Welcome back and are you ready for chapter 2? If you haven’t read Chapter 1, then please hop on over to Austen Variations and check that out here. If you’re ready for Chapter 2, let’s join the Montfords for dinner and after 🙂
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“Nicholas, Lizzybeth, should you like to join me in my study?”
“Really, Hugh, this is hardly appropriate,” said Grandmamma in the same tone and fashion she used every evening when her grandfather invited her to his study.
Her grandfather was undeterred. “If Amelia enjoyed chess, I would request her presence, but neither of you take pleasure in the game, so I leave you to your pursuits. Do not forget that Lizzybeth has joined you some evenings.” He neglected to mention that those occasions were rare, but he was good about not raising her grandmother’s hackles.
Grandmamma gave a low growl while she stood. “Very well. I suppose we shall be spending the day together tomorrow shopping so I can have no reason to object to an hour or so with you tonight.”
He only nodded in her grandmother’s direction with a small slip of a smile, barely discernible unless you knew him. “I am pleased you see the matter from my perspective, my dear.”
Elizabeth took his arm while she bit her cheek to keep from laughing or grinning. Her grandmother and grandfather always bickered when it came to her joining the men for talk and brandy, not that her grandmother knew Grandpapa gave her brandy. He occasionally slipped as he had this afternoon, but he always followed with his claim to have misspoken. Her grandmother could not have fallen for his falsehood, could she? She was not usually so easily deceived.
Upon reaching his study, Elizabeth plunked down in her usual chair and tucked her feet under her while Nicholas sat on the small settee and spread his long arms across the back. He had been a thin but tall child and remained so until last year. Now, he had shed the last of his boyish face and appeared much more a man of five and twenty years than the youthful boy she had once known.
“So, are you to search for a wife this season?”
He scrubbed his face with his hand. “Grandmamma is relentless. She started speaking of young ladies last season, and her insistence has only grown.”
“You are the future of the Richmond earldom, Son. We want to ensure that future is secure.” Grandpapa handed Nicholas a glass of brandy, then one to Elizabeth. “If you had a younger brother, we could delay matters to your schedule, but we have suffered too much loss amongst our own children. We fear—”
“I understand your position. I do, but I have yet to meet a lady who can hold an acceptable conversation without falling into a discussion of fashion or the state of the roads. Is it so terrible to want more than an acceptable match?”
“No. Of course it is not.” Elizabeth leaned against the arm of her chair. She would hug Nicholas if she could, but he would never accept her coddling him. Not that she could. He was far too tall with his over six-foot height, and he was also a grown man. Besides being five years her senior, he had not shown an inkling of allowing such an embrace since his parents were killed in a carriage accident ten years ago. While as good natured as ever, Nicholas seemed to wall a part of himself off after his parents’ deaths, which pained her to see. “Do anything rather than marry without affection.”
Her grandfather set a hand on Nicholas’s shoulder. “I agree with your cousin, but would you take a turn about the library so I can speak to Lizzybeth?”
“What? Why?” At a dip of Grandpapa’s chin, Nicholas stood with a grumble. “I do not understand why I must leave for you to speak to Lizzy. Precious little happens in this household without my knowledge.”
Her grandfather neglected to react to his grandson’s protests. He simply patted his shoulder. “Never you mind. Just do as I ask.”
Elizabeth grinned at Nicholas’s sour expression and gave a small wave while he closed the door behind him. “What do you want to ask that you do not want Nicholas to know?”
“I desire the identity of Janey’s suitor. If Nicholas is acquainted with the gentleman, he may conduct his own enquiries, which I would prefer not to happen.”
She nodded and sighed. “I do not know if I would call Mr. Bingley a suitor—”
“Bingley you said?” Her grandfather blinked several times, and his forehead creased.
“Yes, Mr. Charles Bingley. Do you know him?”
“I am not personally acquainted with him, but I know of him. Your grandmother detests his sisters.”
Elizabeth laughed and covered her mouth to keep from choking while she swallowed. “I cannot find fault with her feelings for those ladies, but Grandmamma and I often share similarities of opinion on most matters.”
“Except for the idea of ladies drinking brandy.” One corner of his lips curved upward.
“And who is to blame for that? Besides, she surely knows I drink with you and Nicholas in the evenings.”
“Hush, child. Your grandmother would have my guts for garters if she ever had proof. You notice I never offer you more than wine or sherry when Amelia is with us, do you not?”
That had not escaped her attention. “Amelia would not tell our secret.”
“No, but with how close she is to your grandmother, I feel it unfair to expect her to keep the confidence.”
She pursed her lips. “But you feel no such qualms of Nicholas?”
