Part 1|Part II
Georgiana and Colonel Fitzwilliam followed the others in quitting the music room. Upon entering the hall, Georgiana turned, entreating her cousin, "Colonel Fitzwilliam, would you not fare better on your journey, if you were to take your leave in the morning after a night of restful sleep?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled, grateful for her obvious concern, "Undoubtedly, I would prefer to stay at Pemberley...for more than merely another day. However, it would not be for the benefit of sleep, but to further enjoy the pleasure of your company." He looked at her reassuringly, "Do not distress yourself on my behalf. A carriage ride on good roads is to be endured far more agreeably than that of the back of an elephant through Indian jungle! And, I shall have the dreams of our time together to ease the rigors of my night journey."
Georgiana found her heart beating faster as Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled into her eyes.
Mr. Crane entered the hall, addressing Mr. Darcy with a slow half bow, "Sir, the gentleman's carriage is ready."
"Thank you." Darcy acknowledged his butler.
Georgiana spoke quietly to Crane before turning back to her cousin. "Will you hold a moment, Colonel? I had Cook prepare you a small repast. Mr. Crane will just bring it."
He returned as if conjured by her very words. "Thank you." Georgiana accepted a large, handled basket from the butler.
Peeling back the white cloth covering the basket, Georgiana appeared satisfied with its content, then presented it to her cousin. Colonel Fitzwilliam accepted the gift with a look of surprised appreciation. With a small bow, "Thank you, Georgiana. You are most kind to provide so generously for my welfare."
Curtsying, Georgiana replied sweetly, "It is with pleasure, sir, to see you so provided. I hope it will give you comfort as you travel."
Colonel Fitzwilliam knew he must be taking his leave, but could not at that moment make his eyes quit their hold of her, nor cause his feet to leave her side.
As the great clock in the hall chimed its bells seven times, Mr. Crane re-entered the hall. "Mr. Darcy, sir, Mrs. Reynolds informs me your supper is ready." Looking at the Colonel, "Shall I have another place set?" Colonel Fitzwilliam felt a little embarrassed by the attention drawn to his reluctance to leave.
Georgiana looked expectantly at him, hoping he might yet be persuaded to stay. She could not know she was causing a severe struggle in the man before her, her countenance displaying only what was genuinely felt.
How can I leave you? Look at you; you are an angel! Your affections are pure, flowing from a kind heart... Perhaps, I could postpone my return by a day--send an urgent post to the commander, claiming unavoidable delay... A battle raged to find which would be the victor--heart against mind, desire against duty, indulgence against honor.
No, I can not. It is already from personal favor that I am even here these two days. I must return as scheduled. While he was loathe to leave her, he answered the butler's inquiry resolutely, "No, Crane, that will not be necessary." Colonel Fitzwilliam looked at Georgiana tenderly, saying quietly, "I am sorry. I must go." The hope in Georgiana's expression faded, to acceptance, "Yes, of course."
Now determined to be on his way, he turned to Charles and Jane, "Mr. Bingley, Mrs. Bingley, please accept my apologies. I did not intend our musical diversion to circumvent your tour of the countryside, today. I do wish you success in your search for a new estate. I am confident Darcy will show you all the best places."
Bingley looked to Darcy, "We shall depend upon it."
"Mrs. Bingley, please accept my wishes for your continued health, now that you are recovered."
"Thank you, Colonel Fitzwilliam. May your journey be free of hardship."
After returning their acknowledgment with a slight bow, Colonel Fitzwilliam turned to Georgiana, "Will you see me off?"
Darcy and Elizabeth led the way through the courtyard to the south vault. Darcy extended his hand to his cousin; a simple bow would not do to express the singular regard held between the two. Darcy was always sorry to part company with his cousin. And even though this visit had caused him no small consternation, he still wished for less road between them.
As Fitzwilliam accepted his hand with a firm grasp, Darcy knew, since Fitzwilliam was making the arrangements, their time together in London would be most diverting. "'Til London, then, Fitzwilliam. Do not give the army too much trouble while you are there," Darcy smiled crookedly. Fitzwilliam's response was a mischievous, self-effacing smile of denial.
The Colonel addressed Mrs. Darcy with his usual buoyancy, "Cousin Elizabeth, I am delighted further each time I am in your company. If you will allow, may I say Darcy is the most fortunate of men."
Elizabeth smiled unassumingly, while leaning a little toward the Colonel so Georgiana would not hear, "Perhaps not the most fortunate of men?" Elizabeth's eyes moved slowly in Georgiana's direction, who was standing respectfully to the side.
Colonel Fitzwilliam turned slightly to follow the visual line Elizabeth was drawing. Turning back to her with a twinkle in his eyes, "Ah Cousin, you have been observing me. I have been informed of your ability to make astute sketches of a man's character. My curiosity is piqued. But the sun tells me I must not tarry to learn of the details of your study. Perhaps I might persuade you to enlighten me while we are together in London?"
Elizabeth had already thought her enthusiasm had gotten the better of her discretion. Her intimation would be imprudent if Darcy was indeed opposed to such a match. She thought it best to redirect the focus of her response. Looking at her husband chidingly, "Oh?," (Darcy responded with a look of complete innocence.), then back to her cousin, while keeping eye on Darcy. "Pray, tell me, sir, what source have you of this intelligence?"
Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled. He knew he was being lured into a trap. Is it any wonder that Darcy loves this woman? Her openness, her wit with ample pointedness, but with out invective. Their sparring must satisfy his love for debate quite well. "Only a gentleman who reports his character was brought into a more agreeable disposition by a woman of good sense, humor and charity."
"Ah, then I see you have been well informed, Colonel." Elizabeth smiled her satisfaction at he and Darcy, then curtsied. "Good bye, sir. I look forward to our time in London."
"As do I." Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed slightly again.
