Georgiana: High Society
The subtle glow of the morning's light drifted lazily into the chamber, coaxing the darkness to slowly accede to its presence. With the growing emergence of the day's illumination, a gradual awakening diffused through the room, calling forth an awareness within the lady nestled in the gentle folds of the chamber's bed.
Though smaller here than at Pemberley, the London chambers offered their lady a cozy and inviting sanctuary, with its colors well-suited to the sun's offering of light. In the mornings, the white and gold highlights reflected the day's early rays with clarity, summoning her, with crisp cheerfulness, to join the world. And in the evenings, when the light had long said the world farewell, the wealth of cranberry coloring the room, embraced the candles' amber glow, wrapping Georgiana in a world of warmth and serenity, as she followed the sun's example in bidding the world good night.
Slowly opening her eyes to the world she had left the evening before, Georgiana rolled to her back stretching languidly. A peaceful sigh spoke of her contentment, all prior weariness having been soothed by slumber's medicinal gifts. All was still and quiet with nothing speaking of the day's obligations. Though rested, her eyes gradually closed again, as she cuddled the blankets around her neck, savoring the sweetness of her hibernation.
A light knock roused Georgiana further from her sleep. A sigh of resignation answered it quietly; the day had begun. Rising reluctantly against the pillows, she prepared to receive her early caller, adjusting the blankets over her, not wishing to relinquish their warmth. "Yes? Come in," Georgiana permitted sleepily.
Elizabeth's smile peered around the door, "May I come in?"
Georgiana rose more fully on her bed, drawing her knees up to her, trying to become more alert. "Yes, Elizabeth, please come in." Covering a yawn, "Is the hour very late?" she asked a little sheepishly. "Have I gone past breakfast?"
"No, no," Elizabeth assured as she perched on the edge of the bed. "I am just going downstairs now, myself. No matter the "good roads," as someone is want to endorse, I find myself quite undone when we make town. Fitzwilliam has, of course, begun his day some time ago," Elizabeth informed her smilingly.
Elizabeth need explain no more, with Georgiana knowing her brother's fondness of the quiet solitude afforded him by rising early. It had been so for as long as she could remember. And no matter his own tiredness from a journey, he was still always the first to rise.
"And how does this morning find you?"
Georgiana hugged her shoulders up close and relaxed them again in an effort to persuade herself to start her day. "I am very well, thank you. Though I am disinclined to leave the comfort of my bed." Georgiana confided.
Elizabeth hoped Georgiana's hesitancy was not due to more than just the luxury of a warm bed. "It is to be a very fine day, I believe. We shall have the company of my sister, and Uncle and Aunt Gardiner this morning, with the Colonel adding to our party for dinner tonight."
Georgiana smiled appreciatively, recognizing the confidence she sought to give as their first full day in Town loomed ahead. "Your Uncle and Aunt are dear, and I do so wish to see Kitty again." Georgiana considered a moment, wondering at the number of callers she might expect now that she was out. Her doubt was evident, "We have only just arrived. Certainly not so many are informed of our comings and goings?"
Elizabeth's smile twisted much like her father's at the memories floating past. Her own first mornings in Town as Mrs. Darcy had provided the company of many callers, who were either anxious to appraise the worthiness of Darcy's new bride or to ingratiate themselves with the lady who would now determine much of the society the wealthy gentleman would keep. Only a few had proven to be of the nature inclined to sincere friendship. But, the variety of persons calling had only served Elizabeth's own nature, providing her with many a study of the ridiculous and insincere, as well as with the delightful. However, Georgiana's nature was not so inclined to be humored by the disingenuous.
Elizabeth informed her lightly, "Yes, Georgiana, you may be confident our arrival has been heralded, perhaps not with all the regalia of the Prince, but acknowledged just the same. However, now it is not for a gentleman's arrival that Society stirs."
Georgiana cast a polite, but doubtful eye.
Elizabeth did not wish her sister to be ill-prepared. "With your coming out, I believe we may depend upon receiving every civility by the visitation of many who desire a better acquaintance with the late Mr. Darcy's daughter," adding playfully, "especially from mothers whose sons are in want of a wife!"
Georgiana blushed looking down to her knees before venturing quietly, as she met her sister's eyes, "And the mothers' sons, will they call as well?"
The hopefulness Elizabeth found in Georgiana's question surprised...and pleased. In her expression was anticipation, although not without timidity. The power of her shyness had not been completely dominated. But it was weakening under the desires of her romantic heart.
"My surprise will be great if we are not indeed called upon by, at the very least, Masters Lang and Hughes," Elizabeth inclined her head meaningfully at the names, then straightening, "As well as those hoping for an introduction." Becoming more earnest, "Georgiana, today may be much like your ball, with many seeking your favor."
Georgiana lowered her knees to clasp Elizabeth's hand with hers. "I thank you, Elizabeth. Do not be troubled. I know what is required of me. I will endeavor to make you and William proud."
"Dearest Georgiana, we could not be more proud now! I only wish you ease, today. You will call upon me if you require respite will you not?"
Adopting a courageous air, as much for her sister's benefit as her own, Georgiana straightened to proclaim, "Let the peacocks...that is...the sons, and their mothers do their worst. I shall not fail!" But Georgiana's staunch demeanor was not very convincing as it dissolved into a stifled giggle.
"Aunt! Uncle!" Elizabeth welcomed enthusiastically as she bounded down the stairs. Darcy followed with more restrained pace, smiling at his wife's exuberance and with his own pleasure of receiving those who had quickly become some of his dearest relations. Waiting for each to hand their wraps to Mr. Crane, Elizabeth greeted Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner with an affectionate kiss. Elizabeth turned to Kitty. It had been many months since seeing her and she was surprised by how much she missed her younger sister.
"Kitty, I am so pleased you are come to London. You are looking well. You are fully restored, then, from your fever?" Elizabeth clasped Kitty's hands eager to express her pleasure.
"Mr. Gardiner, Mrs. Gardiner, delighted," Darcy added his warm welcome with a bow.
"Lizzy, I am so much the better, now."
"Miss Bennet," Darcy bowed, welcoming his sister with every appearance of being happy to see her again.
Kitty hesitated, struck again by his more amiable demeanor. When seeing him while last in Town, she would have sworn to anyone within hearing, this man was indeed not the same who had asked for her sister's hand. While in company at Longbourn, before her sister's wedding, she had found his silent reserve frightfully intimidating. Dreading the need to initiate a subject with him, she had always contrived to be in his presence only when Lizzy or another of greater position than herself was present to fulfill the obligation of conversation.
But here, again, as he was some months ago when he and Lizzy had called while she stayed with the Gardiners, his address was cordial and genuinely agreeable. Still and all, she was not yet brave enough to venture much familiarity with this brother.
"Mr. Darcy," Kitty bobbed.
"My sister is most eager to receive you, Miss Bennet," Darcy accepted her awkward curtsey easily. "Shall we all go upstairs?" He invited all his guests, while extending his arm to his aunt. Elizabeth tarried with Kitty as she finished removing her bonnet and gloves to Mr. Crane's care. Linking her arm with Kitty's, Elizabeth insisted kindly as she ascended the stairs with her sister, "You must tell me all of home."
