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Chapter 3


The next morning, Elizabeth arose and quickly completed her toilette so as not to be late for breakfast.  As she entered the breakfast room, Lady Matlock greeted her, “Good morning, Miss Bennet.  I hope you slept well.”

“Yes, Lady Matlock, extremely well.  I thank you,” replied Elizabeth.

“Please select whatever you desire from the buffet and join me.” Lady Suzan motioned to the sideboard. “If you do not find what you want, let me know and it will be prepared for you.” 

Elizabeth examined the fare on display and was astonished at the variety of foods served, “Everything looks delicious, Lady Matlock.  There is nothing else I require.”

Elizabeth filled her plate and went to sit next to Lady Suzan.  As she took her seat, she went on to say, “Thank you, Lady Matlock for hosting me.  You have a lovely home, and I am already enjoying my stay very much.”

Lady Suzan smiled, “You are quite welcome, Miss Bennet.  I am very much looking forward to getting to know you.  Emily has written to me so much about you that I feel I know you already.  Have you any plans while you are here in London?”

“No, your Ladyship, I have no plans.  I would hope to find an opportunity to visit my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner while I am here,” Elizabeth replied.

“Well, please send them a note, and I will have a carriage available to take you there whenever it is agreeable for them,” Lady Suzan stated.

“Thank you, your Ladyship.  I will send a note after breakfast.”

“Miss Bennet, Lady Emily’s solicitors will be arriving at ten this morning.” 

“Oh!”  Elizabeth lowered her eyes to mask her disappointment.  She had hoped to have a little more time to get to know Lady Matlock, but the arrival of the solicitors, the reason for her coming to London, so soon after her arrival meant that it would not be long before she would have to return to Hertfordshire.

Lady Suzan, sensing why she was not looking forward to the meeting, went on to say, “Yes, they will probably require several meetings before everything is decided.  For which I am glad as it will give us a chance to become better acquainted.  Besides, I would like you to meet my youngest son.  I received word two days ago that he will be arriving in London in a couple days.  I am hoping that I can persuade him to stay here with me while he is in Town.  He has been in Scotland training Wellington’s replacement troops for the past year, and I have seen little of him.  He is a General in the Army, General Richard Fitzwilliam.  I believe you have already made his acquaintance.”

Elizabeth startled. “General Richard Fitzwilliam!  Yes, I met him as Colonel Fitzwilliam at Rosings Park about three years ago.”

Lady Suzan stated, “Yes, I know.  I believe you are also acquainted with my nephew, Darcy, as well as my sister-in-law, Lady Catherine de Bourgh.”

“Yes, I met them on a visit to my cousin, Mr. Collins and his wife.  Mr. Collins was the vicar at Hunsford at the time and Lady Catherine was his patroness. Lady Catherine would invite us for tea or dinner occasionally.  Your son is a very amiable gentleman, and I enjoyed his company.”

“My Richard is a gregarious soul and seems to charm everyone he meets.” Laughing she continued, “Though, I am not sure he is so charming with his officers.”  Sobering she added, “And what did you think of my nephew, Mr. Darcy?” Lady Suzan inquired.

“Mr. Darcy and I had a previous acquaintance when he was visiting a friend who had let an estate that neighbors my father’s.”  Elizabeth hedged her explanation as she did not want her hostess to know that she had thought ill of one of her family.

“My, they say it is a small world.  I have recently heard talk that Mr. Darcy is soon to be engaged although I have not heard it directly from him.  My daughter-in-law, Lady Julia, the current Lady Matlock, says the announcement will be soon forthcoming.  But my nephew has been out of town on some matter for Lady Catherine since I have been in town, and I have not had a chance to confirm it.  But as to my Richard, I know of no encumbrances.” Lady Suzan smiled and continued.  “At least, none that I am aware of but you never know with young men these days,’ she added hoping not to appear a matchmaker. Lady Matlock abhorred matchmaking but could not help but allow that piece of information about her son to go unnoticed by a young lady she could very well approve of as a daughter-in-law, even on such a short acquaintance.

Elizabeth’s thoughts were awhirl.  Was Lady Matlock playing matchmaker?  No, surely not.  Besides Colonel Fitzwilliam had made his requirements for a wife quite clear and I definitely do not meet them.  And this stay in Town will be too short to even consider such things.

Just then a footman entered to alert Lady Suzan to a household problem that needed her attention.  “Please excuse me.  Finish your breakfast and one of the footmen will show you to the drawing room where we will meet with the solicitors.”

