Modesty & Mischief
Chapter Ten:Mr. Wickham
In the morning, Kitty and Georgiana suffered a grave disappointment. It had rained all night and then frozen, making travel impossible; if Mr. Stirling and his friend had intended to call that morning, they would now be unable to do so. The ladies passed breakfast together in mutual pining, staring out the window as if their force of will could thaw the earth. Unfortunately, their spirits had no effect whatsoever upon the weather, so they were forced to devise some other way to occupy themselves.
Lizzy did not come downstairs at all that morning. She felt unwell, according to Jane, and this caused concern in the girls, who went upstairs to look after her. Indeed, she did look terribly ill, but after several anxious inquiries, Elizabeth convinced them it was only a passing nausea, and promised she would be well enough to come downstairs by afternoon. In the meantime, she suggested that the girls draw up a list of guests for the ball. She told them where to find her addresses so that no one would be forgotten, then rolled over in her bed and tried to rest.
Kitty and Georgiana were thrilled to put their minds to such an agreeable task, for any reference to the ball conjured up images of their dance partners, so they swiftly gathered Mrs. Darcy's addresses and settled in the writing room to make their list. Kitty appointed herself scribe, while Georgiana read the names and described the guests to her friend, who was not acquainted with very many of them.
Georgiana diligently worked her way through the addresses, beginning with 'A': Ahlfeldt, Allenberry, Amherst.... here were the Bennets;
"They will never come all the way from Longbourn. Shall we send one?" It was decided they should. Bingley was next.
"I am sure Caroline Bingley will come," said Georgiana, "for she always spends Christmas with her brother, and that will put her in the neighbourhood. I suppose that means we can expect to see Louisa Hurst and her husband, for those sisters are never far apart. No, do not write 'Hurst', Kitty- we are only up to 'B'."
The 'C's began with Campbell-Stock. "You will like them, Kitty. Their daughter Clarissa is just a little older than we, and she is to have a party next week. Did not I tell you? I expect you will meet several of our neighbours there, which is very good, for you shall have a roomful of friends at the ball."
The next name that was familiar to both ladies was Collins.
"Oh, no!" pleaded Kitty. "Not Mr. Collins! Please say he is too far away to merit an invitation?"
"I think he is," agreed Georgiana, "though it is a pity, for I know his wife Charlotte is Elizabeth's particular friend."
"That may be, but I promise you, her society is not worth having to tolerate his."
Daly, Davenport, and then DeBourgh; "Lady Catherine and Miss Anne. I doubt they would accept, and as they are equally as distant from us as are the Collinses, I think we may safely leave them out."
They toiled through the 'E's and 'F's before coming to Fitzwilliam, and Georgiana's face lit with pleasure as she described her cousin. "Colonel Fitzwilliam will certainly be here- he said he would stay at Pemberley on his winter leave from the regiment. He is coming here at the first of December!"
"The regiment!" sighed Kitty, who had a certain weakness for a soldier in a red coat that she had not yet got over entirely.
"Yes. He is my other guardian, along with my brother. Do you remember him from William's wedding?" Kitty could not say that she did, but her imagination provided her with a very dashing picture. They proceeded through the 'G's, stopping to exclaim how much the Gardiners were welcome, and how ardently they should be entreated to make the journey from Gracechurch street in London, though it was thought very probable that they would not.
'H' brought them Holt, Hume, and Hurst- "Now you may write 'Hurst', Kitty."
At 'L', Kitty declared a cramp in her hand, and Georgiana took her place at the desk.
"Longacre, Lucas," read Kitty, "-oh! Maria Lucas!"
"Who is she?" queried Georgiana, writing the name in perfect hand.
"A neighbor at home; Sir William and Lady Lucas' daughter. She is a friendly girl and so loves a ball. How I wish she could be with us!"
"Let us send an invitation, and if your parents make the journey after all, perhaps they will bring her."
The rest of the alphabet taught Kitty that the Morrisons were tall as trees, the Newcastle children were called Felix and Felicity, (and by Georgiana's tone, one might guess she did not care for them very much,) that Mrs. Quincy was so over-fond of her Pekinese that she had been known to bring him to dinner parties, that the Radke girls had "such unfortunate freckles!" but were otherwise quite agreeable, and many other essential details of society in Derbyshire.
"Hmmm," bantered Kitty playfully as the came halfway through 'S', "What do you think? Shall we invite the Stirling family?"
Georgiana bit her quill in mock seriousness. "I suppose I must; they are our neighbours, after all. And perhaps they would like to dance a little."
"Yes, I think they would," replied Kitty. "I have heard that they infinitely prefer the first two dances to any other set." The girls giggled, and Georgiana wrote the name, thinking what an intimate thing it was to write 'Stirling' in ink, and wishing there were an excuse to put 'Arthur' especially.
"Oh, Georgiana, go back up to 'D'! How could I forget?- but that Lizzy does not have his card, so I suppose I must forgive myself- but I have left out Mr. Douglas."
"Would you like to do it?" offered the always generous Miss Darcy, and they switched places again so that Kitty could have the pleasure of penning 'Douglas' on the page.
"I'll finish the rest, for my hand is better now." Indeed they were almost done, and Georgiana was soon reading out the 'W's.
"Wentworth, Westley, Wickham-- Oh!" Both girls froze. They had forgotten about him. But of course Elizabeth would have George and Lydia Wickham in her correspondence, for they were relations, however undesirable. "Write them down, Kitty," Georgiana managed weakly. "Go on," she urged, when Miss Bennet did not move.
"I... I cannot."
Georgiana was understandably surprised. "Why ever not?"
Kitty squirmed, thinking of the letter she had received at Longbourn. "Lizzy made me promise not to talk about him."
Her friend's surprise gave way to suspicion. "Why? What do you know of my past with Mr. Wickham?" she demanded hotly.
"You and Wickham!" Kitty gasped. "I know nothing! I only know he used to be friends with your brother, and they parted badly after their childhood. Lizzy wrote to me before I came, and made me promise not to speak of him or of Lydia, because it would cause you pain to think of the past."
Georgiana laughed at the sheer understatement of it all, and the hysterical sound of it gave Kitty alarm. "So much secrecy, and all to protect poor little Georgiana! My brother was also afraid you would make references to Mr. Wickham that would upset me. He imagined that since you and Lydia were such close sisters, she and her husband must necessarily be often in your conversation."
"He needn't have worried," muttered Kitty. "Lizzy threatened to send me home if I so much as breathed a word about them. And I am sure I shall be turned out directly, now I have," she groaned.
"Nonsense. Leave them off the list; Elizabeth need never know he has been in our minds." Georgiana was breathing very rapidly. "I cannot imagine they would have been invited in any case."
"I dare say they would not; Lizzy told me Mr. Darcy would never receive him at Pemberley." Kitty looked at the door as if expecting someone to come and overhear them at any moment. "Let us do the rest of the names, Georgiana," she begged, feeling that if they did not change the subject at once, she would be back at Longbourn by sundown.
Georgiana did not answer. She had laid down the addresses, and was clearly lost in thought. It troubled her deeply that so many precautions had been taken to keep Mr. Wickham out of everyone's conversation. He was not important enough to be given so much consequence. The silence that surrounded him was oppressive, and the trepidation with which his name was always approached had grown tiresome; it made her feel that he still held some power in their lives. His memory deserved no such compliment.
"Kitty, it is time for me to do something. I must speak openly of Wickham. Will you let me?"
"But Lizzy said-"
"Never mind. I have a right to disclose my own secrets, and no one can fault you for anything. Please, allow me to tell you the whole story."
Kitty was overcome with a wish to hear the 'whole story', and though she still feared what her sister would say, her curiosity proved more powerful than her reservations. She agreed to hear everything.
Georgiana drew a deep breath and appeared to brace herself. "I will start at the beginning. Mr. Wickham's father was my late father's steward, and Mr. Wickham and my brother played together as boys. They were raised as companions, though their stations in life were so different, and my father loved both boys as sons- or so it seemed to me in later years, when I was able to understand it better." She paused, trying to remember. "Papa put Mr. Wickham through Cambridge along with William. He intended Mr. Wickham for the church living here at Pemberley, and wanted to give him the proper education for such a post. But my father died before that living was available, and so he provided it to Mr. Wickham in his will.
Kitty interjected. "I remember Wickham told us that much in Meryton. He said that when the living was vacant again, Mr. Darcy dishonored your father's will, and would give him no part of the promise."
"What a falsehood! For Mr. Wickham is the man who would have no part of the will! He declared to my brother that he was not interested in making sermons, and asked instead to be granted the sum of three thousand pounds."
"Instead of a living? Whatever for?"
Georgiana laughed bitterly. "To study the law, he told us."
"And did not he?"
"Never." Georgiana shook her head. "He gambled the money away within a season."
"No!" gasped Kitty, who could not imagine spending a fraction of such a sum. "Three thousand pounds!"
"You may imagine my brother was no longer disposed to assist Mr. Wickham after that."
"I should think not!"
"So, Wickham came after me." Georgiana's throat was dry. "Or rather, he came after my fortune. But I did not comprehend his aims. He began to pay attention to me in my adolescence, just before he received the sum from my brother. He must have had his designs very early on. I was fourteen, and thought him- well I thought him-" Georgiana blushed with shame. "He was very handsome and charming."
"I know it. I thought so, and obviously so did Lydia, and even Lizzy too," confessed Kitty, wanting her friend to know that she was not alone as Wickham's dupe.
"Did you?" Georgiana looked comforted. "He is very cunning. He convinced me that he was- falling- that he had a great admiration- for me. And I believed it. Why shouldn't I? I knew nothing of his faults, for my brother never told me. And I thought I felt- well after all, my poor father had always loved him!"
"What did you do?" breathed Kitty.
