The Matchmaking Summer
Elizabeth Darcy enjoyed a quiet breakfast with her husband one comfortable morning at Pemberley; usually Georgiana joined them, but she had gone to stay some weeks with her Aunt Catherine at Rosings. Now and then Elizabeth lifted her eyes from her plate to look at Mr. Darcy. Even after six months of marriage, she never grew tired of seeing his face and admiring the way his boyish curls caressed his forehead.
As all young lovers are prone to do, Elizabeth believed that never before in history had anyone loved as much as she. And if truth be told, her husband felt the same way about her.
"Oh!" he said suddenly.
Her eyes were upon him without hesitation, for now they had good reason to be there... and to remain there. "What is it?" she asked.
"I have at last found someone eligible to take the position at Lockswirth." Lockswirth was the small but pleasant-looking parsonage about two miles from Pemberley. "He is coming to meet with me today, and I would like to introduce you to him."
"How wonderful! And his name?"
"Walter Vye," answered Darcy. "I think you will certainly be pleased with him, my love."
Darcy was fond of addressing Elizabeth this way, always smiling with appreciation at the way it could still bring color to her cheeks and sparkle to her eyes. Then of course his smile -- supplemented always with a dimple -- must be returned by her, which she did before she replied.
"What makes you think so? I may convince myself that I despise him, just to show you that my character cannot be read with so little effort."
"You are perfectly right. Indeed, now that I give the matter a second thought, I realize that his good temper, sense, intelligence, and wit may put you off."
"If they are all greater than what may be said of me, yes."
"My dear love, you will always be tolerable to me." Darcy's grin was nothing less than evil.
Elizabeth's mouth fell open. "Why you... you horrible, despicable... !" She narrowed her eyes -- perhaps to look menacing, perhaps to hide the laughter in them -- and threw her napkin down on the table. "Good day to you, sir," she said haughtily.
She rose from her chair and moved to leave the room, but as she walked by him, Darcy reached for her hand, took it, and pulled her to him. "Elizabeth," he said softly, lifting her captured hand to his lips.
"If you mean to apologize, that will not do."
"No, it will not." He stood and took her face in his hands, kissing her briefly but sweetly on the mouth.
"Much better," she told him as she put her arms around his neck and lowered his mouth to hers again.
"That is all, Mr. Vye," said his driver when everything had been taken into the house.
"Thank you so much, Davis." Walter walked forward a few paces, then turned around to admire his new home. It was a comfortable house, its size, location, and particulars perfectly suited to him. He spent a few minutes with these pleasant reflections before going in.
Walter Vye was six-and-twenty years old, the youngest of three sons. His eldest brother Philip inherited Ridgefield, their estate in Devonshire, upon the death of their father four years before. Philip Vye was very kind to Walter over those four years, supporting him at Ridgefield and seeing to his every need, financial or otherwise. Their middle brother, Arthur, had moved to London, where he was a highly respected attorney.
Walter, therefore, came to Derbyshire from admirable connections, with sense and wit that must make him pleasing, with a kind and open temper that must make him respected, and with an excessively handsome face and figure that must make every eligible female violently in love with him.
He did go to Pemberley that day as planned, and was introduced to Mrs. Darcy, who liked him just as well as her husband had predicted. After he left, she had nothing but kind things to say of him.
Darcy smiled at her approval. "It is very good that you like Mr. Vye so much, Elizabeth -- but do remember that you have a jealous husband who has just as much right to your affection." His playfully anxious remark was silenced with a kiss from his wife.
"Kitty, my dear, do you have all your things ready?" Mr. Bennet asked his daughter kindly.
"Well, of course she does!" broke in Mrs. Bennet. "We have seen to all of it. Now Kitty, I hope you do not shame us at Pemberley! Mr. Darcy is so proud, and heaven knows..."
Mr. Bennet waited patiently for his wife to finish her expressions of concern and rapture, then turned again to his daughter.
Kitty was by this time close to nineteen years old. The circumstance with Lydia, and the removal of her from Longbourn because of it, had been a secret blessing to her older sister. Kitty had spent her life in the shadow of Lydia -- at least with their mother, for their father took practically no notice of them at all.
Now she was the last of five daughters left at home; her two eldest sisters had both married beyond all expectations, especially Elizabeth. Lydia.... For one month Mary had been the wife of a clerk in Meryton. Mrs. Bennet, therefore, was obliged to take notice of the daughter she had so long pushed aside. Whether this made Kitty happier in the end or not, is left to be decided.
"Kitty," her father spoke to her again, "you are certain that you forgot nothing?"
"I have everything, Pappa."
Mr. Bennet looked on her fondly. The Lydia affair had forced him to evaluate himself as a father, and since then he had determined himself to do better. Not only that, but his beloved Lizzy had left him, and for a time he was quite at a loss without her. With the departure of her and Jane, it seemed that every trace of sense had been taken from his household.
But there was Kitty. He could not help but notice how she had blossomed, thanks to the absence of her younger sister, and her daily visits with her eldest. He found in her a mixture of Jane and Lizzy which pleased him. She lacked the lively disposition of the latter, being more like Jane in that respect, but did indeed possess the wit and discernment that so marked Lizzy. She had matured from being the pushed-aside, self-conscious flirt to being the only pleasure her father could now appreciate in his home.
Kitty had been invited to stay at Pemberley with her sister and the ominous Mr. Darcy. Although she knew by this time that Mr. Darcy was not the demon he had once been taken for, she was still frightened of him.
"You must know how much you will be missed," Mr. Bennet told her the next day as she climbed into the carriage.
Kitty smiled at her father. "You will have some valuable time alone with Mamma," she said slyly.
"That is a pleasure I could do without. Well, be off with you now! Tell Elizabeth that in her absence she has missed the addition of two more gray hairs on my head, and tell her husband -- what is his name? -- that he is an abominable scoundrel for keeping her away."
Kitty laughed. "I will deliver the first message with pleasure, but I do not dare convey the second! Goodbye, Pappa!"
Thanks for all the encouragement on my beginning! Regarding one of the responses, I actually did take Mr. Vye's name from Return of the Native; Hardy's one of my very favorites. =)
Kitty had never seen the highly praised Pemberley, so when she saw traces of a building beginning to emerge from the trees, she brought her face closer to the window. What met her eyes took her breath away. The house was enormous, and from the way the sun hit it, it seemed to be made of gold. Yet despite its grand aspect, it was unlike other fine buildings in that it looked friendly and inviting.
Lizzy was indeed lucky to have secured so magnificent a home. No one, after seeing this, could refuse an offer from Mr. Darcy. His arrogance and rudeness could easily be overlooked in such surroundings.
When the carriage stopped and Kitty stepped out, she was taken immediately into the arms of her sister. "Kitty!" Elizabeth exclaimed. "Welcome to Pemberley! I hope you are pleased with it?"
"It is truly breathtaking," Kitty replied. She looked around, but did not see Mr. Darcy. Perhaps she would not have to face him as soon as she expected. But no -- there he was, walking towards them.
Kitty noticed the way he rested his hand briefly on the small of her sister's back as he came to stand by her. Could there possibly be some affection between them? "And how was your journey, Miss Bennet?" he asked politely. Why, he was smiling at her!
"Very pleasant, I thank you, sir."
"I am glad to hear it. Now what shall I do with two Bennet women all at once?" he asked, turning to Elizabeth. The smile he gave her sister made Kitty catch her breath.
"You must simply get another dish to put under the table," replied Elizabeth with a sigh.
Encouraged by Elizabeth's manner with him, and not quite realizing what she was doing, Kitty added, "Or we could just have you fed outside."
Darcy turned his head toward her and looked at her in so peculiar a way that Kitty began to feel sorry for taking liberties with so great a man. But to her surprise and relief, he started laughing!
Owing to months of letters from Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Bingley, Darcy and Elizabeth knew to expect that Kitty had matured in every way; in fact, this was their main reason for inviting her to Pemberley. But neither of them expected so radical a change in her -- enough of a change to tease Mr. Darcy, of whom she had always been afraid!
