Part 3 – The Family Circle

Elizabeth spun around when she heard the gentlemen return from their sport. “Beggin’ your pardon, miss, but you must sit still,” Sarah complained as she tried to pin Elizabeth’s unruly locks. She had barely pushed the last pin in place when Elizabeth waved her off.

“Thank you, Sarah,” she said in cheerful dismissal, too elated to care that she had overslept or that her mother had scolded her for it. She finished the rest of her toilette in a mad hurry, her heart racing in vexation at her tardiness, until she finally reached the stairs. Darcy was alone in the hallway and glanced up in surprise when her slippered foot struck a squeak on the landing. His expression gave way to elation upon recognizing her.

She descended down the stairs in rapid steps and into his welcoming embrace. “You are too cold, dearest,” he said. His tone of gentle concern caused her shivers to increase.

“I overslept and there was no time to tend the fire,” she replied rather breathlessly as she gazed up at him, wishing to kiss him. She leaned up and, suddenly finding herself not quite so bold without his discomposing confession in her ear, averted her face slightly.

“I will come to you this morning,” Darcy said in amusement before briefly pressing his lips to hers.

After a very happy pause, she said, “Will you not go in ahead, sir? I find my composure unequal to company at the moment.”

Darcy bowed. “I am at your service, madam.” Between his light-hearted comment and quick steps, she knew the sight of a man well pleased.

Mr Bennet awaited his daughter, decidedly displeased by Lizzy’s absence at table. They had a standing custom which she never missed when at home. A tiny smile touched the corner of his lips when he recalled how it had come about.

Mrs Bennet had insisted Lizzy was not old enough to pour out, huffing in annoyance when he allowed it in spite of her protests. He had begun to wonder if he would be forced to concede the point to Mrs Bennet when Lizzy’s little arms began to shake as she tried to handle the heavy silver pot. To his relief, she did just manage it and placed the rattling china cup upon the table.

There was more coffee in the saucer than in the cup itself, but her eyes had held such triumph. “Here, Papa!”

“Very good, my child,” he said and he sent her off with a pat on her head. From that morning on, Lizzy had poured out for him, albeit with increased skill as the years passed.

“Where is she?” Mr Bennet asked again. He had few precious days in which to take pleasure in the ritual and he felt her absence keenly.

“Lizzy has more concerns than your cup,” declared Mrs. Bennet. “You had best become accustomed to that.”

His wife’s response, no matter how true, did little to assuage his humour. He narrowed his eyes slightly at his usurper, but Darcy seemed oblivious to his glare. He brightened when Lizzy entered the room at last and began to pour the coffee.

“Black with a little sugar, Mr Darcy,” Lizzy declared as she set his cup before another man.

“Thank you very much, Miss Elizabeth,” replied Darcy with an infuriating twitch of his lips. Mr Bennet found his patience severely tried when Lizzy sat down to eat breakfast, as if nothing was amiss.

“Oh Papa!” she suddenly cried. “I forgot all about yours! I shall pour it straight away.”

“Thank you, child,” he replied with as much grace as he could.

“I spoke to Lady Lucas yesterday,” Mrs. Philips resumed her conversation, having dropped by early for breakfast and gossip. “Such news, sister! Charlotte and Mr. Collins are for Lucas Lodge. She will be shaken half to death, I bet. I should not do it, even if I was on my eighth child. But what do young brides know of confinement?”

Seeming somewhat impatient with the conversation, Lizzy turned to Mr Bingley. “What news is there in the paper, sir?”

Mr Bennet did not comprehend the changes in his favourite. It was almost laughable to think Darcy needed her protection yet she seemed determined to shield him from overhearing the absurdities often found at the table. An impossible task, he thought. Bingley replied, “I did see an item I thought would interest you, Lizzy. Let me locate it.”

Bingley was not quick enough; Mrs Phillips glanced at Lizzy, and began to tease, “John Lucas, or should I say Lieutenant Lucas, arrives next month. Lady Lucas says he has grown rather dashing and handsome since joining the Navy. What do you say to that?”

Mr Bennet was never astounded by silly his sister-in-law and normally shrugged at her lack of good taste. He thought to let the remark pass until he saw Lizzy blush and found himself vexed at the thought of another young man. “I care nothing to hear her opinions, if you please. I hear enough of young men.”

