Georgiana peered into the hall's glass, evaluating her reflection. The young woman returning her regard concerned her. Her expression would only invite concern and question--questions she did not wish to contract. She had used her time since dressing to consider the needs of two people, but had found it little good in discovering what was to be done, leaving the dissatisfaction of her inner meditation plainly seen. Georgiana purposefully relaxed the tension showing in the crease of her brows and the pull of her teeth on her bottom lip. It was an unbecoming gesture, she knew and one which had drawn unfavorable comment while at school--A lady always appears composed, serene; she does not bite her lip or any other part of her person.But try as she might, her immediate response to discomfort did not readily obey until the direction of her mind brought it into submission. The sound of a familiar voice drew her attention, accomplishing her intention as it encouraged the brightening of all her features in anticipation of meeting with its owner.
Georgiana had not long to wait before her entrance into the drawing room was noticed by a particular gentleman.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam," Georgiana greeted warmly, extending her hand to her cousin. The confidence of his smile, as he accepted her hand, soothed the anxious feelings her heart had not yet yielded to hope. Looking into his eyes--his enthusiastic brown eyes--she felt, rather than knew, all would be well.
"Georgiana, I have thought of your arrival with great anticipation. I have much with which to acquaint you." Fitzwilliam spoke pleasantly, but the expression of his eyes intimated greater purpose.
Of course, the request in his letter! The momentary coloring of her cheeks acknowledged her share of the secret. But her curiosity was not to be satisfied as Mr. Crane entered the room, announcing the commencement of dinner.
Colonel Fitzwilliam's eyes danced with the pleasure of the continued mystery as he relinquished her attention to that of her escort. With the odd number of gentlemen, Mr. Gardiner had been bestowed the uncommon pleasure of escorting his own lady in addition to the younger woman of the family.
"Mrs. Darcy, I believe the pleasure is mine this evening." Fitzwilliam extended his arm to his hostess.
Though uneven, the dinner companions had little trouble compensating for their number, with the flow of their conversation unfettered by the usual dictates of table decorum. Rather than directing the main of their comments within a given pairing, each participated in a more natural ebb and flow as that between family and friends.
Even so, it had not escaped the notice of more than one at the table that one lady was not joining in with equal felicity. Expecting his hostess to engage those gathered round her table with her charming wit and spirit, the Colonel had been surprised to find her subdued. She kindly answered his and others' queries. However, she offered neither new subject, nor added levity to the ones in circulation.
As he conversed easily, his mind worked on the situation as if trying to solve a puzzle. The manner of those assembled did not appear out of the customary way. The Gardiner's were genteel as he remembered them. Miss Bennet seemed as eager to know more of himself as she did at the Darcy's wedding breakfast (a small social detail he had conveniently forgotten before this dinner) and Darcy was politely engaging his guests as his cousin knew him to do, particularly when hosting close acquaintances. But still, his sensitivity to the demeanor of a group informed him a detail had eluded him.
He continued to sort through the available intelligence without drawing attention to his musing. Georgiana's contributions were less regular perhaps than that of the others. Colonel Fitzwilliam knew her well enough though to recognize the only unusual aspect of her participation was the silent probing of her hazel eyes from across the table. Her growing anticipation sparkled in her eyes as a child anxiously waiting for the moment she might know the contents of a promised package. That her curiosity often drew her gaze to his tempted him to keep the secret of his purpose longer, ensuring her continued pursuit. He had oft heard the lauding of eyes brightest blue or darkest night. But as her eyes once again sought his, he could think of none other to praise than the mysterious allure of variable tones.
"Georgiana, the children have not stopped asking after you since learning you were to again be in London. May I tell them you will soon honor us with a call?"
Georgiana blushed, as she readily shifted her attention to Mrs. Gardiner. She hoped she had not noticed how particularly she had been looking at the Colonel. "Your children are so dear. Yes, I would be delighted. Elizabeth, the morning would allow for a visit, if only a brief one, before we call upon Lady Clandon would it not?"
"I, too am most anxious to see my cousins," Elizabeth confirmed. Glancing down the length of the table to her husband, "Perhaps an early start tomorrow would allow us a brief visit?"
Darcy appeared somewhat discomforted. "Uhm, yes, I believe it would allow you time."
Elizabeth's eyes widened momentarily as she understood the nuance of his reply. "You are not to come then tomorrow?" Elizabeth asked, meekly, both surprised and disappointed.
He could easily discern this was not the situation for informing his wife of his intentions for the coming day. It was not that he had hidden his plans from her. Nor were they out of the ordinary from his practice during other London stays. But in the present circumstance, he knew she would not be pleased and felt it impolitic to discuss it. He did not wish for the strain between them to be laid open before the others. Attempting an evenness he did not feel, "I had planned to make inquiries of certain gentlemen, tomorrow, but to join you well in time to collect Miss Bennet for the ball. Do not make yourself uneasy, the carriage will be at your disposal." Elizabeth's behavior, as her husband replied, informed the understanding of the persons who surreptitiously observed her. She had waited on his answer, with a glimmer of hope. But with his measured decline, she had looked to her lap, covering her disappointment with the motion of patting her mouth with her cloth.
Fitzwilliam suddenly had all the pieces. Not only was Elizabeth not participating with characteristic humor, she was not engaging in one of her best sports; she was not teasing Darcy. From their earliest acquaintance, he had admired and silently congratulated Elizabeth for being the only woman to ever set Darcy on his ear, while maintaining his good opinion.
Tonight, however, the interaction between the two had been very different. When Darcy would speak, Elizabeth's eyes looked sadly pained or not at all, dropping to the food on her plate. And he recalled any time Darcy had directly addressed his wife, he had chosen his words carefully.Ah, but this is it, Fitzwilliam concluded, The Darcys have quarreled, but not yet come to agreement or perhaps made reparations. An unfortunate turn, he concluded, but not surprising. With Darcy prone to judging others according to his own course, and Elizabeth's honed abilities in verbal sparring, it could not all be marital bliss could it? While marriage possessed many allurements, not having to mend a wife's wounded feelings or placate her ire was one benefit of bachelorhood for which he was ever grateful.
Georgiana's and Mrs. Gardiner eye's met as the silence increased the distance between the persons at head and foot of the table. "Would early tomorrow be convenient before leaving for Benttree?" Georgiana hastened to relieve the awkwardness.
"Yes, of course, we shall be ready. And the children before any, I am certain."
Knowing she could not stay in his presence any longer, Elizabeth used the one means at her disposal, "Ladies, I believe our business waits us above stairs. If present company will excuse, we shall join you as soon as our task is complete." Elizabeth rose, signaling the time for the women of the party to take leave of the men.
The other gentlemen patiently waited their host, each consulting his own thoughts as he savored the last of the wine. They were not unsympathetic to Darcy's apparent dilemma. But it just was not done to speak of it.
Darcy's ring was again object of his twisting as he slouched back into his chair, staring past the top of his plate. But whatever his thoughts, they were soon relegated to a subordinate position as he roused to attend his guests.
Clearing his throat as he straightened and leaned forward, "Gentleman, what will be your pleasure? Shall we wait the ladies here or will you have a go at cards? I dare say, they will be at their selections for some time."
"You care to lose a few pounds, then Darcy?" Fitzwilliam challenged with a sly twinkle showing in his expression. He thought cards an excellent distraction from whatever his cousin's problem.
"Sir, I should willingly meet your challenge, but I wager it would be you, not I who would find his pockets wanting were we to play," Darcy returned confidently.
