The Matchmaking Summer
A few days later while the three girls were out visiting, Darcy and Elizabeth watched as the carriage carrying the Gardiners arrived at Pemberley. Elizabeth had not wasted a second in going out to meet them, and Darcy followed close behind her. Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, as planned, had brought their children and another guest.
A few minutes were occupied with the necessary embraces and greetings, then Mrs. Gardiner introduced them to their visitor, one of her nephews. "I am pleased to present Jude Blythe," she said cheerily as the group bowed and curtsied to one another. "Lizzy, I think you met him one Christmas when you were much younger."
"Yes," she replied with a grin, "I believe Jude kept one of my dolls hidden for the length of his stay, then presented it to me as a Christmas present."
"That does sound like me -- always resourceful," he laughed. "It is good to see you again, Lizzy. And I am very pleased to meet you, sir," he said, addressing Darcy.
"We are honored to have you at Pemberley, Mr. Blythe," Darcy replied, shaking his hand. "Shall we all go inside?"
Jude Blythe was the eldest son of Mrs. Gardiner's sister, the former Amelia Parker. Miss Parker had been praised for her beauty her whole life, and married a young man who found more to appreciate in her sense and intelligence. It was an excellent match for her, one that renamed her Lady Amelia Blythe, landed her at a fine estate in Surrey, and placed her in a relationship of mutual love and respect.
Sir Jude Blythe represented the third generation of his family to carry the title and the name, and to manage Oakbridge, their estate. He raised his children with strict principles and education, and disciplined them with firmness and kindness. He had three children to be rightly proud of: Jude, Susan, and Richard.
Jude Blythe was a young man of sense and character, who enjoyed good laughs and good literature. He had a tendency to be arrogant, though this side of him rarely surfaced among the people with whom he had associated all the five-and-twenty years of his life. Since outward appearance means nothing, it will not be mentioned that he was excessively handsome.
Mrs. Gardiner had invited him to join her family in Derbyshire for a few weeks during the summer, and he readily accepted, being fond of her and not reluctant to travel.
As he followed the group into the house, this innocent visitor could hardly have known what mischief he was entering into, or he might surely have retreated back to Oakbridge, to the safety of family, brandy, and books.
When the guests had been shown their rooms, everyone gathered in the sitting room to relax and talk. Elizabeth occupied herself with her beloved aunt while her uncle conversed easily with Darcy and Jude. The children talked and played quietly around them, until one of them suddenly piped up, "Mr. Darcy, please tell us a story!"
The Gardiner children had grown to love Darcy for the stories he told them, and never missed an opportunity to hear another.
Darcy smiled at her. "Must you hear it now, Harriet?" he asked.
"Yes sir," she replied, going to him and placing herself on his lap.
He laughed and turned to the gentlemen. "Sirs, if you will excuse me, I shall go and tell these children a story."
"Might we convince you to stay?" asked Elizabeth before he could get up. "I should dearly love to hear a story."
He gave his wife a look and cleared his throat. "Very well, then. To oblige Mrs. Darcy, I shall tell my story to you here."
The children clapped and gathered around on the floor in front of his chair. "Thank you, Mr. Darcy!" exclaimed Harriet, flinging her small arms around his neck.
"Once upon a time," he began, "there was a big, mean monster..."
"Oh, what fun! The story is about Mr. Darcy!" Elizabeth teased.
While Darcy tried desperately to look serious, the children burst into laughter, and the Gardiners and Jude wore broad smiles. When they stopped laughing, Darcy cleared his throat again. "This monster went to a ball one day..."
"Mr. Darcy?" interrupted Diana. "How did the monster get into the ball?"
"He disguised himself very cleverly. This was a very smart monster. And while he was at the ball, he saw a beautiful princess. And..."
"What was her name?"
"Eliza." The children snickered and cast glances at Elizabeth, who only continued to smile at her husband. "And Eliza was not dancing, so..."
"Because she was not wearing the right shoes."
"The monster thought -- and rightly so -- that she would simply love to dance with him. But he did not ask her."
"He was not very smart."
"But you just said he was smart."
"Oh, yes... yes, quite so... well, he was smart for a monster." The children appeared satisfied with this explanation, so Darcy continued. "One of his friends saw him there and told him he should ask the princess to dance. But do you know what that monster said?"
"What?" they all asked in unison, eyes wide.
"He said that the princess was not pretty enough for him to dance with."
"But you said he thought she was beautiful!" Jacob protested.
"He did think so."
"He really was a stupid monster!" exclaimed Harriet.
"Very stupid. And," Darcy added, slowing his voice for effect, "the princess heard him."
"She heard him?" Diana repeated. "I should never have spoken to him again, if he said such a thing about me."
"I should not speak to a monster anyway," Harriet declared, folding her arms. "What happened next, Mr. Darcy?"
"Hello, everyone!" The group turned to see Kitty joining them, followed by Anne and Georgiana. They all rose to greet the girls; Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner embraced their niece and expressed their pleasure to see Georgiana again. The latter introduced them to her cousin, who curtsied shyly, saying nothing.
"Kitty, Miss Darcy, Miss de Bourgh," said Mrs. Gardiner, "I would like to introduce my nephew, Jude Blythe."
Jude bowed and smiled at them. "I remember you, Kitty, though you probably have no recollection of me."
"I confess I do not," she replied after thinking for a moment.
"I spent one Christmas at Longbourn years ago." He turned his attention to Georgiana and Anne. "Miss Darcy, I have not been acquainted with your brother for more than an hour, and already I have heard you praised. It is a pleasure to meet you. And I am honored to know you, Miss de Bourgh."
There were now five young people, two of whom were matched already, and two who would obviously be matched eventually; there was a young man who had quite unconsciously made himself eligible for the fifth; there was one married couple being intentionally fooled by the five; there was another married couple who, though more mature, would very soon try a little matchmaking themselves; there were plenty of children to add extra confusion wherever needed; and there was one summer to be taken up with it all.
Darcy invited Philip and Walter to Pemberley to meet his guests and watched, still puzzled, as Philip went to Kitty and Walter went to Anne. "Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Mr. Blythe, I would like you to meet our new clergyman at Lockswirth, Walter Vye, and his elder brother of Ridgefield in Devonshire, Philip Vye. Sirs, Elizabeth's uncle, his wife, and her nephew."
The party dining at Pemberley that evening was large and merry, and everyone seemed to get along well. Darcy and Elizabeth were most pleased to see their table brought to life by their many guests.
After the meal, the group moved to the music room for further conversation. Mrs. Gardiner linked arms with Elizabeth as they walked, and expressed her delight with the two men. "I especially like the young clergyman," she added. "It would be such a good thing for our Kitty if... but I shall say no more."
"No, Aunt, in fact, my husband and I were quite convinced that they were partial to one another," Elizabeth confessed.
"Did they have a fight?"
"It seems that they did, though I know nothing of it. Now Kitty is being courted by the elder, whom I like, of course, but... he is not the same. And the younger seems interested in Anne now."
"Kitty could not do better than Philip Vye -- materially. But I cannot help feeling, Lizzy, that she is making the wrong choice." Their brief discussion ended here, as they sat down with the others.
"What an exquisite pianoforte!" Jude exclaimed, running a hand over the instrument. "Do you play, cousin Lizzy?"
"I do strive for some respectable level of musical proficiency," Elizabeth laughed, "but our talent is Miss Darcy."
"Really?" he asked, turning to the blushing Georgiana. "Will you play for us, Miss Darcy?"
"Oh, I really could not," Georgiana answered softly.
Darcy was disappointed that his sister would not display her talent for their guests, but had known her long enough to understand her timidity. "You seem to know something about pianofortes, Mr. Blythe. Perhaps you could entertain us?" he suggested, trying to draw their attention away from Georgiana.
"I do play a very little, but I was rather hoping that one of the ladies would want to honor us."
