Welcome back to Austen Promises!
I had to take a blog/social media vacation last week. I wanted to at least share the next episode of this story, but couldn’t do it. I also wanted to share a longer episode, because last Thursday was that day I don’t celebrate anymore. (I’m still 20, by the way. Been 20 for four years and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. 😉 )
Anyway, to make up for it, I’ve decided to give you a longer episode this week. It will probably be back to normal next Thursday. I’ve been devoting all writing time to this story. I hope to finish it in a week or so and then move on to other stories. I will probably publish it as a free-standing story (rather than be part of the vignettes book I want to do) sometime in July.
Post two is here.
Post three is here.
Post four is here.
Post five is here.
Post six is here.
Post seven is here.
Post eight is here.
Post nine is here.
Post ten is here.
Post eleven is here.
Post twelve is here.
Post thirteen is here.
Post fourteen is here.
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Bennet looked up from the tome he was peering at and laid his magnifying glass on the top of the desk, though he retained the book in his hand. “I heard voices. Did you have visitors?”
“I did. Charlotte and Mr. Darcy.” Elizabeth looked down at her linked fingers.
“I see.” Bennet chuckled, the sound more like a cackle than anything else. “Was Charlotte making eyes at your suitor?”
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. “If I did not know better, I would think she was, but she has said since Mr. Collins passed on that she has no wish to marry again.”
“She said that because there were no suitable candidates in Meryton.” Bennet closed his book and pointed his finger at Elizabeth. “Your mother always said the Lucases were out for what they could get.”
Elizabeth chuckled and looked at her hands. “She did.” She was quiet for a moment. “If you think about it, when she accepted Collins, it was after she had invited him to Lucas Lodge after I refused him.”
“I had forgotten about that, but it is true.” Bennet tilted his head and examined his daughter. “What are you thinking? Surely you are not contemplating allowing Charlotte Collins to take another suitor from you.”
“She hardly took the first one, and you know it.” Elizabeth frowned at her father for a moment, but then directed her gaze down again. “I have always behaved as a lady. I am not flirtatious like Lydia.”
“Oh, you are most definitely flirtatious. What you are not is forward.”
“Very well.” Elizabeth inclined her head. “I am not forward, but I can be flirtatious. What I am trying to say is that I have never pushed myself forward to gain a gentleman’s notice and I am not comfortable doing it now. If Mr. Darcy cannot see through Charlotte’s machinations, is he really the gentleman I think he is?” She looked up, searching her father’s countenance.
Bennet leaned back in his chair. “No, I daresay he is not, in that instance.” He paused. “I have watched you for years, Elizabeth. You have gently rejected suitor after suitor, most having never gained permission for a visit following an introduction. You have long decried marriages that lack respect and esteem.”
“I have never found a gentleman who I felt either for to a large enough degree that I wished to spend my life with him.” Elizabeth shrugged.
“Exactly my point. Yet, I see you here now, at age … what is it now …. fifty?” When Elizabeth nodded, Bennet continued. “Mr. Darcy brings a spring to your step that was not present before. I suspect you are half in love with him. Frankly, I believe he is the same with you. There was admiration in his every look when it was aimed at you. I do not wish to see you throw that away.”
Elizabeth said nothing, simply staring at her father with a slightly stunned look. “You have never spoken of such things with me before. I do not know what to say.”
“Say nothing now, but think about it. You know how to demonstrate admiration without appearing wanton and loose. Pay attention to this man when you are in company together and see if what I am telling you is not true.”
“I will. Thank you, Papa.” Elizabeth reached her hand out across the top of her father’s desk, gripping his when he placed it on top of her palm. “There. We have had one serious discussion today and that is our limit. Do you have your pocketwatch? What time is it now? Shall we have some tea brought in?”
Bennet squeezed Elizabeth’s fingers, then let go. “Tea sounds lovely, my dear.” He watched his daughter as she moved to the fireplace and pulled the cord that hung near it, then requested tea from the maid that answered the summons.
