Lord Hampton walked through the house looking for his host. Hearing the sound of laughter coming from the music room he hurried there to talk to Darcy.
As he entered the room he was greeted by the sight of Darcy kissing his wife ardently, with a small smile he withdrew thinking how different it was between William and Elizabeth and himself and Caroline. His wife would never think of kissing anywhere but the bed chamber and often not even there, whereas here at Pemberley he caught Darcy and Eliza showing such overt signs of their love for each other any time and any place. He had been aware that they never seemed to pass each other without touching or kissing.
He had enjoyed his stay here at Pemberley with his cousin as always. He had come for this visit while Caroline went to Italy with her widowed sister to visit Count Ricotti. The visit was expected to produce an engagement between Louisa and the Count. They had quickly retreated however when they found that the Count had a fianc»e there in Rome.
He had not been surprised as Elizabeth seemed to be at Louisa's pursuit of Ricotti.
Elizabeth expressed shock that the recently widowed Mrs. Hurst should be pursuing another drunken fool, but he assured her that a drunk such as Mr. Hurst was would be unthinkable while one with a title was perfectly acceptable to the Bingley sisters, as it was to most of the ton.
He stepped back into the music room to find the Darcy's still holding each other while talking quietly and thought to himself how he envied his cousin his loving, giving, witty, intelligent wife who was not impressed by money or position but by character and self respect.
Clearing his throat to make them aware of his presence he told them that he would be leaving the next day home
Darcy interrupted him to inquire if they had offended him in some way to make him cut his visit so short.
"No, not at all he laughed, but Caroline and Louisa are to return next week and since all their hopes were dashed in Italy they would both be a foul mood and he certainly did not want to impose them on either them or Jane and Charles, so he thought it best to go back to London to try to keep them there.
"Jane and Charles will be most disappointed to see you go, replied Elizabeth, you have had only three days together."
His lordship left them saying that he had to talk to the Bingley's and let them know his plans.
Jane was shocked at the change in plans and asked why he did not ask them to come to Derbyshire, but he declined saying that Caroline's resentment of Elizabeth was bad enough in normal times but with the collapse of her plans her acid tongue would be working overtime, and he did not wish to subject Lizzie to it.
"She still resents your sister for taking my cousin from her, though he never had any feeling for her she still can not admit that," he said sadly.
"Oh James, I am sure Caroline loves you," cried Jane.
"Dear Jane, how I wish more people had your goodness, he sighed but surely you know that neither Caroline or Louisa has ever loved anyone in their entire sad lives."
"Caroline never really loved William but was in love with the thought of being married to the most sought after man in England and being the Mistress of Pemberley."
So saying he kissed her cheek and departed.
Lady Hampton closed the door to her sisters room and moved down the stairs to the morning room where her sister-in-law Jane was waiting.
Why did Jane have to pick this morning to come calling, she thought, Louisa was still in a bad way after their disastrous trip to Italy and the last thing in the world she needed was the overly sweet wife of her brother to contend with, not to mention that her presence in town also meant that her sister and Mr. Darcy were back for the season also.
As she approached the room she heard her husband ask Jane how long she had been waiting for Caroline, and ask her to be seated and talk to him until his wife could leave her sister long enough to put in an appearance, he asked about the Darcy's and was told that they had gone to the Gardiners for a visit.
"Ah the Gardiner's he said two of the most pleasant intelligent people of my acquaintance, I understand perfectly why they would be the first people Darcy would like to see."
What a joke it would be, she thought to sit here in the ante-room for a few minutes and eavesdrop on James and Jane, she would enjoy listening to the insipid sweetness of Mrs. Bingley and hear how her husband coped with it.
"I am sure she will be here directly, the maid said she would come down as soon as Louisa was settled, I am so sorry that Louisa is still feeling so badly."
"What she need is to get out and about and show all that she has not let this scoundrel bother her, but she prefers to keep to her room to sulk," replied James.
"I am sure she is in great pain, to love someone and then find out that he has no feeling for you what so ever is devastating, sighed Jane.
"Love, snorted his lordship, Louisa like her sister was in love with the thought of becoming a Countess, the man was of no importance only the title."
