cousin, Mr. Collins, had visited recently and her father was relieved to know the man would return to his home soon. Mr. Bennets words were clear and his humor was there to coax a smile or two from her as she sat in the agreeable rays of the sun as it slipped lower in the sky.
It was just as well, she supposed, for Mr. Darcy and his mother would be gone to London for a time and she had considered a trip home could be made before winter came upon them.
Still, she wished she were going to London with the Darcy family and reminded herself that mother and son had need of one another at the moment, to settle their grief and begin to build a life without Georgiana Darcy.
She returned to her letter and her heart lifted at the idea of sitting in her father’s study once more. They would stay but a few weeks and perhaps meet the Darcys in London before they all returned to Derbyshire again.
Inside Pemberley, Mr. Darcy sat with his mother admiring the twinkle in her eyes. He’d feared he might lose her after Georgie’s death, but now he believed she might live to see her grandchildren roam the halls of this great house.
And he knew he wished for those children to be the ones from his marriage to Elizabeth Bennet. At this thought, he leaned across to his mother and kissed her on the cheek.
“Oh William, you do so know how to make your mother feel special, but I know there is a conversation that must be had.”
He was not surprised at his mother’s frank and direct approach. She had been that way since he was a young boy. While his father was benevolent and doted upon his only son, Lady Anne required truth and virtue from him no matter the situation. As a young boy, he had not understood but now he was grateful for her firm hand.
“You must know I find Miss Bennet to be a suitable match and have decided I shall ask her father for her hand as soon as I might. A few months is proper, I believe, for us to become better acquainted but my admiration for her has grown beyond our short acquaintance.”
Lady Anne patted her son’s hand. “There is no doubt of it William, and I have seen the stolen glances when she studies your profile and your eyes. The young lady feels as you do, I am certain. Would that we could take her to London with us.”
Mr. Darcy breathed a sigh of relief at his mother’s words and ran a hand through his chestnut hair. He would have been willing to persuade his mother had she reservations regarding the match. “Miss Bennet will likely travel to Longbourn with the Bingleys, mother. Did she not have a letter from her father?”
Lady Anne glanced to the window as Elizabeth’s shadow fell across the panes and clasped her hands. “She did and you are correct, my dear son. We must allow her to attend to her schedule whilst we are in London. Perhaps we might travel to Longbourn once we are through with Town and you may meet with her father then?”
Elizabeth entered the parlor and smiled at the two of them, so alike in their features. “I have news, Lady Anne. Father has requested my return to Longbourn. I shall visit him whilst you are in Town. Perhaps we might meet in London before we return to Derbyshire?”
Lady Anne nodded to Darcy and rose to take Elizabeth’s arm. “I was just advising Darcy we ought go to Longbourn after we are done with Town. I know he wishes to see the countryside again and I would love to visit Netherfield Park while the Bingleys still hold the lease.”
Jane returned to Pemberley after breakfast several days later to see Elizabeth home to Brambling Hall before they left for Longbourn.
Servants bustled about loading the carriage the Darcys would take to London and Jane hurried her pace to see Lady Anne for more than the brief moment at the carriage as the Darcys departed Pemberley.
Elizabeth stood in the entry with Mr. Darcy when Jane stepped inside. She was not surprised to find them alone, but Elizabeth moved away from Mr. Darcy’s side at the sound of her sister’s voice.
“Lizzy, where is Lady Anne? I would love to see her again before she leaves.”
Mr. Darcy smiled at Jane and went to stand beside her. “Mother will be down any moment. She returned to her rooms for a wrap in case the weather turns.”
Jane glanced at Elizabeth knowing the woman had likely left them alone for the purpose of a private farewell. Her maid would have gone quickly to her rooms had she a need.
Mr. Darcy’s mother must approve of a match between her son and Elizabeth. Jane was pleased at the thought but there was still the permission of their father to be sought. Elizabeth told her yesterday of Lady Anne’s mention of coming to Hertfordshire after their time in London.
Pemberley’s windows were being shuttered and the maids were busy in the downstairs rooms covering the furniture for the months the family would be away. Brambling Hall would soon be under the same transformation and Jane beckoned Lizzy to come stand with her and Mr. Darcy.
Lady Anne descended the stairs then with her maid at her side. She smiled warmly at the sight of the sisters awaiting her departure. “My dear Mrs. Bingley, how lovely you have come to see us off to London. As much as I enjoy the idea of Town, I am excited for the time William and I shall arrive in Hertfordshire.”
