Miss Darcy's Reel
Georgiana Darcy took the offering in her hand. It was a single blossom, a damask rose, perfect in every detail and infused with the scent of an elegant perfume. "It is lovely, sir," she sighed.
"Might we dispense with such formalities?" the gentleman smiled. "To call me Mr. Hart is one thing, but the ceremony of 'sir this', and 'sir that' is another thing again. It makes me feel quite your elder."
"I do not think of you in such a way, sir--pray, I meant, Mr. Hart."
"Then you do think of me?" the gentleman grinned and the lady flushed pink as the color of the rose. "Did you," he hesitated while fostering the nerve, "did you think of me while I was away?"
Georgiana turned her face at once from him, not wanting to lie, but not wanting him to see her impassioned expressions either. "On occasion."
The gentleman clasped his hands behind his back, studied his boots, then shrugged, "An occasional occasion is better than no occasion at all."
A giggle of amusement escaped Georgiana, and then she put her hand up to her lips in hopes of preventing any further display of mirth. "Walk with me?" Mr. Hart entreated, in quite a dubious tone of voice. Georgiana moved ahead of him, and they strolled along, he following behind, admiring her as they went.
The more distant they walked into a hollow of trees, the cooler and more pleasant the landscape became. The flora growing there was tender and rare, and the sounds around the couple were of fragile creatures not often seen by the light of day. For the first time since meeting him that hour, Georgiana stopped and turned to have a better look at the man she hoped would soon acknowledge an attachment. "Had you thought of me in the last three days?"
Mr. Hart knew that her asking was in all fairness, thus he took a great chance and replied, "I recall thinking of you in the carriage on the trip. I believe I thought of you in the mornings, and at midday, and I even thought of you in the evenings as I looked out into the summer night sky. Whether or not you were in my dreams however is a gentleman's prerogative to conceal."
Georgiana's eyes glimmered her approval of a lover's first account of devotion, but she startled when he became perplexed and shook his head adamantly. "What--what is it?"
In his disturbing way he replied, "All that thinking of you did not leave much thought for anything else." His laughter was delightful, and his expressions rang true to every word he had said. "I could not find a better situation than what I have found here in Derbyshire. Do you think I would make a tolerable neighbor, Miss Darcy?"
"Tolerable?" she gasped. "I have prayed for it to be so."
With his bashfulness replace by pride, Mr. Hart respired a quick laugh, "Where is this place? Where have you brought me?"
"To a place hidden from the world," she replied fancifully.
The man's face sobered a little. "Do you not intend to ever be seen with me, Miss Darcy?"
"I," she stammered, "It is not that at all, I am honored to be seen with a man such as yourself, but I suppose I would prefer to have you to myself for a time."
"Miss Darcy," he lowered his voice to a hush, and his expressions softened. "If you would have the truth, I believe I have been yours to command since I first laid eyes on you--but do you not think we should be honest with your family?" Brit Hart raised a hand and removed his hat from his head. "Do you not think we should begin by being honest with ourselves?"
Georgiana's eyes lowered, and although every pulse in her body raced with the stroke of lightning, her breath was absolutely still. "I have told you no lies."
"Not lies," he pressed, "Truths. I shall tell you my truths, if you allow me the confidence of hearing yours."
In this respect Georgiana had never been so intimate with a man. She had never disclosed her thoughts and feelings in such a manner, not to her father, her brother, nor to someone whom she had only known for such a brief time. Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart made Georgiana feel differently though--he made her at ease, and he brought out her honorableness and virtues by the exhibition of his own.
He noticed her reluctance, and thus began his own truth. "I did not come to Derbyshire for any other reason than to leave my memories behind me, Miss Darcy. Memories of a girl I married, and of a love which was lost through the fault of no one. My wife--Nancy Ives as she was known--was a very kind and gentle woman, as much at home in the company of myself as she was in a crowded ballroom. We were inseparable for five months of marriage, then the day came when I was obliged to go away on business for a time. I had promised her we would go out riding when I returned, and not being a woman to exhibit much patience, she decided herself fit to go out alone."
"Her horse did stumble and she along with it, and when a party set out and came upon her, there was no hope." Misery welled up in Brit Hart's eyes and although he considered his show of suffering ungentlemanly and coarse, he leaned against an old tree and made himself go on.
"I did not have the comfort of holding the warmth of her body again, or hearing her whisper my name," he stopped to draw a doleful breath, "nor was I given a chance to say goodbye. The last sense I remember feeling was a cold, lifeless hand within my own, and a voice within myself declaring that I was not fit to live a life of joy."
Georgiana sidled closer to him, wanting to comfort him, but she stopped short of placing the warmth of her hand upon his. "I did not tell you this, Miss Darcy," he said regaining his sensibilities, "to solicit your pity. I thought you should know it. I see the questions in your eyes, and hear them when you speak to me, and I wanted you to know what came before--before my eyes were caught by you."
"I do not give you my pity, Mr. Hart," Georgiana's voice was clear. "I offer you solace and my affection."
Mr. Hart stood taller, and with every hope he had ever known since he had lost so much ten years before, his face beamed with joy and he whispered, "Although you know you are not the first to have occupied my heart, I assure you Miss Darcy, you will be the last."
Elizabeth knelt down to place a tender hand upon her infant's small back. The baby slept comfortably, and her mother felt the relief of knowing her child was contented. Darcy watched this loving bond with interest, yet as he heard Elizabeth's troubled sigh, he was beginning to surmise that his wife was ill at ease in her present situation.
"Shall you tell me what troubles you?"
Elizabeth took in a deep breath, and exhaled through the small hiccups of distress. Shaking her head she sniffled ever so quietly, "Nothing troubles me."
Darcy flinched at his wife's manner. "Something most certainly does," he replied to her denial. He took her by the arm and tenderly pressed her to follow him to the privacy of their own chambers. "Tell me now, Elizabeth, now that it is only you and I. You have not been yourself for some time, and I ask you again what troubles you?"
"Everything, Fitzwilliam--of late it is everything, and nothing at all."
"I know a new mother's life is not easy, my love. I can see it from watching you each time you have an infant in your care--but I know not what to do or say to make it any better. Tell me what you desire, what should make you happy, and I shall provide it, fetch it, create it. Whatever you wish, it shall be done."
Elizabeth threw her hands up into the air, angered at no one, "Oh, I want my husband, I want my children!" She gave a ill-tempered push of her lower lip and a stomp of her foot on the floor, "but I want my sense back as well!"
Darcy simply did not understand, and the appearance on his face proved it to be so. "A few days ago you did not want to let go of your responsibilities. Now you say they overwhelm you?"
Elizabeth lost all patience and sobbed, "I see Georgiana--a young woman with no ties to bind her. She has no duties, and she is free to come and go as she pleases without having to satisfy the wants of another soul. She may walk down a path with a lover and thrill to the newness of it! She is at liberty to go to an assembly and dance the night away, without being steady and necessary!"
Darcy was completely dumbfounded. Elizabeth had been wrought-up after she had borne each of their children, and that he had come to understand as an occurrence which could not be helped, but the wife he knew had never been envious of another or had felt so put upon by her family, before now.
"Elizabeth, I would give you the world if I could, but there are some things which cannot be changed. Would you go back to a life without the joy of your children, or would you live your life without knowing my love as well?"
"No," she sobbed.
"Then it must be that I have neglected you, that I have not given you enough comfort and assistance?"
Darcy pleaded in frustration, "Then tell me truly what it is?"
Elizabeth wiped the tears from her cheeks. "Fitzwilliam, I find that at times I am lonely and I miss you."
"Lonely? In a whole house full of people?" Darcy waved his hands before him, "I have been here every day!"
"Not like that!"
