Darcy slept fitfully. His fastidious nature made him prone to reflection, and this evening he had found his character wanting. He had truthfully told his sister he had always known birth did not make a person superior. However, aside from displaying this in his choice of friends, he had largely remained silent on the issue.
Darcy realized his actions stemmed from pride and vanity. He knew the first circles of Society did not appreciate egalitarian opinions about the classes. If he made his feelings known, it might besmirch the family name.
A lesser man might resent a woman enlightening him, but Darcy could only marvel that Elizabeth could do what his peers and tutors had not. He resolved to judge people by their actions and characters and not their rank. It may prove to be a difficult lesson, but one worth the learning.
Darcy quickly realized Elizabeth had more to recommend her than just intelligence and wit. He determined her to be a devoted and loyal sister and delightfully genial. Her twirling a child while wearing muddied petticoats enchanted Darcy. Despite Elizabeth’s protestations, she behaved the proper lady, and he could not find her accomplishments wanting.
He recalled her words to her aunt about her lack of fortune and her family. Al though the relations he met were respectable, even without knowing their background, they certainly could not further his situation in life.
Ah, there is the pride and vanity again. What do I need for more wealth or a higher standing in society? In vain have I struggled to find a companion of mind and spirits that met society’s expectations of wealth and connections, and it will not do. I shall not condemn myself to loneliness to satisfy the opinions of others. The fact that he had no idea how to go about a courtship kept him awake most of the night.
The Darcy party punctually arrived at the Gardiner home a few minutes before nine. Darcy was pleased to see Elizabeth was prepared for their departure and did not keep them waiting. The Gardiner children, however, did.
As Elizabeth hugged her aunt farewell, Mrs. Gardiner remarked on the weather. “How warm it is for the first of October. I hope it will not affect your travels.” She looked toward the sky. Unseasonable changes in temperature frequently brought storms but currently no clouds marred the sky.
Georgiana nodded and agreed. “It has been unusually warm lately. What is it called again, Brother?”
“I have heard it called many things,” Darcy answered. “St Martin’s Summer, for St Martin’s feast in November and St Luke’s Summer for the corresponding feast in October. I think the most relevant one for now is St Michael’s Little Summer, as we are only a few days past Michaelmas.”
“How interesting! I have never heard it before!” Mrs. Gardiner replied.
“It is what the Welsh prefer to call it. I heard it called thus while attending to one of my estates, just outside the Welsh border in Shropshire. Many of the workers have a Welsh heritage.”
“Mama! Mama! Tell him!” Michael suddenly pulled on Mrs. Gardiner’s skirts.
“Tell Mr. Darcy I am not a saint, I’m an angel!” Michael demanded in all seriousness and all of the adults except Mr. Darcy broke out in laughter.
Seeing his confused face Elizabeth managed to explain between chuckles. “Michael is named after the archangel, as is his brother Gabriel. His sisters are named for their grandmothers who have passed. We have explained to him they are now angels in Heaven watching down on us. Incidentally, nearly everyone he knows is named for a passed relative. Only he is quite convinced he is an angel. I suppose he believes they cannot be punished.”
Finally understanding the situation, Darcy chuckled. Elizabeth felt her heart rate increase when she saw his broad smile, complete with devastating dimples, again.
“And it is not summer. Miss Fields told us it is now Odd…odd…Oddum!” Michael grinned, immensely proud at remembering the unusual sounding word.
“Oddum?” Darcy paused, thinking over what word the little one attempted to pronounce. “Oh, Autumn. Yes, it is, Master Michael.” Darcy knelt on one knee to be level with the lad. “But sometimes the weather acts differently than we expect, and we come up with silly names for it. It has been so warm it is like a little summer and since it is close to St Michael’s feast day, we have come up with the name St Michael’s Little Summer. Do you think you can share your name with the weather?”
“Yes, sir! Angels always share.” Michael beamed again.
Mrs. Gardiner prodded Michael along while he proved compliant. Another quick farewell to Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and the Darcy carriage was finally headed towards Hertfordshire.
Inside the carriage Elizabeth grinned at her companions. “Thank you again, Mr. Darcy and Miss Darcy, for conveying me to Longbourn in your carriage. I apologize for Michael delaying us. I am his godmother, and he is quite attached to me. I admit he has a special place in my heart, though I dearly love them all.”
“I am very pleased to have you ride with us, Miss Bennet. It was no trouble at all to properly farewell the children. They are simply adorable.” Georgiana replied.
“And it is no wonder the lad enjoys your company you seem perfectly natural with them.”
“Thank you both. You do well with them too, sir.”
