Georgiana: The Prelude
Georgiana was more nervous than she could ever remember. She had performed on the pianoforte for the entertainment of family and guests of Pemberley. But even then, she had acquiesced only at the gentle, but firm insistence of her brother and sister-in-law. Her humility would not allow her to admit it openly, but she knew she was considered accomplished at the instrument. Even with the loving support of family and the ever polite attentions of the guests (for who would have the ill manners to insult a Darcy in her own home?), Georgiana had always felt anxious and ill-at-ease while playing for an audience. And though she was told by William and Elizabeth on many occasions that she sang as beautifully as the nightingale, she positively would not sing for any but family. If she felt physically weak performing at something she knew well, how would she possibly endure this occasion in which she knew all would be watching her every move? She had been anticipating this event for months...wearing this gown, dancing to the beautiful music...but on the precipice of the moment, she was losing courage.
Georgiana allowed herself a moment of reverie. The commissioning of this dress had brought a most excellent day. Georgiana exulted in the camaraderie of not just one, but two sisters for she was now as close to Jane and Elizabeth as she could ever have wished. Much to her mortification, her brother fairly insisted on escorting them into Elizabeth's favored dressmaker in London with the unspoken intent of approving their selections.
Were it not for Elizabeth, he would have succeeded. "No, thank you kindly, sir. I am certain you and Bingley would fare much more happily at the Black Swan. We shall be ready for your return in two hour's time." A stifled laugh escaped his lips as he patted his wife's hand. Turning to Bingley, "Perhaps a game of darts then?" (Darcy knew by her voice and the inclination of her head that she would brook no masculine interference. He had lost before the debate had begun.) Curtsying to her brother and Bingley, Georgiana watched them stroll toward the tavern. Georgiana wondered if ever a man would love her who would be so obliging. Her sisters had found such and yet each man was so different from the other. Perhaps there was hope.
The shop was of intimate size, yet well furnished, its patrons being of some means. Elizabeth's lively manner and appreciable taste had made her a favorite in the shop. The dressmaker was delighted to offer his very finest to the young patron accompanying Mrs. Darcy. Her eyes expressed implicit trust. A dress must be made to be worthy of such a refined young woman for her first ball. The dressmaker presented a most excellent pattern, elegant without ostentation and putting her form to best advantage. The silken ivory material brought comments of accolades from all attending.
"Georgiana, I am left without speech!" Noting the time on the shop clock, Elizabeth added with small alarm, "Oh, quickly. It is but two hours. I suspect your brother will not be late in hopes of securing a glimpse. We must conclude our business before the gentlemen's return."
All details were seen to and discretely removed from view. As the gown was removed through one door, Darcy and Bingley were announced through another. Upon entering, Darcy was struck by the radiance of Georgiana's expression. He had not seen her this happy since...He could not recall. Her look caught him quite by surprise. She was in that moment a lady, confident of herself and her position, rather than the excited little sister he had left to his wife's protection just little more than an hour before. Although a most attentive elder brother, Darcy was blinded to the metamorphosis beginning before his eyes.
"My dear, have you found a gown to your liking?"
Georgiana wrapped her arms around Darcy with the strength of her heart-felt appreciation. "Oh yes, William. Yes!"
The pounding in her forehead brought Georgiana back to the present. "Elizabeth, Jane, I cannot. I fear I will faint. Elizabeth and Jane looked on Georgiana's reflection in the dressing room mirror. Before them stood a woman of delicate beauty, as beautiful and fragile as a prize orchid in fresh bloom. Her beauty and stately deportment belied her tender years of just 17. Her innocence and naivetÈ would surpass even the grandest ladies of the ball, for Elizabeth knew nothing is so appealing as the blush of youth. As striking as her attire, it was the expression she wore that captured their eyes and engendered Elizabeth's and Jane's compassion. Georgiana's usually placid brown eyes were wide with fear, her complexion ashen and pale. She did indeed look as one about to faint. Her sisters led Georgiana to the settee, each gently supporting an elbow so she would not fail. Jane took Georgiana's hand in hers, giving her heart-felt assurance. "Dearest Georgiana, you must calm yourself."
Elizabeth motioned to Georgiana's maid to bring a glass of brandy. "Here dearest, drink this slowly."
"Lizzy, do you remember the first assembly I attended? I was petrified with fear." Jane remembered with embarrassment.
