“It is a pleasure to see you again, Mrs. Gardiner,” Georgiana sincerely smiled at her visitor, inviting her to sit down. The ladies made themselves comfortable while Mrs. Annesley called for tea.
“My dear Miss Darcy, you have no notion how pleased I am about the engagement of my niece to your brother. Lizzy has always been special to me, she has such a lively mind, and often have I worried that she would never meet the man to suit her. Mr. Darcy surpasses my wildest hopes for her. He is the best of men, and it is my belief that their marriage will be uncommonly happy.”
Georgiana glowed, “You express my feelings precisely. Miss Bennet is everything I ever hoped for in a sister. I do so look forward to seeing her again.”
“I understand you will be a guest at Longbourn for the wedding.”
“Yes. The Bennets have been so good as to accommodate me.”
“So I understand, which is what brings me to you today. I hope you will honor Mr. Gardiner and I with your company on our journey to Hertfordshire.”
Georgiana blushed, “Thank you. I very much wish I could, but the
have already asked me to join their travelling party, and I fear it would be rude to alter the arrangements now.” Hursts
“Well, we shall have ample opportunity to get better acquainted when we are all in residence at Longbourn.”
“I would much rather ride with you and Mr. Gardiner,” she replied consciously. “I am afraid I find Miss Bingley’s company rather unnerving.”
“It is only a short journey, and surely you must be more comfortable with those whom you know so well.”
“One would think so, but it is not the case. Indeed, Mrs. Gardiner, though we have met but a few times, I feel infinitely more at ease with you, just as I do with Miss Bennet. I cannot wait to meet the remainder of your family. It is rare that I meet people whose intentions are so trustworthy, endowed with natures so kind.”
Now it was Mrs. Gardiner’s turn to appear conscious. It was impossible to disclose precisely why such assumptions should not be made about the Bennet clan as a whole, but she felt she must say something to Miss Darcy, lest she be shocked upon arrival at Longbourn. “I feel I am very fortunate to be married into such a warm family, but as content as I am with my relations’ frank and unpretentious discourse, I value them even more for their diversity. Do not think that all at Longbourn are like Lizzy. Each of my nieces has distinct interests and pursuit – their own, individual identities. Jane is one of the sweetest creatures alive, while Mary is scholarly and Kitty playful. Of course, Lizzy is thoroughly her father’s daughter, observant and spirited. I hope you will love them all.”
“I have no doubt I will. Since leaving school, I have had little opportunity to be with girls my own age. It will be a great treat to spend several days in such company.”
Mrs. Gardiner smiled, hiding her anxiety at these words while fervently hoping her young friend’s prediction would somehow be fulfilled.
While Mrs. Bennet might frequently boast of the superiority of her table over that of her neighbors, evenings at Longbourn were almost entirely devoid of the key ingredient for every successful gathering: the good will of the hosts. Not so at Lucas Lodge. Sir William Lucas, though not a man of many subjects, could be counted on to greet each guest with delight while his sensible wife administered to their comforts. Thus Mr. Bingley left Netherfield lively, with a spring in his step, certain of a pleasant evening with his beloved Jane. While Mr. Darcy was also bound to see his equally beloved
, he could not, as usual, share his friend’s cheerful prospect. It was precisely the kind of gathering which he usually avoided, and while recent practice had done much to inure him to his future family’s oddities, the notion of Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins at the same table was not one her could think on with ease. He was willing to endure much for Elizabeth ’s sake, however, and he managed the semblance of an amiable smile as he entered the Lodge. Elizabeth
His composure was greatly tried by what met him. Before either host could greet the new arrivals, Mr. Collins put himself forward, bowing profusely and quick to enumerate on his growing connections to the Darcy family, “Mr. Darcy and Mr. Bingley! I hope this evening find you both hale and happy, as how could you not be, when the prospect of my lovely cousins’ felicitous company must be such a constant buoy to your spirits.” Here he made many suggestive movements of the eyebrows, causing Darcy to call upon all the power of his notable self-restraint in order to fight the temptation to administer a thorough set down. “Having so recently entered the blissful married state myself, I thoroughly understand how young love renders one immune to those cares which, under normal circumstances, must cause excessive grievance. Indeed, Mr. Darcy, while I fully feel the honor of one of your exulted position deigning to seek affection in such a humble, though undeniable attractive, lady as my cousin Elizabeth, it pains me to know that such happiness is bought at the price of my esteemed patroness’ peace of mind. While her grief is certainly understandable and my sympathies are all hers, the great compliment you show my family is a substantial condolence. The connection is imminently desirable, for not only do I have the privilege of calling Miss Elizabeth cousin, but as she is also the particular friend of Mrs. Collins, I must rejoice in match.”