"But Darcy, I have brought my own cards to be sure of an honest game," Fitzwilliam laughed as he objected. Not that he actually believed Darcy would attempt to defraud him, especially not when his uncle would stand to lose as well. But it was an odd quirk lingering from their childhood years to see who could succeed with the most trickery without discovery. Friendly offensive tactics were all part of the game.
Darcy snickered wryly, "Only the honesty of the gentleman makes likewise the play." Without giving Fitzwilliam chance for rebuttal, he consulted his uncle, "Mr. Gardiner, what say you? Will you trust this rapscallion to a game of cards?"
Fitzwilliam interjected, "Of course, sir, we need not wager, if you are not so inclined."
The gentleman responded with his ready good humor, "Indeed, sir, I am inclined to play, if you wish."
Darcy rose as he invited, "Let us to the table then."
Snifters held their choice liquid before the gentlemen, who were comfortably situated around the table, with the fish at the ready.
The Colonel made it a point of pushing to one side the stack of cards Darcy had provided, as he withdrew his own cards from the breast of his red coat. Darcy's dimpled grin accepted his cousin's continuing offensive.
"What shall we play then, gentleman? Mr. Gardiner, are you familiar with the game Ving-et-un?" the Colonel asked in suggestion.
"Yes, indeed I am. I find it an agreeable choice."
"I believe the honor of first deal belongs to you, sir." Fitzwilliam deferred politely to the elder relation, laying the cards before him.
"Now, gentlemen, the game is Ving-et-un. Let us name the stakes," Gardiner suggested with an expression informing the younger men he was not faint of purse. "I propose five pounds," Gardiner indicated the highest value fish.
Darcy and Fitzwilliam exchanged a quick glance, each beginning to suspect they had underestimated the gentleman's propensity to play high. But they neither would shrink back from the challenge. Raising their glasses, they silently condoned the suggestion. However, neither had finished availing themselves of the spirit, when their astonishment paused their sips. Gardiner's arrangement of the cards displayed a flourish and flair certainly no novice or even social player possessed. Darcy and Fitzwilliam exchanged yet another look, with Fitzwilliam being the first to voice what each was thinking as the glasses lowered to the table.
"Am I to assume then, sir, you are not newly acquainted with this game?" the Colonel asked, smiling wryly.
Gardiner chuckled as he lay the first card face-down before his two players. "A student must have some means of support as he studies the law of the Realm, sir," the roundness of his smiling cheeks creating a cherubic affect as he dismissed his expertise.
"I think cousin, we have been taken in," Fitzwilliam declared as he waited for his card.
Each glanced at the value of his down-turned card before tossing a fish into the table's center. Darcy twitched the edge of his cards against the table, silently requesting another. When he had suggested cards, he had only expected a game of Commerce or Whist for a companionable way to pass the time. However, an evening of matching ability against these two, while assuming personal risk as he dared his chances, suited his mood much better.
"Twelve or three showing," Gardiner declared, performing his duty as dealer .
Darcy's hand subtly sliced the air over his cards, indicating his refusal of additional cards, the sum of the present ones inscrutable from his expression.
"Colonel?" Gardiner asked, his hand ready to place another card if his other player wished it.
Mrs. Gardiner lingered behind with Elizabeth as Kitty and Georgiana walked ahead down the hall, with Kitty chatting enthusiastically about their purpose. She glanced at her niece with concern as her pace indicated an equal willingness for the others to out strip them.
Her demeanor was so altered from only hours before, Mrs. Gardiner was disturbed to know its cause. Her niece was not usually one to suffer long under passing circumstance. So it was that Mrs. Gardiner had wondered throughout dinner at her niece's unabated sadness, if that indeed was the emotion rightly perceived. When the others were out of hearing, "Lizzy, are you unwell, dear?"
Elizabeth returned her aunt's gaze briefly, mustering a small smile, although one not quite reaching her eyes. "No, thank you Aunt. I am well."
A few steps took the pair further in silence as Mrs. Gardiner decided whether to offer assistance.
"You do not seem yourself is all. You will call upon me if I may be of some comfort?"
Elizabeth's chin quivered as she stopped and turned to her aunt. And then despite all her effort, the tears came.
Mrs. Gardiner consoled her niece against her, allowing her sobs to express for the moment the apparent hopelessness she felt. "Dear, dear Lizzy, let us remove to your chambers." Mrs. Gardiner guided her charge gently toward her door.
Once inside, Mrs. Gardiner seated herself next to Elizabeth on a couch, allowing her sorrow to flow onto her shoulder, stroking her niece's hair as she might comfort one of her own dear daughters. As the young woman's weeping began to subside, Mrs. Gardiner ventured softly, "Lizzy, will you tell me what causes you to despair?"
"Oh, Aunt, he does not love me," Elizabeth's tear began a fresh, her words muffled as she spoke into the comfort of the elder woman's embrace. "I have hurt him deeply and now he does not love me."
"There, there, Lizzy, you can not mean Mr. Darcy," she assured as much as questioned.
Elizabeth straightened, working to gain composure as she dabbed her eyes and nose with her handkerchief. Taking a deep breath, Elizabeth explained. "We argued after you left. If one can call it such--I scolded him, Aunt," Elizabeth spoke looking up, ruing her words, "and he turned away from me; he would have none of it. He locked himself away and he will not even allow my apology. And now he has decided to be away the whole of tomorrow." Her eyes fell to her lap as she worried the small cloth in her hands. "His heart is hardened against me."
The warmth of Mrs. Gardiner's hand met with Elizabeth's as she patted it before leaving her for a decanter on a nearby table. Returning with a compassionate smile and a small glass of sherry, Mrs. Gardiner listened with the understanding of a woman married many years.
As Elizabeth sipped her glass, emotionally exhausted from the retelling, Mrs. Gardiner considered the turn of events. Each had hurt the other by acting upon what came naturally to his own disposition, but not to best advantage of the other's, with grievous result. But she had no doubt of Lizzy's love for her husband, nor of his love for her. She did not believe irreparable damage had been done.
"Lizzy, do you wish my counsel?"
"Yes, Aunt, I would be so grateful." Elizabeth accepted readily, knowing her aunt to be a good wife to her husband and gentle in her wisdom.
"Kitty, what do you think? If I did not know it to be my own dress, I would have said it was made expressly for you. The color favors you even more than the last." Georgiana so hoped Kitty would find a gown to her liking.
The full-length glass reflected the image of a woman Kitty was not wholly unacquainted with, but whose elegance was not at all familiar. Kitty traced the neck of the bodice with her fingers as she twisted to view the back. The jonquil-colored silk was more beautiful than any she had ever seen or felt. And certainly more elegant than any dress she had ever had the pleasure to try, let alone consider wearing to a private ball. Her mother would have been overcome by the exquisite lace-work alone.
"Mary, which necklace do you think?"
"What do you say to this one?" Mary held the ends of the gold and cherry twist so the necklace lay against Kitty's exposed skin as Mrs. Gardiner moved into the room.
Kitty's enthusiasm bubbled over as she turned for the woman to see, "Aunt Gardiner, is this not the loveliest gown you have ever seen?"
As she chose a chair near to her, Mrs. Gardiner shared an assuring and appreciative smile with her. "Yes, it is very lovely, Kitty. Miss Darcy, you are very generous to allow Kitty to borrow one of your gowns."
