The Wedding Party

As weddings go, Colonel Stephen Fitzwilliam thoroughly enjoyed the occasion. He stood up for his cousin, and was the representative of his father and brother. In fact with his young cousin Georgiana, they alone represented the family. His father, the Earl, was

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too ill to travel such a distance to Meryton at the time. His Aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh had made it known she was not about to condescend to recognize such an alliance, and was further put out that Stephen did.

Stephen had called for Georgiana at Pemberley and escorted her to London, where her brother Darcy was busy with his final plans and preparations for his nuptials. Darcy and Miss Elizabeth were bound for a wedding tour to Austria, as yet unconquered by the Tyrant. The Bingleys were to travel with them, the two friends inseparable, and during that time Stephen would act the responsible guardian of Georgiana, Darcy and his’ ward. So Georgiana would live in London, and be close to his Regimental barracks, thus allowing the Colonel to be able to keep an eye upon her. He would have the aid of such fine a lady as Miss Caroline Bingley to help in this regard, and also the excellent Gardiners whose acquaintance he had made during Darcy’s engagement the prior months to Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

The Colonel’s circle was much larger, but he and Darcy had discussed thoroughly those whom Georgiana should meet and chaperone her, and these were the names they had settled on. Colonel Fitzwilliam could smile humorously as he looked to Miss Caroline Bingley in the third row of the church at Meryton, glaring, in her finest attire, for the wedding of her brother.

The Colonel knew that Caroline almost did not make it into the select circle of chaperones for Georgiana, but finally had because she was forever attached to Charles. Charles not only the best friend of Darcy, but also those two men’s wives, sisters. Caroline would be a fixture in the circle for a long time. Though the Colonel felt sure that Elizabeth Darcy would be sending her many invitation to visit Pemberley in the years to come, for propriety’s sake, Caroline would accept as few of them as possible. The two women seemed to have the measure of each other. As Stephen had Miss Bingley’s as well.

Caroline was near the end of her seasons and had not snapped up a man yet. The Colonel doubted that she would. Upon first being introduced to her, he quickly saw where her sails had been set. Now that port, Darcy, had closed to her, and Caroline deftly trimmed sheets and reset course towards himself. The Colonel was wise enough to see her intentions on her sleeve, though perhaps others could not. He extricated himself from her machinations.

Just days before, for the wedding at Meryton, the Darcy party and the Bingley party traveled together from Town. They were joined by the Gardiners who fortunately shared the Darcy coaches. It left no room for Caroline Bingley in them for she had thought to travel in the company of the Colonel. The distribution of nine people in Darcy’s two conveyances, for the Gardiners numbered four children, allowed the Colonel to ride his horse, and that was a thing he proudly surpassed his cousin at. Darcy had many advantages, but Fitzwilliam was a better seat and his stables were better also, as the Colonel of a cavalry regiment should be.

At the first coaching stop, the eldest Gardiner boy, Jack, implored him for a ride and while the ladies refreshed themselves, the young lad showed himself fit in the saddle. The Colonel on the spot switched places with Jack for the next leg, but six miles, and the horse, Night, was tethered to the coach and four’s team. The Colonel’s man, Private Slade was atop the carriage with the coachmen and was instructed to pay close attention to the young Gardiner boy.

The gentlemen of the party thought the allowing of young Jack a ride grand largesse and the Colonel knew his cousin delighted in the favor shown to his future family. Mr. Hurst, Bingley’s sister’s husband, good-naturedly attempted a wager with Mr. Bingley over the lad’s keeping his seat, but Charles would have none of it. Then instead Mr. Hurst offered the boy a half crown if he did keep his seat till the next coaching stop. Mr. Hurst was soundly berated by the Bingley ladies upon their return to the courtyard.

This however allowed Stephen to spend time with Mr. Gardiner and two of his smaller children in Darcy’s barouche. He promised each child rides when they reached Meryton. He and Mr. Gardiner spent the time in animated discussion together where he found the conversation fascinating and his interest did not wander.

“Well sir, I do admit that the reel and the rod have held a fascination for me, though perhaps not such an attachment as you have attained. I have been more to hounds during my formative years, though these last few I have been to but three meets after the season,” Stephen recounted to Mr. Gardiner who had just described the fine time he had at Pemberley enjoying Darcy’s lake.

“Three meets a year with your other duties does seem...” The Colonel cut off Mr. Gardiner.