When Darcy stopped laughing, he bowed to Kitty again and said, "Welcome to Pemberley, Miss Bennet. I always enjoy the company of women who tell me what they think of me." Again Kitty watched as he gave another of those "looks" to her sister.
"In that case," Kitty replied, "let me give you both the message my father sent."
"We shall hear it over a cup of tea," said Elizabeth. "Do come inside, Kitty."
Kitty found the interior of the house warm and pleasant -- so different from what she had thought of Rosings when she visited Hunsford with her good friend Maria Lucas a few months before. But perhaps Rosings was rendered unpleasant by the coldness of its mistress, who had treated Kitty in the rudest way. Lady Catherine de Bourgh held a grudge against the Bennet family, and Kitty had been the first Bennet she had seen since the marriage of her nephew to Elizabeth.
They were served tea in the sitting room, where Kitty related the message Mr. Bennet had sent. Elizabeth laughed, then expressed in a more serious tone how much she missed her father. Darcy was amused at being called an abominable scoundrel.
As they conversed easily with one another, Kitty watched Mr. Darcy especially. How wrong an idea of him she -- and nearly everyone in Hertfordshire -- had entertained! This Mr. Darcy was friendly, and showed openly his great admiration for his wife. He was actually affectionate! And he laughed and teased! Had this change been brought about by her sister? Or had she completely missed the nature of his true character?
Kitty felt at that moment that she could stay here with them forever. After this, how could she ever return to Longbourn, where every quiet meditation was interrupted with a shrill "Kitty!" from her mother? But she remembered her father, and that he needed her.
"Kitty, we will have some company this evening," Elizabeth remarked to her.
"Lots of company," added Darcy. "My sister will be returning from Rosings, and she brings with her her cousin Anne. Also, our new clergyman from Lockswirth -- a Mr. Walter Vye."
"I look forward to seeing your sister, sir," said Kitty. "I have met her only briefly."
"You will also become very fond of Mr. Vye, I think," Elizabeth told her. "I am sure I would be in love with him myself, if I had not already chained myself to this man for life."
"Anne de Bourgh," Kitty mumbled. "Why is she coming?"
"Georgiana has befriended her, and wants to remove her from Rosings for a little while," replied Elizabeth.
Kitty felt highly complimented when Darcy took the job of introducing her to the new clergyman. "Walter Vye, this is my sister-in-law, Miss Catherine Bennet."
The young man bowed and Kitty curtsied, then Darcy begged their leave to watch for his sister. "How do you do, Mr. Vye?" she asked politely when Darcy had gone.
Kitty could not help but appreciate what a fine-looking man he was, and Walter himself was admiring the curl of her hair and her smooth complexion -- important things to take into consideration before one goes to the trouble of discerning character.
"Very well, Miss Bennet." He paused for a moment or two. "I would ask the same question of you, but I think we both already know the answer. So shall we leave off with formalities and talk of something interesting?"
"If you have something interesting to say," she replied with a smile.
"No; I was actually counting on you to provide a topic."
"Well, then, I had thought that my state of well-being was interesting enough, but since you did not want to inquire..."
"Miss Bennet, might I inquire after your state of well-being on this fine summer evening?"
"I am very ill indeed, talking to an impudent young man."
"Perhaps you should forgive him."
"Perhaps he should make some pretty apologies."
"Apologies?" came the voice of Elizabeth. "Mr. Vye, are you not treating my sister properly?"
"I fear I am not, Mrs. Darcy."
"Good; then she will not mind if I take you away from her. Miss Darcy and Miss de Bourgh have arrived, and Mr. Darcy would like to introduce you to them."
"Miss Bennet," Walter turned to say as he walked away, "I hope my insolence will not prevent you from sitting by me at supper tonight?"
"I would be very happy to sit beside you, Mr. Vye," Kitty answered, wondering if he noticed her blush.
"Thank you; you are too good," he said with a grin, then continued on his way.
Elizabeth smiled broadly at her. "Kitty?"
"What is it, Lizzy?"
"Are you determined not to tell me what you think of Mr. Vye?"
"I fear it is my only defense against your teasing."
Elizabeth laughed and linked arms with her sister. "Will you join me to greet Miss Darcy and Miss de Bourgh?"
Georgiana met Kitty with a sweet smile and a kind welcome, and Anne was surprisingly warm, though she did not say much. Supper was relaxed and enjoyable; Kitty sat between Walter Vye and Georgiana, and conversed most pleasantly with both.
After supper, the group spent the evening in the music room, where Georgiana entertained them, with some relief provided her by Elizabeth after every few songs. Darcy occupied himself with trying to be attentive to his quiet cousin. Kitty and Walter, therefore, were left to the pleasure of each other.
By the time the young clergyman left them, Kitty had grown very fond of him, and looked forward to seeing him frequently during her stay.
She had noticed over the course of the evening that her sister and Mr. Darcy were not as lively with one another in the presence of much company. They were also not as outwardly affectionate, occasionally exchanging a soft gaze or a subtle, passing touch. But Kitty could see in those small signs evidence of the deepest love, and knew that her sister was happy.
Much later that evening, Darcy and Elizabeth walked slowly down the hall to go to bed, each with one arm around the other's waist. "What are you thinking of?" he asked her, leaning down to press his lips against her hair.
She laughed softly. "Mr. Vye."
"That is most unkind, Mrs. Darcy."
"Mr. Vye and my sister," she added. "And what is on your mind?"
"The same subject that occupies yours: matchmaking."
"Yes. What do you say, my love, to Mr. Darcy and yourself?"
"Happy thought indeed."
Elizabeth introduced Kitty to the library at Pemberley the next day, and watched with satisfaction as her younger sister reacted in much the same way as she had upon first seeing it. Elizabeth left and shut the door, but Kitty barely noticed as she approached the closest shelf to her. After much deliberation, she finally settled on a book and curled up in one of the spacious armchairs to read.
Only a few minutes later she was interrupted by the soft voice of Anne. "Miss Bennet?"
"Oh! Do forgive me, Miss de Bourgh. I did not hear you come in." Kitty studied the face of the young woman who stood before her. It was not sickly so much as it was sad.
"Do you mind if I sit with you, Miss Bennet?"
"Not at all; and please call me Kitty."
"If you will call me Anne," the girl replied, settling lightly into a chair. "The reason I... well, that is... Kitty, I wanted to apologize for the way my mother treated you."
Kitty looked at her, stunned into silence. Anne de Bourgh was apologizing to her, Kitty Bennet?
"Are you very angry with me?" Anne asked anxiously after a long pause.
Kitty realized the necessity of finding words. "I am not angry with you at all, Anne. The way your mother treated me is no reflection on yourself."
"It is relieving to hear you say so!" Anne breathed, giving Kitty a shy smile. "I was hoping, Kitty, that we could become friends during our visit here."
"It would be an honor," replied Kitty, returning Anne's smile. "Will you join me for a walk on the grounds?"
"I would be happy to, if I could."
"And what prevents you?"
"I have never been up to exercise; I am rather... weak."
"Well, my dear Anne, it is time for all that to change!"
It would be difficult to describe the amazement felt by Mr. and Mrs. Darcy as they turned a corner on their walk with Mr. Vye and met Kitty and Anne walking with linked arms, laughing over some shared secret. Darcy and Elizabeth exchanged a subtle look of wonder as Mr. Vye greeted them energetically.
"Miss Bennet and Miss de Bourgh! What an unexpected pleasure."
The two ladies curtsied to him.
Darcy smiled at his cousin and sister-in-law. "Would you two like to join us?" he invited them.
"Thank you, Mr. Darcy, yes," Kitty answered him. She cast her eyes quickly over to Walter, then turned her attention back to Darcy and Elizabeth. "Your library is magnificent! I could scarcely decide which book to pick up first. If only my father could see it."
"It is entirely yours during your stay," Darcy told her amiably.
"He told me the same thing," said Elizabeth with a cheeky grin.
"And you appear to have taken up permanent residence here, madam," added Walter.
"Anyone would, after seeing such a library." Elizabeth pressed her husband's arm a little more firmly with her hand.
