Catherine: A Heart's Journey
Chapter XIV: Return
Catherine woke up to the sensation of light playing on her face. She blinked open her eyes and saw the early morning light shining through stained glass windows.
She stretched, feeling oddly refreshed, even though she had slept all night on a stiff church pew. She stood and made her way to the door she had entered from the night before. Turning back, she gazed at the quiet church: the whole room was softly lit by the sun, which gave the room a peaceful appearance.
"Thank you," she whispered, though no one was there to hear her words of gratitude.
She unbolted the door and stepped outside into the warm sunlight. She wasn't sure how to get home from here, but she decided walking was her only option: what little money she had was now in the possession of Mr. Illsman.
The thought of the man now gave her no fear: the morning light drowned out her memory of his eyes, and besides, she would never be seeing Mr. Harrison again, so there was little chance of ever meeting with Mr. Illsman by accident.
Still, she decided that the sooner she got out of this neighbourhood, the happier she would be, so she strode quickly down the street, and onto the main road she had been chased down the evening before.
The road was now busy with people walking, conversing, and stopping to look in store windows. Catherine made her way across the street and down a street she hoped would lead to the Bingleys'.
After almost an hour's walk, Catherine began to notice familiar buildings. Though her legs protested, she sped up her pace. After a few more minutes, she turned onto the Bingleys' own street.
A feeling of joy and relief coursed over her as she reached the Bingleys' home. She quickly made her way up the steps and through the front door. At first sight, everything seemed dormant and asleep. Then she heard voices in the parlour; footsteps; and then the parlour door flew open.
Georgiana flew at her from the door, squeezing her in a tight embrace. She was sobbing, tears coursing down her cheeks. They silently held each other for a long time. Finally, they let go.
"Thank goodness you are alive!" exclaimed Georgiana. "I do not know what I would have done . . . " she broke off, weeping overcoming her voice.
"I am so sorry I worried you," Catherine said.
"No, I am the one who should be sorry," said Georgiana. "I have been such a poor friend lately: I did not even ask you where you were going last night, or when you expected to be back. And then, when you did not return and did not return, my mind kept thinking of those awful words I said when you first met Mr. Harrison. How could I be so cruel?"
Catherine shook her head. "Do not blame yourself. Your words were said in haste, and I should have not taken them so deeply. I should have remembered who my friends really are."
Georgiana sniffled. "We have both been preoccupied of late: losing our perspective of what is really important. I love Mr. Allen, but I am sorry that it made me a inattentive friend." She hesitated, then said, "What happened last night? Why didn't you come home? Jane and Charles and I have been so worried."
Catherine quickly told about her evening, with Georgiana listening, Georgiana's eyes gradually growing wider. When Catherine had finished, Georgiana threw her arms around her friend again. "I am so glad you are safe!" she said.
Georgiana told Catherine that Bingley was out in his carriage, heading a small search of London for Catherine. Then she said that Jane was asleep in the parlour, and that they should awaken her to tell her the news of her return.
Jane's reception of Catherine's return was as tearful as Georgiana's: her sisterly concern for Catherine's safety touching. Jane called an early breakfast, and then insisted that Catherine sleep for a few hours. Catherine fell asleep feeling happier than she had been in many months.
Chapter XV: Changes
On the next day Catherine abruptly realized that only a fortnight was left of her stay in London. Then the party collected at the Bingleys' would be completely broken up: Jane and her husband would be going to their home in the country, Georgiana would be returning to Pemberley, and Catherine herself would be going home, to Longbourn. Catherine felt sad at the thought of leaving her friends, but the fact that she would be able to see her beloved home, her dear friend Maria Lucas, her father, and even her mother made her feel not quite so sorrowful about leaving.
Besides, she had a fortnight left of her stay, and she was determined to spend the time well. She began a daily ritual of musical practice, sewing, and reading; her ability in each of these skills improving each day. She found, to her surprise, that she especially enjoyed her reading sessions. Through years of dull recitations from the lips of her sister Mary, Catherine had not had a very favourable feeling about reading. But, in her determination to improve herself, she had asked Jane and Georgiana for a reading list, and she soon found that the light prose and poetry her friends recommended were neither dull nor pedantic, as she had been convinced almost all literature was.
Jane, and Mr. Bingley made grand plans for their last fortnight in London, almost every evening was filled with engagements. Catherine once again found herself in the company of Mr. Allen and his aunt, as well as Miss Bingley and others of the Bingleys' acquaintance.
With the passing of several of these engagements, Catherine began to notice something odd in the behavior of Georgiana. Her friend seemed strangely quiet: even more quiet than was usual for her. Her manner was somber and unexcitable. Even the prospect of her return to Pemberley seemed unable to bring a smile to her face.
One evening, after an particularly enjoyable dinner party at the Allens', Catherine decided to do a little bit of evening reading. Making her way to Mr. Bingley's small library, she was startled by the sound of crying coming from within the library. She entered the room and saw Georgiana sitting on a window seat, a book clutched to her breast and tears trickling down her face.
Catherine rushed to her friend. "What is wrong, dearest?"
Georgiana cried harder, grasping the edges of the book she was holding.
Catherine sat down next to her and softly placed her hand on her shoulder. Georgiana's tears slowed and she said, "This is too heavy to bear."
"Tell me, please. Perhaps I can help."
Georgiana sighed. "If only you could, but there is nothing to be done." She handed Catherine the book. "Read the inscription," she said.
Catherine furrowed her brows, but followed her friend's instructions. Upon opening the book's cover, she saw a neatly written inscription:
To my friend Miss Darcy. I wish you the best in years to come.
"Mr. Allen gave me this evening," said Georgiana. "He said he had something for me, so I met him in his family's library after dinner. I -- I do not know what I expected, but it was certainly not that." Tears began flowing down her face again. "Since I met Mr. Allen, I have never been so happy," she said. "We have done so much together and shared so many conversations. I feel I know him as well as I do you or my brother. I have told you that I love Mr. Allen, and I thought he loved me as well."
"I should not have presumed to think what I did. I cannot believe that I asked my brother for permission to marry before I even was proposed to! I was so sure of my feelings, and certain that they were returned."
"Then you do not think he will ask at another time?" Catherine asked. "Perhaps he is waiting."
"We have but eight days left in London, and then after that . . . we may never meet again, even by chance. He does not plan on being in London next season, as he hopes to be find a new estate by then. We are not engaged, so I cannot write him. Oh, Catherine, I cannot believe that it is ending in this way!"
Catherine took her friend in her arms, and the two embraced, both of their thoughts deeply distressed.
The next morning Catherine found herself in the company of Miss Bingley. After half an hour's visit, her patience was growing very thin. Even Jane and Mr. Bingley appeared somewhat impatient for the visit to end, but Miss Bingley showed no signs of leaving.
"I could not believe it when Monsieur Leblanc declared that his new home is but twenty miles from your estate, Charles," Miss Bingley said with a haughty laugh. "And I said that we were sure to meet, for I would be staying with you for a good part of the season."
"What?" Mr. Bingley said, his face pale, and his eyes glazed in shock.
"I know that I have had no formal invitation to stay with you," Miss Bingley said, "but things are never quite so formal with family. I know Jane has been expecting me to come."
"Have I?" asked Jane. She was looking at her husband, desperation showing in her eyes.
"Of course," Miss Bingley said. "What a lovely party we shall all be: meeting for Christmas and New Year's. All except you, Miss Catherine Bennet. I am sorry you cannot join us." She set her lips into a smug line.
"I will ask Lizzy to ask you to Pemberley for the holidays," Georgiana whispered. Catherine squeezed her hand.
Mr. Bingley, not looking at all happy, said, "We would be gratified to have you at our home, Caroline."
"I was sure you would be," said Miss Bingley. "And now, I must be leaving. I have an luncheon engagement."
The last days in London were over in what seemed only minute. With trunks packed and travel clothing donned, Catherine bid adieu to her friends. She and Georgiana both shed a few tears as they embraced each other, whispering promises of writing one another often. Georgiana promised to arrange for a visit to Pemberley soon. They each climbed into their carriages, waving at each other until they reached out of sight.
Chapter I: Interlude
Catherine's welcome home was quiet but happy. Her parents had just suffered from a prolonged visit from her sister Lydia and were very glad for the change in company. Her father even went so far as to invite Catherine into his library one afternoon: "For her company was tranquil and companionable."
Catherine quickly slipped into an unaccustomed role of being useful to her parents. To her mother she became indispensable in running errands, talking the morning away, and arranging any household matter she did not wish to attend to. After the first afternoon in the library, Mr. Bennet often requested Catherine's company there, as well as asking for her opinion of any book which she was currently reading.