"Not at all, Mrs. Gardiner, helping Kitty choose only adds to the pleasure yet to come. Now Kitty, I know which I would choose; we must hear your thoughts." Georgiana urged, lightly as she wondered what had become of Elizabeth.
Kitty surveyed the gowns spread about the room, "The violet has such a beautiful flounce and the wrap of the emerald is beautiful.. .but oh, the crimson is daring..." Kitty considered her image again. The amber of her gown almost shimmered in the candle's light. "Georgiana you do care for this one?"
"Yes, Kitty (for they had quickly become resolved to using each other's Christian name). You make all the dresses lovely, but this one gives you a special air--one no gentleman will be want to dismiss. " Georgiana's smile was shy, but clear as to her meaning.
"Aunt, where is Lizzy? I want her to see," Kitty pouted a little.
"She will come, Kitty. She wishes to see your selection as much as you wish to show her. Now is this gown to be the one?"
Elizabeth slipped quietly into the room as Kitty, pronounced it so.
"Kitty, you are very beautiful," Elizabeth immediately approved her sister's choice.
Kitty turned her attention back to the glass, smiling at her image, too pleased to notice the tightness of her sister's eyes that comes from the shedding of many tears.
That Elizabeth had been crying, Georgiana was quick to discern, though she now appeared recollected--a composure which might properly account for her delay. In the time Georgiana had known Elizabeth, it had not been often she had known her to be moved to tears. What concern had so moved her? Now, when all was to be gay in preparation for the ball?
With the curious exchange at dinner's end, she could not help but wonder that her brother was somehow connected with Elizabeth's present distress. It troubled Georgiana to know an infelicity existed between the two people she cared for most in all the world. She dearly wished to be of comfort to Elizabeth, though she knew it best that Mrs. Gardiner had apparently been her sister's confidante. Mrs. Gardiner seemed wise in the ways of man and wife and possessed an objectivity she could not claim. Their time together must have done her some good for Elizabeth did now seem calm--though her joy had not been restored.
Georgiana had succeeded earlier in laying aside her own troubles for the duration of dinner and for the time she and Kitty had been talking of balls and gowns. But now with the addition of Elizabeth's, all her earlier feelings and considerations called upon her again.
As each lady endeavored their part of polite conversation while Mary marked the skirt for shortening, it was only Kitty who did not also quietly contemplate a subject of greater consequence.
"There now, Miss Bennet, I have my marks. If I may, I'll set to work on it straight away."
The room was oddly still as the ladies entered the drawing room. Concentrated around a table, were three men, so absorbed by the object of their play the entrance of the fairer sex escaped their notice.
Darcy twitched his cards against the table. With the addition of one more from the deck Fitzwilliam held, Darcy rested back in his chair, a wry smile of satisfaction lifting one side of his mouth.
Gardiner nodded. A card was laid face-up before him. A broad, knowing smile over-spread his features.
In turn, each revealed his cards. Darcy, "Twenty." Gardiner, "One and Twenty."
"I say, good show!" Fitzwilliam congratulated with no little credulity. And none more than Darcy felt.
Both gentleman had showed themselves admirably enough, taking in a small share of the evening's winnings. But it had been Mr. Gardiner who had proved himself the elder statesman of Ving-et-un.
Darcy's cool gaze held Gardiner for a moment before dissolving into a genuine smile of admiration. "Well, done, sir." Darcy firmly clasped his uncle's hand in congratulation.
Darcy twisted in his chair to look behind him, as Fitzwilliam's greeting alerted them of the ladies' return. "Ladies, thank you for coming to our aid. We were just about to lose another to this gentleman."
Mrs. Gardiner's eyes twinkled as she reproved, "Mr. Gardiner, you have not been taking advantage of these dear men, have you?"
"Not at all my dear," Gardiner defended lightly as he rose stiffly from his seat. "These gentlemen were kind enough to engage me in a game, which politeness prevented me from declining."
Mrs. Gardiner's remembrances of her husband's past talent shown in her eyes. It had supplied more than one delightful surprise during their courtship, though she never encouraged the activity, nor openly condoned it. "You have not left them in want, I hope."
"I assure you, madam, my cousin and I are quite solvent, though lighter of purse and pride for the honor of playing against one so capable." Darcy complimented as he closed from the table.
"Shall we engage in an activity in which I know I can not lose? Georgiana, if you are not too tired, will you delight us at the pianoforte before we must depart?" Fitzwilliam persuaded confidently. He had not forgotten his mission of speaking with her alone before the night's end and hoped yet for an opportunity.
"May I turn for you?" Fitzwilliam offered, pulling a chair close as the others situated themselvesabout the room.
The intensity of his look alerted Georgiana to a greater purpose. "Why yes, thank you, Colonel. I am obliged." Georgiana glanced questioningly at him as she arranged the pages before her.
He would need to think quickly. This would likely be his only chance before propriety dictated he bring his evening to an end. Might he safely ask her a direct question, without the others hearing, to know her response to his request? Just as his plan looked secure, Kitty chose a seat very near with her uncle joining her on the same sofa. He could not risk discovery now, by speaking openly. But she was expecting some intimation of his purpose. And he desired to at least know her willingness.
"When last we were together, you played a beautiful concerto you had been practicing. Are you practicing it still or will you now admit to having mastered it?" His gentle smile was disarming.
Georgiana answered as she played lightly to limber her fingers, "Mozart's piano concerto? It would be presumptuous of me to declare it mastered, sir, but I have been faithful to its practice." Georgiana looked directly into her cousin's eyes, as she confessed, "I have found it uncommonly compelling."
"Such diligence is to be commended."
"Yes," Georgiana accepted, "but one might wonder if diligence must necessarily be its own reward, or if such perseverance will yield an anticipated pleasure?"
"I believe what is commonly held--patience and perseverance will bring forth a felicitous understanding," Fitzwilliam promised with a knowing smile.
A felicitous understanding. But Georgiana's thoughts had been drawn to Mary's problem rather than her understanding of her cousin's design. She spoke her thoughts quietly to the piano's keys, more for herself than her cousin. "Yes. One may only hope for the patience to endure the want of such an understanding."
Fitzwilliam watched as Georgiana's features became serious, losing some of their brightness as she spoke. It is late. She is indeed tired, he immediately concluded. Then a truly disagreeable possibility soon offered itself. Or does she grow tired of the mystery? Has she become irritated with my dissemblance? Fitzwilliam became more earnest, eager to placate any vexation. Offering sympathetically, "Uncertainty can be disquieting." When am I to make all clear? She must have time to prepare or she is sure to demure. Then inspiration dawned as a bit of intelligence informed his deliberation. Lord Clandon! The glint of calculation returned to his eyes.
"Georgiana, you are to call at Benttree on the morrow are you not?"
Georgiana's fingers hesitated as she looked up slowly from the keys. Quizzically, "Yes..."
"Then I shall depend upon your quandary becoming clear very soon."
Georgiana looked at him searchingly, almost frowning in her effort to understand. She knew he was thinking of his letter, but what her call upon Lady Clandon had to disclose, she could not make out. She almost laughed then at the affect of her regard. The expectancy of his countenance had turned into a silent plea, his growing doubt of her forbearance showing clearly in his eyes. Georgiana's curiosity begged to know more, but she could see he hoped for her trust.
"Thank you sir. I as well."
The Colonel rested back into his chair relieved by her gentle smile. He had maintained her good opinion, despite his refusal to reveal the information she sought. Now content she would allow the concealment a little longer, he assumed a more nonchalant tone, appropriate for anyone's hearing, "What shall you play for us now?"
