Catherine: A Heart's Journey
Chapter II: Reversal
The dinner engagement at the Allen's proved to be a very enjoyable one. The Allens had invited a number of their acquaintance, who made the night as merry as any that Catherine could remember. Lady Allen was a good-natured host, and Mr. Allen's manners continued to be genteel and agreeable.
The following days increased Catherine's impatience for Tuesday to arrive, bringing with it her second-ever opera. Her excitement was evidenced in the preparations of her attire. She finally settled on her lilac ball dress, along with a gold chain, which Elizabeth had given to her as a parting gift.
Her preparations might well have been avoided, because on Monday morning she awoke feverishly hot. She spent the day in bed, ministered by Georgiana and Jane's constant care. In vain did she wish for the fever to abate that night, for the next morning dawned with the increase of her symptoms.
"I am going to ask Jane to cancel our appointment this evening," Georgiana said to Catherine that afternoon, as she set a tray of soup on Catherine's bed.
"No, you cannot," Catherine said. "It is too late to cancel it."
"But you are sick! You need me here."
"What I need most is rest," Catherine said in a tired voice, "and I can do that without you here. If I needs anything, Miss Grey will be here."
Even at the assurance of the children's nurse being at her side, Georgiana did not seem to relent.
"Please, go," Catherine pleaded.
Georgiana bit her lip and finally, gave a slow, reluctant, nod.
The evening arrived, and Georgiana came into Catherine's room in her pale blue opera dress, her face distressed. She soon confided her fears in Catherine: "It is one thing being in the Allen's company with you there," she said, "but without you, I will be spoken to more, and I am sure I will not know what to say or how to act."
Catherine pressed her hand against Georgiana's and reassured her as well as she could, mentioning that the Bingleys would be there to alleviate any distress, and that the largeness of the party would be to her advantage.
Mr. Bingley opened the door and indicated that it was time to go, wishing Catherine a good rest. Georgiana left she left, her face still disturbed, but she gave Catherine a quick, heroic smile as she departed. Catherine laid back down in her bed and thought for a few minutes, hoping her friend would manage the evening well. Fatigue, however, soon set in, and she fell into deep sleep.
Catherine slept straight through the night and woke much less weary than she had been since the illness began. Jane came in with her breakfast and showed great relief over her improved condition. Through the small, filling meal, Jane told her about the previous night's opera, but her communications indicated only the plot of the opera, and the interesting people in attendance, nothing of what she wished to hear: of how Georgiana had fared.
"For that you shall have to ask Georgiana," Jane said, her face revealing nothing.
Soon after Jane left to attend Miss Bingley, Georgiana arrived.
"You look so much improved!" Georgiana exclaimed.
"Indeed, I am," said Catherine, "but I would have been much happier if it had been yesterday rather than today. Tell me, how did the evening go? Jane scarcely let me know anything."
"I will, and here is the whole of it," Georgiana said, seating herself on the end of the bed, facing Catherine. "I was exceedingly nervous as we arrived at the opera house, and my nerves were all the more excited when we joined our party, to realize that the Allen's other company were not there. 'My cousins had to leave London of a sudden,' Mr. Allen explained to us. Neither Jane nor Charles seemed to mind, and Mr. Allen took my arm to escort me to our seats. I was, as you can probably discern, completely rattled by this proceeding, and scarcely said a word to him as we entered the hall." Catherine could, indeed, imagine the circumstance, and she waited impatiently as Georgiana took in a breath and continued.
"We sat down, having a good fifteen minutes until the performance began. Mr. Allen was talking to me, being my only neighbor--he was seated next to Jane. I drew some courage, thinking of you being home and unwell, and was able to answer his questions intelligibly until the curtain rose. Finally, it did rise, and I turned to the performance. It was very good--I do wish you had been there!--and both Mr. Allen and I were quite engrossed. At the intermission, we walked outside to catch our breath, when all of a sudden, Mr. Allen tripped on the steps and fell to the ground. I was quite worried and leaned over him, saying, 'Are you injured, Mr. Allen? I am so sorry!' when I heard the sound of laughter. Yes, he was laughing. I did not see anything humorous in the situation, but he did keep laughing, and soon I caught his laughter, and we were both laughing so very loudly, and all of the theatre patrons were looking at us oddly, but we did not care. That broke my silence for the rest of the night, and I was quite at ease with him during all that remained of it. Catherine, it was marvelous!" She stopped: her face was aglow, and a broad smile spread across it.
"I am so pleased to hear this," Catherine said, quickly embracing her friend. "You deserved to have a good time."
"I am just pleased it all turned out. I was so anxious when I left you that I never expected to spend the evening half so pleasantly."
"And did Mr. Allen make another engagement with you soon?"
Georgiana flushed, then said, "He asked if we would like to attend a luncheon at his aunt's in a week's time. In the meantime, Charles and Jane invited him to dine with us on Saturday, providing you are recovered and ready to attend."
Chapter III: The Dinner Party
Catherine could not think of Georgiana's growing affection for Mr. Allen without thinking of Mr. Terrington, and whether or not Georgiana was sufficiently over his attentions. She puzzled over this question daily throughout her recovery and decided at length that only the dinner on Saturday would answer this question for her. She was very expectant for it, and glad that her own confinement would finally be over for the evening's festivities.
Saturday evening arrived, and Catherine was feeling fully recovered by then. She joined Georgiana, Jane, and Mr. Bingley in the drawing room to await their guests' arrival.
"I am glad to see that you are so much recovered," said Mr. Bingley, as she entered the room. "I believe that your complexion is better than it has been for days."
"Thank you, Mr. Bingley," Catherine said. "I am feeling much improved."
Catherine took a seat on a sofa, next to Georgiana, who had a smile of expectation on her face, intermingled with an air of nervousness.
The bell rang, and the party listened as the front door opened, and footsteps moved down the hall. The drawing room door opened, and a servant entered, announcing, "Lady Allen and Mr. Thomas Allen."
Lady Allen entered, looking as pleasant as ever, followed by her nephew.
"Do sit down," said Jane. "We are so pleased that you could both join us this evening."
"As are we," said Mr. Allen. He waited for his aunt to seat herself, and then sat down in a chair next to Georgiana. "I hope you are much improved, Miss Bennet," he then said.
"Thank you, I am," said Catherine.
"Good," he said. "I was most sorry that you were unable to join us at the opera on Tuesday, and I will have to make it up to you by taking you all there again."
"That would be wonderful," Catherine said, truly gratified.
"I have not thanked you for the excellent evening on Tuesday, Miss Darcy," Mr. Allen said, turning to Georgiana.
"It is I who should thank you for taking us," she said, smiling.
"No," he said. "I have been to the opera before, but never with such a pleasant companion. I have found that the most important part of an evening is not the entertainment, but the company."
Georgiana blushed, but Catherine could tell that it was a blush of pleasure rather than a blush of embarrassment.
As the party moved into the dining room, Catherine continued to observe Georgiana and Mr. Allen. Over dinner, they spoke easily, as though long acquainted: Georgiana's shy nature seeming to have utterly disappeared. At the conclusion of dinner, they returned to the drawing room.
"What a fine pianoforte you have here Mrs. Bingley," Mr. Allen said.
"Thank you, Mr. Allen," said Jane. "And I seldom have better musicians than I have here to-night."
"Indeed," said Mr. Allen. "I should greatly enjoy to hear both of you play."
Catherine knew it was more of a complement to Georgiana than herself, so she attempted to politely decline. Mr. Allen, however, gently persuaded her that he truly wished to hear both of them play, to which she could not decline.
Georgiana moved to the pianoforte and pulled out a piece that she had been working on for the last few weeks--since Mr. Terrington's revue, Catherine recollected. Her playing was more beautiful than Catherine had ever heard her play: it was a slow, melodic piece. Catherine glanced over at Mr. Allen, who was gazing at Georgiana with an expression of rapt pleasure. He listened, unmoving, during the entire piece, and then applauded louder than all the rest at its conclusion.
"That was beautiful," Jane said, clasping Georgiana's hand for a moment.
"Very beautiful indeed," agreed Mr. Bingley
'simply delightful, my child," said Lady Allen.
Georgiana blushed and thanked them, then hurriedly sat down. Mr. Allen, seated next to her, said, "I have never heard any thing to equal your playing."
"Thank you, Mr. Allen," Georgiana said, her voice soft and breathless.
After Georgiana's playing, Catherine felt that her own was an anticlimax. She played a song she had had only for a few days. She made but few mistakes; however, the complexity and beauty of Georgiana's piece was missing, and Catherine was glad to relinquish her seat, after some polite applause, back to Georgiana. Georgiana played another beautiful, highly complex, song, which was followed by applause which was as warm as for her first.
After Georgiana's second song, the Allens finally bid good-night, thanking Jane and Mr. Bingley warmly for a wonderful evening. Mr. Bingley warmly invited them to come again soon. Catherine stood at the drawing room door and observed Mr. Allen pressing Georgiana's hand gently as he stood in the entryway, and Georgiana giving him a look of warmth and watching as he departed.
