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I hope you’re enjoying the story. I’ve not made major edits … it’s mostly been rewording here and there and changing from British spellings to American.
Want to go back and read the previous chapters?
Almost before the family knew it, spring had turned to summer, and the air in London became increasingly unpleasant. The Darcy family, like so many other wealthy ones, packed up house and traveled to their country home. However, before they went to Pemberley, they planned a stop to visit Elizabeth’s family at Longbourn. She had not seen most of them in months, since her father sent her to London after Lord Regis’ attack, before her marriage. Fitzwilliam and his father both believed it was important for her to visit them. She needed to at least try to make peace with her mother.
Elizabeth was not so sure about the whole thing. She would rather have gone straight to Derbyshire and dispensed with seeing her parents at all. She was grateful for her father’s actions in saving her from further injury, but he let her mother wail and moan and scheme for two more weeks before he removed Elizabeth from the situation. Granted, she had been very ill those two weeks, but a broken cheekbone and some bruising would not have prevented her from traveling in a private coach. She felt in her heart that he should have taken action immediately to shield her from her mother.
Her mother. Now there was a woman she would happily avoid the remainder of her life. Mrs. Bennet had never been a loving parent; she had never held Elizabeth close or praised her or comforted her when she was sick or injured. No, her mother was only ever critical. The two were so far apart in intelligence and general outlook that their similar personalities were never noted.
Both were lively women. However, Mrs. Bennet’s mean understanding left her bewildered by her second daughter’s conversation and attitude. She blamed Mr. Bennet for the girl’s intractability. If he had not insisted on educating her, the child would have been perfectly content to marry Lord Regis, and her brother Gardiner would not have been able to barter a marriage in London, thus depriving herself of the honor she was due as matriarch of one of the most prominent families in Meryton. It never occurred to her that Elizabeth had married into one of the most powerful families in all England. All she knew was the girl turned down a peer who had promised to care for the remainder of the family should Mr. Bennet die, only to turn around and marry a gentleman with no title at all! She simply could not understand it! Had her husband not sent the child away, Mrs. Bennet was sure the marriage could have been quickly made. She was frustrated and angry and had been for months.
The Darcys made good time on this first leg of their trip, arriving in Meryton in time to have afternoon tea with the Bennets. When the carriages pulled up, Mr. Bennet and the girls flocked outside to greet them. Fitzwilliam exited first, handing Elizabeth out. His father followed and helped Georgiana and her nanny disembark. Elizabeth was greeted with hugs and exclamations by her sisters. Mr. Darcy and Fitzwilliam hung back, waiting for the hullabaloo to die down so she could make introductions. Soon, she turned to them, tucking her hand in the crook of Fitzwilliam’s elbow. She greeted her eldest sister first.
Jane, who had returned just three days ago, hugged Elizabeth tightly, whispering, “I have so much to tell you!”
Elizabeth smiled, then turned to the rest of her family. “Papa, Mary, Kitty, Lydia, this is my husband, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.”
As her sisters curtseyed and her father bowed, she continued the introductions.
“Papa George, Fitzwilliam, Georgiana, Mrs. Northrop, this is my father, Mr. Thomas Bennet, and my sisters, Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Mary Bennet, Miss Catherine Bennet, and Miss Lydia Bennet.” It was the Darcy party’s turn to bow and curtsey.
“It is good of you to come, Mr. Darcy. I have missed my Lizzy, as have her sisters. I am eager to hear everything that has happened since I sent her to London. Please, come inside.”
Darcy and his son looked at each other. Both had noticed that Mrs. Bennet had not come outside with the rest of the family to greet her daughter. Both were offended, but soundlessly communicated that silence was perhaps best at present. They followed as the group entered the home, Elizabeth having taken Georgiana by the hand. Her sisters, when taken as a group, could be a raucous bunch, and she designed to be close by at all times to remove the young girl, should the need arise.
