Modesty & Mischief
Chapter One: Mrs. Darcy's Proposal
"I shall ask him, then," uttered Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy aloud to herself. She stood from her writing table and went to the window to take in what grounds of Pemberley lay immediately within her view. Moved as she always was by its beauty, Mrs. Darcy spoke again. "Oh, it will do them both much good indeed."
Elizabeth Darcy was, as the first autumn of her married life set in, much what she had been as Lizzy Bennet. She was altered only in her great love for her husband, and the deepening maturity that life as mistress of Pemberley ought to confer upon whomever learned to manage the position. And since the young Mrs. Darcy was not the type to do anything by halves, she had resolved to master her new occupation with grace and vigor, and was making her way quite well toward that admirable goal.
The servants at Pemberley had seen at once Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy's great faith in his new bride, and out of a long-lived, genuine love for their master, they endeavored to treat Elizabeth with all the respect and trust that her connection deserved.
It may be said that several of the servants with some seniority in the household had long been resigned to the idea of Mr. Darcy's eventual marriage to another woman: his sickly and petulant cousin Miss Anne DeBourgh, daughter of Mr. Darcy's most imposing aunt, Lady Catherine. That union was most disagreeable to all that knew of it, and the mere idea of Anne DeBourgh as mistress gave the entire household a sense of pending gloom. Not much better, as far as the servants and tenants of Pemberley were concerned, was Darcy's next constant admirer, Miss Caroline Bingley, the sister of his good friend Charles. Caroline had, on many occasions, come to Pemberley as a visitor, but she had swept about imperially as if it were already her home, ordering people hither and thither in the manner of a shrewish wife. Miss Bingley's wretched simpering put everyone, especially Mr. Darcy himself, off; if Anne DeBourgh spelled gloom for Pemberley, then Caroline Bingley guaranteed catastrophe!
But the whole house- its master most of all- were saved from these would-be-tyrants, these fortune hunters and caste-preservers, by Fitzwilliam Darcy's unexpected tumble into a passionate regard for neither his cousin nor his friend's sister, but for the most unlikely woman of all- Miss Elizabeth Bennet of Longbourn. Elizabeth, was the absolute opposite of both the phantom mistresses who had so long held Pemberley in suspense. She was a woman of no fortune, no connections, but a woman of intelligent wit, independent thought, and a spirit for life that enchanted most sensible people. The new Mrs. Darcy was therefore met by the household of Pemberley not only with the appropriate joy for the occasion, but with a sense of relief so great that it seemed the house regarded her as its savior. The clouds of Anne DeBourgh and Caroline Bingley were forever cleared away from that bright sky, and Elizabeth perched in it now as naturally as the sun.
Elizabeth Darcy's influence was felt everywhere, though it had only been a few short months since she had become a permanent fixture in the halls and avenues of the great estate. Mr. Darcy himself bore the greatest marks of this influence; his eyes had grown gentler at the corners, his walk simpler, his posture more approachable, as if the privilege that supported him all his life had been replaced by a stronger, surer provision. He loved his wife completely, and was utterly transformed by the emotion. His good sense and nobility of character were now enhanced by the deep tenderness he bore Elizabeth; all his words and actions seemed to have been warmed first by thoughts of her. Through husband and wife, love ruled Pemberley with a balanced hand, and all who observed Lizzy and Darcy now saw that they could not pass each other in any of the long hallways without a pause, an affectionate word, or a swift caress.
In such spirits did Pemberley pass from the winter of the Darcy nuptials to the following autumn, and the house still seemed to be vibrating with new happiness.
With great satisfaction was Mrs. Elizabeth reflecting on these merry first months and considering her plans for the winter season, when Mr. Darcy's young sister found her at the window.
"Elizabeth?" began Georgiana Darcy with no little hesitation. She had only just begun to call her sister by her Christian name, having had a very difficult time being persuaded by Lizzy that, as sisters-in-law, there could be nothing disrespectful in the address. In fact, for a full three weeks after the Darcys had returned from their honeymoon tour, young Georgiana had repeatedly termed his brother's wife "Miss Bennet", using her maiden name out of a prudent habit which amused Elizabeth and Darcy, and mortified herself.
Georgiana was a young woman easily mortified. Though adored and indulged all her life by her brother, she had been raised within strict boundaries of propriety and there had been a lack of levity in her acquaintance; she had never learned the easy informalities of sisterly friendship. All her life had she longed for a sister to teach her what she did not know, to temper the protection her brother administered over her life with some more feminine and intimate understanding, but there had been none. Her mother had passed away quite young, and the female acquaintance of her brother had seen Georgiana as of little consequence to their conversations, excepting when they found it useful to flatter Mr. Darcy by taking some peculiar interest in her. They spoke with praise of her dress, her height, or a piece of music she might be playing at the pianoforte, but they never spoke to her, and she felt it keenly, as any young woman might who had no one else to confide in.
Elizabeth however had the good fortune of both a great understanding of what was modest and proper for a young lady, joined with a candid, confident easiness of temper. She was an excellent role model for Miss Darcy, and so it was with love and humor that Elizabeth was teaching her newest sister to be unafraid in her presence. When she heard Georgiana's voice speak her name from the door, she turned from the window with a clear smile, and beckoned to her.
"Georgiana, come and look out with me. This is the first time I have had the pleasure of knowing Pemberley in autumn! You shall have to tell me all about it." She held out her hand, and Miss Darcy hastened to take it, proud and pleased that she could share her long knowledge of Pemberley autumns with Elizabeth, whom she was growing to regard as both sister and friend.
They stood at the window and made a very pretty picture in the writing room, framed by the heavy curtains and the light from the afternoon sun. Lizzy's brown curls lay close against Georgiana's blond ones, and they clasped each other's hands as Georgiana shyly, but with increasing excitement, explained the seasonal flora and fauna of their home. It must be admitted that Elizabeth only half-listened to the accounts of past bonfires, balls and long walks that had graced the very grounds they gazed upon. With half her mind she was regarding this young sister, and the light of her newest resolve flickered in her dark eyes. "Yes, indeed," she thought to herself, and felt her heart fill with the pleasure of anticipation. "But I shall have to speak to William first of all." And with that, she closed her thoughts on the subject and reinvested herself in the conversation at hand.
"...And perhaps a ball this winter," Georgiana was saying, as Lizzy returned to the present moment and began to listen once again. "My brother has mentioned it as possible. Have you spoken of it with him? For I do not know that I wish for a ball at Pemberley," and Georgiana's eyes, which had only a moment before been filled with her budding confidence, clouded over with reserve.
"Why ever not?" exclaimed Elizabeth. "A ball at Pemberley would be as lovely a thing as I can imagine. Why, it has been a full three months together since I have had the pleasure of a ball. Your brother and I attended one given in London this past summer-"
"By Caroline Bingley, yes, I know it," said Miss Darcy quickly. She was embarrassed to have spent her first social season in the country, when every other girl who had come out had gone to London or Bath for all the festivities. Georgiana had done exactly the opposite of what was expected, leaving London once she had been presented at court, and retiring to Derbyshire in order to escape public attention. "I should have come to London- all the other girls went- but oh, Miss Ben-- Elizabeth- I do not enjoy so much...activity." And Georgiana turned her eyes on Lizzy, imploring her answer, "Why should I be so frightened of a ball?"
"That is just my question," replied Lizzy firmly. "There is no need to fear it. And I would think that holding one here in the winter should please you so much more than having to attend one elsewhere. Here in the comfort of your own home, you should feel at ease among everything. Indeed, it will be the best possible place to conquer some of your shy manners, do you not agree?" Elizabeth squeezed her sister's hand gently, and even more gently pushed a curl from Georgiana's forehead with her index finger. "You are so lovely, dear, and so accomplished. If I had been half so, I should have fought my way into every ball in the county simply for the pleasure of being admired."
Georgiana blushed with modest pleasure at this compliment, but troubled thoughts still pulled her brows together.
"I think it will be worse to have the ball at Pemberley," she countered. "Then I shall have to go; there will be no way to avoid it; and I shall have to remain from beginning to end. And...." She paused and took a breath to support the next thought, which was most frightening of all; "...I shall have to dance."
Lizzy laughed and put an arm about her young friend. "Yes, you shall have to dance," she replied merrily. "But what is that to you? I have seen you stand up time and again with Mr. Bingley and your brother, and you are an excellent dancer I assure you."
"But with gentlemen that I do not know, I believe I could not..." and here Georgiana's voice failed her as the miserable vision of actually having to converse with a strange man appeared in her mind. "I know I could not think of a single thing to say, and should be thought the stupidest girl at the party. My tongue will tie up and I shall blush and falter all evening. I am not ready for it; I declare I am not! Oh, do not let my brother have a ball at Pemberley!" Georgiana implored, and lay her face impetuously on her sister's neck.
"Georgiana, if you are so timid, what will become of you? You must learn somehow to tolerate things that are disagreeable; there will be many in your lifetime from which you will not be able to escape, whether or not they are at Pemberley," said Lizzy warmly. "We shall have a ball if that is what my husband likes." And here Elizabeth smiled, because the prospect of a winter ball for Georgiana's benefit had been long discussed between herself and Darcy.
"I know it is silly," said a muffled voice from Elizabeth's shoulder, "but I am simply terrified of these things. Teach me to be brave as you are, and I will be at ease as you say I should. But I think I can never be like you, for I have been so quiet for so long; I fear I shall never have true confidence!" This outburst was punctuated with a little cry, and Lizzy turned and put her arms full about Georgiana.
"I know you are trying, dearest," she comforted, "and you are doing so much better already. I feel the difference in your address, and it pleases my heart so much to know that you have begun to feel familiar with me. It is only a matter of time before this behavior becomes more natural for you with other people." She paused, choosing her next words carefully. "I have an idea that I believe will raise your spirits and teach you the kind of confidence that you admire so much. But I must speak to your brother about it before I can share it."
Georgiana lifted her head and looked at Elizabeth, who promptly took the opportunity to remove a handkerchief from her own bodice and dry the little wetness from her sister's eyes.
"Oh, Elizabeth. If there is anything... I shan't ask. But when you have spoken with my brother, will you not come directly and share your news with me?"
"If there is favorable news, be assured that you will be the very first to hear it," Lizzy replied, adding playfully, "Between the two of us, we ought to be able to persuade your brother to do anything that we like!"
Georgiana giggled, and embraced Elizabeth without any of her usual hesitation, and the two girls stood together for another moment, fully framed by the orange light of the late October sun. It was in this pose that they were observed by a new figure in the writing room, and this observer's heart filled to the top with delight. He stopped and admired the little picture at the window for as long as he could stand to be apart from it, and then in three strides he crossed the room and stood inches from his sister and his wife.
