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We are counting down now!! <3 There are only two chapters left after today. The last post should be on July 21st. The next book I’ll refresh and share will be Lilacs & Lavender.
Want to go back and read the previous chapters? You can find the first one here.
A few more days passed, and soon the Darcy family was expecting a large number of houseguests for the holiday week. Charles Bingley, Fitzwilliam’s best school chum, was to arrive first, along with his sister Caroline. Soon after, the Earl and Countess of Matlock, along with their sons, Lieutenant Richard Fitzwilliam and Viscount Tansley and his wife, the Viscountess Tansley, were to arrive. Also close to the Darcys and important to the family were the Morris and Burns families. Closing out the list of guests was the Millers, John and Lady Susan. There would be a few families, such as the Shetlers, who would attend various dinners as well as the ball, who would not be staying as part of the house party.
The Burns family was the complete opposite of the Millers. This family consisted of husband Scott, wife Agatha, and two children and their spouses, Abner and Rebecca Burns and George and Elspeth O’ Grady. The Burns patriarch was a happy-go-lucky sort of man; his wife was equally jolly. They had raised their children to be the same. Every member of the family expressed their sincere delight at the marriage upon seeing Mrs. Darcy. They had met the lady previously and had known her to be delightful. In their collective opinion, anyone who had observed Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth together in previous years would be able to see their attachment and would not be surprised at the union. The Burnses were delighted that the pair was so happy.
The Morris family was the next to arrive. Like John Miller and Scott Burns, Edward Morris was an old friend of George Darcy, and his sons had grown up with Fitzwilliam. Currently, his heir, Robert, was visiting his wife’s family for the holidays; middle son Joshua was serving with His Majesty’s forces and was unable to get leave until after the New Year; while youngest son Michael, a divinity student, was spending his holiday at the home of a friend.
Edward Morris was of two minds on the marriage his friend Darcy had arranged for his heir. Granted, the young lady in question was delightful. She was sure to bring a smile to anyone with whom she spoke. However, her uncle was in trade. He had struggled with what he should or should not say or do on the matter, until his wife pointed out that it was pointless to be concerned. The marriage was made and the only option open to them was to accept or reject it. Like the Millers, Mr. Morris and his good wife made the decision to accept and welcome the newest Darcy. Their battle had been blessedly shorter than that of the Millers.
Most eagerly anticipated by Elizabeth was Charles Bingley, whom she had met at her presentation ball in the spring, and who was now courting her sister Jane. Bingley and Fitzwilliam had met at Eton where they were in the same year, were the same age, and shared a room. Complete opposites in personality, they had quickly found themselves forming a strong and lasting bond of friendship. Fitzwilliam had defended Bingley against those who disparaged him for being the son of a tradesman, and Bingley defended Fitzwilliam against those who ridiculed him for his reserve and obvious homesickness. Their friendship had strengthened over time, as they helped each other through troubles and celebrated accomplishments together. Bingley brought levity and cheer to his friend, and Fitzwilliam assisted Bingley in navigating the social mores and customs of the higher society his merchant father expected him to enter.
Accompanying Bingley was his twin sister, Caroline. Fitzwilliam had met her on three or four previous occasions and had been less than impressed. She invariably attached herself to his arm, clinging like a limpet, her intent as clear as a sunny day. He could only hope that his marriage to Elizabeth had turned Miss Bingley’s mind away from him and toward someone else … anyone else … who might actually appreciate her and envision making a life with her. Heaven only knew what his wife would do if his friend’s sister behaved as she usually did in his presence! While Elizabeth was not sure enough of herself at this point to respond aggressively to attacks on her person, he knew from previous experience that she was passionate to defend those she loved.
Upon the Bingleys’ arrival at Pemberley, it was obvious that Miss Caroline Bingley had not turned her attention away from Fitzwilliam. She did, however, have enough sense to know to treat Elizabeth well, at least in the presence of the lady’s husband. He may no longer be in the market for a wife, but he was still the most handsome man she had ever met, and he was the heir to a large fortune. She would do well to remain in his good graces, even if it meant she had to be pleasant to the unknown interloper who had stolen him away.
She surprised no one in attendance who was already acquainted with her, when she immediately grabbed hold of Fitzwilliam’s arm and held on tightly, while at the same time greeting his wife as enthusiastically as she was able, which was meagerly at best.
Fitzwilliam, knowing Elizabeth as well as he did, braced himself. A riveting confrontation was about to take place. He glanced at his wife with a look of trepidation. Deep down, though, he admitted to himself that he was looking forward to watching her put Miss Bingley in her place. He did not want her to make a scene, and was reasonably certain she would not, but he could see by her look that she was going to say something. He only hoped he did not visibly celebrate when she did. He missed this part of his wife’s personality, and he was confident he would see it more often in future encounters, especially when she herself was the victim.