Maria Lucas was glad to have her friend back, and Catherine was pleased to find that Maria had also grown in sense during the past few months' separation. She had lately been visiting her married sister, Charlotte, at Hunsford. She confided to Catherine: "At first I was pleased for my sister's match and could see no fault in Mr. Collins, or even the famous Lady Catherine, but during my last visit, I could not but see changes in my sister. She is trying to raise her two daughters sensibly, but Mr. Collins, as you know, is anything but sensible, and any progress Charlotte makes in their rearing is bound to be unmade by her husband the next moment.
"Oh, and Lady Catherine! -- I do not see how Charlotte can bear her constant interference. Every day she has some new advice on raising children or running a household, most of which is unsound or even harmful to the children." Maria turned her light eyes to look directly at Catherine. "I have promised myself that I shall learn from my sister's mistake. I shall never marry but to someone I respect and love deeply."
Catherine nodded, her heart echoing the promise. After her many blunders these last few months, she was sure that nothing but the truest love should ever make her accept another's hand in marriage.
Regular correspondence with Georgiana helped Catherine recognize other things about herself. The foremost realization was how closely she had escaped from Mr. Harrison's grasp. Should she had not have recognized Mr. Illsman on the night of the robbery, and as a result, seen Mr. Harrison's true character, she was certain that she would have married him. She was sure that it had been his intent all along: the money from the robbery could not have been a large enough benefit for him. He must have meant to marry her. She shivered at the thought. Marriage to Mr. Harrison could have only lead to tragedy and despair. She would have soon seen through his disguise and realized how horrid a decision she had made, but then it would have been too late.
In Georgiana's communications, nothing was said about the invitation to Pemberley for the rapidly approaching holidays. At Longbourn many invitations were already arriving. Catherine's parents decided to spend their Christmas with Mary and her new husband's family. Catherine wrote Georgiana about the promised invitation, but as the days grew colder, and as festivities began, it still had not come.
Finally, at the last possible moment, the post arrived with a message from Elizabeth, saying that she was very sorry it had taken so long to arrive. With preparations for the baby, as well as all the necessary holiday errands, Lizzy had not realized that she had neglected to invite Catherine.
With relief, Catherine packed her trunks, placing her new jade colored ball gown with care. The carriages arrived, and she bid farewell to her parents, once again setting off to Derbyshire.
Chapter II: Pemberley Once More
Pemberley was in a state of cheer and gaiety when Catherine arrived. Ivy was generously hung all around the Great House, fires were roaring merrily in every room, and mouth-watering smells came from the direction of the kitchen. Catherine found that besides herself, many other guests were anticipated. Jane, Mr. Bingley, their children, and Caroline Bingley had already arrived. Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, was soon expected, as well as Catherine's aunt and uncle Gardiner, whom Catherine had visited several times in London.
"It is so good to be back at Pemberley with all of you," Catherine said on the afternoon after she arrived, as most of the party sat in the parlour. "It seems this place never changes, except for the better."
Elizabeth smiled from her position on a sofa. Her stomach was massive, and Jane declared that she half expected Lizzy to bear twins. "There have been many changes since you left us, though," Lizzy said. "For example, did you know that a family moved into Villars Park? There are three little boys and one girl. They are a sweet family. Oh, and the rectory living is now vacant. Poor Mr. Selers died and William must find someone to replace him."
"Indeed?" Catherine said. "I am sorry for that. I hope you do not have too much trouble finding someone, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy gave Catherine an uncomfortable smile in reply.
Lizzy cleared her throat. "Ah, well . . . did you know that Mr. Terrington and Miss Davies are courting?"
Catherine felt like someone had kicked her in the stomach. Mr. Terrington courting Maggy's harp-playing friend? Was is possible?
"Are they, indeed?" she asked weekly.
"Yes they are. We all expect an announcement of their engagement soon. Maybe being married to such a lovely young woman will give him a little more compassion than we have seen from him."
The conversation turned from the subject, but Catherine could not keep her mind from the thought of Mr. Terrington and Miss Davies courting. Could it be possible? Could Mr. Terrington's feelings for her have so abruptly changed that he would seek another's hand?
Of course they could have, she chided herself. You did not expect him to pine away and die for your love, did you? Especially after you rejected him not once, but twice. And she had given him no reason to hope, either, she thought. "There is another gentleman in my heart," she had told him.
But she had never sought his hand, and never wanted it, she thought, because of his unkindness to Georgiana.
With that thought she felt reassured. She could never have feelings for someone who was uncaring of others. Especially someone whose thoughtlessness had hurt her dearest friend. She looked at Georgiana, who was staring out a window with a solemn expression on her face. Oh, dear Georgiana, she thought, when will you find a man who will see your goodness and treat you in the way you deserve? Please let it be soon, God. I do not know how much more hurt she can bear.
Chapter III: A New Friend
Two days after Catherine's arrival, the rest of the Darcys' Christmas guests arrived. The Gardiners were first, their childrens' voices turning The Great House into a din of noise in the early morning. A quarter of an hour later, Colonel Fitzwilliam arrived, making the party complete.
Catherine had only stayed at Pemberley at the same time as Colonel Fitzwilliam once before. He seemed a pleasant, gentlemanly sort of man, whom Catherine knew that Georgiana thought very well of. At this Christmas visit, there were so many children to be looked after and other visitors to be entertained, that the hosts of the occasion were every moment busy. It thus fell that Catherine and the colonel were often freed of the company, and at liberty to do whatever they chose.
On one afternoon soon after the colonel's arrival, Catherine had made her way into the library, where she was engrossed in a small book of sonnets by "A Lady." An hour after making her retreat, Catherine heard steps outside the library and looked up to see the door open on the colonel.
"Pardon me, Miss Bennet, for intruding on your reverie," he said, "but I wondered if you would like to take a turn through the halls. I find I am a bit weary of my own company today."
She smiled. "I would be delighted." She put her book down and joined the colonel at the door. They made their way down the long hall on the second floor of the house. The colonel was a cheerful companion, and he soon set her at ease with his company, talking of books and music, of his frequent travelling, and of his home.
"Your sister and my cousin seem to do marvelously well, together, do they not?" he asked after a while. "I remember when I first met your sister. I found her completely enchanting. What a change it was to have a lady of her talents visit with us at Rosings. She sang and played and conversed, and generally entertained. She is the perfect match for my cousin: she softens his detached manners and draws out his benevolence -- and, I believe, even some merriment."
"And in turn he brings out Lizzy's good qualities," Catherine added. "My sister seems to sparkle in his presence, and I sense a depth of kindness in her now that I did not of old."
"Yes, you have pegged it exactly. Of course, who could expect less from a former Miss Bennet? All of you Bennets are uniformly charming and accomplished."
"You cannot praise my sisters highly enough for me." With the exception of Lydia, she added silently. She loved her youngest sister to be sure, but she did not admire her as she did her other sisters.
"Well, all I can say is that I am highly pleased to have been invited to Pemberley for the Christmas season. I hear that there is to be a ball held at the Terrington's estate of Robins Hall on Saturday, and we are all invited."
"Truly?" Catherine said in surprise. So she would be returning to Mr. Terrington's home. Her heart was half trepidation -- at the thought of seeing Mr. Terrington again -- and half excitement -- for the enjoyment of going to a ball.
"Would you do me the honour, Miss Bennet, of reserving the first two dances for myself?" the Colonel asked.
Catherine smiled. "I would be delighted."
Chapter IV: Renewal
Of all the Christmas party, the number that departed for the ball was eight: Mr. and Mrs. Bingley, Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner, Miss Bingley, the colonel, Georgiana, and Catherine. Only the Darcys decided to remain at home. As Elizabeth had a headache, and was close to her confinement, she determined that it would be best to stay home. Mr. Darcy worried that it was his office to attend with his guests, but he wished to remain with his wife, so Mr. Bingley offered to act as host for the evening.
As Catherine's coach approached Robins Hall, she felt her chest constricting. The thought of seeing Mr. Terrington again after so long was frightening, especially after her last refusal of him, which had happened -- had it truly happened the very morning before Mr. Harrison's unmasking? Yes, the very morning before almost everything she had believed in had changed.
"Catherine, are you well?" asked her aunt Gardiner.
"Yes, I am fine," she answered, giving her aunt a reassuring smile. She only wished that it were true.
"May I give you a hand down?" Mr. Gardiner asked.
"Thank you," Catherine said. She descended from the carriage and then raised her eyes to look up at Robins Hall. The building was hazy in the semidarkness, but Catherine knew that its exterior was solid and square.
Georgiana descended from the carriage after Catherine, and she put her arm in Catherine's. Together they entered the building.
As she entered the ballroom, Catherine looked anxiously around for Mr. Terrington, but he was not to be seen. She did, however, see several others of her old acquaintance. Mr. Terrington's sister, Maggy, and parents, were receiving their guests. Catherine, who of old had been fooled by Maggy's exterior, saw that her smile and words of greeting were coldly given.