"I could do nothing. Mr. Wickham never came back to Pemberley after my brother had paid him. I believed him to be studying the law, and prayed he would visit us, but he never did. It was not until the next summer that he found me again. My brother sent me to board at Ramsgate, and there did Mr. Wickham come to court me. We were unchaperoned, and Wickham had leave to say anything he liked. He promised that we would always be together, and painted such a pretty future! I was persuaded to believe myself more and more..."
"In love?" Kitty supplied.
"Violently in love, as you might say," replied Georgiana boldly. Kitty flushed. "Mr. Wickham saw it in all my manners, and cultivated it with every form of flattery and manipulation at his means. In short, he begged me to elope with him."
"Just like Lydia!"
"Just. And I agreed to go to Gretna Green and become his wife. We were to leave the next day, but our plans were spoiled by an unannounced visit from my brother, who found us standing together very intimately. Naturally he demanded to know the nature of our relationship. I could never lie to William, for he has been my father in these last years as well as my brother. I told him everything. Needless to say, my brother separated us without ceremony. He knew all Mr. Wickham wanted was my dowry, for he had been apprised of all his failed gambles and terrible debts. He took me home to Pemberley, sent Mr. Wickham out of our lives forever, and has hardly let me out of sight since."
"But if you believed you loved him, were you not angry?"
Georgiana was pale. "Oh yes. At first I was desperate. But my brother told me all of Wickham's dissolute habits, his debt, his disregard of my father's wishes, and even the other women he had fooled and discarded- there were some near Cambridge, others in London-" Georgiana crumbled. "I was such a fool!"
"Oh no!" cried Kitty. "You were but fifteen! And Wickham has tricked so many girls- look at my sister Lydia. You cannot blame yourself." Kitty embraced Georgiana, who wept a moment on her shoulder before she could compose herself again. "Thank you, Kitty," she said quietly. "I have had no friend to talk to of this for more than two years."
Kitty's understanding of everything was absolutely altered from that moment. Wickham, whom she had previously been disposed to think of well enough, became a villain. To have so misused her friend and her sister, under all false pretenses, was inexcusable. Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy, whom she had thought over-hard in their censure, became perfectly rational and right. And as to Georgiana-
"How I admire you!" Kitty exclaimed. Georgiana attempted to decline the compliment, but Kitty would have none of it. "To bear all this without a murmur! I could never have done it. Truly, you are the model of everything good. I am honored that you would take me into your confidence, and I will always try to be worthy of it." Georgiana protested again, but Kitty would not be gainsaid. "No; Lizzy says that the mark of excellent character is the ability to show forbearance under intolerable circumstances, and I am sure you deserve every word."
Though her modesty prevented her from feeling any vain pride over this, Georgiana could not help but be grateful to her friend. For it is too often that great sacrifices go unnoticed and un-praised, and it was a balm to her soul to know that Kitty appreciated all she had suffered in the aftermath of Mr. Wickham.
By the time Lizzy managed to join them, it was teatime, and the girls had completed their guest list. Lizzy looked it over and declared it well done, sending a servant to take it straightway to the calligrapher along with her addresses, so that the invitations could be issued as soon as possible to all the neighbourhood.
Elizabeth was also pleased to see that the young ladies had obviously put all their differences behind them entirely. They were even as friendly and attentive to one another as she and Jane had always been, and in Kitty especially a great change in manner had already been affected. Little did she know that the girls had accomplished far more that afternoon than she had assigned to them. Kitty and Georgiana had shared the kind of revelation that must always result in a deeper kinship, and their hearts were now strongly bound together in faith because of it.
Chapter Eleven: Diversions
The rest of that week was so busily occupied that even Elizabeth was slightly roused from her melancholy over Mr. Darcy's continued absence, and though most of the activity was of the average sort that does not belong in stories, three very interesting events took place.
The first was that Mr. Stirling and Mr. Douglas did indeed pay the call they had promised. Weather in November being very fickle, the frost was gone as quickly as it had set in, and they arrived at one o'clock on the following day, much to the delight of the young ladies. Being just in time for luncheon, and having not eaten yet themselves, the gentlemen were quickly persuaded to dine with the family at Pemberley, and they sat down happily, with Miss Bennet and Miss Darcy to entertain them.
Jane was their only chaperone, Lizzy being ill again upstairs all morning, and Mrs. Bingley was disposed to watch the party with some interest. Elizabeth had informed her of both the romantic goings on at Stirling Manor and the giddiness with which the ladies concluded their recent trip into town, and it seemed to her based on these details that her young sisters were both quite interested in their callers. She and Elizabeth had therefore been obliged to discover whether or not Mr. Douglas was suitable for such an interest on Kitty's part (for they already knew Mr. Stirling's history.) They found, after making their inquires, that Mr. Douglas had been born in moderate comfort, though he was now excessively poor. At the age of thirteen, his parents had both died of scarlet fever within a month, leaving him very little. He had no close relative, and being too young to make his own way in the world, had been submitted, by the master of the estate where his father had been pastor, to a boarding home. Fortunately, the boy was more or less adopted by the well-known Scotch painter, Comghall. The acclaimed artist of portraiture was at that time was in need of an apprentice, and found that young John Douglas had a great deal of natural talent. Therefore, though his present fortune was extremely scarce (his parents and Comghall had bequeathed him everything that had been theirs, but that hardly amounted to a thousand pounds,) John Douglas had learned a trade, and led a comfortable, if simple, life.
Jane was much moved by this history, and regarded the young man kindly, as introductions were made all around. She was most curious when the conversation took a turn into the fine arts, and watched the interaction of the young people with attentive consideration.
"How do you get on with your lessons, Mr. Stirling?" inquired Kitty warmly, determined to amend all her past behavior toward that gentleman.
"I believe you must ask my tutor here, Miss Bennet. For though I am inclined to say I get on quite well, I am sure he will disagree with me."
Glad for the opportunity, Kitty addressed the tutor at once. "Pray, Mr. Douglas, describe his progress to us."
"Not too bad for a novice," granted Mr. Douglas, once he had swallowed a rather large bite of the cold lamb. "He'll do all right, I expect. "
"Praise indeed, coming from such a hard critic! Truly ladies," said Mr. Stirling gladly, "if ever I paint anything worth looking at, Mr. Douglas shall have all the credit of it."
"Ah, go on," blushed his friend, concentrating on his lunch.
"Do you get much work here in Derbyshire, Mr. Douglas?"
"Some, Mrs. Bingley. I've just finished a commission lately, for the Newcastle family. They wanted a portrait of their children."
"Felix and Felicity." Georgiana gave Kitty a barely perceptible look, which she comprehended at once, remembering that Georgiana had not spoken too highly of that family when they had been going through Lizzy's addresses. Kitty ached with envy that Mr. Douglas had painted Felicity Newcastle, and wondered if Miss Newcastle were very pretty to look at, hoping she did not have hazel eyes.
"Yes, those two," replied Douglas. "And my other work is as an instructor, teaching young ladies to paint and the like."
"But you would rather do your own private painting, I think," said Kitty, thinking how agreeable it would be to have him as her own teacher.
"What makes you think so?" he asked, turning to her with interest.
"I would imagine it is very satisfying to be able to paint what you envision. I grant I am no artist, but it must be a great feeling to realize your own ideas, and see them come alive before you on the canvas."
"Aye, Miss Bennet." Mr. Douglas gave her a look of shy appreciation. "It's all the occupation I could wish for. But I do enjoy portraiture, too, and teachin' is good solid work, so I have to be grateful for it."
"Even though some students are abominable," jested Mr. Stirling. "Do you paint, Miss Darcy?" he asked, hoping for some conversation with that lady.
"I draw but a little. I confess I have mostly spent my time with music," she said quietly.
"You've spent your time well. Miss Darcy is a wonder at the pianoforte," he told his companion. "Though I have so far been deprived of the pleasure of hearing her sing." There was an awkward pause, as Mr. Stirling and the young ladies recalled the last time this subject had been addressed. Luckily Mr. Douglas remained unaffected, having been absent from that uncomfortable party.
"And yourself, Miss Bennet?" he asked presently. "Do you paint, or play music?"
Kitty recollected herself. "I do play," she asserted, "but I cannot paint. Though I should like to learn," she added shyly.
"Would you?" Mr. Douglas now regarded her keenly. "Well, we shall have to see about that, then." The two smiled at each other, a little bashfully, and Kitty's eyes dropped into her lap. She wondered at herself.
"Well I hope I do not presume too much, ladies, but when we have done here," Mr. Stirling gestured to the table, "I know what I should like to do." The ladies were happy to hear his request. "I should dearly like to see the paintings that Comghall did of your parents, Miss Darcy," he looked at her fondly, "and then I'd be glad to hear your music again."
"Music's only second to painting, in my view," agreed Mr. Douglas, and it was all admitted as a very good plan, given one proviso of Miss Darcy's.
"Do not attempt to make me sing," she entreated Mr. Stirling. He agreed to the stipulation, but solicited her promise to do so before long. "I will- soon. Miss Bennet and I shall learn a duet, and I shall be glad to sing if I have her company." This was happily agreed to, which made Kitty feel relief not only for her friend, but for herself; for she could see by his pleasant approval that Mr. Stirling no longer thought ill of her.
From luncheon, the party went out into the main gallery so that Mr. Douglas might 'visit' his Master's paintings. He regarded them humbly, as one might a religious object- indeed the great hall was quiet as a church, for no one wanted to interrupt the young painter's reverent silence. Kitty saw there were tears in his eyes, rendering them piercingly green, and she felt a queer, low pang in her chest. It was very different from the exciting pulses she had often experienced when flirting with the soldiers at Meryton. Kitty had never seen anyone so manly as he looked at that moment, and she was moved by the strength of his emotion.
When he had recovered himself, Mr. Douglas addressed Georgiana huskily. "Thank you for invitin' me, Miss Darcy. It gives me a world of joy to see Comghall's works so well situated as this."
"You are welcome," his hostess replied, her own voice a bit shaky. "Indeed, this one is exactly like my father."
