Darcy was most happy at the arrival of his Aunt and Uncle, Lord and Lady Matlock.
Taking his aunt aside he asked her if she would act as hostess for him and Georgiana on the morrow. He had a message from one of his tenants who wished to see him to discuss a matter of the fall harvest.
He told her that he wanted to take Georgiana with him and that he also wished to take some people who were visiting in the area. He did not want the Bingley sisters to know of his plans so he asked his aunt and uncle to stand in for him and his sister and to tell the rest of the guests only that he and Georgiana had to go to the Wilsons and did not know when they would return as he also planned to take a picnic lunch if the Gardiner's and their niece would go with them.
Lady Matlock readily agreed, curious about the visitors who brought such a happy look to her nephews face.
Darcy sent a note to Lambton to ask the Gardiners and Elizabeth to join him and his sister for an outing and a picnic the next day and received an answer in the affirmative raising his spirits and giving his guest great pleasure with his hospitality all day. He even felt more tolerant of Bingley's sisters and showed them every courtesy.
"You see Caroline, you have nothing to worry about,I told you that Mr Darcy felt nothing for Miss Bennet, he has forgotten her completly and showers you with every attention. I think he is sorry for being so abrupt with you last night, but for heavens sake whatever you do do not mention her name in his presence," Louisa admonished her sister.
"I agree, he has been so dear and attentive all day, I have been foolish, haven't I Louisa,"Caroline replied.
Lady Matlock watched her nephew with great interest. Who was the visitor who put such a smile on William's face and a glow in his eyes, she must meet this young woman. Of one thing she was certain, it was not Caroline Bingley, who had been preening herself all day, while chasing Darcy so blatantly that it was disgusting to those who watched and listened to her fawning.
Lady Matlock asked Darcy for a small talk after his guests had retired and he agreed for he wanted to talk to his favorite aunt.
"Well, William, who is this young woman who has raised your spirits so greatly, I should dearly like to meet her." her ladyship said with a smile.
"You shall meet her, aunt, I assure you, Darcy replied,"She is Miss Elizabeth Bennet from Hertfordshire, I met her last fall when I visited Bingley at his rented estate there," he said as he poured a glass of sherry for his aunt.
"A country girl, said Lady Rebecca, "you must be on your guard Darcy, there are many females looking for a husband with your wealth and position. You would be quite a catch for a mere country lass. Be sure that she is not a fortune hunter before you do something you might regret for the rest of your life."
Darcy gave a wry laugh, "not this country girl, Aunt, she has already refused my hand once and---
"Refused your hand, I do not believe it Darcy, what kind of woman would refuse the most eligible man in the kingdom, surely you jest dear," gasped Rebecca.
"A woman of intelligence and character, who would not marry even, a Duke if she did not love and respect him," said Darcy with a soft sigh.
"Do not put any blame on Elizabeth, aunt. I brought it on myself, I do not blame her an iota, I was the most arrogant, conceited fool possible. I insulted her and her family and expected her to be grateful, but she let me know in no uncertain terms what she thought of me. I still cannot believe what I said to her. I cannot blame her for believing everything Wickham told her, my every act confirmed all his lies and accusations. To make matters even worse I interfered with matters between her dear sister and Charles. I had no right to do so But I was so arrogant that I thought I knew what was best, what a foolish man I have been.
I only hope that I can prove to her that I am a changed man and worthy of her respect and if I am most fortunate perhaps someday even her love."
"William, William, slow down, tell me what that scoundrel Wickham has to do with all this and what did you say to her that was so terrible." Aunt Rebecca laughed.
Darcy proceeded to tell his aunt all about his time at Netherfield and the visit to Rosings including the disaster of a proposal.
"Oh dear, exclaimed her ladyship with a laugh, I am sorry dear but you do seem to get your tongue tied into knots at times and say the most ridiculous things, such a dreadful proposal, no self respecting woman would say yes to it. There are plenty, however, who would --including one upstairs now, as a matter of fact--I can think of none other who would have refused you. I really must meet this young lady now."
"Edward met her and approved of her highly, Darcy told her, they became quite good friends."