"William!" exclaimed Georgiana; and "Darling!" escaped from Elizabeth as he stepped between the ladies and offered an arm to each. Each accepted gladly, and all three stood and admired Pemberley under the setting sun. Fitzwilliam Darcy could not imagine a dream so fully realized as this one- and the tenderness he felt at the pressure of his sister's arm on his, the weight of his wife's head against his shoulder, knew no limits. He had everything in the world he wanted, and felt that life was perfection. Here on one side of him was the girl he had raised almost as a father, now seventeen years old, and blossoming into perhaps the most accomplished beauty of all the young people in his acquaintance. And here on the other side, the woman who became him better than anyone he had ever known before, who challenged and inspired him, who loved him utterly. He brushed a kiss across the crown of Lizzy's head.
"I think this is the most beautiful day of the year," she said, feeling that she honestly could not choose a most beautiful day; each one seemed better and better.
"Indeed, you must be right," he averred, quite proud of the estate and the figure its lands cut against the early evening sky. "And you ladies standing in the window, as you were just now, was a most attractive sight. I love to see you becoming true sisters to one another. May I inquire after your conversation, or in true sisterly fashion must you keep it secret from any man?" asked Darcy lightly, for truly the conversation, whatever it was, was not his interest. His interest was fulfilled standing just as he was.
"We may say, I think," said Lizzy, looking across her husband's shoulder to catch Georgiana's eye. Georgiana nodded mutely, allowing Elizabeth to advocate for both of them. "We were simply discussing the idea, the possibility, of a ball in the winter."
"The very thing! Do you know, I mentioned something like it to my sister just this morning. Do you find it agreeable, Georgiana?" And Darcy turned to regard his sister's face. She shook her head and raised her eyebrows at Elizabeth, urging her speak in her stead.
"I believe she finds it.... 'tolerable'," Elizabeth smiled wickedly. "But I would say that the arrangement at present is not 'handsome enough to tempt her'."
Darcy raised his eyes to the heavens. "I fear I shall never live down certain comments, no matter what I may do to prove their inconsequence."
"I will remember them as long as they benefit me," teased young Mrs. Darcy. "And as long as it suits my little sister." But Georgiana, not having been present when Darcy had originally spoken Elizabeth's comments more than a year past, withdrew from her brother's side in confusion. She began to retire to a chair, but Elizabeth suggested that she return to her rooms to take a true rest if she were tired, and they would send someone to bring her down for supper. Georgiana readily agreed, taking her leave of her sister and brother, and making eyes at Elizabeth on her way out the door as if to communicate her anxiety. Lizzy simply smiled and turned to her husband, admiring his deep eyes and his fine nose until Georgiana was out of earshot, when she said, "Let us walk into the west garden and have a little talk. I require your opinion on something that may help win your sister over to the idea of being hostess at a ball."
Darcy kept his wife's arm firmly tucked into his own, and together they steered through the west wing of the house, and down into the garden. As they moved outdoors, Darcy pulled a light shawl from a hook near the door, and put it about Elizabeth's shoulders. She felt the attention, and reveled in it- indeed, Lizzy wondered that there had ever been a time when she did not love her husband as she regarded his profile in the evening light. It was not a matter of love, however, that ordered her thoughts as she organized herself to speak of her plans. It was a matter of feminine intuition.
Elizabeth seated herself on a stone bench, aware at this time in the evening that the dappled light from the disappearing sun would play in amber fingers over her skin and dress until she became mingled with it prettily, a part of the garden rather than its mistress. Roses still bloomed all about the area, and Darcy caught his breath at the loveliness created by his bride sitting in such a way, for after ten months he still thought of Elizabeth as his bride. It was at such moments that his soul stirred to ask him if he truly deserved this woman, and he never knew what to answer. He endeavored to do everything in his power to deserve her, and judging from the look she gave him now, he could almost believe that he satisfied her in every possible way.
Elizabeth stretched out her hand. "Come and sit with me, William," she said quietly. He went at once, and sat as close as possible. "I have a little business to discuss about Georgiana, and truly, I hope the idea will be as pleasing to you as it is to me." She could not have chosen a better moment to ask him a difficult question, and she was well aware of the advantage of a pretty evening and a tender mood. If Elizabeth was not the sort of woman to deviously manipulate her husband, neither was she the sort to waste a perfectly good opportunity when it arose. So she spoke. "Your sister expressed a very firm wish that we should not host a ball here," she began.
"As we had anticipated. What were her reservations?"
"That she would have to speak and dance with strangers, and that as there would be no escape from a ball held at her own home, she would, as she put it, have to 'remain from beginning to end'."
"Quite so. It is time for her to learn to do it; in fact it is rather late for the learning to begin, in my opinion. She is seventeen already." A guilty look passed over Darcy's countenance. "I have protected her too much. Without my constant fathering, she would have learned to look to herself for strength instead of to me." He sighed, and leaned against his wife. "What mistakes I have made with her!" he exclaimed.
Being unused to hearing her husband admit his failings, Lizzy had to bite her tongue to keep from taking the opportunity to sportively exploit this vulnerable comment. Teasing did not serve her purpose just now; rather she aimed to soothe his thoughts. "You did everything you thought best with Georgiana," she assured him, "and she is a lovely girl, talented and beautifully bred. She looks to you because you are the only source of strength she has had to depend upon."
"That is not entirely true," Darcy cut in. "She has also had Geoffrey," he argued, speaking of his cousin and Georgiana's other appointed guardian, presently a Colonel in the Army.
"Yes, Colonel Fitzwilliam is kind, and there is goodness in his attentions. But in truth, you have had the much greater share of responsibility for your sister's upbringing, and you have done remarkably. And if you have been- as you say- too cautious in your concern for Georgiana, was it not out of love?" Here, Elizabeth encountered her own troubled thoughts. "Your sister has had the advantage of a truly attentive brother to manage her affairs and direct her conscience. I know all too well the result of there being no such influence on a young girl of the same age," said she, her face darkening with old displeasure as she thought of her youngest sister Lydia. Lydia had eloped most disgracefully a year before with a man whose very name was still prohibited within the boundaries of Pemberley. "When a young lady has no example of proper manners about her from which to take her cues, the outcome can be too disastrous."
Darcy understood Lizzy's thoughts immediately, and his brain burned with an image of the same man, who had almost brought ruin upon both their families. "Yes, that is true. I would the fault lay with too much attention rather than too little." He shifted on the stone bench, and took Elizabeth into the circle of his arm. "But tell me, Mrs. Darcy, what is this business you are about with Georgiana? Do you mean to reform her, make her bold like you? Will she, when you are finished, be able to walk three miles on foot with her skirts dragging in the mud, or something very like?"
It was Elizabeth's turn to roll her eyes skyward. "The things we shall never forget," she mused. "As a matter of fact, Mr. Darcy, there is a thought of mine that points rather in that direction. Would you not like to see your sister grow free of this timidity?"
"It is an incapacitating shyness. Yes, I would. What do you propose?"
"Well then, sir. I propose that we invite my sister Catherine to Pemberley, and see how the two can influence each other," Elizabeth said calmly, in her most casual voice.
Darcy fell silent for a long moment, and Elizabeth stayed silent along with him, attempting the judge the nature of the pause. For it is true that the Catherine to whom she referred was none other than Kitty Bennet: a girl whose silliness was almost unbearable to anyone of any intelligence. It was Kitty who, truth be told, had assisted Lydia in her elopement by keeping it a secret from the rest of her family. Kitty suffered from a terrible lack of orderly attention and proper modesty, and from an almost frighteningly poor quality of judgment. She had almost no sense at all, and without her older sisters Elizabeth and Jane at home any longer to imitate, it was almost certain that she would never learn any. Admittedly, Elizabeth's endeavor to bring Kitty to Pemberley was as much for Kitty's sake as it was for Georgiana's, but she truly felt that the girls could be of equal help to one another. She waited for Darcy's response that she might explain as much to him.
When finally he did form a reply, his tone was seriously reserved, as if he were holding some part of himself in check. He stood, and paced a little across the pathway, then halted abruptly and turned back. Standing thus away from his wife, Mr. Darcy began to speak, but ever so gently, keeping all edges out of his voice.
"I can think of no honest reply that will not sting you, Lizzy," he faltered. "How openly would you have me give you my opinion? For my opinion....." He paused, and shook his head. "I am afraid I will offend you as I have so often, where your family is concerned."
Mrs. Darcy smiled at her husband, although now she would have to hold something back from him. For it did sting her a little that William could not accept her family wholeheartedly. She understood his reasoning, and even sympathized with his feelings; she had a truly just and sensible eye where her family was concerned, and was quick to feel their flaws . And yet the feeling that they were not quite welcome to her husband could not help but bruise her spirit a little.
"I know you are as incapable of dishonesty as you are loath to hurt my feelings," she said carefully, thinking as she spoke of some way to guide them through this moment without a quarrel. "Perhaps," she offered, "you will allow me to voice for you what I believe to be your reservations? That way you will not have to offend me at all, and you will know how open I can be on the subject. Does that suit you?"
Darcy smiled back at his wife and his grave expression alleviated somewhat. "Very well," he agreed. "Guess at my thoughts."
"Let me see..." Elizabeth began. "I would imagine that, much as you agree with me that Kitty's open nature might influence your sister for the better, you fear that Kitty's less...polished qualities may have some negative effect upon Georgiana."
Darcy nodded approval, but without enthusiasm. He did not like that his wife could read his distaste for her own sister in his manner. But Lizzy was not finished.
"You have witnessed," she continued, "a wantonness of character in my sister; you have observed her to be careless, undisciplined, flirtatious, and insolent. Is this true?"
Darcy started at Elizabeth's uncensored description of Kitty. He marveled at her candor, and forgot for a moment the perilous subject matter that they were currently navigating. In the pause, Darcy smiled unconsciously at his wife, overcome with the pleasure of having married so forthright a woman. Who else would be so genuine with him? Who else would dare?
"You are smiling, William. Have I amused you?"
Darcy started again. "Heavens, no. Was I smiling? I didn't realize." He returned to her side hastily and took her hand. "I think I must have the best reason for smiling of any man in England," he said by way of explanation, and the tone of his voice held a softness he had only recently learned. Elizabeth lowered her eyes and blushed like a schoolgirl, furious with herself for being overcome with tenderness when she was trying to manage a discussion. She kept her eyes down and composed herself as he dared his next comment. "As far as Kitty is concerned... those are indeed the fears I myself might have expressed- though perhaps not so vehemently." Elizabeth laughed, and met his gaze.
