Chapter 13 ~ An Engagement is Announced
Posted on 2008-08-12
The following morning, Jane Bingley was expected at Grosvenor Square, and the subject of the previous evening's ball seemed certain to be the principal topic of conversation. But Jane was unexpectedly delayed, and Kitty was far too impatient to await her arrival, before beginning the delight of reviewing all the excitement and splendour of the previous evening.
"I never imagined in my wildest dreams," exclaimed she, "that I would dance with a lord -- and not just any lord -- but the most eligible young gentleman in all of England, Lord William Beauchamp," gushed Kitty. "Oh, he is the most charming young man imaginable, and he dances so elegantly, and with such distinction -- and to think that I have danced with him -- I must write immediately to give my mama the news."
"And she shall certainly tell it to Mrs Long; and between them, your every acquaintance in the neighbourhood will know of it within the week. It shall certainly make a wonderful memory of your season in London, Kitty." Elizabeth was too considerate of her younger sister to point out that Lord William was clearly at pains to honour every lady who was in any way connected with Georgiana. Besides Kitty, he had also danced with both herself and Jane. And had Lady Catherine de Bourgh been present, he doubtless would have begged her to honour him with a dance also, thought Elizabeth, smiling inwardly.
When Jane at last arrived, she brought with her such surprising news, that Lady Beauchamp's ball was quickly forgotten. "Charles has just this morning received a letter from his sister, Caroline," said Jane, in some distress. "It was to announce her betrothal... to..." But she could not go on.
"Good heavens," said Elizabeth, coming to sit beside her sister and putting an arm around her. "Why are you so distressed at the news? To whom is she engaged? Has she accepted a pauper? Or been seduced by a Frenchman? Whatever can it be, to cause you such grief, my dear?"
"He is neither French, nor poor. He is, in fact, a very wealthy Englishman, and the lord of a great estate."
"A lord?" exclaimed Kitty, excitedly. "Surely she cannot be engaged to Lord Beauchamp?" she asked in amazement; that gentleman being the lord who was much occupying her thoughts at the present time.
"No, not Lord Beauchamp," replied Jane. "For the honour of my husband, I only wish it were so. I am too ashamed, almost, to name the gentleman."
Elizabeth gave Kitty a meaningful glace; silencing her for the moment, and allowing Jane time to compose herself.
"Caroline Bingley is to marry Lord Edwin Darlington," she whispered ashamedly.
"No!" exclaimed Elizabeth. "It cannot be! I have never held a very high opinion of Miss Bingley -- or her scruples; but even she, could not agree to such a match! Does she not know his history? Can she be ignorant of the cruelty with which he has treated his mother, his sister, and his brother? It is all of it common knowledge... she must know of it!"
"Certainly she knows," replied Jane, "for I related all the particulars to Caroline Bingley and Mrs Hurst when they visited Netherfield Park following my marriage."
"How can she contemplate marriage to so odious a man?" demanded Elizabeth, shaking her head incredulously. "Edwin Darlington has earned himself the blackest of reputations. No respectable lady or gentleman would even allow him into their society. Does Miss Bingley not realise that in marrying him, she too, must suffer on account of his reprehensible behaviour?"
"She is too astute not to know it," replied Jane, shaking her head. "Not only must she share his guilt by association, but the whole world will question how she could accept such a man."
"I imagine she is determined to be wealthy, at any cost. In marrying him, she will not only be gaining great riches, but also the title of Lady Darlington," said Elizabeth.
"For many years, she entertained hopes of marrying my brother," offered Georgiana. "She used to pretend a great fondness for me; hoping, thereby, to ingratiate herself to him. I was greatly distressed at the prospect of one day having Caroline Bingley for a sister. I was well aware that her affection for me was a charade; but I wonder now, if she even cared very much for my brother -- or if it was only for his wealth and position."
"Whatever the case may have been then," replied Jane, "it is very clear that her present attachment to the repugnant Lord Edwin is of the most venal kind. Poor Charles is greatly vexed, and knows not what to do. He hopes for the opportunity of speaking on the matter with Mr Darcy at the earliest opportunity."
There was no great enthusiasm for discussing the ball after Jane's shocking news; and soon afterwards, Jane agreed to accompany Kitty to the shops, leaving Elizabeth and Georgiana each lost in their own thoughts.
At length, Georgiana spoke. "Elizabeth, would you mind very much if I wished to return to Pemberley?"
"In order to escape Lord William's addresses?" asked Elizabeth teasingly.
Georgiana sighed. "Yes, that is my principal reason, I admit. I should hate to have to refuse him. It would, I fear, cause pain to both parties. And how could I afterwards bear to be in his company; and that of his sister, Gwendolyn, and his mother, Lady Beauchamp, who have both shown me such kindness. I should feel so dreadfully awkward and uncomfortable -- it would be quite intolerable."
"There are ways of dealing with a marriage proposal, in such circumstances, without refusing it outright. A lady, especially a young lady such as yourself, may say that while she receives the offer with the greatest gratitude and pleasure, she is not yet ready for marriage."
"But Elizabeth, I could not carry off such a deception. I do not possess that art, as some ladies do. Gwendolyn Beauchamp would do it with consummate ease, but not I. And I should hate to give an honourable young gentleman hope, where there is none; perhaps keeping him waiting for me to reconsider, when he would much better look elsewhere. Worse still, he might believe it to be a pretence; that I am simply teasing him in order to increase the violence of his affections, out of my own vanity. Or, he might believe that if he persists with his addresses that I must eventually accept him."
"Yes, perhaps you are correct, my dear. His mother, I fear, would very likely counsel him to persist with his attentions. I can see how exceedingly unpleasant it might become for you. Yet, it seems such a shame for you to leave London at the height of the season," said Elizabeth with a sigh.
"Oh, but you and my brother must stay, of course. You must not give up your pleasure on my account," said Georgiana. "In truth, unwanted suitors aside, I have had quite enough London. I have greatly enjoyed the opera and all the musical concerts, and the theatre also; but I do so dislike the way that people wish to display themselves and admire each other on such occasions, rather then simply appreciating the music or the performance. Have you not noticed, Elizabeth, at Covent Gardens, how a great many people in the private boxes spend more time with their opera glasses trained upon the occupants of the other boxes, than upon the stage?"
Elizabeth laughed. "Oh yes I have, and I quite agree with you. To be perfectly honest, I too have had enough of town, and am greatly missing Pemberley. I long for the beauty of the woods and the gardens. I should much prefer to be walking there than in St James's Park, which seems less like a park, and more like an enormous ballroom filled with ladies and gentlemen preening themselves and parading about like peacocks for their own mutual admiration."
Georgiana laughed. "Oh yes, I so hate all of that pretence and posturing; and the social charade that one is obliged to engage in. I too, wish for the honest beauty, and the peace and quiet of Pemberley."
"I think that your brother is very nearly finished all the business he has need of transacting, and I believe that his feelings on the subject of London may not greatly differ from yours and mine, my dear. So perhaps we may all return to Derbyshire together, in a few days time."
"That would be wonderful," said Georgiana, smiling happily. "I am so missing the company of Lady Darlington and Julia; and wishing to be among them once more. But until we depart, please promise me, Elizabeth, to stay close by my side whenever we are in the company of Lord William, and thereby deny him the opportunity of a private address."
"I shall endeavour to chaperone you most closely," replied Elizabeth with a smile. "I think it best that we keep our plans to ourselves for now. If Lady Beauchamp becomes privy to our intentions of making an early departure, it might very well bring on those addresses which you are so eager to avoid. The Beauchamps are certain to be at the musical performance that is to be given by Lady Basildon this evening. I must say, I am very much looking forward to hearing the famous French countess sing. She is said to have the most exquisite voice. I have heard that she was a celebrated opera singer in Paris."
The performance was to be given in Lady Basildon's ballroom, which had been transformed into a small concert hall for the evening, with chairs provided for a select audience of several hundred guests. Georgiana was impatient for the inevitable parading about and the making of polite conversation to be over with, and for the performance to commence. As she had anticipated, Lord William was very soon at her side, and appeared determined to stay there. Elizabeth, however, was equal in her determination not to give up Georgiana's company, so they strolled about in a threesome until it was time to be seated. As they were being ushered to three vacant seats, Elizabeth managed to attach her husband to their party in a clever manoeuvre, which required Lord William to regretfully detach himself from Georgiana, and seat himself several places distant from them.
"Oh, thank you, Elizabeth," she whispered, greatly relieved. "I fear he is very much on the point of paying his addresses, and is in want only of the opportunity. It makes me feel so ill at ease."
