Welcome back to my blog!
I had to take a week off blogging and stuff to write and get some things done around my house, but I’m back and hope to not get off track again!
This post is brought to you by Promises Kept. (affiliate link; free to click on but may result in me earning a few pennies)
We’re on the downhill slide, now. There are only three chapters left. I should have this story wrapped up by July 21st. The next one I’ll do is Lilacs & Lavender.
Want to go back and read the previous chapters? You can find the first one here. The second one is here.
Chapter 3 is here. Chapter 4 can be found here. This is Chapter 5. This one is Chapter 6.
Chapter 7 is here. Chapter 8 is here. Chapter 9 is here.
Chapter 10 is here. Chapter 11 is here.
Upon their return to Pemberley the next morning, the family was delighted to find the mail had made it through the wintry weather. In addition to letters of business for George and Fitzwilliam Darcy was an eagerly-anticipated letter for Elizabeth from her elder sister and dearest friend, Jane.
The two young women had always been close, sharing confidences as well as a bed. Jane was opposite Elizabeth in almost every way. She was tall and willowy where her sister was shorter, petite, but with a womanly form. She was very reserved in company, always wearing a serene smile no matter what was going on around her, and she always saw the best in everyone. Elizabeth, on the other hand, had always been gregarious, enjoyed social events, and was quick to form judgements of people. She still did enjoy social situations; she was simply more cautious in them than in previous years and now took longer to analyse characters. Both girls were very intelligent. Many times, new acquaintances took Jane’s serenity and desire to see only good as a sign that she lacked cleverness. Those who knew her well were quite aware that Jane perceived more of what was going on around her than she let on, and when she felt she was right, she could be quite immovable.
Thanking her father-in-law for the letter, Elizabeth excused herself and made her way quickly to her private study. Entering the room, a smile lit her face at the grace and elegance expressed by the decoration. She had made no changes to this chamber upon her marriage, and it was exactly as her predecessor, Lady Anne Darcy, had left it. Elizabeth loved the room as it was. Lady Anne had been a talented decorator, turning Pemberley into a gorgeous yet understated home. Elizabeth had become familiar with the duties of mistress, and was more comfortable with that role after several months of marriage. Yet, for all that she was married to the heir and her husband and father insisted she consider herself the mistress, Elizabeth still had moments when she felt uncomfortable with it. She did not want to take Lady Anne’s place. So, she had learned all that was required of the position, but left everything as the true holder of that title had arranged it.
Sitting down upon the settee near the fireplace, Elizabeth opened her letter, smiling at the descriptions of life at Longbourn.
My Dearest Lizzy,
How are you, my dearest sister, and your husband and family? Are you well? Your descriptions of a decorated Pemberley continue to thrill us all. What an amazing number of rooms you have kept open for the holiday! And all the servants … how do you keep them all straight, for I know you, Lizzy, and I know that you have taken the trouble to learn the names of each. What a caring mistress they have gained!
How are you to celebrate the Christmas season there in Derbyshire? You must write soon with all the details!
Please do not be angry with me, dear sister, when you hear that I have kept from you things that I was afraid would worry you. You have had so much happening in your new life that I did not want to add to your burden. Indeed, these things are not so very bad at all, but recent events have caused them to escalate, and I no longer feel that I can keep them from you.
Here at Longbourn, we are to celebrate in the usual manner, with Aunt and Uncle Gardiner and the children. They arrived yesterday just in time for tea. How the little ones have grown! Papa and Uncle soon took themselves to the library, and Aunt sent the children up to the nursery with our younger sisters before she began taking Mama to task for her part in the confrontation the two of you had in the summer when you visited, about your marriage to Fitzwilliam. I was surprised to be allowed to stay in the room, but Aunt declared that since I have been paying a price for defending you, I should hear what she had to say. I have not mentioned this before, but Mama has been very upset with me for the last several months. While I know that I deserve her censure for speaking so to her, I do not regret it. I was right to defend you, and I would do it again were it required of me. However, I now have a much greater understanding of your propensity to take walks! But I digress.
As I said, Aunt Gardiner began to take Mama to task and at first, Mama could not think of anything to say, not that Aunt gave her opportunity to speak. When Mama did gather herself and began, my Aunt simply held her hand up and stated that she would listen and when it was her turn to speak Aunt would let her know. I was shocked when Mama snapped her mouth closed immediately, but I could see the anger on her face. I will admit I was anxious. I am sure it showed in my face as well, for Aunt soon reached over to me and grasped my hand before turning her conversation to Mama’s treatment of me. When she was finally given leave to speak, Mama loudly proclaimed her innocence and tried to blame both you and me for what happened.
Oh, Lizzy! How can she not see her part in it? Is she truly so blind to her actions? She must be. She must be unable to see beyond herself and to how she affects others. We must be forgiving, Lizzy, and I know you will be. Indeed, I know you have already forgiven her. Your heart is so tender that it cannot be otherwise!