Walter turned to their two new companions. Kitty looked just as well as she had the evening before, and Anne seemed a lot prettier; her face was more colored, and she wore a smile.
"You are looking very well this afternoon, Miss de Bourgh," he told her.
"Thank you, sir."
"And your friend there - our dear Miss Bennet - do you not agree that she is also looking well?"
"For he will not ask me himself," Kitty inserted.
"Ah there! She will speak to me. Do you agree that you are looking well, Miss Bennet?"
"How am I to answer such a question?"
"With a positive, so that I am saved the trouble of asking you what is wrong."
"You do not have to ask. I shall tell you."
"I beg you, do not. Let me go on thinking that you like me." Walter spent the remainder of the time talking to Anne, and Kitty watched in amazement as he managed to draw her out. By the end of the walk, Anne was talking and laughing comfortably with him.
Now I know what she needs, Kitty thought. She wondered what Lady Catherine would think of her precious daughter marrying a clergyman. He came from a very wealthy family, after all, and his two thousand a year was nothing to sniff at... unless you happened to be Lady Catherine de Bourgh.
Later that evening, Walter inspired similar reflections in Mr. Darcy himself, as the latter watched his sister conversing pleasantly with the young man. Vye would be a respectable match for her, if she truly loved him, he pondered.
Had Walter Vye known that he was intended for Kitty Bennet by Mrs. Darcy, for Anne de Bourgh by Kitty, and for Georgiana by Mr. Darcy, the poor man might have left Lockswirth - or Derbyshire altogether - while he had the chance. But then again, what fellow would not take some joy in breaking so many hearts at once with so little effort on his part?
The next afternoon saw Walter Vye and the party at Pemberley meeting at the house for a picnic by the lake. They greeted each other merrily, every one looking forward to the day ahead.
The group settled into pairs as they walked, with Georgiana and Anne taking the lead, Walter and Kitty behind them, and Mr. and Mrs. Darcy in the back. Darcy and Elizabeth walked close together with linked arms, enjoying the afternoon and completely engrossed with each other; gradually they fell more and more behind.
Walter and Kitty were mutually pleased to be in each other's company again. "Might I inquire after your health today, Miss Bennet?" he asked her with a smile when they started off together.
"Why, sir? Do you now find the subject interesting?"
"Hmmm. I cannot lie, so I will not answer."
"Your silence in itself is your answer. Do you find satisfaction in being so rude?"
"I would have to assume that I am being rude in order to answer your question. That is not quite fair, is it?"
"Just answer the question."
"I find no satisfaction in being rude, unless it is deserved."
"And what have I done to deserve it?"
"Again, Miss Bennet, you assume that I am being rude. And not only that I am being rude, but that I am finding satisfaction in it."
"Well, you certainly appear to be."
"What? Rude or satisfied?"
"You are extremely vexing."
"Ah! But at least I have finally had my original question answered: today you are feeling vexed. That is most unfortunate. I myself am feeling satisfied."
"Oh!" she exclaimed, laughing. "You are abominable."
"There, Miss Bennet, did you find satisfaction in being rude to me just now?"
"Yes, indeed, because it was deserved."
He grinned. "I dare say it was."
Darcy and Elizabeth relaxed together in the library that night, sitting close to each other in the massive armchair that had become one of their favorite spots. They had been quiet for some time, when Elizabeth broke the silence. "I have grown very fond of Mr. Vye," she remarked.
Darcy looked down at the dark head resting on his shoulder. "He is a fine gentleman," he agreed. "What made you think of him?"
"I cannot help but observe that he and my sister are getting along in a most agreeable way."
Darcy laughed softly. "Yes, you mentioned that the other night. It seems that both of us have been matching Vye with our sisters."
"You are thinking of Mr. Vye for Georgiana? Yes, I have seen them talking." She paused a moment. "And did you notice that your quiet cousin was actually talking and laughing easily with him the other day on our walk?"
"I confess I did. Poor Anne -- even if he were to choose her, my aunt would never consent."
"It appears that Mr. Vye has quite a summer ahead of him, with so many available and accomplished females to choose from."
"I am only thankful that under his lively manners, Vye is a very steady, honorable, and principled young man. He will keep his head about him."
"I love a man who loses his head now and then," Elizabeth teased, wrapping both of her hands around one of his.
"Is that so?"
"Yes, indeed -- if he loses his head over me." She felt him laugh and kiss her hair, and she lifted her head to offer him her lips.
"Mrs. Darcy, I do believe you married the right man."
In another room, the three girls sat in their nightgowns on Georgiana's bed, discussing the same matter with an air of much more silliness, as should be expected. "He seems to like you better than the rest of us," Georgiana told Kitty.
"No, he gives me no second thought, I am sure. He does nothing but tease me," Kitty replied with a blush. One might have a difficult time deciding whether her second statement best proved or refuted her first. "But Mr. Vye seemed very engrossed with Anne yesterday afternoon."
Anne denied this with a small, pleased smile and a determined shake of her head. She liked Mr. Vye and thought him handsome, but he was a bit too lively for her taste. She felt, as Georgiana did, that the clergyman had found a favorite in Kitty.
Georgiana was a little warmer in her feelings than her cousin. She had come to think highly of Mr. Vye, and had the comfort of believing that her brother would not disapprove. She acknowledged that he preferred Kitty, but had no opposition to his changing his mind.
Because it really does matter what Walter Vye himself felt, it may be known that although he liked Anne and Georgiana, he confirmed the suspicions of them and of Mrs. Darcy in liking Kitty best of all. He thought her sensible and witty, and was not terribly disappointed in finding her pretty as well.
Philip would be coming from Ridgefield in a day or two to survey his brother's new situation, and Walter looked forward to hearing his opinion on the young lady.
"Hello there, Philip!" Walter exclaimed as his brother stepped from his carriage. Philip held his hand over his eyes to block the sun and squinted at the parsonage. "I hope you are pleased with Lockswirth."
"It should do nicely for a clergyman," Philip conceded, shaking hands with Walter in greeting. "Is it quite big enough for you?"
"What could a solitary man like me do with more space?" He watched as the trunks were being taken down from the carriage. "I suppose I could start by offering you a room. I hope you are partial to rats."
"How you manage to be always in such a good humor, I shall never know," remarked Philip. He removed his hat as they entered the house, and looked around at the modest, yet elegant furnishings.
"I make it my business," Walter replied, hurrying up the stairs two at a time.
"And how do you find your neighbors? I have heard that there is one illustrious family within a few miles."
"I have found everyone very amiable. As for the illustrious family you speak of, I assume that refers to the Darcys of Pemberley."
"Darcy, yes, that would be the name." He followed Walter into a small but comfortable room with a pleasing view.
"I like the Darcys very much. Mr. Darcy is the very definition of a gentleman, and Mrs. Darcy is a most admirable woman, and her sister..."
"Have you managed to be in company with them often since your arrival?"
"Darcy invited me to Pemberley the very day I came here, and introduced me to his wife. Not long after, I was introduced to his sister, cousin, and sister-in-law. Since then I have spent some part of every day in their company."
"That is good to hear; it is apparent that they take pleasure in your society. Well done, little brother," said Philip, clapping him on the back.
"I am glad to hear of your approval, since it will lead you to accept their invitation to dine with them tonight."
"They know of my visit?"
"Of course, and they are eager to meet you, despite what I have told them about you."
Philip gave a slight smile and shook his head.
Philip Vye was in many ways like Mr. Darcy -- proud and reserved, with a great capacity for generosity and kindness, and in possession of good sense. However, he was much more matter-of-fact, with no tendency to be witty or lively, although he did appreciate these characteristics in others. He had a respectable fortune of seven thousand a year, and his Ridgefield was a beautiful estate.
The name of Darcy was, of course, quite familiar to him. Pemberley boasted a proud lineage of masters, all honorable and respected. Philip was happy for the opportunity to acquaint himself with that family.
"How are you this evening, Miss Bennet?" Darcy asked his guest as they happened to be descending the stairs together.