“If I did not offer you brandy, Nicholas would. I consider him as much a conspirator as I do you.” With a smile, she took another sip of her drink while Grandpapa peeked through the door to summon Nicholas.
“Well? Has all been settled to your satisfaction, Grandpapa? I enjoy the library, but I am able to spend all day every day in its confines should I wish.”
“We have finished our conversation.”
Nicholas looked back and forth between them. “Did you discover the name of this mysterious suitor?”
She sighed and relaxed into her chair. “I would not call him a suitor. He has shown Jane a prodigious amount of attention, but he took possession of Netherfield at Michaelmas. While Jane likes him a great deal, I cannot be certain of his intentions. His sister mentioned the possibility of him being matched with a friend’s younger sister. While I do not believe her claim, I cannot discount the possibility.”
Her grandfather furrowed his brow. “Interesting, indeed. Do not fret. I shall know how to act.”
“I am not reassured. Mama will never forgive me if I am responsible for ruining her hopes.”
“If the gentleman is unworthy, then you should not face any wrath,” said Nicholas.
“After the debacle with Mr. Collins, I am tempted to keep you with us.” Her grandfather sat in his favourite chair while he groused.
“You know Papa would never allow—”
“Oh, he would. I would give him no choice in the matter.” Before she could enquire further, he held up a hand. “Do not ask me for particulars. Just trust that I shall do what is best for your happiness.”
“I knew I should not have told you.” She set her glass on the side table and crossed her arms over her chest. Why were they so obstinate? She could manage Mama.
“Yes, you should have told us,” said Nicholas. “He cannot simply marry you off to any gentleman, cleric, militiaman, or tradesman who believes you worthy. You deserve to find someone who loves you. I would not have you wed without affection either, Lils.”
“You have not called me Lils in years.” Surely, her mouth was agape.
“An oversight on my part, I am certain. I use the name often enough in my head, but I have supposed of late that you have far too many nicknames for one young lady. Perhaps I began addressing you as Amelia does to make things simpler.” He cleared his throat. “Pardon me. I believe I require some air.”
As soon as he departed the room, she turned to her grandfather. “What have I said?”
“He has not called you ‘Lils’ since after his parents died. Once you returned to Longbourn, he began addressing you as Lizzy.”
“When I visited that Easter, he had changed so. I hardly recognized him.” He had seemed to grow up overnight. The transformation saddened her.
“He appeared much the same.”
“But he was not as open as he was before.”
“No,” said Grandpapa with a sigh. “He has been the same in some ways but different in others. Despite his young age, he had responsibilities thrust upon him after Arthur died. I had not intended to burden him, but I fear I made a mistake in trusting what he could manage at his age and after such a tragedy. An error I shall not make again. My grandchildren will be protected.”
“Grandpapa, we are well and loved. We could ask for little that you have not provided.”
“Do not think I am unaware of what occurs at Longbourn. Your father locks himself away in his library and allows his wife to do as she pleases. Your mother, God rest her soul, would be heartbroken to know what he has become.” Her grandfather had not stepped foot in Longbourn for years. How could he know so much of what occurs within its walls?
“Oft times I wonder if he married Mama for no other reason than to break the entail.”
“Why else would he marry a lady he held no affection for? If the babe had survived, then I doubt he would have spared a second glance for Fanny Gardiner, but the poor boy was born too early. You were too young to remember, but when we received word of Sophie’s early confinement, we travelled from Yorkshire without stopping other than to swap horses at the inns. When we arrived, your father had locked himself in his library, bereft, while Hill managed the household. She ensured you and Jane were fed and cared for and found a wet nurse for the babe. Sophie was laid out and prepared for burial. Your father, however, was inconsolable. He refused to emerge from that blasted library. He drank port and whiskey and mourned your mother the only way he understood. As soon as the babe died, we put him in your mother’s arms and had the bodies taken to Richmond where they are interred in the chapel. You would not remember much, but you and Janey spent almost two years with us after their death.
“Hill, meanwhile, refused to buy your father more liquor unless he ate and managed to keep him from drinking himself into an early grave. According to her, about a year after Sophie died, he requested a bath and a shave and gradually began to pull himself together. No one is sure why he proposed to Fanny Gardiner, but your mother and I believe he wished to have you and Janey with him, so he wed Fanny to care for you. Foolishly, we allowed your return.”
“You knew how Mama behaves towards me before you asked, did you not?”
He sat with his elbows upon his knees, turning his glass in his hands, while he nodded. “Your grandmother corresponds frequently with Mrs. Hill. We have debated over the years whether it was prudent to bring you and Janey to live with us, yet we considered how Sophie would feel. Would she wish us to raise you ourselves? She loved your father with her whole heart, and we thought she would want you to remain with him.”
