Part 1|Part 2
Darcy attempted another sip of tea while recollecting himself from his embarrassment. It was not as though he was ashamed of their recent "occupation." It was a gift of intimacy shared between he and his wife and one he hoped to exchange often. But for Georgiana to have knowledge of their private relations made Darcy uncomfortable. Was it not improper for a young woman, further more, for one's own sister to know of such things? Darcy thought it best to divert the conversation away from any of the morning's activities. "Georgiana, would you care for a sandwich or perhaps goose? The custard is quite good. Cook has topped it with the sweet glazing you favor so well."
"No, William, thank you. The custard does look delicious, but it does not tempt me after the hearty breakfast served this morning." Georgiana smiled appreciatively, "Dear Mrs. Reynolds. She carries on so when Mrs. Annesley is not about. She must think me to waste away to nothing." Georgiana continued, her brow arching with teasing accusation, "And without the relief of any of my brothers or sisters, I was pressed to sample one of everything Cook prepared! So, do forgive me if I do not desire any food well onto dinner. I believe I will have a cup of tea with you, though."
"Jane and Bingley were not at breakfast?" Elizabeth asked curiously.
Georgiana answered from the sideboard as she prepared her tea. "No, I was quite alone this morning, well, that is except for Mrs. Reynolds, who popped in from time to time," she added lightly. "Have you, then, surrendered the idea of visiting Amberlain, today?" Georgiana inquired casually as she returned to the table with her cup.
Darcy and Elizabeth exchanged a mutual look of chagrin. With the pleasures of the morning occupying their time, neither one had given thought to the plans made the evening before. After consulting his pocket watch, Darcy directed his answer first to Elizabeth, then to his sister, "We might yet see the estate today, if we leave without much delay. Georgiana, have you not seen either of the Bingleys this morning?"
"No, I have not." Noticing the concern passing through Elizabeth's eyes, Georgiana quickly offered, "However, I must confess to having passed the time in the music room since breakfast."
Knowing Jane might require particular assistance in the early morning, Elizabeth felt a moment of guilt not having inquired after her sister before sitting down to their meal. "If you will excuse me, I think I ought to check on Jane." Elizabeth was just laying her napkin to the side of her plate as Darcy caught sight of one of the persons in question.
"Hello, there! Bingley, we are in here!" Darcy hailed his friend as he passed by the door.
Prepared to apologize for their inattentiveness, Darcy was momentarily silenced by his brother's demeanor. Usually placid and light-hearted, Bingley appeared worried and distracted.
Darcy's eyes widened with concern, "I say Bingley, what is it?"
"Darcy, I am afraid I must trouble you to send for your doctor. It is Jane. She is quite ill again this morning. She gives me every assurance she does not require a physician's care. However, I have insisted she allow your good doctor--Poole is it?-- to examine her. I was on my way to summon him, just now."
"Of course, Bingley, we will send for him directly." Darcy replied without hesitation, rising decidedly from his chair.
"Charles," The two men stopped, waiting for the rest of Elizabeth's question, "Has Jane had anything to eat today?"
"No, Jane has not eaten today."
"Perhaps, she would recover with a light repast."
Bingley paused considering the possibility. "I do not believe Jane's infirmity will allow her to eat." Bingley did not elaborate, not wishing to be indelicate, especially while the ladies were still at the table.
"Please Charles, will you allow me to see Jane before you send for the doctor? I am certain a little food and a cup of tea will relieve her suffering tolerably well," Elizabeth offered confidently.
Elizabeth's knowledge of her sister and the kindness in her expression was sufficient reason for him to reconsider his course. "Jane did disclaim any need to call upon the doctor. Perhaps, if you know this remedy to help..."
Darcy interrupted before he could completely acquiesce, "It is no trouble, Bingley, to summon the doctor." Darcy looked to Elizabeth in small reproof, then back to Bingley. "While this recipe may be of some relief, let us consult his good judgment and be certain there is not more to be done to restore Jane to good health."
Bingley, an infinitely congenial man could not disagree with either recommendation, "Yes, perhaps, we ought to secure Dr. Poole's opinion. Pray, Elizabeth would you also attend to Jane, while we wait for his arrival? I would find your help a great source of comfort."
"Yes, of course." Elizabeth felt compassion for her brother. He was genuinely troubled for Jane. Little did he realize he would soon learn Jane's "infirmity" would be a source of joy.
"Come, Bingley, we will dispatch the carriage for the doctor's immediate return." As Darcy ushered Bingley through the door, he regarded Elizabeth with a look of disbelief at her casual treatment of Jane's ill health. Elizabeth returned his look calmly, knowing with the advent of a doctor's visit, he would understand soon enough.
Georgiana inquired carefully, "Elizabeth, forgive me. Are you not troubled by the return of Jane's sickness?"