"Beautiful," murmured Kitty, her eyes fixed on Mrs. Darcy's portrait. "As if she were alive."
"Isn't it amazing? See that color- there, like- in the eyes? Somethin' genius about that man." Mr. Douglas stood very close behind her.
"Yes, the light is perfect," she marveled softly. "However does one manage such a thing?"
"A proper question, Miss Bennet. I wish I knew."
"Oh, come now," contradicted Mr. Stirling admiringly, "you have the same hand. I've seen it in your own work- that very light in the eyes."
Mr. Douglas could not agree, and after a last look, he turned his tawny head to the ladies. "Now how about that music?"
After listening gladly for an hour (Kitty taking care to play at least one Scottish air, and being rewarded for it with Mr. Douglas' handsome smile,) the gentlemen took their leave, and the ladies had the afternoon to pore over every detail and feeling. Mr. Stirling had left Georgiana with a brief whisper- "Remember, the first two dances-" and Kitty was happy for her friend. She wished she had as much assurance from Mr. Douglas that they would dance together, but it did not trouble her for long.
* * *
Thursday brought with it the next event of importance- the dressmaker's visit to Pemberley. Elizabeth had set the appointment for two in the afternoon, and only just made it downstairs in time to meet Madame Claire.
"Ill again, Lizzy? I am very worried," said anxious Kitty. "Are not you worried, Jane?" But Jane returned that she had experienced the same sickness recently herself, and said she knew it would pass before very long. Thus assured, Kitty was able to turn her full attention back to what was really important- her ball-gown.
Georgiana was perfectly at ease, for Madame Claire had made the gown for her presentation at court last spring, and she began at once sorting liberally through samples and sketches. Kitty had of course been to see a dressmaker in her life, but this was a far more elegant arrangement than anything that she had ever beheld. Madame Claire came with attendants, a tailor, and what seemed like a thousand bolts of the most beautiful fabrics in existence. Violet satin, emerald velvet, blush-colored silk- Kitty knew she would never know which to choose. Fortunately she did not have to come to a decision on her own, for Madame Claire was on her in an instant.
"And which is Mademoiselle's most becoming color?"
"Green, I think," faltered Kitty, reaching for a sample of a dark mossy satin as an example.
"Green?! Oh, no, no, where did you learn this?" tutted Madame.
"M- Mama told me-" she stuttered.
"Mamans are good for many things, but for this? I am better."
Elizabeth laughed as she held up a bolt of lilac-colored velour for an attendant's approval. "I am sure you are 'la meillieure,' Madame," she said gaily. "Put the green aside, Kitty; let Madame Claire tell you which is best. Jane, look at this heavenly rose silk and these tiny cream pearls! It suits you exactly."
Madame Claire held up first one cloth and then another, finally settling on a gold-colored crepe that was delicate as paper. "Voila!" she cried, draping it about Kitty's shoulders and turning her around dramatically. "C'est parfait, non?"
Jane clapped her hands, and Georgiana said, "Oui!", spinning around in her own swath of pale blue satin to regard her friend admiringly.
Truly, the color was perfect. Kitty's light brown curls and hazel eyes were suddenly flecked light, as Madam Claire paired the gold with an ivory silk, pasting it against Kitty quite intimately as she made her decisions. The crepe would be bodice and trim, and cascade in a sash down the back. The silk would cling. It would certainly be 'tres bien'! She was thrilled that she would be wearing such a marvelous thing, hoped she would not tear it, and was glad that her color would look nicely next to Georgiana's.
Soon all was decided, everything was ordered, and with a great "Au revoir, mes cheres!" Madame Claire was gone again, and the bustle of shoes and tiaras commenced in Georgiana's chambers.
* * *
On Saturday, Kitty and Georgiana arrived at Genesee Court for the final excitement of their week, the birthday dinner party for Miss Clarissa Campbell-Stock. They were received in the drawing room by Miss Campbell, a smart-looking girl with unusually lucid blue eyes and a merry countenance, who greeted Georgiana affectionately. Her conversation was all of the Pemberley ball, for she had received the invitation and replied immediately in the affirmative two days before. Upon meeting Kitty, Miss Campbell immediately toured the party with her arm in arm, generously introducing her to everyone.
One of the guests in attendance noticed their entrance with particular pleasure. Arthur Stirling wasted no time in coming to Georgiana's side to secure her as his dinner companion, and the happy pair spoke animatedly of the fun they had shared during his call at Pemberley, and when he would come back again.
Kitty was secured for a dinner partner as well, though she was not sure whether to be happy about the privilege, for the gentleman in question was Felix Newcastle. After Miss Campbell had introduced them, Mr. Newcastle begged that 'the fair Miss Bennet' be left in his 'capable command', to which Miss Campbell had agreed somewhat reluctantly, squeezing Kitty's elbow as she left her side, and giving her an arch look from behind the gentleman's back. Kitty correctly interpreted this to mean that Miss Campbell shared Georgiana's opinion of Mr. Newcastle, yet she resolved to give him the benefit of the doubt, for he was very handsome and a lively talker.
Five minutes had not passed before Miss Bennet had not much benefit left to spare her partner; her doubts were being realized at a fast pace. His lively talk revolved around one topic; himself. To be sure, there were sub-topics: his curricle, his fox hunting party, his education at Oxford and his genius for card-playing; but Kitty soon believed that she knew more of Mr. Newcastle than she ever cared to, and found herself spying about the room for a diversion. She glimpsed a russet-haired youth in another corner, and for a brief second, hoped it would be Mr. Douglas. However, the gentleman turned his face in a moment, and to Kitty's disappointment, he was a stranger. Still, any excuse would do for an interruption of Mr. Newcastle's seemingly never-ending autobiography.
"Who is that family?" she asked quickly, pointing towards the auburn-haired gentleman, as soon as her partner paused for breath. He seemed somewhat pained to be cut off in his story of the time he had lately managed to travel thirty miles in two hours, twenty-three minutes in his new rig, but allowed her an answer.
"Those are the Morrisons. What, have you not met them?"
"No," Kitty explained. "I have only been in Derbyshire these two weeks."
Mr. Newcastle was shocked to discover this, though Kitty wondered he should be- for how could he know anything about her as long as he focused so entirely on himself? He led her across the room to make the introductions.
Sir Michael and Lady Geraldine were a grand, blithe couple, who energetically inquired after Kitty's history at once, and happily introduced her to their children, Michael, Josephine, and Sarah, who were indeed as tall as the trees Georgiana had described. Fortunately, they were also adept conversationalists. Miss Morrison and Miss Sarah were both eager to hear how preparations were coming along for the ball, and immediately engaged Kitty in a quiz about all the details. Thus Kitty was saved from any more of Mr. Newcastle for another half-hour, for he could hardly take part in any discourse so completely unrelated to his interests.
Too soon, however, the party was all called in to dinner. Mr. Newcastle escorted Kitty across in the procession, and she found herself painfully stranded with him. They were seated too far from Georgiana, Miss Campbell or the Miss Morrisons, for her to find comfort in any of them, and so she was forced to listen as Mr. Newcastle gave her a most riveting account of his own accomplished dancing at the assembly rooms in Bath last season, describing his footwork set by set. '
Had Kitty been really listening, she would have been warned in advance that her partner meant to engage her for dancing at the Pemberley Ball. But alas, she was more fascinated by the venison and beet-root than by Mr. Newcastle, and so she did not notice the turn in conversation toward dancing, and she did not steer it deftly in another direction, as she might easily have done.
"....And so, Miss Bennet, I am sure you will allow me to engage you for the first two dances." Mr. Newcastle gave her the look of one who had just bestowed a great favor on his inferior. "Being new to the neighbourhood, I know you will be pleased to have a partner right away."
Kitty nearly choked as she realized his question- or rather his statement- but it was too late now. She could not refuse him without it being a particular insult. "Y-yes," was all she could manage, miserable within herself that she had not avoided this pitfall. How she had hoped to stand up with Mr. Douglas at the opening of the ball!
Mr. Newcastle took her brevity to mean that she was modestly grateful to him for his condescension, and he was pleased to see it. Having achieved his aim, he went directly back to describing his admirable form in walking a quadrille, leaving poor Kitty in a state of resentful disappointment, unable to taste or enjoy the chocolate cream and champagne of dessert.
She was relieved when all the ladies finally crossed back to the drawing room, and she prayed the gentlemen would stay away to drink port and smoke for an excessively long time. Her new ladylike resolve had endured thus far, but how much longer she could abide her dinner companion was extremely uncertain. She found Georgiana at once, and related the sad fact of her engagement to dance with Mr. Newcastle for the first two at the ball, to which Georgiana replied with a sympathetic groan. Miss Campbell was hasty to join the two young ladies, and made a sincere apology to Kitty.
"I should never have left you with him," she whispered, "but for his insistence! I hope you are managing to enjoy yourself a little, though, Miss Bennet."
Kitty kindly soothed the celebrated hostess, not wishing Miss Campbell to be anxious on her birthday, and said that Mr. Newcastle was not the worst companion she had ever known. Miss Sarah overheard this, and gave her opinion stoutly.
"He is an arrogant bore!" she claimed, "and you are a darling to rescue the rest of us from such tedium. However I think it only fair that since you are new among us, you should have your share of him, for which of has not heard of the time he drove his curricle thirty miles in two hours, twenty seven minutes?"
"Twenty-three minutes," corrected Kitty wryly, sending them all into gales of laughter.
"Oh, hush!" exclaimed Miss Campbell. "I think that Miss Newcastle is coming over." Indeed she was, and in a very important way reminiscent of her brother, Felicity Newcastle imposed herself on the little circle.