“You let her love for Papa guide you.” It was the only explanation that made sense.
“Yes, but your mother would want you to marry for love—as she did. I shall not allow that woman he has wed to foist some unworthy gentleman upon you. At least your father kept his word and never mentioned yours and Janey’s fortunes. His wife’s avarice would know no bounds if she knew.”
“My fortune?” No one had mentioned a word of a fortune. Why had she never been told? All these years, it was assumed the five Bennet ladies had no more than Mrs. Bennet’s five thousand pounds to sustain them after her father’s death.
At her question, her grandfather’s eyes flared. “He never told you?” He ran his fingers through his greying hair. “I suppose that was a wise decision. Janey is too soft-hearted and would have mentioned it in front of Mrs. Bennet at some point.”
“And after Mama insisted her daughters receive their share, she would not stop until she told the entire neighbourhood.” Her grandfather was correct. As much as she loved Jane, she thought too well of everyone. She would never believe Mama unworthy of complete trust. “Mama would consider me undeserving of such a sum.” Her grandparents knew what happened at Longbourn without her, so what point was there in hiding it?
“Lizzybeth, pray, remember. That woman is not your mother. Allow us to now act as we should have so long ago. Your mother’s fortune of thirty thousand pounds was split between the two of you, and I have added to that sum over the years. You each have the same fortune as your mother, and I control the funds. Regardless of what your father or Mrs. Bennet claim, you cannot wed without my approval—neither can Janey for that matter.”
“Would you withhold consent from Mr. Bingley?”
He shook his head with a grim countenance. “I am unsure. I should like to see him court her before I decide. Nicholas and I shall pay a call to the Gardiner’s home on the morrow. She should spend Christmastide with us. If Mr. Bingley is a worthy young man, he will call upon her here.”
“Miss Bingley does not know of our connexion to you. She would have pushed her brother in Jane’s direction if she had heard word of it.” That lady would surely consider the granddaughter of an earl appropriate for her brother, would she not?
Grandpapa’s shoulders jerked with a silent chuckle. “If she has her sights on who I believe, the young lady is the granddaughter of an earl as well and boasts a fortune to match yours. Not only that, but Miss Bingley also has her sights on the young lady’s brother.
“I do know that when your father brought Sophie to Longbourn as a new bride, they enjoyed keeping her connexions a secret. They found the assumptions of the neighbourhood amusing. To this day, I do not believe anyone has heard word of us. Your father drank too heavily to receive condolences, so when people came to the door, Hill told them a relative paid for the funeral in their home county.”
“Well, I have never heard mention of the Earl of Richmond or your surname in Meryton, and Papa told us to never tell anyone of you or Grandmamma.” She could only imagine how entertained her father would be by hiding his late wife’s heritage. He truly found humour in the oddest of things.
He exhaled heavily and shook his head. “I have to believe that after your mother died, it was his way of protecting you and your future. He is unwilling to control his wife so he controls the information she can use to make his life miserable. The amusement he derives would be an added inducement.”
Elizabeth downed the last sip of her brandy. “I beg you. No more.” Fanny Bennet was the only mother she had ever known—that she could remember, anyway. Her father was not perfect, and neither was Mama, but they were all she knew. More than ever, her heart yearned for some remembrance of her mother, but she had been three when her mother died giving birth to her brother. No matter how hard she tried, naught of her mother remained in her memory. All of this was too much. She wanted nothing more than to bury her head in her pillow and not awaken until morning.
“If you would like more brandy, I can make your excuses to your grandmother.”
“You would give me a second glass?” He never offered her more than the small serving he doled out when they first sat down. At his lift of the decanter, she held up a hand. “I should spend some time with Amelia and Grandmamma first. Perhaps when I retire.”
“I shall have Nicholas bring you a glass.”
With a nod, she stood. “Thank you.”
She turned back to him just before opening the door. “Yes?”
“Forgive me for speaking so freely. Your grandmother and I have considered bringing you and Janey to live with us many times over the years, but I never felt the urgency to do so then as I do now. We shall never prevent you from writing your father or your younger sisters, and your father will have the ability to visit you at Richmond House or Castle—”
“Papa will not stand for it. He will demand our return.”
“After your mother’s death, he signed documents making me guardian of you and Janey. I allowed him to take you when he married Fanny Gardiner, but according to the law, you both are still my wards.”
“How is that possible? Papa is not dead.”
“We thought, at the time, he would drink himself to death. With the right documents and the aid of a solicitor, the Court of Chancery made me your guardians. Janey will do as she is told, but you are more forthright, just like your mother. I want you to understand I am doing what I believe to be best.”