"Oh, Lizzy, Mama spends all her time with either Aunt Philips or at Netherfield; Papa is forever in his library and Mary, well, she has never been any company, and there is no society left in Meryton." Kitty complained in one breath.
Elizabeth's felicity in having family present eased what impatience she might otherwise have felt with Kitty's discontent. Knowing what little company her sister did have at home, she felt some empathy for her situation.
"Aunt and Uncle are kind to have me stay, but Lizzy, I fear they do not keep society that will be much interest to me," Kitty lamented.
That Kitty did not directly lament the lack of gentlemanly society surprised Elizabeth. Perhaps she was improving, if only a little.
"I believe we might help in that regard. Georgiana's knowledge of London is great, having spent much time here. Were she to be made aware, I am certain she would oblige your interests," Elizabeth suggested, thinking Georgiana might not venture to suggest any excursions. Kitty could learn a great deal from Georgiana's poise and accomplishments if she proved willing. And while Kitty had little to offer in knowledge or deportment, her open ways with people and her disposition toward seeking pleasure, might further relieve Georgiana of some of her shyness and reserve. Elizabeth wished to further the keeping of company between her two sisters, but she thought refraining from suggesting the social engagements might allow Georgiana to exert herself and extend the invitations personally.
Georgiana and the Gardiners were already exchanging pleasantries when Elizabeth and Kitty entered the drawing room of the Darcys' London home.
"Miss Bennet," Georgiana greeted warmly as Elizabeth brought Kitty to their circle.
"Miss Darcy," Kitty replied more reserved than usual, summoning all her poise as she returned Georgiana's welcome.
Kitty had so wanted to make a favorable impression on her wealthy relation. Aunt Gardiner's maid had twisted, braided and styled her hair until, with restrained exasperation, Uncle Gardiner had pronounced it time for their departure. She had finally thought herself to look quite good in her best calling dress and her favorite locket. But now as she perceived Georgiana's practiced composure and surveyed her finely- and fashionably-made dress, set off by a pearl studded cameo, she felt ill-used by the comparison. While Kitty was older than Georgiana, by a twelvemonth, she felt inferior to her in every respect.
"Uncle? Aunt? Will you have tea?" Elizabeth invited the couple to follow her to another part of the room, leaving the ladies in a moment of awkward silence.
Georgiana was finally the first to speak, motioning to a sofa, "Will you not sit down, Miss Bennet? Will you have tea?"
"Yes, thank you." As she watched Georgiana gracefully pour out, Kitty found herself wishing their mother had been more insistent in her practice of the social arts.
"Pray, are you to be long in London, Miss Bennet?" Georgiana inquired hopefully as she took a place next to Kitty.
"I am not certain. I hope to stay some weeks."
"I have so enjoyed our correspondence. It is a great pleasure to converse with you again in person. I must also confess your calling today is a welcome relief."
Kitty was not practiced in hiding her emotions, greatly surprised that she would provide relief to anyone and especially to her hostess who appeared more accomplished in the ways of society than she.
"Elizabeth warns me to expect many callers, today. And I fear my being here will be more for display, that London society may scrutinize my dress and deportment more closely, than to take any genuine delight in my company. With you here though, I know I may look upon at least one I may call friend."
Kitty looked into her cup, ashamed of the thoughts she had had. She had happily returned Georgiana's letters, but had not presumed to be thought of as more than a relation of similar age.
"Thank you, Miss Darcy. I am pleased to be amongst the party, today." Searching for a more comfortable subject, Kitty remembered Elizabeth's urging. "Miss Darcy, I am not often to London. Are you very familiar with shops and places my Uncle and Aunt may be persuaded I may visit while here?"
"Oh, yes." Georgiana assured. "London offers many diversions, have you any particular interests?"
"Pray, tell me of your delightful trout stream, sir. I have thought of it often while locked away with the dusty law," Mr. Gardiner smiled broadly at the remembrance of several day's fishing earlier in the summer. Pemberley's stream was indeed an excellent source of the gill.
Darcy gladly reciprocated the gentleman's appreciation for the sport. "Were I to show you the size of the rainbow I landed..." Darcy's hands began spreading a generous 20-inch span between them...
Approaching quietly from the side, Elizabeth took hold of the "fish's" tail, turning her husband's hand palm up, dramatically landing a cup in it. "Your tea, sir," Elizabeth offered, her smirk doubting the accuracy of the measure represented by her husband.
Darcy's eyes twinkled at his wife's good-natured rebuff. "Well," Darcy shrugged with his other hand, relinquishing the "head" of the fish, "Sir, I shall not, for fear of being accused of telling a fisherman's tale."
"Being a lover of the sport myself, I should acquit you of all such allegations..." Mrs. Gardiner re-joined her husband's side, serving his tea. "...that is, if I may depend upon your service as faithful witness when I am called upon to defend the honor of my own catch." Mr. Gardiner inclined his head toward his wife identifying the source of his would-be "doubtress." Mrs. Gardiner accepted her husband's intimation with all innocence as she calmly sipped her tea.
Darcy's mirth at the ease shared between the long-married couple shone in his eyes as they peered over the lip of his cup. He pondered if perhaps they were to thank for more than bringing he and his beloved together. Elizabeth's own nature certainly possessed wit and charm in itself, but how much was her happy conduct in marriage due to this couple? Knowing her deportment to resemble more of her aunt's and uncle's than her own parents', his gratitude for their influence only increased.
"Indeed, sir, you may depend upon me," Darcy bowed his head in promise.
"Pray Aunt, you must enlighten me, having been married longer than I. What power is possessed by these scaly creatures that moves an otherwise upright and honest man to deny his honor in measuring its worth?"
While his wife's eye was not on him as she spoke, Darcy knew her words to be baited as much as any tippet he used in his stream. Each man waited upon the elder woman's reply.
Mrs. Gardiner's years as wife to a kindly and forbearing man had not left her without her share of matrimonial wisdom or wit. "No, my dear Lizzy. I can not provide you with such. For, I am certain if Mr. Darcy says the fish a whale, then one must only wonder at the beast's great fortune of being caught by a fine gentleman." But the slight upturn of her mouth belied the sincerity of her words.
"You are most certainly a wise man, Mr. Gardiner, having chosen a wife of great discernment," Darcy complimented, looking askance at his own. However, that woman knew he was perfectly at ease in present company and merely returned their own sport.
Mr. Crane entered the room, announcing the first of society's callers.
Elizabeth appeared disappointed, "Oh, Aunt I had hoped more of the morning would be enjoyed with only our family party." Sighing resignedly, "I suppose it must be so, with so many eager to call upon Georgiana." Mrs. Gardiner was not afforded the opportunity of inquiry before the entrance of the Lang's of -------- street.
Jonathon cringed upon seeing they were some of the first to arrive. He had warned his mother it would give the unseemly appearance of being anxious, even though he had chafed at waiting in the carriage. It had been more than a fortnight of nervous anticipation he had endured since last seeing the object of his fancy. His heart would not be still until he was with her again, and assured Miss Darcy's affections had not been secured by another.
