The craftsman sat in the corner of the darkened room, working only by the light of the candle resting on the small table before him. The few tools he possessed lay on a soft cloth, meticulously maintained for they were as friends to him. It was through them that he was able to express the imaginings of his heart in the material beauty of real wood. His long, slender fingers caressed the surface of the oval object as he scrutinized his creation for any flaw. Finally satisfied, he gently laid the cameo on the table.
Sitting back, he ran his fingers through his hair, while breathing a heavy sigh. Contemplating the ceiling, I must see this on her, laying against her perfect white skin...The creator closed his eyes. He could see her innocent eyes, her sweet lips, the line of her neck with the cameo hanging down against her...His eyes flew open as his fists slammed the surface of the table, causing its contents to jump and clatter. This is madness! I can not utter two words together when in her presence and I expect her to accept this from me? She must think me a lunatic. After tonight, she must think me an oaf! Considering the object of his affection further, But she is always so kind, always thanking me when I serve her. And taking notice of my sister...I can not believe she would even bother herself. She is not even in the house yet.
He slumped back against his chair again. She is so beautiful. She must be the most beautiful woman in all of England. Her image floated before his eyes. No! I must give this to her. I know I can never be anything to her. Oh, God help me, I am a lunatic--falling in love with the master's sister. But she must know how I feel. His eyes searched the ceiling, an alarming thought penetrating his reverie, What if the master knows? He is not a man to be trifled with. Slapping his hand down on his forehead, There I stood gawking at her outside the drawing room--in front of Mr. Darcy! And Poole said it was Darcy, himself who had me let off early tonight. What if he saw my blunder? His arms collapsed down to the sides of his chair, Oh, God help me, I will be a dead lunatic!
Oh, this is intolerable. Why did Fitzwilliam not awaken me or have Abigail come in sooner? Elizabeth was dressing hastily with the help of her lady's-maid. Breakfast was usually informal, not requiring a formal seating of guests with host and hostess, but she did feel it most improper to sleep through the entire meal, especially when long-time acquaintances of the Darcy family were staying at Pemberley. And most particularly when one of the guests was the Viscount of Clandon.
Elizabeth had chosen a new dress she had been eager to wear. She had been most fond of the material when presented with it while last in London. On this hurried morning, she found the rich hue of the blue cloth soothing and the delicate print of lavender forget-me-nots reminded her of an intimate exchange between she and the admiring Mr. Darcy upon her first visit of Pemberley.
"The Viscount will be all smiles and favor when he beholds the Mistress of Pemberley this morning. And I fancy, the Master will too, if you'll excuse me for sayin' so, Ma'am."
"Thank you, Abigail." Elizabeth accepted her maid's compliment with a smile. "Let us add the lace fichu...and, oh yes...the pin Mr. Darcy presented me with." He was always surprising her with tokens of his love, most recently a pin of intricately carved lilacs with pearl insets for the center of each bloom, and she wished him to know how she treasured each one. Although Elizabeth still felt some annoyance at her husband's leaving without waking her, it could not overcome the tenderness she felt for him. Indeed, I hope 'the master' will fancy this, Elizabeth thought as she looked in the mirror.
Elizabeth descended the stairs as quickly as her dress would allow, hoping she would yet have some moments with her guests before they quitted their breakfast. Certainly Fitzwilliam would have sent for me, if my delay was causing him to feel some chagrin. But she knew Lord and Lady Clandon to be most agreeable people. As she made her way to the dining room, she thought back to how nervous she had been earlier in the spring of that year when waiting for that couple's arrival at her first ball as Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy...
Fitzwilliam had given her every assurance of the Viscount's amiable nature, but she was supremely aware of his long-time connection with the Darcy family and had surmised from comments exchanged between her husband and other gentlemen that he was a powerful figure in the House of Lords. It was one matter to weather the personal insults of Lady Catherine DeBourg, for she would never allow her invectives to be voiced outside their family to avoid any further disgrace. But it was another matter entirely if a peer in the House of Lords found the Mistress of Pemberley to be ill-favored. The damage to a man of Mr. Darcy's station would be far-reaching. Elizabeth suddenly physically felt the burden of her social responsibilities as the wife of a man of Mr. Darcy's consequence.