"My sister does have faults which, due to the nature of my parents, she could do little to avoid. It is my belief, however, that her faults will do little to influence Georgiana. Kitty was never a girl to create her own schemes- she merely followed Lydia into impropriety. She is as vulnerable to influences as your own sister, and I think they could impress upon each other the better parts of their two natures!" Satisfied with her argument, Elizabeth looked at him steadily.
Mr. Darcy shook his head and groaned. There was so much he wanted to say- and couldn't. For though Mr. Darcy's old pride was under much better regulation than it had been the year before, it still remained. He suffered under the idea of allowing Georgiana to spend more than the required amount of time with any Bennet who was not Lizzy or Jane. The others, save perhaps Mr. Bennet, were not good enough for his sister. His head ached at the mere mention of Lydia- Lydia who could connect herself in marriage with that man! He could not- would not- even think the name. Kitty would bring all that to Georgiana's attention. He could not bear to see his sister remembering him. How could he ever reconcile himself to Elizabeth's family? Oh, this would be difficult indeed.
With an attempt at diplomacy, Darcy offered the only calm statement he could construct at that moment. "Elizabeth," he said solemnly, "you know that all your sisters must always be welcome to Pemberley. It is your home."
Elizabeth, adept as she was at reading his thoughts, caught the origin of this. All my sisters? she repeated wickedly to herself, thinking of Lydia. But she did not tease. Why should she be the one to introduce unpleasantness? William seemed remarkably close to capitulating. Therefore,
"It is our home," she said, with emphasis. "But I should dearly love to have Kitty in it with us for the winter." And then she was finished. She felt she had played her cards very well. It was the first time that the Darcys had attempted to untangle the very delicate family web that wove itself into their lives, and Lizzy was relieved to be done with her part of it.
Darcy, for his part, was not quite done, and he stood again in thought. Momentarily, he noticed that the sun was very much finished with its daily tour of the sky. "It is dark," he observed to his wife. "Shall we continue this inside, over supper?"
Elizabeth, disappointed, pressed her lips together. "We cannot continue this with Georgiana present. And I wonder..." she stopped herself from finishing her thought; I wonder how you can have much more to think about; she is my sister, after all!
Though she had not continued her remark, her husband (whose mind reading abilities were nearly canny as her own,) heard the implication in her voice, and sighed ruefully. What was there to do? He must risk Georgiana's nearly faultless upbringing, or bear his wife's resentment.
"I will trust that you are right, Elizabeth." He swallowed a sigh and offered her his arm. "After we have had our supper, I hope it will give you both pleasure when you inform Georgiana that she will be hosting a winter companion." Darcy hoped very much that his voice had not sounded as tight as it had felt.
Elizabeth did not seem to mind his voice, for she took the offered arm, and warmly kissed the respective cheek. "I know she will be pleased," was her reply, as they walked together back to the house, Elizabeth fairly skipping, so excited was she at the prospect of bringing Kitty to Pemberley. In this state of heady anticipation, Elizabeth failed to observe her husband's eyes, and the concern that still lingered about in them. Nor did she notice that he took his leave of her without a word when they parted to ready themselves for supper.
Chapter Two: Disclosure and Doubts
After the Darcys had called down Georgiana and all three had enjoyed a fine meal, William excused himself into the library to give the ladies their privacy. When he had left the room, Elizabeth smiled broadly at Georgiana across the table.
"Can you guess what I have to tell you?" She asked eagerly.
"Has my brother consented to your idea?" breathed Georgiana with delight. "Do tell me what you have planned!" Her eyes shone like blue stars in the candlelight, and her lower lip trembled with excitement.
"You are sweet," mused Elizabeth, "But I shall no longer keep you in this suspense. What would you say to hosting a visitor here at Pemberley in the winter?"
Georgiana held her breath, only managing to gasp out "Who, who?"
Elizabeth laughed. "My sister Catherine, whom you have heard me call Kitty. She is eighteen- but six months older than you are- and William and I thought you might like a sister your own age to accompany you through this season."
Georgiana's eyes were bright as she considered this wonderful news. A sister! Her own age! To have a friend at Pemberley throughout the whole winter- to become closer to her dear Elizabeth's family- it was ideal! And then she had another happy thought- "She will be at the ball! I shall have someone of my very own to confide in about everything!"
"I thought you might like that," laughed Elizabeth, as Georgiana started up from the table and came around to grasp her hands feverishly.
It was not as though Georgiana had no female acquaintance, for several girls in the neighbourhood were wont to call upon one another. But a sister was an entirely different kind of companion. "You are too good to me," she said, her clear voice intense with the thrill of this new anticipation.
Elizabeth stood as well, and hand in hand the two young ladies proceeded into the music room, that Georgiana might play at the pianoforte before retiring to bed, as she often did. Tonight, however, though she sat at the keys, she could not play a note.
"Tell me all about Kitty! Tell me everything," she begged. Lizzy could only laugh. "What shall we do together? What does she like? When will she come?" The normally reticent Georgiana rattled off half a dozen like questions before her mind stumbled across a nasty impediment. "Oh!" she gasped, and clapped a white hand over her mouth.
Mildly alarmed, and never having seen Georgiana so animated, Elizabeth dropped to her knees beside the piano bench to appease her. "What is it?" she inquired, a bit anxious.
Georgiana looked as though she were suffering under some great weight. "It is only this- perhaps she will not like me at all!"
Elizabeth had to stifle a giggle, for though this exclamation was laughable, it was of the utmost seriousness to her young charge, and had to be considered with delicacy. Not to like Georgiana Darcy! It really was an outrageous thought. Kind, handsome, accomplished, demure; the only difficulty in enjoying her company would be the jealousy that sometimes springs up in women for one another, making them spiteful. There might have been some danger of Kitty's succumbing to envy if Georgiana were the kind of girl to flaunt her excessive luck in life; nothing inspires pettiness in a young girl's heart more quickly than a friend of greater fortune who boasts and condescends to all her fellows. However in Georgiana there lived no such meanness of spirit, and Elizabeth was quick to assuage her fears.
"I am quite sure that Kitty will love you, as I do, and will be as anxious to meet as you are when she receives my letter- that I will send tomorrow," she answered, before she was asked. "But perhaps this little excitement has made us both tired. I think I must go upstairs," confessed Elizabeth, rising to her feet a little slowly, and steadying her balance on the pianoforte.
"You are not going to bed?" asked a disappointed Georgiana.
"I think I must. Something has had me tired quite early these past three weeks," Lizzy murmured, her eyes seeming to turn inward to reflect on the happy possibility that might be affecting her rest. Immediately she wondered if her careless comment had made her sister suspicious of her condition, and she scanned her face for signs of recognition, for she was not ready to disclose her news.
But Georgiana could not notice this allusion in all her excitement, and begged to be allowed to sit up at the pianoforte for an hour, to relieve her thoughts. Lizzy readily consented, and climbed the stairs to her bed accompanied by her own bright thoughts, and the light flying notes of a beautiful, if overzealously played, bit of music.
* * *
An hour later, Georgiana retired to her bedchamber and dressed for the deep, plunging slumber that usually follows two hours of high anxiety. She dismissed her maid, sat before the vanity, and regarded herself bashfully as she combed her hair.
"Good heavens," she chided herself, "You cannot even meet your own eyes in the mirror?" She raised her lids and fastened the two blue orbs on their reflection. Then, carefully, she let her gaze sweep over her girlish face, her white neck and shoulders- as much as they could be seen with all the lace of her prim dressing gown- and her rich, honey colored hair.
"Is this beauty?" she questioned her mirror. "My brother and Elizabeth, in fact all my acquaintance, have called me a beauty at one time or another." She carefully moved all her hair behind her shoulders and gazed thoughtfully at her face. "I am fair enough, I suppose," she conceded, allowing her eyes to admire for a moment the visage that belonged to her. Then a small smile twisted at her mouth and she blushed at her own vain thought. She turned away from the mirror and went to a window seat, nestling herself among pillows and pushing the lace curtains apart.
"So many brilliant stars!" she mused happily, looking above Pemberley, whose own marble columns and many stone garden fixtures made themselves brilliant in the moonlight. "Such a beautiful night! I wonder what Kitty will think of me!" For young girls' musings quickly return to their doubts if left unattended for long. Georgiana stretched her mind in vain to the brief meeting she had enjoyed with Kitty last winter, at William and Elizabeth's wedding. Had they made conversation? What had been said? Had they taken to each other? Oh, why could she not remember anything important? Georgiana's 'brilliant stars' became the backdrop for a multitude of little anxieties that whirled about in her mind until she finally gave up, sighed, and put herself to bed.
* * *
Before her own vanity, Elizabeth let down her hair, gazing at the chamber door in the reflection and wondering why her husband had not come through it yet. For the first time that day, she felt a twinge of worry about their arrangements. Perhaps it was not fair to ask him to accept Kitty as a friend for Georgiana after all- or else some other topic was troubling him. He had rarely come to her this late in the evening. Lizzy frowned, and stared hard at the door as if to make William appear there. Could he doubt her wisdom in this winter experiment? Had she not been in a family of five sisters? Had she not come through the trying experience almost entirely unscathed? She felt her posture stiffen slightly as she considered his late appearance and what it might mean.
No sooner had she arched her spine than her husband stepped into the doorway behind her. Forgetting her worries, Elizabeth admired the sight of him there, and shuddered a little
"Are you cold? Has the fire gone out?"
"The fire is perfectly well, thank you. I shivered because- you are so handsome!" Elizabeth's frank admiration of her husband gave him a thrill of happiness, and he puffed up a bit, even in his bedclothes.
"I have the same reaction to you," he returned intensely.
"Flattery, sir, has never moved either of us before. How is it that we hope to practice it upon each other so effectively?"
"But it is not mere flattery if the speaker is genuine." He crossed behind her chair and laid his hands on her shoulders. "And I am, I assure you." They looked at each other in the mirror for a moment, each marveling at his own good luck.
Lizzy turned her head and lay a kiss on Darcy's fingers so meaningfully that his eyes misted as he watched her. She then shut her eyes and rested her cheek on his hand. "I am so tired," she said, with a little yawn.
Darcy admired the adorable quality of his wife's yawn, and then caught it himself, and took in a gulp of air as he stretched. "Why so tired? Did Georgiana wear you out with questions?" He looked at her for an answer.
Lizzy thought she knew what made her excessively weary tonight, and it was not Miss Darcy's questions. She wondered if she should share the secret that her body might be harboring. No, she dismissed it with a smile, not yet. Better to be absolutely sure. She answered one question without answering the other. "Your sister is positively excited, William. I am so glad we are to invite Kitty. I shall write to Mama tomorrow."
