Miss Darcy's Reel
Elizabeth Darcy inspected the sleepy summer landscape of Pemberley, from the chair where she sat comfortably near an open window. A midday drizzle was falling, mercifully cooling the air and making the world outside smell fresh and clean. She took in a deep, steady breath, then bowed her head toward the sound of a tender whimper of an infant laying snugly upon her shoulder.
"Hush, my darling baby," the mother soothed, "Go back to sleep." The tiny little angel cooed away into the sedated slumber which an infant was apt to manage quite easily.
There was something miraculous about the sweet, natural smell of an infant, therefore Elizabeth could not resist, and she placed a tender kiss upon the cherubic cheek, coaching ever so gently, "Let us show your papa that you can sleep for more than an hour at a time."
Hearing the slow, constant breathing of the baby's sleep, Elizabeth knew that she would be at liberty from her maternal obligations, for a little while at least. She carefully laid her daughter down in the cradle, then eased back into her own chair, and opened a letter she had carried with her for the last three days. She skimmed it over once again, and her face brightened with all the affection conveyed in her heart for a dear sister, but Elizabeth wondered why now, after so long, had Georgiana elected to come home, to stay.
Georgiana's letter was vague, except for one particular instruction. 'Pray, do not tell my brother of my return, for I shall dearly love to astonish him.' There was no doubt in Elizabeth's mind that Darcy would be truly happy to welcome his beloved sister home to Pemberley, and for that matter so would Elizabeth and the children. How many letters had Darcy written to her, inquiring as to her return--yet Georgiana had always declined and instead had chosen to remain in London, with her maternal relations.
Darcy and Elizabeth had never pressed the issue of Georgiana's permanent return. They supposed that town had more to offer a single woman of good fortune, than life in the country with a man and wife and four wee children. They assumed that it would not have been long that news of an acknowledged suitor for Miss Darcy's hand would reach their home. Elizabeth would often receive letters in which Georgiana would admit to preferences for certain young gentlemen, but alas in the next letter, the gentleman's name would appear connected with words of indifference, and the unlucky beau was never spoken of again.
Indeed, Georgiana had come to be as choosy of a lover, as perhaps her brother would have wished for. Of that, Darcy was always agreeable, but Elizabeth was sure with the passing of each year that one day Georgiana would desperately long for those things in which women of her situation desired most. Those feelings from within which were designed to consummate a gentlewoman's role in this life, and make her a wife and more.
Elizabeth sighed, folding the letter and returning it to the table next to her. Her eyes grew heavy with fatigue and she dared to close them, hoping for some moments rest. It was not to be however, for even at the faintest sound of the rustling of paper, Prudence did stir and began to fuss, demanding her mother's comfort once again.
A nursemaid thrust her head into the room, "Do you wish me to take her now, ma'am?"
"Thank you, no," Elizabeth assured the good nurse. "It will not take long to rock her back to sleep--I hope. Please tell Mr. Darcy, upon his return, that I am in the nursery."
Elizabeth returned to the cradle and lifted the discontented infant back to her breast. The baby quieted, and together mother and daughter performed the ritual which they had established since the infant's birth. Elizabeth's children had always been easy, but for some reason, this little one seemed to want more of her mother's time than had any of the others. Much to her parent's chagrin, Prudence rarely slept more than an hour or two at one stretch, and she would only be satisfied when held and moved to and fro.
As Elizabeth paced the infant about the room, feeling a little dispirited and bent on putting darling Prudence back to sleep, she contemplated the things she had once desired as a young woman of Georgiana's situation. Although she had so desperately wanted and cherished each of her dear children, fond memories of a time not so long ago filled her lonesome and beleaguered mind.
Reminiscences of romance, and of a lover's thrilling touch came flooding back to Elizabeth's senses with a strange authority. She closed her eyes again for a moment and smiled when she pictured a handsome beau, strolling next to her on a path toward a Derbyshire lake. He had been such a man as she had never known before, a man proud and unfailing, and bent on a purpose, although in this instance wide-eyed and uncertain of himself. A man hoping beyond expectations to attain permission to acquaint her with his dearest sister.
"Fitzwilliam Darcy!" a smart looking gentleman near to Darcy's own age called out from across the lane. The gentleman hurriedly made his way across the damp, mud-puddled thoroughfare of Lambton, toward a long absent friend. Darcy stared at him, without much of a sign of recognition on his face. "Has fifteen years made such a difference in my appearance that you do not recognize your old mate?"
"Good god! I simply cannot believe it!" Darcy briskly grasped the gentleman's hand and the two men were agreeably engaged in recalling their distant friendship once again. "Brit, how are you--and what are you doing in Lambton of all places?"
"I am very well, Darcy! How good it is to see you again!" the gentleman smiled, just as delighted to see a familiar face. "What are you doing in a town such as this? Business or pleasure?"
"Business, but my estate is not five miles from here."
"Ah, yes--Pemberley," the gentleman remembered with a laugh. "I suppose fifteen years does make one a little musty in the head."
"Nonsense," Darcy chuckled. "I have no doubt that you keep your wits about you, as you always did. You have, however, not told me what brings you to Lambton?"
"Property, Darcy," the gentleman admitted.
"Property?" Now it was Darcy's turn to laugh. "Ethan Bristoe-Hart wishes to be a man of property--and in the North of all places? What of Cornwall?"
"What about it?" Mr. Hart winningly quipped. "Ah Darcy, I tell you, I have spent the last fifteen years in Cornwall, taking tin out of the earth, making ingots and a very decent income in the process. Now Ethan Bristoe-Hart thinks it a good plan to settle down and invest his assets sensibly..." Mr. Hart shrugged congenially, "...in say, a modest little country estate."
"Modest, indeed," Darcy rolled his eyes, with a prolonged grin.
Mr. Hart feigned incredulity, "There comes a time when a man longs for a little place of his own--a few trees of his own, his own lake for sport, and perhaps even a herd of deer running through a meadow to top off the scene."
Darcy could barely believe what he was hearing. The Brit Hart he remembered had always been somewhat of a wanderer. His family had been well off, but Brit Hart had very little care of it, and very little care in preserving his ancient Cornish roots. The last that Darcy had heard of him was that he had been travelling on the continent, on his parents goods favor, and their sufficient fortune.
"So you are looking to settle down, Brit?" Darcy replied as the two gentlemen walked down the street. "I would have thought that little lass you had your eye on years ago would have caught you by now, and made you change your roaming ways."
A smile prevailed on Mr. Hart's face, but he stopped walking and bowed his head. "'Tis true, Darcy. That little lass did persuade me to marry her, but my happiness lasted only the half of a year. She has been gone, ten years, last month."
"I am very grieved, Brit," Darcy frowned.
"Do not let it trouble you, Darcy. It has been a very long time, and my despairing is done. A man does get a little musty in the head--for good reason."
"Where are you staying?"
Mr. Hart replied with a nod of his head down the road, "The inn, here in this village."
"Do come and stay at Pemberley," Darcy offered. "My wife and I would be pleased to have you with us while you search for this property of yours."
"Your wife? So a fine lady finally did capture your fancy, Darcy?" Mr. Hart delighted at poking some fun at his friend. "I should dearly like to meet the lady accomplished enough to put a twinkle in the eye of Fitzwilliam Darcy. What else shall you reveal to me--I suppose you are going to tell me next that you are a papa?"
Darcy grinned proudly, "A papa of four."
Mr. Hart shook his head in amused skepticism, "Who would have ever thought the man who kept his nose in a book, and delighted in discussing politics with tired old statesmen could find the verve to be a papa four times?"
Brit Hart had always made Darcy wince at his elementary observations on life. The deepened dimples in Darcy's cheeks however, told of his amusement. "So then you will come and stay?"
"I am perfectly settled at the inn, but I thank you nonetheless."
"Then say you will come for dinner--on the morrow, seven o'clock?"
"Seven o'clock it is, old chum," Mr. Hart replied. "I should like to have your opinions on property of interest, since you are familiar with the area." The men reached Darcy's livery, and as Mr. Hart parted from his friend, he turned around and exclaimed with immense pleasure, "Tell your wife I look forward to making her acquaintance, and you must give me a glimpse of these four little Darcys!"