Also present was Darcy's friend Lord Devons, who had earlier given a ball at Greenville House. His son, Mr. Devons, approached Catherine shortly after she entered the room and startled her by requesting that she dance with him for the first two dances. She declined, as she was already promised to the colonel, but he persisted and engaged her for the next.
"That is most singular, do not you think, Georgiana?" she asked.
"What is that?" Georgiana asked.
"That Mr. Devons should ask me to dance."
"It does not startle me that anyone should want to dance with you."
"You are kind, but I was speaking in reference to the first time I met him -- do not you remember? I asked him to escort me to get some punch, and he spent the time belittling me: I think he called Longbourn 'inconsequential.'"
"Maybe he has changed and sees now that you are worth knowing."
"Maybe," Catherine said.
The music for the first dance began, and Catherine joined the colonel as the dancers queued up. As they headed onto the floor, Catherine had her first view of the lead couple: it was Mr. Terrington and Miss Davies.
Catherine almost gasped at the sudden sight of Mr. Terrington. And with such a handsome partner. Miss Davies wore emerald-colored silk gown, along with a diamond necklace. Her flaxen hair was crowned with a glittering tiara. Mr. Terrington himself was handsomely dressed in navy blue, his sandy blond hair neatly combed.
"Who is that striking couple?" asked the colonel.
"The head couple there, are they acquaintances of yours?"
"I -- yes. The lady is Miss Devons; she played the harp at a musical revue earlier this year. I know her only a little. The gentleman . . . " she paused, weighing her words. "He is Mr. Terrington, son of our hosts, Lord and Lady Terrington."
"And do you know the gentleman?" the colonel inquired.
"I am not sure how to answer you. I have been in his -- and his family's -- company on several occasions. As far as knowing the gentleman, I . . . could not say." She flushed at the words, hoping they did not reveal her feelings, which she felt thudding in her heartbeat.
But the colonel seemed not to notice any discomfort, else he was too genteel to speak of it. The rest of their dance went pleasantly, as easy as their conversation a few days before, as they had strolled through Pemberley.
When Catherine switched partners, it was not for the better. Mr. Devons seemed determined to ridicule every person in the room. "You would think Miss Devons was dressing for the opening ball of the season in London with those jewels," he scorned, as their dance began.
"They are rather brilliant," Catherine said, and then added, "but beautiful as well."
He sneered at her. "I suppose you would wear diamonds every day if you had them," he said.
Catherine laughed. "I am sure that would get dull very quickly, and attract every thief in the county. But if I had them, I am sure that I would wear them on an occasion that merited it, such as a ball, yes."
"Then I should mark you a great simpleton," he said. Catherine flushed and began to speak, but Mr. Devons continued, "A woman always imagines that by dressing herself up as a showpiece, she can attract the attention of any man she chooses. Take . . . your friend Miss Darcy. I never see her at a ball but what she is wearing some precious gemstone or other."
"Mr. Devons -- "
"No, I see that you are going to argue in your friend's favour, and why not. You yourself are of that sex, Miss Bennet, so debate will do you little good. I shall take your words as biassed, and not give the credence."
"I dare not say anything, then, sir, for fear of not being believed. How am I to defend myself or those of my sex, then? Let me only say that men, as well, dress to gain attention."
"I will not argue with you there," he said. "Take that Terrington fellow, for example, have you ever seen a gentleman more gussied up for a ball? Preposterous."
Catherine stifled a giggle, struck by the thought that Mr. Devons' attire was almost exactly the same as Mr. Terrington's in colour and style.
Mr. Devons glowered at her, evidently not satisfied that her thoughts were favourable towards himself.
The dance came to an end, and Catherine and Mr. Devons left each other, both dissatisfied in the other as a partner.
Catherine caught sight of Georgiana and a young red headed gentleman making their way off the floor. She started toward them, but stopped herself. I think I shall leave Georgiana to herself tonight, she decided. So, instead of finding her friend, she found a seat in a niche some ways away and observed the progress of the next dance.
After a moment, she was startled to hear muffled voices in the recess behind her. The voices were those of Maggy and Mr. Terrington.
"I do not understand it," Maggy was saying. "Why must you leave at the very beginning of the ball? Cannot you wait for an hour or two? Surely this ill person can wait a few minutes."
"Maggy," Mr. Terrington said in a frustrated voice, "You do not understand. The Phelps are our tenants, and they are in need of help, not in one hour -- or three, or four -- but now."
"I did not say that you must wait three or four hours," Maggy said silkily. "Simply a few minutes. Surely you have as much responsibility to your guests here as to some lowly tenants."
"You and our parents can handle the ball without me," Mr. Terrington said, "but Mrs. Phelps needs to be transported to the surgeon's residence immediately, and the Phelps have only a small wagon, which is unsuitable for the job."
"They are only tenants," Maggy said, with evident displeasure. "I say you should stay."
"And I know I should go," Mr. Terrington said. "How can I stay here to smile and dance and be at ease when a friend is in need of help? No. I must go. I will not have it any other way."
"Fine. And you shall bear everyone's displeasure when they find you left the ball without a thought."
Catherine heard footsteps, and then saw Maggy rush past her, her face set in a scowl. A door opened and closed behind her, and she guessed that Mr. Terrington had departed.
"Catherine, are you well?" the Colonel asked. Catherine almost jumped, not realizing that he was so near.
"I am fine," she said.
"Good, for I was just hoping that you would dance the next with me."
She managed a smile, her thoughts still on the conversation she had just overheard. The colonel extended his arm, she took it, and they walked toward the floor.
Chapter V: Resignation
The day following the ball at the Terringtons was the eve before Christmas. Colonel Fitzwilliam, who had before noted that a pleasure much anticipated is often a disappointment, found that the festivities were as agreeable as he had ventured to imagine. There was much feasting and jollity, as well as music and conversation aplenty. By the end of the day, though, he had noticed something to dampen his spirits, and that was the demeanor of Miss Catherine Bennet.
The colonel had observed Miss Bennet's change of countenance the evening before at the ball and had seen two young Terringtons depart, appearing as though they had just argued. It was enough, along with her behaviour during their dance, to give him suspicions-suspicions that Miss Bennet was in love with the gentleman.
The colonel felt a twinge as he thought of that. He fancied that he could be very much in love with Miss Bennet himself-what was it that was so bewitching about the Bennet daughters? But instead of allowing himself that feeling, he decided to do everything he could to help the match between Miss Bennet and Mr. Terrington succeed.
When the colonel made a decision, he immediately followed it with action. So, after making a quick trip to Darcy's study, he looked for a chance to speak to Miss Bennet. When he arrived at the music room, however, he found that the party was gathered together and that Miss Bennet was already employed-being a page turner for Miss Darcy. The colonel found a seat at the back of small audience, smiling at the lively Christmas music emanating from the pianoforte. Miss Darcy was surely gifted.
At the conclusion of the song, the colonel stepped forward to the pianoforte and offered an arm to Miss Bennet. Making their way back to the back of the seating, they both found seats and he began to speak.
"I had a pleasant thought this morning, Miss Bennet, and I wondered whether you could do me a favour?"
"With all my heart," she answered.
"Would you join me for a ride to-morrow afternoon? I thought it would be pleasant to have a Christmas ride around Pemberley. I always try to tour the grounds at least once when I am here, and in December the best way is always on horseback."
"Horseback?" she said, hesitantly.
"Yes, indeed. Do you ride?"
"Of- of course, but very ill. Like my sister Lizzy, I much prefer walking."
"But could you make an exception in this case? It would be a very pleasant outing, and I assure you that we would go no faster that a trot."
"Well," she said, still hesitating, "I suppose I could go, if you will keep that promise."
"Excellent," he said. "Oh, and one last thing: I did think to invite a few others to come along with us. Georgiana, of course, all of the Bingleys, and Mr. Terrington.
He saw that her face turned somewhat pale, but that otherwise she remained calm. "I did not know that you and Mr. Terrington were at all acquainted."
"We have been introduced-last night, in fact, right after I first danced with you-and I found him to be a fine gentleman, so I took the liberty of writing him today and inviting him to come along with us. He said that he enjoys to hunt, and I am in hopes of Darcy inviting him often to join us when I am here at Pemberley."
She gave a slight smile. "I see. Well, I hope you will have much to talk with him about."
"Of course," he assured her.
She turned away from him, seeming to pay attention to Mrs. Bennet's spritely carol, but he could tell that her thoughts were otherwise engaged. Yes, she must indeed love him, he thought, and with that, giving up all thoughts of winning Miss Bennet for himself.
