Previous Section, Section II
Posted on Monday, 10 July 2006
"Trifles make up the happiness or the misery of human life."
~ Alexander Smith
"Oh, there you are."
Georgiana detangled herself from the heavy drapes and turned towards her friend who was now moving to join her at the window while explaining that she had been searching for Georgiana for the past half hour and ending with, "So what are you looking - oh." The last word was uttered in a soft reverential tone, different from Jean Russell's standard cheerful prattle.
"They have been there for the past ten minutes at least," Georgiana informed her friend as they watched the two cavalry officers in the park across from Mrs. Boyd's Seminary for Accomplished Young Ladies.
"I wonder what they are waiting for," Jean whispered as she pushed the curtains aside to get a better view.
Georgiana shook her head, "It must be something particular. The one on the left has checked his watch three times."
The two girls remained at their stations some few minutes more before two young women approached the officers. The officer on the left took one young lady's had and kissed her fingers before placing them on the crook of his arm before the two couples strolled away into the park.
"Why do you suppose they met here?" Georgiana wondered aloud.
"Maybe her father has forbidden him from calling at their home and so they have met here to plan their journey to Gretna Green. Or perhaps they have realized that everybody who is eloping goes to Gretna Green and decided to go to some other Scottish town to exchange their vows."
Nearly four years of friendship meant Georgiana was accustomed to her roommate's propensity to give elaborate explanations that she neither believed herself nor expected any one else to believe. If given proper encouragement the girl could spin out great long tales concerning both the most mundane of life's events and the most bizarre of suppositions.
The girls stood in the draperies for some moments more before Jean spoke again. "I found some of my old music and wanted to know if you would wish to have it." Jean's pride had finally trumped her obstinacy resulting in the abandonment of her music lessons without great regret and now that she was preparing to leave the school forever, she had even less need for her old music than she had before. Georgiana agreed to look over the music, though she doubted there would be anything she would be interested in, and accompanied her friend back to their room.
It was something of a mess with both of Jean's trunks open and half full and scattered, untidy piles of things that Jean thought ought to be packed together but after something else was packed. Georgiana hated looking at it, no so much because of the mess as because it reminded her that in four days she would be alone. Jean picked up one of the piles and gave it to Georgiana, who was pleasantly shocked to see that it was music she was interested in learning to play. Jean explained it had been a gift from a relative who thought she merely needed to have a goal to play a particular, difficult piece in order to improve her playing ending with the unnecessary "but her plan was not successful."
While Georgiana was looking over the music, Jean started musing over the possibility of an elopement.
"It would be very romantic to elope with someone. First you must love him so much that the disapproval of your family is meaningless. And then there is the dashing out into the night attempting to elude capture or detainment as you make your way to the north of Scotland where you can finally pledge yourselves to one another so that no man can tear you asunder. I think you would have to know him very well and love him very much and trust he would never harm you or waste all his money and your money to marry someone without a marriage settlement. "
"But it you could trust somebody that much, why would your father disapprove?"
Jean sighed. "That is the reason why I shall never be able to elope. I cannot imagine that Papa would ever stop me from marrying a man who I truly loved and who would truly make me a good husband. He is not that sort of person."
"And if you eloped, he would not be obliged to give you a trousseau." As she said this Georgiana remembered the promises her own father had given for her trousseau, she was to have of every type of thing a young married woman might need, dresses and shoes, jewelry and monogrammed household linens.
"Yes, that is something. But I do not think it matters, neither of us would inconvenience our relations by marrying someone they did not like."
The girls lapsed into silence, this time interrupted by Jean's "oh, this is yours, I finished it this morning," when she came across the novel Fitzwilliam had sent Georgiana the previous week along with his response, undoubtedly influenced by Richard, that she was not to be allowed to spend some time with the Russells this Season. This made little difference to Georgiana since her request had been predicated on Jean receiving permission to give the invitation and General Russell had also declined to give his permission, offering instead an invitation for Georgiana to visit the Russells at Hinckley Hall that August for the two weeks surrounding Jean's sixteenth birthday.
"Did you enjoy it?" She had not yet read it in favor of giving her friend the opportunity to do so before she left.
"Yes, I do not think it shall become a favorite, but it was very nice. You are lucky to have relations who send you novels so regularly, I shall miss being able to borrow them from you. You cannot know how grateful I am for that."
Georgiana acknowledged the thanks, but felt obligated to point out that Jean was fortunate enough to receive frequent boxes of sweets and baked treats that had always been shared between the two roommates and ended with, "besides there have not been quite so many lately since my cousin stopped sending hers by for us to borrow."
"Yes, but Lady Fordham has remained in the country since last Season when her father-in-law died. Have you heard when she plans to return? I would like to ask my mother if we could invite her, and you of course, to tea."
Georgiana shook her head. "She has not yet answered my letter. But I do not think the circumstances that kept her at Lockwade will prevent her from joining my cousin at Langley House soon."
Jean requested and was grated Georgiana's promise to inform her of Lady Fordham's planned arrival and soon the conversation was winding its way to whatever paths it would.
In answer to your inquiry, I have decided not to join my husband and his mother in town this Season. I do not believe that the London air is very good for my Amy and Eddie and so the three of us will continue at Lockwade until Lord and Lady Gibson's house party where my husband requires my attendance. It does sadden me that I will miss the opportunity to spend time with you and I hope that you forgive my continuing absence this spring.
Georgiana set aside her cousin's letter to indulge in a brief pout before reading the rest of it. So Cecily intended to continue her atypically long sojourn in the country for the entire Season. This news was all the worse for coming in the wake of Jean's imminent abandonment, the upcoming weeks were appearing bleaker now that she knew there was one fewer person to call on her in that time.
Jean accepted the news with more grace than Georgiana felt and changed the subject by asking if Georgiana would like her to convey a letter to the newly promoted Colonel Fitzwilliam.
Georgiana nodded. "Thank you, does your family expect to see him soon?" She knew perfectly well that Richard was a frequent caller and she shared Jean's hopes and expectations as to the reason of the calls, but the question was an excellent way to start a discussion on those hopes and expectations.
Jean nodded. "Yes, my mother said that Colonel Fitzwilliam calls at least once a week and is a favorite among the family, especially now that Andrew has joined his regiment."
Georgiana did not care so much about Jean's elder brother joining Richard's regiment but she nodded politely. "Are he and Sarah still getting along well?" This information she could only get from her friend as neither of her guardians made it anything like a habit to include information concerning their romances in the letters they sent.
"Yes they are and my mother said he asked Sarah for her first dance at Almacks next week."
Georgiana had not heard that and soon Jean was reading from the note she had received that morning and promising to do all she could to promote the match and to keep Georgiana constantly updated on the results.
A few days after Jean left Mrs. Boyd's, Georgiana received a call from Caroline Bingley, who raised Georgiana's spirits with the gossip that she had just heard concerning one of Emily Simper's relations. Caroline had been providing this service from the beginning of their acquaintance when she chanced to observe some of Emily's rudeness towards Georgiana. She had coaxed information concerning this out of her young friend in return for the promise that she would not tell anyone, especially Fitzwilliam. Georgiana had been worried after Caroline left that day, but her friend kept her word and her brother was never informed. But Caroline Bingley's acts of friendship had not ended there as scarcely two weeks later she called again, this time full of information on the Simper family, its connections, and, most importantly, its many scandals.