Walking over to Georgiana, Colonel Fitzwilliam paused, unable to speak. His heart was urging him to openly admit all he felt, to confess all he had admired about her as he had lain awake 'til dawn, contemplating the woman she had become and how his thoughts had drifted to the future... There was so much to be said, he could not speak any of it, not now, not as he was to leave her.
Without thinking, he reached for her hand, embracing it between his own. "Georgiana, if it were in my power, I would not leave you now. I feel I have only just begun to know you..." How could I have not seen 'til now that your eyes are not just brown, but possess the most irresistible flecks of amber and green...
Georgiana wondered if he could feel the trembling in her hand. Was it proper for her to allow him to hold her hand so? Suddenly shy under the intimacy of his gaze, Georgiana lowered her eyes, but her hand remained enveloped in the warmth of his gentle touch. Asking him quietly, "Would you write to let us know of your safe arrival?"
"I shall write the moment I arrive at my quarters." Colonel Fitzwilliam raised her hand to his lips. Georgiana's eyes followed, watching as he placed a soft, lingering kiss on her fingers. So overcome with emotion, she could only voice in little more than a whisper, as she curtsied, "You are most kind, sir."
Her gentleness...her na‘vet»... again poured into his heart until he feared all rational thought might be swept away. Colonel Fitzwilliam called upon all his resolve. Releasing her hand, he reached for the basket resting on the stone walk. He was struck by its pull. He had not taken notice earlier of how heavy it felt.
As he left her side for the carriage, he found his mind clearing and realized he did not wish to leave Georgiana in such a sensitive emotional state. As he reached the carriage, Colonel Fitzwilliam turned with a cheerful smile, he hoped would ease her condition. Lifting the basket up and down, emphasizing its weight, he intoned jovially, "I wager I am the best cared for traveler on all the roads of England!" With a final gesture of farewell, Colonel Fitzwilliam stepped up into the carriage and did not look back.
The effect of Colonel Fitzwilliam's smile had been quite disarming throughout his visit. Now Georgiana returned his with a contented smile, despite her disappointment in parting company so soon after his arrival. She remained on the walk, her heart resonating to the pounding, as she listened to the rhythm of the horses' hooves as the team pulled the carriage down the drive. Georgiana gathered her hands if front of her, holding them close to her heart. Lowering her gaze, she gently stroked the fingers he had kissed, as she cherished Fitzwilliam's farewell.
Darcy stopped, realizing Georgiana was not following them into the house. Her back was to him as she watched the carriage go. And with her hands hidden in front of her, he could guess at the tears welling in her eyes. Oh, my dear sister, he thought with a quiet sigh. He prepared himself to receive her tears and ease her discomfort with words of solace.
"Georgiana?" Darcy spoke softly, almost hesitantly, to his sister.
Turning to him, she answered lightly, "Yes, William?"
Remarkable! Georgiana's countenance was composed--serene! Darcy blinked, his eyes widening almost imperceptibly. But he could not keep all his disbelief out of his voice as his mind attempted to quickly shift direction. "Hhrm..." Looking at her quizzically, "Shall we to supper then?"
Eager to discover the source of the tantalizing aroma tickling his senses, Colonel Fitzwilliam pulled back the cloth and began investigating the contents of the basket even before reaching the end of Pemberley's drive. Mmm...hard rolls.Breathing in appreciatively, the aroma of the fresh-baked bread reminded him of his boyhood when he would steal into the kitchen, snatching a warm loaf before anyone could catch him. He continued his search. Smoked sausage...cheese...And here is the cause of your heft--a bottle of wine! Fitzwilliam held the bottle in the palm of his hand inspecting the label. An excellent choice of vintage. As he looked back into the basket, Fitzwilliam laughed to himself. Complete with corkscrew and glass...and something else! Carefully removing the small flower from the glass, he inhaled the heady scent of the pink blossom. Ah, Georgiana, you are sweet! After slipping the rose into a button hole of his uniform, Fitzwilliam pulled out a still-warm roll and sat back to enjoy the creations of Pemberley's most excellent bake-chef.
As the Colonel ate, his contemplations were filled with thoughts of only one person--Georgiana's delight at his arrival...her innocence upon entering the ballroom...dining with her...the scent of lilacs as they waltzed together...her allure as she played her concerto. As he watched the passing of the twilight countryside outside his window, the seed of an idea began to grow and take shape.
Georgiana will not be so difficult to persuade--she is ready. But what of Darcy? It had taken the combined forces of Elizabeth, Mrs. Annesley and himself to convince Darcy that his hesitations toward Georgiana's coming out were ill-founded. Fitzwilliam was certain Darcy would object if he approached him too directly or in the wrong time.
Considering the potential obstacle, Fitzwilliam could not help but think like the military man he was. He mused over his strategy carefully, waving his roll up and down as if pointing out a tactic of some import. I must act covertly for a time in order to prepare. But London is to be the place and the Darcy's impending visit to be the time. I will need to implicate another, though, if my plan is to succeed... Colonel Fitzwilliam's brow furrowed slightly as he pondered the passing scenery, mentally searching through his connections in town. His expression lifted as he arrived upon the very name. Lord and Lady Clandon! Perhaps they could be prevailed upon? I shall contact them immediately upon my arrival in London. With the last bite of his roll, Fitzwilliam relaxed back into the cushioned interior of the coach, with his feet resting on the opposite bench. Reaching his hands behind his head, he smiled with satisfaction. Yes, I am certain they may be persuaded this is best for Georgiana...
Conversation at supper that evening consisted mostly of plans for the following day.
"Bingley, have you an eligible purchaser for Netherfield?" Darcy asked in between bites of his poached salmon.
Bingley set down his glass without taking a sip in order to answer, "I believe I have, although we have had to proceed somewhat quietly..." He glanced quickly at Jane. "...circumstances as they are." While the sentiment was shared by both, he did not wish to hurt his Jane by openly mentioning their tiresome dealings with her family. He felt certain Darcy of all people would discern his meaning.