Glancing furtively toward the ladies on the sofa, Jonathon's mind was momentarily lost to his present situation, sent into a whirl of exhilaration by the constrained smile he received from the one person in the room with whom he most wished to speak. Feeling the press of his mother's hand on his arm, Jonathon recollected himself. He must represent himself more successfully to Miss Darcy's brother, than when last in his presence at the ball. Mr. Darcy's disapprobation had been concisely communicated in his look while Jonathon had said his farewell, although try as he might, Jonathon could not perceive anything untoward in his behavior toward the lady. If his mother was astute in her perceptions of the brother, Mr. Darcy would not be easily inclined to give his approval to any man's attentions to his sister. But as a man's desire for a woman often urges him to act with more courage than he feels, Jonathon escorted his mother to their host and hostess, resolved to sway the man's implacable position.
Kitty whispered excitedly, "Miss Darcy, do you know the gentleman? What is his name?"
"Yes, the gentleman is known to me. His is Mr. Lang," Georgiana admitted, somewhat embarrassed by Kitty's display. "We became acquainted at Pemberley's ball." Adding genuinely, "I do so wish you had been there."
"Oh, not as much as I!" Kitty effused, obviously enamored with the gentleman's appearance. "Does he dance as well as he looks?"
Becoming more concerned their exchange might be overheard, Georgiana's voice barely carried to Kitty as she conceded quietly, "Yes, he is a fine dancer."
Kitty turned away from Georgiana to gain better vantage in observing the gentleman as he spoke with the Darcys and Gardiners. She found him smartly handsome with his blue coat well tailored to his frame and the white of his collar gleaming against the black of his hair. Wondering if she might learn the color of his eyes, Kitty hoped desperately to have some close conversation with him before his visit ended.
But this was apparently a sentiment not to be shared by Mr. Darcy. For there, amongst her sister, and aunt and uncle, was the man she remembered from Hertfordshire. Perhaps not so severe, she thought, as when first he came to the Meryton assembly. But with his hands now clasped behind his back and a cool eye cast upon Mr. Lang, his demeanor reflected the same restrained tolerance as when in the company of her Aunt Phillips and other Meryton relations.
Turning back to her companion, not thinking to conceal her amazement, "But Miss Darcy does Mr. Darcy not approve of Mr. Lang?"
Georgiana watched the conversation taking place across the room. Elizabeth, along with Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner were easily exchanging comments with Mr. Lang and his mother, while William stood silent, adding comment only when his wife graciously prompted it through direct question. William did not appear to squelch all comment from Mr. Lang, but neither did he invite it.
Georgiana sighed, looking upon William not without sympathy, "Miss Bennet, I believe my brother will never welcome any man's conversation if the gentleman is suspected of any inclination to marry."
Kitty looked back to Darcy and felt immediately sorry for Georgiana, deciding she must die an old maid.
Elizabeth could feel nothing but the greatest sympathy for Mr. Lang and no little annoyance at her husband as the one valiantly attempted to engage the other, while that gentleman endeavored politely to frustrate. Even though her aunt and uncle served to relieve some of the burden of the conversation, she knew not how long she might promote the artifice. Mr. Lang's glance to the other part of the room as his mother spoke, inspired Elizabeth's intervention.
When a pause allowed, "Mr. Lang, Mrs. Lang may I introduce you to my sister?"
Lang's smile complied with her suggestion as his eyes thanked his hostess for her generosity.
Rising in anticipation, the ladies waited for the proper introductions and salutations.
"Mr. Lang, Mrs. Lang, may I present my sister, Miss Bennet. She is staying with my aunt and uncle while in London for a time.
"Miss Bennet," Lang greeted amiably.
Kitty returned his obeisance with care.
"And of course, you know my husband's sister, Miss Darcy."
Lang looked up from his formal acknowledgment of the lady, the radiance of his smile evidence he found her more than a little agreeable to behold. Hoping to see again that symbol of purity which had claimed his heart the first moment it had reached him at Pemberley, he watched for that sweet hue that so often graced Miss Darcy's cheeks.
Georgiana's involuntary response did not disappoint as a gentle blush colored her fair skin. Under the fervor of Mr. Lang's consideration, she felt a sudden lightness throughout her person, with a strange fluttering in her stomach. Do all ladies feel as I when a gentleman looks at her so? The sensations were not unpleasant, but their ability to disturb, frightened her a little. As her courage to bear with equanimity the impositions of another's feelings began to flag, her words echoed with promised endurance, I shall not fail. Drawing an inaudible breath to still her feelings, Georgiana returned his greeting with deliberate calm, "Mrs. Lang, Mr. Lang, you are very kind to call on us, today."
Before their presence interfered with any further exchange, Mrs. Gardiner diverted the attention of the married ladies. Speaking to Lizzy as she looked to a part of the room away from the knot of young people, "My dear, this is a lovely picture I see..."
"Oh, yes, Aunt, I have just acquired it," Lizzy thought her aunt very subtle in her design, "Mrs. Lang, may I show it to you?"
A desire to see a painting proved an agreeable means to satisfying Mrs. Lang's hope to leave her son to his present company, "My yes. I would be delighted. I am always ready to see a work of beauty."
The contrivance of an unobtrusive exit having been achieved, the three women politely excused themselves, finally achieving their common goal.
"Mr. Lang will you sit with us?" Georgiana invited him to a chair companioned with the sofa.
Darcy's quiet, but audible sigh as Mr. Lang eagerly took a seat along side his sister, did not go unnoticed by the elder gentleman at his side. No explanation was required. While he wished to offer words of wisdom to ease his nephew's situation, Mr. Gardiner recognized he was in no position to advise him.
"I believe it will go no easier for me when the time comes for my Bess," Gardiner admitted about his eldest daughter.
"Hm," was Darcy's only reply.
"Oh, yes, I should very much like to go to the theater during my stay," Kitty responded to Lang's inquiry. "But I have just come to town and do not know what plans my Uncle has made." Kitty hoped desperately that he had indeed made any such plans.
"And you, Miss Darcy, are the great Kean or Mrs. Clive to be honored with your attendance?"
In another's voice, the question might have sounded idle flattery, but in Mr. Lang's delivery, Georgiana found only sincere regard, as though London's finest actors would indeed be pleased to know she, of all others in London society, was in the theater. Georgiana showed her pleasure at his compliment, while kindly dismissing it, "Nay, sir, you speak as though they might salute me at the end. I know you only jest, but I thank you."
"Now it is my turn to say 'nay'. For who could not be honored by your presence?" Lang objected playfully, with his eye's speaking even greater sentiment than his words.
See how he looks at her! Oh that someone would regard me with as much delight. Kitty found herself excited for Miss Darcy that she should gain this gentleman's enthusiasm and not just a little jealous that she had not.
Averting her eyes, Georgiana knew not how to properly accept his undisguised affection.
Mr. Crane entered the room, announcing the arrival of the Darcy's next callers with due respect, "Viscount and Viscountess Clandon and Lady Cowper."
The trio rose in deference to the elder statesman and his companions, each mind possessing a different turn of thought--Georgiana appreciating the great compliment the elder couple paid by their call and secretly hopeful at receiving one of Almack's grand dames; Jonathon ruing what must result in an imposition on his time with the lady and yet naturally impressed by Darcy's connections; and Kitty growing more anxious as she was not insensible to the escalating worth occupying the room.