“Yes, thank you, Lady Matlock,” Elizabeth responded.

After quickly dashing a note off to her Aunt and Uncle Gardiner about her presence in Town, Elizabeth sat pensively in the drawing room trying to determine how she should proceed.  In the short time that she had been acquainted with Lady Matlock, she knew that she liked this lady and could grow quite fond of her.  With the tales and stories Lady Emily had told her about Lady Matlock, she had expected it would be the case.  Actually being in her presence was proof positive that everything that had been said was true.  However, Elizabeth also knew that Lady Emily had probably related a lot of the Bennet’s family history, especially recent history and she did not want to become too close to Lady Matlock if she was to be judged by her family’s tragedies.  Although she did not think her Ladyship would judge her so harshly, she was concerned how General Fitzwilliam or Mr. Darcy would see her circumstances after all this time.  A decision was made to speak to Lady Matlock and tell her about her family’s history in an honest and forthright manner.  The lady’s reaction would then tell her all she needed to know on how to conduct herself during her stay here.  Hopefully, she could explain that it would not be beneficial to further any acquaintance with either gentleman, though it may be unavoidable with the General.                                                           

Elizabeth also did not want to let her family’s misfortunes touch this wonderful woman and her family.  As much as she had admired Colonel … General Fitzwilliam in the past, there could be no further connection after this visit was concluded.  As for Mr. Darcy, hopefully she would be gone before he returned.  She no longer felt a dislike for him, as the incident with Wickham and Lydia had definitely shown that Mr. Wickham was a man not to be trusted or believed.  It also brought to light the possibility that Mr. Darcy had been used as a scapegoat for Mr. Wickham’s situation in life.  Her other reason for disliking Mr. Darcy was his role in separating her sister, Jane, from Mr. Bingley. But on further consideration, his interference was probably for the best as things had turned out so badly for her family.  No one would have wanted to condescend to make a connection with the Bennet family after all that had happened.  Jane was now happily married, though not to Mr. Bingley.  Evidently Mr. Darcy had moved on with his life, so now if they were to meet on this visit she should probably let bygones be bygones, and, at least, allow Mr. Darcy the benefit of the doubt if she could not avoid meeting him again.

Soon Lady Matlock appeared in the drawing room with two gentlemen who she introduced as Mr. Mallory and Mr. Stanton, Lady Webberley’s solicitors.

Elizabeth made her greetings and Lady Suzan indicated for everyone to take a seat.

“Miss Bennet,” Mr. Mallory began. “Lady Webberley has made some bequests that affect you and your mother and sisters.”

Elizabeth nodded for him to continue.

He went on, “As you know, the dowager house at Standfield Hall is to be at the disposal of your mother for her lifetime and the lifetime of any of your unmarried sisters.  A stipend has been set aside to compensate the household staff, provide living expenses, and maintain a carriage for their use.  In addition to all this, each of your sisters will receive a dowry of 2,500 pounds.  Of course, your sister, Mrs. Nash, will receive her settlement immediately.”

Elizabeth smiled and said, “Lady Emily has been more than generous to my family but what does all this have to do with me coming to London.  Except for the dowries, we already knew this information.  You could just as easily have sent the details by post.”  

“Yes, that is true. But she has made some additional bequests that pertain only to you,” Mr. Mallory continued.

“Additional bequests, I don’t understand.  All she told me was that she had set aside some money for me for a dowry.” Elizabeth puzzled.

“Yes, she has allotted to you the sum of twenty-five thousand pounds.” Mr. Stanton finally entered into the discussion.

Elizabeth was astounded. “Twenty-five thousand pounds!  That is not possible!”

Lady Matlock interrupted the gentlemen, “Miss Bennet, Emily thought of you as a daughter and wanted to insure that you were well taken care of.  This money will give you the opportunity and independence to find your own way in life.  She wanted you to be happy.”

“But it is way too much!” Elizabeth exclaimed.

Mr. Mallory interjected, “Miss Bennet, there is a stipulation to you receiving the money.”

Elizabeth, still shocked by this news, just nodded her head for him to continue.

“Lady Webberley wants you to spend a season in London with Lady Matlock as your sponsor.  She has also set aside additional funds for you to purchase all the frocks and gowns and other accoutrements that ladies require to be presented to Society.”