Elizabeth’s eyebrows were lifted, and there was a definite spark of anger in her eyes as she took in Miss Bingley’s grip on her husband. “Miss Bingley. How nice to finally meet you. I have heard so much about you from my darling husband.” At this, she gave her adversary such a ferocious look that the woman paled. “Perhaps you are unaware of the etiquette required when a single woman and a married man greet. You are to allow him to bow over your hand, but you are not to touch him beyond that. It would be far too forward for a gently-bred lady to do otherwise.”
Fitzwilliam bit back a smile. This was getting to be very interesting.
Caroline let go. Under no circumstances did she want to be seen as anything other than a gentlewoman. She endeavored to forget her roots in trade and did not want attention drawn to that uncomfortable fact. Too, Mrs. Darcy seemed rather fierce. One did not know of what a country miss such as she was capable. Perhaps, she thought, she ought to leave her effusions to a time when the other lady was not in the same room. Still, she seethed. Did not this country bumpkin know that she and Fitzwilliam were friends of long standing? Well, perhaps “friends” was too strong a word, but he was friends with her brother! Surely that counted!
“Indeed, Mrs. Darcy, I am aware of proper decorum. In my haste to greet my old friend, I forgot myself. I apologize.” Her teeth were gritted; oh, how she would like to tear this woman to pieces with her words. Only the strongest of desires to be invited to this great estate in the future kept her in check.
“I am happy to hear it, Miss Bingley. Let us hope you are able to act with more restraint in the future.” Elizabeth smiled sweetly, but her rival could see the warning – touch him again at your own peril!
“Come Miss Bingley, Mr. Bingley … Mrs. Reynolds will show you to your rooms. We have had to house you in the guest wing for this visit, as the earl and countess and their family have quite taken over the family wing.” Waving her visitors toward the grand staircase, Elizabeth felt pleased with herself. She would be wary with this one, but knew that she would come out on top. After all, Fitzwilliam was hers, for the rest of their lives.
When the Matlocks arrived, there was much slapping of backs and kissing of hands. The family had not been together in this manner since the end of the season, and they were anticipating this time spent in each other’s presence.
Part of the Matlock group was a young man of five and twenty years who was a friend of the viscount. The gentleman, Lord Perry Walton, Baron Rockford, was just coming out of mourning for his father. An only son, he inherited everything the previous baron had owned, including a large amount of debt. Upon hearing from his cousin that Bingley’s sister was to join the party, Lord Tansley had written Fitzwilliam, asking that Walton be invited. Fitzwilliam was more than happy to promote anything that would finally get Caroline Bingley married and out of his hair, so he gladly extended the invitation.
Lord Walton had been reluctant at first to impose upon a family with whom he was only loosely acquainted, but upon hearing that Miss Bingley’s fortune was twenty thousand pounds, decided to make the trip. He had high hopes that she would meet his other requirements for a wife and that she would accept at least a courtship. Though to be honest, even if she looked like a horse and behaved like a donkey, with her dowry, she would be acceptable. He needed an infusion of cash, sooner rather than later!
The addition of another single gentleman was a relief to Lieutenant Fitzwilliam. He was aware of Caroline Bingley’s pursuit of his cousin and had half-feared she would look to himself as an alternative. That Lord Walton was a first son made him far more eligible than a lowly second son in the army. The lieutenant determined to do everything he could to promote a match between the two.
Dinner this first night was not overly formal, beyond entering the dining room according to precedence. Guests were free to choose where they would sit, and Fitzwilliam insisted his wife sit next to him, as she usually did. He was at one end of the table and his father was at the other.
Miss Bingley was scandalized at this complete lack of proper etiquette, but gathered from her hosts that the decision to do away with proper seating arrangements for this night was made in deference to herself and the other guests, who were fatigued from travel. Rather than force everyone to behave with strict propriety, the Darcys were happy to let them all relax and enjoy themselves. She could not fathom doing such a thing at a party she hosted, but then she heard Mr. Darcy say that it was informal because it was a family dinner. She preened silently at the distinction of being considered so, and decided that it was perfectly acceptable to hold a dinner in such a manner for family.
Such was her focus on Mrs. Darcy and her perception of her hostess’s lack of social graces that she failed to notice the titled gentleman who was the only eligible single man, other than her brother, in the party.
After dinner, the theme of informality was continued. Rather than the men and women separating for a time, they all repaired to the music room. Elizabeth and the other young ladies, except for Georgiana, who could not be prevailed upon to do so, exhibited on the pianoforte and harp to the delight of everyone. Soon, all the guests gave in to their fatigue and retired for the night, followed by the Darcys.