"Oh James, I wish you would not speak so, I am sure Caroline loves you," replied Jane.
"Jane, Jane, dear sweet Jane, always seeing the best in everyone even when there is none there. I can assure you that neither Caroline or Louisa have ever loved anyone, not even their children," said Sir James sadly.
"Oh, brother I am sure you are mistaken every mother loves her children I am sure the sisters love theirs, just because they do not want them about does not mean that they have no feeling for them."
" I have always envied you and Elizabeth your closeness as a family, the way your children dine with you and you take a hand in teaching them their table manner. The time you spend reading together and enjoying music as a family, there is a warmth and a closeness in your two family's that is sadly missing in ours and the Hurst's."
"That is the way we were raised there was always music and reading, and games to no end in our home, we had a very happy childhood. Elizabeth and I had a governess but my mother dismissed her when Mary was eight saying that we were too prissy and were not enjoying our childhood at all, unfortunately it would have been better for Lydia and Kitty if they had been under the tutelage of Mrs. Baxter, they would have perhaps not been so wild and undisciplined."
"Your home sounds like a house filled with love and laughter as your own are now, how fortunate for your children that they have parents who enjoy their company, not a mother who cannot abide them."
"James I know that Caroline loves you and your children and that you love them too."
"I love my children very much but a man has his limits, Caroline still mourns the loss of Pemberley and will never get over her bitterness against your lovely sister for what she believes was stolen from her. Poor Caroline she blames all on Elizabeth, the fact that she is well loved by all our friends Caroline see as a betrayal of her. She cannot she that is her own bitterness and her vicious acid tongue that has driven people away from her. One can only stand so much vicious back stabbing before it occurs to you that if she is speaking thus to you of another she is doing the same to that person about you, but Caroline will never see that and neither unfortunately will Louisa."
"I will leave you now I must go to my club where I am to have a game with friends, goodbye Jane, it is always a pleasure to talk to you,". said his lordship with a smile and a kiss on her hand.
Caroline stumbled from the anteroom to the stairs where she thought she was going to be ill. As she stood on the step trying to get her breath and stop the roaring in her head she caught a footman and told him to tell Mrs. Bingley that she was unable to see her as she was feeling quite unwell.
As she stumbled to her bed Caroline began to weep, had she lost the love of her husband by her own actions. Was it true that friends were beginning to avoid them because of her sneering at all.
As she thought about it, it occurred to her that indeed there were fewer and fewer invitations every year, and her husband spent more time from home instead of here with her.
When they had first married they went to some do almost every evening and spent all their time together, they were so much in love and she had been sure that he was so enraptured with her that he would never cease to love her, but after listening to the conversation between her sister in land and James she feared that it was all gone.
How was she to recapture it?
First she thought she would have to get some rest, she had been spending so much time trying to console Louisa that she neglected her husband and her family, so that would have to be rectified first.
Of course she loved her children, how could James think otherwise, just because she could not stand the din when they were around did not mean that she did not want them. She had never understood how Darcy and her brother could cope with having their young ones always about asking questions and wanting stories and game. It seemed that her husband would like a little of this, but she could not think of that now she must rest.
Caroline lay on the bed her arm across her eyes, she knew that she must get some sleep but the words that she had heard between Jane and James from the Morning Room would give her no peace.
All she could think about was her husband saying that she blamed Elizabeth for all her unhappiness when Elizabeth was not her enemy but herself and Louisa were all the enemy either would ever need.
"They feed on each others maliciousness and resentments, each feeding the others malevolence and bitterness until no one can bear to be near them." her husband said, but Jane replied that they were both unhappy, that was all.
"They make their own unhappiness, they blame Elizabeth for marrying William both of them sure that if it were not for her he would have married Caroline and she would be mistress of all the Darcy Estates and everything would be well with both of them. They could never admit that Darcy merely tolerated them for Charles's sake."
"But, they were great friends when they came to Netherfield, I don't understand what happened after that."
