May opened on Pemberley, Elizabeth’s first spring as mistress of the house, and she watched with delight the blossoming of the park. Primroses, campion, Canterbury bells spread over the meadows, and in the formal gardens near the house vivid blue delphinius, gay hollyhocks and foxgloves were starting to nod. The scent of the lavender rose up in her nostrils as Elizabeth wandered to hear heart’s delight, sometimes with a sister, sometimes happy to lean on the strong arm of her husband.
Although she was expecting her first child in the autumn, Lizzy felt well and strong, and seldom did she spend a full day indoors. The wedding-visits round the countryside had finally been concluded, but there were still comings and goings amongst her own family. The Gardiners had returned to London, taking Mary with them, and from there she would return to Longbourn, where Mrs. Bennet, accustomed to five daughters, could not entirely do without one. The Bingleys had been visiting Longbourn, and now returned north, bringing Kitty, and were now visiting Pemberley.
Nothing brought the two friends, Darcy and Bingley, out of the house more often than catching sight, from the long windows, of the three sisters, together with Darcy’s sister Georgiana, walking in the fields. Sometimes they would call for the pony-phaeton, but Elizabeth was still a great walker, and often did not choose to ride in a conveyance that would not hold the whole party.
On a May day that was almost too bright, with small white clouds scudding high overhead, the two gentlemen came upon the fair group at the edge of the blue water, fringed by daffodils.
“This is pretty,” said Bingley, “you look like French maidens on a Sevres plate, sitting under the great elm.”
“Do you take us for the enemy?” Elizabeth asked archly. “I should have thought your Jane was the very image of the perfect English rose.”
“No, I think Bingley is right, in his artistic effusion,” said Darcy critically, “you all look very Frangonard.”
“I still do not know what you mean, comparing us to Frenchwomen. What do you say, Jane, is it praise or abuse?”
“Bingley never says anything but praise,” said Jane affectionately, “he quite spoils me.”
“Never mind the pretty phrases, Bingley. We came out to consult our wives, and now we are here let us do it without delay.”
“It is still the early days of marriage, you see, Kitty and Georgiana, that we are consulted. But Jane and I are equal to the task of counsel. Well, tell us what it is.”
“It is this,” said Darcy. “I need to go to town on business. I wonder if you would care to go to London during the Season, after all? You know we thought it might be best to stay in the country, given your situations.”
The two husbands exchanged secret smiles with their two pregnant wives, while Georgiana and Kitty looked on wistfully.
“Why, I feel quite equal to travel,” said Lizzy gaily, “and I am sure Jane will like whatever Bingley likes, and he will like what she does, they are so mutually easy in their tempers.”
“It would be a very pleasant scheme,” said Bingley, “if Jane likes it, and if it is safe.”
“With such comfortable, beautifully-sprung carriages as our husbands possess, being on the road can be no discomfort, and no danger.”
Jane nodded. “Oh, yes, I am sure our healths can be no objection.”
“But we have only just returned from Longbourn – are you sure you do not want to rest awhile in the country, and settle things at our house, my love?” Bingley asked his wife.
She thought a moment, fingering the basket of violets she had gathered in her lap. “No,” she said, “I should like to be with my sister and brother. We do not have to take part in all the festivities of the Season, you know.”
“And nothing is more comfortable than Pemberley House.”
“Yes, you will stay with us there,” said Darcy. “I have some county business to conduct, while Parliament is in session; and I am also thinking of the girls. At their time of life, being in Town for the season must be very delightful – hey, Georgiana? Kitty?”
Kitty could not keep her seat, but jumped up and danced around lightly on the grass. “London in the Season! May we go really, Lizzy? Papa has kept me so close, since Lydia married, that I am dying for some fun!”
Darcy’s expression dimmed, and Elizabeth looked at him soberly. “I suppose Wickham is in town,” he murmured, “he usually is, for the gaieties.”
Kitty clapped her hands. “Oh, then I will see Lydia!”
“No, you will not,” Elizabeth told her firmly. “I shall not go against my father’s wishes, and he forbids it.”
Kitty subsided, only half disappointed, since all of London lay before her, even if she was deprived of Lydia.
“And you, Georgiana?” Jane asked gently. “What are your feelings? You are the proper age to be presented at court, but I believe the arrangements must be made before this.”
“There is no absolute requirement that Georgiana be presented, and she has said she does not wish it,” said Darcy. “And you know that I am no frequenter of St. James’s.”
“I remember you telling Sir William Lucas that,” said Elizabeth.
Georgiana shuddered a little, though the breeze was warm. “No, brother, I prefer not. The display – the parade – oh, they would be terrible to me. Though I admit it would go easier, now that we have Elizabeth.”
“There is no reason to torture you, my dear. You are ‘out’ in society, in any case, and can have all of the enjoyments of a young lady that you choose. We will all be very glad to escape the ordeal.”
“Can’t I be presented?” protested Kitty. “I should like it very much!”
“Our father has not arranged it for any of us,” said Elizabeth repressively, “and it could not be thought right for you, if Georgiana does not.”
“Good! Then it is settled,” interposed Darcy. “We go next week. I will write to the servants to open Pemberley House, and even if we do not go to every ball in the Season, I believe all will enjoy the art exhibitions, and the theatres.”
“How long shall we be away?” asked Bingley.
“Three or four weeks. We will return in July, which is a lovely month here at Pemberley, and of course we want to be here for the shooting later in the summer. I will go and write the letters.”
“One moment, my love,” said Elizabeth, reaching out for his hand. He helped her to her feet, and bent to brush the grass off her pretty raspberry and white striped gown. “I was thinking – before we go to London, we ought to stop in and pay a call at Rosings.”
“Rosings!” every one exclaimed at once, and Kitty added, “What, to see that haughty Lady Catherine de Bourgh?”
“You don’t mean it, Elizabeth,” said Darcy, concerned.
“Yes, I do. She was kind enough to visit us on our marriage, you know, and to return the compliment is only sur les regles. Indeed, I imagine she would be quite put out if we did not.”
“Not us too, surely?” Bingley could not help saying in his distress.
“No; I think there is no call for that, do you, dear?” She turned to Darcy. “Of course it would be a polite attention, but I think that if Darcy and I, and Georgiana, pay the visit, that will suffice. Kitty, you may either accompany us, or go directly to London with Jane.”
Confused at having the choice, Kitty began to fret. “Oh, I don’t know which to choose. Rosings is a mighty fine house, isn’t it, Lizzy? I should like to see such another as this. But I daresay it is quite in the country, and there are no officers quartered near.”
“There will be no gentlemen at all,” stated Darcy, “except Mr. Collins.”
“Oh! that’s so,” she exclaimed. “Never mind, I’ll go with Jane.”
“Your cousin will be there,” pointed out Elizabeth. “Colonel Fitzwilliam is paying his spring visit to Rosings now.”
“True. He always goes at about Easter time, and I believe has been there above a week already. I shall write to detain him, so that he will still be there when we arrive.”
“Excellent,” said Elizabeth with a smile, “and I will write to your aunt, and tell her what is to befall her.”