"Yes, of course." Darcy acknowledged.
Elizabeth was speaking to Jane, mentioning estates they may wish to visit as they were either vacated or with owners who might be persuaded to quit them. "...and there is Braxton Hill in South Yorkshire or Wendling Place in Cheshire..."
Darcy broke in, "My dear, you sound as one who has lived in these parts all her life."
Elizabeth responded with a willing smile. "Indeed, sir. I am so happily situated, I feel as though I have."
Darcy offered after some consideration, "What do you think of Staffordshire? I understand Sir Frederick may be desiring a purchaser for his estate. He has a well-established business in horses, along with some crops. I understand, though, he has been rather ill and now prefers the restorative waters of Bath. He has not returned to Amberlain for nearly a twelvemonth."
Elizabeth was surprised by the extent of his information. "I am astonished, sir! I was unaware gentlemen engaged in idle talk of other's affairs as ladies are reputed of doing." Elizabeth's mouth turned up just slightly at the corners, while looking at him mischievously. But she knew instantly, she had supplied him material to use against her.
"I am sure I do not know of what women speak when out of the hearing of their gentlemen. However, I will accept it on your authority that it is idle." Darcy smiled crookedly. Elizabeth pursed her lips together, knowing she had been bettered. Darcy continued. "However, it is not idleness to remain informed of a gentleman's interests who has supplied me with more than one fine gelding."
Elizabeth had not conceded entirely, "Ah, so it is not for my sister's happiness you suggest Amberlain, but for the protection of self-interest," Elizabeth suggested sweetly.
Jane and Bingley exchanged amused glances. Having been witness to this pair's repartee many times, they knew it possessed no meanness of spirit and waited for Darcy's response.
"Certainly your sister's happiness--and yours as well--is paramount, Amberlain being of easy distance from here." Darcy took a sip, savoring the bouquet of the wine before continuing. "That I might benefit from Bingley's success or your felicity would only serve me greater satisfaction." Elizabeth looked away, rolling her eyes at his meaning.
"Then Amberlain shall be our first destination!" Bingley raised his glass at the happy prospect of locating a new home before the onset of winter.
Georgiana sat absently moving her food around her plate, hearing their words while not really listening. She meditated on the husbands and wives happily engaged in lively conversation. She found each well-suited to the other--in appearance...temperament... mind. Leaning back into the rest of her chair, Georgiana gazed dreamily at the rose blossom afloat in the crystal bowl at the top of her place setting. As she contemplated the delicate red petals, her mind wandered, considering various gentlemen she had danced with the evening before--his appearance, the manner of his address, the subject of his conversation, the nature of his material consequence. Mr. Hughes was well-versed in many subjects, Mr. Raleigh quite jovial-- laughing a great deal, Mr. Hawthorn was reputed to be of notable consequence, Mr. Worthington an excellent dancer, Mr. Lang was excessively handsome, Colonel Fitzwilliam...
"Georgiana, you are not ill?" Jane asked with concern from her place across the table. "You have not eaten a bite of your food."
Georgiana straightened in her chair looking sheepishly at her untouched plate. "Oh!...No...I am quite well, thank you."
Jane's inquiry had drawn the attention of the others.
Elizabeth offered, "Are you ill-pleased with the salmon? Let us send for something more to your liking." She began to motion to Thomas, who was attending to their meal.
"No, I thank you. I find my appetite is merely not what it ought to be to enjoy any of Cook's fine preparations." Georgiana felt anxious someone might press for a reason, for she knew not what to reply.
To her relief, Jane affectionately supplied explanation, "Perhaps you are fatigued from all the festivities."
Georgiana did not feel herself tired, but thought it best not to counter.
Elizabeth regarded Georgiana another moment, before graciously changing the subject. Addressing the table generally, "Shall we play loo tonight?"
"Jolly good idea!" Bingley answered heartily. "I am always ready to beat Darcy in a game of cards."
"I wager it will be the other way round, old chap," Darcy quipped confidently.
"How much, then?" Bingley was up to the challenge.
As Darcy was about to name his price, Elizabeth protested, "Nay, sir. I will not play high. This is to be a friendly game."
Darcy looked disappointed. "Bingley, we are to play with the faint-of-heart tonight." Then adding with a cheeky smile, "No matter, I shall arrange for another game in which you may lose your money to me."
Bingley threw his head back in a laugh, "Now, there's a good fellow!"
"If you gentlemen," Elizabeth pronounced the word dubiously, "will excuse us, we will go prepare the table."
Darcy and Bingley rose respectfully as the ladies moved from their chairs. It was not until Georgiana passed along the table, to exit with her sisters that she noticed hers was the only setting adorned with a rose.
"Darcy, tell me more of Sir Frederick's estate..."
Elizabeth Darcy could not have wished for a more diverting game of cards that evening. It seemed the friends and family gathered were so predisposed to enjoying each other's company, as much as to playing cards, they all laughed more than they actually played. Except perhaps for Fitzwilliam Darcy, who laughed less than the others because he kept losing.
Darcy appeared a comical figure. His confused expressions at the strange plays occurring around the table sparked spontaneous laughter from the other players more than once. He had been confounded by his abominable luck until he surmised it had not been luck at all, but the conscious and premeditated actions of his companions to thwart his efforts to win.
As the last play of the game defeated him yet again, Darcy accused them, "This is not to be borne. You three are in collusion against me!"
"Why, Mr. Darcy! I have never known you to be ungentlemanly in your losses?!" Elizabeth teased him. She knew his accusation to be true, but was not ready to confess to it. It had not begun intentionally or even by spoken agreement amongst Bingley, Jane and herself. It seemed though, once each became aware of the other's individual scheme, they silently allied efforts against her confident husband--who had every reason to be confident. For like other endeavors he undertook, Darcy had many times before proven himself a very capable card player.
