NEW STORY PREVIEW!! Trying something new here… let me know what you think. It’s Regency, though not canon. It’s a what-if that begins just prior to Easter 1810 in London. Jane and Lizzy are visiting the Gardiners, Darcy has not yet hired Georgiana’s companion and Bingley is determining where life should take him. The help (and sometimes interference) of a family friend brings many changes- will they all be welcome? I have a firm plot outline and have about seven chapters written in a composition notebook. (yes, the secret is out… I am not the most tech-savvy chick out there, shocking, I know!)

Without further ado… I present the first chapter of Without Reference. 

Without Reference

Chapter One: Meetings of the Garden-Variety

Monday afternoon- Vauxhall Gardens, April 1810

The loud, and decidedly unfeminine voice, cut right through the crowd. “My, oh my! As I live and breathe! That can’t be little Miss Lizzy, can it?”

Little Miss Lizzy desperately grasped the arms of her companions. “Jane, Aunt Gardiner, I think we must save ourselves now! We are about to be set upon and we’ll surely never escape.”

“Now Lizzy, surely you cannot begrudge dear Mrs. Jennings the pleasure of your company, can you?” asked the ever-blithe Jane Bennet.

As Elizabeth Bennet watched the lady in question barrel towards them with no regard for the parties she upset that had the misfortune to lie in path, she said, “If only I could Jane. I fear it’s too late for an escape now. Our only hope now is to brace ourselves.”

Mrs. Gardiner loved her nieces dearly and was always amused by how night-and-day the two girls were in their demeanors. Jane, the eldest Bennet girl, nearly twenty-one, only saw what was good and right in everything around her. Elizabeth, the next oldest and just eighteen, had her father’s dry wit and found great amusement in the folly of others. As Mrs. Gardiner was, like her nieces, very familiar with Mrs. Jennings, she would have thought that Elizabeth would have been pleased by a new object of amusement.

Needing to satisfy her own curiosity, a trait that she often shared with Elizabeth, Mrs. Gardiner enquired, “Elizabeth, Mrs. Jennings is no more difficult to bear than anyone else of our acquaintance. I’m afraid I do not understand your reluctance to meet her now.”

With only moments to explain, Elizabeth whispered, “I had a letter from dear Mrs. Jennings just prior to leaving Longbourn. She begged my company and went on at length how her fondest wish was that she longed for my company while she repaired to Kent for the summer. I dissembled in my reply that I was unsure of our plans and knew not when I’d be again in Town. I fear that I have very few options Aunt.”

Mrs. Gardiner could only laugh. “It surely will not be so bad Elizabeth. You know that it would hurt your father deeply if you did not attend to Mrs. Jennings. While we shall sorely miss your company, you cannot mean to deny her this simple pleasure.”

Elizabeth, looking like a scolded child, muttered, “No Aunt, I do not. My only hope is that age has possibly addled her mind and she will have forgotten her invitation.”

Jane thoughtfully spoke, “But Lizzy, is not Kent the Garden of England? With your love of nature, you shall no doubt find yourself well-occupied.”

For her attempt to help her sister see the possible good in the situation, Jane was rewarded with a glare from Elizabeth.

Mrs. Gardiner sighed, “Elizabeth Margaret Bennet! I saw that look. One would think you eight rather than eighteen, acting so! Mrs. Jennings is not so very terrible and you very well know it. She is a sweet lady who only wishes the best for everyone.”

“By seeking to secure it for them herself,” added Elizabeth. She further complained, “Mrs. Jennings is the queen of the match-making mamas and now that I’m eighteen, she surely won’t leave me alone!”

Still some twenty feet away with a few groups between them, Mrs. Jennings shouted, “Miss Lizzy! You stay right there, is that Jane and Elise? Splendid!”

Jane, Elizabeth and Mrs. Gardiner did as they were bidden and stood rooted in their location, awaiting the arrival of Mrs. Jennings.

Finally, an out-of-breath Mrs. Jennings came upon the little group. “My dearest girl! How pleased I am to find you in Town! I had nearly despaired that my plans for you this summer would come to naught, but now I can see that I had worried for nothing.” Turning to Mrs. Gardiner, she continued, “I’m so glad that you were able to rescue Lizzy from the machinations of that wretched woman. To think she wished to keep Lizzy sequestered away in Hertfordshire, intent to wait upon that toad-eating cousin of Tom’s to make my Miss Lizzy an offer! Preposterous! That’s what it is, plain and simple- preposterous! Why, the boy is not even yet done with his studies! What can your sister be thinking? I know not, and that’s for certain. Now, shall I call to pick up my Miss Lizzy tomorrow, or would this afternoon be more convenient for you, Elise?”

Mrs. Gardiner let the silence stand for a moment longer than was entirely proper. With the ever-verbose Mrs. Jennings, it was always best to err on the side of caution. One just never was certain when she would open her mouth again to speak and it would be rude to interrupt the venerable lady.

“My nieces and I have accepted an invitation to a private musicale this evening. As eagerly as Elizabeth has been anticipating your company, I am afraid that we must beg your leave to defer her departure until the morrow. That is, if you find that to be an agreeable arrangement Mrs. Jennings.”

“Very agreeable, Elise! I shall send my carriage ‘round eleven to fetch you Miss Lizzy! My, oh my! What fun we shall have together this summer! You will be in raptures when you hear just what I have in store for you! Now, if you ladies will be so kind as to excuse me, I seem to have lost my dear Mrs. Flemming. Elise, Jane, Lizzy, until tomorrow.”
Tuesday morning- Gardiner House, Gracechurch Street, near Cheapside

Elizabeth tossed the last of her things into her trunk. Turning to her sister, she asked, “Jane? I know it’s just not done, but would you please say a brief word at my funeral? I know this trip will surely be the death of me!”

Jane gently admonished, “Oh, Lizzy! You know very well that once you get to Kent, you’ll have a grand time with Mrs. Jennings. You so love to meet new people and are much better suited in large company than I.”

“You, dearest Jane, are everything good and by comparison I know myself to be very wicked. When Mama goes on about how I remind her of Mrs. Jennings, I find myself looking for the nearest cliff so I can decide my own fate rather than have one not of my choosing thrust upon me.”

“You speak so freely all the time Lizzy, never worrying about the consequences of your words. Perhaps that’s all Mama meant by her comments.”

Elizabeth could not help but laugh. “Censure? From you Jane? I shall have to mark this with especially large print in my diary tonight! Truly, I have noticed that Mrs. Jennings and I do share that trait. I must be more vigilant and watch that my tongue does not run along ahead of my brain.”

An exasperated Jane cried, “Elizabeth!”

“I can do that too. Jane! See?”

Sighing that her sister could be so purposefully frustrating, “Yes, I see.”

When the younger girl smirked in triumph at flustering, once again, the unflappable Jane, she realized that she held in her hands a pair of slippers her sister had asked to borrow and was inspired by a spark of mischief to lend them to her sister much more forcibly than originally intended. As the kid leather shoes hurled through the air towards Elizabeth’s unsuspecting back, Jane called out, “Here, catch!” and then ran out of their shared room, mirthfully laughing all the while.

Rather than be upset at having footwear launched at her, Elizabeth was greatly amused that Jane had dared to even do such a thing at all. Stepping into the hallway and addressing Jane’s retreating back, she shouted, “You missed me, you missed me!” even though Jane hadn’t.

Mrs. Gardiner had been on her way to check on her niece’s progress when she heard such a commotion that she was momentarily confused. These girls that were teasing and running through her house shouting could not possibly be Jane and Lizzy. No, somehow they’d changed places and before her must be the silly likes of Kitty and Lydia for it was impossible to think that Jane could ever have taken childish revenge against Lizzy’s teasing!

Standing directly behind an unaware Elizabeth, she nearly jumped out of her skin when her aunt began to speak. “I have no idea what you have done to provoke Jane’s ire Lizzy, but if you’ve indeed somehow managed to disturb your sister’s equanimity, I shall not be the one to correct her. Except perhaps to help her improve her aim.”

When her aunt begun her speech, Lizzy did truly feel chastised. But her aunt’s pronouncement about aiding Jane in her future abuse of others only made her grin brilliantly.

“Please do! Then Jane may actually become a formidable opponent rather than…” her voice grew louder as she shouted down the stairway, “… such a meek mouse!”

Jane called back, “This meek mouse at least has fleet feet!”

That, of course, made everyone laugh quite heartily and in earnest.

Friday morning- Darcy residence, Brook Street, Mayfair

The master, a young man of nearly six-and-twenty was nervously fingering the edges of some letters of reference as he began to speak. ‘“Well, Mrs. Younge, it does seem as though everything is in order here. If you are indeed still interested in the position, you may start this coming Monday. I expect that just as soon as you were settled and better acquainted with Miss Darcy that your party should be leaving for the seaside by Friday at the latest. What say you Mrs. Younge?”

Augusta Younge stood as tall and proud as she could manage, saying in a firm voice that sounded appropriately authoritative, “I’d be delighted. Your sister, Miss Darcy, is such a charming girl and I can promise you that under my guidance, she’ll be properly schooled in all the things that a young woman ought to know.”