"Please let us listen to you, Jude," Elizabeth urged.
Jude bowed and sat down a little nervously at the instrument. He paused thoughtfully for a moment, then began a sad folk tune. Although the melody was simple, it was a difficult piece to perform; Jude, however, played it with such grace and expression that the room was soon silent.
Who could not have noticed Georgiana? Her eyes were fixed steadily on him as her head made subtle movements in time to the music. While the others enjoyed the performance, Georgiana appeared captivated.
Kitty watched her friend in amazement, occasionally exchanging a pointed look with Anne, or meeting the loving gaze of Walter. Walter spent the time watching Kitty, all the while trying to look as though he was not watching Kitty. Mrs. Gardiner observed both of them, and could not help thinking that they were a good match -- and a match that seemed already made.
Jude left the pianoforte and found a seat as his audience heartily applauded him. "Miss Darcy, may we hear you now?" he requested politely.
Again she blushed, but she rose and seated herself at her instrument. She played beautifully, as she always did, and Darcy watched her with a smile, proud and pleased that she had overcome her shyness.
Much later, Philip and Walter announced regretfully that they must return to the parsonage. They secured Kitty and Anne for their usual ride the next morning, and left Pemberley in the best of spirits.
Not long after their departure, the girls decided to go to bed. Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth left to talk together in the library, while Darcy, Mr. Gardiner, and Jude continued to chat easily in the music room.
"Lizzy," Mrs. Gardiner earnestly told her niece when they were alone, "are you quite certain that Walter Vye and Kitty are not partial to one another?"
"Fairly certain, yes. Why do you ask?"
"I cannot help thinking that there is something between them, which they may actually be hiding."
"Hiding?" Elizabeth repeated with a short laugh. "Why should they hide their attachment from us?"
"It does seem very odd and unjustified."
"Quite. And what of Philip?"
"He is attached to Anne." Elizabeth laughed again and Mrs. Gardiner continued, "Do you not see it, Lizzy?"
"Indeed, Aunt, Fitzwilliam and I did see it. We had no doubt that Walter was attached to Kitty, and that Philip was attached to Anne. But one evening, with no warning whatever, they seem to have traded places."
"Have you any idea why, besides the possible fight that no one knows anything of?"
"No. We gave up and decided to leave them to themselves."
"That could be a mistake, Lizzy," Mrs. Gardiner warned. "Do you want your sister to make an imprudent match?"
"I do not believe that Philip would be an imprudent match for Kitty. He is certainly not the man I would choose for her, but the decision is hers, after all."
Mrs. Gardiner shook her head. "Something is not right, Lizzy."
"Shall I dare tell you what I think is very right?" said Elizabeth, attempting to change the tone of the conversation.
"Did you also observe my cousin and Georgiana?"
Mrs. Gardiner smiled. "I did. That is a match, Lizzy!"
Elizabeth laughed. "We must stop this!"
"Yes, I know; but what better time for idle foolishness than summer?"
"True. There is no harm in a little excessive sensibility," Elizabeth agreed, grinning.
Mrs. Gardiner met her nephew in the hall on her way to bed. "Goodnight, Jude," she told him as they passed.
"Goodnight to you, Aunt. Thank you for inviting me to come with you."
"It is our pleasure," she replied warmly. "I take it you like Pemberley, then?"
"Very much, and the society cannot be equalled."
"I must agree with you. Allow me to add that your performance on the pianoforte was exceptional. As was that of Miss Darcy. What did you think of it?"
"It was satisfactory, I grant you, though I have heard much better."
"I myself have never heard any better. Well, goodnight to you!" She left him quickly, a little disturbed by his rather cold opinion of Georgiana.
How much more disturbed Mrs. Gardiner would have been, had she known that their conversation took place right outside the room where Georgiana was preparing for bed, and that the poor girl heard every word!
Anne woke up feeling ill the next morning, and when Darcy saw her at breakfast, he recommended that she stay indoors. "Mr. Vye will understand," he assured her. "And where is my sister?"
"She asked me to inform you that she too is feeling ill, and preferred to stay in her room."
When Philip and Walter came later, then, they were met by Kitty and Darcy. Kitty did not allow herself to look at Walter, and greeted Philip warmly. "Where is Miss de Bourgh?" Walter inquired.
"She is not well this morning, Mr. Vye, and will be unable to join you."
"I hope it is nothing serious?" asked Philip quickly, without thinking.
"Oh no, she just suffers from a little fatigue, I believe. Perhaps," Darcy suggested, turning again to Walter with a smile, "you would like to join her in the sitting room?"
"Why... I..." Walter averted his eyes to Kitty, but she was looking elsewhere. "I... thank you, yes," he said helplessly.
"Ah, Miss Bennet and I would not mind visiting Miss de Bourgh this morning, instead of going for our ride," said Philip, noticing the grateful look his brother gave him.
"Yes," added Kitty, "we could stay indoors this morning. Where are Mr. Blythe and Georgiana? They might want to join us as well."
"Georgiana did not come down for breakfast this morning, and Mr. Blythe joined the Gardiners for a walk in the garden," Darcy replied. "But Miss Bennet, is it really necessary for you to give up your ride?"
"I could have it no other way."
Darcy yielded, though he was more than a little disappointed, and watched the three of them walk together to the sitting room. When they were gone, he moved to go upstairs, when he was stopped by a familiar laugh. "Elizabeth? Where are you?" he asked, looking around for her.
She came toward him, still laughing. "You have not given up, I see," she teased, tugging playfully at one of his buttons with her finger.
"I have no idea what you mean," Darcy said innocently.
"Surely you are not suggesting that I am still trying to match Anne with someone!"
"Oh, of course not," Elizabeth answered. She was silent for a moment, watching him with amusement. "But if you would like to take up the challenge again..."
He was no longer able to hold back a smile. "If you are up to it, my dear Mrs. Darcy."
"I?" she asked, coming a little closer to him. "Always."
"Mr. Darcy!" came the cacophonous sound of four small voices. They were followed immediately by four energetic bodies.
"At your service," he said, bowing to them.
"We want to show you something," said Harriet. She cocked her head at Christopher, who displayed a large, colorful drawing.
"This is you," Diana informed him proudly.
"Oh... I hardly know what to say," he said, studying the green, scaly monster with fire coming from its mouth. "And that, I suppose, is Mrs. Darcy," he continued when he noticed the drawing of a princess, which Jacob held up.
"Yes," Jacob answered him. "Do you like it, Lizzy?"
"Yes, but not as much as I do the first," she replied, the corners of her mouth twitching with suppressed laughter.
Apparently pleased with their artistry and its reception, they scampered off again. Elizabeth looked merrily at her husband, then grinned, then finally burst into laughter. He cleared his throat and looked away from her. "You have no sympathy for your husband."
"Perhaps not," she said archly, "but I am concerned for my husband's sister. I am going to see Georgiana."
He put his hand on her arm before she could leave and kissed her lightly. "I love you." She smiled, touched the side of his face briefly with her palm, and left.
Elizabeth found Georgiana playing quietly in the music room. "I suppose you are feeling better," said Elizabeth, sitting down near her sister.
Georgiana gave a slight nod. "How long do the Gardiners plan to stay?"
"About a month, I imagine. Why do you ask?"
"I was only curious."
"I am so happy that you decided to stay with us. The loss of your company would have been very unfortunate."
Georgiana made no reply, but stopped playing.
"Georgiana, is something wrong?" Elizabeth asked gently. The girl was still silent, and Elizabeth continued. "Is it... is it Walter Vye?"
"No," came the soft reply. "I had... still have... feelings for him, but I do not care for him enough to be terribly upset."
"That is relieving; but what else could be wrong?"
Unwilling to speak ill of Jude in front of his cousin, she replied, "Nothing... I suppose it is all the company, and I am just tired. Nothing is wrong."