The bewildered wife hurried into her husband's arms, and her head rested upon his heart and the rhythmic beating of it served to soothe her irrational spirits. "Oh my love," she drew in a breath, "What I want is what came before! I want you to walk with me for miles, talk with me for days, and hold me for hours--like you did before. Before we were so settled and steady, and sure--and married."
Darcy held his wife as firmly as he dared, and when she quieted he moved her away and caressed her tender face as he had once done as her beau. "You had only to ask, Elizabeth."
In fleeting disappointment that he did not feel the same, she replied, "There are times a woman wants to be led down a path--a path of another's choosing."
Darcy kissed her with all the gentleness and timidity of a new found lover, and Elizabeth smiled, hoping to tempt his passions all the more. It finally occurred to him that perhaps what she missed was not he himself, but the impulsiveness of courtship.
"Oh, you are a beauty and you take away all my reason," Darcy's breath tickled Elizabeth's ear as he whispered it. "Do you remember our first kiss?"
"I do," she replied with a great sigh of satisfaction. "It went something like this," then Elizabeth duplicated what two everlasting lovers would never in all of time forget.
Reluctantly they pulled away from one another at the sound of a knock upon the door. Elizabeth took in a breath, and Darcy regained his senses although it rankled him to have to do so.
"What?" he choked out an inquiry in a tone far from generous.
"Sir," replied the housekeeper, "Mr. Hart is here to see you."
"Show him to my study and have him wait, Mrs. Reynolds."
Darcy could not budge his gaze from his wife. Even though she was unsettled and he knew in some way he was inadvertently the cause of it, her appearance to him was adorable and desirable. Her cheeks glowed with the brazenness he had come to cherish so much about her, and her lips were more crimson and far more inviting when she pouted and carried on.
"Go and choose your gown wisely for this assembly, my lady," he instructed her. "I should say, one not too modest and done up, even if you are a married woman." He moved toward the door, then turned around with a cheeky grin. "What about that, er--that red one?"
Elizabeth seem pleased, and eternally grateful for his tolerance, as he left her alone in the room. She stared at the door for a moment, and just when she thought she would go to her dressing chamber and do as her husband had asked, the door opened again and he peered around from behind it.
"Do not think I have forgotten how to be the lover you so desire. In fact, I have probably gotten much better at it--over time."
"Brit," Darcy greeted his guest. "I hope you are here to tell me that Derbyshire, and Smythdon, is your choice."
"Yes, Darcy," Brit Hart reached out to shake his friend's hand. "I believe it is."
"Good, good. Do you need my assistance in a meeting with the attorney?"
Mr. Hart nodded in enthusiasm at Darcy's generous offer. "That would be of great help, Darcy. I had hoped to make an offer in the morning. With you along the attorney is apt to see me straight away."
"Very well," Darcy smiled. "I will come in early and we can breakfast at the inn. It is likely to take some time so it would be good to begin promptly. After all," Darcy grinned, "we have an assembly to attend in the evening, and I have a very eager partner."
Mr. Hart took in a deep breath, felt his mouth go dry, then cleared his throat as if to make a confession. "Since you speak of partners, Darcy--there is another matter I would speak to you about. Your sister, Georgiana..."
"Georgiana! Oh good god, yes, Georgiana," Darcy gave a quick pace about the study. "I entirely forgot--Brit, might I ask a favor of you?"
Brit Hart stammered as Darcy so rudely interrupted him, "Yes, what--what is it, Darcy?"
"Would you mind suiting up your livery tomorrow night, that you might accompany my sister back to Pemberley after the assembly?"
"Not at all," the poor man agreed, though visibly confused. "Is she not to go home with you?"
Darcy fairly blushed at the question. "I think not, Brit. I believe I might like to stroll out in the moonlight with my wife." Darcy hesitated, his countenance becoming as pointed as he could make it. "Perhaps take the long way home."
"Aha, well," Mr. Hart was obviously amused and a little embarrassed at Darcy's frankness, and his own good fortune. "Seeing your sister home is no trouble, Darcy--no trouble at all."
"Thank you," Darcy nodded. "Well, being as I should be out most of tomorrow, I will bid you a good day and let you settle your affairs and tend to my own."
Brit Hart stood up, nervously worrying his hat within his hands, looking all the more perplexed. "Good day, Darcy," he finally said and when his host stepped from behind his desk to see his friend out, the poor man replied, "Oh no, do not bother yourself. I know the way."
Brit Hart stepped from the room and closed the door behind him. His brows furrowed in bewilderment, and he heaved a large sigh, then said to no one in particular, "These things never quite go as the storybooks would lead you to think."
"Elizabeth!" Darcy paced in front of his wife's dressing chamber. "Elizabeth, I have been outfitted for an hour, and the carriage is ready and waiting. How much longer shall you keep me in anticipation?"
"Just a little longer, dear!" came her voice from within.
Darcy secured his hands behind his back, hoping to sedate his growing impatience. To his mind there was not much worse than leaving the comforts of his home to attend a community assembly, excepting perhaps being more than fashionably late to one. That however was not the only reason for his impatience. He had plans for the evening, and only a small part of his design included a hot, stuffy assembly room. He grumbled beneath his breath, then left his chambers and headed expeditiously down the hallway, meeting up with his two ever inquisitive sons as he went.
He stopped in front of another bedchamber door, and rapped upon the mahogany wood. "Georgiana!" he bellowed. "Sister, what is keeping you?"
The door opened quickly, and Georgiana's maid peered meekly from behind the other side. "Pray, Mr. Darcy sir, a few more minutes. Miss Darcy is dressing and she is not one to be rushed in these instances."
"So I am finding out," he quipped abruptly, noticeably put out by the feminine delay.
For lack of anything better to occupy his time, Darcy thought it prudent to keep his step up and down the hallway between the two doors. Had he been accompanied by another hapless fellow awaiting an overdue engagement he would have placed a wager on which lady would surface from their chamber first, just for the sport of it.
Christian and Andrew sat upon a chair against the wall and they watched their father and his impetuous pacing back and forth. "Papa," Christian's little voice broke the rhythm of footsteps, "are we going to have another baby?"
Darcy halted abruptly and wheeled about to look at his sons and their mystified faces. Then as if someone had told a very good joke, the thought struck him completely silly, and he laughed aloud, "No Christian, we are not."
"Then why do you look so fidgety, papa?"
"Good god," Darcy moaned to himself, adjusting his well knotted cravat. "Well, to tell the truth, it is only that I find it difficult to wait while ladies are inclined to primp and fuss when dressing for an occasion."
"In the morning," Andrew divulged, "it takes me only a little time to wash my face and hands, and comb my hair. It takes Christian even less!" Christian grinned at what he thought were his fine accomplishments, while his father moaned again. "But Hannah takes a lifetime! The governess takes an hour to fix the bows in her hair, and tidy her dress. Why should it take them so long and not us?"
Darcy shrugged in bewilderment, completely caught up in the conversation, "'Tis one of the wonders of life, boy. I suppose ladies wish to look well, to please us gentlemen."
Christian's constant grin turned into an appalled frown, "It does not please me."
Darcy smiled with tender perseverance, "There will come a day when it will, Christian--more than you can know."
Andrew interrupted, "You mean when we are as very old as you, papa?"
"Precisely," Darcy grimaced with all the sophistication of his sons. "Tell me, why are you not in your beds?"
A door creaked open and having caught the attention of mister and masters Darcy, Elizabeth stepped out in the hallway. She wore the gown her husband had requested, with a few alterations here and there. Darcy had only seen it on her once, but oh how he had remembered taking a liking to it. With a upturn of his smile and a glimmer in his eyes, he believed he admired it even more now, and completely forgot about his vexation.