Darcy blushed but Georgiana replied for him. “William has raised me almost entirely on his own. My mother died shortly after my birth. Father grieved for her and though he was always kind, he could withdraw from us at times.
“Father did not send William to school and instead he stayed at home with tutors and although I had my nurse and my governess, it was William that showed me affection. Once at University he was forever arranging to take exams early with his professors so he might have more time to visit with me.”
Darcy smiled warmly at his sister and Georgiana paused for a moment. Elizabeth saw a shadow fall across their eyes, remembering some unpleasantness.
“Father died five years ago. William and our cousin are now my guardians. William is very good with children.”
Elizabeth wondered why no female relative helped them. Wanting to lighten the mood and bring a smile to her new friends, Elizabeth asked, “Miss Darcy, would it be too forward to ask you to call me Elizabeth or Lizzy? And Mr. Darcy you must begin to call me Miss Elizabeth, as my eldest sister is Miss Bennet.”
Darcy smiled and Elizabeth felt her heart rate increase again.
“I would love that, Elizabeth. And you must call me Georgiana.”
She seemed grateful for the change of topic.
“I believe I heard you say last night that you have four sisters? I have always desired a sister.”
Elizabeth laughed. “Yes, I do have four sisters. However, they are not always blessings, I assure you. One is always taking a gown or an accessory. I have often wished for a brother instead!”
“And what are they like? Do they all play pianoforte and sing as you?”
Elizabeth smiled at Georgiana’s enthusiasm and hoped again the Darcys could withstand her family’s silliness. “Jane is very beautiful and serene. She sees only the best in everyone, and unlike my cousin Michael, one could truly mistake her for an angel. She prefers riding to the pianoforte, but my sister Mary enjoys playing very much. She dedicates many hours to practicing. I fear she is sometimes a bit lost amongst us and is given to the unsociable practice of reading even in the presence of others.”
Pausing to consider how best to explain her youngest sisters, Elizabeth took a deep breath before continuing. “Kitty and Lydia are quite silly, young things. It might be indelicate of me to say this of my own family, and to new friends, but you will see it soon enough. They need a stronger hand, but my father was raised in a very strict household and is convinced that does more harm than good.”
She let out an exasperated sigh. “My mother’s family had unfortunate experiences with their governesses and so we have never had one. Although my father has encouraged all of us to read and we have had all the masters that are necessary, my youngest sisters have chosen idleness and gossip as their main means of employment. Despite their faults, I do love them dearly. They are young yet and I hope can improve with time.”
Georgiana and Darcy shared a look which Elizabeth could not decipher and she held her breath, preparing for the worst.
“Lizzy, we know first-hand how difficult it is to find the right balance of authority and liberalness. It is a trying age, to be sure. I am certain with a sister such as you to guide them they cannot be so very bad. You will find the Darcys are a loyal bunch. You have earned our friendship and you shall not lose it due to your family.”
Stifling a giggle she added, “We are still friends with Mr. Bingley even though it means we both must suffer Miss Bingley’s insincere flattery and attentions.”
Elizabeth grinned at the picture painted. “Put that way, I understand perfectly!”
The occupants of the carriage decided it best to attempt some rest until they changed horses. Elizabeth wondered at the silent conversation the siblings had earlier. She sensed Georgiana’s words held a personal meaning for the two but knew it was too early in the acquaintance to inquire. She teetered between accepting Georgiana’s words of loyalty and knowing her family would certainly test it. Relieved her new friends had met some of the family of which she need not blush, she attempted to remain hopeful the Darcys might not be offended by the silly exuberance of her mother and sisters or the indolence of her father.
Mrs. Bennet would likely screech in delight that Elizabeth made such a wealthy acquaintance in London. Would her mother attempt to thrust Kitty or Lydia at Mr. Darcy since Elizabeth already refused to marry Mr. Darcy? The thought stung in a peculiar way. She had no hopes for herself. She believed no sensible man would desire her for a wife. Five seasons in Society had taught her that. If she felt dissatisfied with that answer more than usual and found it difficult to sleep, she cared not to investigate any deeper cause than the nerves she usually acquired before travelling home.
While the others rested, Darcy spent more time reflecting on the further depths of Elizabeth’s character she had revealed. It is easy to judge but what are the reasons for a person’s actions?
Georgiana felt lonely, had been misguided, and was handicapped by youth. Yet some would condemn her without knowing the story. Miss Elizabeth would never; she would see the truth and take Georgiana’s wounded heart under her wing. Likewise, her family has its reasons for their own failures. We are, none of us, perfect.
Seeing that Georgiana and Mrs. Annesley slept after their scheduled stop to change horses, Darcy took advantage of the relative privacy. “Miss Elizabeth,” he began, “I believe you promised me a debate.”