Elizabeth knew something else was bothering Georgiana, but chose not to press the issue. "Very well. Just remember that any time you wish to talk to me, please don't hesitate."
"Thank you," Georgiana murmured. She watched a little sadly as Elizabeth left, feeling that perhaps she should have been honest. Shuffling her music, she began to play again, while Jude's criticism continued to pain her.
She was interrupted again three songs later, and looked up to see Jude himself entering the room. "Good morning, Miss Darcy," he greeted her with a bow. "Do you mind if I join you?"
He seated himself where Elizabeth had been and smiled at her warmly. "I hope you are feeling better; we missed you at breakfast this morning."
"Thank you, sir. I am better."
"Why did you stop playing?" he asked.
"I am finished practicing now."
"Can I not persuade you to play one more? When Lizzy told me where to find you, I had hoped to hear you again." He told her the truth, for his disinterested remark to his aunt the night before was his attempt to prevent any matchmaking she might have in mind. Had he known that Georgiana heard him, he would have been grieved indeed.
"Was last night not enough for you, Mr. Blythe?"
"Hardly," he answered with another smile.
"Forgive me, but I shall not play anymore now," she said as she rose, not looking at him.
Jude masked his disappointment and stood politely as she left the room. He followed soon after her, deciding that he liked her tremendously, and that he would befriend her before his stay at Pemberley ended.
(Sorry I didn't post this sooner -- school has been busy!)
The next morning before breakfast, Georgiana went to the music room to be alone for a while. She sat down absently at her pianoforte and looked up at her music, then her mouth fell open. Resting on top of the instrument was a pretty bunch of wildflowers tied together with a thin blue ribbon.
Georgiana smiled at their efforts to cheer her; had her brother given her the flowers? Elizabeth seemed more likely, since they had spoken the day before. She picked up the fresh bouquet and breathed in the scent of the blossoms. A few still had tiny drops of dew inside.
She returned to her room, set the flowers carefully into an empty vase on her desk, and added some water. Taking a step back, she admired them for a moment or two, the pleased smile still on her lips. She gave a small nod of satisfaction, then left for breakfast.
With an especially sweet smile to Elizabeth, Georgiana sat down at the table. Elizabeth returned her smile, though somewhat quizzically.
"Mrs. Gardiner and I are going into Lambton today," Mr. Gardiner remarked. "And I believe the younger Mr. Vye plans to accompany us. Is that correct, my dear?" His wife nodded. "Would any of you like to join us as well?"
Kitty was beginning to wonder if their scheme was really worth it. How she longed to go! But what could she do? Anne was in much the same predicament: she did not want to go, as it would cost her her usual ride with Philip. Both girls found silence to be their safest choice.
"Anne?" said Darcy. "Do you not want to go?"
"I... I..." Anne blushed and stumbled, which Darcy and Elizabeth naturally misread as they exchanged understanding smiles.
"Aunt," Kitty said suddenly, "would you mind getting me some... some, ah..."
Mrs. Gardiner studied Kitty carefully for a moment. "Perhaps you would like to pick it out yourself?" she suggested.
"You will miss your morning ride," Elizabeth reminded her quickly.
"I do not really like the idea of missing my ride, but I think I should go. Aunt might not know exactly what I want."
"You might not know exactly what you want, either, until you see your options," said Mrs. Gardiner, who had now made up her mind that her suspicions were correct.
"True - I will decide when I get there," Kitty said with a nod. "Anne, you do not mind going riding alone with Mr. Vye?"
"Oh... no," murmured Anne, taking a deep inner sigh of relief.
This resolution left everyone satisfied, except for Darcy and Elizabeth, who remained silent and concentrated devotedly on their eggs and ham.
"And what about you, Jude?" Mr. Gardiner asked his nephew. "Will you come?"
"I doubt it, sir," said Jude vaguely, casting a quick, questioning glance at the quiet girl across from him.
"Miss Darcy?" Mrs. Gardiner invited.
"No, thank you," Georgiana declined politely. She intended to walk to a secluded area around the lake and spend her afternoon reading under the shade of her favorite tree.
Georgiana returned to the music room after breakfast to practice, as she had intended to do earlier. Quickly selecting a piece, she arranged the music neatly before her and started to play. "Good morning, Miss Darcy." Startled, she stopped and looked up to see Jude smiling at her, his dark eyes shining.
"Thank you, sir," she answered him indifferently. Georgiana closed her music and began to rise from her place.
"No, no, please," he said, holding his hand up briefly as he sat down near her. "Don't stop; I came to hear you." She made no response, and it was evident that she would not play. "And I brought you something," he added. Jude reached into his pocked and pulled out a crisp sheet of paper, folded neatly.
"What is it?" she asked, her curiosity greater than her desire to be nonchalant.
"That song I played the other night -- I wrote down the music, and the words too, for I hear that you sing as well. I thought you liked the song, and I wanted you to have it, should you ever want to play it yourself." She silently took the paper he offered her. "Perhaps... perhaps you would play it now, Miss Darcy?"
Georgiana was lost in a wave of confusion. She wanted so much to like him -- she did like him! -- but how could she simply ignore the rude remark she overheard? Her delicate feelings were easily wounded, and she had cried herself to sleep that night, self-conscious and hurt. But everything else about Jude Blythe...! What should she think? One thing was certain: she could not play for him.
"Thank you, Mr. Blythe, but I could not possibly."
His face fell a little, but he recovered his spirits and smiled again. "You found your flowers, I see."
"What?" she asked. He had given her the flowers?
"Perhaps someone else took them. I went out this morning and gathered a little bouquet for you, for, pardon me, but you seem to need some cheering. I am sorry that some other person found them. You will credit me with the thought, I hope?" he asked with his usual irresistible grin.
"Oh... I found the flowers before breakfast. Thank you... I just..." She blushed and intently studied the keys on her pianoforte.
"Will you play if I leave?" he asked. She nodded. "Very well, I shall go. Forgive me for interrupting you."
"Not at all," she said softly, watching him go. She was a little sorry that she had been so cold to him, but what else could be expected?
Since he was gone, Georgiana could actually look at the music he had written out for her. His stanzas were even and neat, with painstakingly perfect notes and markings. Beneath each stanza were the words, written with a clear, steady handwriting.
She set the music before her and started to play. It was a simple song to sight-read, but she could hear that Jude's style and grace would not be easily copied. How very thoughtful he had been to give her the music -- and the flowers!
Georgiana felt that she should forgive him and forget about what she heard. But why would he have said it if he didn't mean it? No, she must wait a while longer.
Jude watched through a window as Georgiana walked away from the house. The ribbons of her bonnet fluttered gently to her left, and he could see that she carried a book under one arm.
It was impossible for him to deny that he liked her, though she was cold and aloof in his presence. He tried diligently to remember if he had said something that might offend her, or if during one of their meetings he had been too forward. He could come up with nothing, however, and continued to watch her walk towards the lake.
He began walking down the hall and saw Mrs. Reynolds step out of a room and close the door behind her. He recalled it as the place where he had spoken with his Aunt Gardiner two nights ago, recognizing a painting on the wall. "How do you do, Mrs. Reynolds?" he greeted her with a friendly smile.
"Very good, sir -- I was just checking on a little something in Miss Georgiana's room."
"I see," replied Jude, not quite realizing what she had told him. A split-second later it dawned on him and he asked, "That... that room belongs to Miss Darcy?" She had heard him! No wonder... what an idiot he was!
"Why, yes, sir," Mrs. Reynolds answered him, a little bewildered by his reaction.
"Thank you, ma'am," he said, bowing. She smiled a little and continued on her way. Jude stood still for a moment in front of her room, his eyes focused on the painting by her door.
He must explain to her; there could be no delay. In fact, he would go now. He knew where she had gone, and determined to find her immediately and explain himself. As he ran down the stairs, he continued to berate himself for being so careless in his remarks. To think he might have already lost the good opinion of the very woman whose friendship he was so earnestly seeking!
