Elizabeth steeled herself, ready for the confrontation with Mr Darcy. As they approached, she made the mistake of looking into his eyes. They were more expressive than usual as if he was attempting to convey a silent message to herself. She felt as if she was looking directly into his soul. Heaven knows how long she had been staring into them? Mr Darcy did not fare much better, who had become rather rigid at the sight of Elizabeth. He wanted to say so many things to her, but no words came out. If it was not for Georgiana, they would have been lost in their own thoughts and dreams for hours.
"Oh, where are my manners, do forgive me. May I present Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley." Georgiana rushed to their aid, knowing full well that she would need to take control of this situation. At this rate, it would probably be nightfall before they acknowledged one another. Their trance was finally broken. Intuition kicked in, and Mr Darcy reluctantly withdrew his eyes away from those of Elizabeth's to address her aunt and uncle. It would be impolite of him to acknowledge Elizabeth only.
"Mr and Mrs Gardiner, it is a pleasure to meet you. I am acquainted with your niece Miss Elizabeth Bennet, and have heard a lot of you from herself." Mr Darcy was all politeness and welcomed them most warmly to Pemberley. "Miss Bennet," he continued "it is lovely to see you again." This time he did not linger on her eyes, knowing that if he stared at them a moment longer, he would not be able to function. "I heard that you were visiting the house just yesterday. I hope Pemberley is to your liking?" he directed the last part of his question to the three guests.
"Our trip has been absolutely splendid. Pemberley is stunning as usual. This is our second time visiting, but it is Elizabeth's first. We really appreciate Mrs Reynolds showing us the additional rooms, especially the library."
Elizabeth felt as if she was compelled to say something, "Yes, the library was one of my favourite rooms. You have an extensive range of wonderful books. I have read almost every book in my father's library, and I cannot compare the two at all. And Miss Darcy certainly outdid herself this morning. The scenic ride through the gardens was a dream." She smiled at Georgiana.
Georgiana smiled at her widely, "I am glad you enjoyed it, you are too kind."
Mr Darcy finally found his voice and gave Elizabeth his permission to borrow any book in his library, if she so desired. Elizabeth was surprised at the warmth and kindness that radiated from the master of the house. It was a welcomed transformation as to his usual self, but she brushed it aside in favour of being polite.
With a sudden burst of boldness, Miss Darcy told her brother that according to Mrs Reynolds, Elizabeth was entranced by his long portrait whilst on the tour. It was a little too forward for Elizabeth's liking. She knew as to what Georgianna was implying and began to feel uncomfortable and embarrassed for having been figured out by Mrs Reynolds and his sister. From the subtle glance the Gardiners bestowed in her direction, it was clear that they too were aware of the situation. The palms of her hands, although encased with her gloves, began to sweat, and her heart began to thunder rather loudly. That would explain the servant's attentiveness to them when they arrived earlier. They must have been told by Miss Georgiana herself about her and their master. Elizabeth held her breath not knowing how to respond. She berated herself mentally for having forgotten herself. 'How could I be so foolish?' she thought.
Mr Darcy, sensing her distress, shot his sister a rather pointed look.
"How is your family? Are they well?" he began, trying to ease Elizabeth's nervousness.
"My family are all well. They are currently at home in Longbourn. My aunt and uncle were kind enough to invite me to travel with them for a few days." Elizabeth recovered, confused as to the concern shown by Mr Darcy.
"And your sisters?" he continued.
"With four sisters at home, who knows what they can get up to," Elizabeth chuckled distractedly, "But when I last saw them a few days ago, they were all well." Surely, Mr Darcy would not want anything to do with her family, considering her connections.
"Good, good. The weather is looking rather lovely today…"
Georgiana burst out laughing, stopping his brother mid-sentence. "Fitzwilliam! Surely there are more interesting topics to talk about other than health and the weather?"
He grew rather embarrassed and wanted nothing more than to disappear. He could not believe his sister could turn out to be so manipulative if the hidden smirk directed at him was anything to go by. He looked so mortified that Elizabeth could not help it. She did something unladylike and snorted before her laughter was hurriedly disguised as a cough. Her fine eyes were filled with mirth and brightened with much liveliness. Both Gardiners were equally amused. At long last, Georgiana had broken down the ice barrier between him and her guests. 'Finally!' she thought.
Georgina paid no attention to her brother and addressed the three of them.
"Do you want to hear a story about my brother when he was younger?"
The three looked in his direction, as if afraid of whether to agree or disagree with his sister's question, not wanting to be on the other end of the master's wrath.
Mr Darcy sighed in defeat. He had a soft spot for his sister. A soft smile graced his lips, reminiscing his younger years when he attempted to outrun their stallion, when he climbed the many trees in Pemberley's woods, and when he played the loyal knight with his sister and had to rescue said maiden from harm. His sister squealed with so much enthusiasm when he nodded in the affirmative, that Elizabeth could not help but fall in love with the way they interacted. Their bond was just as strong as hers with her own sisters, even Lydia, with all her fantasies of the world.
Georgiana recounted her tale like an expert storyteller, with multiple facial expressions and gestures, and going as far as to imitate the other staff of Pemberley. It was clear that she knew all of them rather well. "There was one time when Fitz came up with a brilliant idea to go swimming in the lake in winter. Usually, it would be frozen solid and we would go skating, but as we had a warmer winter, brother dearest decided to go swimming. He only managed to swim for less than a minute before he had to be rescued. He ended up getting sick, and you know my brother has such a foul temper." By that point, Georgiana was waving her arms about, and attempted her best imitation of the Darcy trademark scowl, before breaking into a fit of giggles. "You can imagine how he is like when he is confined to his bed, unable to move, with Mrs Reynolds as a mother hen, watching his every move."
