Welcome back to my blog!
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I started revising and posting this story back in May of last year (2021) but eventually dropped the ball. I have picked it back up again, hopefully for good. I have added “revise IPT” to my planner and made an actual schedule so that I have a better chance of getting it done. 🙂
Elizabeth Bennet Darcy, age seven and ten and held securely in her husband’s arms, lay dreaming on the eve of her first wedding anniversary. Like all dreams, this one jumped around from event to event. Unlike other dreams, this one featured her husband and herself at various times in their lives. It was as if her life had been made into a drama on the stage at a Covent Garden theater, complete with narrator …
George Darcy and Edward Gardiner sat in Mr. Gardiner’s office in his warehouse in Cheapside, discussing their latest business venture. Mr. Darcy had met and become an investor in Mr. Gardiner’s import/export business three years ago, following the death of his wife. The venture had greatly profited both men. From that beginning, a friendship developed. Mr. Darcy respected Mr. Gardiner’s incredible business acumen, and Mr. Gardiner respected his largest investor’s ability to overlook social norms and befriend a mere tradesman.
Unlike some other members of the landed gentry, Mr. Darcy knew in his heart that their way of life would one day change. New inventions were beginning to be developed which would likely someday completely alter it. Land ownership was still vitally important, but a prudent gentleman did not put his eggs all in one basket. These new inventions had already drawn some of his tenants away from the estate. He knew that he – or his son, should he himself pass before it happened – could potentially wake one morning to find he had no tenant farmers left at all. Even barring that event, the land was dependent on the weather. A too-dry or too-wet year could devastate profits, and while Darcy had an impressive fortune, that money would not last forever. A wise man knew to earn his income from more than one place; investment into the future was the way to go.
As the two gentlemen carried on their discussion, the office door was suddenly flung open and in rushed a petite little ten-year-old girl with long brown curls. “Uncle, Uncle!” cried the young lady. “Fitzwilliam called me a hoyden! What is a hoyden, Uncle?”
The question was still being asked as a lanky young gentleman a mere five years older than the girl rushed into the room and came to a quick standstill. He had hoped to catch her before she got to her uncle, as he knew the gentlemen were still meeting. His heart sank as he realized she had beaten him. He should have reacted faster.
“Fitzwilliam! We do not call names, son. I am disappointed; you know better.” George Darcy’s reprimand was a hard blow to his son. The respect of his father was something he always craved. That did not stop him from trying to defend himself, though.
“But Father, she was climbing into the crates of goods!” The young man’s hand waved in the direction of the warehouse floor.
“It does not matter what Miss Elizabeth did or did not do. She is a lady, regardless of her actions today. She is young, and at times, young people do things they ought not. That does not make her a hoyden.” Darcy was severe with his son in this instance. Fitzwilliam needed to learn that making sport of someone was not acceptable behavior for a Darcy.
“Yes, Father. I understand. I will not repeat my mistake.”
“You will apologize to Miss Elizabeth,” replied his father, nodding his approval.
Fitzwilliam did not wish to apologize to the hoy- … girl, but to please his father he would, and he would mean it. Nor did he desire a more severe punishment, as George Darcy was known for suspending his riding privileges for grievous offenses, and young Fitzwilliam was ready to do what was necessary to prevent any interruption of his favored activity.
He turned to young Elizabeth. “I am sorry for calling you names, Miss Elizabeth.”
Little Lizzy threw him a triumphant grin. “I accept your apology, Master Fitzwilliam.”
Mr. Gardiner caught her look. “Do not think you are coming away from this without consequence, Miss Lizzy,” he said.
Elizabeth’s head spun towards her uncle, mouth hanging open.
“What have I told you about climbing into those crates?”
Fitzwilliam struggled to keep hidden the smirk that was threatening to spread over his lips. It looked like he was not the only one in trouble today.
Three years later
Gardiner’s friendship with Darcy had grown right along with their business partnership. The gentlemen and their families were frequently together; dinner at one or the other’s home, nights at the theatre, or even visits to the races at Epsom were common. Frequently in company with the group were the Gardiners’ two eldest nieces, Elizabeth and Jane.
Jane was already quite the beauty. Blonde, graceful, and serene, at five and ten she drew the eyes of men. In her hometown of Meryton, her mother had put her “out” in society. Mrs. Bennet was highly concerned about what would happen to her five daughters should Mr. Bennet up and die one day. Since her eldest was the most beautiful of the lot, she was sure it would not take long for a rich man to snap her up. There were few of them in Meryton, especially unmarried gentlemen, so she shipped Jane off to London to spend the season with the Gardiners. Given her brother’s friendship with the rich Mr. Darcy, Mrs. Bennet knew Jane would be exposed to many wealthy young men.
Elizabeth was another matter entirely. While not quite the wild child she was at ten, at three and ten Lizzy was rather awkward. She had grown a little taller, and overall she did not seem to quite fit together. She was now entirely too old for playing with the boys. However much she disliked it, Elizabeth must learn to master the accomplishments expected of the daughter of a gentleman. As a result, she was learning to embroider and sew and to play the pianoforte and sing.