"My dear Miss Bennet!" she cried over-loudly, with a great intimate embrace for the shocked Kitty. "I see my darling Felix absolutely dotes on you this evening. Lucky girl! Of course, my brother is the lucky one; that shade of peach is so becoming that he must find you an absolute angel! I know I have been dying to meet you for myself- will you not take a turn about the room with me?" Kitty had no choice. She made eyes at the other girls, who averted theirs in order to keep sober, and was dragged off across the room by Miss Newcastle in a great rustle of skirts.
Miss Newcastle was, not surprisingly, no better at sharing a conversation than her brother, and soon Kitty thought she would die or scream if she listened to another word of the young lady's new reticule, or slippers, or the seven letters she had once managed to write in one morning. "Imagine! Seven!" Kitty could not imagine, and rather wondered why anyone would wish to. There was one topic, however, which did arrest her immediate attention.
"...And so Papa commissioned us a portrait for our birthdays, which are both in June, and it is terribly becoming! It hangs directly over the great fireplace in the drawing room, where all might have a chance to admire it!"
"A painting? Tell me of the painter," solicited Kitty with sudden eagerness, her interest in Miss Newcastle increasing by a hundred-fold as she studied the face Mr. Douglas must have memorized. It was very pretty indeed, for both she and her brother Felix had the startlingly attractive combination of almost black curls paired with very pale eyes. But the nose, in Kitty's opinion, was far too much turned up. And the eyes were decidedly blue. Therefore, she did not envy Felicity a jot, but she learned to despise her a moment later, when Miss Newcastle answered her inquiry.
"The painter? Why, who cares about that?! Some Scotsman. I forget his name. He painted well enough, I assure you, but I thought him simply dreadful. So coarse! But what is to be expected of artists?" She tucked her arm into Kitty's and made toward the coffee, but Kitty withdrew from her, repulsed. She was deeply injured for Mr. Douglas, and would give no more of her time to Miss Newcastle. Making a very hasty excuse that she had promised to take after-dinner tea with Miss Sarah, Kitty hastened back to her friends.
Their circle had enlarged in her absence, admitting the Misses Persis and Ivy Radke (who indeed had the unfortunate freckles Georgiana had predicted) and a very plump young Miss Augusta Stamp. All three were quick to sympathize with Kitty's position as the newest monopoly of the Newcastle siblings, and Kitty agreed it was pitiable. She grabbed Miss Sarah's hand. "Come," she pleaded, "for I told Miss Newcastle I had promised to take tea with you. Can you refuse to save me?" Miss Sarah was more than happy to accompany her new friend to the sideboard, leaving the other girls in a fit of giggles.
"She is excellent!" cried Miss Campbell. "How glad I am to know her. What a wicked sense of humor! You must be having a wonderful time together at Pemberley."
"Indeed we are," agreed Georgiana, smiling.
The gentlemen joined them soon after tea, and while Georgiana enjoyed the attentions of her suitor, Kitty suffered the narcissism of hers. It was another hour before the young ladies took their leave, hailed all the way to the door by pleasant invitations, and promises to call. They returned to Pemberley exhausted and went up to bed at once, without Mrs. Reynolds even having to ask.
Chapter Twelve: Georgiana's Letter
After Monday breakfast, Kitty was alarmed to see a physician's carriage drive up to Pemberley. Georgiana was upstairs yet, having a bath, so Kitty ran alone to find Jane.
"Jane, Jane! I knew something was terribly wrong with Lizzy! A physician has arrived just now- tell me what is the matter!" These exclamations and demands were met serenely by Jane, who seemed to be expecting the doctor with no great anxiety. She professed that the visit was but a precaution, no emergency at all, and went out to attend Mr. Etheridge upstairs to Elizabeth. Kitty was not permitted to follow them inside, and spent the following half hour wracked with nervousness, pacing the hall outside her sister's door and trying to overhear the conversation, which was inaudible, to her great frustration.
Eventually, voices approached the door, and Kitty hid down the corridor to avoid discovery. There she listened to Jane and Mr. Etheridge speaking in low tones, and she strained to understand them. But she only heard Mr. Etheridge tell Jane to 'be sure Mrs. Darcy did not over exert herself for the next few months,' before the doctor was gone, and no further intelligence met Kitty's ears.
Momentarily there was another sound, however, for Lizzy's door had been left ajar, and she had begun to cry. The sound frightened Kitty, who flew to her sister at once. "What is it? Oh, Lizzy, are you very ill? Please, please tell me!"
Elizabeth struggled to regain her composure for her younger sister's benefit, and managed to say, "No, darling, I am not ill. I am crying because I am so well!" Kitty did not believe this for it made no sense at all, and as if to contradict herself, Elizabeth immediately turned green and pressed her lips together to stave off an obvious wave of nausea.
"You are ill!" insisted her sister. "It is very plain, Lizzy. Are you in danger?"
Lizzy laughed wearily. "Only of being plagued to death by questions. Kitty, I beg you, do not make yourself uneasy. Go find Georgiana and practice your duets." She heaved a sigh, then retched involuntarily and turned away from her sister, who knew there was no point to be gained in pressing the issue, and did not want to be present anyway for such an unbecoming sight. Therefore she allowed the maids to attend Elizabeth, and immediately went to Jane. Kitty riddled her with inquiries and fears, hoping that her mild older sister could be worked upon to tell the secret behind Elizabeth's sickness. But Jane was not to be drawn into any confidences, and soon a distressed Kitty had to give up her questions.
Still, she was far too anxious to rest on the subject, and marched forthwith to Georgiana's chambers.
"I am just finished dressing, Kitty. I shall come in a moment," said Miss Darcy, assuming her friend was merely impatient to start the day.
"No; there is a matter of urgency. I must speak with you at once."
Startled, Georgiana dismissed Hannah and Mrs. Joel, who both looked heartily sorry to have to miss out on the secret, and the two girls began to converse in private, low tones. Kitty informed her companion of Mr. Etheridge's visit, the overheard comments of that physician, and Lizzy's consequent tears and sickening condition; all of which served to make Georgiana sufficiently frightened.
"What shall we do? For no one will tell us anything!" wailed Kitty.
Georgiana seemed to have an idea, for she went directly to her desk and withdrew a little paper. It was the note William had written her to explain his hasty departure from Pemberley, and she read it over to find his scribbled post-script, which gave her leave to write him at once if there should be any serious need.
"We shall write to my brother, and call him home directly."
"Bravo!" cried Kitty. "Yes, Mr. Darcy will hurry back when he knows, and I am sure he will take care of Lizzy. Oh, write to him- hurry, Georgiana!"
Miss Darcy had already withdrawn a parchment and dipped her quill. She had begun to write when it occurred to her that there were many things she wished to say to William that might be simpler to confess on paper, and she paused.
"Kitty, this may take me some time. It is going to be a very long letter." So Kitty went downstairs to pound her tension away on the pianoforte, leaving Georgiana to pour her heart out to her absent brother.
* * *
At Glenstead, the same week had passed without any of the gaiety that had relieved everyone's heavy spirits at Pemberley. Mr. Bingley's business affairs had been set in order and the arrangements of the house put to rights, and with Mr. Darcy to assist him, all was managed in a few days' time. This left Darcy with far too many hours and days in which to brood, and he did so ferociously.
Mr. Bingley tried earnestly to alleviate his friend's bad humour, and thinking a foxhunt might do the trick, he joined them up for a party of it mid-week. It was the only such outing attempted, however, for though Darcy's hunting was excellent, his manners were cold and withdrawn to everyone. Bingley decided quickly that he had better leave his friend alone to work out his troubles.
Left to himself, Darcy's thoughts were all at Pemberley. He craved Elizabeth's company- her voice, her touch, the scent of her near him at night. The nights had been too awful, and he wondered if she suffered as cruelly without him. He tossed fearfully about, visited by nightmares in which she would not take him back again, and nightly tore the bed to pieces in these sleepless fits. Every morning gave him the morose prospect of another day without her; every meal was eaten pining for her conversation; every reference of Bingley's to missing Jane was a reminder that his own wife lay also thirty miles beyond his reach. To be sure, thirty miles was but three hours by carriage- less if you rode relentlessly- and how many times had Mr. Darcy been on the brink of calling for his horses to take him home? But he was always checked at the last moment, and he never let his emotions come between him and what he knew to be true.
And what did he know? That Elizabeth had insulted him, that she had brought her loose little sister to live with his own dear Georgiana, and that Kitty had made a spectacle of herself in public. But all this was nothing, and would have been overlooked in a day or two, if only he had not seen that letter. It grieved him deeply to know that Elizabeth would disclose his most painful secret to a sister of such doubtful character; and that she would do it secretly, without informing him, was insupportable. She knew he could not bear that his sister's abortive elopement attempt should be known to anyone, and yet she had told Kitty all about it- Kitty who could not be trusted in even the simple matters of decent behaviour! It was too much, and no matter how he suffered without his wife, he could not find it in his heart to forgive her this transgression. His opinion of her trustworthiness had been significantly lowered. If it had been only a quarrel, Darcy felt sure all would have been rectified within him by this time. But he could not abide that letter, and so he was trapped, for he could not protest something that should have remained Elizabeth's private property.
Having gone over these facts in his mind repeatedly for the whole week, and finding no solution that could give him any relief, Mr. Darcy was, by Monday morning, a terrible wreck. He had passed through his irritation, come to the other side of a spell of cold brooding, and was now in a slump of depressed spirits for which he could find no cure. His dress was sloppy, his hair unkempt, a sheen of sweat over his bloodless complexion. The usually dashing and robust Mr. Darcy was entirely annihilated, and Bingley was now extremely concerned for his friend's health.
"You are unwell, Darcy. Let me call a doctor."
"No, Bingley," came his barely audible reply, from white lips. "No doctor can help me."
Bingley thought this rather over-dramatic. "You sound like the brooding hero of some novel. I see shall have to taunt you into your old temper, Darcy. Tell me you are not going to be gothic, and die of a broken heart?"
But Darcy could not be insulted. "I cannot bear this," he muttered, pressing shut his eyes.
"Come, man, I know you have been suffering, but what is the use of all this?"