'Darcy merely put up with them because of Charles, their fawning and acquiescence bored him to distraction. Then he met Elizabeth and he dared to argue with him, refused to dance with him and bested him at cards and chess and any other contest they indulged in and he was completely enchanted by her."
"When she refused his first disastrous proposal there at Rosings that Easter before they married, he could not believe it, he was completely undone, any woman who he had ever met would have accepted him before he had the words out of his mouth."
"Oh, I didn't know that you knew about that, said Jane in surprise.
"Oh yes, when he returned to town he was not the Darcy I had known all my life, he was angry and combative with everyone. Then one night he went to the theater with Georgiana, Charles, and the two sisters, and who should he see but you and Elizabeth right there in the next box. At the intermission they saw you come out of the box and go down while Elizabeth was accosted by Lord Braxton and handled him in a manner that was the talk of the town for weeks.
"My wife however was shocked that anyone should treat someone of Braxton's position in such a shoddy manner, I believe she put it and made her thoughts on the matter so evident to William that he gladly watched the remainder of the play in the box of Lord John and Lady Sophia just to escape Caroline's tirades. The fact that he had a clear view of your box was and extra incentive I believe and he could watch Elizabeth without her knowledge by sitting in the back of Sir John's box out of sight of any of you. Caroline's venomous reproaches and abuses of your sister while they were filing out and waiting for their carriages were almost most than he could bear and he bit his tongue to keep his silence.
The next day he escaped to Pemberley and when no one heard from him for nearly a month Fitzwilliam and I went to see what was wrong with him and found the house in a state. Mrs. Reynolds was worried sick, she said he had been drunk for most of the time he was there and cried for someone called Elizabeth.
In his drunken state he told us about his insulting proposal to your sister and her vehement refusal of his hand. No self respecting woman would have accepted him he cried when he put thing so wretchedly badly. I believe she said to him that his manners struck her by his arrogance and conceit, and a selfish disdain for the feelings and that she had not known him a month before she knew that he was the last man she would ever wish to marry.
What a blow that answer was to the infamous Darcy pride, but when he began to look at himself he saw that she was right in her assessment of him and that she was not a woman who could be bought with money or position, but would only marry a man who she could love and respect, which of course only made him love and want her the more. He saw himself as a mirror image of Lady Catherine, who he had always held in contempt for her treatment of others even those in her own family, and he vowed that he would change and become a kinder man, even though he had lost the only woman he could ever love. He also vowed that he would never marry if he could not have Elizabeth.
When he sobered up and returned to town with us he honestly tried but Caroline had learned that Elizabeth had been at Rosings at the same time as he and Fitzwilliam and proceeded to bring it up at their every meeting until he began to avoid all contact with her, and regretted greatly that he had asked all of them to Pemberley that summer.
However when he arrived there your sister and the Gardiner's were there and his world came back into place again."
Caroline began to cry softly, could it be true that William had asked Elizabeth to marry him and she had refused. The more she thought the more she had to face the fact that it must be true, she remembered that night at the theater and his subsequent trip to Pemberley and the way after a few times with her teasing he had began to go only to the club with Charles and take him to places she could not go , like Lord and Lady Matlock,
Lady Matlock disliked her intensely and would never invite her there unless it could not be avoided for some reason. He had avoided all contact with the Hursts and her as much as possible. It had to be true Elizabeth did not trap him, did not even pursue him but won his love because she dared to dislike the old Darcy. James was right about one other thing, no matter how insulting the proposal might have been she would have accepted it for she had had no self respect where being Mistress of Pemberley was concerned
Caroline rose from the bed and walked to the window. She could not sleep the room was stifling. Perhaps, she thought if I go for a walk in the garden it will clear my head.
She walked across the garden to a bench under a large tree, where she began to weep again. The words spoken by James followed her even here, it seemed she could not escape them.
Darcy had loved Eliza so much that after she refused him he vowed to change his prideful ways and try again to win her love. He had vowed to his cousins that if he could not marry Elizabeth Bennet he would never marry at all, but would leave it up to Georgiana to produce the heir to the Darcy estates.
This had been a great blow to Caroline and she felt as if she had been struck a great slap in the face, all her pretenses were shattered.