Clapping his hands together in relief, Mr. Darcy said, “Excellent! I shall see you to the carriage and speak with my man. When you arrive home, please feel free to have the carriage wait for you so you can begin to send your things back with it.”

She nodded a curtsy but demurred at his offer. “You are very polite and kind, sir! I thank you for your trouble, but can assure you that when I arrive Monday, you’ll see that I can manage all my possessions quite easily on my own.”

Uncomfortable, he mumbled, “Oh. I’m sorry. The life of a paid companion must be fairly austere then.”

Noting his unease, Mrs. Younge suppressed a smile. “I have possessions enough, Mr. Darcy. You will not find me lacking in want of anything material, sir.”

“I do not believe I shall. Thank you again for accepting the position. If you’re ready to leave then, I shall just see you to your carriage.”

Mrs. Younge only then smiled and nodded.

As they exited the Darcy’s townhome, Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy was about to continue addressing his sister’s new companion, when he heard the loud, distinct voice of his neighbor accompanied by the crystal-clear laughter of a young woman. The brash voice he well knew. It could only belong to his busy-body neighbor Mrs. Jennings. The other voice he knew not, but when he stole a glance at the young beauty responsible for it, he wished he did.

Mrs. Younge made a remark which ended, “…do you not think so Mr. Darcy?” to which he could only non-commitally nod his head. Knowing that he just might have agreed to four days off a week or some other unthinkable concession, he shook his head and turned his head away from his distraction and focused once more on his sister’s companion.

“Did you have any further inquiries to make about the position, Mrs. Younge? I am at liberty to answer any questions or allay any uncertainties you might have.”

“Uncertanties? Sir, I must tell you that I count myself among the most fortunate of souls to know that I am to hold a position with the Darcy family. I assure you sir, I have no misgivings or concerns at all and promise that I will do my very best to always comport myself in such a manner that I should never bring any shame or infamy to your house.”

Relief washed across Mr. Darcy’s face. He had been so unsure about doing this on his own. The estate he could manage. Tenants were no trouble. He could be ruthless when need be in business. However, in matters that concerned his young sister, he often found himself a lost man. “I thank you for your time today Mrs. Younge and extend a welcome to our household. We shall greatly anticipate your arrival on Monday.”

“I look forward to that as well, sir. Thank you, again, for this opportunity Mr. Darcy. I look forward to watching over Miss Darcy. Your sister is clearly a great lady in the making.”

Mr. Darcy would never curtail anyone’s praise of his sister. “Thank you for the compliments Mrs. Younge. She is shy to be sure, but I think with the proper care and guidance, Georgiana will be a very great lady indeed.”

Mrs. Younge felt very pleased with herself. She had been warned that Mr. Darcy was, at best, a difficult man to deal with and, at worst, could be quite tenacious. That she was able to sail through her interview virtually unquestioned had surprised her greatly. She had been under the impression that Colonel Fitzwilliam might be there as well. That would have made things less easy, but Augusta Younge had every confidence that even had the Colonel been at their conference, she would have charmed her way into the position regardless. The key seemed to be to play to their vanity, the same as with all well-off people. Tell them what they wish to hear, stroke their egos, exaggerate the good qualities, demure the poor ones and before you knew it, you were welcomed into the bosom of their society. It was too easy by half!

With an enthusiasm that in every way appeared genuine, she gushed, “Of course, Mr. Darcy, all credit, as her brother, must go to you, sir! She will do great honor to your name for certain.”

Mr. Darcy was about to make some remark in reply, when out of the corner of his eye he espied the young woman approach them rapidly, with Mrs. Jennings trailing her while quickly waddling to catch up.

Though he was curious what their hurry was, he knew he needed to finish his business with Mrs. Younge and so turned his attention back to her, only to find she had lost all her color as she too noted the young woman’s approach.

Elizabeth began her tirade before she even reached them. “Augusta Younge! What the devil are you doing here? How dare you show your face in polite society anywhere, let alone London!” Taking a breath, she turned and implored Mr. Darcy, “Sir, I pray that you have not taken this, this, well, I cannot say all the things she is, but I can tell you with absolute certainty that she is no lady and unfit to work in any respectable household. Do not be taken in by this ill-favored jade, sir, I beg you!”

Standing in shock, Mr. Darcy knew not what to say. Thankfully, his input on the matter would soon be unnecessary as Mrs. Jennings, quite out of breath, finally caught up.

“Miss Lizzy! What on earth do you think that you…” she paused but a moment when she saw Mrs. Younge standing before her. “You! What the devil are you doing here?”

Elizabeth stood in complete mortification having realized that in some ways she was indeed very like Mrs. Jennings. She would need to look to that and make immediate amendments to her character!

Mrs. Jennings continued, “You harlot! What are you doing here with Mr. Darcy? And Darcy, you cannot be seriously considering this, this harridan for any position in your house, can you? The only thing this woman is suited for is working in Covent Garden and make no mistake, I do not mean as a flower vendor!”

Mr. Darcy was not often spoken to in such a matter. Mrs. Jennings, having been one of his closest neighbors in Town since he was a small child, had always been afforded more leniency than others were allowed in their addresses to him. He needed to always remind himself that his parents had always admired this lady and so he tempered his words accordingly when he spoke. “Mrs. Jennings, it is very good to see you again. You find me in the very process of offering Mrs. Younge here the position of Miss Darcy’s companion. Am I correct in understanding you posses a strong reason that I should not do so?”

Mrs. Jennings cried, “I have many reasons why this skirted albatross should never darken your door! However, I believe that this is a tale that would best be told by Miss Bennet.”

Reaching out her hand for Elizabeth to step forward, Mrs. Jennings quickly made the introductions. “Miss Lizzy? This here is Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. Darcy, this young woman is Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire. Miss Lizzy, please enlighten Darcy here, if you would be so kind, as to why he should do anything but hire this, this, well, I do not wish to call her a woman, though I suppose that’s the form the devil gave her.”

Elizabeth was about to begin her tale when Darcy spoke first. “Excuse me Miss Bennet, this will sound very strange indeed, but is your steward’s name Mr. Abernathy?”

Stunned, Elizabeth answered warily. “Mr. Abernathy was indeed our steward. He is no longer in our employ. How did you come to know our former steward’s name?”

Darcy frowned. “I hold in my hand here,” he waved the papers for effect, “a letter of reference from the man himself describing in great detail how well regarded Mrs. Younge was by Mr. Abernathy. It further goes on to say how invaluable she was in her services as a governess for your family. This, I take it, is not the case?”

Elizabeth’s cheeks burned with anger. “It is not, sir! Nothing could be further from the truth! Augusta Younge was dismissed from our employ without reference, period. She is the basest kind of scoundrel there is. I know scoundrel is not a word used to describe ladies, but Mr. Darcy, please believe me, she is no lady!”

Darcy had heard enough. He had not been diligent for the first time in his life and he was thankfully saved from feeling the full effect of it by the timely interference of his neighbors.

With his Master of Pemberley tone, Darcy calmly asked, “What have you to say Mrs. Younge? No specific charges have been laid against you. As yet, all that’s been questioned is your moral character. Would you care to make a statement?”

Augusta knew the game was up. She just needed now to get away before she drew any further notice. Damn that Bennet chit! Miss Elizabeth had always been the troublesome one in that house. Jane was too nice, Mary too self-involved and Kitty was too busy following wherever Lydia might lead. Lizzy had always been the smart one. Though she had no proof, she was as sure as she was breathing that her dismissal from Longbourn was because Lizzy had found her out. How she hated that girl! She would find a way to exact revenge on that chit if it was the last thing she ever did

“Mr. Darcy, while I have done some wrong in my past, I ask of you this: are there any of us without sin?”

Elizabeth was livid. “You dare twist scripture to suit your purpose?”

Darcy held his hand up and gently said, “Miss Bennet, I thank you for your concern. Mrs. Jennings, I thank you as well. I have been negligent in my duty to my sister and I thank you both for helping me prevent a mistake of no small magnitude.”

Mrs. Younge tried once more, “Mr. Darcy? You cannot seriously believe the word of this slip of a girl over me, would you?”

Coldly, he replied, “I would. You are dismissed. If I should ever hear you mention my name, the name of Bennet or the name of Jennings ever again, you, madam, will regret it. Do not treat this as an idle threat; I have the means and ability to do it.”

Mrs. Younge turned her back and began walking down the street. She had not enough money to hire a hack and it was a long way back to the boarding house. She had been so close! George would be furious without doubt, but some things could not be foreseen. Had she not sought to flatter Darcy more, she would have been safely within the carriage and unseen by that Bennet girl. How would they make their fortune now?

Watching Mrs. Younge walk away, Darcy remembered his duty. “Mrs. Jennings, Miss Bennet, please allow me to thank you on behalf of not only myself, but my sister too.”

Mrs. Jennings patted Darcy on his cheek and then pinched his chin. “You are such a good lad Darcy! How is dear Miss Darcy?”

Elizabeth caught Mr. Darcy’s eye but for a moment. She rolled her eyes heavenwards and he had to fight an unfamiliar impulse to do the same. Darcy recognized that this girl could very easily come to have great power over him. He needed to steel himself against that possibility.