Jane nodded and accepted the woman’s embrace. “You must stay with us at Netherfield, Lady Anne. I shall have your rooms made ready if you will write to me from London of your plans.”
Mr. Darcy waited until his mother had embraced Elizabeth before he took her arm and the party stepped outside. “Mother and I would be happy to accept your hospitality, and I daresay Bingley will demand it. Netherfield is a lovely estate but I am pleased to have you as close neighbors at Brambling Hall.”
He turned his gaze to Elizabeth then, the connection between them obvious to all watching. Jane wondered about their conversation before she interrupted them in the entry earlier and knew Elizabeth would tell her of it soon enough.
She held her sister’s hand as Mr. Darcy helped his mother into the carriage. Elizabeth waved to Lady Anne as the conveyance moved slowly away from Pemberley. She turned to Jane, willing her unshed tears away.
Jane embraced her before leading her slowly up the hill by the lake. “I do wonder why Papa has sent for you Lizzy. Surely nothing terrible has happened or he would have said.”
Elizabeth stopped to pick the wildflowers on the edge of the lake, careful with her balance, and stood offering her sister a small bouquet. “He is likely lonesome Jane. You recall he and I are quite close and the other girls vex him at every turn. It will be lovely to stay at Netherfield Park and perhaps throw a ball while we are there. That would certainly suit Lydia and Kitty and their redcoats.”
Jane laughed. “I imagine that would be a bit of fun, to watch them with the young officers. Certainly it improves mother’s nerves to see them so entertained.”
“Shall we leave on the morrow? Has Charles agreed?”
Jane switched her basket to her other arm and nodded at Lizzy. “He has. I admit he would rather stay here but with Darcy away it is easier for him to be persuaded. We shall only stay but a few weeks at the most. I daresay we shall all be eager to return to the peace of Brambling Hall.”
Lizzy sighed as they lost sight of the Darcy equipage. Her heart longed to be sitting beside him on the way to London but she could not deny she wished to leave for Longbourn as soon as they might. “I must send father my reply before we leave Brambling this afternoon.”
She picked up her pace and called for Jane to hurry. The sooner the maids packed their trunks the sooner they would be in Hertfordshire. Elizabeth smiled to think of her life now. A delightful round of visiting and well connected friends. Moving to Derbyshire with Jane and Charles had proven to be the beginning of her life, perhaps one that would include Mr. Darcy.
William Collins left Longbourn that same morning with hopes of returning in a few weeks’ time to secure his cousin’s hand. Only Mrs. Bennet walked with him to the chaise awaiting his departure near the front door of Longbourn.
Mr. Bennet and his younger daughters were happy the man chose to leave and did not wish to suffer his company a moment longer than necessary. Mary watched from the door, for she alone would miss his readings and lectures. She had hoped he would offer for her hand, but Kitty assured her she was quite lucky the man had chosen Elizabeth.
By the time they arrived at Netherfield, Elizabeth was weary from their journey. Traveling months ago to Brambling Hall to live with the Bingleys had not seemed as arduous as the return trip to Hertfordshire and she thought it must be the excitement she felt at that time.
“Shall we send word to Longbourn of our arrival?” Jane asked Bingley as he helped her from the carriage. Charles Bingley nodded and instructed the footman to send word once they were unpacked and settled.
Elizabeth stepped down from the carriage, happy to be free of the conveyance at last. Netherfield was as lovely she remembered and she left her family to walk about the garden. Jane laughed and entered Netherfield with Charles. “She is happy to be home, I believe, or perhaps only to be free of the carriage at last.”
Elizabeth wandered away from Netherfield after only half an hour in the gardens and retraced her favorite paths before finding herself in the lane outside Longbourn.
She would share the news of her life at Brambling Hall, save perhaps her tumble into the lake at Pemberley and her friendship with Lady Anne, and sit with her father in the study. Her sisters would demand to know of each and every room of Jane’s new home.
She opened the front door of Longbourn quietly and listened. Lydia and Kitty were arguing upstairs and the effort of Mary’s hands upon the pianoforte drifted from the parlor. Mrs. Bennet and Hill stood at the parlor door surprised at the sight of Elizabeth standing in the doorway.
“Why Lizzy, you’ve come home. Where is Jane?”
Elizabeth stepped inside and closed the door. “She is at Netherfield as we only arrived an hour ago, mother. A footman should be here soon with the news. I suppose I could have saved him the trouble though I only intended to stretch my legs in the gardens of Netherfield.”