For the first two or three days, the house party went rather well, at least to the casual observer. Elizabeth did not have cause to be alone in Miss Bingley’s company, which was a relief. She did hear one or two remarks about her person and her manner come from the lady’s lips that could be construed as snide or disparaging, but nothing that distressed her overly much. She had heard worse just last week at the Miller’s dinner party.
The group kept busy during this time, with a tour of the house or a ride in the mornings, and billiards for the gentlemen and time in the parlor with needlework for the ladies in the afternoons. Evenings were spent in playing cards, or reading aloud, or even acting out short segments of favored works. Dinners were generally formal, complete with a division of the sexes immediately following the meal. This was the time of day Elizabeth dreaded most. Not because she was frightened or worried, but because she could see with each passing day that Caroline was finding it more and more difficult to rein in her tongue, and it was wearying to be constantly in battle.
Some of the matrons of the party, Lady Susan, Mrs. Burns, and Mrs. Morris, all noticed Miss Bingley’s manner towards Elizabeth. They, knowing what had happened with Edith Miller, thought that perhaps this new young lady in their midst would benefit from a warning. They quietly decided amongst themselves to do so, and invited the countess and viscountess, who they knew to be supportive of their hostess, to join them. While Elizabeth was occupied with the other ladies, these five approached Caroline after dinner on the third full day of the party.
As the lady whose family had so far been the most affected by a negative reaction towards Elizabeth, and given that she had offered friendship to the young wife of her neighbor, Lady Susan was the first to speak. “Miss Bingley, I … we … have noticed your words and actions against Mrs. Darcy and feel that it would be in your best interest to warn you of the most likely consequences.” She paused, looking around at her peers before giving her full attention once more to the younger woman.
Caroline opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off before she got a word out.
“My daughter, Edith, is currently staying with her aunt in Sussex. The length of her stay is uncertain. You see, Miss Bingley, just last week, Edith did what you are doing now. She spoke about Mrs. Darcy in a negative manner. She mocked her, spread tales about her, and even confronted her at a dinner party at our home. Mr. Darcy and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy caught her in the act, and their anger was fierce to behold. Indeed, Mr. Darcy nearly cut off the connection between himself and my family. The Darcys and Millers have been friends for decades, Miss Bingley. If Mr. Darcy was unafraid of cutting our connection, imagine how easy it would be for him to cut the connection between his family and yours, which is much newer. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was as angry that night as I have ever seen him. If I did not know him so well, I would have been fearful of him striking my daughter. If she had been a man, I have no doubt he would have.”
By this time, Caroline had rallied from her initial shock at being addressed so by a woman she barely knew and began to defend herself. “Mr. Darcy would never sever the connection between my brother and his son! Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy is a grown man; his father cannot control who he befriends. You are wrong to think such a thing! He and my brother are very close. Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy would never turn his back on my brother over an insignificant baggage like Eliza!”
Miss Bingley had, by this time, worked herself into quite a rage. Her face was bright red and her hands were clenched into fists at her sides. She had managed to keep her voice lowered, but even that much control was becoming beyond her. She had one more thing to say to this interfering group of women, and then she intended to turn her back on them and exit the room, effectively cutting them. She opened her mouth to speak, but was cut off before she could begin.
Lady Matlock had listened to this young woman long enough. It was her niece this unimportant daughter of a tradesman was disparaging, and she would not stand for it. “Do you know who I am, Miss Bingley? I am the Countess of Matlock, a peer. I am also the aunt of Mrs. Darcy. Do you know what I could do to you socially? The misery I could inflict on your prospects? Think carefully, Miss Bingley, before you speak again. I will brook no disrespect towards my niece.”
With this, the great lady moved away, followed one at a time by the rest of the group. Caroline Bingley, still violently angry, walked out of the room and up the stairs to her chambers. Peer or no peer, that woman had no business speaking to her as she did. None of them had. She wished her sister Louisa was here so she had someone to talk to about it. But no, Louisa had gone to Somerset to spend the holidays with her new husband’s family. Angrily, Caroline paced her sitting room, back and forth and back and forth, until she heard sounds in the hallway indicating that the other guests were beginning to retire. She pulled the bell for her maid to attend her, not sure she was calm enough yet to sleep.
After she had a chance to expend some of her furious energy and think about the situation, she was calmer, but still angry. Yes, as a peer of the realm, Lady Matlock had power to ruin her standing in society. Yes, the daughter of one of those women had been sent away for maligning Eliza Darcy. That still did not give them the right to speak to her. She would not let them rule over her. She would be discrete, but she would not change her behavior.