Elizabeth had been uncharacteristically discomposed as she stood in the receiving line, constantly adjusting her attire--smoothing the lay of her gown, repositioning her necklace. It had not been until catching Fitzwilliam's glance of mild displeasure that she had become conscious to her actions. She had looked at her new husband aghast, realizing her display was reminiscent of her mother's abominable fidgeting!
But Fitzwilliam had been so kind, never chastising her for her lack of control. She remembered how he had lovingly reached for her hands, taking them from their nervous grasp of her necklace. He had spoken so quietly, soothingly, 'My dearest Elizabeth, you are beautiful. Your raiment could not be more becoming. Please accept my judgment in this--I have known Lord and Lady Clandon since a child. They will find you as captivating as I.' He had brought her hands to his lips, gazing into her eyes with such love and confidence, she suddenly felt she could be in the company of the King himself with composure.
It had been as Fitzwilliam lowered her hands that they had become aware of a lady and gentleman waiting to be acknowledged. Elizabeth was immediately struck by their elegance--an elegance deriving more from age and wisdom than from their outward attire. Although that was of considerable taste. The lady was of moderate height, with a frame bearing the result of years of fashionable dining, but she was not displeasing to behold. Around her eyes and mouth, she bore the subtle lines of a woman who had enjoyed years of happiness. The many shades of gray of her hair, enhanced by the ivory tones of her silken gown made her quite handsome.
The gentleman's taste for fine food appeared to equal that of his wife's, he being more round than tall. A healthy shock of silvery gray hair gave contrast to the pair of bright blue eyes twinkling at Elizabeth from beneath a pair of golden-rimmed spectacles perched on his nose. While he possessed a cane, she could not discern if it was for the purpose of fashion or support, for he appeared vital and strong despite his years.
Fitzwilliam cleared his throat, then bowed deeply to the couple. "Lord Clandon...Lady Clandon, may I present my wife."
Elizabeth inhaled slowly as she curtsied, inclining her head as her eyes closed in a momentary grimace of embarrassment. To be observed in a moment of intimacy with her husband and by these of all people!
Darcy continued the introduction, "Elizabeth, Mr. and Mrs. James Pankhurst, Viscount and Viscountess of Clandon.
"Mrs. Darcy, delighted!" the Viscount boomed merrily, closing the space between them to gain a closer appraisal of the new Mrs. Darcy.
Elizabeth could not yet know their thoughts, but she need not have been embarrassed. The Darcy's private display allayed any reservations the elderly pair may have harbored about Fitzwilliam's new bride. They quickly believed the son of George and Anne Darcy had married well, seeing Elizabeth had already returned love to the halls of Pemberley.
The deference shown to the Viscount throughout the evening had confirmed Elizabeth's suspicions of his importance. But the manner of the Viscount himself was unaffected and quite jovial. To her delight, Elizabeth had observed the Viscount's address toward Darcy was more of a grandfather to a favored grandson, than a peer to a country gentleman.
It had been her sincere desire then to increase her acquaintanceship with Lord and Lady Clandon, so it had been with great pleasure that she received their acknowledgment of Georgiana's ball. A great estate such as Pemberley afforded Elizabeth many privileges, including that of entertaining auspicious guests. She had hoped the Pankhursts and Wells would stay the week and had been disappointed upon learning they would not be able to extend their stay beyond the morning after the ball. Her disappointment was great at having missed the better portion of breakfast when she might have enjoyed further the company of their honored guests. And now she hoped her absence had not been too conspicuous.
Elizabeth slowed as she neared the dining room, taking a deep breath to recollect herself after her hurried efforts to dress and join her guests. She entered quietly, quickly surveying the occupants of the room and then walked with as casual a demeanor as she could muster to serve herself some tea. She was thankful that the placement of the sideboard allowed her a vantage from behind the Viscount and his wife, allowing Elizabeth to acquaint herself with the disposition of the conversation while relatively unobserved.