That had made for a pleasant hour of gossip as Caroline whispered all the scandalous rumors. From the fact that one of Emily's brothers had spent four alternating engagements almost solely in the company of two young ladies and then ignored them both in favor of dancing attendance on a third young lady when both happened to appear at the same engagement to the hanging of Emily's great-grandfather, Caroline had told her young friend everything she knew. Later, even though Georgiana never used her information against Emily directly, she was able to feel the comfort of knowing that no member of her family would behave as poorly or scandalously as was the Simper's typical wont.
On this visit, Caroline proved willing to listen to Georgiana's woes and her desire to follow her friend's example and leave school permanently and sympathetic to the difficulties she had encountered.
"Jean and I hoped that I might have a long visit with her and her family but General Russell and my brother were concerned after Mrs. Russell's health. She is very often ill and they thought a long-term guest might be too much for her."
Caroline commiserated with Georgiana and offered her despair that it was not in her power to give Georgiana an invitation herself. She then suggested that Georgiana consider the very thing she already wished to do: hire a companion to chaperone her and oversee her continued education. She had in fact considered this option at great length and the only problem she could see with its implementation was that it would require her guardians to exert more time and effort that she was capable of asking them to.
Caroline had far fewer reservations, insisting that Georgiana's comfort and happiness were certainly of enough importance to her guardians to make them happy to go to some small trouble for her. Georgiana began to allow herself to be swayed by this reasoning as Caroline continued, "It is not as if you are a charge who routinely requires them to go to any trouble at all. They might appreciate the opportunity to be of service to you."
Georgiana's hands and fingers were contorting her themselves around each other as she continued to demure, reminding her friend that both her guardians had a great number of responsibilities. She hated to add to them and did not want either of them to think she was not grateful for all that they had already done for her.
Caroline conceded that this was true but continued to insist that they must be informed of Georgiana's desire. When Georgiana remained hesitant, Caroline offered to mention the matter to Fitzwilliam herself when they dined together at the Hursts' home two days hence. If Georgiana's brother appeared interested in the idea she would expound upon its virtues and if he was not, he would not have reason to think his younger sister was not grateful for all he had previously done for her. Georgiana accepted this plan secure in the knowledge that Caroline would find no imposition in doing anything that might give her Fitzwilliam's attention, and with a little guilt at using her friend thusly.
No matter how much Caroline might wish that Fitzwilliam would give her some romantic notice, Georgiana knew that he was not interested in her as anything more than the occasionally amusing younger sister of his dear friend. At times like these Georgiana sometimes thought she ought to find a way to let Caroline know this so she could concentrate her efforts on other men who were more likely to reciprocate her attentions. But for the present her gratitude for the assistance Miss Bingley was about to render outweighed her concerns.
Posted on Monday, 10 July 2006
"Language is power, life and the instrument of culture, the instrument of domination and liberation"
Miss Gold's classroom hummed with its usual quiet efficiency as Georgiana alternately read The Female Quixote and let her mind wander to the realities of life at the Seminary now that Jean was gone. In the very few days since Jean had left, Georgiana had discovered it was a very dull thing to be, unquestionably, the Seminary's cleverest pupil. She was much further in all her lesson books that the other girls were in theirs and would have been further if Mrs. Boyd did not insist that she must take lessons with at least some of the other girls rather than continuing working at her own accelerated pace.
This and Emily Simper's continued antagonism, led to Georgiana's increased dependence on those solitary activities that could make her forget her surroundings: art, music and novels. The last was what occupied the majority of her very ample free time as she did not like drawing any place where someone might be observing her and even an institution such as Mrs. Boyd's Seminary can only have so many harps and pianofortes. Novels also had the benefit of being compact and much more portable than her easel or either of her instruments.
This thought brought her back to her book, though she was not given much opportunity to read in peace before she felt someone brush up against her and looked up to see Emily's sweet smile as she strolled to where Miss Gold was having a geography lesson with some of the other pupils. Georgiana attempted to ignore Emily's behavior and resume reading her book but soon she heard Emily say in a whisper that Georgiana was certain was meant for the whole room to hear "but Georgie Darcy has been reading one of her novels for the past hour."
Georgiana looked up and saw both look at her. Miss Gold got up from her seat, gesturing for Emily to remain where she was, and moved to stand by Georgiana whose embarrassment at angering such a teacher as Miss Gold prevented her from looking too far up as she felt one of Miss Gold's hands on her back and heard her soft request that Georgiana give her the book and join her in her sitting room following the day's lessons. Georgiana gave the book up, thinking bitter thoughts concerning Emily not only for telling on her but for arranging the book's confiscation at that very moment when she was dying to learn what happened next.
When Georgiana returned to her room following her meeting with Miss Gold, her spirits were nearly restored. The meeting had been far from unpleasant. Miss Gold had served tea and explained to Georgiana that even though she was unquestionably her cleverest and most advanced pupil, she could not be allowed to read novels during her lessons as it would cause disruptions and insubordinations if the other girls saw Miss Gold give Georgiana a privilege that she was not willing to give them. They had agreed between themselves that Miss Gold would ensure that Georgiana would be permitted to work on the lessons that Miss Gold assigned for out of class when she finished her in-class assignments early and that Georgiana would give her word not to bring another novel into her lessons again. Miss Gold then moved conversation to other, much more comfortable topics before returning the novel to Georgiana in exchange for a reaffirmation of her promise not to read it, or any other novel, during lessons.
Her spirits were lifted further when she saw the note waiting for her. She immediately recognized Caroline Bingley's hand and was not disappointed with its contents
My dear friend,
Last evening I had the pleasure of dining not only with your brother but with Colonel Fitzwilliam also. Both gentlemen appear very well and I would like to think that they found our company as agreeable we found theirs.
As to the subject of our last conversation, after dinner I had the opportunity to give my opinion that you ought to be established with a respectable governess or ladies companion. Louisa seconded my opinion (I hope you will forgive me for sharing the substance of our conversation with my sister) and both of your guardians were receptive, particularly after we pointed out that a young lady as talented as yourself requires the benefits of personal tuition. I do believe that in your situation, there can be no reason to keep you at school any longer when you appear to have learned everything that school can teach you.
Besides this, I must admit to some selfish motive and say that your removal from school would allow me greater opportunity for enjoying your company. I find myself already making plans for us spending a day together. I look forward to your reply.
Georgiana read the letter through twice more before she set it aside and began to allow herself to consider the happy possibility that in a very short time, she would be leaving Mrs. Boyd's Seminary for good.
It was not very long after Georgiana received Caroline's note that she received another one from Fitzwilliam indicating he was writing on behalf of himself and Richard, wishing to know if Georgiana was interested in removing from school into a private establishment. He made only a glancing reference to Caroline's interference in the matter, only saying that "a lady of our acquaintance suggested that you would benefit from such a situation and after careful consideration we believe she is correct." He went on to inform her that he had written Lady Catherine to request her assistance in finding a suitable companion and that once such a lady was found he and Richard would call at the Seminary to make the necessary and appropriate arrangements.