Chapter VI: The Ride
On Christmas morning Catherine awoke with a lump of worry in her chest. Despite the prospect of holiday celebration, Catherine could not help but brood over how the afternoon should come out. Not only was the thought of again meeting Mr. Terrington worrisome, but even the idea of riding a horse filled her with trepidation. She had told the colonel the day before only that she preferred walking to horse riding, but truth be told, she was terrified of horses.
A soft knock on the door woke her fully. She promptly got up prepared for church. The morning service was pleasant and temporarily took her mind off her worries.
When the party returned to Pemberley, they partook of a small luncheon. Catherine was seated next to the Colonel, who made the meal pleasant and easy.
Finally the time arrived for the ride. The small group met at the stables and mounted their horses. Catherine petted her horse uneasily, feeling award in her side turned position.
"Do not worry. You'll soon have that sidesaddle mastered," announced the colonel, sidling his horse next to hers. "And be assured that your mount is quite safe. She is the quietest mare in the county."
Catherine thanked him, grateful for his thoughtfulness, but sure that she would be more grateful if she had her feet safely planted on the ground.
"Welcome, Mr. Terrington," the colonel called.
Catherine, who had been concentrating on her horse, had not noticed the approach of another rider. She turned her head and saw that Mr. Terrington had indeed arrived. His bay horse stopped calmly on the other side of the colonel.
"Good afternoon, Colonel Fitzwilliam," Mr. Terrington said. "Are we all collected and ready to go?"
"We are indeed. Shall we be off? I will head the way, and the rest may follow in pairs. May I request one of the gentlemen be of aid to Miss Bennet, as she is not accustomed to riding?" He turned to Mr. Terrington. The gentleman looked surprised, but opened his mouth, as if to accept. Before he could, though, Mr. Bingley said, "I would be delighted to assist Miss Bennet."
"Thank you, Mr. Bingley," Catherine said, her eyes following Mr. Terrington. He made his way to the middle of the group, and stopped next to Georgiana. Georgiana turned to Mr. Terrington and said something Catherine could not make out.
Mr. Terrington answered, and then Georgiana gave a gentle smile.
The ride began, and Catherine found her attention needed in the riding of her horse. Mr. Bingley was a good support, telling her how to signal with her reins, and making certain that her horse did not go too fast.
Whenever she looked ahead, she could see that Georgiana and Mr. Terrington were still riding side-by-side: sometimes talking, sometimes simply riding.
The colonel at first led the way, but exchanged places with an adamant Miss Bingley partway into the ride. He trotted back to the end of the line of horses, pausing on his way to speak to each of the riders.
He at last made his way to Catherine and Mr. Bingley. "How are you two doing, then?" he called.
"Very well," Mr. Bingley answered. "Miss Bennet is an excellent learner."
"What he means is that I have not yet fallen off my horse," Catherine said, who, in truth, was still feeling very ill-at ease on her mount, however docile her nature.
"I was speaking with Mr. Terrington just now, and he said he would gladly exchange places with you, Bingley, and help Miss Bennet," the colonel said.
Catherine bit her lip, turning to hear Mr. Bingley's answer.
"I would not for the world abandon my partner," Mr. Bingley answered.
The colonel frowned. "I thought you would not," he said. "Well, I suppose I should return to my post at the lead: unless Miss Bingley will not allow it, which she seems to argue that she will not."
"Yes, I am afraid my sister is always determined to have her own way," Mr. Bingley said. "However vexed it may make those she imposes on." Then he seemed to remember himself and added, "She is a good sister, however. Who could not enjoy being in her company?
"Who, indeed?" asked the colonel, giving Mr. Bingley a questioning look as he rode off.
After that, Catherine's ride was very quiet and uneventful. She managed to return to the stable still on her horse, and slightly more at ease than when she had begun the ride. The party bade Mr. Terrington farewell and returned to the house for the evening's festivities.
Chapter VII: Christmas Night
The evening's celebrations began with a treat for the all of the children. They gathered together in a parlour and bobbed for apples, as well as playing a game which involved much cracking of nuts. Catherine giggled as she watched from the doorway, remembering many such Christmas evenings at Longbourn, which couldn't have been more lively with five boys, rather than the five girls that had been in her family.
The children, protesting loudly, were tucked into their beds early, so the adults could attend the evening's dinner.
As Catherine entered the dining room, her nose was overwhelmed with smells. The table was piled high with food. There was minced pie, turkey, goose, plumb pudding, and Christmas pie, just to name a few of the dishes served.
The feast was loud and jolly: everyone ate heartily, talking about past Christmases, and laughing loudly at everything.
Afterwards the group moved to the music room-where all important Pemberley events automatically gravitated. Georgiana sat at the piano and played out carols by suggestion. Catherine, gathered with the rest of the party next to the piano, requested God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, and her favourite, Adeste Fideles. Lizzy caught her eye and grinned at her. Catherine smiled back: singing with her family was a joy she had forgotten.
When everyone's voices were almost hoarse, and the hour was growing very late, the party split up. Catherine and Georgiana linked arms and walked down the hall, the feeling of Christmas still very much in the air. By unspoken agreement, they walked to Georgiana's room, both wanting to draw out the day for as long as possible.
They sat beside Georgiana's window, their chairs faced toward each other. Both gazed out the window at the dark night outside, drawing tranquillity from the luminous stars and crescent moon.
Georgiana broke the silence, speaking quietly, so as not to disturb the feeling of serenity. "I feel tonight as though I have no troubles; that my worries are minuscule when compared to those of most the world. I can bear anything tonight."
"Even the thought of riding beside an old beau only a few hours previous?"
Georgiana smiled slightly and squeezed Catherine's hand. "Even that I can bear," she said. "Oh, Catherine, will you believe me when I tell you that as I rode with him this afternoon that I felt nothing? Of course, I enjoyed his company: he was very gentlemanlike and pleasant to talk with, but nothing beyond. I felt no warmth or joy at being at his side." Her voice dropped even more as she finished, "Nothing like I feel when I am with Mr. Allen." She clutched a book to her heart.
"Mr. Allen's gift to you?" Catherine asked, nodding toward the book.
"Yes," she said. "I miss him, you know that, but tonight-- tonight I feel as though everything will be well. I do not know why."
Catherine's mind suddenly caught on the image of Mr. Terrington sitting tall on his horse that afternoon, sidling away from her. She forced a cheerful smile. "That is because everything is bound to go well," she said, hoping with all her heart that it was true. "After all, you are a beautiful young woman, with everything to recommend you. Any man who would not wish to marry you should be tested for lunacy."
Georgiana giggled. "Might I add that my dear friend here is not only charming and talented, but a great flatterer. If that does not capture her a choice companion, then I do not know what shall."
Both of them laughed loudly at that, ending up trying to stifle their laughter with their hands, recalling the lateness of the hour.
"I should be getting on to bed," Catherine said, once the laughter had died down.
"I will escort you, then," Georgiana said formally.
They rose from their seats and left the room. As they walked down the hall, Catherine whispered, "Have you heard anything about Mrs. Phelps' condition--you remember, the Terrington's tenant?"
"Of course I remember," Georgiana answered. "It is my understanding that she is starting an alacritous recovery--she had a rather bad fall from the stairs in her cottage. The surgeon is quite optimistic."
"I am so glad," Catherine said, grateful for the information. She had met Mrs. Phelps only once or twice at the shops Lambton, but from what she knew of the woman, she was a cheerful woman, and mother of a handful of children. She was relieved to hear that she would soon be back with her family. "Would it be all right if we went to visit her tomorrow?" Catherine queried.
Georgiana smiled. "I think that is a wonderful idea," she said. "With Lizzy's approval, shall we go tomorrow morning?"
"I will see you in the morning, then. Sweet dreams."
Catherine entered her room and quickly changed into her nightgown. Snuggling beneath her warm covers, she soon drifted off into peaceful sleep.
*A big thank you to all those who contributed to the Life and Times' boards discussions on Christmas. I drew much from the archives for the past few chapters.
Chapter VIII: The Visit
The following day found Catherine and Georgiana bundled up inside the Darcy's chief coach. It was a brisk morning, with frost misting in their throats even in the relative cover of the equipage.
Far from being dissuaded from her visit by the fierce cold, Catherine felt that the weather gave great cause for it. At the beginning of the journey, she had handed the coachman a large hamper filled with every good sort of food, sure to ward off the winter chill brought in by the foreboding storm. Also in tow were a variety of gloves, scarves, and stockings, sewn by ladies of the household and gladly donated to the cause of the family in need.
The coach passed Robin's Hall, which was on the top of a small incline, its wide clearing warded by massive pine trees, allowing only a glimpse of the strong, grey-stoned building. In the cold, frosty morning, the house appeared mysteriously shrouded in mist.
The massive pine trees surrounding Robin's Hall gave way to open land. After a gentle incline, the carriage leveled onto flat ground and pulled to a stop outside a two-story cottage. The coachman helped the girls out and handed them the hamper full of food. Catherine glanced at Georgiana, who nodded, and they headed to the stoop of the building and knocked.
