The Tragic Oversight
Pemberley was a dreary place by night, Georgiana Darcy thought dispassionately as she strode furiously through the portrait gallery, listening to the angry swishing of her nightdress and candle-flame as she went. So cold were the tiles that her bare feet were soon numbed beyond all feeling. If only she could numb her heart thus, she thought dismally. This heart had kept her awake these past three nights, forcing her to feel it beat and bleed within her; this heart that it seemed would never let her rest again. A horrifyingly familiar feeling began to choke her. Hot, bitter tears stung her eyes and seeped through her lashes onto pale, icy cheeks. She quickened her step.
The library door beckoned. Yes. She would read a book, take her mind off herself for a few hours. The idea solaced her momentarily. She set the candle on the desk, wincing as it flushed upward in its sudden stillness. Running her hand absently along the middle row of books, Georgiana inspected their titles; titles which all suggested love and romance. She picked one at random, "The Last Summer in Italy", and held it for a moment, feeling its solidity between her fingers. For a moment, she was steady. For a moment, she had almost forgotten...
The book hit the floor with a reckless thump. As a stabbing mixture of pain and anger gripped her, Georgiana threw herself into the armchair and indulged in a bout of hearty sobs. And why shouldn't she?! Wasn't she always the one to have her hopes so callously raised before being dashed to pieces? Wasn't it always her who bore the brunt of her failures and inadequacies? Wouldn't it be her alone who would remain forever as she was now; unwanted and despairing?
The minutes throbbed passed in silent, salty agony. Georgiana considered her fate through the mist of earthy and hopeless tears. All the moments she had stored up within her, the moments she had since wrapped in the white lace and flowers of memory began to flash in a beautifully desolate landscape before her eyes. Her parents, perceived most flatteringly by her child self. Her brother, always her shelter, always her saviour. George Wickham, the rocky shore she once crashed upon, the first gash to her heart. Struggling through the fresh wave of anguish, Georgiana allowed herself to proceed to consider the fresh wound, the one which stung anew as she wept. Edward Middleton, for whom not even her fortune was enough. This was adding insult to injury, she thought, feeling a spark of anger ignite once more within her and burning back at least some of the blackness. Edward Middleton, of whom she had had such high and lovely hopes. Edward Middleton... who had since married another.
Georgiana felt a warm hand touch her head. The fingers wound around her curls and brushed them away from her tear-soaked face. She didn't look up. She knew exactly who it was. Elizabeth.
"There, there," Elizabeth whispered gently, perching on the edge of the chair. "Ssshh..."
"I... I c-can't!" Georgiana sobbed. "I c-can't stop!"
At this, Elizabeth wrapped her arms and shawl around her beloved sister-in-law, the girl who had grown as close to heart as her own sisters. Georgiana settled her head in the crook of Elizabeth"s shoulder.
"H-How did you know I w-was h-here?" she asked in a muffled voice. "Did I w-wake you?"
"No, no," Elizabeth soothed. "I was already awake. I heard your footsteps."
Georgiana nodded and allowed herself another moment of fierce weeping, Elizabeth"s patient and loving hand stroking down every sob.
The pain was shared. Elizabeth, ever in tune with the sufferings of those nearest to her, had herself felt the ruthless wounds as each was inflicted on Georgiana"s heart. She too found that sleep often evaded her when she thought of her dear young sister-in-law, who had been so cruelly worked on despite their best efforts to prevent it, to protect their beloved charge from the malice and malevolence of unworthy men. But, Elizabeth reminded herself bitterly, unworthy men have a way of eluding every endeavour to keep them from their callous goals. Elizabeth exhaled slowly, thanks once again flooding her for the man she had been lucky enough to marry. As if reading her mind, Georgiana looked up with bleary eyes.
"You don't really know what this is like, do you, Lizzy," she sighed. "You have been lucky enough to secure the love of a good and noble man who loves you for yourself and nothing more."
The use of the word "secure" reminded Elizabeth forcibly of Charlotte Lucas, for whom security was the ultimate prize. She then decided to respond with a phrase of her father"s.
"Next to being married, Georgiana, a girl likes to be crossed in love now and then."
"I don't!" Georgiana assured her quietly, brushing tears from her cheeks, which Elizabeth then ran a loving finger down.
"It isn't supposed to hurt like this," she consoled gently.
"I feel hopeless," Georgiana whispered, almost feverishly. "I feel plain and useless and artless and I wish I could be someone else, someone who has the steady love of a good man..."
"But you are!" Elizabeth breathed. "Or, at least, you soon will be! You have not yet been fallen in love with because you have not yet met anyone worthy or capable of loving you! But that day is at hand, I can feel it. I can also see it, as you have not, because your eyes have been fixed only on the rejection and the misery. You have not seen the subtle glances nor heard the softness of voice reserved for you as I have..."
"Oh, Lizzy, don't tease..."
"I"m not teasing! I wouldn't, not about something like this! Just take my advice and open your eyes again. You"ll be amazed at what you"ll see."
Planting a tender kiss on Georgiana"s forehead, Elizabeth led her from the library to her bedchamber and sat on the bed next to her.
"Now, try to sleep and just trust me!" Elizabeth placated gently. Georgiana wrapped the blankets closer around her, her face still pale with fatigue and weeping and once more clouded in melancholy.
"Close your eyes and dream of being happy," she soothed. "No more villains, no more fortune-hunters, no more disappointments." Her voice dropped to a soft whisper, her hand ceaselessly stroking Georgiana"s hair. "No more sorrowful nights, no more bitter tears, no more wishing to be different. No more dark, empty agony. Only happiness."