"I only had to have it taken out a little," Elizabeth confessed with a blush. "Not even a size larger than I wore a year ago--before Prudence happened to come along."
Darcy whispered, "I should never have noticed a jot."
He sighed as a gentleman well pleased, then his smile suddenly disappeared and in annoyance he glanced down at the child tugging on his coattails. "Should you kiss her now papa?" Hannah asked, her eyes greatly enlarged in anticipation of such a romantic consequence.
"I should have done it promptly," Darcy's own eyes squinted obliquely down in indulgence, "had you not interrupted me."
Elizabeth thrilled not only to Darcy's promising kiss, but to the anticipations of his attentions the whole of the night. It almost felt to her as if it were the first time they had been out together, except she did not possess quite the same sort of anxieties as she had then. She turned around and happily captured each of her children by the cheeks, kissing them goodnight, then took a hold of her husband's proffered arm.
"Oh!" she cried out as they neared the nursery door, "I shall be back in a moment, Fitzwilliam. I must tell Mrs. White..."
"Elizabeth," Darcy held to her firmly. "Mrs. White is fully capable, and knows exactly where we have gone." In loving patience he reached out a hand to caress his wife's blushing cheek, "The nursemaid is settled and steady, and sure. Now perhaps she can coax Georgiana out of hiding so we may go."
An evening had not been seen in Derbyshire in recent years which had been so heated and humid. Brit Hart could not say whether it was the stifling heat or his restlessness which made him grasp at his neckcloth and wish upon the heavens that the fashion had never been invented.
He gave his coachman instructions for later in the evening, then set out on foot to the assembly room which was not more than a minutes walk from the inn. He paced himself leisurely and deliberately, trying to fashion a sense of strength in his heart with each step. The delay allowed him time to attempt to locate a carriage with a Darcy crest. He had no wish to linger, but because he was very much a gentleman, he had not the presumption to enter an assembly room of strangers before there was an associate to carry out a proper introduction.
Ethan Bristoe-Hart had once been very fond of society, and a lively party had been known to hold his attention rather well. Now it seemed to him as if he were a curiosity wherever he went, and the prospects of suffering meticulous questions about his past and his fortune made his stomach revolve in knots. He had willingly turned to a life of privacy upon the death of his wife. He had thought if he lived a chaste and industrious life, his memories would one day let him be, but being now a single man in society only served to fuel the recollections, and make him wish for solitude.
He found as time went on that the hurt of his loss lessened, and the grief of its suddenness subsided, but the loneliness he felt was something he could not shake and at times he found it unbearable. He had spent many years convinced that love and passion came to one only once in a lifetime, but as seasons passed he realized it was only himself who prevented happiness, and the desires he had not had the opportunity to possess teased him by day, and haunted him by night.
Brit Hart wanted a family, he wanted an heir for his lineage's name and honor, and he wanted the joy and peace of again having a companion and lover. He wondered if that was so much to ask for, but after so many years, his conscience told him it was not. He was sure he could never again love another woman, until that day he met her and she made him feel the way he had felt upon his first acquaintance with his wife. He never wanted to make comparison between the two, or hurt the living by revering a memory. He simply wanted to meld the past with the future and grow to cherish it all.
As he walked on, he did catch sight of the Darcys as they entered the assembly room. His eyes fell upon the woman who had all at once made him feel like living again. He stopped for a moment, to ponder his attachment to Miss Georgiana Darcy. She was flesh, beauty, and understanding, and everything he longed to satisfy, and if someone were now to ask him, he would have to admit that he was smitten in love.
He only wondered if she felt the same of him, or if the words she had spoken to him the day before had been said in haste. There appeared to him to be something standing in the way of her demonstrating any sort of affection for him. Perhaps it was her tendency toward shyness, but Brit Hart felt perhaps in some way, it had very much to do with her brother.
He stepped into the assembly room, and his eyes wandered about, not only for a glimpse of Miss Darcy, but also to survey the room. There were plenty of young men about the place to make him feel uneasy about himself. Miss Darcy was a young woman of means, who did not particularly need a gentleman's fortune to be happy in life. She was attractive and admirable to many young men, and frankly, Brit Hart believed she could have her pick of the lot of them.
"Good evening, Brit," Darcy startled his friend.
"Darcy, a pleasant evening to you."
"It would be a lot pleasanter if it were not so blasted hot," Darcy grumbled disagreeably. "Perhaps once they begin this dance it will stir up a bit of a breeze in the place. Do allow me to introduce you to the magistrate and the vicar, and two of the local landed gentlemen, then you shall be on your way to knowing half of the influence in this town, and I might escape to a more agreeable climate."
Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart appeared to be well received by the local folk of the town of Lambton, and while he impressed the gentlemen and charmed their wives, he managed to keep an eye across the room, on the lady of his esteem. Gentlemen began to approach Miss Georgiana Darcy to request the favor of a dance, and as curt and abrupt as Darcy had ever witnessed his friend to be, Mr. Hart excused himself and made haste crosswise through the crowded room.
"Good evening, Mrs. Darcy," he bowed to Elizabeth, then his eyes looked up in dispatch, and his smile became brilliant. "Good evening, Miss Darcy. You are ever a sight of loveliness."
"Mr. Hart," Georgiana spoke, with the familiar disorder to her countenance that she had come to expect upon catching sight of him and hearing his vibrant voice.
"I hope you have not forgotten our engagement--the first two dances I believe?"
"I have not forgotten," Georgiana flushed, then quickly imparted, so as not to appear impolite, the word, "sir." Brit Hart nodded and his smile professed his pleasure, even though her formality still made him feel quite her elder.
Georgiana felt almost like a silly school girl as her conversation waned. She had never been very good at the art of conversing, and that fact along with her growing attachment to the man made her feel more awkward than usual. She compelled herself to speak and said the only thing which came into her head. "I hope your journey was enjoyable?"
The luster to the gentleman's eyes vanished. "It was..." he stammered trying to answer through a bruised ego, "...tolerable."
Elizabeth's polite smile faded, and she glanced at her sister in astonishment. She knew what she had seen from the window the day before, and it was beyond her comprehension why Georgiana wished to conceal her meeting with a man whose attentions she so appeared to crave.
"Well, Miss Darcy, if you will excuse me, I left your brother rather abruptly I think. If I am to become an element of this society," the gentleman drew in a sigh, then bowed stiffly, "duty calls."
Georgiana fastidiously watched as Mr. Hart's well-bred figure strayed back toward Darcy and the group of gentlemen who had assembled out of public obligation. She noticed his attention from the party sway once more, long enough to glance back at herself, then with crimson-colored creeks of repine, look back down toward the dance floor.
"Georgiana," Elizabeth's whisper took her sister by surprise. "Do you not think perhaps you have affronted the gentleman?"
"Affronted him?" Georgiana expressed her astonishment, then lowered her eyes in shock.
"I may be a married woman, sister--but I have not forgotten how fragile love and desire feel, when you are inexperienced at it. Mr. Hart must have told you about his journey--yesterday when you met along the path."
Georgiana respired quickly, "I do not know what you mean, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth turned a thoughtful smile. "I once was cautioned by a friend, that a woman should show more affection to the man of her desires, not less, if she is to guide him on a path to her heart."
"Oh, Elizabeth," Georgiana breathed, feeling as though she were reeling. "I really do not know what it is that I do. I am so afraid."
"Afraid?" Elizabeth's countenance melded in concern. She took the arm of her sister and moved her away from the ears of others. "Tell me, what gives you such fear of a man who is gentle and kind--and who is so clearly in love with you?"
Georgiana looked lost for a moment, then she whispered, almost pleading for compassion, "I am not afraid of him, or of the love he seems willing to give. I am afraid of--of mistakes."