Too, Elizabeth felt a need for the support of her new family. It had not escaped her that her mother did not greet her as the rest did. She had dreaded this day for months, and everything was going the way she had thought it might. The confidence she had begun to regain in the last few weeks was faltering. She could feel Fitzwilliam’s eyes boring into her back, and was comforted by the support she knew she had from him and from his father.
Far too soon, the group reached Mrs. Bennet, who was sitting in Longbourn’s drawing room. She rose from her seat as they entered, curtseyed when introduced, then sat back down, calling her dear Lydia to sit beside her.
The rest of the Bennet family, from patriarch to youngest child, were shocked and embarrassed that she could be so rude to anyone, much less the family that would likely be called upon to save her from the dreaded hedgerows.
Jane, red-faced and with her head hung low, gestured to their guests. “Please, everyone, be seated. Mama,” she said, turning to her parent, “shall I call for tea?”
“If you must,” Mrs. Bennet sniffed. “Though, why Lizzy should be treated as a guest, I have no idea. Ungrateful child.”
Fitzwilliam, who had seated himself next to Elizabeth on a sofa, tensed. Only his wife’s hand on his arm prevented him from speaking his displeasure.
On her other side sat his father, who was equally angered. He sat stiff as a poker, a look of disapproval on his face. Out of the corner of his eye, he had seen Elizabeth stop his son, and recognized that, despite his desire to protect, he must let his daughter handle her mother as she saw fit … for now.
What followed was a stilted conversation of about a half hour. Finally, to everyone’s relief, Longbourn’s housekeeper, Mrs. Hill, entered to announce that the visitors’ rooms were ready, and the Darcys retired upstairs to refresh themselves. Mr. Bennet took advantage of this time to have a word with his wife.
“Mrs. Bennet, I would speak to you in my book room. Now, if you please.”
With a huff, Mrs. Bennet followed him to his room, closing the door behind her when he bid her to.
“What could you possibly need now, Mr. Bennet?”
Angry at her words and seeing clearly for the first time the lack of respect she held for him and his position as her husband, he took a moment to gather his thoughts. Finally, he sat in his chair on the other side of the desk, leaned forward, clasped his hands on the desktop, and began.
“What are you about, madam? Do you think I am in ignorance of your slight to your own daughter, your flesh and blood? Not to mention that her husband and his father are of the first circles. The first circles, Mrs. Bennet. They could buy and sell Longbourn several times over, I am sure.” He paused, waiting for a response. When he did not get one, he let out an exasperated cry, “Mrs. Bennet!”
Startled, his wife jumped a bit, but she knew better than to keep him waiting for a response.
“What do you mean, what am I about? I am about nothing. I see no reason to fawn over that girl. What did she do but marry against her family’s wishes? She deserves no recognition at all, if you ask me.”
“I have not the pleasure of understanding you. What do you mean she married against her family’s wishes? I have not a problem with her marriage to Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy. What member of her family does?”
“Mr. Bennet, you know she was supposed to marry Lord Regis. We agreed …”
“No, we did not agree to anything.” He leaned over his desk, jamming his finger into the top to make his point. “You agreed to it with that abusive rake. You did! Not I; and I am the one with the power to make marriages for my children, not you. Your position is to run the household, to arrange meals and supervise the staff. That is all you are to be doing. Do you understand me?”
Mrs. Bennet looked like she had swallowed something sour. Her face was scrunched and her eyes narrowed. She was unused to her husband giving her any directions whatsoever, and she did not like it now. However, he was her husband.
“Yes, I understand you.”
“Good. I expect you to be a proper hostess to our guests. That includes treating your daughter with civility. Again I ask, do you understand me?” Resentfully, she responded. “Yes, Mr. Bennet. I do.” “Good. Then you may leave. I appreciate your cooperation in this, and I am certain your daughter does, as well.”