Darcy grimaced without meaning to, at Elizabeth's mention of her mother. She swatted his leg affectionately. "And not a word out of you on the subject of Mrs. Bennet, sir," she cautioned in a playful tone. "I have kept her from Pemberley thus far, have I not?"
"Indeed, my dear, I wonder how you manage it. Mrs. Bennet, I seem to remember, is a most... single-minded woman." Darcy squeezed her shoulders approvingly, happy at this friendly tone of conversation, and how it steered itself naturally to the topic of family. He had just spent an hour in solitary reflection in the library, and desired to speak to his wife about Kitty a little further before any absolute plans were made. He had come to the conclusion that he must share all his reservations with Elizabeth before they made him resentful, and was glad for this open opportunity. But before he could get a word out, the lady before him spoke again.
"I'll tell you how I manage Mama," she said with a slight laugh. "I think of your Aunt- Lady Catherine DeBourgh."
Darcy frowned. "Why on earth?" he demanded. He was not on speaking terms with Lady Catherine, ever since her letter denouncing his marriage to such an 'unworthy' bride as Elizabeth Bennet.
"Something she said in that wicked conversation- if you could even call it that- the one she held with me in the park at Longbourn last autumn."
Darcy's frown dug deeper into his face. "The one in which she endeavored to solicit your promise that you would never become engaged to me?" he asked quietly. He did not like to reflect on the time when Elizabeth had seemed so far from his grasp.
"The very one. Did I ever tell you all her comments?" Lizzy smiled, for she truly found amusement in these memories, if her husband could not. "There was one admonition which regarded my mother particularly. First she told me I would be out of my sphere to marry you. I told her, 'He is a gentleman, I am a gentleman's daughter; so far we are equal.'"
"Yes, I recall your saying that much," sighed William. Then he snorted. "Out of sphere, indeed! What other preposterous thing did she say?" he asked, though he did not know if he wanted to hear it.
"Well of course, she followed my reply about being a gentleman's daughter with the nearest insult to the subject. 'But who was your mother?'" said Elizabeth, imitating Lady Catherine's highborn snobbery to perfection. "'Who are your uncles and aunts? Do not imagine me ignorant of their condition.' And then," Lizzy giggled, "she went on and on about Lydia, and finished her speech with this: 'Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted?' Oh, you should have seen her face!" And Elizabeth shrieked with laughter at the remembered scene.
Darcy was still as a stone. Lizzy looked at him with some surprise.
"You are not even a little bit diverted?" she queried, sobering. "I hope you are not still angry with her for my sake, William, for she affects me not at all. I only think of that remark because it seems such a fitting descriptive of my own scheming to hold Mama at bay from our home. I do not think of it with rancor!"
But her husband was not to be moved from his cheerless sentiments. "I am grieved that any relation of mine has ever insulted your family in such a shocking manner," he said seriously.
Elizabeth's eyes filled with mute laughter at this, for Darcy himself was the author of some of the cruelest comments ever directed at her relations. He saw her thought, and flushed from head to toe.
"I paid the penalty for doing it myself," he protested, "I will never forget my own disgraceful behavior."
"William"- began his wife, "there is no need"- but he silenced her.
"I hope Lady Catherine will not expect forgiveness for what I cannot excuse even in myself," he concluded. His eyes were downcast as he said this, and his countenance wore a look of such agitated sadness and old worry that Elizabeth was truly concerned.
"Well it is all past and forgiven with me. Truly, you must believe that." But Darcy gave no sign of his ease, continuing to avoid his wife's eyes.
It occurred to Lizzy as she watched him that there might be more to her husband's guilty look than this old quarrel with Lady Catherine could actually merit. She narrowed her eyes at him as she tried to divine the reason for his sudden penitent manner. "William," she asked warningly, "what is the matter?"
Darcy's eyes snapped back up to meet hers. He struggled against himself. He must be truthful. But how could he tell Lizzy all his qualms, and be regarded in the same light as Lady Catherine DeBourgh, a boorish snob? The thought disgusted him. Worse yet, he might appear to her as he had that miserable afternoon of his first marriage proposal. He could not abide to see the look in her eyes again that had been there that afternoon at the Hunsford parsonage, when she had declared he was the last man in the world whom she could ever be prevailed on to marry. And though the second proposal had achieved the desired result, he was not satisfied simply to be married to Lizzy. He wanted her to regard him passionately always. She certainly would not do so if he continued to imply that her family were below him.
Tensely, he kissed her hair, feeling he could no longer risk the perfect candor he had resolved upon. "I have no secrets from you, Lizzy," he lied. "These memories pain me; that is all. I wonder they do not pain you as well- but I am glad of it." He sighed, and went to the door. "To own the truth, I feel very tired. You will excuse me?" It seemed Darcy's intention was to go back to his own chamber for the evening- a very rare occurrence that put Lizzy on her guard. The only other time they had slept apart, he had been sick with a fever. But she nodded.
"Of course, William. Good night."
"Good night, Elizabeth."
Puzzled, she watched him go. He had no secrets from her? She hoped not, for his sake. Dimly, she understood that William's anxiety was probably due to the advent of Kitty, and this idea exasperated her. They had been at Pemberley almost a year, and their only visitor thus far had been her father. Did he think that he could avoid associating with her family forever? Let him sulk a little, thought Lizzy. He will get over it by morning. But Mrs. Darcy was not entirely sure this was true, and she missed her husband keenly as she tried to go to sleep.
Chapter 3:The Arrangements:Part One: Longbourn
"Kitty! Kitty, child, where are you! Oh, Kitty, spare my poor nerves and come out at once! Hill! Hill! Where is my daughter Kitty?"
These were the first words out of Mrs. Bennet's pursed mouth upon receipt of her daughter Elizabeth's letter. The letter was meant to invite Kitty to Pemberley, and Mrs. Bennet lost all touch with reality when any reference to that great estate was set before her. Anything pertaining to such a famous and wealthy home as Pemberley must be treated with a flurry of courtly importance, and there must be as much fanfare as one woman alone could create. Mrs. Bennet sighed and shrilled, flailing the letter about as she fretted from room to room calling for Kitty, who seemed to have disappeared.
Mr. Bennet, however, had not the privilege of disappearing. He sat fully visible in his own study, and listened to his wife's shrieks approach the door, praying she would not ruin his peace, yet bracing himself for the worst.
"Mr. Bennet!" cried his wife, as she flung open the door and imposed a world of unnecessary frills on his solitary reverie. "Why do you not help me find Kitty? I am sure you have heard me calling her this half-hour at least. And Hill is nowhere to help me, and I am sure I shall fall to pieces!"
Mr. Bennet turned on his wife with a none-too-friendly eye. The recent removal of his eldest daughters from Longbourn (they had abandoned him to go and be married) had forced him to tolerate an increase in his frequency of contact with his wife. This new development was only barely livable. Though he had never before been a man disposed to vices, and had used to go to his study merely to hide and read books, he now added to that escape a little something extra in the way of port. He allowed himself one- perhaps even two- very potent glasses of the stuff, whenever his wife had tried him beyond his capacity. A more than moderate amount of port was therefore drunk in the study at Longbourn.
And this was most unpardonable. She had entered his retreat, spoiled his quietude, and in short, reminded him that he was not a bachelor. He glowered at her. "Mrs. Bennet, I have but one room in this house which I reserve for sensible people. Pray, do not violate it." He moved to shut the door on her, bonnet ribbons and all.
"Oh, Mr. Bennet, you are a hard man! Well you will never guess what this is!" She dangled the paper from Lizzy above his desk, and snatched it back before he had even lifted his hand to take it. "Oh, what an excellent idea! Kitty! Kitty! Hill!" Mrs. Bennet broke out into shrieks again for her daughter or her maid, and Mr. Bennet was forced to shield his ears with his hands.
"I declare," he had to shout, "Kitty has hid herself somewhere, Mrs. Bennet, for no doubt you have frightened her half to death with your screeches. Now go out of this study and let me in peace. It will take three glasses of rather remarkable port to bring me back 'round after this shocking interruption."
All Mr. Bennet's words were delivered in a dry, even tone that spoke his humor and intelligence. He never gave up hope that one day, some word of sense would penetrate the fortress of ridiculous noise that surrounded his wife. But she was unfortunately not keen enough to perceive his wit, and unfailingly translated his words as insults, whether she understood them or not.
Of course she took offense now. "You break my heart, Mr. Bennet. A very cold, unfeeling husband! For how am I to tell Kitty of this very excellent news from Pemberley," she stressed, "if you will not let me find her out?"
Mr. Bennet looked immediately cheered. "Pemberley! Do you have a missive there from my Lizzy?" And Mr. Bennet smilingly reached for the note that fluttered in his wife's nervous fingers.
"Ah no! That will never do, Mr. Bennet!" she yelped, her nerves turning to steel most conveniently as she clutched the letter to her breast. "If you are so eager to be informed, then you must help me to find her. For I have had to call her myself for this hour at least, and I am near to fainting!"
"I am sure you are, my dear. Perhaps you should call out once more and see if you can't faint after all."
"OH!" screamed she. "Terrible. Truly you care nothing for the frailty of my constitution!" Mrs. Bennet flounced stormily into the hall with the letter still tight to her bodice, to continue her search for Kitty.
"Frail indeed," muttered her husband under his breath. "Would you were as frail as you profess to be, that you might keep above stairs- and quiet!" But he rose and followed her into the parlor for she still possessed the letter, and the joy he reaped from news of his favourite daughter far outweighed the irritation of being longer in the same room with his wife.
When the Bennets entered the parlor (Mrs. Bennet in a full march,) they discovered Kitty lounging on the chaise, unperturbedly twirling a bit of lavender ribbon around her finger, staring most forwardly at them.
"Kitty girl! Did you not hear me calling to you?" demanded her mother in her shrillest tone. "For I have been wearing myself out this hour and a half, trying to find you!"
"It has been but five minutes, Mama," retorted Kitty dispassionately. "I came to the parlor and listened to you yell. I have been waiting for you to quit parading about and find me."
Mr. Bennet snorted. Perhaps Kitty had some sense, even if she did express it crudely. "Come now, child," he reasoned. "Let us give your mother our audience. She has a letter from Lizzy."
Kitty put her legs up on the chaise, crossed her ankles, and stared at the ceiling. "What do I care for letters from Lizzy?" came her disdainful reply.
Kitty was disposed, at eighteen, to openly disapprove of anything her parents shewed interest in. In her heart, of course, she admired both her older sisters dreadfully and felt desperate to hear the letter. But she was tired of being compared to them as well: Lizzy so intelligent and spirited, Jane so beautiful and good!- and she would not admit her love if she could help it. She was determined to punish her mother and father for their favoritism and mistreatment of her.
