Main page: It Only Stands to Reason
Darcy and Richard stood at the top of the steps and waited for the first of the carriages to arrive. Lady Catherine refused to join them. After all, a Lady has her guests brought into the parlor to be greeted. Darcy snorted. It was just as well. If Bennet’s boys were anything like his own after a long carriage ride, it was best Lady Catherine not witness their exit from their coach. It would not do for her to be so critical of their new neighbors so early in their acquaintance.
“I see he left the caravan of wagons back at Alston Hall.” Richard squinted and shaded his eyes with his hand. The later afternoon sun defeated his efforts and left him blinking uncomfortably. “What would possess a man to carry so much furniture along? From the look of it, none seemed equal to the appointments of Alstons.”
“I daresay you shall not rest until you have pried the information out of some member of their party.” Darcy tugged his coat sleeves and straightened his cravat. “Do wait until at least morning before you begin your interrogations, though. I would like them to believe us civilized for at least one evening.”
“You have my word I shall not begin torturing their servants until morning.” Richard pressed his lips tightly and cast a sidelong look toward Darcy.
Darcy rolled his eyes.
The first carriage neared the house. Darcy descended the stairs two at a time to arrive at the bottom just as the carriage rolled to a stop. Richard followed on his heels.
The door opened before the driver could dismount. Admiral Bennet emerged, two young boys in his wake.
Darcy bowed. “Welcome to Pemberley.”
Bennet brushed his hands down his coat and extended his hand. “Thank you for your invitation, sir. I am sorry to impose upon you so early in our acquaintance.”
“Nonsense.” Darcy pumped his hand firmly. “With the inn still under repairs and you with ladies and children to shelter, I could hardly do otherwise.”
“And with the house otherwise empty,” Richard offered his hand. “Pemberley is frightfully quiet.”
Bennet shook his hand and glanced at his boys. “I fear these scamps will remedy that problem in short order. May I present my sons, Francis and Philip.”
The boys bowed a little awkwardly but in tandem. Darcy could not suppress a smile. The two lads were mirror images of one another. Oh the trouble that could lead to! It was a good thing his own boys were not indistinguishable from one another or Mrs. Reynolds would have surely retired by now.
Richard hunkered down on one knee to look the boys in the eyes. “You look like fine young men, both of you, but do tell, how do they tell you apart?”
Francis laughed. “It took our governess ever so long to sort it out.” He clapped his hands over his mouth. “She still calls me Philip often enough.”
Philip made a small bow. “If you please sir. I am right handed. Francis uses his left.”
“But Papa won’t make me switch owing to that it will make me a more formidabab…formida…a more better swordsman.” Francis grinned.
“So he is teaching you the sword already?” Richard raised his eyebrows.
“Indeed sir. We have wooden ones for practice now—”
“We brought them in our trunk…do you want to see?”
“Papa says when I am eleven he shall—”
The front door swung open. George and David Darcy rushed out.
“See, there! The two identical boys I told you about!” George shouted and pulled his younger brother down the stairs. “David would not believe me that you were just alike. But now, you see!”
Darcy caught George’s shoulder and gave him a severe look. “May I present my sons, George and David.”
The boys bowed to one another, nearly knocking their heads together. Laughing, they attempted to shake hands only to have it end in a tangle of arms.
Both fathers reached in to sort out the jumble of limbs.
“Papa,” George looked up “May we show them colts in the barn?”
Darcy glanced at Bennet, eyebrow raised. “My grooms are in the barns and will supervise them closely.”
Francis and Philip stood stone still, their hands tightly clasped before them, but not breathing a single word. They all but quivered with the effort to maintain a posture of silent attention, or at least a boyish semblance of it.
Bennet nodded slowly. “They have been confined to the carriage for the last several days and a good run is just the thing they need. Now mind yourselves, gentlemen. You know how to conduct yourselves in company and around horses. Do not allow me to hear that you have done otherwise.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you sir.” They said breathlessly, saluted and ran off behind their new playmates.
Richard rose and cocked his head at Bennet.
“No, I do not make them salute.” Bennet chuckled. “It is a habit they picked up from my man, Piper. He did that for so many years at sea, he cannot seem to shake the practice.”
A young woman cleared her throat behind Bennet.
“A yes, forgive me, girls. Gentlemen, may I present my daughters, Jane and Elizabeth. Mr. Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam.”
The girls curtsied and the gentlemen bowed.
“Thank you for your hospitality.” Elizabeth said.