The door was opened by a boy, around the age of eight, Catherine gauged. After they had stated their business, the boy opened the door wide to allow them passage inside.
The room was small and sparse in furnishings, but that did not detract from the feeling of warmth and cheerfulness imparted from the tidiness of the room, and the busyness of its occupants.
Three children smaller than the first boy were on the carpet, playing with an assortment of toy animals, apparently unmoved by the arrival of visitors. On a chair to the north sat a dark headed girl, of about fourteen years, who set aside the dress she was mending to stand and curtsey to the visitors. The final occupant of the room sat propped up on a long couch on the west side of the room. She had a book in hand, and had evidently been reading aloud before Catherine and Georgiana entered, for there were smiles of amusement on both her and the oldest girl's faces.
"Miss Darcy, Miss Bennet. What an unexpected pleasure." She set her book down onto a small table next to her chair. "Please, do sit down."
They sat on an unoccupied divan to the right of the door, after leaving their parcels to the boy's care.
"I was just this morning commenting to Anna--my oldest," and she gestured to the girl with the sewing-- "how lovely it would be to have visitors today. And here you are, bearing gifts in hand. I thank you from the depths of my heart."
"We heard about your injury, and we knew we had to come see how you are faring," Catherine said.
"I am doing well," Mrs. Phelps said. She gestured to her quilt covered legs, "These implements may keep me to earth, but with such visitors as you, I cannot be confined from life. Please, tell me, how have your holidays been? How was your Christmas day?"
Catherine smiled and plunged into a description, her narrative occasionally amended by comments from Georgiana.
Mrs. Phelps' smile grew as Catherine began to describe the horse ride. She commented, "So my good Mr. Terrington was there, was he? That good man has been a God given blessing to me in the past week. Such kindness!" Apparently overcome, she touched her heart, a tear falling to her cheek.
Catherine put her fingers to her lips. This can be no jest, she thought, Mrs. Phelps truly has been moved by his kindness. And coming from one of his tenants--what praise could be higher?
Georgiana, seeming to sense Catherine's preoccupation, concluded the story in her behalf. By the end of the story, Catherine had found her composure, and she joined in the lively conversation over tea and cakes.
The time arrived to take their leave, and as they walked outside to their coach, another carriage arrived. They watched as the sole passenger stepped out. Catherine bit back a gasp as she recognized the face she both expected and feared--that of Mr. Terrington.
He walked toward them and bowed. She and Georgiana curtseyed in return.
"Good afternoon, Mr. Terrington," Georgiana greeted.
"Good afternoon, ladies," he returned. "I see you have been visiting the Phelps."
"Yes," Georgiana replied. "I very much enjoyed it. Mrs. Phelps is a pleasant woman, and one whose acquaintance I should like to continue."
"I am glad you think so," Mr. Terrington answered Georgiana, though his eyes were on Catherine. "And Miss Bennet-- did you enjoy your visit?"
"I . . . yes," she said slowly, stupidly. "I . . . You are visiting the Phelps, too, then?"
He grinned. "Yes, I am. I have been following Mrs. Phelps' progress daily, since the night of the ball." He paused and then continued, "I apologize for leaving the ball early that night. I know there are many who think that crime highly unforgivable."
"Not I," Catherine replied quickly. "You chose rightly. Your decision considered an individual's life above a night of pleasure. How can that be thought contemptible?"
His gazed into her eyes for a moment, cautiously, and then stepped back slowly. "Well, I wish you ladies a good day. Miss Darcy. Miss Bennet." He again bowed and walked toward the house. Catherine stared after him and then followed Georgiana to the carriage. She gazed out the window as they carriage began moving, her thoughts moving at the speed of the carriage.
Chapter IX: At Robins Hall
The following days saw several changes at Pemberley. As the holidays came to a close, all of the visitors departed, with the exception of Catherine, whom Lizzy requested stay on, as a needed aid as her confinement drew to a close. Miss Bingley departed with Charles and Jane, who looked rather disconcerted at the continuance of her stay with them. Also, Catherine bade farewell to Colonel Fitzwilliam, who seemed loathe to leave her, but as she promised to send a few words in Darcy's next letter, he appeared to be somewhat pacified.
Besides her new duties toward Elizabeth, Catherine continued her visits to Mrs. Phelps, who was progressing daily. With Anna's help, she was exercising her legs daily, and anticipating an attempt at walking soon.
Midway into January, a curious note came in the post, addressed to Catherine. The writer was none other than Mr. Terrington's sister Maggy, and the contents an invitation for Catherine and Georgiana to attend tea at Robins Hall the following day.
"How strange that she should invite us," Catherine mused, as she sat at the pianoforte, that afternoon. "She must know that I dislike her, and I am sure that she dislikes me as well."
"She must be doing it out of civility," said Georgiana, who was standing next to the pianoforte.
"It sounds as though she has invited several others, and if she did not invite you, it would be an obvious slight."
"I do not know," Catherine said. "That seems little reason to invite someone you dislike."
Georgiana shrugged, obviously unsure herself.
The following day found the two sitting in the parlour at Robins Hall. Catherine, sipping her tea, looked up and surveyed the attendees. Across the room was, of course, Maggy herself, who was overseeing the tea service and the room's conversation. Next to her sat Lord Devons and his son. The last two guests sat to Catherine's left: one a gentlewoman Catherine recognized but could not name, the other Miss Davies. Mr. Terrington had come in shortly to have a cup of tea, and had then taken off on business.
"The holidays at Robins Hall were divine," Maggy said, as she poured a cup of tea. "There were decorations everywhere, and I simply could not hold back my delight." She crossed the room and handed the teacup to the woman seated next to Miss Davies. "Of course, my dear," gesturing to Miss Davies, "you were there, so you know what I mean when I say that.
"Oh, and the dance we had after Christmas dinner! I don't mind saying that I thoroughly enjoyed myself. Father was against it, but I insisted, mark you. No Christmas celebration is complete without dancing, I said. And as we had six couples complete, why should not we? Mother and father stood up, of course, and myself and that dashing young Mr. Warwick. My aunt and Uncle, then, and my oldest brother and Mr. Warwick's sister, then Lord and Lady Warwick, but the most divine couple was you, Miss Davies, and my brother." She gave an exaggerated sigh. "I have never seen such a handsome couple: I am sure your dress was pure silk, was not it, Miss Davies? And your hair! You must have employed someone for precisely that night, someone from Paris, to be sure."
"Miss Terrington," interrupted Miss Davies, "You give me too much flattery. Your brother and I danced for but two minutes, and then he had to leave. He had received a message from a friend in need of his assistance."
Maggy frowned. "Yes, my brother is making a horrid habit of that. This is the second time he left a dance for some sickly tenant."
"And on Christmas night," inserted Mr. Devons. "Terribly inconsiderate of him, I should say."
Maggy attached a smile back onto her face. "Indeed. It was so. The evening was saved, however, by Miss Davies' exquisite harp playing: it was like dancing in the stars."
"Sounds delightful," remarked the woman seated next to Miss Davies.
Maggy returned to her seat, and she now turned to face Catherine. "My dear Miss Bennet," she said. "You have been rather quiet this afternoon. I invited you specially to hear all of your news. Pray, I am sure your parents must be missing your presence at home. When are you to leave Derbyshire?"
Catherine flushed and clenched her fists together. She took in a deep breath and replied, "My sister Elizabeth is currently in need of my help. She has requested I stay in Derbyshire for some time longer."
"Ah, yes, dear Mrs. Darcy. It is a good thing, to be sure, that you are able to help her." She coughed and turned to Miss Davies.
"Miss Davies," she said, "I am sure I would jilt a young man who treated me as my brother treated you on Christmas night."
"Your brother is a good man," Miss Davies said. "I am sure he meant no unkindness towards me that evening."
"And you have agreed to marry him, as testimony of that," Maggy said, her eyes on Catherine.
Catherine's eyes burned, but she stared down at the napkin she held in her lap.
"You and Mr. Terrington are promised, then?" Georgiana asked softly.
Miss Davies nodded. "He asked several weeks ago, but we have just now made it public. He wanted to make sure he had employ, before we officially announced it."
"He is to be a clergyman," said Maggy, with disdain. "He has found a parish near London, through a friend of his."
"How shall you enjoy being a clergyman's wife?" Mr. Devons asked Miss Davies.
"Very much," Miss Davies answered. "I respect and love John, and I shall enjoy doing good for the members of his parish. No one can ask for more in a marriage."
Catherine rose, unable to sit in place any longer. "Excuse me, please, Maggy. I must get a breath of fresh air."
"Of course," Maggy said, simpering.
She hurried out of the room and out the front door. Gulping air, she slumped down into a chair on the terrace.
