As it happened, the occupants of the drawing room had segregated themselves into two groups, those undertaking silent pursuits had situated near to the necessary illumination of candles, while the others chatted agreeably near the gently flaming hearth. Charles, though, was the exception of this group, since he sat quietly, gazing at his wife in complete admiration of her condition. Jane accepted his silence easily, equally pleased with the source of his contentment. Elizabeth smiled wryly whenever looking at her brother, but she did not tease him. How could one? He was so affectionately mute.
Georgiana had been relieved to find her brothers and sisters seeking diversion other than cards or activity engaging all as a group. She had expended a great deal of energy during dinner to participate in their conversation despite the distraction of her thoughts. She doubted she could muster enough concentration to play a hand without drawing attention to herself.
As she worked her creation, Georgiana mulled over her recent discoveries. John Harkenson, an underbutler to the master of Pemberley, did indeed hold her in special regard. And Mary Lence, maid to the master's sister, wished more than she would openly admit that John Harkenson would express such tenderness for her. Mary's description painted John as a caring provider for his widowed mother and younger brothers, gentle, ever humble and of course more handsome than any man of Mary's acquaintance. Georgiana had realized as Mary talked, she had never given any real consideration of John's appearance. She had not even known the true color of his hair 'til then, having only seen him in his powdered wig and golden livery. Although, even in that, she confessed to herself, John looked very smart. But she simply could not allow herself to be moved in that direction--to suffer the certain loss of her family's esteem, as well as give pain to her friend--no, not even for one so compelling. Mary reported his abilities had long been known to those in his class, but his humility had never allowed him to pursue his gifts outside of the occasional item created for family or friend. But now he had expressed his (dare she admit it?) love for her in the only means at his disposal. Georgiana had been deeply moved, recognizing the generosity of his gift and yet despairing that Mary's affections would be requited as long as John's were focused on herself.
Good Lord, what would you have me do? Georgiana prayed silently as she pulled the long silver line of thread to its length. If she was to encourage two people into blissful union, she most assuredly would require a greater wisdom than she knew herself to possess.
Her heart was filled with the conflicting emotions of the situation, as her mind worked determinedly to come upon a happy solution for all. Never had she been so challenged in pondering the means for satisfying the demands of propriety, while preserving a man's pride and encouraging the bonds of love. Georgiana's contemplation slipped out in an audible sigh.
William looked up from the pages he had been reading, "Excuse me, Georgiana, did you say something?"
Georgiana replied, attempting an explanation that would not promote his curiosity, "No, I was only considering what to do next."
"Mm," William nodded briefly, inferring her meaning to be her needlework as she inclined the frame on her lap.
Georgiana stared at her brother with an unpleasant realization as he resumed his book, And to this equation I must add the means for avoiding William's displeasure. If he suspects any more than a look on John's part, he will surely be provoked to action.
Feeling uncomfortable as he attempted to read, William raised his eyes again from the page, searching for the source of his distraction. He was surprised to find his sister still looking at him and with an expression of dubious consideration. William's brows raised invitingly, "What is it? Do you wish to speak with me?" William closed his book to show his receptivity.
Georgiana's eyes widened momentarily in alarm. She most certainly did not wish to speak with him for fear of unintentionally conveying any of her quandary. She knew she must think quickly of a reply that would sufficiently satisfy in order for him not to pursue the subject. Assuming an air of innocence, smiling as naturally as possible, "Please excuse my unusual regard; I did not intend for your attention. I am only attempting to picture an intricate working, which suitably resolved, shall result in a beautiful composition."
Georgiana returned her needle and her eyes to the white cloth, hoping William would accept her explanation and question her no further, confident any more would qualify as a lie.
Folding his arms across his chest, William considered her words while stroking his fingers over his mouth as he observed her. Her implication would lead him to believe she referred to her needlework, alone. But in her countenance there was also present an intangible meaning. Had that been all, he might not have stopped to take notice, but she had not been herself this night. She had attended to the flow of conversation at dinner well enough, but when she thought no one noticing her, her eyes betrayed a distant contemplation. The dinner to which, he reflected, she had been very late. With all, save his sister, having been assembled for some time, Elizabeth had stated it imprudent for Jane to delay her hunger any longer, suggesting Georgiana join them at the table. Only after a message, dispatched from the dining room, did she finally appear...with apology, but no explanation, he grumbled silently. Most uncharacteristic.
During their walk, Elizabeth had assured him of Georgiana's complete surprise and equal confidence of safety--that John was to be neither a source of vexation nor danger. Having confirmed as much with Mr. Crane, as the ladies had been waiting on Jane, Darcy was prepared to allow John to continue his duties as before. Albeit with the understanding that his butler was to keep a sharp eye on the boy. Elizabeth reported Georgiana to be in fine spirit upon leaving her, although admittedly a little tired. But what he was seeing, was not fatigue.