But before Elizabeth could reply, the Countess de Namur was led onto the stage and introduced by her patron, Lady Basildon. "Look!" said Georgiana, for as Lady Basildon left the stage, the countess was joined by James Darlington, who immediately seated himself at the pianoforte, evidently with the intention of providing accompaniment to the singer.
For some reason, Georgiana had imagined the countess as a much older woman; but she looked to be no older than her sister, Elizabeth. She sang a selection of Italian and French arias in the most beautiful voice Georgiana had ever beheld. Her voice carried such emotion that the audience sat enthralled, hardly daring to breathe. Georgiana completely lost all sense of time, so engrossed was she in that magical voice. The countess was a stunningly beautiful woman, and her movements were extraordinarily graceful. Alas, all too soon the performance was over, and the enchantment abruptly ended.
Elizabeth and Georgiana could not find superlatives adequate to describe the performance; they both felt quite overcome. "Would it be very rude if we were to leave before supper?" whispered Georgiana, noticing Lord William looking in her direction.
After a brief exchange with her husband, Elizabeth replied that they would be more than happy to make a quick departure. But as they were about to leave the ballroom, James Darlington approached, and asked if they would like to be introduced to the countess; to which they readily acceded. Mr Darlington led them into the supper room, where he made the introductions in French, as the countess did not speak English well. She was exceedingly charming and gracious, but Georgiana, despite her excellent French, was in far too great an awe of the beautiful lady to be able to say very much. However, she watched and listened attentively, particularly to what passed between the countess and James Darlington, between whom she discerned a warm camaraderie. But the countess was much in demand, and her hostess soon led her away to make further introductions. Lady Basildon began with the Beauchamps, providing the three Darcys with the perfect opportunity to make their escape.
Upon their arrival at Grosvenor Square, Mr Darcy excused himself as he had some papers to deal with, in order to have his business in town completed speedily. With their immanent departure, Kitty had that very afternoon quitted Grosvenor Square to the stay with the Bingleys.
Elizabeth and Georgiana were served tea in the sitting room, but for some time, they remained silent. Elizabeth could not recall hearing her sister speak a word in the carriage, and it was evident that she was preoccupied with something.
Finally, Georgiana said. "She is the loveliest woman I have ever seen. Do you not think her the most beautiful woman in the world?"
"That I could not say -- for I have not yet seen them all; but yes, she is astonishingly beautiful."
"And charming; and the magnificence of her voice is hardly to be believed. How is it possible for one woman to combine such perfections?" asked Georgiana, shaking her head incredulously.
"Oh, yes," replied Elizabeth, "One feels oneself just a little dull in the presence of her glow."
"Exactly!" replied Georgiana. "How could any man notice another woman in the presence of the Countess de Namur?"
"Any man? Or are you perhaps thinking of one particular man?" asked Elizabeth.
"If you are referring to Mr Darlington, I most certainly noticed his utter enchantment with the countess. And the manner in which they conversed, suggested a particular acquaintance between them."
"My French was not quite good enough to keep up with their conversation; but yes, it seemed very much that way," agreed Elizabeth. "I understood that the countess is only very recently arrived from France; so their acquaintance most likely arises simply from having practiced together for this evening's performance."
"Did you observe the manner in which she looked at Mr Darlington on several occasions during her performance? It was most marked when she was singing that beautiful Venetian love song. And afterwards, also, while we were talking, it seemed to me that the countess showed a distinct preference for Mr Darlington," said Georgiana uneasily.
"Many ladies find fascination in James Darlington... such as Gwendolyn Beauchamp," said Elizabeth with a smile. "From what I have read, French manners are very different from ours, and their ladies are more inclined to flirtatious behaviour with gentlemen; almost as a matter of course. There is very likely nothing to it. And if Mr Darlington had not admired her, he would certainly have been the only gentleman present who did not."
"Is there a Count de Namur? Do you know?" enquired Georgiana.
"I have heard that she is a widow," replied Elizabeth.
"Oh, she is very young to be a widow. One would imagine that she must wish to remarry. She is a woman who could capture the heart of any man she wished," said Georgiana despondently. She remained silent for several minutes before saying, "I am so glad that we depart London soon; I begin to hate it here. Oh, no! We are invited to dine with Lady Beauchamp again tomorrow; must I go, Elizabeth?" she pleaded. "Lord William will certainly wish to take advantage of the opportunity to pay his addresses, and Mr Darlington made mention tonight that the countess is invited; and he, also, is certain to be there. I do not wish to see any of them! It will all be so very awkward."
Elizabeth sighed. "You do not have to go, my dear, if it would distress you. I shall give your apologies to Lady Beauchamp, explaining that you are indisposed. I will announce that we return to Derbyshire the following morning and if anyone should propose visiting Grosvenor Square prior to our departure, I shall advise them that you are not well enough to receive visitors."
"Thank you so much, Elizabeth," said Georgiana gratefully.
James Darlington was as much disappointed as Lord William by Georgiana's absence from Lady Beauchamp's dinner, and at the news of their impending departure from London. He managed a brief private conversation with Elizabeth before they sat down to dine. "Is Miss Darcy really ill?" he asked with concern.
Elizabeth affected shock. "Sir, do you accuse me of telling an untruth?"
"I would never accuse a lady of so serious a sin. If you say she is ill then it must be so; although it did occur to me that perhaps she was only ill at ease, regarding the attentions of a certain gentleman; and that her early departure from London might be seen as a remedy to that particular malady," he said, glancing briefly towards Lord William.
Elizabeth smiled. "You are most astute, sir."
"Please give Miss Darcy my warmest wishes for a complete recovery. Pray tell her how greatly disappointed I was at being denied her delightful company here today. I am exceedingly sad at the news of her departure, which must deny me the further pleasure of her society," he said most earnestly. "I only wish it were so easy for me to escape," said he, looking meaningfully towards Miss Beauchamp.
"In such situations, the gentleman has much the easier part," observed Elizabeth, smiling. "When a lady receives a gentleman's addresses, she is obliged to give an answer. Whereas a reluctant gentleman has simply to avoid coming to the point, and there is very little the lady -- or even her mother -- is able do. In your particular case, I think that both mother and daughter may very soon realise the futility of their designs," said Elizabeth looking pointedly towards the Countess de Namur.
"Mrs Darcy, what are you suggesting?" he asked. But before he could say anything further by way of denial or explanation, they were joined by their hostess. Elizabeth sensed a consciousness on the part of Lady Beauchamp that the French countess indeed stood in the place of a rival to her daughter; although she was far too well-mannered to allude to it. She treated the countess with the greatest civility and hospitality, and after the meal, entreated her to sing.
James Darlington again accompanied the countess on the pianoforte, and Elizabeth watched them closely. Perhaps it was because she was trained as an opera singer that the countess not only sang, but also partly enacted her songs. Often in the love songs, her gaze and her gestures were directed towards Mr Darlington. Was he merely a convenient prop, wondered Elizabeth, or was it genuine affection? That James Darlington was utterly enchanted with the countess' singing was obvious; but then, so too, were all her audience. Is it only her voice that enchants him? wondered Elizabeth. But try as she might she could not decide the matter, one way or the other.
Posted on 2008-08-15
Although Georgiana was happy to be home, and again in the frequent company of Lady Darlington and Julia, her spirits did not immediately recover. Elizabeth was quite certain that her unhappiness was on account of James Darlington. Consequently, Georgiana found herself unable to speak upon the subject that was vexing her with Lady Darlington, whom she loved as a mother, and whose extensive knowledge and experience of the world, combined with good sense, would have been of the greatest benefit at this difficult time in her life.
Several days after their return to Pemberley, Georgiana finally broached the subject which was troubling her. "Elizabeth, please tell me your opinion: do you believe that Mr Darlington will marry the Countess de Namur?"
"What a question!" she replied, shaking her head.
"But, do you not think that he admires her greatly? I know that all men must admire so beautiful a lady. But it is far more than just beauty and charm that she possesses: it is that exquisite voice, and the emotional intensity of her performance. When she sings, she casts a magical enchantment upon her audience. How can any true lover of music not fall under her spell? I recall Mr Darlington once saying: ‘Art was my first love; but later I discovered music; and it has since remained my greatest love.' To such a man, the countess must surely embody every possible perfection he could ever hope to find in a wife," said Georgiana, sighing.
"Literature is also very dear to him, I believe; and I have not heard that she writes," replied Elizabeth. "Remember, Georgiana, great admiration of a lady does not necessarily mean that a gentleman must wish to marry her. Most men, I am convinced, would find the prospect of marriage to the countess entirely overwhelming and daunting. These are not feelings a man generally wishes to have provoked by a wife. He might also rather wish for a wife who is not an object of such great admiration in the eyes of every man that fall upon her."
