Thursday’s 300: To Save Elizabeth Re-edit, Chapter 3: Tea at Darcy House

Welcome back to Thursday’s 300!

Today’s post is brought to you by To Save Elizabeth! LOL (This is an affiliate link. It’s free to click on and no purchase is required. However, I may earn a tiny commission from your click.)

I’m caught up again on chapters, so no more missing weeks for me! LOL

I love titling chapters instead of just numbering them. I should do it more often! <3

Anyway, enjoy this little stroll down memory lane!

If you missed the first chapter, you can find it here. The second chapter is here.

Tea at Darcy House

Two days later, Darcy and Georgiana spent the morning pestering the staff, wanting to make sure the afternoon’s tea was a success. They had made arrangements with the butler and housekeeper, Mr. Baxter and Mrs. Bishop, to have a small fire in the grate that took up most of one wall in the entryway, and an extra shawl of Georgiana’s draped over the small chaise that had been placed near it. Darcy had seen Elizabeth shivering before in the aftermath of her fear, and both he and Georgiana wished to be of as much assistance as possible. More than once it had crossed Darcy’s mind that he was far more interested in Elizabeth Bennet than he had been with any other woman of his acquaintance, but he brushed the thoughts aside to deal with later.

Soon, the appointed hour arrived, and the Gardiners and Elizabeth exited their carriage in front of Darcy House. Darcy had watched from the drawing room as Elizabeth had fairly exploded from the equipage and appeared to be taking large breaths of air. Her relatives stood with her for a few minutes as she gathered herself. By the time they rang the bell, Darcy was at the bottom of the staircase, waiting with Georgiana to greet their friends.

Mr. Baxter opened the door. “Welcome to Darcy House, sir, madam, miss.”

Darcy, with Georgiana at his side, approached as his guests divested themselves of hats, gloves, bonnets, and spencers. “Welcome to Darcy House.” He and his sister came to a stop beside Baxter, bowing and curtseying their greetings. “It is good to see you again.”

“Thank you,” Gardiner heartily extended his appreciation. “You, as well. And thank you for your thoughtfulness,” he added, gesturing to the fire and furniture where his niece was currently seating herself.

“No need to thank me. I had noticed Miss Bennet shivering before when fearful and only thought to relieve some of her suffering.”

“It is very much appreciated, nonetheless.” Gardiner looked around the tastefully decorated hall. “You have a beautiful home, sir.”

Darcy glanced around, seeing the entryway as a stranger might. “Thank you. My mother decorated it years ago, and her taste was so exquisite that neither my father nor I felt a need to change anything after her death. I fear it might be a bit dated.”

Mrs. Gardiner looked up from her place beside Elizabeth to disagree with him. “Oh, no, it is not dated at all! Such classic elegance is always in style, despite being often overshadowed by short-lived inclinations toward gilt and gaudiness. I strive to meet a similar style in my home as what you see here.”

Darcy and Georgiana both smiled. “Then I shall stop worrying about it and simply enjoy the decoration.” Darcy looked at his sister. “Do you not agree, Georgiana?”

“Oh, I do! I love hearing about my mother. Thank you, Mrs. Gardiner.”

“I am happy to be of service.”

Darcy grinned to see that Maddie’s warm smile made his sister blush and duck her head, though a small answering grin touched her lips.

After a pause, Darcy spoke again. “When Miss Bennet is well enough, we may venture up to the drawing room. The housekeeper should have our tea set up and ready very soon.”

“I believe I might be well enough now,” Elizabeth stated. “I thank you for your thoughtfulness. I am delighted to be so expediently warmed.” She stood, aided by her uncle’s extended hand. “You are a very gracious host,” she added while blushing.

Darcy bowed to her again, relieved that she had regained some color. “Come,” he said to the group with a smile and a wave of his hand, “follow me.” With his sister’s hand still tucked under his elbow, Darcy began to ascend the staircase. He looked back to see Gardiner following, his wife on one arm and his niece on the other.

Within minutes, the group was comfortably ensconced in chairs and on couches, and Georgiana was pouring out the tea under the watchful eye of her companion, who had been introduced to the newcomers as Mrs. Annesley.

