P&P200: Lord & Lady Matlock Pass Judgement
**This P&P200 vignette is the eighth I have written for the weeks leading up to the double wedding event on Nov. 16. First was Darcy Surprises Elizabeth on 10/29, then A Most Important Dinner at Darcy House on 11/1, An Enlightening Tour of Darcy House on 11/2, Mr. Darcy Goes Shopping on 11/3, After Church Picnic & Surprise on 11/4, Georgiana Hosts a Tea Party on 11/5, and Colonel Fitzwilliam’s News for Darcy yesterday, 11/7. Inspired by the Darcy Saga, they may contain small portions of “flashback” moments I wrote within my sequel. However, they are altered a tad to present a differing POV and contain lots of additional information I never wrote before. New material to be enjoyed as part of the awesome Austen Authors P&P200 extravaganza! Thanks for reading, Sharon Lathan
For the remaining hours passed at York’s Coffee House, Darcy and Richard reverted to their standard male discussion topics. Darcy unabashedly spoke of Elizabeth with words of gushing praise so laced with romantic sentiment that eventually even Richard ran out of ways to harass him! Little else was said about Lady Catherine, the rumors circulating, or the impact of Lord and Lady Matlock’s opinion of his choosing Elizabeth Bennet as his wife. They spent an enjoyable afternoon, and parted with expressed anticipation of the following night’s dinner engagement.
Once back at the townhouse, Darcy retired to his office with orders not to disturb him. He read the missive from Lord Matlock, which said nothing of Lady Catherine or his concerns. It was a straightforward invitation to a family dinner for the purpose of acquainting themselves with his future wife. Darcy knew his uncle wasn’t being duplicitous by not mentioning the serious issues behind the invitation. There was no need to expound upon it in a letter, for one, because his lordship knew damned well that Richard would report to his cousin. No surprise or disapproval in that reality since the cousins a mere three years apart had supported each other from their days as rowdy boys in the nursery! Furthermore, even if by a fluke Richard didn’t enlighten Darcy, Lord Matlock trusted in his nephew’s extreme intelligence to figure out there was more than a casual meal at stake.
Darcy sat in his chair, staring sightlessly out the window and fiddling with a glass ball on his desk, while he methodically sorted through the information. The situation with Lady Catherine infuriated him. In order to rationally proceed, that, he decided coldly, must be pushed aside to be dealt with another time. And make no mistake, he would confront her in due course.
As for the rumors circulating through the high-and-mighty of London, it disturbed him only for the sake of protecting Elizabeth. Nothing could be done to halt gossip. This he knew, it being one of many reasons he despised Society, and, he fully comprehended, one of the reasons he loved Elizabeth. In every way she was a breath of fresh air into the stifled world he had been raised in, her artless honesty unique and invigorating. A fool he most certainly was not, and the consequences of his choice in wife, in relation to his future in Society, were a fact that must also be faced… later. So he wasted minimal time on that point.
Thus, the relevant subject of Lord and Lady Matlock’s opinion is what occupied his mind. Truthfully, he did believe they would adore Elizabeth. All that Richard had said, of their love for him and desire for his happiness, Darcy doubted not for a second. Nevertheless, the earl was the patriarch of a noble, ancient family. Tradition, duty, and honor to one’s name, country, and ancestry was a code embedded into his cells. Strangely enough, the same code had caused Darcy to leave Elizabeth last year, and then bungle his first proposal. Those tenets were embedded into his cells and every bit as strong still today, the difference being that finally, after months of heartbreak, Darcy had learned that the foundation supporting all of it was love. Perhaps his Uncle Malcolm had learned that truth along the course of his life. Perhaps Darcy could convince that, for him, everything fell apart and was moot without Elizabeth. He wished for their strong familial ties to remain intact, but if not, so be it. Nothing would ever change his mind about marrying Elizabeth. In that, Richard was one hundred percent correct. Darcy was the most stubborn man on the planet!