She grinned at him. “Indeed, sir! Well, I will allow you to choose the subject then.”
“I have been accustomed to ladies going first.”
“And I have been accustomed to allowing those at the disadvantage to lead.”
Darcy raised his eyebrows, “You perceive I am at the disadvantage? Even after knowing I out ranked your father?”
“I am confident, sir. I have found gentlemen always hold back when competing against a woman. I am convinced it is because when they lose to me they can then falsely congratulate themselves on not performing to their best ability and pretend to be able to keep their pride.”
Darcy laughed at the image she created. “I can see you will be stubborn about this so I shall humour you. Your words just now have decided the topic for me. Let us debate faults and virtues.”
“And shall you list yours, Mr. Darcy?”
“It is not for me to consider my virtues, but I can list my faults well enough, I believe.”
Elizabeth raised her brows. “You find yourself blind to your goodness but exceptionally aware of your flaws? That is rather singular. Most suffer from a conceited opinion of self-worth.”
“I am not self-deprecating. But I do enjoy the study of philosophy and theology. Additionally, I believe in meditating on my character. I had previously thought my greatest fault was an implacable resentment; my good opinion once lost is lost forever. However, I have recently realized I am guilty of pride and vanity as well.”
“You did not list obstinacy as a fault, sir.” Elizabeth’s eyes glittered in amusement.
Darcy smiled, “I think you begin to understand me. I consider it more of a virtue, in my case.”
She cocked her head to one side and considered the man before her for a moment. “I wonder if you mean obstinacy or conviction. Are you so reckless as to adhere to your opinion out of obstinacy once your conviction is gone?”
Darcy considered her question and chose his next words carefully. “On occasion, as a master, I have had to face a decision in which I held no overwhelming certainty in my choice. To waver when a matter must be decided upon is to mark it for failure. I would rather remain steadfast in my previously made plans, even if I am not perfectly convinced of their correctness, than to sit in indecisiveness.”
“As a leader of men, I see that would be a necessary quality. If you are later convinced that your prior belief was incorrect, do you make amends?”
“Of course. I am guilty of pride and vanity, but not arrogance and conceit. As master, it might wound my pride to admit an error, but it would be dangerous to lose the respect of my servants and tenants out of conceit.”
Elizabeth smiled as she considered his list. “As I see it, your virtues then are wisdom, benevolence and steadfastness. I would think now, sir, it is time to evaluate my own faults.”
“Miss Elizabeth, I am perfectly convinced you are without fault.” He spoke with all seriousness, but she did not perceive it.
Laughing merrily Elizabeth replied, “I did not know you could tease, sir! Without fault, indeed! Last evening, I spoke on many of them. I am impertinent and outspoken, and you may infer I am perhaps too self-assured in my opinions.”
“I stand by my statements of last night. I do not find you impertinent. I admire the liveliness of your mind and I find myself quite sick of deference.”
Elizabeth blushed and before she could reply Georgiana awoke then and the threesome conversed about their favourite activities.
“As much as I enjoy reading and my excursions, I admit that I love dancing as well. We have frequent assemblies in Meryton.” Elizabeth’s eyes shone in merriment.
Georgiana laughed. “You shall find William prefers to stand about by himself.”
“I have not the talent which some people possess of conversing easily with those I have never seen before.” Darcy explained.
“Perhaps that may be remedied by practice.”
Darcy smiled and conceded, “Perhaps you are correct, Miss Elizabeth. And I shall ask the honour of a set with you at the next ball.”
Elizabeth arched an eyebrow and responded. “I am afraid, sir, my dance card is already nearly full. I have a standing arrangement with many of my old friends of the neighbourhood and have only the fourth and last sets available.”
Without a moment’s hesitation Darcy knew he wanted to end any evening in the company of Elizabeth and applied for the last set. He desired to ask for a similar arrangement for himself but felt their acquaintance too new.
Elizabeth accepted with alacrity and then explained the next assembly was scheduled for the morrow. Darcy found he had never looked forward to a dance more. The conversation drifted towards literature and plays until they, at last, passed the gates of Longbourn.
Mercifully, only Mr. Bennet was home and able to greet the Darcys. Elizabeth happily avoided her mother’s effusions about the kindness of the Darcys and cost of their carriage — all wasted on the ungrateful Elizabeth.
Although disappointed to not meet the other Bennet ladies, Georgiana hoped to call on them tomorrow. She was eager for more friends and any means of escaping Caroline Bingley. Darcy was scarcely less eager to escape Miss Bingley. Although, his attraction to Longbourn centred on one particular Bennet lady.