At that, Elizabeth's laughter rang throughout the tea parlour. His sister had sketched a rather accurate description as to his character. The master of Pemberley was in shock. He had completely forgotten about that incident; his sister could have chosen any story, any story but that one. How utterly embarrassing. His sister having met Elizabeth had brought something that had been locked away in her to life. His Georgie was back, and he was eternally grateful. Mrs Reynolds was right yet again, he really needed to give her more credit, though he usually did it to all his staff. Georgiana needed female companionship, not just a change of scenery. All it took was for someone from Hertfordshire to break into her shell and help her heal, someone like Elizabeth. This only made him love his Elizabeth stronger, and now he was resolved to show her that he had changed for the better. From the corner of his eye, he could see an identical smug smile from Georgiana mirrored in Elizabeth. 'Just what I need, meddlers" he grumbled in his mind, although he did not really mean it.
He shook his head mentally to clear his thoughts and began to engage Mr Gardiner in conversation. When he found out about his love of fishing, he took no time in pointing out the best spots to fish and gave him his full permission to fish in his streams whenever he was visiting Pemberley. He also spoke to Mrs Gardiner and upon finding out of her growing up in Lambton, the two began to talk about their various childhoods. It became clear that Elizabeth had inherited her wit from her aunt, and possibly her father, Mr Bennet. Darcy was surprised to find that he actually enjoyed conversation with the Gardiners. It was vastly different from those of his social circle. He always found those conversations a complete waste of time, as he did not care for gossip about the latest fashion or the lives of others' companions. The Gardiners were astonished to see this side of Mr Darcy. It was vastly different from the proud and tolerable personality that Lizzy described. As tea dragged on, it became clear that he had feelings for their niece, and from what they could see, she of him.
Elizabeth and Georgiana connected very quickly, whispering to each other like partners in crime.
"Care to share what you ladies are smiling about?" he addressed the two of them.
"Nothing that concerns you, brother." Georgiana smiled at him innocently, a bit too serenely for his liking.
Mr Darcy realised that he needed to take control of the conversation before his sister could come up with another embarrassing moment about himself.
"Correct me if I am wrong, but I believe Miss Elizabeth Bennet mentioned that you live in London?" he enquired to the Gardiners.
Elizabeth glowered at the nerve of the man. The only recollection of her having that conversation with him was in front of the Bingley's when Caroline made scathing remarks about her relatives being common tradespeople, and that they were living in Cheapside. She did not want to be reminded of that incident.
She felt obligated to speak and forced a tight smile, "Yes, they live on Gracechurch Street."
"Lovely area." he replied, not at all unperturbed, "The financial centre of London if I am not mistaken?" he addressed the Gardiners.
"Yes, we chose that part of London so it was closer to our warehouse and for me to conduct business." Mr Gardiner explained.
"I, myself am a huge supporter of local businesses. Curiosity has gotten the better of me. Perchance, is your business called Gardiner Imports and Co.?"
"Why yes, it is! Do you know about it?" Mr Gardiner was surprised that the man himself knew of his company. He looked towards Elizabeth, but it was clear she was just as confused as he.
"What a coincidence! Your reputation certainly precedes you. I've heard brilliant things about your business venture. In fact, I would like to discuss investment in your venture. I believe together, we can support many of the local businesses and shops, and help with the employment of the peoples." Mr Darcy's genuine interest in Gardiner's business added much confusion to the three guests, but it was certainly not unwelcome.
"It would be an absolute honour to have you on board." Mr Gardiner shook his hand rather vigorously, before continuing, "Should you visit London, I would love to give you a tour of my warehouse and discuss things further. We have heard many tales of all the wonderful deeds you have done, not just in Pemberley, but in the neighbouring villages."
Mr Darcy agreed in the affirmative and subconsciously glanced towards Elizabeth. That did not go unnoticed by her aunt and uncle. It appeared that he and Elizabeth were indeed acquainted with one another, more than friends if their behaviour was anything to go by. Their fleeting glances at one another when they thought the other party was not looking, was extremely obvious. It was a strange and comforting feeling to the Gardiners. Perhaps Lizzy had finally met her match. Who would have known: Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy? Usually, their niece was immune to all types of romantic charm. Her confrontations with potential suitors and her critical commentaries tended to be so dramatic and unfavourable, that they all gave up pursuing her, preferring a more approachable woman. By this point, the Gardiners were absolutely certain that their niece had withheld facts about her encounter with Mr Darcy.
After tea, Georgiana made the first move and took Mrs Gardiner's arm on her right, and Mr Gardiner's arm on her left. She walked with them slowly, pointing out certain things in their line of sight from the various types of flowers, to the herbs growing nearby. Miss Darcy revealed that some of what they saw, were of their mother's design. As their mother had died, it was up to her and her brother to maintain the beloved gardens and keep it alive in her memory. As they walked further ahead, it became obvious that Georgiana was giving her brother and Miss Elizabeth their own private time. The Gardiners saw this, and also wished to allow Elizabeth to renew her acquaintance with the master of Pemberley. They knew their Lizzy would be in good hands, and with that, Miss Elizabeth Bennet found herself alone with Mr Fitzwilliam Darcy in the gardens.