"And when do you plan to tell them the good news?" Mrs. Gardiner asked, smiling at her niece and Walter Vye. The two young people, realizing that the Gardiners had discovered their scheme, explained everything: their recent engagement, the overheard conversation between Darcy and Elizabeth, and the plan to confuse matters.
"I don't know," Kitty confessed. She and Walter looked at each other sheepishly. "We have yet to decide when to end our charade."
Mr. Gardiner gave a hearty laugh. "You should let the Darcys suffer a bit longer."
"Do you think so, Uncle?"
"Indeed I do. Your whole scheme seems like superb fun to me; if I were you, I should never want to end it."
"True, sir," said Walter, "and I thought that we might not have to tell them."
"What do you mean, Mr. Vye?" asked Mrs. Gardiner, furrowing her brows in confusion.
His eyes twinkled as he shook his head. "I cannot reveal my secrets," he replied with a grin.
"What of Miss de Bourgh and your brother?" Mrs. Gardiner asked Walter. "Are they engaged as well?"
"If they are, my brother has not told me of it," answered Walter.
Caroline Bingley watched as the last of her trunks were loaded onto the carriage. "Be more careful with that," she instructed, reaching up to straighten her hat before she climbed into the carriage. "I shall not arrive at Pemberley only to find that my dresses have been scattered over England during my drive."
Pemberley -- yes, what should have been her home! How insufferable it was on her first visit, being forced into civility towards Elizabeth Bennet! To be sure, Elizabeth had not taken advantage of her position, and had actually treated her with the utmost kindness and attentiveness.
Caroline was truly happy to be invited back for a second visit. She looked forward to seeing Georgiana, as always. This trip would also provide the opportunity for her to befriend Anne de Bourgh, a most respectable connection.
She seated herself in the carriage with her friends, Mr. and Mrs. Crockett, who were touring the north, and had agreed to provide her transportation to Pemberley. Mrs. Crockett, the former Susan Browning, had been a casual acquaintance of the Bingleys for years.
"I do hope those men did not dirty my trunks," remarked Mrs. Crockett. "How dreadful to have filthy things before our journey has even begun. What a sweet hat you are wearing, Caroline. I have one much like that, only it probably cost more, for I bought it from Mr. White. Mr. White is a man I trust in general, although once he sold me a pair of gloves, and one of them had a thread beginning to come out. I was quite put out, as you may imagine, my dear -- was I not put out, Mr. Crockett? But of course I was. I tried to return the gloves, and Mr. White refused to take them back, telling me to pull out the thread. Now what do you think of that? Just pull out the thread. I made him do it for me, you may be sure. For that will be my last day, the day I set down my money for a pair of fine gloves, and be told to fix them myself. But my goodness, Mr. White did sell me a fine hat, and it does look very much like yours. I hope you secured your trunks well, Caroline. And I hope those men did not get them very dirty."
Caroline smiled a little, then turned her head to the window, following the example of poor Mr. Crockett. It would be a long ride to Pemberley.
Georgiana looked up suddenly from her book and glanced around, wondering if she had only imagined the sound of footsteps. She leaned away from the tree trunk and listened for a few more seconds, finally satisfying herself that she had heard nothing.
At the moment she made herself comfortable again, she heard the unmistakable sound of a voice saying her name. Another look up from her book showed the voice to belong to Jude Blythe.
"Good afternoon, sir," she said without rising from her position.
"Hello again, Miss Darcy," Jude replied amiably, joining her on the grass. "Am I interrupting you?"
"N-no." She closed her book and placed it on the ground beside her. "How did you happen to find me? I am accustomed to being here alone."
"I was just strolling about the grounds. Now what is that you were reading?"
"Milton. I want to thank you again for the music to that song," she told him somewhat shyly.
"Think nothing of it. Paradise Lost?"
"What you were reading," he explained, motioning to her book.
"I love that line, 'breathed immortal love to mortal† -- to mortal man? Is it man or men, Miss Darcy?"
"I cannot recall," she answered, her disinterest plainly written in her averted gaze.
"Yes, well, no matter. As for the song, I sincerely hope that you will play it for me. And might I flatter myself that you would sing it as well?"
"My playing, I fear, does not measure up to your standards, sir," Georgiana replied almost coldly.
Jude inhaled deeply, grateful for a fitting conversation to explain himself. "I suppose you refer to that comment I made to my aunt."
Her eyes moved up to meet his instantly, and she found herself almost unable to contain the shock that he would even mention that remark to her! "I... I hardly know..." Georgiana stumbled. Jude cocked his head to one side and arched his brows. "Yes," she finally admitted.
"I was afraid that my aunt would try a little matchmaking if I were not guarded, and I certainly had no idea that anyone else heard what I said. I did not mean it, Miss Darcy. In fact, my opinion is very much the opposite of the one I expressed then to my aunt. Think me a liar if you will, but know that I am a great admirer of your talent." He bowed his head a little, still holding her gaze. "I apologize for any mortification my inconsiderate comment may have cost you."
Her mouth curved gently into a smile. "It is forgotten, Mr. Blythe," Georgiana said. "Perhaps... perhaps I should not have been so resentful."
"Shall we be friends, then?" Jude asked, raising his head again as he extended his hand to her.
"Most happily, sir." Georgiana reached out and shook his hand.
"Please -- Jude."
Georgiana blushed. Where men were concerned, she called only her relatives and closest friends by their first names. "Jude," she repeated, feeling her face grow a little hotter still.
That evening Darcy introduced Caroline to Jude, Philip, and Walter. Caroline was quite familiar with the Gardiners, for she had called on Jane at their home two winters ago, and had spent more time in their company at Pemberley the summer before. How could Darcy bear having their four noisy brats scampering about? She was most civil in her greetings to the three young men, particularly with Jude and Philip.
Caroline well knew of the highly respected Blythe family, and was somewhat familiar with the name of Vye, having toured Ridgefield with the Hursts a few years ago. The family had been gone from home, but she still remembered how impressed she had been with the beautiful, elegant house and estate.
Here, then, were two very eligible young men; one could make her Lady Caroline Blythe, and the other could make her the mistress of Ridgefield. Her short stay at Pemberley could prove to be promising!
Walter, being a younger son and a clergyman, could not interest her. How the wealthy heiress of Rosings Park could have feelings for him was beyond her. Certainly he was handsome and amiable, but -- ! Surely Lady Catherine would never approve of such a match. However, none of that concerned her.
It was much to her dismay when Caroline found that both Jude and Philip seemed already attached. Jude was most attentive to Georgiana, to which Caroline could well resign herself. But the great Philip Vye was paying his addresses to that little pauper, Kitty Bennet! It was too much to be borne.
Surely Mr. Vye could not be aware of Kitty's connections. Kitty had Darcy as a brother-in-law, to be sure, but George and Lydia Wickham were relations of whom no gentleman could boast! That did not prevent your Mr. Darcy from marrying Eliza Bennet, she reminded herself. But I might be more successful in bringing Philip Vye to his senses.
Caroline was mostly quiet at dinner as she observed the interaction of the couples and listened with horror as the Gardiner children took shocking liberties with Darcy. Even more amazing to her, though, was the fact that Darcy did not seem angry, but much amused!
Caroline did not waste a moment when she was given an opportunity to speak with Philip after dinner. The group moved to the music room, and the children, thankfully, were sent to their rooms for the night. Darcy and Elizabeth both took up books, Jude and Georgiana sat at the pianoforte together working on some pretty piece of music, and Walter, Kitty, Anne, and the Gardiners set up a game of cards.
"Well, Mr. Vye, you have certainly visited Pemberley at a good time," she remarked with a sweet smile.
"Yes, quite," Philip replied. He looked at her briefly, then returned his gaze to the card table. Apparently his mind was more on Kitty Bennet than she had at first suspected.
"The company is particularly pleasant this summer," Caroline went on.