She was troubling over something. Earlier he had dismissed the seriousness of her question to Elizabeth with an amused grin--she would know for certain that a man loved her when he requested her hand in marriage--be he silent or otherwise. Yet, might this be the very topic of her thoughts? he wondered more sincerely. If this be so, is it my duty to enlighten her in such matters? He quietly bantered the possibility in his mind, Who better to explain the thoughts and actions of a man? Elizabeth? He smiled to himself, remembering kindly her miscalculations of his own emotions. No, I think it would not be my dear wife. After all, he engaged in self-persuasion, I know all too well what it is to be involuntarily silenced in the presence of the object of your desire (Elizabeth having once assigned him as 'solemn and grave.') and I am unfortunately all that familiar with those who make royal fools of themselves. But how can I approach her on this subject? William found himself wishing for their father once more. If he were alive, he could speak with her. Would he though? He doubted again. Do fathers or elder brothers, as in this instance, speak of such to the young women of their family? Mr. Bennet had most assuredly not. But was he a fair standard? While he found him easy company, William believed him not to be the model father.
He would have chosen a completely private circumstance, However, if her mind is already engaged in the subject? And the others appear involved in their own conversation... William began to speak, before his mind was truly resolved, "Georgiana?"
Georgiana lifted her face toward his, affecting complaisance while inwardly dreading the possibilities of his address. "Yes, William?" she returned sweetly.
"Georgiana," William repeated, shifting his seat, his confidence failing.
His sister tilted her head with brows raised, waiting for him to continue.
Her naivet» consumed his last drop of resolve, "Georgiana, will you be traveling with us to Amberlain on the morrow?" William inwardly cursed his weakness.
The quivering in Georgiana's hand quieted, "I had thought I might remain here with Jane, since she has insisted upon Elizabeth going in her stead. Would that be an inconvenience to your plans?"
"No, no that will be satisfactory. Bingley will be glad to know Jane shall have company while he is gone." He looked at his sister so intently, willing his mouth to speak, but it would not
Georgiana felt suddenly shy under his gaze and only said, "Thank you" before returning to her work.
With one parting look, William surrendered his intentions, returning to his book, lamenting, Perhaps I should not judge Mr. Bennet so harshly.
Elizabeth asked the mirror as she donned her bonnet, "You are certain you wish to remain? The sun looks to shine upon us during our journey. Jane will not be cross if you choose to go."
"No, no," Georgiana insisted. "I assure you I am quite content to stay. I shall call upon Jane after her rest, practice my piano and...all will be well."
Elizabeth searched her expression. She was yet learning her sister's ways as she observed her in light of differing circumstance, so she was not confident of her speculation. The almost imperceptible hesitation and the glint of anticipation in Georgiana's eye caused Elizabeth to wonder if she had not more particular plans while they were away.
Darcy joined the two, handing Elizabeth her gloves, "I thought the barouche an agreeable choice for our travels, if you believe it warm enough?"
"Yes, a wise choice indeed. What better way for Bingley to appreciate the grandeur of our countryside! We must persuade him in every way possible!" Elizabeth returned happily.
"Georgiana, you are certain you do not wish to join us?" Darcy asked with brotherly affection.
Georgiana smiled, while scolding, "Really, if you two wish to persuade me, you must conspire more cunningly rather than fussing over me with these questions."
Darcy's brow arched, questioningly, not understanding the source of her reproof.
Elizabeth explained diplomatically, "I have only just inquired after much the same and have received your sister's insistence upon staying."
"Ah," Darcy acknowledged with a lift of his chin. As he fitted his own gloves around his fingers, "You do appear a little tired. Perhaps it is best you stay and rest. We shall join you later this evening. I expect our return to be no later than 8 o'clock. Perhaps we might enjoy a light supper together." Darcy kissed his sister lightly on her cheek before offering his arm to his wife. "Bingley waits outside."
Something in her air caused Elizabeth to turn as they reached the door, regarding Georgiana one last time. But Georgiana only stood at ease, smiling her wish for their success.
As the sound of the door pulling-to echoed in the hall, Georgiana breathed a sigh of relief before pivoting on her toes. Georgiana walked briskly to the alcove her mother had used every morning to write her correspondence. Retrieving a sheet of paper from the desk, Georgiana quickly dipped her pen in the black ink, eager to capture the words which had been filling her mind since coming upon the idea in the wee hours of the night.
Georgiana frowned at the paper. No this will not do. She pushed the sheet to the side and retrieved a clean sheet to begin again.
Dear Mr. Harkenson,
Georgiana paused, better pleased with the salutation.
You no doubt are surprised...
Blotting the last page, Georgiana grimaced at the collection of partially composed sheets pushed to the side with scratches. Never had she had such difficulty composing a letter. This is an irregular circumstance, though, is it not? Georgiana justified. As she folded and creased the pages, Georgiana glanced at the grandfather clock on the opposite wall. Her writing had taken her longer than anticipated. Jane would be expecting her. The hot liquid dripped into a pool of wax, then was firmly pressed with the family seal before it cooled. Tearing the other papers into small pieces, Georgiana was careful in her disposal of the sheets containing her abandoned attempts. I will just get this to Mary, then off to Jane. I hope she has not been waiting long.
Georgiana's visit with Jane had been pleasant, although brief. Jane's fatigue, despite her late arisal had been obvious. While Jane would never admit it, Georgiana recognized the need to continue their visit later, after Jane had rested again.