Chapter IV: A Dance
The luncheon at the Allen's was a pleasurable engagement. Georgiana seemed more open in such mixed company than ever before, and Catherine could see by the pink of her glowing countenance that she truly enjoyed conversing with Mr. Allen. Three week's more acquaintance showed that Mr. Allen, in his turn, was most attentive to Georgiana, and eager for her to be always comfortable. He limited the number of his parties to those who she either knew or to those he was certain would be pleasant companions. In addition, he chose activities that were sure to please Georgiana's taste. True to his promise, he took the party to another opera, at which Catherine found as much to enjoy in Georgiana and Mr. Allen's acquaintance as in the opera itself.
The visit at Jane and Mr. Bingley's began to take on something of a routine, with mornings for Georgiana and Catherine to sew, chat, and practice Jane's pianoforte; afternoons in the company of Jane and the children, often Mr. Bingley, and, rather unfortunately, Miss Bingley; and an outing with the Allens at least two evenings a week.
On a night just over three months after her arrival in London, Catherine was disgruntled at hearing that Miss Bingley was to join them at a ball given by an acquaintance of the two families. She comforted herself with the thought that at least she would be in a large company, and would not have to converse with Miss Bingley much.
The day was a flurry of preparation, but finally the Bingley party was ready and Miss Bingley collected. After a short ride they arrived at the grand house at which the ball was to take place. As Catherine stepped out of the carriage, she immediately caught sight of Mr. Allen, who was waiting at the bottom of the steps of the house. His face lit up as he saw her, and he rushed forward. "Miss Bennet, I am so glad you made it here. My aunt and I have been here half an hour, and I was beginning to think that perchance something had happened to prevent you from coming."
Catherine laughed. "No great catastrophe other than myself misplacing a white shawl and searching half the house for it."
Mr. Allen joined in her laughter, "A catastrophe indeed," he said. His eyes, gazing at the door of the coach, illuminated, "Ah! Miss Darcy, here you are. Shall we?" He offered his arm to Georgiana, who took it and walked with him to the entrance of the building. Jane and Mr. Bingley followed suit, and Catherine found herself paired with Miss Bingley who chattered tiresomely about the offers she already had for the first two dances of the ball, and how she had turned all of them down, every one of the gentlemen being quite ill-qualified.
The dance floor was filled with dozens of majestically dressed women and men. Catherine felt that her simple lavender ball gown was out of place, with its long, plain lines and little lace. Still, she chided herself, it had been given to her by Lizzy with much love, and so she had no right to feel at all inferior.
The musicians began warming up for the first dance, and Georgiana and Mr. Allen moved toward the dance floor. Mr. Bingley turned to Catherine and Miss Bingley. "I hope you will not mind Jane and myself leaving you to dance," he said.
"Of course not," assured Catherine. Miss Bingley smiled snidely.
"I am sure you will soon have a very agreeable partner," Jane whispered to Catherine, as she and Mr. Bingley stepped towards the congregating dancers. Catherine gave half a smile and stepped out of the way of the crowd.
She stood consciously by the wall, wishing she knew more people in London. She saw several other partnerless young women and would not have felt quite as embarrassed by her lot, if only she did not have to stand and talk to Miss Bingley while the rest of her party were so agreeably engaged. I will be polite, she instructed herself. I will not allow her to provoke me.
The dance began, and Catherine had the pleasure of seeing Georgiana smiling and talking as she danced with Mr. Allen, and him talking back in a warm, gentlemanly manner. Then Catherine noticed Miss Bingley, who was standing next to her, looking rather enviously at the dancers. Could it be that she is feeling just as lonely as myself? The idea that Miss Bingley could have any feeling akin to her own was new and made her feel enough sympathy for her to attempt to start a conversation.
"Miss Bingley, I must say, you are dressed very handsomely to-night," she said.
Her partner seemed surprised by the words and said, cautiously, "Thank you, Catherine Bennet. It is not my best ball gown, but I did not think the occasion warranted it, as I see you did not, either."
Catherine flushed. She swallowed to keep from saying anything discourteous. Then, she said, "What do you find to occupy your time with in London?"
Miss Bingley's face, in turn, became red. She answered, in clipped words, "As many things as yourself and Miss Darcy, I am sure."
"I did not mean to offend you," Catherine said sincerely. "Excuse me if I said anything unkind."
"Of course," Miss Bingley said, but her face remained cold and offended. She turned away from Catherine, who blinked back tears.
The dance came to an end, and the two couples rejoined Catherine and Miss Bingley. Mr. Allen requested, "Miss Bennet, would you do me the honour of dancing the next with me?"
"I-- Thank you. I would," Catherine said. As Mr. Allen took her arm to escort her to the floor, she took a deep breath to compose herself. Mr. Allen glanced over at her, concern showing on his face. She hoped he would not guess why she was upset.
She saw Georgiana and Mr. Bingley join the dance and Jane talking to an acquaintance. As the dance began, Mr. Allen said to Catherine softly, "Miss Bennet, I could not help but noticing that you are looking pale. Are you unwell?"
Catherine swallowed and looked down at her feet. "No, I am . . . fine," she said.
"If you do not wish to dance, I can return you to your companion," he said, nodding toward Miss Bingley. "I am certain I am not as good of company."
"No, no, you are very good company," Catherine said fervently. "Georgiana could not as for better than yourself."
"I thank you, but I believe that the lady in question is much more deserving of such praise than myself."
"You cannot praise Georgiana too highly to me, but I am sure you wrong yourself."
Here Catherine and Mr. Allen were separated for a minute to dance with other partners. Catherine felt her heart lightening with the quickness of the dance and she was smiling when she returned to Mr. Allen's company. "Mr. Allen, pray, tell me a little about yourself," she requested. "Have you lived in London long?"
"Yes, for some few years," he agreed. "I returned to my family home two years ago, with my sister, but only to refurbish the place before it was sold."
"It must have been difficult to sell your childhood home," Catherine said.
A shadow crossed over Mr. Allen's face, and he said in a low tone, "Yes, it was indeed difficult. There were so many memories to be parted with." Then he added, in a stronger voice, "But it had to be done, and it was for the best. But, I am sorry to speak so, Miss Bennet. I do not wish to burden you with any of my small troubles. I have truly been fortunate in my life to have so many true and devoted friends. There are some who are not so lucky."
Catherine was surprised at this sudden display of emotion, but touched by his words. "It is no burden, Mr. Allen. We all of us have troubles unseen by others."
"Thank you, Miss Bennet," he said, his eyes moistening. "And I hope that whatever afflictions you have may be of short duration."
After her dance with Mr. Allen, Catherine could not be so afflicted by Miss Bingley, and she found that she did not need to be in her company, as she danced every dance after the first.
On her return home, Catherine sat in her bed reading when a knock come on her room. "Come in," she said.
Georgiana, attired a long white nightdress, entered. "Can we talk for a minute?" she asked.
Catherine put down her book and said, "Have a seat." Georgiana came over and sat on the end of the bed.
"Catherine, tell me truly, do you like him?"
"Mr. Allen?" she asked. At a nod from Georgiana, Catherine said, "Yes, I do. He is so very kind and unselfish."
"I am so glad!" Georgiana said. "That is what I think. He is so much of the kind of person I have always thought I would like: he is always considering me and making me feel better about myself. Would you think me bold to say that I like him very, very much?"
"No," Catherine said, smiling. "I think many a young women would say more."
Georgiana nodded. "I know, but Catherine, I-- I have been disappointed before." Her lip trembled. "I am not only thinking about Mr. Terrington, but about . . . " her voice trailed off, unable to say the name.
"Mr. Wickham," Catherine said.
She again nodded. "Yes. Do remember the day I was playing a melody and you came upon me suddenly? I was thinking of him that day. Catherine, I do not want what happened with him to occur again, so I am determined to be careful."
"I think that is wise," Catherine said.
"I was only fifteen when George--Mr. Wickham--wanted to elope," Georgiana said softly. "I-- I thought I was in love, and he kept assuring me that I was. He was like a brother to me-- I had always known him, and so I let myself believe him." A single tear trickled down her cheek. "I was going to go against everything I knew to be right."
Catherine grasped Georgiana's hand and said, "It was a long time ago. I know you will make the right decision this time."
Georgiana quietly looked at her clasped hands, and then said, "Do you know what I am worried about, above all?"
Catherine shook her head.
"I am worried about securing my brother's approval. Regarding the other two gentlemen I have been involved with I did not seek my brother's counsel. I will not be easy until I obtain his approval. What do you think I had best do?"
"What if you were to write Elizabeth and ask her assistance in the matter?"
Georgiana smiled, "I think that it would be just the right thing to do.
Chapter V: Visitors
The next morning, Georgiana penned her letter to Elizabeth, and no sooner was the letter dispatched than another arrived, from Pemberley, acquainting them with the news that in a fortnight's time Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy would be in town for a few days.
The afternoon of the Darcy's arrival finally came, and Catherine, along with the rest of the party, waited around the house impatiently, as the time appointed for their arrival came. Sooner than expected, the sound of a carriage drawing up to the building was heard, and the whole party quickly headed outside to meet the equipage. Two figures stepped down, and Catherine flew to them.
"Lizzy!" she cried. Her surprise must have shown, but Elizabeth, despite a slightly large stomach, embraced her. After a flurry of hugs all around, Elizabeth beamingly said, "Well, this is happiness indeed! I knew my surprise would be well met."