She shivered in the cold of terrace. She rubbed her eyes, tears stinging her face. There was no doubt in her mind that Maggy had intentionally invited her to Robins Hall that day to see if the news of the engagement would injure her.
She could not have been more right. I love him, Catherine admitted to herself. How could I ever have disguised that from myself? She knew but that she had, and now that she finally realized her true feelings, it was too late. Mr. Terrington was promised to another.
"Catherine, are you alright?" Georgiana asked.
Catherine looked up from her seat to see her friend's concerned face.
"No, I am not," she said, new tears forming in her eyes.
Georgiana sat down and embraced her. "I am so sorry," she said in her gentle voice.
"I love him," Catherine said, her tears falling harder. "How can this happen when I just realized that?"
"When did you know?"
"I think I always felt it. I thought he was one of the kindest, best men of my acquaintance. That is why I thought he would be perfect for you. Then, when he proposed to me, I was so angry that he didn't realize how wonderful you are, I did not let myself think about how I felt about him. I went to London to escape him, but I couldn't. When I came back and saw how much compassion he had for Mrs. Phelps, that's what helped me realize how truly, how deeply I love him."
"Could you not tell him of your feelings?"
"With him engaged to Miss Davies? Did you not hear her words? She loves him, as do I. She is a good person. She will make him happy."
"But he loves you," Georgiana argued. "He cannot love her."
"Can he not? I gave him no hope. I refused him twice. He closed his heart to me after that second proposal."
A single tear rolled down Georgiana's face. "Oh, Catherine, how is it to be borne?"
Catherine embraced her, unable to find words that could heal either of their hearts.
Chapter X: Trouble
The next fortnight was a difficult one. As Elizabeth's days grew shorter, and visits from the midwife regular, Lizzy's need for Catherine and Georgiana's assistance became hourly. Darcy, very reluctantly, left for London for a few days, on urgent business that could no longer be deferred.
The day after Darcy's departure was the day Elizabeth started experiencing pains.
"She says they are sharp pains in her stomach," Georgiana whispered, as the two sewed in the room Elizabeth was resting in.
"They could not be signs of the-- the child's birth?" Catherine asked, worry filling her voice. The midwife had told Darcy that she expected at least four more weeks to come before the baby arrived.
Georgiana shook her head, "I do not think so. She says that it feels like a knife pulling inside of her. Can that be normal?"
Catherine glanced at Lizzy, who was breathing heavily, her body turned to relieve some of the tension of her enlarged abdomen. "Could it be--" she halted, and then went on, "Did you ask her if this is at all like the first time she lost--" her voice broke.
"I did not have the heart to ask her," she answered.
Catherine nodded. She continued her embroidery, looking up every few minutes to watch her sister sleep. Finally she set the half-finished pillowcase down and rose. "I am going to summon the midwife," she said.
"Alright," Georgiana agreed. "I shall stay and watch Lizzy."
The midwife arrived quickly and entered Elizabeth's room, with Georgiana and Catherine waiting outside, anxious to be there the moment the woman left the room. Catherine leaned against the whitewashed wall, her thoughts numb. She looked up to see Georgiana's sympathetic face.
A few minutes later the tall woman that was serving as Elizabeth's midwife emerged from the room.
"Mrs. Darcy is sleeping again," she said quietly. "I gave her something that should relieve the pain slightly, however . . ." she paused a moment and then continued, "These sharp pains she is experiencing may indicate that something is seriously wrong with her. I fear some kind of infection of the kidneys."
Catherine bit her lip. "Is there nothing else you can do?"
"Not much, without endangering the unborn child. You two can do something for me, however. I want you to watch Mrs. Darcy carefully. If she complains of being chilled or feverish, please let me know immediately."
"Of course we will," said Georgiana quickly.
"We will tell you of any change at all," Catherine added.
"Thank you, girls," the midwife said with a smile. "I will be back soon to check on her, myself."
Several days passed by, and although Elizabeth did not gain any of the symptoms the midwife feared, her first painful symptoms did not cease. Finally, at the end of a rather long, worrisome day, Georgiana announced that she was going to write to her brother, to ask for his immediate return. Catherine agreed with the decision, sure that the return of Pemberley's master would ease the pair's anxiety.
Chapter XI: Surprises
Two days later saw an abatement of Lizzy's pains. She felt good enough that the midwife said she could leave her bed for part of the morning. As soon as the midwife departed, Lizzy rose from her bed and suggested that the three take a stroll around the property. Georgiana and Catherine, worried that the excursion would cause more injury, argued that she should keep her wandering to the confines of the house. Lizzy was Lizzy, though, and would not listen to argument, so the trio was soon warmly attired and making its way around the lake.
Catherine could not but admire the scene of the warm late afternoon. It had been several weeks since she had walked outside, both because of the inclement weather, and because of her occupation indoors.
This day was warm, and the crystalline snow of a few days previous covered the ground in heavy layers. The sun shone on the lake, reflecting in bright beams that made her shade her eyes. Beyond the lake, trees were dusted with snow.
With Georgiana attending to Elizabeth, Catherine lingered behind, hand above her eyes, admiring the glory of the afternoon. Finally her companions called, and she had to hasten to catch up to them as they entered a path below some pine trees.
She caught Elizabeth's other arm, as she reached her companions. Elizabeth gave a semblance of a smile in return, her heavy breathing showing that she was having some difficulty.
"Should we return to the house?" Catherine asked.
"No. I would like to walk just a little farther. One of my favourite sites is just ahead," Elizabeth said.
Catherine exchanged a worried glance with Georgiana, but they continued walking.
They reached the spot fifteen minutes later: it was clearing with a log bench placed above a slope that gently inclined down to a view of one of Pemberley's many streams. Lizzy was panting as she settled onto the pine bench.
"Lizzy, are you well?" asked Georgiana.
"No . . . I'm . . . not," she said, between gasps of air. "Having . . . pains."
"Oh, no," muttered Catherine. Then, aloud, "Are they the same kinds of pains?"
Elizabeth shook her head. "No . . . labour pains."
Catherine froze. The baby could not be coming now, here, with Darcy's earliest possible arrival at least two or three days away. The fact was undeniable, though. Elizabeth did look in pain, and her skin was sweaty; her hair damp, its curls sticking to her neck.
"Can you walk with us to the house?" asked Georgiana. "We need to get back. Immediately."
"I will try," Lizzy said.
Both girls extended their hands and hefted Lizzy to her feet. Leaning her weight partially on both of the girls, she made her way along the path. Their movement was slow, however, as neither Catherine or Georgiana was used to supporting so much weight. Occasionally they had to stop, while Elizabeth waited out a labour pain.
After seemingly an eternity, they reached the house. The servants, reacting to the news with alacrity, flew to send a message to the midwife and then hurried to make the final preparations in the room prepared for the birthing.
Catherine stayed by her sister's side, urging her to breathe in deep, quick breaths. Georgiana soothed Lizzy with her reassuring words.
Presently the midwife and her daughter arrived, dressed in clean aprons and carrying various instruments that Catherine could not identify. She and Georgiana stepped aside, with the understanding that the midwife would call them if Lizzy needed their moral support.
Two hours later, the midwife's daughter, tall and sturdy, like her mother, came to the sitting room to inform them how Lizzy was progressing.
"My mother is of course worried about the earliness of the child, as well as the complication of the pains Mrs. Darcy has been having," the girl said, as she centred her dark blue eyes on Catherine and then Georgiana. "I cannot say that this is an easy birth, but we are attempting to help her as much as possible. My mother wonders if one of you would be willing to assist us-- just one, mind, as two might be a hindrance."
Catherine and Georgiana looked at one another, each of their eyes willing, each wishing to be the one to help.
"You go," Catherine said quickly.
"But you are her sister," Georgiana said. "You should go."
"Do not argue," Catherine said. "I want you to. You can make Lizzy the most comfortable of us two. I want you to do it."
Georgiana quickly nodded, and then she stood and followed the midwife's daughter to Lizzy's room.
Catherine, in the deathly quiet of the parlour, could not but let her thoughts wander to her sister's side. She alternately prayed and meditated, as another hour passed.
A knock at the sitting room door abruptly broke through her thoughts. She arose just in time to see the door open to display the apparition of Mr. Terrington.
Catherine could only curtsey, as words had abandoned her.
"Miss Bennet," Mr. Terrington greeted, hesitating to enter the room. "I am sorry to interrupt your reverie. I but have an errand to run, and then I will be off."
"Please, come in," Catherine said, finding her voice.
"Thank you," he said. He entered and then took a seat across the room from hers. After a minute of silence, he cleared his throat and said, "I again apologize for disturbing you. I could not find a servant anywhere, and so I had to come in search for any occupant of the house myself. If my errand were not of such an urgent nature, I would not have entered the house, but I am afraid it is such. I have a letter for Mr. Darcy. Is he at home?"