Elizabeth waited until Georgiana"s breathing had levelled and she had drifted to sleep before leaving, with her own heart heavy, but hopeful. As sleep finally claimed her too, her thoughts were of her husband and her dreams of the same happiness for his beautiful young sister, who so truly deserved to be loved.
Georgiana Darcy was a connoisseur when it came to studying men. She could distinguish their movements, decipher their tones and measure their tempers with such ease and proficiency as only the efforts of a woman dreading spinsterhood could bring. As such, it came as more than a surprise to her when Elizabeth whispered to her the name of the man who had been admiring her. Thomas Burnett.
Mr. Burnett was one of those young gentlemen who passed through society with the kindly inoffensiveness that few of his fellows could claim to possess. His detachment was not in the least haughty, but it was nonetheless unfeasible for a young woman such as herself. Indeed, this may have been part of the reason why she had never thought about him a day in her life before now. It had seemed rather pointless to consider a man who was, for all practical purposes, unreachable.
Georgiana did not like to become aware of herself thinking thus. Such frivolous concerns reminded her forcibly of the other young women who sought only one thing in life; the eligible husband. In truth, it was what Georgiana sought too, but certainly not with the same purpose. After all, she was the heiress to ten thousand pounds. She did not need a husband to keep her, as others did. No, she just needed a husband to love her. And, increasingly, it seemed as though many husbands were far more willing to oblige in the first task than in the second.
These were Georgiana's thoughts as she entered the ballroom. She could not help but glance in the mirror as she passed. It was a compulsion, really. She always had to be sure that she looked no worse than usual. But tonight, the reflection pleased her. Her pale-blue dress, another gift from her brother, was striking against the pinks and creams of the other ladies. In other times, this might have made her feel awkward and out-of-place. Now, however, she felt pretty.
It was odd, she thought, how suddenly the mind changes. She immediately scanned the hall for Thomas Burnett. What was more, she immediately found him. He stood apart from the chattering groups and his face wore an expression of quiet gentleness that she had never seen before. But then, she had never looked before. Could Elizabeth be right?
Duty called, as it so often did. Georgiana greeted the guests, humoured them by listening to their prattle and silently counted down the moments until the dancing would begin. But, she reminded herself sharply, he had never asked her to dance before. There was no real reason why he should ask her now. Her eyes flicked towards him every now and then. It was, she found, both pleasing and disconcerting to find that his never left her, that every time she turned, she met them.
Impulse was not a natural part of Georgiana's character. It was a learned habit. Nevertheless, she here applied it. Crossing the room as casually as she could manage, she inclined her head to him.
"Good evening, Mr. Burnett! It's a pleasure to see you!"
His expression was gracious, but his eyes were shocked. Georgiana winced inwardly. Had she really never spoken to him before? Why ever not?! His recovery was swift.
"You"re very kind, Miss Darcy," he bowed, "And very pretty too this evening!"
Georgiana felt the colour seep uncontrollably into her cheeks. She nodded her thanks with downcast eyes, suddenly all-to-conscious of herself. Damnable modesty! She wished she could believe him. She was spared the trouble of having to express as much by the call for the first dance.
"Miss Darcy, would you do me the honour of dancing the first with me?" he asked casually, though his eyes betrayed the inner fear that she would refuse. She wouldn't, of course.
As the evening progressed, Georgiana was all too aware of being closely watched; by Thomas Burnett, who had politely excused himself after their dance to speak to a friend, by Elizabeth, who was scrutinising Burnett closely and congratulating herself on her observation, and by her brother, ever-watchful, ever-prepared to protect her. Her heart swelled with affection towards them all.
An odd feeling was sweeping over her, a feeling that she couldn't quite source, a feeling that was largely unfamiliar to her. She thought herself... brave. She felt ready. It was this feeling that prompted her to take Elizabeth's advice, which had been communicated to her by meaningful looks across the crowded room. When dinner was announced, Georgiana fell into step with Mr. Burnett. As conversation began to flourish between them, he followed her to her seat.
How could it be, Georgiana wondered incredulously, that in the midst of perfectly normal topics such as dancing and art, her heart could possibly beat so incessantly hard? She could hear it thumping in her ears, feel her pulse in her feet and fingertips. Elizabeth winked at her.
Thus it was into the early hours of the morning. They danced, they talked, they listened. Why had she never spoken to him before? How had it happened that they had never spent such an evening, in all their time of acquaintance. But Georgiana drove these nagging thoughts from her head. There was now use in lamenting lost time. It was best to make the most of the present.
Then, in what seemed like an instant, the guests were leaving. Her brother was shaking hands and bidding goodnight. Elizabeth was smiling good-naturedly through her tiredness. Thomas Burnett was lingering by the door, watching her. Catching her eye for what seemed like the millionth time that night, he bowed to her.
"It was a wonderful evening... not least, due to your company..."
But, this time, Georgiana did not blush. She smiled happily and returned the compliment, surprised at the assuredness of her own voice as she spoke.
"I am sure we shall see each other soon!" he added, took leave of her brother, and was gone.
"Mr. Burnett will be joining us for dinner on Monday evening!" Fitzwilliam yawned as they traipsed upstairs. Both Elizabeth and Georgiana spun around on the steps.
"You asked him?" Elizabeth beamed.
"He accepted?" Georgiana gasped.
"Yes, of course he accepted! In fact, he almost asked to be invited!"
He and Elizabeth shared a warm look as they bade Georgiana goodnight. And Georgiana slept soundly with a smile on her pretty, young face. No, there would be no more tears, no more villains and no more disappointments. Only happiness.
© 2008 Copyright held by author