Jane, her right arm linked in Elizabeth's, said, "I cannot tell you how pleased I am! When is your confinement to be over? You must tell me everything!"
Elizabeth embraced Jane again, and then said, "It is so good to see you all again. I promise to tell you everything, even of how protective of a husband I have."
Mr. Darcy, far from being embarrassed, smiled broadly at his wife. "Yes, I believe I am very protective, but tell me, Bingley, can a husband be too protective of his beloved wife?"
"Decidedly not," agreed Mr. Bingley. "Jane will attest that I am more and more worried for her each time she is in confinement."
Jane laughed with the rest of the group, "Yes, indeed he is!"
"Now," said Mr. Bingley, "If you will all join us in the parlour, you will find rest and refreshment."
Of course the suggestion was agreeable to all, and so the lively group proceeded into the house, all seemingly talking at once. Once in the parlour, the two gentlemen moved into a corner, while the women sat nearer the door. They enjoyed some tea and light cakes as they chatted about the journey, Elizabeth's news, and all the little things that cannot be conveyed through letter.
Listening to Elizabeth and Jane, Catherine could not but think back to the time when all the Bennet sisters were still at Longbourn. Lizzy and Jane, being the two eldest sisters, and--as their father often said--the least silly of them all, had always been each others' dearest friends. Catherine had sometimes envied the total confidence and affection they had in each other, but now she listened with pleasure as they spoke, renewing their friendship after a few months of separation.
At length the conversation moved to the outing in Derbyshire, and Elizabeth, puzzled, asked, "Is our expedition to be entirely given up?"
"I am afraid so, " said Jane. "Caroline said the art gallery's opening was quite an important occasion for herself and her friends."
"Ah," Elizabeth said, "I might have known Miss Bingley was involved in calling off the trip. Jane, dearest, you have always been too giving to her. I hope some day you will finally realize that you must face her and tell her she cannot take advantage of you."
"But, Lizzy, you know I could not do that. Besides being family, she is my friend, and I could not hurt her in any way."
Elizabeth shook her head. "I shall never understand you, Jane. You believe all the world is good, and you will not confront the contradictions you find in it."
Jane smiled. "I do not know why we are such dear friends, Lizzy, because we have always disagreed so on the nature of humankind. But, I do love you, and there's an end on it."
Elizabeth, wiping a tear from her eye, embraced Jane. "And I love you," she said.
The happy chat continued until Mr. Bingley announced that he and Jane had a surprise for them all in the dining room. As they entered the room, they saw a table lavishly filled with ham, turkey, fruit, hot bread, and a large bowl of steaming bread pudding as the centerpiece. The table was decorated with bouquets of flowers and Jane's finest china
"Well, what do you think, Darcy?" Mr. Bingley asked. "You see, I could not be outdone by your meals at our last visit to Pemberley."
Mr. Darcy laughed and agreed that it was a fine feast. The others exclaimed over the loveliness of it all and settled down to a lively meal.
Chapter VI: Meeting Mr. Allen
On the next day, the party had been invited to another luncheon with the Allens. Mr. Allen wrote that morning to assure that entire party, including Elizabeth and Darcy, were welcome and anticipated, so Georgiana spent the morning worrying about the meeting between Darcy and Mr. Allen.
"Do not worry," Jane assured her. "I am certain that he will like Mr. Allen. There is no reason to be distressed. The Allens are dear people."
"But, you do not know William as well as I; he is so protective of me that he is certain to dislike Mr. Allen on sight."
Catherine argued, "But he does not know of your feelings for Mr. Allen as of yet, so he can have no such prejudice."
"No, you are right, he cannot, unless--" she intook a horrified breath-- "Lizzy--you did not--could not-- Oh no, you would not have! But--if you--"
Elizabeth smiled gently at Georgiana and said, "If I am to understand from that communication that you are worried that I may have told William about your attachment to Mr. Allen, allow me to set your heart at ease. I would never have presumed to tell him. Not only because what you told me in your letter was in confidence--and I would never betray your trust--but because I know you wish the words to come from your lips."
"Thank you!" The word came in one breath. Georgiana turned to the sitting room window, clutching her hands. "If only he will like Mr. Allen. I know he shall say that I am too young to get--" her face flushed as she broke of on the word, and then she continued, softly, "to marry. But I am nineteen and full old enough to be thinking of these things."
"Yes, you are," agreed Elizabeth. "And, when the time comes, I will come with you to talk to William. With me on your side, how can you fail?" Her eyes twinkled with merriment.
"Oh would you!" Georgiana sighed with relief. "I so dreaded talking to him on my own."
"Then fear no more."
When the party entered the Allen's dining room that afternoon, Georgiana was looking calm and composed, except for a slight shake in her clasped hands. Mr. Bingley first introduced Lady Allen and then turned to introduce Mr. Allen: "This is Mr. Thomas Allen, Lady Allen's nephew." Darcy paused a moment and fixated his eyes on Mr. Allen's in a probing, searching manner. Then he gave Georgiana a quick glance and turned back to Mr. Allen with a guarded smile. "Pleased to make your acquaintance, Mr. Allen," he said.
"And I yours, Mr. Darcy, and Mrs. Darcy. I have heard nothing but praise of you two. I am aware that you have some very handsome grounds in Derbyshire."
"Yes," agreed Darcy, "Pemberley is indeed a great place. But I hear that you do not inherit an estate?"
"You are well informed, sir. Yes, unfortunately it is true. My father has left it to my hands to purchase some grounds."
"As did mine," Mr. Bingley said.
"And have you not yet found a suitable place?" Darcy asked, ignoring Bingley's interjection.
"No, not as yet, but I am prepared to purchase one as soon as I ever find something satisfactory. It is my opinion that I cannot be too cautious on this score: I want to find an estate that is in a pleasant position, but most of all I wish to find a place wherein I can feel at home and do good for those who will be my tenants."
"You may be wise, but what do you do until then?"
"I stay in London to help my aunt with some business affairs. She is rather capable herself--my uncle having died three years past, but it makes me feel best to stay with her a large part of the year."
"Ah." Darcy nodded. Catherine looked at Georgiana, who she was pleased to see had a small smile on her face.
"Things look to be going well," Catherine whispered to Elizabeth, who was seated next to her. Elizabeth nodded and spoke in a low voice, "I only hope William is in such a composed mood when Georgiana and I speak to him tonight. I tried to make light of it earlier, but I fear that Georgiana may be right about William. He is rather protective of her and bound to be distressed about the idea that his only sister--whom he brought up almost as a daughter--may leave him for another. And after the episode with Mr. Wickham, how can we blame him?"
Catherine gave her a worried look. "If this is true, is there any hope that he can he be convinced?"
"I believe so. From what Jane and Charles have told me, Mr. Allen is just the person for Georgiana. He has had his own troubles: his parents died when he was but a boy, and he and his sister were passed from relative to relative until they came under Lady Allen's care. But he has bourn his trials with steadiness and warmth of character: they have made him compassionate to those around him. I believe that if I can make William understand this, he will know that his sister is in good hands and will be able to let her go, knowing she will be in safe and loved. But it all depends on William being calm enough to listen to reason, and knowing William . . . " Elizabeth sighed. "All I can do is hope."
Catherine bit her lip. She was hoping, praying, and worrying with all of her soul.
Chapter VII: The Confrontation
The remainder of the luncheon went leisurely and well, Catherine thought. On their return to the Bingley's home, Darcy took use of one of Mr. Bingley's offices, only rejoining the group as dinner commenced. The party had just finished their meals and stepped out of the dining room when Darcy motioned to Georgiana.
"I should like to speak to you, Georgiana," he said gravely.
Georgiana, turning pale, nodded slightly and looked to Elizabeth.
"If you have something to speak to Georgiana of, I would like to join you," Elizabeth said lightly.
"I wish to speak to her alone," Darcy said, his voice warding against argument. Elizabeth gave a slow nod.
Georgiana was visibly shaking by this time. She followed her brother to Mr. Bingley's study, the door closing with a loud thud. Catherine looked at Elizabeth, scarcely able to draw breath. Elizabeth smiled weekly. "He saw right through my little ploy. And now I can only hope that he gives Georgiana a chance to speak."
Never had a half hour's time seemed so long to Catherine than the one she spent in the drawing room that evening. Her nails bore the brunt of the time and were bare nubs by the time the clock struck half past six. Occasionally she would catch Mr. Darcy's voice carrying down the hall, but the words were lulled by the distance. Finally, just as the clock stopped tolling the half hour, the door of the study reopened. Catherine jumped to run into the hall, but Elizabeth and Jane's stares told her to retain her seat. She sat, as steps approached, and then the door opened. Catherine gasped at the sight of Georgiana's tear-stained face.
At that moment, Georgiana flew to Catherine and embraced her. When she let go, she whispered, "All is well! All is well! I shall tell you everything later -- come to my room when you are ready for bed."
Catherine felt a tear trickle down her face and let it fall. She couldn't speak because of the overpowering sensation of relief.