When they did call, Fitzwilliam and Richard spent a rather long time in conference with Mrs. Boyd before Georgiana was sent for. When the message came to the library-cum-study hall where most of the Seminary's eldest girls were working on their assignments, it caused no little disturbance. Due to the strange way that important information and gossip can spread itself without any apparent effort on anyone's part, every girl in the school was aware that a tall, handsome young gentleman and another young man, neither so tall nor so handsome as the first but wearing the red coat that signified him as an officer in His Majesty's Army, had entered the school together and were currently in conference with their headmistress.
In the library, the girls were sensible to the fact that these were almost undoubtedly Georgiana Darcy's guardians. As Georgiana had not shared her wishes to leave the Seminary or the contents of her communications with Miss Bingley with anyone besides Jean, it can not be surprising that Emily Simper immediately began whispering that they had surely come concerning the recent instances when Georgiana had been caught reading novels when she ought to have been doing something else.
Georgiana had been true to her word that she would no longer bring novels into her lessons, but that was not enough to stop Emily from dwelling on the occasion when "the perfect teacher's pet" had gotten in trouble until the members of her set and a good many of the other students remembered the violation as being of a much greater magnitude than it actually had been. By the time Georgiana received the summons to Mrs. Boyd's sitting room, Emily's comments had been enough to make her remember Miss Cane's ire when that lady caught Georgiana reading Evelina the previous Sunday. She had nearly confiscated the book, settling instead for a lecture concerning how Georgiana ought to be spending her Sabbath, even though Georgiana was certain that Miss Cane knew Emily and her friends had reading Mrs. Radcliffe's Udolpho aloud in the next room.
These thoughts, and the constant whisperings between Emily and her set, were enough to make Georgiana less certain as to the reason for her guardian's visit. However, when she entered the sitting room and saw the schoolmistress's face set in the forced expression that she was now familiar with, it was enough to make Georgiana think that her guardians had probably come to discuss her removal from Mrs. Boyd's Seminary.
She was correct in her final guess. Richard did not take long to announce that he and Fitzwilliam had selected a companion for their ward and were calling to make arrangements for Georgiana's removal, pending the receipt of satisfactory responses to their inquiries into Mrs. Younge's references. After a half hour's conversation, most of which was taken by Mrs. Boyd's attempts to convince everyone that Georgiana would be happier if she remained at the Seminary, the situation was discussed and set forth to the satisfaction of three of the four and Georgiana, who had seen her guardians not long before was sent back to the library while her guardians and Mrs. Boyd considered the plan's details.
Georgiana could not help smiling as she headed back to the library after saying her farewells to her dear guardians. Thoughts and plans for how things would be after she left Mrs. Boyd's crowded her mind and she was not paying very much attention at all to what was going on around her as she wandered through the familiar corridors.
"Georgie dear, you look rather happy for someone who has been in such trouble. Care to share the news?"
Georgiana looked up to Emily who had clearly been waiting for her along with two or three other members of her troupe. Georgiana's excitement and happiness were such that not even Emily's ill-will could lessen them and a sudden sense of power descended on Georgiana as she realized this. "My guardians have decided to remove me from school as soon as they find a suitable companion." Then, hardly knowing where the words came from, "My brother wishes to spend more time with me and that is not convenient if I remain at school."
In lieu of saying anything Emily's eyes narrowed. "Well, I hope you are a comfort to him though it is a shame that a man his age cannot find a better companion than you. But I suppose it is only to be expected, you are brother and sister after all."
Georgiana found herself returned to the wordlessness that she normally fell into when confronting Emily. She had long since learned that it was better to say nothing than to stammer out one or two unintelligible words.
"You haven't anything to say to that, have you?" Emily glanced down the corridor behind Georgiana. "I am happy for you though, that you are so fond of each other as you will probably spend the rest of your life living under his roof so long as you cannot find a gentleman who thinks thirty thousand pounds is enough motivation to spend his life saddled with you."
Georgiana recognized those words, or at least a variation of them. Emily had enjoyed telling Jean that forty thousand pounds was not enough to make a gentleman wish to marry a girl who was not pretty enough to make up for the fact that her only real accomplishment was in mathematics, and Georgiana had always told her friend how foolish those words were but she found that it felt rather different when she was the one Emily was taunting. She tried to prevent herself from showing any external reaction to the words, but Emily's light laugh as she made her way down the hall made her doubt her success.
Posted Sunday, 27 August 2006
Plots, true or false, are necessary things, to raise up commonwealths, and ruin kings.
Georgiana left Mrs. Boyd's Seminary for the last time not long before her fifteenth birthday. She embraced three or four of her former schoolmates, including Jean's youngest sister Mary, clasped hands with Miss Gold and let her hands be clasped by Mrs. Boyd while Fitzwilliam and Richard looked on, ignoring the admiring glances and giggles that must result when two single young gentlemen visit an establishment of young ladies. Emily even went so far as to approach and embrace Georgiana as she was about to accept her brothers assistance into the carriage and whisper in her ear "your brother is a very attractive prospect, perhaps one day we will be sisters." She then withdrew, insisting that Georgiana must give no thought to the cost of postage and remember to write very frequently.
That statement was presumably what led to Richard suggesting she might invite her friends for tea sometime before she left to spend her summer at Pemberley. Georgiana's attempt to gracefully decline that idea resulted in a jumble of words that she herself could scarcely make sense of them. Richard asked her to repeat herself, but before she could, Fitzwilliam wrapped an arm around her shoulders and announced that he thought she and her companion should have some time to become comfortable with one another before they planned any large party. The two guardians gave each other challenging looks for a few moments before Richard looked away and Fitzwilliam began telling Georgiana about various changes that either had been made or were being planned to accommodate her at his townhouse.
As she listened to her brother's descriptions Georgiana was initially disappointed that there would be little for her to do, but this emotion was overcome with gratitude for her brother's consideration and taste when Fitzwilliam began showing her the changes wrought. The majority of the third floor was reserved for her use and Georgiana's pleasure at those rooms her brother showed her was enthusiastically if not fluently expressed before Fitzwilliam escorted her to what was now her first floor sitting room, where Mrs. Younge, Georgiana's new companion and governess, was waiting for them.
Mrs. Younge was a sensibly dressed, respectable looking woman perhaps six years older than Fitzwilliam whom Georgiana had first met the previous week when that lady had come to the Seminary to take tea with Mrs. Boyd and Miss Gold and discuss Georgiana's education. The meeting between the two of them had been scarcely longer than the time necessary for Mrs. Younge to express her pleasure at seeing that Georgiana was in every particular as charming a young woman as she had been led to believe and for Georgiana to remember to say something nice concerning the reports she had heard of Mrs. Younge. For the present the previous meeting was enough to subordinate Georgiana's interest in Mrs. Younge to her interest in the room's alterations.
She felt rather proud that she managed to get through the polite greetings without having too much of her attention focused on such delights as the beautiful harp standing next to the pianoforte. It might have been fortunate for her self-control, however, that her guardians soon withdrew, leaving her to become better acquainted with her new governess, and that following their departure the first words out of said governess's mouth were a suggestion that they ought to take the opportunity to examine the harp more closely.
As the did so, Mrs. Younge admitted that it was one of her great regrets that she had never had the opportunity to learn to play the harp and asked Georgiana to play something for her.