"I am so very fond of everyone, though Kitty Bennet is rather a sad girl, is she not?"
With satisfaction, she saw that she had at last gained his attention. "What do you mean, Miss Bingley?" he asked.
"It just saddens me that a sweet, pretty girl should have such unfortunate relations."
"Unfortunate relations, indeed!" Philip answered. "Her sister is the mistress of Pemberley!"
"Yes, Mrs. Darcy did make a very fortunate match for herself," Caroline said in a tone bordering on resentment.
"What can you mean, then?"
"Evidently you do not know of the youngest sister. She eloped with an infamous young man, and actually lived with him in London - unmarried! - for a disgraceful amount of time. The marriage was brought about only with the intervention of Mr. Darcy. Mrs. Darcy is most fortunate indeed, that Mr. Darcy would condescend to marry a woman such as herself."
Philip was speechless for some time. "Can this really be true, Miss Bingley? I do not mean to imply that you would invent such a terrible slander, but perhaps you are mistaken."
"I assure you, it is all true."
"But what of the other sisters?"
Here Caroline had to blush as she acknowledged, "The eldest is married to my own brother, Mr. Bingley of Netherfield. And Mary, I believe, recently wed a poor clerk near her home."
Philip looked over at Mrs. Darcy and examined her carefully. She possessed every trait that would become a gentlewoman, and the very fact that Mr. Darcy of Pemberley chose her to be his wife spoke volumes in her behalf. And, he recollected, he had not the slightest reason to think ill of Kitty; in fact, he had grown fond of her.
Yet such a connection! He could not think of it without cringing. He resolved to speak to his brother immediately after they left.
"Philip, this is ridiculous!" Walter exclaimed in exasperation.
"Walter, be reasonable. Can you not see the terrible damage to your reputation, if you were to marry a woman with such connections? Remember your position!"
"And what does that mean?"
"A clergyman cannot marry the sister of a... of a..."
"Do you refer to the mistress of Pemberley or the mistress of Netherfield?"
"Be fair now, Walter!"
"Tell me, what is fair about forgetting her respectable relations and slighting her on account of one foolish sister?"
"I admire Mrs. Darcy and Miss Bennet just as much as you do, Walter. But please do not allow yourself to be blinded. Who would ever respect a clergyman with such a family?"
"Only those who come to my church for the right reasons," Walter retorted angrily. "And who respects Mr. Darcy any less for marrying as he did?"
Philip sighed heavily and shook his head. "I cannot approve of this match, Walter. You must know that."
"I have no need of your approval."
"Of course not, but you should know that I am against it all the same."
Philip almost hated himself for the position he found necessary to take. He liked Kitty Bennet, and knew that his brother loved her with the tenderest devotion. However, he knew that he must be practical. Philip had never been a man to let his head be ruled by his heart, and he could not change now.
He knew that although Kitty herself was a good young woman, her family could very well prove damaging for his brother. In this case, he truly believed that Walter must sacrifice his own wishes for the position he had chosen in life.
Walter had no further replies to make. He went to his room and stood before the window for a long time, looking out over the darkened landscape, lit only by a sliver of a crescent moon.
He could not hold any anger against his brother; after all, Philip was only worried about him, and had voiced his concerns kindly and gently. No, he could think only of Kitty. Would it really be wrong and selfish of him to marry her? Life without her was unbearable even to imagine, but what of his duties to God and to his church?
Walter spent most of the night awake, divided between tears and prayer, and in the morning he sent word to Pemberley that he was ill and could not ride.
Although Walter stayed behind, lost in his prayers and reflections, Philip visited Pemberley that morning as usual, where Kitty, Anne, Georgiana, and Jude greeted him warmly.
They were especially happy to see him, for they had received disappointing news that morning at breakfast; Mr. Gardiner was needed back in town for a pressing matter of business, and the Gardiners would leave them the following day. It was not yet decided whether Jude would leave with them or remain longer at Pemberley.
Georgiana had told Jude of their scheme, so no one could be surprised when Kitty inquired after Walter.
Philip tried to mask his sadness with a smile. He truly liked Kitty, but what else could be done? "My brother did not feel well this morning, Miss Bennet. He regrets that he could not join me. The pressures on a young clergyman must be tedious, you know."
Her face momentarily betrayed her disappointment, but Kitty soon recovered and said cheerfully, "I suppose I shall ride alone today, then."
"You are welcome to walk with us, if you like," Georgiana offered.
"Yes, cousin," Jude agreed, "you should join us. Though we do not move as swiftly as your horse, I will venture to declare that our conversation is much more interesting."
"Thank you, but I shall not mind riding alone," Kitty replied. The close friendship between Jude and Georgiana was evidently blossoming into something more, and Kitty did not wish to intrude, especially when she considered that Jude might have to leave them the next day.
Their plans for the morning thus settled, the group started to leave when the voice of Elizabeth greeted them. After briefly exchanging pleasantries with her, and after Philip had explained the absence of his brother, they left. Philip was obliged to offer his arm to Kitty, and could not suppress the swelling feeling of guilt.
Back at Lockswirth, Walter had firmly resolved that he would marry Kitty. What did it matter that she had a foolish sister? The situation had nothing whatever to do with her. Moreover, she did have quite admirable connections through her other sisters -- the mistresses of Pemberley and Netherfield! Such an insignificant problem could not move him when he had his great love for her and for God to keep him confident in his decision.
With this final and happy resolution, Walter scrawled a note to his brother, mounted his horse, and galloped to Hertfordshire to ask Mr. Bennet in person for the hand of his daughter.
Jude and Georgiana strolled at a lazy, contented pace by the lake, their conversation flowing with a certain harmony and rhythm, just as their music seemed to do. Jude often cast his eyes to admire the healthy glow of her complexion, the graceful line of her throat, and the shape of her pretty mouth as she expressed her delight with some book or piece of music.
He often watched her with the same wonder as she sat at the pianoforte, her fingers moving skillfully over the keys, and her bright, expressive eyes concentrating on the music before her. Georgiana was no less awed by him, though she hardly realized it herself.
Without quite thinking, Jude reached for her hand and took it gently in his. They seemed unaware that they had stopped walking as Georgiana caught her breath and looked up at him with surprise.
She did not try to draw back her hand; she rather liked having it in his. The contact was innocent and unassuming, yet at the same time exciting and satisfying. They stood quietly in tranquil stillness, simply looking at each other.
After a long pause, Jude lifted his free hand cautiously to the side of her face, touched her cheek briefly with his fingertips, and lowered his hand again. "Georgiana, I do not want to leave you tomorrow."
"I wish you could stay," she replied shyly in response. "I shall miss you."
"Of course I will. I love y..." To her dismay, the words had come pouring out, and it was too late to disguise what she meant. She felt the warmth in her cheeks and quickly averted her gaze.
Georgiana wondered how she could have been so careless, but she heard no reply from Jude. He did not release her hand, however, and they continued on their way in silence.
When they reached the house, he lifted her hand to his lips, then reluctantly let it go. "I will do everything I can to stay here," he promised.
Darcy and Elizabeth relaxed in the sitting room with the four Gardiner children. Harriet had asked for another story about the big monster Darcy and the beautiful princess Elizabeth, and Darcy was animatedly narrating the story of "The Great Swim." Elizabeth listened with the keenest enjoyment, watching her husband with an expression of love and amusement.
"The beautiful princess Elizabeth was at his house?"
"She certainly was," Darcy replied.
"But I thought he lived in a cave!"
"Only when he was on business."
"Well, the big monster Darcy jumped in his lake."
"That was rather silly of him. Why did he do that?"
"I cannot imagine why. He climbed out of the lake, and picked up his clothes..."
"The big monster Darcy wears clothes? But he is a monster! He has scales!"
"Yes, well... he wore clothes when he was at his house," Darcy answered with a shrug. Elizabeth covered her mouth with her hand to stifle her laugh.