As Darcy and Gardiner moved forward to receive the new guests, more were announced, heralding the beginning of what would be a steady flow of callers for the rest of the morning.
Jonathon received his mother's silent summons with momentary resistance. "Will you excuse me, Miss Darcy? Miss Bennet? I appear to be needed."
"Yes, Mother, what is it?" Jonathon asked in an insistent whisper; he was most anxious to return to his position before another displaced him.
"Calm yourself," Mrs. Lang instructed with patience, a patience fed by the satisfaction of seeing her son's feelings for the lady. "I merely wish to inform you, Miss Bennet will join the Darcys tomorrow for the ball. Her aunt has accepted for her and I thought the information might ease any discomfort Miss Darcy might have had in her sister being excluded."
Jonathon leaned down, giving his mother a grateful peck on the cheek, "Forgive me, Mama. I ought to have known you were taking good care of my affairs. I shall be most happy to deliver the good news." Jonathon started back to the group with a smile.
Staying his leave with her hand on his arm, "You may not be so pleased with the next, though. We must be taking our leave. We have already stayed too long. You may monopolize her time as much as you wish tomorrow."
As much as he wished it not so, Jonathon knew their call had extended beyond the usual time for a first visit, even though many others were in company. To tax Darcy's hospitality would not recommend him to the gentleman whose good opinion was paramount to his future happiness.
Escorting his mother to the growing gathering, Lang found he had indeed been displaced in so short an absence--Hughes had wasted no time in supplanting him as he queried Miss Darcy's familiarity with a newly published work by Porter.
Lang hesitated as Miss Darcy's eye's found his as he addressed her, fervently wishing for any plausible excuse to stay in her presence. "Pray forgive me, Miss Darcy, but we must away." His heart's rhythm sped as he saw disappointment pass through her expressive hazel-colored eyes. "I take heart, however, in knowing I will have the pleasure of conversing with you and Miss Bennet on the morrow."
Georgiana and Kitty exchanged confused, yet hopeful glances.
Mrs. Lang explained, "Miss Bennet, your aunt has accepted our sincere wish to have you amongst our party tomorrow. My son and I do hope you will be able to accompany Miss Darcy for the ball."
"Yes, thank you, Mrs. Lang. I should be delighted!" Kitty accepted with open enthusiasm.
Mr. Lang knew he must withdraw, before being rendered incapable, feeling himself again affected by the gentle expression of Miss Darcy's unspoken gratitude. Bowing respectfully, he led his mother to take their leave of their host and hostess.
It had not been long into the Viscount's visit he had found the whole affair entertaining--at Darcy's expense. He wished his old friend had been alive to see his son forbear society's obsequious attentions in their want of his sister. Yet Clandon readily acknowledged, had George indeed been there, his inward laughter might just as likely have been directed toward the father, rather than the son, with George possessing the role of protectorate. Darcy had been every bit the proper host, charming and hospitable with all the married or aged ladies and gentleman, but it had been with the available gentlemen and their mothers that he had found him most diverting, especially with the men.
As one such pair had approached to take their leave, he had observed Darcy assume a formal stance, squaring his shoulders to their most dignified angle. With the minutes passing after their exit and his host giving no indication of resuming his former ease, Clandon spoke, only for Darcy's hearing, "Steady on, lad. This is a welcome occurrence for Miss Darcy," motioning his drink toward the lady who held the center of the attention. "You would not have her ostracized by society, surely?"
"Yes, sir," Darcy replied flatly, not unlike he might have when respectfully conceding a point to his father when indeed a 'lad,' but without his heart in it. Realizing he was not entirely attentive to the man's question, he wondered if he had given the fitting response, "That is, no, sir."
Darcy lowered his eyes, rubbing his fingers along the edge of his forehead, disturbed by the level of is distraction. What is this intolerable melancholy I feel? It was the same as the night of her coming-out. Indeed, the mix of his thoughts and emotions was all familiar to that night--pride and approval, resistance and cynicism, sadness and resignation. He found his pride and approval of Georgiana unobjectionable, knowing it well-founded and not born merely of familial sentiment. He also conceded the futility of being anything but resigned to the inevitable need for his sister to marry. And of the resistance and cynicism? Well, he need not make it easy for just any man to gain his blessing, need he? He deemed all these reasonable. It was the sadness he did not understand or welcome.
Clandon chuckled. "I had thought to extend my influence on Miss Darcy's behalf. But now I must reconsider. It would not due for you to insult the Prince with your disparaging eye were he to bestow his condescension." Clandon's blue eyes twinkled up at Darcy's startled reaction.
Darcy searched the smiling lines of the Viscount's face. As understanding dawned, Darcy could not be unappreciative of the gentleman's own generous condescension in slyly offering to sponsor Georgiana at court. Darcy considered silently. The Prince would no doubt accept this naive debutante with alacrity, something Darcy would indeed not tolerate beyond her particular presentation to the Regent. But he would far rather suffer the indulgence of such an evening's event than his sister's inconsolable disappointment were she to know he had refused the honor.
"Thank you, sir. You are very kind to our family. Were you to act so generously, I give you my word, I will forebear the Prince with equanimity," Darcy promised with a little good humor returning in his crooked smile.
"Think nothing of it, my boy." Clandon dismissed. Intercepting the expression in Mrs. Darcy's eye as she glanced from her circle of guests to her husband's solitary company, Clandon evaluated the woman's temper. Was it possible her look held both vexation and understanding? A remarkable woman, Clandon proclaimed inwardly.
Conveniently consulting his watch, "I see that it is time to play escort again to my wife and her friend." As the experienced husband took his leave, he allowed with amusement, "I might have been rash in my concern for your deportment in court, Darcy. If Mrs. Darcy is by your side, you will be of little consequence or note. And if her affection does not advocate for you..." The Viscount speculated with a doubtful cock of his head, "After today, I wonder that there should be enough left of you to worry about." Clandon clapped him on the back with grandfatherly affection. "Good day, my boy."
The brief furrowing of Darcy's brow showed his confusion as his advisor left him for Lady Clandon.
"I see Lord Clandon is ready to take his leave, Mrs. Darcy," Lady Clandon declared, observing her husband's approach. "I will expect you at your convenience on the morrow. I am quite certain you and your relations must witness with your own eyes the color of our rose to believe me not in exaggeration of its beauty. Good day, Mrs. Darcy. Mrs. Gardiner."
"Thank you, Lady Clandon. You are most kind. We shall anticipate the excellent display." Addressing Almack's patroness, "Lady Cowper, thank you for the honor of your acquaintance. I hope we shall meet again," Elizabeth added with an easy smile, although her meaning was not so unintentional.
Lady Cowper returned her farewell gracefully, hinting her intended action, "Yes, Mrs. Darcy, I believe we shall."
"Yes, yes, Kitty. We shall take care of all that this evening after dinner," Mrs. Gardiner promised her niece as Kitty and Georgiana continued to talk excitedly about finding a dress for her to wear to the ball. Kitty had harbored hopes for the theater while in Town, but had never imagined attending a London ball! She had been well on her way to a fit about not having anything grand enough to wear, when Georgiana had offered that one of her dresses might due. With the evening and the morning yet to prepare, she had assured Kitty that her maid would have time to make any necessary alterations. Kitty's countenance had changed so dramatically, relieved by the suggestion, that Georgiana could not help but start describing the detail of various dresses to encourage her greater enthusiasm.
