The blurb for this story can be found here.
Waking early on his first morning back in London, Darcy found himself quite disorientated. Having been travelling for so long, it felt strange to be in his own chamber, his own bed, the first rays of sunshine slipping softly through the gap in the shutters, and for a moment he lay on his back staring at the canopy, reflecting upon the benefit or otherwise of his absence from English soil.
He felt strangely calm, as though he had laid the past to rest, and if his mind did occasionally drift towards it, he did not hold himself to account, but waited for the moment to pass, as he knew it would.
The sounds of movement from his dressing room were sufficient to draw him from this introspection and, tossing the sheets aside, Darcy sat up and ran a hand through his tousled hair. His cousin would be departing soon after first light, and he was keen to see him before he left.
By the time the Colonel set off for his regiment, bidding both his cousins a fond farewell and with a promise to return as soon as his duties permitted, and Darcy had kept company with Georgiana whilst she broke her fast, the morning was well progressed.
‘I had best repair to my study, Georgie. I expect Rivers to call again at any moment.’ He got to his feet as he drained his cup, and Georgiana looked up at him. ‘Will you be at your instrument later?’
‘Indeed, for I am sorely in need of practise!’
Darcy smiled, squeezing her shoulder affectionately as he passed her on his way to the door. ‘Then I shall seek you out directly!’
‘Mr Rivers is arrived, sir.’
Darcy leaned back in his chair and stretched his arms. ‘Show him in. Oh, and Pagett? Please could you ask Mrs Wainwright to send up some tea?’
With Pagett on his way, Darcy moved aside a small pile of letters. He had barely made a beginning, but as they were so out of date, a few hours more would matter little.
His steward’s presence in Town had been fortuitous, and Darcy had welcomed his call the prior evening. Rivers had been working to resolve a dispute between two tenant farmers near Baslow and had, following advice from the Earl of Matlock, been to an attorney to ensure all the legalities were answered for. His purpose in calling before beginning the journey northwards was to acquire Darcy’s signature to the papers and to discuss a few other less urgent matters arising in his absence.
Welcoming the need to focus upon his estate after so long an absence, Darcy stood up as the door opened and his steward entered.
‘Good morning, sir.’
‘Good morning, Rivers. You are prompt; I trust it to be indicative of all being well?’
The young man nodded. ‘All is settled, sir. If you would be so good as to sign.’ Rivers withdrew a sheaf of paper from his leather case and placed them before Darcy. ‘Here, sir – and again, here.’ He pointed to the document, and Darcy took his time to read it through before finally picking up his pen and dipping it into the ink.
‘A timely intervention.’ Darcy signed his name, blotted it and then took the wax Rivers had been holding over a nearby candle. Pressing his seal onto the paper, he then sat back in his chair as his steward put the document aside to dry. ‘You did well to step in, and made a wise decision in bringing it to the Earl’s attention so swiftly.’
The young man blushed with pride. Rivers was in his fourth year of service at Pemberley, and he had previously received a good apprenticeship at the Matlock estate under the guidance of an excellent man who had served Darcy’s uncle for more than twenty summers. He had hopes of serving the Darcy family for at least as long.
‘Let us deal with these other matters, that you may be on your way.’
Rivers laid before Darcy some documents he had intended to show the Earl and talked expeditiously through a few other estate matters, pausing as Mrs Wainwright appeared bearing a tray of tea. In her position as housekeeper, she had no need of carrying trays, but she took a personal pride in waiting upon Darcy, something he understood and therefore never questioned.
Once she had left the room, both men served with tea and a biscuit, Darcy picked up the estate ledger.
He cast an experienced eye down the first page and turned to the second, nodding as Rivers ventured an occasional comment by way of explanation of any alteration since his master last perused it. Turning to the final page, however, Darcy’s eye was caught by a name: Bennet.
‘We have a new tenant on the Estate?’
‘Ah, yes, sir. Mr Bennet is well settled at The Grange having taken up the tenancy last winter from old Mr Thackeray who is gone to live with his son in Buxton.’
‘And this Bennet,’ Darcy hesitated. Why was he even indulging such curiosity? ‘What do you know of the family? Did he come to you recommended?’
Rivers nodded as he closed the ledger and tucked it under his arm. ‘Indeed he did, sir. Squire Sellwood himself introduced Mr Bennet to me; said he was a widower, a relative of an old acquaintance and recommended him and his two daughters highly.’ Darcy almost laughed aloud at his foolishness. There must be any number of families named Bennet in the country. Besides, the Mr Bennet of his acquaintance was a gentleman in possession of his own Hertfordshire estate – he would hardly be resident in Derbyshire and beholden to a landlord!
He turned to accompany Rivers who had picked up his case once more as he prepared to depart, chastising himself for his spark of interest. He needed activity, something to do, and as he saw his steward on his way, he glanced up at the blue sky. He would persuade Georgiana to walk with him to the National Gallery and then to tea at her favourite establishment.
Darcy and Georgiana passed a pleasant afternoon together. There happened by coincidence to be a small exhibition of Portuguese paintings at the gallery where they happily spent the afternoon before heading to Gunters in Berkeley Square, Darcy to drink tea and Georgiana to indulge in the delicate pastries.
An enjoyable hour or so later, they began their walk home, and Darcy offered his sister his arm, turning their steps towards the top of the Square.
‘Shall you be obliged to attend Aunt Catherine directly, Brother?’