Bingley reached his arms up from his chair stretching exultantly, "Be a good sport, Darcy. I for one enjoyed myself immensely!" It had not been often he had been able to play a trick on his historically, proper and serious friend. He found Jane's joining in the chicanery very amusing as well, exchanging an appreciative smile with her across the table. He was discovering a little of the Bennet mischief inside her affectionate heart.
Indeed, it was generally against Jane's nature to intentionally deceive and she had felt a little sorry for their victim. But knowing their trickery would not serve him any true harm and seeing how much fun Bingley and Lizzy were having, she decided to, at the very least, make it easier for their plays, if not actually harder for Darcy's.
Darcy looked at the three disbelievingly, "This is a fine development! To be cheated in my own house and my reputation assailed--by my wife, yet!" Everyone knew he was not really angry. The twinkle in his eyes and the slight curve of his mouth, giving him away.
"Cheated, sir! Of what have you been cheated? You still possess all your money," Elizabeth disputed his claim.
"Yes, it is true. Of my money, I have not been cheated. Of my satisfaction and my rightful win, I most certainly have been cheated." Groans and laughter rose as he mentioned 'rightful win.'
"This is a fine arrogance, Mr. Darcy. You have just been soundly trounced. Now you assert you have been swindled!" Elizabeth challenged him boldly.
"Let us play anew, with honest plays around the table and I shall supply you proof." Darcy began gathering the cards, preparing to deal.
It was already on the downward stroke past 11 o'clock and Jane was certain she could no longer hold back her fatigue even though she wished to continue in so pleasant a company. "My dear family, your forgiveness. It is much too late for me. I must beg to retire," Jane smiled apologetically.
"Yes, Darcy. It is much too late. Jane and I had better be off for some rest." Bingley rose, leaving his side of the table for Jane's.
"And now denied restitution, as well!" Darcy expressed incredulously. "And I suppose I am still to play the congenial host tomorrow and guide you around the countryside?"
Elizabeth smiled playfully, answering for Jane and Bingley, "Yes, and should you show them a fitting estate, we shall all play cards again next evening and allow you to win."
"Allow me to win, madam! I should rather burn the cards than play under such false pretense," Darcy objected strongly, but good-naturedly.
"Sir, you are not to be pleased! Win or lose you are discontent." Elizabeth added as though with serious contemplation, "Very well. We must seek a diversion that requires neither defeat nor triumph."
Georgiana, who was sitting at the writing desk, had been listening to the humorous interplay while penning a letter to Mrs. Annesley, laughing lightly to herself as she wrote. She spoke only loudly enough the others were just able to hear, "Perhaps a round of needlepoint." The sound of her own voice surprised her for she had not meant to speak her thoughts aloud.
Darcy broke through the roar of laughter, "Ah! The villainy is complete." Darcy gestured with a sweeping motion of his arm toward Georgiana, "Now even my own sister mocks me!"
Since remaining at Pemberley with her brother and sister, Georgiana had enjoyed many more light-hearted times with William. She had occasionally even ventured into sportive exchanges with him, but she was never quite sure how much he would accept from her without him finding her disrespectful.
William's tone had sounded amused...But if his words were sincere...Georgiana's cheeks flushed, chiding herself for her sarcasm.
Georgiana turned toward William, intending to apologize. "Sir, I..." Darcy raised his hand under the table where the others could not see, motioning her to hold. When she caught the mirth in his eyes, she knew he meant he had willingly accepted her jest. Georgiana smiled gratefully.
"Come now, Darcy, admit it. You enjoyed yourself this evening as much as any of us," Bingley said animatedly.
Observing Jane attempting to hide another yawn behind her hand, Darcy rose gallantly, "Ah, Mrs. Bingley, your forgiveness. I fear we are fatiguing you unnecessarily with our debate. Please, we will not further detain you."
Darcy's concern for Jane's health was genuine. And, it also pleased him not to answer his friend's challenge. Darcy had enjoyed himself immensely. He could not have wished for the company of any beyond those assembled there, except for perhaps the addition of Colonel Fitzwilliam. (A fleeting thought on which he chose not to dwell.) His appreciation for his opponents' ingenuity had steadily increased after realizing he had not lost his skill in cards. However, he would not gratify Bingley by openly admitting it.
Bingley's jovial mood changed to concern as he observed his wife's complexion. He thought her color pale and did not wish for her earlier affliction to return. Looking at Jane protectively, "Yes, Jane. Let us say goodnight."
Elizabeth stood with her sister, clasping Jane's hands affectionately in hers, "Good night, Jane. Shall I send any thing up for you?"
"No, Lizzy, I am well," Jane reassured her sister perceiving the hint of worry in her expression.
After all exchanged fond wishes for restful sleep, Jane gratefully accepted the support of Bingley's arm while quitting the drawing room.
Georgiana returned to her pages, writing her farewell, before retiring for the night. "William, do you wish me to convey any message to Mrs. Annesley before I close?"
Darcy sat down in a chair next to the desk, while Elizabeth placed the cards in the drawer of a sideboard. "Yes, I do," Darcy began seriously. "Please inform her I made inquiries of Dr. Whitney in London regarding her sister's condition. I have just received word from him in today's post. Dr. Whitney's considered opinion concurs with her own doctor's. He believes Mrs. Annesley's sister is most in want of rest and time to be completely restored."
"Thank you, brother. This is very good news. You are very thoughtful to have inquired on her behalf," Georgiana spoke appreciatively. "Mrs. Annesley conveyed considerable concern for her sister in her last letter. Dr. Whitney's opinion should bring welcome relief." Georgiana hesitated thoughtfully. "Her last post also reflected some anxiety at having been away for these last months, feeling certain she must return soon...Have you urged her return?" Georgiana asked gingerly, hoping she had not been a burden to William and Elizabeth in her companion's absence.