"Well?" Darcy's robust voice interrupted the seclusion of his wife and sister. He grinned at the younger woman, as if to jest. "Is your dance card filled with the name of every single man come to be enamored of Miss Georgiana Darcy?"
Georgiana swallowed quickly, and with a firm grip of Elizabeth's hand, looked at her brother in alarm. Elizabeth needed no more words to realize Georgiana's fear, and she swiftly took pity on the susceptible young woman and guided Darcy on another path.
"Of course it is, my dear. However, mine is quite bare, unless you intend to remedy that?"
"You had better not be favoring other gents with a dance behind my back," Darcy laughed.
"I would not do it behind your back, dearest--I should do it right under your nose to make you quite envious." Elizabeth grinned, "I shall not add another name to it--if you will promise to promptly fetch a glass of punch for your sister and myself."
With a playful chuckle, Darcy bowed to the will of his wife and left the women again in solitude. "Georgiana," Elizabeth quickly spoke, "I must make this brief, and then it will up to you to do with it what you will. You are no longer a child of fifteen, but have grown into a sensible woman. Your brother's opinions carry some influence for your future, that is true--but I know he would be reasonable to your choices."
"Does he know what you do, Elizabeth? That Mr. Hart and I have feelings for one another?"
"I think not," she sighed. "There are times I believe Fitzwilliam Darcy would have trouble seeing an eclipse of the sun, for what he convinces himself to be fact. He knows what he knows Georgiana, and he abides by it, and what he knows is that deep in his heart he wishes for nothing more than to see you happy."
Elizabeth took a quick glance to be assured Darcy was still occupied. She turned back toward her sister and placed a hand to her elegant cheek. "If Mr. Hart is the object of your affection, do not injure yourself by making him believe he is not. Trust me enough to know that what I tell you is the truth. There is no worse heartbreak to a woman's soul, than the sort of regret which comes in loving a man, and not telling him."
The tune 'Upon a Summers Day' began to play and Mr. Hart appeared next to the women to claim his engagement. He held out his hand to Miss Georgiana Darcy and when she place her hand upon his palm, her breath became uneven and her eyes caught his. The couple walked together to their places along a line of eager dancers, the man's stare never drifting from the woman's as they took their steps.
The dance began and to all who were present to witness it, there were not two people more handsomely paired than lovely Miss Darcy and this gallant newcomer from Cornwall. The couple moved in harmony and cadence, as if they had been partners all of their lives. Mr. Hart said not a word as he danced, but simply communicated through his intensity what he thought of the earlier conduct of his fair partner.
Visions of what Elizabeth had said ran through Georgiana's mind, and from only Ethan Bristoe-Hart's glare, she knew he was begging her for truths. "I believe I have erred, Mr. Hart," she whispered as the dance brought them closer together.
"I should be interested to hear of such an avowed fault, Miss Darcy."
"I have not allowed you to see my true feelings. I have not been honest," her voice faltered, "even though you so wished it."
Mr. Hart frowned, then as if a longed-for breeze swept away one emotion and brought on another, he smiled as a gentleman ought. "Pray, dear lady--a country dance is no place for grim admissions. Now is a time to be cheerful and easy, and for a man to enjoy the smiles and allures of a lovely young woman."
"Will you grant me an opportunity of speaking with you before this night is through?" she implored with hope.
He brought her hand to his lips as the dance took them into a turn. When his genteel kiss departed the taintlessness of her snowy glove, he whispered the words wretchedly, "I shall."
"Are you to dance with me Fitzwilliam Darcy, or are we to drink punch?"
Darcy turned for a moment at the sound of his wife's voice. "I shall dance with you Mrs. Darcy," he smiled keenly, "but perhaps only a time or two, for it is so dreadfully hot. Did you know there was a very pleasant veranda through those doors, and a fine grove of oaks and Spanish chestnuts beyond that? A grove through which lovers are known to wander?"
"I say, there appears to be a lot of that these days," Elizabeth replied through a sly pinch of her lips.
Darcy had a frightful habit at times of not knowing past his own deliberation. He continued to watch the dance floor before him, and thus he replied reminiscently, "I discovered it in my youth, while trying to effect an escape from such an assembly as this--or from someone's admiring daughter--I cannot now remember which."
"An escape indeed, Mr. Darcy? I have never known you to behave in such a manner in all the years that I have been your wife."
"In all the years that you have been my wife," he repeated with a tall and prideful bearing. "I am astonished that I have never taken you there--better late than never, would you not agree, madam?" He heard the winsome sound of Elizabeth's giggle, a display much in the way she had laughed before, when they were younger and had first discovered that they possessed such a love for one another.
In another instant however, Darcy's brows furrowed and he mumbled, "Brit Hart and my sister seem to get on rather well."
Elizabeth looked at the pair who had provoked such a comment from Darcy. "They make a very handsome couple, my love. He seems an excellent man, and she is very pleased with his company."
Not another word was uttered by Darcy, and his uncanny silence made Elizabeth feel as uneasy in his presence now as she had before she had consented to be his wife. Promptly, Darcy took his her by the hand and led her to a place in the line of dancers, very near to where his sister and Mr. Hart danced together. Elizabeth's first impulse was to divert her husband away from any further discoveries of his own, but she did nothing to prevent what she thought would only come to be inevitable soon enough.
Darcy conversed little with his wife as they danced, and his attention never strayed very far from his friend or his sister. When the dance ended, and Mr. Hart led his partner from the floor, Darcy again took a hold of his wife's hand and guided her past the couple as if in effect to covertly listen to their private conversations. Elizabeth could barely believe her husband had resorted to such ignoble devices, and thinking of his manner very nearly made her laugh.
"I did enjoy our dance, Mr. Hart," Elizabeth overheard Georgiana profess, for if it was Darcy's scheme to spy, it was not beyond Elizabeth's liveliness to go along with the ruse.
"As did I, Miss Darcy," Brit Hart replied as though he was in danger of losing himself completely to his partner's persuasion. "Perhaps, before the night is through, we may seize an opportunity of dancing a reel?"
As if he had strode straight into a colossal obstacle, Darcy stopped short, his shoulders stiffened, and he spun around to glare at the man he called his friend. Darcy's stare did nothing to recommend himself at the moment as any sort of compatriot to Mr. Hart's cause, thus Elizabeth thought now was a splendid time to intervene.
"What of that lovers grove, husband?" she inquired swiftly. Darcy turned back toward her, his callous expression waning just a bit upon thinking of the evening he had come to enjoy, then with a decided flinch of his upper lip, he reached for the handle of the door.
Ethan Bristoe-Hart stood alone as Miss Georgiana Darcy fulfilled the obligations she had made in accepting the dance petitions of two other gentlemen. Brit Hart did not like it, not in the slightest that another man be allowed to enjoy her smiles and good company, but he was sensible enough to realize he as yet had no claim on her. He had quite forgotten how it felt to be swept up in love, how his insides churned and his heart reeled with the uncertainty of it all.
Georgiana declined any other offers of a turn about the dance floor that evening, in fact she had no interest in remaining in the assembly room at all. "It is very warm to be dancing, Mr. Hart," she admitted to him, in hopes of coaxing him away from the crowd.
Mr. Hart offered his arm, "Then let us make haste outside, where it shall be cooler."
The couple found themselves out on the veranda, beneath another glorious summer sky. The gentleman gazed speechlessly toward the heavens. He looked as if he wished to speak, but every time the thought of doing so entered his brain, his jaw would purposefully remain clenched. After such a painful display of silence on his part, and her own vexation with the heat, Georgiana removed her white gloves and mindfully inquired, "Are you so very angry with me, Mr. Hart?"