"I am well, sir, thank you."
"I trust your stay has been enjoyable so far?"
"If you should ever find the slightest thing lacking, do not hesitate to come to me."
"You are very kind, but I cannot imagine anything being less than perfect. When one comes from Longbourn..." she trailed off.
He laughed. "I comprehend your feelings."
They were joined at the bottom by Elizabeth, who looked particularly beautiful that evening. Darcy saw her and drew in his breath, longing to take her in his arms, but he satisfied himself with a "You look lovely" and a brief kiss on the forehead.
Kitty had been watching with more and more appreciation the relationship between her sister and Mr. Darcy. That he loved Elizabeth to the point of distraction was clear, and Kitty could not help feeling a little envious of her sister.
Philip and Walter Vye arrived, and Walter introduced his brother to everyone. As each member of the family stepped forward to bow or curtsy, Walter found his eyes particularly drawn to Kitty. Her hair was done up in a most attractive way, and her dress was becoming on her. She lifted her eyes once to him as well, blushing at his warm smile.
Philip was impressed with Darcy, as he had expected to be, and acknowledged Mrs. Darcy to be handsome. He thought Miss Darcy very pretty and elegant, Miss de Bourgh rather good-looking in a delicate way, and Miss Bennet the picture of good health and good humor.
"You look very nice this evening, Miss Bennet," said Walter to her as the group moved to the dining room.
"Thank you, Mr. Vye," she replied. "You look very nice yourself."
"Now be so good as to tell me what you think of my brother, Miss Bennet."
"It is a bit too early for me to have formed an opinion of him, but from what I have seen so far, I like him."
"You answer both wisely and safely."
"I could not do less, considering that I assess him before his brother."
Walter smiled. "Might I impose on you to sit with me at the table, Miss Bennet?"
"I would be happy to," she answered him.
"My brother visiting, looking nice, Miss Bennet happy to be in my company... my cup runneth over."
"I liked the Darcys very much," said Philip to Walter as they rode back to Lockswirth. "The husband and wife are both fine people, and Miss Darcy is quiet and grounded, very admirable in a young woman."
"I agree," nodded Walter.
"It is to be expected, then, that you have formed an attachment to the young lady."
"Yes... ah, that is... no... To whom? To Miss Darcy?"
"Of course, Walter. Yes, she is a pretty, sensible girl, and her connections cannot be matched. Miss Darcy would do nicely for you. Or even Miss de Bourgh, come to think of it."
"To be sure, she is a little pale, and silent most of the time, but these are no great faults in a woman who will inherit the great Rosings Park."
"Either one of them would be a fine choice for you. You seem most fortunate in your circle of acquaintances here."
"And what did you think of Miss Bennet?" Walter asked.
"Oh, yes, a nice girl."
"I noticed you talked with her for some time after dinner," he continued, trying to prod some more information from his brother.
"Yes, for a few minutes. She's sharp, that Miss Bennet."
"That would be my word exactly," replied Walter with a smile.
"I confess that I am rather amazed at your not liking Philip Vye," Darcy said to Elizabeth as they sat together in the garden the next afternoon. "He impressed me as a man of good principles and upright character."
"Perhaps you mistake me. I do like him; I just find him... well... dull, to be frank. The man has no spirit."
"Be careful not to judge too hastily," he smiled, brushing a curl from her forehead.
"Yes, we taught each other that lesson quite well." She leaned over to kiss him briefly, and the errant curl fell out of place again. "You did not find him a little less than interesting?"
Darcy smiled. "Very well, my love. You have drawn it out of me. He was not very lively. But he might have been tired from his journey."
"That is possible."
"And even if he did lack a lively disposition, that is not exactly a fault, is it?"
"I would not call it a fault. My own dear sister Jane -- and Kitty too, to some extent -- is not very lively. No, what I mean is that the man has no sense of humor!"
"He is reserved, I grant you." Darcy paused and thought for a few moments. "You must look on Philip Vye the way you once did me."
Elizabeth frowned a little. "What do you mean?"
"Quiet, reserved, unappreciated." He spoke the last word with a gleam in his eye, and Elizabeth did not fail to miss it.
She moved closer to him. "Unappreciated?" she repeated, lifting an eyebrow. "I think it was I who was unappreciated. I recall being not handsome enough to tempt you."
"I must have drunk too much wine that evening." He occupied himself again with her stray curl, then moved to kiss her, but she stopped him.
She sniffed and turned her head away from him haughtily. "What a bad memory. I probably will not speak to you again for the rest of the day."
"Do as you please." He shifted away from her.
A few seconds later, she said, "Mr. Darcy?"
"I have decided to graciously forgive you."
"That is good of you, Mrs. Darcy."
"Now it would be right for you to apologize."
"Yes... ah, Mrs. Darcy, I most humbly apologize for reminding you that I was drunk on the night we first met."
He heard her stifle a laugh, then she more audibly cleared her throat. "Very well, Mr. Darcy. You have been forgiven."
"Shall we kiss and make up?" he asked, shifting toward her again.
"An inspired idea," she replied as she turned to face him.
Darcy went to the library an hour later and found Anne reading in one corner. "Hello, Anne," he greeted her, moving to one of the shelves. "What are you reading?"
"And how are you liking your stay?"
"Very much, cousin. I always enjoy spending time at Pemberley." She closed her book and set it in her lap.
"I am glad to hear it. And you must be pleased with the new company." As he spoke, Darcy left the shelf without choosing a book and sat down across from her. He leaned back comfortably in the chair, resting his elbows lightly on the arms.
"Yes, the Mr. Vyes are both kind to me."
"Do you like them very much?" he asked, watching her carefully.
"The younger one is a lively fellow."
Her face betrayed nothing at his mention of Walter. "Yes indeed. He is most energetic, and often makes me laugh."
"And the elder is so dignified."
Darcy did not miss the way her mouth tipped up a little before she made her reply. "He is; I admire him a great deal."
"As do I. He is quite the gentleman. Lady Catherine, I think, would be glad to meet him."
"Yes, he is honorable and respectable."
"I look forward to being often in company with him. He will stay with his brother for a month, you know," Darcy said casually, still watching her.
"Really? That is good news indeed."
"I personally would like to secure his friendship. And I suspect that the two of you will be very good friends. Your dispositions are suited to one another, I think."
"I would like to be friends with Mr. Vye."
"Well, Anne, I hope you have a pleasant afternoon with Josephus," said Darcy, rising to leave. "And I will see to it that you have ample opportunities to be in company with Mr. Vye while he is here," he added as he left the room.
Darcy looked up from his papers to answer the timid knock on the door of his study. "Come in," he said, laying down his pen. He was more than a little surprised to see Kitty standing there, her hands clasped awkwardly in front of her. "Is something wrong, Miss Bennet? Please, sit down." Standing up, he motioned to a chair, and she moved to it, closing the door behind her.
"Nothing is wrong, Mr. Darcy," she answered as they both sat down.
"May I be of service to you in any way?"
"I was wondering if... would you mind dreadfully if I borrowed one of your horses to ride about the grounds?"
He smiled. "You are welcome to my stables, Miss Bennet." His smile widened as he recalled giving Walter Vye permission to ride around the lake that day. But Vye had implied that he would not be there until later that afternoon. "Are you going... ah, now?"
"That was my intention, yes," she replied, wondering what he meant by it.
Darcy rested his elbows on the desk and clasped his hands. "I had thought that you would want to set out a little later."
"Will there be bad weather this morning, sir?"
"No, not at all. It is just that... that the sun... yes, the sun!... highlights the grounds at... at just the right angle later in the afternoon. I would like for you to enjoy your ride as much as possible, of course."
"How thoughtful of you, Mr. Darcy!" Kitty said warmly. "Well, I suppose if you really think it best, I shall wait until later."
"I hope you have a pleasant time, Miss Bennet."
Kitty rose from her chair and curtsied to him. "Thank you for your generosity and thoughtfulness, Mr. Darcy."
"My pleasure," he replied. When she left the room, he picked up his pen with a satisfied smile and returned to his work. Not ten minutes later, he was interrupted with another knock.