Mrs. Gardiner and Elizabeth exchanged amused glances as the girls continued on as if Mrs. Gardiner had never uttered a sound, while Kitty put on her wrap and bonnet. Mr. Gardiner was happy to see his niece's anticipation of the event, but knew the time for their departure had come. Placing his hat on his head, he raised his arms around his niece and wife, using the air as invisible force to herd his family toward the door. With his characteristic smile, Mr. Gardiner apologized over his shoulder, afraid to actually turn around for fear of losing his niece to another comment, "I am afraid we will return for dinner sooner than you are ready, Mr. Darcy." And with that the sound of Kitty's excited chattering was muted by the close of the door.
"Oh, Elizabeth, William, is this not great news? Kitty is to come to the ball! If you will excuse me, I shall just go and have a look in my closet. I believe the jonquil would flatter her coloring or perhaps..." Georgiana's consideration fell silent as her brother pinched together the skin between his eyes as he was want to do when he was tired and something was taxing his calm. Georgiana thought it best to continue her deliberation elsewhere. "Well, if you will excuse me," she continued deferentially, "I shall go have a look."
"You go ahead. I will be up directly," Elizabeth promised, delighted by Georgiana's spirited generosity.
Darcy allowed Georgiana to pass as she hurriedly preceded them up the stairs. Darcy did not wait for Elizabeth to join him, however. Turning his back on her, absorbed in his own thoughts, he climbed the stairs without her.
Elizabeth watched his retreating form from the entry. In a different circumstance his slight might have left her a little indignant, but more likely amused. Now it served only to bring focus to the mix of emotion she had been experiencing throughout the morning. She had found herself vacillating between vexation at his overall performance and sympathy for his pitiable state of mind, recognizing it to be the cause of the former. But even with that she had slowly been losing patience. And this from only a morning of receiving callers in their own home! If something as trifling as visitors, produced such ill-humor, what might she expect at the ball?
Remembering another such occasion, Elizabeth sighed in dismay. With his current actions showing no improvement, it promised to be a dismal evening. Unless her teasing distracted him, he would be solemn and brooding, seldom dancing or engaging others in the room, as he occupied himself with observing the behavior of Georgiana's gentlemen. Elizabeth frowned as she chewed on the inside of her mouth, realizing she alone would bear the weight of relieving his ill-temper. Her brow twitched archly as she considered the alternative--unless she abandoned him to his solitary obsession and acted as if her husband had not accompanied her. And though Georgiana might be spared the ill-affects of her brother's mood while engaged at a larger gathering, she would not be afforded the same protection from his gravity at the dinner parties and smaller assemblages they were to attend.
Elizabeth had envisioned Georgiana's first season filled with London's gaiety and family's sweet intimacy. But the gloomy picture now revealing itself, portended the doom of all such enjoyment.
When she entered the room, his posture warned he was in no humor to talk. He was slouched in a chair, his feet stretched at length in front of him, his head resting against the tall back, eyes closed beneath furrowed brow, with a sherry in his hand, resting outstretched on the arm of the chair.
But Elizabeth was equally in no humor to repress her feelings
Elizabeth reproved as she prepared herself a cup of tea, "Really, Fitzwilliam. You act as though introducing your sister to society is the most reprehensible duty. It is a wonder Georgiana musters the courage she does when you cast your withering eye on any who dare speak with her."
Quoting his words from another time, "Your conviction that every man who looks at her is either a 'disingenuous fortune hunter' or 'leering sensualist' will be the cause of her despair." Remaining at her position, she turned as she challenged, "I fear none will approach her if you continue in this manner. What would motivate a gentleman to forfeit his self-respect and submit to your deprecation?"
Fitzwilliam opened his eyes, contemplating the contents of his glass as he cynically twisted what society had readily applied to him, "It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single woman in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a husband." Never meeting his wife's look, he took a slow, deliberate drink. Speaking to the deep amber liquid he sneered, "Are you so anxious to rid yourself of my sister?"
Had any remnant of sympathetic affection remained, it was now effectively exterminated by his caustic accusation. Her face grew flush with anger, as she drew closer in opposition, "You know very well, I do not harbor that sentiment. But while you may selfishly wish her always to live under your protection, I would wish Georgiana happy. She is too caring and generous in her affection not to have them reciprocated by a loving husband--not that she must marry now or any time soon." Elizabeth paused, a small voice telling her she was being unfair. She knew he cared deeply for his sister, but his avoidance of her infuriated her. With eyes fixed determinedly on his, she dared him to respond, "My felicity does not rest in marrying-off Georgiana. Does yours rest in the subjugation of her own desire in order to have her near?"
This time Fitzwilliam's eyes did meet hers, with a smoldering, controlled resistance. But he did not speak.
Elizabeth pressed, his silence fueling the fire she felt within, "Georgiana so desperately wishes you proud of her. I am certain she has done everything you ever asked of her. Must you squelch all the pleasure there is to be had in society's company?"
His silence was impenetrable.
Pacing away from him, Elizabeth counseled, "If you do not take care, there may come a time when she will rebel against your domination." She stopped as the image of another person appeared in her mind. Looking into the distance, she considered another possibility, more disturbing than the first. Sadness crept into her voice, "Or perhaps with so generous and accommodating heart, she will completely surrender to its control, becoming as lifeless and sickly as your cousin Anne." Turning, she found him looking at her with intensity. With penetrating solemnity, "Is that what you wish?"
Fitzwilliam rose swiftly from his chair, stalking to the window, shunning any further words from his wife.
"So be it, Mr. Darcy!"
Darcy's shoulders stiffened slightly at the slam of the door.
The pictures on the wall jumped on their mounts as Elizabeth slammed the door behind her, escaping into the townhouse's garden.
"Here now," Mrs. Hobbes chastised as she came around the corner, her face puckered with disapproval, "who's makin' that ruckus?" Seeing a maid nearby, she reckoned her to be the culprit. "Hannah, what do you mean slamming doors like that?" the housekeeper demanded. "Do you want the master's or mistress' displeasure?"
Hannah's eyes were yet wide from the shock she had received as Mrs. Darcy had swept by her without a word. Bobbing as she defended, still taken aback, "Beggin' your pardon, ma'am, but that be who slammed the door."
"What do you mean, girl? Who slammed the door?" Mrs. Hobbes insisted impatiently.
"Mrs. Darcy, ma'am," Hannah explained emphatically.
Mrs. Hobbes looked at the now quiet door. Oh, dear! What a to do. The London housekeeper had recognized her mistress was no shrinking violet the first fortnight the master had brought his new wife to Town. But she had also proven herself just as refined and well-tempered a mistress as any could want. Certainly not showing any of the chaotic caprice what some in houses on the same street were want to heap on their servants.
Mrs. Hobbes turned her attention back to the maid, "Well, girl, best tend to your work. It be no concern of yours." Pity Crane is such a tight-lip. I'll wager he knows what this is all about! Mrs. Hobbes lamented to herself as she returned to her own duties, wishing the master's butler was more of a gossip.