Elizabeth walked forward, kissed her grandfather’s cheek, and lifted on her toes so she could hug him. “I have always trusted you, Grandpapa.”
“I love you, my sweet girl.”
“I love you, too.” Her eyes burned, and she buried her face into his shoulder, inhaling the sweet peppermint scent that she associated with him. How could such a simple odour provide such comfort? After one last kiss to his cheek, she dabbed her eyes with the back of her hand.
“You are tired. Retire. I shall make your excuses to your grandmother.”
“I do not want to disappoint her.”
“Do not worry. I shall speak with her after Amelia retires. She will understand.”
She slipped from the study and made her way to her chambers. When she entered, Tate curtseyed and began unfastening the back of her gown. “How was your evening, miss?”
“Lovely. It is good to be with my grandparents again.”
“I can imagine. It has been a long time—over a year now by my recollection.”
“Too long.” Elizabeth glanced over her shoulder. “You are here early. I do not usually retire until later.”
“If you’ll forgive me for saying it, I noticed the dark circles under your eyes when I dressed you for dinner. I thought you might retire earlier than is your wont.”
Tate made quick work of readying her for the night, then curtseyed and departed through the servants’ door a moment before a light knock came from her sitting room. Elizabeth hurried through and opened the door just enough for Nicholas to squeeze through.
“Grandpapa asked me to bring you this,” he said, handing her the promised glass of brandy.
“Thank you.” She glanced to the glass he held in his other hand. “Are you joining me?”
“I thought you may wish for company. I should also like to hear more about this proposal of marriage.” He sat on the sofa and crossed his ankle over his knee. “Was Mr. Collins on one knee?”
“Good Lord, Nicholas. I told Mama he had nothing to tell me which I needed to hear, but she insisted. Even after I refused, she demanded I accept him. If Papa had not told me I would be a stranger to Mama if I refused and a stranger to him if I accepted, I would have cried. The man is every bit ridiculous.” She sat beside him and pulled her legs under her. “His first night at Longbourn, he read Fordyce’s sermons to the family and spoke of his patroness, Lady Catherine, and the cost of the windows and the chimneys and the chamber pots at Rosings Park…Oh! At the ball two nights ago, he approached Mr. Darcy and introduced himself—”
Her cousin jumped a little. “Did you say Darcy?” Ugh! She had not meant to mention him by name—ever.
“Yes, he was a guest of the neighbour letting Netherfield.”
Nicholas’s eyes went wide, and he straightened. “Tell me this gentleman Janey is so enamoured of is not Charles Bingley.”
“What—?” She had been afraid he would deduce who the gentlemen was if he knew enough, and she was right.
“Good Lord. I wondered when you mentioned the sisters, but the income you stated, a newly leased estate, Darcy being a guest, all of it makes sense.” He took a sip of his drink, baring his teeth when he swallowed. “Lizzy, we cannot allow Janey to marry him.”
“Why on earth not?” Her grandfather’s grim visage upon learning Mr. Bingley’s identity was not reassuring, but now Nicholas? What could he possibly know?
“Bingley is a friendly and cheerful man, but he is also spineless. I cannot imagine him changing his small clothes without his sisters’ permission. Miss Bingley likely tells his valet what he is to wear each day, how to cut his hair, how snug to fit his breeches. No, Janey would be marrying a child in the guise of an adult. She deserves better.”
Elizabeth watched the fire for a moment, the flames winding up to points and disappearing into the smoke. “Mama will be quite put out.” Mama would be livid and blame her, yet she did no more than tell her family Mr. Bingley’s name. She was not preventing him from proposing.
“You told Grandpapa of this, did you not?”
“Yes, he asked you to leave us for that purpose.” She should not have mentioned Mr. Darcy’s name! She could slap herself for letting the name slip, not that it would be of any aid now.
Nicholas downed the last of his brandy and rose. “Forgive me. I should speak to my grandfather.” With his glass in hand, he peeked out the door before disappearing through.
She sagged into the corner of the settee and sipped her brandy. Mayhap remaining with her grandparents, Amelia, and Nicholas would be best. Obviously, Mama was too fearful of what would happen to her should Papa die, making her far too eager to marry her daughters to men of questionable worth—if Nicholas and her grandfather were to be believed. She sighed, set her glass on the table, and rose to go to bed. Enough for tonight. She would worry about it on the morrow.
Chapter 3 is up at Austen Variations on Wednesday of next week! I hope you’ll join me! In the meantime, don’t forget to preorder your copy! Release day is December 14th!!