As they sipped their tea and enjoyed sandwiches and scones, Darcy opened a conversation. “Mrs. Gardiner, when we saw you in the gardens, you mentioned that you spent time in Lambton. You lived with your grandparents while your parents were missionaries to foreign lands. Georgiana missed that conversation, and I know she would love to hear more.” He smiled to see his sister look eagerly at their guest.

“I did, for several years. My grandfather owned a small estate just outside of the town, but the house had burned to the ground several years before, so he bought one in Lambton proper, and he and my grandmother took up residence there. My grandmother and Lady Anne Darcy sometimes did charity work together. She was very kind, Lady Anne was, and she always seemed to have a tin of biscuits or sweetmeats with her to give to the children she met.”

Darcy grinned in delight. Though he had vivid memories of his mother, he only knew her from his own observations. He had learned quite a bit more about her character from others who had known her. “Mother loved children above anything else, I think. She would have loved to have more, and it saddened her to lose as many as she did.”

“She was like the Pied Piper to all of us. Whenever she arrived at a meeting or to shop in one of the establishments in town, all the children gathered in the doorway, hoping for her attention. Our happiness was complete when she would drop her formality and chase us about or play games with us.”

Darcy observed with a smile as Maddie grinned and told the story of the very proper Lady Anne Darcy laughing with glee as she was chased by a small band of youngsters around the drawing room of someone’s home.

“She sounds like someone I would have enjoyed meeting,” Elizabeth smiled.

“Oh, Lizzy,” Maddie exclaimed. “You are very like her in that aspect.” She turned to the Darcys. “My children adore their cousin; they say she tells the best stories and plays the best games. Except when she first came to us, she has never turned down an opportunity to read or play with them.”

Georgiana’s eyes lit up. “How wonderful! They are blessed to have such a caring cousin.”

“They are angels, so it is easy to spend time in their company.”

Elizabeth blushed. The conversation turned at that moment, though, and the focus of the company turned to other things.

Elizabeth and Georgiana had chosen to sit together, and now were able to begin their own conversation, as Darcy and the Gardiners continued to discuss Lambton and Pemberley. Georgiana hesitantly began.

“I have a question for you, and I confess it is more than a little impertinent. Please do not feel compelled to answer it if you are uncomfortable doing so.” Georgiana’s hands, clasped tightly in her lap joined her lowered gaze to convey her nervousness in asking.

Elizabeth tilted her head as she observed her new friend’s obvious anxiety. “Of course,” she assured Georgiana. “What would you like to know?”

Taking a deep breath, Georgiana plunged in. “I have noticed that you are … anxious … about riding in carriages, and my brother tells me you were in an accident that has caused your fear. I,” she swallowed before rushing the rest out. “I saw that your dog seemed to know that you were distressed. Fitzwilliam said Brutus brings you comfort. How does he do it?”

Elizabeth smiled, a small lifting of her lips as her whole expression softened. “Brutus has been my best friend since before the accident. I begged Papa for him; he was one of a litter of twelve that was born to a neighbor’s dog.” She looked down, chuckling. “I can still recall my beloved father chastising me for pleading like a child, and my mother fussing about the unseemliness of an eighteen-year-old young lady pouting like a three-year-old.”

Looking at Georgiana again, she continued. “My father could not say no, and none of Mama’s attacks of nerves could sway him from pleasing me. So, Brutus came to Longbourn, where every bit of his care had been placed on me, probably to placate my mother.” Elizabeth’s wry tone made her companion smile. “We quickly became inseparable. I think he thought I was his mother at first. He went everywhere with me, unless the whole family was going. He was always too big to fit into a carriage that was already packed tightly with six ladies and a gentleman, except when he was a very young pup.”

Elizabeth looked down once more, and this time, her lips turned down and her eyes filled with tears. “He saved my life, they tell me. He paced and whined until the housekeeper let him out, and when she did, he ran out of the paddock and down the road. My father’s steward went out after him, and when he found Brutus, the dog was curled around me.”