Elizabeth found her concern for the lack of a hostess was ill-founded. Georgiana was acting the part with as much poise and social art, as to defy even Lady Catherine to find fault. She was seated at the head of the table engaging her guests in easy conversation without any hint of shyness or discomfort. Well done, Georgiana! Elizabeth would most certainly voice her praise to Georgiana after breakfast.
Upon looking about the room, Elizabeth could see she was not the only one of Georgiana's relations, pleased with her performance. As Georgiana spoke, her gaze would regularly drift in the direction of Colonel Fitzwilliam, her countenance reflecting warmth and complaisance. Fitzwilliam had seated himself down the table from Georgiana where he could speak easily with the other guests while possessing an unobstructed view of his cousin. At the moment, he was conversing pleasantly with Lord Clandon. But as he perceived Georgiana's gaze, he returned her pleasure with an unmitigated smile of his own. Elizabeth was struck by the remarkable difference in temperament of her husband and his cousin, remembering Darcy's countenance before his first proposal--stoic and reserved-- even while he inwardly embraced an ardent love for her. And is this love we see shining in your smile, Colonel, or the elation of a man flattered by the attentions of a young beauty?
Elizabeth could not see Lord Clandon's countenance and wondered at his reception of Fitzwilliam's unabashed expression of his emotions. Though the Viscount is a congenial man, might he be affronted by Fitzwilliam's lapse in attention?
The conversation between the two, revealed quite the opposite. The Viscount was making plans to introduce Fitzwilliam to gentlemen in his circle while the Colonel was yet in London. Without conscious consideration, Elizabeth found herself admiring her cousin's social adeptness--entertaining Georgiana's special regard, while ingratiating himself to the Viscount. That brings to mind, I must speak to Darcy more about the Colonel's nature. We were most unsatisfactorily interrupted on that subject last night.
Elizabeth turned her observation toward her husband. Her eyes dancing with amusement as she hid a smile inside her tea cup as she took a sip. Darcy was seated at the end of the table opposite of Georgiana where he was quietly attempting to read the current copy of the Times Lord Clandon had thoughtfully brought from London. He sat with his hand still holding his cup from the previous sip, looking at Georgiana. His smile radiated approval and pride. But as he perceived the Colonel's unspoken response to Georgiana, he slowly raised his cup to his lips, allowing himself a furtive look at the Colonel and then his sister. As he lowered his cup, his eyes lowered to the page on the table. He appeared reflective, but it was not of the news spread before him. Elizabeth could see he was not reading, his eyes fixed in a thoughtful stare. At the sound of the Colonel's voice, Darcy abandoned his paper altogether to contemplate his cousin. Elizabeth ached to know her husband's thoughts and feelings at this moment. She had found the quieter her husband's ruminations, the more interesting the topic.
As Darcy took another sip, he caught Elizabeth's eye, realizing she had entered the room. He interrupted his drink, setting his cup down quickly, finding he was relieved to have her company. He rose promptly, pulling a chair for her to join him at the table, "Mrs. Darcy, will you join me?"
As Elizabeth accepted her seat at the corner of the table, she turned her face away from the guests whispering her admonishment to her husband, "Why did you not waken me?" Before Darcy could reply, the other men in the room rose in acknowledgment of the lady, requiring Elizabeth's return.
The informal conversation continued around the breakfast table as Darcy reclaimed his seat.
"Mrs. Darcy, I hope this morning finds you well?" Lord Clandon inquired, smiling politely.
"Indeed it does, sir. But I fear you might properly call it mid-day," Elizabeth replied apologetically.
Lord Clandon smiled kindly, "Ah, you must not chastise yourself. The demands on your person as the Mistress of Pemberley are quite understood. One can easily sympathize with any fatigue you might be feeling after providing for the diversion of so many guests last evening."
Elizabeth replied to his charity with a grateful smile. She found the Viscount a remarkable man, his manner toward her always congenial and portraying a sincere respect that she rarely found in a man, particularly one of high position. Elizabeth wished again she had met Mr. George Darcy, believing the Viscount's character must also be a reflection of the one her husband's father possessed. The Darcy men are wise in their choice of friends.