Her father allowed her free rein in his library, and discussed with her the books she had read. As Elizabeth was a voracious reader and not shy about stating and defending her position on matters, the two had whiled away many an afternoon or evening in this manner.
Mrs. Bennet frequently fussed at both her second daughter and her husband. It simply would not do for Lizzy to be too educated. No gentleman wanted a wife who read too much. The occasional novel was acceptable; tomes on farm management and philosophy were not. Despite her repeated protests that with Elizabeth’s unfortunate looks she would have a difficult enough time finding a husband without adding the unattractiveness of being too smart, Mr. Bennet continued to allow his daughter to read to her heart’s content.
Lizzy’s usual response to her mother’s words was to discreetly roll her eyes and respond with a witty statement of some sort or other. However, the words did hurt. She knew she was not as beautiful as Jane and never would be, but her mama really did not need to continue to repeat it.
The Gardiners knew, of course, of Mrs. Bennet’s opinion of her second daughter. They wholeheartedly disagreed with it, and often wondered how a mother could look at such a beautiful young lady and not see that beauty. For this reason, when Jane was sent to London for the season, Elizabeth was asked to come, too. Over the years, the couple had hosted both girls numerous times, most especially during Mrs. Bennet’s confinements with her youngest daughters.
The Darcys’ opinions on the Bennet girls matched the Gardiners’. While Jane was undoubtedly beautiful, the same could also be said of Elizabeth. The girl was still growing into her looks, of course, but she showed the promise of extreme external beauty to match the already sterling beauty inside.
Though younger than the sisters by a few years, Mr. Darcy’s daughter, Georgiana, loved them like they were her sisters. The three were frequently found together playing with dolls, practicing the pianoforte, or studying Georgiana’s lessons. Oftentimes, if the Gardiners were accompanying Jane to a ball or other function, Lizzy spent the night with Georgiana. The two girls looked forward to these times, Georgiana because she usually had no one to play with and talk to, and Elizabeth because Georgiana was such a wonderful person with whom to spend time.
In addition, the Gardiners spent a month each summer at Pemberley. They now had a standing invitation to visit whenever they were in Derbyshire. When at the estate, the girls’ activities included many outdoor entertainments. They admitted Fitzwilliam to their group whenever he was of a mind to participate, which was usually when the activity involved the horses. It was he who taught Elizabeth to ride, a sometimes arduous process due to the fact that Lizzy did not appreciate being told what to do, and Fitzwilliam was just arrogant enough, at least in her mind, to expect her to do it.
During one of her visits, Elizabeth was injured in a minor accident. She was an excellent tree climber, much to her mother’s dismay, and she had convinced Georgiana to scale a tree in the garden. The two were sitting on the lowest branch, in deference to Georgiana’s lack of skill in the art, chatting about lessons and friends and all the things girls like to discuss. They became engrossed in conversation to the point that they did not see Fitzwilliam approach. The young gentleman thought it would be funny to climb up the other side of the tree and try to frighten the girls. Georgiana saw him out of the corner of her eye, and assumed Lizzy did, as well. However, when Fitzwilliam tapped them both on the shoulder and spoke, Elizabeth startled so badly that she lost her seat, falling off the limb and landing on her back. Immediately, Fitzwilliam scrambled down and raced to Elizabeth’s side. She was so still that at first he thought she was dead, until suddenly her eyes opened and she gasped for breath.
Once he had ascertained that she was alive and relatively uninjured, he went back to help his sister down, before returning to Elizabeth’s side. Georgiana ran to the house for her father; Fitzwilliam knelt beside Lizzy, holding her hand and talking to her. When she tried to sit up, he put his arm around her shoulder; and when she began to cry at the pain in her posterior, he held her close to his side, her hand in his, and crooned words of comfort to her. Elizabeth spent the rest of that summer’s visit laying on her stomach in her room with only Georgiana, Mrs. Gardiner, and the maids for company.
The relationship between Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth was the one to catch the attention of both families. Both were great readers, and given Lizzy’s willingness and ability to debate, they spent many hours challenging each other. At times, their rebuttals degenerated into arguments, and intervention by adults was sometimes required. Both were of a fiery disposition. But they were never able to stay angry with each other for long. Generally, by the end of the Gardiners’ and Bennets’ visit, the two were at least speaking to each other again.
Master Fitzwilliam’s father and Miss Elizabeth’s uncle and aunt were quite aware of the sparks that flew between their son and niece. The Gardiners vowed to keep a close watch on the situation, as it would not do for Lizzy to become attached to a young gentleman who could not or would not offer for her. Nor would it do for her mother to hear of it. The Gardiners shuddered to think of the scene that would arise in that case. Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, hoped, in the back of his mind, that he might one day see his son offer for such a fine young lady.
Elizabeth smiled in her sleep at such pleasant dreams and burrowed deeper into her husband’s arms.
To be continued …