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It’s been a hot minute since I last posted. Life things have gotten in my way. I apologize for making you wait so long. It couldn’t be helped.
Today I present to you chapter 4.
If you missed chapter 1, you can find it here.
Chapter 2 is here. Chapter 3 is here.
Did you know that Patreon patrons who pledge $2 per month or more get to read these posts an entire week early? Also, patrons at all levels get to read my current work-in-progress as I write it.
For Elizabeth, the two weeks she waited for Darcy at Hunsford were very long. She spent the first few days getting reacquainted with her friend and resting from the journey. She was very happy that Charlotte appeared content with her new situation. While Elizabeth certainly would not have been able to abide her cousin, it appeared that her friend had the ability to manage him quite well. She was never disrespectful of him, and she had all the appearance of listening to and agreeing with his every word. However, she somehow always seemed to get things done her own way. Elizabeth rather admired Charlotte’s ability to manage her household.
So far, the Hunsford party had been to Rosings to dine twice during the first fortnight of her visit, and been invited to take tea an additional three times. Each time, Lady Catherine had questioned her rector’s cousin on her family and upbringing. Her questions had been intrusive and repetitive – to the point that Elizabeth was ready to scream. However, she was a gentlewoman, and was not about to return rudeness for rudeness. She did, however, use her wit to quiet the lady once or twice. That was far more satisfying than acting in a way that would show her own manners to be lacking.
Elizabeth spent much time in the mornings walking the gardens of the manor. Unerringly, she found the lilac bushes she loved so much in full bloom. She spent hours amongst them, sometimes sitting on the stone bench placed there, reading or daydreaming of Mr. Darcy. Other times found her wandering around them while thoughts of him filled her mind. She wondered if he knew what lilacs stand for in the language of flowers.
She turned and he was there, walking towards her, a large bunch of the fragrant purple flowers in his left hand, his right hand moving up to remove his hat. He stopped as he bowed to her, then stretched the flowers out for her to take. “For you,” he whispered. As she took the bouquet into her own hands, his slid up her arm to her elbow and he leaned towards her, eyes on her lips. “You are so beautiful,” he breathed just before his mouth captured hers in a breathtaking kiss.
Elizabeth sighed. Soon, she hoped, her daydreams would become reality.
Often, she would work with Charlotte in the still room, turning flower petals from the parsonage’s garden into perfumes and lotions. This was something she enjoyed and did well, especially when she shared the task with a friend. The two ladies spent many pleasurable hours working together.
On mornings when she wanted a change, or perhaps had some extra time to fill, Elizabeth wandered the paths in the groves. Rosings had many kinds of trees, some that would bear nuts and fruits, and others just nice to look at, all providing shade from the sun and protection from the elements. Many of these paths seemed to be traversed rarely, and would be wonderful places to visit with her suitor. She looked forward to his arrival.
For Darcy, the two weeks also progressed slowly. He had settled some business with his attorney, inspected the mistress’ chambers at Darcy House, noting some changes to discuss with the housekeeper, and spent time with his sister. He attended a couple family dinners, but refused to attend balls when his aunt tried to insist. He had neither reason nor desire to attend, as he was no longer looking for a wife.
He could not tell his aunt this, of course. Lady Matlock had definite standards about potential wives, and Miss Elizabeth did not meet those ideals. No, what she had was worth far more to Darcy than anything his aunt might require. He also had to consider that he had not yet spoken to Mr. Bennet. No one could be told anything until he had that gentleman’s permission.
Darcy waited a week before visiting Longbourn. Miss Elizabeth had asked him to give her time to warn her father of his coming, and had written a letter to be posted the day she left for Kent. Darcy was of two minds about this. On one hand, he was glad the gentleman was not going to be surprised, for it would make the visit less awkward. On the other hand, the delay gave him more time to think, which made him more nervous. To combat his nerves, he planned out and repeatedly rehearsed his speech. This gave him the confidence to proceed, knowing he was less likely to stumble over his tongue and say the wrong thing.
On the day of the visit, Darcy set out on horseback at an early hour. The ride was pleasant, as the weather was fine. He stopped a few times to take refreshment, and arrived at Longbourn about mid-day. He knocked on the door and was admitted by the housekeeper. Was her name Hill or Mill? He could not recall which it was. He handed her his card and asked to speak to Mr. Bennet. Hoping to avoid inciting Mrs. Bennet’s nerves today, he quietly hoped his presence was not known by her yet.
Soon he was following Hill to Mr. Bennet’s bookroom, where he was announced and given admittance.
“Mr. Darcy, welcome! Fine morning for an extended ride, is it not?” Mr. Bennet bowed, greeting the man who had apparently gained his Lizzy’s approbation. “Please, sit.”
Darcy bowed, as well. “Thank you, sir,” he said as he settled into a chair. “It was indeed a fine morning for a ride. You are well, I hope? And your family?”
“We are well, thank you. I understand from Lizzy that you have seen her and Jane in town recently?” He leaned back in his chair as he spoke, elbows on the arms and fingers interlocked over his belly.
“Yes, sir, I have. We saw each other at the theater about a week ago, the night before she left for Kent. She and Miss Bennet were attending a play and we chanced upon each other in the lobby.” Darcy sat stiffly upright, hands clasped in his lap.
“Indeed. It seems from my daughter’s letter that you have asked for a courtship? And she has consented?”
“Yes, sir. I am here to ask for your permission to court Miss Elizabeth. I am hoping the courtship leads to marriage. I feel we are well-suited to each other, and once we get to know each other better, I intend to make her an offer. She is in agreement; all we need to proceed is your consent.”