Elizabeth turned her focus to the far-end of the table. Georgiana was responding to Lady Clandon's lament at missing her gardens of Clandon Park. "...Oh, then you must take a turn in our gardens after breakfast. The asters and red valerian are coming into bloom. And we have a new rose our gardener has developed. He has been calling it 'pink elegance'. He developed it in Mrs. Darcy's honor."
"My memories of the Pemberley gardens are most fond..." Lady Clandon looked wistfully at her husband. Then turning again to Georgiana, covering the subjugation of her own desires with a smile, "Regrettably, Miss Darcy, we must decline your kind invitation and directly repair to London after breakfast." Commiserating lightly with Mrs. Wells across the table, "It would seem the roads to town grow longer as do our years."
Lady Clandon turned to address Elizabeth. "Mrs. Darcy, Miss Darcy informs us you shall be visiting London. You must all dine with us at Benttree. Sadly, my husband's business matters have allowed us too little time together this visit."
Elizabeth looked quickly to Darcy whose smile shared her pleasure, then back to her guest, "Lady Clandon, you are most kind. Mr. Darcy, Miss Darcy and I would be honored."
Turning to Colonel Fitzwilliam, the Viscountess added graciously, "Of course, Colonel, the visit would not be complete without your company. Will you not join your cousins in an evening of diversion?"
"Your servant, Lady Clandon." The mouth of his future hostess was tipped with a smile as she watched Fitzwilliam's gaze come to rest on Georgiana as he accepted her invitation.
The Viscount rose from the table with purpose, declaring with a smile, "Yes, Lady Clandon and we shall endeavor to delight our company as much as they have delighted us." Darcy looked suddenly at the elderly gentleman, quickly scrutinizing his face, wondering if his words held more than their obvious meaning. The Viscount continued, "And now if you will excuse our haste, we must prepare for our journey."
Colonel Fitzwilliam rose in deference to the exiting guests, adding generally, "I believe I will also take my leave, so I might prepare for my evening's journey." Moving around to the head of the table, the Colonel addressed Georgiana in particular, "You have not forgotten your promise?"
Darcy watched as the pink spread over his sister's cheeks, wondering intently at what this promise might be.
Georgiana smiled. "I have not forgotten and am willing to keep my promise if you will keep yours." Georgiana returned, almost teasingly.
Colonel Fitzwilliam hesitated momentarily, trying to recall. Then his face brightened again at his remembering, "Your ears will receive only the sound of sweetest praise as I am certain my ears will receive only the sweetest of sounds."
Darcy's tolerance for the obscurity of their discourse was severely tested. He was on the verge of demanding an explanation when Colonel Fitzwilliam turned to he and Elizabeth with an invitation,
"Darcy...Cousin Elizabeth, you must join us. Georgiana has graciously agreed to play for me on the piano-forte before I must leave. I have convinced her to play a piece she is yet learning, so we must all promise to listen with forgiving ears." The Colonel looked again at Georgiana, adding with a smile of confidence, "Although I am quite certain you have mastered it more than you will admit."
Georgiana lowered her eyes, her emotions quite affected by her cousin's regard. "You are most kind, sir." Looking to her brother and sister, "Pray, excuse me, William...Elizabeth, I must arrange my music if I am to play after our guests take their leave."
Darcy stood for his sister as she was escorted from the room by Colonel Fitzwilliam. Darcy lowered himself back into his chair looking at Elizabeth, only to find his disbelief matched by her amazement. Georgiana had neverconsented to play anything but what she felt she had thoroughly mastered and even then she required some amount of prompting.
Elizabeth spoke, her eyebrows raised in humor, "The affect of our cousin's happy manners does not appear to have changed since last evening." Darcy was not certain if Elizabeth's words were spoken as a statement or a question. Then with some recollection, she regarded him archly, but with a sparkle in her eye, "That brings to mind, now that we are alone. Pray, sir, explain your actions of last evening! What pressing matter possessed you to hurry from my side, leaving me unaccompanied at the dance?...And while on the subject of being abandoned, how can you defend yourself upon leaving me to sleep through our guest's visit?"