"Mr Darlington is not like other men," countered Georgiana. "He is himself so extraordinarily talented, that he very likely would not feel over-awed by the countess. Indeed, it appeared to me that he was entirely comfortable in her company when he was introducing us to her at the home of Lady Basildon. And as for the admiration of other men, I believe he might tolerate it with greater equanimity than most."
"Perhaps," mused Elizabeth.
"And we do not know that the countess does not write. She is so talented, in every possible way, that it would surprise me if she does not write poetry, also. She has such a poetic soul..."
Elizabeth smiled. Georgiana's feelings towards the countess were such a strange mixture of awe, admiration, and jealousy. "In fact, we really know nothing at all of Mr Darlington's feelings concerning the countess. But let us, for a moment, imagine him to be as overcome and in love with her as you imagine. It is by no means certain that such a woman -- one who must surely be inured to men falling at her feet -- would return his affections. And even if she does, she might very likely not wish to marry him. French customs are very different from ours, I believe, in such matters."
"Whatever do you mean?" asked Georgiana in alarm.
Elizabeth immediately regretted her words. She did not wish to further upset Georgiana, but an explanation was required. "I understand that it is not entirely uncommon for French ladies, even those who are married, to have romantic liaisons."
Georgiana gasped. "I have read of such things in French novels, of course; but I never imagined that it really happened -- at least not amongst respectable people. Certainly it could not occur in England," said she, adamantly. "And Mr Darlington is not French! No respectable English gentleman could behave in such a way."
Elizabeth smiled at her naivety. "My dear Georgiana, I fear that your education has been somewhat lacking in certain areas." Between her mother and her Aunt Phillips, her own education had suffered no such omissions. "Gentlemen, particularly young unmarried ones, though they behave with all propriety and respectability in the society of ladies, may sometimes behave in quite different ways when drinking together at their clubs, or when they go out on the town."
"How shocking!" exclaimed Georgiana. "I dare say my governesses shielded me from such knowledge. I have, of course, read about ladies of ill repute, but I never imagined that any respectable gentleman might... visit them. It has never crossed my mind that any gentleman of my acquaintance could have indulged in... such pursuits."
"I am afraid that it may be more common than you imagine, my dear Georgiana."
"Good heavens! Do you think it possible that my own brother would do such a thing?" she asked in evident distress.
"I would wish to think not; and I believe it to be unlikely, for he has the highest principles; but in truth, I cannot say," replied Elizabeth. "A wise wife does not enquire into such matters; at least not with regard to her husband's past behaviour, before they were married. But she will certainly endeavour to ensure that if it has occurred in the past, that it remains past behaviour," she said with a smile.
Georgiana was so perturbed at this new information that she did not speak for some minutes. Finally she said, "So, in France, it would not be considered shocking for a beautiful young woman to have a... a romance, with a young, unmarried gentleman?"
"I suspect the opposite, rather: it would be thought surprising if so attractive a widow as the countess did not have a lover; and neither of them would be thought of as acting with any great impropriety. The French, perhaps, value romance and passion above propriety."
"Oh," was all Georgiana could manage by way of reply. After thinking it over for some time, she said, "I suppose when one really considers it, all these social rules are quite arbitrary; so it is, perhaps, not so surprising that they differ greatly between countries. An English lady of rank, no matter how great her talent, would never dream of performing publicly in the opera; yet in France it is apparently not considered to be lacking in respectability. I imagine that the greater freedom enjoyed by French ladies must make them more fascinating to English gentlemen than their own ladies," conjectured Georgiana despondently.
It was evident that the conversation had done little to improve Georgiana's spirits. Elizabeth was quite certain that despite her protestations that James Darlington was merely a close friend, a literary mentor, and a confidante, that Georgiana was very much in love with him -- even though it was not presently her wish to be his wife.
Spring was soon upon them, and what should have been a joyful and happy season was sadly otherwise. Not only was Georgiana downcast, but Julia Darlington also. Heeding Lady Darlington's counsel in the matter, Elizabeth had said not a word to Julia concerning Charlotte's report regarding the immanent engagement of Colonel Fitzwilliam to Anne de Bourgh; but most unfortunately, at dinner one evening, with Lady Darlington and Julia present, Mr Darcy inadvertently made mention of it.
He had just that very morning received a letter from Mr Collins, who was in the habit of writing him an obsequious letter every six months, with the purpose of keeping alive his hopes of future patronage. Mr Collins gave as his pretext for writing on this occasion, the desire to congratulate Mr Darcy on the forthcoming betrothal of his cousins, Colonel Fitzwilliam and Anne de Bourgh. Darcy spoke of the reported engagement as a matter of fact, entirely forgetting the feelings of Julia Darlington for his cousin. But the stern look of his wife across the dinner table quickly reminded him, and he immediately began speaking upon a different subject. The damage, however, was done, and Julia spoke barely another word the entire evening.
Thus did Elizabeth find herself surrounded by sadness and gloom, at the very time of year which, formerly, she had associated with the renewal of life and the elevation of the spirits. Fortunately, life seldom pursues the same course for any great length of time; and in a matter of days, events took the first of a number of surprising turns, with the arrival at Kympton of James Darlington, accompanied by the Countess de Namur.
"I decided to emulate Miss Darcy's excellent strategy for evading the matrimonial designs of the Beauchamps, by likewise fleeing into Derbyshire," Mr Darlington explained to the ladies of Pemberley, whom he visited at the earliest opportunity. "Even an almost total withdrawal from society, on the grounds of the pressing need to devote myself to my writing, and my surreptitious removal to the rooms of an old Cambridge friend, were insufficient to deter the arrival of Lady Beauchamp's unending invitations. Finally, when my hopes and expectations of her ladyship's return to Hampshire at the end of the season were not realised, I decided that if she would not quit town, then I must."
Elizabeth laughed at Mr Darlington's amusing speech. "And was the Countess de Namur, likewise, in need of escaping Lady Beauchamp?" asked Elizabeth artfully. In common with Georgiana, she was most eager for an explanation of the French lady's presence at Kympton.
"The countess has become so popular in London, and is in such demand to sing at musical soirées and the like, that she, too, wished to escape for a time; so I invited her to stay with my mother and sister at Kympton," he explained.
Over the following weeks, there was much intercourse between the ladies of Pemberley and of Kympton, and on occasion, the gentlemen also.
Julia's spirits were greatly improved. She was exceedingly fond of her brother, James, and very much enjoyed the charming company of the countess. But for Georgiana, it was something of a trial. The ease and intimacy that existed between Mr Darlington and the countess was greatly evident, and Georgiana was shocked to think that they had travelled alone together from London. But the worst of it was not knowing what were their true feelings for each other. In the absence of knowledge, all manner of conjecture is possible. Yet the more she saw of the countess, the more Georgiana came to genuinely like her, and it was evident that the countess was equally fond of Georgiana. She even offered to teach Georgiana some lovely French songs which she had so much enjoyed hearing the countess sing to them one evening.
James Darlington did not come to Pemberley as often as the ladies from Kympton, as he was presently engaged in writing his fifth novel. However, when he did come, he seemed as eager as previously, to engage Georgiana in discussions on poetry and literature. The novella Georgiana had brought to London was soon to be published in an anthology, and Mr Darlington was encouraging her to write a novel. Georgiana had for some time been thinking to do just that, and talked of her ideas for it with great enthusiasm. Not only were these exchanges of great benefit to Georgiana, but Mr Darlington in his turn was eager to talk on his own project, and to seek Georgiana's opinions concerning various alternatives for the plot he was contemplating.
"We seem to both have a beautiful French opera singer in our plot," observed Georgiana one sunny afternoon as they were walking together in the gardens, "and they both bear a striking resemblance to the Countess de Namur."
Mr Darlington laughed. "I hardly think it surprising. When such an exceptional character is encountered in real life, they can be transferred to a novel without need of great alteration or embellishment."
"Oh yes," replied Georgiana, enthusiastically, "I could never have created such an extraordinary woman from my own imagination, and she inspires such admiration and desire amongst those she meets that the plot almost grows from the strength of her character."