"Yes, I believe you were using Father for so much support, you were rather carried out." Lizzy giggled at the thought. "And the particular attentions of young Jonathon Winthrop III." Lizzy rolled her eyes. Jane still blushed at the memory, such was her gentle, unassuming spirit. Soon Jane and Lizzy's reminiscences had even Georgiana laughing, her nervousness forgotten.
Mary stepped back from her creation to admire her work. She had not come to Pemberley as a servant; in truth, she was the daughter of one of the upstairs maids. The rumor of her talent for coiffure had been tested and proved true, so now Elizabeth would allow none but Mary to prepare her hair for a special occasion. Mary had received the kindest of compliments from Mrs. Elizabeth just before entering Miss Georgiana's chamber. She felt so elated by her esteem, Mary determined Miss Georgiana's style would rival the ladies-of-court. The combined effect of Mary's gift, a gown from London and Georgiana's own natural beauty was no less than stunning!
Darcy and Bingley had been enjoying a glass of sherry in the library when they heard voices from the stairs in the hall. "At last." Darcy gave Bingley a good-natured slap on the back. "I had begun to think we would have to stand up with each other."
How much more relaxed Darcy is since marrying Elizabeth. A pity they had not married sooner. Bingley did not say, as he returned Darcy's broad smile.
Darcy and Bingley moved to the bottom of the stairs to receive their wives. The one was not aware of the other as he beheld his lady descending the stairs, each possessed by the unparalleled beauty he saw in his wife. Darcy bowed, taking Elizabeth's hand in his and placed the most delicate of kisses on the fingers of her glove. "You outshine the radiance of the sun and moon." Elizabeth's heart thrilled at his gentle touch. She allowed her eyes to linger on her husband's features, the strength of his legs under the fine cloth...his deep black coat intensifying the richness of his chestnut brown hair... the white of his waistcoat and cravat giving sharp contrast to his dark eyes...eyes she saw filled with adoration. She loved this man with all her being. Wrapping her hand around his arm with his hand covering hers, Darcy waited expectantly. Looking to the top of the stairs and back to Elizabeth, he asked with a look of concern, "And Georgiana?"
Elizabeth drew close, speaking as with intimacy, "Wait my darling. She shall leave you without words."
Jane and Elizabeth had instructed Georgiana to allow them to join the men first in order that she make an entrance of her own. They were so proud of her.
In a moment, an angel appeared at the top of the stairs as if stepping from heaven itself. Candlelight danced on her silken gown, gems in her hair sparkling with the shimmery brilliance of diamonds. Her sisters watched Georgiana as she floated toward them, approval abundant in their eyes. They were so very proud of her. Bingley could but beam; Miss Darcy was breathtaking.
Elizabeth's focus was drawn away from the heavenly being on the stairs to Darcy's face for she perceived a gradual change of emotion in her husband's touch. His hand had been so gently enfolding hers--lovingly, almost a caress. But now it exerted such pressure around hers, it was giving her pain.
Darcy had not known what forewarning his wife had supplied. While his mind raced with his emotions to see which would prevail, no sound could he make. Who is this before my eyes? She is exquisite! This can not be my sister, my little sister. She is a shy wisp of a girl. No, this can not be my Georgiana. His eyes widened in disbelief, his lips parting as if to utter a sound, but none would come. Georgiana was now directly before him. Waiting with anticipation on the final step. Her eyes searching his face for his approval. Good God! She is a woman!
"My dear," said Elizabeth. "Fitwilliam," she said with greater urging, trying to rouse.
Elizabeth's eyes danced with delight as she could discern her husband's quandary at seeing his sister in a new and startling way. "Georgiana, I believe you have quite overwhelmed your brother with your grace and beauty. Be not alarmed. His manners will prevail. He will recover. Won't you Fitzwilliam." Elizabeth tried to remove her hand hoping to break his abstraction.
Darcy startled, looking at his wife as if she had become suddenly present. "Your forgiveness madam. Were you speaking to me?" The distraction of his mind still evident. Bingley, Jane and Elizabeth lost restraint and replied with laughter. Georgiana, though, was still and serious. She could not understand her brother's reaction. She thought he would have been pleased.
With a teasing smile, "You see Georgiana; his manners return." Then to her husband, "I was just saying to our sister how you would think her full of grace and beauty."
Darcy was still striving to master his emotions. "Yes...yes." He blurted hurriedly, as if responding not to his wife's words, but to some annoyance. Darcy could see doubt and apprehension growing in his sister's eyes. Finally, Darcy collected himself and taking her hands, assisted her down the final step. "Forgive my ill manners, Georgiana...You are exquisite, my dear. Mother and Father would be so pleased.
Continued in The Ball
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