More unspoken wishes and accompanying acknowledgments were exchanged than actual gestures of farewell as guests and hosts bid each other good night with Darcy and Mr. Gardiner being the only members of the party to have no need of such furtive communication.
Darcy's gentlemanly manners had returned as he allowed both women of his family to precede him up the stairs from the entry. As they attained the first level, the three continued up the next rise, foregoing the evening's continuance as if by mutual consent.
Georgiana accepted her brother's kiss on her forehead and Elizabeth's affectionate embrace before retiring to her chamber.
Climbing into bed, Georgiana remembered the sweetness of her slumber before this day had begun. A day that had promised much and delivered even more. So much more, she was relieved to now see it go. She sincerely hoped not all the days London was to yield would be as emotionally exhausting. Georgiana nestled into the snuggery of the bed's soft ticking, readily succumbing to its purpose with a sigh.
"You never told me your uncle was a shrewd gambler," Darcy observed as he began untying the knot of his cravat.
Would you have listened if I had tried to warn you? Elizabeth doubted skeptically.No, you would have thought me critical of your own abilities if I had. But remembering her aunt's counsel, returned evenly, "Yes, I suppose he possesses some skill."
Darcy nodded to himself, amused by her understatement. "100 pounds worth of skill," Darcy mumbled to himself, thinking of the extent of his losses, primarily to that gentleman. A wickedly satisfied grin grew across his features, knowing Fitzwilliam's losses had been even greater.
"Pardon, sir? Did you speak?" Elizabeth turned back to him.
"Hm, no...nothing of consequence," Darcy excused, not terribly eager to reveal the results of his occupation.
"Very well. If you will excuse me, then. I will prepare for bed."
Darcy watched her quit the room. She did not give evidence of her earlier anger, but neither did she show the sadness that had worked on him throughout dinner. Her schooled tone and manner was not born from an evenness of temper, though. He could see it in her eyes she was restraining whatever lay within.. But which would he encounter, now that they were alone and without the obligation of guests to attend?
Darcy lay in bed, his book forsaken on his lap as he leaned his head against the bed's board, his eyes closed in contemplation. The game had been satisfying, tonight. Even though he had lost more often than preferred, he still had felt an inner need satisfied. He knew what it was that had appealed---the challenge--pitting himself against another to see how he would fair. So why did he shrink back from Elizabeth's earlier imputation?
In Ving-et-un, as with any game or match, he knew the rules; he knew what to expect and was therefore prepared to anticipate his opponent's move. While the sequence of cards might change, they ultimately were constrained by a predictable process. Even the variable of another's wager ultimately had to fall within the expectations of the play. With all the inherent risk, that kind of match felt far safer--it was prescribed; his obligations as a player were defined.
His chest rose and fell as he drew a deep breath, made audible in its release by the emotions within. But with Elizabeth it was not so simple; there were no rules. He had been caught by surprise at a moment of vulnerability, unprepared for the vehemence of her challenge. He had already been unable to rationally account for his own feelings and yet she had demanded he also bear hers. How could she expect him to account for his thoughts and feelings under the pressure of such urgency? Could she not have waited?
Elizabeth's image entered into the darkness of his reflection. The guilt induced by her evident sense of rejection re-emerged in the chamber's quiet, wrapping itself around his conscious thought. He had indeed made arrangements more than a sennight ago to meet with several gentlemen at White's to discuss the merits of the new machinery he was considering. And after the day's tumult of emotions, he craved even more the kind of activity that enabled him to reflect-- to better understand his own mind... and feelings. But the very act would also expand the gulf between he and Elizabeth would it not?
Darcy's head began to ache. At that moment, life with Elizabeth was far more complicated than he could ever have imagined.
His hands retrieved his book as his eyes opened at the sound of his wife's entry. Starting at the top of the page he had already attempted reading three times, the poem's words took on a reference, not intended by its author, but no less pertinent to its reader's understanding, 'And nearer fast and nearer doth the red whirlwind come; and louder still and still more loud from underneath that rolling cloud...*'
Darcy closed his book. And you, Elizabeth, are you the red whirlwind come tonight? Will you renew your charge? he wondered, watching as she used a ribbon to hold the length of her hair.
Elizabeth's hand lingered on the table as she calmed the urgency of her heart's beating. What her aunt advised her....
She drew breath for courage, then turned in her seat. "Fitzwilliam, may I speak with you...about this morning...if I do not require a response?"
Darcy inclined his head as he looked at her. She was soft, hesitant. Indeed not a whirlwind...buta whisper. ...louder still and still more loud from underneath that rolling cloud A whisper unsure of what she might find underneath that rolling cloud which had assumed the likeness of her husband. He had been severe with her, no matter what the inducement. Darcy pulled down the cover on her side of the bed in answer.
Elizabeth drew the warmth up over the bend of her legs as she sat aside him, leaning on one arm for strength. Her eyes followed her hand as she pensively smoothed some unseen wrinkle from the bed.
"Fitzwilliam, I am very sorry for the manner of my address today. It was contentious and my words stinging. It was wrong of me to chastise you and presume to instruct you in the ways of managing Georgiana's affairs." Elizabeth glanced up, hoping to discover how her words were affecting him. His gaze did not meet hers, however, but rather was cast aimlessly on the bed'scovering. Elizabeth's eyes lowered, "But on this I will say no more unless you desire it. I hurt you which was indeed not my purpose. I do hope you will forgive me."
Elizabeth's lips met lightly and gently with the hollow of his cheek, "Good night, Fitzwilliam."She drew the covers over her as she turned from him, without venturing again to discern his reception.
Darcy's surprise was great at the contrite placement of her kiss. And that she had indeed not attempted to promote or even wait upon his possible reply surprised him even more. His eyes did not leave her until she turned from him as she slipped beneath the covers. His brow knitted together in his struggle. He loved this woman. The meekness of her apology made miserable the part of him that had required his indifference to her feelings for the sake of his own. He wished to confide with her--to satisfy that part of her that cared deeply enough to risk his rejection. But he could not give what he did not yet possess. Darcy considered his wife's stillness next to him. His voice was quiet and husky from the want of saying more, "Thank you, Elizabeth. "
Elizabeth's eyes closed with small relief. He had accepted her apology as her aunt had expected. And now she was to wait, as her counsel had instructed, for him to offer the next gesture of reconciliation. She had assured her it would come, though likely not as soon as she would wish. As he extinguished the light, Elizabeth's silent tears wet her face from an intolerable conflict ofher desire for restoration and the grief of her resignation to wait
Colonel Fitzwilliam's whistling announced his arrival before his entry into his parent's drawing room. "Ah, good I had thought I might have missed you. I just came in to say good night."
"You have had an enjoyable evening then, my son?" Lady Matlock queried as she accepted her son's peck on the cheek.
"Yes, quite delightful, actually. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy send their regards, along with Georgiana.And Elizabeth's aunt and uncle as well--a remarkable couple. You would appreciate some of Mr.Gardiner's talents, I wager father.
Lord Matlock shook his son's hand affectionately from his chair. 'Hm, we shall have to have him'round the next time I am in the mood for some talent."
Lady Matlock rolled her eyes. She knew her husband gambled. Why he never spoke of it openly she could not say.
Fitzwilliam continued lightly, "I have an important appointment, tomorrow. If you will excuse me, I will be off to bed. Good night, Mother--Father."
Fitzwilliam's whistling could be heard along with the landing of his boots as he bounded up the stairs.