"Oh! Insufferable man!" Desperate for the release of the emotions clamoring within, Elizabeth had rushed for the out-of-doors. She ached to run as she might were she at Pemberley. But she was not; she was in the enclosed garden of their London home. However, even with the encircling walls, she found its confines more agreeable than that of the house.
Traversing the paths quickly, crossing each more than once, Elizabeth took little note of where she walked or what she saw while giving vent to her exasperation.
Unfeeling...arrogant...presumptuous..., the fullness of a hedge fell victim to her vehemence as she batted it, How dare he accuse me of wishing Georgiana gone!
As a little of her vigor dissipated, she made her way to the design's center, sitting down hard on the wrought-iron bench. Declaring critically, but with less violence "Obstinate man." Shaking her head, her hands gesturing in bewilderment, she asked the woman in the fountain's pool, "Why will he not see? Why will he not exert himself to be more agreeable for Georgiana's sake?"
But the woman's hardness rendered her insensitive to Elizabeth's lament. She was not inclined to confide her sage understanding of the husbands and brothers who had passed their time by her water's edge and merely continued emptying the imaginary contents of her vessel.
The realization she was soliciting response from a stone statue, elicited an ironic laugh. You are as responsive as my husband! Although I much prefer the serenity of your expression to the asperity of his.
Elizabeth shivered as the coolness of the air made itself known on the nakedness of her skin. In her fierce haste, she had collected neither wrap nor gloves. Now, with the heat of her feelings subsiding, so too, was that of her skin. Rising to return to the warmth of the house, Elizabeth crossed first to edge of the fountain. Flicking the statue with water, "Keep your secrets, if you will, then. I shall do with out you."
Wrapping her arms about her for what little protection she could derive from an encompassing chill, Elizabeth walked slowly along a path leading directly to the door. Chewing on the inside of her mouth, Elizabeth frowned, considering the other taciturn creature who had been occupying her thoughts and stirring her feelings. You, however, I can not do without.
Now granted the opportunity to interject, Elizabeth's affections did indeed begin advocating for Fitzwilliam as one elderly gentleman had hoped. He is an excellent brother. Of course he will protect his sister strenuously. And after so narrowly averting a disastrous liaison with Wickham, how else might he look at gentlemen? Wickham was a man Fitzwilliam ought to have been able to trust, as he was for all purposes a member of the family. Yet Wickham used the jewel of the Darcy family to betray for revenge and profit. Elizabeth thought ruefully, Had Papa attended to Lydia's companionship as vigilantly as Fitzwilliam to Georgiana's, my sister might likewise have escaped her own desperate match.
Elizabeth conceded the points, but yielded not the entire match as she quietly pushed the door to behind her. Yet, is there not a happier mean? Can not Georgiana be protected and held in esteem without the burden of his disinclination? But her scolding had accomplished little good in persuading him in that regard and likely a great deal in ensuring his obduracy. While he had not retaliated in kind, his defiant look warned, he was as determined to remain unmoved as she to move him.
Leaning back against the door, she considered the error of her emotionally-charged approach, however unintended it had been. If she had been enlightened to any aspect of her husband's character, it was that he feared open ridicule and being wrong. A wave of regret washed over her with painful acknowledgement. And what had she just done? And on a subjects of no trifling import--his personal conduct and discernment. Closing her eyes, the manifestation of his rejection filled her view, as her own fear was realized, How he must think ill of me at this moment!
Another shiver, exchanging the heat of the house with the cold of her skin, brought her back to the presence of the empty hall. The proposition was unbearable and one she felt compelled to rectify immediately. Elizabeth made her way up the stairs to the drawing room with singular purpose, I must speak with him! We must be reconciled.
Elizabeth entered to find only Mr. Crane as he prepared to remove a cart from the room. "Mr. Crane, is Mr. Darcy not here?" She asked with mild anxiety showing in her eyes.
"No, madam. I believe Mr. Darcy is in his study."
Mr. Crane resumed his work as Mrs. Darcy turned to view the study's door from her vantage within the drawing room. Gathering her courage, she crossed the distance to the closed door and prepared to knock. Whether from knowing her father's use of the door to eschew the impositions of his world or a heightened sensitivity to her husband's mood, a feeling of foreboding stayed her hand .
"Mr. Crane, has Mr. Darcy been within for very long?"
Crane stopped his progress down the hall to reply with his characteristic directness, "I believe he repaired to the study, roughly at the time you departed for the garden, ma'am."
Mrs. Darcy blushed, realizing the right inference their butler might make from his observations of their movements. Crane discretely took no notice of the affect of his information, returning his attention to the cart .
Though attempting to school her growing anxiety, her voice quivered slightly as she inquired further, "Mr. Crane, your pardon. Did my husband..." Clearing her throat, "Did Mr. Darcy speak with you before he withdrew?" Elizabeth cringed inwardly, feeling the meaning of her words.
Crane straightened from his object, informing her formally, but with an undertone of compassion for her predicament, "Yes, ma'am. He did. He left strict instructions to not be disturbed."
"Thank you, Mr. Crane. I shall not detain you, further," Mrs. Darcy dismissed, obviously distracted by the import of her husband's wish.
Elizabeth considered the wooden barrier between them. Fitzwilliam's instructions might well have been intended for his servants, alone. But, given the circumstance, she could not help but wonder that Mr. Crane, in his nonintrusive way, was warning of her inclusion as well, by giving the slightest emphasis to the word, 'strict.' < p>As great as her longing was to know all was well again between she and Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth could not deny the serious disadvantage of knowing not his inclination in that regard before approaching him. She had charged ahead earlier with disastrous results. Though it was against her nature to wait, she felt it best to hope for a more opportune occasion to speak with him.
But the thought of enduring through the whole of the evening under the strain of their discord brought her close to despair. Attempting to bolster her own spirits, she suggested, Perhaps in the privacy of our chambers as we ready for dinner. Yes, that should do very nicely, she concluded, optimistically. Patting the door lightly, with affection, she murmured, "'Til then, Mr. Darcy."
The scratching of Darcy's pen ceased as he heard the voice of his wife, muffled by the study's closed door. Looking from beneath his furrowed brow, his eyes lifted to the door with great force, as if attempting to bore through it to see whether she intended to encroach upon his preserve. Hearing a second voice, presumably possessed by his butler, the features Darcy raised to the door were hard and unyielding. Twirling the quill slowly between his thumb and finger in guarded contemplation, he waited her actions. Once more, her voice came with Crane's in answer
The set of his jaw tightened as her voice came again. She persists, of course, Darcy condemned with the arch of his right brow. The quill stopped its "pacing" with the ensuing silence. Bracing himself, She will intrude any moment.
But the door did not move on its hinges nor communicate any request for entry. The barrier remained unchallenged.
The softening affect of approval flickered through his eyes, as he nodded slightly, recognizing her restraint. Recollecting himself with deep breath, Darcy returned to the task he had set his mind to, allowing it alone to occupy his thoughts until such time as propriety demanded his removal to his dressing chamber.
Mary entered Georgiana's closet bearing a gown carefully draped over her arms.
"Mary, good, you are come at the best moment," Georgiana greeted warmly as she held up two gowns in comparison. "Your judgment in selecting the right gown for an occasion is not surpassed."