She had depended upon an extended visit with Jane to occupy her thoughts. Now with a solitary morning looming before her, Georgiana resolved to engage in some manner of distraction to divert her attention from the delivery to be made at the appropriate time in the coming evening. She had contemplated a turn about the sun-bathed gardens, but easily dismissed the idea, knowing her mind would only attend to her concerns. And while a book of poetry would be enjoyable, she feared the sentiments expressed-- love, loss, yearning, regret--would only compel her to retrieve the letter to begin anew. A demanding work on the piano-forte, appeared her only deliverance.
Having warmed and limbered her fingers, Georgiana adjusted the sheets of music before her. A particular passage had sounded tolerably well when she played for her cousin, but not to satisfaction. "Und jetzt, Herr Mozart..."
John stood outside the music room, tray in hand, listening to the notes coming from the pianoforte. He never tired of hearing her play, often finding excuse to be near as she practiced in the mid-morning--his grin spontaneous and congratulatory when she attained the spiritual quality of a work well-played. When she grappled with a phrase, he appeared constrained, inwardly willing her to achieve the perfection she desired. Though, even then, to his ears, the notes rang pure as they resonated from the touch of her delicate fingers.
A sigh could be heard from within as the music stopped after another halting play. Although, she had never actually made a request, John made it his practice to never interrupt her. But today, the notes were eluding her; her playing sounded distracted, lacking its usual flow. Perhaps, she would welcome an interruption, John considered sympathetically.
Georgiana acknowledged the discreet knock at the entry, expecting Jane to appear. To her surprise, the very person distracting her thoughts walked into the room. Her emotions mixed wildly, seeing John for the first time since learning of his feelings...Mary's feelings...and for that matter, William's. Shock, exhilaration, reserve, disbelief, hope--sent her pulse dancing.
John approached the piano, formally executing his duties, while wishing to be free to speak his words of encouragement--he knew what it was to be frustrated with the efforts of one's hands.
"Forgive me, Miss Darcy. These letters have just arrived; one came special post."
Georgiana was quiet as she carefully took in John's features for the first time, His eyes are as blue as the morning sky. Mary's affections have not exaggerated this much, I see. Georgiana blushed, embarrassed to be so affected by his appearance--he was indeed a handsome man. Taking the letters from the tray, Georgiana broke the awkward silence stretching between them, "Thank you."
John's heart pounded in his ears as he saw the painfully sweet blush spreading over the cheeks of the woman he admired. Perhaps I could remark on her playing. But no, she might wonder at my listening to her while unobserved.
Georgiana looked receptively at John, thinking him about to speak, but he only bowed without speaking and took his leave.
Oh, I hope I am about this properly! Georgiana lamented as she watched the door close.
The first letter was from Kitty Bennet. Georgiana smiled as Kitty informed her of her impending visit to Aunt and Uncle Gardiner in Gracechurch. She is to be there during our stay! Georgiana considered with enthusiasm the society they might enjoy together in town. She was not closely acquainted with her new sister, but had already found her to be lively company. The remainder of the letter passed without any further significant news--only that she was terribly bored at home, particularly now that she was left there with only Mary. Georgiana smiled compassionately. I shall write, immediately, of our coming visit to fortify you until London.
To her delight, the second letter, arriving special post, was from her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Dear Cousin Georgiana,
I hope this letter finds you well. My promise to you was to write as soon as I returned to my station which was my every intent. But as my time is not my own, my letter to you was delayed for the sake of my duties as an officer. And for the need to inquire after arrangements necessary during your stay in London. But I shall write more of that later. I have sent this missive special post with hopes it shall compensate for my tardiness.
Very thoughtful, indeed.
Georgiana scanned his words, hesitating occasionally to discern a word or two, as he described the many diversions available during their stay.
Moving to the following page, her eyes slowed, becoming wide with curiosity, as she realized the tone of the letter had changed.
Georgiana, do not think me presumptuous, but I have made arrangements for a special event to take place while we are together in London. I shall not speak of it here for fear you will refuse my request before ever arriving. (If he was to persuade her, he felt it best done in person.) Even though my purpose is cloaked, as you prepare, pray indulge me in this request...
Georgiana shook her head, disbelievingly. She had never known the Colonel to be so mysterious. What an odd request to make. But it was not until his close that her disbelief turned to shock.
You know me to have the highest respect for your brother and have always supported him in matters of import when providing for your welfare. However, in this matter I must beg your deference and entreat you to keep this in confidence. Do not be alarmed, Georgiana, I ask this of you for good reason. Pray, bestow on me your trust. You may be assured all will be revealed in London.
Please give my regards to your brother and sister. You may inform him of a letter to arrive soon with dates for the opera and theater.
Until such time as we may be together again, my very warmest regard is yours.
Colonel Edward Fitzwilliam
Georgiana paced slowly about the room, reading again his words, However, in this matter I must beg your deference and entreat you to keep this in confidence. Do not be alarmed, Georgiana, I ask this of you for good reason. Pray, bestow on me your trust.
I do trust you, Colonel. But how extraordinary!
John pulled off his wig as he approached the room he shared with others in the servant's quarters. Rubbing his fingers vigorously through the thickness of his straight cropped hair, John appeased the infernal itching of his skin. He was honored to serve the master of Pemberley, wearing the gilded livery of his respected post, just as his father and grandfather had before him, but the covering of his hair with this hot powdered cap was part of the honor he could do without. But propriety dictated his formal appearance, so he endured as best he could each day until his time was again his own.