He concluded there was no advantage to talking with his uncle before the dinner. Darcy understood Lord Matlock’s stance, especially in light of the fabrications by Lady Catherine, and appreciated his objective in ascertaining the truth for himself. Additionally, Darcy respected his lordship’s position within their family, and while nothing could possibly be said to deter his path to the altar, it was proper to grant Lord and Lady Matlock an opportunity to judge and courteously say their peace.
To Elizabeth, Darcy said nothing other than that his uncle and aunt were in Town, and had invited them for dinner. She was thrilled to meet more of his family and reacquaint with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Once again Darcy was in awe at her ease with unknown people and utter lack of diffidence. He honestly wondered if coming face-to-face with the Prince Regent would intimidate her!
The intimate family party taking place at the townhouse on St. James’s Square included Georgiana and Richard, as well as the heir to the Matlock earldom, Richard’s older brother Jonathan, with his wife Priscilla. Mr. Bennet escorted his daughter, shocking everyone, including Lizzy, by wearing a new suit in the latest style, made specifically for the wedding. Lizzy gushed on at how dashing and young he looked, Mr. Bennet preening under the praise, and Darcy had to vocally agree that he presented a handsome picture. Maybe the suit helped, Darcy would never know, but to his astonishment, Mr. Bennet and Lord Matlock instantly took a liking to each other, the two frequently in deep conversation. Mr. Bennet was the archetypical country gentleman. Intelligent and proper when he exerted the effort – as he did this night – yet with a vague irreverence and wry humor. Lord Matlock, for all his elevated rank, was the master of a country estate and appreciated men such as Mr. Bennet for their unpretentious mannerisms.
Not remotely to Darcy’s surprise, Elizabeth dazzled everyone. Including him! He was simply unable to look away from her sunny face as she spoke with gay animation, charming everyone, including his cousin Jonathan, who was rarely charmed or impressed by anyone. The beauty was that Elizabeth didn’t try. The same natural wit and liveliness that had captivated him – quite against his will initially – captivated Lord and Lady Matlock.
What Darcy did not realize, was that Elizabeth Bennet’s enchanting personality and confident demeanor had subtly altered in the past month. Mr. Bennet saw the differences, as did Colonel Fitzwilliam even from their short acquaintance while at Kent. The Matlocks and Fitzwilliams did not have this reference, but reached a similar conclusion by observing Darcy, and noting the silent, expressive interplay between the two. The love they held for each other was a palpable entity practically taking corporeal form with every shared glance, spoken exchange, and furtive touch.
One example of this occurred after dinner while in the parlor. Georgiana and Priscilla Fitzwilliam entertained on the pianoforte. The others sat or stood in relaxed companionship, sipping tea or brandy. Lady Matlock began to speak of Derbyshire and Pemberley, reminiscing to Lizzy of her own days as a new bride relocating to an unfamiliar land.
“You have been to Pemberley, I understand?” Lizzy affirmed Lady Matlock’s inquiry. “It may seem imposing, Miss Bennet, but the Darcys have made it a home. Fitzwilliam is the soul of patience and kindness. I assure you will be most happy there.”
“Thank you, Your Ladyship. I have no doubt Mr. Darcy will lead me gently.”
She smiled at her betrothed, who stood nearby with Richard at his side. He smiled in return, eyes sparkling.
Richard nodded, his eyes mischievous as he glanced at his cousin. “Indeed, Mr. Darcy is patience personified, as all can attest. Even his horses declare it so!”
“Sadly a lesson I could never impart to you, Richard. Your horses habitually choose to throw you rather than listen to instruction.”
“That happened one time, I was fifteen, and the horse refused to jump that creek!” Richard turned to Lizzy with a chuckle and pointed toward Darcy. “He, braggart, was twelve with a horse larger than mine, and cleared the creek without hesitation. Very well, I concede. He is the superior horseman. I, on the other hand, excel at dancing and witty conversation.”
“You are now witness, Miss Bennet, to what shall henceforth pervade your existence whenever these two are in the same room together.” Lady Matlock interjected with a long-suffering sigh. “They delight in baiting the other, have since they were children, and likely will be doing so in their senility.”
