She Was Then But Fifteen--
Georgiana Darcy barely stopped herself from leaping headlong from the carriage like a child from bed on Christmas morn. She was fifteen now, she reminded herself, quite grown up. She must act it. She would not have her dear brother ashamed of her.
He had always been indulgent and loving--the best of good brothers--but lately he had been preoccupied. Her best guess as to the reason was that his duties at Pemberley, which were no small burden for any one person to bear, were weighing on his shoulders. She had resolved to take over some of them after this sojourn at Ramsgate. After all, he had handled them alone for so many years, he deserved a little respite. And perhaps if he had that respite, he would set about finding her the sister-in-law she was continually telling him she deserved. But Georgy simply knew he would not allow her to take on any of his duties until he was convinced that she was mature enough to handle them.
So, as a quite-grown-up young lady, she ascended regally from the carriage, her posture and bearing so correct, so postively faultless, that she never noticed how the hem of her traveling dress dragged in the mud.
"Miss Darcy," Mrs. Younge said graciously, rising from her seat to cross the drawing room. "How well you look."
"Do you think so?" Georgy inquired before she thought. "Ah--I mean--thank you, Mrs. Younge. You look very well, as well--ah--"
Mrs. Younge smiled a cool little smile at her charge's linguistic flounderings. "Yes, you look quite well. Quite grown-up, I must say."
Georgy decided that the best course open to her was to restrict herself only to another "Thank you."
"Are you wearied from your journey, child?"
The "child" made Georgy bite her lip, but Mrs. Younge was her hostess, and a lady older then herself, and so she said nothing about it. "Yes, a little," she said instead.
"I shall show you to your room. 'Tis my favourite in the house, overlooking the street in a very pretty way. Will you be adequately recovered to have dinner with us tonight?"
"Oh, yes, I believe so," Georgy said, and then the rest of the statement percolated to her consciousness. "Us?"
"An old friend, of yours as well as mine, is in Ramsgate, and I thought 'twould be a very nice thing if he were to dine with us."
"Really?" Georgy asked, following her up the stairs. "Ah--I mean, indeed! And--um--who might this friend be?"
"Oh, no, child, he has implored me to keep his identity a secret until he should see you for himself." Mrs. Younge laughed lightly, waving her hand in the air. "Gentlemen and their fancies! Quite beyond a lady's comprehension, I assure you. I venture to say, my dear, that you shall be quite surprised and quite pleased at his identity!"
Georgy's heart leaped. Her brother! She had not seen him since she had left for school. It would be just like him to surprise her in this fashion, so they could have a few days together! Oh, he was the best and dearest of brothers!
It was a testament to her youth and vitality that after only a short rest, Georgy was completely recovered from a voyage of some days' duration. She was up long before the time came to dress for dinner, and spent the time perusing her wardrobe for the most grown-up thing she could wear. She eyed a white muslin with a frill of blue and shook her head. Oh, dear, no.
Hmm--there was the pink, with the dear little cap sleeves . . .
In the end, she chose a mint-green confection. She had some doubts about the clean, simple lines it was crafted along--almost too simple, really--but the bodice was a bit lower then all her others. It almost showed a little bit of her bosom, rather then reaching to her collarbone as all the others did.
That done with, her hair was arranged in a high, soft bun with springy curls at her temples. Surveying herself in the mirror, Georgy thought proudly, Fitzwilliam must see that I am quite mature enough to manage at least some of his duties! Why, I look almost as if I am eighteen today!
She checked the time and leapt up so swiftly she knocked the stool over. It would not be in the least grown-up if she were late for dinner!
Leaping over the stool, she made for the door, and was half-way down the stairs when the maid's plaintive call drifted after her. "Miss! Oh, miss, ye forgot yer shoes, ye did!"
Blushing at the feel of carpeting under her stockinged toes, and at the amused look of the footman by the front door, she swiveled and ascended the stairs with great dignity. A few moments later, properly shod, she descended with even greater dignity.