When Georgiana finished her piece she saw Mrs. Younge dabbing her eyes with a heavily embroidered handkerchief. Georgiana moved to stand next to her companion's chair, but then stopped, uncertain of whether further intrusion would be welcome. Mrs. Younge kept at it for only a few moments more before she put the dampened handkerchief aside and quietly, and more than a little sadly, thanked Georgiana for indulging her with a song. She then explained, perhaps in response to Georgiana's questioning look, that while she loved and had always loved harp music, it never failed to remind her of a dear old friend.
"He was the very best of men. Mr. Younge was a very good man and I certainly have no complaints against him, but Mr. Wendell was special in a way that Mr. Younge could never match. There was a harp playing the first time we met and ever since then I have not heard one played without remembering him. You played so beautifully, I almost believed myself back where we met."
Georgiana found herself wishing for more information on what was certainly a romantic tragedy in her new companion's personal history and she felt all the discomfort that comes out of wanting to ask more questions while knowing she should not, a situation that left her with nothing to say beyond some simple syllables. Fortunately for Georgiana's comfort, Mrs. Younge did not take very much longer to recover her composure begin inquiring into Georgiana's preferences in books and music.
When it had become known that Georgiana was to leave Mrs. Boyd's Seminary for good, many notes and letters had flown between her and Miss Jean Russell as the two girls made enough plans for visits and excursions to fill several years worth of Seasons. One plan that met both Georgiana's guardians' and Jean's parents' approval was for the day after Georgiana's fifteenth birthday. Jean was to arrive at Fitzwilliam Darcy's townhouse sometime between half past one and two o'clock and other members of the Russell family would come for dinner.
In spite of their plans however, it was some time after two o'clock when Mrs. Russell and Miss Jean Russell were finally announced in Georgiana's sitting room. Mrs. Russell stayed no longer than was necessary to introduce Mrs. Younge to her and for her to have that lady escort her back downstairs.
As soon as the door shut behind them Jean began her apologies for her tardiness. "I am so sorry; you must believe that I was ready and trying to leave earlier but that tiresome Lord Beacher called again today. I do wish my father would tell him to stop calling so frequently, Lord Beacher has called nearly every day for the past month and he always stays forever. Oh and I must tell you the worst thing that has happened. He was there when my mother received the invitation to the Cleavon's ball and he immediately requested Sarah's hand for the first two sets--"
"The ones that my cousin was to ask her for?" Georgiana could not keep herself from interrupting.
Jean nodded quickly. "Yes! Poor Sarah had to accept him, and I was impressed with how graciously she did it in spite of her disappointment at not being able to dance them with Colonel Fitzwilliam, who would have made her such a nicer partner than Lord Beacher, who dances so poorly. Andrew told me that when he danced with her at Almack's three weeks ago he kept going the wrong way in the dance and he stepped on her toes at least twice. "
Georgiana frowned. A bad partner could make a lady look like a bad dancer herself and she knew that her cousin abhorred dancing with young ladies who were not proficient in the art. "Perhaps I might suggest that he ask her for the next to sets instead. I could let him know how disagreeable it is for her to dance with Lord Beacher, on account of his poor dancing skills, so that he knows that it is not her fault and I am certain he is too gentlemanly to hold the fact that she danced with him against her. He must understand there was nothing to be done about it." At least Georgiana hoped he would. She wanted few things more than to have one of her guardians marry a woman who was willing to allow her to live with them and at present Richard and Sarah appeared to be her best chance.
"I know and hopefully your cousin will realize he can have nothing to fear from that man. I mean, I suppose that Lord Beacher is a baron and will one day be a viscount and he is rather rich and if you overlook how short he is, he is somewhat handsome, but he is so boring, your cousin is infinitely more witty and charming. Today Lord Beacher's sole reason for calling was to tell us all about the cricket game he played yesterday."
Georgiana made a face, Fitzwilliam had taken her to a cricket match years before when their father was still alive. At first it had been an enjoyable outing, sitting between Fitzwilliam and her governess as he drove them to the game and then being fawned over and petted by several of the ladies who had come to watch the match while the gentlemen made their final preparations but once the match began she had found the intervals between the times when she could applaud her brother unbearably dull until she began creating a daisy wreath. "Did he talk very long about it?"
Jean nodded. "I thought it was never going to end, actually he hadn't ended by the time my father arrived to replace my mother as chaperone. He only stopped to wish us a good day and to ask if Sarah would be interested in attending the cricket game he will be playing next week with his sisters. "
"Did she accept?"
"I do not know. My mother and I were leaving when he made the invitation. My mother told my father she had no objections in he had none but I do not know what Sarah herself said. I hope she had enough sense to decline, if she doesn't he might start thinking she favors him and if he thinks that, he might begin interfering with Sarah and Colonel Fitzwilliam even more than he is now. "
"They will still have opportunities to be together without him. This evening they are to sit next to each other. They can-"
A knock on the sitting room door cut off Georgiana's sentence and her companion's entrance prevented her from continuing it. While Mrs. Younge was certainly a kind and agreeable companion, Georgiana was not yet ready to tell her about their plans for Richard and Sarah. Mrs. Younge might feel obligated to inform Fitzwilliam or Richard and Georgiana was not entirely certain her guardians would approve of her actions on Richard's behalf. Either way, she was certain it would be better for Richard and Sarah to progress in their romance without realizing they were receiving copious assistance from her and Jean. She had recently come to believe that too much assistance had prevented Mr. Piper and Miss Gold from realizing they were supposed to be in love with each other and did not want that mistake with another couple.
If Mrs. Younge noticed the abrupt halt in the girls' conversation, she made no sign as she seated herself across from the sofa where Georgiana and Jean were seated half facing each other and took up her work. However, her dampening effect did prevent Georgiana and Jean from being immediately able to come upon a new topic themselves and a silence made uncomfortable by the presence of a nearly unknown third descended on them only to be interrupted when Mrs. Younge asked after the Russell's summer plans.
Jean answered these questions easily but not very exactly and ended with the suggestion that if Georgiana's plans permitted, they might once again travel so far as Hinckley Hall together. Georgiana answered that her brother had not yet indicated when he intended them to travel to Derbyshire and at that the conversation threatened to lapse again and was once more saved by Mrs. Younge taking its furtherance upon herself.
"I had actually thought that Miss Darcy might benefit from spending some time at the sea before journeying to her brother's estate."
This was the first Georgiana had considered such an idea and it did not meet with her immediate approval. Pemberley was her favorite place in the world and she had been to the sea many times, including a whole summer at Bath when her father first became ill. She suppressed a breath that might have turned into a sigh as this thought made her remember that Lady Catherine always seemed to think Georgiana was on the verge of some illness. Mrs. Younge had come to them on Lady Catherine's recommendation and it took little imagination for Georgiana to picture her aunt instructing Mrs. Younge on her niece's fragile health. "I do not care, very much, for Bath. It did not do my father any good at all."
Mrs. Younge gave her a smile and what might have been a brief laugh. "Bath? I do not believe I made myself clear; I believe you could benefit from time at a sea side resort, a place where you might go for pleasure as so many other young ladies and gentlemen do. I was going to recommend Skegness. It is rather smaller than many other resorts but it is also much closer to Pemberley than Bath or even Brighton, should you decide you dislike it or if circumstances require or allow either of your guardians to visit."