Darcy looked at Elizabeth smilingly, lovingly allowing his eyes to drink in his wife's exquisite features. His most fervent wish had been to remain with Elizabeth in their bed, but his responsibilities as host and concern for Georgiana entertaining alone had forced him to leave her side. Reaching across the corner of the table, Darcy gently caressed the line of her face with the tips of his fingers. "You were sleeping so peacefully, my dear. I did not have the heart to waken you from such sweet slumber. And as for last evening..." Darcy noticed Elizabeth was wearing her new pin. His finger began tracing teasingly down the neckline of her scarf, down to where the pin rested on her bosom. "...you know I would never leave your side if it were not for unavoidable duty."
"Mr. Darcy, you are incorrigible." Elizabeth smiled provocatively as she leaned forward to kiss him across the table. Darcy led his wife up from her chair, ill-satisfied with the divide between them. Darcy drew Elizabeth close, kissing her in an emotional embrace. Elizabeth returned her husband's impassioned kiss as he began admiring her form beneath the soft blue cloth, moving his hands down the line of her back...
Bingley entered the room in search of Darcy, stopping abruptly as he discovered him. Lowering his eyes, he retreated quickly behind the open door. But his movement had been observed by the couple. Darcy and Elizabeth parted quickly, embarrassed to be found in such a state. Darcy wiped his lips with the back of hand, while clearing his throat, "Bingley, it is all right. You may come in." Elizabeth could only meet Bingley's knowing, yet embarrassed smile momentarily before lowering her own gaze with a small laugh.
"I am most dreadfully sorry. I only came to give you news of Jane," Bingley stated sheepishly.
Elizabeth interrupted, "Jane?! Has something happened?" Elizabeth had noted her sister's absence at the meal, but had merely assumed she had missed Jane due to her own tardiness.
"Sadly, Jane has taken ill again this morning. But I am most pleased to inform you she is feeling better."
"Shall we call for the doctor?" Elizabeth was concerned Jane might have fallen ill with the same affliction as what prevented their sister Kitty from attending Georgiana's ball.
"No, thank you, sister. My wife assures me she is only in want of sleep, which she is doing just now. But I fear this will prevent our happy foursome from touring the countryside today."
Elizabeth was anxious for her sister's recovery and also for her closer proximity. "Mr. Darcy--if it is agreeable with you of course brother--perhaps you could show Mr. Bingley some of the countryside yet today and then Jane and I could join you tomorrow if she is well enough recovered? I will willingly stay with Jane while you are out riding."
Bingley agreed to the plan, suggesting Jane would be relieved that her infirmness had not spoiled the day then excused himself from Darcy and Elizabeth, hoping he had not spoiled their morning.
Voices could be heard without, indicating to the Master and Mistress of Pemberley that their guests were ready to take their leave. Darcy and Elizabeth exchanged a look of surrender and moved to the hall.
Mr. and Mrs. Wells, having bade their farewells, waited in the carriage for the host of their journey to take his leave.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam, we shall look for you in a fortnight as agreed."
Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed crisply to the Viscount as he stood respectfully behind and slightly to the side of the Darcy's, "A pleasure, sir."
Georgiana curtsied to their guests. "Thank you, Lord Clandon...Lady Clandon, you are most kind to have undertaken the journey to Pemberley. I am honored you troubled yourself on my behalf."
Gently clasping her chin in his hand, the Viscount looked at Georgiana appreciatively. "You are the image of your mother-- graceful, handsome..." Georgiana could feel the heat rising in her face. ...and charmingly modest. He thought to himself.
Lord Clandon changed the subject of his address. "Georgiana, your brother is an honorable man and wise in his choices." The Viscount glanced in Elizabeth's direction and threw Darcy a meaningful smile. "Accept his decisions. I am convinced he will be most vigilant in his protection of your prospects for future health and happiness."
Extending his hand to Darcy, he spoke in a grandfatherly tone, "My boy, well done."
It was Darcy's turn to feel the color rising in his cheeks. Lord Clandon was the only man of his acquaintance who had the audacity to call him boy and one of the few men for whom he held the utmost respect.
Lord Clandon turned to Elizabeth and bowed deeply. "Delighted, once again, Mrs. Darcy. If I was 30 years younger, Darcy would not have found me such an amiable fellow." His crystal blue eyes twinkled with delight.