A few steps from the door of the sitting room, she heard the deep rumble of a male voice. Dignity fled, and she dashed forward into the room, ready to cry out, "Fitzwilliam!", when her shoe, not so tightly fastened as it might have been because of her impatience, betrayed her, and she stumbled.
Instead of landing on the carpet, as she fully expected, she found herself in strong arms, with a laughing voice overhead exclaiming, "D'you mean to tell me that this is little Georgy? This ravishing lady? This goddess on earth? Nay, and nay again!"
She lifted mortified eyes to the surprise visitor that Mrs. Younge had been so pleased about--a man she had not seen for some years, but had known all her life.
"Mr. Wickham," she said faintly.
Georgy thought she should perish of shame before the fish course. She couldn't even look at Wickham. Oh, dear, oh, dear! she lamented in her head. What happened to grown-up, Georgy? What happened to maturity? Heedless, heedless!
But by the main course, her fit of melodrama and self-castigation had passed. With those thoughts no longer occupying her mind, she suddenly realized how starved she was, and tucked into her capon with a good will. She still couldn't quite get up the courage to look at her fellow diners, however.
"Come now, you would not deprive a fellow of that lovely face forever, would you?"
Georgy, who had been concentrating on her food, jerked, and her fork skittered from her hands to land on the floor. She felt her face heating as a footman bent to retrieve it.
"Thank you," she murmured as a new fork was produced and set down by her plate.
"Though I do not blame you," Wickham went on cheerily. "I am sure that a roast bird is much more fascinating then my ugly phiz."
"Oh, no, indeed!" Georgy cried before she thought. Oh, dear, this blush was surely branded on her face for all eternity. "I--that is--"
But Wickham was laughing. "Well, you are good for a fellow's consequence, Georgiana!"
"Please--I like Georgy," she said shyly.
He stopped laughing, and one dark brow cocked. "Nay," he said softly. "Georgy is much too childish an appellation for such a . . . lovely young lady as yourself."
Georgy's heart all but stopped.
"In fact," he went on in a lighter voice, "even Georgiana does not suit you. 'Tis too ponderous." He tapped a finger against his lips. "You are not ponderous, not in the least like your brother."
"Fitzwilliam is not ponderous," she exclaimed. So wrapped in defense of her brother was she that she did not even blush when Wickham cocked a brow at her again. "He is not!" she insisted. "He is a little serious, perhaps, but that is nothing more then can be attributed to taking on the duties of an estate and raising a troublesome younger sister when he was very young himself. He is the very best brother I could ever ask for and--"
"Peace, sweetling," he cut in. "I was not maligning your precious Fitzwilliam. Do not forget, I knew him from very young childhood myself."
"Oh--yes," she murmured, puzzling over the odd note in his voice. "I am sorry--"
"Do not be, sweetling. There, that is it!"
"What is it?"
"Sweetling. That suits you best of all."
Well, that was it. She should be as red as a beet forever.
After dinner, they sat in the drawing room again. Georgy sat in her lovely dress, sneaking longing looks at the pianoforte in the corner of the room. Her fingertips tingled with the desire to play, and her throat ached with the desire to sing. It looked like a marvelous instrument, better by far then the antique that had been the school's property.
"Pretty, isn't it?"
Georgy looked up quickly to see Mrs. Younge watching her. "Excuse me?"
"The pianoforte. It was one of his little gifts. He did so like giving me little presents. Unfortunately, I have never been much of a musician, so it is played very little."
Oh, dear--it is probably horribly out of tune, Georgy thought with a silent sigh.
"Your brother mentioned you were fond of music, so I had it tuned just last week," Mrs. Younge continued.
Georgy's heart leapt.
"You need not tonight, but you may play any time you like, you know."
"I should most like to hear you play, sweetling," Wickham added. "She had an angel's voice even as a child," he informed Mrs. Younge. "Nothing pleased her better then to find a new song she could perform for us all."
"Yes," said Georgy tartly, "and you used to run from the room with your hands over your ears."