Mrs. Younge paused but neither girl said anything and after several seconds, she continued. "Skegness is a very nice little town, not anywhere near so fashionable as Brighton perhaps, but I have a cousin there and she has assured me that there are several fashionable families who have begun to make it their habit to visit every year."
Here Mrs. Younge took a deep breath and listed several names, none of which was more than vaguely familiar to Georgiana but Jean startled slightly at one of the names and then asked "Is that the Sir Thomas Chadwicks of Wiltshire?
Mrs. Younge nodded. " I believe so. Are you acquainted with that family?"
Jean, whose cheeks were now quite pink, nodded. "Their eldest son is a good friend of my brother's."
Mrs. Younge accepted this with what Georgiana thought was an oddly suppressed smile. "I, of course, am not fortunate enough to know that or any of the other families personally, but I understand from my cousin that they are all quite amiable. Does that fit your knowledge of young Mr. Chadwick?"
"Yes." Jean's still pink cheeks and a waver in her voice betrayed her obvious attempt to appear disinterested and Georgiana wished Mrs. Younge was not present so she could ask her friend more about young Mr. Chadwick. Instead she had to think of a way to change the subject and save Jean from any more embarrassment at Mrs. Younge's hands.
Georgiana hated thinking up topics for conversations as she never thought of any good topics until after the conversation was over. But it must be done and she seized on something that, for the moment at least, seemed relevant. "What amusements does Skegness offer?"
At this question Mrs. Younge turned herself more toward Georgiana, so that Jean was hardly in her line of sight at all, before she answered. "Many of the normal amusements for a seaside pleasure trip. Bathing machines; a circulating library, although sadly its collection does not offer very much variety being almost exclusively romance novels; plenty of other little shops including one that sells the most exquisite lace - the proprietor's sister-in-law makes it, she was a nun in France before their revolution and apparently only just avoided being sent to the guillotine. Then of course there are all the beautiful sights along the shore and some of the other walks through and around the town." Mrs. Younge paused to sigh. "They really are the sort of walks and scenes that always seem to make people fall in love with each other. Every year it seems that practically every young person there falls in love. I can always count on my cousin sending word of romances and even engagements. Last year there was even an elopement."
Mrs. Younge now had Georgiana's full attention but it was Jean who spoke first with the question, "What happened?"
Mrs. Younge shook her head slightly. "I cannot precisely remember, but I do have all her letters upstairs. I am certain she would not mind if I shared the contents with you, if you are interested?"
"Yes, please," answered Georgiana, whose interest in a visit to a seaside town had been steadily increasing as Mrs. Younge enumerated Skegness' delights. She felt the opportunity to hear more was not to be missed.
After Mrs. Younge left the room and the door was safely shut, Jean rushed to say she hoped Mrs. Younge's letter contained details of the other romances as well as the elopement. Georgiana gave her agreement before asking her friend to tell her more about the amiable Mr. Chadwick.
Jean began blushing again when Georgiana said the name Chadwick but displayed little hesitance in telling Georgiana all about the wonderful Mr. Chadwick, who was everything a young man ought to be, pleasant, well-bred and well-read, witty and handsome. Further questioning revealed that Jean's regard for the gentleman went so far as to cause her to practice signing her name as Jean Chadwick, Mrs. Nathaniel Chadwick and Lady Chadwick.
"Of course there is very little I can do now, but I shall be out in only a little more than two years and that should be about the time he starts seriously considering marriage."
"Have you had much opportunity to spend time with him?
"Not very much but he is always very nice and when there are no other ladies about we have had some very nice talks."
Mrs. Younge did not hurry back to her charge's sitting room, which allowed time for many other questions to be asked, answered and giggled over before the companion returned. When she entered the room, Georgiana saw she carried more than one letter with her. She explained she had thought the girls might like to read more about some of the other romances.
As she was very correct in this supposition the three of them spent quite some time reading through several old letters and discussing the romantic details. The elopement's details came first, and while sadly Mrs. Younge's cousin was too discreet to actually name names, both girls were able to satisfy themselves with the knowledge that Mr. G-'s prospects were not nearly so bad as Miss L-'s parents feared and they had forgiven their daughter almost immediately upon the newlyweds' return from Scotland and the situation was now without hard feelings on either side.
When the Russells, General and Mrs. Russell along with Sarah and their two eldest sons, arrived in Georgiana's sitting room Fitzwilliam and Richard were already waiting. Jean did her best to slip away from where she had been sitting next to Richard so Sarah could take her place, but Richard asked her if he had done something to offend her and before she could assure him he had not, Sarah was sitting across the room between her mother and Mrs. Younge.
The dinner itself offered slightly more encouragement as Richard and Sarah did sit next to each other and steadily participated in the same conversations though Georgiana realized that her planning contained the serious flaw that neither she nor Jean were near enough to be able to easily hear their conversation. It did look as if they were enjoying themselves, but both appeared to speak with the other people near them as often as they spoke with each other and later that evening, hours after everyone had left and Georgiana had gone to bed, she still remained incapable of turning their goodbye into something that gave her satisfaction.
The next day, Georgiana found herself suffering from nervous anticipation. She and Mrs. Younge settled it between themselves that Georgiana would ask her brother's permission when the two of them retired to the main drawing room after dinner as that would be her last real chance before he left for his traditional Easter week at Rosings the following day. Georgiana had suggested that they might wait until the next week, after Fitzwilliam's return from Rosings, but Mrs. Younge had eventually convinced her that it was necessary to begin making arrangements at once and that a week's delay might prove too harmful to their scheme.
When the time finally came Georgiana found herself continually on the verge of deciding not to ask him before she finally and not very elegantly made the request.
Fitzwilliam frowned slightly before he spoke. "Sweetling, I had thought you were eager to go to Pemberley for the summer."
"I do want to spend some time at Pemberley; it is only that I would first like to visit the sea. Mrs. Younge has some familiarity with Skegness and recommended it because it is nearer to Pemberley and Matlock, so that I might be near you and our other relations that I would be at other places I might go."
"Unfortunately for your scheme, I will not be at Pemberley for a good part of the summer as I have agreed to assist Bingley in his search for a suitable estate and I believe my aunt and uncle intend to spend much of the summer personally overseeing the improvements at my uncle's Scottish estate. "
Georgiana avoided looking at her brother as she nearly whispered her understanding of the situation, and even when she felt his hand on her shoulder wrapping her into a half-embrace.
"Perhaps next summer we might both be able to visit the sea. My secretary can make inquiries so that by next summer we shall be fully apprised as to the best location for the two of us to take a summer holiday."
Georgiana nodded her agreement and did her best to conceal her disappointment. Mrs. Younge's stories over the past two days had done much to convince her of the importance of spending a summer by the sea and losing it was now something to be greatly mourned.
Posted Friday, 8 September 2006
"Nobody, who has not been in the interior of a family, can say what the difficulties of any individual of that family may be."
During Fitzwilliam's visit to Rosings, Georgiana tried to avoid feeling disappointment over her brother's refusal to allow her to travel to Skegness that summer. Mrs. Younge's descriptions of past summers at such places had excited her interest and convinced her of the necessity of such a one. Mrs. Younge consoled her with stories of amusements and romance at fashionable resorts, and Georgiana spent many hours considering the romance she would have had if she and her companion were to travel to Skegness instead of Pemberley.