Lady Clandon rolled her eyes, chiding her husband good naturedly, "Well you are not 30 years younger. You are an old fool, who must be returning to London."
The Viscount smiled through mock hurt. "You see what comes of one moment of folly?" Motioning to the open door of the carriage, "Come, my good wife! We are off to London."
Darcy laughed to himself as he watched the carriage make its way down the gravel drive. 'Old fool,' indeed. I suppose only a wife of 35 years marriage may call one of the craftiest and most influential men of all London an 'old fool.'
As the figures under the south vault of Pemberley receded from view, the Viscount contemplated, in particular, the one person standing behind Georgiana. Colonel Fitzwilliam is a clever fellow...the son of an Earl...hmmm...too clever to sacrifice on some bloody battlefield.
As the coach carrying their guests home to London disappeared from view, Elizabeth looked up at Darcy with a mischievous smile, "I pray, sir, that God shall grant us such long life together that I may someday call you 'old fool'."
Darcy looked sideways at his wife, arching an eyebrow disapprovingly. "And I pray, Madame, that He shall grant me the patience to forebear the impertinence of my wife." Elizabeth's smile spilled over into heart-felt laughter at the thought of calling her husband, the personification of intellect and restraint, 'old fool,' particularly when in the hearing of others. Elizabeth's laughter coaxed a yielding smile from Darcy as he offered his arm to escort her into the house.
Colonel Fitzwilliam moved to follow, extending his arm to Georgiana with a smile, "Shall we to the music room then?"
"You are eager, Colonel!" Georgiana said laughingly. "Pray, allow me a moment to warm my fingers, then I shall play for you."
Bingley met them in the hall with happy news, "I have just come from Jane. She is much improved and believes she will be able to come down."
Elizabeth was relieved to hear of Jane's health. "Will you excuse me, sir? I wish to go to Jane. I shall join you in the music room. Perhaps Jane is recovered sufficiently to join us as well."
Elizabeth ascended the stairs to the guest chambers, while the men walked leisurely toward the library, leaving Georgiana to practice in privacy. As Georgiana made her way to the music room, she heard her brother address their cousin, "Pray tell us, Fitzwilliam, what intelligence have you of the war?"
Georgiana seated herself at the piano-forte, considering which exercise to play in preparation. As her hands moved across the keyboard, fingering the major scales, Georgiana noticed something tucked between the sheets of the music she had set out after breakfast. Georgiana stopped in the middle of an octave to retrieve the item. A single ribbon held a note atop a small object wrapped inside a plain cloth. Georgiana eagerly untied the ribbon wondering at the mysterious package. First laying the note in her lap, she carefully unfolded the cloth. Georgiana caught her breath as the cameo was revealed. She gently explored its design with her fingertips. The white figure of an angel with wings outstretched hovered starkly against the deep mahogany stain of the wood. Georgiana marveled at how much like stone it looked. She quickly turned the piece over--no inscription or initials. Unfolding the note, Georgiana found the unrefined scrawl of what she was certain to be of a man's pen.
This angel cannot compare with the beauty of the angel receiving it. Please accept this small gift from my hands to yours. The note was signed, Your Admirer.
Georgiana's mind raced, considering who this unnamed admirer might be. It could not be Colonel Fitzwilliam. Even if he tried to disguise his hand in an attempt to create the mystery, she was certain she would recognize it. Had a gentleman from the ball slipped into the music room unnoticed? But the message was simply stated without the embellishment or eloquence she might have expected from an those admiring gentleman.
Georgiana startled at the entry of Colonel Fitzwilliam, with William and Bingley following. Thinking it best to keep the mystery yet to herself, Georgiana quickly wrapped the cameo in the note and slid it underneath a fold of her dress at her side. She looked up trying to appear composed, despite the fluttering of her heart. A secret admirer--how thrilling!
William and Bingley situated themselves in comfortable chairs as Colonel Fitzwilliam approached the piano-forte, "We heard the notes cease. Are you ready to play for us?"