He blinked, and then gave her a slow, sweet smile. "You mustn't blame a fellow for the idiocies of his youth, sweetling. I assure you, I have a great deal more appreciation of . . . music nowadays."
Georgy ducked her head and rose hurriedly to her feet. "Perhaps I will play a little, Mrs. Younge," she murmured.
Wickham was on his feet as well. "And I will turn pages."
"Oh--you do not need to," Georgy gasped out, fumbling with the doors of the music cabinet that sat by the piano.
"But I want to."
Thoroughly flustered now, Georgy picked a piece of music at random. It was sheer luck that it turned out to be a piece she had played often at school, for the beauty of it.
She was relatively calm by the time she had arranged the sheet music to her satisfaction, but all her hard work was blown to pieces when Wickham sat beside her on the piano bench.
He did not touch her in any way, but he was closer then any man save her brother or her father had ever been. Ordinarily when Georgy played, she could close herself away from the rest of the world and simply dissolve into the notes and the melody, but it was somehow not working this time.
Nonetheless, when her fingers stilled on the keys, Mrs. Younge clapped profusely. But it was Wickham to whom Georgy's eyes were riveted.
"Did I say an angel?" he asked softly. "A siren, rather, whose voice could tempt a man to his death, and he would not even care."
Before sitting down, Georgy brushed a loving finger across the white roses in a vase sitting on the piano. They had arrived the morning after that first dinner with Mr. Wickham. The violets in her sitting room had come the next day, and the tightly furled red rosebud by her bedside had been plucked and put into her hair by Mr. Wickham himself when they had slipped away from one of the local assemblies for a breath of air.
He was so--wonderful! she thought happily. Sweet, romantic, considerate--he was everything she could ask for in man. Sometimes she woke up wondering if it was all a dream--and then she would come downstairs to find some new tribute from her beloved.
She caught herself playing Mendohlsson's "Wedding March", and laughed at herself. It was too soon for that, really it was!
But she played one or two more notes before rising and going to the music cabinet.
Alas, my love, ye do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously
And I have loved you so long
Delighting in thy comp'ny
Greensleeves was all my joy
Greensleeves was my delight
Greensleeves was my heart of gold
and who but my Lady Greensleeves
I have been ready at your hand,
To grant whatever you may crave
I have both wage and life--
Georgy's fingers stumbled, and she winced at the resulting clash of notes. "Mr. Wickham? What is it? What's happened?"
He came to sit by her on the piano bench. "I woke up," he said, "and I simply had to see you. I ran all the way from my lodgings, I was so impatient!"
He was breathless, but his dark curls were still in neat order. Georgy did like a well-groomed man. "But why?" she asked. "What has happened? Surely you do not have to leave Ramsgate?" Her heart quailed in her chest at the thought.
He shook his head impatiently. "I may have to, soon, but that is not why I came here." He took her hands and looked deeply into her eyes. Georgy felt the world's spinning stop for just the few moments it took for him to say, "Georgiana Darcy, will you marry me?"
After Mr. Wickham had left, Georgy sprang up and spun like a dervish about the room, laughing and crying and hugging herself. She even had to pinch herself once or twice to make sure she wasn't dreaming. He loved her! He loved her and he wanted to marry her! Oh, surely it was a dream come true!
The euphoria was marred by only one thing--Mr. Wickham wished to elope.
"But why?" she had asked. "Surely you want a real wedding, one which all your friends could come to! I could not imagine being wed without my brother there."
"That would take so long," he'd whispered sweetly. "Do you not want to be married as soon as possible?"
"Of course I do," she'd murmured, blushing. "But my brother--"
"We could have a proper wedding after, if it pleases you."
"I am not asking for a big wedding, though," she protested. "With a special license, we could be married within a week."
"But special licenses cost so much! We could be using that money for ourselves, instead. No, Georgy, it must be Scotland."
She had not protested further, still so dazed was she at the sudden coming-true of all the past days' hopes and dreams. But she still wished that her brother could be there.
It was just as she had sunk down on the bay window, panting slightly from her ecstatic exertions, that she heard the clatter of wheels on the cobblestones outside. She looked around curiously, and then cried out when she saw who it was that was alighting from the carriage.