"It was just a family party tonight was it not?" Lady Matlock asked of her husband.
"Yes, that is my understanding," Matlock confirmed naively .
"Hmm." Lady Matlock's intuition and insight into her son's character whispered a suspicion. She would observe him more closely though, before allowing any conclusions.
Author's Note: I just want to thank Caroline and all the others at Life and Times for their continuing help in understanding some of the wonderful peculiarities of this period. And many thanks to Amy, Myretta & others who are working on the innovations for this board. EL
"Lizzy would you care for tea?" Mrs. Gardiner invited, desirous of speaking privately with her niece.
The commotion of the children's delighted surprise and excited chatter allowed the twowomen a moment alone as Georgiana presented the children with the bundles her footman carried. Elizabeth had insisted gifts were not necessary, but Georgiana had prevailed, stopping for just a few 'amusements' as she called them. Without much inducement, Elizabeth had quickly found herself caught up in the woman's enthusiasm as she had been consulted over the sweets and toys. And very soon, the two had so thoroughly enjoyed themselves spinning the tops, cooing over the dolls and animating the puppets that neither manifested any of the prior day's troubles.
"How does this day find you, Lizzy?" Mrs. Gardiner asked with sincere concern for her niece's welfare rather than casual civility.
"Thank you, Aunt. This morning finds me well," Elizabeth informed with a tone reflecting the equanimity of her humor.
"Would I be evoking a return of emotion if I inquire after last evening?"
"No, Aunt. Thank you," Elizabeth accepted the tea cup offered her. "I am greatly indebted to you. Were it not for you, I would not be so sanguine. Mr. Darcy did permit my apology before retiring."
The two chose a seat enough removed to continue their conversation unheard, though the children were too busy entertaining their captive audience to take any notice.
"And did he make reply?" Elizabeth's aunt asked as she stirred her tea.
"Yes.... It was much as you warned me. He accepted, but remained otherwise silent. It was very difficult, Aunt, to do as you advised."
Her aunt patted her hand, "Yes, it is very difficult." Adding with a small sigh, "I wish I could say it becomes easier the longer you are married." But her smile was confident and content,"However, as you know Mr. Darcy longer, you will know better when to speak and when to wait." Her niece's expression was not so confident. "Did you observe any turn in his behavior toward you this morning?"
Elizabeth recalled her encounters with her husband before she and Georgiana had left him for the morning's outings. "At breakfast, he exerted himself in polite conversation with Georgiana, however when she was content to remain silent he chose likewise. I could not speak but a few words myself and looked at him very little. When I did venture some attention, I found him observing me. His countenance possessed none of its earlier anger...though I am not certain what emotion was present. As I think of it, though, I am reminded of the look he often gave me whilst in company in Kent, before we were married."
"When he struggled to maintain an opinion to which he had formerly adhered?"
"Good, Lizzy. Very good. Your dear Mr. Darcy is well begun on a new road."
"But Aunt what instills this confidence?"
"You must be patient, Lizzy. He has been master of his heart for many years and likely not accustomed to capitulating in matters in which his feelings and judgement are most vulnerable. But, I believe you have married such a man who will be able to solicit and appreciate your opinionon even those matters closest to his heart."
"Mamma! Mamma! Look at the beautiful doll Miss Darcy has given me!" Mrs. Gardiner's eldest daughter beckoned. And at once, the women were drawn from their conversation into the children's joy.
The clatter and clamor of London's streets come-to-life gave the gentleman the anonymity of presence and isolation of thought he desired. He was but another man on another dobbin wending his way through the traffic of more mounts, carts, carriages and other conveyances who's drivers gave little if any consideration to any other along the way--and especially not to those persons who dared Providence's preservation as they dashed to the street's other side.
The formal hush of White's inner sanctum was a stark contrast to the hubbub it denied with the closing of its stately door behind the esteemed member. Of course had the gentleman chosen a later hour he might have been welcomed by the sportive strains of coarse humor and groans of devastation as White's members engaged in the rituals of besting the other in ribald expression and games of chance, the course of each often determined by the number of glasses necessarily consumed in the name of sociability.
But this particular gentleman had little propensity toward such dissipation. Neither did he desire any further loss of funds--a lot he judged sure to be his were he to play in his distracted and fatigued state. The ruminations of his sleep the evening prior had been so disruptive, he had left his wife's side for fear of waking her with his tossing about. While sleep had finally conquered his sensibility, the uprightness of his station had afforded him little comfort and less actual rejuvenation.
"Hello there, Darcy!" A very round man called from a congress of other gentlemen, settled indulgently in a circle of chairs. "Good to have you back in Town. We have been wanting for a bit of enlightened opinion. What will you have, then?" he offered as a footman appeared at the elder member's silent bidding.
"Coffee," Darcy informed his attendant as he lowered into the chair the others had reserved for him.
"Coffee?" his confrere mocked, eyeing him skeptically. "You do look a little done-up, but I suppose one might expect it of a man not yet married a twelvemonth."
Darcy shifted slightly in his chair as the others indulged the humor with their own chortles.
"A lovely woman, too, your Mrs. Darcy. Had my own alliance been endowed with as much beauty, I should never have had the expense of keeping another." More than one smiled or grumbled an empathetic agreement. "I dare say, you will have no need of such expense if you manage to keep your nymph-of-a wife happy--a few baubles here and there and you will find her obliging as often as you desire." More hearty assent was given by the others whose only purpose seemed to be one of assenting to all the gentleman's postulations.
Darcy gladly received the delivery of his coffee, thankful for the interruption. He disdained the sentiments the gentleman apparently held toward women in general. And keeping a mistress was a practice he did not condone nor did he ever intend to indulge in such. Neither did he welcome Sir Harold's suppositions as to what constituted the means for felicitous understanding between he and his wife.
As he looked up from his cup, he found Sir Harold expecting an agreeable acknowledgment from his self-initiated pupil. Darcy's tone was even, devoid of hostility, but without humor as well,"Indeed, a husband might wish to bestow his wife with those items giving expression to his love for her. But it would be an arrogant presumption to believe I could purchase the affections of a woman possessing great intelligence and insight. I am unhappily deceived if my wife returns my regard with anything but love and respect."
"'Intelligence and insight,' you say?" Sir Harold reflected, "You entice me to call upon you and your wife, sir. I have been deprived of ever knowing a woman possessing these traits."
Perhaps your deprivation is only of those traits you seek in another Darcy accused sarcastically as he considered a reply he might voice without calling the man to action.
Sir Harold continued to bluster, his opinion and satisfaction with his own wit unswayed, "A toast, then gentlemen to Mr. Darcy who has found that illusive creature of 'intelligence' and 'insight.' And may he long be so happily deceived." A chorus of agreement rose accompanied by various vessels of liquid, "To Darcy."
But before Darcy could object to either the gentleman or his suggestion, the very same changed his subject entirely. "What say you, then--what do you make of this recent business with Farmer George?
Darcy later quit the circle at the re-emergence of political prognostications, satisfied he had gleaned enough information from the gentlemen assembled to make his decision. While a boor, Sir Harold knew well enough the details of his land to support Darcy's hopes of increased yields, with the other gentlemen confirming the same, though perhaps with less personal knowledge than the former. It seemed more than a few adopted the fashion of allowing his steward complete management of their estates while reaping the rewards of their man's hard work as each pursued their comfort in other localities. Darcy privately suspected Sir Harold's familiarity with his holdings was motivated more by his avoidance of a certain woman who openly disdained the country than by genuine interest in managing his estate.