"Sandy, wait!" a woman's voice commanded as he reached his destination. "I must speak with you."
John turned, holding his light aloft, to discover who was hailing him from down the narrow corridor.
Mary's steps brought her quickly to his side, "Sandy, Miss Darcy wishes me to deliver this to you," Mary explained a little breathlessly. She had almost missed him, not realizing he had been dismissed early and had to walk briskly to catch him.
As she extended the sealed papers, Mary's eyes traveled to his tousled hair. Mary smiled, appreciatively, thinking him to look much as he had as a young boy when he cared not for his appearance as he climbed apple trees, sifted hay for buried treasure or defended the realm from knaves and dragons atop the castle wall.
Realizing the drift of her gaze, Sandy moved with an embarrassed awkwardness, the candle flickering as he juggled the hold of his wig to under his elbow, freeing his hand to smooth the unruly lay of his hair.
"Mm, Thank you, Mary," John accepted the letter with a slight bow. (Delighting Mary to see Sandy's gentlemanly manners extended beyond just his formal service. It wasn't as though he was putting on airs. He was genuine in his politeness and of a kind other men of Mary's acquaintance certainly could not lay claim.)
"Are you going to the fair then after services tomorrow?" Mary asked the question just as Miss Georgiana had instructed, keeping her inflection as casual as possible.
Mary had told her mistress all about the spirited "goings-on" of the servant's fair. With the horse racing and gambling, the taffy pulls and hot mead, and the unchaperoned mixing of men and woman, it was a festive, carefree time for those whose lives were spent at the mercy of a master. Not wishing her friend to think it wholly frivolous, Mary had readily explained its serious purposes as well. At the appointed time and place, one had only to wear the uniform of his or her particular skill to declare themselves in want of a position. Wages would be settled upon with a gentleman, allowing the new master to return home, well satisfied with the smart price of his hire and leaving the one hired free to mix with those of his or her own class, happily knowing the source of the next meal. What Georgiana had found particularly charming, though, was the "walk," a commonly known route about the town of Lambton by which an unmarried man might engage an unmarried woman in conversation. It was generally accepted if a particular pairing was observed walking for three Sundays, a marriage would not be long off.
"Yes, Smitty and Stoker and I thought we would have a go at the horses." After a brief silence, John recognized he was to return the question, "Are you and your sisters going?"
"Yes, this is Mary Kate's first fair and she is all anticipation!" Mary's eyes widened conveying the excitement of her youngest sister.
With no more words coming to mind, Mary avoided the onset of another uncomfortable silence, "I must be back to duties. Perhaps we will see you about town. I bid you a good night, Sandy." With a becoming smile showing her amiable nature, Mary left him with a small curtsey.
John's eyes followed Mary down the hall before returning disbelievingly to the unopened letter in his hand. The color drained from his face as he starred at his name written in a woman's elegant hand, her hand. John opened the door expecting a darkened room, knowing the others were to be at service still. With most of the family away, there had been little more for John to do, so Mr. Crane had released him early. With greatest care not to wrinkle the gilded fabric, John laid his coat at the foot of the bed before taking a place on its side. Pensively, John withdrew the letter from the night table. What was he to read? Had his secret been discovered? Would her reply be acceptance or censure? Nervous exhilaration coursed through his body as his fingers broke through the seal.
Dear Mr. Harkenson, John read amazed, his standing was not of such position as to garner this manner of respectful address. Might he hope?
You no doubt are surprised upon receiving this letter, which I have instructed my maid to deliver personally. I understand you are acquainted with Miss Mary Lence and therefore presume you familiar with her trustworthiness. While she is not privy to the contents of this missive, you may be assured of her discretion in her execution of my wishes. I believe it advisable that none, but we three, ever know of this letter.
Now, I shall come to my subject. But two days past, I became the happy recipient of a rather mysterious gift. I willingly declare myself happy, for it is one of the most beautiful adornments I now possess, its quality by no means surpassed by those fashioned by the masters in London. I was most anxious to uncover the identity of the one to whom I owed my gratitude. In my quest, to my very great surprise, it was revealed to me my cameo is the work of one of Pemberley's own--a certain John Harkenson!
Passing his fingers through his hair, John read on, impatient to know her response to this discovery.
Further more, to this intelligence was added that the number of those receiving an object of your crafting is limited only to special occasion for those of closest acquaintance. My gratitude increases with such knowledge. For surely, this rarity must add strength and sincerity to the sentiments it represents. That you should celebrate my own special occasion--being introduced to society--in this manner speaks well of a generous and sensitive nature. My first season shall be forever marked by this most precious gift, for which I now thank you.
As one might suspect, my curiosity was directed toward the fine craftsman with whom I speak nearly daily, yet of whom know very little. Upon, inquiry, I was pleased to learn the character of the man to be held as fine as his work, as faithfully reported by one who knows you well: kind, generous, in possession of a quick mind and humorous wit, dependable and loving toward his family. (This but an excerpt of a lengthy discourse.) Pray excuse my presumptuous listing of your qualities. If you are at all like my brother, I am aware of the embarrassment this must produce. However, troubling you is not my intent.