“I beg your pardon, you mistake me sir for I misspoke myself. I have been to all of three meets in the last three years after the season. Indeed I have spent more time at the streams of my Fathers’, or at Pemberley and Rosings then I have to hounds. Though I have not done so there but little more than half of a dozen.”

“Father would fish every day if he could...” the youngest Gardiner said.

And Colonel Fitzwilliam indulged the child, “We all would like to spend time at leisure should the chance permit, and your father has chosen a worthy study, for a fish is a tricksome thing.”

The children giggled but continued to play with their toys, pretending not to notice the Colonel, though watching this new big person as time and opportunity permitted.

“Tricksome is a good description, though, I think if I had time for perpetual leisure I should not over indulge in any one thing.”

“That is a very worthy sentiment,” the Colonel responded, “I have often thought much the same. Moderation for all, excess for naught.”

Gardiner reflected, “That is a concise summation, well put.” Stephen nodded and happily the journey and conversation continued. By the time they reached the next coaching, Stephen had promised to tour the young Gardiners about the Regiment’s Barracks. Upon returning to Town Stephen would also be extending invitations to the parents to dine with him and some select officers, for he enjoyed this new connection.

Should the Gardiners be forward and send him an invitation to dine, he would expect Caroline Bingley to remark upon it, or slander them. But, Stephen had the measure of the man, and from the polite behavior of the children could see that Mrs. Gardiner was quietly amongst the best of child rearers and thus understood propriety. Even with the marriage of their niece they were still not of the Ton. With their new connection, they still would not be in the right to send a first invitation to the Colonel, though should an entertainment be given for the Darcy’s upon their arrival in Town, such would be acceptable, and even Caroline Bingley could receive such and take notice that it was artfully done.

No, a private affair without the attendance of the Darcys would have to initiate solely from Stephen as he sat higher than they. But he thought and felt that such a connection, though some of small mind would say was detrimental, as Mr. Gardiner was in trade, would be advantageous. The Colonel, amongst his acknowledged many faults, was even known to eat a midday meal with his sergeants and men to learn their thoughts and feelings. Further, he would make the Gardiners known to his quartermasters as the Regiment would benefit from doing business with this new connection as well. Mr. Gardiner’s business would be able to outfit a part of the regimental needs, and that would be all to the good.

Stephen further reflected, though he knew that the Gardiners had dined once already at Darcy’s town house in Berkeley Square, that expanding the Gardiners circle was something that Darcy would greatly appreciate. Stephen was determined to not only increase that circle to the Regiment, but he had certain friends that would deem meeting Mr. Gardiner a pleasure. The Colonel thought that Baron Moorden was an equally avowed angler, and would not think such a connection a slight. And though Stephen’s father the Earl of M----K, would most likely not find the connection tolerable, for his father was at times much like Caroline Bingley in spirits, Stephen’s brother the Viscount would humor him in this regard and also adopt the Gardiners. Already their circle had quadrupled amongst the Ton. The campaign was well commenced, Stephen reflected.

“Well young Jack, did you enjoy your ride?” The lad stared at his half crown from Mr. Hurst and realized that the Colonel spoke to him, but moments later, causing some good spirited chuckling amongst the men. Darcy clapped the Colonel upon the shoulder. In general his disposition was now become sunny and bright, as it seldom was before Miss Elizabeth Bennet and his engagement. Grander now, and it had been so for days.

“Yesss sssirrr. I mean thank you Colonel Fitzwilliam. I am mightily obliged,” the boy said.

“No, not at all. You are under no obligation, and as I have promised the rest of you young men and ladies,” he referred now to the three other children who stood brushing the horse down and holding Night’s reins as it drank from the water trough. “When we get to Netherfield, and all are comfortable, you too shall have your rides.”

Bingley, perhaps not caring that the ladies were just returning from the inn, or specifically that his sisters, Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley were close enough to hear, said. “That is very kind of you Colonel, and though when one compares your steed to the stables we have at Netherfield, one must state that yours is far superior. I feel sure we can mount all these young scamps at once, what say you young Gardiners to that?”

There was much huzzahing and jumping from the four children and Night was near to jumping himself if the Colonel had not quickly grabbed a rein from one side and laid a steadying hand upon him, whilst Darcy grabbed the horse’s rein from the other. “And that my fine young fellows is one of your first lessons. Take care of your actions around these animals for though they are big and look solid, they take fright from such sudden movement as lads of three and six jumping near to their flanks.”

The young children looked sheepish, “I am three feet nine inches...” Darcy and the Colonel heard that and found themselves laughing. During this Caroline drew her brother away and had a private word, Stephen observed.

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