"On the contrary, in my last communication to her I encouraged her to attend to her sister as long as necessary for her full recovery." Darcy leaned over placing his hand on Georgiana's reassuringly. "I believe Mrs. Annesley thinks very fondly of you and fervently wishes to know you are being well cared for in her absence." Darcy laughed while sitting back into the chair. "In her last dispatch to me, she interrogated me mercilessly on that subject." Darcy intoned up and down, "Is Georgiana in good health?...Is she practicing?...Have I made arrangements for Georgiana to see her tutors in London?...Georgiana requires new dresses, have I seen to it? --I was certain I was in her employ, not the other way round!"
Georgiana laughed at his sing-song rendering of her questions. "Mrs. Annesley is a dear. I do miss her." Georgiana spoke brightly, "I expect she shall give you some peace, however, after receiving this lengthy missive." Georgiana sang, "I have told her all of...our honored guests...playing the piano-forte...what I am reading..." Elizabeth joined them in their laughter as she approached, standing next to her husband's seat.
The ornate clock on the fireplace mantel delicately sounded 12 o'clock. Entering the drawing room quietly, Crane waited for Darcy's acknowledgment before inquiring, "Will you require any thing more this evening, sir?"
Darcy looked to his sister. Georgiana smiled, shaking her head in silent reply as she gently waved a sheet, drying the ink on her last page. He answered for all three, "No, that will be all, thank you. We shall retire. Good night, Crane."
Bowing slightly, the butler turned to leave the room, but Elizabeth crossed the space quickly, speaking with him before he could go. In a quiet voice matching hers, Crane replied, "Yes, Mrs. Darcy. I shall see to it directly." He slipped unobtrusively from the room, leaving Darcy to wonder what Elizabeth might be requesting at this late hour.
Her letter in hand, Georgiana regarded William warmly, before leaving her place next to him. Georgiana knew her brother did not often feel the need to speak of his emotions and was more at ease showing his affection for her rather than speaking of it. However, her felicity prompted her to express a token of what she held in her heart, "William, you are the kindest, most compassionate of all brothers. I am so very happy to be with you here at Pemberley."
Darcy patted her hand appreciatively, as Georgiana hid a sudden yawn. "Georgiana, you should be off to bed." Leaning into her conspiratorially, "Or I shall have to answer to the wrath of Mrs. Annesley."
Georgiana giggled. "Good night then, William."
Darcy walked with his sister toward the door, slipping his arm across his wife's back as he came to Elizabeth.
"Good night, Georgiana. Sleep well," Elizabeth wished her warmly.
As Georgiana left the room, Darcy chuckled to himself murmuring, "Needlepoint, indeed."
Elizabeth turned leisurely to Darcy, hugging him loosely about his waist. Looking up at him, her eyes sparkling from the merriment of the evening, "This evening was most agreeably spent."
Darcy drew her in closer, completely entranced by the gleam in her dark eyes. He marveled at her ease of tempting him with one look.
"Indeed. Although you may declare it thus more justifiably than I."
Elizabeth released her hold from around his waist, her hands coming to rest on the lapels of his coat. Elizabeth gave Darcy a chiding look. "You are not pleading the injured party again?"
"And why may I not? I have been the subject of ill-treatment of which I am most undeserving," Darcy complained with a feigned haughtiness.
Intoning intimately, "Mmm...I see it is your pride what has been dealt a blow." Elizabeth moved her hands up slowly over the softness of his cutaway coat, gradually coming to rest around the back of his neck, tilting his face so his lips were only an inclination away from hers. Watching his lips as she spoke provocatively, "What tonic may I supply for the healing of your wounds?"
Elizabeth's fingers ran through the richness of his thick brown hair as the warmth of his lips met hers in reply. Tenderly pulling back from his kiss, "There now, are you wounded no more?"
Darcy's arms pressed around her as he whispered in her ear, "No indeed. Your treachery this evening was severely injurious."
The warmth of his breath sent scintillating chills down her neck. "Then we must repair quickly to our chambers where a much stronger medicine awaits," Elizabeth offered longingly.
Elizabeth gasped in surprise as Darcy swept her up into his arms. "For one so mortally wounded, you are very strong, Mr. Darcy!"
Darcy grinned wickedly as he carried his wife from the drawing room to their chambers waiting upstairs.
Once safely inside the haven of their private rooms, Darcy gently set Elizabeth on her feet. As he sought the softness of her lips, Elizabeth stepped back, placing one hand to his chest. Offering coyly, "Allow me to prepare your balm." Darcy moved forward defying the press of her hand. He desired no special preparation on her part. Elizabeth stopped him with a light kiss. Smiling sweetly, "I shall only be a moment." Darcy drew a deep breath of resignation, as he watched his wife walk lightly from the sitting room into the bed chamber.
Darcy removed his coat, laying it over the back of the chair before sitting to remove his shoes. Resting back in the soft comfort of the velvet chair, Darcy stretched his legs toward the glow of the hearth, warming his feet by the heat of the gently crackling fire. To his immediate annoyance, a polite knock was heard at the outer door. Glancing first to see the door to the bed chamber was closed, Darcy answered the knock impatiently, "Yes, what is it?"
A man's voice answered, muffled by the door, "Brandy, sir. Requested by Mrs. Darcy."
Brandy? He thought quizzically. Ah, the request of Mr. Crane. Darcy smiled. Well, Mrs. Darcy, that is not the balm I had imagined, but it will do for a start."Very well, come in."
Filled with apprehension, the servant entered quietly, concentrating on steadying the shaking in his hands while carrying the brandy on a silver tray. Nervous as he was, he knew he still must perform his duty well. "Shall I pour, sir?" he asked as calmly as he was able after setting the tray on the table next to the master's chair.