It seemed his sister was not to be deterred. “Well, perhaps Mr Darcy would like to meet him. I would not be surprised if John was quite put out to discover he has a rival. He had such a fever for you, Lizzy,” Mrs. Phillips unhelpfully added.

Lizzy clenched her napkin and turned to her aunt. “Mr Darcy cannot have a rival, ma’am, not for me. I am certain John Lucas never gives me a passing sigh.”

Darcy fixed a cool gaze upon his sister-in-law and Mr Bennet found himself distinctly amused at the prospect of what such a man might say to such provocation. Mrs Bennet, with more than her customary perception, intervened. “John Lucas can hardly be of interest to Mr Darcy, sister!”

“On the contrary, madam,” Darcy said with annoying composure. “I am rather interested in naval activity. If we were to remain in the neighbourhood, I would be pleased to meet him.”

“He serves upon the Laconia, Darcy”, Bingley said with enthusiasm. “I cannot wait to ask him about the Indies.”

“You might wish to stay until next month, Lizzy, to renew your acquaintance with him,” Mrs Phillips said.

Mrs Bennet sighed. “I recall how it was when I met Captain Lennox again, even though I was comfortably settled with two little girls at my skirts. Do you remember, Mr Bennet?”

“Ah yes! His lame arm and gout prevented the necessity of calling him out,” Mr Bennet replied before placing his napkin upon the table. “As charming as such memories are, Mrs Bennet, I must return to my book-room.”

Mr Bennet walked to his bookshelf and, reaching for a book, caught a glimpse of Jane and Bingley in the shrubbery. He rolled his eyes and muttered, “I cannot wait until Bingley may steal kisses within his own garden.”

Still, he had to admire Jane’s cleverness. The only windows which overlooked that part of the hedgerow were in his library and an unoccupied guest chamber, leaving them unlikely subjects of gawking from mothers, sisters or the servants. They often held hands, embraced and stole kisses and he had shaken his head in wry amusement at such displays, knowing their brevity all too well.

When he turned in the direction of his favourite chair, he caught a better glimpse of the couple and froze. The tall man with his arm around his daughter’s shoulders was not wearing Bingley’s green coat and the slight, dark-haired figure was not Jane. He nearly dropped his book when Lizzy stole an arm about Darcy’s waist. Darcy appeared unperturbed by the liberty, speaking to her in seemingly earnest tones with a hand on her cheek.

After such a sight, Mr Bennet thought to reach for his port and sat in his chair. He was relieved to find them gone when he returned to the bookshelf for another volume, though he soon decided to join the family, where he remained for the entirety of the afternoon. He had considered all sorts of scenarios: of insisting she keep indoors, of speaking to her of guarding her virtue, even speaking to Darcy, yet his intellect did not allow him to deceive himself for long regarding his hypocrisy. He considered Jane respectably engaged and did not concern himself with lovers’ nonsense, knowing they would soon be married. To display such a lack of similar faith in Lizzy would wound her deeply and was wholly unwarranted over a mild embrace. Darcy’s behaviour had been nothing to Bingley’s, nor my own, he unpleasantly reminded himself.

No, the unadorned truth was that she was no longer his little girl, yet he was desperate to hold onto her. He had even thought of insisting she remain at Longbourn until spring but at what cost? What a fuss that should make! A peevish wife, the disappointment of his favourite and the icy displeasure of his future son-in-law were more trouble than he could bear. Lizzy thought herself in love and since when did fond young ladies choose the selfish wishes of their father over their young man?  Her sense of duty might require her to submit but she would resent him for it, most bitterly, he imagined.

Mr Bennet observed Lizzy teasing Darcy for a moment and wondered if the man understood what joy she could bring to his life. Did he fully appreciate what enjoyment could be found in such a lively, witty girl if he were wise enough to treasure her? What a sacrifice was made in allowing her to go with him?

Of course he does not, Mr. Bennet thought with some of his usual detachment. I should be thankful he has more perception than the ordinary young man. Darcy had the intellect to understand her, the confidence to tolerate her wit, even respond to it, and the wisdom to choose her. Though he would have argued with her to the ends of the earth if she had accepted an offer merely due to Darcy’s wealth, a father could not but wish the life Darcy could provide for her — a life he imagined well suited to her talents and disposition.

Having settled his mind somewhat, he started when the door to the drawing room flew open, and Mrs Hill accompanied a very fine servant. “I have not heard from my attorney yet,” Bingley remarked upon seeing the letters for Darcy. “I cannot imagine why he has delayed.”