"You do not understand, Bingley. If you knew all..." Darcy was tired. It would almost be worth it to tell his friend everything- all about Wickham and the letter- if only to have some comfort in getting it out of his head.
"What? What have you not told me? All I know is, over a little quarrel and a bit of impropriety from a Bennet- which is nothing new to either of us, Darcy, I remind you,- you have made yourself a fool!" This was daring on Bingley's part, but he was willing to risk anything to get a rise out of his friend. "I can't have you slumping about the house for another week in this stupid, romantic manner. Get past it, man!"
There was a flash in Darcy's eyes, and Bingley thought he detected a little color burning in his cheeks. "A fool, am I? A stupid romantic? How thoughtful, Bingley, but I assure you, you labor under false pretenses."
"If there is more to the story, Fitz," challenged Charles, "Pray, enlighten me."
Mr. Darcy therefore reported to his friend, in the briefest possible manner, all the details of his quandary. He told of the letter he had discovered, the history of George Wickham and Georgiana's attempted elopement, and the straits in which he now found himself with Elizabeth. During his cool tirade, Bingley found it necessary to sit down, so overcome was he by the shock of these revelations.
"Why did you never tell me?" shouted Mr. Bingley, once Darcy had finished the account. "My God, I thought I had known you well all these years, and yet you never breathed a word of this! How could you keep such a secret?"
"It is because there was a time, before we met the Miss Bennets, that I thought you might eventually court Georgiana. I did not want to lower your opinion of her."
"Court Georgiana!?" Bingley was still shouting. "Are you mad? She was a child!"
"My hopes were for an eventual attachment. In any case, I did not see the point of making it known at all. It seemed an unnecessary evil. But this is all beside the point; Bingley, do you now see my difficulty?"
Bingley admitted he did, and was heartily shocked that Elizabeth would have disclosed such serious information without consulting her husband. He also sympathized that it would be a difficult thing to explain having seen that letter.
"But there must be some way to manage this; surely there is a solution! We will come up with it."
"I have been wracking my brains this week entire, Bingley. It is no good. I am in a bad state." Mr. Darcy sat back and began to sink again into the inertia that waited to claim him, and before Mr. Bingley could attempt to rally his spirits, a servant arrived with the post.
"Express, Darcy! From Pemberley!" Bingley dropped the heavy missive in his friend's lap. "And it's huge. In Mrs. Darcy's hand, I expect? This is very good news! I knew it would all be well-"
"No, Bingley. it is Georgiana's writing." Darcy very cautiously opened the lengthy epistle, but he did not look at it. "You will not mind if I go out doors? I need air and privacy."
"Not at all," assured Mr. Bingley.
Twenty minutes passed, and Mr. Bingley was thoughtfully hitting billiards and considering his friend's dilemma, when Darcy came bursting through the door, looking very wild.
"Read this!" he commanded, tossing down the letter on Bingley's game. "See what a fool I am. There is no time to be lost. Forgive me!" And Darcy tore out of the room again; leaving an excessively bewildered Bingley in his wake. 'Read this'? He picked up the letter gingerly, unsure of how to proceed. Surely Darcy didn't mean to let him see such a personal correspondence? When he calmed down, he might regret it. But in the meantime....
Bingley regarded the letter in his hand with a mounting curiosity that soon got the better of him. He settled in his armchair, and began to read.
"November 17, 18____
You said I should write to you if I should have need of anything, and though I have no dire trouble, there is an emergency of which I feel you should be apprised. Elizabeth is very ill. She has been so since you left. She hardly comes down stairs at all, and this very morning, Mr. Etheridge was here to see her. Jane will give no reason for the physician's visit, nor will Elizabeth, but Kitty saw her crying in bed after he had gone, looking sick indeed. She protests she is very well, but how can it be? Kitty and I are beside ourselves, though Jane is serene enough, and I beg you to come home at once and see for yourself what the matter is.
But before you come, William, there are two points on which I wish to make myself very clear. One is Kitty; the other, Mr. Wickham. I know you hate to speak of him, but hear me out. I suppose it would be braver of me to wait until you arrive, then relate to you in person about everything; however, you know how I am on that score. It is much easier to write what I must say, and I hope you will forgive the frailty of my chosen method when you have read it all.
Firstly, I want to inform you that our sister-in-law, Miss Catherine Bennet, is becoming the best friend I have ever known. Therefore, I ask you to give up your aversion of her as well you can. Yes, William, I am sensible of your feelings toward Kitty. I am always watching your face, and I have seen the looks of shock and censure she has caused you. I do not blame you- indeed Miss Bennet has had moments that have made me think ill of her too, lest you doubt my powers of perception. However, she has apologized to me and made a resolution to become a better lady in every way, and the change in her is truly remarkable. She has made Mr. Stirling forget all her bad manners, and she won the hearts of all my neighbourhood acquaintance when we went this week to the party for Miss Campbell Stock. Truly, brother, I think she must even pass your approval now. I know she is my honest friend, and I ask you to try and accept her.
Secondly, I must speak of our enemy. Kitty and I were making up a guest list for the Pemberley ball, and who do you think we found among Elizabeth's addresses? George and Lydia Wickham. We were both shocked speechless, though he made his way into the conversation soon after that, and I noted that Kitty seemed to feel even more awkwardness than I. It seems that prior to Kitty's coming to Pemberley, Elizabeth wrote to tell her that she must never speak of Mr. Wickham or his wife in our household. Now really, William, I understand that you and Elizabeth want to protect me, but this is ridiculous. Poor Kitty was frightened half to death that she would be sent back to Longbourn at once if she so much as spoke his name, and yet she did not even know why she must be so secret! For Elizabeth only had told her that you and Mr. Wickham parted badly after your education together, and that bringing up the past would cause us pain. I thought this was utterly absurd, and it led me to wonder at our conduct. For us to take such offense on the strength of that argument alone, I think Kitty must have thought us all very over-sensitive people.
And we are over-sensitive. I do not mean to say that Mr. Wickham is not vile to me, for he is, and I will never forget his vicious character to us. But we allow him far too high a place in our thoughts. For everyone always to be keeping him a secret- it is too much energy- he does not deserve it. Mr. Wickham is not worth this pen and ink that shape his name, and I want to let him be a part of our past without any further rancor or consideration.
Now, I must admit something that will grieve you. I explained my history with Mr. Wickham to Kitty as soon as I perceived her ignorance. She understands everything now, and feels his wrongs keenly; I do not think you have to fear her bringing him up in casual conversation as you once did. You cannot be angry with me for disclosing the tale, for it is my secret as much as it is yours, and as you trusted Elizabeth with it once, so do I trust Kitty. Let us put Mr. Wickham away, dear brother, and leave him to the sad life he has made himself.
That is all I have to say, except that I miss you terribly. I hope I will see you by six o'clock. I imagine you will not stay away, now you know how Elizabeth needs you.
Your adoring sister,
Mr. Bingley could not help it. He laughed. Miss Darcy certainly had grown up, and become just as feisty in her opinions as her brother had always been. She was perfectly right about Wickham. And how glad a thing it was, to know that Elizabeth had revealed nothing! Darcy could now no longer have reason to make himself anxious on that point. Bingley was full happy for his friend, that so many of his troubles had been eased due to the intelligence of this letter. But his pleasure for Mr. Darcy faded when he reflected that Elizabeth was ill- very ill from Georgiana's description- and he quickly went to find Darcy before his departure to Pemberley.
Darcy was already at the carriage, making ready to take flight, when Bingley caught him.
"There, take your letter. I am grateful to have read it, for now we both understand everything."
"My God, Bingley. She is ill. And all this time-"
"No, stop it man," interrupted his friend. "No time now. You must go to her. Everything will be resolved, I know it."
"If anything has happened to her-"
"Go at once."
Unable to be rational at that moment, Darcy allowed his friend to take charge of him. He followed Bingley's order, jumped into the rig, and left Glenstead behind him at a galloping pace.
The carriage could not cover ground rapidly enough. Elizabeth was ill, and he had abandoned her; he had doubted her; he had not trusted her. There were all manner of sins and no absolution, no way to know anything at all for almost three hours, and he must bear it alone. But he had Georgiana's letter. He had barely read it the first time, being in such a panic over the idea of Elizabeth infirm. He seized it up at once, seeking anything that could give him relief.
'Jane is serene enough,' he read. So perhaps this illness was not so very bad after all? Nay, Jane was always tranquil about everything; this was no real solace. And according to his sister, Elizabeth had been ill all week, hardly able to come downstairs, crying in her bed and looking sick indeed. What did it mean? Darcy let himself imagine for a moment that she ailed from a broken heart, for these were certainly the symptoms. But he tossed the idea from his mind. "No, I have been too much an idiot. I do not deserve her to be lovesick." Try as he might, he could find no satisfying description of Elizabeth's condition in Georgiana's scarce details, and he knew there was nothing to do but wait. He sat back and shut his eyes, praying for sleep; but he received no such mercy. This was excruciating.
He opened the letter again, hoping it's further contents could occupy his thoughts at least a little. Perhaps Kitty and Mr. Wickham were not subjects for the most peaceful reflections, but Darcy preferred anything to the idea of Elizabeth in pain, and he turned his mind first to Miss Bennet.
So, Kitty had known nothing of Wickham after all; that much was glaringly apparent. Georgiana had unknowingly given her brother the very assurances he had desired to hear. How ashamed he was of his suspicions now! How glad he was to have Elizabeth's good character restored to him, and how grateful to Georgiana for the accidental relief she had provided. It occurred to Darcy that the tone of this letter was wholly different from anything Georgiana had written before. The voice of it was strong and sure, and his little sister's opinions were given with sensible authority on matters that had previously rattled her.