"Do you wish a different gown for this evening, Miss Georgiana?" Mary asked evenly, though somewhat surprised, since her mistress rarely changed her selection once decided upon in the morning.
Georgiana looked at the gown Mary had already pressed for the evening, "Oh, no, Mary. The amethyst will do very well." Georgiana resumed her comparison of the colors and lines of the dresses in her hands as she continued her explanation, "I am trying to make out which gown might put Miss Bennet to best advantage. She is to accompany us to the ball on the morrow and has not brought a suitable gown to Town. So she is to have one of mine. I hope she will find one to her liking. Will you please set out a few gowns you think might best flatter? The ladies will repair to my chambers after dinner to make preparations. We will require your expert seamwork, Mary. Though I hope the alterations to not be too great."
Georgiana turned at Mary's acknowledgment. It held little if any of her usual spirit. Her maid might rightly have been concerned for the lack of time allowed for the changes. However, Mary was not one to shrink from a difficult task, having always applied herself with vigor to any request Georgiana made of her .
"Mary, do not be troubled, I will supply my assistance and I am certain Mrs. Darcy would allow for Ellen's help," Georgiana reassured. She paused, considering Mary's downcast countenance. "But this is not what troubles you is it, Mary?" Georgiana judged as much as asked. Having returned her clothes to their place, Georgiana relieved Mary of her burden, spreading the gown on the bed .
Leading her maid to a chair, Georgiana urged gently, "Mary, do come. Pray, will you not confide in me?"
Mary accepted the chair Georgiana offered, but remained silent, her eyes dolefully averted.
Georgiana thought a moment, considering whether to touch upon the subject she felt must be the cause of her friend's distress. With a gentle compassion, Georgiana offered, "Mary, are you very sad for being parted from John?"
Mary looked away trying to hide the tears she could no longer keep within.
"Oh, Mary," Georgiana grieved, "I am dreadfully sorry. Can you forgive me for taking you from him for so many months?"
Mary's watery eyes finally met Georgiana's with alarm. Wiping the tears from her skin, Mary objected emotionally, "No Georgiana, you are not to blame. These scant months are not so mean as the years to come."
Mary's use of her Christian name, informed Georgiana of her friend's profound emotion. Comforting Mary's hands with her own, Georgiana's voice was almost a whisper, as if to ease the pain her question might bring, "Mary...Has not John given you his assurances?"
"That is just it, Georgiana. John assures me he loves me, but says he cannot ask for my hand for want of a position that might be years before he can secure."
Georgiana's expression changed from shock to bewilderment. "Mary, I do not comprehend. Is John to leave Pemberley? Is his wage not sufficient for support of a wife?" Georgiana paused, considering a solution to her conjecture. "I will speak to my brother immediately. I will persuade him to increase John's wages if that is what is to be done." Georgiana's affections for Mary, gave her resolve a boldness that knowledge of her brother might not corroborate were she to consider her claim
"Georgiana, you have already acted more generously toward John and me than either of us know how to repay. Mr. Darcy is a good man, miss. And his wages are fair. It is not from him that John desires more, it is from himself."
"Mary, I do not yet understand..."
"Pray, Georgiana, may I speak plainly and you will not breathe a word? My heart most certainly will break were the master to learn of John's desires and dismiss him because of what I have revealed."
No matter what the cost to her in promising such a confidence, Georgiana resolved to hear her, "Mary, speak as plainly as you will that I might understand and help you. I will not reveal a word."
Knowing her mistress to be as honest as the day is long, Mary was satisfied with her promise and relieved to be able to share her burden with her trusted friend. Drawing breath to compose herself, Mary explained, "As John's family has long been in service to the masters of Pemberley, it was never to be questioned that he should follow the example of his father and father's father and serve in the great house. But all these years, a yearning, even secret to its owner, has been locked deep away. Only just now has he looked into his heart to discover what has lain within.
"God bless the romantic fool that he is...," Mary blushed remembering their sweet encounter when he confessed it had been her love that had made him know himself. "...he has confessed to me his two greatest desires-- to love me and provide for me all my days..." (Georgiana sighed appreciatively) "And a desire to create with his own hands rather than to serve.
"Forgive me, Mary, why is this to be a problem? John's creations are exquisite if the cameo he fashioned for me is at all representative of his skill. Surely, his intention does not insult our family in any."
"Yes, he has talent to be sure, if I may say. But to be a master craftsman--a jeweler with a fine store--he must apprentice himself for what might rightly span a twelvemonth or more. And after such time, he must work as a journeyman to make his way and in Providence's own time would he then be set up in his own shop.
"Even with all his mother and sisters do, John is his family's greatest means of provision until that time he deems his brothers old enough, for he will not allow them to work while they are so young." Mary continued, seeing the unspoken question in her listener's eyes. "As an apprentice, John might only expect his room and a little food, but no more. Not until he is a journeyman may he keep the price of his creations. You see, then, Georgiana, his family could not survive the period of apprenticeship."
Mary added quietly, as a hopelessness again consumed her. "So it is an impossible dream, yet one that will not let go his heart. And it is as a wife of a jeweler that he wishes to have me, not as the wife of an underbutler." Mary wiped away a tear as she fell silent with heavy resignation.
The despondency Georgiana witnessed before her, tore at her heart. Kneeling beside Mary, Georgiana placed her arms around her, proclaiming, "This shall not be an impossible dream. It cannot. Providence has brought you together. He shall make a way for your love. We must be most attentive to what we are guided to do." Drawing back from her so she might see her countenance, Georgiana encouraged, determinedly, "We must not lose hope." Mary nodded obediently through the tears that had returned to wet her face.
A knock could be heard at the chambers' outer door, but Georgiana stayed Mary as she moved to answer it. "Mary, I will see to that. I expect it will be Mrs. Darcy. You remain and compose yourself."
The exchange of voices could be heard in the outer chamber before Georgiana's return.
Gently clasping Mary's hands, Georgiana regained her seat across from her maid. "Now, all is settled, Mary. You are to go have a comforting cup of tea--chamomile, perhaps--then a nice lie-down."
Mary made to protest, but Georgiana prevented her, as she straightened authoritatively in her chair, "No, I will not allow anything else. Ellen has been secured to assist me for dinner this evening, so you will not be missed." Her attempt to look stern, evoked a grin from her maid. Georgiana smiled warmly, "However, you will be greatly missed after dinner if you are not here to help with selections for Miss Bennet."
"Thank you, Georgiana." With a bit of her usual spirit returning, Mary promised, "We will have Miss Bennet putting all the other ladies to shame--excepting you of course, Miss Darcy."
"Yes, well, we could not have that!" Georgiana confirmed insincerely.
Their laughter was light as they embraced. "Rest well, Mary."
Georgiana found herself again in the dubious position of watching her friend take leave with a lightened heart, while taking for herself the responsibility of discerning what was to come. The conviviality she had just shared with Mary failed under the burden she had just assumed.
Her smile faded to serious contemplation, as she crossed to her dressing table. Retrieving the small velvet bag from her box, Georgiana removed it's contents to the palm of her hand. As her fingers traced the fine detail of the angel's wings, William's words echoed unbidden, It is inadvisable to concern yourself with another's attachments...if their happiness is to be, let it be of their own making.