When the men joined the ladies after their port, Lord Walton immediately searched the room for Caroline. He was perplexed when he did not see her. He had been relieved to find in her an attractive woman with acceptable manners. Her dress was a little more extravagant than he was used to seeing and was a clear indication that she was “new money,” from a family of tradesmen trying to move up in consequence. It was unfortunate, but it did not preclude her from consideration. In fact, from what he had seen so far, Miss Bingley would be a good choice. He moved to speak to her brother. I might as well get that part out of the way as soon as possible, he thought.
While Lord Walton was seeking out Mr. Bingley, Lady Matlock had seen her husband enter and moved across the room to intercept him. She wanted to let him know to warn George and Fitzwilliam about Caroline. This she accomplished quickly, returning to Elizabeth’s side.
Lord Matlock, on the other hand, immediately strode to where Fitzwilliam stood with Bingley and Lord Walton. He caught his brother’s eye as he moved, gesturing him to join them. “Gentlemen, we have something to discuss. Bingley, this involves you and your sister.”
“Oh, well, in that case, given what Lord Walton and I have just now been discussing, perhaps he should hear it, as well. Lord Walton has asked permission to speak to Caroline alone in the morning. He wishes to marry her.”
Lord Matlock sighed. “That might make this situation better, then. You are welcome to stay, Walton.” Looking back at Bingley, he stated, “My wife just informed me that your sister has been slandering Elizabeth and treating her in an infamous manner. Lady Matlock and some of the other ladies spoke to her, urging her to change her behavior and citing a recent incident involving one of their daughters as evidence of what she might suffer if she continues. My wife reports that Miss Bingley responded in anger, and does not believe that your sister plans to make any changes but intends to continue in a like manner.”
Here Fitzwilliam interjected his opinion. “Bingley, you are my closest friend, but I cannot allow that behavior toward my wife. Something must be done.”
Bingley was embarrassed. How could Caroline do something like this? What was she thinking? She knew better than to behave in such a manner! What had happened to his sweet twin? He was going to have to speak to her as soon as possible, but for now, he needed to smooth things over with Darcy. He was not at all willing to risk his oldest and dearest friendship for his sister’s desire to denigrate a perceived rival.
“I apologize, Darcy, Mr. Darcy, Lord Matlock. She had no right to do such a thing.” Bingley looked at each man as he spoke, nodding at them and silently asking forgiveness. He could strangle his sister for putting him in this humiliating situation. “Lord Walton already asked permission to speak with her. Sir, how interested are you? Does it matter if she comes to you willingly? I can tell her that she has no choice, especially if she continues to behave so towards Mrs. Darcy. She has repeatedly and vehemently told me that she does not plan or desire to marry for love. She wishes higher connections and status. I doubt she would object to your person; though, she likely will object strenuously to being forced to do something. She likes to be in charge.”
“I am very interested. It matters not to me how willing she is. It is helpful to my cause that she wishes to gain higher connections; she will be much quicker to agree. I can guarantee, Darcy, that she will not be put into a position again where she can slander or abuse Mrs. Darcy.”
“Then it is settled,” stated the elder Mr. Darcy. “Please let us know if there is any way we can help to move things along.”
“We will, sir,” replied Bingley, nodding to Lord Walton.
By this time, the ladies were done exhibiting and couples were beginning to wander up the stairs to their rooms. The gentlemen returned to their sides, escorting them to their rest for the night.
Upon him and his wife reaching their rooms and meeting in their bed to hold each other and talk, Fitzwilliam explained the arrangement between Lord Walton and Bingley.
“So, Miss Bingley is being forced to marry Lord Walton. I wonder how she will feel about being betrothed to someone she barely knows.”
“Once she realizes his station in life, I am quite sure she will quickly resign herself to it. To be honest, a baron is far above what she could have reasonably expected.”
“And he wants her just for her fortune? How sad. Is there nothing else he admires?”
“I know not, but you must admit she is a handsome woman. Not to me, of course,” he quickly added as he lurched out of range of his wife’s pinching fingers. Capturing her hand, he continued. “If she did not present herself as so superior to the remainder of the world, she would likely have had other suitors before now. Perhaps she would even be married.”
“She was holding out for you.”
“She would have been waiting a very long time.” He kissed her softly, his tongue caressing hers briefly before he slowly drew away. “I would have sooner or later offered for you. Your situation rushed things, but you were always in the back of my mind, even on my tour of the Kingdom. Every sight brought things to mind to share with you. You have always been a good friend.” His eyes searched her glittering ones. “We were meant to be together.”
She reached up to pull his head down for a kiss, and soon they were lost in each other once again.
To be continued …