He read again her account of Miss Bennet's transformation, and it made him wonder if Kitty could truly be the friend Georgiana described. Had he been too predisposed to think ill of her? He supposed he had not given her much of a chance. Perhaps it was due to her influence that Georgiana had been able to pen such a letter in the first place; he did not know. His mind was opened, however, to the possibility that Miss Bennet might have merits to her character that he had not previously discovered, for Georgiana was not prone to exaggerations.
Georgiana's assessment of Mr. Wickham's place in their thoughts was also very sharp. Though Darcy hated to own it to himself, he had been far too protective of his sister, and had allowed Wickham's memory to become the constant, threatening presence that it was. 'Mr. Wickham is not worth this pen and ink that shape his name.' Darcy heartily agreed. 'Let us put Mr. Wickham away, dear brother, and leave him to the sad life he has made for himself.' Darcy sighed. Could he ever forget Wickham? No; he would always despise the man's memory. But Georgiana was right, it was time that memory be demoted from its phantom status, and relegated to the distant past where it could no longer harm them.
"My dear sister." He smiled briefly, in spite of the pain that gripped his heart. Georgiana had surpassed herself, and he must learn to see her for what she was- a noble and intelligent little woman.
Sadly for Darcy, these musings took no more than half an hour of his journey, and soon his brain was burning again with fears for Elizabeth. All he could do was pray, and he did so, his lips moving soundlessly as the carriage sped toward Pemberley.
Chapter Thirteen: Homecoming
After Georgiana had directed her letter to be delivered with the utmost expedience, she joined Kitty in the music room where they practiced the duets they had promised Mr. Stirling and Mr. Douglas. Even with these worthy gentlemen in mind, neither girl's heart was truly in her song. Both knew it would be six hours at least before they could expect to see Mr. Darcy, yet so agitated were their spirits that they could not find peace in the music, and soon they gave it up. It seemed that every minute dragged into the next, and six o'clock was very far away.
Elizabeth noticed at teatime, when she came downstairs looking worn, that the young ladies were extremely restless. Neither of them could meet her eye.
"Jane, what do you think these young sisters can be up to?" she asked archly. "For do they not seem nervous?"
"The girls have been anxious all day, Lizzy, but I am sure it is due to their concern for you." replied unperturbed Jane, buttering a scone.
"I am not sure. Kitty, you look guilty, I think."
"No!" assured Kitty quickly, "It is what Jane says. We are worried for you."
"Georgiana? Is this all?"
Georgiana would not look at her, for she was indeed feeling a little guilt. But she felt sure she had done the best thing in writing to her brother, and she would not confess. "Truly, Elizabeth, it is all."
"Hmmm. Very well, I see you will not tell me, so I shall have to ask Mrs. Reynolds for the answer." Elizabeth questioned the housekeeper on what events had transpired among the ladies that morning, but Mrs. Reynolds pled that she was unaware of anything extraordinary. It was completely untrue; she knew whence Georgiana's letter had gone. But she, too, felt it was high time Master William came home again, and had allowed her young mistresses to swear her to secrecy.
"It is vexing," concluded Elizabeth, "very vexing indeed to be ill, for it seems I am bound to be kept a little ignorant of what goes on while I am indisposed." However, she received no further information, and had to let go of her investigation.
Elizabeth felt keenly for the rest of the afternoon that something was going to happen, though she knew not what. It was a hunch that unsettled her, and she left the tea table for the writing room, hoping to calm herself by assembling the replies she had received for the ball. It was a lengthy task- some three hundred fifty people meant to attend- but all throughout her business she remained disquieted. At five o'clock she laid aside the last of the replies, and allowed herself to wonder why on earth she felt such a strange and unfounded sense of anticipation.
The servants came in to light the candles for the evening, and Elizabeth noticed that Christine, a housemaid who had grown up a tenant on the Pemberley estate, was among them. The young maid had been useful in noticing things before, for she went all about the property to do her work, and Elizabeth wondered if she might be able to give some insight that the young ladies and Mrs. Reynolds had not.
"Christine, may I speak to you a moment?"
"Certainly, Mrs. Darcy!" The maid was at her side in a flash, curtseying prettily.
"Christine, I wonder. I was upstairs most of the morning... did you notice anything out of the ordinary today?"
Christine looked puzzled, and Elizabeth felt a little foolish. After all, it was only a fancy of her imagination. All this sickness and restless sorrow had made her needlessly suspicious, and she meant at once to retract her question. Christine, however, spoke first.
"Now that you mention it, Mrs. Darcy- Mr. Scott, your messenger ma'am, he took an express off in a terrible hurry this afternoon. I only noticed because since the physician had been here, I imagined it must be something concerning your health, ma'am."
Elizabeth was trembling, for she felt strangely sure she knew what had happened. She willed herself to remain calm. "Do you know," she asked steadily, "where Mr. Scott went so expressly?"
"To Glenstead, ma'am," replied the maid innocently. "I only know because I inquired after Mr. Craig, your butler, ma'am. I was anxious to know your state, you see, ma'am."
"What time did he go to Glenstead?" Elizabeth's voice was barely audible.
"At noon, ma'am. I only remember because the church bells at Lambton-"
Elizabeth stopped her. "Thank you, Christine. You are very kind to think of my health, and this is precisely the information I was wanting."
Christine blushed happily, honored to have been of particular help to the beloved mistress of Pemberley. "At your service, ma'am. Is there anything else, Mrs. Darcy?"
"No, thank you Christine." The maid departed in a state of pleased importance.
Elizabeth, however, was stunned. This could only mean one thing: Kitty and Georgiana had conspired to bring Mr. Darcy back to Pemberley. Shaking with indignation, she went at once to find them, stopping only to look at the clock. Five-thirty! He would come- if he meant to come at all- at any moment!
She discovered the young ladies playing cards with Jane in the sitting room, and began, without warning, to exclaim loudly. "Girls! How could you even think it? I am-" Elizabeth struggled angrily for words- "furious! With both of you! What unbelievable presumption-"
Startled, Kitty dropped her cards, and Georgiana clapped her hands to her mouth. Only Jane was calm. "Lizzy, whatever is the matter? You know you must not over exert yourself."
"The matter!" Elizabeth was shouting. "These two-" she pointed with both her hands to Kitty and Georgiana- "have taken it upon themselves to write to Glenstead! And I am sure they have told William to come home. Oh, this is insufferable. I could scream!"
"You almost are," pointed out Kitty.
"Kitty, I warn you. One more word-"
"Lizzy! Lizzy, control yourself. You must sit. They would never do such a thing without asking you. You must be wrong. Georgiana, tell my sister she is wrong," entreated Jane.
Georgiana shook her head. "I wrote him." Lizzy gasped and shrieked all in one breath. "He gave me leave to write to him at once if I should see any need. And you have been so ill! He had to know it. I could not rest until I had informed him. You must not blame Kitty, for I did it all myself."
"I never... you had no right." Elizabeth looked as though she would faint at any moment. "Young ladies, go upstairs. Right now, before I lose my temper entirely."
Kitty and Georgiana fled.
"Lizzy, my goodness, let me get you something-"
"No, Jane. Do you not see? I shall have to face him! What am I to do?"
"Do you not want Mr. Darcy, Lizzy?" asked Jane, very gently.
"Want him? Oh, Jane! How I have been aching for him." Lizzy sobbed. "But I did not want this. This is exactly what I hoped to avoid. I do not desire his pity for my condition. I wanted his free apology, his free forgiveness, unattached to any illness of mine! And now I shall never know if he came of his own volition or merely to appease me."
As Elizabeth spoke, Jane grew very pale, and her eyes fixed on the doorway behind her sister. "Lizzy," she said in a low, urgent tone, "Lizzy, stop."
"No, Jane! Oh, I cannot forgive them. And what if he should not come at all? Oh, I cannot bear it." She sobbed again. "I cannot bear one more day."
"Elizabeth." The voice behind her was unmistakable. Elizabeth's heart stopped in her chest.
"William." She kept her back to the door and looked helplessly at her sister. Jane rose, passed Lizzy a handkerchief, and went silently from the room, shutting the door for their privacy.
Elizabeth turned to her husband without employing the handkerchief at all, and they faced one another as equals, both wretches. Darcy was haggard; dark circles had trenched beneath his eyes, and though his posture was erect, every muscle seemed to hang limply on his frame.
Elizabeth, for her part, was pale and crying, but terribly resolute. "You have come because you thought me ill."
"Georgiana's letter frightened me. I cannot tell you how it made me feel."
"She was mistaken. I am well."
"Thank God." Darcy bowed his head.
It was all Elizabeth could do to master her emotion. "Was your decision to come back so suddenly based entirely on your fear for my health?"
"No." He looked at her pleadingly. "Elizabeth, I have been such a fool." In a strangled voice, Darcy told his wife of the letter he had seen, and the manner in which he had found it. He described what it had led him to think, how it had magnified his anger, and how he had wrestled with telling her. Finally, he gave her the details of Georgiana's letter, which had unknowingly acquitted Elizabeth of all he had believed her to have done. "I am so ashamed," he concluded quietly, "that I allowed my assumption to separate us in such a way. I was an idiot to let my faith in you be shaken. Were it not for that, I should have been home days ago- no- I never would have gone to begin with. Elizabeth, I do not deserve it, but I beg your forgiveness. I cannot live without you."
More genuine humility even Elizabeth could not have wanted. She no longer held herself back from him. In a moment she was in his arms, and both of them were lost in the tears that always accompany the healing of broken hearts.
When they could speak again, Elizabeth raised Jane's handkerchief to dry both their cheeks. "To say that I have missed you would be a laughable understatement," she told him. "I have been utterly at sea. Had you not come back today, I think I should have been at Glenstead by tomorrow."
He kissed her, and buried his face in her hair. "Wonderful woman," was all he could manage, for Mr. Darcy was finding it very difficult to recover himself, and after such a ride as he had just suffered, he was not soon willing to let go of his wife's embrace. It was a long moment before he could gather his voice.