Mrs. Bennet sighed and led her to her father’s study. “Mr. Bennet was hopeful you would arrive today. We have happy news for you Lizzy. You shall save Longbourn for us all.”
Elizabeth’s brow creased at her mother’s word and she entered her father’s study without knocking first.
Mr. Bennet rose from his chair and hurried to embrace his favorite daughter. Mrs. Bennet sighed and left them to their conversation. She would have liked to stay but Mr. Bennet had given strict instruction he would be the one to tell Lizzy of her cousin’s offer for her hand.
Elizabeth wandered the room to be certain all was the same as before. There were books scattered around his desk and his favorite port sat in its decanter at his hand. The window onto the garden still allowed the sun to stream through filtered by the branches of the old tree outside.
How many times had she sat there in the old tree reading? She could not recall for there had been many through the years. Her father motioned for her to sit and poured himself a small portion of port.
“Lizzy, how I have missed your conversation and company. The ladies of Longbourn have tried my patience and my study was breached by your cousin, Mr. Collins, for weeks.”
Elizabeth wondered at this news. “Why would he come to Longbourn, father? Is he not busy with his own concerns?”
Mr. Bennet shook his head. “I would be surprised were he missed by anyone, Lizzy, save Mary that is. She seemed to be taken with his readings and endless speeches. Would be a wonderful thing had he asked for her hand.”
Elizabeth laughed at her father’s words. He and mother likely hoped for Mary to be promised to the man because of the entailment on Longbourn. “Would he choose a wife from amongst my sisters? He ought to do so in order to ease mother’s mind. I cannot imagine she was pleased to have him visit anymore than you were.”
Mr. Bennet sipped his port and glanced away. Elizabeth read his actions as easily as she always had.
“What news is there, father? Your letter was clear regarding your wish for me to return home.”
Mr. Bennet stood and crossed the room to close the door of his study. The rustle of skirts and sound of feet moving away irritated him. “Mr. Collins refused our suggestion of Mary for his bride. It seems he has chosen you, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth blinked in confusion. Her father’s words echoed in her ears and she shook her head. “I am sorry, father, did you say Mr. Collins believes I shall be his wife?”
Mr. Bennet leaned heavily upon the closed door of his study and removed his spectacles. “Indeed Lizzy, that is his request. His patroness encouraged him to choose a wife from amongst my daughters and he was certain in his selection.”
Elizabeth sat with her hands limp in her lap. How could this be? She had never met the man, only heard stories of him from her father regarding the entailment upon Longbourn and of course the strong declarations of dislike from her mother. “Are you in agreement father? Mother has said I am to save Longbourn.”
Mr. Bennet sighed deeply and stared lovingly at his Lizzy. “I tried time and again to persuade him of Mary’s quiet and humble nature but the man would not listen, even when your mother did the same. He is under the thumb of his patroness and she would be scandalized were he to marry one of the younger girls while you remain unmarried.”
Elizabeth rose from her seat and paced about the study. “I cannot marry him father, of course you know this.”
Mr. Bennet came to stand beside her and took her hand. “It is not my wish that you marry the man. But with the entailment, I have little say in the matter. Your mother has decided your fate as is her right with her future and that of your sisters in the balance. I cannot stand against her as much as it pains me to think of you married to the man.”
Elizabeth dropped her father’s hand and hurried to the door of his study. Her mother and sisters were standing in the hallway and she pushed through them, her aim the front door of Longbourn.
Mrs. Bennet ran after her and caught hold of her arm at the end of the hallway. “What is this? You will marry Mr. Collins and save us all from the hedgerows Elizabeth Bennet!”
Lizzy twisted her arm in an effort to free herself from her mother’s grasp and fell to the floor. Tears stained her face as her mother stood over her.
“I will not marry him! I would rather live in the hedgerows for the rest of my life than marry a man I do not love!”
Kitty and Lydia stood beside Mrs. Bennet, their eyes as round as saucers at the sight of Elizabeth upon the floor. Mary hurried from the scene, her own tears flowing freely.
Mr. Bennet helped Elizabeth from the floor and sent Lydia and Kitty to their room. “Let us go into the parlor and discuss this with patience, Lizzy.”
Elizabeth refused and turned on her heel. She opened the front door and glanced over her shoulder to her parents. “I shall never marry him, never.”