Georgiana reached a hand out to lay on Elizabeth’s. Elizabeth gripped that hand tightly as she completed her story. “Brutus’ presence fills me with peace. It always has. I think that is why I fought so hard to be allowed to have him in the first place. He always knows when I am in trouble, and does what he can to help me. I gave him unconditional love when he was a puppy, and he has given me the same.” She looked up at Georgiana as she completed her explanation. “I cannot describe it better than that; would that I had the words to do so. He represents peace and comfort to me, and he shares his peace and comfort with me when I cannot find my own.”

Squeezing Elizabeth’s hand once more, Georgiana expressed her appreciation. “That is beautiful, Miss Bennet. Thank you for sharing it with me. Though I cannot claim any similar experiences to yours, I do have fears, as well.” Georgiana hesitated, biting her lip and looking down. Raising her eyes once more, she continued, “I fear being taken in by unscrupulous people and ruining my family’s name. I know those fears seem … odd … for a girl with a brother like mine, but I do not always make the correct decisions. Anyway,” she rushed to finish before Elizabeth could speak. “I have found riding to be what calms me. Riding, and working with my horse. Of course, she is at Pemberley, but I can at least use one of my brother’s horses here when I wish to ride. I was curious to discover if the feelings generated were the same, and it seems as though they might be.”

Smiling again, Elizabeth agreed. “It does seem that way. I think maybe God gave us dogs and horses and even cats for that very reason. They make excellent companions.”

Turning the conversation away from such heavy topics, Elizabeth next asked about Georgiana’s studies. As she listened to the other girl’s reply, she looked across to her aunt and uncle, in conversation with Darcy. She observed her host.

Georgiana asked another question, and Elizabeth turned to give the girl her whole attention once more. This time, the pair of them shared some laughs over Elizabeth’s tales of Brutus and the funny things he did as a puppy.

