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Dearest Anne 5

August 25, 2020 11:21PM
Dearest Anne Chapter 5

On peering into the carriage it became instantly clear to Darcy that this “short tour” had been arranged for certain members of the family only, and that he and Georgiana were the obligatory, if not the honorary, guests. Therefore, with no intention of allowing his aunts to distress his sister with their threats and accusations, he backed away, turned round to her and said, “Georgie, I think you should fetch a warm shawl from your room; the weather is turning cooler.”

“Don’t be ridiculous, Darcy!” put in Aunt Matlock, “It won’t cool off until much later this afternoon, and we will surely be back by then.”

“I insist, Georgiana,” he responded sternly, placing himself between his sister and the carriage in such a way as to block the view of those inside. “Find Richard and remain with him,” he whispered. “Do not return!”

Georgiana stared at him incredulously for a moment, but noting his unyielding countenance, nodded, whirled herself about, and hastily made her way towards the inn. The passengers in the coach gawked at the sight of her fleeing, but Darcy paid them no mind and took that awkward moment to hop inside, close the door and signal the driver to be off.

“Now we may proceed,” he declared, settling back on the seat beside his uncle and struggling to remain calm. “And since this little excursion was especially planned for my benefit, I see no reason why Georgiana should be troubled by what is said here this afternoon. I insist that she be spared any future unpleasantness, whatever your frustration or anger with me!” His eyes blazed.

“We see things quite differently, Darcy!” retorted his Aunt Catherine with disdain. “Georgiana is directly affected by your irresponsible behavior and should know how recklessly you are tampering with her future happiness.”

“Tampering with her future happiness?” repeated Darcy indignantly. “That is rich, Aunt—even for you! Pray tell how I am tampering with her future happiness by offering to Miss Bennet? Georgiana greatly admires her and has become genuinely attached to her after only a very short acquaintance. Why, she is as anxious to have Elizabeth for a sister as I am to have her for my wife!” he said passionately.

Having blurted out this news in such a tactless manner, Darcy immediately felt some remorse. He saw that his words had struck a painful chord with his aunt and was sorry to have crushed her long-standing dream so callously. He now softened his expression as well as his tone.

“Dear Aunt, forgive me for thrusting this upon you so suddenly…but surely you must know that Anne and I have never had more than familial affection for one another. Indeed, we are only now becoming close friends and coming to a true understanding of each other’s feelings. Anne has no desire to be my wife, and, forgive me for saying so, Aunt, but I have never taken this supposed engagement seriously. On the contrary, I have always believed that my parents wished me to marry a woman of my own choosing—their own happy marriage setting the example for me to emulate.”

On hearing these words, Lady Catherine was stunned into uncharacteristic silence and sat fuming as Lady Matlock took up the petition.

“My dearest boy, your future happiness is precisely what concerns us. We can well understand your present infatuation with this young woman … but such feelings diminish with time and familiarity, and it is then that true compatibility becomes crucial and determines the strength of a marriage. From what I understand, this young woman’s family has virtually no standing in good society—her father having married far beneath him, bringing all sorts of undeserving people into the family. What is more, there is no wealth there—nothing that can be offered towards the upkeep and advancement of Pemberley. And worst of all is that ruinous scandal concerning her younger sister! You cannot be serious in considering such a woman as the future Mistress of Pemberley? Surely your dear parents would not approve of such a match!”

“Indeed, you have always shared our feelings on these matters, Darcy,” interrupted his uncle, gently pressing his arm. “I am shocked to hear of your unorthodox choice. She may be a charming little wench, my boy, but is she worthy of carrying the Darcy name—of being mother to your children? If you and Anne have no amorous feelings for one another, then choose another,” said the Earl, casting an apologetic glance at his sister, “but do not disgrace the entire family and perhaps ruin your sister’s chances of making a match truly worthy of her station in life.”

“If my sister is fortunate enough to find a man whose love for her is as pure and genuine as I believe Miss Bennet’s is for me,” said Darcy, “she will be making an exceptional match indeed! And should a prospective suitor’s affections be so fleeting as to be put off by my marriage, I believe Georgiana would lose all regard for him.