"Elizabeth, tell me, are you perfectly well? I had expected to find you quite ill- though I am grateful it is not so. But Georgiana- I cannot believe she would fabricate something so serious. Tell me what is the matter."
Elizabeth led him to sit down, holding both his hands tightly. She felt her moment had come.
"Georgiana did tell you the truth- as she understood it. The physician was indeed here today, and I have been quite sick every morning for a week. But I am very well."
Darcy shook his head uncomprehendingly. "You confuse me. How can a person be sick and well at the same time?"
"It is simple," said Elizabeth, looking joyfully into her husband's eyes. "I am carrying our child."
Darcy's ecstatic cry, and the bliss with which he kissed his wife, can only be imagined.
* * *
Jane, Kitty and Georgiana went to supper alone together, as the Master and Mistress of Pemberley preferred to go upstairs at once after their ordeal. However, the couple sent a message along with Mrs. Reynolds before retiring, and the housekeeper appeared in the dining hall as the ladies were being served.
"Begging your pardon, Misses, but I am told to give you a word from the Master." The ladies encouraged her to speak directly. "I am sent to say," continued Mrs. Reynolds with a sly grin, "that Misses Georgiana and Kitty are thanked for their clever interference. And Mrs. Jane, your sister gives you leave to explain to the young ladies the nature of the illness that has kept them so worried."
"Thank you, Mrs. Reynolds!" The housekeeper nodded merrily, and went out.
"Oh thank heavens everything is well again!" cried Georgiana, relieved to have been proven wise in her actions.
"Yes," chimed Kitty. "This is very good! Now Jane, since you may, tell us what is the matter with Lizzy. I knew it was something!"
Happily, Jane enlightened her young kin as to the real cause of the physician's visit. The dining hall erupted in cheers that made the servants smile and the glad sounds echoed through the halls of the finally reunited household.
Chapter Fourteen: Meanwhile, at Longbourn
With the return of Mr. Darcy, the dispelling of all unhappy secrets, and the disclosure of a baby, peace was entirely restored at Pemberley. Jane was escorted early back to Glenstead with her son, which delighted Mr. Bingley's heart, and although Lizzy hated to part with her sister, she had the definite assurance of Jane's return for the festivities of the ball quite soon, which made the departure an easy one.
In addition to every other happiness, the young ladies presently received a second call from Mr. Stirling and Mr. Douglas, who arrived armed with water-color paints and inquired whether they might take miniatures of the ladies 'for the sake of practice'. This was a proposal that set two girlish hearts into flutters, and it was accepted that the ladies would 'allow them to do so'.
Mr. Darcy was sensible of the dramatic alteration in Kitty's behavior, and he congratulated Elizabeth, but she would take no credit; Georgiana had worked the change. Darcy also saw with delight that his own sister's manner was becoming daily more self-assured, and he wondered whether he had Kitty's influence to thank for this. His only present concern was with the character and history of Mr. Douglas, who was a stranger to him, but once Elizabeth had informed her husband of Douglas' position in the world and his connection to the Comghall portraits, Darcy made his new guest very welcome.
Let us not suppose that Mr. Darcy was so entirely reformed as to leave the young people unsupervised for a single moment of the visit. No indeed, for he would not have Georgiana courted by anyone without his entire approval, and it certainly seemed that to court her was Mr. Stirling's serious intention. Darcy sat with them therefore in the drawing room, and studied every move of the artists as they made their miniatures. It did not escape his attention that Mr. Douglas seemed to be nearly as intent on Kitty as Mr. Stirling was on Georgiana, and Darcy was surprised to feel his fatherish instincts extending themselves beyond his own sister, to include Miss Bennet's welfare.
There was nothing in the call to arouse any alarm in Mr. Darcy, however. In fact, he had grown by the end of it to feel approval for both young men, for they were courteous and unpretentious throughout the visit. Mr. Douglas painted skillfully, and often stopped in his own work to correct some error of his pupil's.
"Hold it there, Artie- no, lift the brush a bit- you see?" Mr. Stirling said he did, and vigorously went for more paint. "Ho there, too much- don' put it on the paper!"
It was too late. Georgiana's likeness now blushed in her cheeks as well as her nose, and a bit of her ear. Mr. Douglas was quick with a blotter, and the stain lifted easily while Mr. Stirling looked on with a sheepish grin. "I don't think I get on at all," he apologized. Miss Darcy laughed.
"I am sure it is fine. Let me see?"
"No!" He quickly shielded the image with a cupped hand. "Not yet. Let me fix it up a bit first- or let John do it." It was indeed Mr. Douglas who lay a blush tint to the little portrait, deftly concealing all errors.
"Now let it dry- don' touch it!" he ordered. Mr. Stirling sighed.
"I should have let you do both."
"Ah, hush up. You're a novice- supposed to make mistakes at this stage. I did!"
Mr. Stirling was indeed very much a beginner, and had it not been for his tutor's own hand in the painting of it, Georgiana's picture would have been a funny misrepresentation at best. As it was, Douglas had enough talent to manage both the miniatures, and when the paint had dried, each of the young ladies was able to cherish her own happy token of the 'lesson'.
"It's lovely!" Kitty exclaimed, when hers was cradled in her palm. "Although you have been too kind- my nose is not that nice."
"I disagree." Mr. Douglas looked at her quickly, and continued to rinse his brushes. "Artie, don' think I'm goin' to clean up after ya."
"Of course not!" replied Mr. Stirling, and fell at once to scrubbing a paint-laden brush against his blotter.
"Not like that! Now listen." And Mr. Douglas launched into a detailed lecture on the proper maintance of such supplies, which made the ladies smile.
"I imagine," teased Georgiana, "that it is easier for you to paint a great portrait by yourself, than it is to coax just a little one out of your friend, Mr. Douglas." She gave a warm smile to Mr. Stirling as she said this, and he rolled his eyes.
"Ah, no, Miss Darcy. This is much more pleasant."
"Then you do not enjoy painting grand portaits as much?" inquired Kitty, unable to keep from adding, "What of the one you did for the Newcastles? Was that not- pleasant?"
"They talked too much," grumbled Mr. Douglas. Everyone, even Mr. Darcy, chuckled at his candor. "Pardon me, I don' mean to be rude. It's only- well, paintin's so personal. I hate to have to do every commission that comes my way. It's like you said before, Miss Bennet. I'd rather do my own private paintin'."
"And have some other living to support you?"
"Such as what?" Mr. Darcy was intrigued. "If you could choose your living, Mr. Douglas, what would that be?"
Douglas sighed, and clapped his friend on the back. "Well, since I can't be a gentleman like Artie here," he laughed, "I'd be a clergyman. My father was, you know, and I would have loved- well, it's not an issue, really. I didn' have that education, or any proper education. I'm lucky I learned this," he gestured to his paints. "And grateful, too. I certainly can' complain."
Darcy gave the young man a long, thoughtful look, but said nothing more on the subject, and the two gentlemen departed not long after that.
Relieved of his chaperoning duties, Mr. Darcy immediately went to attend Elizabeth, (who was ill again all morning, though it no longer disturbed anyone,) leaving Kitty and Georgiana to count the replies for the ball, and discuss who they would have as partners if they could choose for each set. In short, it was a very agreeable day, foretelling no disquietude whatsoever, and no one at Pemberley had any reason to anticipate disaster.
* * *
"Lord, it is fine to be home! Mama, where are you? Matthews, give me back my purse, for I am sure I am not going to pay you. Papa must take care of it all, for he is the man. Mama! Come out and see your favourite daughter!"
Mrs. Lydia Wickham arrived at Longbourn in a driving sleet that did nothing to damp her energy. She broke through the front door, dripping mud and ice, laughing as she left a watermark in the front hall.
"Mama!" she shouted, throwing her cape at Hill and shaking her boots with no regard for the walls or carpets. "Lord, it is cold! What a laugh I have had at the driver! I must come in out of the stupid rain. Mama!"
"Lydia!" cried Mrs. Bennet, hurrying downstairs to her youngest daughter. "My darling Lydia! I did not expect you home!" Mrs. Bennet fluttered about the entryway, loath to get herself wet, but thrilled to have company at last. "Longbourn has been insufferable without you, daughter, I assure you. Oh, my dear, dear child!"
"Somebody must pay that man, Matthews," she ordered casually, gesturing to the person behind her, who was quite drenched.
"You are welcome to it sir, for you bring my own dear girl back to me at last! But you shall have to wait a moment. My husband will take care of you. Oh, Lydia, you are home!"
"Well I am not come to stay, I am sure. I am only here for a visit." She slammed the door unceremoniously in Mr. Matthews' face, and proceeded to unlace her boots.
"And where, may I ask, is your husband?" asked her father sternly, arriving on the scene with alacrity to assess the damages. From within his study, Mr. Bennet had heard the telltale noise of his daughter, and he felt a terror in his chest. After all the trouble she had caused, Mrs. Wickham was hardly welcome to him under the best of circumstances. And yet, here she was, flinging wet dirt about her, having given them no notice whatever of her arrival. Mr. Bennet sighed. The children he valued were gone, and the one whom he especially could not tolerate was home again.
"My husband is in London, Papa. Lord, you do not look happy to see me! Never mind, for I shall cheer you up while I am here. My dear Wickham set out for a new occupation, for we are out of money. I decided to come home while he looks for another place to settle, and I declare I am very glad to move from _______shire! What an insipid place that was! In any case, George is so good, he set me up with a carriage home. And here I am!"
"He set you up with a carriage, but gave you nothing with which to pay for it."
"I am sure you can pay it; you have hardly any daughters to look after anymore, so I know you have money." Mr. Bennet did pay the poor driver, who stalked back to his coach in a snit, after having stood outside the door in the sleet for ten minutes. Lydia, feeling she had explained herself nicely, proceeded to make herself at home.
"What do you think you are doing?" asked her father. "You are no longer living here, Mrs. Wickham. You are a guest, and a short-lived one at that. After you are dry, we shall call you another carriage directly, and you shall join your husband. I won't have you imposing yourself here whenever you feel the urge."