She leapt up and raced to the door, then skidded to a halt. She would be a married lady soon, she reminded herself. She must cultivate dignity--calm--repose. Mr. Wickham would not want a heedless, senseless chit of a girl to be his bride.
But the moment her brother stepped through the door, all thoughts of elevated deportment disappeared.
She dashed into his arms, feeling them close around her with the same reassuring strength that had been present in them since her father had died so long ago. Again, she wished that she could be married here in England, so that her brother could give her to her husband.
"So, Georgiana," he said, holding her out at arm's length. "You look quite grown-up."
She smiled, suddenly remembering her desire--had it only been a week ago?--to present herself as so grown-up that he would give some of his duties over to her. How things did change! "Thank you," she said. "How are you?" She was virtually vibrating with the desire to tell her brother of the change in her life, but she would allow him to speak first.
"Well enough," he said.
"No sister-in-law for me yet?"
"None. Miss Bingley would have it otherwise, but--" He rolled his eyes.
She had to stifle a giggle. When would Miss Bingley get the idea and stop chasing Fitzwilliam? She was being laughed at from Derbyshire to Hertfordshire!
"And what occupies your life, sister? You are excited about something, I can tell."
"Could it not be my brother's presence?" she inquired demurely, feeling very daring for teasing her reserved brother in this fashion.
He shook his head. "A mere brother does not rate this vibrancy."
At that, she laughed aloud for sheer joy and excitement. "Oh, Fitzwilliam," she exclaimed, "I am to be married!"
His reaction stunned her, for his face went as dark as a thundercloud. "The devil you say!"
She stepped back in shock. She had never heard him swear in such a fashion in her presence before. "Fitzwilliam?"
"Who?" he snapped out. "Who is the rotter?"
"Why-- it's Mr. Wickham. You surely cannot object to him, you remember--"
He cursed under his breath and spun on his heel. At the door, he stopped and looked back at her. "Do not leave the house, Georgiana. I will straighten this out." With that, he was gone.
She sank to the seat of a handy chair, confused and disoriented. What could possibly be the matter?
After a moment, she leapt up again. He must be going to see Mr. Wickham. She had to follow, and make him see reason.
Wickham had only pointed out his lodgings--a boarding house in a respectable if not particularly affluent part of Ramsgate--to Georgiana once, but her precise memory allowed her to go straight to it.
Her brother, by contrast, was hindered both by his unfamiliarity with Ramsgate in general and his destination in particular. So although Georgy had been forced to run upstairs for her bonnet, reticule, and pelisse before setting foot on the street, she was able to almost catch up with him by the time he stopped in front of the boarding house, consulted the written directions from the footman who had carried love notes and tributes back and forth for this past week, and knocked on the door.
She raced up the steps and caught her brother's arm. "Fitzwilliam, please! I swear to you, Mr. Wickham loves me and means me no harm!"
The look he turned on her was scalding. "Georgiana, I told you to stay at the house."
She almost cowered before she remembered that it was her future he was trying to arrange, and lifted her chin. "Fitzwilliam, you are mistaken in your anger! Mr. Wickham's intentions are all that is honorable--"
His mouth twisted briefly before he turned back to knock thunderously at the door again. "Not if he's the same George Wickham I grew up with."
She almost stamped her foot in her frustration. "Why are you so set against him!"
"Georgiana, listen to me. Wickham is a cad, a bounder, a rake of the highest order, with all the morals of an alley cat and about as much honor. Depend on it, his only thought in courting you was for the thirty thousand pounds that will come to you upon your marriage. No matter how many flowers he sent to you, no matter how many platitudes he mouthed about your looks, your air, your accomplishments, the thing that most attracted him to you is sitting in the Pemberley coffers, just waiting for you to step before a priest."
She gasped aloud, a mixture of betrayed hurt and burning rage clouding her mind. "So the only reason a man would see fit to court me is for my money?"
"Not a man, Georgy, this man."