"Oh Elizabeth!" Georgiana rushed from the carriage to greet her sister. "I am so very happy to be home at last!"
Elizabeth spared no display of happy affection for Georgiana, as she hugged her and kissed her cheek, almost as if Georgiana were another one of her children. "It is we who are happy for your return, dear, dear, sister!"
The children ran out of the house to see their aunt, and in their excitement tugged on her travelling gown until she bent down to envelop every one of them in her arms. "Oh, how I have missed you all so very much!" Georgiana exclaimed, close to happy tears at her reunion with her loving nephews and niece. "Christian, you are still as merry as ever, and Hannah, beautiful Hannah--and Andrew," Georgiana took a good look at the eldest boy and sighed in pride, "How you parallel your papa, in every way."
Andrew was extremely proud to hear it. "I am happy you have come home aunt Georgiana," he said in a manner, very grown-up. "Mama says you need a man to look after you, and I am just the fellow."
Georgiana blushed, and took a quick look at her sister. Elizabeth was collected, but her eyes expressed her amusement at her son's chivalrous declaration.
"Where is this darling baby whom I have never seen?"
Elizabeth beamed, "Prudence is finally asleep, but believe me, you shall not have long to wait for her to awaken and howl to be in our good company."
"And my brother?" Georgiana inquired earnestly.
"He has gone into Lambton, but shall return at any moment," Elizabeth replied. "I have done as you asked, Georgiana. I have not said a word to him of your homecoming, although he will be apt to scold me when he finds out about it."
"Fitzwilliam would never do that--he loves you far too much, Elizabeth."
"He loves you, too."
Both women smiled, and Elizabeth slipped her arm through her wayward sister's and together they walked into Pemberley house, followed by three very excited youngsters. Mrs. Reynolds greeted Miss Georgiana with great happiness, and she whisked the ladies into the drawing room, and promptly called for refreshments.
Georgiana settled into a comfortable chair, and sighed in blessed homecoming. "Let me breathe in the blissfulness of this house, and of this family."
Elizabeth was captured by Georgiana's genuine happiness to be home. She was very glad to see such a change, but there were a thousand questions she longed to ask the young woman, yet she thought the better of it. Georgiana would tell her everything, in her own time and in her own way, and motherhood had made Elizabeth a patient enough woman to wait.
The nursemaid entered the room, with a large grin and a bundle in her arms. She handed the baby to her mistress, who presented her new daughter to her aunt.
"This is Prudence."
"Oh," Georgiana gasped upon first sight of the infant. "She is a heavenly creature, Elizabeth--simply a beauty. How I have longed to be near the joy of these children."
Elizabeth met Georgiana's teary gaze, "Why then have you stayed away so long?"
Georgiana lowered her eyes in sobriety, "You and my brother rightfully deserved to make a life for yourselves--just you both, and your children. I thought it would be best to give you time to make this your home."
"It is our home, Georgiana--and yours. We never wanted you to stay away. We thought you preferred town, and that it was too dull here for a young woman to find her future."
Georgiana attempted to laugh although she felt more like weeping. "This life would never be too dull for me. It must be very agreeable to be a wife, and a mother--tell me of it, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth smiled as it became apparent that her intuition had been correct. She directed Georgiana back into the chair, and she laid Prudence into her aunt's arms. "There--you can see what motherhood is like, any time you wish it."
"Is it true, that you fall in love with an infant upon first sight?" Georgiana asked as she reached to touch the baby's tiny hand.
"It is true," replied Elizabeth. "The very instant you lay eyes on them, you love them forever."
Elizabeth recognized the stride of her husband in the hallway, and she took Prudence from Georgiana's arms as Darcy entered the room. He came to a halt when he realized Elizabeth was not alone, and then his eyes widened at the sight before him.
"Georgiana," he whispered in tones of care, then without hesitation his arms opened to grasp her in greeting. "You have been missed, dear sister."
"Thank you, Fitzwilliam. You once told me it was good to be missed, and I now would have to agree with you."
Darcy moved Georgiana at arms length, to take a good look at her. "We did not get your letter, Georgiana--or I would have been here when you arrived. There is nothing the matter I hope? Everyone in London is well--the Fitzwilliams?"
"Yes, brother--everything is fine. I did send a letter to Elizabeth, but do not blame her for concealing it from you. I asked her to, in hopes I would see the pleasure on your face at my return."
"Indeed, I am very pleased"
Darcy glanced behind Georgiana, at his wife. Elizabeth raised her brows in silent response, a gesture Darcy had come to understand would be followed by some sort of explanation the moment they were left by themselves.
"How long are you to stay? A good while I hope," he pressed.
Georgiana took in a breath, "I have no plans to go back, if you and Elizabeth are agreeable to it."
Darcy again looked to his wife, in all astonishment, but this time Elizabeth smiled, and the joy in her eyes told him exactly of her thoughts. "Of course we are agreeable to it! We have waited a long time for you to come home. I shall go at once and tell Mrs. Reynolds to open up your rooms," Darcy spoke in hasty enthusiasm.
"It has already been done, dear," Elizabeth interrupted. "While you were out."
Darcy grinned from ear to ear, and he bestowed a kiss in turn on his sister's forehead, and then his wife. "Then we shall make ready for dinner, and you may tell us everything then."
Georgiana politely accepted her brother's will, and she moved to leave the room. Before she did however, she turned around to draw another glance at her brother and his wife.
Darcy took his daughter from Elizabeth's arms, and the baby cooed at the familiarity of her father's benevolent face and gentle voice. Elizabeth's loving laughter echoed throughout the room as she faithfully observed her husband and child, and thus Georgiana was certain from that moment on that this was where she wanted to remain.
Georgiana had said very little at dinner of her return to Derbyshire. Darcy felt as if he were being kept in the dark for some reason, and then he felt obliged to barrage poor Elizabeth with all of his questions, after Georgiana had gone to bed, and they were finally alone in their rooms.
Elizabeth had seen her children safely to bed, and had settled into a chair in their bedchamber to nurse Prudence and make the attempt to put her down to sleep. The whole day had left Elizabeth depleted, and the last thing she needed was a husband inquiring of things he did not pretend to understand.
"What has she said to you, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth looked harried, her eyes weary, and her brows taut, "Believe me, Fitzwilliam--I know nothing more than you. Only what I can imagine."
"And what might that be?" Darcy grumbled, mostly out of his own ignorance.
"Can you not see," Elizabeth lost a little of her usual congeniality. "There comes a time in a woman's life when she dreams of a family of her own--her own house, her own husband, and children. Georgiana is now four and twenty. It would be only natural for her to want to be near the very things she so desires."
Darcy grimaced in disappointment, "It is not as if my sister has not had ample opportunity at having a husband. From what my aunt and uncle say, she has turned down every offer of marriage she has ever received." He then mumbled with dejection, "I was not even given the chance to object to any of them."
"Perhaps they were not suitable, Fitzwilliam." Elizabeth yawned, "Perhaps she, like her brother, set it in her mind to be very discriminating when choosing a mate--or perhaps none of the gentlemen were accomplished enough for her taste."
Darcy groaned at his lack of discernment, and his wife's ribbing. He ran a hand across his forehead in overthrown worry, then for some reason it occurred to him at the moment that he had completely forgotten to tell Elizabeth about their guest for dinner the next evening. He promptly did so, and although she tried desperately not to, Elizabeth let out a ill-tempered sigh.
"I shall have to think about all this tomorrow," she whispered, blurry-eyed, as Prudence drifted off into slumber. "All I want to do now is sleep--oh, how I long to sleep a whole night through. Even four or five hours would be a forgotten luxury."
Darcy sat back in his chair, and put his feet up on a stool. "Then lay the child down to sleep in the nursery, and when she awakens the nursemaid will comfort her. If it makes you more at ease, ask Mrs. White to attend her."
There was enough fire left in Elizabeth's tired eyes to flame her disapproval of her husband's suggestion. "The child is too young to leave my side, and besides I have always held that it is a mother's duty, not a nursemaid's."
"Elizabeth, you have always been loathe to let go of your responsibilities to the children, even an inch. You are weary, and for that matter so am I, and Prudence is coddled far too much for what is probably her own good."