“Miss Bennet knows it to be true, having confessed to me the dreadfulness of William’s dancing and conversation in Hertfordshire.”
“Colonel! You tease as well as color the truth,” she laughingly accused. “I said that Mr. Darcy refused to dance, not that he danced poorly. He proved his skill at the Netherfield Ball, dancing with the grace of a gazelle.”
“Grace of a gazelle? High praise indeed. Is this true, Fitzwilliam?” Lord Matlock grinned at his nephew’s discomfiture.
Darcy coughed, color high, but face alit with humor as he gazed upon his impish love. “Miss Bennet is being generous, as always. I managed to avoid stepping on her feet or making a total fool of myself. In my particular case it remains fortunate that dancing proficiency and engaging repartee are not the only inducements to affection.”
“Quite so,” Jonathan Fitzwilliam agreed. “I abhor dancing and socializing more than you, Darcy, and that is saying something, yet my wife tolerates me. One’s beguilements and personality can be well hidden secrets for only select individuals to divine.”
“I concur, Mr. Fitzwilliam,” Lizzy nodded. “Rather like a fine bottle of aged red wine. The cork must be removed; the wine poured and allowed to breathe. One must wait patiently for the aroma to rise in the air to captivate those who wish to partake of its delights. The wine warms in the glass, as the flavor softens and mellows, exposing its true essence.” She paused in her mesmerizing speech. Her gaze had locked on Darcy’s startled eyes, the lovers focusing on each other to the exclusion of everyone in the room. “Some people are structured so and are abundantly worth the wait,” she finished in a soft whisper.
For a very long minute the occupants in the room were caught in the spell. Even the pianoforte was silent, Georgiana and Priscilla misty-eyed.
“Well spoken, Miss Bennet,” Lady Matlock murmured. She cast a pointed look toward her husband, who nodded once.
As they were preparing to leave, Lord Matlock drew Darcy aside. Peering intently at his nephew, Lord Matlock began, “I won’t insult your intelligence, William, by denying the main purpose of why we traveled to London and arranged this dinner. I like her, my boy, enormously. There is absolutely no doubt she loves you, and that you are wildly in love with her. Her father is a gentleman and their manners are impeccable, as far as I can tell.”
“Thank you, Uncle Malcolm. Your opinion, and Aunt Madeline’s, means a great deal to me.”
“I appreciate the sentiment. However, liking her and recognizing your mutual love is one thing. What if I still do not approve of the marriage? She is not quite in your class, manners notwithstanding. What if I agree with your Aunt Catherine?”
Darcy returned his uncle’s indecipherable gaze with the same intensity. “Sir, I would be grieved, as I am with Lady Catherine’s attitude. However, my choices are just that … mine. Elizabeth is my life. I am nothing without her.”
Lord Matlock nodded, still watching his nephew’s face. “And Pemberley?”
Darcy was silent for a moment, mulling over his response. “I understand what you are asking, sir. All my adult life I have placed Pemberley’s needs before my own. I believe I have been a worthy Master of Pemberley and that I carry the Darcy name proudly. Years have I searched for a woman of quality, someone strong and brave, intelligent and wise, empathetic and giving. All the characteristics the Mistress of Pemberley must have. I am not a fool, Uncle. Elizabeth possesses these attributes, every one, and much more. I have fallen in love with a woman my equal, if not superior. Yet this is inconsequential compared to the fact that she loves me and I her. Her paramount value to me, and to Pemberley, is in this truth.”
Lord Matlock nodded seriously, and then smiled. Clasping a hand onto Darcy’s shoulder, he spoke his final word on the subject. “Your father would be very proud of you, Fitzwilliam, as would your mother. James and Anne loved each other, as you know. It is an emotion uncommon in our society, sadly. They were better human beings because of it, and Pemberley thrived. I do approve of your Miss Bennet, wholeheartedly. You have my blessing… for what it is worth,” he ended with a wink.