"Is this the young woman of whom he spoke so highly, the one who stood up to your Aunt Catherine, Oh Darcy I want to meet her very much, any young woman who is not daunted by Catherine DeBourgh is worth knowing I assure you, Lady Matlock said gleefully.
"Darcy laughed, "The very one, Aunt really did not know how to handle Elizabeth, she has never met any one like her before, except you my dear Aunt."
The Gardiners have accepted my invitation for tomorrow and I thank you so much aunt for making it possible to have a chance to prove myself to the woman I love," Darcy said as he kissed his aunt on the cheek.
"Gardiner---Gardiner, that name is very familiar. where do they live, I wonder if she is the same Mrs. Gardiner who works with Lady Sophia in her many projects for the poor. They live in Cheapside. I wonder if it can be the same one, Sophia is very fond of her, she say's she has a beautiful home and the committee likes very much to meet there. She says they are two of the dearest people she knows.
"I believe they might be the ones of whom you speak, Darcy said with a grin, they do indeed live in Cheapside and are wonderful intelligent and amiable people."
Caroline carefully checked her appearance from every angle in the mirror.
"Thank you Amanda, you have done very well," she said to her maid as she left the room.
Meeting her sister in the hall she was delighted when Louisa complimented her on her attire and her hairdo.
"I am sure Mr Darcy will be well pleased with what he see's Caroline, you look stunning this morning. You will see after this day is over he will have no time or inclination for Miss Eliza Bennet or her relations, Louisa said with a smile.
"Thank you sister dear, I hope you are correct in your assumption but after yesterday I do believe you might be right. I was so happy with the attention he showed me yesterday, even though he said nothing I am sure that you are right, he very much regretted his outburst of the night before and tried in every way to make amends. I am making progress toward becoming mistress of this magnificent estate and I could not be happier," Caroline answered
As they entered the breakfast room Caroline smiled broadly in anticipation but her face soon fell as the only other person there was Lady Matlock.
"Well, I had about given up on you two, I was about to ask Mrs. Reynolds to have the breakfast things cleared away, she said.
"Where are Mr Darcy and Georgiana, Caroline asked sharply, I cannot believe that he would leave the room before all of his guests are served, and Georgiana she is always here when we come down, playing the little hostess."
Good heavens, thought Lady Matlock these women are dressed as if they were going to a command performance instead of just a country breakfast, whatever are they thinking of, I know they are always overdressed and over bejeweled, but this is ridiculous.
She however answered Caroline's question with only a hint of a smile, even though she felt like laughing aloud at the pretensions of these two.
"Fitzwilliam and Georgiana left over two hours ago to visit one of the tenants."
"He left without informing anyone," Louisa asked, "and why did Georgiana go with him, I would think he would have left her here to act as hostess for his guests."
"He informed me, said her ladyship, "and he asked me to act as hostess in their stead. There is a new baby in the house and Georgiana wished to see him. You know how Darcy is about Georgiana, whatever he can do to make her happy he will."
"I hope they will not be long," Caroline muttered, "I wanted to talk to him, I wanted him to show me the orangery. I don't see why he should put a mere tenant before his invited guests, this is not like him at all."
"Mrs. Reynolds had entered the room just before Caroline's remark and said, "The master is the best landlord in the land and he always attends to his tenants needs and wishes as soon as may be. If a tenant sends him a message he is quick to attend to it."
"Really, Mrs. Reynolds, this is a private conversation between Lady Matlock and myself and I would prefer it if you do not interfer," Caroline snapped.
"Well, Mrs. Reynolds, speaking for myself, I am most happy to hear such fine praise for your master from you, I know how much Darcy values you and your opinions," Lady Matlock said with a smile for the housekeeper.
Did you come to have the breakfast cleared away, how very good of you to anticipate me, I am sure that Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley will be finished soon and it is getting late, my heavens it is 10:30.
"Did Mr Darcy tell you when he expected to be back, he told me that he thought it might be a little late and that we should amuse ourselves until he and Georgiana return."
"He told me much the same, said Mrs. Reynolds, I am to ask you to approve the menu for today though," and she handed it to her ladyship.
Caroline attempted to take the paper from the housekeeper but Lady Matlock was too quick for her and started to peruse it telling Mrs. Reynolds that she was well pleased with all she saw.