"If you do not wish to be disturbed, Fitzwilliam, both Prudence and I shall retire to the nursery," Elizabeth said in final resolve, ignoring what was perhaps sound advice.
"No," Darcy insisted bluntly. "It is not that I mind losing some sleep for the sake of peace, but I should wish my wife to remain in my bed. Of that I am certain, I will not give way--ever.
Elizabeth had been sleeping ever so soundly when the pitch of a baby's cry woke her abruptly. She quickly sat up as she usually did, but instead of rushing to scoop up Prudence before Darcy awoke, she sat in bed, numb and completely deprived of any sort of mind restoring peace.
A moment later the wailing ceased, and as Elizabeth centered her drowsy eyes in the moonlit room, she could see Darcy sitting in a chair, his ample hands cupping their child's little frame before him. He was speaking softly to Prudence, and the baby was completely entranced to listen to her father's reasonable utterance.
"If you bring her to me, Fitzwilliam, I will nurse her, and you may return to bed."
"Go to sleep, my love," Darcy replied in an easy whisper. "I do not think Prudence is hungry--she simply prefers to visit, is all."
Elizabeth's head swooned, as her body yearned to be horizontal and insentient. "What?" she mumbled.
"Get some rest, dear," Elizabeth heard Darcy say again, much to her wonder. "Get all the sleep you need--Prudence is in worthy hands."
What seemed like only moments later, Elizabeth awoke to a gentle nudging. Her eyes met the face of her dear husband. "What time is it?" she smiled, lazily running her fingers through her tangled hair.
"All night!" Elizabeth exclaimed in revelation as she sat up to see that Darcy still held Prudence in his arms. "You allowed me to sleep all night--and neither of you had need of me once?"
"We thought it best to let you be--lest we suffer the wrath of a sleep-bereft mama," Darcy grinned, his eyes widened in a display of fraudulent dread. "Your daughter is hungry now, though, and there is very little I can do about that."
Elizabeth happily held her arms open for the baby, and as Darcy lay Prudence down, and his cheek brushed near to his wife's, she kissed him lovingly. "You know not how grateful I am for the peace, dear husband."
"Oh," he chuckled, "I believe I do."
"Did you two visit the whole time I was asleep?"
"Indeed--the whole time." Darcy crawled into bed and stretched. "We visited here, then we visited in the library for a time. Prudence appears to be partial to tales of chivalry. Then we visited in the kitchen because I was hungry, after which we woke up the nursemaid, to visit with her and have a change of--well, a change--and then we came back here, and you had not budged at all."
Elizabeth laughed at Darcy's recount of the night. "Prudence does not wake up during the night because she wants to eat, that is apparent I suppose. Perhaps she is spoiled already, and just craves the attention of the whole household."
"Perhaps," Darcy twisted a not-so-amazed brow, "you have a point. Will you promise me to try leaving her in the capable hands of the nursemaid tonight?"
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth wavered.
Darcy leaned on his side, with a look upon his face as steadfast as he could make it when dealing with his beloved wife and her stubbornness. "If my hands are so capable, why not those of a woman who has infinitely more experience in the care of a child?"
Elizabeth realized the trap, with a provoked bite of her lower lip. With the uncertainty in her voice of a child herself, she choked out, "Very well. I will try putting her down to sleep in the nursery--if Mrs. White agrees to attend her.
"Very good," Darcy sighed then rolled back onto his pillow. "I believe it is going to be difficult to keep this child at home, dear," Darcy muttered a taunting prediction. "She will no doubt have a restless disposition and be wanting to call on all her friends as often as possible. She will very likely run off to Gretna Green with some spellbound young fellow, thus creating a Darcy family scandal--just to get my goat."
"Oh, do not say such a thing, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth scolded him. "That would have a little more affect on you than 'just get your goat', I am sure. Whether it was my sister, your sister, or one of our daughters, I know you should fly into a complete frenzy to prevent any such thing from ever taking place. You are as sensible as any husband, brother, and father can ever be, and I pray not one of them ever regards you so..." Elizabeth stopped to glimpse Darcy's impressions, but like little Prudence in her arms, poor Darcy had finally passed out and was senseless to a word she had said.
"And what do you think Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart would fancy for dinner, dear?" Elizabeth inquired at the breakfast table later that morning.
"Anybody with three names probably likes very elegant food, mama," Hannah interrupted with a whisper.
"I have no doubt of it," Elizabeth acknowledged slyly.
"As a matter of fact," Darcy said, extending a fatherly frown of reprimand toward his daughter at her interruption of an adult conversation, "he is a very modest man, as gentlemen go. A little on the ungovernable side, but a decent man. He seems to have changed some, since I last saw him. He says he is looking for a quiet and peaceful life."
"And this he shall find in Derbyshire?" Elizabeth grinned.
Darcy chuckled while eyeing his progeny, "Quiet conceivably, peaceful no."
"I do not ever remember him visiting us, brother," Georgiana inquired, with the shrewd curiosity of the female persuasion.
"He did not ever come north with me," Darcy shook his head. "He always went travelling elsewhere on holiday, or home to Cornwall to manage his family's business. I have no doubt you would have found him agreeable, Georgiana."
"Is he a single man?" Elizabeth inquired, saving Georgiana the trouble of doing so.
"Yes, I believe he is."
"And his temperament--is he much like you?"
This was a thing to ponder for Darcy. "He has a very easy way about him--not quite the countenance of Charles Bingley, but amiable enough. As far as how much he resembles myself, I should say not--solely based on the opinions of the women with whom I reside." Although he had said it in the most earnest of means, Darcy's impertinent comment did not go unnoted by his wife, although she had no instinctive reply at the moment. "If I had to describe his manner, I would say he reminds me a little of you, dear."
"Me?" Elizabeth stammered.
"Yes, he is unfettered in his wit and observations of this world, and there were many occasions when he would point out some sort of foolishness, and make me grin in the process."
"If all this be true," Elizabeth taunted Darcy amiably, "Then we shall certainly serve Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart something elegant for dinner."
Georgiana looked with scrupulous eyes upon her brother. There were often times when she was astounded by her sister-in-law's manner when speaking to her husband. This was not to say that Georgiana was not intrigued by it, for she definitely was, and she wondered how a woman developed such an union with a man, especially a man as reserved and austere as Georgiana thought her brother to be.
Darcy merely raised a humbled brow at his wife's comment, and continued to eat his breakfast. Although he found it extremely difficult not to be ill-mannered and yawn at the table, he smiled at his children, in proficient demonstration of what is meant by the label of gentleman.
Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart was agreeably punctual for dinner at Pemberley that evening. Darcy acquainted him with Elizabeth, who thought him very fetching--as much as a woman who was still very much enchanted with her husband, ever could.
"Mr. Hart, I have heard much of you, and I am delighted you could join us for dinner."
"Thank you, Mrs. Darcy. I do hope your husband tempered his tales of me, and that what you heard was favorable at least." Mr. Hart looked to Darcy and flashed a quick and eager grin. "You did not tell her about that bottle of rum, did you Darcy?"
Darcy's grin wrinkled up in discomfiture, and he cast his friend a smart look. "I was far too dim headed to have any recollection of that at all."
Elizabeth wanted to laugh at their persiflage, but she dared not, lest she encourage them into more exhibitions of bachelor reminiscences. Mr. Hart did manage to laugh though, mostly at the expense of his brawly host.
With a glance back at his hostess, Mr. Hart continued, "It is not often I receive such an invitation, Mrs. Darcy, nor is it often that I am on hand for society--but, oh how I do miss it at times."
Mr. Hart's merry eyes and easy smile demonstrated his compliment of Elizabeth's acquaintance, and she knew she would be comfortable in the man's company. He was a striking man, in his way remindful of Elizabeth's fancies of a man with noble Cornish ancestry. He was as tall as Darcy, at the very least, but completely different in coloring and mannerisms.
Mr. Hart had hair of dark auburn, streaked with gold-colored locks entwined throughout. His face was clean-shaven, and sculpted in manly-squared proportions, emphasized some by the cheek bristles clipped shorter than most men of fashion. Set within this face were candid eyes of deepest-sea green which seemed to sparkle when he spoke. He did not sport many accessories, but simply a fashionable coat and hat, and a pair of kid gloves. He wore a dark evening suit set off by a brocade waistcoat, the colors of which accentuated the brilliance of his hair.