"You have indeed mastered the art of novel-writing, Miss Darcy. What you say is not only true of flamboyant characters, such as the countess; but, is equally true of those who tend to hide their light beneath a bushel. If we take the trouble to understand and appreciate their subtlety, they can be equally fascinating and important in shaping our story," he said, stopping for a moment and looking so intently at her, that time seemed to stop, and all the world faded, leaving just the two of them staring into each other's eyes with an intensity that took Georgiana's breath away. She felt almost frozen in time, unmoving, not even breathing it seemed; all she could feel was the wild fluttering of her heart. How long they stood, thus entranced, before Mr Darlington abruptly turned and walked on, Georgiana knew not. He attempted quickly to return the conversation to a dispassionate examination of the art of the novel-writing; but Georgiana, who remained almost silent thereafter, felt he betrayed a consciousness of that exquisite moment when their eyes had locked. They soon afterwards returned to the house, and for much of the remainder of the day, Georgiana thought over that extraordinary moment, and wondered if Mr Darlington did likewise. Was it equally earth-moving for him, she wondered; or was it already forgotten? What precisely was it that happened today in the garden? she asked herself. Was it possible that it was nothing more than mere fancy and imagination on her part?
"Oh, no!" said Elizabeth at breakfast one morning as she read a letter that had arrived in the morning mail.
Her husband and Georgiana looked up at her expectantly. "Is it from my aunt?" asked Mr Darcy. "I suppose it must be the formal announcement of my cousins' engagement? But surely she would have addressed such a letter to me -- unless you and my Aunt Catherine have become intimates," he said, with a wry smile.
Elizabeth chuckled. "Indeed we are not yet become intimates, my dear, and you are quite correct in thinking that she would most certainly have addressed such news to yourself. However, you were not entirely incorrect in your conjecture; in fact you were credibly close to the truth. The letter is from a Lady; but, not that Lady; and although it is not explicitly stated, it very likely concerns an engagement, although not that of your cousins. In fact, I suspect it concerns two engagements."
Mr Darcy looked puzzled, while Georgiana looked perturbed. "Is the letter from Lady Beauchamp?" she asked. "Surely, we are safe from her matrimonial designs in Derbyshire... unless you have invited her to visit... oh, Elizabeth, please tell me you have not done so!" she begged.
"No," replied Elizabeth, "I have not done so; but regrettably, the Fortnums have. Although I am certain Lady Beauchamp must have actively solicited the invitation. Her late husband was a cousin of the old squire's wife, was he not, darling?" she asked, turning to her husband.
"Yes, I believe it is something of that nature. There is some kind of relationship. I can recall Lord and Lady Beauchamp visiting at The Grange more than once during Lord Beauchamp's lifetime. My father and Lord Beauchamp were old acquaintances, and very much enjoyed each other's company."
"Well, darling, it would appear that Lady Beauchamp's visit to The Grange is intended to renew that intimacy between the Beauchamps and the Darcys," said Elizabeth.
"Oh?" asked her husband. Then looking from his wife to his sister and observing Georgiana's distressed face, he enquired, "Are you are referring to Lord William and Georgiana? Is the son to accompany her into Derbyshire?"
"But of course, my dear," she said patiently. Why are men so obtuse about such matters, which are so entirely apparent to every lady? wondered Elizabeth. "And her daughter Gwendolyn also; whom, you may recall my explaining to you in London, is to marry James Darlington."
"What? Are they engaged?" asked Darcy, in surprise. "But did you not tell me that Mr Darlington was not inclined to marry Miss Beauchamp?"
"Yes, my dear, that is quite correct," she reassured her husband, who was becoming a little confused. "When I said just now, that he was to marry the daughter, I was speaking of Lady Beauchamp's scheme -- or at least the other half of it -- that will very soon bring her into Derbyshire. The Grange is but seven or eight miles from Pemberley; Lady Beauchamp and her daughter will certainly come to wait upon Georgiana and myself, on the earliest occasion. After her ladyship's excessive hospitality in London, I must invite them all to dine at Pemberley; which will no doubt be followed by an invitation from the Fortnums for us to dine at The Grange."
"And for Lord William to pay me his addresses," said Georgiana sighing. "And it will be impossible for me to avoid a private conversation here, as I was able to in London."
"My dear Georgiana," said her brother, "I do not understand why you are so set against that young man. Please do not misunderstand me, or imagine that I wish to persuade you to marry where you would not; but if you are inclined to consider him, I wish you to know that I have the very highest opinion of Lord William. When I became aware of his preference for you in London, I considered it my duty to make discreet enquiries regarding his character and his history; and that of his family. I can tell you that I was well satisfied with every detail of information concerning him. More than that, I find him an amiable, principled, and well-informed young man. I would not be unhappy to have him as a brother. As to wealth, you must be aware that his estate in Hampshire is even more splendid than Pemberley. You may be confident that should he pay you his addresses, and be fortunate enough to be accepted, that your union would receive my unreserved blessing."
Georgiana sighed and took some moments to collect her thoughts before replying. "I thank you for the trouble you have taken on my behalf; and I agree that he is a fine young man and of good character... and yet..." Georgiana could not go on. In her mind, she was again staring into the eyes of James Darlington.
"I believe what Georgiana wishes to say," said Elizabeth, "is that though she greatly admires Lord William, she does not feel for him what a wife should feel for a husband. She has been enough in his company to know her feelings for him."
"Is it so?" Darcy asked Georgiana, gently.
"Yes," she replied softly.
"Very well," he replied. "Far be it for me to advocate against love in a marriage," he said, looking affectionately towards his wife.
Posted on 2008-08-18
One morning, a week after the arrival of Lady Beauchamp's alarming letter, James Darlington was shown into the morning room where Elizabeth and Georgiana were sitting.
"To what do we owe this unexpected pleasure, Mr Darlington?" asked Elizabeth.
"To Lady Beauchamp," he replied, grimacing. "She is lately arrived at The Grange, and this morning her ladyship and Miss Beauchamp came to wait upon my mother at Kympton."
"Mr Darlington, what have you done? Surely you could not have been so rude as to flee in the face of visitors?" demanded Elizabeth, in contrived shock. "How could you so offend Lady Beauchamp and her daughter? I would never have believed you capable of such an offence. It seemed in London that you were very fond of her ladyship."
James Darlington smiled. "Indeed I am fond of the esteemed lady -- in London; but not in Derbyshire. You may, however, rest assured that I neither slighted nor offended either her ladyship or Miss Beauchamp. I did nothing worse than disappoint them, for upon observing their carriage entering the parsonage, I quickly took my writing book and departed by the back entrance, requesting my sister to inform her ladyship that I was out walking in parts unknown, in the pursuit of inspiration for my writing, and would most certainly be devastated at having missed her and her lovely daughter, etc. etc."
The ladies were much amused by his tale. "But perhaps it was unwise of you to abandon your poor mother to Lady Beauchamp's overtures?" observed Elizabeth. "For though Lady Beauchamp is well-bred and a paragon of propriety, she will not be above hinting at her daughter's hopes; nor opining upon the inarguable desirability of the match, for all parties concerned. She will almost certainly press your dear mother, and even your sister, for their opinion on the violence of your passion for Miss Beauchamp. She might even solicit their views upon the number of days they anticipate it will take for you to come to the point, and throw yourself at the young lady's elegant feet."
James Darlington laughed at this satirical sketch. "If Lady Beauchamp chooses to prevail so upon my mother and sister, then she will be sadly disappointed. They would, with the utmost delicacy and charm, decline to answer any such questions; not only on account of propriety, but also as an act of kindness and consideration to their visitors. My mother and sister are well aware that Lady Beauchamp's hopes for her daughter are doomed to failure; for although it has never been spoken of explicitly amongst us, they well know to whom my heart belongs." Sensing he had spoken too hastily, and too heatedly, James Darlington quickly rose to his feet.
Since he would not meet the eye of either lady, Elizabeth and Georgiana looked at each other questioningly. The same question was on both their lips: did Mr Darlington refer to the Countess de Namur, or to Georgiana... or to some other lady entirely, of whom they were in complete ignorance? Feigning nonchalance, as if he had spoken nothing of great import, Mr Darlington politely asked if he might find a sunny seat in the garden, where he could carry on with his work; and enquired if Georgiana would care to join him.
Georgiana readily acceded to his invitation, and Mr Darlington chatted casually as they strolled together in the garden, enjoying the beautiful spring morning. They talked easily, as was their habit, about writing and music, and the blight of the Beauchamps, as James Darlington would have it. Eventually they settled on a bench near the rose garden, where they opened their writing books and fell silent, each one to their own work.
They were thus engaged for above an hour, when they were disturbed by the sound of an approaching carriage. Jumping up and standing upon the bench, James Darlington caught sight of the carriage before it disappeared from view. "Miss Darcy," said he, dramatically, "it is my sad duty to inform you, that the blight of the Beauchamps is visited upon Pemberley." Closing his writing book, he made a quick survey of the grounds before saying, "I shall flee to your delightful wilderness; surely there I shall be safe. Will you join me, Miss Darcy?"
Much as she would have loved to seclude herself in the wilderness with Mr Darlington, Georgiana felt it incumbent upon herself to assist Elizabeth in entertaining their visitors. "Was Lord William with his mother and sister when they arrived at Kympton?" she asked anxiously.