Mrs. Bennet advanced upon her and Elizabeth stepped outside. “You may never return to Longbourn as long as you continue your foolish behavior, Elizabeth Bennet. You alone have the means to save Longbourn for your family and you throw it away as a child in a fit of temper.”
Mrs. Bennet slammed the door and Elizabeth trembled as the weight of her mother’s words fell upon her heart.
She could not defend herself nor tell them of her love for Mr. Darcy. She hurried across the fields to seek her sister’s comfort. Jane would not want her to marry their cousin, she was certain.
Elizabeth wished they had remained at Brambling Hall. Had her father’s letter made mention of the match with Mr. Collins she would have shredded it to pieces.
How was she expected to be the salvation of her family home by means of a forced marriage to a man she had never met? Her mother’s acceptance of the man’s scheme did not surprise her, but her father’s actions pierced her heart.
He knew her better than anyone, save Jane, and admitted he did not wish for her to marry the man. Yet, he would do nothing to save her from it, that much was clear.
She wiped at the tears from her face and became angrier with each step toward Netherfield. It was not fair nor would she consider such a life for herself.
Mr. Darcy loved her, she suspected, and would seek her hand when he and Lady Anne came to Netherfield. Bingley would give his blessings and her father and mother would have nothing to say about it since she was no longer welcome at Longbourn.
Elizabeth hurried inside Netherfield and sought the company of her sister. She would pour out her heart to Jane and await the Darcy’s arrival to Netherfield.
Jane sat in the parlor, her complexion gone pale. Elizabeth hurried to her side, her worries for her own situation disappearing at the sight of her sister in distress. “Jane, are you well? Shall I send for Charles?”
Jane dabbed at her brow with her handkerchief and breathed deeply. “I am fine Lizzy, it must be all the traveling. Sit and I’ll send for tea.”
Elizabeth sat across from Jane, her eyes fixed on her dear sister’s face. She did not think for a moment Jane was tired from their journey, for they had stopped often and truly the trip had been an easy one.
After tea arrived and Jane’s color improved, Lizzy’s face fell at the recollection of her visit to Longbourn.
“Did you enjoy your walk?” Jane asked.
It was Lizzy’s turn to inspire sisterly concern and Jane hurried to her side as her tears began. “My dear, what could have happened to upset you so?”
Lizzy took her own handkerchief from her skirt pocket and lowered her head. “If only I had remained in the gardens, Jane. I suppose I might have saved myself a day’s grief. Father and Mother have declared that I must marry our cousin, Mr. Collins.” Lizzy sobbed as Jane embraced her.
“How can that be? You have not so much as met the man. He is a parson, is he not? I would think Mary would have suited him with her quiet manner.”
Elizabeth shook her head, her tears slowing as she spoke. “Father said the man refused to consider Mary on the explanation it would be scandalous for her to marry before me.”
Jane sighed. “Perhaps they will reconsider. Mr. Darcy and Lady Anne might speak on your behalf. I cannot imagine Mr. Darcy would see you married to someone else did he know of it.”
Elizabeth twisted the handkerchief in her hands. She knew Jane spoke the truth but she could not impose upon the Darcys to help her while they were in London. Lady Anne would be surrounded by family, her grief eased by their presence. She would wait until they arrived to Netherfield.
“Mother has told me I must not return to Longbourn if I continue to refuse Mr. Collins and I will not write to Lady Anne of this matter. If our parents are to change their minds it shall be for another reason.”
Lady Anne sat before her desk at Darcy House and wrote to Miss Elizabeth Bennet. As pleased as she was to be in London with her son and the Matlocks, she found herself wishing for the young woman’s company. She finished her letter and left it to dry as the sound of footsteps sounded in the hallway.
Mr. Darcy entered the room and crossed the distance between them. “I must be out all day, mother. Perhaps we should dine with cousin Richard and his family this evening?”
Lady Anne took his hand and nodded. “I sent our acceptance by the footman earlier, for I knew you would agree.”
She turned to her desk and folded the letter. “I must have this letter to Miss Bennet posted today. I hope it finds her well and happy with her situation. I daresay her father is pleased to have her company again.”
Mr. Darcy smiled at his mother. She longed for Elizabeth’s presence almost as much as he. “I imagine all is well, though I am pleased you have written to her. I hope you included my regards.”
Lady Anne stood and walked to the entry of Darcy House with her son. She handed her letter to the butler and placed a light kiss upon her son’s cheek before he left for the day.