Darcy strolled amongst the other members, his hands clasped leisurely behind his back. An unoccupied table bid him welcome, engrossing him without delay in the contemplation of arecently celebrated gambit introduced by an unexpected source. A gentleman by the name of Friesma was making a tour of his former motherland and had succeeded in making a name for himself amongst the masters of the game. His strategy and implementation was reportedly stunning in its affect and Darcy wished to learn from the gentleman's astute understanding of the game.
As he analyzed the positions he had replicated from the gentleman's match, Darcy's conscience twinged from a reminder of his words so recently spoken.
Intelligence...Insight And how had he responded to the very qualities he had just praised in that woman? He had spurned her, angry and hurt. And when twice offered opportunity, he had demanded obedience and acknowledged her submissiveness, but no more.
Darcy considered the position of the white queen, recognizing her pivotal role in protecting her king. Had Elizabeth's charge held little sense, he would have rejected its vehemence summarily. But her words, however ill-timed, had burned in his heart with the truth of their censure. He could no longer deny her accusation. Georgiana was indeed made unhappy by his demeanor. He had tried to convince himself what he had seen in her countenance was from the obligations of being in society and her own disquietude amongst strangers. She was still retiring, to be sure. But as he considered again the prior day, he knew it had been his manner causing her disquiet. She had received the attentions of her callers with aplomb. But when her gaze ventured to meet his, it became searching...hesitant as if anticipating a degree of disapproval of the one with whom she spoke.
You did call on her yesterday?A voice asked with evident anticipation. It's owner was situated on the other side of a low wall to Darcy's back, apparently not concerned with being heard by others for his voice did not deny anyone's hearing.
Yes, Mother and I called.
Yes, Mother and I called,the other voice mimicked. I knew that much without your help!
What more did you expect?
The details of course! Tell me, Lang the voice persisted, conspiratorially with insinuated meaning, are her eyes and lips still what poetry is made of? Will she satisfy your every desire?
Where the volume of the one gentleman's words had only succeeded in interrupting Darcy's deliberations, the familiarity of the respondent's voice had taken captive his complete attention. And now the subject matter thoroughly routed any conviction of conscience requiring him to deny his furtive hearkening of the conversation.
Lower your voice man! Someone might hear you.Lang commanded in an insistent whisper. Would you have me babble like some infatuated school-boy? I will not indulge your evil desire to know all of Miss Darcy.
And why is this time to be so different? Is she so exceptional to the others? he challenged disbelievingly.
Yes. Now will you make your move. Lang suggested irritably.
Lang, I have never seen you this way. Ahh, now I understand...You intend to make a move of your own...But why so careful? It is just you and me, no one is within hearing.
If I am successful in securing her affections, you may congratulate me. Until then, it would be imprudent to voice any opinion that might be mistaken.
IF you are successful...you are not certain she will have you?
I believe...I have very great hope, she will accept me...Lang's sigh was audible even over the wall, However, as to her brother's approbation, I am not confident.
Not approve of you? the companion sounded astonished before listing two of his friend's most compelling qualities as a potential husband. You are a man of consequence, perhaps not as great as Darcy himself is reputed of being, but of desirable situation. And your connections are unimpeachable. Would not any man, especially one not so long married, be easily persuaded to relieve himself of his burden through such happy means?
I think you do not know this particular gentleman nor have you been subject of his scrutiny. He means to be severe on those who seek his sister. You remember Old 'Stoneheart'?
'Stoneheart' from Cambridge? The astonishment of Darcy's recognition was equal to that of the other voice as that gentleman's words expressed with mirth what Darcy's thoughts cringed with mortification.
Surely not as withering as Old 'Stoneheart'?! (For so Thomas Stonehill, the Dean of Scholars had been known by all the pupils. Even though relatively young for one of his position even while Darcy had been in school, Stonehill's presence commanded the kind of respectful deference usually reserved for the more seasoned. One look from him could cause even the most depraved conscience to confess and one without guilt to repent just the same.
Worse, insisted Lang forlornly.However, I am determined that he know of my ability to provide for his sister in the manner in which she is accustomed and of my sincerest intention to take her as my wife.
I am all anticipation to meet the one who inspires such courageous determination inyou.Lang's companion ribbed with a margin of disbelief. He had never known a woman tohold such power over him.
She is the loveliest, gentlest creature. Lang murmured wistfully.
Stonehill?! Darcy's emotion discharged him from his seat, his mortification andindignation at the standard of comparison too great to deny his feet action. Before even knowingwhat he would do or say, Darcy's legs were purposefully closing the distance of wall obscuring hispresence.
To Darcy's benefit, the wall's end did not come immediately, allowing return of his reasonbefore impulse could gratify its urge. Tugging on the waist of his coat to straighten its lay, Darcyrecollected himself before rounding the corner.
"Mr. Lang." Darcy greeted easily as he casually approached the gentlemen's table. Darcy quickly schooled the wry grin emerging on his lips as Lang, stricken and flushed, bumped up against the edge of the table, attempting to rise in panicked greeting. "Please do not allow me to deter you from your game." Darcy calmed, motioning with his hand that Lang should sit.
"Mr. Darcy, may I enquire after Mrs. and Miss Darcy--this day finds them well I hope?"
"Yes, thank you. Quite well." A small cloud of doubt passed over him. What did he know of either? They both had been subdued throughout breakfast. Neither had possessed an air of distress or illness, yet the easy conversation he had become accustomed to--looked forward to--at that meal had also been absent. And he had added little himself. Even their farewell had been noticeably quiet and restrained. He held little question of his accountability for their demeanor.
The gentleman's discomfort was unsettling. Even general civilities when encompassing Miss Darcy were not received with equanimity. Remembering another obligation, Lang hastily introduced his chess opponent and confidant, "Mr. Darcy, may I present Mr. Farrow."
"A pleasure, sir." Farrow nodded from his seat, thinking this could not be the same Darcy they had just been discussing. He appeared relaxed and possessing all the politeness one might expect of a true gentleman. While he seemed momentarily distracted, he gave no occasion for Farrow to think him at all like Stonehill. He decided to test his friend's assessment. I have heard much of you...Mmph!" Farrow's comment was painfully interrupted.
"Will you join me in a game of chess, sir?" Lang offered, eager to forestall Farrow's conversation and to create some familiarity between himself and Darcy.
"What do you mean? I am two moves away...Mmph!" Farrow complained as his eyes momentarily widened.
"We have just finished this game," Lang stretched the truth, for the outcome was fairly evident. Farrow would likely win if they were to finish the match. "I have heard of your expertise at the board, sir. It would be an honor to play one so skilled." Lang's eagerness to please Miss Darcy's guardian betrayed the composure he was attempting to assume.
Darcy could not allow any turn of countenance as he glanced at the position of the pieces, knowing it would quickly develop evidence of the amusement he found in the gentleman's attempt to ingratiate himself at the expense of his friend.
"I thank you, but I must decline. I am already engaged for fencing and would not wish our match interrupted."
"You perry with the foil, then?" Farrow moved his legs from beneath the table as he crossed them, preventing any more gestures of correction from his love-sick friend. "Have you a particular master with whom you spar?"
"Yes, I do. Baines of Haymarket's."
"Baines...Yes I know of him. He is reputed to be an excellent teacher," Farrow acknowledged.
"Do you fence, Mr. Lang?" Darcy continued the exchange.
