Georgiana: To London, To London
The warm wax yielded to the press of the mold, forming into the shape of the family seal. Fitzwilliam Darcy removed the letter to the several others waiting on the tray on the corner of his desk, a sense of satisfaction motivating him to continue his day's accomplishments. His desk had seen very little of him over the passing of the week with the master of Pemberley having been favorably engaged in attending to guests and family following the ball.
Now the remaining two had departed. Since visiting Amberlain, he and Bingley had devised a careful strategy for acquiring the choice estate, with an introductory missive having been dispatched to Bath to begin the negotiation process. With the new knowledge of his wife's condition and the impending reply of Sir Frederick, Bingley had been eager to return to Netherfield, deciding to take their leave several days earlier than planned. Elizabeth had been sorely disappointed to lose her sister's company, but found solace in the hope she would very soon be settled in the neighboring county. Darcy would have welcomed the Bingley's company for the whole of the intended time, as well, but recognized the value of the hours he would have to attend to his own estate. Having bid farewell to Jane and Bingley after breakfast, Darcy had excused himself to the library to dispatch the aging correspondences and make arrangements for his estate in his impending absence.
Darcy pulled the leather-bound book to the middle of the desk's blotter. He thought it not the wisest of decisions to be away for Michaelmas, rather preferring to personally participate in the important transactions of the day. Admittedly, though, he had not been thinking of the significance of the day when he had agreed to his cousin's plan, but only to that of Georgiana's curious reticence when the Colonel had suggested it.
Darcy considered their exchange as he rested back in his chair. What had she said? 'If you do not object?' As if fearing my reproach... Mysterious behavior and choice of words he had yet to understand. Although, he reasoned, in light of her changeable demeanor during the whole of these last several days, perhaps it does not deserve any particular consideration. He had found himself at disadvantage several times with Georgiana's reactions not at all what he had expected, a discomforting prospect as a gentleman who had unwittingly grown accustomed to the quiet equilibrium of a shy and retiring sister. He knew her to not be of an ungovernable nature and she had never over-stepped the bounds of propriety so he excused her unsteadiness with characteristic masculine charity. Even though of a quiet nature, she is female after all...bound by the dictates of her gender to experience the caprice of her emotions.
Still, Darcy was exceptionally proud of Georgiana. She had asserted herself to the station of hostess for the Viscount without any prodding. He would have anticipated her to be overly silent, too intimidated by the gentleman's position to speak much. The slight trembling of her fingers as she unfolded her napkin had alerted him to her nervousness. But his sister's natural affection and quiet warmth had enabled her to charm all who had been present at the breakfast table. Lord and Lady Clandon had kindly shown their appreciation of Georgiana's accomplishments which he hoped would bolster her confidence as she was soon to be exposed to others who might not be so generous with their acceptance. If the society pages were any indication, though, his sister's accomplishments would be well received by the elite of London society.
The irony spread over him in a smirk. He had been reading the very pages he had eschewed before his marriage, doubting their news-worthiness when he had been an eligible bachelor subject to its observations. Not only that, he had assumed a mental paucity in its followers. Much to his chagrin, with the advent of Georgiana's ball, he had grudgingly acknowledged the pages' importance for his sister. The opinions expressed held great sway in the minds of those able to provide a debutante with a successful season. Previously inconceivable, he had found himself searching out the page in the post's supply of the Times, seeking the name of "Miss Darcy." It had been to his immeasurable relief and increasing pride that he found the Darcy family praised in the person of his sister. No doubt, I shall consult the "sagacity" of its pages whilst in town, Darcy sighed.
Darcy considered the book waiting his inspection. The predictable solitude of his library and the reliable nature of the figures he prepared to study were comfortable sanctuary in the midst of the new and unpredictable demands he was now facing as the guardian of this developing woman. Darcy sat forward, pushing his reflections aside, hardening himself to any further thoughts deterring his progress. It was essential he provide his steward with his requirements if his proxy was to smoothly and profitably conduct the business of settling accounts with tenants and merchants.
A quick tap on the door preceded his wife's entrance, followed by an under butler bearing a large silver tray.
"Thank you Riley, I shall pour out," Elizabeth informed her assistant easily, as he set the tray on a serving board.
Having shown his respect properly to Pemberley's mistress, Riley also acknowledged its master as he prepared to quit them. Darcy silently gestured for his man to take the letters from his desk before returning his focus to his wife.
He received Elizabeth's presence with the reserve of a man engaged by the determination of his thoughts, yet with the admiration of his heart softening the mood of his gaze. Darcy was a man still very much under the spell of this woman, not yet his wife one twelvemonth.
"Your industry is rewarded with accomplishment, I see," Elizabeth noted as she poured out the tea.
"Uhm, yes, I have met with some success," he returned guardedly as she stirred in the cream. Surveying the contents of his desk, he added, "However, I fear much is to be done."
Elizabeth set the cup and saucer on a spot uncluttered by papers and ledgers, "Well then, let this be both medal for your effort well done and fortification to press on." A small plate was placed on the cover of his ledger.
Darcy grinned, appreciative of her supply. She was forever indulging him, surprising him with little treats to sample. This time it was shortbread--its buttery sweetness always a welcomed compliment to the strong brew of his tea.
Clasping her hand, he patted it gently, "Thank you, my dear. If I may continue, I might yet walk with you before dinner."
Pleased with the prospect, Elizabeth smiled easily, "I shall leave you to your work, then."
A new scent tantalized his senses as his wife lowered near, bestowing him with a light kiss. He realized he had not been so near to her since rising that morning. The nature of her fragrance encircled him, captivating his mind. Working on the question as his wife took up residence at a table across the room, Rose? No, not rose, not heady enough. Lilac? No, not so concentrated. Something subtle...mild... Most agreeable, Mrs. Darcy, he approved silently.
As she arranged her own work on the table's octagonal surface, the feel of her husband's gaze raised her eyes to his. Her smile assured him of her contentment at merely being in his presence, accepting the necessity of his attention to be diverted for a while longer. If only he felt so sure.
His contemplation lingered on his cup after taking a sip, clearing his mind of the disturbance Elizabeth created. Moving the plate to the side, Darcy opened the ledger to begin his work in earnest.
His steward had supplied him with the estate's detailed accounts in preparation for the Michaelmas. First was the season's yield. Satisfactory, to date, roughly equaling the season past. However, his steward had asserted his belief the yield would be increased with the use of the implements he had been hearing of through his brother who was likewise employed in another county. His steward's accomplishments in land and animal husbandry were greatly respected, so for that reason alone, Darcy had already anticipated approving the purchase. However the sum was not inconsequential and he wished to confirm the reports of increased yields. He would avail himself of the intelligence to be found in London amongst the other landed gentlemen who frequented his club.
Darcy's mind was now completely engrossed as he continued evaluating the status of his estate, checking the accuracy of the numbers with quick mental calculations, when his wife's utterances interrupted his ciphers.
Elizabeth mumbled to herself, "Oh, this will not do."
Darcy looked up from his desk, the numbers having left him upon hearing her voice. Elizabeth was bathed in the sunlight refracted through the library's window. The amber brilliance of her dress competing with the sun for the greater presence. Her engagement book lay open with the abundance of the day's post spread before her as she compared the contents of two letters she held in her hands.
His wife's enjoyment of the daily posts usually endowed her with a happy and complaisant expression as she received the latest news from family and friends. Now, her lips were drawn to a pucker as she bit the inside, her brow tensing closer together, as she was want to do when stymied. Darcy leaned back in his chair, his dimple appearing as he grinned, considering his wife's adorable pout.
Amused, Darcy inquired, "What is the matter, my dear?"