He invited the visitor in, this time to be greeted by his wife. "Do you have a lot of work today?" she asked, sitting on the arm of his chair.
"Nothing that cannot wait."
She smiled, and was about to reply, when her eyes moved to the window. "Oh, look! Mr. Vye!"
"What?! Which one?"
"The younger. What a fine horse he has; do you not want to see?"
Elizabeth looked puzzled. "I thought you gave him permission to..."
"I just remembered something I told your sister not long ago. My love, would you have her brought back to me?"
"Certainly. I hope nothing is wrong?"
Elizabeth left, and Kitty entered the room a few minutes later. "What is it, Mr. Darcy?" she asked. Had he changed his mind? Perhaps he was angry with her for some reason!
Darcy twisted his ring a little and laughed. "Not at all, Miss Bennet. I just realized what a fool I was to suggest that you ride later in the afternoon. I cannot have been thinking correctly. The grounds are best viewed in the later part of the morning."
"Are you sure?"
"I am absolutely certain. You were right to plan a ride when you did. I should never have interfered."
"Very well, sir," she answered with a shy smile. "Thank you."
"Have a pleasant ride," he said as she left the room. He exhaled slowly and leaned again over his work.
"Fitzwilliam Darcy." He closed his eyes for a few seconds when he heard Elizabeth. She closed the door and sat again on the arm of his chair.
After a long silence, he finally answered, "Yes, dear?"
"Of all the... what can you be..." Here her words broke off into laughter, and he looked up at her for the first time.
"I wish you would tell me what you find so amusing," Darcy remarked with a small smile.
"I never thought..." She began laughing again and was unable to continue.
He had to bite his lip to hold back a broader smile, and started drumming his fingers on the desk. "Mrs. Darcy, really. If you intend to carry on like this, it might be best for you to leave and allow me to finish my work."
"Yes," she managed to tease, "I hear that matchmaking is a very lucrative profession."
He could stop himself no longer, and laughed along with her. "I hope you approve of my methods," he said as he slipped an arm around her waist.
"They will do -- for an amateur."
He cleared his throat. "Pardon me, madam. An amateur?"
"It would be impossible for you to master everything you undertake, Mr. Darcy," she answered, kissing the top of his head.
"We shall see who the amateur is," he challenged. "You take your sister and the younger Mr. Vye, and I shall take on my cousin and the elder Mr. Vye."
"You cannot back down now. And thanks to my quick thinking on sun angles and horseback riding, you already have a head start."
"You cannot be serious!" she exclaimed.
"I am perfectly serious, Mrs. Darcy. Are you up to the challenge?"
She hopped off the chair and extended her hand to him. "I am, sir."
Kitty stood outside in the hall, her hand clasped to her mouth to stifle her laughter. She had come back to ask Mr. Darcy a question, and caught the greater part of the conversation within the study. When she heard Elizabeth move toward the door, she started, then ran away down the hall. We shall have a little fun ourselves, she thought.
Kitty saw the housekeeper walking in her direction. "Mrs. Reynolds, pardon me for a moment. Do you know where I can find Miss Darcy and Miss de Bourgh?"
"No, Miss Bennet, I do not. But I was actually coming in search of you. Mr. Vye has come in to see you."
"The elder?" she asked, assuming that Walter would not interrupt his ride.
"It is the younger -- Mr. Walter Vye. Will you come down with me?"
"Certainly, Mrs. Reynolds," Kitty replied with a pleased smile.
She found Walter waiting for her by the door, and he appeared handsomer than he ever had before. He saw her, smiled, and walked to meet her halfway. "Miss Bennet," he greeted her with a bow.
"Good morning, Mr. Vye," she said.
"I came in to invite you for a ride. You see, Mr. Darcy gave me his permission to ride around the lake whenever I wished, and I was just taking up his offer. I rode for a little while, then realized that I would have a much better time in your company. Do you ride, Miss Bennet?"
Kitty wanted to laugh as she recalled the stumbling attempt Mr. Darcy had made to place her with Mr. Vye that day. Sun angles indeed! "I do, sir. In fact, I was about to go for a ride when you came in. I would be pleased to go with you."
"Splendid!" He offered his arm and led her out of the house.
Within a short time, they were riding together around the lake and having a delightful conversation. Kitty believed that she had never been so happy, and began to ask herself how much she really cared about Walter Vye. She knew that she liked him better than any man she had ever met, and felt how foolish she once was to chase after the officers in Meryton with Lydia.
She and Lydia used to joke constantly about clergymen! Why had she always equated them with her prudish, self-righteous sister Mary? Even before Mr. Collins demonstrated for her family the meaning of stupidity, she had thought slightingly of those in the church.
Now she cringed inwardly as she remembered how shallow she had been not a year ago. Walter Vye was too good for her, she knew. She deserved to end up like Lydia! But apparently Providence had smiled on her and given her another chance.
As she and Walter talked seriously about what seemed like every subject under the sun, between short intervals of their usual playful banter, Kitty began to feel that this was the man she would marry. The suddenness of it frightened her -- she had hardly known him a week! Could it be possible to know with such certainty this soon? But she could not shake the confident assurance that settled on her.
When they reached the house again, Walter suggested that they sit for a moment in the garden, and Kitty readily agreed.
"May I engage you again for tomorrow morning, Miss Bennet?" he asked as they sat down together.
"Nothing would please me more," Kitty answered him. "Mr. Vye, I..."
"Please excuse my interruption," he stopped her. "After our conversations, especially the one today, are we not friends?"
"Why, of course!"
"Very well, then. My friends call me Walter." He smiled and stood up, then made a flourishing, obnoxious bow.
"And my friends call me Miss Bennet," she said cheekily.
He sat back down and folded his arms across his chest. "Wicked, wicked," he said, shaking his head. Looking down, he saw a small gloved hand extended to him, then moved his gaze back up to her.
"Catherine," she said with a shy smile, "or Kitty."
He shook the hand she offered. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mouse."
"Mouse!" she exclaimed.
"Yes, I like it. It suits you; I have wanted to call you that from the moment I met you, just to see how it would feel. May I call you Mouse?"
She laughed. "I suppose, but it is rather peculiar."
"Mouse. Yes, that will do nicely."
"Mouse," she repeated. "But they are such nasty, ugly creatures!"
"I beg your pardon. I was once very attached to a mouse. She was my first love, when I was a boy." He sniffed and laid the back of his hand against his forehead.
"Oh dear," she said with a smile. "I cannot compete with your first love. Perhaps you had better call me Kitty."
"No, alas -- for twas a kitty that took her away from me." Walter swiped a finger over his cheek as Kitty laughed. "But do not be sad on my account, for I exaggerate. She was not my first love." He became more serious then, and was about to speak again, when they heard a voice calling.
"Miss Bennet!" It was Mrs. Reynolds. "Miss Darcy and her cousin are looking for you."
"Oh... thank you, Mrs. Reynolds. I shall come in a little while." They watched the housekeeper go back into the house, then Kitty turned back to him. "Well, thank you for a lovely morning, Mist... Walter."
"I shall come by again tomorrow morning," he promised. They stood at the same time, and he leaned over to kiss her hand. "Do not worry about your horse; I will take him back for you."
"Thank you," she said as she turned to leave him.
"Kitty, will you wait one moment?"
"What is it?" she asked, facing him again.
He made small movements with his lips, but nothing came out. Apparently frustrated, he sat down again. It is too soon, he scolded himself. "Forgive me," he said finally. "I felt a little... a little ill for a moment. But I am better now."
"Are you sure?" she asked, her disappointment instantly turning into concern.
"Oh, yes, I am fine." He smiled up at her. "Goodbye, Mouse."
"How incredibly funny!" Georgiana laughed when Kitty told her about the conversation she overheard between Darcy and Elizabeth. Anne, too, wore an amused expression.
"We must do something to punish them!"
"I could never do anything like that to my brother," Georgiana said solemnly.
"Nothing bad," Kitty insisted. "The three of us could create a little havoc, you know. It would be perfectly harmless, just in fun."