Elizabeth sat quietly for a few minutes taking all that was said into her thoughts, weighing the impact that this new knowledge would have upon her.  Taking a deep breath, she looked at Lady Matlock and then to the two gentlemen. “Thank you, Mr. Mallory, Mr. Stanton, for your time.” Elizabeth spoke to the gentlemen and then turned to Lady Suzan. “Thank you, Lady Matlock, for your invitation and hospitality, but I am afraid I cannot accept this generous bequest on those terms.”

Each person in the room looked at her with a shocked expression as if they had not heard correctly.

“I will return to Hertfordshire in the morning.  Thank you for coming, Mr. Mallory, Mr. Stanton.” With that Elizabeth rose.

Both gentleman rose from their seats still slightly shocked by Miss Bennet’s refusal, looking at each other and then at Lady Matlock with a look of confusion.  This was an unexpected turn and they were at a loss of how to handle the situation.

Lady Matlock rose and said to the gentlemen, “It might be best if you gentlemen take your leave now.  I will talk with Miss Bennet and try to persuade her to accept this.  I will send word round when you can return to finalize this matter.”

“Yes, Lady Matlock,” Mr. Mallory stated as he and Mr. Stanton gathered their things.  Lady Matlock escorted the gentlemen to the door before returning to Elizabeth.

Elizabeth wanted nothing more than to go to her room and begin packing her trunks and be done with this place.  What had Emily been thinking to thrust me onto society with my family’s ruin so fresh?  I am nothing more than a poor country girl and have no desire to hob-knob with the bon ton of London society.  The memory of the Bingley sisters from their stay in Hertfordshire and their condescending and insincere ways was still fresh in her mind.  Then there was the haughty Mr. Darcy and his arrogant attitude.  She did not need these people; she wanted to go back home to her family and friends where she, at least, knew what to expect and what was expected from her.  

The bequest was tempting. But she had come to Town with nothing, so if she returned with nothing, what difference would that make?  Was the price she envisioned paying for a bit of coin more than what it was worth? 

Looking at Lady Matlock’s determined expression, Elizabeth knew she needed to think quickly and convince her hostess of her reasons without revealing the one major reason as to why she could not stay in London for an extended period of time.  That was one secret that she would never reveal!

Lady Matlock stood watching Elizabeth’s resolute countenance but she also perceived a touch of fear there as well.  What is this young lady about?  Emily had said there was a touch of stubbornness to this girl but I can be stubborn, too.  Emily had reasons for uniting the two of us, and I will make sure those reasons are met for Elizabeth Bennet’s sake as well as my own.

“Miss Bennet, I have to say I am impressed.  I cannot say that I know any young lady who would refuse such a gift,” Lady Matlock said in a whimsical voice.

Elizabeth could not help but grace her Ladyship with a small smile.

“Why the thought of the bonnets and gowns such a sum could purchase would chase any other thoughts from their head.  But you, Miss Bennet, are not swayed by such frivolous things.  So I would ask why you would refute the wishes of such a dear creature as our Emily,” Lady Matlock spoke the last with a somber tone.

Elizabeth winced at the implication of being ungrateful for such an act.  She knew Lady Matlock to be correct, but how was she to explain that this was not what she wanted?  However, a response was required. “Lady Matlock, I am surprised that Lady Emily would put such a stipulation on this legacy.  She knows that I am unmarriageable.  And the point of this bequest is for me to find a husband, is it not?”

Smiling, Lady Matlock nodded her head, “Yes, I believe it is.  But she also wanted you to be happy and secure.”

“Does it take a husband to be happy and secure?”  Elizabeth countered.  “I am almost four and twenty.  Do you not think that I am, how do they term it…Ah! Yes, on the shelf?  My family situation offers no inducement to a respectable gentleman.  But, even if he could look past that, do you not think his reasons for courting me would be solely for the monetary gains I can extend to him?  Whatever you or Lady Emily may think, that does not sound like a recipe for happiness or security.”

“On that you are quite correct.  But you, Miss Bennet, are a lovely young lady with wit and beauty and intelligence, qualities that an honorable gentleman values above all things.  Do not sell yourself short!” replied her Ladyship and then continued, “Every family has a skeleton or two to hide.  I believe there are a few in my own family.  Let that not be the reason to not take this opportunity.  You will be under the protection of the Matlock and Fitzwilliam names, not to mention the Webberley name.  I may have been absent from London and its society these last couple of years, but I fancy that I can still wield some power to silence any fool who would challenge my motives.  In addition to this, you have the direct connection of being Lady Webberley’s cousin.  That connection, alone, will stand you in good stead with the ton.”