Gathering her hands around the cameo, Georgiana supported her elbows on the table's surface. Perching her chin atop her hands, Georgiana shook her head at her reflection, sighing at the enormity of what she had just assumed. Now you have done it, Miss Darcy. You have played matchmaker--of which William already thinks ill. And now you are contemplating the means for meddling with a man's livelihood. Georgiana bowed her head onto her hands, Dear God in Heaven, pray, what am I to do now?
"Mrs. Darcy...Mrs. Darcy, ma'am..." Ellen gently rocked her mistress' shoulder. "Are you unwell, ma'am?"
"No, no. I am quite well, thank you, Ellen," Elizabeth tried to think through her disorientation as she sat up, her book sliding to the floor. She had not realized she had fallen asleep.
Elizabeth accepted Ellen's assistance as she rose from her couch. Remembering her original purpose for waiting in their chambers, Elizabeth inquired haltingly, "Ellen... has Mr. Darcy dressed?"
"Aye, ma'am. He was just going down as I was coming out from Miss Darcy."
He has just been here, then? Elizabeth realized with dismay And he did not waken me?
Seeing her mistress' fallen countenance, Ellen apologized, "Your pardon, ma'am. You were sleeping so peacefully and as I was seeing to Miss Darcy, I thought you might rest a while longer." Her words having worked little change, Ellen offered confidently, "We'll have you ready quick as a wink, though, ma'am and your guests will be none the wiser."
Elizabeth was not conscious of her maid's presence as her fingers traced lightly over her lips missing the gesture of tenderness he would bestow when finding it his pleasure to awaken her from a rest. The deep whispering of her name and the warmth of his lips pressed gently to hers would call her forth from her sleep. Opening her eyes, she would waken to the depths of his loving eyes, as a princess in a "once upon a time."
Elizabeth considered sadly, Now he has come and gone, leaving me with no sweet remembrances...
"Mrs. Darcy?" Ellen asked, concerned for her mistress' abstraction. "Will you be dressing for dinner, then?"
Elizabeth stared at Ellen for a moment, recollecting herself and her optimism, Will I be dressing...? Perhaps I may yet speak with him, if I make haste. "Yes, Ellen," Elizabeth agreed emphatically. "Let us hurry and get me downstairs!"
Ellen startled at her mistress' sudden turn and energetic movement and scurried after her through to her closet.
Were she to be observed, as she descended the stairs, Elizabeth's pace would be thought unseemly and ill-advised for length of her gown, but she cared only for the private moment she might have with her husband.
Pausing at its entry, Elizabeth was gratified to find the drawing room occupied by only one--a solitary figure comfortably situated in a chair. The chair--the one in which he had been seated when their argument had begun. Unlike before, though, Elizabeth stopped to discern his mood. With his legs crossed over the other, a small volume resting on top, with his hand poised to turn the page, her husband appeared the picture of equanimity. But could this be?
The rustling of her gown was the only sound as her slippers tread carefully across the carpet, although Elizabeth expected her husband to look up any moment at the sound of her beating heart, so loud was it in her ears as she approached.
Settling lightly in the middle of the sofa's cushion, Elizabeth's distance from her husband reflected her uncertainty of his reception of her. The sound of page turning against page, broke the silence, but no other sound followed.
Elizabeth looked worriedly into the hands on her lap. She had thought to apologize immediately for the manner of her reproach, if not the actual content, knowing her words had not been entirely without merit. But with his silence making his evasion obvious, her course was now unsure. If she engaged him, would she encounter defiance or acceptance?
Scanning the contents of the room then down into her lap again, Elizabeth's gaze finally came to rest on her husband.
Darcy turned the page of his book, though its content eluded his thoughts. With his wife's entrance, his mind had become completely focused on maintaining the composure he had secured.
The labor of his letters in the isolation of his study had enabled him to moderate his emotions for the present. Even though their owner had not permitted them voice, his feelings had had the impertinence to express themselves just the same--the thick, heavy lines and the hasty blotches of the black ink had fairly shouted from the pages' surface. It was a most inappropriate tone for the intention of the missives, with the unhappy result of more than one letter being set aside to be written again later. No matter the vexation of doubling his obligation, though, the exercise had proved valuable in relieving the top pressure of his feelings, reducing them to a more manageable state were they not tested too sorely.
His resolve had avoided trial earlier, upon leaving his refuge to dress. Elizabeth had been sleeping deeply in their outer chamber, allowing him to prepare and quit her without notice. But now, as he surreptitiously observed her behavior, he knew he would not be afforded another such deliverance. It was an inescapable failing of his wife's temperament that she was want to renew a "discussion," particularly if she had not verbalized all that was on her mind--a failing he had indulged on prior occasions. However, on this one, he possessed no such intention. With actual resolution of his inner turmoil not yet come, he could not account for the temper of its expression were his struggle to be revealed. Though subdued, his anger still demanded its due, and hurt begged its indulgence, while truth yet attempted to reason for acknowledgment.
A nervousness elevated the pitch of her voice as Elizabeth entreated quietly, "Fitzwilliam, may we speak?"
Her demeanor spoke of remorse, although he doubted its extent. While often ultimately pliant when meeting with his disapproval, his wife was not one to readily give up her conviction to persuade. Closing the cover to his book, Darcy considered his response.
His voice was even and schooled as he gave her his attention, "We may, depending upon the subject."
"About this morning..." Elizabeth began uneasily as she looked into her lap, suddenly unable to meet his return. "How I spoke to you..."
"Mrs. Darcy, let me save you the anxiety of your address. This morning is a subject I do not wish to discuss."
His interruption took her unaware, demanding her scrutiny. Lifting her face to search his countenance, Elizabeth was more disturbed by the reserve she discovered than any emotion she had feared to find. An overt display of anger or hurt would have directed her steps, but with his feelings hidden away, the path to an understanding was equally obscured.
"Fitzwilliam, please," Elizabeth beseeched, looking for any symptom of acceptance, "Will you not allow me to apologize? My words were unkind..."
"Yes, they were," Darcy condemned as the steel of his voice began giving permission to his anger. Clearly mastering what threatened, before he continued, "However, let us not speak of It. I do not wish to be in ill-humor for our guests."
Elizabeth's heart was full with what she might say, but she could not speak.
Darcy sighed. He could not be insensible to the tears forming in her eyes. Setting his book aside, he paced the floor before her, polishing the ring on his little finger. His manner remained firm, though softened by a compassion in his tone as he turned to stand before her, "My readiness is not equal to yours, Elizabeth. Pray, will you not respect the private reflection I require before satisfying the needs of your own urgency?"
The sound of Mr. Crane discreetly clearing his throat was heard as Darcy held her eyes with his, waiting for her to acquiesce.
"Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, and Miss Bennet," Crane announced formally as though the persons were unknown to the Darcys.
A nod, barely discernible gave her silent answer.
Elizabeth's eyes fell as Darcy left her to receive their guests.
Crane's steady voice announced the entrance of the last anticipated guest, allowing Elizabeth a moment unobserved. Smoothing a single tear from her cheek, she mustered what little spirit remained to welcome her family.
Continued in Part 2
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