Elizabeth rose from the table as she acknowledged Georgiana's puzzlement, "I must appear insensitive to the physical plight of our sister. I assure you I am sorry to learn of her indisposition. Of course I do not wish Jane to be ill. However, I think we shall find our summoning of Dr. Poole to be premature. Will you accompany me to Jane's chambers? I believe you will better understand."
The two maintained a flow of light conversation as they walked through the adjoining rooms, making their way to the upper chambers. As they entered the main hall, the ladies abruptly abandoned their subject. Elizabeth and Georgiana looked back in fright at the thunderous sound fast approaching from behind. The two moved quickly aside to avoid being dashed down by a pair of Darcy's prized Great Danes as they bounded through the hall, jubilant in their escape from their temporary warden. The vase of flowers decorating the low-standing table, however, was not so fortunate as a hound's tale swept by in the dog's pursuit of freedom. The delicate porcelain shattered as the sound of the groomsman's voice could be heard shouting after his charges, desperate to stop them. "Brutus, Caesar, heal!" A maid, who had been busily attending to her dusting, was able to turn only in time to witness the demise of the valuable vase. Elizabeth cringed at the high-pitched crescendo as Georgiana covered a gasp with her hand, both powerless to save the vessel. Tucking under his haunches, Caesar clawed at the threads of the rug as he tried to race from the threatening noise.
Elizabeth asked breathlessly, hoping it would not be the worst of news, "Georgiana, was it a treasure of the family?"
"No, I can not place it as having been here long. What a pity, though for an object of beauty to be wantonly destroyed."
Their shock became amusement as the groomsman came to a skidding halt over the wet tangle of flowers and vase strewn across the floor, the maid complained in dismay, "Riley, can't you restrain those things?! Look at the mess they've made in my hall!" Riley, looking sheepish, shrugged his shoulders, incapable of speaking a proper response as he resumed his hapless chase. The maid's irritation was evident to the onlookers as she stood, her hands on her hips, shaking her head while surveying the mess on the floor. "I don't know why the missus even allows those beasts in the house!"
Elizabeth approached, laughing at the hilarity of the scene and yet feeling compassion for the maid's trouble. "Hannah, I am exceedingly sorry."
She whirled about in surprise. Hannah had not known she was in the company of any but her own thoughts. "Mrs. Darcy, Miss Darcy," Hannah curtsied obligingly. "I'll have this cleaned up straight away, ma'am."
Elizabeth smiled knowingly, "I am confident you will, Hannah. The quality and expediency of your work can never be called into question. I am only sorry the dogs have caused you this tribulation."
Hannah blushed, suspecting Mrs. Darcy had overheard her lament. "Their tales aren't so long to bend the silver ma'am, but I fear the Wedgwood is lost." She looked over the shards of porcelain amongst the crushed flowers.
"True, the candelabra are safe--for the moment. Perhaps greater care may be taken to prevent any more mishaps," Elizabeth suggested sympathetically.
Georgiana added her assurance, "Mrs. Darcy and I will encourage their restraint when in the house. I am certain William would regret the ill-consequence of his Danes' bad behavior."
"Thank you ma'am," Hannah smiled appreciatively.
Mr. Crane appeared silently from some unknown place having been summoned by the commotion. Elizabeth marveled at the man's stealth. She supposed it was the result of years of practiced unobtrusiveness, but she found it unnerving at times.
Before he could assume the maid at fault and subject her to any censure, Elizabeth explained simply, "The hounds."
Crane maintained his imperturbable composure. "Yes, Madame."
"Mr. Crane, will you see that Hannah is not left to this all herself? And, please have a plate of plain scones or biscuits sent to Mrs. Bingley's chambers along with the fixings for tea. The water must be very hot with a generous portion of ginger to steep."
Georgiana advised good-naturedly, adding to the butler's lists of obligations, "Perhaps one with greater command of the dogs ought to be dispatched to aid poor Riley, as well."
"Yes, ma'am." Crane, bowed obediently to the ladies before leaving to accomplish his duties.
Her amusement still sparkling in her eyes, Elizabeth looked to Georgiana, "Do you think it to be safe--shall we attempt our progress once more?"
Georgiana looked up and down the length of the hall, while laughing, "It appears so, although our ears would know of their approach before our eyes!"
Hannah curtsied politely as the ladies continued on toward the stairs.
Upon reaching the stairs, the faint sound of a groomsman voice could still be heard now pleading with the errant hounds. Georgiana peered crossways to Elizabeth, arching her brow playfully. The simple gesture was all that was required. Georgiana and Elizabeth laughed freely as they mounted the steps.