"And who should he see, but the beautiful princess Elizabeth walking to him. He said hello, and she said hello..."
"Even though she hates him?"
"Ah, right. The end." The children naturally protested against such an ending until Darcy promised to finish the story later that evening.
Anne stood outside the door to Kitty's room, the grimness of her task displayed in the drawn lines of her face.
Gathering her courage, she knocked timidly and opened the door when she was invited to enter. Kitty saw her and smiled. "Did you enjoy your ride, Anne?" she asked.
"Very much," Anne replied. Perhaps some good news first? She blushed and looked at her feet, then continued, "Philip p-proposed to me."
Her eyes sparkling, Kitty took both of her friend's hands. "How wonderful!" she exclaimed. "And of course your mother could not object to such a match!"
"Indeed, she could not. In fact, she has already approved it. Kitty, I am so completely happy!"
"Perhaps," said Kitty slyly, "we may at last reveal our engagements tonight. We have fooled them long enough, I think. But we shall have our last bit of fun after all, when we see the looks on their faces!"
Kitty observed her friend with a bewildered expression as Anne's smile faded back into sadness. "Kitty, there is something I must tell you," she said softly. "Only... you must promise me that you will not be angry with Philip. Oh, Kitty, how can I tell you?" Her eyes glistened with welling tears.
Kitty released her hands and stepped back a little. "Good heavens, what, Anne? Angry at Philip? What has happened? Please, please tell me at once!"
"Philip told me that Walter... that is is very probable that Walter will no longer want to court you. This is the true reason why he did not come today."
Every pigment of healthy color faded from Kitty's face, though she remained without expression. "Why?" she managed in a ragged whisper, reaching weakly behind her for a place to sit.
"Apparently he heard about the elopement of your sister -- Lydia, I suppose -- and is wary of the connection. Kitty, please stop looking like that!"
"But what about Lizzy? What about Jane? No one is more respectable than they!" Anne could make no reply, and Kitty herself lapsed into a long silence before continuing, "Please leave me now, Anne. I am not angry at you or Philip. I congratulate you both and wish you every..." Here her voice broke into a quiet sob. "I wish you every happiness. Please, please go." She lowered her face into her hands as Anne quietly left the room.
Anne did indeed announce her engagement that night, though Kitty was unable to appreciate their "last bit of fun" as the shock came upon Darcy and Elizabeth. The Gardiners merely glanced knowingly at each other.
Kitty sat in the library alone later that evening, trying to salvage some measure of hope. Surely Walter loved her too much to allow something so small to come between them. But the very fact that she had to question the depth of his love made her feel even worse! Perhaps she had only fooled herself!
She was startled when she heard the voice of Caroline Bingley. "Good evening, Miss Bennet."
"Good evening," she murmured, her eyes focused on the floor.
Caroline sat down with a supremely self-satisfied smile. Although she had not won Philip Vye for herself, she had made him come to his senses. At least he was no longer attached to Kitty Bennet! Anne was a much more worthy match for him. She felt that Walter did not deserve Anne, and that Kitty did not deserve Philip. She was proud, therefore, of her excellent success in matchmaking.
"I suppose you are very happy for Philip and Anne."
"Nothing could make me happier," Kitty replied sincerely, though a little absently.
"Indeed. I had thought that you were attached to him."
Kitty could not help a short laugh. "Not at all. It was all a joke -- a trick we were playing on my sister and Mr. Darcy."
"I see," said Caroline. Where was her success in this? "Why did Walter Vye leave this morning, then?"
"He left?" Kitty asked, lifting her eyes to Caroline for the first time. "What do you mean?"
"He left suddenly this morning, leaving only a short note behind for his brother. We all assumed it was because he was upset over losing Anne."
Kitty might have appreciated the humor of the situation -- the last amusing punchline of their joke -- if she had not also felt the crushing bitterness of Walter's actions. He was done with her. She maintained her composure as she excused herself from Caroline and went to her room to weep.
He had left suddenly to remove himself from her, and she determined herself not to be present when he returned. She could go to Gracechurch Street with her aunt and uncle.
Walter dismounted his horse in front of a modest, pretty home which he understood to be Longbourn. He had seen a very amiable gentleman on the road -- a man who introduced himself as Sir William Lucas -- who had directed him to this place. He straightened his clothes, inhaled deeply, and knocked on the door.
He was answered by a quiet woman who took his name and asked him to wait while she went to her mistress.
"Oh, Hill!" he heard a rather shrill voice moan. "My nerves are aching me so dreadfully today! I do not know if I am fit for visitors. Who is it, pray?"
"A young gentleman who calls himself Walter Vye, madam," Hill replied.
"I do not know any Walter Vye," came that horrid voice again. "But show him in. Lord bless me, a young gentleman. I have no daughters left for him, for Kitty has run off to enjoy herself at Pemberley. What can he want with us? Show him in, Hill, show him in."
The servant came back out to Walter, her face betraying a sort of subdued fatigue and irritation. "You may go in, sir," she told him with a small sigh.
"Thank you," he replied. He bowed and gave her a warm smile, then pressed a few coins into her hand.
He found the mistress of Longbourn reclined in a chair, with a handkerchief held dramatically to her face. It was evident that the woman had been handsome years ago, to which Walter attributed her success in finding a husband. As he greeted the woman, he chided himself for entertaining such a cruel thought.
"How do you do, madam? I..."
"What can you mean by coming here without being introduced, sir? Do you know my husband?"
"In a way, I know you both quite well," he replied, her cold manner making him a little nervous. "Forgive me for such an improper intrusion, but under the circumstances..."
"Will you not sit down, Mr. Vye? I suppose you know that I am Mrs. Bennet."
"Ah... y-yes," he said as he sat down awkwardly in the nearest chair.
She finally smiled at him. "It is not very often that I have the opportunity to visit with young men, now that my precious daughters are all married. All but one, that is, but she is not here."
"Yes, Mrs. Bennet, and that is what..."
She dropped her handkerchief casually on the table beside her, rose, and seated herself closer to him. "It was very kind of you to call! But why are you here? I do not know you, nor have I ever seen you. I have no daughters to interest you any longer. My husband will soon be dead, and then I shall be in need of a home. If that is your design..." Mrs. Bennet let her words trail off, and gave Walter a smile that made him cringe.
"Design, madam?! I, ah, that is... I have important business to discuss with your husband."
"Oh. He is in his library, through that door." She gave a disinterested wave of her hand in the proper direction and looked away from him.
Walter walked uncomfortably to the door and entered when his knock was answered. Mr. Bennet looked up at him over the rim of his spectacles and motioned for him to sit.
He was a somewhat old, melancholy-looking man; if his beloved Lizzy could have seen him, she might have wept. She had left him for "the best man she had ever known," and with her went his joy. True, he had found consolation in the matured Kitty, and in Jane, whom he saw quite regularly. But Lizzy was the only person whom he had ever truly loved, and her absence was a presence in itself to him.
"I cannot say that I know you, sir," said Mr. Bennet, putting away the book he had been reading.
"Forgive my intrusion. My name is Walter Vye, and I am a clergyman at Lockswirth, one of the livings near Pemberley."
Mr. Bennet blinked at the mention of Pemberley. "Do you know my daughter, then?"
"I do, indeed," Walter answered, a smile beginning to spread over his face. "In fact, it is she who brings me here."
"What has my Lizzy to say?" asked Mr. Bennet eagerly, leaning forward.
Walter looked bemused for a split-second, then realized the mistake. "Actually, Mr. Bennet, I come regarding your younger daughter, Miss Kitty Bennet."
"I see." Mr. Bennet knew immediately what had brought Walter Vye unexpectedly to his library.
"Your daughter accepted my recent proposal of marriage, sir," said Walter, a faint blush creeping to his face. "With the utmost respect, I have come to ask for your permission."