Elizabeth's expression softened into an inviting gaze, humming her surprise at his address, "Mmm?...Oh, nothing of import, sir." Elizabeth's quick smile dazzled him, leaving his mind momentarily discomposed for the numbers awaiting his attention.
Having lost her eyes again to her letters, Darcy renewed his thoughts for the business of reviewing the estate's collections. His tenants were hardworking country folk with many of whom Pemberley had tenured good relations for more than two generations. As landlord, he had continued the scrupulous dealings precedented by his father, who had deemed it unchristian to profit unfairly from the necessary dependence of laboring Englishmen.
Reading through the timely payments listed under each family's name, Darcy came to one tenant who's record was shown to be less than satisfactory. Several late payments were noted, with more than one having been underscored as never received. Darcy considered the name, Ah, yes, the new family (having only arrived three years past) in Walsford Cottage. Ten children, Darcy marveled to himself. With so many mouths to feed, perhaps, Mr. Lynd may be permitted a measure of dispensation, Darcy reasoned charitably. How much do you owe, Mr. Lynd?Darcy wondered as he began to calculate the missing payments.
The insistent scratching of his wife's quill as she canceled several notations in her book, erased the numbers from his thoughts. He looked up again as she muttered, "This is becoming a muddle."
"Elizabeth, may I be of assistance?" Darcy asked wryly.
Having unintentionally spoken her dissatisfaction, Elizabeth assured him apologetically, "No, I thank you. You are busy, sir. I will not importune you."
Darcy's eyes lingered on his wife longer than the last as she regained her letters, the sum of her curvaceous figure being far more captivating than those on the page. "As you wish," Darcy conceded with growing frustration, as he rested his head in the support of his hand, hiding her from his view.
He was already finding it trouble enough to concentrate with his wife in the room, his senses urging him to concentrate on more carnal delights--nuzzling the mysterious scent of her neck perhaps. And now with the continued beckoning of her siren call, he was becoming powerless to recover his thoughts. Leaning over his papers to resume his evaluation of his tenant's debt, Darcy again attempted to marshal the focus of his thoughts.
"Hmmm," Elizabeth sighed, considering the means to a happily appointed schedule. The innocence of her tone lingered in his mind, seducing his last resolve.
The tension he felt between the desire of his flesh and the demands of his disciplined mind erupted as he slapped his ledger closed. The true nature of his frustration remaining unvoiced as he demanded, "Mrs. Darcy, pray cease this singular conversation and confide in me or I shall not complete one minute more of my business."
Elizabeth startled at the suddenness of the book's closing, wondering at its cause. She replied obediently to her husband's demand, her eyes searching his face, evaluating the turn of his demeanor. "Our society appears to be much sought after while we are to be in London. However, I fear some offense must be given for I cannot conceive how we are to accept all these invitations." Elizabeth paused before concluding abruptly, "Forgive me, sir, my presence disturbs your work." Gathering up her book and letters, "I will leave you now."
The hurt in her eyes brought Darcy quickly to his feet, his long strides carrying him swiftly to his wife, intercepting her progress to the door. "Elizabeth, pray wait."
Her arms wrapped defensively around her miscellany, Elizabeth's sense of rejection spoke defiantly through the tilt of her chin, her eyes refusing to meet his own.
"I would be wretched indeed were you to leave believing my frustration finds its object in your words. It is my own insufferable weakness which deserves my reproof."
Elizabeth's arched brow cast a doubtful reception of his confession.
Darcy paced away from Elizabeth, rubbing his forehead. "If we are to be away for Michaelmas, Mr. Barnes must have this information," Darcy gestured vaguely toward the contents of his desk. "But this I cannot accomplish with you in the room."
Elizabeth interrupted his speech, believing his comments to lead to further rejection. "I have made to leave, sir. But you implore me stay...to hear a reproof that reportedly belongs to you. But I cannot see that anyone is being found at fault but myself. My desire was not to disturb, only to supply you with companionship, an endowment you do not welcome," Elizabeth charged.
Darcy twisted the ring on his little finger as he stopped to consider the tack of his confession. With each word, the situation only worsened! His words were pushing away the very person with whom intimate companionship was all he desired.
Darcy returned to her side, desperate for her to understand. Gently cradling her face in his hands, Darcy whispered huskily, "You know not how you disturb me...," his lips rendering the rest of his meaning.
A surge of energy swept through her with the press of his lips against hers. Were it not for the papers she held, her arms would have wrapped around her husband to be consumed by the sensation he evoked. As it was, with the expression of her own emotions thus confined, Elizabeth was made more sensitive to the conflict of her husband's. The fervency in the press of his lips belied the restraint of his hands as they remained lightly nestled around her cheeks. Elizabeth was surprised by the longing she found in her husband's eyes, yet outwardly calm as he withdrew. The smile spreading over her countenance sparkled with the exhilarating realization of the source of her husband's vulnerability. This tower of masculine strength was faltering under the strain of an unyielding power. A power she wielded, however unintended. She could not resist the advantage of the situation.
"Mr. Darcy, is this your way of informing me I tempt you beyond your reason?" Elizabeth demanded looking up at him through her lashes, her lips tipped with the hint of a knowing smile.
Darcy grinned, satisfied she was beginning to comprehend his state. How much better this phrase sounded than when last he heard these similar words.
"Yes" Darcy's lips brushed her forehead.
"Beyond your will?"
"Yes" the warmth of Darcy's lips pressed gently against her cheek.
Elizabeth's eyes shone with delight as he played her game, accepting the twist of their historic words.
"Even beyond your character?"
"Yes" the warmth of Darcy's lips pressed gently against her other cheek.
Imploring the tenderness he knew to be in her heart, "In vain I have struggled. It will not do. My thoughts do not obey, they only attend to you. I beg you, relieve my suffering and consent,..."
Elizabeth looked at him askance.
"...my wife, to remain my companion."
Elizabeth appeared as satisfied as the cat who trapped the mouse. "I believe in such cases as these the proper mode is to express a sense of obligation...but I cannot."
Darcy fell back a step, his lips parting in disbelief.
Hurrying to continue before he suffered too greatly. "Sir, my schedule tasks me." Elizabeth held her book out as she smiled mischievously.
Darcy offered wryly, "I would willingly help you with your dilemma if you will grant me the pleasure of your company."
Elizabeth approached coyly, making the space between them more intimate. "Will your ledgers not cry out for your attention, Mr. Darcy?"
"I am deaf to their call," Darcy promised, sealing his oath with a kiss more expressive than the last.
Elizabeth's eyes opened slowly, savoring the feel of his lips pressed to hers. "Thus assured, sir, I shall remain." Warning happily, "However, you must be true to your promised assistance."
Clasping her hand, Darcy amiably led his wife to his chair.
Lowering her onto his lap, Darcy invited with rapt attention, as his arms encircled her waist, "Now, who are we to offend?"
Elizabeth opened her engagement book to a page filled with notations for various dates and lines redirecting them to yet another. "A well-ordered schedule eludes me," Elizabeth lamented over the scribbles. "We are obliged for Lord and Lady Clandon's, the ball given by the Langs after Michaelmas and dinner with the Harrells," Elizabeth detailed. "I have kept many evenings open, since the Colonel has engaged us for the theater and the symphony, but for dates I know not. I do hope he informs us soon," Elizabeth added reproachfully. Continuing her litany, "We have just received three more invitations for the same night..."
Darcy's attention began to wane as he relaxed into the caress of her fingers, running idly through the line of his hair as she talked. The allure of her fragrance called to his senses, drawing him into the curve of her neck to better investigate its scent.