Seeing his discomfort at being man-handled by Mrs. Jennings, Elizabeth felt great empathy for the man and sought to alleviate his discomfort.

Elizabeth smiled at Darcy and gave him a wink. Darcy blushed at such a gesture and thought she might be overtly flirting with him, which he wasn’t sure he’d mind too much, until she spoke. “Mrs. Jennings? Will we not miss tea if we continue to tarry on the street? I am sure that Mr. Darcy must have other business to attend to.”

This girl would surely bewitch him if he didn’t take care. This was his last thought before his mouth betrayed him by saying with his very next breath, “Rather than throw your house into chaos, Mrs. Jennings, would you consider taking tea here this afternoon? Georgiana is within and rather than rely on my report of her welfare, you could see for yourself how she fares.”

Elizabeth could see Mrs. Jennings was brimming with glee from the invitation, but Elizabeth was loathe to impose upon them and she said so. “Mr. Darcy, we would hate to intrude on your time with your sister. You’ve just had a narrow escape and I think that you most likely will need to start your search over again.”

Darcy was mesmerized by the twinkle in her eyes. There was a mirth that she tried to keep hidden there and he was quite certain he could be content to watch her eyes dance in such a way for the rest of his life. He chastised himself for being distracted again but issued his invitation once more. “I assure you Miss Bennet, it would be no intrusion. We’ve only just arrived in Town and none of my sister’s friends are here yet and she’s been complaining loudly that an elder brother makes for very poor company. I would consider it a very great favor if you would come.”

Mrs. Jennings had never seen such a sight in all her life. Why had she never thought of this before? She smiled as she watched Elizabeth blush at his insistence. This could be a very good match indeed!

Elizabeth said with an uncharacteristic quietness, “Mr. Darcy, you are all politeness.”

Darcy reddened again. Mrs. Jennings saved him from having to say anything by taking his arm and saying, “Darcy, my dear boy, we’d love to come in for tea.”

***New as of 6/14/2011!!!***

Chapter Two: Tea for two, three or four?

Elizabeth was pleasantly surprised as she entered the townhome on Darcy’s arm. She had accompanied Mrs. Jennings on many morning visits over the last few days and had grown tired of pretending to be impressed with ostentatious displays which were designed solely to impart status and wealth. Mr. Darcy’s home, while appearing quite stately, had no extra fripperies or nonsense about it at all. The rooms they could see appeared richly furnished, but in an elegantly understated way that felt comfortable and not at all pretentious. Elizabeth found herself wondering if the home was a reflection of the handsome man beside her, but then she thought such a notion was ridiculous as he most likely either inherited it as it stood or, more likely, he had someone decorate it for him.

As he opened the door to the morning parlor, he smiled and said, “Mrs. Jennings, I am sure you remember this room.”

“Oh, Darcy, my dear, sweet boy, ‘tis still such a beautiful room! Your mother believed this room was as close to the perfection of Pemberley as she could achieve in London. Lizzy, is this not the sweetest room you have ever seen?”

In awe of her surroundings, Elizabeth managed to find her voice at last. “I find I must agree with you, Mrs. Jennings, I have never before seen a room quite like this!”

Darcy was pleased by her reaction. Most callers, at least the feminine ones, seemed to add up the cost of furnishings as though they were in a museum rather than a home. Miss Bennet looked around with wonder in her eyes at all she saw and, all at once, Darcy knew this girl was not a mercenary social-climber. Darcy was watching Elizabeth with such keen interest that, for a moment, he had forgotten his manners. “Please, won’t you make yourselves comfortable while I go and fetch my sister Georgiana?”

Mrs. Jennings, always wise, noted Darcy’s distraction and helped him by saying, “You go ahead and do that my dear boy. I shall keep Miss Lizzy occupied by telling her of this room’s history in your absence.”

With a small bow and a smile, Darcy bid his temporary good-byes as he excused himself to go and retrieve his sister. As he left the room, Elizabeth’s eyes remained fixed on the doorway until Mrs. Jennings drew her attention by asking, “What do you think, Miss Lizzy?”

She had often been chastised by her mama for not attending conversations as she ought, and while most of her mother’s criticisms could be discarded as unduly harsh, this was one she well-knew she was guilty of; for even her beloved Aunt Gardiner had called her on it many times in the last few weeks. ‘A proper lady always attends’ her dear Aunt was fond of saying. And as the entire goal of any gently-bred girl was to be a proper lady, Elizabeth would need to do better.

“I am sorry Mrs. Jennings, but I must confess I was not attending… pray excuse me for my absent-mindedness.”

Smiling because she saw so very much of herself in her young charge, she repeated, “I simply asked what think you?”

Elizabeth’s first thoughts turned to the handsome young man who had flustered her so. Surely Mrs. Jennings was not asking her about him? She blushed at the very notion! No, she was, of course, being asked her opinion on this very fine, if unusual, room. When she felt the heat begin to leave her cheeks, she answered, “I could not have imagined such a room could exist!”

“There is truth in what you say, Miss Lizzy. Lady Anne, that’s Fitzwilliam’s mother- Mrs. Darcy, had a penchant for rambling in the woods, not unlike you, and since true peacefulness is difficult to come by in London, they had the house redone to accommodate Lady Anne’s love of nature into the house. See how we are surrounded by the glass panels? This clever design allows all the enjoyment of a conservatory, but none of the stuffiness or excessive humidity. And see there? Accommodations were made to the upper floors so that sunlight streams into this room all year long.”

Mrs. Jennings further explained how, in the latter years of his mother’s life, Lady Anne’s health had begun to fail and traipsing about out-of-doors to enjoy the wonders of nature had become nearly impossible. Old Mr. Darcy had hired John Nash to design a way to bring the feel of a conservatory into the practicality of a sitting room. Mr. Nash consulted with Mr. Repton and together designed the glorious room in which they stood now.

Elizabeth, who was now wandering along the walls, viewing the surrounding flora and fauna, said with near breathless enthusiasm, “This is truly magnificent!”

“Thank you,” replied Darcy as he escorted his sister into the room. “My father, as I’m sure Mrs. Jennings has already reported, had this room especially designed for my mother. Aside from the library, it is my favorite room in this house.”

His tone when he spoke was full of warmth and admiration for his parents. Elizabeth was saddened by the realization that although she loved her parents and was her own father’s acknowledged favourite, she could not speak with equal affection for her own.

Mrs. Francis, or Fanny, Bennet made it the first order of her life to see her girls all well-married to avoid the poverty that would surely come should something happen to Mr. Bennet. The Bennet’s estate of Longbourn was, unfortunately like many estates, entailed to follow the male line. Mr. Thomas Bennet tried desperately and often to not be the last male member of the Bennet family and as a result, along with his wife, he had welcomed five daughters into the world. Since it had been just over thirteen years since the youngest Bennet daughter, Miss Lydia, had been born, the Bennets were resigned to the eventuality that their beloved estate would someday, hopefully in the long-distant future, devolve to a distant cousin from the Collins family. Due to a circumstance long forgotten, the Bennets and Collinses had held great animosity between their families which is why Fanny Bennet’s greatest fear was to be tossed into the hedgerows upon her husband’s demise.

If the chief of Mrs. Bennet’s time was spent pushing her daughters into the marriage mart, it could be said that Mr. Bennet’s time was mainly occupied with making sport of his neighbors. Though Elizabeth had little in common with her mother, she was definitely her father’s protégé. While her sisters whiled away their free time trimming bonnets, covering screens and working on other such useless decorations, Elizabeth preferred studying satire, philosophy, politics and history with her dearest Papa. She had her father’s dry, acerbic sense of humor and at assemblies the pair could often be found holed up in a corner making observations of the follies and foibles of all those in attendance. Her Papa had also taught her how the estate ran, just as he would have a son, as well as how best to deal with business so as not to come out on the short end of things. Though Elizabeth greatly respected her father’s abilities, as she grew older, she also saw his deficiencies and short-comings.

Mr. Bennet, like all scholars, knew how to do things in principle if not in practice. He preferred the path of least resistance in his home-life and so never sought to reign in his boisterous wife who over-spent their income. He never checked her when she became over-exuberant in company, often embarrassing herself and her family. As the girls grew and no more children, especially the long-awaited heir, came, he never thought to seek ways to make Longbourn more profitable or find other ways to invest for the future. Through both his proclivity to be idle and unwillingness to sacrifice his own comfort, the Bennet girls were all caught in the unfortunate position of being near-dowerless and with no true protection. As much as Elizabeth loved her father, her respect for him as both guardian and protector had diminished over the last few years.

Though Mr. Darcy was very clearly still a young man, it crossed Elizabeth’s mind that he seemed to know very well who he was. It was obvious that he took his responsibilities very seriously and she could not imagine the man who stood before her now would ever feel a need to scramble because he had not done his duty and behaved in a responsible manner! Seeing the loving care Darcy took with his sister made Elizabeth feel just the slightest tinge of… was it possible? Jealousy? Not of the girl herself- for that would be quite foolish- but of the idea that someone could care about another so selflessly, love so completely, that their concerns would be paramount above all else was so strange!