Darcy responded with an absent smile, “I would not be surprised to find him working with an interpreter.”

Mr Bennet was taken aback by Darcy’s grave humour, always unexpected as it was. Lizzy said, “Jane showed me your note, Mr Bingley. I hesitated to read it at first, but I must say, had it been a sonnet, your sentiments would have remained quite safe from me.”

Bingley laughed. “Jane, shall you not defend me?”

“I cannot say it was wholly illegible but I did stare for some time,” Jane replied with her placid smile.

Bingley reached over to touch Jane’s hand. “I suppose it is fortune that your excellent penmanship only adds to your perfections, my love. With all of this abuse, it seems I am in need of your assistance.”

Mr Bennet watched Darcy walk quickly to the fire and throw several pages onto the flames. Whatever its contents, the letter could not be good news, and every sensible member of the family grew silent. Mrs Bennet, her husband reflected, could be counted on to act the opposite. “What news is there, Mr Darcy? A letter of congratulations, I hope? Bingley has received so many.”

“A letter from my aunt, madam,” he responded quietly.

“Oh, how exciting! Is she not overjoyed? She paid such particular attentions to Lizzy.”

Darcy made no reply. Lizzy seemed unable to speak, watching him in concern, as were Bingley and Jane. Mr Bennet cleared his throat. “Her excitement should be left to our imaginations since Darcy is not required to share it.”

“I will share my letter from Louisa,” Bingley roused himself to say. “I brought it with me, for all of you to read.”

His wife’s attention was successfully diverted, to the relief of most. When Darcy expressed his preference for a walk before supper, Mrs Bennet sent them off directly. He thought of preventing Lizzy from accompanying the tall, ill-tempered man, until he thoughts were somewhat overtaken by his wife’s exclamations of delight over Bingley’s letter. We all have our trials to bear, Mr Bennet concluded philosophically.

Elizabeth had hardly tied her bonnet and turned around, only to find Darcy several feet ahead. “Will you not wait, sir?” she cried out, wishing Sarah and Kitty were not watching so she could give chase.

Darcy immediately halted and came back to them, muttering a mortified apology. When they reached the lane to Lucas Lodge, Kitty asked to call upon Maria Lucas. “What about Daisy?” Elizabeth reminded her sister.

“Oh! That dog! With you and Jane busy at every hour, I must do everything!”

“Let us exercise her, Elizabeth,” Darcy replied in a quiet, weary tone, scratching the dog behind the ears. “I do not mind and much prefer it to this in fact.”

Kitty seemed abashed. “I beg your pardon, Mr Darcy; I do not intend to fuss.”

Elizabeth turned to her sister in exasperation. “We will care for her this time but do not make it a habit.” Seeing her sister’s expression, she laid a hand on Kitty’s arm. “Give Maria my regards.”

Darcy said nothing, even after Kitty walked toward Lucas Lodge, and seemed wholly engrossed in locating twigs to throw for the energetic young dog. Elizabeth impatiently asked, “Fitzwilliam, will you not tell me?”

“Not yet, Elizabeth,” he said harshly. His demeanour stung her and she began to fiddle with her gloves in her agitation. “I cannot speak of it yet, even to you.”

Elizabeth decided she should not torment him further, not with Daisy performing that task so admirably. She watched the dog push into Darcy’s palm until he relented. Her face softened when the dog began to lick his hand in excitement at his petting. She remarked, “You seem to have a way of coaxing affection from the females at Longbourn. She has grown rather fond of you.”

She watched a smile curl one corner of Darcy’s mouth as he replied, “Daisy was easier than some. I merely feed her ham at breakfast.”

“Beware, sir,” she laughed. “You would do well to choose your next words very carefully if you intend to draw any further comparisons.”

His grey eyes settled upon her before returning his gaze to the dog. “I have decided to cut all ties with Lady Catherine.”

He swooped upon another stick and flung it for the dog to give chase. Elizabeth thought she could imagine what Lady Catherine must have written to him, and though she cared little for that lady’s opinion for herself, she knew it could not be the same for him. “Can nothing else be done?” Elizabeth said quietly.

Darcy responded angrily, “Absolutely not. Her position as my aunt gives her no right to address me in such a manner and it certainly gives her no cause to abuse you when I refuse to oblige her.”