Georgiana did not feel adequately prepared, but could not think of an explanation for her stopping. "Yes..." She replied more hesitantly than she had hoped to sound.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's anticipation did not allow him to notice. "Shall I turn the page for you?" He did not wait for a reply as he pulled a chair close to her side. "What is the music you shall play?"
"It is the piano concerto # 19, composed by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. Let me say again, sir, I have only just become acquainted with this work and it does require accompaniment. I fear you shall be disappointed." Georgiana's gaze lingered noticeably. Fitzwilliam's countenance was eager, yet gentle. He had changed his attire since breakfast, now wearing the uniform of his rank. Georgiana found his appearance quite striking.
"I am forewarned." Fitzwilliam smiled while bowing his head and waited patiently for her to begin.
As he suspected, Georgiana's proficiency enabled her to play the complex work with skill and feeling. Even without the addition of strings and woods, the concerto was moving in its artful combination of sound and tempo. Fitzwilliam marveled at Georgiana's fingers as they danced across the keyboard.
As he watched, all others in the room faded from thought; Colonel Fitzwilliam slowly became aware of only one. His gaze moved slowly from her hands, along the reach of her arms to the soft curve of her shoulder, finally coming to rest on the fairness of her face. His senses drank in the light scent of lavender as he delighted in her delicate features. Her hazel-colored eyes focused purposefully on her pages as her mouth narrowed in her concentration. He had never before noticed the intensity she possessed as she played. He found this contrast to her usually mild demeanor surprisingly arousing. As his heart beat stronger against his chest, he became aware of Georgiana's slight nodding. Fitzwilliam quickly regained thought of his duty. Georgiana's fingers slipped, hitting two keys at once as Fitzwilliam reached for the page. "Your pardon, Georgiana," Colonel Fitzwilliam whispered. He could not see that it was not for any interference as he moved the sheet, but for his nearness that Georgiana had faltered.
Darcy immediately appreciated the difficulty of the work Georgiana was playing--the multiplicity of notes, the demands of the tempo to create the proper mood. He again marveled at Fitzwilliam's ability to convince her to play such a piece in the presence of others. As he watched Georgiana with the Colonel, Darcy knew she had not agreed to play because of any intellectual reasoning--she would have found cause enough to kindly decline. From the emotion passing between the two, he could see she had been persuaded by the regard of a man who appeared to be growing very much in love with her...In love with Georgiana.
Darcy considered Fitzwilliam closely. Fitzwilliam to be Georgiana's husband? Darcy answered his own thoughts. And who better? He was family. Darcy smirked when thinking of their Aunt Catherine's objections to his Elizabeth. She certainly could not object to Fitzwilliam's connections! Darcy continued to weigh the merits of his cousin as a potential husband. He was an officer of good standing. He possessed the happiest of manners, recommending himself with ease to strangers. Darcy smiled slyly, even the Viscount appeared to be a recently gained benefactor. His influence could prove to be particularly advantageous for the second son of an Earl. Darcy did not know what kind of man Georgiana might find captivating, but he supposed Fitzwilliam was handsome enough. His enthusiastic and somewhat sentimental approach to life would compliment Georgiana's supportive and tolerant nature. Yes, by this account, he could be quite satisfied with Colonel Fitzwilliam as a match for his sister.
However as an objective man, Darcy could not help but drift to considering his cousin's detractions. Fitzwilliam did not possess a great fortune or land, as perhaps did others who appeared interested in courting Georgiana. Darcy thought again of Mr. Lang and Mr. Hughes, who would most undoubtedly inherit both land and money. Was Fitzwilliam not always insisting he must marry with attention to money? Darcy dismissed the inference of such thought immediately--but not completely. And what of his age? He knew other marriages made of even wider discrepancy of age, but would his sister grow tired of a man so much her senior?
Darcy noticed how Fitzwilliam's eyes were following the line of Georgiana's form. As a man he understood the grip of physical attraction and he could not deny the handsomeness of his sister. But as a brother, he found it unsettling observing a man admiring her figure. Was Fitzwilliam merely being carried away by his senses? Could he be insensitive to the affect of his attentions?
No, Darcy argued again in his cousin's favor. While Darcy's role as Georgiana's guardian resembled more of that of a parent, Fitzwilliam's had been that of an advocate, which he had performed most admirably, since the death of their father.