In spite of the denials by Louisa and herself she must now admit that the Darcy marriage was indeed a happy one, even more than her brother Charles's, if that was possible. What was it about these Bennet women that made men so devoted to them.
She recalled Darcy's words to her when she in desperation she had tried to convince him that marrying Elizabeth was a mistake
"She is the only woman I have met who saw the man and not the money or position."
"You know what it is, you heard it from the mouth of your own husband. They are loving, unselfish, caring, everything that Louisa and yourself have never been," she said aloud.
"James, James, what have I done to us," she wept. Again his words came back to her.
"Caroline and Louisa learned well from their mother. She was happy enough to marry Richard Bingley when he asked, as a shop keepers daughter she was elated to marry a man who owned his own business though at the time the business was small. Soon after the birth of Charles the business began to grow quickly as their reputation for beautiful, quality carriages spread about the land. By the time Charles was six they were becoming very wealthy and the money went to her head. She made friends with Lady Ester Wittington, who had ordered a carriage from them and found the family charming. With the help of Lady Wittington she put her daughters in the best schools for young gentlewomen, so that they could be taught to act like ladies of quality. Her ladyship convinced her that it would be better for the girls socially if they would move to town away from the influence of the small village people."
"She made Richard Bingley's life a living hell until he agreed and bought the house that Charles owns now. Soon she began to feel ashamed of her beginnings and her husband and taught her daughter to feel the same. Fortunately, Charles spent most of his time with his father and has the same happy disposition. She became arrogant and prideful, much as my cousin was before he met your sister, and Lady wittington became so disgusted with her she and she dropped her patronage."
"By that time though she was well known in the ton for her lavish parties, and she did not care a fig what happened to the lady who had been so kind to her. She had become great friends, or perhaps acquaintances would be a better word for it with Lady Mary Bellows, a beautiful, spiteful, scheming, selfish woman who had been recently widowed and was always short of money. In return for this friendship she started paying some of Lady Bellows' bills, hiding it from her husband. In return the lady promised her the thing she wanted most in the world, vouchers to Almacks for herself and her daughters. Each time her ladyship ran up a bill that her accountant refused to pay she applied to Mrs. Bingley promising that if she would just pay one more time she would get her the vouchers, and she of course paid at once, but Lady Bellows always had an excuse for failing to keep her promise."
"At a party one night Mrs. Bingley overheard Lady Mary laughing with friends about it. Mrs. Bingley confronted her ladyship and refused to part with another pence until she had the vouchers safely in her hands. Lady Bellows became exceedingly angry and informed her that she had no intention of taking a carriage makers family to Almacks, and becoming a laughing stock."
"Mrs. Bingley became very bitter and resentful, and I fear passed her vicious, vindictiveness on to her daughters. Though she still went about in society she soon became known for her acid tongue and few escaped it."
"She died before she could see her daughter accepted at the place she wanted to see more than anything in the world. Charles in the meantime had made friends with Fitzwilliam at Eton, and Darcy got them the vouchers they so desired. She thought that money could buy her anything, but though they made her welcome in their homes and were all to happy to attend the grand parties she was so fond of giving, she was never really accepted and she died still an outsider."
"I get so angry with Caroline and Louisa when they sneer at people like your aunt and uncle because he is in trade. The Gardiners are two of the finest people I have ever had the privilege to know, and I understand why Darcy is so fond of them and respects them so much. Caroline became almost hysterical when she learned that you uncle had been offered a title twice, and she still cannot understand why he refused them. She cannot understand that a man can like being in business and does not wish to become one of the idle aristocracy. She is convinced that he is responsible for Darcys refusing one too, even though the Darcys have been doing so for three hundred years or more. I am sure that she would be shocked indeed if she knew how much of the money she spends so freely is from ventures undertaken with Edward Gardiner. Your Uncle is the most cany businessman I have ever had the honor to know."
"It was very vexing to her to find out that his relatives, and so therefore you mothers too, were a part of the group that drew up the Magna Carta and forced it on King John. To make matters even worse Aunt Rachel informed her some of your mother's ancestors had sat on the privy council, of course Caroline thinks that Lady Matlock tell these thinks only to vex her."