Elizabeth realized that the silence had ensued too long. Looking to Mrs. Jennings for some assistance, she found that lady grinning at her in a most infuriating manner. Realizing that she was on her own, Elizabeth spoke at last, “I can well believe this room must be a great favorite, Mr. Darcy. I must also confess I, too, have a great fondness for libraries.”

The young girl beside Darcy gasped which in turn caused him to smile. “See, Georgiana? It is exactly as I told you just yesterday. Confessing that you have a penchant for reading does not have to equate with being a Bluestocking. Does Miss Bennet here appear in any way to be the severe sort of woman you are so worried about being perceived as?”

Miss Darcy shyly shook her head and in a quiet voice whispered, “No, Brother.”

“Indeed not!” Darcy agreed with a chuckle. “Miss Bennet? If I may…” Elizabeth nodded to allow the introduction. “Miss Bennet, this is my sister Georgiana Darcy. Georgiana, this is Miss Elizabeth Bennet, whom I understand hails from Hertfordshire.”

Georgiana, despite her shyness in company, managed to stammer, “I am pleased to meet you Miss Bennet. And it is always very nice, of course, to see you, Mrs. Jennings.”

“Oh, my Georgie-porgie! You are growing more beautiful with each day! Darcy my boy, is your sister not the spitting image of your mother? Lizzy, rarely will you see such perfect copies of a past generation. Darcy here is the very picture of his father at this age- you are six-and-twenty, yes?”

“Not quite yet. August will see me six-and-twenty, while June will see Georgie turn fourteen.”

“Ah, I see. Perhaps Miss Georgie would be better suited to another year in school rather than starting life with a companion. You surely do not intend for her to be out just yet, do you, Fitzwilliam?”

Few people ever called Darcy by his given name and Mrs. Jennings, by way of her long-standing association with his family, was one of them. Really preferring to be called simply Darcy, he sighed and answered, “Of course she will not be out yet! That is at least two, possibly three or four, seasons away!”

“I thought as much. I understand that as a bachelor, you have likely reached the end of what you can teach her. Without a woman around to teach her the more feminine accomplishments, I truly believe she might feel more comfortable in a school with her peers where she could learn these necessities and make some new friends.”

“Really? You truly think such an action would be for the best? What think you, Georgie?”

“I… I am unsure, Brother. I would not know anyone and would miss you so dreadfully. What do you think Miss Bennet? Is it so very important that I can stitch a sampler or cover a screen?”

Elizabeth had been watching the scene unfold and found she agreed with Mrs. Jennings. “Not so very important Miss Darcy, but yes, every gently-bred woman must have at least some accomplishments. Several languages, a bit of drawing, some needlework and the ability to keep up her end of a conversation in a drawing room. These are all things that have become paramount, ridiculous as they may seem.”

Mrs. Jennings was unsurprised, Georgiana a bit scandalized while Darcy was greatly amused by this slight outburst.

Darcy commented first. “Ridiculous? How so? That is, if you do not mind explaining.”

Elizabeth looked to Mrs. Jennings first for approval, which was silently given, and then proceeded to explain her thoughts on the absurdities of accomplishments.

“Well, first there’s the issue with studying languages. A lady cannot be truly esteemed as accomplished if she does not at least count some knowledge of speaking French or Italian alongside English; however, if you make a study of Latin, which is the basis for so many languages, then you are too learned. We study needlework to make what? Decorative things. Does a handkerchief really need intricate initials and flowers sewn upon it? Would not a better use of effort and time to sew something that may be of actual use? Of course not! For, to sew something of actual usage would be too much like trade and that would simply never do!”

Darcy wished to laugh, but thought better of it and asked instead, “Miss Bennet, is this not a somewhat cynical view of things at your age?”

“At my age? Mr. Darcy, I fear that, yes, it probably is a bit cynical, but I must speak as I find. Some accomplishments are fine and have their uses. Music is worthy enough and provides its own merits, the very least of which is an enjoyment of the music itself. But truly, no lady actually enjoys needlework. It is all so much nonsense that mothers make their daughters learn what is tantamount to a trade that they would never allow their daughters to actually enter. If I had a natural talent for sewing, should I be a seamstress? If I have a talent for making pies, should I be a baker? I do not see the point in all this. It seems to be a most dishonest way to cast about for a husband.”

Darcy was highly amused and could not help but smile. “Cast about? Are you angling then for a husband?”

Elizabeth was pleased that he hadn’t seemed offended and pressed her luck further still by answering honestly. “A husband? No, I must confess I am not. However, hand me some tackle and a pole and I will in turn hand you a nice trout.”

Mrs. Jennings guffawed, “Now there’s an accomplishment for you, Fitzwilliam!”

Georgiana was astonished. Her very proper, very dour brother was conversing easily with this outspoken girl and what was more he even seemed to be enjoying himself! She wished to join in the banter, but did not feel equal to the wit that was being so boldly displayed by all parties. Instead, she kept quiet observation and began to hope that someday her brother would marry a woman like Miss Elizabeth so she could have the sister she always desired at last.

Mrs. Jennings and Elizabeth stayed another hour with the Darcys and in that time they canvassed everything from where the best bookshops were to the latest goings-on in the House of Lords. Both parties found they were pleased with the company and before Mrs. Jennings and Elizabeth left, it was decided that they would attend the new production of Shakespeare’s Henry V the next evening. Mrs. Jennings and Elizabeth would join the Darcys in their box as Mrs. Jenning’s step-daughter’s family would be in her family’s box for that performance.

Darcy walked them to the door. “Thank you, once again, for alerting me to Mrs. Young’s character. I cannot imagine what would happen to my poor, impressionable sister under that creature’s care.”

“It was really nothing, Sir,” Elizabeth blushed. “I would imagine that if faced with similar circumstances, you would be gentleman enough to alert others to unknown dangers if you knew some rogue was loose amongst the unsuspecting populace.”

“I would certainly hope so!”

Mrs. Jennings patted his cheek and agreed, “Of course you would, Fitzwilliam. You are always such a good boy!”

Darcy suddenly found himself blushing and feeling like a boy of ten again. He protested, “Mrs. Jennings!”

“Oh tosh, Fitzwilliam! You are a fine, upstanding young man and if I, as someone who has known you all of your life, cannot sing your praises then pray tell me who should?”

Darcy caught Elizabeth’s eye as he rolled his and she smiled.

“I suppose no one, Mrs. Jennings, except, of course, you.”

Darcy walked with them out to the street and confirmed what time he and Georgiana would call on them the next evening. He watched the ladies make their way several doors. Darcy did not move until he saw them enter Mrs. Jenning’s home. As he returned inside, Darcy smiled as he realized how pleasant it had been to catch up with his Godmother. He decided he had neglected her company for far too long and, as his near neighbor and close friend of the family, he needed to strengthen his relationship with her house.
Chapter Three: Once More unto the Breach, Dear Friends

Friday Afternoon- Litchfield House, Brook Street, Mayfair

Elizabeth, who was afraid of very little, found herself terrified.

Mrs. Jennings had been quiet. While most women, at least on occasion, can be found in moments of quiet introspection, Mrs. Jenning’s loquacious manner never led to such moments of peace and Elizabeth was ill-prepared to deal with the lady’s silence.

They had been home from their visit with the Darcys for two hours and Elizabeth found herself unable to concentrate on the tea towel she had been working. Elizabeth could no longer wait for Mrs. Jenning’s inquisition and begged to be excused to her room.

Mrs. Jennings could see Elizabeth was disconcerted and said, “Miss Lizzy, of course you may go, but first will you please satisfy me and tell me what you thought of my Godson?”

Elizabeth was trying her best not to think of Darcy. “He seems to be a nice, gentlemanly sort of man.”

“Tosh! I think we may need to see a physician and have your eyes examined for spectacles! My Godson is one of the handsomest men in Town and if you could not see that, then you must be going quite blind, my dear girl.”

With a deep breath, Elizabeth bowed her head to say, “Of course I noticed that, Mrs. Jennings. But what would you have me say? I am sure that a man such as Mr. Darcy would find a country hoyden such as me much too low for his notice.”

Mrs. Jennings now stood and lifted Elizabeth’s chin and smiled. “You, my dearest Lizzy, are not too low for anyone’s notice. That is your mother talking and I will not have it! He is a gentleman; that is true. But you, my dear, dear Elizabeth, are a gentleman’s daughter and that makes you equal.”

Elizabeth shook her head in disagreement. “What of fortune? What of position in society? Surely these things count a great deal, do they not? Perhaps I should just go home to Longbourne and await one of the Long boys to come home. If Jane, who is quite ten times prettier than I, and so sweet of temper, could not find a match, then how can I ever hope to? I thank you for offering me a season, but, truly, I think it would be for the best if I just went home.”

“Elizabeth Bennet! You will stop this ridiculous foolishness at once! You are a beautiful, lively, witty and accomplished young woman. You are a gentleman’s daughter and come from a long-established and respected, though perhaps not grand, family. I guarantee that once you get it through that stubborn head of yours that you are by no means some inferior, unworthy creature, that you will have a wonderful season. I could throttle that mother of yours for this foolish nonsense! You have never given much credit to anything she has ever said before, and for my life I cannot fathom why you do so now! Your father has done a marvelous job with your education and I would wager that all the young men will be at least as tongue-tied as Darcy was today.”