It was with the reminder of the loss of their father, Darcy's heart finally yielded the emotion foundation to the disquiet of his thoughts. His anxiety was one he had not wished to acknowledge. If Fitzwilliam's intelligence of the war was correct, that the military was anticipating the conflict with the French to escalate, could Fitzwilliam not expect to be called to a battlefield on the Continent? Could Georgiana endure such separation from one she loved? The pain in Darcy's head throbbed in his temples as an even more distressing possibility presented itself. What of Georgiana if Fitzwilliam's life was taken? He would see that she never lacked for anything materially, but her heart was so tender. Would she recover from the affects of a grief so severe?
He struggled to subdue his intense desire to ride or walk or do anything physical to stem the melancholy invading his soul. He would not wish to offend Georgiana by leaving the room while she played. Finally, Darcy could not keep his seat any longer. Rising from his chair, he crossed the room to the window situated on the far wall. Resting his foot on the low sill, he extended his arm and hand, leaning against the window's frame, with his other resting behind him.
Jane, now feeling her health restored, quietly entered the music room linked arm-in-arm with Elizabeth in sisterly affection. Before the two parted to take a seat, Jane and Elizabeth exchanged knowing smiles, returning the other's gentle squeeze of her hand. Jane silently seated herself at the end of the sofa nearest Bingley. Each looked appreciatively at the other, happy to be reunited. Elizabeth chose a seat where she could see both Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam, along with her husband who was at the moment looking out the window.
For the second time that day, Elizabeth felt as though she had walked in on the middle of a very interesting story. It was not necessary for Elizabeth to see Darcy's expression to know he was unsettled to some degree. She knew him to always be most attentive to Georgiana's playing--he would not turn his back to her if it were not for some compelling need to recollect himself in some manner. With one look at Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana, Elizabeth suspicioned these two must certainly be the other characters involved in the unfolding story. The humor Elizabeth had found earlier, in the morning's scene, began to give way to genuine distress as Elizabeth thought of Darcy's actions at the ball and his current contemplative pose. If a sincere affection was developing between Georgiana and the Colonel, was he inclined to disapprove? What misgivings did he harbor? She felt she must know his thoughts, but every turn of event appeared determined to prevent her from speaking with her husband privately.
With his back to the source of his troubled state, Darcy sought the balm of the peacefulness outside. The rays of the afternoon sun shone through the light clouds dotting the pale blue sky. Darcy watched as a handful of geese swam lazily along the water's edge of Pemberley's lake. The serenity of the scene soothed his pensive mood. Perhaps he was letting his thoughts run away with him. After all, Georgiana's emotions were still under the spell of an elegant evening. Any particular and newly developed regard she held for her cousin had not yet been tested by time, distance or the attentions of other gentlemen. The window reflected Darcy's expression of disbelief. As if I am desiring more suitors! The geese he had been watching suddenly skittered across the surface of the lake as one of Darcy's Great Danes plunged into the water, terrorizing the fowl. Satisfied with the havoc he had wrought, the hound bounded off across the lawn in search of new quarry. Darcy shook his head mildly. My thoughts and mood these past several days have been not unlike those birds, Darcy smiled sardonically, scattered in all directions. Georgiana, why could you not have remained a child? Darcy's mood lightened a little at the absurdity of his wish. Life would be less tumultuous though would it not? Darcy turned as the music stopped and an appreciative silence filled the room.
Georgiana relaxed her fingers on the surface of the keys before removing them to her lap. Her eyes focused on her hands a moment before venturing a look at Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was resting his arm on the corner of the piano-forte, while leaning toward her, creating a kind of intimacy in the space between them. She was surprised by the longing she found in his eyes. Had it not been for their present company, Georgiana thought he might have moved to kiss her. She found herself imagining the possibility. The realization that she would not have withdrawn from his advance frightened her. She stiffened and looked away in an attempt to recollect herself. Georgiana's actions brought Fitzwilliam back to the reality of his circumstance. Sitting back in his chair, the Colonel led the others in the room in appreciative applause. "I say, Georgiana, well done! Well done!"
Continued in Part 2
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