"I am sure Mr Darcy would like to have my opinion too," Caroline put in.
"He told me that her ladyship was in charge while he was gone and to ask her about anything I needed, Mrs. Reynolds told her as she left the room.
"She is entirely too impertinent, Caroline growled, Mr Darcy spoils his servants, she should be put in her place and his wife, when he marries will have to take care of that at once."
She reddened immediately and was silenced by the look given to her by Lady Matlock.
"Darcy has the best staff I know of, Rebecca Matlock said coldly and it is because he treats them with fairness and respect and will expect his wife to do the same. Mrs. Reynolds has known him since he was four years old and he loves and trusts her completely and she feels the same for him."
"I am sure that Caroline meant no disrespect, Louisa interjected, she is well aware of the feelings Mr Darcy has for his servants, especially Mrs. Reynolds. You must forgive her your ladyship, it is just that she is so disappointed that the Darcy left without informing us."
"The breakfast can be cleared, Caroline sulked, I have no appetite anyway.
"Perhaps, we could surprise Mr Darcy and Georgiana and go to the farm too," Louisa remarked.
"I think not, said Lady Matlock, he planned to take some friends who are visiting in town, and they are to have a picnic before they return, so it might be difficult to find them for I don't know where they were going after they left the farm."
She smiled at Mrs. Reynolds who had reentered the room, as they both noticed how white Caroline Bingley turned and how she grasped the back of the chair until her knuckles turned white to match her face.
"Do you know who they are," she snapped at Mrs. Reynolds.
"Why yes, I believe they are the same people who were here for dinner the night before last, the master enjoyed their company so much, he wished to spend more time with them and when Mr Wilson sent him the message that he wished to see him on a matter of great importance he seized the opportunity to take them with him to the farm and on a picnic afterward."
From the look on Miss Bingleys face face Mrs. Reynolds knew that she had better beat a hasty retreat before Caroline got her power of speech back for she could see that she was too upset to speak at the moment, her face had gone from white to red and she looked like she was about to explode at any moment, Mrs. Reynolds recalled seeing Lady DeBourgh with the same look. Bidding them good day Mrs. Reynolds quickly left the room.
"Did you hear what she said, Louisa, Caroline hissed, he is with Miss Eliza Bennet and her Cheapside relations, he is spending the day with her Louisa, with that country nobody, with Elizabeth Bennet."
Lady Matlock, you must do something before your nephew does something foolish, he is spending the entire day with this country nobody, she will try to trap him, I know she will, she wants to be mistress of Pemberley."
"I know who he is with, Lady Matlock replied, he told me all about it last night. What do you mean she is a country nobody, it is not as if her father is in trade, he is a gentleman as is Darcy." With that she left the room leaving Caroline even more angry.
"Did you hear what she said to me, Louisa, she had to remind me that our father was a tradesman, when will we ever get out from under his shadow. Caroline wept.
Caroline rushed into her room weeping. "Get out," she screamed at her maid. Amanda scurried out of the door as quickly as possible, but as she went she saw her mistress throw herself on the bed face down and begin to pound the pillows with clenched fists sobbing "I hate them, I hate them both. I hate Lady Rebecca Matlock almost as much as I hate Elizabeth Bennet.
She shall not have him, I will not allow it, he is mine, mine mine. I shall be mistress of Pemberley, I will not give way, I will not let her have him, no,no, no, she shall not.
Lady Matlock walked into the den where her husband was reading his paper.
"My love, she sighed I have made a great pickle of things, after promising Darcy that I would not let the sisters know where he was I blurt it out and start a fire storm of great proportions,. Miss Bingley is in a rage."
"My dear Rebecca, his lordship answered, this does not sound like you in the near 50 years that I have known you I have never known you to betray a confidence. Calm down my dear and tell me what happened."
"When she found that Darcy and Georgiana had gone to the farm she took it into her head to take her carriage and follow after him. I knew that she would not rest until she found them and spoiled the outing for everyone. I told her that he had taken the visitors from Lambton with him and did not expect them to return for some time.
Caroline became enraged, screaming abuses at Miss Bennet until her sister took her from the room.
I fear Darcy will be upset with me."
