Despite her dissatisfaction with Mr Darcy’s being in the neighbourhood, Elizabeth slept well and was grateful for the attentions of Lottie as she made haste to dress and join Anne at the table.
Sir Walter was nowhere to be seen when Elizabeth entered the breakfast room, a pleasing space with an ornate domed ceiling and leaded windows through which the weak winter sunshine filtered.
‘There you are.’
Anne smiled as Elizabeth closed the door and dropped a curtsey to Miss Elliot, who inclined her head at the new arrival before returning her attention to the letter in her hand.
Anne hastily tucked a small pamphlet under her seat as Elizabeth came to sit beside her, and they exchanged pleasantries as they broke their fast, both seeming conscious of the third party in the room and not falling naturally into their usual way of speaking.
To be fair, Miss Elliot hardly spared them any notice, caught up in her correspondence as she was, and Elizabeth mused as she sipped her tea. The quietness of the table was in stark contrast to the bustle of Longbourn.
Once she had finished reading, however, Miss Elliot addressed her sister.
‘You will accompany me to Meadowbrook House this morning, Anne. I wish to call upon the Darcys. Father is engaged with his steward, and I cannot go alone.’ She considered Elizabeth, then added, ‘You may bring your…friend.’ She waved a hand in the air and the footman standing behind her leapt into action, pulling back her chair and then darting to open the door.
‘But Sister’—Anne had risen, and Miss Elliot turned about— ‘Do you not think it inappropriate? Miss Darcy has been unwell. We may be considered an intrusion and—’
‘An intrusion? Do not be tiresome, Anne. It is an honour, and not one I lightly bestow.’
Anne moved around the table to join her sister, speaking with low-voiced urgency, but Miss Elliot would carry her point. Anne would accede, thus Elizabeth would do likewise.
Elizabeth had no wish to pay a call—especially out of respect—on Mr Darcy, or his sister, whom she could well recall Wickham describing as too much like her brother, very proud, a person he wished he could call amiable but clearly could not.
No, Miss Georgiana Darcy was not someone Elizabeth had any desire to become acquainted with, especially as both Wickham and Caroline Bingley had described her as highly accomplished. How would one find time to display such an array of talents? Perhaps Miss Darcy amused her visitors by playing the pianoforte—exquisitely, of course—with her left hand whilst speaking fluent Italian as she decorated a screen with her right?
‘I am simply concerned Miss Darcy may not be up to receiving callers. I understand from her cousin that her recent poor health was the primary reason for their relocating to the West Country for the winter rather than travelling to their estate in Derbyshire.’
Sickly, too. The girl sounded delightful. Elizabeth’s earlier irritation was quashed by her rising amusement at what the call might deliver. Indeed, she began to feel quite reconciled to it, and—
‘You are quite wrong, Anne. What could be more pleasing an attention than to present ourselves as thoughtful neighbours on hand to deliver the best of company and care? Miss Darcy was indisposed when we called last time, and an introduction to Mr Darcy’s sister is long overdue.’ Miss Elliot turned away. ‘I wish to leave in a half hour. I do not like to be kept waiting.’
‘Nor do the cows at milking time,’ Elizabeth muttered.
The lady’s eyes narrowed on Elizabeth. ‘Did you say something, Miss Bennet?’
‘I did.’ Elizabeth assumed an innocent expression.
‘Anne, a word, if I may?’ Miss Elliot turned on her heel and Anne followed her out of the room.
Once the door was closed, Elizabeth sank back into her seat, then noticed the pamphlet Anne had been perusing earlier, and she picked it up.
It was a copy of Steel’s Navy List, the likes of which Elizabeth had seen once before, when Lydia—who had become quite taken with a young Lucas cousin who had recently joined the Navy—had begged Mr Bennet to obtain a copy for her.