"May I inquire..." Darcy started, but was interrupted by Elizabeth's premature understanding.
"A dinner party given by Sir Reginald Mooresly and his wife, the theater with..."
Darcy ignored her answer, persisting in his own pursuit. "Mrs. Darcy," he asked huskily in between kisses, moving his mouth up to her ear, "what is this delicious scent you where?"
"...Mr. and Mrs. Blakely...What?" Elizabeth giggled fidgeting away from the tickling sensation as he nibbled on her ear. "Mr. Darcy, you have not heard a word I have said," Elizabeth objected weakly, being drawn into the pleasantness of his address.
Darcy looked up, insisting, "Every word, madame. Something about the Blakemores and Sir Reginald's theater..." An impish smile spread over his face unable to continue his ruse. "Mrs. Darcy will you honor me with your presence at a party of a more private nature?"
"And when is this to take place, sir. As you see, my calendar is quite unaccommodating," Elizabeth motioned innocently, deferring to the book on her lap.
"Even now, Mrs. Darcy. Even now." Darcy slowly closed the cover of her book, removing it to his desk, "Let your book hold with mine."
Elizabeth allowed herself to be lowered into the cradling support of his arms, her smile assuring him she had accepted his invitation. Closing her eyes to the world around her, Elizabeth reveled in the sensations of her skin as Darcy tasted the spice she wore. Lost to any thoughts other than the fulfillment of his desire, Darcy murmured against her skin, "Hmm, you must tell me...."
"Vanilla," Elizabeth whispered as she traced the outline of his ear with the tip of her finger.
Opening her eyes, Elizabeth watched her husband's reception, as he lifted his face to hers.
"My compliments to the chef," Darcy affirmed with a twitch of his brow.
Elizabeth laughed as a girl at the mischief she saw in her husband's eyes. He appeared all at once as a man intimately knowledgeable of the pleasures waiting him and yet as a boy anticipating the sweetness of a forbidden treat as he savored the creation before him. Her whole being thrilled, knowing this man allowed only the entrance of one soul deeply into his own. Her lips welcomed his with the confidence that none, but she, would ever be treated to the playfulness of his sensual heart.
Good day to ya', Mr. Darcy," Mrs. Lynd bobbed, as she held the door open for the gentleman to enter.
"Good morning, Mrs. Lynd," Darcy returned politely to his tenant's wife, removing his hat as he stepped into Walsford Cottage.
"And Miss Darcy," the woman added with a note of pleasure as Georgiana emerged from behind her brother.
Georgiana greeted her warmly, before apologizing, "Mrs. Darcy conveys her regret she is unable to accompany us this day. However, she has sent along a basket with her best wishes." Georgiana motioned to the large basket her brother held down at his side, pausing to allow her hostess to invite them in. While spending the past many months at Pemberley, Georgiana had called on Walsford Cottage often with Elizabeth, knowing its mistress to be in need of relief, and companionship other than that of her ten children. Mrs. Lynd remained silent, apparently overcome by her nervousness at her landlord's coming to call. Georgiana added gently, "May we set it within?"
Mrs. Lynd roused from her distraction, "Oh, my yes! Please come in. Mr. Lynd didn't say you were to come today, sir." Mrs. Lynd's tongue began to wag nervously now that it was loosed. "Was he expecting you?" She turned to ask as she entered the main room of the home. Darcy made to explain, but was cut off. "Here, sir" motioning to a large table crowded with chairs, "the basket can set here. Won't you sit down, Mr. Darcy? Will you have a glass of mead or a tankard of ale, then?"
Darcy laid his hat next to the basket before seating himself in one of the chairs. "No, I thank you, Mrs. Lynd." The breath he had taken to speak, again hung unused in his mouth as Mrs. Lynd turned her attention to a girl sitting by the window mending a sock. A slight frown drew his features together with the foiled attempt to introduce his intended purpose for the call.
"Mary, tell Jenny Lynne to bring tea for Miss Darcy." Georgiana did not attempt to demur as she took a seat in the straight-backed chair, having already learned the futility of declining, even though she did not wish to add to the woman's burdens. "Children, come show your respect to Mr. Darcy and Miss Darcy," Mrs. Lynd chided her children, shooing them toward the gentleman with a motioning of her hand.
A book, a doll, and a needle and thread were abandoned as the children scrambled to line up before the gentleman and the lady, singing in unsynchronous chorus, "Good...good morning...morning, Mr. Darcy. Good morning, Miss...Miss Darcy."
Georgiana received their respective gestures, smiling warmly with apparent approval. Darcy nodded his acceptance kindly, but with more reserve than his sister, his deep voice lending a seriousness to his reply, "Good morning, children."
The clamor of thundering feet came into the room as two small boys hurried to see the important gentleman their sister had told them had come to call. "James! John!" Their mother's command bringing them up short. "Stop your runnin' in the house or I'll have your father take a strap to ya'. Now show Mr. Darcy you're not so wild."
Darcy suppressed a smile in deference to the authority of their mother as the boys tumbled over each other, taking their places lowest in line. Darcy was aware Mrs. Lynd had produced ten children for her husband, but had not been informed she had produced the same child twice. Now standing before him were two boys possessing blonde hair as yellow as the sun's translucent rays and eyes as blue as the ocean's waters. Their fair skin was freckled with brown spots from their many hours spent out of doors. And although their limbs did not act upon them at that moment, one could see the thoughts whirling through their minds as their eyes sparkled with mischief. Feature for feature, the two boys were identical. Darcy suspected, while only two in number, these scamps might require as much parental direction as four or five children might.
Darcy now found himself the uncomfortable object of eleven small eyes--the one tot clinging to his mother's skirt, only brave enough to look with one brown eye-- as the children stared in awe of the man they knew to be more important than even their father.
The happy gurgles of a tiny child called to the others in the room. "May I hold little Elizabeth?" Georgiana requested as she approached the bassinet by the fireplace. (So named for Mrs. Darcy, the Lynds having considered it only right to name their baby after the mistress who had been so generous with them.)
"Oh, yes, Miss Georgiana, you are very kind. That one always wants to be in the thick of things, she does. Never happy lest she can see what the others are about, 'specially with new voices in the room."
Georgiana leaned over the basket, carefully lifting the swaddled bundle into her arms. "Hello, little one," she sang soothingly. "I have missed you." Taking her prize over to her brother, Georgiana angled the baby's face toward William for him to take a closer look. "Is she not the sweetest creation?"
Taking in the girl's pinkish features, William deemed the child agreeable enough, but much like any other infant he had observed. It was his sister's countenance, he found remarkable. She was beaming in her enthusiasm for her babe-in-arms. His dimpled grin was for her, but to his measurable advantage, Georgiana and the mother both took it for his approval of the baby.
"Mr. Darcy, Cecil is an avid reader," Georgiana informed her brother, hoping to further the conversation which had ceased, except the cooing of the baby, happily situated in Georgiana's swaying arms.
Darcy's eyes smiled as he looked at his sister, grasping her purpose. It was not his custom to engage the wives of his tenants in anything more than the minimal amount of courtesies dictated by social respectability. Often, a polite salutation satisfied his sensibilities before inquiring after the woman's husband. To have his quiet sister be the one urging him to speak appealed to his sense of irony. He would not disappoint her anticipation by withdrawing from the opportunity.
Darcy turned his attention to the boy standing before him. He judged him to be perhaps of some 8 or 9 years. Unlike his younger brothers', his eyes were a warm chestnut brown, possessing a shy intelligence. Darcy evaluated whether his restraint was more by nature or by enforcement. "What story have you today, Master Cecil?" Darcy asked with deliberate terms of respect, lifting his chin toward the book the boy had left in the window seat.