"You will be relieved, Miss Darcy, to learn that he was not."
Georgiana gave a sigh of relief. "Much as I would wish to do otherwise, I shall do my duty, and join my sister in entertaining our guests."
James Darlington smiled at her affectionately. "If you should happen to be wandering in the garden with your visitors, pray be good enough to give the wilderness a wide berth, if at all possible."
Before turning back towards the house, Georgiana assured him that he could continue his work in perfect peace, in the wilderness; and that not a word would be spoken to their visitors of his presence at Pemberley.
Georgiana found herself happy to be in the company of Gwendolyn Beauchamp, and even Lady Beauchamp -- when she was not engaged in forwarding some scheme or other. Her ladyship spoke nostalgically of the beauty of Pemberley, recalling visits with her late husband in the lifetime of Georgiana's parents.
"Do you know, my dear Georgiana, I can recall when you were but a little baby. You were such a pretty little thing. I remember telling your dear mother that you would one day grow into a great beauty -- and now everyone must agree that I was right," said Lady Beauchamp, smiling fondly at Georgiana. "My dear, it is such a glorious day; too lovely for a pair of young ladies to be sitting inside. Why do you not show Gwendolyn your beautiful grounds? I especially used to love the rose garden; you must show it to her."
As soon as the young ladies had left them, Lady Beauchamp wasted no time in getting to the point. "Mrs Darcy," she began, smiling purposefully, "you can be in no doubt concerning the purpose of my coming into Derbyshire. My son, Lord William, is determined to press his suit with Miss Darcy, and I have given my wholehearted approbation to the match. I cannot think of a more suitable wife for Lord William, nor any who could make him happier. She is an angel," gushed Lady Beauchamp.
Elizabeth smiled slightly, and nodded in acknowledgement of the warmth of the compliment, but remained silent.
"Please, do not imagine for a minute, that I would ask you to speak for Miss Darcy... that privilege shall be hers, alone, when Lord William pays his addresses. What I wish to know, is how you and Mr Darcy would view such a match?"
"I can assure your ladyship that I have the very highest opinion of Lord William. Any young lady would consider herself fortunate, indeed, to be his wife. And I can state, explicitly, that Mr Darcy shares this view; and would not hesitate to bless the match."
Lady Beauchamp smiled with great satisfaction; it was exactly what she had wished to hear. "I am very pleased to hear it, since Mr Darcy must be his sister's guardian, and stand in the place of a father in such matters."
"In fact, that is not quite so," replied Elizabeth. "I believe that my husband shares the role of Miss Darcy's guardianship with their cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. However, I am quite certain that the colonel would find not the least fault with Lord William, nor raise an objection to any gentleman of whom Mr Darcy approves as being worthy of his sister."
Lady Beauchamp, who had at first appeared a little concerned at the news of the shared guardianship, quickly recovered her ease. "I am acquainted with Colonel Fitzwilliam. He is a very fine young man. In fact he is on the list I drew up some years ago, of eligible young gentlemen who might make a good match for Gwendolyn. He has no fortune to speak of, but he comes from a noble family -- his father was an earl, I believe. My daughter, as you are very probably aware, has a considerable fortune settled on her, so money is not an object. It would have been a very good match for Colonel Fitzwilliam, also, I believe. But I have seen nothing of him about town these past two or three seasons; it is almost as if he were in hiding. I have been hoping, for some time, to introduce my daughter to him. But all of that is no longer to the point, as you must no doubt be aware, Mrs Darcy."
Elizabeth smiled quizzically, but remained silent.
"But surely you must have noticed in town, that Gwendolyn is inconsolably in love with James Darlington? And I have not the least objection to her choice -- so long as he does not take forever in coming to the point. In fact, it was I who recommended him to Gwendolyn in the first instance. He is prominent on my list of eligible young gentlemen. But as to the ardent feelings he has provoked in her, I must give the gentleman all due credit. Gwendolyn is absolutely wild for him; not that any young lady of intelligence and refinement could long resist Mr Darlington's charm. He is really several cuts above the common run of young gentlemen, I believe. Would you not agree, Mrs Darcy?"
"Yes, indeed, he is quite exceptional," replied Elizabeth.
"Of course, I have known his mother, Lady Darlington, since we were naïve young girls in town for our first season. We were drawn together on account of our common love of music. She is such a delightful lady, and she bears her present misfortunes so bravely and with so much dignity. Of course, when the happy event takes place, and her son and my daughter are married, her material circumstances must be greatly improved. Their match seems almost providential, it will bring such happiness to so many," she opined happily.
Fortunately, Elizabeth was not required to speak very much; only to nod or smile, or occasionally assert her agreement. It was something she had long been accustomed to in the company of her own mother when she was in a similarly ebullient mood. It amused Elizabeth to consider the similarities between the two ladies, despite the disparity of their social position. Though Lady Beauchamp was far more refined, and much better informed than her own mother, they shared the gift of being able to talk endlessly of their concerns, and they were both of them, to be sure, skilled and enthusiastic players of the matrimonial game.
When she was finally able to get a word in, Elizabeth invited Lady Beauchamp to dine with them two days hence. The invitation naturally included Lord William and Gwendolyn, and the Fortnums also. She was able to satisfy Lady Beauchamp's polite enquiry regarding other guests, that the Darlingtons -- all of them, including Mr Darlington -- would be present.
"Mrs Darcy, on behalf of my son, may I politely request that in the course of the evening, he is favoured with the opportunity of a private conversation with Miss Darcy?" she asked, with a meaningful smile.
"I shall be pleased to pass on Lord William's request to my sister."
While her mother was thus engaged in pursuing the matrimonial interests of her brother, Gwendolyn Beauchamp was occupied in pursuing her own. She was far more interested in soliciting what information she could from Miss Darcy, concerning Mr Darlington, than in appreciating the beauty of the gardens and grounds of Pemberley. She scarcely looked at the roses in what was acknowledged to be one of the finest rose gardens in the country. It was encircled by a high hedge, broken by the four entrances; from each of which, a path led to an ornamental sun-dial at the centre of the garden. Since Miss Beauchamp did not wish to wander between the circular beds to admire the beautiful roses, they found a bench against the hedge on the northern side bathed in warm sunshine.
Georgiana was distressed at finding herself subjected to all manner of questions concerning Mr Darlington. She always avoided speaking of him for fear of betraying her feelings; although she need not have worried herself unduly on that head in the present circumstances. Miss Beauchamp was far too pre-occupied with her own dreams and fancies concerning that gentleman to be very much aware of what Georgiana was presently feeling.
Georgiana attempted to end the interrogation by pleading ignorance concerning Mr Darlington; a claim her friend was obliged to accept, for she had not the slightest suspicion of them being anything other than general acquaintances. It was not an entirely deceitful ploy, for while Georgiana possessed a good deal of information concerning Mr Darlington, it was not of the variety that would very likely interest Miss Beauchamp. She appeared to be almost exclusively interested in Mr Darlington's views and inclinations regarding marriage, and whether he was known to have shown a preference for any particular ladies in the past, or, more especially, the present; and if so, who they were, etc. etc. And of course, she wished to know Georgiana's opinion on the degree of desperation of Mr Darlington's love for herself; a question that she continued to ask over and over, in various guises. Although it was a question Georgiana could answer with a fair degree of confidence, she chose not to; for fear of causing pain to her friend.
"Oh, I do so wish he would come to the point and pay his addresses as soon as may be. This waiting is quite intolerable," said Gwendolyn, with an air frustration. "Do you not think it exceedingly unfair, my dear Georgiana, that it is left entirely to the gentleman to initiate a proposal of marriage, while a young lady must wait patiently in hope, and is limited to ambiguous smiles and oblique hints. And until the gentleman comes to the point, she must pretend to have not the slightest thought of marrying him; for if she is explicit, and he does not pay his addresses, then she is viewed as a fool in the eyes the world!"
"Yes, I agree, it is unfair; and more than that, a young lady is obliged to endure the embarrassment of receiving the addresses of any young man who may choose to pay them. And if she does not favour his suit, she is required, none-the-less, to provide some acceptable reason for declining him."
"Oh, I cannot agree with that," replied Gwendolyn smiling. "I must confess I find it rather delightful to have a young man professing his love, and attesting to my beauty and other perfections."
"But do you not feel awful at disappointing an earnest young man who declares his love for you?" asked Georgiana. "Does it not trouble you to think it might cause him pain?"
Gwendolyn laughed. "Young men are not such fragile creatures as you would have them, and they must know when they pay their addresses that they risk being refused. Of course I always endeavour to be gentle -- unless they are plainly fortune hunters."