Darcy cast Georgiana a quick glance. ‘I had not given it much thought, though I suspect an invitation – if one could call it that – will be issued before long.’ It was impossible not to recall the last visit he had made there and the consequences and, despite his best efforts, an old familiar ache briefly filled his breast. Then, he felt the squeeze of his arm.
Georgiana eyed him anxiously. ‘I did not mean to – forgive me; assume the question unasked. Let us talk of other things.’
Darcy shook his head, relieved the sensation had swiftly receded. ‘There is nothing to forgive, Georgie! It is a perfectly valid question. Besides, with Richard wriggling out of waiting upon her last Easter, he may also be obliged to attend!’ They halted on the pavement edge, waiting for an opportunity to cross. ‘Would you – do you think you might like to join us?’
Georgiana’s eyes widened. ‘Truly? You are certain you have not had sufficient of my company?’
With a laugh, Darcy steered Georgiana across the street. ‘Are you certain you wish to pass a fortnight with our aunt and your cousin? It is many a year since you spent any significant time in their company.’
‘Aunt Catherine will always intimidate me, Brother!’ Georgiana laughed too as they turned their steps north, soon bordering the palings in Grosvenor Square. ‘But with you and Richard there, I am certain I shall weather it well. Besides,’ she shrugged lightly, ‘Anne is my only female cousin. Though she is much older than I, she is the closest thing I have to a sister, and I believe I have sorely neglected this.’
Darcy patted Georgiana’s hand on his arm but he frowned. He had sorely neglected it too. Perhaps he should consider making the visit without delay?
And that was not all he must do. From what Richard had told him on their journey yesterday, Lady Matlock had plans, in the absence of Darcy taking a wife, to take charge of bringing Georgiana out the following summer.
Little did she know, however, Darcy had plans of his own. He was staring thirty in the face; he had thought long and hard during his exile from England about the future – more particularly his custodianship of Pemberley, his guardianship of his sister. Both had equal claim upon him, and he felt all the responsibility for the security of the former and the happiness of the latter. It rested firmly on his shoulders; he would not fail them, whatever his own hopes and desires had once been.
Darcy’s first priority was to secure a wife. If he had distaste for the task, he bore Georgiana in mind. Resolutely, he clamped down on the slither of regret attempting to remind him how perfect a sister Elizabeth may have been for his own.
‘What was that?’ Georgiana’s grip on his arm tightened as she came to a halt, staring towards the railings bordering the park in the centre of the Square. ‘I thought I saw something move, a shadow…’
Darcy peered into the gloom of the shrubberies bordering the garden. He could see nothing but motionless shapes, indistinguishable from one another.
‘Perhaps it is a bird, or a squirrel. I see naught of concern.’
As he was about to turn away, however, there came a sudden fierce rustling of leaves, and Georgiana let out a small shriek as a face suddenly appeared up against the railings.
‘Good heavens! Darcy – is that you?’
Darcy blew out a long breath, then grinned. ‘Bingley! What on earth are you doing skulking around in the undergrowth?’ He could feel Georgiana’s grip on his arm easing as he glanced at her now smiling countenance.
There was a further rustling of foliage, a few quick steps on the metalled path, and then Darcy’s good friend, Charles Bingley, came bounding out of the nearest gateway, a wide smile overspreading his genial features as he greeted them with enthusiasm.
‘I thought I heard your voice, but believed my ears deceived me!’ He pumped Darcy’s arm up and down vigorously and turned to bow to Georgiana. ‘You both look in exceptional health! When did you return? It is jolly good to see you, for you have been sorely missed, my friend.’
‘But Mr Bingley,’ Georgiana interjected with a puzzled brow. ‘What were you doing just now in the gardens?’
Bingley laughed, though he looked a little sheepish. ‘Pay my behaviour no particular mind, Miss Darcy. I merely delay going to the Hursts. Forgive my saying, but I am heartily sick of their company!’
Darcy frowned. ‘Have you been staying all this time in Grosvenor Street? I thought you had been at your usual hotel.’
‘It may be on the cards, my friend, for Louisa is expecting an onslaught of visitors and my room may well be required.’
Darcy raised an enquiring brow, and Bingley sighed.
‘My younger sisters are to make a stay of some weeks’ duration, and Louisa is quite out of countenance over it.’
‘All your younger sisters, Mr Bingley?’ interjected Georgiana with a smile. ‘I have heard much about them, but does this mean I shall finally make their acquaintance?’
Bingley smiled too. ‘Indeed! My poor cousin who, as you know, has raised them since our parents’ passing, is experiencing some ill health and is in need of rest. Hopefully, some peace and quiet and the restorative sea air in Scarborough will set her to rights.’
Darcy indicated they walk on, and Bingley fell into step beside him.
‘I say, Darcy, this imminent arrival – of the twins in particular – makes your return rather opportune.’
‘There is something I have long wished to discuss with you, and my sisters’ coming to Town bears an impact on it. Would you perchance be at home in the morning? I would value your counsel.’
Loath though he was to offer advice to his friend after his last attempts, Darcy nodded quickly. ‘Of course. Call as soon as it conveniences you.’
They had reached the corner of the Square, and here they parted company, and Darcy watched Bingley walk along Grosvenor Street towards the Hursts’ house, a renewed spring to his step, before turning to reclaim his sister’s arm upon his and direct their own steps homeward.
Chapter Three can be found here!
Copyright © Cassandra Grafton 2016