Anne was more than a little pleased when she heard that her cousin would try to match her with Philip Vye. She welcomed the help, and knew enough of herself to realize that she needed it. However, the situation was funny, and she was prepared to take advantage of it.
"I will help you," she said softly.
"There now, Anne! That is good of you!" Kitty exclaimed. "Georgiana, will you not reconsider?"
Georgiana paused a moment. "Very well," she said with a sigh of resignation. "But what can we do?"
"I have no idea," Kitty admitted. She blushed a little as she continued, "It is no secret that Anne and I want to be matched to the Mr. Vyes."
"It would be so much easier if they could be in on the game," said Georgiana. "But naturally there is no way."
"None that I can think of. But since you mention it, that is a very important element." Kitty furrowed her brows thoughtfully.
"It would be wrong of us to manipulate a man's heart and then wound it," Anne spoke up. "We must be careful."
"Wisely said," remarked Georgiana.
"It is not necessary to tell the Mr. Vyes much," Kitty reasoned. "In fact, they could help us and know practically nothing at all. Even one of them would be enough, and I am positive that the younger would do it. Tomorrow I go riding with him again, and I will speak to him."
"We leave it to you, then, Kitty," smiled Georgiana.
That evening Philip and Walter Vye joined them at Pemberley, and the three young women subtly watched Mr. and Mrs. Darcy throughout the evening. The gentlemen took their seats, and without encouragement from their matchmakers, Walter joined Kitty and Philip, after a moment of hesitation, sat down quietly by Anne.
Kitty wanted to laugh when she saw Darcy and Elizabeth exchange a look, as if they themselves had orchestrated the desirable seating arrangements. However, her attention was quickly turned to her companion, who murmured a greeting accompanied by a handsome smile.
Anne shyly acknowledged the "good evening, Miss de Bourgh" she received from Philip, and was certain that her cheeks must be flushed. She dared to allow herself a glimpse of his face. From the start she had thought him pleasing, and now as he sat by her, she found him quite good-looking.
"Did you both have a pleasant day today?" Elizabeth asked their guests.
"We did, thank you, Mrs. Darcy," Philip replied.
"And did you enjoy your ride this morning?" asked Darcy, addressing Walter.
"I did, sir. It was rendered especially agreeable by the company of Miss Bennet."
"Ah, did you two meet each other?" His face was perfectly innocent, and again Kitty had to stifle a laugh. "I recommended that she ride in the morning, not knowing that you had decided to take your ride earlier. Of course, had I remembered..." He was not exactly sure how to continue his point safely, and ended, "How lucky that you came earlier!"
"No, sir; actually, I came into the house and invited her to join me."
Kitty watched in amusement as Elizabeth shot Darcy a look of gleeful triumph, to which the latter cleared his throat. Walter only looked confused by what Darcy said, and Kitty wondered if he suspected anything.
"I trust you had a nice time," Darcy commented, mostly successful in not showing his dejection. "Do you ride, Mr. Vye?" he asked, turning to Philip.
"Every day," Philip answered. "I considered joining Walter tomorrow, with your permission, of course."
"Oh!" said Elizabeth. How best to stop this evil? Surely Walter Vye and Kitty would want to ride again tomorrow -- alone.
"Is something wrong, Mrs. Darcy?" her husband asked. He was all concern and anxiety, but Kitty could easily discern the mirth in his eyes.
"No... no, I am fine. Forgive me." She gave a little cough, and folded her hands tightly in her lap.
"Naturally, I have no objection to your riding here tomorrow," Darcy told Philip. "Or any day, for that matter. Come whenever you like."
"Thank you, sir." Philip gave his attention to Anne. "Do you ride, Miss de Bourgh?"
She answered with only a small nod.
"Perhaps you could join me tomorrow morning... and Miss Darcy, too, of course."
Georgiana knew too well the secret wishes of her cousin. "You are most kind, sir, I thank you," she said, "but I do not generally like to ride."
"A trait she shares with me," Elizabeth remarked with a smile.
"You do not ride, Mrs. Darcy?" Walter asked in some surprise.
"I have, and perhaps I may a few more times before I die, but I do not enjoy it."
"That is singular, madam, for your sister loves to ride. And she is not so bad at it; why, yesterday she only fell... what was it, Miss Bennet? Three times? Four?"
"I believe it was four, Mr. Vye," Kitty retorted when the others ceased laughing at her expense, "for I remember falling exactly two times less than you did."
As everyone enjoyed another laugh, Walter gave her a smile that made her face burn. "You watched me very carefully, then, did you, Mouse?" he whispered. Certainly he could tell that she was blushing; her face must be scarlet!
"I am very happy that you and Miss de Bourgh will ride as well tomorrow, Mr. Vye," Darcy told Philip. "Responsible people should be present with so many falls taking place."
"Yes," said Anne, keeping her voice steady despite her fear of talking before so many people, "and we may have to set some broken bones."
Elizabeth smiled proudly at Anne, as did Darcy when he got over his amazement. Then it was Walter's turn to look surprised, for his solemn brother said, "I doubt the horses are hurt that badly."
Darcy was able to return the triumphant look to his wife as Philip and Anne turned to each other with timid smiles.
Only one person went to bed unhappy that night; while Georgiana had enjoyed the conversation very much, she could not help but feel left out. She knew herself to be the odd person among three couples, and the knowledge that Kitty and Anne would go riding tomorrow, leaving her alone again, was not comforting.
Early the next morning, she found her brother and drew him aside. "Fitzwilliam, might it be arranged for me to visit Mr. and Mrs. Bingley? You remember that they invited me for a summer visit last week, and I would like to accept their invitation."
Darcy could not help noticing her sad countenance. "I have no objection whatever," he told her gently. "But what about your cousin?"
"She would not mind; she does have Kitty after all, and... and the Mr. Vyes."
"Very well, Georgiana. You may write to the Bingleys and accept their invitation."
"Thank you," she murmured as she turned to leave him.
"Just a moment," he said, resting a comforting hand on her shoulder. "What is troubling you, Little Sister?"
He watched a tear creep from the corner of her eye and glide slowly down one cheek. "I just feel left out," she confessed, unable to look at him.
Darcy understood perfectly then, without having to hear more. He put his arms around her, and held her head protectively against his chest. "I am sorry," he whispered, trying to think of some way to cheer her. "Are you determined not to stay with us?" He waited in vain for a reply. "The Gardiners will be here in a few days. You would like to see them, I think."
"I do love the Gardiners," she said. "But how can I bear this any longer? I wanted to go riding with them so desperately, Fitzwilliam! And the younger Mr. Vye... and Kitty..." Her voice broke and she began sobbing against him.
He closed his eyes for a moment and held her tighter, then led her down the hall to his study and shut the door behind them. "Do you have feelings for Walter Vye, Georgiana?" he asked tenderly.
She said nothing, but he felt her nod.
What could he say to her? He knew exactly how she felt. Only a year ago, he had walked these same halls as the most miserable of men. He recalled the despair, the heart-wrenching despair, when he thought Elizabeth was lost to him forever. To see Georgiana experiencing this same pain, though perhaps not to as great an extent, hurt him deeply.
He could say nothing, and only held her still more tightly against him.
"Fitzwilliam?" he heard his wife say as the door opened. "Oh, forgive me!" she said, moving out again.
"Wait, please wait," said Georgiana in a muffled voice. She pulled away from her brother, and wiped her cheeks quickly with her hands.
Elizabeth paused at the door for a moment, looking back and forth between Darcy and Georgiana, then entered the room and shut the door. "Georgiana, what on earth...?" She had never seen the girl look so distraught. Darcy had, that dreadful summer...
"Forgive me, Elizabeth," she said. "I fear I am just being a little silly."
"No, no, not at all," Darcy replied.
"What is it, dear?" Elizabeth soothed, offering Georgiana her handkerchief.
Georgiana remained silent, and looked at her brother. "She feels left out of our company," he answered for her. "And..." He glanced at her to see if she wanted Elizabeth to know the rest, and she nodded, then focused her eyes on the floor. "And she has developed feelings for Walter Vye."