Mrs. Bennet left the book room fuming silently. For several days of the visit, she managed to hold her tongue and behave in a manner that garnered her husband’s approval. However, part of her lack of understanding was rooted in an inability to remember anything for more than a few days.
The Darcys had been at Longbourn for four days. Elizabeth had shown her new husband off to many of the neighbors and shown him her favorite places. She also spent time with her sisters, filling a need she had not known she had and hearing all their news, especially Jane’s that Mr. Bingley had called on her at the Gardiners’. Mrs. Bennet had been no different than she had in the past those few days, but today she seemed angry, snapping at Elizabeth, and quietly complaining about her guests. For hours, the lively conversation of Lydia and Kitty, and the quieter questions posed by Mary and Jane, kept their mother’s behavior somewhat in check. As the day went on, however, her complaints became louder.
Elizabeth quietly persevered through it all, hoping her mother would remember and heed the warning she had received from her husband just days before. Her father had found opportunity to apologize to Darcy, Fitzwilliam, and Elizabeth after dinner the day they arrived and had assured them of Mrs. Bennet’s good behavior. However, this day he was off with the Darcy men, riding about the estate and talking farming. His wife took his absence as license to give vent to her feelings.
Finally, though, Elizabeth had enough. “Please, Mama, speak clearly. Are we in your way? Would you like us to leave?”
“I do not know what you mean.” Mrs. Bennet sniffed. “I did not say you were in my way. Just like you to take a simple statement and turn it into something it is not. Ungrateful child.”
“Excuse me? I have done nothing of the kind. You are the one complaining. And, what do you mean by saying I am ungrateful? How have I been in any way ungrateful to you?”
“How? Why, you rejected a perfectly good offer of marriage from a peer, that is how! Who did you think you were, refusing an offer of marriage from a man who promised to save us from poverty when your father dies? I will tell you who you thought – and still do, no doubt, think – you were. You thought you were better than Lord Regis. Better than a peer! It is because your father let you read all that nonsense. Turned you all high and mighty. I had it all arranged! Stupid girl!”
Jane tried to intervene, “Mama …” Her efforts were too little, too late. She shrank back, the three youngest making themselves as small as possible in their seats, as well.
Mrs. Northrop quickly removed Georgiana from the room, taking her to the garden to walk. This was a personal matter, and should be dealt with privately, she felt.
“He frightened me, Mother, from the first moment I met him! He was rude and arrogant. And he struck me! What kind of a man strikes anyone, much less a woman? And what is worse is that instead of allowing me to heal, you sat at my bedside when I was ill and in pain and browbeat me over it. Do you think I am unaware that you gave that horrible man permission to try to compromise me?”
Mrs. Bennet startled. It never occurred to her that her daughter would discover that information, and if her daughter knew, then her husband assuredly did also. She wondered why he had not attempted to speak to her about it.
“I did it for your own good, and for mine! No one else would want you! Even your high and mighty Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy did not really want you. He had to be forced into the marriage, and I am quite certain he will throw you over sooner rather than later for someone more pliable and ladylike. You are unattractive and crude and do not deserve anything better than to be beaten. It is too bad your father stopped him. He would have turned you into a proper wife, Lord Regis would have. But then, had you been the heir you were meant to be, none of this would have mattered. An educated son is expected. Not once have you ever behaved as a daughter ought, and then your father, taking to you as he did none of our other children, not even Jane. My most beautiful child received far less of his attention than she deserved, because he was enamored of you. You!”
“Mama, I am not …” Jane tried once more to deflect her mother’s arguments, to no effect.
“And why, you may ask, was that? It was because you look so much like the cousin you were named after. I know she had her cap set at him, but I won him! His attention was all mine, until you came along and stole it back.” Her tone became even more vicious the longer she spoke. “If you had been born a boy, I would not have minded the loss.”