Darcy was thinking more of Elizabeth as he watched the dancing flames, than attending to the person next to him. Glancing toward his butler, he replied, "No, Mr. Crane that will be...John!" Darcy looked back to him quickly, stiffening in his chair. Feeling a sharp pang of guilt, Darcy suddenly realized he had neglected his duty the whole of the day--his duty as master of Pemberley, to investigate a servant's disconcerting conduct and more importantly that of Georgiana's protector. Darcy's eyes narrowed as he remembered the cause of his trouble.
John struggled to keep his composure under the intensity of his master's scrutiny. He had been horrified when Mr. Crane asked him to deliver the drink to the master's chambers. But how was he to refuse? He had completed his other evening duties and had no excuse to offer.
It embarrassed him to the core when he stumbled over his words or appeared the fool in Georgiana's presence. Worse yet though, he feared his loss of self-control would call Mr. Darcy's attention to his feelings for Georgiana. Feelings of which he was certain Mr. Darcy would vehemently disapprove. If the master discovered how hopelessly drawn he was to Georgiana, Darcy would most certainly dismiss him, if not something more drastic.
John's surging apprehension sprang not so much from cowardice, but from the recognition of the precariousness of his position. He had successfully avoided the master the entire day, not wishing his actions to evoke any suspicion. And now here he was, standing within arms length of the very man. As John made his way to their chambers, he had fervently hoped it would be Mrs. Darcy he would encounter and not Georgiana's brother.
Desperately wishing to take his leave, he attempted to free himself from the grip of Darcy's visual inquisition. "Sir, may I attend to any thing else?"
Darcy intentionally did not immediately reply, allowing his eyes to hold John's without wavering. If John had been contemplating any overt attentions toward Georgiana, Darcy wanted him to know he was watching. John could feel the moisture rising on the palm of his hands. Finally, Darcy replied in a deadly serious voice, "You may go."
Darcy waited 'til hearing the latch of the door, before rising. Bracing his arm against the mantel of the fireplace, Darcy looked deeply into the fire, stabbing at the heavy logs with the poker, while sharply reprimanding himself. How could I have forgotten? How could I have allowed the entire day to pass, giving him the opportunity to...what if Georgiana had been hurt?! The expletives coming to mind would have shocked any of Darcy's acquaintance, knowing he was not a man given to cursing.
Entering the room quietly, Elizabeth half expected her husband to be waiting by the door, having given every indication of eagerness. She was surprised to find her husband in quite a changed and unexpected state from when she had left him. As he loomed over the fireplace, his use of the poker resembled more of a lance than that of a tool as he jabbed it violently into the wood. Biting the inside of her lip, Elizabeth hesitated, speculating at the sudden turn of his emotions. The agitation evident in his deliberation along with its capriciousness challenged her understanding of her husband and of what manner in which she was to approach him.
Being careful not to be caught by his elbow, Elizabeth slid her hand softly down the length of his arm. Turning, Darcy found his wife gazing up at him tenderly, invitingly. She was wearing one of the shifts he favored most--the line of the neck, the inviting use of ribbons and lace, presenting provocative possibilities. A delicate lace shawl was draped loosely across in front, intended to be more enticing than covering. Reaching her hands up to his shoulders, Elizabeth pressed her lips firmly against his. Darcy lowered his arm from the mantel, placing his hand on the small of her back, returning her kiss only lightly. Elizabeth withdrew, eyeing him carefully.
"You have left me again." She stated matter-of-factly.
Darcy was surprised by her choice of words. "Pardon me?"
Elizabeth repeated herself candidly, "You have left me."
Still perplexed, Darcy tilted his head a little, looking at her with furrowed brow, "I do not comprehend your meaning, Elizabeth. I am clearly present."
Elizabeth took the poker from his hand, returning it to its stand. "Yes, your body is present, Fitzwilliam, but your mind and your heart are elsewhere." Elizabeth added playfully, "I suspect it is something to do with the reason you have been doing combat with the fire."
Darcy looked at the fire, breathing deeply, admitting to himself the truth of her words. Feeling the gentle clasp of her hand, Darcy willingly followed as Elizabeth purposefully led him to the chair next to the brandy. As he sat down, he watched her remove the decanter from the candle stand, pouring the warm liquid into a large snifter. Elizabeth silently handed her husband the glass, before gently lowering herself onto his lap.
Taking a sip of the brandy, Darcy sat back, closing his eyes, allowing its heat and aroma to soothe his senses. Darcy slowly opened his eyes to the vision of his wife who was regarding him patiently. She was beautiful, her long lustrous hair lay loosely about her shoulders, her skin bathed in the warm glow of the fire. She was all he could have wished for. Only moments before, her presence had summoned his every desire for her and now when she was near, the turmoil of his mind and soul prevented him from responding. He stroked the softness of her long hair, looking into her dark eyes. He saw only love...and perhaps also concern.
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth began hesitantly, returning his gaze. "Fitzwilliam, I wish to speak with you." She took her husband's silence as his acceptance of her request. Elizabeth chose her words carefully as she began untying the knot of his cravat, her eyes lowering to focus on her work. "You are a man of deep thought and contemplation. You attempt to be honest and objective in all your dealings with the people around you." Having slipped the silk material from his neck, Elizabeth undid the button of his collar, caressing his shirt away from his neck.
Darcy listened attentively, knowing she was not flattering, but progressing to some particular point.
Elizabeth began undoing the buttons of his waistcoat. "You are cautious and evaluate carefully decisions of import. All these qualities I admire about you." Elizabeth paused. Looking him in the eye, she added, "My love, I do not wish to cause you pain."
Hmm, Darcy thought, it is at hand. Darcy set the snifter on the table, keeping his expression impassive as he listened.
Elizabeth brushed an errant lock of hair from his forehead. She continued, "All these qualities you possess and until today, I would have also said you were stable."
