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So it was settled that, as soon as it was convenient, Bingley and Darcy would find a way to meet Sir Matthew Broadhurst and evaluate his suitability as a husband for Caroline. It took only two days from the time of the decision being made in Darcy’s drawing room for an opportunity for such a meeting to occur.
As the sun was beginning its journey to its height, warming the earth and the people who had ventured out into the crisp air of a clear winter’s morning, Darcy and Bingley came upon a solitary rider loping his way through the park, a groom trailing at a good distance behind him. Bingley, as he always did, tipped his hat and wished the gentleman a good morning.
The gentleman returned the gesture and then slowed his horse as he drew nearer Bingley and Darcy.
“I do not believe I have had the pleasure of making your acquaintance,” he began. “I am Sir Matthew Broadhurst of Stoningham in Surrey.”
“Charles Bingley,” Bingley returned, “and my friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley in Derbyshire. It is a pleasure to meet you.”
“Indeed it is,” Darcy agreed.
“I have not been to many soirees yet, and it seems I like to rise earlier than most. I believe, you gentlemen make six that I have met since arriving. May I join you?” He drew his horse alongside them after Bingley had assured him that they would be delighted to have his company.
The gentleman appeared to be everything that Georgiana had said he was. His dress was impeccable. He appeared to be of an acceptable stature, neither too tall nor too short. He was handsome with a very pleasant and amiable, if quiet, air about him.
“I have heard that you have just recently come into your title,” said Darcy. “My condolences on the loss of your uncle.”
Sir Matthew’s gave his thanks softly and somberly. “He was not the friendliest of men at times, and he could be demanding. However, my uncle was a good man who took my mother, my siblings, and myself into his home after my father died.” He glanced over at the men beside him. “My father was the rector of the parish near Stoningham.”
“Do you have many siblings?” Bingley asked.
“A younger brother and two older sisters,” Sir Matthew replied. “My sisters are both married and happily settled, and my brother is studying to take orders. He is much like my father. And you, do you gentlemen have siblings?”
“I have a younger sister who has been left in my care,” Darcy answered. “She is just sixteen.”
“Both of your parents are gone?” Sir Matthew’s voice was once again soft and soothing as he inquired.
“For several years now,” Darcy answered. “It is something Bingley and I have in common.”
“You do not have a parent remaining either?” Sir Matthew asked, turning to Bingley.
“No,” Bingley replied. “My father died three years ago, leaving me a fortune and the care of my sisters. Louisa has married, but Caroline has not.” He noted how Sir Matthew’s expression spoke of the gentleman’s interest in that last fact. “My father was a tradesman.”
Sir Matthew’s brows rose. “You do not own an estate?”
There was no censure in his tone. He seemed genuinely interested.
“Not yet,” Bingley replied. “I have let an estate in Hertfordshire and am looking to purchase one in the near future.”
“I wish you well in your endeavour.”
There was again a genuineness to the man’s words that impressed both Bingley and Darcy.
“I cannot claim my estate until I marry.” Sir Matthew shook his head. “My uncle knew that if he did not force me out of the house and to seriously consider taking a wife, I would bury myself within the walls of the estate, seeing to the needs of it and my mother and brother.” He shrugged. “I can be too focused on duty at times.”
Bingley laughed. “Darcy can be the same.”
“He speaks the truth. Until recently I had only considered marriage in light of duty just as I considered everything else.”
Sir Matthew smiled. “You have found a lady who makes you question your view of duty, have you?”
“Indeed, I have,” Darcy replied.
“I wish you joy,” Sir Matthew said.
“I have not won her yet. In fact, I am not entirely certain I will win her.”
“He will,” said Bingley emphatically. “I know he will.”
“I should enjoy hearing the tale, but I will not ask as it is not my place to be informed of your private matters,” said Sir Matthew. “I will only wish you success.”
“And I shall wish you the same,” Darcy returned. “Do you have anyone in mind for the position of Lady Broadhurst?”
Sir Matthew shook his head. “I do not. It is perhaps unkind of me to say, but the few ladies I have met have been nothing more than a pretty face with feathers for brains.” He shook his head. “Such giggling!”
“What do you wish for in a wife?” Darcy asked, casting a sidelong glance at Bingley.
Sir Matthew shrugged. “I likely know better what I do not want than what I want. I suppose someone who would be a good hostess and manager.”
“Does she have to be a gentleman’s daughter?” Bingley asked pointedly.
“You wish to be rid of a sister?”
The man did not lack perception. That was a point in his favour according to Bingley. He would need to be a man who could see through Caroline’s scheming and airs.
Sir Matthew eyed Bingley cautiously. “What is wrong with her?” he asked.
“I am not certain I should answer that,” Bingley said with a laugh. “We have had a falling out recently over her disapproval of my choice of bride, and even though she is my sister, I do not know that I would be the most charitable of persons to describe her.”
“You are to be married?”
“Eventually,” Bingley replied. “As soon as I can rid myself of a sister and help Darcy secure his heart’s desire.”
Poor Sir Matthew could not hide his confusion, though he did an admirable job in trying to disguise it.
“We are attending the Taylor’s ball this evening,” Bingley said. “Caroline will be there. You can meet her and judge for yourself if you might be persuaded to consider her.”
“She is not hideous,” Bingley said in response to Sir Matthew’s continued look of skepticism.
“No,” Darcy agreed. “She is quite handsome.” He smirked. “She has the same colouring as her brother, but is much, much prettier.”
Sir Matthew’s features relaxed into a smile at the comment. “Very well, if it is just a meeting,” he agreed.
“It is just a meeting,” Bingley assured him. “And if you are interested, then I will explain over a bottle of Darcy’s finest port how both my happiness and that of Darcy hinges on my sister.”
“My port?” Darcy said in surprise.
Bingley shrugged. “Very well, we will discuss it at my house over the best I have.” He turned to Sir Matthew. “Do we have an agreement?” He held up his hand. “I neglected to mention she has twenty thousand pounds. She does not come empty-handed.”
Sir Matthew drew his horse to a stop. “Yes,” he said nodding his head. “Yes, we have an agreement. I will meet your sister and then, if I find her to my liking, you may attempt to persuade me to aid your cause.” He held out his hand, which Bingley gave a hearty shake, sealing the deal.