"You're wrong," she cried passionately. "Mr. Wickham loves me. He would love me if I were the poorest tenent on Pemberley's lands. You're wrong!"
"Am I? He wants to elope, does he not?"
"So we may be together that much quicker!"
"So he can have your money that much quicker." He pounded on the door a third time.
It was pulled open by a disgruntled-looking woman. "What's all the commotion about, then?" she snapped at Georgy's brother.
His eyes narrowed. "George Wickham. I will see him at once."
"'E ain't 'ome."
"When will he return?"
"D'ye expect me t' keep tabs on all my boarders, then? I'm not their mam! 'Specially not that one--'e owes me three weeks in back rent." But Fitzwilliam's forbidding expression finally penetrated, and she said sullenly, "'E ain't back 'til late, usually."
"When he returns, tell him Mr. Darcy wishes to speak with him at once."
"Do 'e know where ye be stayin'?"
"With his sister. Surely Wickham knows where that is," he added, with withering scorn.
"I'll tell 'im the next time I sees 'im," the landlady snapped. "Don't blame me if it ain't for a few days."
The door slammed in their face.
Her brother caught Georgy's arm. "We're going home."
"What were you going to do?"
"Give him what he wants--money."
She glared at him. "He wouldn't've taken it. And he won't. He's a man of honor, and he loves me. You'll see."
"We're going home, Georgy," he repeated, propelling her down the steps.
"You'll see," she said again.
They were the last words she spoke to him all day.
Georgy sat by her window, watching the street for any sign of her beloved. The sun was setting, and golden-red spears of light were interspersed with soft shadows all through the lonely street. It had been several hours now since the pilgrimage to his lodgings, and the argument with her brother.
In some part of her mind, she was gasping with horror at her behavior, her reckless defiance and hurtful words. This was Fitzwilliam, the sturdy dependable brother who had raised her for the past four years, who always had only her best interests in mind.
But the rest of her was still stubbornly defiant. She was right--she was! Fitzwilliam could not realize that she was a woman grown, with the ability to make her own decisions. He never gave her credit for having her own mind, it seemed lately. She was glad of her temper tantrum, she really was. Perhaps now he would treat her as a grown woman rather then a silly little girl.
And if not--well--
She didn't have to turn around to see the neatly packed valise sitting on her bed. It held dresses, stockings, nightclothes, underthings, tooth powder--in short, all the bare neccessities for a flight to Gretna Green.
At that moment, she saw a figure strolling down the street, swinging his cane lightly. She leapt to her feet. Mr. Wickham.
She darted across the room and cracked open her door. Just as she did, there was a knock on the front door. Her lips curved, and she slipped out the door and crept down the stairs. Mr. Wickham was standing in the front foyer, and she was about to call out to him when the footman came to escort him to the library.
Well, all right. She was not so ridiculous as to suppose that her brother would have let her in on the interview, but she could still listen.
She crept down the remainder of the stairs and took up a position on the bottom step, leaning against the banister, where from, she had discovered long ago, she could hear perfectly all the discussion that went on in the library.
"Well, Fitzie, come swooping down to the rescue of poor little Georgy again? As I remember, that was ever a bad habit of yours."
"What do you want with my sister?"
"Why, to spend the rest of my life with her, don't you know." But there was a strangely mocking tone in his voice.
"Don't make me laugh. You want to spend the rest of your life with her money."
Georgy's hands clenched into fists on the banister.
"Ah, Fitz, it comes out. You're just too clever for me."
What? Why was he saying this?
"What will it take to get you to leave her alone?"
"You know, if you'd given me the living as I so trustingly requested . . ."
"You refused it."
"I had a change of heart. Is that not allowed?"
"You had a change of pocketbook--it got lighter. How much to leave her alone?"
There was a long silence.
Nothing, Georgy prompted mentally, leaning further over the banister. Nothing you could ever give me would induce me to give her up, for I love her and cherish her . . .
"Say, a thousand pounds. I have been a week at this, you know."
Georgy's stomach turned to ice.