"I am just coming to the end of the tales of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table, Sir," Cecil replied obediently, shooting a shy glance toward the master of Pemberley.
"Ah, admirable," Darcy affirmed. "Favorites of mine as a boy. Tell me, what think you of King Arthur's solution to the self-important demands of his Knights?" Darcy inquired as he leaned forward crossing his arms over his lap, making himself more at the boy's level.
"Well, sir..."Cecil hesitated.
"Go ahead, Cecil. Don't be backward. Answer Mr. Darcy's question," his mother demanded a little too insistently.
"Well, sir, I suppose King Arthur chose the proper course," the boy started timidly, then proclaimed with greater conviction, "but I thought he should have thrown the rounders out and found chaps not so wanting their own way."
Mrs. Lynd rolled her eyes, sorry she had urged her son to speak his mind. Georgiana politely hid her smile, looking down into the face of her cradled infant.
Darcy grinned, chuckling at the boy's honest assessment, "I believe I thought much the same, when I was a lad. But tell me, Master Cecil, how does your circumstance inform you? Might King Arthur have found so many men who shared one mind and one purpose, directed with a humbleness of heart, allowing all but two to go down lower, without attention to age or achievement?"
Cecil smiled, considering his two elder brothers going lower to him. "I think not, sir."
"Hm, I quite agree." Darcy pressed for more understanding, "What then did this wise King do, allowing him to assemble these otherwise noble men, for the good of the realm?"
Cecil searched the eyes of the learned gentleman before considering the tops of his shoes.
With his lengthening deliberation, Georgiana grew anxious for the boy, fearing him to be embarrassed if he found the question too difficult to answer. "Mr. Darcy, perhaps Cecil..."
But Darcy raised his hand slightly, gesturing mildly for her not to intervene. Now that he had begun, Darcy was finding the boy's thoughts quite interesting. He looked expectantly at his pupil.
"Sir," Cecil began, still thinking about his answer, "King Arthur changed the shape of the table from a long rectangular one to a great round one...so no one need go lower."
Darcy leaned back, obviously pleased with the answer he had received. "Very good, young man."
Georgiana relaxed, releasing the breath she had been holding without meaning to.
"You see, Arthur affected change in that which he had control to bring about the result he desired. Some times it is better to remove the obstacle, rather than attempt to change the people, especially when a man's pride is involved. You have just learned one of the elementary principles of diplomacy." Something you no doubt will use often in your life. Darcy suspected, given Cecil's position, neither youngest, nor eldest, always at the whim of his older brothers, yet shouldering responsibility for his younger siblings. The boy stood taller, proud to have shown proper understanding before their landlord.
Mrs. Lynd complimented in her own way, "There's a good boy." Addressing Mr. Darcy, "He's the smartest of the bunch, he is. I only wished we could send him for proper schooling. But what with so many mouths to feed and bodies to clothe...Ah well..." Mrs. Lynd sighed resignedly.
"Miss Darcy, have you brought us anything?" One of the twins asked directly with eager anticipation, no longer able to keep still.
"Hush James! Where are your manners, boy," Mrs. Lynd chided rhetorically. "Miss Darcy has not called on us just to fill your pockets. Forgive him, Miss Darcy."
"Not at all, Mrs. Lynd," Georgiana assured her. Addressing the line of children, growing antsy to be released, "Have you all been very good?"
All heads nodded, even the tot at his mother's skirt.
"Have you obeyed your mother?" Georgiana asked searchingly.
All heads nodded eagerly, adding a look of sincerity, hoping for rewards.
Georgiana looked to their mother for confirmation.
Pleading eyes followed the line of the lady's silent inquiry, imploring their mother's permission. "I suppose..." Mrs. Lynd offered grudgingly, looking at them askance, although her lips turned up into a pursed smile.
"Then perhaps I do have something in the curricle. Shall we have a look?" Georgiana invited brightly. Smiling as a cheer rose in the air, she carefully handed little Elizabeth back to her mother.
Ah, Darcy observed to himself, the extra basket. He had made to bring it in as well, when first they arrived, only to receive Georgiana's instruction to leave it hidden on the seat.
Darcy and Mrs. Lynd followed the parade of children as Georgiana led them out the door. Darcy's dimpled grin laughed at his sister surrounded by the seven small bodies as she reached into their equipage. (Mary had made sure to join them, not wishing to miss her share of the treat.) Having observed his sister with the children of Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner and on this occasion with the children of his tenant, Darcy concluded God's smallest creatures brought out the very best in Georgiana.
"Your family is too kind to us, sir. I fear we trespass on your generosity," Mrs. Lynd apologized as she watched her children, knowing her family to be indebted to him for more than a few favors for the children.
Darcy chose to ignore the greater debt she implied, "I am not certain who gains more, Mrs. Lynd, my sister or your children."
"Now who shall do the honors?" Georgiana asked as she reached for the basket she had left for just this moment. "John, will you?" The little boy jumped up and down in his excitement. "You must be a gentleman," Georgiana reminded gently, sounding very much like her father, "hand it out evenly, two for each. The extra are for your elder brothers when they come from their chores. Do not hold them for yourself. You will remember?"
John accepted the basket with both hands, assuring his benefactress, "Yes, Miss. I will!" John performed his duty with the seriousness of one entrusted with a great responsibility, handing each sibling two iced cookies, each large enough to satisfy any child's appetite.
"Cecil," Mrs. Lynd commanded from the stoop, "Go fetch your father for Mr. Darcy. I am certain the gentleman has not come to watch you children eat."
"No, no, Mrs. Lynd," Darcy objected quickly. "Let the boy enjoy his sweets. I will see myself to Mr. Lynd, if you will direct me?"
"He'll be bringing up the sheep to water, this time o' day, sir. In the field there, beyond the cold house." Darcy replaced his hat as he followed the line of her gesture and could already see the first few head of sheep trotting up from the horizon. "Thank you, Mrs. Lynd." He would have also excused himself from his sister, but she was too much in demand as the children vied for her attention in between bites of their cookies.
A quiet voice, coming from within the house, informed the mistress of the tea in the drawing room. "Children, you hold your peace now. Let Miss Darcy come have her tea."
"Finish your cookies and then we shall play a game," Georgiana promised just for their ears before leaving them for the house.
"Mrs. Lynd, I am pleased you have retained help," Georgiana referred to the girl who had brought the tea. The woman had not had such on previous visits.
"Ah, poor girl. She is my brother's daughter. His wife has taken ill and he can not care for all his children. Knowing my own burden to be great, he offered her to come and stay. Of course she is part of the family, but she is a hard worker and I don't know what I would do without her, especially now with another baby to care for."
Georgiana looked distressed. "Mrs. Lynd, I had not known of another child in your family party. (Jenny Lynne appeared to be no more than thirteen.) She must have her portion as well. Will you excuse me? I will retrieve another cookie from the curricle. Would you be so good as to summon your niece?
"You shall have yours first when next I call, Jenny Lynne. I had not known you had come, otherwise I would have been better prepared. Please accept this one, now." Georgiana soothed as she handed the girl the cookie she had intended for her brother.
Jenny Lynne's eyes shone with tears of gratitude as she received the over-sized treat. She had seen the others receive theirs, but had resolved herself to being happy with none, knowing Miss Darcy would not have brought enough for her. "Thank you, Miss Darcy." Jenny curtsied appreciatively.
"Now outside with you," Mrs. Lynd dismissed. "While the air is still warm enough."