"Oh yes, what a curse it is to possess a large fortune which must inevitably invite the interest of deceitful and avaricious suitors. For such a young lady, how is it possible to distinguish those who are sincere from those who are merely accomplished actors?" asked Georgiana. "I do not see how one can ever be certain."
"Happily, my mother has a nose for fortune hunters," replied Gwendolyn. "But it is sometimes not so simple a matter of a suitor being entirely one or the other. An honourable gentleman without a fortune, such as a younger son of good family, is obliged to marry a woman of some wealth. It necessarily limits the circle from whom he may choose; in much the same way as social position. But within that circumscribed circle, he may well develop a sincere preference for a particular young lady."
"Or he might cynically pay his addresses to the wealthiest young woman with whom he believes his suit may have success. And, if he is sufficiently artful, she might be entirely deceived," said Georgiana.
"Yes, I suppose it is possible. But, Georgiana, surely you do not believe that James Darlington could be such a man?" asked Gwendolyn anxiously.
Georgiana thought about it at length before replying. "I would have thought not. I would have said that he was the last man who would act in such a way. But then I knew a gentleman once, and I believed I knew him well; and yet I was totally deceived by him. I have decided that it is not possible for a wealthy young woman to ever be certain, unless her suitor is himself wealthy."
"You shall not have that problem," said Gwendolyn, smiling slyly. Georgiana looked away. If she was afraid of the conversation turning towards herself and Lord William, she need not have worried, for Gwendolyn was far too preoccupied with her own prospects at the present time to concern herself with those of others. "Certainly Mr Darlington must consider money when marrying, for sadly he has none. But I think him an exceedingly honest and sincere young man. I do not believe he would propose marriage simply to gain a fortune. My mother, who has excellent instincts, is of the same opinion."
They sat in silence for some time, each of them lost in their own private thoughts concerning the same gentleman. At length, Miss Beauchamp spoke upon the subject that had been troubling her since her visit earlier in the day to Kympton. "Georgiana, do you believe that Mr Darlington might possibly be in love with the Countess de Namur?"
"How could I know?" responded Georgiana quickly. It was the very question which had been troubling her own mind a great deal, of late.
"Mama was exceedingly surprised to discover that the countess has been staying at Kympton with the Darlingtons since her departure from London; where, I must tell you, Mr Darlington was very often seen in the countess' company. And they appeared to be on the most intimate of terms. Mother is certain, from what she was able to learn this morning, that Lady Darlington and her daughter were not previously acquainted with the countess. Her presence at Kympton must be entirely on account of Mr Darlington. Mama suspects that there must be something between them... if you take my meaning."
"I am quite certain that Mr Darlington would not behave improperly in his mother's house, if that is what you are suggesting; he would never be so disrespectful."
"Oh, dear," said Gwendolyn, evidently disappointed.
Georgiana was stunned. "Gwendolyn, you speak as if you wished that there were something improper between the countess and Mr Darlington -- I cannot comprehend you at all!"
Gwendolyn sighed. "You know that I am desperate to marry Mr Darlington. Yet clearly, there is something between him and the countess. Mother suspects that their acquaintance precedes her recent arrival in England -- and may indeed be the reason for it. If Mr Darlington is in love with the countess, and wishes to marry her, then all my dearest hopes are dashed. But, as you must know, French ladies have a different code of conduct from English ladies. It is not at all uncommon for a French lady -- particularly a widow -- to have a lover without them marrying. But even if it were so: if they are lovers, even though they intend not to marry; then, again, all my hopes are for nought."
"I see," was all Georgiana could offer. She was finding the conversation exceedingly vexing.
"But there is yet a third possibility," said Gwendolyn. "If there is something between them -- as now seems certain -- then it is the circumstance I must fervently hope for. But your opinion that they are not presently engaged in anything improper at Kympton would tend to negate that possibility."
"What is it?" asked Georgiana. "I cannot think of any other possibilities."
"Can you not?" asked Gwendolyn, smiling knowingly. "It may be nothing more than a brief affair, a dalliance. After all, she is French; and mother tells me that some French ladies make a kind of art or career out of love; first with one gentleman, then with another."
Georgiana gasped, she was completely shocked. "I have become somewhat acquainted with the countess since she came into Derbyshire, and I cannot believe her to be so unprincipled and immoral. No, I cannot believe it of her," said Georgiana, shaking her head emphatically.
"That which constitutes principled behaviour and morality are measured differently in France. And you must admit that if the countess wished for such a career, she would be exceedingly successful. Men seem to fall at her feet; they seem entirely incapable of resisting her beauty and charm -- especially when she performs. No, it would be entirely unreasonable of me to blame Mr Darlington if he had fallen under her spell -- if it was nothing more than a brief liaison de l'amour -- just so long as it is now over! And as you rightly say, he would not be so disrespectful as to carry on such a liaison beneath his mother's roof, so I have good grounds for believing it to be ended."
"But even if it were ended, would it not trouble you that it had occurred at all? Gwendolyn, how could you be happy to marry a man who had behaved thus?"
Gwendolyn laughed and shook her head. "My dear Georgiana, you are such an innocent! Given the opportunity, any young man would take it. It is not at all uncommon for young men to behave in that way before they are married -- and sadly, in the case of the worst of them, afterwards also. Virtue is required only of young ladies; and perhaps it is not an entirely unfortunate thing if young men are allowed a little latitude in that regard."
"Whatever can you mean?" demanded Georgiana.
Gwendolyn giggled. "Surely you understand the obligations of a wife?"
Georgiana looked at her friend uncertainly.
"I am meaning in the boudoir, my dear. But if you do not understand my meaning, I am certain Mrs Darcy will explain it all to you in good time. An explanation, however, is not the equal of experience; which is why I say, it may not be entirely a bad thing if the gentleman, at least, is not wholly inexperienced. And if that experience be gained from a French lady, such as the Countess de Namur, so much the better. I think she would be a most proficient teacher of l'arts de l'amour."
Georgiana was utterly shocked; these were subjects she had never discussed, or even contemplated. "But... if there has been such a dalliance in London, as you suggest, it will surely get about. Would it not be humiliating to be married to a husband who was known to have..."
"No, not at all; on the contrary it would be something of a distinction, I believe. Almost every man who sees and hears the countess is utterly smitten; and every lady is filled with admiration and envy. The reputation of the gentleman whom she has chosen from the many who vie for her affections, cannot suffer -- on the contrary, his desirability, especially to the ladies, must be greatly enhanced. And to steal the heart of that man from so formidable a rival as the countess, would be seen as the greatest of conquests."
Georgiana was entirely discomposed at everything Gwendolyn had said regarding Mr Darlington; and was greatly relieved when Lady Beauchamp and her daughter departed. She immediately set out for one of her favourite places in the woods -- one that was a good distance from the shrubbery; for she had not the least desire of encountering Mr Darlington, who had lately been disturbing her peace of mind with increasing regularity. It was time, she decided, to calmly and rationally consider her thoughts and feelings towards that gentleman, rather than continually avoiding them.
He had been an object of fascination to her almost from the start -- certainly from that day when he painted her in the conservatory. She was immediately attracted by his intelligence, his enquiring mind, his refusal to accept conventional truths, and his determination to make up his own mind based upon rational analysis and his own observations. It attracted Georgiana because she had herself been covertly engaged in similar patterns of thought for some time; and although she had recognised a kindred spirit in her sister, Elizabeth, the rigour and energy with which James Darlington perused that independence of mind stunned her. She could hardly believe such a person existed. And then there was the extensive knowledge he had gathered in his studies, which so completely eclipsed her own reading. She recalled thinking to herself that day in the conservatory, here is someone from whom I can learn.
For his part, there appeared to be a recognition of their likeness of mind. He seemed as eager as she, during his long Christmas visit to Derbyshire, to spend many an hour together, talking of their shared interests. They very soon became firm friends. When Mr Darlington returned to London, Georgiana discovered a strange emptiness and a longing in her heart, which she refused to think about, or to name. But now she admitted to herself, that from their close friendship, a deep emotional attachment had developed on her side, at least, and she had been miserable without him, and thus decided to accompany her brother and sister to town.
When did I fall in love with him? she asked herself. Was it at Christmas in Derbyshire? Or was it in London? She had so delighted in being in his company again when she arrived in town; but it was tempered by the distress of seeing him as the object of attention of other young ladies, and most especially the designs of Miss Beauchamp and her mother. Georgiana had not wished to be his wife -- nor anyone's wife -- she had wished only to continue their intimacy and friendship. And then there was the Countess de Namur, of whom Mr Darlington was in such obvious admiration. Her fears and misgivings concerning the French lady caused her great unhappiness. And to make matters worse, there was Lord William, gently, but persistently pursuing her... it all became too much, and so she fled to Derbyshire. This time the pain of separation from James Darlington was almost unbearable -- until he eventually arrived, himself, at Kympton.