Catherine rushed through her nightly routine, securing the ribbon on the neck of her nightclothes as she walked out of the door of her room. A servant walking through the hall gave her a severe look, but she ignored him and continued in her hurry to Georgiana's room.
Georgiana had prepared cocoa, so she and Catherine took their glasses and, wrapping themselves in quilts, they settled onto Georgiana's bed, taking sips of the warm, chocolatey liquid and warming their hands on their glasses.
"Now," Catherine said, "please tell me what happened tonight, before I die of anticipation."
"Of course," Georgiana said. "Well, I followed William into the study, and he looked very grave, indeed. I could scarcely look him in the eye. He began talking rather solemnly about marriage and the importance of respecting your partner, of knowing when to marry, and of seeing that oneself is prepared, and so forth. In truth, Catherine, he sounded exactly like he did at times before he met Elizabeth: stern, proud, and so overly protective of me. I began to cry: I know I oughtn't of -- I should have reasoned with him, and made him know how I feel by the strongest words. But I could not. You know who I am: when I feel the most, I am able to say it least. So I just wept.
"Perhaps before he met Elizabeth, William would have been brusque and exhorted me to overcome my feelings, but he did not to-night. He continued speaking for a minute, and then he stopped, was quiet, and then asked me, 'Do you truly love him, Georgiana?" There was a moment when I was too astounded by his words to speak, or to even think. The moment passed, and I began talking as easily as I have to you, about my feelings for Mr. Allen, and then I was suddenly overcome with how much I truly like Mr. Allen, and I said with all my feelings, 'Yes, I do love him." I was silent as William stood and began pacing the room. After a few minutes, he turned to me and said, with much emotion, 'I can see that you are in earnest, and I will not stand in your way. But can I ask you to abide by one regulation?" I nodded, and he said, 'I would ask you to wait at least until your twentieth birthday, nine months hence, to be married." I readily agreed and then turned to the door to leave. 'Wait," William said, and then he stopped -- and embraced me. 'You are truly becoming a woman," he said in a husky voice. Then we returned to the study, and you know what happened then."
"You truly do love Mr. Allen then?" Catherine asked.
"I love him so very much," Georgiana said softly. "I do not know when I started, but I do know that his happiness means to me as much as yours, or William's, or Elizabeth's."
"And -- and Mr. Terrington? Did you not feel anything for him?"
Georgiana smiled ruefully. "I believe I did, but it was more a feeling of wanting to be in love, than of truly loving him. I was ready to be in love with anyone -- you remember our conversation about feeling that we would never marry. I was downcast and ready to accept anyone's attentions. But with Mr. Allen, I feel a deep love and true attachment -- I really cannot explain it, but it is so very different."
The shine in Georgiana's eyes told Catherine as much as her words. "I am so happy for you," Catherine said. She quickly embraced her friend and then bid her good-night and returned to her own bed.
Chapter VIII: An Unpleasant Conversation
The Darcys departed the next day, with many embraces and tears of farewell on both sides. After the departure, a new kind of routine began in the Bingley household. Much to Catherine's dismay, Caroline Bingley began regularly visiting at the Bingley's house in London. With Georgiana and Mr. Allen most in each others' company, Catherine had the misfortune to be left to Miss Bingley, while Jane entertained her two-year-old daughter and three-year-old son or conversed with her husband.
A few mornings after the luncheon with the Allens, Catherine was alone in the parlour, reading a letter from her friend Maria Lucas, when Miss Bingley entered the room.
"Miss Bennet," Miss Bingley said, a frown upon her face. "I had hoped that Mrs. Bingley would be here."
"Jane and Georgiana are on a walk with the children," Catherine said. She did not mention that Mr. Allen was along on the walk as well. Catherine had decided it best not to intrude, and had begged off of the walk by mentioning the large number of letters she had to read.
"How inconvenient." Miss Bingley said. She nevertheless took a seat, one close to Catherine. With a sigh, Catherine set her letters on a nearby table.
"Have did you like Mr. Allen?" she started, attempting to start the conversation politely, despite her dislike for her companion.
"Ah, yes, Lady Allen's nephew! Oh, I liked him very much, indeed." Miss Bingley said, her countenance changing. "He has eight thousand per year, I hear. His parents are both long dead, and he has only an older sister, who is married and lives in Somersetshire. His position is in every way desirable. Georgiana could not do better."
"Indeed," Catherine managed to say, startled at such a business like assessment.
"Of course, Georgiana has her own fortune," said Miss Bingley, "but it will only be enhanced by such a marriage. I pity the woman who has little fortune," she continued, and Catherine felt the words especially chosen for herself. "She has only a small chance of marriage, no chance of money, and will only grow older and less desirable as a marriage partner. The woman of fortune need not fear: she will always be comfortable, will always be admired, and her company will always be sought. But the woman of small fortune has little chance to move her position in society, and therefore, she can only be pitied."
Catherine had paled and was unable to speak. She could only feign a nod and listen as her companion continued to speak, each word wounding her further.
"Georgiana is just the type of young woman that any young man wants to marry," Miss Bingley said. "She has looks, fortune, and good manners. Her upbringing has in every way enhanced her chances: she has had companions and relations who have centered her thoughts on refined, cultured matters. She is accomplished in every way. Think of others, Miss Bennet, with a less fortunate lot. Their relations are vulgar, and they center their minds on base, pretentious subjects. They have no accomplishments, and only pretend to be proper society."
Catherine rose abruptly from her chair, and at just that moment, Georgiana entered the parlour. Catherine moved across the room, saying that she needed to finish her letters. Georgiana took her place, and talked to Miss Bingley, her manner quite cheerful.
On the day following Mr. Allen's luncheon, Georgiana was dressing for a morning at a museum with Mr. Allen and his aunt when Catherine came into her room with two necklaces in hand.
"Which necklace would be proper to wear to the museum, Georgiana?" she asked.
Georgiana's hand dropped with the lily she was positioning in her hair. "Oh, Catherine!" she said. "I thought you knew; Mr. Allen's invitation included only me." She flushed and brought the flower to her heart. "I, of course, would love for you to come, but . . . "
Catherine, pushing aside her hurt, said, "There is nothing to be sorry about. It was presumptuous to assume I was to be included in the party. Please, go. Have a good time, and do not worry about me."
"Thank you," Georgiana said. She spoke excitedly about the morning's activities, and Catherine listened, encouraging her, until she left, when she was left with a long, quiet morning, with no engagements: even Jane and the children were gone, taking a tour of the park.
Chapter IX: A Disgraceful Decision
Miss Bingley's words resonated through Catherine as the following days passed. Every air and accomplishment of Georgiana's, though gentle and kindly used, proved Miss Bingley's words true. Catherine's concession at Pemberley of never marrying seemed hallow now -- now that Georgiana did not need her. Her dreams began again to be haunted by Georgiana's sad tune, and she often woke to a wet pillow and low heart.
For the next fortnight, Georgiana was constantly busy, and Catherine, after the rush of helping Georgiana to get prepared for her engagements, was left to spend the time as she could. Much of it was used in entertaining her niece and nephew -- for which Jane was grateful; but Catherine had not her sister's patience, and an afternoon with the pair usually ended with a headache.
"You are looking pale," Jane said one morning. They were sitting in the parlour, with young Matthew on the floor playing with a toy pony, Sarah sleeping in her mother's arms.
"I feel fine," Catherine said.
"I am worried about you, Catherine. You are spending too much time indoors. It cannot be good for you." Jane pursed her lips. "I think you should take a walk in the park this morning. It looks a bit overcast, but I hope you will miss the rain. You very much need the walk."
"I shall go if you wish it," Catherine said.
She retrieved her bonnet and left the house. It was a dreary day: the sky was covered with continuous grey clouds that foretold rain. She walked slowly down the street, her head lowered, eyes watching her steps.
The park was bare and uninhabited; quite a contrast to the day on which Georgiana and Mr. Allen had met. A few people hurried down the paths, equipped with umbrellas and parasols. Catherine realized that she had been negligent in bringing one, herself.
She had been wandering down the paths only a few minutes when the first drops of rain fell. Within two or three minutes, it was a steady downpour. She began running toward some nearby trees, but her dress was soon wet and hindered her progress. Tears fell from her eyes, their salty flavour mingling with the rain.
Suddenly she saw that below the trees ahead stood a young man, umbrella over his head: he was coming toward her. She gasped and for a moment was convinced that the man was no other than Mr.
John Terrington. He began walking toward her, and his umbrella rose a little, revealing a handsome face: olive colored skin; night black eyes; and a broad, white smile. He was certainly not Mr. Terrington.
"Can I help you?" he called, his voice barely carrying in the torrent of rain.
She hesitated. She knew nothing of this man and was certain that proper etiquette would call for her not to accept his aid. A young woman accepting something from a gentleman, unknown to her and those of her acquaintance, would certainly be frowned on by society in general.
But at this moment Catherine cared nothing for propriety. The young man's shimmering eyes and immense smile were enough to make her set all protocol at naught and accept this unknown gentleman's help.
"Yes, please," she called. She walked a few more steps toward him, and they met.
He lifted his umbrella over her head. "I suggest we retreat to those trees," he said, pointing to an especially thick grove of trees near at hand.