"Oh, Georgiana," breathed Elizabeth, looking with compassion at her sister-in-law, whose eyes had welled up again.
"She has decided to accept the invitation she received from the Bingleys."
"Georgiana, will you not stay with us? Your cousin would be most disappointed to lose your company, and I know that my sister has grown very fond of you. Besides, my aunt and uncle..." She turned to Darcy. "Did you tell her?"
Georgiana found voice enough to answer. "I feel sorry about leaving my cousin and your sister, and I would like to see the Gardiners again, but I simply cannot stay here, Elizabeth." With that, she embraced each of them, said "I shall see you both at breakfast," and left them.
Both Darcy and Elizabeth were perfectly quiet for several minutes. Elizabeth was distressed for Georgiana, but Darcy felt her pain keenly. He brought his eyes to his wife -- whom he adored with every part of his being, whom a year ago he thought would never love him, and for whom he said a silent prayer of thanksgiving every morning as he watched her smile at him over breakfast.
Still without speaking, he came nearer to her, took her face gently in his hands, and kissed every beloved feature. "Elizabeth," he whispered, holding her to him and expressing all his need in the pronunciation of her name.
"I love you," she replied, wrapping her arms around him.
"Yes, I know."
Breakfast was mostly quiet; Darcy, Elizabeth, and Georgiana hardly felt like speaking, and Kitty and Anne were too full of thoughts of the day ahead to say anything.
Toward the end of the meal, Kitty turned to Georgiana. "Have you absolutely decided not to join us this morning?" she asked. "You know, after our ride, we will probably walk around the gardens, or sit by the lake."
Georgiana gave her friend a sincere smile. "It is sweet of you to offer," she said, "but I would not wish to intrude."
"Intrude!" Kitty exclaimed. "I could never think of your company in that way!"
"I may join you some other time," she sighed.
"Very well; I shall let that possibility keep me happy. Do you not feel well today? You look rather pale. Lizzy, does not Georgiana look a little ill?"
"I confess I am not feeling well," said Georgiana before Elizabeth could answer.
"Then let me stay with you. Mr. Vye will not mind at all."
"No, no, Kitty. You should go and enjoy yourself. There is nothing you can do for me, after all."
"Mr. Darcy and I will keep Georgiana occupied," Elizabeth added, managing a very convincing smile. Elizabeth was actually thankful for the attention Kitty gave to Georgiana; perhaps she might be convinced to stay with them if she saw that they sincerely wanted to include her.
Philip and Walter arrived two hours later, the former solemn as usual but in good spirits, and the latter cheerful and lively. Before the two men left with Kitty and Anne, Walter shook hands energetically with Darcy, then expressed his good wishes to Elizabeth and Georgiana, kissing them each on the hand.
The four young people set out together, but naturally it did not take them long to separate. As they had done the day before, Walter and Kitty ended their ride with a quiet talk in the garden.
"I wish Georgiana could have joined us," Kitty mentioned. "She is not feeling well today."
"But she does not like to ride, does she?"
"I know, but I invited her to join us afterwards."
"I see. Perhaps we could go into the house and visit her."
"Oh, I think she would like that!" Kitty jumped up impetuously from the bench and looked down at Walter. "Come on, then, silly."
"Not quite yet," he said, taking her hand until she sat down by him again.
"What is it? Is something the matter?" she asked, unable to find the usual playfulness in his eyes.
"I love you." He said it frankly, with no attempt at embellishment or humor; it was a statement of pure honesty.
He had come very near to telling her the day before, but stopped himself, thinking that it was too soon. He spent the entire afternoon deep in prayer, searching his heart and asking God for guidance. As he fell asleep that night, he felt at peace that he was going in the right direction.
Kitty had no idea what to say. It was so completely sudden and unexpected and... wonderful! She was only surprised to find herself able to keep his gaze. "Y-you love me?" she finally managed.
"Yes, I do, Miss Bennet." Again she was unable to speak, but she did cast down her eyes, and he continued. "And I was hoping that you would want to be my wife."
Kitty felt her breath catch and dared to look at him again. "Oh," was all she could say.
Then she could see traces of a grin playing at the corners of his mouth. "Oh?" he repeated, the grin finally breaking onto his face.
"No, I meant... yes... what I intended to say..." She stopped and organized her thoughts enough to continue. "Nothing would make me happier than to be your wife," she answered, matching his smile. "I love you too."
His face was beaming as he laughed and said, "Now that I know your answer, and am in no danger of humiliating myself..." She laughed along with him as he got off the bench, knelt before her, and took her hand. "My dear Miss Bennet," he began, placing his free hand over his heart.
He paused and looked around, then picked a small daisy and held it out to her. "My dear Miss Bennet," he resumed, "please accept this humble flower as a token of my ardent affections for you. Now I know that I am a stupid man, and one not at all deserving of such a wonderful woman as yourself, but I was hoping that you would be willing to marry a simple clergyman..."
Here he stopped and returned to his seat by her, still holding her hand. "A simple clergyman who thanks God for you in every prayer," he finished in little more than a whisper. Walter lifted a hand slowly to her face and ran his forefinger down her cheek as he drew closer to her.
Kitty almost trembled with the fear and excitement that welled up in her. She closed her eyes and breathed in deeply, relishing the delicate smells of the garden combined with the heady scent of Walter. She could feel his thumb resting on her cheek, and his fingers over the pounding pulse in her neck.
After what seemed an eternity of marvelous anticipation, his lips touched hers, softly and uncertainly at first, then with more confidence and eagerness. She brought her hands to his shoulders, from both the desire to hold him, and the need to hold onto something.
Kitty understood perfectly now the looks that she saw between her sister and Mr. Darcy -- those looks that made her heart beat a little faster whenever she happened to catch one of them. She continued to respond to Walter, wishing that he could kiss her forever.
But he stopped and drew back from her a little. "Catherine Bennet," he breathed with a small smile. "You..."
However, Kitty did not let him finish. She moved her hands from his shoulders to circle his neck, and pulled him back to her. Did she feel him laugh as he wrapped his arms around her waist, or was it only her imagination?
When the kiss ended, he did laugh as he took her hands. "Well," he said, "now we shall have something wonderful to announce at dinner tonight."
"No!" she exclaimed, hardly thinking.
He frowned. "What on earth do you mean?"
She smiled sheepishly. "Of course, I would love for them to know -- especially my sister. But..." He looked more and more amused as she described the matchmaking scheme between Darcy and Elizabeth.
"I see," he said when she was finished. "So you want to have a little fun with them, do you, Mouse?"
"If you don't mind," she replied.
"What exactly were you thinking of?"
"Tonight we must hate each other."
"How quickly a female moves from love to hate," he sighed, shaking his head.
"Stop being silly. We had an argument this afternoon, and now we are angry."
"Yes, indeed," he said with a dark frown.
"Anne and Georgiana will know of the plan, and..."
"Will they know about us?"
"Should I tell them, do you think?"
"Well, I want someone to know, so at least not everyone will think I am a hopeless case."
Kitty smiled sweetly at him. "Very well, I shall tell them. But only to preserve your reputation."
"Now, this part may sound crazy."
"I have a bad feeling about this."
"You must shower Anne with attention tonight."
"Anne? But what about Philip?"
"He will be flirting with me."
"What?!" Walter was divided between shock and laughter.
"Anne will tell him about it."
"My brother would never go along with such a scheme. He is too..."
As if on cue, they heard Philip calling, "Hello there!" He and Anne dismounted and joined Walter and Kitty.
Kitty was astounded at the change in Anne. Her hair was blown in every direction, her cheeks were ruddy, and her eyes sparkled with life. "Have you told Mr. Vye about our plan, Kitty?" she asked.
"And what a plan it is," Philip laughed.
Walter stared dumbfounded at his brother. "You mean... you mean you agreed to it?"
"Miss de Bourgh talked me into it," he replied, smiling at his companion. "Now, if I understand rightly, I am to give all my attentions to you, Miss Bennet?"