Elizabeth much preferred a novel or a book of poetry for her reading pleasure, but she flicked through the pages all the same, though the names and accounts of various perils at sea held little interest for her. Then, she frowned, studying more closely a page of naval lists. Was that a pencil mark there, by one of the ship’s names?
Anne was standing alone in the doorway.
‘My apologies. My sister is quite set upon paying this call.’
‘I shall bear it as well as I can.’ Elizabeth smiled impishly as she stood up.
‘Can you be ready in a half hour? We had best make haste if we are not to provoke my sister further.’
Elizabeth assessed her gown, a smile still tugging at the corners of her mouth. ‘I am as ready as I intend to be.’ She laughed lightly. ‘After all, there is no one I seek to impress.’
They turned towards the door, but then Anne noticed the publication Elizabeth held out to her. Wariness filled her friend’s features, but before her curiosity could be satisfied, Anne reached out and took the pamphlet, tucking into her sleeve and preceding Elizabeth from the room.
‘Forgive me, Lizzy, for putting you in such a situation as this. I truly do not mind if you wish to remain here.’
With a laugh, Elizabeth stayed her friend with a gentle hand.
‘No apology is needed, dear Anne, and there will be no excuses made. If I am your companion, then I have a duty to accompany you.’
Anne’s mild brown eyes widened. ‘You are not my companion! You are my friend and…’
Elizabeth laughed again, and this time, Anne joined in. ‘You tease me.’ She shook her head. ‘Will I ever learn?’
‘Mama has yet to do so, even though it has been my way for nigh on twenty years.’
They turned down the corridor leading to the stairs, Elizabeth preparing to gain what enjoyment she could from observing both Mr Darcy’s discomfort from Miss Elliot’s attentions and the absurdities of his paragon of a sister.
‘What is amusing you so?’ Anne glanced at Elizabeth as they reached the first landing.
‘I am assuming my presence is just as distasteful to Mr Darcy as his is to me. In effect, I may take comfort from extracting at least this much revenge.’
Anne did not respond as they proceeded up the next flight of steps, but when they were outside the door to her chamber, she turned to Elizabeth with a small smile.
‘I believe you may be mistaken, Lizzy. From all I observed last night, I think Mr Darcy finds your presence quite the contrary.’
As was so often the case, Colonel Fitzwilliam had spoken the truth. Sleep had proven elusive and, in those few moments when Darcy had succumbed, his dreams had not been to his satisfaction.
In mixed spirits, he had broken his fast with his cousin and seen him on his way, but Darcy felt the loss of his company the moment the carriage pulled out of the driveway.
Once Georgiana had breakfasted, and Mrs Annesley left to carry out some commissions in Montacute—the nearest of the two estate villages—he had repaired with his sister to the drawing room, where he endeavoured to become engrossed in the paper. It did not suffice as Elizabeth quickly returned to the forefront of his mind. He could not outrun his incessant speculation over the implications of her presence in Somersetshire.
He checked the clock. There was an hour to fill before he must leave for his appointment in Yeovil. How was he to occupy his mind more constructively?
‘What were they like, Brother?’
Darcy lowered the paper. ‘Who, Georgie?’
Taking a sip of the concoction Mrs Reynolds had prepared for her sore throat, Georgiana peeped at him over the glass.
‘You have said much of Sir Walter, but little of his family. Are his daughters much like him, or indeed, like each other? And what of the friend who is currently visiting? If only Richard had not left so early, I could have asked him about it.’
Putting aside the paper and picking up his tea, Darcy cradled the cup in his hands. There was much he could say of the Elliot women, but he had no desire to colour Georgiana’s impression of them, and he certainly had no intention of revealing anything about Elizabeth Bennet.
‘Richard implied the other day your opinion of Sir Walter Elliot is not favourable. I am anxious to comprehend there are some within the family with whom I would be comfortable.’
Darcy fidgeted under Georgiana’s scrutiny.