Catherine nodded. The man took her arm, and they walked toward the grove side by side. Despite the umbrella, she felt her dress getting wetter and wetter. The bottom hem, especially, was covered in dirt and grass.
They quickly arrived at the grove, and as they did, the trees' cover caused the rain to slow to a scant seep. Under the trees, they should at least be protected from the mass of the storm.
"Here," the gentleman said, as she shivered. "Take my greatcoat."
She was too cold to protest. The warmth of the large greatcoat over her body was like a warm blanket on an especially chilly night. Her teeth stopped chattering. "Thank you," she said.
"You are welcome," he said with a huge smile.
She smiled back and then bit her lip, uncertain of what to say now.
She did not have to worry, for he asked, "And now that we have got out of that crisis, perhaps we could introduce ourselves." As he spoke, she noticed that his accent was not as polished as that of most of her acquaintance. It bore resemblance to the accents of some of her uncle and aunt Gardiner's acquaintance from Cheapside. "My name is Andrew Harrison. And yours?"
"Catherine Bennet," she answered. Then, curious, she asked, "What brings you out into this very rainy weather, Mr. Harrison?"
He grinned. "I was on my way to a friend's house," he said. "But to own the truth, I did not give the storm any thought. I enjoy walking in the rain." He smiled again. He seemed to love to smile. Catherine smiled back: she could not help it. His smile was catching. "I have caught many a cold from just standing in the rain, enjoying the drops on my face," he continued. "I guess it is an obsession I have had since childhood."
Catherine laughed. "What fun," she said. "I do not think I have ever done something so perilous, just for the enjoyment of it."
"You should," he urged. "There are many things you could do. For instance, you could attend a buffet dinner, and try every dish served. It gives you an incredible stomach ache, but it is extraordinarily enjoyable."
"You are serious!" Catherine said, astounded. "I do not think I could ever do that."
He gave her one of her radiant smiles. "I am sure you could. But, we are talking only about me. Please, tell me about Miss Catherine Bennet. I want to hear all about you, for as long as the rain allows."
Catherine had never felt quite so flattered by anyone's attentions before. She did not know what to say, or what he wanted to hear, but his presence was so open and friendly, so much less formal than that of her general acquaintance, that she felt she could say anything to him. She started telling about her sisters and why she was in London, then she told about her parents and Hertfordshire, Maria Lucas, and even about Maria's sister Charlotte and her husband Mr. Collins. She suddenly stopped, astonished that she had just shared such personal information with a complete stranger.
He did not seem to mind, or even to see the impropriety of such communications. Instead, he prompted her to continue, "Then, your friend Georgiana is the sister of your sister's husband?"
She hesitated. Should she answer his question? Then she felt a sudden urge. Her whole life seemed to be governed by society and proper decorum. Hazardous though it would be, she decided to risk going against decorum and to continue the conversation.
They continued talking for as long as the rain continued at full force: for about another twenty minutes. It then slowed to a light drizzle, which Mr. Harrison deemed to be perfect rain for walking home in.
"You do not mind if I escort you home, do you, Miss Bennet?" he asked, taking her arm and starting down the muddy path.
"No, of course not," she said, secretly pleased that she would not have to part from his company yet. Thirty minutes seemed scarcely enough time in his company, and she doubted that she would ever chance to meet him again, since they moved in such different society. The thought made her heart feel sad, for the first time in the last half an hour. She suddenly recalled the daily gloom that had settled on her of late, and the tasks she would have to complete once she reached the Bingleys' home again. Going back seemed more than she could bear.
"Are you well?" Mr. Harrison asked. "You've gone suddenly pale and silent."
"I am fine," Catherine said, with a forced smile.
"No, you are not," he said. "What an unthoughtful beast I am, keeping you out in the rain, and now you are unwell because of it. I should have walked you home when I first met upon you."
"No, no," she answered. "If anything, it is because of you that I shall not catch cold. It was thoughtless of me not to have brought my parasol." She went quiet, watching her feet as they took her closer and closer to home.
Mr. Harrison appeared to be thinking. His brow was knit together in concentration. As they reached the corner near the Bingleys' home, he stopped and turned to her. "Miss Bennet," he started, cautiously, "I wonder if -- " he broke off and then continued, slowly. "I want to know if you would -- by any chance -- but I fear I am asking something you will think improper."
She flushed, feeling that he must have been reading her thoughts regarding decorum. "Please ask," she urged, quickly. "I'll tell you if I think it is improper."
"You are kindness itself," he said, his face brightening. "Look, Miss Bennet, I know you have never met me before today, and I know that you know nothing about me, but I feel loathe to leave you without ever seeing you again. If you want to, tomorrow evening my brother is having a small gathering at his home after dinner. Are you free then? Would you come?"
Light crossed her face and she immediately answered, "I would love to."
He grinned again. "Wonderful."
They continued to her front step in silence, and he bid her, "Until tomorrow, Miss Bennet."
She stood and watched him walk down the street, until he was out of sight.
Chapter X: Questions
Catherine felt reluctant to relate her experience in the park with anyone, but some part of it was impossible to withhold from her friends. Upon entering the house, the door to the parlour opened and Jane burst forth. Her face was white with worry and tear stains. "Dear Catherine, I am so relieved that you are back safely," she said, giving her a long embrace. "I felt so dreadfully reckless when it began to rain. I kept thinking: 'how could I have been so selfish to have sent her out today! She will catch cold, and it will be because of me.' You are all right, are you not?"
"I am better than all right," Catherine said, giving Jane a squeeze back. "Do not worry on my account. I met a gentleman in the park, and he led me to shelter under some trees. We waited the storm out there." Catherine held her breath and waited for Jane to comment on the impropriety of such an action. Instead, she said, "Thank the heavens. He must be a very kind person for coming to your aid. I am so glad you are well." Fresh tears welled up in her eyes, and Catherine felt her heart suddenly fill. Jane was always so caring of her, and that caring came from a genuinely tender, concerned heart.
"Catherine, is that you?" Georgiana's voice came from the direction of the stairs. Catherine looked up to see her running toward Jane and herself. "When Jane told me you were out walking in the rain, I felt worried to death. I have made up your bed with a hot brick, and here is a scarf for now. You must be drenched."
Catherine took the scarf but protested against going to bed. "Please, you two, I am fine. I shall change clothes and be completely warm and ready for dinner."
Jane shook her head. "No, Catherine. I have now learned caution, and shall never repent of it. You are to go to bed: I'll bring your dinner up to you myself."
Catherine could see that her protests were going to be in vain. "All right, but only for tonight," she said. "I plan to be up and about tomorrow."
"Tomorrow," Georgiana said. "No, it cannot be. You will catch a chill."
"Tomorrow," Catherine repeated firmly. "I have an engagement for an evening party."
"An engagement?" Jane said. She and Georgiana looked at each other and then at Catherine.
"Who is your engagement with?" Georgiana asked, her voice overly light.
Catherine cleared her throat. She looked at the two suspicious faces and then said, "With Mr. Harrison: the gentleman who helped me to find cover in the park." Her two friends again glanced at one another, but before they could protest, Catherine added, "It is only fair to have accepted his invitation; after all, he did me a great service. Furthermore, I have already agreed to the invitation, and it would not be kind to decline now."
Jane forced a smile. "Of course not," she said. Then, she began questioning, "Where is this party to be held? Are any of our acquaintance to be there?"
"I am not sure," Catherine said faintly. "He did not tell me where he lives or who his friends are."
"Perhaps he will forget to send you an invitation," Georgiana said. "You cannot go if you do not know where the party will be."
"Did he tell you anything about himself?" Jane asked.
Catherine felt tears suddenly form in her eyes. Why did her friends have to ask these questions? Why had she not asked them to him herself? Then, she answered herself: she had been enjoying herself too much to ask him any such questions. Mr. Harrison had been so interested in her, so kind, that she had just felt happy to talk to him: prying into his affairs had felt pointless.
She suddenly felt angry. Angry at Jane and Georgiana for their questions; for their happiness; and, most of all, for the fact that they could not let her have this one pleasure, without pressuring her for details.
"I do not care what you say," she said loudly, to both Georgiana and Jane's complete surprise. "I am going to the party, whether you agree with me or not. You both have many such parties, and often, and why I cannot go to one, of my own volition, is beyond my understanding."
Both Jane and Georgiana spoke at once: "Catherine, we did not mean to -- " and "You misunderstood me -- "
Catherine shook her head. "I am going to go to bed. Dinner will be unnecessary. Goodnight."
She could seen pain on her friends' faces, but she quickly turned and walked toward the stairs.
Once in her room, she sat down at her vanity table. She blinked to keep tears from falling from her eyes. She knew she had just alienated herself from two of her dearest friends, and she was not sure why. The tears began to fall, and she set her head down in the crook of her arms and began to cry.
Chapter XI: Mr. Harrison's Party
The invitation arrived the next morning, and Catherine found it on her breakfast plate. She noticed that her friends saw the letter as well, but they said nothing, quietly continuing with their breakfasts, as though they had not seen it.
The invitation was written in a slender, feminine hand, and contained the following:
Miss Catherine Bennet,
Though you and I have not yet met, I will take the liberty of writing you this note. My husband informed me last night that his brother wished for you to be invited to our gathering this evening. I at once claimed the right of sending the invitation, as I will be your hostess, and am therefore the only proper person to give you the invitation. So, if you please, we would very much like your company this evening at around 7:00. I greatly look forward to meeting you.