“Mr. Darcy was tongue-tied?” was all Elizabeth could say.

“Quite so my dear!” Mrs. Jennings confirmed. “I think our dear boy was pleasantly disconcerted by you.”

Elizabeth, embarrassed that she had been unable to keep control of her tongue in the presence of so great a gentleman, said, “I must own I find that very hard to believe, Mrs. Jennings.”

The elder woman patted Elizabeth’s hand and said gently, “That, my dear girl, does not make it any less the truth.” Elizabeth nodded that she understood and Mrs. Jennings, smiling broadly, then said conspiratorially, “Now, what say we explore the trunks upstairs and see if we can find a proper gown for you to wear to the theater tomorrow?”

Elizabeth, knowing full well the futility of trying to resist Mrs. Jennings, gave in and followed quietly.


Saturday afternoon- Darcy House, Brook Street, Mayfair

Darcy could not recall ever being in such a state of nervous agitation, and could not account for why he was in such a state now. He had spent the early portion of the morning going over correspondence with his secretary, he had lunch with his friends at his club, he had met his cousin at Angelo’s for some exercise; in short, the day had not been different than any other. Feeling uneasy with his agitated mind, he decided to seek out his sister. She was not in her rooms, nor was she in the music room, the library or the garden. He then recalled she had very lately taken to sitting in their mother’s parlor and so he sought her there.

When he reached his mother’s favorite room, he found Georgiana seated quietly, working on a sampler. He watched her work her needle for a moment before she took notice of him and brightly said, “Good afternoon, Brother. I trust you had a pleasant time beating Geoffrey?”

He smiled. “I did, thank you. Geoff, though he may be formidable on a field of battle, is astonishingly easy to beat in a gymnasium.”

“Perhaps he lets you win.”

“Never.” Darcy laughed, “Our cousin has still never forgiven me for being a better swordsman.”

Georgiana set her needlework down, motioned for him to sit, and poured her brother a cup of tea which he gladly accepted. “Perhaps he has yet to forgive you because you are also a superior horseman, chess player and a significantly better shot than he.”

He laughed at his sister’s catalogue of his skills, but teasingly added, “You forgot to mention my uncommonly good angling skills.”

“I daresay that our dear Lieutenant Colonel is only half-joking when he says that you would have been better suited to being a younger son.”

It was his cousin’s favorite taunt and Darcy had given it much consideration over the years. “Ah, but let us not forget the reason I was able to develop these skills was precisely because I was not a younger son. Had I needed to take up a profession, besides managing the estate, I would likely be in the same state as Geoff. Geoff, by the way, is no longer to be referred to as your ‘dear Lieutenant Colonel’.”

Georgiana’s face lit up. “No? Has he resigned his commission? Is he now safe?”

Darcy chastised himself for having inadvertently led her to the wrong conclusion. “No, my pet, I am afraid he has not. In fact, while it is good news for him, I am sad to say it is quite the opposite. Geoff has been made Colonel, and is very shortly to leave us for Cadiz.”

Her hand flew to her mouth as she gasped, “He cannot! He will be killed!”

“There is a great need for soldiers in Spain at present, or so I’m told. Things are not going as easy as was hoped. However, as I have heard him say many times, ‘only the good die young’, I expect our scoundrel cousin will most likely outlive us all. If you like, you may ask him all about it when he comes with us to the theater tonight.”

She had asked repeatedly yesterday for permission to attend, but as Darcy had been reluctant to grant it, his statement took her pleasantly by surprise.

“I may go?”

“Yes, Georgiana, you may go. Geoff is coming along with us and Phillip has been invited as well, though I expect the Earl has other plans for him this evening.”

“Not that horrid Lady Abernathy, I hope!”

“Sadly, yes. It seems that our wastrel cousin, the Viscount, has once more overspent his allowance and our good Uncle has decided he needs to learn a lesson. I believe spending time in Lady Abernathy’s tedious company will teach Phillip the merits of staying within his means, if only to not be forced to march down the aisle with such a woman.”

“Fitzwilliam!” Georgiana was shocked. Her brother had never before spoken in such free manner with her before.

Realizing that he had said too much as regards family matters that really did not concern his sister, he apologized. “I am sorry, Georgiana. Please, forgive me. I know not what has gotten into me today.”

“There is nothing to forgive, Brother. I was only taken aback that you would speak to me about such things. I know that I am still very young, but is it not time that you show me what one should look for and what to avoid in a marriage partner?”

The thought of his thirteen-year-old sister even giving a fleeting thought to marriage was enough to make Darcy’s head ache. “I believe we are safe from the topic of marriage where you are concerned for a few years yet at least, my pet.”

Georgiana shook her head at her dear brother’s obtuseness. “I know that, Fitzwilliam! I meant that is it not time you began to consider marriage?”

“Marriage?” Darcy nearly choked on his tea. “I think not. I yet have plenty of time before I must think of marriage.”

Georgiana crossed her arms defiantly and stated, “You need an heir and I need a sister. Is that not reason enough to at least warrant some consideration?”

“Oh, I see.” Darcy smiled at his sister as he began to tease her, “This is not about my need, in the far away and distant future, for an heir; this is about your wanting a sister to squire you about Town so that your stodgy old brother needn’t take you to the shops. If I did not know better, I might begin to think that you did not wish for my company any longer.”

“That is not true!” Georgiana protested.

“No,” Darcy clutched one hand to his chest while he held the other up in protest. “It is too late, the damage is done. You have wounded my finer feelings, madam, by making your own feelings so clearly known. I never thought the day would come when my own sister would cast me off like a care-worn cloak!”

Georgiana had never witnessed her brother behave so lively before. “Who are you, good sir? You look suspiciously like Fitzwilliam Darcy, but you cannot be he.”

He smiled. “I must own it, Georgiana, I am he.”

“You are in unusually good humour today.”

“I suppose I am. Very strange, for I admit that I truly feel a bit out of sorts today. In fact, there was a moment when Geoff very nearly had a parry that I almost could not counter.”

“Perish the thought!” Georgiana was barely able to speak for laughing. Once she was over her fit of giggles, she regarded her brother thoughtfully, then said, “I believe you are right, Brother. You do seem different. You seem happier somehow.”

Darcy was surprised by her assertion. “Do I?”

Georgiana nodded. “You do, indeed. And I believe I know why.”

“Pray, tell me, o wise one, what you believe is the cause of my good humour.”

She smiled brightly and said, “I believe someone is looking forward to the theater tonight.”

“Yes, but then you know that Henry V is a personal favorite of mine.”

“Of course it is,” she agreed, then needled him further, trying to make him admit a preference for the pretty Miss Bennet, “but I wonder if maybe you are highly anticipating certain company we shall keep this evening. Someone other than Mrs. Jennings.”

Flustered, Darcy admonished his sister. “Georgiana, while I will admit I am looking forward to seeing our neighbor and her young charge, you need to stop this line of thinking right now. There is nothing between Miss Bennet and I. She is a lovely young woman, but that is all. Perhaps it might be best if you stay home this evening after all.”

“Brother, please, I so wish to go this evening! I swear I’ll not tease you any longer on the matter, even though Miss Bennet is the first lady I’ve ever seen that has made you laugh so.”

“She did make me smile, that is true. But Georgiana, surely you must understand that there is much more to a marriage than that? I only met the girl yesterday. An hour of conversation is hardly enough to determine whether any woman would be worthy.”

Georgiana apologized, “I am sorry, Brother, I only wish for you to be happy. May I speak freely?”

He nodded. “You may.”

“I only hope, it is really my fondest wish, that when you do finally choose a wife, that you make your choice with your own happiness in mind most of all. I am not as ignorant as Mr. Bingley’s sister would believe. I see her motives when she and Mrs. Hurst come here with their brother. I see our Aunt pressing you more and more each year to make an offer for our cousin. I see and hear things when you take me out to the shops. Those women do not want you! They only want the things you can give them, the things that would come with marriage to you. I know that most marriages are little more business deals, but I want you to have more than that!” Georgiana had made her plea with such passion that, when she was finished, she had to wipe tears away from her eyes.

“Georgiana, I had no idea you were so observant, or that you held such deep feeling on this matter.” Darcy was touched by his sister’s compassion for him. “It is true that the most brilliant matches, at least according to the Ton, are ones made with position and fortune in mind. You are also right about Miss Bingley and Lady Catherine as well. I promise that I will not allow myself to be subjected to their machinations. Will that satisfy you?”

She nodded and tried to give him a smile. “It will.”

As Georgiana once again took up her needlework, Darcy was struck by a thought. “Peahen, what makes you assume that Miss Bennet is any different than, say, Miss Bingley?”

His sister blushed. “Miss Bennet did not seek to bring the conversation around to the subject of you with every other sentence. Most of the ladies that speak with me only seem to do so to seek information about you.” Georgiana was warming to the subject of Elizabeth’s merits. “She also seems to be well-informed and unafraid to speak her mind. Most ladies who call spend the chief of their time trying to court your good opinion rather than dare express one of their own. Miss Bennet was very kind to me and did not seem to expect anything on return for her notice, very unlike Miss Bingley. I think, Brother, I have found Miss Bennet to be perhaps the most wonderful lady I have ever met,”

“She certainly seems to be delightfully original, does she not?”