She watched him throw another stick with unusual energy. He continued, “I have known for some time how it would be but never could I have predicted such language and in reference to a lady. Were she a man, I would have called her into full account for it.”

She rubbed her forehead in silence until she found courage to ask, “Did she send two letters? I thought I saw another.”

“The other is from my uncle, Lord Matlock.”

She understood his dull tone immediately and whispered, “He does not approve either, does he?”

Darcy sighed. Reaching down to pet the dog, he answered, “He does not.”

She observed his pallor and felt his distress as her own. Had she not been worried and anxious over her own family’s reaction? Even her mother’s opinion had meant something to her. Her own cheeks grew pale and she reached behind her until she found the support of a tree at her back. “I have been very selfish, I fear, Mr Darcy; I never considered what I might cost you. Are you certain this is what you want?”

Willing her knees not to shake, she fixed her gaze onto the ground. She met his surprised frown when he asked her to look at him. He said, “I would not give you up unless you no longer wanted me.”

Her voice was remarkably unsteady, even to her own ears. “I do. You know I do.”

She closed eyes when he touched her cheek. “Then no more of such talk,” he said in a firm tone. “We have not spoken of this, not since that terrible night at the parsonage, but I knew how our union would be viewed within my family, even if my expressions to you were abhorrent.”

“I am sorry to be the cause of such distress,” she replied solemnly.

Darcy shook his head. “You have done nothing,” he said in an easier voice.

She began to breathe a little easier and kissed the hand on her cheek, observing him as the colour returned to his face. “May I read the letter? I have an idea of your uncle’s opinions and they will not grieve me, I promise you.”

He hesitated. “If you wish. He is rather frank in his words; we have always conversed in such a manner.”

She accepted the letter and began to read:

Dear Nephew,

I have received your letter regarding your engagement and you may well imagine how I might have reacted to such news. You have managed to surprise me and after twenty years in politics, that is an accomplishment indeed. Your letter, distressing as it was, was soon followed by Catherine’s, full of words about your intended bride which I will not even commit to paper. You may rest assured she has been urged to mind her tongue or face my wrath if she speaks of such matters beyond our family.

I cannot tell you what I might have done had Robert not been at home; I was tempted to ride from Yorkshire into Hertfordshire to demand your renouncement of such an entanglement. Robert was rather shocked himself; though he admitted he suspected your preference, he had not supposed you were prepared to act upon it. However, he could at least assure me that Miss Elizabeth Bennet is of good disposition and character, charming and polite, which is as I would hope, so I can at least begin to comprehend this match.

You must know my thoughts on her situation, how vastly different it is from any expectation I had of you. Though I do not blame her for it, I cannot hide my shock, nephew, that you have disregarded it so thoroughly. Were you not to oblige Anne and Catherine, I had hoped to make a brilliant match for you, consolidating our influence and increasing your fortune. There is one connection, in particular, that repulses me. I can assure you I will never endure a meal with that wicked, greedy blackguard at your table, knowing how your mother felt about him and learning of her astuteness in the most painful manner last summer.

However, I know you will not break an honourable engagement, nor would I wish for you to act so despicably. I have struggled with an appropriate response, torn between my outrage at your actions and my affection for a nephew who has never before caused me grief. In the end, my memory of your dear departed mother, her wish that I would look after you, my deep affection for you, all require me to at least consider the acceptance of your bride.

Accordingly, after you have settled at Pemberley, you may bring her to us. I have instructed Elinor to receive her with every courtesy due to Mrs Darcy. Bradford, though no less dismayed than myself, has agreed to my wishes. But make no mistake on the matter: I am very seriously displeased with you and far from complacent on the subject. If I find her vulgar or intolerable, our relations will be precarious, indeed.

Upon finishing it, she hardly knew what to say. She first clarified the names in the letter with him as she collected her thoughts, recalling the eldest son was Lord Bradford. She correctly guessed that Elinor was Lady Bradford and Robert was Colonel Fitzwilliam.

She glanced over the letter again, taking note of his uncle’s words of affection, and clearly perceiving some similarity of mind between uncle and nephew in their sharp directness. At last, she said, “He does seem fond of you and I would be surprised had he not been alarmed. With his apparent knowledge of Mr. Wickham, I should not have wondered if he were to refuse to receive me.”

Darcy spoke quietly. “Mr Wickham was my father’s favourite, not my mother’s.”