So he had lost Kitty too. Every day now would be spent in -- or rather out of, as much as possible -- the company of his ridiculous wife. He could not pity himself, for it had most assuredly been his own doing.
Walter mistook the silence and continued, "I come from a worthy family, I can provide her with a comfortable home and situation, and you may be certain that she will be loved and respected."
"Oh, I have no doubt of all that, Mr. Vye," said Mr. Bennet. "I give my permission to you readily."
Mr. Bennet studied the man who would be his fifth son-in-law. He had some to be ashamed of, and others to think of with pride. He had given his daughters to men as varying as George Wickham and Fitzwilliam Darcy. This fifth -- Walter Vye -- what of him? He had learned to respect Kitty enough to know that she had the good sense to choose a worthy husband.
"I thank you, Mr. Bennet. Please permit me to tell you that I adore your daughter."
The older man chuckled. "I heard that once before, from a young man who now adores my daughter in Derbyshire."
Walter grinned. "Mrs. Darcy is possibly the happiest woman I have ever known," he said sincerely.
A rather bittersweet smile crinkled the corners of Mr. Bennet's mouth. "I have no doubt of it, Mr. Vye. No doubt whatsoever."
Loud and exuberant were the exclamations of Mrs. Bennet upon hearing that she would have no more daughters to get off her hands. After a brief interlude of raptures and smelling salts, she practically shoved Mr. Vye into the carriage and took him to Netherfield to meet "dear Mr. and Mrs. Bingley."
Walter was genuinely happy to be introduced to Charles and Jane, whom he found to be more like his friends at Pemberley, much to his relief.
He was invited to stay at Netherfield as long as he wished, but he politely declined the offer. He was madly impatient to get back to Kitty, and a certain part of him knew that he must again confront his brother.
At that moment, however, Kitty was getting settled at Gracechurch Street. Jude had decided to remain at Pemberley, to no one's surprise, and Kitty now tried to fight off loneliness. After such an eventful, joyous visit, it was difficult to accustom herself to a relatively quiet life with her aunt, uncle, and cousins.
Perhaps it might have been easier, had not thoughts of Walter Vye complicated her feelings even more. She told herself that she could forget him, and she had determined herself to do so.
Kitty planned to return to Pemberley after some weeks; Jude had promised to come for her as soon as she desired it. She wondered how she would feel and act when she first saw Walter again. Would she be cold and aloof, or pretend that nothing had happened? Would she avoid any meeting altogether?
She sent word to Longbourn and Netherfield of her short visit in town, along with a brief line added by Elizabeth for their father -- "Pappa, I send you my love."
"The house is so much quieter now," breathed Elizabeth. She rested against her husband in the library's roomy armchair, with one arm draped comfortably over his chest.
Darcy lowered the book he had been reading aloud. "Yes, it does seem empty. Do you know, I miss Kitty. And I miss all those children."
Elizabeth wore a smile that was hidden from his view. "Do you?"
The book was closed and set aside. "I enjoyed telling them all those stories about you and me."
"I confess I enjoyed being known by the title the beautiful princess Elizabeth," she laughed.
"I was not so lucky," he remarked wryly. "I am big and ugly, I have scales, I live in a cave..."
"Only when you are away on business," she reminded him.
"I conduct business in a cave," Darcy corrected himself, "I am stupid..."
"Yes," Elizabeth smiled, "but from all of this you are redeemed by the beautiful princess Elizabeth."
Darcy breathed in deeply and relished the fresh air as he strolled alone near the house. "Mr. Darcy," he heard, and turned to find Walter Vye before him.
"Walter," he greeted the clergyman with a friendly handshake. "What made you leave us so mysteriously? You must be very happy for your brother."
Walter lifted an eyebrow. "I have not been home yet, Darcy. What do you mean?"
"So I have the honor of telling you: your brother has just become engaged to Miss de Bourgh."
Walter smiled. "I cannot say that I am surprised. I take it, then, that our little scheme is at an end."
"Yes. I admit that I was made to look very foolish."
"There are no hard feelings, I hope, Darcy?"
"Certainly not," Darcy replied with a grin. "But tell me, what has brought you here before you have even been home?"
"I have come to see Miss Bennet," Walter confessed frankly.
"Miss Bennet left us while you were gone," said Darcy.
"What? Where has she gone? Will she be returning?" Walter could not disguise his crushing disappointment. He had almost killed his poor horse trying to get back to Kitty as quickly as possible, and only found her gone!
"She went to London with the Gardiners," Darcy informed him. "She will be returning to us, however. As soon as she sends the word, Jude will go to fetch her back."
"But why did she leave? I do not understand."
"To be honest, I believe she was quite anxious about something, though I have no idea what could have upset her."
"Thank you, Darcy. Good day to you," said Walter. He mounted his weary horse and rode off as the master of Pemberley watched with a rather puzzled expression.
"Welcome home, little brother," said Philip, looking up from his newspaper as Walter came in. "It is not very polite to leave your guest alone in your house."
"Why would Kitty Bennet leave Pemberley during my absence?" he demanded. Walter realized his abruptness, but his impatience could not be helped.
Philip folded the newspaper and rested it on his lap. "She wanted to visit her uncle, aunt, and cousins."
"You speak as though you blame me for her departure," said Philip in a somewhat louder voice.
"And so I do. What did you tell her, Philip? Darcy said she looked upset when she left."
"I told her nothing. I did ask Anne to warn her of the possibility that you would not want to court her any longer. Perhaps she took your sudden disappearance in that way."
Walter sat down and raised a hand to his forehead. "I went to get her father's consent."
Philip knew better than to bring up the matter of his disapproval again, and found silence the safest response.
Walter went on, however. "I do not expect to hear your congratulations, and your silence is better than your protests. However, you must speak now and tell me why you chose to send Miss Bennet a lie that so naturally would upset her!"
"I thought it right to prepare her, Walter. You know me too well to think that I did it out of unkindness."
"You left so suddenly, writing to me only that you had something to attend to, and that you would return soon. I knew that Miss Bennet would be confused, and as I could think of no other explanation for your impulsive actions, I asked her close friend to warn her of my suspicions. None of it was bred from any ill feeling, Walter."
"Forgive me," Walter sighed. "It was unfair of me to conclude that you were intentionally interfering."
"No, it is my place to apologize. You must know that I am very fond of Miss Bennet -- very fond indeed. And I do not deny that she has a very admirable sister; in fact, I understand that she has two very admirable sisters. I voiced my misgivings only out of my concern for you. Most people are not as understanding as you and I, or Mr. Darcy, especially as regards a clergyman. I feared that your connection with the youngest Bennet sister could harm your future."
"And your concern is a just one," said Walter, "though I think that the respectability of Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Bingley must atone for the foolishness of the youngest."
"Walter, I know how much you love Miss Bennet, and I wish you every happiness. No one acquainted with either you or Miss Bennet could criticize you. I have been wrong, and I confess it."
Walter felt the need to lighten their conversation and said with a smile, "I understand that you have become engaged to Miss de Bourgh."
"Yes," Philip replied. Walter wanted to laugh as he watched his brother blush for the first time.
"Then you shall have good company when I leave you alone again."
"I am going to London."
"The Gardiners live at Gracechurch Street."
Jude sat quietly, his dark eyes locked on the delicate beauty and grace of Georgiana. She was at the pianoforte performing the song he had written out for her. After daily practice, she had managed to capture the elusive style of the piece.
When she finished, she looked up for his approval and found it in his warm smile. Jude clapped and joined her at the instrument, laying another piece of music before her. "This is a duet I thought we might attempt," he explained.
"I am unfamiliar with it," said Georgiana, looking it over briefly.
"That is because I wrote it. Now, we shall both play -- there is no need to worry; it is easy to sight read -- and I shall do the words."
"But there are no words!"
"Not written. Are you ready?"