As for Papa, you can, I am sure, imagine his response to the upheaval all these months. He remained in his book room much of the time, per his usual habit. He offered me some respite there a few times and gave me some advice. He said that if I were patient, Mama would blow herself out sooner or later and turn her agitation elsewhere. I know he was sincere, but I will risk sounding ungrateful by saying that I was not comforted by it, and I have many times wished he would exert himself to calm her.
In any case, my mother has regulated her behavior towards me. I cannot but wait and see if it continues after Aunt and Uncle leave. I know from Aunt that Papa and Uncle had a similar discussion, though it was less heated than the one in the drawing room. They feel that Papa should have made a better effort, after all that has happened, to shield you from Mama. They are aware that Mr. Darcy and your husband do not wish to allow you to visit us again, as they do not trust Mama. I agree with them—it is unfair for your sisters to lose your company because my parents do not behave as they ought.
Mary continues with her pianoforte lessons, and she practices almost constantly between them. She has found a book of Fordyce’s sermons somewhere, probably from Papa’s library. She has devoured it and has begun adding quotes from it to her regular recital of Scriptures.
Lydia and Kitty continue as they always have. They are doing well in their lessons, though they are eager to quit them every day. They are much happier learning needlework and how to trim bonnets than they are reading and doing sums. I am afraid, dear sister, that they may never learn to appreciate the written word as you and Papa have. Even I, who prefers novels to Shakespeare, like reading better than our youngest sisters. Not everyone is the same, however, and I am sure they will do well in life regardless.
I know you have impatiently read this letter through, wanting me to get to what you would term “the most important part,” and I shall make you wait no longer. You know, of course, that Mr. Bingley and I spent much of your ball speaking to each other, and that I was quite intrigued by him. You also know he called on me several times at my aunt and uncle’s in the weeks following. He has since made regular trips to Longbourn to visit. Mama has, as you would expect, made a great deal of fuss over it, insisting he stay here overnight. I confess to staring in awe at her a few times, for even as she pressed him to stay and pushed him at me, she berated me for my disrespect. But I digress. You will be happy to know that Mr. Bingley has asked me for a courtship, and I have consented. Papa declared he was delighted to give his consent, and the rest of my family expressed equal felicitations. Perhaps with this, Mama will finally forgive me fully.
Give my love to your Darcy family, and accept ours from here. We miss your presence but are grateful for your safety and happiness.
Elizabeth was not surprised at the revelation that her London relatives had chastised her family. It was to them that her father had sent her after Lord Regis had assaulted her. It was they who had arranged her marriage to her beloved Fitzwilliam. They loved her and defended her as their own child. Elizabeth loved her parents, but it was the Gardiners to whom she had learned to turn in times of need.
Fitzwilliam found his wife there, in her study, staring into space with her letter in her hand. “Sweetheart?” He was surprised to see her so contemplative.
At the sound of his voice, she jumped. “Oh, I did not hear you come in! I am sorry!” She smiled at him and grasped the hand he held out to her as he lowered himself beside her on the settee. She rearranged her position so that she could cuddle up into his side with her feet tucked up under her skirts.
“Was there bad news from Longbourn?” Fitzwilliam wrapped his arms around his sweet wife and held her tightly to his side. She had suffered much in the last year from her mother’s antics, and he dearly hoped the woman was not up to her old tricks again.
“No, not really. It seems Aunt Gardiner had something to say to Mama about our battle in the summer.” She handed the letter to him. “Here, it will be easier if you read it yourself.”
He took the letter with some trepidation; he was in a very good mood and was not sure he wanted that disturbed. However, the further into the missive he got, the more he relaxed. Jane had included no details about her mother’s response, though he knew enough of the woman to be able to imagine what was said.
“I am delighted to see that though Jane maintains her ability to reason away the behavior of others, she does see the impropriety of it all. Do you think it will make a difference?”
“I do not know. It is hard to say. Jane says she is behaving well with the Gardiners there, but Mama may just be biding her time so she can explode when they are gone. Jane may need to go to London to stay for a while with my aunt and uncle come February or March.”
“We will be going in late January. Why do we not invite her to visit? We can take her to the theater and some balls and entertain her well. We will have to attend these events anyway; why not take Jane with us?”
“Really, Fitzwilliam? That would be wonderful! Papa George will approve, will he not?” Elizabeth’s face glowed with her excitement, making her husband smile broadly.
“Oh yes; you know that Father loves Jane almost as much as he loves you. He has told me that he is doubly glad, after meeting your mother and seeing the home you grew up in, that you had such a close sister to cling to all those years. He thinks very highly of her.”
“How wonderful! Thank you, darling! I will write to her now and invite her.” With that, Elizabeth popped up off the settee and over to her desk to write to her most beloved sister.