Georgiana agreed and began quizzing her brother on what the plans were for the evening. It was decided that after the theater, if Mrs. Jennings and Miss Bennet had no objections, they would sup at Darcy House after the play. Georgiana was encouraged to take an afternoon rest, for the night would be long. When Georgiana left for her chambers, Darcy headed to the library to seek a copy of Henry V. He thumbed through the slim volume and decided he would bring it along. Darcy began to look forward to the intermissions, as he could imagine discussing the finer points of his favorite history with a young miss with the most expressive eyes he’d ever seen. It was when he started to ponder what color waistcoat he should wear that he first sensed he might be in trouble.

But oh! What wonderful trouble it was!

Saturday Evening- Litchfield House, Brook Street, Mayfair

Mrs. Jennings was alerted that Mr. Darcy was waiting for them in the front parlour. When she arrived, she found him pacing back and forth, much like the caged lions found at the Tower Menagerie. He appeared nervous and nothing could have delighted Mrs. Jennings more.

She crossed the room to meet Darcy and said, “Good evening, Fitzwilliam. Are you ready for this evening’s performance?”

He bowed over her hand and replied, “I believe we are ready as we shall ever be. ‘Once more unto the breach, dear friends, once more.’”

Mrs. Jennings smiled at her shy Godson. She imagined that quote was likely a favourite of his. “It has always amazed me how attending events amongst society feels very much like preparing to go into battle.” She saw the look in his eyes which confirmed her suspicions. “You are not alone in tonight’s siege, my dear boy, please remember that.”

“For you, I will do my best.” He smiled, knowing that he was safe from the matchmaking mamas tonight. Mrs. Jennings would not let them anywhere near, for she tolerated them even less than Darcy.

She pinched his chin and smiled. “I will then say to you, ‘On, on, you noblest English.
Whose blood is fet from fathers of war-proof!
’ I promise, Fitzwilliam, that you, like Good King Henry before you, will survive this day.”

“If I were not truly terrified of large crowds, as you well know, I would take umbrage that you were impugning my manhood. As it is, I very much do feel like we are heading into battle this evening. Only the assurance of your company, and that of your charge’s, could possibly entice me out of my castle this evening.” As Darcy spoke, his eyes kept returning to the entryway, hoping for Elizabeth’s appearance.

Mrs. Jennings made note of this, but wisely chose to say nothing on that topic. Instead, she said, “Not leave your castle? Not even with a military escort? That reminds me, where is the dashing Colonel this evening? I believe your note said that he was to accompany us this evening.”

“My cousin has gone ahead with my sister and will meet us at the theater. Had you given any thought to joining us for supper this evening? I understand the notice was short, but Georgiana and I do hope you will come.”

“We’d be happy to dine with you, Fitzwilliam. Now, if you will please excuse me for a moment, I shall see what is keeping Elizabeth.” Just before she took her leave, she took Darcy’s hand. “Come with me, my boy, there’s no reason to leave you in here. After all, you are practically a member of the family!”

Dutifully, Darcy followed Mrs. Jennings towards the grand staircase. He waited at the bottom while she disappeared upstairs. Looking around, it occurred to him that he hadn’t been in this part of Litchfield House since he was a small lad. He distinctly recalled being scolded for trying to see if his head would fit through the balusters. He chuckled at the memory as he recalled how that escapade had made the normally placid Mr. Jennings greatly upset. “You could very well strangle yourself, Master Darcy, and then what would happen? Your father would call me out and, of course, we’d shoot each other until we were both dead. This, of course, would cause our wives to immediately die of heartache and then there would be five people gone from this earth! And all because you wished to see if your head would fit through the railings! It is a very high price to pay for curiosity, is it not?” Darcy smiled. He had often warned Georgiana in exactly the same manner about the dangers of being overly curious.

Mrs. Jennings, upon her return, noted the odd smile on his face and was curious about its origins. “What has you smiling so, Fitzwilliam? A fond memory perhaps, or were you just woolgathering?”

He had not realized how much he had missed the presence of the Jennings in his life until just then. His uncle, the Earl of __, was a good, but exceedingly busy man. Politics and his many holdings kept him often from home. The Earl had no time to spend with his nephew when there was little enough time for him to try to shape his erstwhile cousin the Viscount __ into a responsible man. His aunt was similarly occupied with her own daughters and their entry into society. His other maternal relation, Lady Catherine DeBourgh, was a harridan of the worst sort. Since the death of his father, Lady Catherine had been insisting on Darcy engaging himself to his sickly cousin Anne. Darcy would rather burn Pemberley to the ground than let Lady Catherine get her hands on it and turn it into a Rosings of the North. His Darcy relations, the few that remained, were much elder and scattered across the land. Darcy and Georgiana had been very much alone and could have used the sort of familial support and unconditional love that his Godmother offered.

He nodded to the staircase. “I was just remembering Mr. Jennings. He was a very fine man.”

Mrs. Jennings smiled knowingly. She smoothed a curl from his forehead, just as his mother used to, and said, “I think your head is too large now, thankfully, to fit through the railings now. All those brains, you know.”

He blushed at her motherly attentions and as he turned away from Mrs. Jenning’s hand, he caught a glimpse of Elizabeth. She was descending the stairs in her new gown and as soon as Elizabeth saw she had an audience, she bashfully halted her progress.

Mrs. Jennings could see that Elizabeth was unsure of herself. Mrs. Bennet had no idea how lucky she was to be safely away in Hertfordshire. She encouraged the girl as best she could. “You look beautiful, Elizabeth. None of that, my dearie, you cannot attend the theater from the stairs. Down you come!”

Darcy would lay awake long after his guests left that night, thinking of all the things he should have said. He would think of any number of charming compliments to express his adoration for Miss Elizabeth Bennet and her beauty. However, the words wouldn’t come for many hours yet to come. However, at this moment, when he needed the words, he was speechless.

Elizabeth, growing up in the shadow of her eldest sister Jane, knew she was not a great beauty. She was a bit too short, her hips too round, her bosom too large, her hair too unruly, her smile too wide and everything else just slightly out of what was considered fashionable. These last days with Mrs. Jennings had done much good in undoing the belittling that Mrs. Bennet was wont to do to her least favorite daughter. Mrs. Jennings was constantly reminding Elizabeth that she was so much more than her mother could imagine. When Mrs. Jennings had taken her shopping for new gowns, it was the first time she ever recalled actually enjoying the activity. It had been something of a revelation to have a modiste’s undivided attention and have her own opinion count, for once.

The reason Elizabeth froze on the stairs was, for all her boldness, she wasn’t accustomed to standing out. She was much more comfortable with blending into the background and being able to observe the world around her, gathering fodder to make sport of those around her when she was closeted up with her father. She had, of course, attended assemblies and family parties often in her neighborhood, but the society was rather confined and everyone knew one another. The young men in the area firmly remembered Elizabeth as the Bennet brat who was a tomboy. It mattered not that she had grown up, for the fact of the matter was, they had not. An intelligent girl such as Elizabeth could only be happy, truly happy, seeing the world and all its myriad offerings with her own eyes. The Longs, the Lucases and Gouldings would all be content to stay their whole lives in Meryton, but Elizabeth, though she did not yet know it, needed more. This was why Mrs. Jennings had been insistent about Elizabeth having a Season. Had Mrs. Jennings lived her whole live in the village where she’d grown up, she would now be a Bedlamite and she suspected her namesake would be just the same.

Elizabeth glanced down again at her emerald green gown and hoped she’d chosen well. With a fortifying deep breath to steel her nerves, she stood tall like Mrs. Jennings had taught and finished descending the stairs. For the first time, she was able to spare a glance at Mr. Darcy. She had glimpsed him when she was on the stairs, but knew if she looked at him then, she would have gone off-balance, tripped and broke her neck. Now that she was safely downstairs, she could breathe again and take a minute to fully appreciate Mr. Darcy in his evening attire. She had thought him handsome yesterday, but that was nothing compared to how he captured her attention now. When Elizabeth realized she was openly staring at him, she chastised herself for acting no better than her sisters Kitty and Lydia. What she failed to notice was that Mr. Darcy was openly staring back at her.

Words had never been Darcy’s friend.  He swallowed hard and tried to speak, to say something of intelligence, but only managed to cobble together, “You look very nice, Miss Bennet.”

Elizabeth, unused to the direct attentions of any man, let alone a man such as Darcy, saw nothing wrong with such a simple declaration and she blushed accordingly. Mrs. Jennings watched with great amusement while making a mental note to speak with Darcy, and soon.

Darcy offered an arm first to Elizabeth, then to Mrs. Jennings. Mrs. Jennings forgave him this slight, seeing that he was completely smitten with Elizabeth. He escorted the ladies out to his waiting carriage. As they drove off, Darcy enquired whether or not Elizabeth was familiar with this particular play, knowing very well that Ladies preferred the romance of the tragedies and comedies. Elizabeth, excited about seeing her favorite history performed, said all she needed to when she quoted, “Cry ‘God for Harry, England, and Saint George!’