Jean's attempts at offering comfort were rather more successful as she tended to do so by avoiding any talk of the delights of summers by the sea, instead concentrating on helping Georgiana make plans for her time at Pemberley and devising new ways to help Richard and Sarah fall in love with each other.
However a brother like Fitzwilliam Darcy is unlikely to deny his sister any harmless pleasure that is in his power to bestow . He returned from his trip to Rosings bearing a letter from their aunt and the news that he had, at Lady Catherine's urging and with promises of her assistance and availability should Georgiana require a family member's assistance, decided to allow Georgiana to make a seaside visit to Ramsgate.
After Georgiana ensured her brother was secure in the knowledge that she thought him the very best of brothers, there was much to be done. Mrs. Younge had to be informed and then both governess and pupil had many letters to write, including a long and gratitude-filled letter to Lady Catherine for convincing Richard and Fitzwilliam and for taking certain other tasks, including the finding of appropriate lodgings in Ramsgate, upon herself.
The next several weeks were filled with preparations and letters from Rosings, these soon became Georgiana's chief delight, as Lady Catherine became the most prolific of correspondents. Every time some new arrangement or decision was made long letters were promptly dispatched to Georgiana and her brother. As Georgiana's removal from London came closer, the letters became even longer as her ladyship began sending detailed lists of which servants and what personal articles Georgiana would find necessary during her six week sojourn in Ramsgate.
When the time for Georgiana to leave London finally came Lady Catherine's assistance, both in procuring Mrs. Younge as a companion for Georgiana and in making the arrangements for her to go to Ramsgate, made it a matter of gratitude and necessity that she spend two weeks at visiting at Rosings before Georgiana and Mrs. Younge completed their journey to Ramsgate.
Upon arriving at Rosings, Georgiana and Mrs. Younge were shown to Lady Catherine's morning salon where her ladyship and Miss De Bourgh were sitting with Mrs. Jenkinson attending them. They all rose when Georgiana entered and Lady Catherine opened her arms so Georgiana could embrace her. When she did, Georgiana felt her aunt's arms tighten around her for a brief moment before releasing her to greet Anne. Anne's embrace was more like the lightest of pats, an awkward uncertain sort of thing done more because it was expected that out of any real wish or fondness on the part of either party. The best that can be said of it was that it was over quickly.
In honor of Georgiana's recent arrival, Lady Catherine eschewed sitting in her grand arm chair in favor of one of her sofas and instructed Georgiana to sit next to her and tell her everything about her life in London and her journey to Rosings. In spite of her aunt's words, Georgiana did not need to say much as after a few sentences, Lady Catherine took over the main thrust of the conversation herself. As she discussed the difficulties and delights of travel, with occasional questions to Georgiana thrown in, a feast of refreshments, including all the things her ladyship thought were her niece's favorites, was placed before them allowing her ladyship the opportunity to interrupt herself with questions as to what things Georgiana would like to eat and commands that she sample this or that delicacy.
Georgiana half-listened to her aunt, giving answers when they were needed and otherwise remaining silent, comfortable in the knowledge that she would not be called upon to say very much at one time. As her aunt's conversation continued, however, she began to grow tired and tried to stifle a yawn. Fortunately for her, Lady Catherine was still in such a good mood from her arrival that instead of the expected reproof she stood and announced that it was time for her to show Georgiana to her room.
This was unnecessary as Georgiana was once again being assigned to the pink and white bedroom on the second floor. Once the door was closed behind them, Lady Catherine's conversation moved to the topic of how glad she, "and dear Anne of course," were to have Georgiana at Rosings. "Particularly since poor Anne's health prevented us from going to town this Season. I have not been in town at all since I went to accompany dear Lady Fordham and her children back to Lockwade last winter that was less than two full days."
Georgiana was now fighting between her desire to take a nap and curiosity. She knew that if she wished to learn more of Cecily's difficulties, Lady Catherine was likely her best source for information. Her curiosity won the battle, but the incoherent manner with which she expressed it lost the war as it reminded her ladyship of the purpose of their being in Georgiana's room and soon Georgiana found that she had no choice in the matter as her aunt pulled curtains shut and tucked covers around her while giving assurances that none of the servants would disturb her rest.
During her weeks at Rosings, Georgiana found that it was a rare occasion if anything particularly noteworthy happened. It was impossible for her to engage in her favorite activities in complete comfort, as Lady Catherine didn't approve of reading novels too much and any time Georgiana began practicing the pianoforte, she was likely to turn it into an exhibition, calling for the others to come in and listen to her or to begin making suggestions on her technique or poise. Georgiana did manage to sneak some pleasant practicing in Mrs. Jenkinson's sitting room, a room near the servant's quarters seldom used by anyone, including its nominal possessor, that contained a pianoforte that by Georgiana's estimation was probably tuned more frequently than it was played. Unfortunately these practices could not last long as Georgiana was not eager to have them discovered by anyone who might inform her aunt, even though she was almost certain that her excuse, that she did not want her practicing to bother Anne, would satisfy her aunt.
Lady Catherine of course did have activities planned for the two of them, occasionally accompanied by Anne, to engage in. The chief of these were visits to her ladyship's fellow parishioners in the nearby village. Their rector had recently passed on, and as the living was in Lady Catherine's gift, she felt an added responsibility to see to their temporal and moral welfare while she searched for a suitable cleric. Lady Catherine often commented on how much she enjoyed Georgiana's company on these visits and Georgiana comforted herself with her hostess's enjoyment of the excruciating trips. Georgiana did admit to herself that these trips with Lady Catherine were more pleasant than accompanying Anne on her drives through the park as Anne, without saying a word, made it clear she only suffered Georgiana's presence instead of Mrs. Jenkinson's because her mother insisted on it.
Better than either of those activities was assisting Lady Catherine in redoing the parsonage and two or three of Rosings' bedrooms, including Georgiana's own pink and white room. This was a simple task, once Georgiana accepted that her aunt did not require much assistance in these things and had already made up her mind as to what changes ought to be made, and its enjoyability came chiefly from the effect that it had on Lady Catherine. If there was another person in hearing distance, her ladyship must talk, but something about the domesticity of redecorating and improving made it easier for Georgiana to bring her aunt's words over to subjects that interested her. They were primarily stories of family gossip that Lady Catherine was only willing to share when there was not anybody who was not a near relation about, and even then Georgiana doubted that her aunt, who seemed to know nearly everything about everybody, shared as much of that knowledge with anyone besides herself.
It was from Lady Catherine that Georgiana learned the real reason why her uncle, Lady Catherine's brother, Andrew Fitzwilliam would never return to England; the truth behind their cousin Marjorie Penhollow's disgrace; and even that Georgiana's late Uncle Fordham had once fought a duel with a man he believed to have seduced his wife, a charge which Lady Catherine believed to be accurate! When she learned that, Georgiana wondered if she would ever be able to look at her Aunt Fordham without blushing.
It was the day before Georgiana left Rosings for Ramsgate that she was finally able to learn more about Cecily Fordham's difficulties. None of her correspondents had been very explicit, leaving her own understanding of why Cecily Fordham would decide to leave London, without her husband, days before Christmas and less than four weeks after the birth and death of her little daughter muddled at best.
