Posted on Saturday, 21 May 2005
The guest list to Miss Darcy's tea parties was generally confined to a small number of close companions whose weekly attendance could always be counted on. For those outside this charmed set, an invitation to one was a coveted prize that was only declined with the greatest apologies and regrets.
Every week at the appointed hour Miss Darcy's guests would assemble to enjoy their weekly treat. This particular week, on an overcast day in March, all the usual guests were in their places, smiling while their hostess finished preparing their cups.
"Miss Poppet, what do you think -"
A light knock at the door prevented Miss Darcy from discovering her friend's opinion on what color silk would be best for a wedding gown. Instead she turned towards the door to see it opening slowly. Miss Darcy's smile grew to a grin when she recognized her caller.
"Mr. George!" the fine lady fled while a four year-old girl raced across the nursery to hug her visitor's waist.
"My dear Miss Georgiana, it is good to see you again." George Wickham removed Georgiana's arms from his waist before performing an exaggerated bow and bringing her right hand to his lips. After straightening himself, his gaze fell on the tea table and the collection of dolls that surrounded it. "I see I am intruding upon an important society affair. You and your guests must accept my deepest and most humble apologies for the interruption. If you will excuse me?"
"No, don't go. You can stay and have tea with us. Baby Henry told me she cannot stay. You can have her place. She would feel bad if you didn't take her place."
"Well then, if Miss Baby Henry insists, I would be honored to take her place."
Georgiana removed the disfavored doll from the table and returned her to the toy box.
After George and Georgiana had seated themselves at the table Georgiana asked if she could pour tea for him. "It already has milk in it, but I still have to add the sugar and you can have strawberry jam with your bread and butter if you like."
"Well then, if you could give me two lumps of sugar and a slice of bread with strawberry jam, I would be most obliged."
George watched in amused silence while Georgiana prepared his cup and pretended to fill the doll's cups before she filled her own cup to which she added five sugar cubes.
With these tasks completed, Georgiana began carefully spreading jam across bread. "Are you home for always now?"
"No, after Easter I will return. I did not begin my schooling until more than a year after your brother, so I will not complete my education until after your brother completes his."
Georgiana handed George his bread. "Fitzwilliam isn't coming home for Easter. Papa says that he has other responsaties he has to do and he would rather be with us."
George smiled at this information and assured his hostess that he would be at her disposal for the remainder of his visit and that they would soon forget all about her brother's absence. "To start, I have a story that I think you will enjoy, if you would like to hear it."
Georgiana nodded her head enthusiastically.
"It began when a local young man decided to court Mr. Fisher's eldest daughter. This young man, Mr. Hodges, has a mother who is very fond of cats." George continued to tell his audience of how Mrs. Hodges had finally granted the young couple her blessing and gifted Miss Fisher with two kittens as a show of affection towards the girl. The kittens had gotten into a fight with Mr. Fisher's favorite dog and that during the fracas the pigs had got into the garden and it took the combined efforts of Mr. Fisher, his three sons, and his four pupils to stop the fighting and restore order to the parsonage.
"Would Miss Fisher not have been able to marry Mr. Hodges if the kittens were hurt?"
"Well, Mrs. Hodges would not have been pleased, although as it was, Mr. and Mrs. Fisher were certainly not pleased with the results."
"But they could still get married?"
"Yes, the wedding will be next week."
"You are missing it?"
"I would much rather spend this time with you, that is a better treat than any wedding ceremony."
Georgiana's eyes grew wide. "I'm better than a wedding?"
"There is no church ceremony that can compare with an afternoon in the company of a beautiful young woman. I would expect that even at my own wedding I would be wishing for that instead. And when the young lady is Miss Darcy, it is that much the better."
"What if you were marrying me? Then would you enjoy it?"
"Then, I think I would if I was given the honor of marrying the beautiful and accomplished Miss Darcy. You think you would like to marry me?"
"Yes, Papa says I cannot marry him or Fitzwilliam and you are my next favorite boy."
"Right after your father and brother, I had no idea you thought so highly of me."
"I like you very much and Papa likes you very much too. Last week he told Mr. Wickham that he is nearly as proud of you as he is of Fitzwilliam."
"Did he? Well, Mr. Wickham is in complete agreement with that statement. What I mean is," George continued in response to the confused expression on Georgiana's face, "that my father has told me much of your brother's successes. He is very pleased that your father's heir is so good." He took a sip of tea to hide his frown. "At everything."
Georgiana frowned and switched the direction she was stirring her tea from clockwise to counterclockwise. "Do you hate Fitzwilliam?"
George put a hand over his heart. "I am wounded my dear lady. Why would such an idea ever even occur to you?"
"You never call Fitzwilliam by his name and you don't sound happy when you talk about him like everybody else does."
"My dear Miss Georgiana, you may have my assurances that my feelings towards your brother are precisely like those of an errant younger brother towards his perfect elder brother. Besides did you not know that everybody at Pemberley is required to adore your brother? I think anybody who did not would be chased from the house and across the grounds until he was well outside Pemberley's borders."
Georgiana nodded. "Fitzwilliam is a very good brother. He sent me a toy monkey last week and he wrote the letter in big print letters and I only needed a little help from Papa to read it." She paused and wrinkled her forehead as if in deep thought. "What does errant mean?"
"It means that, someone who is errant is less than perfect."
"Oh. So you want to be like Fitzwilliam?"
"In some ways yes, and in others no. For instance, if I was exactly like your brother, then I would also be your brother and then, I would not be able to have the privilege of marrying you."
"But you don't have to be my brother to be like my brother."
"Are you saying that you will not remain my friend unless I am like your brother?"
"No, but if you think he's perfect why wouldn't you want to be like him?"
"Not everyone is so lucky as your brother." George watched as Georgiana digested this information and noticed that her tea cup was empty except for the sugary mass on the bottom. "Now my dear, I must tell you my real reason for calling. I have been informed that all of Marigold's puppies have opened their eyes and I wondered if you would do me the honor of allowing me to escort you to the kennel."
"Can we go right now?" Georgiana got up from her chair and waited for George to do likewise before she placed her sticky hand in his and began heading to the door.
George redirected her to the porcelain ewer. "After we wash our hands. If one wishes to be perfect, one mustn't run through the house with sticky fingers."
"And then we can see the puppies?"
"And play then we can play with the puppies."