The hall to the guest chambers was in itself a very pleasant place in Pemberley, the prior masters and mistresses having thoughtfully selected only those accessories and furnishings which created an air of dignity and hospitality for their guests' passage. Framed works, including those of fashion and value, collected over the years, adorned the walls with settees thoughtfully placed along the way for guests to rest and admire the art. Fruited arrangements of every kind and season decorated the tables, the fanciful combination of size and color to delight the eyes and sweetness to satisfy the palate. (Pemberley's forcing gardens ensured a guest's appetite would never be in want of the freshest fare.) Should a guest desire the diversion of the written word beyond that which could be found in their own chambers, a supply of books could be found in the glass-fronted cases placed near the settees. The present master of Pemberley, himself, took great care in the selection of author and subject for his guest's reading. For the ladies, he was certain to choose works of poetry and delicate prose. For the gentlemen, he supplied books of history and philosophy. In general, though, one could always find the works of Shakespeare available, an author he deemed appealing to both genders.
With all the pleasantness these appointments provided, it was most certainly the sweet bouquet of the flora filling the hall which would cause one to pause and admire the peaceful setting. Georgiana slowed before one of the arrangements, welcoming their entrance, carefully withdrawing a bloom of delicate pink blush from the vase. Having lingered a moment in the heady scent of the rose, Georgiana stepped quickly to regain her companion who had continued for a short span before realizing she was alone.
Elizabeth slipped her arm through Georgiana's as she joined her, much as she would with her beloved Jane. The decorum of the still hall soothed their playfulness into a quiet ease as they shared a moment of peaceful silence. Elizabeth's countenance was that of a woman of inner contentment. Recently married to the man whose heart was now lovingly entwined with her own, the affection she had begun to share with her newly acquired sister added such measure to her felicity, she often marveled at how she had come to be so happily situated. Elizabeth observed her sister as they walked together, appreciating Georgiana's own serene smile.
Elizabeth intoned invitingly, "You possess every appearance of a contented young woman, today."
Georgiana looked up from the blossom, "Oh, yes, Elizabeth. I am contented. I must confess these past days have left me very happy, indeed. Am I to expect the events of every ball to fill me with such delight? My heart overflows with the felicity of enchanted memories. I can hardly believe it was real."
"Yes, I suspect you shall have occasion to attend many grand balls in your lifetime. I hope you will experience as much felicity with each one. Although I suspect this one will always hold a particular significance in your heart." Georgiana's unaffected enthusiasm prompted Elizabeth's wide smile. "Georgiana, we have not had a moment of privacy since that evening and I have been most eager to pay you every compliment on your deportment. I must say, you were a most gracious hostess with our guests at breakfast of morning last. You made a very favorable impression with Lord and Lady Clandon, I am certain."
Georgiana blushed at the significant compliment. "Thank you, sister. You are very kind."
"Not at all, Georgiana. You deserve the highest praise. I believe most particularly for your composure during the ball." Elizabeth's eyes twinkled as her playfulness returned, "As I recall, you were frightened to the point of almost fainting before the ball, and yet you were the picture of grace and charm with all your gentlemen," Elizabeth spoke with exaggerated emphasis on the word "all."
Georgiana glanced shyly at Elizabeth, while smiling mischievously, "There were rather a few peacocks parading about, were there not?" Georgiana was compelled to join in freely with Elizabeth's unrestrained laughter. Fixing her gaze ahead of them, she exclaimed, "I was eminently grateful for the dances; it seemed the only opportunity to recollect myself from all the fluttering and strutting of feathers!"
Elizabeth hugged her companion's arm closer to hers, treasuring the openness Georgiana was beginning to assume with her. Elizabeth laughed lightly, "You were rather surrounded." Then more conspiratorially, "I believe Fitzwilliam struggled greatly to know whether to intervene on your behalf. He loves you deeply, Georgiana and he wishes you every source of happiness. But I believe the attentions of so many gentlemen in the course of one evening tested him sorely. Indeed, he was immensely relieved when Colonel Fitzwilliam came to your aid."
Georgiana's steps slowed, finally stopping in the middle of the hall. Elizabeth released her arm, turning to her in silent question. Anxiety strained the serenity in Georgiana's eyes as her smile faded. A wince of pain flashed over her face, as Georgiana's grasp tightened while remembering how William had looked at her. Quickly unwrapping her fingers, Georgiana found a spot of blood where the sharp point of the rose's thorns had pricked the tenderness of her soft palm. As her finger smoothed away the blood from her small wound, Georgiana knew she must expose the hurt in her heart.
"Elizabeth... has William confided in you?...Will you not tell me?" Georgiana spoke softly as she raised her eyes to meet her sister's concerned gaze, "What did I do at the ball that was so abhorrent to him?" Dropping her hands in despair, Georgiana searched the air for enlightenment. "I have examined my actions--my conduct with Colonel Fitzwilliam during the ball--I cannot perceive any wrongdoing. I concede I felt more at liberty with him than the other gentlemen--his manner invited my conversation, where the other's did not." Georgiana's expression implored Elizabeth's wisdom, "Is it improper to converse freely with a gentleman, especially one's relation? Did William believe I was being forward with our cousin?" Tears began to pool in her eyes revealing her sincere distress.