“But what of Lady Catherine and Mr. Darcy? They surely know by now about my sister eloping with George Wickham.” Elizabeth persisted.

“Wickham, that scoundrel!  I am sorry your sister is saddled with that rascal.  But Lady Catherine and Mr. Darcy are family and will say nothing outside of the family to injure you.  Lady Catherine rarely comes to London in season and besides my son, Edward, Lord Matlock, would love an excuse to silence her tongue if she chooses to protest.”

Elizabeth looked at her in awe that anyone could silence the loquacious and condescending Lady Catherine.  

“As for Mr. Darcy, Mr. Wickham has used his family ill and he would not wish to open any old wounds, especially not on the eve of his engagement.  Are there any of your Hertfordshire friends that mix in the London social scene?”

“No, the families to whom we were close choose to spend their time in the country.  And those who rarely visited their estates would probably not know of our troubles.”  Elizabeth then thought of others that she might know that would inquire after her family. “There is Mr. Bingley and his sisters.”

“Ah! Mr. Bingley, such a charming young man.  He is an honorable gentleman and would never do anything to harm an acquaintance.  However, I will ask Darcy to help with keeping the Bingley sisters quiet which should not be hard as those two are so ensconced in social climbing that they would not dare risk damage to a connection with the Darcy or Matlock name.  Besides, do you think they know about your sister’s elopement?”

Elizabeth shook her head, “No, I do not think they would know about it.  However, they might ask after my family.”

“Well, they would probably not notice if you skipped over a sister or two.  You have four, correct?”

Elizabeth nodded.  She knew there were other considerations, but she could not reveal them so she would try a different tack.  “May I speak frankly, Lady Matlock?”

“By all means, Miss Bennet,” was her reply.

“I do not wish to marry.  By staying here in London it would just be a waste of your time and mine,” Elizabeth firmly stated.

“Making new friends and seeing another way of life and exploring museums and attending plays and operas is a waste of time?” Lady Matlock had to admit that Miss Bennet was a challenge.  Then went on to make her point, “Miss Bennet, while I will publicly disavow making this statement, I am appalled at the lack of choices a woman has in the way she conducts her life.  Most gently brought up young ladies are taught from birth that their role in life is to marry well and then make a home and heirs for her husband.  But I will be equally frank with you, do you really want to return to Hertfordshire to live in your mother’s house or take up residency in your newly married sister’s home?”

Elizabeth stared at Lady Matlock and shook her head. “No, I do not want to do that.  I had not planned to stay long with my sister; just until I could find a position to support myself.”

“As a paid companion or governess?”

Nodding her head, Elizabeth replied, “Yes.”

“Do you believe you will find happiness and security in service to strangers?” Lady Matlock grimly asked.

Seeing the sad look on Elizabeth’s face, she had her answer but continued on, “No, I thought not.  Do you know what will make you feel content and protected?”

Elizabeth averted her eyes and responded, “No.”

“Miss Bennet, I know you are afraid of something.  I will not press you for the details as I know it is something you have to face on your own.  However, I will be here for you if you need me.  To conquer fear, you must have knowledge.  Knowledge is gained by experiencing life – both the good and the bad.  For the next few months, I believe the worst you will experience will be the arrogant and condescending members of our so-called Society.  However, if you can look beyond all that, there is so much more to learn and see and experience.  You will meet great thinkers, personages that govern our land, artists with so much creativity that you cannot imagine.  This is what Emily wanted for you, to revel in the human experience.  She informs me that you are an excellent judge of character.”

Elizabeth blushed. “While I would like to think so, I have found fault in my judgment of some people.”

Lady Matlock laughed. “We all do, my dear Miss Bennet.  But that should not be a deterrent for shutting yourself off from people.  I have survived many a Season in Town,   and I should still be able to steer you clear from those less worthy.  My son, Richard, the general, is the most astute person I know in assessing a person and their motives, and he will be our escort around town when his duties allow.  There, now, you have two people to look out for your interests.”

“Lady Matlock, thank you for your advice and your concern.  I would ask that I have some time to consider all you have said.”

“Of course, Miss Bennet, you may have all the time you desire.  Maybe you would like to discuss this with your relations here in Town.”

“Yes, your Ladyship, I believe I would,” Elizabeth responded.

Lady Suzan nodded and went on to add, “If you do not find that someone you can respect and have affection for, you will have that money to find your own happiness and security.  You could retire to the country and live the life of a country gentlewoman if that piques your fancy or you could travel the world if that pleases you.  That money does not need to be used as a dowry; it is for you to find happiness in whatever you decide you want from life.”