As I have received a gift proceeding from a giving heart, I sincerely desire to reciprocate with equal value. But what might I give? While music speaks to the soul, its affect is often fleeting. Creations of fabric and thread, while more lasting, ill-compare with the exceptional object I received. None would satisfy my expectations. Then, a happy revelation took hold--knowledge must always be highly prized by one possessing the wisdom to put it to best use. I considered what knowledge I might possess to be of worth to this gentleman. At the risk of being found officious in my conclusion, I share it here: a gentleman of keen mind and kind heart would wish to know the identity of one whose affections may be freely given to the gentleman she esteems, without fear of reprisal.
Pray, allow me to now bestow my gift by illuminating the one who served as my source regarding your character, one who recognizes the outward as well as inward qualities of Mr. John Harkenson. She is none other than the woman whose beauty has blossomed before you during your years at Pemberley, the woman whose kindness has brought you the message you now read, Miss Mary Lence.
How a gentleman will choose to walk in this light, I may only hope. However, I find Miss Lence an excellent judge of character. As she is convinced of your wisdom, I trust my gift shall be well used, with the resulting increase of her felicity adding very soon to my own.
Again, Mr. Harkenson you have my heartfelt gratitude for the gift you have bestowed along with the generous sentiment expressed.
John sat motionless as he comprehended her meaning, affections freely given without danger of reprisal. He had known from the start, he placed himself at risk by declaring his admiration. But he would not, for all the riches of the realm, subject her gentle heart to the travail she would suffer at the loss of connection with her family. A reprisal surely meant. The very nature of her refusal, if he could call it such--for upon reflection, he realized she had actually refused him nothing--increased his admiration of her all the more.
The sputtering of the candle drew John's eyes to the single flame on the table next to his bed. An energy small and delicate, yet capable of illuminating the words he read and powerful enough to set a blaze. Leafing back through the pages, John searched for the name that had sparked a growing consciousness of a truth his heart had always known, but had not whispered loudly enough for him to hear over the noise of his infatuation.
"What a fool I have been!" John declared to the candle. "A blind fool!"
Flames seared the edges, as John held the letter to the heat of the candle before dropping it into the warming pot, watching the words brown and curl before disappearing into ash. As he pulled on his coat, John resolved to be the wise man of Miss Darcy's design.
Georgiana "poured out" for her guest, continuing to employ her burgeoning skills as hostess. She was growing increasingly more comfortable with the role, finding herself able to perform the duty with greater ease and less deliberate concentration on each specific skill. Although, Georgiana readily recognized, she could hardly be nervous hostessing for one so willing and supportive. Subtlety clothing her approval kindly, a gentle nod or a word expressed in her eyes had bestowed her encouragement with every task Georgiana anticipated during dinner and now again in the drawing room.
"Will you take your tea with honey or lemon?" Georgiana suspended their current topic to complete her task.
"The honey was agreeable this morning with the ginger. I shall take it again, thank you. It is very good of you to consider my health with so, Georgiana." Heeding Elizabeth's warning a heavy meal might not suit Jane's stomach, Georgiana had arranged with Mrs. Reynolds to have a lighter fare served for dinner with the usual after-dinner choices of coffee and green tea being replaced with the more medicinal brews of ginger and mint.
"Elizabeth was not hurt then?" Georgiana asked with concern, continuing their conversation as she handed Jane her cup. An innocent question over dinner had led Jane to the merry retelling of adventures she and Lizzy had shared as young girls.
"No, thankfully, not seriously. Lizzy was thrown from the beast as it jumped, with the mud cushioning her landing," Jane confirmed, while pleased Georgiana chose to be seated with her on the sofa.
"She took an awful risk," Georgiana stated smiling, shaking her head with admiring disapproval. "My father would never have approved. Had I attempted something as rash, I am certain I would have met with punishment."
"Our father did not approve either. When I ran to fetch his help, he was greatly angered by her folly. But upon finally reaching her, he could only laugh with her, as dear Lizzy, laid wide-eyed, with her limbs frozen in place by the thickness of the mud surrounding her. Father had intended a punishment for her, but later yielded thinking her physical limitations punishment enough."
Georgiana could not help but laugh herself at the mud-soaked image she envisioned of her sister. "And she has not ridden from that day?"
"Not once, to my knowledge."
"Is she greatly afraid of horses, then?" Georgiana asked sympathetically.
"I do not believe it is fear of the horse itself which prevents her. I rather think it is the fear of repeating such injury as would again require her to be bedridden of length. She had not any bones broken, but her soreness consumed all her strength and it was many weeks before she was able to resume her usual play. Lizzy simply abhors being confined to the indoors."
"What a pity. Riding is so enjoyable. And William takes such delight in it. I wonder if he has ever asked her the reason she does not ride?" Georgiana asked more rhetorically.
"I do not think her willing to confess it easily. It will take great persuasion for Lizzy to ever ride again. If anyone is to convince her though, I believe it shall be your brother," Jane's smile intimating more than she said.
Georgiana agreed, pleased with Jane's confidence in her brother.