Darcy paused. What an arresting creature she was. Not beautiful in the most conventional sense, she was stunning nonetheless. Eyes full of intelligence and curiosity, a musical voice, and a smile that he could not tear his eyes from. Wrapped around her shoulders she wore an unmistakable air of confidence and strength he had never encountered in any other woman. Their eyes met. He was staring. Where had his manners gone? He blinked and shook his head. “You are most welcome—please come inside. I am sure you would like to refresh yourselves after your travels.” He ushered them inside. “I will have—”
A flurry of feathers and taffeta breezed in. “Welcome to Pemberley.” Lady Catherine smiled her broadest good-hostess smile.
Darcy fought to keep his expression mild. She meant well and her manners were always impeccable. If only her timing would be better. He pressed his lips tightly and nodded. “May I present my aunt, Lady Catherine DeBourgh. Aunt, these are our guests and newest neighbors, Admiral Bennet and his daughters, Miss Jane Bennet and Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
Admiral Bennet bowed over Lady Catherine’s proffered hand. “Thank you for your gracious invitation to my family.”
“I am sure they would prefer to refresh themselves after their travels, Aunt.” Darcy glanced back at Richard.
“Nonsense,” Bennet waved him down. “The good lady has gone to so much trouble, we would be most pleased to join her for refreshments.” He turned to his daughters who nodded.
Darcy swallowed back a sigh. The weary creases beside Bennet’s eyes belied his cheerfulness as did the dust smudges on his otherwise stunning daughters’ cheeks. Such thoughtfulness in so new an acquaintance! This was definitely a men he would like to know better.
Lady Catherine batted her eyes at Darcy. She would be insufferable now, believing that she had won her point. “Come then, the parlor is this way.”
They fell into step behind Lady Catherine and soon arrived at the parlor. Georgiana waited within, hovering over the sideboard where neatly laden trays were set out.
“May I introduce my sister, Georgiana.” Darcy gestured toward his sister.
The ladies curtsied, the men bowed and introductions were made all around.
“A lovely spread you have here, on such short notice.” Admiral Bennet nodded at Lady Catherine.
She encouraged them all to serve themselves and sit down whilst she made tea. Lady Catherine finished serving the tea and took a seat beside Bennet. She drew a breath to speak.
“Ha! I told you I was fastest!” George Darcy burst into the room, the three younger boys hard on his heels.
“That was not fair!” Francis grabbed at George’s coattail.
Darcy and Bennet sprang to their feet. “Boys!”
The youngsters skidded to a stop in front of their fathers. Their expressions lost all their prior levity. They clasped their hands behind their backs, still panting, trickles of sweat trailing down their faces.
Two young women appeared at the doorway. They both panted hard, strands of hair plastered to their cheeks, bonnets askance.
Darcy looked from them to Bennet. “Your governess, sir?”
Darcy turned back to the young women still hovering in the doorway. “Miss Mallory, take the all the boys and…”
“Miss Wexely.” Bennet replied and glared at his sons.
“Miss Wexely to the kitchen. I am sure Mrs. Reynolds can arrange some refreshment for them. Then you may show them upstairs…”
“Papa, please, can they stay in the nursery with us? There is plenty of room there…” George clapped softly.
“Please?” David added, edging closer to his new friends.
“May we, Papa?” Philip asked, wide-eyed.
Admiral Bennet harrumphed.
Richard laughed heartily. “You’ll not keep them apart, I fear. Best make it official lest you have them creeping about the house in the middle of the night.”
Darcy grumbled. “They do not need you giving them new ideas.”
“That idea is hardly new. I seem to remember—”
“Enough.” Darcy held up an open palm.
“If Mr. Darcy approves, then you may.” Bennet rolled his eyes. “You may want to consider their request carefully. I daresay the amount of mischief…”
“We will be good, Papa. We promise, sir.” Francis stepped a little closer to his father. His expression shifted subtly and he straightened his shoulders. “You have my word.”
Bennet’s severe expression broke into a smile and he ruffled his son’s unruly curls.
Darcy chuckled. “Can their request be accommodated, Miss Mallory?”
She exchanged weary glances with Miss Wexley who shrugged. “Yes, sir, I believe it can.”
“With any luck, they will tire each other out, sir.” Miss Wexley grinned and winked.
“Then I suppose it is decided. Now, out with you. The next time I see you, I expect you to be cleaned up and behaving as proper young gentlemen.” Darcy scowled.