Tears welled in Elizabeth’s eyes as she whispered, “Thank you.”

Elizabeth spent the afternoon in her rooms contemplating the events of the morning.  Her astonishment at Lady Emily’s generosity was great, and she realized that Lady Emily’s motives for it were sincere.  However, Elizabeth wondered whether this windfall was sufficient to counter the risk of her secret being exposed.  Deciding that she would think more on this after she retired for the night and then discuss it with her aunt on the morrow, she went down to join Lady Matlock for dinner.

They spent the rest of evening talking as if they were friends who had not seen each other in a long while.  Elizabeth felt herself respecting and caring for this extraordinary woman who had taken her under her wing.  She was extremely delighted to learn that Lady Suzan had met her father when they were younger.  It seems that Mr. Bennet had spent a few summers with Lady Emily’s family and thusly spent time with Lady Suzan.  She told Elizabeth of the adventures and mischief that her father would think up that always got the three of them into trouble.  They talked about Emily, and Elizabeth told Lady Matlock of her last days---how sad they were.  Lady Matlock talked about her husband’s illness and death and how she had been so hopeless without him.  When Emily asked her to take care of Elizabeth, it became her salvation.  They laughed and cried and soon a bond was struck between the two that would last their lifetime but it should be noted their connection was made all the stronger by their dearly loved common cousin.

Later, Lady Matlock sat in her bed, propped up by pillows, thinking on her conversations withElizabeth earlier that evening.  With one particular story she had not related the most significant part:

It had been the last summer that she and Emily and Tommy Bennet had spent together.  It was a warm and sunny summer day and Emily’s mother was hosting a tea for some of the neighborhood ladies.  Tommy had suggested a prank to liven things up.  Before they knew what was happening, the three of them were herding several sheep onto the lawn just outside the drawing room where the older ladies were having tea.

The three of them had stood out of view of the drawing room, laughing at what they perceived the reaction would be once it was determined that sheep had gotten into the front garden.  That was until the lack of animal husbandry knowledge that Tommy had possessed came to bear.  They had mixed the rams with the ewes and the rams were taking every advantage of their fortunate mingling.  When Emily had stepped forward to lecture the rams on the inappropriateness of their actions, Tommy had grabbed Suzan’s hand and set out running for the nearest copse of trees leaving Emily to the dilemma.  They ran until they reached a stream where they plopped on the grassy bank still laughing and winded from their escape.  When they had regained their breath, Tommy rolled on his side and leaned over her, placing a gentle kiss on her lips.  She lay there amazed at such a gesture and the exquisite feeling it produced.  Before she could say anything, Tommy scrambled to his feet.  Taking hold of her hands, he pulled her up and into an embrace.  Then he whispered into her ear, “Suzan, you are a good egg!” 

Releasing her from his embrace, he took her hand and said, “Hurry, we cannot leave Emily alone to take the brunt of our punishment.”  Then he pulled her along until they returned to the house and their just desserts.

The only time she had seen Tommy for the rest of that visit had been at meal times as all three were confined to their rooms.  But the feeling of Tommy’s kiss lingered with her for many days after it happened.  She was saddened that they did not see each other much for the rest of the visit because she secretly longed for him to repeat the kiss.  

She did not see Tommy until many years later when she and Jamie had gone on a visit to Emily and her husband.  Knowing that she was to visit, Tom Bennet had come for the day with his two daughters, leaving his wife at home awaiting the birth of their third child.

Jane, the oldest of the two children, was quiet and well behaved.  But Elizabeth was a sweet, mischievous little imp.  She had wandered off into the garden but soon returned with a flower for each of the ladies.  The fact that the flowers had been pulled up by their roots and dirt was trailing the toddler did not matter.  Suzan was entranced by the little girl---Tommy’s little girl.

Tommy had been the first man to kiss her, and she thought of him often after that summer.  But when she married Jamie, she had refused to think on the what-ifs in life.  Jamie was her first and only love.  She would not tarnish that feeling by thinking otherwise.  Though she could not help but think of the irony of having Elizabeth Bennet residing in her house now.   It was as if the three most special people in her life, though they were departed from this earth, had left her with a special gift.  Jamie had known that she had wanted a little girl just like that young Elizabeth all those years ago; Emily had entrusted her with a way to ease her grieve, and Tommy had given her his most prized child.  She was determined to live up to their bequest.  






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