Elizabeth glanced down the hall, in search of a place for Georgiana to sit down. Guiding her to a settee not far from where they stood, Elizabeth spoke earnestly "Oh, Georgiana, I believe a grievous error is the cause of your pain. Let us sit down and I will endeavor to relieve your suffering."
As Elizabeth pondered a moment, Georgiana wiped away the tear trailing from the corner of her eye. "Georgiana, I hardly know where to begin. I believe I know the moment of which you speak and I may tell you it has been cause for a great deal of confusion and trouble in this house." Inquiring gently, "Was it while you were near the wine table, engaged in conversation with the Colonel, that you believed Fitzwilliam to be expressing his displeasure with you?"
Georgiana replied, helpless to understand his severity, "Yes, Elizabeth. If you had but seen his expression!" Tears began welling up in her eyes again, "He was so angered with me. I know William is not a violent man, but the intensity of his eyes...He looked as though he wished to physically remove me from my conversation. I am certain his vexation was more than he wished to exhibit at a social affair for he left the room!"
Elizabeth took Georgiana's hands in her own, "Dear Georgiana, I did see his expression." Elizabeth paused, remembering her own alarm at the turn of Fitzwilliam's countenance as he had observed John at the ball. For Georgiana to have seen...to have perceived it so... Elizabeth shook her head in disbelief. "This is dreadful. When I think how you must have suffered, believing his look was meant for you..."
Blinking back her tears in disbelief, Georgiana insisted, "Elizabeth, what are you intimating? Of course it was meant for me; he was glaring directly through me."
"Yes. And I, too, was convinced of his disapprobation. However last night, I was relieved to find you were not the intended recipient of his anger."
Georgiana asked still not completely convinced, "William said as much?"
A wry smile slipped over her lips as she remembered their confused exchange, "Yes, that and more." Continuing more seriously, "Georgiana, Fitzwilliam would be severely grieved by the distress you have felt. You are not the source of his vexation." At least not directly as you suppose, Elizabeth did not add.
"Sister, please do not think me uncharitable in receiving this news with disbelief. If William was not angry with me, then with whom?" Georgiana's eyes grew wide in alarm. "Oh, no. Do not say it was with our cousin!"
"No, he is not displeased with Colonel Fitzwilliam either," Elizabeth replied emphatically. Her brow furrowed momentarily as she became consciously aware he had not directly informed her on that subject. However for her sister's sake, she smiled reassuringly and continued, "Pray, allow me to explain."
Before she could supply Georgiana with any information, though, Elizabeth was interrupted by an underbutler clearing his throat as he stood respectfully apart from their conversation. The two looked about them mildly startled. Having been so intent on their conversation, neither had taken notice of his approach.
"Yes, Thomas?" Elizabeth acknowledged the servant, wondering if John would have been the one to deliver the tea had he been allowed in the house today. She half wished it had been the offending servant that she might observe him for herself while in Georgiana's presence.
"Excuse me, Mrs. Darcy. I have Mrs. Bingley's tea as you requested. May I take it to her?"
She did not wish to delay her attention to the sister waiting her in the chamber, yet could the one before her suspend her affliction? Elizabeth looked quickly to Georgiana. No, she would not leave her in this consternation.
"Yes, Thomas, thank you. Please knock quietly; Mrs. Bingley may be resting. Her maid will accept the tray from you. Inform Margaret of our intentions to follow shortly."
As Thomas walked past, Elizabeth's mind raced to decide how to approach the subject, now that the moment was at hand. If Georgiana experienced this distress when believing her brother angry from her attentions to their cousin, then she believed, with relative certainty, Georgiana was not already welcoming the attentions of a servant, if for no other reason than to avoid his rebuke. However, would she cause her alarm, if she suggested John...
Georgiana waited for their privacy to be restored, before looking intently at Elizabeth, impatient for the intelligence she possessed. Her demand prevented any further deliberation, "Elizabeth, please tell me! If William was not angry with me and he was not angry with Colonel Fitzwilliam, then with whom?!"
She could not be certain of the proper approach and yet she must. Elizabeth sighed in frustration, before beginning with, "Georgiana, Fitzwilliam was angered by his observations of one of Pemberley's servants..." Elizabeth was serious in her retelling of the story, the humor she had found the evening before, having now been consumed by the turmoil associated with the objectionable scene. But try as she might, she could not bring herself to discuss Fitzwilliam's interpretation of John's look and actions.
Georgiana regarded Elizabeth calmly, waiting for her to continue. When she did not, Georgiana pressed firmly, "Elizabeth, you are not telling me everything. William may not have wished for his wine to be wasted, but he is not so materialistic. At most, he might have sternly requested John to take greater care." She stopped, considering his expression again in light of this new intelligence--that his actions were in some way prompted by John Harkenson. Georgiana spoke her thoughts out loud, sifting through her understanding of her brother. "No, Elizabeth, there is more to this than you let on. You said William thought John was looking at me, in particular, when he let the wine go over the glass?"