"Nonsense!" cried Mrs. Bennet, "You shall stay here! Do not listen to your father. It is your house; how could you impose? Lord knows we have room, when it is only your father and I. Oh, and Mary too, but that is nothing."
"What? Where is Kitty?" demanded Lydia. "Has she run off and got married at last? What a laugh! Why did no one tell me?"
"No one told you of Kitty's wedding, Lydia, because she is not silly enough to run off and get married without telling her sisters, and is therefore still a single woman." replied Mr. Bennet thinly.
"Poor girl!" sighed his wife. "It is true. She is unmarried. But now she is at Pemberley she will fall in the way of some rich man or other."
"Pemberley!" Lydia was shocked. "Well that sounds very nice. I wonder I was not invited."
"I wonder at your wonder, Mrs. Wickham."
"Oh, Papa, you are so stiff. Get me a bath, Hill, so I do not freeze and die- go on!- and then we shall all have a nice dinner! Lord, I'm so hungry!" Lydia flounced wetly up the stairs to her bath, just missing Mary, who came into the hall carrying a stack of novels.
"Is that Lydia?"
"I am afraid so," said her father.
"Where is her husband?" said Miss Bennet, appalled that her sister should travel singly, and in such weather.
"In London!" snapped her mother. "Oh, Mary, do not look so condescendingly. I am sure, if anyone ever marries you, you may do just as you please. Until then, you may have no opinion on the subject."
Mary looked down her nose at her mother, and hoisted her books more tightly in her arms. "Well, Papa, if you like, I shall play you a song or two. I know music will make you feel better about it." Mary loved to sing for people, and made opportunities to do so whenever she could. But her father had no patience for the nasality of her voice or the severity of her playing, and so he avoided these offers as best he could.
"Rest easy, Mary. I do not think it will help me to hear you. If I cannot turn Lydia out, I shall have no pleasure in anything."
Mary nodded, agreeing with her father that Lydia's arrival was a most unwelcome event, and went anyway to the pianoforte, where she imagined she would cheer them all with a long and pious dirge. Her parents fled to opposite ends of the house, but she continued loudly for another hour, audience enough for herself.
Two hours later, the small gathering of Bennets assembled for dinner. Lydia and Mrs. Bennet were in high spirits to be reunited, and entered at once into a long, exclusive gossip.
"So Kitty is gone to Pemberley!"
"Oh yes, Lydia. Lizzy invited her to be the particular friend of Miss Darcy, and she is there the whole winter. If she does not come back married, I shall say it is all for nothing! For I cannot tell you how dull this house has been."
Lydia laughed at her mother's distress. "I am sure you go to Netherfield often enough to get relief; it is only three miles off. If it is fine tomorrow, I shall surprise the Bingleys with my being in town, and you must come, too! Will not that be droll?"
"That is an outing I strongly encourage, Lydia," said Mr. Bennet seriously. "What time would you have me bring the carriage 'round?"
Lydia was too silly to be suspicious of her father's sudden interest. "Well! I think we shall go after lunch," she decided. "Lord, what a shock she shall get!"
Mrs. Bennet howled. "Your father is a cruel man, Lydia! He teases you most viciously. For Jane and Bingley are gone from Netherfield House forever!" Mrs. Bennet waved her handkerchief back and forth over her face as if the little air she created by doing so would prevent her from fainting dead away. "What?" Lydia cried. "Where did they go?"
"To a house called Glenstead in Nottinghamshire-- to be near Lizzy, says Jane. And I am sure I am never to be happy again, with no grateful children to take care of me in my old age!"
"I am here, Mama," reminded Mary stiffly.
"That is hardly very comforting," snorted Lydia. "Nottinghamshire? Are they very close to Pemberley?"
"Within thirty miles of it. I am so vexed that she is gone! Well, she and Lizzy are very selfish creatures, and I shall die all alone with no one to ease my suffering!"
"Well then, that is settled, Mrs. Bennet, and I think it a very good plan." Mr. Bennet looked pointedly at his youngest daughter. "Tell me, Lydia, how long do you plan to remain here?" He hated to ask the question, for he feared the worst in the answer.
"I should imagine a month will do the trick. Wickham has promised to find us an income by Christmas. He says I am to have a new gown for a present! Is not that nice?" She and her mother exchanged little squeals over the prospect of gowns. "Pass me those peas, Mary."
Mr. Bennet shook his head. "Mr. Wickham shall have to manage an income sooner than that. We are leaving Longbourn on the eighteenth of December, and you shall have to go as well."
"I shall just stay here, then."
"No, Lydia. I will not have you unchaperoned for a week in this house."
"I can do such things now, you know, Papa. I am a married lady, and may go as I please without being chaperoned."
"You do not have enough sense to be left by yourself. If you wish to be alone, you must find a home for yourself."
Lydia stamped her foot, but knew it was no use. This was her father's most decisive tone. "Very well then, where are you going?"
"To Pemberley," confided her mother in an excited whisper. "Do you not know about it? Lizzy is throwing an enormous ball, and we are going to stay a long week-end with her!" Lydia slammed down her knife. "Well this is a fine thing! No one tells me anything anymore; Kitty is gone, Jane moved away, and Lizzy having a ball without inviting me. I dare say I shall go with you," she challenged.
"That you shall not." Mr. Bennet was very firm. "I shall not be responsible for bringing you where you are not invited."
"Oh, Lord, what is that to me?" cried Lydia. "I am sure I only missed the invitation in passing."
"There is no room for you, Lydia. We are to bring Maria Lucas with us for the weekend, and I shall not be able to oblige you, no matter what you say."
"How can you take that mousy little thing and leave me? I am your daughter!"
Mrs. Bennet agreed with this. "It is true! I should so much rather have you than Maria- that girl! She should go to her sister Charlotte if she wants to travel, for I am sure I do not want her!"
"You see, Papa?"
"I do. You and your mother are going to be contrary. Very well, so am I. You may not come, and that is an end to it."
"Oh is it? Well then I shall write to Lizzy and tell her I am to come, too. If she says I may you will not dare count me out! Oh, there will be such gentlemen there!"
"How can that make a difference to you?" asked Mary, scandalized. "You are married!"
"Yes, I am! Jealous, aren't you, Mary? Well, I am sure we can get you married, too, if only we can find someone whose eyes are very bad."
"That is enough, Lydia. Go on, write to Lizzy. And if she says you may come, I shall eat my cravat."
"Do not listen to him! He is a hard man," accused Mrs. Bennet. "Write to her at once, Lydia. For I am sure she cannot turn away her sister. And then we will not have room for Maria Lucas, which is fine with me."
"That is just what I think. Very well, I am excused." Lydia pushed back her chair and went away to the desk she had once shared with Kitty. A ball at Pemberley! It would be just the thing. She longed to see the great houses of her sisters, and perhaps they could set her up with a little money. (This was an ungrateful thought, considering that both Jane and Lizzy, through prudently reserving part of their own private expenses, had often sent her financial relief.) She was tired of being poor, from traveling shabbily and from moving so often, for this was the third time her husband's debts had forced them to relocate.
Mrs. Wickham was no longer as innocently silly as she had once been in her feelings. Though she remained reckless and unintelligent, she was sharpened by her recent experiences. She had eloped with a man who drank, gambled, and had no real sense of responsibility to her at all. It had not taken her long to fall out of love with her husband for she had never truly loved him to begin with. Her regard for him had been built only on the basest feelings, and his attachment had never been strong at all- no; Mr. Wickham had been bought into marrying her. The mutual attractions that had led them to that impasse had hardly lasted a twelvemonth. Lydia was flirtatious as ever, Wickham as dissolute. Indeed, they did not mind the time away from each other, for it left them room in which to trifle with other hearts.
There is nothing so attractive to a character such as Lydia's as a large party of people in which to frolic, and Lydia was determined to show up and have a merry fling. All she needed was a bit of paper, and the whole business would be settled very nicely, for it truly did not occur to her that Elizabeth might say her nay. She shuffled through the old desk, looking for the utensils she required, and her eye fell on a large, ornate, blue seal bearing the letter 'D', which was tucked among Kitty's correspondence.
"That must be 'Darcy'. Well, let us see about it!" She had no compunction about opening the note, which was clearly marked 'Kitty' in Lizzy's writing, for it looked very interesting to her. What did it signify who the note belonged to? She read it with a clear conscience, or perhaps, as was more likely, no conscience at all.
Lydia did feel an emotion when she came halfway through the note, but it was not remorse for her actions.
"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."
Lydia stared. This was a stunning thing to find. She read the rest of the note, her whole face agape.
"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..."
When Lydia had satisfied her macabre curiosity by reading this letter several times over, she put it in her pocket and laughed out loud. Anyone else might have cried, or felt ashamed, but Lydia Wickham only laughed. To be sure, it was a chilling little laugh, a laugh that spoke volumes of her heart. So this was Lizzy's opinion of her? What a joke! And she would have a joke of her own in return.
I should think this letter gives me the right to do what I like, for it has hurt my feelings excruciatingly! I dare say I shall go to the ball, for there is nothing I should like half so much as that. Will it not be cunning to surprise them? Lord! The looks on their faces will be so droll! I can hardly wait. What shall I wear?
These were the impenitent thoughts of Lydia Wickham, after prying through her sister's personal belongings. She had only herself to blame for the pain she suffered upon reading the letter, yet she intended to gain restitution. Lizzy may think she had cut her sister off from the fine life she led, but she was much mistaken. Lydia, who almost always got what she went after, was now seriously intent on going to the ball. How she would manage it was a mystery, but she did not care. She knew a plan would come to her - good schemes were her particular talent. Mrs. Wickham therefore went gaily down the stairs to rejoin her family, entertaining herself with wayward thoughts of what she would do when she arrived at Pemberley.
Continued in Part 4
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