Elizabeth looked away and responded, “I would never ask you to endure him at table yourself, nor your sister.”

“I am pleased to hear we are in agreement; Mrs Wickham is welcome, of course. Elizabeth, I – ”, he broke off, sighed, and gazed at her awkwardly for a moment.

She forced herself to whisper, “We do seem to speak of exceedingly uncomfortable subjects, do we not?”

He took hold of her hand. “We have more than our share, I think. Elizabeth, I do not wish to hide my thoughts from you, though I will not speak to you without the respect due to my wife. Can you endure such frankness?”

She smiled a little. “I can. I am not afraid of you, Mr Darcy.”

He chuckled quietly at that, placing his arm around her waist. She turned her cheek into him and sighed. Her love grew deeper each day, it seemed, and indeed stout enough to tolerate his relations for his sake. She listened as he said, “I will be grieved if I cannot reconcile with my uncle. We are fond of each other, both were favourites of my mother. My mother and I saw him frequently and when she was not with me, she was often with him.”

“What of your father?” Elizabeth asked, too unsettled to mind her tongue.

“I remained with him at Pemberley on some occasions. I – ” Darcy sighed and kissed her hair before continuing quietly, “My parents were civil but hardly affectionate. I had my suspicions, based upon their frequent separations, but nothing more until last summer. His Lordship was nearly more incensed with my father than with Wickham himself, and in the course of conversation, frankly detailed the unhappiness of my parents. They had opposing temperaments, and it seems, very differing opinions.”

“You and I are hardly alike,” Elizabeth remarked quietly.

“Yet there is an affinity between us and the desire to understand the other,” Darcy replied softly, kissing her forehead.

She tightened her arms around his waist. “I have thought so as well. This is rare and precious.”

“Too precious to give up for anyone,” Darcy added.

When the gentlemen left for Netherfield, Mr Bennet took Lizzy aside. “Your walk out seemed to correct Darcy’s temper. I congratulate you on navigating such treacherous waters.”

She said nothing and he added, “I take it Lady Catherine did not write to express her raptures?”

She looked chagrined, he thought, and he was suddenly afraid for her until she said, “I – he – I cannot relate all of the particulars, but no, she was not pleased.”

Mr Bennet was somewhat stung by her reluctance. “I hope he does not blame you?”

She shook her head. “Not at all.”

“Well, I imagine he did take exception to having his judgement questioned. I hardly know who to place my bets on. Which one do you believe will outlast the other’s obstinacy?”

She looked up at that, her eyes flashing with indignation. “He is not obstinate, sir. He might have been persuaded to overlook her displeasure had she not insulted me.”

Mr Bennet’s first thought was to take offence at her words, in spite of his intentions not to colour their last days together with dissention. Then deciding to overlook her outburst as a passionate defence of her lover, he answered truthfully, “I admire him for his loyalty to you, my child. As we have become better acquainted, I have concluded he is a rather admirable sort of man, even if there is little about him to amuse.”

Then he added, “I admire all my three sons-in-law highly. Wickham, perhaps, is my favourite; but I think I shall like your husband quite as well as Jane’s.”

Go to Part 4

3 responses to “Part 3 – The Family Circle”

  1. Elizabeth_B

    I already commented thoroughly on this the first time ’round, so you know what I think about the Fitzwilliams etc. In short, I love that their reactions are so realistic for their class and likely expectations (since Darcy and Lady Catherine *both* refer to family obstacles), but not so violent that we can’t understand Darcy’s pain here.

    Just, uhm, I was thinking – since this is safely away from fandom, you don’t have to abide by silly fanon conventions any more. He could be the Earl of Chandos or something. *iz hopeful*

    1. Ali

      I’m glad you like that, E. I tried not to go overboard with it since Elizabeth was a gentleman’s daughter, but I think there was a real issue there, not Darcy just being a snob.

      Yeah, I have thought about breaking away from some of the fanon conventions, but I suck at the name thing. Maybe I’ll use that as my next blog post!

  2. Elizabeth_B

    It’s weird, but I think a lot of the people who most emphasize the class difference can’t seem to imagine that anybody except social climbers of the worst sort could have any sort of objection to her. So I’ve always liked the balance you maintain there.

    Oh, names? I just plagiarise my family tree, myself, since Austen was a little persnickety re: made-up titles. I’ll gladly loan you my relatives!

    Here’s a list of most of the British RL titles, for instance:

    *still hoping*

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