Indeed, she was correct. Jane had been a favourite of her mother's simply for being beautiful, and then she had married well, cementing her appeal. Elizabeth had been her father's favourite daughter, and he shared all his wit and friendship with her. Lydia, before she had eloped, had been entirely doted on by Mrs. Bennet, for she shared exactly the same disregard for all propriety as her mother, and they had a fine time together squealing over every silly notion. Her other sister Mary was no one's favourite, to be sure, but since Mary did not seem to care, Kitty forgot about her and was only sorry for herself.
There had not been much at Longbourn for Kitty. The youngest but one in a house of five daughters, with nothing astonishing to recommend her, she had spent most of her young life following Lydia about in the hopes of receiving any overflow of her mother's affection. She had learned that to be paid attention to she must make a spectacle of herself, and so she did: with her mother, with her acquaintance, and even with the men of the regiment when they had passed through Meryton.
Without Lydia, however, Kitty was at a loss for how to proceed. Lydia had been her only companion among her sisters, and not only was she now deprived of her company, she had been punished for her elopement. Certainly Kitty had known the disgraceful secret, but no one had ever taken the time to make her sensible of the gravity of Lydia's mistake, so she had thought it a great joke. When the elopement and its sad concealment were discovered, Mr. Bennet realized he had been remiss in his daughters' education. He began to make up for his prior lack of attention by confining Kitty's activities to the house and grounds of Longbourn where he could keep an eye on her until she could prove herself a sensible girl. He would have no more daughters running off from Brighton with soldiers of ill repute. Kitty would bear all the consequences of his folly, and Lydia's.
To a girl of eighteen, it is unbearable to be punished for wickedness you did not even have the pleasure of committing yourself, and this is just how Kitty felt. Wounded and unjustly treated, the young Miss Bennet spent the first few months of her confinement in a pathetic martyrdom of spirit. But her self-pity quickly wore out, and by March, Kitty's aggrieved air had become a simmering dislike of both her parents. Mrs. Bennet had laid off paying attention to Kitty once her favorite daughter had eloped, and her father seemed to her a most unreasonable jailer. Was she to lean on Mary for support? Prudish Mary could not support anything but a read-aloud of Fordyce's Sermons, or a discussion of feminine virtue and its brittle nature, and Kitty could no longer tolerate any such discourse.
Everything was unfair. Lizzy and Jane had one another and their husbands, Lydia was off gallivanting with her soldier, and Kitty was quite alone in her sufferings. Truly, she believed her sharp-tongued manner of speaking to her parents to be her only relief, and she felt very little remorse over it, if any. Armed with these sentiments she continued to glare at the ceiling while she pretended not to care a whit for Lizzy, or her letter.
"Well, smirk if you will, Miss Kitty, and see if your father allows you to go to Pemberley for the winter!" cried a much-abused Mrs. Bennet, at the end of her rope. "I am sure I do not know how I shall go on! Your father always insulting me, and you slouching in your gown so that you ruin your figure- oh, I am an ill-treated woman!"
Kitty had only heard the first sentence of her mother's tirade and her eyes, usually narrowed in opposition, had flown open. "To Pemberley!" she gasped. "What, me?" She could not believe it. She had never been a favorite of Lizzy's- especially since the ordeal with Lydia. She had much more expected that Jane should invite her to Netherfield- if anyone should ever invite her anywhere again- for Jane, as we are all aware, bestowed her kindness on everyone alike.
"Yes, if you are very lucky and stop this cruelty to your poor mother, you shall be allowed to go. But if you are going to be fresh with me, I promise you, you will be in Longbourn the whole winter, and sit at your needlepoint!" This being the worst threat Mrs. Bennet could conjure from her limited imagination, she breathlessly sat back to see the effect it would have on her daughter. But there was none.
"Pemberley!" repeated Kitty, in a daze.
"Yes, yes, you pronounce it nicely, Kitty. Well done," teased her father. Kitty giggled in spite of herself.
"That isn't funny, Papa," she said hastily, attempting to restore her careless attitude. But rebellion seemed to have been momentarily flushed out of Kitty, and she could only laugh again, to her father's delight and her mother's consternation.
"Well!" practically shouted Mrs. Bennet. "Perhaps you do not care to hear the letter! A fine thing, to tease my nerves into this state and all for nothing-" but she could not continue, for her husband cut her off with an impatient bellow,
"Have mercy, Mrs. Bennet, and read the blasted letter! No more of your nerves!"
Both ladies were duly shocked at his strong language, and Mr. Bennet permitted himself a little breath of relief in the pause it created. The pause did not last long, for Mrs. Bennet found opportunity to noisily adjust herself- gown, bonnet, spectacles, and letter- before she finally began to read.
"October 25, 18__
I hope this letter finds all my family in good health and good spirits. My husband, myself and Georgiana are all well.
I write for a very particular reason, and I hope you will be able to accommodate my wish. I should very much like to have Kitty with us here at Pemberley for the winter season, and would like her to come the first of November- or as soon afterwards as she can be spared from Longbourn.
You see, mama, Miss Darcy is happy to have a sister in me, but I fear that as much of my attention is taken with the demands of the household and my leisure time is most often spent in the happy company of my husband, my sister-in-law has been left too much alone. It is my belief that Kitty, being nearly the same age, would be an excellent companion for her.
Please give my dear father all my love, and respond to this letter as soon as ever you find the time. Georgiana is quite desperate for Kitty's decision, as am I.
Your loving daughter,
When the letter came to close, Kitty's face was alight. "I shall be the particular companion of Georgiana Darcy! For the whole winter! Oh Papa, say I may go!" She turned to apply to Mr. Bennet, but he was peering keenly at Mrs. Bennet, who had quickly secreted Lizzy's letter into her apron pocket when she had finished reading it.
"A moment, child," he said to Kitty. "Mrs. Bennet, may I not have the pleasure of looking at the letter myself? I would like to see Lizzy's handwriting again. It gives me comfort."
Guilt was written in every line of his wife's face. "You should look at another letter if you want to see her penmanship. Why should you need this one?" she protested, fussing with a ribbon on her sleeve as she avoided his eyes.
"Pray, Mrs. Bennet, do not vex me, for I know your countenance better than I wish to. What is the difficulty? Show me the letter." Mr. Bennet held out his hand quite firmly in the direction of her apron pocket, and she jerked away from him.
"I shall not give it to you- it is not addressed to you at all."
"Is it not then? To whom is it addressed?"
"Why to myself! Mr. Bennet, I am sure I don't understand you. You are in quite a temper." She attempted to reverse the attack. "You should be making plans with Kitty here, not looking after some piece of paper. Look at your accounts! Can we send her with a new gown? How shall we afford a carriage? Will it all be within our means?"
Mr. Bennet now knew for certain that his wife was hiding something, because she never referred to their "means" if she could help it, but frittered money away as if it were nothing to her. This evasiveness was certainly very flimsily constructed, and it was not to be borne a moment longer.
"Show me the envelope," he demanded. "I would like to see exactly what is amiss with this letter, for I know that it is something, Mrs. Bennet."
"I will not!"
"Pray, woman, do not make me cause you physical alarm. I will search your apron for you at the count of three. One. Two." Mr. Bennet bent into a crouch and aimed himself at his wife. "Three!" Before he could lunge at her, Mrs. Bennet conceded.
She glared at him, and slumped her shoulders. "You are a hard man for a husband," she accused. "But here is your envelope- see if I care about it!"
And she thrust a rumpled paper into his hand. There on the front, the letter was clearly addressed: 'To Mrs. Bennet & Miss Catherine Bennet'.
"Aha!" cried Mr. Bennet, showing the address to Kitty, who was shocked. "It is yours as well, Kitty, and you may demand to see it if you wish to. I would certainly do it, too, if I were you," he encouraged.
Kitty looked at her mother. "Mama," she began carefully-
"So! You are going to begin demanding things of your mother are you? Well that's as fine a thing as ever I heard. I do believe this will drive me to distraction. Hill! Hill! Bring my smelling salts, for I feel a wave of unconsciousness coming over me!" And Mrs. Bennet swooned into an overstuffed chair.
Kitty was unmoved by this display. "Mama. I think it is fair that I should see what is addressed to me. Please hand me the letter." Her tone was unprovoked, and even sweet, with none of her usual petulance. Her father marveled at her.
"Kitty," he said, "I have never heard you sound so rational."
This being the highest compliment her father had ever paid her, Kitty flushed with happiness and was emboldened. "I should like to see the letter now, Mama," she said with a smile, and held out her hand.
Her mother groaned and sighed as she dug in her apron for the carefully pocketed epistle, and handed it over with a loud "Harrumph!"
Kitty quickly unfolded the letter and skimmed it through. What was that paragraph there? Mama must have skipped it. Kitty read aloud.
"I hope very much that Kitty will want to come to us. I have enclosed a little private correspondence for her alone, in the hopes of further enticing her."
Kitty squealed and jumped up and down twice, forgetting that she was eighteen years old, and did not care about anything. "Oh, where is it?" she asked breathlessly.
"She enclosed a private correspondence?" asked Mr. Bennet. "You had better give it to her, then."
Mrs. Bennet frowned and shook a finger at her daughter. "Mind you don't give yourself airs over this, Miss Kitty. I am sure this is no particular correspondence at all, and I will never know why she needed to write it. Oh! I am her mother! And Kitty, I will think very ill of you if you do not share the private letter with me, too." And Mrs. Bennet withdrew from another pocket a folded paper, bearing the Darcy seal.
Nothing so personal or important had ever come to Longbourn for Kitty, and she was truly amazed when it passed into her hand. She gazed at it a moment before replying.
"I am sorry you will be thinking so ill of me, mother," she said, "but I should like to wait and read this when I am alone." She passed a finger over the wax seal, and felt her heart beat rather quickly. What could Lizzy have to say? She must run up to her room at once. But no, first she must secure her permission to go away for the winter. She turned back to her father to find him regarding her very gently.
"If you go, Kitty, I don't know what I shall do," he said. "For I will be here with your mother and Mary for the whole winter, and there shall be nothing reasonable in my life"
Kitty beamed. "Do you mean to say that I am reasonable, Papa?" Her tone was young and hopeful; she clearly depended upon her father's good opinion more than she had ever let on.
"I do, Kitty, I do, from time to time. Though there are other things you need to learn." He cocked his head to one side. "However, I think you may go and learn them at Pemberley," he conceded, holding back a smile as his daughter flew into his arms and hugged him for the first time that he could remember.
Mrs. Bennet flopped her hands into her lap and wailed. "Oh! This is the hardest day of my life! You are both cruel to me!" And she continued to wail as Mr. Bennet kissed Kitty's forehead, and released her to her room.