Unbeknownst to Elizabeth, she was just as much an object of scrutiny to Darcy as he had been to her. Though when he first saw her, Darcy had thought Elizabeth not very handsome, as he watched her now conversing with his sister, he could see how well her animation enhanced her features. Her dark eyes and hair set off her creamy complexion, and her dancing, snapping eyes displayed her merriment. They are enthralling, those eyes, Darcy thought. He had noticed her liveliness before, but here, in his home, he could see that quality paired with perfect manners. He found the combination both fascinating and enticing. Turning his attention back to his own conversation, Darcy tucked his observations into the back of his mind. He would bring them out and examine them later, after his guests had gone and he had time to make a thorough study of them.

~~~***~~~

Darcy greatly enjoyed the visit, and it was clear the Gardiners did, as well, for they extended an invitation to him and his sister to come to their home for tea the following week. The invitation was eagerly accepted, and a date and time set for the next Wednesday. Brutus had been waiting outside, on the top step, for his mistress, and the family had boarded their hired conveyance without incident.

Darcy and his sister separated then to complete their normal afternoon activities before meeting again for dinner. As per his usual habit, Darcy retired to the library to read, though this day he struggled to keep his mind on his book. His thoughts and reactions to Elizabeth seemed determined to maintain a place in the forefront of his mind, so he eventually put aside the tome and gave in to them.

Darcy was not certain just why he was so entranced by Elizabeth Bennet.  He felt sorry for her, he knew, but he would feel that way for any lady suffering as she did. He felt sorry for his sister, who just a few months ago had nearly been the victim of a fortune hunter. She had not suffered in the same manner as Miss Bennet had, but her pain had been real and deep, and Darcy had been forced more than once to stifle the urge to hunt down the bounder who had hurt her and beat him senseless. I must be feeling similar things to what I did when Georgiana was hurt, he thought. I am certain that is how she feels about me. Darcy was struck with a pang as he realized he did not want Elizabeth to see him as a brother. I want a deeper relationship with her than that. Darcy alternately savored this new understanding and feared it, for he had no way of knowing for certain how Elizabeth felt. In the end, he forced the matter from his mind, vowing to consider it more later, and returned his attention to his book.

When he met Georgiana for dinner, he discovered that his sister’s enthusiasm for their new friends’ visit remained strong. It was all she wished to speak about, and Darcy indulged her, as was his wont.

“You found Miss Bennet to be worthy of your friendship, then?” Darcy asked after listening to Georgiana ramble on for several minutes about the things she had learned.

Georgiana rolled her eyes. “You sound pompous when you say things like that; ‘worthy of my friendship,’ as though we were the king and queen. Yes, my dear Fitzwilliam, I did find Miss Bennet a worthy friend, as I did her aunt and uncle.”

Darcy’s brow rose at his sister’s impertinence. “I sometimes feel that I have been too easy on you. Why else would you find it acceptable to be rude?” When Georgiana sighed and opened her mouth to apologize, he interrupted her. “Do not worry; all is well. I am too delighted to see you lively again to take much offense at bad behavior. If you are happy with Miss Bennet’s friendship, I am pleased to allow it.”

“Thank you, and I am sorry for being rude. I was correct and you know it, but I am sorry for saying it, and for rolling my eyes. You are the best brother a girl could have.”

Darcy blushed at Georgiana’s words. “Thank you. You are the best sister a gentleman could have.”

Georgiana blushed, and ducked her head as she quietly thanked him. “I know I have been a trial to you in the last months.”

“You have not,” Darcy firmly denied. “You made a mistake, yes, but you did not hide it and did not follow through with the elopement. Instead, you confessed all to me. I was and remain proud of you for that.”

“But, I have spent most of the last three months weeping and crying. You cannot have enjoyed that.”

“I most definitely did not, but I could not begrudge you your time of grief. You have greatly improved in the last weeks, and I confess to feeling relief because of it. Now then,” Darcy said, changing the subject, what did you and Miss Bennet talk about during your little tête-à-tête?”

“Oh, many things! Literature and music, and her dog, mostly.”

“Oh?” Darcy was inexplicably curious about what his sister had learned about Elizabeth. “Can you be more specific?”

“I can,” Georgiana teased, “if you give me but a moment to say it.” She giggled when her brother smirked, rolling his eyes and shaking his head. She continued, “Miss Bennet prefers Shakespeare’s comedies to his tragedies. She likes poetry well enough but prefers prose. She enjoys all music but finds Beethoven too difficult, though she confesses she never practiced as she should.”

Darcy nodded. “I concur with her on each of those. Did she say anything else?”

“I asked her about her dog. She was very open about it, perhaps more than I expected her to be. If I am interpreting what she said correctly, she feels the same comfort from Brutus that I do when I work with Daisy.” Georgiana paused for a moment, as if considering something, but then spoke once more. “I shared with her some of my fears, as well. Not the cause of them, and not all of them, of course. It felt … I was relieved to have shared those things, especially with Miss Bennet, who clearly understands.”

Surprised, Darcy did not know what to say at first. Then, he stumblingly started speaking. “I-, I am glad you felt comfortable enough to share something like that with her. Miss Bennet is a very kind lady, and sympathetic to the plights of others.” He stumbled to a stop and then looked at his cup, watching as his fingers played with the handle. He thought about what Georgiana had just said about Daisy and how she had, when they had arrived home from Ramsgate, made a beeline for the stables. She had spent endless days with her mare, shunning her brother’s company and that of the neighbors who came to call, in favor of working with Daisy. He had been concerned, giving thought to forcing her to leave off, but she was so much more relaxed when she was with the horse that he let it go. Instead, he charged the stable master and grooms with keeping an eye on her. He only gave up his worry when one of the boys reported to him that she often spoke to the horse, pouring out her problems to the mare and crying out her sorrow over her broken heart. Thankfully, the groom was a loyal employee, though a little extra money slipped to him assured Darcy that Georgiana’s revelations would not be spread about. When he had gathered his thoughts together, he spoke once more to Georgiana.

“I remember how helpful Daisy was to you. I am not certain I understand it, but if you say an animal can help someone in that manner, I believe you.”

“I do say it.” Georgiana took a sip of her tea and then paused in the act of setting it down. “I wonder if it is something a gentleman simply cannot understand.” She placed the cup on the table and picked up her fork. “Perhaps only ladies are sensitive to its effects.”

Darcy snorted softly. “Perhaps.” He could recall gentlemen he had met who preferred their hunting dogs or horses to their peers; perhaps this was why.

To be continued …

 

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