You are, however, correct in believing, Uncle, that I once shared your belief in the importance of rank and fortune in marriage. But over the past year I have come to a deeper understanding of what is important to me — and what I require in a wife. Miss Bennet is the only woman who has met … nay, exceeded these ideals and who has unwittingly stolen my heart. I cannot do without her and I have no intention of trying to do so! By tomorrow morning Miss Elizabeth Bennet will be my intended,” he said softly, but firmly, “and I sincerely hope that you can all reconcile yourselves to that fact. It would sadden me to lose your affection and esteem, but I will not trade my future happiness for your approval. Now, as this discussion is over, I wish you would excuse me,” said Darcy, tapping the roof of the coach with his cane and signaling the driver to stop. He opened the door and jumped out even before the coachman could sufficiently slow the team. “I shall see you back at the inn,” he said, now walking along beside them. “Perhaps the walk back will help to tame the beast presently residing within my chest!”

***

Darcy had wanted to put Georgiana’s mind at ease immediately upon his return—to reassure her that all was well between himself and the family, but as she was dressing for dinner when he arrived, the discussion had to be postponed. He bathed and dressed in haste, making certain that he would be in time to intercept her before she ventured down to the dining room. Had his aunts heeded his demand concerning Georgiana, he wondered, or had they involved her after all?

Throughout his preparations his thoughts alternated between his sister and his beloved Elizabeth. Instinct told him to search her out this very evening—not to wait another moment! The morning seemed so far away and with the keen disapproval of his family he felt the need to secure the union as soon as possible. He checked the time as he slipped his watch into his pocket. Should he, perhaps, try and see her now, before meeting with any his relations again? Noting the hour, however, he realized that Elizabeth would be greatly occupied with the care of the child. After dinner then, he determined. He would suffer through the meal, make his excuses and cross the gardens. The realization that this was not the first time that he had fled his aunt’s company to ask for Elizabeth’s hand unnerved him for a moment, but the memory of that painful day only strengthened his resolve. Elizabeth loved him! He was certain of it now.

With Georgiana forewarned and his cousins enlisted to keep the conversation light and easy, Darcy sat through an agonizingly long meal, at the end of which, he found himself obliged to remain with the family for the rest of the evening! His uncle had organized an evening of chess and billiards with several other gentlemen, including Sir Robert, and Darcy could find no diplomatic way of refusing to participate. It was unbelievably frustrating! He suspected that it had all been intentionally arranged to keep him at the inn for the night, but however suspect the motivation, he could not dishonor his uncle by deserting him. And so he drank his port, smoked his cigars and did his best to keep his focus on whatever game was being played.

***

While the gentlemen were thus engaged, the ladies sat in the music room listening to Georgiana as she worked on sections of the Mozart piano concerto she was currently studying. When she tired of practicing, Aunt Matlock suggested they continue their reading of the novel Anne had brought along, and the two young women made themselves comfortable on the settee beside their aunts. Lady Matlock read with great expression, and as she listened, Georgiana thought fondly of the times that she had been ill as a child, and of the great comfort her aunt’s voice had brought her. Lady Matlock had done what she could at such times to substitute for her dear departed sister and bestow some motherly affection on her niece, and in return, she had won Georgiana’s love and devotion. A rift between them would be truly painful, but her love for Fitzwilliam and her growing fondness for Elizabeth overshadowed all. Not since Ramsgate had she felt so anxious and apprehensive! Yet now, as then, she knew that her allegiance lay with her brother.

The ladies took turns reading aloud until aunt Catherine declared it too late for Anne to be up and insisted that the younger ladies go to bed. As had become their little ritual, Georgiana and Anne made a show of protesting— but being secretly happy to be gaining their freedom, rose obediently and said their good nights. After preparing themselves for bed, they would ring for some hot chocolate and sneak into one or the other of their rooms where they would talk and joke until all hours of the morning. On this particular evening they met in Georgiana’s bedchamber, in the event that her brother wished to speak to her before retiring.

By one in the morning, with her eyelids fighting to remain open, Anne kissed Georgiana good night and headed for her own room. As usual, she chose to cross the attached balconies, thereby avoiding being seen in the corridor. And as the night was so mild and filled with brilliant stars, she lingered a bit outside her door, enjoying the quiet and the rose-scented air. The doors to Lady Catherine’s room, on the other side, were slightly ajar, and Anne quickly realized that her mother was not alone. The sound of her ladyship’s voice drifted out to her.

“You must realize that this may very likely have a negative effect on Richard’s chances as well. It is not only poor Georgiana and my dear Anne who will suffer from his selfishness.”

“Richard?” Anne heard her uncle say, “How could he be affected by Fitzwilliam’s choice?”