Elizabeth merely nodded.
Georgiana heard Elizabeth's words from before ...sorely tested by the attention of gentlemen... Her eyes met Elizabeth's in shock and disbelief, "William does not think John to be paying me particular attention, that is of a gentleman to a lady?"
Elizabeth nodded again, her countenance apologizing for the suggestion, yet not dismissing it either.
"This can not be! Elizabeth, from one look?" Georgiana frowned. "I had not believed my brother to be so suspicious."
"I must confess I had doubted his conclusion as well. However, I am persuaded by other evidence he presents..."
Leaving her place by Elizabeth, Georgiana crossed slowly to the other side of the hall. Elizabeth thought she looked very much like her brother just then, pondering in her pacing.
"And it is by these behaviors William has formed his opinion of John's affections?" Georgiana asked rhetorically. Drawing her face in doubt, "Elizabeth, I find it difficult to believe this to be so. I know I have not experienced much of the world...does a man become awkward and silent in the presence of one he holds in esteem?"
Elizabeth laughed, "Yes, some men. Others talk more, until you think they will not stop."
Elizabeth knew she must finally ask the delicate question, "Georgiana, it is more than this we find troubling. Has John...approached you in any way?"
The meaning behind her sister's words was clear. A sudden appreciation filled her understanding. "William is afraid for my safety? And you," regarding Elizabeth kindly, "You are disquieted as well." Georgiana sat next to her, "I assure you I am well. John has never been anything, but polite and obliging. I am certain he would never..." She did not feel it necessary to complete the thought. "If he does have feelings for me, he has never acted upon them in any way." A vague thought harkened, but she was too intent on their topic to pay it mind. "But, Elizabeth, pray, tell me, why did William not speak of this himself?"
"I believe he did not wish to frighten you." Elizabeth smiled softly, "And, it is a rather difficult subject for a brother to discuss with his sister, no matter the depth of his concern."
Georgiana readily accepted her explanation. "Yes, he is sweet is he not?" Georgiana offered lightly, "I am certain we have accomplished the end to our investigation more quickly than if it had been between William and me. With the 'hrms' and 'ums' we might have taken all day!"
Elizabeth laughed, knowing she predicted rightly. Teasing both her relations, "I am not certain, though, who would have blushed more!"
The pink over spreading Georgiana's cheeks confirmed the truth for at least the one.
"Georgiana, let us be serious. Knowing what you do, will you now be comfortable with John in the house? Fitzwilliam is most anxious to know your wishes on this subject. He will not hesitate to remove him to another duty or refer him to another's service if you will not.
"Yes, Elizabeth, quite so. I would not wish John to lose his position on my account. His family has served Pemberley for generations! No, I do not feel the need for any change. Do you think William able to accept this? I would not want him frightening poor John every time he is about."
"I will inform him of your answer. But I can not vouch for his ability to move beyond his suspicion. Only time will tell, I am afraid. Perhaps knowing you will confide in either of us if you ever feel in doubt..."
"You may be assured, if I am frightened in any way, I will confide in you."
Elizabeth drew a deep breath. "Well. Now shall we see to Jane?" Georgiana smiled and nodded her assent.
As the two regained their path to Jane's chambers, Georgiana puzzled, "Elizabeth, if a man might be silent or awkward or just as likely the opposite, then how is one to know if a man loves her?"
Considering her own poor history, Elizabeth suggested, "Perhaps that subject should best be left for another time."
The sound of the knob turning drew Bingley's attention away from the Gentlemen's Quarterly.
He hadn't actually been concentrating on the magazine, only leafing through its pages, desperate for some diversion while the doctor examined his wife. He had already searched the grounds of Pemberley through the anteroom's window, observing to himself, Certainly Darcy would have restored his equilibrium by such measure. But his anxious heart had found no such source of solace. Bingley had restlessly paced about the room until, remembering the publication on the table, he sat down with the intent of focusing his mind on its words.
Ah, relief! The doctor at last. Bingley quickly left his place at the table approaching the man as he exited the bed chamber.
"Dr. Poole, what of Jane? Are you able to relieve her suffering?" Bingley inquired hopefully.
The doctor smiled kindly, a little twinkle in his eye, "Mr. Bingley, I am pleased to inform you I find nothing out of the ordinary way with your wife. She appears to be responding favorably to Mrs. Darcy's remedies. These and a little more rest each day are all she requires for the present. While her troubles may continue for a time, her suffering shall pass soon enough."
Mrs. Bingley had implored him not to tell her husband, wishing to be the one to give the joyous news, so before Mr. Bingley insisted on knowing the possible cause for his wife's reoccurring illness, Dr. Poole added, resolutely ending their conversation, "Mrs. Bingley wishes to speak with you...Good day, sir. I will see my way out."
