St. Michael’s Little Summer

This story has been edited and is now published as The Gentleman’s Impertinent Daughter. It is now for sale on Amazon. Below is an unedited sample of chapter one.

 

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Chapter 1

“Come Brother, let us rest ourselves for a moment,” Georgiana Darcy beseeched her elder brother.

“I am sorry Sweetling. It is very warm and I should be more attentive to you. Would you like to go home?” Fitzwilliam Darcy looked at his sister with concern. The sun was shining unseasonably warm for early October.

“No, I am well.”

“I do wish you would come with me to Hertfordshire, or allow me to stay behind with you. I do not like leaving you after your ordeal just yet.”

They left Pemberley, their country house, the day before, after their customary Michaelmas feast at Pemberley. After the betrayal of the summer and the hussle and the harvest Darcy was looking forward to enjoying a holiday, but hated to leave his dear sister behind.

“Really, William, it was not an illness. I have simply had low spirits because of my foolishness.”

Georgiana lowered her voice. “I would enjoy the countryside but I will take the cowardly way out and avoid Mr Bingley’s sisters since you offered. You know how difficult it is for me to make new friends and I do not trust my judgment to their sincerity anymore and would therefore be trapped with the Superior Sisters all day and make you feel guilty for any enjoyment you experience. No, you go, you work so hard. Mrs Annesley and I shall see you at Christmas.”

After a short pause she added, “Now, I think I shall watch the ducks just down there.”

Mr Darcy watched his baby sister leave. She had grown into a beautiful young lady while he was unawares. Early in the summer she had been taken advantage of, her heart broken asunder, by his childhood best friend and very own father’s godson. I have failed her.

Across the way he heard something wholly unexpected, a full, hearty laugh from a young woman. It had been years since he heard a woman laugh so openly, not since his mother’s death. And the tone of this particular laugh was delightful and enchanting.

His eyes sought out the owner of the musical laughter and saw a woman surrounded by four children under the age of ten. Surely she is much too young to be their mother and dressed too fine to be a governess. Though clearly she takes little care of her wardrobe, given the way she romps with the little mites. Refreshing, a young lady not interested in fashion.

“Again Cousin Lizzy! Again!” the smallest lad cried demandingly as she took him in her arms and spun around once more. Setting him down in laughter, two older women approached her, one staying with the children and the other walking with the young lady towards a nearby bench. Darcy was shocked by the tugging in his heart. He felt regret in the assuredness of never witnessing a similar scene at his own home. Will my own children be happier than I was?

He had no intention of eavesdropping but a very familiar name caught his attention. “All Mr Collins could speak of was his patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh,” said the younger lady, ‘Cousin Lizzy.’

She continued, “Thankfully Mamma directed him away from Jane to start with, as Mamma believes Jane must be saved for an illustrious match given her beauty. Not that I feared she would accept him anyway, you know Jane and I have vowed to never marry but for love and I could not even respect his sycophantic ways. Whatever came over Charlotte to accept him I truly will never understand. But I thank you for allowing me to visit, Mamma was becoming unbearable.”

“Of course, dear. We are always happy to have you. And shall you return to us in January?” the older woman asked.

Cousin Lizzy snorted, “You know very well I never want another London Season. I do not care for Town at all but for the theatres, museums and bookshops. After turning down Mr Collins, Mamma has despaired of me every marrying and has decided to send Kitty in my place. I am not sure if Mary should feel disappointed at being overlooked or relieved!”

She laughed and then sobered a little, “Truly, I believe Mamma is correct. No man shall have me for none respect me. I have practically no portion, a vulgar family, no connections and am certainly not handsome enough to tempt one otherwise.”

“Now, Elizabeth, you have not met very many men and are only twenty. This smacks of bitterness.”

“Oh, Aunt Gardiner, I just feel as though I do not fit in anywhere, never valued for myself. I am impertinent and wild and care not to change either.”

“Some men prefer outspoken women with frankness and you are never improper or mean; indeed there is a playful sweetness about you. And wild? I have never seen evidence of that.”

“Well, I did walk three miles to Netherfield in the mud to check on Jane last month.” Glancing down at herself she told her aunt, “I arrived looking very much like this now and I know Miss Bingley and Mrs Hurst held me in contempt for it. But Jane was ill and needed me and the carriage was not to be had. I have yet to have the patience to truly master riding and so I walked.”