Mr. Bennet smiled. “Well, Mr. Darcy, you have it. Lizzy and I spoke of you in the aftermath of Mr. Wickham’s downfall, so I already knew that her opinion of you had softened. I have suspected for some time that she might be feeling regret at your leaving.”
“Thank you, sir.” Darcy let out a relieved breath. He had not realized until just now how tightly he had been holding himself. A brilliant smile lit his face. Suddenly he startled.
“Mr. Wickham, sir? What did that scoundrel do now? I should have made his character known before I left the area. Let me apologize now for my lack of diligence. Please, sir, tell me he did no harm to your family?”
Impressed with this speech, Mr. Bennet replied, “No, he did not harm my family. He did, however, injure a few of the daughters of the area. Two of them had a physical altercation in the street, which let the cat out of the bag, so to speak. It was not long before the man’s debaucheries were public knowledge, trumpeted all over Hertfordshire. It is my understanding that he was flogged and sent to another regiment.” He shook his head. “Of course, he had more sins to his name than just those with young ladies. He had debts to the very same tradesmen whose daughters were meddled with, in addition to gambling debts amongst his fellow officers. I know not where he was sent, nor do I care. I am simply glad that none of my daughters are spending the rest of their lives in a far off county raising illegitimate children.”
He paused and offered his guest a glass of port. “I will be forever grateful, though, that my eyes have been opened to the dangers of unattached young men. I can see by the look in your eye that you recognize my passivity in raising my children and do not agree with it. I have been lazy, I admit, and I fight daily with myself to change, but I am more aware now of what my girls are doing and with whom. Officers have been banned. They will always be silly, my daughters, but I can protect them, and I will.”
Darcy accepted the wine, saying, “That is good to hear, sir. It is an unfortunate fact that many men of all levels of society view young ladies as prey to be vanquished, with no thought to their futures or reputations. Mr. Wickham has pleasant manners, and to one unfamiliar with him, he would seem an honest and upright person. But his personality is base and his proclivities equally so. Nothing would have stopped him from making a conquest, and he cares for none but himself. The area is well rid of him.”
Bennet was intrigued by his guest’s passionate response. “It seems, sir, that you have been more than once bitten by the snake that is Wickham?”
“Yes, sir. He was the son of my father’s steward; my father was his godfather. We were raised together.” Darcy’s voice became softer as he remembered his childhood companion. “His viciousness could be seen at an early age if one cared to look, and by the time we were at school together and out from under our fathers’ eyes, Wickham had become very wild. Cards and women took more of his time than lectures and study. I took care that my father did not know; I paid his debts and paid off his women many times out of my allowance.”
Darcy paused to take a sip of his port. Bennet waited patiently, as he knew there was more to the story than what had been reported so far.
“When my father died, he left Wickham one thousand pounds and a valuable living, provided he take orders. Wickham declared his intention to study the law instead, and accepted three thousand pounds in lieu of the living. He signed a document resigning his rights to it. I was sure I had heard the last of him, but when the rector passed away, Wickham was back with his hand out, demanding his inheritance. I refused, of course, and that is when he began spreading his vitriol about me.” Here he paused, gathering his thoughts and emotions. “I thought he was gone from my life after that, until last summer, when he tried to convince my sister to elope. If I had not come to visit unexpectedly, she may have been lost forever. As it is, she is heartbroken; she was just fifteen.”
Bennet let out a breath that he had been unaware he was holding. “Well, Mr. Darcy, considering it had been mere weeks since you experienced that unhappy event, you certainly had reason to be unpleasant when you arrived at that first assembly. I am happy you saved your sister; please know that what you have told me will not leave this room.”
Rising, Darcy thanked him. “I leave for Rosings in another day or two. Do you have any messages for Miss Elizabeth? I would be glad to pass them on for you.”
“I will send her a letter, express, telling her that I granted permission. Receiving an express ought to give her and my cousin’s household a bit of excitement for a few days.” He chuckled at the thought.
“Oh, I nearly forgot. My aunt, Lady Catherine, has been declaring my engagement to her daughter since I was young. My father specifically told me I was only to marry her if she was truly my choice, and that I was not to allow Lady Catherine to push me to do something I was unwilling to do. Miss Elizabeth is aware of this, and she agrees that we must court quietly until we can both leave the area.” Darcy flushed a deep red. “I do not trust my aunt to behave as she should. She is a scheming woman, and overbearing, and will attempt to make trouble for us. We will wait to announce our courtship until one or both of us are ready to leave Kent. Please be aware, sir; I fear she is capable of anything.”
“I will keep that in mind.” Mr. Bennet was growing concerned. “Are there others of your family who might cause trouble?”
“No, sir. My aunt is not the only one who imagines she can control me, but she is the only one who does not give way when I refuse to cooperate. The rest of my family may rail at me a bit, but they are aware that I am my own man. They will not cause trouble.”
Bennet briefly closed his eyes. Then, exhaling quietly, he replied. “That is good to know. I will watch for anything untoward from Kent, then. Thank you for the warning.”
“Mr. Bennet,” Darcy paused, unsure if he should go on. “Sir, if while we are at Rosings, I feel the time is right to propose, do I have your permission to do so? Do I have your permission to marry your daughter?” He was uncertain why he felt it so important to ask this question now; some unseen force propelled him and he was helpless to do aught but follow.
His companion laughed. “Yes, Mr. Darcy, if your courtship progresses in Kent to the point that you feel it is time to propose, you have my permission to marry Lizzy. Just make sure the proprieties are kept. No elopements.”
“You may be sure of my cooperation on that account.”
With that, the two men shook hands, and bowing, Darcy took his leave to begin his journey back to London. He was grateful for Mr. Bennet’s permission to court Miss Elizabeth, for the chance to explain himself, and for the knowledge that Wickham had, for once in his life, been punished for his misdeeds.
To be continued …