But he came in the company of the Countess de Namur, which was almost more painful to Georgiana than his previous absence. She felt so plain and dull and meagre in talent beside the extraordinary French woman. Although Mr Darlington's behaviour towards her was unaltered, she could not believe it possible that he might one day return the feelings that had grown in her breast. Then, there was that exquisite moment in the garden, when they were discussing novel-writing, and he had said something which seemed to speak of his feelings for her -- their eyes had locked in that magical moment. And yet afterwards, it all seemed like nothing more than imagination and fond hope.
Following her recent conversation with Gwendolyn, Georgiana could no longer deny to herself the certainty of a liaison between Mr Darlington and the Countess de Namur. The only question was with regard to its nature. She considered the three possibilities that Gwendolyn had identified; and, like her friend, hoped very much that it was merely a dalliance -- and one which was now over. Though she was unable to view such a prospect with the same levity as Gwendolyn, she knew she could not disavow James Darlington over such a transgression -- one, which it seemed, was not out of the common way for young gentlemen. She must forgive him, because the severance of their friendship would be unbearable to her. For as she now admitted to herself, it was much more than friendship: it was unalloyed love, as all-consuming as anything she had ever read of in any romance.
But what if it was not a mere dalliance? What if Mr Darlington was truly in love with the countess -- regardless of their intentions regarding marriage? It would be the end of all hope, the end of everything; the end of every possibility of happiness. And in that moment, the truth dawned on Georgiana: despite all her past protestations to the contrary, she did wish to marry James Darlington -- more than anything else in the world. She wanted desperately to marry him, but she was entirely powerless to bring it about, or to hasten it in any way. It was just as Gwendolyn had said: the initiative was all on the gentleman's side... or was it
Posted on 2008-08-21
Georgiana had hoped for an opportunity to speak with James Darlington prior to the dinner party for the Beauchamps -- and the inevitable marriage proposal of Lord William. However, events seemed to conspire against it. Lady Beauchamp's party was the first to arrive. They came in two carriages, for apart from Lady Beauchamp, her son, and her daughter, there was old Squire Fortnum and his lady, along with their two sons: the young squire, John Fortnum, and his younger brother, Harold, lately installed as the rector of Kympton. When the Darlingtons and the Countess de Namur arrived in the carriage which had been sent for them, the party was complete.
As they were chatting over drinks in the drawing room, prior to dining, Georgiana said to Mr Darlington, "I have just discovered an old copy of Shakespeare's sonnets in the library. I should like you to see it, for it contains three sonnets that I cannot recall ever seeing before."
"It would be my pleasure, Miss Darcy; this sounds like a truly remarkable find," said he, waiting until Georgiana had exited the room before placing his glass on a table, and taking a different route to the library.
After he had entered, Georgiana carefully adjusted the library door, so that it was slightly ajar. Although the two of them had spent many hours in private conversation, Georgiana did not wish to arouse the suspicions of those amongst their visitors who were unfamiliar with the unusual nature of their friendship.
"And what did you really wish to speak of, Miss Darcy? Or has the Bard's ghost indeed paid a visit to your library, to augment his already copious writings?"
"You know me too well, sir," she said, smiling at him warmly.
He returned her smile tenderly.
"Do you recall anything of our conversation, sir, on the morning you painted my portrait in the conservatory?"
"I shall never forget it," he said earnestly.
"I told you, then, that I intended never to marry"
"And you have since changed your mind?" he asked with an enquiring smile.
"Yes, I have. I also stated that I could never marry a gentleman who was poorer than myself."
"Yes, I recall your profound misgivings at the prospect of being deceived by another fortune hunter. Am I to understand that you have likewise changed your mind upon that subject?"
"Not unequivocally," she replied with a coy smile. "However, in the case of a gentleman with whom I was intimately acquainted, and one whom I completely trusted: yes."
"I see," he responded warmly.
"I believe, I further said, regarding the possibility of your proposing marriage to me -- which we both understood to be the scheme of my sister, Elizabeth -- that the answer would, most certainly, be no ---"
"-- and that you would be sure to tell me, should ever you have a change of heart," whispered James Darlington, staring intently into Georgiana's eyes which locked with his.
Georgiana felt mesmerised, as if she were being drawn, inescapably, towards James Darlington. It felt as if they were gliding, inevitably, towards each other, in a movement which seemed destined to end in an embrace. But suddenly, the spell was abruptly broken by the sound of someone entering the library. Georgiana turned quickly, and saw that it was Lord William Beauchamp. Mr Darlington was concealed from his lordship's view by the end of a bookcase, and Lord William, who had apparently not heard their voices, assumed that Georgiana was alone.
"Miss Darcy, I am sorry to have kept you waiting. I only learned this very minute that you were gone to the library," said Lord William, earnestly.
"Oh," said Georgiana, all flustered, as she realised that he must have assumed she had come to the library for their private interview. "I have not been waiting long. Mr Darlington happened upon me, and I have been assisting him in finding a book."
"Thank you, Miss Darcy, this looks to be the very one I was in search of," said James Darlington, stepping out from behind the shelf, clutching a book. "Err... please excuse me," he said, bowing to Miss Darcy and Lord William, before exiting the library.
It was apparent from Lord William's expression that he was not the least bit suspicious; being entirely preoccupied with the business at hand. It looked to Georgiana like he was silently rehearsing his lines.
Finally, he summoned his courage and spoke. "My dear Miss Darcy, it cannot have escaped your notice during our all too brief acquaintance in London, that I have developed the greatest admiration for you. You embody everything that a gentleman could possibly wish for: beauty, charm, respectably, accomplishments -- you play and sing divinely. And I might add that mother, Lady Beauchamp, and my sister, Gwendolyn, have the very highest opinion of you."
Lord William paused a moment to gather his thoughts and recall his lines. Georgiana, feeling quite audacious, after having all but proposed to Mr Darlington, seized the moment, and took Lord William by surprise, before he could get to the point. "Sir, pray do not speak further on the subject."
Lord William looked completely stunned; this was not how his mother had told him it should be.
"Sir, please allow me the presumption of guessing where your speech is leading; and to tell you that I am not yet ready to answer the question that you wish to ask of me."
Lord William gave a nervous laugh. "I do not understand."
"Lord William, I greatly respect you, and have the very highest opinion of you. Furthermore, I am greatly honoured that you should wish to pay me your addresses. I thank you, sincerely, for the generous compliments you have just paid me; but, I must tell you that I am not yet ready to make a decision regarding marriage. I earnestly hope that there was nothing in my behaviour in town that gave you a contrary expectation. If I smiled at you, it was because you are a charming young man, and it is always a pleasure to be in your company. If you mistook my smiles and complaisance for something else, then I apologise, unreservedly."
Lord William remained silent for some time, looking vaguely about the library while avoiding Miss Darcy's face. Clearly, his mother had not provided him with suitable words for such an eventuality, and he was struggling to find his own. Finally, he looked at Georgiana entreatingly and said, "Then it is not an outright refusal, Miss Darcy? May I, at least, believe that there is yet hope for me? May I dare cherish the thought that when you are ready to consider marriage; that should I pay you my addresses at that time, there might be some prospect of success?"
Georgiana smiled at him gently. He really was a very nice young man; and when obliged to depart from his mother's script, he spoke well: with warmth and sincerity. Were it not for another, she might well have considered his addresses seriously. "Certainly it was not a refusal sir -- for I did not allow you to ask the question. I am not yet one and twenty, Lord William, and I live very happily here at Pemberley, with by brother and sister. Marriage demands far greater changes of a woman, than it does a man. It means uprooting herself from her country, from the home where she has lived all her life, and from her dearest friends. These are all of them, very precious to me, sir, and it would be a great wrench to give up so much."
"Goodness, I never considered it in such a light. I am afraid that young men tend to see things very much from their own viewpoint, and believe that every young lady who is out, must be wishing to marry; but I see now that it may not always be so."
Their private conversation ended soon afterwards, and they rejoined the rest of the party in the drawing room. Georgiana felt greatly relieved, and better satisfied with the outcome than she had anticipated. Lord William was somewhat downcast during the meal, but bore his disappointment with composure. Georgiana occasionally detected his mother, who had doubtless interrogated him, looking at her thoughtfully; but, she spoke not a word on the subject, and behaved as amicably towards Georgiana as always.