"We are agreed then, Mr. Lynd," Darcy concluded as the two men approached the house, "Your eldest son shall work in the stables for the duration of the amount owed, then until such time as you are able to see your way to the regular payment of your annuity. If his work is satisfactory and he so wishes, he may continue to work beyond that time to earn his own wages."
"Thank you, sir. You have my word he will give you his very best and you will receive all you are owed."
Darcy extended his hand, clasping his tenant's firmly, confident of the man's integrity, "I shall depend upon it."
Parting ways with Mr. Lynd, Darcy walked back to the house, his stride slow and pensive as he evaluated possible means for enhancing Lynd's income. With cotton growing in even greater preference over wool for many garments, the price Lynd could expect for his wool had dropped, creating his present financial distress. Equations factoring the cost of increasing the herd, identification of new markets and diversification of raw material occupied his thoughts as he followed the foot-trodden path, hands clasped behind his back, eyes fixed to the ground.
The squeals of laughter and shouting lifted his face as he attained the edge of the cottage's park. Darcy stopped abruptly, shocked by the sight meeting his eyes. Children were scurrying everywhere, looking behind trees, under shrubs, in the curricle (much to the annoyance of the horses) with his sister hobbling around looking just as feverishly as the rest. "What in the name of..." Darcy began, immediately embarrassed by the oddity of his sister's appearance. Looking more closely he realized her halting gate was owed to the nakedness of her stocking-clad foot.
"I found it! I found it!" Shouted one of the younger girls, holding up the slipper in joyous triumph.
"Hurrah!" Georgiana congratulated, raising her hand from her chest in celebration as she strove to catch her breath.
Darcy moved into the arena, clearing his throat as he did so. All activity ceased as the participants perceived the stern expression of the gentleman. Hurrying to Georgiana, the victor returned the slipper to its owner.
Using the support of the little girl's shoulder, Georgiana quickly replaced her shoe over her dirtied stocking, recognizing the tone of disapproval in her brother's voice, as he informed her, "Miss Darcy, my business here is concluded. If you are ready..."
"Yes, sir," Georgiana responded meekly.
Lowering to face them, Georgiana summoned the children to her, with arms outstretched, as a hen might spread her wings to her chicks.
The children were momentarily frozen by the gentleman's vexation, thinking his expression to be not unlike that of their father's before someone met with his punishment. Wondering if such fate might await her, the children were immediately sorry for their friend. Were adult ladies punished? they wondered collectively. Creating a barrier with their bodies between the woman and her brother, the brood rallied around her in support. One girl, the game's victor, stole a look at Mr. Darcy over her shoulder before whispering the thoughts of her siblings, "Miss Darcy, we are so sorry. We have brought you trouble."
Her brother's hardened expression met her upward glance, before Georgiana scanned the anxious and apologetic faces surrounding her. She would not admit it openly, but she knew their words to speak the truth. Whatever the cause, she had provoked her brother's ill favor.
"Do not worry, children. All will be well," she comforted more from her head than from her heart. But, I must take my leave, now. I shall be leaving for London in two days, so I will not see you again before I am away." Georgiana mustered a smile to dispel their worried mood. "Mind your parents and you shall receive a surprise upon my return." Georgiana lightly tapped the tip of the twins' noses with her finger before rising. "Good-bye, children. Thank you for a lovely visit."
Georgiana stepped to her brother's side, informing him quietly, "We need not go in. I have already taken our leave of Mrs. Lynd."
"Very well," her brother accepted stiffly.
A chorus of farewells rose as Darcy handed his sister into the curricle.
The sounds of the curricle, wheeling over the estate's road, were broken only by the pounding of the horse's hooves in the soft dirt underneath as Georgiana remained silent, waiting for her brother to speak. Her reason told her she had not genuinely breached any measure of decorum by playing with the children. But William's disapproving demeanor had gripped her pliable emotions, unsettling her composure, as she wondered at his thoughts. With the time growing since their departure from Walsford Cottage, she feared he was to leave her in anxious suspense.
"You could not have used one of the children's shoes?" Darcy finally asked in a measured tone without looking at his sister.
Georgiana replied without defense, looking at the gloved hands resting in her lap. "The children were indignant when I suggested we play "Hunt the Slipper" with an object other than that of the name. And I did not wish anyone to be punished for soiling their own stockings." Adding as she looked over to him, "Mrs. Lynd is a caring woman, but with so many to provide for, she is sometimes too quick to discipline." Georgiana's eyes returned to her lap when her brother did not turn to receive her comment. "That my shoe should supply the answer, seemed a trifling matter."
Darcy looked aside him, contemplating his sister's downcast features. She was forever sensitive to the needs and wants of those around her without reserve and without an affected appearance. As for her behavior, he was forced to admit she had not acted any differently than those ladies and gentlemen engaged in the inane games of the drawing room's evening light. No amount of feminine wiles had ever compelled him into joining, although Elizabeth's persuasion had almost succeeded. However, she had been undaunted in her diversion, participating just the same. He had not criticized her for her involvement had he? In truth, he was often humored by her self-effacing mirth and her characteristic fervor as she played.
Guiding the horses onto the connecting road, Darcy pondered what had provoked his ire. Did he demand more of his sister than of his own beloved? Had he been embarrassed because of how her appearance might have reflected upon him, especially in the presence of his tenants? He knew it to be true.
She had been so naturally happy when he came upon her and now... Darcy sighed, rolling his eyes at his dilemma. Even though knowing his pride to be dictating, he did not wish to excuse the spectacle, thereby encouraging its reoccurrence. But, he also did not wish his sister's dejection.
Turning again to his sister, William suggested, conceding a little, "Perhaps next time, you might bring an extra slipper."
Slowly, Georgiana's down-turned features raised to his, finding him softened and with a hint of a smile in his eyes.
Understanding this was his attempt to dismiss the situation, Georgiana gently assured, "I will, William." It had not yet occurred to her that she might rightly expect an apology for his behavior.
Unwrapping a small bundle she had kept on the seat, Georgiana retrieved an iced star-cookie, placing it on the cloth. Georgiana offered it to her brother, with a modest smile, "I did think to bring an extra one of these."
Any remaining disunion was repaired with the sound of her brother's deep chuckle. Appreciating her generous foresightedness, William laid her gift on his lap, "Thank you, Georgiana."
He noticed she did not unwrap one for herself, though. "Did you not pack an extra for yourself?"
"Yes, of course. I would not wish you to eat alone."
Darcy smiled, knowing full well his sister's fondness for sweets rivaled his own.
"However, I required one more for Mrs. Lynd's niece, Jenny Lynne. I had not known she had come to live with them."
Darcy interjected incredulously, "Lynd has one more mouth to feed?"
"Yes. However, she has come to work while in their care. Mrs. Lynd finds her a great comfort."
"Mm." Darcy accepted easily. "Then you must take part of mine." Darcy shifted the reigns, freeing one hand. Breaking the cookie into two shares, he handed Georgiana the larger half.
"But brother, you have kept the smaller portion for yourself," Georgiana objected motioning for him to trade his piece for hers.
"Nay, Georgiana, the pied piper deserves the greater share.
"I see you are determined, sir, so I shall not argue." Georgiana acceded only because he bit off a point of his part of the star. Georgiana tasted a morsel, chewing thoughtfully, "William, would it be impertinent for me to inquire after the Lynd's? Will you allow them to stay?"
William complimented, having made short work of his half, "Delightful, Georgiana. Thank you." Georgiana accepted the cloth from her brother, tucking it into the basket as he continued. "I was not aware you were informed of their troubles?" William deferred some what guardedly. He was reluctant to discuss another man's business.