“Yes, sir.” George and David said, suppressing their grins.
“Yes, sir!” Francis and Philip saluted smartly and followed the governesses out.
“I believe I shall have to add something to her pay this quarter.” Bennet pinched his temples.
“You say that every quarter.” Elizabeth said, the corners of her lips twitched.
“You often say the same, yourself, Brother.” Georgiana added very softly.
Darcy turned sharply and stared at her. She spoke unbidden? What a remarkable afternoon this was turning out to be. A smile slowly lifted his lips. “I suppose you are correct.” He glanced briefly at Lady Catherine.
Her jaw hung slightly agape and she stared at Georgiana. She blinked several times and twitched her head. “So how did you find Alston Hall?”
“Dusty.” Jane sniffled.
Georgiana and Elizabeth looked at one another and giggled softly.
“I fear the rooms have not been aired in some time.” Elizabeth folded her hands in her lap. “But the furnishings appear quite lovely.”
“They in quite an old style, I fear.” Lady Catherine smoothed her skirts. “Mrs. Hamilton, the previous mistress talked of redecorating for years, but never did so. I hope you do not find the tired styling too distressing.”
“I am certain we shall hardly notice.” Jane smiled. “It is appointed far more comfortable than a number of the houses we have lived in.”
“Have you lived many places?” Georgiana asked.
Richard leaned in, eyes wide at his cousin.
Darcy forced his eyes away from his sister. Surely this was the most she had spoken to guests…ever. Now Richard was gaping at the other Miss Bennet. The serene girl wore the same mantle as her younger sister, though her beauty was of a more conventional form. One could easily argue she would be considered the loveliest inhabitant of their neighborhood. Still though, Darcy’s gaze kept wandering toward the younger Miss Bennet.
“I have always been a bit unconventional.” Admiral Bennet looked directly at Richard, then at Darcy. “I have always kept my family as close to me as possible. Both my wives set up housekeeping in whatever port was nearest.”
“With your children?” Georgiana gasped.
“Indeed. We could hardly have left them behind.”
“They must have been extraordinary women.” Richard stroked his chin, nodding slowly.
“Indeed they were.” Bennet touched the black ribbon that circled his sleeve.
Awkward silence filtered into the room. Darcy squirmed. Lady Catherine cleared her throat daintily.
“Where have you lived?” Georgiana asked.
“Naples, Gibraltar, Bombay and Jamaica. We have visited several other places as well.” Jane’s voice trailed off.
“That is an astonishing list for young women like yourselves.” Richard’s eyes fixed on Jane. “What was your opinion of your adventures?”
Darcy ran a finger around the inside of his collar. He felt the heat of Richard’s gaze even across the room.
Jane looked at her father with eyes so full of warmth, the heat in Darcy’s cheeks rose. “I liked them very much. Sometimes I find that I do not understand the Ton very well, having spent so much time abroad.”
Lady Catherine snapped her fan open and fluttered it. “I will be most happy to make introductions for you in town during the Season. I assume you will be going to London then?”
“Thank you very much.” Elizabeth looked at her father her lower lip caught in her teeth.
He coughed. “That is a very kind offer, Lady.” Bennet pulled himself up a little straighter and the corners of his mouth tugged down. “You will of course understand when I assure you, my daughters are in no need of introductions.”
Lady Catherine shrank back slightly as Bennet leveled a stern look at her.
Darcy struggled to restrain a snicker.
“I served under Prince William for a good number of years and count him among my friends. He saw to their sponsorship himself when they were presented at court. We moved to Hertfordshire and now here to get away from all the crush.”
Lady Catherine gasped and Richard’s eyes widened.
Bennet laid his plate and cup on the table with a small clink. “If you do not mind—”
Darcy rose. His chest ached from the room’s sudden tension pressing in on it. “Of course, I am sure you all need to rest and refresh yourselves before dinner. I will have my housekeeper show you to your rooms.” He rang for Mrs. Reynolds who appeared in short order. The Bennets followed her out.
“Prince William?” Richard whistled through his teeth. “Our neighbors keep illustrious company for sure.”
“Well, I think it an excellent thing indeed. There is surely no better company for our dear Georgiana.” Lady Catherine snapped her fan closed.
Georgiana blushed. Her head drooped and she stared at her tightly folded hands.
“In fact, when we next go to town, they might be in a way to put her in the way of some very worthy gentlemen.”
Darcy rolled his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose.
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