Darcy's eyes mirrored the inward affect of her words, flinching momentarily.
Elizabeth explained, "These last days, you are one minute attentive, the next, angry and distracted...or suddenly gone as I experienced at the ball." Elizabeth pleaded with him earnestly, "Fitzwilliam, please, you must tell me. Are you so troubled by thoughts of our cousin and Georgiana together? Are you opposed to a match between Colonel Fitzwilliam and Georgiana if it comes to it?"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam?" Darcy's face showed his confusion. He had expected her to admonish him for allowing John to distract his thoughts away from her. "What has he to do with this?"
"What has he to do with this?" Elizabeth repeated, her understanding stymied. "Does he not have everything to do with this?" She asked incredulously. Challenging him, confident she understood the genesis of his thoughts, "Is he not the reason for now...for the fire...for your looking stricken and leaving the ball so hastily?"
Darcy furrowed his brow trying to even recall where Colonel Fitzwilliam had been when he had observed John at the ball. "No, indeed. It had been John," Darcy intoned, surprised she had not known. He had dealt with so many thoughts since his promise of explaining his actions at the ball, it seemed as though he already had.
"John?" Elizabeth asked perplexed, trying to recall the surnames of Georgiana's attentive gentlemen. "Do you refer to Jonathon Lang?"
"Jonathon Lang?" Following the direction of this conversation is most vexing! "No, John Harkenson," Darcy answered emphatically.
Elizabeth rolled her eyes and head to the side, "Oh, Fitzwilliam! I am exasperated! Your answers are most unsatisfactory, only muddling and not bringing clarity at all!"
Darcy took her hands in his, as if to physically harness together their incongruous thoughts. "Elizabeth, please," Darcy pleaded, his head beginning to ache, "May we begin this conversation again?"
"Yes, please!" Elizabeth insisted.
Darcy rose, handing Elizabeth back into the chair. She watched with anticipation as he crossed the floor to the fireplace. Darcy began relating the details of the scene he witnessed as he saw the images of that night in the flames of the fire.
"...the wine flowed over the lip of the glass..."
Elizabeth's distress slowly faded as he spoke, mirth gradually filling its place 'til finally it spilled over like the wine he was describing. Darcy turned sharply at the sound coming from his wife.
Seeing his severe expression, Elizabeth attempted to swallow her laughter, "Forgive me, Fitzwilliam." Although she could not stifle her smile as she pictured the wine pouring over John's hand. "Poor lad. He must have been mortified!"
"Elizabeth, I am shocked at your response to so grievous an impropriety!"
But she could not take his reproof to heart. "Come, Fitzwilliam, can you not see the humor?"
"No, I can not," Darcy replied flatly, "Not in his behavior...or yours."
Elizabeth grew serious at his censure. If he was truly so ill-humored, she did not wish him to be again provoked to anger. Elizabeth joined him by the fire, stroking his arm placatingly. Believing in John's innocence, Elizabeth offered explanation, "Fitzwilliam, you yourself experienced a particular effect of Georgiana's captivating appearance that evening, although perhaps you were affected a little differently as her brother. John is young; he was merely overcome by the presence of a beautiful young woman.
Darcy moved his arm from beneath her gesture, striding thoughtfully toward the chairs before rejecting her defense. "Yes, Georgiana is quite handsome," he conceded matter-of-factly. "Do you think me, though, so undiscerning of another man's response to her beauty? I know the significance of what I saw."
Elizabeth smiled, "Yes, I do believe you are well aware of other men's reactions to your sister. Perhaps too aware. You can not deny your discomfort with the attentions paid to her by the gentlemen at the ball."
Darcy twisted the ring on his little finger. He was losing his patience. He had not anticipated debating the justification of his concern. Opening his hands out in confession, "Yes, I admit I find it very difficult." Darcy rubbed his forehead, before gesturing in explanation, "Elizabeth, she is my sister, my responsibility. I can not allow her to be hurt at the hands of some leering sensualist or disingenuous fortune-hunter."
Elizabeth interjected with a twinkle in her eyes, "Then it must be that every gentleman falls into one of these categories."
Darcy continued adamantly, without acknowledging her teasing, "I find any association between my sister and such gentlemen abhorrent and I shall exert every power I possess to prevent it."
Darcy stopped, realizing he had some how become the focus, rather than John. "However, we are not talking of a gentleman; we are speaking of a servant."
"Yes, I know." Elizabeth spoke mildly, "Do not mistake my meaning. I only intended while John is a servant, he would experience feelings the same as any other man. Surely he meant no harm? I am certain it shall not happen again," Elizabeth concluded optimistically.
Darcy stiffened at her continuing defense. "Do not think me so injudicious in my conclusions. If John's indiscretion was limited to this one moment, I would not be so concerned."
"Then you have observed him thus before," Elizabeth asked surprised.
Irritated, Darcy exclaimed, "Elizabeth, the boy falls mute when she is present; he is suddenly clumsy and gapes at her!"
She could not help thinking of a time she, too had encountered a man who spoke very little and stared a great deal while in her company. Knowing how that had ended, Elizabeth thought perhaps she ought to give more serious appreciation to her husband's concern.
Darcy continued, concentrating on calming the anger in his voice, "It is not only his behavior toward Georgiana, but also his reaction to me which convinces me I must act."
Elizabeth raised her eyebrow questioningly.
"Just now, when bringing the brandy, he was very ill-at-ease. I am certain he was actually trembling"
"John, brought the brandy?" Elizabeth asked, suddenly enlightened to the cause of his remarkable change! Elizabeth appeared thoughtful. If he found this one brief encounter so distressing, she knew he would experience no peace until he had dealt with John in some manner. "What do you intend?"
