We love JAFF. We are addicted to the eventful courtship of Miss Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy. They meet, they spar, they part, they pine – or at least one of them does, and usually it’s Mr Darcy because he does pining incredibly well!
There is great poignancy in imagining either of our favourite characters pining for each other, but I really can’t imagine anything more poignant than pining at very close quarters. Not from the many miles separating Pemberley from Hertfordshire, but the few yards separating the music room from Mr Darcy’s study. What if they were brought under the same roof? What if Elizabeth were to join the family circle at Pemberley as‘Miss Darcy’s Companion’? What if they got to know each other without the added difficulty of assembly-room slights and deceitful officers of the Militia?
I hope you like the premise and that you would also like the excerpt. It’s not a pining one – too early in the day for pining Rather, it’s one of discovery. Detained for too long by family obligations, Mr Darcy returns to Pemberley at last and, mindful of his duties, he is determined to discover just how his sister is faring with her new companion. Mr Darcy is greatly reassured to hear they spent a happy and busy summer reading, walking and practising all manner of ladylike accomplishments. Georgiana seems happy with the cheerful and outgoing Miss Bennet. But, as one would imagine, it would not be long until he learns there is more to Miss Elizabeth Bennet than meets the eye.
* * * *
“Doubtlessly the hours thus employed have been to the advantage of both,” he civilly replied. “Any pursuit of the kind is preferable to idle dissipation.”
She cast him a brief questioning glance at that, before replying:
“I hope you would not be severely disappointed to hear we have had times of idle dissipation too. One could not and indeed ought not dedicate every waking hour to study.”
“Perhaps,” he conceded. “So, might I ask, how did you fill the hours of idle dissipation?”
“With strolls in the garden, long walks, lengthy conversations…”
“The topic of them being?”
“Yourself, in great part,” she candidly retorted. “She speaks of you often, with the greatest affection, and has longed for your return. It would do her a world of good to spend more time in your company.”
Darcy looked up sharply. Surely she had not just taken him to task as regards his lengthy absence. What would a slip of a girl know about the duties and the time constraints imposed upon one of his station in life?
Blissfully unaware of his vague displeasure, Miss Bennet resumed:
“I hope I am not betraying her confidence if I disclose that she also speaks quite often of another matter that gives her a great deal of unease,” she began with some hesitation, and at that Darcy’s thoughts were promptly redirected to what she had to say about his sister.
“Which matter would that be?” he inquired, but when no reply seemed to be forthcoming his countenance grew solemn as he drew to a halt and spun around to face her. “Miss Bennet, let us be rightly understood,” he enunciated, his diction precise. “No misplaced sense of loyalty should confuse the matter. Your first and foremost allegiance is to me, and nothing that troubles Georgiana could ever be deemed confidential,” he concluded firmly, only to note that her brows rose and her lips thinned at his pronouncement.
For once the very picture of a remonstrating governess, she evenly replied:
“Let me assure you I perfectly understand my duties, Sir. But pray allow me to observe that Miss Darcy is fast approaching the age when gentleness and patience go much further than stern edicts. When it comes to delicate matters, it would be preferable to inspire your sister with the confidence that she could safely disclose her own concerns to you. Demanding that I relate them regardless of her wishes would only ensure she henceforth keeps them to herself.”
To say that Darcy was offended would have been an understatement. He was stunned. In living memory as master of Pemberley he had not been spoken thus. Well, Fitzwilliam had often allowed himself the licence, but that was beside the point. There was a world of difference between what he was prepared to allow from an older cousin – and what from a wisp of a girl in his employ.
“Upon my word, Miss Bennet, you give your opinions very decidedly for so young a person,” Darcy exclaimed with manifest pique at her presumption to not only censure him, but also direct him in his dealings with his own sister. “Pray, what is your age?”
The words had barely left his lips when it occurred to Darcy that Fitzwilliam would say this sort of speech befitted Lady Catherine, and not him. Unacquainted as she was with the chatelaine of Rosings, Miss Bennet could not observe the same, but he saw her smarting at the question. Doubtlessly she was neither accustomed nor best pleased to find herself thus interpellated.
True enough, such a direct inquiry would have been an unthinkable impertinence to Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. But someone in her present situation should learn to expect it. He was entirely within his rights to ask. Moreover, he should have done so at their first formal interview, as he had intended, when she was considered for her present position. A great deal more should have been ascertained on that fateful day. Such as the fact that she was decidedly too prone to challenge her betters.
As though intent to prove that very point, which frankly did not require further proof, Miss Bennet replied coolly, with a touch of resentment:
“I have turned twenty a few months ago, although I fail to see what bearing this has on the present conversation. You have asked me to voice any concerns I might have regarding Miss Darcy’s welfare. If you have reconsidered and you would much rather I did not, you only need to say so.”
He frowned, still too riled to acknowledge the justness of the implied reproach. Yet his righteous indignation swiftly paled before the need to learn what was troubling his sister, so he retorted crisply:
“No, Madam, I have not. If you would be so kind to share that information, I would be exceedingly obliged.”