Oh, really, brother!” replied Lady Catherine impatiently. “Do you not realize the advantage Richard has in his tight kinship with Darcy? That the entire ton knows they are as thick as brothers and that Richard feels as much at home at Darcy’s as he does in his own home? Why he comes and goes as he pleases while in town! The prospect of being able to spend some months at Pemberley each year and part of the Season in town with the Darcys would certainly be an inducement to any young lady to connect herself with our family.”

The Earl shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “I would hope, Sister, that the young lady destined to be my daughter-in-law would have more passionate reasons for choosing my son as her husband! He may not be my first-born, but he is handsome, witty and very clever— and when he puts his mind to it, his manners are impeccable! I believe that in essentials, he is perhaps a better catch than his brother. A young woman would never want for affection or amusement with Richard!”

“Do not take offense, brother, but think only that the lady involved would not be making the decision to marry on her own! Her parents would wish to make an advantageous alliance for her, and a close connection with Darcy would be but one more incentive. Of course, Darcy’s casting off good society in favor of this strumpet would not please any respectable family!”

“That is true,” murmured Lady Matlock just loud enough for Anne to hear. “But what are we to do, Sister? Darcy seems determined to have this Miss Bennet and he is, after all, of an age that makes it difficult for us to demand his compliance. He is financially independent, and obviously willing to risk the damage to his reputation. I don’t see what chance we have of persuading him to reconsider.”

“There is but one predicament that would give him pause to rethink his shameful proposal, Sister, …and that is the loss of his guardianship over Georgiana. You and I have often discussed the unsuitability of a young, unmarried man being responsible for a young woman about to come out into society. And with this flagrant disregard of his duty to his family, any responsible magistrate would agree that he should lose such a privilege.”

“Isn’t that taking things a bit far?” said the Earl, obviously uneasy with the idea.

‘To secure the honor of this family and safeguard the happiness of all our children, I think it is wholly justified, Brother! Are we to let Darcy’s infatuation with this girl play havoc with the lives of so many? I think not! It is our duty to protect Georgiana. Our sister Anne would expect nothing less.”

“But as soon as we give him such an ultimatum, he will surely take Georgiana and flee. He will not take such a threat lightly and may hide her away from us for G-d only knows how long! By then he may have married this Miss Bennet and the damage will have been done,” said Lady Matlock.

“And that is why we must act immediately—tonight, before we even inform him of our intentions! When Darcy wakes tomorrow morning, long before he has had the chance to disgrace himself with this woman, he will find his sister gone and his choices clearly laid out before him. He will have no other choice but to abide by our wishes! And once bound by the honor of his word, our nephew will not renege on his pledge.”

“But what of Georgiana, Sister? She will be convinced that her brother is being forced to sacrifice his own happiness for hers, and that will not sit well with her. You know how completely devoted she is to him! What effect will this have on her? She is only now overcoming a little of her shyness.”

“She trusts you best, Sister, so it will be your task to persuade her that all this is being done for the eventual happiness of her brother as well as her own. You and my brother need only take her away for a day or two. I am certain that this will be resolved as soon as Darcy understands that we have the upper hand. Our nephew is no fool.”

“Well,” said Lady Matlock, hesitantly, “I suppose if there is no alternative … and the time element is such that …”

Anne did not wait to hear anything more. She flew into her own room and then out into the corridor. Within a moment, she was standing before Darcy’s valet, who though bleary-eyed, was clearly embarrassed at the sight of her in her nightclothes.

“Forgive me, Miss de Bourgh,” he said in a whisper, casting his eyes to the floor, “but Master Darcy is abed and very likely already asleep.”

“Then wake him! Do it quickly before I come in and do it myself! This is an emergency, and you are wasting precious time!”

As soon as Darcy understood the situation, he ordered his man to wake the Colonel and to pack a small satchel of essentials for him. Anne was dispatched to rouse Georgiana and do the same, while he made his way out to the stables through the servants’ entrance. He led two horses quietly down a side road, murmuring soothingly to them as he went, and before fifteen minutes had passed, he was helping his sister mount the horse they would share for the journey. Bending to press Anne’s hand, he said, “You must explain my sudden departure to Elizabeth, Anne! I could not take the time to write. Promise me! She must not be left to believe that I have deserted her yet again!” he pleaded.

“You have my word, Fitzwilliam. May G-d be with you! I fear for your travel in the dark.”

“The moon is blessedly full tonight and we will travel cautiously only to the next hamlet and wait there till dawn to proceed. I should be back in a few days. Assure Elizabeth that I love her!”
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Dearest Anne 5

Gaby A.August 25, 2020 11:21PM

Re: Dearest Anne 5

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