His voice was deep, but mild, and when he spoke Elizabeth could hear sincerity, with a twinge of mirth to boot. All in all, she thought him put together very well indeed, and then with a private little smile, she wondered what Georgiana might think of him.
As she looked once again to her husband she knew it had not been Darcy's design to introduce his friend to his sister, for when the invitation had been extended to Mr. Hart, Darcy had not known of his sister's return. It became Elizabeth's scheme however, to make sure Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart and Miss Georgiana Darcy were to be well acquainted with each other, by the time the evening was through.
Georgiana led her nieces and nephews into the drawing room for an introduction to the guest. Mr. Hart's eye was directed toward the commotion, and he chuckled and uttered, "So these must be the little Darcys of Derbyshire."
Their father nodded, "Indeed--Andrew and Hannah, our eldest who came to us as twins, then Christian, who smiles a lot especially when there is mischief to be had, and the sleepless new addition, whom we call Prudence."
With another quick look back at his host, Mr. Hart gibed, "I thought those were dark circles under your eyes, Darcy." Mr. Hart then took a moment to inspect each child, thereupon bowing deeply with a jolly laugh, and recognizing each youngster again by name. The children were delighted by the man's pleasantness, and they giggled and bowed in turn with broad approving smiles.
Elizabeth expressed pleasure at the happiness of her children, but her eye caught the attitude of her sister, who stood, holding the baby in her arms. Georgiana barely moved a muscle as she espied this man. She did not giggle along with the children, or make haste to petition him--she merely gazed at him, with the hint of an upturn at the corners of her lips.
"Allow me to introduce my sister," Darcy finally spoke. "Georgiana, this is Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart."
Georgiana handed Prudence to the nurse, then ever so slowly dipped a respectful curtsy, as Mr. Hart inclined a bow, this time dignified and sober. "Miss Darcy, it is my sincerest pleasure to make your acquaintance."
"Mr. Hart, or is it Mr. Bristoe-Hart?" she said with an awkward catch of her breath, unnoticeable to anyone else present.
"My family goes by Hart, but my friends call me Brit--and Ethan is rarely ever spoken by anyone, save my mother on the rare occasions she has reason to be very cross with me."
Georgiana lowered her eyes in shy acknowledgment of his name and sagacity. She then made her excuses of seeing the children to bed, taking Hannah and Christian by the hands as it was nearing their bedtime of eight o'clock. Mr. Hart silently nodded his head in recognition of Miss Darcy's dismissal, but for the first time in many a year, this man secretly hoped a woman's absence would not be prolonged.
"Mrs. Darcy," Mr. Hart proclaimed, sated by an elegant meal, "My compliments on a fine table and delightful meal. You have made me a very happy man."
"I am glad you found it enjoyable, Mr. Hart," Elizabeth replied with a clever smile. It seemed as if everyone seated had enjoyed the meal so much, that there had been very little useful conversation during the entire dinner. Elizabeth thought to rectify that, for how were two people to get to know each other, if discourse did not flow freely. "Tell us of Cornwall, Mr. Hart. I have never been there, although I have images of it conjured up by my imagination and romantic stories in books."
"Notions of the castle Tintagel and of days long past, I imagine?"
"Yes," Elizabeth grinned enthusiastically.
"Ah, Mrs. Darcy--it is everything savage and everything tame, entwined into one vast landscape, a sight far too complicated to be described in brief."
Georgiana listened intently to the scenes Mr. Hart unveiled of his homeland. Her secret passions pictured this man to be on a quest, although she knew not for what. Perhaps it was for the hand of a fair maiden, but in another instant and with the disruption of her brother clearing his throat to speak, Georgiana was recalled to the present, and to a room many ages away from the romance of Arthur.
"The Hart family has made their fortunes mining tin, of which Cornwall is notable for as an economic resource," Darcy broke in the conversation. Everyone seated looked silently toward him, their brows cocked discernibly at the gentleman's lack of whimsical make-up.
Elizabeth's eyes brightened with mirth at her husband's rarely swayed deportment, and then she dared to ask, "Since you hail from the land of King Arthur, have you never found your Gwenevere, Mr. Hart?"
Elizabeth was instantly aware she had made some sort of blunder when her husband glowered at her from the other end of the table. Knowing Darcy as he did, Mr. Hart also became aware of the husband's harsh disapproval of his wife's presumptuousness, and to save the harmony of the Darcys' happy household he offered an explanation in his candid manner.
"I am a widower, Mrs. Darcy" he said steadily. "My wife died a very long time ago when we were newly married, and now it seems difficult to remember that far back. My family says I am far too accustomed to being a bachelor to go searching for Gwenevere--and they are probably correct."
Elizabeth cast her eyes downward in embarrassment and sorrow. "Forgive my rudeness, Mr. Hart. I possess an unruly character, one in which my husband has been very good to overlook the whole of our marriage."
"Balderdash," Mr. Hart proclaimed arduously. "Should I have a woman such as yourself waiting for me at home, I should never wish her to behave any differently."
Elizabeth was grateful for Mr. Hart's good disposition, and she felt some relief when she saw her own husband's mood restored to sensibility. "If you will excuse us," she said with a glance toward Georgiana, "We shall leave you to your business at hand."
Mr. Hart hurriedly spoke, standing as a gentleman ought when a lady leaves the table, "I hope I shall see you both again before I return to the inn?"
"We will join you in the music room shortly, dear," Darcy answered with a commendatory smile, and it was not only Elizabeth who was relieved to witness it.
When the door to the dining room was closed, Darcy stepped over to the buffet. "Port, brandy," Darcy swaggered in sport of his guest's earlier recollections, "rum? What is your pleasure, Brit?"
"Brandy," Mr. Hart was tickled, then took a meerschaum from his coat pocket. "Do you mind if I smoke?"
"Not at all," Darcy replied as he handed Mr. Hart the glass.
Mr. Hart lit his pipe, and the room filled with white smoke, and the provincial smell of scented tobacco in compliment to the fine liquor. "Your wife is a treasure, Darcy. Beautiful, clever, charming--all wrapped up into one exquisite package. You are a fortunate man," Brit Hart sighed. "How ever did you do it?"
Darcy rolled his eyes at his friend's jab at his character. "Yes I am very fortunate," he smiled, for he was not one to argue with the truth when he heard it. "After all this time, her devotion still makes me wonder. Her character never ceases to astonishment me, and she never fails to fascinate me beyond what I know to be sensible."
It had been a long time since Ethan Bristoe-Hart had looked upon a man so much in love with a woman. He had not seen such a sight since his very own image in the looking glass over ten years ago, and the happiness of his friend only confirmed in his mind, what he believed he had long been missing.
"Your sister is," he paused to draw his words wisely, "a very lovely woman. She speaks very little, however."
"She has always been that way," Darcy replied as he studied the liquid in his glass. "She is very timid, but once you know her she is loving and giving--and I suppose no less a woman than is Elizabeth." Darcy's mind began to weigh heavy with the fact that Georgiana had not found a suitable match as yet. As much as he would be gloomy to see her settled elsewhere, he knew it was her future and he had been told it was her wish.
Mr. Hart puffed on his pipe again, thinking how very much a woman Georgiana Darcy really was. The swirl of the smoke in the air caused Darcy to jar from his own thoughts and open his heavy eyelids wider to remain awake.
"So, tell me more of this property you look for, Brit."
"Mr. Hart is very handsome," Elizabeth declared once she and Georgiana had entered the music room. Elizabeth's eyes followed her sister as Georgiana took a seat behind the pianoforte and began to trace its keys with her fingers in absent-minded rhythm of some secret tune.
"I suppose he is," she sighed. "It is very tragic about his wife."
"Sometimes people lose the ones they love too early," Elizabeth came to the man's defense. "It does not mean they stop loving, or cannot love another. Perhaps that is why Mr. Hart wishes to leave Cornwall and settle so far away from the places he knows?"