"Enough, Madame, enough," he consoled his wife. "There is no need for tears. Be glad that you will have Mary all to yourself for three months together." And he laughed out loud as Mrs. Bennet broke into a round of loud, imaginary sobs.
* * *
Kitty closed the door to her bedroom to shut out the sound of her mother's cries, and collapsed on her back on the bed. Lord, what a row! She rolled over and stared at the letter, which had 'Kitty' written in a beautiful hand on the front fold. "Lizzy writing me? Whatever will be next!" she murmured to herself as she carefully peeled the paper apart from the wax, and unfolded the rather long note. Kitty shut her eyes and swallowed, so excited was she. And then she read.
I know what it must have cost you to get this little paper away from Mama and run upstairs with it. But you may laugh now, for you are coming to be with me, and there will be no further meddling in your business.
I am wholeheartedly happy that you will be Georgiana's companion for the winter. May I offer a few suggestions as to what to pack and how to behave? Do not be alarmed- for I am not going to suggest anything terribly difficult.
First of all, pack your best gowns as well as your comfortable ones, for I am sure there will be parties while you are with us. Miss Darcy will also be hosting a ball here at Pemberley, (another reason we thought she should have a particular friend here with her,) but you need not worry about a gown for that. We will purchase it together! And Kitty, bring good boots. The grounds are immense, and you will want to walk them, I am sure.
Secondly, you and I must share a confidence so that I can be entirely easy with your visit. You must be absolutely sensible of the importance of keeping this a secret within yourself; I ask you only because you are my sister, and in order to spare my new family any unnecessary pain."
Kitty's curiosity had never been so piqued. Thank goodness her father had discovered the true direction of the letter! If Lizzy's confidence had passed into her mother's thoughtless hands- but she would not consider that outcome. Luck was with her; she held the letter in her hands; the seal had been unbroken. She continued reading,
"You are aware that I have very particular feelings about Lydia and her husband. In short, I never mention them at Pemberley. It is as if they are not relations at all. I must enlist your support on this matter. You are aware, I think, that Mr. Wickham and Mr. Darcy were connected as children, and parted badly. This has had its effect on both my husband and his sister, and old wounds need not be re-opened.
I need to know that you will not discuss Lydia with Miss Darcy. I need to know especially that you will never, never mention George Wickham's name before any of the household. You must send me your reply at once by express post (my father will help you- give him my love)- so that I know we understand each other.
These necessities aside, Kitty, I cannot wait to see you here. I hope you will like Pemberley, and Miss Georgiana. I imagine you will!
Try to endure Mama until November first!
Kitty was highly amused by this conspiracy. What a laugh! All this fuss about Mr. Wickham? He never did anything so very bad, In Kitty's opinion. Who cared about the elopement, for he had married Lydia in the end, had he not? Mr. Darcy certainly took his childhood grudges very seriously. But then again, she considered, what was it to her to hold her tongue about Wickham? She could do it easily if that was all that was required in order to escape Longbourn.
Kitty read the note again, and then once more. When she was finally satisfied that she could comply with its contents, she sat at her desk, inked her pen, and rushed an affirmative reply to her sister.
Chapter 3: Part Two: Netherfield
Charles Bingley read the morning newspaper and drank his coffee like a proper English gentleman, except that his eyes twinkled like a boy of fourteen as he went about it. And he had good reason to be merry. His wife, nee Jane Bennet, had been at his side for nearly ten months now, and she was as more an angel than ever. Each day Bingley arose to a smiling world of Jane, a Netherfield touched by her graces, the lingering scent of her in every room.
If this were not enough to make any man's eyes twinkle, Charles and Jane Bingley had, not two weeks earlier, welcomed another soul into the world, an infant Charles Bingley, tiny and breathtakingly perfect. Bingley's chest swelled with pride and love as he pored over the news from London, for he could not read a word of it, though he tried. His mind was completely occupied with the two persons who lay upstairs, Young Charles asleep, and Jane recuperating from her lying-in.
Thinking of them, Bingley's eyes glazed over, and he stared out the window in a rapt sort of daze. He did not notice a faint noise at the door, or the light tread of footsteps that approached the breakfast table.
"Charles." Jane spoke softly, seeing that he was far away. At the first sound of her voice, he immediately snapped back to attention, and leapt to his feet, upsetting his coffee across the table.
"Jane!" he exclaimed, as he rushed to her side and gave her his arm. "What are you doing downstairs? You look wonderful! Oh, how I love to see you here again!" came his comments in a rush, as boyishly as when he had first courted her. For his wife was as a saint to him just now, having just borne a perfect child and heir, and he did not quite know how to handle himself around her.
Jane, for her part, calmly took his arm, and gratefully allowed him to support her as she sat at the table and smiled at Sarah, who was mopping up the pool of forgotten coffee.
"I am sorry, Sarah," said Bingley sheepishly, following Jane's gaze to the mess he had created. "I'm not myself these past two weeks."
"Of course not, sir," returned Sarah with a grin, as she retreated to the kitchen.
Charles turned back to Jane and took her hand. This adored creature was at the breakfast table! What to do? He kissed her hand, and held it to his lips for a long, reverent moment, until she broke into a soft laugh and pulled the complimented extremity back into her lap.
"Charles, you spoil me," she blushed. "I am downstairs because I felt quite well this morning, and have been these two weeks without our usual breakfast conversation. I could not stand another day in bed." She sighed, and rested back in her chair, for she was weakened, however she protested.
"I have missed you, Jane," he confessed. "I am glad to see you are feeling stronger. How is Charles?" he asked her, beaming. "How is our perfect son?"
"He is perfectly asleep," returned Jane, "and I am perfectly hungry. Porridge upstairs is not as sustaining as eggs and toast downstairs, I think," she said, as Sarah returned to serve her breakfast.
"Indeed not," said Charles. "Eggs and toast will do you marvelous good. You will be strong again in no time. How long do you suppose it will be until you are... quite yourself?" For Charles had truly missed his wife as a daily companion, as well as he had missed their conjugal felicities. Jane caught both implications.
"The physician told me that I will be well enough for all my... activities... by the second week in November," she said, the heat rising to her cheeks. Charles bent his head and did some hasty calculations.
"November! That is excellent!" The force of this exclamation made both the Bingleys redden, and then they laughed heartily, Jane through a bite of eggs so that she nearly choked. When they were both quite recovered, and Charles was satisfied that Jane would not suffocate on her first solid breakfast, he sighed. "My darling, it is too long since we have been ourselves."
"I think," returned Jane wryly, "that we shall never be ourselves again." And she cast a backward glance toward the stairs, thinking of the tiny person who depended on them utterly. Her voice became prayerful; "And I would not wish it otherwise."
"Indeed," agreed Bingley. "I have never been happier- and I thought that when you accepted my proposal last autumn, it was certainly the peak of my delight in life. But you have made me more satisfied than any man has a right to wish for. I have yet to find even one fault in my adorable Jane."
"Mercy, Charles," said Jane in mock surprise, "have you been looking for fault all this time? If I had only known, I would have been glad to oblige you, and show you the entire catalogue of my imperfection!" She giggled.
"It will take but a moment," bantered her husband. "Pray, show the catalogue."
Jane paused, and considered. "Well, there is my difficulty in being kind to people."
"Your what?" Bingley stared at her, agape. "I hope you are still joking, for I have never known anyone half so kind as you are."
Jane shook her head. "But sometimes it is more difficult than it should be. For instance, my mother...." she trailed off, unable to put into words the feelings she harbored for her mother. That she loved her was sure. But she certainly did not desire her company any more than was absolutely necessary, and she was a little fatigued from Mrs. Bennet's constant, unannounced visits to Netherfield. Being only three miles from Longbourn made it far to easy for Mrs. Bennet to bounce in and out of the Bingley's happy existence, putting a strain in even the simplest conversation with the total want of propriety. She was an embarrassment, and much as it pained Jane to own it, so it was.
Charles understood that Jane could not express the feelings he too felt for Mrs. Bennet, and had long sought a way to relieve his wife (and himself) of the constant presence of her mother. Recently, marvelously, the solution had come to him. His dearest friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy, had discovered a property not thirty miles from Pemberley, in the neighbouring county of Nottinghamshire. A month before, Bingley and Darcy had gone together to the property under the pretense of a late-summer hunt, for both men wanted to surprise their wives with the happy news, should they be able to bring the Bennet sisters closer together. Indeed, the house was perfect. A bit larger, even, than Netherfield, and very prettily situated in the countryside. He had made an offer of purchase to its previous owner, and it had been accepted. All that he required before making the purchase was his wife's consent, and he had persuaded the owner to wait until Jane's lying-in was done, to come to a final decision.
The lying-in was quite done. Here was Jane, at the table, smiling serenely and eating toast in her graceful way. Charles admired her neck, and the deep cut of her bodice, and then he smiled a perfectly charming smile at her across the table. In his eyes danced the happy news.
Jane knew her husband's face well enough by now to know that something was afoot, and she lay down her fork to welcome whatever it could be. Dabbing her napkin to her mouth, she spoke, "Pray, my love, tell me why you look as though you will burst if you don't tell me some secret?"
Charles was surprised. "How can you tell I have a secret? Do you know about it? Who told you?"
Jane laughed sweetly. "You are as transparent as that window," she said, pointing behind him to the large glass frame. "Something is making you very happy this morning- something even more than Little Charles, or my being downstairs."
"You are an observant woman," said her husband. "There is something."
"Aha," said Jane seriously, smiling with her eyes. "What is the something?"
"Well... you were speaking of your mother, and I know that you are longing... let us not say you are longing to be away from her, but you are hoping to someday have a bit more...space."
Jane nodded solemnly. "I think that is a just observation."
"Exactly." Charles cleared his throat, unsure of the best way to surprise her. "This news I have pertains to giving you more space."
"Oh, Charles! Are we to go away on some kind of holiday?"
"Better," he said, rubbing his hands together. This was such fun! "An extended 'holiday' as you call it. Darcy has found a property called Glenstead. It is within thirty miles of Pemberley, in Nottinghamshire. Last month, when I told you I had gone hunting, I was actually visiting the place with Darcy. Jane, it is beautiful. It is all you could wish- even to Netherfield. And what is more..." Bingley smiled mischievously, "it is out of reach of those who would like to visit far too often!"
Jane shivered with delight. "And have you purchased it? Charles, are we really to move closer to Lizzy?" And away from Mama! she thought, with a twinge of guilt.
"I waited to purchase it, but the owner has accepted my offer. I needed to be sure it was all agreeable to you, and I wanted to wait until you were strong enough to come down and discuss it." Charles sat straight in his chair, eyes fixed on his heroine. Had he done everything she would have wanted? The answer was in her eyes as she shone them at him.