"I am not aware of the detail, only of Mrs. Lynd's worries that their debt is so great, they will be made to quit the cottage. The Lynds are hardworking and care for their children as their situation allows. I am certain Mr. Lynd is an honorable man who will make right whatever his debt." Georgiana suddenly fell silent realizing she had presumed to persuade her brother, offering her opinion unsolicited in a domain she had never entered into with him. "Forgive me, William, I ought not meddle in your affairs," Georgiana offered diffidently, returning to the consumption of her treat.
William considered the emotion in his sister's voice. He found her advocacy for the family rather moving. Had he been intent on removing them, she might have succeeded in persuading him to reconsider. Her concern for the brood of children alone would motivate her supportiveness of their father's situation. However, in this instance, it was not necessary. He also believed in Mr. Lynd's character.
"Georgiana," William explained more openly, "The Lynds will not be made to forfeit Walsford. An agreeable arrangement has been settled upon, allowing Mr. Lynd to regain his good standing. Do not be troubled. I share in your confidence." William glanced over to see his sister's reception of his assurance. Her eyes were returned to him, but with a curiosity along with appreciation.
"May I inquire, King Arthur, what wise solution you devised?" Georgiana asked, her eyes dancing as she teased a little.
"I am no Arthur, Georgiana," William dismissed. "But I suppose you may say I removed the obstacle." He continued with the details of the arrangement, surmising she would know soon enough from either one of the servants or Mrs. Lynd herself.
"Of course, I do not know the weight of the sum, but could you not have removed the obstacle by forgiving the debt?" Georgiana stopped, reconsidering out loud, "But that would be neither fair to other tenants or prosperous for the estate."
Her desire for equity did not surprise him. However her attention to profit did. "Yes, you are correct, Georgiana. But Pemberley would have lost more than monetary gain. It would have lost a hard-working, respectable tenant to the unnecessary humiliation of a temporary want. With this provision, Lynd maintains his good standing, his son benefits from working under Mr. Barne's supervision and Pemberley gains from the labor and eventual resumption of payment."
"Brother, you are too modest. You are most certainly as clever and generous as Arthur. You have not only preserved the sanctity of a man's home, along with his pride, but have managed to benefit from it as well. Father, would be proud."
"Mm," William accepted uneasily. He had settled on the arrangement after careful consideration, finally deeming it a worthy solution. He did not desire any compliment for doing what was right.
Changing the focus of their conversation, "You have grown attached to the Lynd children, have you not?"
"I must admit I have. Each one is so different from the other and yet all coming from the same family."
"Cecil seems a sharp lad with a good mind for reasoning," William complimented casually.
Georgiana's pulse quickened, supposing this was the opportunity she had been hoping to have with her brother. But she did not feel entirely prepared.
Choosing her words with care as the curricle turned onto the main drive, "William, I have discussed an idea with Elizabeth, gaining her endorsement, but for which she has left to me to seek your approval."
William pulled in the reigns, slowing the horses to a stop. Her earnestness intrigued him, garnering his complete attention as he turned in the seat to face her fully.
Georgiana's confidence waned momentarily, not having expected so singular an audience with him. However, she was determined to forge ahead, to at least broach the subject if not actually receive his immediate approval. Perhaps if she gained some assent at the outset...
"William, would you agree acquiring one's education is a worthy pursuit?"
William cocked his head, surprised by the unexpected topic and perspective. Georgiana knew his high opinion of education, having himself graduated from University and having fulfilled their father's wish that she complete similar instruction as was appropriate for a young woman of means and accomplishment. "Yes, I would agree...," he affirmed, expecting some measure of explanation.
"And would you agree the greater the number of educated subjects, the greater the strength of the kingdom?"
The incongruity of his sister's demeanor--conservative and hesitant--with what must be an obvious reply made him uneasy. He desired to know the object of her questioning. "Yes, again, I would agree, but...," William did not finish his question, as Georgiana had already begun another.
"Would you also agree we are to "not only be hearers of the Word, but doers of the Word," caring for those less fortunate?"
How was he to answer against the Holy Scriptures? And in what possible manner did this associate with the last two? "Yes, of course, Georgiana. But may I ask to what these questions tend?" William urged, growing mildly impatient.
Georgiana perceived she must now come to the point. Summoning her courage, she drew a brief breath and began, "William, we have many children on the estate for whom instruction in town is rendered either inaccessible by the distance or inadequate by the superior abilities of the student. Would you be willing...? Would the cost be too great...?" She paused, having more difficulty presenting her request than she had anticipated. "My desire is to see the children educated here at Pemberley by a special tutor." Georgiana waited for her brother's reaction.
This was not at all what he had expected, if indeed he had suspected anything, "A tutor, for whose services I would pay," William clarified evenly.
She had felt fairly confident of her brother's opinion regarding the philosophy of her proposal, but had not been equally sure of his willingness in the pragmatics. His generosity with family was without question, but as master of Pemberley, would he deem this an extravagance? Georgiana attempted to return his question with more confidence then she felt. Looking him directly in the eye, "Yes."
William wondered at the degree of consideration she had given this. "Where would this instruction take place?"
Elizabeth had cautioned her to be ready for questions, before receiving his consent. "I had thought we might use various homes, for a time, with small groupings of the children. We might consider constructing an actual building, but I thought you might first require a measure of success before undertaking the expense."
William could not suppress a smile, although he thought it best to hide it with his hand. She had anticipated him well thus far. Even though he already knew the cost of her tutors, he investigated her knowledge further, "And the retainer, what is the fee."
Here, Georgiana's boldness faded, she had not received the confirmation she had hoped to have prior to this conversation. "I must apologize, brother. I may only refer to an amount appropriate for a tutor retained for the instruction of a single student. I had hoped to gain better information, but I fear it is now not to arrive until after we have already left for London. The intelligence I received, however, is -- pounds per annum."
William was impressed. He did not know the source of her information, but it was quite accurate. "Georgiana, I commend you. Your information is sound and your careful consideration is apparent." His sister smiled appreciatively.
"Your philanthropy is admirable. I will give it my consideration. Will that be sufficient answer for now?"
Feeling hopeful since he had not summarily dismissed the idea, "Oh, yes, William. Thank you. I should so like your sanction. The children would benefit so greatly," Georgiana pronounced persuasively.
Aye, William agreed to himself, taking up the reigns. Judging from your enthusiasm and self-possession, you would benefit as well, a realization predisposing him to approving the provision. He would indeed give this every consideration.
Georgiana rested back into the cushion of her seat. Her relief was great at having finally been able to make her request. She had been considering it for some time, but had been waiting for the proper time and adequate information. A satisfied smile grew over her features as she realized she had summoned the courage to make her case with her brother and even on a day already tested by difficulty between them. A growing confidence began to take firmer root.
As he steered the team of horses along the remaining short distance to the house, William puzzled over one further observation of Georgiana's conduct with the children. Knowing his sister's silence to now be one of equanimity, he thought he might induce her to appease his curiosity.
Wrinkling his brow, "Georgiana, will you confide your secret?"
Georgiana looked startled. She could not conceive...
"What enables you to differentiate the identity of those two boys?" William intoned incredulously.
Georgiana grew pale, turning away from the question. "Oh, William, I wish you would not ask."
William could not understand her disinclination. "Surely it is an innocent subject?" He defended.
"Your question is of innocence, but my answer, I fear, is founded in deception."
My sister, involved in deception? Impossible. William halted the horses just shy of passing onto the main drive. Coercing her good-naturedly, "Now you must tell me. Or these horses shall not move."
Georgiana dropped her eyes to her lap. "I confess; I cannot tell them apart."
"But I saw you!" William objected, "You called the boy by name when you brought out the basket."