The glow of the fire naturally drew their attention into the consideration of its flames as they sipped the hot liquid, lingering in the comfort of its aroma. How much Georgiana felt she had missed by growing up without a sister close to her own age. But her lament had no root in bitterness. Her heart was ever grateful for the loving brother she had been given. And yet, I have my sisters, too. Georgiana reflected happily. The bond she felt with Jane was more like that of two sisters having shared the conviviality of many years together than those so newly acquainted through the relations of that married sibling.
As the warmth of the fire seeped into their meditations, the peaceful stillness of the room drew them into an intimacy of heart not yet known between the two.
"Jane," Georgiana began with a shy, but curious gleam in her eye, "how did you and Charles meet?"
"Elizabeth has told you, has she not?" Jane demurred.
"I know you met Charles at the same gathering where she met William, but neither has ever really spoken of what took place before Elizabeth finally accepted him. I am aware theirs was a rather tortuous journey as confessed to me by William, made so by actions on his part. But he revealed only enough for my understanding of his predicament that I might learn from it. I do not know any of the particulars passing between them." Georgiana smiled invitingly, "I should dearly like to know how you came to love Charles. Did your heart fill with love at first sight of him?"
Jane blushed at the surprising nature of her question. But Georgiana's wide eyes and friendly way touched Jane's affectionate heart, allowing her to confess easily with her new sister even on this sensitive topic. Jane inclined closely to Georgiana, "I thought him exceedingly charming. Boyish in his enthusiasm, but very manly in his appearance."
"Oh, Jane, do tell more," Georgiana entreated, depending upon hearing a story of sweet romance.
"Mr. Crane, do you know Mrs. Bingley's whereabouts?" Bingley inquired eagerly as he handed over his coat.
"Yes, sir. Mrs. Bingley waits your arrival in the drawing room."
"A tray of sandwiches then?" Darcy suggested to the others with obvious anticipation.
"Yes, and whipped syllabub to take off the chill," Elizabeth piped in cheerfully.
"Very good, sir," Crane took his cue with a bow.
Bingley strode animatedly into the drawing room, immediately taking his place by Jane's side. Taking her hands into his, he proclaimed with the confidence of a man prepared to put his money on the table, "Jane, I have found our new home!"
Darcy smiled wryly to himself as he and Elizabeth followed through the door. You found it? Darcy questioned silently, amused at his friend's presumptuous enthusiasm.
Elizabeth intercepted her husbands thoughts, returning his smile with a whisper, "You are an excellent guide, sir."
Darcy accepted the compliment silently, patting her hand appreciatively before choosing a chair next to the fire. Assuming Georgiana was only temporarily from the room, Darcy did not inquire after her as he joined Bingley in describing the many attributes of Amberlain. Elizabeth laughed inwardly at the two.
While Jane listened complacently, Bingley's smile beamed as he described the grounds, the house, the stables, obviously hoping Jane would be persuaded Amberlain was to be the proper place for raising their coming child. Having already counseled Bingley on a few necessary refinements during the return carriage ride, along with details he might use in his bargaining with Sir Frederick, Darcy was now all enthusiasm as he supported his friend's extolling of the estate's many attributes. Darcy appeared as eager as Bingley for the purchase as he listened approvingly, interjecting various comments on its value as a long-established and well-run business. He esteemed it greatly worthy as a property for a gentleman of Bingley's standing.
Elizabeth thought them very much like two spirited school chums, striding victoriously from the field--bestowing all manner of congratulation, one upon the other, for their mutual achievement. And not without a measure of self-congratulation, as well, Elizabeth observed with a familiar twinkle. These gentlemen may just as well declare Amberlain uninhabitable, but purchased just the same and Jane would not object. Elizabeth knew her sister's disposition--she eternally disposed to finding the good in a person or situation, especially if Bingley's pleasure was already in it. They speak more for their own benefit, than Jane's, I think.
The entrance of supper distracted Darcy's attention, bringing him back to Georgiana's absence. "Jane, has Georgiana not joined you this evening?"
Jane was sensitive to the unspoken intent of his inquiry and wished to assure him of his sister's attentiveness. "Oh, yes. I have been very well provided for, sir, having enjoyed the company of a most gracious hostess the whole of the evening. Georgiana was only in want of a little exercise and took leave to stroll about the house before your return."
Jane reflected upon her evening's discourse. She had confessed more with Georgiana than she ever would with any of her other sisters, save Lizzy. But Georgiana had made it easily so as she listened enrapt by the feelings Jane revealed, allowing her tea to grow cold as it remained untouched in the cup resting motionless on the saucer in her lap. With her circumstances soon necessitating the upheaval of great change, Jane found the "reliving" of her future's foundation comforting with Georgiana's gentle questions and appreciative looks always inviting her to say more.
Finally moved to tears with the happy ending or rather beginning for the couple, Georgiana had sighed contentedly, touching Jane on the arm. "Oh, Jane how beautifully romantic, like the workings of a lovely novel." Noticing Jane's cup, Georgiana chided herself, "But I have allowed your cup to go empty. Pray allow me." Georgiana rose, taking Jane's cup, again mindful of her duties.