"I don't suppose you can concieve how tiresome it is to squire such a green girl to all the balls and assemblies, and to pretend I see none of the other, more tempting women about me? The number of dalliances I have had to suspend--inconcievable, I assure you."
There was a ripping sound, and then-- "I never want to see you near my sister or Pemberley ever again."
Scornfully-- "I have no fondness for the wilds of Derbyshire."
But--but Derbyshire was where they'd planned to live . . .
"And my sister?"
Carelessly-- "I really don't care if I never see the foolish chit again."
She wanted to scream, to beat her fists on something, but she couldn't move. She couldn't even breathe.
"Not going to bid me bon voyage, Fitzie?"
"You don't deserve it. I'm sure you can find your own way out, as well."
The library door creaked slightly as Wickham pushed it open. Georgy's lips parted, and she whispered, "Mr. Wickham?" in a tremulous little voice.
He heard it however, and turned at the front door. "Ah, if it isn't little Georgy!" He held up a check. "Not bad for a week's work, hm?"
And he pivoted and walked out the door.
Fitzwilliam came out of the library. For a moment, he didn't see her, but only stared at the front door. Then he turned to go up the stairs and saw her standing on the bottom step. He looked startled for a moment, and then pity flickered in his eyes. "Oh, Georgy--"
She ducked her head and fled up the stairs to her room.
For several long moments, she leaned against her door, drawing long shuddering breaths. Her eyes cut to the valise sitting on her bed, and she slowly slid down the door to huddle up with her knees against her chest.
"Georgy? Georgy, please open the door. Georgy? Georgy!"
And the tears came.
The next year
Georgiana riffled through the stack of sheet music, searching for something likely to entertain their supper guest that night. She smiled as she thought of it. Really, she had thought never to see the day when her brother was so very anxious to impress any guest, much less a female one.
But Miss Elizabeth Bennett was more then worth it, she thought with equal fondness. She had liked her upon their introduction two days before. Even if she had not been disposed to do so by her brother's constantly sung praises, she would have liked her. Witty, intelligent, caring--and best of all, she never allowed Georgiana's brother to browbeat her in any way. Georgiana had been a little shocked at first, but after some thought she had concluded that this spiritedness was perhaps exactly what her solemn, reserved brother needed.
Oh, dear, was there nothing in this music cabinet that she had not played to death? Georgiana leaned into the cabinet, searching the back corners for something new and lively and pleasing.
She came out with a stack of sheet music that was by turns dusty, dog-eared, and yellowing. Some of it was of her mother's purchasing--a few were even of her grandmother's. She examined each and set one or two aside for further consideration, but kept looking. Then her fingers stilled on a sheet of music whose condition stood out from all the others.
"Greensleeves," she whispered, and sank to a chair.
She remembered pushing it back here in a rage of tears after the disastrous events of Ramsgate. Merely seeing it had brought on painful memories of that time, and the lyrics had been enough in and of themselves, at that time, to make her weep.
Alas, my love, ye do me wrong
To cast me off discourteously . . .
Resolutely, she set it down. To play this tonight would only be prodding at a wound that was still tender. She might have thought differently two nights before, but Miss Bingley's mention of Mr. Wickham last night had rattled her into missing a note. Miss Bingley had not known of her effect on Georgiana, of course, but that made no difference. Thank goodness for Miss Bennett's composure, which had averted what might have been a disaster.
The front door slammed, and boots thudded across the foyer and up the stairs. Georgiana started up from the chair. Could that be--Fitzwilliam, already? Had Miss Bennett not been at the inn, for him to return so swiftly?
The door to his room stood half-open. She knocked on the frame to warn him of her proximity. "Fitzwilliam? How did Miss Bennett like your green coat?"
He pivoted and saw her. "Georgiana!"
"What is it? What's happened?" For she could see that he was in a state of agitation that was so rare all she could do was goggle.
He hesitated before saying, "I have to go to London."
"But why? Has a company failed--a ship sunk? You are so perturbed . . ."