‘Our cousin would do well to keep his own counsel. Any words spoken of the father were said in confidence.’ His sister’s cheeks pinkened. ‘I mean no censure, my dear, but we are beholden to the Elliot family for our present comfortable situation and will be passing many months on their estate. It is important that cordial relations are maintained between our two houses.’
Georgiana coughed daintily behind her hand. ‘You know you have my support, Fitz, but I would have my curiosity satisfied if you would oblige?’ She looked around. ‘Pleasant though these accommodations are, it is not home, and unable as I am to take any form of exercise at present, you ought to oblige me with what entertainment you can offer.’ She smiled widely. ‘And you did promise, did you not, but yesterday, to put yourself at my disposal once Richard had gone? To do all in your power to make me happy?’
Foolish promise, Darcy.
He summoned a smile. ‘As I think you know, Sir Walter has three daughters. Last evening, we were a small party of eight. The eldest, Miss Elliot, who remains at home, Mr and Mrs Musgrove, Miss Anne Elliot, who had but returned that day from spending some time in Hertfordshire, and her friend—’
‘Hertfordshire?’ Georgiana sat up in her seat, her eyes more animated than Darcy had seen them in some time. ‘Is not that where—’
‘Mr Bingley has rented a property. Now, to answer your initial question…’ Darcy fixed his sister with a firm eye as she leaned back against the cushions. ‘It is true, Miss Elliot does share some similarity of…manners with her father.’ Darcy noted his sister’s rapt attention. ‘All I am prepared to add is that they are not manners I would ever hope to see you emulate.’
‘Brother, should it ever transpire, you have my consent to dip me in a pond, that I come to my senses!’ Georgiana laughed. He dearly loved when she did, albeit this time it ended with that ever-persistent cough. How Darcy had missed her delight in things, absurd or otherwise, in these long months since her unfortunate experience with Wickham.
‘Do not think that I would not.’
Georgiana grinned at him. ‘I do not doubt it, Fitz. Pray, continue telling me about the ladies, for I am well entertained.’
‘Mrs Musgrove is…’ Excruciating and self-absorbed? Darcy cleared his throat. ‘A pleasant enough woman but is soon to be confined.’
‘Oh dear! Is she well?’
‘I believe the ailments are trifling though her complaints are significant.’
‘Her husband is a proficient sportsman and has invited me to join a shoot this Friday.’
‘I am glad you will have some sport. And the middle daughter? You say Miss Anne Elliot has been in Hertfordshire? Did you know her when you were there?’ It was Georgiana’s turn to frown. ‘You mentioned a lady in one of your letters? I cannot recall her name, but I am certain it began with a B, not an E.’
Darcy stirred in his seat. ‘I—er, I did not meet Miss Anne Elliot in Hertfordshire. She is quiet and unassuming but with pleasing manners. She is also an accomplished pianist. I am certain you would find her to your liking, though she is some years older than you. There, are you content?’
‘And Miss Anne Elliot’s friend? What is her name?’
Darcy viewed the cloudy day through the window. Perhaps now would be a good time to suggest he escape for a ride, before the rains came?
Boliver had appeared in the open doorway.
‘There are some callers from Kellynch Hall. The Miss Elliots. Shall I show them in?’
Darcy’s gaze flew to Georgiana’s. Her eyes were wide with a mixture of anxiety and anticipation.
‘Would you prefer I saw them alone? I can attend them in the library if you wish.’
His sister raised her chin, though her trepidation was obvious. ‘I shall endeavour to speak little, so as not to aggravate my cough. I would like to meet the ladies more than anything.’
Darcy turned to his butler. ‘Show them in please, Boliver, and could you ask James to ensure the carriage is ready? I must depart for Yeovil shortly.’
He got up and walked over to join Georgiana, helping to arrange the woollen shawl around her as she whispered, ‘What if I embarrass us?’
Darcy smiled faintly. ‘That is an honour you can leave entirely to me, my dear.’
Chapter Ten can be found HERE!!
Copyright © 2020 Ada Bright & Cass Grafton