"My dear Rebecca, what else could you do, from what I have seen of Miss Bingley in her pursuit of William she would take Mr Johnson and his hounds if need be in able to track down her prey. No my dear William will understand, you will see. Now come along and talk to me about what we shall to to pass the time until the Darcy's return.
As they wound their way to Lambton Darcy sat looking out the window of the carriage, the dream that he had dreamed last night passing again through his mind.
He dreamed that he and Elizabeth were alone on the hill under the trees where he planned to have the picnic today.He held her in his arms and kissed her ardently. Taking the combs from her hair he let it fall in a cascade of black curls down her back before burying his face in the sweet smell of it, the scent was so real it filled his senses. She looked at him her beautiful dark eyes glowing and wrapped her arms around his neck and pulled his head to hers kissing him with the same ardor as his. There under the trees they made love , hungry passionate love.
Darcy awakened drenched with sweat, his bed also soaked with it. He rose and went to the window to cool off, but her face was there in the glass, smiling that smile that she had smiled when she stood beside Georgiana to turn the pages for her the night before.
He knew that he would never love another woman, that if he could not have her for his wife he would never marry, Georgiana would have to bear the heir to Pemberley. If he married the ghost of Elizabeth Bennet would always be there in his bed and he would not be able to make love to anyone else.
"William, what are you thinking of, Georgiana inquired.
"What, what do you mean he said quickly, what makes you think that I was thinking of anything special."
"You had such a smile on you face that I thought you must be thinking of Miss Bennet," Georgiana answered with a impish grin.
"Ah, here we are at the Inn, Darcy said glad for the chance to distract his too observant sister, I hope the Gardiners and Miss Bennet are ready."
Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner sat on the side of the carriage with Georgiana facing Mr Darcy and Mr Gardiner, and arrangement which pleased Fitzwilliam very much. He enjoyed watching and listening to his sister and the two women talk. It was so wonderful to see Georgiana so at ease and taking part in the conversation laughing and giggling as he had never seen her do before. Elizabeth was very good for her, just what she needed as a matter of fact, the ideal sister.
Mrs. Gardiner shot covert glances at Darcy, and Elizabeth. Darcy she knew was very deeply in love with Elizabeth and she was beginning to think that her niece was starting to return the feelings.
When they finished the business at the farm they rode to a high hill overlooking the Pemberley farms. One could see for mile and Elizabeth was delighted with the neat well kept cottages and fields that she could see, they were a tribute to the man who owned the land and kept his tenants so satisfied and happy. The lady of the house they had visited was lavish in her praise of their landlord echoing Mrs. Reynolds sentiments.
"You will never find any leaking roofs or broken windows or anything in need of repair on a Darcy farm she said, all one has to do is get word to the master what we need and he takes care of it in a trice."
"High praise indeed," said Aunt Gardiner, to which Elizabeth agreed.
As the women spread the picnic on the blankets Edward Gardiner said,"I don't know about you Mr Darcy but I am going to shed this hat, coat and cravat, I intend to be comfortable for such a delicious repast."
Darcy agreed with a laugh and shed the cumbersome garments also before sitting down to dine.
As he watched his beloved pass out the plates the dream from the night before kept returning in bits and pieces and he was afraid that Mrs. Gardiner might read his thoughts for he was sure she was an observant woman and an intelligent one as well. He tried to keep his eyes from Elizabeth but it was futile since the ladies had removed their bonnets and the curls kept escaping from the prison of her combs to move across her face with each passing breeze.
When they had finished eating Georgiana said, "William why don't you take Miss Bennet to see the little Jill where the animals come to drink."
"I would be delighted, he said, if you would like Miss Bennet"
Elizabeth allowed that she would very much like to see the place in question.
Taking the arm he offered her they moved through the trees to the place where a small brook ran through the bushes and down the hill beyond.
As they approached in companionable silence he stopped her with a finger to his lips and looking up she saw a doe and a fawn drinking. The doe raised her head and looked about sharply but since they stood stock still she moved off slowly with her baby.
Elizabeth was delighted, as she turned to look at Darcy with glowing eyes and that smile he loved so much on her lips he reached down to brush a wayward curl from her face, saying softly "Elizabeth."