Elizabeth never had the chance to respond. The men in her life had come into the house just in time to hear the last of Mrs. Bennet’s tirade. When Fitzwilliam charged toward the drawing room, no one tried to stop him. He threw the door open so hard it banged against the wall and bounced back, leaving a hole in the plaster where the knob hit it.
Breathing fire and with a look in his eye that no one could possibly mistake for anything other than anger, he placed himself between his wife and mother-in-law and roared, “Enough! You have said more than enough, madam.”
Turning to his Elizabeth, he quietly but tersely told her to order their belongings packed and their carriage brought around. That complete, he faced his mother-in-law once again, trusting that his wife would do as he requested. “Mrs. Bennet, you have finally given voice to your true feelings about your daughter, and I, for one, am glad of it, for it gives me leave to act as I see fit. Elizabeth is no longer a Bennet. She is a Darcy, and she is my wife. She is beautiful, witty, and charming. She is gentle and kind and has proven herself already to be a worthy spouse.”
As he spoke, Fitzwilliam had been stepping closer and closer, and Mrs. Bennet had been stepping further and further back. Finally, she bumped into the back of a chair and could move no further. Her son-in-law did not stop his forward motion, however, until he was inches from her person.
“If you were a man, I would call you out. You are the crude one, Mrs. Bennet. You deserve no attention from someone as pure and sweet as Elizabeth.” He paused a moment as he attempted to control his rage.
“If I have my way, you will have seen the last of your daughter. You will never be allowed in our homes. We will not attend events where you are present. Your grandchildren will be strangers to you. I will leave it to Elizabeth, but I will strenuously plead my case for it.”
Backed into a corner, as it were, Mrs. Bennet lashed out. “You have no authority over your house, sir. Nor do you have authority over me! I will not be told who I will and will not see by anyone, much less a gentleman such as you,” she sneered, her tone of voice and manner indicating her dislike of him. “Lizzy has failed in her duty to obey her parents. She has always been an undutiful child, and I will not be silenced about it.”
Here she was interrupted by her own husband, who, seeing the increasing rage on the faces of the Darcy men, stepped in to save his wife from herself. “You may not feel the need to obey Fitzwilliam, but you will obey me, Wife. If your son has decided to withhold your daughter from your presence, I support him wholeheartedly. Am I clear, Mrs. Bennet?”
Before she could respond, Darcy stepped into the fray. “My son may not be master, but he and I are united in our desire to see Elizabeth treated with the respect she deserves. Fitzwilliam has made the decision to remove you from her life; if Elizabeth agrees, I stand behind them. You, Mrs. Bennet, will not be welcome in our homes, in that case. In the meantime, we will remove ourselves from yours as soon as the carriage is readied.”
To Bennet, he said, “Sir, perhaps my son and I could join you in your study while we wait for Elizabeth. I believe we may have more to discuss.”
“Yes, I believe we do, to my eternal shame.” Ordering his wife to her rooms, then listening to her continuous protests as she ascended the stairs, he waited until the house was quiet once again before gesturing to the doorway. “Come, gentlemen, let us have a glass of port while we wait.”
A half hour later, a knock was heard on the door, before it slowly opened to Elizabeth, dressed in traveling clothes. She looked to Fitzwilliam first, who gestured her in as he stood. As she drew near, he reached for her hand to pull her in close for a hug. “Are you well?” he asked in a whisper.
Just as quietly, she responded. “Yes. I am sorry it took me so long to prepare. I was shaking so hard I had to sit for a while. Jenny had to bring me a glass of wine to settle me. I needed you to hold me. Thank you for loving me, Fitzwilliam.”
As she said these words, she let go a little to look at him. With a tender kiss, he tightened his hold, “There is no need to thank me. You are easy to love, Sweetheart. I am so sorry you had to hear words such as those. I wish we had been back a few minutes earlier; perhaps it could have been avoided.” He paused, laying his cheek on the top of her head, then stated what he knew would cause pain, “I want to cut off contact between us and your mother. I will not stand for anyone hurting you. What say you?”