As she moved for the cart, Mr. Crane entered with a fresh pot of steaming water to replace the one now grown cold. Georgiana looked to Jane amusedly, before complimenting the man's timing. "Mr. Crane, how good of you to know! I was just to refresh our cups. But I am surprised to find you waiting upon us. Have you not others to allow you a moment of repose--John or Thomas?"
Mr. Crane's stiff demeanor could be seen to soften by one carefully observant, the sweetness of young Miss Darcy having always induced his gentlest consideration of her needs. "Thank you, Miss Darcy. I have kept the honor to myself, relieving them for the night."
A hint of pink rose in her cheeks as she looked away momentarily, appreciative of the elderly gentleman's compliment. Noticing the sweets on the tray he placed next to the tea urn, Georgiana smiled, "Mr. Crane, you are determined to spoil me. Thank you."
Georgiana's endearing claim was rewarded with one of Mr. Crane's rarefied grins before he quitted the room.
It had been then, as Georgiana watched the butler take his leave, Jane had sensed a change in her countenance. A tenseness, worrying about her eyes as Georgiana rejoined her, confirmed Jane's sense of her sister's growing disquiet.
"Are you unwell, sister?" Jane had asked concerned.
Georgiana managed to smile meagerly, "Pray, forgive me, Jane. I find the day's inactivity suddenly taxing. I feel I must have some means of exercise to relieve this sensation. Will you join me in a turn about the house?"
Feeling her fatigue returning, Jane had refrained, but given leave for Georgiana to continue without her. It had taken some insistence on her part before finally convincing Georgiana she would not fare ill in her absence.
Now with the length of her departure, Jane hoped she had been right to encourage Georgiana's solitary walk.
Darcy's butler of many years anticipated his master's next question, "I believe she is in the upper wings, sir, near the gallery. Shall I inform her of your return?"
Darcy hesitated momentarily at Crane's uncanny ability of always knowing a person's whereabouts. I shouldn't wonder at your being pressed into service against the French, should the Prime Minister ever learn of your talent! "Yes," Darcy replied succinctly, walking to the cart to inspect its delicacies. "Sandwiches" at Pemberley were never so mundane as the appellation might give one to expect. For surrounding the neatly-sized creations of bread and meat were pít», canap», sugared and fresh fruit, custard, tarts and chocolates.
Dinner had been a light affair along the way with Bingley eager to inform Jane of his discovery, leaving Darcy's hunger only minimally satisfied then and positively irritated now. He was sorely tempted to begin without Georgiana, but a vague feeling took hold. As a rational man, he was not given to heeding what might be called intuition, but Darcy was coming to appreciate its worth when applied to his little sister. Perhaps, he ought to go to her himself. With one last look at the means of satiating his hunger, Darcy raised his hand to his butler, reversing his answer, "Hm, no, Mr. Crane. I shall find her myself."
Addressing the group generally, Darcy instructed, "Please do not wait on my return." Elizabeth began to question, wondering what had prompted the change. Darcy calmly assured her, yet without explanation before making for his sister's location, "I shall be back directly."
Georgiana pulled her evening shawl closer about her shoulders as she paced thoughtfully by the images of generations past. A day of letters, she mused, one of my writing and one of my receiving, but each vexing in its own way. The intelligence of John's early dismissal had brought her worries over her letter to the fore. Was I right to disclose the thoughts of my friend's heart? To play the match-maker between she and John? What if my actions, designed to help, only serve to bring pain for these two dear people? Georgiana considered what other course had been within her choosing. She would not embarrass John by speaking of this openly, to say nothing of the dangers of being discovered in such an exchange. But to do nothing, only perpetuating the unhappy situation, was intolerable.
"Miss Georgiana" Mary hailed in a hushed voice as she walked excitedly toward her friend. "Miss Georgiana, you have done it! He has asked to accompany me to the fair on the morrow!
Georgiana grasped Mary's hands enthusiastically, "Oh, Mary, this is indeed welcome news."
"Your words must have been very persuasive," Mary complimented, her smile beaming in the evening's candlelight.
"No, not at all," Georgiana objected diffidently. "I merely gave light to the beauty he has always seen, but too dimly to appreciate, properly." Georgiana directed kindly, "Now, I am certain we must be nearly of the same dress. Go and have a look. Choose one of my walking dresses that is to your liking that we may make any necessary alterations to it tonight."
"Miss, Georgiana, you are too good to me." Mary shook her head, disbelievingly.
"By no means surpassing your care of me, I should think. I shall visit with my family upon their return, but will endeavor to join you in my rooms as soon as may be. Go now, so you are ready when I come. I am so happy for you," Georgiana declared as she embraced Mary. Releasing her hold, "The hour must be growing long. You best be off."
All Mary's feelings were expressed in her countenance as she uttered simply, "Thank you."
Georgiana laughed, amused as she noted the lightness of Mary's step and relieved with the happy outcome of at least one letter.
Now if only I could know what lay in store for me. Georgiana frowned, puzzling again over the unusual request the Colonel had made in his post. What might he intend? And to what end must this remain a confidence? Most peculiar...