"You are so very good," she whispered, tears in her eyes. "Nothing, nothing could make me happier than this. We will take Little Charles and settle near Lizzy, in Glenstead."
Charles came around the table, knelt, and kissed his happy wife, who responded warmly, wrapping her arms around him. Just then, a servant arrived with the post. Jane and Charles flew apart, rather like children who had been caught at something, and Charles took the letters, dismissing the servant hastily. He sorted the letters quickly, finding one for Jane. "I believe it is from Mrs. Darcy," he said, as he handed it to her.
"Lizzy!" said Jane, enraptured. For there was truly nothing she missed from her former life as a Bennet so much as she missed her sister, and she and Elizabeth had been apart since the Darcys had visited Netherfield, five months before. She opened the letter with zeal, and proceeded to read it there at the table.
"Why Charles!" she exclaimed after a few moments. "What perfect timing we have. When do you think we will be finally moved into Glenstead?"
"The house is already empty. It should take a fortnight, if you want to begin immediately. Why?"
"Lizzy and Mr. Darcy are hosting a ball for Georgiana in December, and my sister Kitty will be with them through the whole season!" Jane could not believe her good fortune. "I will be with two of my sisters! And a ball! Oh, I cannot bear any more joy, Charles. Would you support me upstairs? I believe all this happiness has made me tired," and Jane laughed as her husband not only supported her, but picked her up entirely.
"I believe I am in love with you, Mrs. Bingley," he said, as he carried her up to her chamber, reveling that he had been able to bring her joy.
"I believe you are the kindest husband and the best man in the world," she said, "so it follows that I must also be in love with you." He laid her down and kissed her, then went away downstairs.
"I will purchase Glenstead today," he fairly sang to no one in particular as he entered his office. "I will clear out Netherfield in a fortnight, and I will arrange that Jane and Little Charles will be as comfortable as can be in the whole process." Humming, Mr. Bingley sat to read his own letters. Happily, he found that one was addressed in Mr. Darcy's bold hand.
"Fitz, old boy! What can you be up to?" he muttered, as he tore open the seal and sat back to read.
Mr. Bingley had not read the letter for a minute when he had to lay it down again. He stole a guilty glance in the direction of the stairs, looking for Jane. What would she think of this... outburst?
Satisfied no one was watching him, he apprehensively finished the letter. He had never seen Darcy leave a blot before- but here were two! Good God, man, thought Bingley. I hope you can hold out these next two weeks, for there is no chance of our being at Pemberley 'til then.
Thoughts of his friend only troubled him another minute before his brain wandered back to happier ideas. Bingley had never been a man prone to long, reflective brooding. He shoved the letter under a box of cigars, pushed its contents out of his mind, and directed a much pleasanter correspondence to Glenstead.
Chapter Four: Kitty Arrives
November first dawned bright and clear, and Georgiana rose early. She wished she could sleep longer, for it would be evening before Kitty arrived in Derbyshire and she wanted to shorten the day. But she was too eager to sleep. She paced the chamber and the hall in her bedclothes, looking very much like her brother in attitude as she did so, thinking of ways to make the day go quickly by.
She rang the bell for Hannah and Mrs. Joel, who came to set her hair and help her with her gown. Her toilette took twice the usual time for she would not stop fidgeting.
She went down the stairs as quickly as decorum would allow, and found her brother and his wife at breakfast, nearly done. "Good morning!" she called out cheerfully as she entered the breakfast room and sat. "I will take coffee today, Sarah."
Both Elizabeth and Darcy understood this uncharacteristically robust greeting to be the result of excitement, and they exchanged bemused glances.
Georgiana tapped her foot under the table, making all their breakfasts quiver in the plates as she released excess energy. Her brother raised one eyebrow at her, and her foot immediately came to a halt.
"I am sorry, brother. But how am I to master my anticipation?" Georgiana cried, looking rather like she would like to start tapping both feet at once, and very hard.
"After your breakfast, you and I shall go out riding together. That will help to calm you," Darcy answered, laying down his fork. "And after that, you will spend an hour at the pianoforte, and after that, some form of study."
"Study! Oh, William, but I can hardly concentrate at all! And I am not in my studies any longer; I am out, now."
"And yet you shall study. I do not want you to get the idea that simply because you are no longer with a governess, you have no reason to improve your mind, or that because you have a visitor, you are on an extended holiday."
"So I shall be studying all the time she is with us?" the ghost of a pout came into Georgiana's voice.
"Having company should be no impediment to your education, Georgiana, and education is never over."
"Kitty will join you in reading sometimes, I think," said Elizabeth, shaking her head at Mr. Darcy's incurably fatherish behavior toward his sister. He was especially irritable this morning, and Lizzy wondered what the matter was. She knew Georgiana was nervous to be receiving her guest. But what was William's apprehension? Elizabeth frowned. If he harbored some further feelings of unease about Kitty, he had hidden them very cleverly for the past week. She had only sensed his tension that first evening. But here he was, on edge again, even a bit sharp-tongued with his dear Georgiana. Lizzy took a deep breath and pushed back her chair. It was too late for reservations; Kitty was to arrive that afternoon. He would simply have to cure his jitters with a nice, long ride.
"I am going upstairs to supervise that Kitty's rooms are ready. Have a lovely turn about the park." Elizabeth took her leave of her family, and set about relieving her own mind by concentrating on her final preparations as hostess.
In her absence, William regarded his sister with a more tender eye. He did not mean to smother her with protection, though sometimes he could not help himself.
"I am sure you will have plenty of time aside from your lessons to be with your friend," he assured her. "I was reacting to you out of my own nervous feelings. Forgive me."
"And why should you be nervous, brother?"
Darcy looked about him. "Let us go on our ride," he said.
Georgiana understood that he desired to speak to her out of doors and out of hearing, though why she could not imagine. Curious, she dabbed her napkin to her mouth and declared her breakfast finished.
Together, she and her brother walked to the stables. They mounted their horses in silence, eager to get a distance between themselves and the house so they might speak freely of what troubled William. "Come, Andromeda," was Georgiana's only whisper, as she dug her heels into the horse.
Once a field's length away from the stables, Mr. and Miss Darcy slowed their horses.
"Georgiana, I wish to inquire after you. Are you perfectly easy about receiving Kitty?"
She was shocked. "Should I not be?"
"I only wish to know if... is there any particular reason you might be uncomfortable about the arrangements."
Georgiana was truly at a loss. She had no idea whatsoever he could be speaking of. Her face betrayed this, and her brother relented.
"You do not understand what I mean."
She shook her head. "I do not. Why should I be uncomfortable with Kitty? I am shy about receiving her, to be sure, but you know I am always shy with new people. What is this particular interest?"
Darcy considered. He did have a particular anxiety, but if Georgiana did not seem to feel it, he wondered whether introducing the idea to her mind was prudent. He decided it was not.
"It doesn't matter." He turned his horse east, but Georgiana did not budge.
"I am not going, William, until you tell me what the trouble is. I am your sister,I am nearly eighteen, and I want you to confide in me."
He had never heard her sound so resolute.
"Dearest, I am only trying to protect you. If you are not worried, I do not want to make you so."
"I am tired of being protected."
The words had a sharp effect on Darcy. He paled and was quiet. It was what he had feared- she was growing up and would have to be allowed more information about the world. He wished he had not spoken at all, and heartily regretted bringing her out for this conversation.
"Very well, I will tell you," he said through gritted teeth. "Though I fear it will pain you."
"Thank you, William."
"It is about.... it is about a subject I do not wish to address. But I fear that Kitty might address it, being that she was somewhat involved. I wanted to be sure that you were prepared, in case it should come up. Can you guess what I am speaking of?"
It was Georgiana's turn to grow pale and quiet. "Mr. Wickham?" she asked in a very small voice.
"Yes," said her brother. "You know that he is married to Elizabeth's sister Lydia- we discussed it last year when the marriage was announced in the papers."
"Kitty was Lydia's closest sister. I worry that she will bring all this back to your attention, and I know that it cannot give you pleasure to think of it." Darcy paused, and tried to read his sister's expression.
"You are afraid that I will be upset if Kitty mentions Mr. Wickham in my presence?"
"Ah." Georgiana pulled her horse up alongside her brother's, and looked him in the eye. "Well you need not worry about me. Kitty may talk of her brother in law if she likes. I do not want you to hover over us and try to keep her from upsetting me. She is our sister now, and I want her to be my friend. I will be twice as nervous to receive her if I think that you are unhappy to have her at Pemberley." Georgiana drew herself up as straight as she could. "I am not a child, William."
Darcy nodded. "Very well," was all he said. He dug his heels into his horse, and rode on ahead.
Georgiana watched him, worried that she had been too forward. She did not mean to hurt him, for he had been the best brother in the world, and she was truly grateful for his guardianship. He must understand however that the time had come to step away and trust her, and she must make him see that she was ready. No matter what Kitty says to me, I will not run to my brother, she thought. It might pain her, but she felt she was old enough to face the things that gave her displeasure.
Across the field, Darcy had turned back his horse and was gesturing for her to join him in the ride. Apparently he was not much disturbed any longer, for he was smiling at her. Georgiana kicked her horse into a gallop, pleased that her brother did not seem discouraged by their conversation. She joined him swiftly, and Mr. Darcy and his sister spent the rest of the morning together without any further reference to George Wickham.
* * *
The carriage came to a halt and rather jostled Kitty awake. She groaned, and stretched her neck from side to side. What a long journey! Where was she? What time was it? Far off, she heard bells chiming. Already ten o'clock! Kitty slumped back in her seat and sighed. Would they never get to Pemberley?
"Pemberley, Miss," called the driver, at that moment.
Kitty sprang awake. Hurrah! She hurriedly stepped out of the carriage with the help of a footman, and was afforded her first glimpse of the heaven her sister called home.
The grounds of Pemberley were dark; she paid them no mind. But the house! Kitty's mouth fell wide open as she ogled the grand front steps. Many of the windows were alight with candles, and torches had been lit around the outside of the house. Pemberley seemed to rise up out of the night like a great palace, and Kitty could not believe she was to stay in such a place for three full months.
Elizabeth and William watched her from the top of the stairs, and Lizzy smiled with pleasure when she saw the open admiration and awe on Kitty's face.
"I remember my first view of Pemberley," she murmured to her husband.
"As do I," he returned mischievously. Lizzy shook her head.
"I mean my very first glimpse. Before you came along unexpectedly and disarmed me completely!"
Darcy grinned. "And what did you feel upon your first glimpse?"
"I felt I may have been hasty in refusing you your first proposal," she giggled.