It began with a simple question over Lady Fordham's health followed by the brief embarrassed explanation, that she had not had very much information on that topic. Lady Catherine looked up from the fabric swatches she was comparing and accepted her niece's explanation with a sympathetic smile. "Youngest children are never told so much as they would wish to hear; I certainly never was. Poor Cecily was very affected by her daughter's death, especially as it came so soon after her father-in-law's. I believe they finally helped her to see how unhealthy London air can be for people, particularly the aged and small children.
"I still can not understand what my sister or her son were about allowing her to take the children and make such a journey alone when she should have still been in bed recovering. Of course men rarely understand that for a mother daughters can be as dear as sons and my sister--" here Lady Catherine paused, perhaps for a little to long for proper dramatic effect, "my sister has always had difficulty exhibiting proper feeling, even for her own grandchildren." Georgiana nodded, trying to remember if she had ever witnessed her aunt Fordham show concern towards anyone beyond the triumvirate of herself, her son, and her sister, the Lady Margaret Fitzwilliam.
"Fortunately, I heard of poor Cecily's plan before she could undertake the journey and Anne was well enough that I could leave her with only Mrs. Jenkinson to attend her. I was able to arrive in London the day before she meant to go. She refused to be dissuaded, and I can only attribute such irrational stubbornness to the circumstances. But if I had not been there to lend my assistance I do not know how she would have made it without mishap. I can only hope that the woman who called herself the children's nurse has some other talents in childcare as she obviously knew nothing about the proper way to dress young children against the cold. If I had not redressed them myself who knows what horrible disease they would have contracted.
"The traveling itself only took one day as Cecily insisted on leaving before breakfast. That was too much for her in her circumstances. After we arrived she did not leave her room for a week, and the first time she came downstairs that wretched nurse informed her she was quitting her post the next day. I had no choice but to extend my visit so I could assist my niece in finding a proper replacement. We were fortunate that Mr. and Mrs. Harper no longer needed their nurse, a very capable young woman I discovered for them four years ago or we might not have found anyone before I received the letter from Mrs. Jenkinson that Anne had caught cold and needed my personal care in her illness."
Later that evening Georgiana considered her aunt's revelations concerning Cecily's situation. She supposed Cecily was waiting for her husband to come to her and apologize for his lack of feeling over their child's death and wished there was something she could do to assist that process. She considered several plans that had to be discarded for various reasons. For one thing, an apology was essential to any reconciliation plan, but it would be difficult to convince Edmund Fordham to apologize, Georgiana suspected that her cousin would rather go to the gallows than apologize for anything, and for another Georgiana doubted her own ability to have any influence over her cousin. She was willing to admit, to herself, that she was just as nervous around him at fifteen as she had been at eleven and if she could scarcely speak in his presence, how could she possibly convince him to admit that he was wrong about something?
This impossible question played through Georgiana's mind keeping her awake for no short time after she should have been asleep and could only be quieted through continual reminders that she was certainly not the only person who cared about the Fordham family and certainly, Cousin Edmund would not be able to stay away from his wife and two adorable little daughters forever.
Posted on Saturday, 7 October 2006
"When I think of your kisses my mind see-saws."
In Georgiana's first two weeks at Ramsgate she was gifted with as many visits from Mr. Wickham as Mrs. Younge predicted she would receive in the entire six weeks of her holiday and his visits where never the polite half hours that had figured so prominently in Mrs. Younge's original prediction. In fact his visits were so frequent and so long that Georgiana had difficulty not mentioning him in her letters and only managed to do so by reminding herself that Mrs. Younge had heard that if her brother was to come to Ramsgate it would be in the upcoming two weeks, and so she did not have much longer to keep her surprise. Her only relief was that she was able to tell Mr. Wickham of her brother's probable visit and enjoy his exclamations of pleasure at the news, and suggesting some activities that the three of them might enjoy sharing together.
The morning after that conversation, Georgiana and Mrs. Younge were going over the household accounts when Mr. Wickham was announced. After he apologized for his for his intrusion, he explained that he had obtained use of a curricle and horses and wished to "invite Miss Darcy to join me for a drive."
Mrs. Younge quickly gave her encouragement to the scheme, allowing Georgiana to overcome the scruples she might have felt concerning an outing where she would necessarily be alone with a man who was not a near relation.
Once they were outside, Mr. Wickham apologized for the shabbiness of his borrowed equipage and the fact that the horses were not a matched pair. Georgiana assured him that it was nothing to be concerned over and that she was still anticipating their outing. Indeed the curricle's condition was nothing to be embarrassed over even if its condition was not so fine as the one Fitzwilliam kept and Georgiana experienced no hesitancy in accepting her friend's assistance into the vehicle.
Driving through town was quite enjoyable as Georgiana and Mr. Wickham pointed out their favorite sites and shops and amused each other with stories from their more recent lives. But it was when they reached Ramsgate's outer limits that the true fun began. Georgiana clung to the seat and her reticule as they raced across the open country. If the horses were not well matched in color they were excellently matched in their gait and speed. There was very little talking now and if Georgiana were not concentrating on keeping her grip she still would have been too breathless to continue the previous conversation.
It was only when Mr. Wickham relaxed the reins and let the horses slow to a walking pace that they could again begin speaking with each other, but even then they were silent for several minutes before Georgiana began by telling him that she had reason to hope that one of her guardians would be making a very happy announcement in the papers very soon, perhaps even before she left Ramsgate. "You will need to call and offer congratulations after he makes the announcement. I am certain he would appreciate the effort."
"I am certain he would. A gentleman in love is always ready to accept acknowledgement of his good fortune in matters of the heart. But tell me, does your own excitement stem from particular approval of the lady? A friend of yours perhaps?"
Georgiana nodded eagerly. "Yes, she is Miss Russell, Sarah Russell, the elder sister of my friend Jean Russell. It will be very wonderful when it happens, Jean and I are all anticipation. Sarah will make him an excellent wife."
"I am certain she will. Tell me what is Miss Russell like? I must admit to some surprise that you selected your friend's sister as opposed to your friend herself."
"Well, Miss Russell is the elder sister and General Russell will not give his consent for any of his daughters to marry before they are eighteen years old. It will be two years before Jean will be able to marry and Sarah is already nineteen." Georgiana paused and Mr. Wickham asked her permission to increase their speed again. While the horses were running she considered whether she should share the rest of it with him and by the time the horses had once again slowed to a walk she had made her decision.
"Jean does not believe she will ever marry."
"Really?" Mr. Wickham flicked the reigns against the horse's backs.
Georgiana nodded. " She does not believe that she is pretty enough to make up for her skill in mathematics. In stories gentlemen never fall in love with a young lady who knows more about mathematics than he does and her father becomes upset if she tries to conceal her knowledge."
Mr. Wickham nodded. "It is unfortunate that your friend has valid reason to have such fears. There are too many men who would eagerly marry such a lady for the benefits of her fortune but without any concern for the lady herself. She is wise to guard herself though it is a shame that Miss Russell will be doomed to spend her life alone as a result."
Georgiana had been hoping that Mr. Wickham would disagree with her and say that Jean was being irrational and that plenty of gentlemen would be interested and able to care for and love her friend, but instead she took comfort in his honesty towards her. He seemed to sense her unease after a moment and asked if she was well.