James was right, why couldn't she feel some pride in her sister in law's background, why didn't she feel some pride in the fact that Jane's family was not so low on the social scale as they had thought when they first went to Netherfield.
She knew the answer to that, because it would remove her reason for feeling superior to the Bennets and she wanted that, indeed, she needed that.
She recalled another dinner party when Lady Matlock had watched her carefully to gauge her reactions, while saying to Elizabeth, "My dear, why have you been so shy and secretive about you ancestry. You told me that your forefathers had been sailing men, is this not true."
Caroline had snorted and whispered loudly enough to Louisa for others to hear, "Pirates, no doubt."
Lady Matlock had continued, "Being descended from one of England's greatest naval heroes, Sir John Hawkins, is certainly something to be proud of. I believe your great, great, great, great, great, grandmother was his daughter, was she not, and Longbourn Estates was a part of her dowry. True, she married the younger son of Sir Richard Bennet, the Earl of Herdford, if my information is correct. I believe the records show that he was a sailing man too and was killed at sea, leaving her with four sons Your people continued to ply the seas until your great grandfather, who decided that he did not like being seasick and stayed at home to manage the estate. His son and their sons followed his example and none of them went to sea."
Jane admitted the truth of what Lady Matlock had said, while Elizabeth added that since Richard was the younger son people soon forgot about him as they are prone to do even now, since only the eldest son is thought to be the only one of consequence.
Caroline knew now that she should have taken pride in this but instead she was even more resentful, and tried, with Louisa, to dismiss it saying that Lady Matlock only said such things because she took such delight in seeing their consternation and therefore reminding them that they were still just a carriage-maker's daughters, while the Bennets had a distinguished history no matter what their circumstances might be now.
James is right, what a vicious pair we have become, we do make our own unhappiness. Well it must stop. Louisa will have to stop pouting and go about in society, she must return to her own house, she is too much of a disruptive element here.
I must have a talk with James tonight, he must listen to me and understand that I intend to become a changed woman and make amends to those I have hurt in the past.
Caroline carefully checked herself in the mirror before going down to dinner. It had been a dreadful day, she had a terrible scene with Louisa but it had to be done. James was right it was time she quit sulking in her room and started going about in society again showing all that the fiasco with the Count was of no consequence. Louisa refused to believe her when she told her about Darcy's disastrous proposal to Miss Bennet at Rosings and the consequences that had followed it. She was sure that if any woman refused a proposal of marriage he certainly would not pursue her any further and would certainly not put himself in a position to be refused again. Even when she had pointed out the facts to her she had still persisted in her belief that Eliza had to have used wiles and she knew not what else to trap him.
Caroline could scarce believe it herself, but too many things confirmed it and she had to admit at last that they truly loved each other. James was correct when he said that anyone could plainly see it in the way they looked at each other, the soft secret smiles they exchanged and their preference for each others company above all others. Darcy, and Charles too for that matter spent very little time at their clubs, preferring the company of their families.
As she walked into the dining room she saw her husband there impatiently waiting for her. This was another change she must make, she knew how it upset him that she was always late.
What would he think if he knew that only this morning after a sleepless night she had vowed that she was going to become a changed woman and try to control her acid tongue and show kindness to others as she had never done before.
The meal progressed silently as always and as James was about to leave she asked him to stay for a few minutes so that they could talk.
"I hope this is not going to take long, he replied, I want to get to my club.
Caroline did not know how to start but she plunged ahead saying, "are you in love with Elizabeth Darcy too'"
He snapped his head back saying with a snort, "How in the world did you ever get such an idea as that."
"I heard your conversation with Jane this morning, you said that you envied Charles and Darcy their wives, you cannot deny this."
"You were indulging in your little habit of eavesdropping weren't you, well, I hope you got and earful. In answer to your question though, I love Elizabeth, and Jane as well as Darcy and Charles but I am not in love with them, what a ridiculous idea".
With that he rose and prepared to leave in an angry mood.