Georgiana startled upon hearing Elizabeth's words, and the distant look in her eyes vanished. She smiled, almost curtly Elizabeth thought, then began to play the instrument before her. Feeling as if she were intruding, Elizabeth excused herself, and went upstairs to look in on her children.
Georgiana stopped playing as soon as she thought Elizabeth to be gone. She took a deep breath to clear her thoughts, but one remained. She had indeed found Mr. Hart to be handsome--from almost the very moment she had laid eyes on him.
It was not only his robust looks which captured her fancy, but the contrast of his gentle manner as well. She liked his humor and jesting ways and she never seemed to tire of wanting to know what he would say next. She would have laughed openly at his teasing of her brother, had she not been so terribly shy. It did not matter that the man was her senior by perhaps ten or so years. Elizabeth was seven years younger than Darcy, and it was conventional for a man to choose a wife younger than himself.
What did matter to Georgiana was that she kept her fascination for Mr. Hart to herself, for she did not desire anyone to object to her growing attachment, especially her brother. Georgiana believed it Darcy's right to find fault with whomever she could want as a husband--he had done it before. If that man were his friend, someone he liked and trusted already, perhaps he would give his blessing.
Andrew and Christian were fast asleep in their room, and Hannah looked like an angel at rest to Elizabeth as she peeked at each child in their beds. Satisfied that they were all happy in slumber she ventured into the nursery, where Mrs. White had bathed and dressed Prudence for bed.
"She is all ready for you, ma'am," The nurse smiled confidently as she handed the babe to her mother. Prudence looked drowsy as she nuzzled to her mother's breast, and Elizabeth thought the baby and Mrs. White must have visited for some time. When Prudence fell asleep on her mother's shoulder, Elizabeth arose and placed her gently in her cradle.
A large sigh escaped from Elizabeth's lips as she watched her littlest daughter sleep. "Perhaps we should call for Mr. Darcy's manservant to help us move the cradle back into my bedchamber."
"Ma'am," Mrs. White spoke in hint of a scolding. "I remember how difficult this was for you with Master Andrew and Miss Hannah, and then with Master Christian--but none of them was worse off for it."
"Yes, but Prudence is so tiny. Christian was half again her size by this time."
"Ma'am, you can trust me to call on you when you are needed, otherwise..." Mrs. White's voice trailed off into nothing, and then she offered her words of womanly wisdom in a firm, matronly tone, "The more we pamper her, the more difficult this will be for us all."
"Is this really so difficult for anyone else?" Elizabeth stymied her impatience.
With a veiled roll of her eyes, Mrs. White tried another approach. "Mrs. Darcy, you know I would never give you advice, unless it were well founded. As a woman, I can tell you this--that there is a time to be a mother, and a time to be a wife."
Elizabeth pursed her lips together, wondering how much influence Darcy had used in this whole business. She cocked her head to one side, willing to hear out Mrs. White's words of sense, before dispelling them.
"It is not every woman who has such a man for a husband," Mrs. White continued, on good authority. "There are other duties for the mistress of Pemberley, than motherhood alone. We all know the master holds your confidence and counsel in good esteem to govern this estate. He has been left to manage on his own for some time now, and with a very abiding humor I might say."
"Really," Elizabeth pinched a grin. "We would not want Mr. Darcy to fall short of his own responsibilities now would we? Simply because he is a little dispossessed of sleep, not to mention," she placed her hands on her hips, "good counsel."
"No indeed, ma'am," Mrs. White nodded again.
"Mr. Darcy can always find good counsel from his solicitor in Lambton and it would not even make me the slightest bit jealous, Mrs. White."
The nurse made a move to stress her point further with the mistress, but Elizabeth raised a hand to silence the woman, realizing her own obstinate nature. "I fully understand your meaning," the wife blushed, "and I suppose you are correct. There is a time to be a mother, and a time to be a wife and that a woman distinguish between those responsibilities is to her infinite credit." Elizabeth stopped to smile warmly, "And that such a man take stock in the opinions of his wife, is to her endless good fortune."
Mrs. White let out a relieved breath, "Precisely, ma'am."
"You will not hesitate to call me at any time this night should Prudence need me?"
"You will be summoned straight away, ma'am."
Elizabeth gave a nod and turned to leave, but as she did she gave the nurse an impish wink. "Allow me to thank you, Mrs. White--on Mr. Darcy's behalf as well."
Darcy and Mr. Hart ambled into the music room which was occupied by the sound of a happy tune played by Georgiana. She ceased her performance when she saw the men enter, and blushed a little at the sight of her heart's temptation.
"Please go on," Mr. Hart pressed. Georgiana looked instantly to her brother for his favor, but Mr. Hart stepped purposely within her view, in assertion of his own command as a gentleman of means. "Please, Miss Darcy. It would give me great pleasure to hear you play."
"If you wish it," she coyly whispered.
"Oh, I do," he answered with a reckless smile.
Georgiana felt her fingers quiver at the timbre of his voice, but somehow they found their way to the proper keys and she began the composition again. Darcy lowered his wearied body onto a sofa, and silently wished for a tune a little slower, perhaps something in the form of a lullaby. His weary eyes were distracted by the emergence of his wife in the room, and Elizabeth laid a hand to his shoulder and whispered something into his ear.
Georgiana continued playing a reel of all things, even though Mr. Hart adventitiously paced a circle about the pianoforte, all the while boldly fixing his eyes upon her figure. His actions did not offend Georgiana, but rather sent a thrill through her, for to be noticed in such a way by this man felt like a gesture of respect, and dare she hope, intent. He came to a halt behind her, and bent to whisper, "Might I sit next to you?"
Georgiana's mind whirled and her heart tripped a beat, then before she knew it she nodded her consent. As she played on, she felt his closeness next to her, and caught the light scent of virile and clean cologne. She perceived his body, his hands strong and competent, compared to her own delicate hand as they each reached out to turn the page of the music book before them.
"Have you studied music, Mr. Hart?" Georgiana managed to inquire through her peculiar trembling.
"I have Miss Darcy," he smiled modestly, "I have been known to play the mandolin and the pianoforte on occasion, but I find being serenaded by such an accomplished woman much more to my liking."
Being ever aware, Elizabeth perceived this display of budding courtship, and she had the prescience and the ability to distract Darcy from observing any of it. "As I was saying, Fitzwilliam--oh, do come out into the hallway with me, away from the loud music. I can hardly hear myself think."
Darcy did so obligingly, and once out into the hallway, he inclined his head toward Elizabeth. "What is it you wish to tell me, my love?"
"Prudence is asleep," she stopped to smile temptingly, as if she played her own game of blossoming courtship, "in the nursery, with Mrs. White."
A grin of success overtook Darcy on hearing such news, and without a care for the prying eyes of servant, sister, or guest, he leaned over further, and kissed the wife who had returned to him. His esteem for Elizabeth's choice in again holding him with favor was plainly written on his face, and for the moment at least, his eyes held more sentiment in them, than compared to the sheer weariness of moments earlier.
Darcy grasped Elizabeth by the hand and led her back to the music room the very moment Georgiana ended her performance. Mr. Hart looked up at his friend, and being no fool to the exhibition of a man's desires, or dullness as the case would be, sighed aloud, "I do believe it is time for me to be travelling back to the inn."
"When shall we see you again, Mr. Hart?" Elizabeth inquired, much to Georgiana's relief.
"I certainly hope tomorrow morning is not too soon," he replied. "Your husband has generously agreed to show me about the countryside, and we shall call upon a place known as Smythdon Manor."
"Smythdon Manor!?" Georgiana exclaimed with more enthusiasm than she was accustomed to exhibiting, before settling her feelings back into their familiar shyness.
"Yes, the property adjacent to Pemberley," Darcy confirmed.
"Shall you come for breakfast, Mr. Hart? Please say you will," Elizabeth hedged further.
"I believe I shall, Mrs. Darcy," he accepted as he gazed quickly at the young woman next to him, "I believe I shall." Mr. Hart grinned thereafter as he witnessed the fatigue encompassing a new father's face. "Miss Darcy, would you be so kind as to show me the way out?"
"If you like, Mr. Hart," Georgiana brightened.