"Indeed. So you married me for my money after all?" he teased.
"Never," she said seriously, taking his hand. "When I saw this estate, I knew at once that you must be an excellent man to be able to manage it so beautifully. Pemberley was the first proof that I had grossly misjudged you."
Darcy beamed, for his wife's praise was sweeter to him than anything, and he felt a sudden rush of generosity toward all Bennets everywhere.
"Good evening, Miss Bennet," he called down to Kitty. She was completely absorbed in Pemberley, however, and did not remember to greet him properly.
"What a massive house!" she cried. Darcy smiled, a little tightly. This was not an excellent beginning.
"Wait till tomorrow- it is more beautiful by day," called Lizzy.
"Lizzy!" With no effort at decorum, Kitty lifted her skirts and ran up the steps to her sister, unaware of Mr. Darcy's expression. "Lizzy, this is magnificent! You are beautiful! I cannot believe all this!"
"I know. I felt just the same a year ago. It is too much." Lizzy embraced her sister, happy to be near her. Then she pulled away and looked at her closely.
Kitty was much changed since the year before. Her face was prettier, and her figure fuller. Her hair was very tastefully done, and her gown was more modest than the ones she had used to wear when Lydia was at home. Actually, she looked surprisingly like their mother, who had been a great beauty in her prime. Elizabeth wondered if Kitty realized the changes that had taken place, and wanted to fawn over her right away. But Kitty stopped her with a wide yawn that she did nothing to cover. Darcy frowned at her, but again, she did not notice.
"What a long journey we had!" she exclaimed. "I thought we should never arrive. What were those bells I heard? They woke me."
"The church bells at Lambton," Lizzy replied. "You certainly must be tired. Let us get you straight to your chambers."
Kitty nodded. "But," she said, "is Miss Darcy awake? I should so like to see her." Lizzy said she was, and they all moved into the sitting room, where Georgiana was waiting anxiously to receive her guest.
"Good evening, Miss Bennet," said the young hostess shyly after they had dropped curtsies to one another. "I hope you found your journey a pleasant one." Georgiana took great pains to offer her guest the utmost hospitality. "Shall we go inside at once? I will show you your rooms, and ring Mrs. Reynolds for tea, for I imagine you are cold as well as tired."
Kitty nodded emphatically. "I am, thank you." She began to walk inside after her.
Suddenly, Kitty whirled back around, startling Mr. and Mrs. Darcy, who were right behind her. "Lord!" she burst out. "Papa said I was to show absolute decorum, and I have already forgotten to thank you both for bringing me. Mr. Darcy, I hope I will be a pleasant guest. Lizzy, you are too good to let me come escape from Mary and Mama. Thank you both."
Though her thanks were not entirely graceful and came a moment after good breeding required, Mr. Darcy was pleased that they had come at all. Perhaps Kitty would not be the renegade he had anticipated. She seemed willing to please them, and to understand that she must work within the bonds of propriety. They would simply have to set her a fine example, for she had had none. He bowed slightly to his young in-law.
"You are welcome, Miss Bennet. I hope you will be comfortable here at Pemberley." He looked around to his sister. "Georgiana will take you upstairs and introduce you to Mrs. Reynolds. She can help you with whatever you require." He then turned to his wife. "I think we shall say goodnight?"
"You go up, William. I need another moment with Kitty."
Darcy nodded, and kissed Elizabeth. "Good night, Georgiana. Miss Bennet." He retreated to his bedchamber.
"Well he is very changed since I knew him last!" said Kitty rather too loudly as Mr. Darcy was ascending the stairs. He stopped cold, his mouth open in dread. Would Kitty bring his abominable behavior of last spring to everyone's attention before she had been in the house a quarter of an hour? He grimaced and listened for a reply, which came immediately from his wife.
"He has always been as warm and considerate as you see him now. You will know him for what he truly is, now that you are come." Darcy's heart swelled. He should have known by now that Elizabeth could intercept folly at once, and turn it to her advantage. But this was not the end of the conversation.
"Was my brother very different at Meryton?" queried Georgiana innocently. Her brother, who had always done his utmost to shield her from the knowledge of his blunders, almost ran back down the hall to stop Kitty's mouth before she could answer. But again the answer came from Elizabeth, and in a hurry.
"Girls"- she cut in breathlessly, praying her husband was safely out of hearing- "this is not the time for conversation. It is very late, and Kitty is half asleep already."
"No, Lizzy, truly I"-
Kitty recognized this last as an irrefutable end to the exchange. She gave an impatient little exhale, but surrendered.
"All right, Lizzy. Good night."
Darcy gave a sigh of relief and quickly continued to bed rather than be found eavesdropping by the woman who had just defended his character, while, in the foyer, the young ladies said their adieus to her. Elizabeth left the two girls alone. Georgiana nervously twisted her hands and tried to make a conversation.
"I believe we met last winter at the wedding, Miss Bennet?"
"Oh yes," replied Kitty promptly, without any nerves at all. "But I should not remember anything about that. All I recall about Lizzy's wedding is that several of Mr. Darcy's friends there were fearful handsome. Did you not think so?" Kitty grinned at Georgiana expectantly.
"Of course not- that is...." Unsure of the proper response to this unexpected topic, Miss Darcy faltered. She could think of no answer, and so turned back to the formalities of receiving her guest. "Miss Bennet, if you would follow me." Georgiana turned and made her way awkwardly before Kitty. "Your rooms will be this way, near mine."
Aloof like her brother. What fun this will be, thought Kitty darkly, as she followed.
The two girls then continued in silence- Georgiana because she could not think of what to say; Kitty because she was out of humor. But Kitty's good spirits were quickly revived as they wound through the impressive proportions of Pemberley.
"Lord," she breathed as they passed the music room. "That is fine!"
Georgiana turned to her eagerly. "The pianoforte?" she asked, her eyes lighting up- for that was her favorite object in all the house.
"I have never seen one like that," Kitty admitted.
"Shall I show it to you, Miss Bennet?"
They went together toward the instrument and Georgiana's face was bright with pleasure, her inhibitions forgotten as Kitty admired the smooth ivory and slender gilded legs. "Do you play, Miss Bennet?"
"I do. Though not well, I think. But I have got better at it this past year. There has been nothing else for me to do," and Kitty heaved a great sigh as she came around to the music bench. "May I try?"
Georgiana nodded enthusiastically, and Kitty sat at the keys. She ran her fingers over them a moment before she began to play a light melody that Lizzy had always liked. Clear, effortless notes echoed through the empty room and down into the hallways. When she finished, Georgiana burst into applause.
"Oh, Miss Bennet, you play very well indeed!"
"Oh, no, I am only fair, " blushed Kitty, thrilled at the compliment. To own the truth, she had spent the better part of the last year practising at the pianoforte out of boredom and she had improved a good deal, but no one at Longbourn had ever noticed. She jumped up from the piano bench, feeling a new kinship with her friend. "Won't you play now?" she implored.
Georgiana quickly moved to the bench, eager to comply. Just as she had lifted her fingers over the keys, a voice rang out behind them.
"To bed, girls!" The voice belonged to Pemberley's housekeeper, Mrs. Reynolds. Startled, Georgiana brought her fingers down in a crashed chord. Kitty giggled. Mrs. Reynolds tutted her tongue at both of them. "You will have plenty of time for your music when it is not the middle of the night. To bed," she insisted.
The girls exchanged guilty smiles, and Georgiana immediately led Kitty the rest of the way to her bedroom with Mrs. Reynolds bringing up the rear. When they arrived at the suite of rooms Kitty was to inhabit, Georgiana attempted to bid her goodnight quite formally, but Kitty stopped her, waving the words away intolerantly.
"Please no more Miss Bennets!" she cried. "I am only Kitty."
Georgiana hesitated, groaning inwardly. Few things were more difficult for her in early acquaintance than the intimacy of Christian names; however to please Kitty she concurred. "Then I am only Georgiana. After all, we are sisters," she offered solemnly, echoing Elizabeth's constant reminder to herself.
"Pleasant dreams then -- Kitty," she said, her tone uncertain.
"I'm sure I shall have, in that marvelous bed," replied Kitty, peeking into her room. "Good night, Georgiana."
Georgiana departed to her own rooms, feeling that this had been a successful evening in spite of its imperfections. Her new friend was very...enthusiastic, but she liked music- that much they had in common- and the shy stiffness she had felt at first was quickly dissolving in Kitty's easy company. She retired at once, exhausted from the state of high drama she had lived in all day.
"There is tea on your bedside, Miss Catherine," said Mrs. Reynolds, once she was satisfied that Georgiana had truly gone to bed. "And your trunks were brought in as well. Let me show you."
Kitty followed the old housekeeper into the suite that had been prepared for her, and nearly fell over with surprise. The four poster bed gleamed in the candlelight. The rugs and tapestries were richer than anything she had ever beheld. The windows were enormous. Her trunks looked tiny, suddenly, and old.
"Here is a shawl, Miss," said Mrs. Reynolds, opening an armoire in the alcove. "And here are nightclothes. Mrs. Elizabeth thought you might be too tired to unpack you own things just now."
"Thank you; I am," agreed Kitty.
"Good night then, Miss Catherine."
"Good night, Mrs. Reynolds." The housekeeper left, and Kitty breathed an enormous sigh of relief as she carelessly threw her wrap on a chair. Lord, how rigid she felt from all this propriety, all these thank yous and misses! Normally she would not have modified her behavior at all under these circumstances. As a rule, Kitty did not care for other people's manners and was not frightened of their censure, but Mr. Darcy had a way of making her feel rather timid. She hoped her arrival had been proper and agreeable and all that. Georgiana was certainly a shy little thing, but Kitty did not mind so much now that she knew they would share music.... Kitty yawned again, unable to concentrate further. Excited as she was to explore every tiny corner of Pemberley, she could no longer support anything but the idea of sleep.
She threw off her gown, wrapped herself in the nightclothes Lizzy had thoughtfully arranged, and climbed into the considerable bed. "I can't believe this place is Lizzy's own house!" she whispered to herself. "Lord, it is vast." She took a sip of the tea Mrs. Reynolds had left her, noticing the china. "Better than what Mama uses for parties, and this is only bedtime!" she mused, putting it down again, and snuggling deep beneath the covers.
A servant knocked on the door a moment later and asked if Young Miss Bennet would not like the candles put out? Young Miss Bennet, feeling very much like royalty, said she would. The candles were therefore extinguished, and Kitty lay back in all her pillows with a contented sigh, a list of blessings running through her mind in lieu of the prayers she was too weary to say. Pemberley...Lizzy and Georgiana.... parties, balls.... no more Mama... Three months seemed too short a time indeed.
Continued in Part 2
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