The next day, Darcy appeared at Longbourn early in the morning. Elizabeth was just returning from her morning walk when he rode up.
“Good morning, Miss Bennet,” he called, doffing his hat.
“Good morning! What brings you to Longbourn so early?” Elizabeth stepped up onto the bottom of the staircase.
Darcy jumped off Apollo and tied the reins to the post beside the steps. “I remembered you were visiting Mrs. Collins today and wished to see you before you left.”
Elizabeth blushed even as her eyes lit up at his words. Recalling what her father had suggested the afternoon before, she took a deep breath. “I am happy you did. Would you like to break your fast with us this morning? My father is up with the sun; he and I eat as many meals together as we can.”
“If he would not mind the company, I would be delighted to.” Darcy held his elbow out, grinning when the now-familiar frisson skated up his nerve endings to his heart.
Elizabeth’s grin matched her guest’s as she tucked her hand in the crook of his elbow. “He will not mind at all.”
Later that morning, Elizabeth left Bennet and Darcy in her father’s book room, immersed in a game of chess. She walked to Lucas Lodge, with a wide smile that refused to diminish.
Charlotte greeted her oldest friend with a hug. “How are you?” She held Elizabeth’s shoulders and leaned back. “You look radiant.”
“I am very well, thank you for asking. I had a lovely walk and excellent company for breakfast.”
Charlotte laughed. “You and your father have always been close. I think he has always preferred you even above the other gentlemen of the neighborhood.”
Elizabeth shrugged, a smirk twisting one side of her lips up. “I do not know about that, but we certainly have always enjoyed each other’s company.” She followed her friend into the drawing room of Charlotte’s home. Sinking gracefully to sit on a sofa next to Charlotte, “How are you handling the solitude, with your brother and his family gone?”
Charlotte shrugged. “It is quiet, that is certain, but I find I bear it very well. I can pretend I am in my own home once more.”
Elizabeth reached for her friend’s hand. “You should form your own establishment. Surely there is someone with a small cottage you can rent nearby. Did I not hear recently that the dower house at the Great House at Stoke has become empty? There is that little house near Purvis Lodge, as well. Surely one of those would suit.”
Charlotte smiled sadly. “No. My income would be sufficient for one, I am sure, but I would rather remain with my family.”
“I understand. Truly, I do. It is only that it distresses me to see you relegated to the position of permanent guest.”
Charlotte said nothing, instead pressing her lips together and changing the subject. “Did you hear the news about Viscount Hucknall?”
Elizabeth’s brows drew together. She wished to pursue their original topic of conversation further, but seeing that her friend did not, allowed her attention to shift. “I have not. Is something the matter?”
“Oh, no.” Charlotte reached out to lay a hand on Elizabeth’s arm. “I apologize for frightening you. The viscount plans to hold a dinner party. His sister will come from London to be his hostess.”
Elizabeth’s brows had risen as she listened. “Neville did not say anything the last time I saw him. He must not have known.”
“I heard it from Netherfield’s steward. I saw him and his wife in Meryton yesterday afternoon.” Charlotte began preparing the tea that had just been brought in by the maid. “Will you go?”
“If I am invited, I will indeed. The viscount has not held the lease on Netherfield for very long. I wonder at him being so eager to entertain already.”
Charlotte shrugged. “I do not know, but I suspect this is his way of repaying all the calls of the local gentlemen at one time.” She handed a cup to Elizabeth. “It is the best way, really, and the most economical.”
Elizabeth smirked as she lowered the cup from her mouth. “I cannot see a member of the peerage being concerned about economy overmuch.”
Charlotte laughed. “Perhaps not, though given the state of things overall, it is possible.”
“It is.” Elizabeth conceded the point with a laugh. “I wonder if he will bring the invitations around himself, or send them in the post.”
With that, the conversation turned to reminiscing about how things were done when Charlotte and Elizabeth were girls.
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