"Right. And your brother will devote himself to Miss de Bourgh."
"We shall see you both at supper tonight, then," Philip said as he and Anne left.
When they were gone, Kitty burst into laughter at the look Walter wore. She put one finger gently under his chin and closed his mouth. He blinked a few times, then looked back at her. "Never, in all my life..."
"He is in love, Walter."
"Yes, but... good heavens!"
When they finally stood to go their separate ways, Walter took her hand and held it firmly. "So I shall have to see you tonight when you are across the room from me and looking entirely too beautiful, and not speak one word to you, and attempt to give the impression that I do not love you more than anything, and give all my best compliments to Anne."
"Oh, fate worse than death!" he said melodramatically. "Kiss me, Kate."
Kitty had no time to laugh at the reference before he took her in his arms, and the pleasure of his kisses made her forget everything else. She had been given her first taste of love and passion, and as she walked back to the house, the world was a different place, and she was a different woman.
Kitty almost floated down the hall to her room, wondering if she were really moving about in some kind of dream. Perhaps she had been thrown from her horse? She forced herself to come to her senses when she saw Georgiana emerge from a doorway further down. Her friend saw her and started walking toward her.
"Kitty, did you enjoy your ride?"
"I did, thank you. You are looking much better."
Georgiana smiled a little. "Yes, I feel quite well now. Anne came to my room a few moments ago, and asked me to meet her in her room. Will you join me?"
Anne welcomed her cousin and friend with a soft "Come in," and they all made themselves comfortable.
"Well," Kitty told Georgiana excitedly, "our plan is underway! Anne and I spoke to the Mr. Vyes, and both of them agreed to it."
"Both?" Georgiana repeated, much surprised. "The elder as well?"
Anne lowered her head shyly. "Yes, I convinced him to play along."
"I never would have believed it! And naturally," she added, turning to Kitty, "the younger did not... did not hesitate?"
"Not at all. So you see, everything is going perfectly!"
"What should I do?" Georgiana asked. "I did not much anticipate having a part in all this, but..."
"Not have a part in it!" Kitty exclaimed.
"What should I do, then?"
"You must flirt with one of them... take your pick, it really makes no difference. And you must act excessively jealous of one of us." Kitty and Anne could not have known how Georgiana truly felt, and did not conceive of the implications of her role in their game.
Georgiana herself did not answer for a long moment. "I could flirt with Philip Vye and be cold to... Kitty?" She continued on their simultaneous nods. "Or I could flirt with Walter Vye and be cold to my cousin."
She became very silent again. How on earth could she go through with this? Only that morning, she had cried with her brother and Elizabeth. They would be dumbfounded if she flirted with Philip, yet the idea of pretending to chase after the man she had real feelings for...!
"I cannot decide," she confessed finally. "I should not think my participation very vital."
"But it is," Kitty argued. "We must have as much confusion as possible, or we lose all the fun."
Georgiana wondered how she could safely explain to them that would be confusion; that Darcy and Elizabeth already knew of a disappointed third party. Perhaps she should tell them. Why, they were not even aware that she would be leaving soon!
She thought better of it, however, and chose the only course that she could under the circumstances -- her brother knew where her heart was. "I will flirt with the younger. Only my brother has never known me to be a flirt. It is too unlike me."
"Not flirt exactly," Kitty explained. "Anne and I do not flirt. A better way to think of it is... well, just pay more attention to Walter."
"I think I can do that," she conceded quietly. How could she play this part delicately? She would not have to do too much, since Darcy and Elizabeth knew how she felt. But she would have to do enough to convince Kitty and Anne that she was helping them.
Then a new problem presented itself: what would her brother think of her? Georgiana could not bear the thought of losing his respect, but how could she prevent it? He would see her paying too much vain attention to Walter Vye, and he would see her acting jealous and spiteful toward her cousin for gaining his affection. At that moment, she felt trapped, and she almost wanted to cry again.
Georgiana Darcy! she berated herself. She firmly resolved to stop being so pitiful, and to enjoy the last few days she would spend at Pemberley. Regardless of her own personal problems, it would be tremendously funny to play such a good trick on Darcy and Elizabeth. Perhaps she might even decide to stay with them.
Kitty laughed. "I simply can't wait to see their faces tonight!"
"Yes," Anne agreed, "I'm looking forward to it as well."
"Now that we have perfected our plan, there is something I want to tell you both!" Kitty looked so completely happy that Georgiana could not doubt what would follow, and to her credit, the latter was genuinely overjoyed for her friend. "Walter proposed to me this morning," she said, her voice filled with every emotion she felt.
"Kitty! How wonderful!" Anne breathed.
Georgiana leaned over and embraced Kitty warmly. "I'm so happy for you," she said sincerely. "And," she added, "I doubt it will be very long before we hear the same good news from Anne."
Anne turned a deep shade of pink. "Oh... I..." she stumbled as she shook her head to deny what all three of them knew to be true.
"I just realized that after tonight, Anne and I will have a difficult time trying to meet with our friends," Kitty remarked.
"The four of you will have to always set out together," Georgiana reasoned. "It certainly will be tricky."
"But everything will be worth it," said Kitty decidedly, her broad smile affirming her statement.
To be sure, it did not take long for Darcy and Elizabeth to turn pale that evening, and the five schemers relished every small look that passed between the two. As if no alternative could be reasonably expected, Philip joined Kitty and Walter joined Anne. The two mismatched couples bantered easily with each other, while Georgiana tactfully played out her role.
They nearly laughed aloud when Darcy asked bemusedly, "And did you all enjoy your ride this morning?"
"Oh, yes," Walter replied, giving Anne a smile that made Kitty instantly lift her napkin to her mouth.
Kitty recovered quickly and turned to Philip. "The weather was quite fine, was it not, Mr. Vye?"
"The finest I could ever hope to see, Miss Bennet." He answered her in his usual solemn way, though Kitty could see the unmistakable sparkle of mirth in his dark eyes.
"I suppose the four of you rode together?" asked Elizabeth, her eyebrows raised in utter confusion.
"We did at first, Mrs. Darcy," said Walter, "but we eventually separated from one another. Miss de Bourgh and I had a very pleasant conversation."
"Indeed?" Elizabeth looked as though she were in great danger of choking.
"Yes," he went on, casting his laughing eyes quickly to Kitty, "I proposed to her..." He paused to give his private joke more effect, using the motivation of sipping briefly from his glass. "...that we ride with the sun on our right, as it provided the best angle... are you quite all right, Mr. Darcy? Yes? ... the finest angle with which to view your lovely grounds."
"I had hardly noticed the importance of sun angles until Mr. Vye pointed out the difference to me," Anne added a little timidly.
"Everyone knows what a vast deal of difference they make," said Georgiana. "Not to lessen your skills of observation, Mr. Vye," she added sweetly. Walter replied with some amusing civil comment, but Georgiana did not hear, and kept her eyes on her plate so she would not have to look at her brother.
The conversation proceeded in similar fashion until Philip and Walter left Pemberley. When they had gone, the three girls went immediately upstairs to laugh and talk about their great success. Darcy and Elizabeth looked a little dazed as they sat together in the library, as was their custom before they went to bed.
"Elizabeth, am I absolutely mad?" he asked her, pouring himself a second glass of wine.
"Only if I am," she replied. "What on earth did we miss since they left in their usual pairs this morning?"
"Quite a few sun angles, I'm sure," Darcy answered sarcastically.
"It makes no sense whatever," she mused. This was followed by a short pause and then a small laugh. "I fear we have proved ourselves miserables matchmakers, though."
Darcy only exhaled deeply and shook his head. Elizabeth grinned and went to sit on his lap. Reaching one arm around his neck, she took his wine glass and set it on the table beside him, then embraced him. "Perhaps we should resign, Fitzwilliam," she whispered, kissing the line of his jaw.
"Our careers have not been entirely unsuccessful, my love," he said, finally managing a smile. "We did make one very good match."
"We did indeed," Elizabeth replied, lifting her mouth to accept the kiss he offered.
© 1999 Copyright held by author