Georgiana's focus floated past the handsome images before her, fixing upon the one she favored above all the rest. The gentlewoman whose likeness had been framed for all to see, posed elegantly on an ornate wrought-iron bench beneath the umbrella of the flowering apple tree. Delicate ivory petals danced lightly in the air, as they floated down to decorate the pages of the book laying open on her lap. A smile did not part her lips, yet she appeared contented. Georgiana wondered if the loving sparkle in her eyes and the hint of pink brushing her cheeks was for her love. Georgiana pictured him standing next to the artist, voicing words of encouragement while watching his wife's image evolve on the canvas. Georgiana knew it was merely a trick of perspective, but she often felt the lady was affectionately returning her own gaze.
Darcy's satisfaction upon a day well-spent buoyed his spirits as he bounded up the stairs, taking them two at a time. All that he required for felicity in life was now agreeably met in family and friends--the intimacy of mind and body with a loving wife, good fellowship with trustworthy friends, and the challenge of a new project prompted by Bingley's reliance upon his skilled powers of negotiation. Darcy thought ironically, If I may only recover my wayward sister, I shall have her happy company, as well, and finally appease my gnawing hunger.
Trusting Crane's intelligence to be accurate, he made directly for the gallery. As he rounded the entry to the corridor, Darcy's haste stopped abruptly at the sight of the solitary figure, standing in the middle of the hall, awash in her reverie as she studied a portrait.
The mood of the gallery was quiet and contemplative with only the sound of his own breathing penetrating the silence. A playfully wicked grin spread over his features, his eyes darkening mischievously as he shed the better judgment of his age giving into a boyish temptation. It had been ages since he...
Slowly, stealthily, he approached, as a cat wishing to remain unseen as he stalked his prey. Coming up behind her, Darcy knew all he had to do was speak.
"Georgiana?" his deep voice resonated innocently.
"Oh!!" Georgiana's feet lifted to their toes as she whirled about, her arms crossing protectively about her, eyes wide from the shock. Darcy stepped back to avoid being struck by her movements she turned.
With uncharacteristic anger flashing in her eyes, Georgiana's emotions spilled out, rebuking him sternly before regaining her equilibrium. "William Darcy, you are a cruel man to treat me in this infamous manner! I am your sister, not some pheasant in the field to be sneaked up on. What would father think if he were here?"
Inwardly, William immediately acknowledged the justness of her reproach. He did know; but somehow the impropriety had made it all that more tempting. William remembered his father's reaction on another occasion when he had surprised Georgiana by mercilessly jumping out at her from within the darkness of her room's doorway. Even though it had been more than a decade, William could still see his father's dark eyes, angrily boring into him. His father had dressed him down soundly, after receiving Georgiana's tearful report of his mistreatment. It had only been because his father judged him too old that he had narrowly escaped a thrashing. He knew his father had been right then and Georgiana equally so now, but knowledge does not allows lead to a change of heart. At that moment, William was unable to embrace the contrition he knew he must. Georgiana regarded him sharply as he struggled to offer any words of penitence.
Georgiana accepted his apology with her judgment of his actions unchanged. She suspected him unrepentant with the glint in his eye betraying the his heart's true attitude.
"You are returned, then I see," Georgiana endeavored to resume a placid demeanor, despite the racing of her heart. She did not enjoy being angry.
Eager to minimize his mischief, William seized upon the opportunity to change the subject, replying lightly, "Yes, I have just come to collect you." Adding more persuasively, "An enticing supper waits in the drawing room. The whipped syllabub is warming. Now we are only in want of your company."
"Thank you, William, for your consideration. I do not wish you to hold until I come," Georgiana replied politely.
William now sincerely regretted his actions, thinking them the source of her refusal. "Pray, Georgiana, do not be angry. Truly, I am sorry."
Georgiana looked up to him kindly, pleased with this apology. "It is not as you suppose William. I am not angry. I only wish to remain a little longer."
William inclined his head, seeking explanation.
Georgiana turned away, embarrassed by the answer to his unspoken question. "You will think me a silly child."
"No more silly than a brother delighting in scaring his sister," William confessed, hoping to gain her trust. Twisting his ring nervously, William was unsure what more he might say as the quiet separated them.
Georgiana looked up into the woman's eyes, speaking haltingly to the canvas, "I miss our mother...terribly at times. When I come here, I...talk with her...Somehow her gaze always comforts me..."
As William looked from his mother's image to his sister, he was struck by the similarity of their persons. "You are very much like our mother. Warm and gentle and in possession of a strong mind. It is fitting she holds a book. I remember her reading to me often when I was a boy. She called books, 'trusted companions'."
"Of what age was Mother when this was painted?"
"Father commissioned her portrait as a wedding present and a means of welcoming her to Pemberley. I believe she was eighteen when they married."
"She was a very handsome woman, was she not?"
Did he detect a note of wistfulness? She must know she equals Mother's beauty...does she not? A malcontented rumbling came from William's midsection.
Georgiana turned to him, smiling teasingly, "Why, William, have you swallowed a tiger?"
"I must confess my hunger grows unruly in its insistence. Will you not walk with me so we may join the others for supper?" William asked a little desperately.
Had Georgiana been a vindictive young woman, she might have profited by his vulnerability by refusing him, deliberately intending to suspend any pleasure he might have found in his supper. To her credit though, Georgiana instead took pity on her brother, asking him of his day's journey as she strolled by his side.
Continued in To London, To London
© 1997, 1998, 1999 Copyright held by author