James Darlington seemed satisfied with the expressions he detected upon the faces of Miss Darcy and Lord William when they returned from the library, and was in very good spirits. After the meal, he accompanied the Countess de Namur on the pianoforte with great enthusiasm. A little too much, perhaps, for Lady Beauchamp who did not fail to notice that the French lady exercised a far greater fascination upon Mr Darlington than her own daughter, Gwendolyn, was able to provoke in that gentleman.
Two days later, the same party gathered to dine at The Grange. It was a very pretty property, if not as grand as Pemberley. Elizabeth noticed that the young squire, John Fortnum, seemed rather taken by Gwendolyn Beauchamp, at least whenever his attention was not distracted by the countess -- a distraction which seemed to afflict every gentleman present -- even old Squire Fortnum; and worse still, she noticed, on occasion, her own husband -- though he tried very hard not to look in the countess' direction; particularly when his wife might observe him. Elizabeth briefly contemplated a little flirtation with James Darlington in front of her errant husband, as a suitable quid pro quo. However, recalling his former jealousy of that gentleman, she decided it would be too unkind; especially as he was to be absent from home for the next several days, fulfilling his duties as a magistrate at the Derby assizes. Elizabeth did not wish for them to part on a vexatious note.
Despite everything, Elizabeth liked the countess very much; and did not blame her for the effect she had upon men. She seemed to flirt without intention, as if it were simply part of her nature. She behaved in exactly the same manner when she was amongst the ladies, after they had withdrawn from the dining room. Probably, it is not at all unusual for a French lady to behave thus, reflected Elizabeth, particularly one who is used to performing upon the stage.
While the gentlemen were at their port and cigars, the ladies formed a plan for a picnic at Pemberley the following day. Lady Beauchamp was already engaged to spend the day at the parsonage in Kympton with Lady Darlington, but the five younger ladies were quite determined to take advantage of the wonderful spring weather.
When the gentlemen rejoined them, Lord William approached Georgiana and begged for a private word with her in the library. Though she acceded to his request, Georgiana was quite taken by surprise; for she had believed his attentions to be at an end, for the present time at least.
"My dear Miss Darcy, I beg your indulgence," he beseeched her, when they had gained the privacy of the library. "I promise I shall not ask you that question which you begged me not to ask, in the library at Pemberley."
"To what purpose, then, do you request a further private conversation, sir?"
Lord William looked a little sheepish as he shuffled his feet, attempting to find the right words -- or more probably, the words his mother had chosen for him. "I wish you to know, Miss Darcy, that I perfectly understand your disinclination to marry at the present time. On thinking it over, I entirely comprehend your reluctance at giving up everyone and everything that is familiar to you here, in Derbyshire, for an unknown country and society. I would therefore like to propose that you pay a visit to Hampshire. I think you would be most impressed with the estate, and find much to admire in it -- most especially the extensive gardens and the beautiful park. The invitation, of course, will come from my mother, as is proper; and should you wish for the company of your friends, they will be most welcome. We would be delighted if Mr and Mrs Darcy, and also Lady Darlington and her son and daughter, were to be of the party."
"Oh," said Georgiana, not knowing how to respond. She was already decided that she did not wish to visit the Beauchamp estate in Hampshire; however she did not know how to refuse such hospitality. Were it not for the prospect of Lord William's continued addresses and his mother's schemes, it might indeed have been a pleasant prospect; for Georgiana was genuinely fond of Gwendolyn. However, she well understood the unspoken motive behind the invitation.
Sensing her hesitation, the gentleman said, "There is no need to give an immediate answer, Miss Darcy. Perhaps you may wish to consult with you brother and sister. Indeed, you must first request your brother's permission. And of course, you will wish to enquire amongst your friends as to which of them would care be of the party."
"Yes," said Georgiana, relieved.
"I shall ride to Pemberley two days hence, in the morning to hear your answer, if it pleases you?"
Georgiana thought that it was not very much time to decide; although she had no intention of accepting his invitation. It would, however, be sufficient time to devise an acceptable excuse.
The picnic at Pemberley on the following day was a great success. It was warm and gloriously sunny. Elizabeth had picked a beautiful spot in the meadow beside the river. James Darlington arrived with Julia and the countess -- not to join the ladies' picnic, but to capture it on canvas. "I could not resist the opportunity of painting five of the loveliest ladies of my acquaintance in such a beautiful setting," said he, as he set about his work at an unobtrusive distance from where they picnicked.
Georgiana was greatly surprised by his presence, despite the artistic temptation to which he avowed. Miss Beauchamp had been increasingly attentive to him at their recent meetings, and Georgiana would have thought he might rather have avoided her -- unless the distress he professed at that lady's attentions was not entirely genuine. True to form, Mr Darlington worked quickly, and the painting was completed before their picnic was over. Despite their entreaties, he refused to show it to them; saying there were some final touches required, which could only be made with the aid of materials that were presently at the parsonage. To avoid the curiosity and prying eyes of the ladies, he packed up his things and set off for the house, leaving them to finish their picnic.
Georgiana whispered to Elizabeth that she wished to speak with her privately. With all the preparations for the picnic that morning, she had not yet had a chance to apprise Elizabeth of Lord William's invitation for her to visit the Beauchamps in Hampshire. Georgiana wished for her sister's assistance in contriving a credible excuse for declining the invitation. As the servants cleared away the picnic things and carried them back to the house, Georgiana had her opportunity, for the other three ladies had wandered off to enjoy the beauty of the garden. Elizabeth suggested that they set out along the river.
Georgiana had, of course, previously recounted to Elizabeth her conversation with Lord William in the library at Pemberley, on the night of the dinner party. While she had not described in detail her prior conversation there with James Darlington, she had broadly hinted to her sister of her belief that an understanding was developing between them. It was news that gave Elizabeth the greatest delight.
Georgiana recounted Lord William's words of the night before; and Elizabeth immediately observed, "Lady Beauchamp is a very shrewd woman; for though the son is unmistakably keen on the match, this ploy must be entirely her doing."
"Yes, that is how it appeared to me," replied Georgiana. "Lord William will come tomorrow morning, for my answer. Elizabeth, what must I say to him?"
Elizabeth though it over for some time. "Let us walk in the rose garden; it is so beautiful at this time of year," she said, taking Georgiana by the arm. "Allow me ask you a question, my dear. Can you imagine any circumstance in which you might accept Lord William's addresses -- which, as you are no doubt aware, would most certainly be renewed in Hampshire."
"He is a very fine gentleman; I have nothing but admiration for him -- but unfortunately, nothing other than admiration. I feel not the slightest love for him, Elizabeth."
"Because your heart is engaged elsewhere," said Elizabeth turning to look at her sister. Georgiana simply smiled and nodded coyly. "Then you must tell Lord William firmly, that there is no hope of him ever receiving the answer that he wishes to hear."
"But would it not be cruel to be so direct? Would it not be kinder to make some kind of excuse?" asked Georgiana in distress.
"Were it not for his mother, Lady Beauchamp, I would agree with such a course. However, I fear that unless you are explicit, and tell Lord William the unadorned truth, his mother will carry on with her scheming forever. There are women who play the game of courtship, in the spirit with which others play the game of chess: for the challenge and the sport of it, and to assert their mastery of the game. I strongly suspect that Lady Beauchamp may be such a one."
"And her children are her pawns?"
"Yes, perhaps, something like that. Although, I am quite certain her ladyship believes that she plays exclusively for their benefit. If you speak honestly with Lord William, the game will be over, and he will then be free to look elsewhere. From Kitty's observations on the matter in town, there will be no want of eligible young ladies eager to furnish him with the answer he desires, and that you are bound to deny him. I know it will be hard for you, my dear Georgiana, but it will be far kinder to him in the long run."
"Yes," agreed Georgiana, with a heartfelt sigh, "you are absolutely correct. I shall do exactly as you suggest. He is the very nicest of young men; and deserves to be treated with kindness and honesty, even though my words are bound to make him unhappy at first."
They walked on in silence for some time, following a path that brought them to one of the four entrances of the rose garden. They were no more than ten feet from the entrance when Elizabeth spied, through the gap in the hedge, two people standing at the very centre of the garden beside the sun dial. Elizabeth stopped, her face turning crimson. Georgiana, who had been looking at the delicate new leaves on a nearby tree, turned towards Elizabeth. Seeing the distressed expression on her sister's face, she followed Elizabeth's anguished gaze through the break in the hedge to the two figures at the centre of the garden. It was a man and a woman standing very closely together with their arms extended forward holding each other's hands. They were staring intently, lovingly, into each other's eyes. They appeared to be speaking softly -- although Georgiana could not be certain; but as to their identities, there could be not the slightest doubt. The lovers were far too absorbed in each other to notice that they were being observed.Continued In Next Section