Catherine read over the letter several times, and finally folded it up and laid it next to her plate. She was pleased that the invitation had come from Mrs. Harrison: not only because it was proper, but also because it gave her some comfort to know that she would be at the home of a husband and wife, not simply a bachelor.
The evening before had given her much time to think, and though she did not repent of her decision to attend the party, she began to fret over her lack of knowledge of her hosts, as well as of the other guests. What would they be like? How many guests were invited? Would Mr. Harrison be the only person there whom she knew?
Though dwelling on such questions simply made her more worried, she could not help but do it. All day, her thoughts on the subject continued, until her stomach became queasy, and she felt like approaching Georgiana and Jane to tell them how right their worries had been.
But one thing stopped her, and that was the remembrance of Georgiana's words the night before: Perhaps he will forget to send you an invitation. Those words had pained her almost more than anything else, not only by reducing her hopes, but by making her feel as if her friend did not care for her happiness. For the first time since she had met Georgiana, Catherine doubted her sincerity and could not confide in her.
Her preparation for the party was somber and silent, with no Georgiana to help her dress, or converse to about her hopes and concerns for the evening. She finished quickly and hurried to the waiting carriage, which was silent as well, herself being the only passenger.
The carriage moved quickly through the streets; the only sounds being those of a few people moving through the evening streets, horses' hooves clattering on the streets, and the driver calling to the horses.
The carriage moved toward a poorer section on the outskirts of the city. Catherine could see the buildings growing shabbier and the streets dirtier. Just as she was about to rap for the carriage to stop, to question the driver about their destination, the driver pulled to a stop of his own accord. Her door was opened, and she looked out to see the facade of a somewhat rundown lodging staring back at her. One of the Bingleys' servants stood at the door of the carriage, waiting to help her down, but she just sat there, staring at the building, wondering whatever she had gotten herself into. How could she go into this building and feel completely safe? She wondered at her sanity in accepting an invitation from a stranger with an obviously lower-class accent.
"Are you lost?" a familiarly teasing voice asked.
Catherine looked up out to see the broadly smiling face of Mr. Harrison. The glow on his face showed his happiness at her arrival. She reprimanded herself for her cruel thoughts about his low-class. Her father had taught her never to look down on those less fortunate than herself. Or perhaps she had read that in a book.
"No, I was simply taking in the scenery before I went to the door."
"Well, you had best hurry in with me," he said. "It isn't safe for a young woman to linger in these streets in the evening. Besides," he said with a grin, "everyone is waiting for you."
"Waiting for me?" Catherine said as Mr. Harrison helped her out of the carriage. "I hope I am not very late."
"Only a few moments, I believe," Mr. Harrison reassured her. "My brother had a few early arrivals this evening."
She took Mr. Harrison's arm, and they walked up the steep staircase to the front doorway. The door opened from the inside, and the couple walked in, passing the stately old manservant who had opened it. Mr. Harrison led Catherine to a door at the far left of the narrow front hall. They entered a drawing room, which was larger than Catherine had expected.
The room was longer than it was broad, and it had whitewashed walls that made it appear even more spacious than it was. The furniture was a little worn, but it was made of sturdy dark maroon fabric and mahogany wood. Catherine's breath caught as her eyes saw an object at the back of the room. It was an old, dark, but gleamingly polished pianoforte. The pianoforte was decorated with delicate carvings, especially on the music rack. The carvings were flowers, ivy, and beadwork.
Catherine had only a moment to take in the sight, for a man and woman came toward her out of the crowd of people that inhabited the room.
"Miss Bennet, may I present my brother, Peter Harrison, and his wife, Viola?" Mr. Harrison asked.
Catherine bowed her head. "A pleasure, Mr. Harrison. Mrs. Harrison."
"The pleasure is ours," the young woman said. Catherine smiled and took in her features. The woman was plain, but obviously genteel. She was a little tall and had a broad, light colored face. She wore a soft blue evening dress with little ornamentation. She spoke with a bright, polished voice.
Her husband was not as genteel as either his wife or brother. He shared Mr. Harrison's olive complexion and dark eyes, but his clothes were less well-made than his brother's, and when he spoke, his dialect was thick. "We're glad you finally made it, Miss Catherine," he said, with his eyes twinkling. "We all was waiting for you, and now you're here, I can tell you that my brother's description of you was not a bit of a lie. You are prettier than a gooseberry fool."
Catherine's companions laughed good-naturedly and she flushed bright red.
"Do not worry, Miss Bennet," Mrs. Harrison said. "You will soon grow accustomed to my husband's good humor. He but means to say that we are glad you are here."
"Why, then, I thank you," Catherine stammered.
Mr. Peter Harrison grinned. "Come along. I'll introduce you to all our friends."
Catherine took his arm and found herself swept into the midst of the room. Dozens of smiling people greeted her. Most of them had accents similar to Mr. Peter Harrison's, but they all greeted her as though she were an old friend. Some asked after her health, having heard of her adventure with Mr. Harrison. Some said that they had met some friend or other of Catherine's family. Others simply smiled and made her feel welcome.
By the time she had met each of the people in the room, she felt warm and comfortable inside. She was content to just take a seat on a sofa and listen to the conversations around her. But, instead, Mrs. Harrison came toward her and asked, "Miss Bennet, do by any chance play the pianoforte?"
"A little," Catherine admitted.
"It would be an honour if you would play mine for us this evening."
"But, I do not play very w -- "
"Oh, I am sure no one cares about that," Mrs. Harrison said quickly. "I have so little chance of hearing this instrument played. It was my grandfather's, and he willed it to me upon his death. Unfortunately, I do not play at all. I am in hopes that when I have children, they will wish to learn to play it. But, in the meantime, I long to have it used at any chance."
Catherine hesitated, tempted by the beauty of the piano, along with Mrs. Harrison's wistful speech. "I shall try," she accepted.
"Thank you." Mrs. Harrison's eyes glowed. Then her voice rose, and she announced, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are to have entertainment."
The room quieted as Catherine stepped toward the pianoforte. She took in a deep breath and tried to keep the contented feeling she had had only a moment ago. She sat at the pianoforte and ran her fingers along the glimmering ivory keys. Up close, the instrument was even more beautiful than it was from afar.
She set her fingers on the keys in a familiar position. She had a song memorized which she had never performed before. It had with it a simple melody which she had been learning to sing. She had never sang to her accompaniment before.
She started soft and low, her mellow alto voice blending in with the sweet accompaniment. The song was like a music box: easy chords and her untrained voice the only music necessary. As she sang, her voice grew stronger, more bound to the music. She felt her confidence growing, and, as she played the last chord, she held the note with her voice and then let it soften and end.
The silence in the room was broken with applause, whistles, and shouts of "Encore! Encore!" Catherine, almost surprised to remember that she had been playing for an audience, rose and curtseyed to them. "Thank you," she said. "Thank you."
She found Mrs. Harrison at her elbow, some sheet music in her arms. "Play some of this, dear," she whispered. "You are doing wonderfully."
Catherine took the music and seated herself. She positioned the first song on the music rack and began to play. The song was upbeat: a familiar folk song. To her surprise, another voice joined in with hers as she sang, then another, and another. People gathered around the pianoforte, their voices singing together.
After the first song, her friends asked for second, and then a third. Catherine felt as though her fingers were moving on their own. She felt in complete harmony with everyone.
Finally, Catherine could feel her voice growing a little hoarse. "I think I'd better stop," she said, reluctant to end the evening.
"Must you end?" someone asked.
"I think I'd better."
Catherine stood and felt her hands being pressed by those around her. "You have a lovely voice, young lady," someone said.
"Like a nice spring wind," another person agreed.
"And you can certainly play as well," someone else said. "Magnificent."
"Thank you," Catherine said, feeling a little overwhelmed by the complements. Mostly, though, she felt a happy warmth.
Suddenly Catherine noticed that Mr. Harrison was nowhere to be seen. She felt her brows furrowing. When had he left the room? she wondered. Then, her eyes focused on the door she had entered the room from. Outside the door, in the hallway, stood Mr. Harrison and a gentleman Catherine did not know. The man looked very rough: he had long, dark hair, a face obviously unshaven for several days, and rumpled clothing. His eyes looked toward her, and she shivered under their cold, dark glance. She looked away.
"Miss Bennet, your carriage has arrived," a servant said.
Catherine turned to him, her eyes gravitating back to the door. But the rough-looking man had left the door, and Mr. Harrison was walking from the door toward her.
"May I escort you to your carriage, Miss Bennet?" Mr. Harrison asked.
"Um . . . of course," she said. She took his arm and followed him to the door. As she passed through the room, she was bid a good night by many people, including the Harrisons. "Come back soon," Mrs. Harrison said. "We so enjoyed your company."
They entered the hall, and Catherine looked around the darkened corridor for the man Mr. Harrison had been talking to. But he was nowhere in sight.
"Are you looking for something, Miss Bennet?" Mr. Harrison asked.