Georgiana shook her head slowly, still too ashamed to meet his inquiry directly, "No I did not. I am forced to contrive ways of calling upon the name without having to look directly at its owner. When one answers, then I know to whom I am speaking."
Georgiana looked up sharply at her brother's unusual response. He was laughing! Not just with a mirthful politeness or a small chuckle, but with his head thrown back in an unrestrained roar! Georgiana was shocked by his display, her eyes wide in amazement. "William, I do not see that you are right to laugh at me."
"Oh, Georgiana! You are a wonder! So purely diplomatic. I should never have known."
"Well, you are the only one to know. I implore you to keep it that way!"
"Yah!" William commanded, slapping leather to horse, still laughing as he shook his head at his sister's artfulness. "Well done, Georgiana."
Elizabeth entered the hall to greet her long-expected family. Giving her sister a welcoming kiss, Elizabeth inquired after Georgiana's visit. "And how are the children, today? The twins as lively as ever?" (James and John were her personal favorites, although she tried never to show it in the presence of the children.)
Georgiana shot a suspicious glance at her brother in time to see his sly smile. Chiding laughingly, "Oh, William, I can see you are not to be trusted!"
"I have said nothing!" he defended with too much innocence.
Acting on an unusual boldness, Georgiana smacked him playfully on the arm with her reticule, warning him, "It is time for me to dress for dinner. But I shall know of your betrayal, William Darcy. Take heed." And with that, she left her brother to his renewed laughter, as he escorted a very confused Elizabeth from the room.
John handed the last of the trunks up to the footman before walking to Mary's side. Her eyes, he noticed no longer showed the redness and puffiness from the day before, but the sadness remained despite her attempt to show him a complacent smile. He tried to think of something to say, something to give her hope. His eyes drifted to the stones of the drive. No words came. Everything that was to be said had been said. And even though she had assured him she understood--that she would wait--he knew that her heart was sorely grieved.
"Mary," Ellen urged gently from within the chaise, "we must be off."
"Fare well, Sandy," Mary wished him, barely above a whisper.
A heavier misery could not have filled his heart as he saw tears again pooling in her eyes. He wished to Providence for a way to make their circumstance happy. If only he could wipe the tears from her eyes or hold her, if only for a moment, to ease the separation. But would it not grieve her more to feel his tenderness when he could not give her his assurance of his name? And how could he embrace her with Ellen and James and the others there? He knew his friends would not have hesitated had it been their farewell. From their bragging, he was certain they would have kissed her soundly so all would know she had been claimed. Having only managed the courage to hold her hand as they walked the Park, he knew he could not act so.
Mary had hoped John would say anything--do something, but she could see the sweet shyness she loved about him would allow her not the satisfaction of something to take away with her. With no anticipation of a happy resolution to the painful scene, Mary moved to the door of the chaise, allowing John to hand her in.
"Good bye, Mary," John's voice finally managed, while allowing himself a gentle squeeze of her hand as she rose into the equipage. John closed the door securely before knocking on its side to let the driver know all was ready.
John did not linger to watch the horses carry his love away from him for what he knew would be many months. It would be no sooner than Christmastide that they should be reunited.
As he returned through the servant's door, his thoughts were of two minds. Was it to be preferred for her to remain--for him to be tormented daily by the sight of her, knowing it would be years before he could ask her to be his wife? Or, was it an advantage for her to be away--where he could not see her, but knowing he would pine after her every moment she was gone?
Anger, born from the frustration of his circumstance--of his inability to determine his own course--slowly seeped into the emptiness Mary's departure had left in his heart. He allowed himself a moment of resentment, cursing a person of convenience, the one who had brought him to this deplorable state. Had it not been for her interference, I would not be so wretched. John hung the leather apron on the peg before retrieving his livery coat. Checking that his appearance was proper before resuming the remainder of his morning's duties, the face in the peering glass confronted him with the injustice of his invective. Were it not for that very kind Lady, his reflection reprimanded him, you would still be longing after your own imagining. Now at least, your angel is real and within reach. And is not your angel the one who has made you know your own heart, making you wait now that you know the strength of your own dream? If you will curse a woman, curse the one who has made you determined to exercise your gift! The lines of anger drained from his expression, unable to curse Miss Darcy or Mary for their part in his self-discovery.
"John, what are you about lad?" Mrs. Reynolds admonished his lack of industry. The master and mistress were ready for breakfast. While sympathetic to the man's plight, Mrs. Reynolds knew John's sorrow would have to wait. Modulating her tone, "You will please serve in the breakfast room."
John took one last look at the image in the mirror, "Yes, ma'am. I will go directly."
"Mary, all will be well, you will see. Somehow this will all come right," Ellen comforted as her friend dabbed away the tears she could no longer withhold.
"Thank you," Mary accepted, her voice wavering with emotion. Ellen's embrace of her hand was of no great comfort, but it was not unwelcome just the same, as she looked out to the passing green.
Ellen gave James a knowing look of despair as the three preceded the master to the inn.
Elizabeth sighed as she closed her book, a little weary of the confinement of the day's journey. Leaning forward for a better view of the passing countryside, she was pleasantly surprised, as she suspected they had covered more road than she had thought during the time she had been reading. Turning to her husband, "We will come into -------fordshire soon, will we not?
Darcy checked the number of his page before closing his own reading to consult his pocket watch, "Yes, I believe we are making good progress."
He watched as Elizabeth straightened and massaged the stiffness of her neck. He knew she found the length of the trip to be tedious, being unaccustomed to sitting for so long during the day, and in his own muscles he felt a sympathetic need for some exertion. Darcy invited her hold of his hand as he poised his, ready to receive hers as she returned it to her lap. Intertwining his fingers with hers, he brought their clasp gently between them. "Shall we stop and take tea, then? Perhaps a turn about the village while we are there?"
Her husband was rewarded with tenderness in her eyes as she appreciated the intimacy conveyed in this simple gesture. Were it not for Georgiana's presence, she would have allowed herself another gesture in response to his, but as they were not alone, Elizabeth replied with a quiet intensity that spoke more than just her words to her husband. "I should be delighted, sir."
Elizabeth allowed her gaze to linger with his, his tranquillity drawing her in. No words were necessary to tell her he was utterly and completely satisfied just to be near. What bliss she found in this man's quiet contemplation. She wondered at that dimpled grin of his. Will it always cause such feelings of joy? Make my heart flutter as it does now? But perhaps you will not always regard me so when we have been married for not just a twelfthmonth, but for the passing of 10 such spans, or 20? Elizabeth thought to test his resolve.
"You regard me so, now, Mr. Darcy, when I have the advantage of youth and novelty as your bride to recommend me, but shall you when I am old and the drudgery of days spent with the same wife has taken hold?"
Georgiana searched her basket for a new color of thread, suppressing a smile as she tried not to listen to her coach-mates' conversation.
Darcy's dimple deepened at his wife's teasing. Objecting lightly, "Drudgery with one full of wit and liveliness? It is not possible. I shall never find you so."
"But as the blossom must necessarily fade and wither, so you shall not wish to gaze on me when time has claimed my youth," Elizabeth proclaimed.
Remembering a hope his wife had once professed, Darcy promised, "Even when time has claimed the vestiges of your youth, you will call me 'Old Fool' for you will always be my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth."
Elizabeth smiled broadly at his diplomacy and reminiscence of Lady Clandon's address of her distinguished husband. "Then if you are to be so gracious in your agedness, I shall promise in mine, to never subject my naive old husband to ridicule, and shall call you 'Fool' in only intimate company."
Darcy chuckled, "Thank you, my dear. You are too generous to me."