Ethan Bristoe-Hart and Georgiana Darcy walked arm-in-arm out of Pemberley house into the summer night air, much as if Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy had planned the whole thing herself. It took a few moments for the groom to fetch Mr. Hart's mount, so the newly acquainted man and woman had a rare moment of solitude.
"You are very silent, Miss Darcy," Mr. Hart said in a deep, intense whisper. "I hope I do not offend?"
Georgiana looked up at him quickly, "No--oh no, Mr. Hart." She blushed as she admitted, "Far from it."
"Shall you come with us tomorrow, to look over Smythdon Manor?"
"I do not think my brother would approve of it," Georgiana withdrew her enthusiasm.
Mr. Hart raised a curious brow, "Do you always do what your brother wishes, Miss Darcy? What about what you wish?" A faint smile graced Georgiana's face at the thought of following her own mind, and her own heart. Mr. Hart pressed his shoulders back in determination, "Tomorrow morning, I shall suggest it to Darcy. I am not afraid of him, you know."
The groom brought around Mr. Hart's horse, and he accepted the reins, but waved the man off to the side for a moment longer. "Miss Darcy, I should very much like to return to Pemberley--to call on you alone. Tell me, even though you will see me tomorrow morning, that you will accept me as a caller tomorrow afternoon?"
With an anxiousness in her heart, and a joy in her mind, no doubt brought on by such a starry display as was seen in the sky, Georgiana heard her lips utter one word, "Yes."
Prudence nearly slept the whole night through, and Mrs. White was pleased that she only had to awaken the mistress once, and not until close to sunrise. Darcy however, slept like a baby should and awoke late, to find that he possessed a much clearer frame of mind. Georgiana on the other hand did not fare as well, and she spent a sleepless night, not so much out of restlessness as out of wonder and excitement at the introduction of a man she wished to know better.
Darcy seated himself at the breakfast table, and before their guest arrived he took a moment to speak to his children. "I can be certain you will be on your best behavior when Mr. Hart comes to take his breakfast with us?" Every little head bobbed up and down in their most steadfast assurances.
"You will be careful to chew with your mouth closed, Christian?" Again a hearty assurance. "Hannah, you will take care not interrupt the conversation?" More of the same. "Andrew, there will be no snickering at Christian?" This time a resolute shake of a head.
"Very good," Darcy smiled. "It is a fine show of confidence that you have gone from the nursery table to the breakfast table. You make me very proud."
"Good day," Mr. Hart grinned with an air of commanding exhibition as he followed a faithful servant, "Good morning, children." When he was shown to his seat thus moving past Georgiana, his lively eyes pierced her very soul. "Good morning, Miss Darcy."
Georgiana inwardly sighed, and she thought to herself that it were possible she could live a happy woman, if only she could hear this man wish her good morning every day to follow this one. A man had never affected her in this way before, and she had to wonder if the men she had been acquainted with in London society had not been men at all, but rather boys hastily clothed in full length trousers in hopes of attracting a dowered bride.
Elizabeth paid little heed to Georgiana, although it was obvious from one glance that her sister regarded their guest with fonder eyes than those she would have for just the friend of a brother. Instead, Elizabeth looked to her husband, as he spoke with Mr. Hart. He showed no signs of coming to realize his friend's possible designs or his sister's probable desires. It simply amazed her that a man could be so oblivious to love, even if he were not the one head-over-heels in it.
Elizabeth was also aware that Darcy was not that fond of surprises. His temperament in the past had not been all that amiable when he discovered that he was the last person of information in his household. She only hoped that he would come to see on his own what was so obviously occurring before him.
"So you are to visit Smythdon Manor?" Elizabeth broke in, momentarily behaving much like her meddling mother had once seemed to her. "It is a very fine property, Mr. Hart--and just next to Pemberley."
"I have every expectation of finding it worthy. Do you know it well?" he asked.
"My parents and the Downsleys of Smythdon were very good friends," Darcy replied. "It has been inherited by a distant relation of Sir Walter's upon his death. Whoever this relation is appears to have no interest in the property, other than what capital its sale will bring to his bank ledger." Darcy pinched his lips in disapprobation, contemplating the merit and worth his father and his father's long-time friend had always maintained. "It is a sad thing when a man devotes his life to a dream, and there is no one left to live it."
"I would say," Mr. Hart concluded with a push of his food about his plate, "that you are quite right."
"It is fine property though," Darcy admitted.
Mr. Hart eyed his friend curiously, "Why have you not made an offer, Darcy? Unite the lands as your own?"
Darcy chuckled at his friend's understanding of his character. "Sir Walter and I agreed to terms before his death and I purchased a few surrounding aspects of the property which I thought would be beneficial to Pemberley. Other than that, how much space does one man need?"
"Enough to support a wife and a bevy children I would say," Mr. Hart laughed, and oddly enough so did Darcy. Mr. Hart suddenly had a turn of countenance and appeared discomforted, as he glanced quickly at Georgiana, then back again to his plate.
Elizabeth pitied the poor man, knowing as she did how daunting Darcy could make himself appear. There had to be some way to keep Mr. Hart and Georgiana in each other's company, at least until they could become better acquainted and Darcy could slowly come to 'terms' with the seemingly mutual attraction of the couple.
If her eyes did not deceive her, Elizabeth believed that when Mr. Hart's business were concluded, and he were settled on his own estate, her sister, and therefore Darcy would receive a letter of intention from the man. She contemplated the ways in which she had come to know her own husband before he had made his offer of marriage to her, and then the very idea came to her.
"Mr. Hart," Elizabeth interjected. "Are you fond of dancing?"
Darcy looked curiously at his wife, wondering what in heaven's sake dancing had to do with negotiating for property. As soon as Elizabeth had mentioned dancing, Georgiana perked up in her seat.
"It depends on who I am dancing with, Mrs. Darcy," Mr. Hart quipped.
Elizabeth's eyes alit at his reply, "I would think if you are in consideration of becoming a part of the community, that it would be to your advantage to meet its good people. There is an assembly this Friday in Lambton which would be a ready opportunity to endear yourself to the neighborhood."
"Indeed, ma'am," Mr. Hart agreed. "Perhaps Darcy would be so kind as to introduce me around?"
"My thoughts, exactly, sir," Elizabeth nodded.
Mr. Hart turned toward the hopeful young woman near him. "Perhaps Miss Darcy would agree to award me the first two dances on her card? Then I would be assured of a fondness for dancing, at this assembly at least."
"They shall be reserved for you, sir," Georgiana replied almost as if she were in a starry reverie.
Although she was completely unaware of it, Hannah let out a largely romanticized sigh as love bloomed before her. Elizabeth reached next to her at the table, and grasped her daughter's hand to quiet the moonstruck young girl and prevent her from revealing anything untimely.
All this happened far too rapidly for Darcy to ponder logically, and he looked back and forth at all the accomplices and replied aghast, "An assembly?"
"Yes dear. Mr. Hart could get his introduction to this society, Georgiana could return to the view of the neighborhood, and you and I could have the pleasure of a dance." Elizabeth grinned in complete satisfaction of her talents of persuasion. "You have not taken me to a dance in a very long time, Mr. Darcy."
"Do you not think you should stay near to Prudence?" Darcy replied hopefully, not fond of having to socialize in the society of Lambton locals.
"I am sure she will be fine for a time," then Elizabeth retorted in a manner much as her husband had the night before, "she will be with her nursemaid."
Darcy grumbled, "Very well." As he cut the food on his plate, still mumbling under his breath hasty words with reference to being 'hoodwinked', he blurted out unexpectedly, "Georgiana, did you wish to accompany us to Smythdon Manor?"
Every astonished face at the table turned towards the master of Pemberley, and he looked up, awed by such undivided attention, and shrugged in wonder. Georgiana sat speechless, until Elizabeth gave a slight cough from across the table.
"Yes," Georgiana stammered. "Yes, I would very much like to go--that is if Elizabeth can spare me?"
"Somehow," Elizabeth quickly added, "we will do our best to get by without you."
Darcy, Georgiana, and Mr. Hart set out on horseback across the grounds of Pemberley later that morning. The landscape was finer than had been seen in some years, and it was quite a showing for Mr. Hart, and a fine welcome home for Georgiana. They passed over a hill and into a fine meadow filled with sweetly scented flowers and tall feathery grasses.