"Elizabeth, Elizabeth, I am sorry to cut short this wonderful outing but we must be getting back to town if we are to make it to the Blacks on time," they heard her uncle shouting.
Georgiana watched her brother knowing full well that he was too preoccupied to notice as he stared out the carriage window with a small smile on his face.
What had happened at the stream, she wondered. Both William and Elizabeth had returned to the picnic spot with strange looks on their faces and had been very quiet on the trip back to town. Elizabeth had for the most part kept her eyes on her hands folded in her lap while Georgiana and Mrs. Gardiner chatted. William had been quiet too, sending glances at Elizabeth all the way back but never catching her eye.
Darcy sat wondering what would have happened if Mr Gardiner had not called them when he did. Would he have kissed Elizabeth as he wanted to so very much? Would she have let him? Would she have returned his kiss or would she have become frightened at his boldness and run away? He would never know now, but perhaps it was best that Mr Gardiner had come when he did or he might have make a great mistake by giving in to his feelings of the moment. Of one thing her was certain, she no longer had the same feelings for him that she had expressed that evening at Rosings and he thanked God for that.
"William, Georgiana said, I like Miss Bennet and the Gardiners very much, I know that she will be a great friend.
"I like them too, he replied, it did my heart to hear you chatting and laughing, I have never seen you do so before."
"I feel so at ease with them, Georgiana replied, I feel that I can say whatever I think and not be afraid that it will be taken wrongly, I don't think I have ever known anyone before who I really felt could be an intimate friend."
"I thought that you and Miss Bingley were friends," he said in a teasing manner.
"Miss Bingley is always nice to me and says flattering things, but I feel that it is false somehow. I don't think she would bother with me if I were not your sister, and she is so, so, uhm, caustic, I don't recall her ever saying anything nice about anyone else. I wonder what she says of me when she is with other people of her acquaintance. She was being very abusive of Miss Bennet after they left Pemberley when you were not in the room so I went up to bed because I did not wish to hear it."
"I know my dear, I fear she was the same after Mr Bingley and I returned and I was rude to her I fear and left the room also."
Georgiana looked lovingly at her brother as he turned again to the window and soon had that smile on his face that indicated to her that he was thinking of Elizabeth.
Georgiana roused him from his reverie with a small laugh as she said "What in the world is Aunt Rebecca doing in the stable yard. She hates to be out in the cool air."
As they descended from the carriage Lady Matlock took Darcy's arm saying, "William I must speak to you at once, I had to catch you before you went into the house. I fear my dear that I have betrayed your trust, I had to tell the sisters who you were spending the day with."
"Why Aunt," cried Georgiana.
Lady Matlock explained to them what had happed in the breakfast room that morning.
As she finished her tale with her fear that Miss Bingley would call out the hounds to hunt them down if she did not stop her, Darcy gave a great shout of laughter joined by Georgiana's giggle.
"Do not let it distress you, dear aunt," he said, "I fully understand and approve. I thank you for warning us."
Caroline watched Darcy like a cat as he came into the dining room. "Pray be seated," he said, "and tell us what you did to fill your day, Georgiana and I hope you had an enjoyable time."
"We are more interested in hearing about you day," Caroline said sharply, "were Miss Bennet and her Cheapside relations well?"
"Very well," Darcy answered a pleasantly, "Mrs. Gardiner grew up in Lambton and was most happy to see the countryside again."
"I am sure she was," Caroline purred, "and I am sure that she made certain that her niece enjoyed herself too, who would not enjoy such fine company as you and Georgiana."
"I was surprised at you, Georgiana, leaving your duties as hostess to go to visit the peasants," she continued turning to Georgiana.
Seeing her favorite nieces discomfort Lady Matlock said disdainfully, "I told you Miss Bingley, that Georgiana wished to take some gifts to the new baby. She has such a warm generous heart, there are some who could take a lesson from her."
"Caroline, Miss Darcy does not have to answer to you," Bingley said silencing his sister for the moment in her surprise that he should speak so harshly to her in such company.
"The fishing was capital today, Darcy, wasn't it Mr Hurst, We caught some very fine trout, ' he continued hoping to relieve the tension around the dinner table.