"No, Miss Darcy. I am not angry."
"Pray sir, I know I have caused you some vexation. I never meant to imply to my family that I do not have feelings for you. Will you not believe me?"
Mr. Hart strained a smile and nodded. "I suppose that I have forgotten the drama one feels while wooing a woman, or perhaps it is simply that I feel myself too worn for such determined sport--but I still maintain there is something to be had for sincerity between a man and a woman."
Georgiana closed her eyes, well aware of her mistakes. "My truth..." she whispered, "...my truth is that I was found weak in my youth, and I was very nearly ruined by a man whom I believed myself to be in love."
Mr. Hart appeared less indifferent, and he turned toward the young woman in curious attention. Georgiana's reaction was to wince in restraint, but in another instant she heard his persuasive voice urging her, "Do go on."
With a deep breath, she spoke more of her truth. "I had consented to elope with him when I was but fifteen years of age, without the approval of my brother. I wanted to think myself mature and in love, and it was easy to believe it for he was a man whom had been reared near to our family, and I was convinced for that reason my brother would accept the match. Instead of being in love with me, the man was merely in love with my fortune, and my brother did definitely not approve."
"When I look back on what I considered to be love, I can see that it was only a surrogate sentiment formed in the hopes of curing my loneliness. You see, Mr. Hart--I wonder whether my brother is loathe to forgive my indiscretion, nor would I expect condolence from you, for being so weak and foolish a woman."
"Miss Darcy," Brit Hart sighed out, moving closer to her than he ever had before, "Georgiana." He grasped her hands within his own, and respired a nervous laugh, "Oh sweet, beautiful, Georgiana. I thought you would tell me you did not care for me. I thought perhaps a younger man was whom you would fancy, not me."
Georgiana shook her head adamantly. "No--there is no truth to that at all. Can you, for so sophisticated a man, love a girl so ignorant of the ways of the world?"
"You were then but a child, who did not know what was expected of her, or what to expect of another's wretchedness. Your brother is very proud, and he did the sensible thing--I should have done the very same had I been in his place. He has every right to protect you."
"As for myself--how could I ever hold such an unfortunate circumstance against you? We both have regrets in our past, but they are lessons learned all the same. You flatter me to believe me sophisticated, but I was also too young to understand the lesson at the time. I am simply a man who took the long way around life, or the wrong way around--I shall never know."
Brit Hart brought Georgiana's hand to his lips and risked placing a lingering kiss upon her palm. "Dear lady, you are not a child any longer, but have the life of a woman waiting before you. I think I should like to let go of my regrets, dearest Georgiana--look ahead instead of behind me."
Georgiana's eyes closed again, and to her great joy a weight was lifted, and she finally felt worthy of such a love as Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart was resigned to propose. She moved her hand from his grasp and placed the palm he had so lovingly kissed upon the fold of his coat, the lapel over his heart.
He looked to her more vulnerable, as unsafe as he ever had before, and when he covered her hand with the palm of his own, and their fingers entwined together, he uttered, "I do not now wish to be your neighbor, Miss Georgiana Darcy."
She looked up quickly, tears forming on her cheeks, and the belief in her head that perhaps he would soon be leaving Derbyshire forever. His very soul was drawn closer to her, and before he secured his offering with a replete kiss, she allowed his lips to brush against her own, upon whispering tenderly, "I would wish to be your husband."
Darcy had expeditiously led Elizabeth far enough away from the assembly room so as not to be seen. The canopy of oaks and Spanish chestnuts served to conceal their presence from any busybody who happened to look out of a window, but the heavy summer air managed to transport the music from the assembly room to the spot where they were hidden.
"I was hoping to stroll under these trees with a lover, not dash about with a warrior, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth proclaimed at her husband's cross disposition.
"Do you know what a man suggests when he asks a woman to dance a reel, Elizabeth?"
"No, I was not given the impression that it would mean anything more than partaking of a lively dance."
"Very lively," Darcy grumbled humorlessly.
"Did you not ask me to dance a reel once? At Netherfield, in Mr. Bingley's drawing room?"
"Do you never forget a thing?" Darcy replied abruptly.
"I suppose you are saying that at the time you felt some sort of design for me?"
Darcy obstinately folded his arms in front of himself, "I did."
Elizabeth laughed heartily, and Darcy unwillingly pondered her amusement without much amusement of his own. "I thought it odd you should want to dance with me then, since I had not been worthy of the trouble prior to that. Is that when you began, Mr. Darcy--when you began to fall in love with me?"
"I should say I was in some danger of it at the time--but I cannot say that I had truly fallen in love with you then, for you would not even dance a stuffy old gavotte with me, for heaven sake! I may have dismissed the favor of a dance the first time I laid eyes on you, but I had asked several times afterward. How many times must a man be rejected?"
Elizabeth found it difficult to keep a straight face. "Dismissed it! You positively refused to stand up with me!"
Darcy's eyes widened in vexation, "Very well, I admit mistakes were made."
Elizabeth was all the more determined to tease her husband free from his foolishness. "Oh, but I was a stubborn girl then, for I did not know what sort of partner you would make. Perhaps dancing is simply a prelude to life? If you are a good dancer, you should make a good husband--and so on, and so forth. But, lo, at the time I had determined never to dance with you."
"Is that so--and resolved to keep me in my misery?" Darcy dropped his arms down to his sides, "This is ridiculous!" He shook his head and with all the sincerity he had ever been known to possess, he sighed wretchedly, "What should I have ever done, had you never danced with me?"
"Oh, do not speak it, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth closed her eyes, "I suppose you would have married another."
"No." He reach out a hand to his wife, and she obeyed the loving summons by taking his hand and allowing him to pull her close. "I have never asked another woman to dance a reel."
Elizabeth went to speak, but feeling as though there was nothing else which needed to be said, Darcy bent down and kissed her intently. The passion of his kiss made her feet seem as if they had left the ground, but indeed they had for his arms wrapped around her waist and he raised her up from the grass below, so they could meet each other face to face.
A lively tune began to play from the assembly room, and although the contented lovers had not parted from their impassioned kiss, Darcy began to laugh, then joyously whirled Elizabeth about through the air. Once again did Elizabeth feel free and easy, almost exactly as she had when had first discovered their love, but when her man finally set her down upon the earth, never had Elizabeth been reeling quite like that before.
Elizabeth sighed so very deeply that it seemed as if the whole world would hear her, or at the very least the coachman who did his utmost to ignore the attentive lovers in the carriage behind him. If she could have her way, Elizabeth believed she would remain in the carriage, comfortable enough riding along in the open air, gently encompassed within her husbands arms, until the dawn of the very next day. How grateful she was to this man for giving her the love and tolerance she had so selfishly yearned for; how grateful she was that he had given her a night of romance, much as it had once been between them.
To Elizabeth there was no greater contentment than when Darcy held her close, now and then moving to place a tender kiss upon her forehead, then bringing his chin back to rest lightly upon the crown of her head. Elizabeth's fine spirit was nourished by her husband's steady breathing, and the loving convergence he so readily imparted through his arms encircled about her.
When she thought back on their lives together, Elizabeth could not recall how many times he had held her thusly, for there had been a great many. How earnestly she had come to desire this ceremony of loving admiration from her beloved husband, and how pleased she was that he was willing to forego a bit of his own notions of propriety to bestow it.
She knew exactly how he would begin, he would seat himself beside her and when the carriage would vault on its way forward, he would reach his hand alongside to weave his fingers through her own. "Come here," he would entreat in soft, agreeable tones and Elizabeth would nestle to him happily, until they worked themselves into a well-pleasing embrace.