"I am not certain," Darcy replied doubtfully. "I will not have Georgiana unsafe or uncomfortable. And yet, if he is merely infatuated, as you imply, possibly a change in duties where he does not come in contact with her will suffice." Darcy continued, thoughtfully, "What I do not know is whether he has," he searched for a delicate word, "approached her in any way."
Elizabeth voiced her alarm. "You do not believe him dangerous?!"
"I have not known him to be aggressive or menacing, but I have also never before seen him act so inappropriately. I would not wish his emotions to tempt him beyond his control. No, I must be certain of his nature! I had intended to make inquiries of Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Crane, today," Darcy paused, inwardly condemning his dereliction. "I will most assuredly speak with them tomorrow. I know I may count on their honesty and discretion. However, the person I most wish to speak with is Georgiana, herself." Looking uncertain, "I do not know, though, if she would feel at liberty with me."
"Yes, I see." Elizabeth quickly thought of many reasons Georgiana might not speak openly with her brother on such a sensitive subject.
Darcy closed the space between he and his wife. Taking her hands in his, "Elizabeth, do I ask too much? Would you speak with Georgiana? I believe she would confide in you."
"I should be happy to oblige you." Elizabeth squeezed his hands reassuringly.
Darcy looked much relieved. "I would be most grateful. And as soon as may be. I have already allowed John too much opportunity for..." Darcy did not finish his thought. "I am anxious to be certain of Georgiana's safety."
"I will endeavor to speak with her tomorrow." Elizabeth promised him.
"Good. Until this is settled, I believe it would be prudent to forestall any possibility of contact between John and Georgiana. I shall instruct Mrs. Reynolds John is not to be assigned any duties tomorrow." Darcy glanced at the clock on the mantel. Realizing the extreme lateness of the hour, Darcy added, "Hmm, I do not wish to disturb her sleep. Will you excuse me, Elizabeth, I shall leave a note for her immediate attention in the morning."
"Yes, of course, Fitzwilliam."
Darcy's mind was again consumed by the task-at-hand. Kissing Elizabeth quickly on the forehead, Darcy grasped a light from the mantel, leaving their chambers without thought to the condition of his wife or his clothing.
As the door closed, Elizabeth drew her shawl closer about her, suddenly feeling the affect of her sheer attire. Believing him not to be gone long, she searched for a source of immediate warmth while she waited for her husband's return.
Nestling into the coziness of the thick, woven blanket, Elizabeth began mulling over the promise she had made. Sipping the warm brandy she had originally intended for soothing her husband's worried thoughts, Elizabeth wondered, How ever am I to approach Georgiana? This is indeed a delicate situation.
I do not wish to frighten Georgiana. If my estimation of John is correct, though, he intends no action beyond his infatuation. Although the Good Lord knows, I have learned one can not necessarily know a man's intentions from his actions--or lack of them! If John has approached her and Georgiana has not revealed this to anyone? But what would be the cause? Does John have some malevolent hold over her? Elizabeth readily dismissed the possibility. That does not seem likely. Elizabeth chewed on the inside of her lip as a startling thought appeared. What if she welcomes his intentions?! Does Georgiana return his affections despite his lack of any social standing and material consequence? She had once been misled by Wickham. However, Wickham is a master of deception. Certainly John does not possess the same nature as that gentleman? Would her emotions persuade her away from her family for a man so beneath her standing? Her personal fortune would guarantee their future...surely though, she knows Fitzwilliam would find a way to prevent her from using her wealth so ignobly. She doubted her supposition, but could not dismiss it, knowing love to be a powerful force able to break through the walls of many a social convention.
Any path her mind chose, a disturbing possibility existed, confounding her decision on how to broach the subject with her sister. Oh, this is intolerable. Now, Fitzwilliam has me worrying in all directions! Elizabeth sighed in defeat. She would think of way tomorrow.
As the clock chimed the top of the hour, Elizabeth lowered herself onto the cushion of the sofa. Her desire had been to wait for Fitzwilliam, to retire together, but the warmth of her cocoon, the alcohol of the brandy and the fatigue of her mind and body beckoned her to sleep. As she slowly drifted into comfortable slumber, she became distantly aware she still did not know his mind about Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Darcy's long leisurely stride took him through the lifeless halls, returning to their chambers. A chill spread over his body causing him to wish he had at least stopped to slip on his shoes and coat for warmth. The nights were becoming damp. With the fires having exhausted the evening's supply of wood, the great house felt very cold. His pace quickened as he thought of his wife's warmth waiting him in his bed chamber.
As he entered the sitting room, Darcy almost missed the figure curled up on the small sofa, expecting Elizabeth to have retired to the other room. He knelt down beside his wife's couch, appreciating the serenity of her expression in the glow of the candles. Kissing her softly on her cheek, he whispered lovingly, "My dearest, loveliest, Elizabeth."
He very carefully lifted her into his arms, carrying her to their bed. Darcy grimaced at the irony of his situation. Only a short time ago, he had engaged in the very same act, but with a very different intent. It was then he realized the full extent of his abstraction. He did not feel guilt; as Elizabeth had said, he was a man of deep contemplation. The import of his thoughts and the decisions to which they led were not insignificant. He and Colonel Fitzwilliam...well perhaps now...he alone was responsible for Georgiana's safety, for her future. However, he deeply regretted allowing his vigilance to detract from his attentions to his wife. He did not wish to be the source of her discontent. Her words echoed in his mind, These last days, you are one minute attentive, the next, angry and distracted...or suddenly gone as I experienced at the ball. As he covered his wife's sleeping form, he silently promised her he would not be so distant.
Author's note: I had never intended to write anything between "Georgiana" and "Georgiana--The Piano-forte," but somewhere along the way the "The Ball" and "Connections" insisted on being written. I have tried to link up with "The Piano-forte" without too bumpy of a transition. I hope you will indulge me if not everything is smoothly connected. The next segment will continue after "The Piano-forte."
Continued in The Piano-forte
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