As they finished the first line together, Georgiana was already impressed by the simple beauty of the little composition. Jude began singing on the second line; his words described nature and summer, and she took no notice at first of the occasional "my love."
She heard him sing her name, though, and her thoughts sorted themselves in an amazing crescendo of realization. His song was about her! Could he be aware of how much she was blushing as they accompanied each other? Georgiana watched their hands as they moved together over the keys.
When the song was finished, she shyly let her eyes wander up to his, and found them already searching her face for a response. She caught her breath as she felt his hand cover hers, and they both jumped in surprise as an E-flat interrupted the silence.
Their laughter was relaxing and Jude lifted both of her hands from the instrument to hold them. "I love you," Jude told her, still holding her in his steady gaze.
Georgiana felt she could never contain the joy that was flooding so rapidly into her. And indeed, she could not. She was unable to respond as tears slipped down her laughing face. Jude smiled and released one of her hands to offer his handkerchief.
"I shall be bold and continue," he said as she dried her eyes. "Will you marry me, Georgiana?"
She managed a nod as the happy tears welled up again. He took the handkerchief from her gently and wiped her tears himself, then turned each of her hands to kiss her palms. "I shall go and speak to your brother," he said softly. When he left, Georgiana could only stare in happy amazement at the music he had written for her.
Charles and Jane Bingley sat reading together at Netherfield when a letter was brought in to them. "It is from Kitty," Charles declared with his customary wide smile. "Shall I read it aloud?"
"Certainly, dear," said Jane, closing her book.
Charles read aloud the following:
My dear brother and sister,
Since my last letter to you, I have left Pemberley with the Gardiners to visit Gracechurch Street. My friends were, I think, especially sorry to see me go, but under the circumstances I had no choice. Your sister Caroline was kind enough to bring my foolishness to my attention, as regarded Mr. Vye, and... but I shall say no more! I am quiet and peaceful here in town, though the solitude was initially hard to accept. I do have the pleasure of informing you that everyone at Pemberley was well when I left; we were such a merry party, I was exceedingly sorry to leave. I hope to see you both again soon, and remain, as always, your Kitty.
Charles and Jane each pondered in silence what could have made Kitty leave Pemberley when Walter Vye had only just been in Hertfordshire asking for her hand! They each had a very good idea, but each was rather reluctant to mention it -- a common problem with them when unpleasant matters had to be discussed.
At last, Jane cleared her throat and approached the problem carefully. "It sounds as though she did not want to leave."
"Yes," Charles agreed with equal care. He cleared his throat. "I wonder... ah, I wonder what she meant about Caroline bringing her foolishness to her attention?"
"I have no idea," said Jane. "Perhaps Caroline was misinformed about something concerning Walter Vye?"
"Misinformed! Yes, she must have been mistaken about something. Excellent notion, my dear."
"Do you know, I will be in great need of Caroline in a short time," said Jane, resting a hand gently on her swollen belly.
Charles smiled at her. "True, very true. I shall send for her immediately."
"Oh! How wonderful for Jane and Charles!" exclaimed Elizabeth, holding her letter out to her husband. Darcy took it, and Elizabeth turned to Caroline. "Does your letter contain the same happy news?" she asked.
"Yes," replied Caroline. "Such happy news indeed! In fact, they ask me to come to Netherfield as soon as I am able, that I might be of assistance to dear Jane. Charles writes that no one could be of as much use to Jane as I!"
Elizabeth cast a secret glance to Darcy, but he was still reading the letter, and missed it entirely.
"I am so glad for Charles," said Anne shyly.
"Caroline, perhaps you should leave for Netherfield today," Elizabeth suggested. "You might want to put it off until tomorrow, however..."
"No! I think I should leave today, most certainly. I had no idea how much I mean to Jane. I shall again manage the household affairs at Netherfield -- what a delightful thought!"
"Georgiana, you are very quiet," Darcy remarked, finishing the letter and laying it aside. He gave her a little wink and continued, "I know how excited this letter finds you."
She blushed, and Jude concentrated on cutting his ham. "Yes indeed," she said. "I am very happy for Charles."
"Georgiana, I have just remembered that I meant to ask you about something. Would you be so good as to come to my study with me when we are done here?"
Georgiana followed her brother to his study and stood looking at the ground as he closed the door and turned to face her. "I understand," he began, lifting her chin with one finger, "that you have some news for me." He clasped his hands behind his back and smiled at her.
She gave only a small nod in reply.
"Well?" he prompted her.
"I... that is, Mr. Blythe..." Her cheeks turned a deep shade of red and she looked down again, studying the pattern on the rug. Hearing no response from him, she realized that he expected her to continue. "Mr. Blythe proposed to me, and I accepted."
"Lady Georgiana Blythe."
She brought her head up at last, revealing the broadest smile he had ever seen on her. "Oh, Fitzwilliam!" she breathed, throwing her arms around him.
He laughed and returned her embrace. "Congratulations, little sister."
"Kitty, dearest," said Mrs. Gardiner, knocking on her niece's door, "you have a visitor."
"Who is it, Aunt?" Kitty opened the door and patted her hair.
"I do not know. He asked to see you specifically, so I assumed he was a good friend."
"Do I look presentable?"
"Except for the green and purple spots on your nose, yes, dear."
Kitty grinned and went to find her guest. Smoothing her dress, she opened the door of the sitting room, and instantly felt her heart leap into her throat. "Walter," she said softly. She closed the door without saying another word, and stood simply looking at him.
Walter left his chair and came to stand before her. "Why did you leave Pemberley?" he asked as he took one of her hands.
"Why did you follow me?"
"Well, when I returned from Hertfordshire only to find you gone," he said, allowing his words to trail off and watching for their effect. He was not disappointed.
"Hertfordshire?" she repeated. "That is where you went?"
"I could not expect to marry you without first getting your father's permission."
Her face softened into a happy smile as the truth dawned on her. "I thought -- oh, how stupid of me!"
"What?" he asked, though he already knew the answer.
"I thought you no longer wanted to marry me, because of my sister. And then when you left so suddenly... I was so wrong to doubt you!"
Walter took her other hand and pulled her closer to him. "It is no matter. I know that you were advised to be prepared for such a circumstance."
"Oh, please, you must not blame Anne!"
"Anne? No, not at all. I blame no one. It was all a misunderstanding. And if you will allow me to, Mousie, I shall take you back to Pemberley and everything will be as it was before."
"Oh, dear," she said, casting down her eyes.
"What is the matter?" he asked anxiously.
She looked back up at him and smiled. "I was so looking forward to being escorted back by Jude."
The corners of his mouth curved up a little. "Very well, I shall leave you now. Pray, where is my hat?" He released her hands and began looking around.
"Not so hasty, sir." Kitty wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
"Hmmm," he said. "I hope your Jude made other plans with Miss Darcy."
"I have no doubt of it," she laughed as Walter lowered his head for a longer kiss.
By the arrival of autumn, Kitty Vye was happily settled at the Lockswirth Parsonage, where she and her husband maintained a steady, close friendship with the Darcys.
Anne Vye was the mistress of the great estate Ridgefield, where she was tutored daily on the pianoforte, and later pronounced by her mother to be "a true proficient."
Georgiana Blythe lived with her husband's family, all of whom she found just as amiable and kind as he was. She and Jude filled the house with music, finding particular enjoyment in a little duet, which they saved for when they were alone.
Mr. Darcy was informed by his wife that by the following summer, he would be the proud father of a little "big monster" or "beautiful princess."
Caroline Bingley made herself generally useful and industrious around Netherfield for the next several months. She then returned to London, where she met -- and was greatly improved by -- the young attorney Arthur Vye, of Gracechurch Street.
Every following summer found this merry group gathered again at Pemberley, where they could recall one particular summer with great fondness and amusement. They had only to wait for the little Mr. and Miss Darcys, Vyes, Blythes, Gardiners, and Bingleys to grow up before they could scheme their way through another matchmaking summer.
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