"No...sir. Chess and cricket were more my pursuits at Cambridge," Lang answered trying to sound confident about his choices, but wondering if it would lower himself in the gentleman's estimation. He was infinitely thankful he had at least managed commencement from the right school.
"Pity. We might have locked swords." Darcy knew he was being cruel. While he hoped the gentleman's comparison of him to one as unyielding as Stonehill had been exaggerated from Lang's own desire for an easy path to his sister, Darcy had already allowed the material point to further instruct his understanding and bolster his emerging resolve. However, he could not seet hat a little tribulation would not serve to strengthen the gentleman's resolve if he was in earnest.
Lang's quandary was great. Was this a veiled threat? Or, was he merely commenting on an eventuality that would not come?
In the silence, Darcy checked the hands of his watch. "I must beg your pardon, gentlemen and take my leave. Mr. Farrow a pleasure meeting you. Mr. Lang, please give my compliments to your parents. Mrs. Darcy and I look forward to seeing them this evening. Good day, gentlemen." Darcy quitted the table with a proper bow, leaving the men to the exchange of their speculations.
As he steered his mount toward his waiting appointment, Darcy calculated the time between his usual engagement with his fencing master and the time he and his family must depart for the Gardiners to acquire Kitty. Even if taken at a relaxed pace, the schedule would allow him time alone with Elizabeth.
Some flowers perhaps, he mused along the way. Yes, he would go home via ------street and stop for some of Elizabeth's favorites.
A few baubles to insure her affection? Sir Harold's sentiment gloated.
Darcy stopped his horse mid-street. Was he attempting to regain her regard through the very means he had publicly eschewed? A loud snort made Darcy aware of the horse's disgust at being restrained while in the company of others urged forward. Darcy eased the tension of the bit while firmly pressing with his thighs. The horse nickered its pleasure in rejoining the flow as Darcy grunted at his own weakmindedness in allowing himself to come under the wretched influence of that gentleman.
No he rejected the insinuation. He had no design of purchasing anything from her. He had merely contemplated a gesture of affection...though truthfully one he hoped would be rewarded. He wished to know again that particular brilliancy of her eyes and feel the warmth of her smile--the smile she bestowed on him so willingly with even the smallest sign of his affection. Though he wondered that on this occasion such reward may not come so readily. He held little doubt of her acceptance of the flowers. Her confession of last evening told him of her wish to be reconciled, but knew more was required of him to restore the felicitous understanding between them. The more his mind came to focus on his wife, the more his heart desired to be reunited with her. Darcy's mind was deeply engaged informulating what he might say as he steered his horse toward his appointment. So engrossed was he, he took little note of the horseman pounding perilously through the street's traffic.
Without so much of a look or a pause, the rider hurled through the streets' crossing, flinging mud on all those unfortunate to be in his wake. The coachman of the fashionable box was not to be deterred, however, from his own crossing by the likes of an impudent bloke who ought to respect his livery. But the rider cared not for the colors, nor the chaos he was likely to create by galloping pellmell to his destination.
The horseman closed from the north. The coachman urged on from the west. Neither reigned in, even though knowing a great collision could be the only eventuality.
Looking aside, the driver expected to see fear or at least acknowledgment of the rider's impending peril. But fear was not to be found. The coach's approach only goaded the horseman. Undaunted and perversely staying his course, the rider returned the coachman's challenge by bending low to his horse's mane, charging the team of horses.
Commands rose above the din as coach wheels rolled, hooves thundered, and leather and crop demanded speed and resolve.
The horseman neither flinched nor braced for the horses' force against him with his ice-blue eyes fixed upon the point beyond, exhilarated by the danger and intent upon forcing through unscathed.
Alarm for the preservation of life and limb finally asserted itself, overcoming the coachman's pride. Reigning in sharply, he turned his team violently to his right with the horses' hot breath scorching the rider's face as he sped through victorious.
A shrill scream rose from inside the coach at its wild pitch, piercing Darcy's abstraction. In an instant Darcy realized his peril and tightened his hold of the reigns as his stallion reared in terror at the coach cutting across his path. Darcy braced for the landing of the horse's hooves. He was not inexperienced in the handling of high-spirited steeds and was therefore not easily thrown from his mount. But he could not have prepared for the next.
The pits and ruts of the road caught the beast's hoof, causing it to stumble, sending its great frame into a roll. Rather than merely landing with a jolt, Darcy suddenly found himself pinned to the street with his leg painfully lodged beneath the animal's side.
The Viscount allowed his butler's entrance with hope of anticipated news. Bending near, the servant relayed his information without divulging it to his master's guest.
"Excellent. Thank you. We shall join them directly." Lord Clandon paused while his informant quitted the room. "Colonel, I believe my assistance will not be necessary as you supposed. Providence seems to have favored you with another opportunity. Lady Clandon is at this moment receiving Miss Darcy along with the rest of her party."
Colonel Fitzwilliam's countenance betrayed little of his thoughts, however his words could not help but hint his purpose. "Is Darcy in company?"
Clandon smiled knowingly, "The party is reported as being that of only the women of Darcy's family."
Fitzwilliam pushed forward in his chair, his hands coming together with a hearty clap as he rubbed them together with vigorous anticipation. "Better and better. Lord Clandon, I may yet require your assistance..."
Georgiana's eyes widened momentarily, surprised at the entrance of the two gentlemen. Lord Clandon indeed showed gallant courtesy in accepting their call along with his wife. However, it was the gentleman accompanying him who incited no little amazement.
"Colonel Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth intoned with the astonishment she felt at the coincidence, "An unexpected pleasure, sir." Seeing the heightened color of Georgiana's countenance added expectancy to her astonishment, "And are you to admire the roses of Benttree as well?"
Fitzwilliam did not suppress his accepting smile, as he rose from his bow, recognizing the hint of challenge in her voice as a small return of her vivacity. "Capital suggestion, Mrs. Darcy. My business with Lord Clandon is concluded at present. I find myself quite at leisure and delighted to join you," Fitzwilliam smoothly turned her question into an invitation.
"Splendid, Colonel. Do come join us for tea. How do you take it, sir?" Lady Clandon's acceptance of her new guest was all that was gracious and sincere. That hers was also calculated with intent of furthering this gentleman's presence amongst present company escaped notice of the others.
"Sugar, if you please, ma'am." Fitzwilliam instructed as he chose a place next to Kitty, insinuating himself to the party with ease as they continued their prior topic.
"Ho! The driver bellowed, frantically pulling in his team, desperate not to crush the fallen rider with his wagon.
"Are yo' -urt, sir?" The Samaritan asked worriedly as he led Darcy's horse to its feet. "Saw the whole thing. That bloke must be straight from Bedlam! Raced through -ere like his was the only -orse, -e did! -ere's a -and, sir. Let me -elp you."
The relief Darcy had felt at the lifting of the horse's weight disappeared as he stood.
Seeing the gentleman's pain-filled wince, the driver insisted, "Ah, sir, let me take yo- on my wagon. That leg'll do you no good the rest o' the day."
"No, no," Darcy insisted as he continued to straighten his leg despite the pain. "I thank you. Your generous offer will not be necessary. But, let us see to the coach's inhabitants."
"Aye, sir. A -eard the scream." The man confirmed as he followed the gentleman.
Darcy limped to the coach's door, his leg still weak from the imposition of the horse's crushing weight.
"A lovely instrument, Lord Clandon," Georgiana complimented, her attention immediately drawn to the pianoforte as the party passed through the stately room in pursuit of their hostess' treasured roses.