Bingley looked at the door as it closed behind the doctor, not at all relieved and more than a little puzzled at the doctor's indifference to his wife's symptoms. They did not seem at all "ordinary" has he had put it.
Jane's smile welcomed her husband with all the love she felt in her heart as he peered hesitantly about the door to their bed chamber. Patting the covers next to her, Jane beckoned him to join her as she sat perched on the side of the bed.
Bingley began hopefully, as he neared her side, "Jane, are you at all improved?" Stopping to appreciate the rosy hue in her cheeks and the shine in her eyes, he continued with a sense of relief, "But I can see that you are. I did not think Dr. Poole's opinion reliable that this would pass, since it has been two days you have suffered so. But as I see you now, I think perhaps I judged him too quickly. Was he more forthcoming with you than me? Might we hope this the end of it?"
"Please do not regard Dr. Poole with any doubt. I find him a gentleman of kindly feelings, very much informed in the ways of my condition," Jane attempted to assure him of her trust in the physician even though they had just met. She wished to tell her husband their joy directly, but her discourse was unintentionally redirected by his question. "He has cautioned me I might experience this illness regularly for some months..."
Bingley interrupted her in astonishment, "For some months?! Is there no means of permanent relief? But what has brought on this sudden condition--does it have a name?"
Jane's joy bubbled forth as she resumed her original intent, "Yes, I believe this condition shall have a name, but we might wish to first know whether it be a boy or a girl."
Confusion swept over Bingley's features, a boy or a .... A tremor of excitement shook him to realization, "Jane, are you?... Are we to have a?...Am I to be a?..."
Jane answered as best she could from within his enthusiastic embrace, "Yes, you are to be a father, my dearest Bingley."
For the passing of the next hour, Jane found her husband to be a curious pupil, eager to understand what was to come in the following days and months, always expressing concern for her well-being. Knowing he would be troubled with too much mention of possible ill-affects of carrying their child, she explained only what she thought helpful for him to know while assuring him repeatedly hers would not be any greater to endure than any other woman with child.
Bingley wrapped his wife protectively in his arms, "My dearest angel, how brave you are! I am certain I should not bear it so well." Jane raised her eyes, meeting her husband's as he released his full embrace, his hands resting lightly at her elbows. Bingley whispered before their lips met tenderly, "Thank you." He held her gaze as they parted, "You have made me the happiest of men."
Bingley led his wife deeper into the bed, guiding her body to rest within his arms as they reclined against the pillows. Accepting the light blanket he offered, Jane nestled in close to her husband, allowing her breathing to join with his in the rise and fall of his chest. Basking in the warmth of their intimacy, joyful hearts expressed themselves in musings over their unborn child...
a boy for you, to be your heir...
a girl with her mother's fair beauty and sweet spirit...
Charles for you and Bennet for my family...
Amelia for my mother and Elizabeth for your sister...
Bingley allowed the softness of Jane's golden hair to caress the line of his neck, while picturing her cradling their newborn babe. Bingley sighed contentedly, reaching his hands over Jane's womb--in her innermost parts, his child was miraculously being formed.
Georgiana chose to remain upstairs after visiting with Jane, rather than joining Elizabeth on her walk before dinner. The tumultuous change of emotions throughout the morning had left Georgiana fatigued and with the beginnings of a headache. But even as she rubbed the dull ache in the back of her neck, Georgiana smiled as she walked toward her chambers. Nothing could diminish her joy at the confidence just shared with her-- A baby.
Georgiana mused happily as she walked, Jane and Charles are certain to be the most attentive, loving parents. And if they are successful in locating in the north, I shall be able to offer my extended help and still spend at least a little of the summer at Pemberley. Of course they will employ the services of a nurse, but how much better to have an enthusiastic aunt about! As Georgiana neared her door, she pictured herself holding the dear little one, playing with chubby little fingers and little pink toes. I must learn sweet songs to sing to my little niece--or nephew. Mrs. Reynolds must know many. Georgiana knew their housekeeper would be more than pleased to oblige her. As Georgiana entered her chambers, the ill-affects of the day had begun to ease with the playful thoughts filling her mind.
Her sitting room greeted her with the sun's amber glow cheerfully diffused over the lavender and gray floral appointments of the room. On another day, the room's luminance might have invited her to choose a book of verse or undertake the working of her needlepoint or the design of a new table, but today, Georgiana leisurely crossed to the window, reaching to pull the drapes. She thought it a shame really to close out the enlivening rays, but for now, she wished only for a peaceful place to rest.
As she pulled the drapes to, she spied two figures, arms linked amiably as they strolled together. The one tall and handsomely clad in his great coat; debonair in his manner with his stride relaxed along side his companion. The other slight, the ribbons of her bonnet dancing in the gentle breeze, teasing at her partner's arm. Her expression bright and vivacious as she turned to speak with him. Georgiana's smile spoke her approval, as she clutched the drapes to her, thinking a little wistfully, A more perfect union than this, who can find?