She glanced up again at the cold sarcasm of the comment but thankfully for all concerned she forbore from taking up the part of the remonstrating governess and did not censure him again. Instead, she offered quietly:
“Your sister speaks with great unease about her launch into society. She does not relish the attention, nor the prospect of extensive company. Since there is no avoiding any of the above, she might look upon them with less trepidation if she is given the opportunity to practise. We have kept ourselves to ourselves here, just as you have requested upon our leaving town, but now that she is restored to your protection it might do her good to mix in society more, in preparation for the future. That is all.”
Silence fell at last, and neither seemed disposed to break it. Whatever Miss Bennet might have thought Darcy could not tell, but for his part he had begun to feel more than a little guilty for his earlier display of temper, and no less for having had to learn from a third party about Georgiana’s fears.
He should have guessed them. He should have known without being told that she would be plagued by the same foreboding. He had experienced it himself several years ago and, truth be told, it had not fully left him. The proverbial Darcy reluctance to pander to dull crowds must have been passed down in their blood.
He should have seen that Georgiana’s shyness would make her feel the discomfort even more acutely. But, in his defence, he had not expected the issue to come up so soon. She was so very young! Surely there was plenty of time until they had to consider her entry into society, leaving Pemberley, leaving him…
Unthinkingly, he voiced his thoughts aloud, in an unconscious attempt at both defence and reassurance, for himself as well as his absent sister.
“She need not fret. Her coming-out is very distant. She is fifteen, a mere child.”
To his vast surprise, a small hand was laid comfortingly on his sleeve and he looked up to meet Miss Bennet’s glance, settled upon him with none of the earlier governess-like censure, but with something very much like warm understanding.
“My father used to say that a man’s heart was more his own when he had no daughters, but the poorer for it. I suppose the same can be said of younger sisters,” she observed softly. He made no reply but a half-smile, and she continued, “Aye, Miss Darcy is full young, but ‘tis not so very long until she is sufficiently grown up to go out into the world, find her place, form an attachment. You should prepare yourself for it, Sir, or it will break your heart. As it would to discover she is so much in awe of you that she cannot disclose her feelings until there is a suitor on your doorstep, coming to ask for her hand in marriage. I trust you would not take further offence at my forthrightness,” she added as an afterthought and at that, Darcy surprised himself with a rueful chuckle.
“I will not,” he said at last. “Your father was very wise, Miss Bennet, as are you. Wise beyond your years.”
“I thank you. ‘Tis kind of you to say so.”
“Now,” he resumed in a suddenly jocular manner, “within a terribly short time I have discovered you are also kind and cheerful, exceptionally well-read, fiercely independent and exceedingly outspoken. So, before I find myself shocked by further revelations and as a result disgrace myself with another fit of passion, pray tell me, what else are you?”
She laughed lightly in response, a most becoming sparkle in her eyes.
“Much as I would like to sum myself up in a satisfactory manner, Sir, I cannot find the words to suit the purpose. I could use other people’s words, but they might be misleading, so I fear you must find another way to settle the hopeless business. All I can say is that thanks to the kindness I have uniformly found at Pemberley I feel myself quite restored to Elizabeth Bennet, with all that it implies. For better or for worse. I trust none of us will come to regret it,” she playfully concluded, her manner an admixture of diffidence and archness which Darcy found pleasing and also rather touching.
Equally touching was her appreciation of the kindness she had been shown at Pemberley. It was good to know that, after everything she had endured, Pemberley was the safe haven that had allowed her to feel at ease again. He ought to foster that, and he intended to.
Admittedly it was not his way to encourage such freedom of address. While a considerate master, he had uniformly maintained the natural distance between himself and the people in his household, with the sole exception of Mrs Reynolds, who had known him since he was unbreeched. But then they always said that the position of the paid companion, and likewise the governess, was in the marshy middle ground. Above the servants, yet below the family. She was not part of the family of course, but it would do no harm to treat her with kindness. Which was why, at least on this occasion, he saw fit to indulge her with a matching retort:
“Regret it? Why? Is Miss Elizabeth Bennet such a fearsome creature?”
“Perhaps not fearsome, but far too outspoken for her own good, as she has been repeatedly reminded. Speaking of which, Sir, I find I rather value my position here. Should my forthrightness become rather too difficult to handle, pray say so before we reach the point of no return.”
“Be assured I shall. For now though, pray rest easy, I can handle a little forthrightness. I am known to favour the unvarnished truth over obsequious fawning. Though perhaps your truths could be delivered with just a hint of varnishing,” he good-naturedly quipped, and she laughed, but also blushed.
“This I have also been told. I shall endeavour to apply myself to the task, Sir.”
“Pray do, Miss Bennet, and we might get along tolerably well,” he smiled, offering his arm.
She took it, and they returned at a slow pace to the house.
* * * *
‘Miss Darcy’s Companion’ will be released by the end of this month. If you would like to be among the first to read it, please leave a comment for the chance to win one of the two Kindle copies, available internationally.
The giveaway is open until May 18th.
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(Posted at Austen Authors 11 May 2016 http://austenauthors.net/upcoming-release-miss-darcys-companion/