"Would you care to become better acquainted with it, Miss Darcy?" Lord Clandon invited. "Lady Clandon's sensibilities will in no way be offended by your absence. She has plenty in tow with whom to share her flora."
Exchanging a quick glance of understanding with his host, Colonel Fitzwilliam eagerly agreed. Motioning her toward the instrument with his outstretched arm and away from the others as their pace continued beyond the room, "Yes, do come. I would wish to see it myself."
While the instrument had the appearance of elegance and craftsmanship enough to garner her attention, it was the expression of his heightened anticipation that drew Georgiana away from the others. She was quite certain the pianoforte held very little of the interest her cousin professed.
As their host busied himself with singular inspection of a portrait on the far side of the room, Colonel Fitzwilliam drew close to Georgiana. "The others may return at any moment."
The pleasant urgency in his voice held Georgiana's rapt attention, though only looking at him through the reflection of the pianoforte's polished surface.
"Georgiana, I wish to speak with you--to make known the request of my letter..."
"And how might a lady reward a gentleman of such gallantry, sir," sultry tones purred a thinly veiled invitation through the coach's open door, the lady having been restored more properly to her seat after having suffered the indignity of being tumbled about the interior.
Darcy cringed inwardly. What remarkable and regrettable irony to be receiving the solicitous gratitude of this particular lady.
"That your husband shall have your safe return is ample reward, ma'am." Darcy hoped the subtle reminder of her obligations would quell her enthusiasm.
He doubted its affect, however, as a pair of coquettish eyes regarded him from behind an undulating fan much as a cat with it's tail winding and curling in desirous contemplation. As with any prey so fortunate to keep its life, Darcy was quickly aware that decided removal was the safest course. "Now, ma'am, I entrust you to the care of your driver...whose actions will no doubt show more prudence." Darcy cast a commanding eye toward the driver.
"Aye, that I will, sir," he confessed, anxiously turning about the brim of his hat in his hand. He knew his master would have little to say to him--the coach and horses had not been damaged--but the driver still worried the gent might yet demand compensation for his troubles--by pound or by flesh.
"Very well. Good day, ma'am and my regards to your husband." Further invitation from the lady was made to be prevented with a curt bow from Darcy and a securing of the coach's door.
"I meant no harm to you, sir. Your horse, is he right enough to ride?" The coachman asked, anxious to ingratiate himself. "My mistress would not wish me to leave you here, sir."
Darcy's shoulders straightened with an involuntary shudder at what advances he surely would find himself fending. He would sooner ride amongst the wagon's casks than subject himself thus. Darcy's own anxiety grew as he became sensible to the increasing likelihood of the lady's emergence with each moment's passing and the coach remaining.
"You were taking your mistress home, were you not?"
"Then see that you do it immediately and with her safety in mind."
A pair of gloved hands pressed the closed fan firmly to breast, his authoritative tone and care toward her person thrilling her senses. Resting back into the cushion as the coach became underway, she wondered how she might again have the good fortune to be in his presence--and in more intimate company.
"Is -e sound then, sir? That wer' a right rum ride -e took yo' for, sir. Any other man ad fallen for certain, but not yo'. Yo' just rode -im like Wellington on the charge..."
Concentrating on his examination more than his companion's ramblings, Darcy ran his hands searchingly over the horse's legs and sides, probing for injury.
"He appears to have sustained little injury," Darcy pronounced, finally satisfied.
Finding no serious evidence of the incident, Darcy deemed his animal fit to ride. But he would not press him in order to avoid aggravating any strain he might have suffered.
"Well thank the Lord for that then. -e's a beauty, sir. Be a shame to put down the likes of this one."
Anxious to be on his way, Darcy made to mount the horse which was now steady and placid.
"-ere, allow me" the wagon driver readily aided the gentleman, never seeing the bite of pain expressed as he gave him a leg up.
Ignoring the distress of his leg as he took the reigns in hand, Darcy turned to his assistant, "I thank you. You have been most generous with your help. What is your name, my good man?"
"What is it you carry in your casks, Grady?"
"Very well, come around to ------ street on the morrow. My man will relieve you of a few." Darcy promised with a smile by way of appreciation. Darcy's horse shifted, impatient to be underway now that he had a rider again. "The name is Darcy. Good day to you, Grady." Darcy nodded his farewell as he bid his horse forward.
"Yes, sir! An' thank yo', sir!"
Grady slapped up his team, smiling at his good fortune. "Never know what'll come back to yo' when yo' do a good turn."
Colonel Fitzwilliam waited with gentle impatience, allowing Georgiana time to consider. Her delicate blush intimated a sweet embarrassment at the compliment of his request, encouraging his hope of her approbation. But no sooner had his hope been raised for her favorable reply, than it disappeared with the draining of color from her skin until her complexion was ashen and her countenance strained.
"You do me great honor, sir, in believing me thus capable. I fear, however, I must disappoint you and decline your generous offer." Georgiana's voice was almost a whisper as her eyes dropped to her fingers, knotted together atop the pianoforte.
Fitzwilliam felt he must persist, certain she wished to accede. The brilliancy of her eyes, wide with surprise as she first entertained the possibility, spoke to him of the longing of heart before her objections overcame them.
"Georgiana," the Colonel persuaded soothingly, "Do not permit fear to take from you the confidence that might be yours if you would allow it. All is made ready. There is little left undone--and that will happen if you agree." He paused, gathering in her presence with his eyes. A small sigh of supposed defeat escaped with his promise, "Georgiana, if you lift your face to me now and tell me you will not, I will honor your wishes."
Georgiana's fingers traced over the smooth wooden surface as she moved pensively to the chair placed for the instrument. The satin finish of its keys felt cool and familiar to her touch as she smoothed them without sound. Her glance quickly caught her host as he had apparently lost interest in the painting, finding his observance of their scene more compelling. Speaking to the keys, "Lord and Lady Clandon know of your request then and approve?" Little question was in her tone, really only voicing what she knew must necessarily be true.
"Yes, they are delighted." Fitzwilliam assured sincerely, with a glimmer of anticipation rekindled by her words.
"And William, he will be pleased, do you think?"
On this one point, everything rested. With carefully chosen words, Fitzwilliam assured her of her brother's pleasure, though inwardly wondering how long it would take for his cousin's amazement to give way to that emotion. Fitzwilliam added, "This will make a marvelous surprise for he and Elizabeth."
Georgiana allowed the images of how it might be to drift through her mind's eye. She did indeed wish to give her assent--to give herself this moment...
"You would tell him we are planning a surprise?" Each knew well Darcy's abhorrence of disguise.
"Yes." Fitzwilliam restrained himself from the urge to leave his place as he waited for the next, believing her answer must surely follow.
Raising her face to his, she found confidence, lively and bold, in his countenance. And in his eyes something more--a gentleness. He was sensible to what he asked of her and yet believed it possible.
"Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam," she agreed quietly, then asserted with greater confidence, "My answer is yes."
"Georgiana!" Fitzwilliam celebrated, rushing exuberantly to her side. "You will not regret this!"
Though it could not be heard from across the distance, Lord Clandon released the breath he had been holding, waiting her response. Well done, Miss Darcy, well done.
In his enthusiasm, Colonel Fitzwilliam thought little of his gesture as he extended his hand to lead her from her place. But as the warmth of his hand covered hers, the mind and heart of the young woman at his side were on little else.
Continued in Part 3
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