Elizabeth heard the regret in his voice and moved to reassure him. “Darling, you defended me, and protected me from more of her wrath. That is more than enough. I think we needed to have this confrontation, my mother and I.” She paused, and pain was clear in her voice when she continued, “I will not fight your pronouncements, my love. I am weary of her constant barbs. I have never been good enough for her. She has never understood my love of books and learning and the outdoors. I was not quiet and demure, like Jane, or stunningly beautiful, like Jane and Lydia. Nor did I have high spirits like Lydia. I do not fit her mold, her idea of what a daughter should be. When she could not force me into it, I believe she grew increasingly angry. I love her, but it is clear to me that she does not return the sentiment. It is best, I think, for us to separate.”
Fitzwilliam wiped her tears, while in the background their fathers wiped their own. Bennet was struck with the truth of her statements. He had been blind to the effects of his wife’s antics on his favorite daughter, not realizing until now the hatred behind them. He was grateful that Fitzwilliam had allowed him and the daughters who were still at home to remain part of Elizabeth’s life. To have lost total contact with her would have been miserable.
Finally, Darcy spoke. “Children, the coach has been brought around and the luggage loaded. We should begin our journey.”
To Bennet, he said, “I thank you, sir, for your hospitality. Gardiner warned me repeatedly of what might happen, but we had to come. Elizabeth needed to see her family and share the place where she grew up with us. I hold no animosity toward you for your wife’s behavior.” He looked to his son, “I am sure Fitzwilliam does not, either.”
“No, I do not. I have seen over the last few days the attempts you have made to control Mrs. Bennet. I had begun to hope the entire visit would go well. I thank you for making the effort, and I look forward to seeing you again, whenever you can make the trip.” He shook his father-in-law’s hand, then stood back to allow his wife to farewell him.
“Papa,” she whispered, kissing his cheek and wrapping her arms around his middle as she had done as a little girl. “I love you. You will visit us?”
Holding her close, he laid his cheek on her head and quietly replied, “I love you, as well, my Lizzy. I am so sorry I never saw before what was really happening. I will visit when I can, I promise. You have married a good man. You will be well taken care of. And, I am proud of the woman I see here before me. You are beautiful, daughter. Do not let your mother’s words convince you otherwise. You are more than capable. Your new family has shared many stories with me of your experiences. I look forward to hearing more in the future.” He smiled, teary-eyed, before letting her go back to the grasp of her spouse. Speaking to the group, he wished them a safe trip before escorting them outside.
Before entering the coach, Elizabeth hugged each of her sisters tightly, whispering in their ears how much she would miss them, and giving advice on how to behave. Her sisters cried, clinging to her tightly, before reluctantly letting go and wishing her well.
Once she entered the coach, Elizabeth was hugged again, this time by Georgiana. She and Mrs. Northrop had returned to the house once the sounds from within had quieted, sitting in the drawing room where the confrontation had occurred. Upon hearing Elizabeth come down the stairs, they had retired to the waiting coach, knowing Darcy would have them on the road quickly.
With a quiet thank you and an explanation that she would rather not discuss it now, she settled her worried sister-in-law in beside her father on the opposite side of the vehicle. Back in her seat, she cuddled up to Fitzwilliam, breathing a sigh of relief when his arm came around her shoulders to hold her close.
Soon, the Darcys were back on the road to Pemberley.
While Elizabeth and her husband and father-in-law were talking to Mr. Bennet, his other daughters gathered in Mrs. Bennet’s rooms, at her insistence. She required their presence to soothe her, not anticipating that their feelings would be so different from hers.
“My poor nerves,” she wailed as she fanned herself with her handkerchief. “To be treated so poorly in my own home! It is not to be borne!”