"Uh, no," she answered. "Well . . . yes. I saw you talking to a man in the hall. I was just wondering where he had gone to."
Catherine wasn't sure if it was her imagination, or if it was the lighting, but she thought Mr. Harrison's eyes darkened. A moment later, though, he smiled. "You mean Mr. Illsman. He's a friend of Peter's. He recently lost his job and came to ask Peter for some help."
"Oh. What did you tell him?"
"I said that I was sure Peter or I could help him, but to come back tomorrow when we won't be otherwise occupied." He hesitated. "He looked rather worn, did he not?"
"I only got a glance of him, but yes, he appeared so." Catherine shook off the uneasy feeling that she had as she thought of the man.
"Well," Mr. Harrison said, his tone lightening. "Everyone certainly had a good time tonight. Your music made the evening."
Catherine flushed. "Your friends were so nice, but I am not very good. I am only just learning."
"I do not care you how much you argue, but I thought your songs were those of an angel. I did not know that you sang or played."
"There is much about me that you don't know."
"I suppose that is true," he said. "But we shall have to endeavor to change the fact. Are you free tomorrow evening?"
Catherine could feel her heart beating under her skin. She breathed out, "Yes."
"Excellent. I will have a wonderful surprise for you."
Catherine's skin tingled. She wished it were tomorrow evening already.
"I shall see you then," she said, as she ascended into the carriage.
Chapter XII: Remembrance
On the morning after the evening party at the Harrisons, Catherine found that she must go on an excursion with Jane and Georgiana to buy some muslin for a new dress. Despite trepidations that her friends would continue warning her about Mr. Harrison, the outing started out rather amicably and easily. Catherine could almost imagine that the past days' events had never happened.
After the three ladies had found the items they sought, Jane suggested that they stop for luncheon. With their bundles securely underarm, they entered a small cafe and ordered their meal. Jane and Georgiana began speaking about household matters, so Catherine let her mind wander and her eyes to take in the other patrons of the cafe. She suddenly dropped her fork at the sight of two people at a corner table. What are Mr. Terrington's aunt and uncle doing here? she thought to herself. She paled at the sudden thought that Mr. Terrington himself might be somewhere in the room. She looked all around but did not see the familiar form anywhere. What are you thinking? she chided herself. She had never wanted to see that man again. Remember his cruel treatment to Georgiana.
Catherine focused her eyes back on the Smiths, and she saw that they were waving and calling to her.
She stood from her chair and spoke her excuses to Jane. In a moment, she crossed the room and found herself at the Smiths' table.
"My dear Catherine," Mrs. Smith said, as she squeezed her hand. "What an unexpected pleasure to see you here! We have not seen you since we left Derbyshire."
Mr. Smith motioned to a vacant chair. "Please have a seat," he said.
As Catherine sat down, her companions from the trip to Pemberley began kindly inquiring about her health, her family, and her time in London. "It really seems too long since we have met," Mrs. Smith said. "We were happy to hear about your stay in London, but as a consequence, we have missed your company in Hertfordshire."
"I had meant to return home at the end of my visit at Derbyshire," Catherine said, "but the invitation to London was too great to be turned down."
"Of course it was," Mr. Smith said. "And we are glad you have had such a chance to be in society and with your friends."
"And how is your family?" Catherine asked hesitantly. She did not know whether Mr. Terrington had confided his refused proposal to his aunt and uncle, and by no means did she want to speak of it, but politeness demanded her inquiry.
"They are all very well," Mr. Smith said. "We had a visit from Maggy only a fortnight ago, and she was in health. We are staying with her oldest brother, Robert, here in London: I do not believe you have met him, Miss Bennet. He is a very fine young man."
"And . . . Mr. John Terrington?"
"He is here with us in London," Mrs. Smith said, a smile on her face. "He will only remain two more days, but perhaps you will have a chance to meet him."
"In-indeed," Catherine faltered.
"Yes," Mr. Smith said. "He is doing well, although perhaps a bit dispirited of late. Have you heard that he plans to take up orders soon?"
"I-- no. I had not." Catherine looked down at her hands, which were white from being twisted together.
"Oh, that is right. I do believe he wrote us of his intention shortly after you departed from Derbyshire. He seems very driven to be a clergyman: I think he will do a fine job."
"I am glad of that," Catherine said. "But-- If you will excuse me, I should get back to my party. They will be wondering where I have taken off to."
"Of course," Mrs. Smith said. "We were so glad to see you that we forgot that you have companions to attend to. I am so glad we chanced to meet you today. Tell your sister that I plan on calling on her tomorrow morning."
"I will," Catherine said.
She parted company with her friends and returned to her table, answering Jane and Georgiana's questions about her departure and then hastily finishing her luncheon.
Her mind was in such confusion that she asked Jane and Georgiana if she could walk home. She handed Georgiana her package as they exited the cafe, and then she turned toward home and began a slow walk.
Her conversation with the Smiths, short though it was, catapulted her mind into thoughts and feelings that she had struggled to suppress for the last few months. Her heart had undertaken so many changes during her stay in London: each day throwing new emotions at her. But none of this had done anything to displace the memories of Derbyshire, the most painful one being of that day at Pemberley Lake. How could he hurt Georgiana like that? She remembered Georgiana's quiet tears as Catherine had told her about the proposal.
"Mr. Terrington!" she had exclaimed. "How can you say these things? How can you, after you have given such marked attention to my friend, Georgiana!"
"Miss Darcy?" he asked. "How could you-- I never thought of her as anything but your friend. She is a lovely young lady, yes, but I do not love her."
Catherine had been so lost in her thoughts that she had not paid attention to where she was walking. She abruptly looked up at the pronouncement of her name.
She gasped and fell back a step at the sight of the very gentleman on whom her thoughts were focused at that exact moment.
"Mr. Terrington," she whispered.
She gaped at him, unable to do anything else. He wore a dark jacket and hat. His face was solemn and pale: his light green eyes focused on her deep blue ones.
They stared dumbly at one-another, unable to make a sound. Finally Mr. Terrington opened his mouth and spoke, his words shaky, "I was looking for you."
Catherine could not think of anything to say: her whole mind seemed frozen. She just stood in place, waiting for him to continue speaking.
"I came to London with my aunt and uncle," he continued. "I-- I knew you were here, and I had to talk to you: to plea my case to you again. My feelings have . . . not changed since I last saw you in Derbyshire, and I could not possibly move on with my life without being sure, deadly sure, of your answer to my question."
"You would ask me again!" she cried.
"Yes," he said. "Can you not find a place for me in your heart, Catherine? I love you so dearly, and can think of marrying no one but you. I know you believe that I intentionally hurt your friend Miss Darcy, but--"
"You did not see tears her when I told her of your proposal," she said. "She was devastated: her spirits were crushed, and it took her many weeks to overcome it. If it were not for our friend Mr. Allen's attentions, she would probably still be suffering from your cruelty."
"I am glad to hear that Miss Darcy has found her happiness," he said. "Whatever you may think of me, please know that I did not mean to hurt her."
"I cannot believe that."
His chin trembled and he looked down at his gloved hands. "Can you think so lowly of me, Miss Bennet?"
"How can I think otherwise? You hurt Georgiana thoughtlessly, and now you seek my hand, believing that I will eagerly accept you, but I am not free, Mr. Terrington. There is another gentleman in my heart."
He looked up, his face ashen. "I-- I should have known," he said. "I waited too long. Too long! What a fool I have been." He paused, taking in a deep breath. "I apologize for taking up your time, Miss Bennet. Please accept my wishes for your happiness. I-- I hope the gentleman deserves you, whoever he is."
He turned away and hurried down the street, gone as quickly as he had appeared. Catherine still stood in place, trying not to cry. Again Mr. Terrington had come into her life, and once more he had thrown her into emotional turmoil. She hoped she would never have to see him again.
Chapter XIII: The Masked Man
On the evening after her confrontation with Mr. Terrington, Catherine waited in the parlour for Mr. Harrison to arrive. She wondered where he would be taking her this evening, remembering that he had promised some kind of surprise. But, uppermost in her mind were the events of that morning: her chance meeting with the Smiths and then with Mr. Terrington himself. The words and feelings of the encounter refracted through her mind again and again, but even after all her examination, she still felt the surprise and shock of the encounter. That Mr. Terrington had come to London with the Smiths was surprising, but that he had come in search of her was implausible.
Her reverie ended when she heard the sound of hoofbeats and carriage wheels outside, and then a knock about the Bingleys' door. She rose as Mr. Harrison entered the room: this evening he looked all that was opposite of Mr. Terrington. He wore a casual light grey suit, and his dark hair was combed carefully. His face bore its accustomed large smile.
"Ready, Miss Bennet?"
"At your service, Mr. Harrison," she answered.
In the carriage, outside, they took their places, and Catherine could not help asking where there destination was. Mr. Harrison answered mysteriously that she would soon find out.
The carriage headed just slightly east of the direction of the Harrisons' house, their surroundings appearing as worn-down as Catherine recalled from the evening before. Soon the carriage stopped in a darkened street. Catherine's eyebrows furrowed in concern, but Mr. Harrison stepped out of the carriage without hesitation and offered her an arm down. She climbed out and waited for him to give instructions to the driver. Mr. Harrison then took her arm and motioned to a street a short distance to the west. She followed his lead, her heart beat rapidly rising.