"Oh, Miss Georgiana!" Mary exclaimed as she came from Georgiana's bed chamber. "I did not hear you come in." Mary acknowledged her mistress with a quick curtsy. "I was just tidying up a bit in the other room. May I get you something?"
Georgiana slowly closed the drapes, relinquishing her observation. "Yes, Mary. Thank you. Since you are here, would you bring me a light blanket? I wish to rest before dinner." Georgiana walked to the chaise which had been recently moved closer to the fireplace in anticipation of its warming heat, now that the air was turning crisp with the coolness of Autumn.
Mary retrieved the blanket without delay, returning with some concern. "Are you unwell, Miss? Shall I inform your brother, while the doctor might yet be here?"
Georgiana sat on the lounge, covering a small yawn. Mary was merely a year older than she, yet she looked after her as attentively as a mother hen, but without the fuss and bother. Georgiana thought it rather sweet. She had requested Mary as her new maid not more than a twelve-month ago, with Mrs. Reynolds' recommendation of her generous, loving nature. The two had quickly developed a kind regard for the other with the formal nature of the relationship yielding soon after to a familiarity unique for a maid and mistress. Georgiana considered her a friend. She especially admired Mary's easy way of caring for life and the readiness of her laughter. She had insisted Mary call her by her Christian name, although she could not persuade her to forego the "Miss."
Mary had long been curious about Georgiana, having lived all her life with her family in one of Pemberley's tenancies. As a young girl, she might catch a glimpse of the master's daughter as she played outside or as the carriage carried her along the road past their house. Mary had envied her riches and the privileges they brought--living in the finest house in Derbyshire, visits to London, tutors, beautiful dresses. Even though they had never exchanged more than a passing greeting after divine services, Mary's prejudice convinced her Miss Darcy must be as proud and disagreeable as any wealthy girl was supposed to be.
But when she came of age to serve as a maid in Pemberley house, Mary observed quite a different person than the one she had conjured. She realized Georgiana Darcy was in truth, kind and friendly to all, as well as, a little shy. The honor of being selected to replace Georgiana's maid, then married and gone away, made Mary's regret of her shameful judgment burn all the more deeply.
As Mary was more in the company of her new mistress, she had thought how often she was without the society of others her own age. While Mary had been only too happy to leave the hullabaloo of nine other brothers and sisters, she cherished the closeness they shared, having been each other's playmates and confidants over the years. Mary knew Georgiana never experienced the vexations of having so many siblings, but with only one older brother, she could also not know the joys of a crowded house. The woman she had envied so long, now garnered her compassion.
So it had been from the earliest days, Mary had set her mind to leaving nothing undone that could be done for Georgiana, wishing her new mistress to know she was cared for. Georgiana's open appreciation of Mary's skillful service fostered an even greater regard, but it had been her gracious and inviting ways that had moved Mary to join with her in an unexpected friendship. When alone, Mary returned Georgiana's affection without reservation. But while she held Georgiana in equal esteem, Mary was ever aware of the difference of their birth and the limitations it must place. In the presence of any save themselves, her friend was strictly her mistress, Miss Darcy.
Smiling appreciatively, "No, Mary, do not be troubled. I am well. I am only in need of a little sleep. Will you wake me in time to dress for dinner?"
Mary spread the blanket over Georgiana as she lowered onto the chaise. "I have your new dress prepared--the blue one just arrived from London. Do you wish to wear it tonight?" Mary hoped her anticipation was not as apparent as she feared. She had not seen the dress on Georgiana yet, but suspected she would cause quite a stir in it.
"The midnight blue one? I had thought I might wait to introduce that one in town...but I can see you will be disappointed if I do not." Georgiana smiled, conceding, "The blue one, it is."
Mary accepted her answer with delight. "Shall I call in an hour, then?"
Georgiana nodded her reply, nestling into the blanket, its soothing warmth inviting her to succumb. Mary closed the door quietly behind her, leaving Georgiana to her dreams.
The surrounding darkness gave way as the spirit of the strings and brass swirled about her in smoky wisps of crimson and blue, transporting her into another world--one filled with elegantly dressed gentlemen and ladies intimately held, waltzing in and out of the darkness. Georgiana stood transfixed as a figure emerged from the darkness. A long black cape flowed generously, cloaking the man's form within, his height made more imposing by the chapeau bras tilted rakishly to one side. The crimson hues encircled his body, flowing past the mask obscuring his features from her view. Georgiana caught her breath as the phantom gentleman slipped his fingers beneath the golden twist of her necklace, the cool of his fingers chilling as they brushed against her warmth as he traced down to the cameo laying against her exposed skin.
"My angel," he whispered seductively. Georgiana could not move, her breath coming in short, silent gasps as his eyes held hers. Lingering on the soft curve of her shoulders, his hands caressed the silkiness of the midnight covering her arms, "My exquisite angel." A single rose of deepest red materialized in his hand, "Dance with me."