"I am afraid he is not," she apologized. "He has been in London for a few days, but is expected home in two or three days. I hope this will not inconvenience you too greatly."
"No," he said. "The letter should be presented to him as soon as he arrives, but a two day delay is allowable. My own time is limited, but a short postponement of his receiving the letter should be fine."
He stood and crossed the room to hand her the letter. As he did so, their hands touched slightly. Catherine felt hers tingle. She took the letter and put it on a nearby table.
"I will see that he receives it when he arrives," she said. She turned away and drew in a deep breath.
Mr. Terrington returned to his seat. Catherine turned back to face him. Neither spoke for a few long moments.
He, again, broke the silence. "Shall I guess why none of your servants are at their stations, or shall you tell me?" he asked.
"Oh!" she said, flushing. "I . . . I am afraid they are all restive and otherwise occupied at the moment, else they should not have left their posts."
He brows drew together. "Why have they, then?"
Catherine turned deeper scarlet. Pregnancy and birthing was not something generally spoken of in cultured society. And yet, how was she to explain this lapse of household management without speaking of it?
As quickly and simply as possible, she explained the situation: first, the experience on the walk, and then Elizabeth's hours of labour.
"Miss Bennet, please accept my deepest apologies," he said, at the conclusion of her words. "I did not know your situation. I will leave immediately. I am sure you do not want my presence at this highly personal family time."
"You need not go quite yet," she said. "As I told you, Georgiana left to help the midwife, and I could certainly use some company in her absence."
"Of course," he said. Then, "I do not see how your presence would have been disruptive to your sister. To leave you here by yourself-- that was thoughtless," he said.
"You are too kind. I do see the midwife's reasoning: four people in that small room would have been cramped, but I confess that the last hour has been rather long."
Another long pause ensued. Finally, feeling that she should say something, she asked, "How is your family?"
"Well, I think," he said. "They are all excitement over a house they have found near in Bath. That is what my letter to Mr. Darcy concerns."
"Are they leaving Derbyshire, then?" Catherine asked, surprised.
"Yes," he said. He cleared his throat. "I think they find country life to be somewhat tedious."
"And do you?"
"Do I find country life tedious?" he repeated. He seemed to struggle and then answered, "I shall have to be content with city life. The parish I am taking is quite near London."
"You do, though, prefer country life," she said.
"I suppose I do," he said. Then, his voice sounding irritated, he said, "I suppose your fiance and yourself shall live out your days in the country. A countryman's daughter can have the luxury of spending the whole of her life in the country."
Startled, she said, "But I am not enga-"
It was at that moment that the sitting room door again opened, and the midwife's daughter took a step into the room. "Miss Bennet," she said urgently. "It is time."
Chapter XII: Arrival
"It's time," Catherine repeated, her heart beat rising rapidly. "Excuse me, Mr. Terrington," she said, hurrying after the midwife's daughter. She only caught the sight of Mr. Terrington rising from his seat, and then she was out of the room, hurrying toward the stairs.
As she took the first step, the front door of Pemberley opened to reveal its lord and master, Mr. Darcy himself. Darcy threw his hat to the floor and took quick, powerful steps toward Catherine.
"Elizabeth," he said, in his impressively deep voice. "How is she? Where is she? I sent a servant on ahead, and he informed me of her condition." He ran his hands through his hair. "No, forget all that. Just take me to her room. I want to be there; to see her as soon as it's over. You can tell me as we go."
Catherine, running to keep up to Darcy's steps, breathlessly explained the whole of the situation as they mounted the staircase and then turned down the hall. The midwife's daughter stayed behind: her pace as quick as theirs, but she kept a respectful distance away from Catherine and Darcy.
Darcy, obviously distracted, nevertheless explained his early arrival to Catherine. "I did not feel good about leaving for London, from the first," he said, "but as the midwife explained that there was still time, I reasoned with myself that I should go, as the business was urgent. However, when I arrived at London, I found that I again felt I should be at home. I therefore hurried my business, concluding it as quickly as possible, and left for home the moment it was concluded."
"Your arrival is not a minute too soon," Catherine said. "Georgiana wrote to beg for your return, but we feared that it was too late, and you would not return in time."
At the doorway, they found Georgiana restlessly waiting. At the sight of her brother, she ran to embrace him.
He kissed her cheek. "My dear Georgiana," he said.
The midwife's daughter slipped into the room, and the party gathered next to the door, in silent wait. Two minutes passed by. Then a cry pierced the quiet of Pemberley's halls. Tears fell down Catherine's face. She embraced Georgiana. Darcy's eyes were filled with tears. He pulled open the door and stepped inside. After a few minutes Catherine could hear his voice, mingled with Lizzy's muted tones and the cry of the newborn infant.
A few minutes passed by, and then the midwife opened the door and approached Catherine and Georgiana.
"Would you like to see the infant for a moment?" she asked.
Both girls nodded.
"Be quick about it, then," she said. "Both Mrs. Darcy and the child need rest as soon as possible."
Catherine led the way into the room. Her first sight was that of Lizzy, her dark hair completely wet, cradling the baby in her arms. Then she saw Darcy, kneeling next to the bed, with a tender expression in his eyes. He turned up to see Catherine and Georgiana, and a smile grew on his face.
"Come meet our son," he said, very quietly.
Lizzy smiled at them, her dark eyes tired. "Would you like to hold him?"
Catherine held out her arms, taking the small bundle. She looked down at the tiny face, eyelids closed in slumber.
After a minute, she passed the infant to Georgiana, and she saw the same peaceful look in her eyes that she felt inside herself.
Too soon, the midwife said that it was time for them to leave. Georgiana returned the baby to its mother's arms, and she and Catherine left the room.
Chapter XIII: A Scene Revisited
Catherine and Georgiana walked to the sitting room to continue some sewing they had begun earlier.
"Oh," Catherine said, as they approached the sitting room, "I forgot a small pair of scissors in the parlour downstairs. Will you go ahead without me?"
She turned back down the hallway and then down the stairs. As she reached the bottom of the wide stairway, she saw that the front doors of Pemberley were open. The doorman stood beside the open doors as someone stepped through them.
"Mr. Terrington," Catherine said aloud.
He turned from the door, top hat in hand. She quickly walked over to him.
"Are you leaving?" she asked.
"Under the circumstances, I think I should," he said, not meeting her eyes.
She pursed her lips. "It was just that I so wanted to visit with you," she said. "It seems so long-- so very long since we last truly . . . talked."
He raised his head, his eyes meeting hers. "I stayed this little while, hoping that we might be able to talk." He shook his head fiercely. "It is no good, Miss Bennet. I cannot reconcile my feelings. You have your engagement, and I have mine. I cannot have just friendship, and so I must bid you adieu."
"Please, listen to me for a moment-- just a moment," she implored. "I know you have your Miss Davies, but if you would let me explain about myself . . . "
She could sense the tension within him. "Miss Bennet, do not play with me. I know what your feelings are, and I think we have said all that needs to be said to one another. Good day." He turned and walked out the door, his stride sure.
Tears filled Catherine's eyes. She stood still for a long minute, stung by his bitter rejection. Sadness coursed through her. She had not expected much, just the chance to explain herself, to apologize for wronging him, for wronging herself. The opportunity to say, I am sorry. She had needed to tell him of the changes within herself, the journey she felt she had taken since she had first met him.
As she watched his retreating figure, a new feeling arose: determination. She had to try one last time. She could not let him leave without at least trying once again. She needed to say the things of her heart.
She ran out the doors, following his steps. "Mr. Terrington!" she called. "Please, please, wait."
He come to a halt and then slowly turned toward her, his face etched with surprise.
"I know I have been foolish," she began. "I have rejected you at every turn; never truly listening to your promises, but . . . I have to tell you this now, although I have no hope." A stab of pain filled her heart as she thought of Miss Davies. She blinked at tears and then, wiping her eyes, continued speaking. "I must tell you that I . . . do care for you, though I know your heart and promises are now elsewhere. After everything we have been through, I want you at least to know that."
He stood still, as if unable to understand what she had just said. "You mean to say that you love me?" he asked.
"So very much," she said simply.
He brushed a hand through his hair, and spoke. "Miss Davies and I ended our engagement two days ago," he said. "She loves another, and sought my attentions simply to draw out his envy. When at last I realized that, I was very angry. Then, finally, I realized that my intentions were nearly the same as hers. How could I be engaging myself to her," and he met Catherine's eyes, "when my heart is yours, forever and always?"
She raised her hands to her lips, hardly daring to believe the words that he had just said. His heart was free. He had always loved her and always would.
They stepped toward one another, embracing, lips meeting. She could not breathe, reveling in his tender kiss.