Elizabeth moved toward him. Unable to further resist the allure of his mirth, she sealed her promise with a playful kiss.
Georgiana shifted uneasily, as she brought her cloth up closer, scrutinizing her stitch. Mrs. Annesley had cautioned her to give her newly married brother as much privacy as possible, but what was she to do when constrained by a coach's progress?
Seeing Georgiana's fidget as they withdrew, the pair exchanged a sheepish look as they became conscious to the discomfort their intimacy must cause--her attentiveness to her piece being far too intense.
Tilting her head to one side, Elizabeth called upon their sister, attempting to relieve the difficult situation, "Georgiana, you work most determinedly..."
Georgiana's heightened color gave Elizabeth pause, rolling her eyes as she realized her ill-chosen start.
Darcy hid a smile behind the back of his closed hand before deciding to help his wife's dilemma. "May we see what you have done?"
"Oh, yes," Georgiana replied, looking at her work, surprised by her brother's request.
Georgiana tucked her needle into place and spread the larger finished portion of the shawl for her brother and sister's inspection.
Elizabeth released her husband's hand, reaching forward to admire the silken adornment Georgiana had woven so expertly into the soft fabric. Caressing the richly colored threads with her fingertips, Elizabeth cooed, "Georgiana, this is exquisite work. Mary will be well pleased to receive such a work of beauty."
"Yes, I should think it to look very well on her." Adding as she frowned at the shawl, "But I had hoped to present this to her as a bride; now I fear it to only be a present for Christmas."
"Indeed? I understood the house to be in anticipation of nuptials very soon," Elizabeth commented, already informed of particular attachments between Mary and John. Even had she not been informed by her own observations, Ellen always proved a valuable source of intelligence for the interesting events taking place about the estate and in the village.
"Am I to take it you expect Mary to be leaving Pemberley soon?" Darcy asked surprised.
Elizabeth smiled at her husband's innocence. But she supposed it was only natural he should remain unenlightened. She doubted James was much of a gossip, at least in the master's presence. Neither had she offered comment on the growing affections between the two servants, knowing her husband had never before delighted in the stories of other people's progress toward marriage.
"I thought it would be so. I had expected Mary to return from town, Sunday last, with joyous news. But she did not. I am quite concerned for her quiet solitude. I am certain she has received distressing news and yet she has not confided in me," Georgiana confessed more than she might, had she not been worried for her friend.
"You take an active interest in your maid's affairs, then?" Darcy appeared mildly disapproving.
Elizabeth sensed her sister's doubt in having revealed more than she perhaps had intended. "And why should she not," she defended gently, "Mary has been faithful and giving in her service to Georgiana." And Georgiana would wish to know her efforts have not come to naught, she refrained from adding. Elizabeth had recognized the dresses Mary had worn into town on those Sundays as she was accompanied by her particular gentleman. And, Georgiana's heightened anticipation of Mary's return each time had not gone unnoticed.
"It is to your credit, Georgiana to be concerned for one who is in our employ. However, it is inadvisable to concern yourself with another's attachments," Darcy counseled.
Elizabeth interjected with an air of innocence, "And do you advise your sister from experience or from conjecture?"
Darcy indulged his wife's barb as he turned to her. Feeling himself well-taught on the subject, he would not be provoked. "The source is immaterial. If from good sense," he emphasized, "then it is still sound. If from experience, then all the more to be heeded," Darcy proclaimed evenly.
Georgiana's brow furrowed momentarily at the odd exchange between them, thinking an allusion had just been made to a story she would never be told.
"William, you would not wish me to be unfeeling toward the happiness of my own maid and a servant from one of Pemberley's long-standing families?" Georgiana objected feelingly.
"Pray, what is the name of this man?" Darcy asked, now curious to know the identity of Mary's apparently reluctant suitor.
Elizabeth pressed gently on her husband's arm as she quietly informed him, "One, John Harkenson." She was not dissatisfied with the response affected by the pronouncement.
Darcy's eyes widened in surprise, sparked with remembered anger, and then relaxed into relief. If John was sincerely paying his respects to Georgiana's maid, then he could finally allow himself to believe John no longer possessed any intentions toward Georgiana, herself. What though of Georgiana's worry that all was not well?
Darcy considered the implications further. It would not be the first of such liaisons to be pursued between those serving at Pemberley. However, if either the man or the woman did not return the affections of the other, the resulting emotional turmoil could cause considerable disruption in the smooth running of the household. It was not a problem Darcy would shoulder personally, unless it came to dismissal, but he was not insensitive to the burden it laid on the those who must answer for the actions of Pemberley's servants.
More particularly, though, what of Georgiana? She had encouraged his own steps toward Elizabeth gently and unassumingly, and he had welcomed her assistance at the time. But was it proper for her to become entangled in the servants' lives? He judged not.
"No, Georgiana, you know I would not want you callous toward the feelings of others." (He knew that to be impossible.) "However, if their happiness is to be, let it be of their own making."
"But brother...," Georgiana began.
Darcy's brows raised, disbelievingly. He neither expected her to question his wishes nor did he welcome her to.
Georgiana bit her lower lip, stilling her objection. She retrieved her needle, struggling to maintain her poise. Having received his disapprobation of any involvement from her, how could she now admit her share? Her actions could not be undone.
Georgiana began working the thread through the white cloth. Nor, upon quick reflection, would she choose a different course, were it to be done again, even though he did not approve. She had succeeded in redirecting John's attention, something William most certainly advocated, and Mary had welcomed her help in securing the man's affections. She could not see that any of what she had purposed to do could be deemed officious. That the people she deigned to assist were servants, in no way mitigated her desire to see them happy. No, she decided, she would only regret her part if somehow Mary and John ended in disunion, with her friend suffering the loss of her heart's love.
Must she not make reply, though, to her brother? If she was to speak, however, he would expect her to accede, but that would be to betray her own conviction. To counter would be argument, which his expression made clear he would not tolerate. But to stay silent was no better, being both disguise and deception, since he would perceive it as acceptance and she knew that to be untrue.
The perturbation of Elizabeth's thoughts was no less great as she sought resolution to the impossible circumstance. That Georgiana had not readily yielded to her brother's instruction confirmed Elizabeth's suspicions she had indeed furthered Mary's cause, yet was unwilling to renounce it despite her brother's wishes. But Georgiana's silence implied she was not so bold as to defy her brother openly. Her sense of loyalty to her husband argued with her own assessment of Georgiana's condescension, thinking she would do the same for Ellen if the need ever presented. What was she to do? She wished neither to betray her sister nor undermine her husband's authority. Thoughts, presenting themselves in only an instant, felt to be ruminations of intolerable duration.
Elizabeth let out an unconscious breath as the coach slowed purposefully to a stop. They had attained ----fordshire and the horses would require watering.
Opening the carriage door, the footman addressed his master with a quick bow, "Are we to go to the inn, then, sir? Will you be taking tea? Or will you continue on to the night's stay at the Buxton?"
"Yes" Elizabeth responded quickly before her husband could, thankful for the interruption. "We shall stop for tea." Then realizing the opportunity added, "The day is pleasant. Shall we not walk to the inn from here?" Soliciting her sister's endorsement, "Georgiana?"
"Aye, that would do very well indeed," Georgiana affirmed, readily laying aside her work.
Darcy gave his man a quick nod of confirmation before turning back to regard his sister and wife. Appraising their obvious relief, he wondered what share was owed to their appreciation of the exercise and what to the utility of it presenting itself at that moment. He suspected the greater share might belong to the latter rather than the former.
Elizabeth returned his gaze more innocently than she felt, "Shall we then?"
Continued in High Society
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