"Your lands are magnificent, Darcy," Mr. Hart gave comment.
"Indeed they are. Pemberley lands and Smythdon lands," Darcy grinned. "The boundary between the two begins here."
It was not long until they came upon a fine stone house, agreeably situated on a rise, in view of all it possessed. The house was not quite as large as Pemberley house, but it was stately, and of a similar arrangement. It had a unpretentious air to it however, as if the building of it had been endorsed by a lady of ample taste and refined beauty.
Georgiana smiled when she saw it, and her face exhibited the signs of her delight, recollecting times when she had come here with her parents, for many happy occasions. It did Mr. Hart's soul good to see the young woman's expressions of joy, and his own view of the place took on an entirely new opinion. He could barely remember a time when his mind cherished such thoughts and his soul held such hope, but yet there was something within him which begged to conceal any signs of his exaltation.
The caretaker showed them in, and each member of the party walked through the house, quiet and somewhat pensive. Georgiana saw Smythdon Manor with fond eyes of the past. Darcy saw it in its lonesome and sorrowful immediate state, with visions of what it might have been, and Mr. Hart looked at it with images of a future, a future he had come to build.
Mr. Hart was very meticulous in his inspection of the property, he looked at everything and directed every question he could think of to the caretaker or to Darcy. Darcy was impressed with his friend's scrutiny of every aspect, and he came to view Brit Hart as a shrewd man of business and one worthy of being a fine neighbor.
Georgiana watched Mr. Hart also, but she viewed him with nothing but the deepest esteem. Every so often the gentleman would catch her gazing at him, and she would turn her glance away, with an embarrassed blush. He, however, was not a man to be easily unsettled, and when Georgiana worked up the courage to again hold him in her sights, she would find him smiling at her with those same scrutinizing eyes that had just viewed a future.
Upon their return to Pemberley, Darcy was immediately called away to conduct business with his steward and some tradesmen.
"Well, Brit, this is what you have to look forward to when you are master," Darcy teased his friend. "Georgiana, perhaps you could entertain our guest for the time being."
With solitude and good timing to his advantage, Mr. Hart motioned to Georgiana to take a turn with him down the path toward the lake.
They walked on in silence for some time, both a little astonished by the strong feelings of attachment they had so rapidly and secretly formed for each other. Georgiana heard Mr. Hart's strapping voice inquire, "You are not all that comfortable when we are with your brother, Miss Darcy. Forgive any difficult feelings this question might provoke, but is there some rift between you and he?"
"No," Georgiana shook her head. "We have no quarrels between us."
"Then perhaps you perceive him as more of a father, than a brother?"
"Perhaps," she was somewhat reluctant to admit. "Our parents have been gone for a very long time, and he is more than ten years my senior."
"Yes, I am very close to that myself," Mr. Hart offered aversely.
Georgiana suddenly stopped and as she had done the first time she had laid eyes on him, she looked at Mr. Hart without constraint or air. "You are nothing like my brother, Mr. Hart, excepting in maturity and refinement."
"I suppose so, Miss Darcy," he grinned in amusement at her descriptions. "Your brother and I both seem to have learned to flaunt it with age. Much like proud and pompous peacocks, I imagine. I must admit, we have always been our own men. Alike in some respects and as different in others." With a concerned change of subject he said, "I think you should know that I have never heard your brother speak anything but the highest regard for you."
Georgiana smiled, "Thank you, sir--for telling me. There have been times when I have wondered what he really thinks of me."
The couple continued to walk along the path, their conversation becoming more at ease with each step they took farther away from Mr. Darcy's house. Georgiana inquired as to whether Mr. Hart had been pleased or not with Smythdon Manor. He said that he was, most definitely, but that his conscience told him he must look at all the possibilities before he should make any sort of firm decision.
"What shall you do with your estate, once you are settled, Mr. Hart?"
"Farm it, manage it, call it my home," he expressed without hesitation. He took in a deep breath, and sighed, "Cherish it."
"Build it for the sake of your children?" Georgiana exclaimed in haste, caught up in the dream of the moment.
With a long face, Mr. Hart turned away from her, as if distraught that she had gone too far in her assumptions. Georgiana was stunned, then she realized how she must have hurt him.
"Forgive me, sir. I did not intend to pry, or to bring up sorrowful memories."
"Have you ever had to convince yourself you were doing the best thing?" he whispered. "Even when you were not sure your heart was willing?"
Georgiana reached out to touch the sleeve of his coat, "I have--believe me, I have."
Mr. Hart seemed grateful for her compassion, and he gazed back at Georgiana with the brightened smile she was growing quite accustomed to seeing grace his features. "I will be away for a few days," he said. "Since it appears that we are more at ease away from a crowd, I would ask you to meet me here again, three days hence, at midday?"
Georgiana nodded, and she was astonished when Mr. Hart reached out and grasped her hand in his own. He did not take it in a friendly handshake, or even to place a gentlemanly kiss of departure upon it, but he held it within his own for some time, while his eyes kept their steady vigil of her face. "Until next I see you--pray do not forget, three days."
How three days could seem like an eternity was beyond Georgiana's comprehension, but indeed they did slowly drag on. She tried her best to be agreeable in spirit, but she often found herself drifting from a conversation with her brother or sister, or placed in a world of her own, thinking of the puzzling Mr. Hart and exactly what he meant to her, while her nephews and nieces played about her.
She had been sitting on a cushion in the library one afternoon, reading a storybook with Hannah, when she heard her niece call out her name. "You stopped reading, aunt."
"Oh, Hannah--I am terribly sorry," Georgiana was quick to apologize. "My mind was occupied."
Hannah cooed like a dove, "Thinking about that gentleman?"
"You know--Mr. Ethan, er, what-is-his-name Hart," she grinned.
"Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart?" Georgiana feigned indifference although the man's name tripped lightly off of her tongue, "Oh no, I was not thinking of him at all."
Hannah moved closer to her aunt, and whispered, "Are you going to marry him?"
"He has not asked me, Hannah. We are not well enough acquainted for that," Georgiana felt herself blush quite red.
Georgiana felt compelled to explain to the girl the facts of courtship as she herself understood them. "A man does not offer his hand in marriage to just any lady, and a woman does not accept just any proposal." She wrapped her arms around her inquisitive niece and together the two giggled. "Besides, he has to be a very welcomed suitor, and a lady should feel something for him deep in her heart. Her family should like him as well, I think."
"I like him," Hannah replied. "We all like him--even papa likes him."
Georgiana laughed, for although she may be able to conceal her desires from the master and mistress of Pemberley, she was hard pressed to hide anything from little Miss Hannah. Children could see things all too clearly at times. It was not until they got older that their insight would become muddled.
"Well, whomever it is I marry, be it Mr. Hart or not, I shall make sure that you approve of him."
"Who is getting married?" Andrew exclaimed upon skidding into the room in a rush. He was followed closely by Christian, who at five years old, did not have much patience for girls or their fanciful conversations of love and other repulsive things.
"Nobody," Hannah cringed at the intrusion of her brothers.
Christian plopped down on the floor next to his aunt, "How is it that you get married?"
Hannah rolled her eyes, "You go to the church and they tell you that you got married." She looked up at her aunt and asked, "Were you there when mama and papa got married?"
Georgiana beamed, "Indeed I was. It was the happiest of occasions. Your mama was very beautiful, and your papa very proud that she was to be his wife."
"How come I did not go?" Christian pouted.
"You silly old thing, Christian," Andrew snorted. "You were not yet even here."
A low din built up within the room, as Andrew and Christian insisted upon quibbling over whether or not they attended the nuptials of their parents. Hannah stood up and got in the thick of it, adding her own voice to the clamor, and the whole thing happened so instantly that poor naŒve aunt Georgiana was completely put off her guard.
It was not long until Darcy looked through the doorway. "What goes on in here?"
"Papa," Hannah turned around, her hands placed on her hips to chide, "you interrupted."
"My apologies," Darcy replied, his attitude somewhere between diversion and vexation. "I would not wish to intrude on anything important--even if it were loud enough to bring the house down."
"It is very important, papa." Hannah's eyes widened and she spoke very slowly and pointedly, "We were talking of aunt Georgiana's husband."