The next day, the Darcy family was surprised by visits from some of their neighbors. The first to visit was the Millers. Elizabeth, Fitzwilliam, and Mr. Darcy settled into the yellow drawing room with their guests, calling for tea and refreshments. The Millers had come with a purpose and quickly got to the point.
Lady Susan was sitting in a chair near Elizabeth’s, and turned to her after greetings were given to say, “My dear Mrs. Darcy, I feel that I must apologize again for Edith’s unkindness towards you. I did try to steer her away from such actions, and I feel that I have failed as a parent because she ignored me. My eyes have been opened to what my behavior has been that led to her belief that her words and deeds would be acceptable.”
She looked down to her lap, a frown on her face. When she brought her gaze up again, she reached over and took Elizabeth’s hand and with an earnest expression, continued. “I know that you have no other women living close to you, and I would like to offer my friendship to you. I am aware that I and my family have really given you little cause to trust us, but my offer is sincere. I have much for which to atone. I like you, and I am amazed at the changes you have brought to the Darcy men. Please, Mrs. Darcy, say that you forgive me. Allow me to make it up to you in this way.”
Elizabeth had kept her eyes focused on Lady Susan’s face during this speech and believed that she saw sincerity. She remembered that at the Millers’ dinner, this was one of the ladies present who had been nice to her, and made her feel welcome. She did wonder for a moment if the lady was only saying these things to maintain a friendship with the Darcy family. However, she was determined not to be cynical. She looked up at Papa George, who gave her a small, encouraging smile and a nod, then to her husband, whose hand was resting on her shoulder. He gave her a nod and a squeeze, and she knew that both the men in her life had spoken to Mr. Miller and felt the offer was genuine, and that it was up to her to decide.
Looking back at Lady Susan, Elizabeth made her decision. She had faith that this was an honest proposal. “Thank you, madam. I appreciate your honesty, and your willingness to change. I do forgive you, and I accept your offer of friendship.” Elizabeth smiled and squeezed the hand that held hers as the men in the room breathed a sigh of relief and sent a silent prayer of thanks heavenward.
The Millers stayed another fifteen minutes or so before leaving to make a stop in Lambton and then go home. They had not been gone thirty minutes when Mrs. Reynolds announced another visitor.
“Mrs. Robert Shetler and Miss Shetler.” Mrs. Reynolds curtsied and left the room, shutting the doors behind her.
Mr. Darcy greeted the newcomers first, bowing and asking after them. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth followed suit and when the greetings were completed, everyone settled into their seats. They made small talk while a maid brought in a fresh tea tray, and Elizabeth poured out. The Darcy men had no intention of leaving Elizabeth alone with two women whose opinions about and attitudes toward her were unknown. If this made the women uneasy, they did not let on.
The Shetler ladies were the wife and daughter of a local landowner and gentleman farmer. They had been in attendance at the Millers’ dinner and witnessed Miss Miller’s treatment of the young Mrs. Darcy. The pair were friendly and loving women and had been appalled at the things that had been said and done. They had discussed it that evening after the party and with Mr. Shetler’s blessing were here to offer their friendship to a young woman, as they saw it, in need. They were not as high as the Darcys, but if they read the family correctly, that would not matter.
“Mrs. Darcy,” began Mrs. Shetler, “I wanted to come to you today and apologize for the way you were treated at the Millers’ dinner. I was shocked that Edith could act in such a way. I have never seen anything like that from her before.”
“Thank you,” Elizabeth replied. “I do not know Miss Miller well enough to know how she acts out of my presence, but it is a comfort to know that it was out of the ordinary. To be sure, I had similar experiences in London following my marriage, so I was not shocked. It is, however, nice to know that there are those who do not approve of such behavior.”
Elizabeth remembered thinking at the dinner that she really liked the Shetler women. They appeared very genuine, with no airs or behaviors that would suggest otherwise. As Miss Shetler added her comments to the conversation, Elizabeth began to realize that this young woman, close in age to herself, had the makings for a friend. As always, she was watchful, and she looked frequently to her husband and father to see what indications they were giving her. Seeing nothing in their expressions or actions that indicated she should not, Elizabeth did something she had not done in almost a year—she invited her neighbor to visit again soon.
“Oh, I would be delighted! Thank you! I confess I had hoped that we could be friends, but I had not anticipated an invitation so soon.” Miss Shetler’s happiness and pleasure shone in her eyes and wide smile. “Thank you again! There are so few gentlewomen our age in the area that it is a joy to meet a new one!” She blushed at that statement, and Elizabeth laughed.
“Indeed, I believe you are correct. Thank you for consenting. I am anticipating becoming good friends.”
The Shetler ladies stayed a few minutes longer before they, too, made their way elsewhere. When they were gone, the Darcy men expressed their happiness to Elizabeth at her impulsiveness. They had feared that she would never feel confident enough again to invite someone to be close to her without their explicit approval. She in turn expressed her surprise at herself and thankfulness that she would have a friend.
To be continued …
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