Georgiana's delicate fingers clasped the rose, surrendering to his sensuous command. She could feel the beating of her heart against his chest as he drew her in to him.
Whispers filled her senses as he guided her effortlessly through the darkness. "Come away with me, my angel."
"Sir, I...," Georgiana struggled to keep her bearings, feeling dizzy, intoxicated by the sway of the music. Georgiana looked down from his gaze before pushing herself from his hold, "Nay, sir, I must know your identity." Her hand reached haltingly for the object of her distress as he yielded to her demand.
He spoke luringly, "Georgiana...Georgiana." Streams of crimson billowed the edges of his cape as her fingers grasped the silken mask. (Whispers), "Georgiana...Miss Georgiana. Miss Georgiana"
"Oh!" Georgiana's eyes flew open, suddenly clutching the hand gently pressing at her shoulder. Mary started as Georgiana stared at her wildly. Georgiana exhaled deeply, releasing the tension of her dream, resting back into her couch. Stroking her temple lightly, "Oh, Mary, I have had the most extraordinary dream!"
"Miss, Georgiana, you are pale and flushed all at once." Mary's voice emphasized her concern. "I will retrieve the salts."
Georgiana gently grasped Mary's arm, "No, I am not faint, only shaken."
Mary offered when she did not continue, "Some say a dream speaks to you of the station of your soul. Was it such a dream?"
The dream flashed through her mind, as she considered, "Yes, Mary, I believe it was." She could see Mary wished to know the content of her vision, but she was not prepared to reveal its intimate nature. "Mary, forgive me. I must ask to be alone. I will join you when I am recovered."
Mary's mouth opened as if to speak, then hesitated. Reluctantly, "Yes, Miss Georgiana. I will go lay out your evening things."
Mary's unspoken disappointment laced Georgiana's heart with regret, but she simply could not acknowledge to anyone the mood--the sensuous feel--of her dream. It was some moments before Georgiana rose to dress.
Georgiana waited for Mary at her dressing table, opening her box to select a fitting accent for her gown. As she searched about the contents, a small bag, tucked carefully in the bottom, beckoned for her attention.
My angel. Georgiana's fingers traced thoughtfully over the raised figure of the cameo in her hand. Who are you, my admirer? Do you possess the passionate regard of the gentleman in my dream? she wondered silently. Georgiana slipped the cameo onto the twist, holding the braid of gold against her skin to see how the mysterious gift might look with her new gown. Georgiana stared incredulously at the woman in her mirror. All was as it had been in her vision. Heat coursed through her, as she relived the sensation of his hand against her skin, the provocative allure of his voice, the strength of his body against hers...
"Will any of these suit your fancy, tonight?" Mary came from the wardrobe with lace tuckers in hand.
Georgiana returned to the present, blushing furiously, embarrassed by the thoughts she entertained. Laying her necklace down, Georgiana turned to make her selection. As she pondered, Mary's eyes wandered curiously to the table. The turn of her expression as her eyes came to rest on the small object, while fleeting, was not unnoticed by Georgiana. But its meaning, she could not discern.
Georgiana held up the cameo for Mary's admiration, "Is it not exquisitely made? Have you ever seen anything so naturally beautiful?"
"Yes, Miss" Mary acknowledged quietly. Seeing Georgiana's surprise, Mary continued quickly, "No...That is to say... Yes, Miss, it is beautiful."
Georgiana looked quizzically at her discomposed friend. It was most unlike her, but her voice betrayed envy. And disappointment? Georgiana wondered. "Mary, have you indeed seen a cameo such as this?"
"Yes, although of a different subject."
Georgiana's pulse quickened, exhilarated on the verge of discovery. "Where did you see such a cameo?"
"Mrs. Harkenson was wearing it for the servant's ball at Christmastide. 'Twas her son who made it for her."
Georgiana laid the necklace on the table, relinquishing her possession of the item. She could not calm the trembling in her hands as she flattened them on top of her legs. John Harkenson?! Extraordinary! Releasing the breath she held, William's perceptiveness is to be defended it would seem. Georgiana regarded Mary's reflection in the mirror searching for more information in her expression, but Mary would not return her gaze. Why? What disquiets her so? Georgiana probed gently, "Mary, do you know John well?"
Her maid looked up, surprised by the question, "Sandy? Yes, Miss Georgiana, I might say I know him as well as any, having grown up around Pemberley together."
Georgiana appeared confused. "Sandy?"
"That is what we call him, Miss. A hint of red colors his yellow hair. Ever since a lad, he's been called Sandy, by them that know him."
Georgiana realized how little she actually knew about the person called, "Sandy." Taking her maid by the hand, Georgiana led her to the chairs pulled up to the fire. Placing her in the seat opposite, Georgiana commanded her, "Mary, you must tell me everything you know about John Harkenson."
Continued in Part 2
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