Darcy had been fascinated by the conversation before but he recognized the name of the estate she mentioned as the very one leased by his best friend, the very place he intended to travel to on the morrow. And hearing her care for her sister resonated with his own heart. If I ever marry, I would want her to be a true sister to Georgie, with affection like this young miss has for her sister.

He then stole a look at her, given the fact that she knew his best friend and believed his sister hated her. He had no difficulty believing that, Caroline Bingley hated most people.

Elizabeth’s face was bright and animated by the exercise and conversation. Her eyes were vibrant and danced in the sunlight, a unique shade which danced between green and brown. It reminded him of a ride through the woods on a sunny day.

“I would never call those actions wild, though perhaps unwise. As for Mr Bingley’s sisters I am sure you can handle them with all the grace and poise you exhibit in every one of the catty London drawing rooms.” Patting her niece on the hand she continued, “Now, let us speak of better things. Will you come with us on the lake journey next summer?”

“Yes, you know not how I anticipate it.”

“Very good. Among other stops we plan on visiting my childhood home in Lambton.”

Darcy could scarce believe his ears. This young lady knew his aunt’s parson, his best friend and now her aunt grew up a mere five miles from his estate and would be visiting the area the following summer.

“You will want to see Pemberley, I am sure. I believe Derbyshire to be the finest of all the counties and Pemberley’s house is my favourite. But the grounds! Lizzy, we shall have to drag you away.”

Elizabeth laughed at this, “I do look forward to it then! Tell me more about Derbyshire. Does uncle still plan to buy an estate there soon?”

Darcy frowned, she apparently was in trade. It mattered not; surely he had no intentions towards a stranger. Though when I arrive at Netherfield she will no longer be one.

“Yes, we could have earlier but the unrest with Napoleon makes him want to wait so he can better manage his affairs.”

“I think it so brave of you and uncle to have taken the Import/Export opportunity.”

“You know your uncle. Grandson to a gentleman but his father disliked Town and chose to become a country lawyer as the usual lot of second sons did not appeal to him. Your uncle came so late to your grandfather’s life the law practice was already promised to Mr Phillips after your other uncle’s unexpected death. But I think we both know that he is far happier in his current profession than he would be as an attorney.”

So, a second son of a second son, that is….respectable.

“And what of you? Surely the Greenes expected you to marry a gentleman.”

“And so your uncle is! I do not hold with the belief that because he manages a business instead of land he has lost his rank due his birth.”

“Besides, we make too much of birth. No one is born with superior behaviour, they are taught it through education and many tradesmen these days can better afford expensive schooling than peers.” Elizabeth stated emphatically.

Darcy reeled at the words: astonishing, unpopular and thought provoking. She did not sound like a revolutionary, simply a pragmatist. Is not my friend Bingley proof of this? Not to mention my aunt, born a Lady, she can be quite vulgar.

Elizabeth began again with gusto, “The times are changing. The tradesmen are propelling technology and industry which is creating capital needed to fund the incessant wars and colonization, which is not as entirely profitable as the lords would have us think. Meanwhile people are leaving the estates and cottage system to try their luck at wealth in the cities. Fortunately few of our tenants have left, but I worry for those that do. The cities are cruel and there is no one to aid them. Our estate is not vast or very profitable, though I attribute at least some of that to my father’s indolence as he hates the entailment. At any rate, what we do have we owe to our tenants and in turn we treat them very well.”

Darcy breathed out a sigh of relief. She was a gentleman’s daughter after all. Clearly not one of any importance, as he had never heard of him, but they were…equals. Yes, equals. My relations might be nobles but I am not.

“Very wise, as always, my dear. But come, let us gather the children.”

Darcy was struck with their conversation and was dwelling on the prospect of a pair of very fine eyes in the face of a pretty and very astute, intelligent woman. All worries for his sister slipped away, for the first time in months.

♦♦♦♦♦♦

Georgiana Darcy left her brother on the park bench and made her way to the pond. Watching the ducks she said a silent prayer. She desired a friend, a true confidante and perhaps a sister. A good wife for William and a sister for me. She spied four children and their governess frolicking and tossing a ball when it went astray, near her. She bent to retrieve it and walked towards the group of children.