Darcy rarely spoke much after that, for Elizabeth supposed he was simply content to spend a few moments completely alone in familiar and happy company. When they had first been married, Elizabeth had wished that he would speak more to her on such occasions, perhaps of the time they had spent during the evening, or his observations of those they had met while in society.
Those sorts of things never seemed to be a part of Fitzwilliam Darcy's character, for he did not condescend to gossip. All that mattered to him on such occasions was his own life, and it did not take long for Elizabeth to comprehend that his utter stillness was a reflection of his mood, and that Darcy expressed great happiness by the demonstration of impeccable silence.
With another sigh, resounding enough to match the first, Elizabeth announced, "I would wish such a glorious night to last, even if only a little longer."
"Is there a reason why it should not?"
"Many reasons," she writhed free from his grasp, as she realized they were both being quite fanciful. "I can think of four little reasons with the last name of Darcy, whom are inclined to begin their day quite early."
"I thought you had wished to not be so steady and necessary?" he teased her.
"What I would wish and what I am bound to do are entirely two separate things, Fitzwilliam," she sighed. "I have duties which I would not forsake for all the world. Responsibilities that I cannot let go."
"That is true, and I am very glad to hear you say it," Darcy's voice remained low and composed, "but for one hot august night, and almost a decade of marriage gone by, could we not once live on the side of rebellion?"
A sort of eager gasp escaped Elizabeth at the very notion, and very seriously she inquired, "What sort of insurrection did you have in mind?"
Darcy chuckled at his own gall and gently pulled his wife back to an easy place within his arms. "When I was younger, an unruly man in my father's house, I was bent on stealing out on such a stifling night to the park below to sleep beneath the stars."
"You, unruly?" Elizabeth's eyes broadened in disbelief, "Surely you are making a joke."
"Am I not most oftentimes serious in my conversations, Elizabeth?"
"Yes," she grinned, "but unruly?"
"Well, perhaps that is a bit severe," he conceded. "Let us say tolerably disobedient then, for not only did I steal away without as much as a word to anyone else, but I often times made it back into the house without waking so much as the footman on post. I did not think my father would approve of such÷" Darcy paused in a low groan of contemplation, "÷gallivanting about, but the lure of a clear sky and a cool breeze far outweighed the risk of suffering one of my father's lectures on the merits of refined behavior."
Elizabeth voiced a protest, but her eyes held a certain optimism in them, "Are you seriously suggesting that we spend the night out of doors, Mr. Darcy--with the creatures and pests, and lord knows what else?"
"Elizabeth, the creatures really have no care of you, if you quite ignore them." He moved her away, then held his hands to her face, willing to speak as resolutely as was necessary. "Have you never longed to lay down in the grass and÷and think about what else there is to the world--beyond your own doorstep?"
"I am very pleased with my doorstep, husband, and I find as time goes by I wonder less about what affects are beyond it," she whispered in return, "but I could wonder what it would be like to lay by your side, as you contemplate it."
Darcy grinned broadly as the carriage pulled up to the back doors of Pemberley house. Before the footman had a chance to hold the carriage door open for his master and mistress, Darcy moved his hands to hold those of his wife. "Go and look in on your little ones, Mrs. Darcy. Dismiss your maid, change your clothes--something comfortable and not bothersome in the slightest--then come meet me downstairs by the entrance to the servants quarters, as quickly and as quietly as you can."
"Do you tell me you shall be my wife, Georgiana Darcy?" Ethan Bristoe-Hart whispered, as he withdrew a little from their embrace, in discomfort of the very chance of hearing a refusal.
Georgiana was completely in awe, and her sheer happiness had prevented a hasty outcry of an answer to her beau's momentous question. "I÷" she tried to speak through the severe pounding of her heart, "I÷"
Mr. Hart's brows knit together as he fervently awaited her reply. "Are you alright?" he inquired very tenderly.
"Yes!" her voice surfaced with a joyous laugh. "Yes, oh, yes!"
"Yes, you are well--or yes, you will marry me?"
Never before could Georgiana have thought it possible to laugh so hard and cry all at the same time. "Oh Ethan Bristoe-Hart, I shall marry you--and your asking makes everything alright!"
The gentleman's whole face alit at the utterance of the words he so desperately wanted to hear. His strong hands grasped her tender cheeks and he brought his face down to meet hers. "I shall always be a good husband to you, dear lady," he said through a happy laugh. "I promise to not be very much trouble at all, even if I do snore a little in my sleep."
Still laughing and weeping, Georgiana gazed into his sea-green eyes. She had rarely if ever seen such integrity in a pair of eyes before, and never had she seen such devotion. The assembly room was beginning to clear, and the fervor of the music began to wane.
"I had best be getting you back home," Mr. Hart said, but not without a frown of longing. "Tomorrow morning, early, I shall come and speak with your brother--and then there is something I have begun which I must finish, for I could never deny you a happy home, Georgiana."
"Oh, how I want to bring joy to your new home, Mr. Hart."
Brit Hart had stopped his lover's words with a caress of his fingers over her lips. "Do call me something less ceremonial, my dear. At least when we are alone."
Georgiana lowered her eyes in shyness, "I should never wish you to believe me cross with you, but I÷I would like," Georgiana stammered, "I hope I do not ask too much if I should decide to call you Ethan?"
Ethan Bristoe-Hart smiled with all the signs of a man so besieged with love. "I have never heard the name sound so pleasant, nor have I ever longed to hear it spoken more, than here and now, and by you. Ethan it shall surely be."
"Good night, Frances," Elizabeth called over her shoulder as she went to enter her bedchamber. "It is very late, and I shall not need you first thing in the morning. Do leave the gown unpressed until tomorrow, and get some rest yourself."
"Very well, ma'am," Elizabeth's maid dismissed herself with a bow and left the dressing chamber.
Elizabeth removed her hand from the handle of the door and wheeled around, then began searching through her clothing for an old and comfortable frock. Hastily she intertwined the length of her hair back into a braid, and with a giggle she slipped on a pair of comfortable old slippers. Before she escaped through the servants entrance to her dressing chamber, she looked at herself in the glass. She felt as if she were one and twenty again--as if she were stealing out of her father's house for a rendezvous with a forbidden beau, and as ardently as she tried, she could not whisk away the smile that impishly graced her lips.
When Elizabeth reached the entrance to the servant's chambers, Darcy was there waiting. While she had been occupied in making sure her children were well, he had stolen out of the house already, with an armful of blankets and a bottle of some very good wine.
"Do you think we shall be able to escape without alerting a soul, Fitzwilliam?"
"I have already done it once this night, my dear." His brow went up in ridicule, "On the morrow, I am determined to make a point of speaking with the staff on the importance of paying better attention to their duties."
No sooner had the lovers slipped from the house, did another pair of lovers disembark their carriage. Mr. Hart stepped from the vehicle, and as he held out his hand to assist Georgiana down, he heard low laughter coming from the darkness beyond, and he quickly turned his head toward the sound of it.
At first he was astonished to recognize the figures of his beloved's brother and sister, hand in hand and scampering off down into the park in very informal dress. Then with a diffident grin and the fleeting thought that if he had the opportunity he would do the very same thing, he gave a shake of his head and quite put out of his mind anything his eyes had been privileged to see.
"How many there are, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth breathed in wonder as she gazed at all of the stars in the heavens.
"How many of what, my love?" her husband marveled from his place behind her. His arms were again assuredly about her, but his focus was fixed on the splendor of her fair face, and not on the sky above.
"Fitzwilliam, you are not even looking at what you came to see," Elizabeth protested.
"Oh no," Darcy smiled, "that is where you are wrong. I am looking at exactly what I came to admire. Elizabeth," he sighed, "how I love you."