She asked for their carriage to be brought around. She wished to stroll the shopping district and gather gifts for Jane and Elizabeth to put in her trunks for their visit to Netherfield.
Elizabeth read for several days, keeping to her room and remaining silent during meals before venturing outside once more on her routine paths. She worried at her sister’s pale complexion more than once during her sulk brought on by the disastrous return to Longbourn. Jane seemed ill at times and yet perfectly well at others.
Elizabeth came upon her in the parlor during a distressing spell and demanded the apothecary, Mr. Jones, come to Netherfield Park.
“Lizzy, tis nothing of concern. I believe I am increasing and it makes me quite ill throughout the day.”
Elizabeth’s eyes widened and she sat gently beside her sister. “I could have the maid bring us peppermint tea to provide relief. Aunt Madeline uses it faithfully.”
Jane nodded and Elizabeth stepped away to find a maid.
Charles entered the parlor then, his eye upon his wife. He was aware of her condition, though he would not mention it until she began the conversation. He was quite pleased if she was indeed increasing and found it more difficult each day to pretend he did not know.
Jane took his hand as he sat beside her and smiled weakly. Elizabeth returned with the maid and poured Jane’s cup herself. She nodded at Charles and watched Jane sip her tea. After the first cup, Jane relaxed and her color improved.
“The maid recommends two cups a day unless your symptoms worsen. She will have several pots ready for you if you require them.”
Charles turned to Elizabeth and smiled in his amiable manner. “What has the maid said regarding Mrs. Bingley’s health?”
Elizabeth glanced to Jane and lowered her lashes. “I believe that is a conversation best held between the two of you.”She left the parlor quickly and went through the French doors of the ballroom to stand upon the terrace.
The sun and fresh air revived her spirits and Elizabeth determined she would walk about the gardens and not set foot towards Longbourn. They had received but one letter from her father and Elizabeth refused to read it. Jane made her sit in the parlor and listen as she read and Elizabeth regretted it still.
He wished for her to come home and secure Longbourn for her mother and sisters. Jane had repeated the pleas that made up three of the four pages and sat with Elizabeth as she sobbed once more at her father’s refusal to turn her cousin away. The most alarming part was the news of her cousin’s return to Longbourn within the month.
Jane wished to throw the ball they spoke of before their departure for Brambling Hall and Elizabeth found she did not care one bit for such a trivial event though it would be a benefit to her sisters, perhaps. An aid to her parents in their pursuit to have the younger girls matched as soon as they might.
Elizabeth thought of it with great anger and swore she would not help Jane in such a task. But she knew she would, for Jane was ill, not in a horrible way, but enough that it tore at Elizabeth’s heart to see her suffer so.
So it was in the coming days the sisters planned the summer ball for their family. Jane hoped the event might serve to soften the feelings between Elizabeth and their parents or at least find the younger girls well matched.
She told Mr. Bingley of their coming babe the afternoon Elizabeth left them in the parlor. Charles was the happiest she had seen him and with his constant attention and the peppermint tea supplied by the maid, Jane found herself well once more.
She and Elizabeth were in the ballroom the day of the ball, placing flowers and making certain all was ready. Jane commanded the footmen to place tables and chairs upon the terrace as she wished to keep the doors open during the dance. It was warm enough to have the ball without the great fireplace being put into service and so she and Elizabeth filled the large space with lovely bouquets and stands of flowers from the gardens and the surrounding woods.
Cook bustled upstairs and down again to be certain all was as Jane had ordered. The house was alive with the work of many hands. Elizabeth paused and stepped onto the terrace and took the letter from Lady Anne Darcy from her pocket. She had told no one of its arrival and wished to be alone so that she might read it.
Jane’s sweet voice drifted through the doors as she continued her efforts in the ballroom with the servants, guiding them here and there to be sure the room was impeccably styled.
The scent of Lady Anne’s soft perfume surrounded Elizabeth in the shade of the terrace. It was as if the great woman was there beside her. She swiped at a wayward tear and read the missive slowly, savoring each word.
She and Darcy were happy in London, surrounded by family and comforted by the time spent together at Darcy House. The next line pierced Elizabeth’s heart and she pressed the letter to her chest.
“William is attentive, as always, but something is missing from our lives. I knew the moment we arrived you ought to have accompanied us. I do hope this thought does not surprise you, Miss Bennet. You have become a favorite friend of myself and my son. Soon we shall have to leave Town or perish in our own sadness at your absence.”