Fortunately, Sir Lucas now found the opportunity to make his own greeting, as Mr. Collins was forced to gather his breath. Never before was Mr. Darcy so willing to endure the older gentleman’s conversational inanities. Where was
? He should have kept Bingley from leaving so early, making sure they were not the first arrivals. After an interminably long wait, all the while enduring the civilities of Sir Lucas and Mr. Collins (neither of their wives succeeded in checking their enthusiasm), it was with relief he heard a carriage arrive, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of Mrs. Bennet scolding, her voice carrying itself into the house well before the family crossed the threshold. “Stand up straight Mary. Why would you insist on that tucker! Let me look at you, Jane and Elizabeth. You look wonderful my dears, if only Miss Lizzy would wipe that smirk from her face! Stop coughing Kitty! You try my nerves mercilessly.” Elizabeth
When the family finally made their appearance, Mr. Darcy immediately sought
’s eyes, their smiling aspect soothing his entire being. He stepped forward to claim his lady, as did Bingley, ignoring the smiles and illusions Sir Lucas would insist on making. “Nothing so predictable as young love, is their Mr. Bennet? You should have seen these gentlemen not two minutes ago – all anxiety and impatience! I think I was more at ease upon receiving my knighthood. And now they are all smiles and contentment! Quite an entertainment, young love!” Elizabeth
While neither Darcy nor Elizabeth found the notion of being a spectacle for the amusement of the neighbors agreeable, in each other’s company they could overlook such impertinences and enmesh themselves in their own world. Though
would strive to shield Mr. Darcy from all the parading and obsequious civility of her cousin, it was with pleasure and amazement that she witnessed how he bore it with admirable calmness. He could even listen to Sir William Lucas, when he complimented him on carrying away the brightest jewel of the country, and expressed his hopes of their all meeting frequently at St. James's, with very decent composure. If he did shrug his shoulders, it was not till Sir William was out of sight, when he and Elizabeth could safely smile at the proceedings. “I see you have been imbibing my father’s philosophy - making sport for our neighbors, and laughing at them in turn. It is a very useful practice in a gathering such as this one, though sometimes it can be taken too far.” Elizabeth
He smiled, looking across the room to Mr. Bennet as he listened to Sir Lucas with an air of serious attention, but a comic twinkle in his eye, “I think I have a long way to go before I can see humor in all the people you father does. It is your presence,
, which makes me tolerant and easy – without it I would be very much that same man you first met at the assembly in Meryton, offending everyone in the room with a glance.” Elizabeth
“It was you who made the change.” She frowned, “I might have provided inspiration in the form of a few hastily chosen and terribly misguided words, but you deserve all the credit.”
“Now what of your philosophy, to only remember the past as it gives you pleasure?”
“Yes indeed. I intend in the future to create a far vaster supply of pleasant memories, in order to make that dictate as easy as possibly to follow.”
“Shall we begin now?” Darcy asked with a grin.
Darcy looked up and saw the rector with a sigh. “I can’t wait to take you home to Pemberley, where we can finally be truly alone. While Mrs. Collins will always be a welcomed guest, perhaps we can arrange her visits for those times when Mr. Collins is indispensible at Rosings?”
“Between Charlotte and myself, I feel certain we can manage.”
It was a bright day, and while the weather remained seasonal, the sun beating down through the windows of the crowded carriage made it hot and uncomfortable. Not being as well-sprung as the Darcy vehicles to which she was accustomed, Georgiana found the rocking of the coach unnerving. Her discomfort was aided by Mr. Hurst snoring loudly in a corner, completely undisturbed by his sister-in-law’s incessant chatter. It was the most unpleasant journey she could ever recall enduring.
“I met Sir Ludlow at Mrs. Stanton’s just s few weeks ago, and ever since we see him so often in society. He has called in
Grosvenor Square three times, and has dined with us once. He was at the theater last week and joined us in our box for the entire second act.”
“Don’t forget, Caroline, that you also rode with him in the park.”
“Very true, Louisa, how could I fail to mention it? It was a lovely day, the perfect temperature for such activities, and Sir Ludlow was anxious to try the new team of grays he just purchased. His attentions are very flattering, indeed, though I cannot possibly take them seriously.”
Georgiana wanted to close her eyes and block out as much of her surroundings as possible, but Miss Bingley was clearly expecting her to respond. “Do you doubt his intentions?”
Caroline look horrified, “No. Certainly not.”
“He has made it quite clear that can expect a proposal upon our return to
,” supplied the more diplomatic Mrs. Hurst. London
“Yes indeed, but I do not believe I shall accept such a poor looking man, even if he is a baronet. Why, he is no taller then myself and wears his coats very ill. Besides, his estate is overdrawn.”
“Which is why we can be certain of his offer,” mumbled Louisa, causing her sister to scowl.
The coach turned, placing the sun behind them, and Georgiana could once more look out the window without scalding her eyes. She thought they should be nearly there by now, and the approach of a quaint town raised her hopes of relief. Never was one of Miss Bingley’s complaints more welcome to Georgiana’s ears than when she said, “Well, here we are again. Meryton is such a worthless little town. I do hope Charles chooses to settle elsewhere.” She thought a few months spent so near to his new relations would serve as strong encouragement towards such a course, but would not say so in front of Georgiana, holding her peace until she and Louisa were alone.
Soon they were pulling in the drive to Longbourn, and Georgiana’s longing for release was replaced by anxiety for the approaching meeting. She fervently hoped the ladies of the house would like her, as she was terribly lonely for female companionship. The carriage came to a halt and several women filed out of the house to greet the newcomers. Miss Bingley descended with her broadest smile for the Bennets, formerly so often snubbed, greeting both Jane and Elizabeth like old friends. The latter came forward to introduce Georgiana, and she looked with trepidation at the examining faces of what must be Mary and Kitty. However, before they could exchange even a few words, a matronly woman embraced her warmly, in such a manner as Georgiana had never before known. “You look tired my dear. Travel is so fatiguing. Come inside and we will see you settled comfortably.”
Mrs. Bennet might terrify her brother and embarrass
, but to Georgiana, so long deprived of maternal care, she was like rain in the desert. Mary and Kitty would wait – for now, Miss Darcy was happy to bask in Mrs. Bennet’s fawning and over-attentive care. Elizabeth
Come back next week for another dose!