"I married a man of very few words," she smiled, so very much in love, "but if you never said anything more than those exact words, it would be plenty for me." Elizabeth turned her attention back to the sky. "What places do you think of now, Mr. Darcy--when you look at the stars?"
"When I was that younger man," he sighed, "I would sit and think of all the places on the globe, and wonder exactly how the stars would look from that precise spot. Now something has altered in me, be it desire or determination, I know not what--but I find that I too have difficulty pondering life past our own doorstep."
Darcy looked again at the smoothness of his wife's skin. "I cannot think of another place or situation where I would rather be. Life is so good, Elizabeth--my life has been so good."
It had taken Elizabeth a little while to finally drift off to sleep, for the strange sounds of creatures of the night kept her imagination occupied. The coolness of the open air, and the security of Darcy's embrace finally allowed her some peace and she slept more soundly than she could have thought possible.
She would have gone on slumbering, had a brightness not awoken her. She sat up beneath the blankets, and looked toward the house, then with an astonished gasp she roused her husband from his sleep. "Fitzwilliam, the house! It is completely illuminated!"
Darcy sat up quickly at the sound of Elizabeth's agitation. He looked toward his house, and indeed it seemed as if each room on the upper floors were bright and boisterous. Elizabeth had already struggled to her feet and found her slippers laying next to her. With fear in her heart for her family, she dashed toward the house, leaving Darcy to follow wildly behind her as he ran at a brisk and anxious pace.
"Mama!" Christian squealed to rattle the whole house, "Mama!"
"Master Christian!" Mrs. White gasped as she scurried out into the great hallway from the post where she had been dozing in the nursery, "What is this fuss you are making?"
Christian's innocent face appeared frantic, "I want my mama and papa!" he screeched in a way in which Mrs. White had never heard him do before.
"Come here, child--you shall surely wake the whole house, and your baby sister as well!"
Tears streamed down Christian's face in the darkness, then he took off at a run, back toward the direction of his parents bedchamber. Mrs. White promptly followed him, but she could not grasp the boy before he had flung open the bedchamber door.
The nanny anxiously waited before the door, in fretful anticipation of hearing the master bellow out a strict reprimand to his unruly son's intrusion. Instead, she was astonished to hear master Christian shriek again.
"Where is my mama and papa?!" he cried with the might of one three times his size. "Mama! Mama!" he yelled out, "Papa, come out wherever you are!"
Mrs. White was becoming quite concerned and she loudly rapped upon the door, and boldly marched inside. She was very alarmed to find the master's bed not slept in, nor any sign of occupants within the room. Young master Christian stood in the middle of the darkened chamber, howling like a little wolf, and in the very next moment Mrs. White heard Prudence wail from the nursery. She tried her utmost to comfort the boy with kind words over her shoulder, as she struggled to open the door to the nursery. She then left the poor child, still mewling at the top of his lungs, to scoop up the baby in her arms.
Christian's inconsolable, not to mention earsplitting shrieking had reached the ears of his siblings, and they too trampled into their parents bedchamber, only to become greatly disconcerted upon not finding their parents inside the room to comfort them. Hannah carried her little dog Mimi, and she let the animal down to the ground and the harried little thing barked and ran about the room in circles, as Andrew exclaimed, "I thought it is the children who are to run away from home?"
"Mama and papa have run away?" Christian sobbed. "They must be very vexed!"
Poor Mrs. White now had her hands quite full as she stood in the midst of the hullabaloo. There were three children weeping about her, besides the one scampering here and there, frantically opening doors, and searching beneath furniture and behind drapery for his beloved mother and father while the family dog tugged at his nightshirt.
Before too long, Georgiana had appeared in the hallway, and night duty servants were scouring the halls, lighting candles, sconces, and chandeliers as Miss Darcy had worriedly instructed. Mrs. Reynolds emerged in her nightclothes and cap, along with Frances and Mr. Stevens, and a swarm of other care-worn retinue.
They were all shocked, for each person knew what they had seen only a few hours before. The master and mistress had indeed returned from their engagement that evening, and had made ready for bed as usual, but yet there was not a trace of the two of them anywhere in the room. Surely if they had even been in the house, they would have overheard the ruckus on the upper floors, and come running--for their offspring continued to cause the biggest melee on the Pemberley grounds since three fattened pigs had gotten out of their pens and had raided Mrs. Beal's kitchen garden during preserving time.
"Children!" Georgiana raised her voice about as loudly as anyone had ever heard her. "Christian!" she bent down to envelope her nephew in her arms, "Christian, I know your mama and papa are here somewhere. We shall surely find them." She turned around and in an authoritative fashion, inquired, "Where have they gone, Mrs. Reynolds?"
The poor housekeeper shook her head and shrugged, "Miss Darcy, I have not been informed of their whereabouts."
"Papa!" Christian wailed again at the top of his voice, "Mama!"
"They have gone off without us!" Hannah cried, now quite convinced it was hopeless. "They never, never go off without us!"
"Hannah, dear," Mrs. White tried to soothe the young girl, while rocking the still crying infant in her arms. "Hush, now."
In the thick of such a frenzy, and the contemplation of what should be done about it, Elizabeth Darcy ran as quickly as she could, down the great hallway, followed by her anguished husband. "Oh, dear," she sighed upon seeing such a sight before her.
"Is someone ill?" Darcy's pained and suspiring inflection trumpeted above. "What is this all about?"
The servants, his sister, and his children gaped at him, disheveled as he was, and quite pale for the moment. "Ah well, sir, " Mrs. White stammered, "You and the mistress have been wanted."
Elizabeth heaved an abated sigh and reached out for her wailing infant in Mrs. White's arms. As she quieted the baby, Christian clung to her legs, and Hannah and Andrew wrapped their arms about her waist.
Color came back to the master's cheeks, in abundance, and his humbled reserve served to discourage the household servants from any inquiries as the state of his own health or previous whereabouts. They thought it quite sensible to slip away from the room, but their ears did not fail them, at the sound of Mr. Darcy's confident voice elucidating to his children that he had only been out to look at the stars.
Morning came all too quickly for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. A note had arrived for Darcy, and he was obligated to answer an entreaty by his solicitor in Lambton. He called downstairs for a light meal and a much needed cup of coffee to be brought to him, and he looked himself over in the glass in his chambers.
Still in her nightclothes, Elizabeth stole up from behind him, and Darcy could see her winsome figure in the glass. Her cheeks reddened as her eyes met his in the reflection, and she said with an impish grin, "You would have done well to have heeded your father's lectures on refined behavior."
Darcy had never been known for exhibitions of childish mirth, but on the occasions that he did display his hearty laughter, the effects of it were contagious. He laughed at himself, and at his own foolishness, and he laughed at the tried and true behavior of his own issue.
"A wiser man would have known better," he chortled.
"Yes," Elizabeth laughed along with him, "but then, you cannot have quite the same amusement that you can with an impertinent man."
Darcy turned around and drew Elizabeth to him in an embrace, "And to think in another ten years, no one shall probably notice us at all. Mind yourself this day wife, for you have four children ready to point out your poor conduct, if you were to fall short of perfect." He kissed her lovingly, and as if all were back to the way it was, he said, "I will be home in plenty of time for supper."
Georgiana was the first to find herself in the morning room, and she waited nearly a quarter of an hour before Mrs. White brought in the children. "I beg your pardon, Miss Georgiana. Mrs. Darcy said she would be awaiting the children here, but since that is not the case, I shall take them back upstairs to take their meal at the nursery table."
"No, no Mrs. White. I quite enjoy the company of my nephews and niece, especially when they are not bawling. It is no trouble to leave them with me, until my brother and Mrs. Darcy come down." The children were happy to remain, and they scrambled to their seats, then looked hopefully to their aunt for further favorable acknowledgement. "Well," Georgiana grinned, "I shall not ask whether or not you all slept peacefully. Last night was quite an eye-opener, I dare say."