Lydia looked at Kitty and rolled her eyes. This was not a new activity for them. Whenever their mother did not get her way, she took to her bed to cry and moan, insisting on gathering her brood to attend her. Generally, they were able to ignore her, though it was not unusual for Lydia to stir her up for a laugh. Elizabeth was not the only one to inherit her father’s traits. Today, however, none of the girls were amused. They were enjoying Lizzy’s visit, having not seen her in months, and none were happy with Mrs. Bennet’s tirade, nor did they understand her anger. Lydia, being Lydia, was the first to interrupt her mother’s diatribe.
“Oh, stop, Mama! I do not understand what you are going on about! Lizzy married a very handsome and very rich man. Is that not what you have been after us to do for as long as I can remember? Is that not our entire goal in life? You pushed Jane and Lizzy both out at fifteen. All I have heard since is that I will soon be out and that I am so beautiful that I am sure to find a rich husband and save us all from the hedgerows. Come to think of it, you have said the same to Jane. What is so wrong about Lizzy being the first?
“I was enjoying her visit, you know. But you had to …” She waved her hand around, searching for words. “… blurt out everything in your head and ruin it for all of us. I do not understand why you are angry with her. You hate her, I know you do … you as much as admitted it! Do you hate me, as well? What about Jane, or Mary, or Kitty? We also look like our relatives. We look like Lizzy! Do you wish us gone, as well?”
Lydia was near to tears at the end of this speech, and Kitty was already there.
“Of course not, my dearest Lydia! I could never hate someone so beautiful and lively! You are my darling baby girl!”
Mary, while having a tendency towards sermonizing, was not without discernment. Something in her mother’s wording and manner arrested her attention, causing a strength of feeling she had never before experienced.
“And, what about the rest of us? Do you hate me? What about Kitty? Neither of us has ever received such approbation from you as have Lydia and Jane. As a matter of fact, the only thing Jane has ever been praised for is her beauty. You have never once exclaimed over her accomplishments or her serenity.”
Suddenly, Mary’s own peace was shaken as anger took root in her heart at the expression on her mother’s face. For even she, in her inexperience, could see that it was not what it should be.
“No, do not bother to respond. I can see that you have no maternal feelings for any of us.” So saying, Mary arose from her seat and removed herself to her own bedchamber to cry and pray and ponder.
Jane looked helplessly at Lydia and Kitty. She was a serene young woman, always seeing only the best in those around her, but she knew right from wrong and was firm in her course of action when something was the latter. Her mother was wrong. It was not proper for a parent, in particular a mother, to feel as hers did about their own child. She also knew enough of Fitzwilliam and Mr. Darcy to know that they would be firm in their desire to stop all contact between her mother and her sister.
Mrs. Bennet loudly exclaimed, “Well, I never! It is clear to me that Mary has been spending too much time with that ungrateful sister of hers! Not love my own children! The idea …”
“Mama.” Jane interrupted forcefully. “Please. It is as clear as the nose on your face that Mary and Lydia are correct. We, all of us, have only ever been to you a means to provide for you in your old age.” She held up her hand as her mother began to protest. “I know that you love us, down deep in your heart, but you have not shown that love well at all. I am grateful today for Lydia’s brashness, for it has opened a topic for discussion that would have never been addressed otherwise, but surely you see, Mama, that she is bold. She is loud and undisciplined. If you truly loved her, would you not censure her wild behavior? And Mary, who preaches to us all with little provocation. Do you think she has no feelings? Did it occur to you that she does what she does because she craves acceptance and love? No,” she continued firmly. “You were wrong to speak to Lizzy the way you did, and you are wrong for not loving all your children equally.
“Lydia, Kitty, I think perhaps it would be best to leave our mother to ponder what we have spoken of today. Come, let us go to our rooms for a while.”
As their mother watched, in shock that her gentlest and most tractable child would speak to her so, the remainder of her daughters quit the room. Without an audience, her attack of the vapors could not survive long, and soon Mrs. Bennet was left to her thoughts.
To be continued …