"Really, Charles, I don't think Mr Darcy is interested in you little fishing expedition," Caroline snapped.
"On the contrary," Darcy replied, "it is always rewarding to find that your guests enjoy the same pastimes as you. I am glad you had such a good day Charles perhaps tomorrow will be even better. Gentlemen shall we retire to the den."
Georgiana was feeling very upset by the turn of events at the dinner table and asked to be excused, saying that she was very tired from such a long day. She did not want to hear any abuse of Elizabeth from Miss Bingley and she was certain that as soon as the men left the room Caroline would try to pump information from her about the picnic and make nasty remarks about Elizabeth and the Gardiners. She knew she could not tolerate that, besides she wanted to go to her room and enjoy the memories of the day.
Caroline begged her to stay until the men returned so that she could play for them but Lady Matlock told her to go on up. She was certain that either or both of the sister could perform very well if need be.
There was no music that night however as most everyone seemed to have a reason to retire early.
Darcy was up and dressed early, as he was about ready to leave his room there was a knock on the door and his aunt entered.
"You are up and about early, aunt," he said putting the finishing touches on his attire after dismissing he valet.
"As are you, William, where are you going so early this morning" she said with a loving smile.
"Eliz--Miss Bennet and the Gardiners are going to do some sightseeing around Lambton this morning and I thought it would only be polite to offer my services," he replied with a grin.
"In that case I shan't detain you, her ladyship laughed, you had better be on your way before Miss Bingley catches you, I doubt that she ever rises this early, but if she is on the prowl she might be laying in wait."
Darcy kissed his aunt and left hurriedly stopping in the kitchen for a quick bit of breakfast.
Barely an hour and a half later he was back, storming into the house and up to his bedroom.
Georgiana looked distressed at his actions, he had spoken not a word to anyone and her aunt tried to reassure her by telling her that she would go up and find out what was wrong.
As she went up the stairs she could not help but wonder what was wrong. Did William propose again and was he refused again. She dearly hoped not, he loved this young woman so very much that was evident to any who wished to see.
She knocked on the door and entered to find her nephew giving his man instructions and throwing clothes into a bag.
"William, what is it," she cried in dismay, "what are you doing."
"I cannot explain now, Aunt Rachel," he replied, "I must go back to town at first light, I hope you will be able to stay her for Georgiana, she does not appreciate being alone with Mr Bingley's sisters."
"Of course, dear, she said, that would be too much for anyone, but what has happened, is Miss Bennet or her relations ill?"
"They had a letter from Longbourn with some very bad news and they are even now on their way home," he replied.
Caroline was very satisfied that the Gardiners and Eliza Bennet had left the country and it mattered not to her what the circumstances, she had Darcy's attention and she meant to make the most of it. She had been frustrated at dinner at his silence, he had been withdrawn all day but she didn't care they were gone and she meant to make the most of the rest of their stay at Pemberley.
As Georgiana played Caroline was again frustrated by Mr Darcy's inattention, he sat staring at the wall with his hand over his mouth throughout the piece. As the rest clapped for Georgiana's performance Caroline crossed the room to take a cup of tea and a biscuit from the table next to the chair woe Mr Darcy sat.
"You have been very quiet, this evening,Mr Darcy, she purred, "I hope you are not pining for the loss of Miss Bennet."
"WHAT," he snapped, and with a look of pure loathing he rose and stormed out of the room, while everyone watched open mouthed.
"Really, Miss Bingley, you go too far," Lady Matlock said as she and his lordship rose and took their departure also.
Caroline and Louisa stared at each other in confusion and shock before they too decided to retire.
Darcy's driver whipped the horses to their greatest speed as the master sat in the carriage trying to decide what he should do first when he got to town. He hope Col Fitzwilliam had found out where Mrs. Younge was, he knew that she was the key to finding Wickham and Lydia.
Wickham, my bane, he thought, you are like some horrible infectious disease, inflicting pain on any who come near you. When will I ever be rid of you. To think that just yesterday at this time I was sharing a picnic in that beautiful spot with the woman I love and making plans to make her mistress of Pemberley and today you have dashed my dreams.
How could he know that in a year and two weeks he would be picnicking in the same spot with his Elizabeth and that their first child would be conceived there.
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