So, two new chapters, and by request! There are still 4 more hand-written chapters that need to be deciphered (I confess to owning Bingley-style penmanship!) and typed. Is it worth it? Is this something that you’d like to see more of? My muse was fully digging this plot today, but my muse is fickle and needs bribes. Just shout out either here with a comment or an email to to tell my muse what you’d like.





Chapter Four- Men of Few Words are the Best Men.

Saturday Evening- Royal Theatre, Covent Garden

Darcy barely managed to escort the ladies through the throng of people wishing to extend their greetings and garner a closer look at his companions for the evening. It was a well-known fact that Mrs. Jennings rarely attended the theater anymore and that she was doing so with the highly eligible Mr. Darcy and an unknown young lady was enough to set all the opera glasses of the curious upon the Darcy box.

Elizabeth was greeted warmly by Georgiana and introduced to the Darcy’s cousin, one Lieutenant Colonel Geoffrey Fitzwilliam. The Lt. Colonel was not nearly so handsome as his cousin, but he did posses an easy, unaffected manner that was entirely charming. It was further explained that the Lt. Colonel and Darcy were close like brothers and, given this new bit of information, Elizabeth liked him immediately. The Lt. Colonel was as talkative as Darcy was quiet and Elizabeth enjoyed watching Darcy dodge his cousin’s inquiries.

After Darcy and his cousin had covered the basics of polite conversation, the Lt. Colonel asked, “Darce, where on earth did you meet such a stunning creature?” Elizabeth knew she was hardly stunning and wondered what sort of game he was playing, for she was seated right next to Darcy and could easily hear every word that was being said.

Darcy was regretting having invited his cousin to join them. “I became acquainted with Miss Bennet yesterday, at my house, as I have already informed you.” This startled Elizabeth. She hadn’t expected him to be speaking to others about her. What could it portend?

Darcy refusing to be baited was spoiling all the Lt. Colonel’s fun. “Ah, yes, I remember now.” Now addressing Elizabeth directly, he said, “I believe you have made quite an impression on my impressionable cousins. Made quite the conquest out of them. Well done!”

“I have done no such thing! Mr. Darcy, please, you can vouch for me, can you not? Your cousin makes it sound as though I set out to gain your family’s notice and you must tell him it simply isn’t true!” Elizabeth’s regard for the Lt. Colonel was falling fast.

Georgiana surprised them all by speaking before Darcy could reply. “Miss Bennet, please disregard everything that Cousin Geoff says, for I can assure you that it is rarely the truth.”

Just as Darcy was about to gently reprimand his sister, the Lt. Colonel howled in laughter and assured his young cousin of his approval. “Oh, Darce! Whatever methods you have been using to guide our sweet Georgie, please see that you keep it up, man! This is exactly the sort of spirit she ought to have.”

Things settled down somewhat then, but the Lt. Colonel was determined to keep things as lively as he could with his absurd observations and intrusive questions. Elizabeth watched the Lt. Colonel try to pull responses out of his much quieter cousins, often with the aid of Mrs. Jennings, and she concluded that he was rather harmless, even if he was a bit of a flirt. She might have enjoyed the Lt. Colonel’s manner more if it hadn’t appeared to make Mr. Darcy so uncomfortable. As Mr. Darcy had been so kind to her, his cousin’s needling was almost unforgivable.

The play finally began and Elizabeth was entranced. She had been to Drury Lane once, when she was sixteen, with her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, but those seats had been on the main floor. Elizabeth marveled at the advantage of view from the box. She would have thought that, logically, seats nearer the stage would provide a better experience, but she now found that was not true at all. Darcy’s box, in addition to being much more comfortable than an orchestra seat, was located in a prime spot, offering the very best views of the stage that the theater had to offer. The only disadvantage she could find was the distinct feeling she had of being on display.

Elizabeth was not the only member of the party who felt they were on exhibit. Darcy had noticed, and only because he was looking, that, even after the performance began, there were still altogether too many spy glasses trained on their box. Normally this would cause him no small amount of discomfort, but tonight was different. Tonight he felt proud and found himself sitting a little taller in his seat, instead of his normal habit -which consisted of shrugging and trying to become invisible. He was in attendance with his dear sister, his mostly respectable cousin, his Godmother and the most beautiful and guileless woman he had ever known. Tonight, for once, he did not care if the gossips tittered about him.

During the first intermission, instead of being of use to the ladies and bringing them refreshment, Darcy was required to stay behind while his cousin went. Many of Darcy’s casual acquaintances came by during the break to seek introductions to Darcy’s unknown companion. The longer Darcy was forced to watch these young men try to out-swagger each other in an effort to gain Elizabeth’s attention, the greener Darcy’s complexion grew until it was the exact shade of Elizabeth’s gown. When it was made known that the young lady was under the care of Mrs. Jennings, many of the young swains inwardly groused. While they may have stood a chance stealing her out from under Darcy, they knew they were no match for Mrs. Jennings. A few of the bolder young men dared to inquire when the lovely Miss Darcy would make her debut, only infuriating Darcy further. Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the Lt. Colonel returned just in time for the curtain rise and the young bucks to go back to their own seats.

“Friends of yours, Darce?” teased the Lt. Colonel in a whisper. He could see his usually undisturbed cousin was anything but, and he believed he knew the reason.

Darcy’s reply was terse. “Decidedly not.”

“Ah, I see.” He so enjoyed needling his cousin. Taking care to speak so he would not be overheard, the Lt. Colonel said, “So, the Miss Bennet Appreciation Society has then added some new members to its ranks? I can see why. She’s a lovely girl, Darce.”

“Geoff…” Darcy warned.

“‘Tis my name,” grinned the Lt. Colonel.

“Must you plague me?” groaned Darcy.

“I must. We younger sons must have some form of amusement, and since I have not the coin for fine society diversions, I must make sport where I can. Come now, Darce, you must know that I am on your side.”

The men then fell silent and turned their attentions elsewhere: the Lt. Colonel to the stage, and Darcy to Miss Bennet. At the second intermission, the men offered to escort the ladies for a short walk to stretch their legs. As it was obvious that no one wished to be cornered by well-wishers, the ladies agreed. The Lt. Colonel, seeking to make mischief, offered his arm to Elizabeth before Darcy could do the same. Elizabeth, who would much rather have been on Darcy’s arm, offered an apologetic glance before taking the Lt. Colonel’s arm. Darcy was left with no choice but to escort Mrs. Jennings and Georgiana.

Out in the common area, they were met by a jovial-looking young man who appeared a good deal younger, in both looks and maturity, than Mr. Darcy. The young, blonde-haired, blue-eyed man was introduced as Mr. Charles Bingley. Mr. Bingley then introduced his party, which included his newly engaged eldest sister Louisa, Louisa’s fiancé Rupert Hurst and still another elder sister named Caroline. Miss Caroline, an elegant young lady who appeared closer in age to Mr. Darcy, made a great show of fawning over a very uncomfortable Georgiana and openly hinted that they were freely available after the evening’s entertainment. Elizabeth, not yet accustomed to finer society, found the woman vulgar in her blatant attempts to catch Mr. Darcy’s attention. She amused herself by noting the great similarities in solicitousness Miss Caroline possessed in common with Mrs. Bennet. Elizabeth was certain the fine young lady would not be amused at all, and this thought caused a wide smile and a sparkle in her eyes.

Darcy, doing his best to dislodge himself from the grip Miss Caroline had upon his arm, was caught by the change in Miss Bennet’s countenance. His eyes followed her gaze and when it was clear her amusement was derived from the absurdity of Miss Caroline, Darcy smiled too. Elizabeth then did something that would forever put Darcy in her debt; she rescued Georgiana from Miss Caroline’s fawning. Light conversation continued amongst the group, with Miss Caroline unsubtly begging an invitation to Darcy House. Elizabeth and Darcy shared a knowing glance as they continued to listen to Miss Caroline’s extreme praise of all things related to the Darcys- from Darcy himself to the flora and fauna of Derbyshire, his home county. Elizabeth felt sympathy for him, for she was certain there were many more young misses who were also setting their caps for Mr. Darcy and she was positive she would not enjoy being so pointedly hunted. As she watched him deflect Miss Caroline’s many compliments, she was proud of him. It would be very easy to set her down or publicly censure her, and she knew many others would not hesitate to do so. Elizabeth instinctively knew Darcy would never say anything offensive to a lady, no matter how sorely he was tempted to. It just wasn’t in his nature.

Darcy and the Lt. Colonel made plans with Mr. Bingley to meet at their club the next afternoon. This was done only after making it very clear- for Miss Caroline’s benefit- that no one would be home for callers the next day. When it was time to head back to Darcy’s box, Miss Caroline again stated that the view from the Darcy box was infinitely superior to the Bingley’s but Mr. Bingley cut her off before her wit could run its full course, something for which all the members of Mr. Darcy’s party were highly thankful. While Elizabeth thought Mr. Bingley seemed a nice enough gentleman, she could not say the same of the others of his group. Miss Bingley was incessantly playing with the baubles about her wrist, but only after informing Mrs. Jennings that her dearest Hurst- a man who looked utterly miserable to be there- had spared no expense on them. Miss Caroline was no better, for she was so obvious in her intent that she seemed quite mercenary. Elizabeth, on the whole, could not regret it when they took their leave.