"Please, James, stay for a short time longer I have to say this now while I still have the courage. Everything you said yesterday morning was perfectly true I have been my own worst enemy. My bitterness and vindictiveness have alienated many of our friends and I shall try to make amends. You are wrong when you say that I do not love our children, I do love them both, very dearly, it is just that I do not know how to show it. I did not grow up in a house where we hugged and kissed like the Bennet sisters did and such over showing of love is strange to me but I shall try to do better in the future if you give me the chance. I do love you too, James, so very dearly. Tomorrow I shall go to speak to Elizabeth and try to make amends for my past offenses."
As she started to cry softly her husband came to her and pulling her up from her chair he took her in his arms saying, "I shall do all I can to help you, perhaps I don't have to go to my club tonight after all."
Caroline leaned back in her carriage and let out a sigh of relief as she closed her eyes remembering this day and the night before.
James had not gone to his club, but had stayed home with her where they talked far into the night. It had been far too long since they had been intimate but she had made sure that last night was one that he would remember and bring him back to her bed often as he had when they were first married
She had told him things about her childhood and her mother that she herself had forgotten. She had such a happy childhood in the small village where she was born but she had erased those days from her mind at her mother's command. She and Louisa had so many friends there and played joyfully each and every day, getting dirty and running, yelling, laughing, all the things a truly happy child does unchecked.
Then when she was about twelve things began to change, her fathers business grew by leaps and bounds and the money poured in. Her mother began to think that they were to good for the children they had always known.
After she met her ladyship and became friends all contact with the village children ceased and her mother soon convinced her father that they must move to London where her daughters could go to the best schools and become a part of the ton. She somehow thought that money was all she needed to become a social leader, but the aristocracy protected themselves from the common tradesmen in very subtle ways, accepting them when they wished and excluding them when they did not wish.
This afternoon she had gone to the Darcy townhouse to speak to Elizabeth and confess to her the things she had promised to James.
It had been a great help to have Jane there, and she did not have to make two exhausting calls. Jane's sweetness, which she and Louisa found so often in the past a source of laughter between themselves had helped to soften the pain of what she told the sisters. Never again would she laugh and sneer at goodness.
Eliza had at first been a great deal skeptical of her but by the time the call was over she seemed to have softened and indeed accepted her abject apologies.
The sisters had even laughed when she confessed to having hired Mrs. Harris as a housekeeper after the Darcy's dismissed her. She had of course hired her to learn of the Darcy's married life and had been properly shocked when Mrs. Harris told her of their love making at any hour of the day and in any room.
Mrs Harris had been most abusive of her former mistress, blaming her for corrupting the man who had always been the epitome of dignity and decorum, greeting him with shocking displays, rushing into his arms and kissing him no matter what servant was about.
She had soon dismissed the lady herself when she did not find anything in what she told to be pleasing to herself. Charles had been very angry with her for bringing Mrs. Harris into the house and she had used that as an excuse for dismissing her after only a few weeks.
She remembered how angry she had been when she learned that the first three days the Darcy's had been in town they had breakfast in their bedroom and did not come down until at least ten o'clock and that they had breakfasted upstairs often. This meant of course that Darcy was very satisfied with his bride and that was not what she wanted to hear.
Jane had been most sympathetic when Caroline told them about her mother. Jane felt pity for the mother-in-law whom she had never had a chance to meet saying, "How unhappy she must have been, what a shame she could not have seen that her daughters had taken their place in the society that she had been denied."
Elizabeth had agreed and remarked that they both had mothers who were a source of consternation to them but at least her own mother would die a happy woman, having seen her daughters marry two such wonderful men, emphasizing the two very distinctly., at which they had all laughed.
All in all it had been a satisfying call, though she and Elizabeth would never, she thought, be close friends they would at least be friendly acquaintances.
"James will be pleased," she said to herself with a small smile. "Oh James, James I do love you so , I have not known myself how very much until now."
She hoped that Louisa would follow her lead and make her peace with the Darcy's when she told her how wonderful it felt to rid herself of the load of unfounded hate she had so stupidly been carrying around all these years.
I do not have time to worry about my sister now she thought, I have years of neglect of my children to make up for before I can be truly cleansed.
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