"It's not that kind of business. It's a personal favor--for Miss Bennett."
Her mouth rounded. "Oh." Her face lit. "Oh, Fitzwilliam, are you going to get our mother's ring?"
"No--it's not that at all. Her sister has run away with--with a man, and there is no evidence that they intend to marry."
Georgiana gasped aloud. "It would ruin Miss Bennett's family!" she cried out. "Her and all her sisters, and their parents--all their hopes of marriage--"
"Yes, it would. That is why I am going to see that the couple do marry."
Georgiana's brows furrowed. "But--what possible effect could you have on Miss Bennett's sister?" Then-- "Fitzwilliam," she said softly, "it's Wickham, isn't it?"
"Please, Fitzwilliam, the truth."
She nodded slowly. "Are you sure you wish to make this poor girl marry him?" she said after a long while. "To be shackled for life to such a man--"
Her brother gave something that was half a snort and half a sardonic laugh. "Believe me, Georgiana, the punishment is all on Wickham's side." He gave her a quick kiss on the cheek. "I must change into riding clothing, sister, and I shall hopefully be off within the half-hour to London. Will you bid me farewell?"
"Farewell, and good luck as well."
Part The Last
"Can you credit it," Georgiana exclaimed as she and her companion strolled down the London street, "that price for India muslin!"
"Oh, not so outrageous," Lizzy said, and Georgiana shot her an incredulous glance before noticing the merry twinkle in her dark eyes. "If perchance they brought it from India on foot over deserts and mountains, with their own hands."
Georgiana was startled into a giggle--something that happened with regularity around her vivacious new sister-in-law. In fact, Lizzy had brought life and color to the entire of Pemberley. Where before her brother had been stolid and grave, it was now not unusual to find him smiling for no reason at all, and to even utter some remarks akin to teasing now and again. Where before Georgiana herself had been withdrawn and unwilling to trust, Lizzy's friendship and guidance was opening her up, slowly but surely.
Yes, Georgiana thought as she and Lizzy chattered gaily about the sights of the bazaar behind them, Elizabeth Bennett's marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy had surely been one of the best things to ever happen to the Darcy family.
Then, while her guard was down, Georgiana was suddenly confronted with one of the worst.
"Oh, Wickie, look, do! 'Tis my second-eldest sister! Halloooo, Lizzy!"
The woman who caught up with them, breathless and giggling, could hardly be called that. Georgiana estimated her at barely sixteen, a good year her own junior. It did not need Lizzy's murmured, "Hello, Lydia," to identify her. All Georgiana needed was the man on whose arm Lydia hung like a particularly helpless species of limpet.
"Lydia, this is my sister-in-law, Miss Georgiana Darcy. Georgiana, my youngest sister, Mrs. Lydia Wickham." Lizzy's hand went to Georgiana's elbow--for support, for encouragement, Georgiana could not say.
"A pleasure," Georgiana said with little truth. The girl was precisely the sort she would have gone out of her way to avoid had they met with no relation between them.
There was no reciprocating pleasantry from Lizzy's sister, who said instead, "Oh, Miss Darcy. You must know my Wickie, don't you?"
Out of the corner of her eye, Georgiana saw Lizzy dart her a quick concerned glance, but she only nodded slowly. "Yes. Yes, I do."
"Well, Wickie, aren't you going to greet her? I promise I shall not be jealous!"
Mr. Wickham, who had remained silent throughout the encounter, now bowed. "Miss Darcy," he said, as if he had never called her "sweetling", never stolen her breath with a kiss, never slipped a rose into her hair in a moonlit garden.
She looked at him then, and saw with wiser, sadder eyes the things that the hopeful, starblind eyes of two years before had not. She saw the lines of dissipation about his mouth, the glint of avarice in his eyes underneath the charm, and the untrustworthiness of his whole character. She looked at the man of whom any thought over the past two years would have caused the acutest pain, the worst self-castigation, and the most intense sorrow.
Now she only felt an overwhelming sense of relief.
She gave a proper curtsey. "Mr. Wickham."
And that was all.
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