She shook herself out of these thoughts and turned to face him. "I am well. You need not worry."
Mr. Wickham began turning the curricle around. "Are you certain? We can return to the town if you like."
Georgiana shook her head. "I would prefer to continue driving, please."
"If you are certain. I am sorry for any pain my words have caused you. They were not meant to distress you."
"I understand. I should not have brought up the subject. " Georgiana paused. "Do you think that I will be left alone like my friend? One of the girls at school said she was certain I would be and I do not always wish to be a burden on my brother and cousin."
Mr. Wickham smiled. "My dear I cannot speak for other men, but I can say that for myself I find you uniformly charming."
"Of course I do. I have had the privilege of knowing you from your infancy and you have never failed to charm me."
Georgiana could feel herself blushing with pleasure. "Thank you."
"You need not thank me for the truth. However, if you would like to thank me for something, may I ask if you would care to drive?" Georgiana started and Mr. Wickham laughed. "You needn't act so surprised. I know your brother has let you drive his curricle."
"Yes, but he said I was not to drive anything but my phaeton and ponies if he was not with me."
Mr. Wickham waived at these concerns. "Your brother no doubt, very wisely meant that you were not to drive a curricle without the assistance of someone you, and he, could trust to take care that no harm would come of it. I believe I can fit that bill nearly so well as he."
"But he did say..." Georgiana trailed off as she looked at the proffered reigns and tried to ignore the voice telling her not to do it.
"I doubt Darcy was expecting that you would have the opportunity to drive any curricle but his own and certainly he would not wish you to give up the pleasure when I am here to help you."
Georgiana reached for the reins while ordering the irksome voice to be quiet. Mr. Wickham handed them to her before settling one arm around her back, the same as Fitzwilliam did when she drove It had been nearly a year since Georgiana last enjoyed the opportunity of driving a curricle and consequently, it took her some minutes before she was comfortable enough to drive the horses at anything more than a slow walk. But through this her friend was very patient and his patience promoted her courage so that soon the curricle was traveling at a brisk trot and at that speed it remained until Mr. Wickham reluctantly announced that it was time for him to return Georgiana to town lest they try Mrs. Younge's indulgence unduly.
He let the horses walk into town at a much slower rate than they had taken into it and after his second circuit past Georgiana's little cottage he sighed and supposed that his attempts to prolong the inevitable end to their day were too transparent to be indulged any further.
The third time they came to the cottage, he stopped the curricle and exited it to circle the vehicle and offer Georgiana his hand to assist her exit. But when Georgiana placed her right hand in his, she discovered that his body blocked her descent. She raised her eyes to his and was trapped by his gaze for several moments before she felt him lifting her hand so that it was slightly higher than his chin. He held it there for another moment before he dropped his eyes to their hands and Georgiana watched as he brought their hands closer to his face and slowly brushed his lips across them so lightly she almost did not believe it had happened until her fingers felt another brush of his lips and a warmth she supposed must be his breath as his fingers applied a light pressure on hers.
Georgiana started at their joined hands until she heard Mr. Wickham's low voice begging her pardon for his presumptuous liberty, but even then he did not release her hand and Georgiana discovered that she did not want him to.
"Can you not say if I am forgiven?" his voice brought her eyes away from their hands and up to his face. Her tongue slipped out of its proper home to lick her lips several times before she realized what it was doing and that he was still awaiting her answer. After opening her mouth and closing it again when she found she could not say anything she gave him a slow nod to which he gave her a beautiful smile in return.
"Thank you, I would have to think I had ruined our intimacy."
His voice was still low and Georgiana wondered at his appearing nearly as affected as herself as she shook her head and heard herself whisper. "You have not." He bowed his head in return and Georgiana momentarily looked past him to notice the curtains in one of the sitting room windows slip closed as if someone had been watching out of it. "I should go in before Mrs. Younge becomes concerned."
Mr. Wickham responded by moving aside and assisting her out of the vehicle. Once her feet were safely on the ground he released her hand though she still thought she felt the pressure of his fingers against hers and she could not ignore his physical presence to her right as they approached the cottage's front door. He followed her to the sitting room where Mrs. Younge was indeed waiting for them. Georgiana was glad she made no mention of anything she might have seen between them in the carriage and instead asked after their drive.
Mr. Wickham cheerfully responded that it had been the most pleasant drive he could remember taking. Georgiana blushed at this and admired his ability to act as if nothing had happened between them and hope that she could model herself into a passable imitation of his composure.
While Georgiana attempted to sort out her thoughts Mr. Wickham and Mrs. Young chatted amiably between themselves. She became so lost in her thoughts that it was not until she heard Mrs. Younge invite him to join them for dinner and Mr. Wickham's mournful explanation that he wished he could join them but the demands of some pressing business prevented his acceptance.
Mrs. Younge accepted this explanation with her regret that he could not join them and a request that he join them for dinner the next evening instead.
Mr. Wickham bowed. "If Miss Darcy finds that plan agreeable, I should be very happy to accept."
"I do find it agreeable. Please say you will accept."
"Then I will live in anticipation of tomorrow evening."
"You might come earlier, if you like." Georgiana gave him what she desperately hoped was an encouraging smile.
"Then you can count on my coming earlier."
Mrs. Younge's presence during Mr. Wickham's departure prevented a repetition of their earlier interlude beyond a brief hand press when that lady turned to instruct a servant but that was enough to make Georgiana feel as if she must watch from the window until some time after he had disappeared from its view.
That evening Mrs. Younge broached the subject of Mr. Wickham's frequent visits. "As your companion, I must warn you that the gentleman's affections and attentions do not seem brotherly in nature."
The kiss flooded Georgiana's mind and her fingers remembered the feel of his lips.
"My dear Georgiana, you must recognize that you are now a beautiful and accomplished woman, it is only natural for young gentlemen to fall in love with you. Here it is even more natural that a young man, who has known you and loved you from your infancy, would after such a long separation as you have experienced, discover that those natural fraternal affections are transforming themselves into something greater."
Mrs. Younge paused to give her a long stare. Several seconds into it Georgiana nodded an agreement that she hoped would end the conversation. Mrs. Younge continued to look at her and Georgiana's sad conviction that Mrs. Younge must have observed the entirety of her wonderful interlude with Mr. Wickham and was now going to forbid in future opportunities for private moments between them grew to the point that she could no longer bear to look anywhere near Mrs. Younge's direction as she prepared promises for better behavior in exchange for Mrs. Younge not sharing what she had seen with anyone.
"I do not think that there has been anything untoward in either of your conduct so far, but you would be wise to consider your own feelings towards the gentleman, it would be very cruel of you to lead him on if you do not believe that your feelings could equal his."
Georgiana blushed and stared at nothing in particular as Mrs. Younge continued speaking. "It is not for me to say what your feelings towards the young man are; I cannot know whether you think of him when he is not near or if you are unhappy at the thought of being separated from him again or if you think him to be handsome and charming. " Mrs. Younge stopped there and sat with Georgiana for some seconds before taking up her needlework, leaving Georgiana to attempt to sort out thoughts of pressed hands, brief kisses, the joys of reunited friendship and whether or not her feelings really were true love.