When Henry the V ended, Darcy was not pleased. The play had been very well done and the immediate company was very fine, but the rest of London was proving to be a great problem. It was steadily raining as the play ended, thus causing a great deal of congestion immediately outside and most of the theatre patrons to linger until either the weather let up or their carriage was directly out front. For a moment, Darcy weighed his options. They could turn back and wait in his box, they could brave the rain and make for the carriage, or they could just mill about with everyone else in the same predicament. Darcy gave each idea some thought. Since it would no doubt cause a great deal of gossip to hide in his box, Darcy was forced to rule it out. The rain was now coming down in sheets and even with their evening capes, should they try to leave, the ladies would surely get drenched and ruin their gowns. His mind, against his desire to remain under good regulation, briefly entertained a picture of a soaked-though Elizabeth. Darcy shook his head to clear the tantalizing, but sadly unhelpful, vision from his thoughts. Darcy closed his eyes for a moment to release his frustration which came from concluding the only choice was to stay in the lobby with everyone else.

It was clear to Elizabeth that Mr. Darcy was displeased with something that had just occurred and she prayed it had nothing to do with her or Mrs. Jennings. She had noted his discomfort whenever the crowd around them swelled and demanded attention. He was behaving very much like her sister Mary, but Mary was shy and Elizabeth did not believe such a thing could be possible about the worldly Mr. Darcy. Whatever the reason was for his unease, she wished to help in whatever way she could.

Mrs. Jennings and Georgiana were chatting with a friend of her daughter-in-laws, catching up on the latest news from Sussex. The Lt. Colonel was caught up in a discussion with some old friends about the course the war. With the other members of their party otherwise engaged, Elizabeth was free to observe Darcy unnoticed. His eyes were still closed, but now his jaw was clenched and he appeared to be steeling himself against some unseen adversary. Her heart swelled with admiration for the man who stood before her, striving to gain control over his emotions. He was fast becoming the ideal for which all other men would pale in comparison. However, as her heart swelled with admiration, her head began to ache. A man of such consequence would never see her as anything more than the temporary charge of his Godmother. Indeed, she believed in his eyes she would seem little better than a poor relation of Mrs. Jennings. She set aside her own disappointment of the circumstances in order to take action.

When Darcy finally managed to dispel the image of Elizabeth that he knew would haunt his dreams, he opened his eyes only to find her standing right before him, regarding his person with a most curious stare. Feeling somewhat self-conscious under the scrutiny of her gaze, he quietly asked, “Yes, Miss Bennet?”

The concern she felt for him was written there on her face for him to see, and it took his breath away. “Are you feeling well, sir? Mr. Darcy, truly, if you are not up to having company this evening, Mrs. Jennings and I can make our own way home. You needn’t worry about entertaining us for the sake of politeness, I understand very well the urgent need for solitude when society becomes too…” Elizabeth paused to think of a politic word to use. “Shall we say encroaching?”

He blinked in surprise. She had understood him! How had she understood him? No, he thought regretfully, she had not completely understood him and he was both grateful and saddened by that. He could not possibly explain to her that if he seemed unwell it was because he was having untoward thoughts about what he wished might happen if only they were alone in company. Still, he was very pleased that she had the insight to understand that he did not enjoy crowds. With every minute he spent in her company he seemed to find another new reason to admire her.

Encroaching is a very apt description, Miss Bennet. I thank you for your concern, but I can assure you, in this case it is unnecessary. Miss Bennet, I believe it is safe to say that you and I are well on our way to becoming friends, are we not?” She nodded timidly and he continued, “Then I shall share with you a secret that I must beg you to keep. I do not like great crowds and would much prefer to be at home amongst,” he paused to smile at her, willing her to understand him, “friends. If I seemed unwell just now, it was nothing more than a moment of dread that our continuance of this enjoyable evening must be delayed because of the weather and from having to endure this crush. Please, never think your company would be unwelcome, Miss Bennet. In fact, I daresay your company has done a remarkable amount of good.”

Elizabeth had already believed him the most handsome man she had ever laid eyes on, but then he smiled and she knew he must be the most handsome man in the world. He had given small imitations of a smile the day before and he had even laughed, but this smile lit the room, had dimples and was solely for her. Her heart danced until she heard what he said. Inwardly she sighed. Her company had been useful to him. Elizabeth supposed that being of service to him was better than nothing. He had spoken of a burgeoning friendship, but she would rather anything than have him be her friend simply out of gratitude. She stole a glance at Mrs. Jennings, willing her to turn around and see that she was needed. Unfortunately, that lady was still busy entertaining Georgiana and a small group that had gathered to hear stories of her step-children’s long ago antics.

Seeing that no help would come, she braved her fear and addressed Darcy directly. “Sir, I cannot imagine what I have done that could be counted remarkable. All I have done was point out the faulty character of that horrid woman, and that’s hardly worth mentioning. I am certain you would have discovered her villainy soon enough on your own. Please, Mr. Darcy, I do not wish for your or, for that matter, your sister’s gratitude.”

Darcy contracted his brow as he tried to reason why Elizabeth did not want his approbation. Since before he had even come of age, women had always sought, and actively courted, his good opinion. Now, for the first time, a woman had earned it freely, and she seemed to not want it, and even seemed pained by the very notion of it. This was not merely some lady playing the coquette, as many ladies of the Ton did. No, Elizabeth seemed steadfast in not wanting his gratitude. Were all women this difficult to understand? Or was it only Elizabeth Bennet? He was not sure, but he was determined to comprehend her, no matter what. How he wished he possessed an easy manner akin to his cousin, or even Bingley! Those gentleman were never tongue-tied, they always knew just what to say. Darcy was beginning to fear that Miss Bennet would somehow find an excuse to not join them for supper at his house, and that was something he could not allow to happen. The crowd was finally beginning to thin, and he suspected his time to act was growing short.

“Miss Bennet, it seems somehow I must have unknowing caused you offence and that is the last thing in the world I would ever wish to do. I value your friendship not out of gratitude, but because you are a singularly delightful lady, and I believe it is safe to say that Georgiana feels the same. While we are grateful for your timely interference, please do not misapprehend our friendship as anything but genuine.”

Elizabeth blushed and stammered, “Th-thank you, Mr. Darcy. I am glad to hear you say such.”

Darcy was wholly charmed by Elizabeth’s genuineness. He took her hand in his, bowed and said, “You are quite welcome; however, I can assure you that the pleasure, Miss Bennet, is entirely mine.”

Before anything more could be said, Miss Bingley’s shrill voice was heard calling them, in a most shocking manner, from across the way. Darcy and Elizabeth each flinched, bracing themselves for another encounter with the horrible woman. The Lt. Colonel had also marked Miss Bingley’s call and had no intention of feigning the politeness required of a meeting in public. In order to avoid the situation altogether, the Lt. Colonel loudly said, “Mrs. Jennings, Georgiana, I am sorry to be the bearer of bad tidings, but I must report back rather early this evening.” He pointedly looked to Mrs. Jenning’s friends. “I am sure your friends will gladly excuse us, will they not?”

The ladies, completely charmed by the handsome, young, well-decorated officer, of course immediately took their leave, promising to send their cards around very soon.

“Well,” the Lt. Colonel clapped his hands, “now that we are unencumbered, might I suggest that we leave with all due speed? For my part, I’d rather suffer drowning in the rain than hold another moment’s conference with that harpy headed our way.”

Darcy quickly said, “I couldn’t agree more,” then immediately reddened. A gentleman should never, no matter how true the opinion might be, express it so in company. Recovering his manners, he asked. “Ladies, what say you? I leave the choice in your hands.”

Mrs. Jennings was very glad for her years; they meant she needn’t suffer fools if she chose not to. Looking to Miss Darcy, it was plain the young girl had no desire for Miss Bingley’s company any more than she did. Elizabeth would go wherever she was bid, so Mrs. Jennings agreed it was time to depart.

August 23, 2012   I had a very lovely, encouraging email today regarding Without Reference. Thank you, Gail W., for taking the time to contact me. When I had a few free moments this evening to re-visit the story, I finally figured out the problem I had which had given me pause about going forward. While I re-work the problematic area, please enjoy the newly-abbreviated chapter 4. I think you’ll enjoy where we go from here. Thank you for reading, and if anyone asks, no, I did not fall off the face of the earth, I just cannot at the moment keep up with the regular stuff in life, let alone spend quality time working on my stories. The kids head back to school very soon (Michigan doesn’t start until after Labor Day.) and (fingers crossed) I hope to have a bit more time.  As it stands, I really am working on the other stories. Hopefully, I can return soon to “board” life. I miss everyone. I really do appreciate everyone who takes the time to come and read my meager offerings. Thanks, your support means more than I can say.

michchick, your wayward authoress   

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Without Reference by michchick aka Jennifer H is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.