“Here you are dear,” she spoke to the youngest boy.

“Thank you. Are you an angel?” the little one asked.

“Michael!” The governess chided.

Laughing Georgiana intervened, “No, he is charming. No, little one, I am not an angel. What makes you think so?”

“Your hair is made of gold! Even prettier than Cousin Jane! What is your name, Angel?”

“Michael, such poor manners!” the governess reprimanded again.

“But my name is an angel and so is Gabe’s and the girls are named after Grandmama and Grandmother and Mamma says they are angels watching us from Heaven and all of our cousins are named for other angels in Heaven…”

Georgiana laughed again, “Actually, Master Michael I am named for my mother and father, George and Anne Darcy, and they are both now angels in Heaven too.”

Mrs Gardiner and Elizabeth approached with every intention of chiding Michael as well and overheard Georgiana’s last statement. Mrs Gardiner could not contain her delight upon hearing who conversed with her children,

“Excuse me, did I hear correctly? Are you Miss Georgiana Darcy of Pemberley?”

Startled and shy speaking with the older ladies, she looked at her feet and spoke softly. “Yes, I am.”

Darcy happened to view the scene and began to move in their direction.

Mrs Gardiner tried to ease Georgiana’s embarrassment, “Forgive me, I do not mean to make you uneasy. You see I grew up near Lambton and remember meeting your family a few times.”

Georgiana’s head jerked up in delighted surprise, “Really? You met my father and mother?”

“Yes, a sweeter woman who loved her family and tenants I have yet to meet. And you, dear, are just as beautiful.”

Mr Darcy reached Georgiana just then, “Georgiana, are you well?”

“Oh, yes, William! She was just telling me about mother!” Georgiana beamed at her brother.

He attempted to conceal his excitement at a reason to speak with the pretty young lady. “How delightful. Could you introduce me to your new friends?” At this she reddened in embarrassment.

Mrs Gardiner intervened again, “Forgive us sir. I happened upon Miss Darcy as she was speaking with my children and was too delighted to make an acquaintance from my childhood home to remember the essentials! I am Mrs Edward Gardiner of London. My husband owns the Import/Export shop on _____ Street, perhaps you have heard of our tea?”

Quite surprised Darcy’s eyebrows rose, “Indeed, Madam, my favourite in fact.”

“I thank you sir. And this is my niece, Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn in Hertfordshire.” Darcy forgot to breathe as Elizabeth bestowed a beautiful smile, blinding him almost like the sun.

Georgiana remembered her role, “And this is my brother, Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire.” Darcy bowed and all the ladies curtsied.

Elizabeth replied, “A pleasure to meet you Mr Darcy.”

Darcy surprised his sister by actually breaking into a wide smile; it was now Elizabeth’s turn to forget to breathe at the sight of his dimples. “Likewise, Miss Bennet.”

Georgiana was oblivious to the tender moment, “Hertfordshire! Is your home anywhere near Netherfield Park? My brother’s best friend, Mr Bingley, just leased it.”

“Why, yes, Longbourn is but three miles. What a coincidence! I lately had the pleasure of making Mr Bingley’s acquaintance; he is quite popular in Hertfordshire. I will be leaving tomorrow, in fact, to return.”

“Tomorrow! What another coincidence. My brother and I,” Georgiana stressed the last two words for Darcy to catch, “will be leaving tomorrow as well, to stay several weeks at Netherfield. We would be delighted to convey you in our carriage.”

Darcy tried to hide his surprise; not only at the offer but Georgiana’s openness with speaking to strangers. Additionally, her sudden change of heart regarding journeying to Netherfield astonished him.

Elizabeth was shocked at the offer, a bit forward for a new acquaintance, but did not want to embarrass the obviously shy young woman, “Oh no, I could not possibly intrude.”

Never able to deny Georgiana anything, Darcy emphatically stated, “I assure you, it is no imposition.”

“Very well, I thank you for your kindness.”

Georgiana was speaking again, “And will you and Mr and Mrs Gardiner please dine with us this evening? I would dearly love to hear more of my mother.” Exchanging glances the ladies agreed a time was settled upon for their next meeting.

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