"Are you sure we are at the right place?" she whispered.
"Do not worry, we will soon be there," he answered.
As they turned the corner into the alley, Catherine was relieved at the sight of a small throng of people headed to a destination at the end of the street. The people were dressed in clothing that was, despite being somewhat shabby, obviously their best evening attire.
"Viola suggested that since you are such a musician, you might like to attend a concert," Mr. Harrison said, grinning.
"A concert!" Catherine exclaimed, with obvious delight. "What a wonderful surprise."
"I knew you would like it," he said. "You see, Miss Bennet, I already know you better than you think."
She laughed. "You do indeed."
They followed the crowd into the small theatre and quickly found their seats in a high balcony. Mr. Harrison procured a pair of binoculars, which he insisted that she use for most of the evening, stating that he preferred to simply listen to the music.
Catherine thoroughly enjoyed the concert, but toward the end of it she could sense that Mr. Harrison was disquieted. He had never been so before in her presence, and so she began to feel concern in his behalf.
"Is something amiss, Mr. Harrison? Would you like to leave the concert?"
He looked startled, but answered easily, "No, there is nothing amiss. I am simply a little tired, but the concert will be over shortly. Do not worry about me."
After that, he paid more attention to the performances, and his countenance eased. Catherine tried to tell herself that his distraction had simply come from her imagination, but she was already distressed. There had been something about his manner this evening that did not seem quite right, but she could not put a mark on it.
The concert was over presently, and she and Mr. Harrison made their way out of the building. Outside of the theater, they were surrounded by people, and Catherine heard many a person praising the evening's entertainment. She and Mr. Harrison walked back they way the had come, and so they soon exited the alleyway and entered the darkened street where the carriage had deposited them. Catherine shivered as the frightened feelings of her arrival here reentered her heart.
"Where is our carriage?" she whispered to Mr. Harrison.
He shrugged, but his eyes were darting around nervously. Catherine felt her heart freezing, Mr. Harrison's evident concern making her all the more worried. It was growing dark: she could almost imagine that it was midnight already.
She stood shivering under her light wrap. The muffled sound of the departing crowd was low and distanced. She looked over at Mr. Harrison, who was turned away from her, pacing slightly.
A sound came from the direction that the carriage had arrived from. Catherine took a step toward the sound. But a moment later she realized that the sound was that of footsteps, and she backed away.
A silhouetted figure moved quickly toward her out of the darkness. She leaned toward Mr. Harrison, her chin quivering. The man wore a mask.
She opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out. The man came closer, and suddenly he was concrete, standing less than an arms length away.
"Give me you all your valuables," he said in a low, rumbling voice. He held a long, double-edged dagger in his hand.
She looked at Mr. Harrison mutely. He nodded and went for his watch. Catherine's hands grasped around her neck for her gold necklace: the one which Elizabeth had given to her as a parting gift from Derbyshire. Her hands shook, but she finally managed to unclasp the necklace. From her reticule* she took her small coin purse.
She extended the items to the man, and he looked at her, his black eyes searing into her. "Is that all?"
She nodded fiercely, and he turned to Mr. Harrison. As he took Mr. Harrison's items, she stared at the man, a sudden sensation running through her veins, telling her that she had seen this man somewhere before. She studied his dark clothes, grizzled hands, and black mask. He turned his eyes toward her, and their eyes met. The hatred in his gaze was a palpable feeling. She jerked her eyes away.
A moment later the man had all their valuables, and he was running swiftly down the street and out of their sight.
Catherine's entire body was shaking now, and she leaned against Mr. Harrison, crying.
"There, now, Catherine," he said soothingly. "It was only money, and a few pieces of jewelry. Do not cry."
"It is not that," she said. "He was so frightening: he looked as if he could kill me in a moment. I-- I was so scared."
"I know, I know," he said. He wrapped his arms around her, cradling her like a newborn child.
They were silent for a minute, and then she felt her heart calming, and she pulled away from him. "Thank you," she said.
He nodded. "The man did not get much, did he?" he asked.
"No, thank heavens, only a necklace and a few coins. I never have much."
"Only a few coins?"
"Yes, my parents have little money to spare, and the allowance I get from my sisters is always spent quickly. My means are small."
"Only a few coins," he repeated. His face had tightened up and he was clenching his fists. His voice was unnaturally calm, "Oh, well. Not much lost, then."
She spoke in surprise, "You almost seem angry that I had so little money."
"What? No, of course not," he said quickly. "I am just worried about you, and the valuables you lost."
Suddenly it clicked. A picture of the unshaven, long-haired man at the Harrisons' party the evening before appeared in her mind. The man with the black eyes.
"Mr. Illsman," she said, choking on the name.
"What," Mr. Harrison snapped.
"That man-- it was Mr. Illsman!" she cried. "And, if he was there last night, and here to-night--"
"Calm yourself," Mr. Harrison commanded. "That was not Mr. Illsman. He was out of town to-day."
"You said you were going to talk to him this morning," she said. "You-- you must of told him we were going to be here. Please tell me that it was an accident!"
The look of anger and malice in his eyes was chilling. She knew that whatever he was about to say, no matter how he disguised it, would be a lie.
For the second time in her life, she turned and began to run from a would-be suitor. Mr. Harrison shouted in surprise, his hesitation in following her giving her a large lead. But a minute later, she heard fast-paced footsteps coming from behind her. She doubled her pace, barely breathing as she ran from the deceptive man she thought she had known. She now knew that Mr. Harrison was by no means a respectable man: she realized that he could be even more dangerous. If he could purposely betray her by setting up this ruse, he might be capable of committing more violent crimes.
She kept running.
Despite her efforts, she could hear Mr. Harrison's shouts growing louder, and his footsteps coming closer. She gasped for air.
She wildly studied the buildings about her. There had to be somewhere for her to escape to. But every building was dark, with doors bolted closed. Her legs burned with pain.
A church. The thought flashed out in her mind. Churches were always open to wayward souls, and if any door would be open at this time of night, it would be the door of a church.
If only there was one nearby. She looked above the buildings around her, searching for the peaked towers of a religious sanctuary. But the darkness made such a search futile.
Then she heard a sound: it was the tolling of bells, marking the midnight hour.
The bells of a church tower. She abruptly turned a corner, following the sound. She raced down a street, and a few moments later, heard footsteps rounding the corner behind her.
A dark form towered above her, and she stopped, breathing in deeply. She had reached the chapel. The doors were closed, and the windows were dark.
She shuddered, but grasped for the door handle anyway. She yanked at the door, and it came flying open. From somewhere inside, she could see a dim light. She stepped inside, shoving the massive door closed behind her and bolting it quickly.
She stood there, breathing long, slow breaths. The footsteps retreated outside.
She quietly stepped forward to the back pew and sank down onto its wooden seat. From her lips came a quiet prayer of thanks as she bowed her head in the darkened building.
This whole evening seemed unbelievable to her as she reflected on it in her mind. But it was real. She could suddenly see the signs of Mr. Harrison's true character in the man she had known for the past few weeks. He had seemed too good and too kind, and he was. From the start, his actions had been mercenary, even from the day they had met in the park. How could she have been so foolish as to tell him so much about herself, while learning so little in return? How could she have put her trust in someone she knew so little about? She had been reckless, allowing Mr. Harrison to take her out unchaperoned, in a questionable part of town, in the company of people she had never met. She knew nothing of him but that he had seemed kind, as had his family and friends.
She felt a pang of sadness as she thought of Viola and Peter Harrison. She did not know if they had anything to do with Mr. Harrison's deception, and she prayed that they knew nothing. Their kindness had seemed sincere and welcoming. She thought of the wonderful evening she had the night before, about the feeling of joy she had at playing and singing with the company. Would she ever feel that way again?
For the first time, she felt certain that she would. Her true friends were waiting for her at home, and their kindness would not evaporate for any reason.
She sighed at the thought of Jane and Georgiana. It was not their kindness she needed now, but their love and friendship. The fissure between them and herself seemed so insurmountable--and it had been of her own construction. However painful it was, she should have listened to her friends' cautioning voices: tonight's experience made it all to clear that their fears had been justifiable. She determined to apologize to Georgiana once she got home. Even if she was asleep, she would awaken her.
The difficulty was in getting home. She had hoped for someone to be in the church, but the light she had seen when she had entered the building proved to be only a small candle, apparently forgotten by its owner. The church was completely silent.
She did not feel safe in leaving the building, in case Mr. Harrison was in wait for her outside, but that left her trapped in this building, at least until morning, when she felt she would be safe.
With these thoughts in her head, she laid down on her pew, wrapping her arms about herself and closing her eyes. The quiet of the church lulled her to sleep.
* A reticule is pretty much what we would think of as a purse. "'Reticules'" were named from being netted (as in the accomplished young women Bingley knew who 'paint tables, cover screens, and net purses')." Inside, a young woman carried her coin/money purse, as well as other personal items, such as a handkerchief, a comb, a treasured letter, and smelling salts. Thank you to the kind people on the Life and Times board for giving me this information!
Continued in Part 3
© 2001 Copyright held by author