They parted, and he brushed his hand against her face. "I love you, Miss Catherine Bennet, with all of my heart."
She leaned into his embrace, feeling her heart pounding in her chest. "I thought you had abandoned your love for me," she said. "I thought that it was too much to hope that you could still love me, after all that I said and did."
"I tried to give up," he said. "Perhaps I thought I had, but you were always in my heart, and nothing or no one could stop that." He paused for a moment. She pulled away and looked at his solemn face.
"What are you thinking?"
"I'm wondering what happened to that-- that other gentleman, the one you spoke of in London. I assumed you were engaged to him. I told myself I had no hope because of him."
"We are not engaged," she said. "The short of it is that he was not who he appeared for be. Like your Miss Davies, he had other reasons to seek my affections." She told him of the fearful night in the slums of London. "What of you?" she then asked. "How did you learn of Miss Davies' duplicity?"
"It was just a feeling at the beginning," he said. "Then, when I watched her with a certain gentleman, I was sure that I was not simply imagining it. Finally, one evening, I came early to a dinner party at her home, and found her, alone, with Mr. Devons, in a somewhat compromising position."
"Mr. Devons!" exclaimed Catherine. "Surely Miss Davies cannot care for him. She seems all that is true and kind, but he is everything opposite: ill-mannered and pretending."
"I know, but it seems at least that they share the latter attribute. Miss Davies' genteel behaviour is but a facade for her true self: cold and scheming."
Catherine shook her head. "It is so hard to believe, but I must do so. I have been too often fooled by appearances."
"As you thought you had been by mine?" he asked, teasingly.
"Yes, that is so," she said. "In my heart, I long knew that I loved you, but my head was determined to take the helm and tell me that you were unworthy."
"With thoughts such as that, it is a wonder that you ever allowed yourself to think otherwise. What finally made you change your mind? It must have dated after your incident with that-- that fiend in London, for I know your mind had not changed when I met you in London."
"I think my change of heart started that very evening, with the Mr. Harrison incident," she said. "It was then that I saw how wrong I could be about people. The second major event was hearing of your courtship with Miss Davies. I was so struck by it, that nothing could explain it but my true feelings for yourself. Following that, I was able to be consider your real character and judge myself to be completely in error about what I thought my heart was."
"Thank the heavens for that." He looked deeply into her eyes. "Will you marry me?" he asked. "Will you make me the happiest person on this earth, by giving me your hand in marriage?"
Emotions coursed through Catherine's being, as she thought of a similar proposal a few months ago, not far from the very spot at which she was now standing. Her feelings were so very different from that day. She could scarce express herself, but at length answered, "I will."
Chapter XIV: The End of the Story
When Mr. and Mrs. Bennet arrived to meet their new grandchild, they were taken by surprise with a request for their second to youngest daughter's hand in marriage to a gentleman who Mrs. Bennet termed, "Quite a catch, despite him having no regimentals."
Mr. Bennet seemed sad to give up his one remaining daughter, especially when he had just begun to appreciate her finer qualities. However, he did consent to the engagement, with the stipulation that the couple would not live too far away.
In regards to where the couple would live after their marriage, the assumption was that they would yet take the living near London. Mr. Terrington, however, was not keen on the idea, country living being his ideal, and as he had not yet promised to take the living, he wished to find another as soon as he possibly could.
The idea was no sooner posed than answered, in the form of Mr. Darcy. His rectory living was still vacant, and he had in point of fact long been considering Mr. Terrington as the one to take it. On Catherine and Georgiana's account, though, he had been loathe to ask, but now that things were settled as they were, he was only too happy to make the offer-- and Catherine and Mr. Terrington were only too delighted to accept. They would be close enough to those friends and family that were most important to them, and at some distance from those of whom it was of a benefit to be far from, including Maggy.
The end of Miss Catherine Bennet's story ended as quietly and as happily as she could have hoped. All that she could wish for now was for the happiness of one nearest to her heart, and that was fulfilled soon after her engagement to Mr. John Terrington.
The house had received a large influx of visitors, in addition to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, wishing to congratulate the new parents as well as the promised couple. (Of the first of the number, you may be assured, was Colonel Fitzwilliam.) On an early evening, Mr. Terrington called Catherine to come greet another visitor.
"A business associate of mine," he explained.
They walked to Pemberley's quiet library and entered. A dark headed gentleman stood in front of them, and Catherine recognized him instantly. "Mr. Allen!" she cried. Then her eyes pivoted behind him, and she caught sight of Georgiana. Catherine drew in a sharp breath in sudden realization.
She turned to Mr. Terrington and said the only thing she could: "A business associate, to be sure?"
He grinned and said, "Indeed, yes. Before you stands the new owner of Robins Hall."
"And very glad of it am I," said Mr. Allen, putting his hand out to meet Georgiana's. "For it will allow us to marry, as I have always wished."
"But what of the inscription in the book? The farewell with no promises?" Catherine questioned.
He flushed. "I am sorry for that, and Georgiana has my deepest apologies. I did not know if I could secure an estate so majestic as Robins Hall, and I wanted something near her closest family in friends. I thought I might in the end have to compromise, and I wanted to give Georgiana none but the best."
"You should have known that I would have taken flight to the ends of the earth to be with you," Georgiana said, squeezing his hand.
"I have at last learned that," Mr. Allen said, speaking now to Georgiana alone. "I was a blockhead acting as I did. I wanted nothing less than to sign that book, 'With deepest love.' Can you ever forgive me?"
"Of course I can," she said, her face glowing as she said the words.
A knock came on the door, and Lizzy appeared a moment later. "Can I request you join us in the music room?" she asked. "I have gathered a small audience there, but we have in this room the three best musicians in the house. Rotten vegetables will soon be flying if I play another number."
Everyone laughed and then eagerly complied.
Georgiana entranced the group with several numbers, beginning with one on the harp. Catherine found herself and Mr. Terrington placed by the visiting Bingleys.
Mustering up all possible politeness, Catherine asked Miss Bingley, "What are your plans for Spring? Are you to be in London this season?"
Miss Bingley's gave a smile of superiority. "Considering all of Jane's responsibilities, I have decided to stay and help her and Charles and then return with them to London at the start of the season."
"Have you?" asked Jane, her creamy complexion turning pale. "Caroline, really, I do not need your help. I am sure there is much you need to do in London."
"Of course there is, but I have decided to wave that for the time, to be of use to you. I am sure you need me."
"Caroline." The word was strong and bold. "I will not have you stay with us longer," Mr. Bingley said. "There is a length of time that is appropriate to visit, and you have long since passed that. You are my sister, and I love you dearly, but Jane and I need our own time."
"Well, really!" exclaimed Miss Bingley, obviously astounded by her brother's words. Nevertheless, she turned to Jane and said, "Jane, surely you do not feel this way. Tell my brother that you do need me. I am sure you can persuade him."
Jane flushed, obviously uncomfortable with saying what needed to be said, but knowing it must be said nonetheless. Finally she stammered, "I . . . I am sorry, Caroline, but I agree with my husband."
Miss Bingley, her face turning crimson, managed to say, "Well, I never!" before she stood and rushed away from the group.
"You did well," Catherine said, squeezing Jane's arm.
Jane shook her head, obviously in shock. She turned to Mr. Bingley and asked, "Charles, however did you get the courage to say those things to your sister? I should never have been able to myself if it had not been for you."
"I could only think of how miserable you have been of late, because of her constant interference, and that did it," he said. "I had to weigh one good against another-- my sister against my wife-- and my wife won. You would win out every time, dearest."
A look of adoration passed between the couple.
Catherine settled down to listen to Georgiana's present song. Mr. Allen, in front and to the right of her, was entranced. Elizabeth, who was sitting directly in front of her, spoke to her husband. Catherine gathered that she was commenting on the recent elopement of Mr. Devons and Miss Davies to Scotland. All of the local gentry had been shocked at the recent occurrence-- except perhaps Mr. Terrington and Catherine herself.
The news was not important enough to divert the new parents for long, though, and they soon excused themselves so that they could ascertain that baby William was asleep in his cradle, as they knew he should be.
Georgiana finished her number, and the group called for Catherine to play. She approached the pianoforte with no trepidation. She knew the piece she was to perform, and the joy she had sometimes found from music had begun to be as frequent as her playing. She struck the opening notes, her lyrical alto voice rising and then peeking. A strong tenor joined hers, and Mr. Terrington's hand touched her shoulder. Their voices blended perfectly.
And so blended their lives, and the lives of those they loved. The couple settled in at the rectory, and Mr. Terrington into his living. Catherine and Georgiana remained the greatest friends, helping each other through the trials that come to everyone. Most of all, though, they enjoyed their lives, never taking for granted the blessings they had found as they had grown into womanhood.
© 2001 Copyright held by author