"Did you dance with Mr. Hart at the assembly, aunt?" Hannah was more than eager to change the course of the conversation.
A bright and dreamy smile came to Georgiana's face, for she realized that her intended would soon be arriving, and she would then be able to share her joyous news with her beloved family. "I did dance with him, Hannah."
Hannah giggled with delight, "Does he dance well?"
Georgiana laughed aloud, "Better than any man I have ever met in my life, Hannah!"
"Brit," Darcy nodded to the visitor, as he descended the stone steps of the veranda and Mr. Hart climbed up upon them. "I thank you for seeing Georgiana safely home last night."
"Certainly, Darcy. Did you enjoy the long way home?"
"Yes," Darcy replied with some uneasiness. "Enjoy it I did--while it lasted."
Brit Hart's brows furrowed and he inquired uneasily, "Are you on your way out?"
"Yes, for a good part of the day." Darcy noticed some disappointment in his friend, "Is something troubling you, Brit?"
"No--oh, no," Brit Hart smiled curtly, "'Tis not a bother, but I do have a matter I must discuss with you, and very soon."
"Very well," Darcy replied in a state of preoccupation as he saw his carriage drive forward, "If you have no other plans, do come for supper this night. We will talk then."
Mr. Hart gave a nod of confirmation, and Darcy instructed a passing servant to inform Mrs. Darcy and Mrs. Reynolds of the addition of a guest. Brit Hart watched as his friend embarked the carriage and the livery left the grounds of Pemberley in a rush. He rather wished he could be certain of Darcy's good favor when he was to ask for Georgiana's hand in marriage.
He could not imagine what could serve as an obstacle to such a union, if two people had professed their love for one another, and a man could prove he were able to provide decently for a wife. Yet he had not been in Darcy's company for very a long time, and he was as yet becoming reacquainted with the man whom he had called a friend so many years ago.
His mind was far too preoccupied with more fanciful thoughts at the present, and he decided not to dwell on the matter again, until after supper that evening. He heard lively laughter coming from the morning room as he was shown in. His eyes perceived a beautiful young woman and her giggling niece quiet down upon seeing him enter the room.
"Good morning," Ethan Bristoe-Hart spoke out, the happiness of his countenance was more than apparent by the gentle radiance upon his face.
He looked about the room, and as he did not see Mrs. Darcy, he ignored his duty as a gentleman to greet the mistress of the house before anyone else. He turned his attentions toward Miss Darcy, and his eyes admired the maiden who was the cause of his barely concealed joy. With a bow, which was ever so faithful, he whispered, "The first of many happy mornings to you, my dear lady."
"Will you have a seat," Georgiana blushed, then in concealment moved her lips to silently utter the name, "Ethan." When he had seated himself next to her, her face alit in happiness, "My brother and sister shall be here directly, I imagine. We are all having a bit of a late start, as there was some trouble here last night."
"Trouble?" Brit Hart spoke in alarm. "What has happened?" He looked at the children, hoping the distress his lover had spoken of had not been with them. Christian glowered from beneath droopy eyelids, as his aunt whispered the occurrences of the previous night to Mr. Hart.
A hearty laugh escaped Brit Hart's otherwise gentlemanly countenance at hearing such a tale, more so out of the perception of the unlikely behavior of his friend, than from the revelation of anything else. Georgiana laughed as well, as Christian's pout became more evident, and at once Mr. Hart thought that perhaps the poor boy had still not recovered from such an experience.
"Come here, Christian," the gentleman benevolently commanded. The boy slipped off of his chair and came around the table to stand before the man. Mr. Hart held out a kind hand, and Christian grasped it then cast himself into the gentleman's condoling embrace.
"You are a good boy, Christian," Brit Hart chuckled easily. "I should be very proud, if I should ever have a son like you. Not every boy values his parents as well as you do, nor looks for them so diligently when they turn up missing."
Christian smiled up at the man, and Georgiana watched the display of affection between the two with keen interest. Elizabeth had been correct, that Georgiana could never have cause to fear such a kind and gentle man, and she looked forward to the day she would become his wife with the greatest and most desperate anticipation.
"Mr. Hart," Elizabeth greeted the gentleman with pleasure, upon seeing him seated at the table.
The gentleman stood and bowed, and gave Christian an assured pat on the head. The boy scampered around the table, and gave his mother a zealous embrace, then scrambled back into his own seat.
"How good it is to see you this morning, Mr. Hart," Elizabeth's eyes brightened as she looked in turn at the man and her young sister. "Did you both enjoy the assembly--and your carriage ride home?"
"Indeed we did, ma'am," Brit Hart replied as he cast a look of devotion toward Georgiana. "I thank you for the very suggestion of it, for as I had hoped, I was able to recommend myself to the neighborhood, and have had the benefit of the same success with a very estimable lady."
A sigh seemed to encompass all three persons older than seven years of age, and Elizabeth smiled in the way she always could, when she was privy to an unspoken truth. "My husband had to go out on business this morning, but I am told that you have been extended an invitation for supper, Mr. Hart. I do not think I have looked on an engagement with more favor--than I do in the promise of this evenings meal, and the prospects which may be revealed afterward."
The carriage carrying the master of Pemberley traveled quickly up the road leading to the gates of the estate. Darcy happened to look out of the window, to see his children by the side of the roadway, waving and shouting. He rapped on the ceiling and the coachman brought the four fine horses to a standstill.
Darcy stepped out, and smiled as his children ran to greet him with their customary hugs and kisses, and delighted faces. He called up to the coachman, "Go on to the carriage house. I shall walk from here."
"What are you doing so far from the house?" Darcy asked his children through their excited embraces.
"We came to follow aunt Georgiana, papa," Andrew confessed.
"I see," Darcy replied. He stood up and looked all around him, but he did not see his sister. "Andrew," he frowned a little, "does aunt Georgiana happen to know you are following her, or did you not get as far as to tell her this?"
The answer to the father's question was more than obvious by the three guilty looking expressions before him. At first Darcy's taut grimace came in reprimand to his children, "I have told you all before, that you are not to leave the house without accompaniment. 'Tis for your own good that I tell you this, and it is the regulations that I have laid out. Do not let me find any of you at it again."
"Yes, papa," Christian pouted at his knowing disobedience.
Darcy's features softened, and with a smile of patience, he picked up the child in his arms and gave him a loving kiss on the cheek. "Very well then, where is your aunt?"
Christian giggled and placed his head against his father's, "With Mr. Hart."
"With Mr. Hart?" Darcy whispered. "Doing what?"
Christian's eyes widened and he whispered back, "Kissing, I think."
The expression on Darcy's face began to infuriate again, and he moved his hands to hold the boy under the arms and gently dangled him out at arm's length. "Where?"
Christian's cheeks colored and he ventured a guess, "On the lips?"
Once again Christian recognized the look of censure on his father's face and the boy wrinkled up his nose at his unfortunate mistake. Darcy brought his child closer to him and carefully replied, "I meant, where--as in the garden, or by the lake--the face of the moon?"
"Oh," Christian grinned, then he pointed in a direction toward a clearing of trees, as his legs still dangled far from the ground.
Darcy set the boy down on his feet again, and his children tried to keep up with his quick stride as he made haste in the direction in which Christian had revealed. Darcy finally stopped when he caught sight of two people--two people who were familiar to him, yet not familiar in the conformation of lovers. With the color of embarrassment and ire on his face he turned back around in the direction of his house, and called out to his children, "Hurry along, the three of you!"
Continued in Part 3
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