With a snort of bemusement Darcy settled himself in a chair, while Georgiana did her best to compose herself from the trauma of discovering the innocent admissions of children. She did her best not to look her brother in the eye, thus she began to flip the pages of Hannah's storybook quite rapidly.
"Is there something you have not told us, sister?" Darcy chuckled a little. "You are married, and you have your husband stolen away in your travelling case, awaiting the perfect time to haul him out for an introduction?"
"Papa!" Hannah giggled along with her brothers. "No, no, we are talking about prop...propose..."
"Proposals?" Darcy mused.
"Yes!" Hannah burst out. "And how you have to find a nice one."
Georgiana thought her heart would jump through her chest, awaiting the casual slip of Mr. Hart's name in the presence of Darcy. She reached out and put her hands on Hannah's shoulders, and Hannah looked back at her with rosy cheeks and a smile.
"Oh yes, a nice one is preferable," Darcy answered his daughter with a chortle of wisdom as his eyes widened at the joke. "One does not want to get a sorry proposal," he said, then admitted in a furtive hush, "and believe me, one does not want to bestow one either."
Georgiana thought it quite possible she should perish at any moment. This was beyond her imagination, and her fortitude for that matter, for she had no idea how the conversation had come to this at all.
Before Hannah could get out another word, Mrs. Reynolds stepped into the doorway and announced that luncheon was ready to be eaten. All talk of proposals and marriage ceased abruptly, and the children scrambled out of the library, to where more immediate gratification was to be had.
Darcy perceived the peculiar look on his sister's face. "Is something troubling you, Georgiana?"
She shook her head, "No Fitzwilliam, I was just thinking. I suppose I was not quite prepared for children to be so animated."
Darcy hid a smirk, remembering at least what Elizabeth had said concerning Georgiana's maternal longings. With an insightful, though not all that serious bob of his head, he sighed, "I remember when Elizabeth and I were very new parents. We spent a good part of each day in the nursery, gazing in wonder at the beautiful babies we had made."
"Two years later Christian came along, and we spent less time gazing at him in awe of ourselves and the perfect little being we had created, and more time each day making sure that the other two were not poking, squeezing, or clouting him on the head. Now that we have a fourth one," his eyes glanced sideways toward the doorway and then he spoke lower, "we try to spend a little of each day hiding ourselves from every single one of them."
The peculiar look on Georgiana's face remained, but this time Darcy paid her no heed. He got up from his chair, "Shall you join us in the saloon?"
"Not yet, Fitzwilliam. I feel the need for a little solitude."
"I wish you luck in finding it, sister. I have not known that luxury for nigh a decade."
"Mr. Hart, sir!" exclaimed the mistress of the inn in Lambton. "I hope your travels went well?"
"Well enough, Mrs. Mattoon--well enough," Brit Hart answered as he scraped the bottom of his boots at the threshold.
"I hope we are not to lose you to another county?" she inquired with all the shrewdness of the best gossip in the town of Lambton.
Brit Hart sighed aloud, "I think not. I did not find a single acre as fair as that to be seen in Derbyshire. This country has many inducements, Mrs. Mattoon."
"Indeed it does sir! Nowhere is the land finer, or the sweethearts prettier."
"Now whoever said that I was in the market for a wife, Mrs. Mattoon?" Brit Hart grinned.
"Oh, dear, dear, dear," the woman shook her head in amusement. "You cannot be master of a fine estate without a mistress to go along with the deal."
Mrs. Mattoon chuckled as she handed a door key to the gentleman. "A fine man like yourself--you will have the ladies within fifty miles swooning after the first assembly."
"As a matter of fact, I am to attend an assembly tomorrow night."
The woman threw up her hands in haste, "I shall tell the staff to make ready for the panic--there shall be no holding them back--the mothers or their daughters!"
Brit Hart outright laughed, "Mrs. Mattoon, you know just how to make a fellow blush. So tell me, since you are obviously in the know, what is the hum about this little town? That way I should not look so out of place at this gala, as I shall be a man of information."
"Well now, Mr. And Mrs. Granville had another baby at dawn yesterday, a girl it was, that makes six. Poor Mr. Granville," Mrs. Mattoon bothered, "and there was a small fire down at the shearing mill--not a sheep was lost however."
Brit Hart placed a hand to his chest, "How shall we ever stand the tension?"
"Oh yes, Miss Georgiana Darcy is back in the neighborhood. The sister of your friend, she is. She was seen with Mrs. Darcy yesterday at Burnside's. Shopping for new slippers she was, to match an evening gown she is to wear at the assembly tomorrow night. She is a proud girl and not prone to demonstrations of eagerness, but folks who saw her say that she looked quite pleased with her situation, and was very intent on making a proper selection. Perhaps she does all this for the sake of a gentleman?"
"Is that an essential of courtship, Mrs. Mattoon--that a lady flaunt her anticipation while procuring a new pair of slippers?"
Mrs. Mattoon arched her brow, "It does not hurt."
Mr. Hart whispered with a saucy grin, "Well, when last I saw her three days ago, she did not so much resemble a woman hopelessly in love."
"Perhaps, sir," the innkeeper gathered her lips as if the guardian of a secret, "in three days time she has managed to find her heart."
With a flip of the door key in his hand, Mr. Hart ascended the staircase to his rooms. The valet brought up his bags and when the man left the room, Brit Hart opened a case and began to pull out a few belongings. The smile on his face vanished when he came across a framed miniature, and he held the portrait in his hand and gazed at it for some time.
"For ten years now I have begged providence to show me kindness," he said in a hush of reverence. "I loved you, my dearest. I loved you well enough--but with time I have learned to love you well enough, to let you go."
Three days since Mr. Hart had last been seen at Pemberley had come and gone. At midday, Elizabeth went upstairs to the nursery to help Mrs. White put Prudence down for a nap.
"Oh, ma'am," Mrs. White said, "You are looking very well rested."
"And you, Mrs. White, are not. Why do you not go and get some rest. I can manage very well on my own." Elizabeth leaned closer to the devoted servant and whispered, "Mr. Darcy is out somewhere on the grounds, and I am sure he will not be needing my advice for some time at least."
Mrs. White gratefully departed, and Elizabeth picked up Prudence and mother and daughter cooed, and snuggled. "Shall we see what it is like in our corner of the world, little love?" Elizabeth purred, then took herself and the baby to the windows.
The nursery was very well situated within the house, and the view out of the windows overlooked the entrance to the courtyard and beyond toward the reflecting pools and gardens where Georgiana was fond of strolling. Elizabeth fixed her eyes on the spot, and soon she could see her sister ambling about.
Every so often Georgiana would shield her eyes and look down the path toward the lake, then her shoulders would relax as if what she searched for could not be found. Elizabeth thought it very strange that Georgiana should be out in the bright sun on such a hot summer day. Prudence began to whimper and Elizabeth gently rocked her back and forth for a moment. "Have patience sweet baby."
When Elizabeth glanced out of the window again, Georgiana was hastening down the path. A gentleman overtook her, and not long after he bowed his greeting, he held out his hand and Georgiana took something from him. Elizabeth blinked her eyes trying to make out what it was, and then she realized as Georgiana bowed her head toward the offering, that it was a single stemmed flower, more than likely a summer rose.
"May I come in?" Darcy's voice startled his wife.
With another glimpse out of the window, Elizabeth responded, "Of course. Prudence is always happy to see her papa, and so am I." Darcy took his child from his wife's arms and walked about the room, placing a kiss on her tiny little head. "Did Mr. Hart find any of the other properties suitable, Fitzwilliam?"
The contented father looked up from his happy conversations with his daughter. "I do not know. I have not seen Brit Hart since he left three days ago. Perhaps he will come by and tell us what he found."
Elizabeth took another solid look out of the window while Darcy was occupied. The gentleman and Georgiana began to walk further down the path, and the farther they went the more they appeared to move closer to one another.
"What do you find so interesting out of the window, Elizabeth?"
Elizabeth sighed as she closed the draperies to darken the room and inhibit the view, "Nothing dear, it is simply bright is all, and Prudence is ready to sleep." "Indeed it is, Brit," he replied emphatically. "Indeed it is."
Continued in Part 2
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