…a longer story, in fact. This proves that I have been writing although I haven’t been posting them anywhere.
If you have nothing better to do tonight than to read 4-1/2 chapters of a story I have no idea how to end then you are welcome to it.
Author’s note: the story starts off in a typical JA fan fic way: taking a scene we are all familiar with and adding a slight twist to move the rest of the story in another direction. As always, it’s a rough draft (with type-o’s and sluggish dialog in places). The story may change eventually, but at this moment I have no ideas as to the how.
As Elizabeth Bennet walked along the shaded path, she remembered the contents of her pocket and took out the last of her elder sister’s letters. It was after reading over a few of the sentences there that she decided that Jane had not written in her usual, cheerful way. Jane had said her time with the Gardiner’s as delightful, yet she did not write with any enthusiasm for the entertainments and engagements she was taking part in.
Before Elizabeth could think much more on that melancholy subject or the fickleness of the person who was its root cause, she happened to hear a rustle of leaves. Believing it to be Mr. Darcy, yet again, coming upon her at a most inopportune moment, she hastened to return her letter to her pocket. However, she instantly saw that here she was wrong, for in fact, it was much more delightful company.
“Colonel Fitzwilliam, hello,” she called out, an eager smile upon her face. “I have never known you to walk this path before.”
“I have been having a good look round,” he replied. “I generally look things over for my father when I am here at Easter. I had planned to call upon you and your friends at the parsonage at the end of my tour. Are you going much farther?”
“No, I was headed back at any moment.”
They turned and walked towards the Parsonage in an easy, comfortable way with each other. But Elizabeth, needing just a little conversation, was the first to break their companionable silence.
“Do you still mean to leave Kent this Saturday?”
“Yes,” he said, looking over briefly and smiling. “Well, that is, if Darcy does not delay our going away again. As his traveling companion I must stay or go as it pleases him.”
“Oh? How singular. I had supposed that as a Colonel of a regiment you would be much more used having others at your beck and call. But then, perhaps someone with the power and privilege of Mr. Darcy likes to think others are under his command.”
“As the elder cousin, believe me, there have been plenty of times where I have gotten my way,” replied the Colonel, smiling, no doubt, at some secret memory. “On this trip, at least, it is his carriage, his horses, his time. It is only that he has better means of having his way than many others, because he is rich, and many others are poor. I speak feelingly. A younger son, you know, must be inured to self-denial and dependence.”
“In my opinion, the younger son of an earl can know very little of either. Now tell me truthfully, when have you ever known of sacrifice and dependency? When have you been prevented by lack of funds from procuring anything you had might like to attain?”
“Spoken like a lady who has never seen my father’s countenance on quarter-day.” At her laugh he continued. “And perhaps, I have never been too deprived of certain luxuries in my younger years, but now that I am older I find that I value my independence—and perhaps one day, eventually, I may suffer from want of money. Younger sons cannot always marry who and where they like.”
“Unless where they like women of fortune, which I think many often do.”
“In some cases, those who are more of a dependent nature might do, and believe me, there are not many in my family’s circle who can afford to marry without some thoughts of monetary enrichment through matrimony on their own behalf.”
Elizabeth coloured a little at the idea, thinking that perhaps he was giving her the gentlest of hints as a way of warning her off any thoughts of him. But recovering herself, she used this as an opportunity to tease.
“And pray, what is the usual price of an earl’s younger son? Unless the elder brother is very sickly, I suppose you would not ask above fifty thousand pounds.”
He stumbled. Then, he looked at her earnestly, before glancing away towards the horizon; and the manner in which he immediately winced and then coloured, convinced her that she had said something that had hit very close to home.
“My brother—” He paused, seemingly collecting himself, before schooling his countenance into complaisance and answering her in a humorous tone, “Neigh, as a old, broken-down soldier, I am not worth half so much; I do not believe I could get away with asking for even twenty.” He then swallowed, clearly not enjoying his own joke.
Elizabeth, seeing his distress, touched the letters in her pocket. They immediately made her think of her own sibling and her distressing lack of spirits. She wondered momentarily if she could glean any information out of the gentleman before her. Deciding that it could not hurt, she quickly changed the subject.
“Tell me, Colonel Fitzwilliam, how well do you know the Bingley family?”
“You have yet to tell me of your visit, Harry.”
Before the question could be answered, Frederick Fitzwilliam, the elder son of an Earl was racked with a cough so violent that it was a number of minutes before he could lie back and draw sufficient breath.
His brother, Colonel Henry Fitzwilliam, called Harry by his closest relations, could see that the cough taxed all of his brother’s strength. He arose from his chair, and, rushing forward, assisted his brother by holding a cloth to his mouth. When the cough had subsided, the colonel surreptitiously inspected the rag in his hands, silently thanking the Lord that there were no signs of blood.
In the weeks that Henry had been banished to Rosings Park his beloved brother had only grown sicker and paler and he was alarmed at so abrupt a change upon his return. Frederick had loss a significant portion of weight; his once thick mane of auburn hair had become thin and lank. The green eyes, once mischievous and reflecting his cavalier spirit, now seemed faded and somewhat sunken in their sockets. The guilt rose up in his throat and Henry knew that he should never have left him.
It had not been his idea to go into Kent; it was at his parent’s suggestion. Upon seeing their second child’s health and frame of mind affected, put forth the suggestion of his Rosings visit as an alternative to watching his beloved brother slowly inching his way towards death.
At first, Henry had refused to leave Frederick’s bedside; he would stay and no one could persuade him otherwise. Yet, in the week leading up to the usual time for his yearly sojourn, Frederick had rallied and had even showed his face in the dining parlour, looking very much his old self.
“Go, go,” Frederick had said, gesturing impatiently with a flick of his fork. “The air of Kent will do you some good and put the roses back into your cheeks. Besides,” he added smilingly, “I would not dream of denying you Aunt Catherine’s most excellent company.”
Henry formed his mouth into a grimace and he protested once again until the Earl put a stop to the debate, intimating that if he did not go to his aunt, then his aunt would most certainly come to them, and even the suggestion of Frederick spending this delicate stage of his recuperation in such tedious and particular company was displeasing to all.
The Colonel’s reverie concerning the last few weeks was broken with his brother speaking to him once more.
“I see your face, Harry, you cannot hide your countenance from me. Believe me when I tell you, I am resigned to my fate.”
“Frederick, please, do not speak so. I am sure the doctors all say–”
“–that I shall die? Of course they don’t tell me such things to my face, but they do tell it to my father and my father tells mother, and mama cannot step into this room without tears in her eyes.”
“But surely–surely some time away– London cannot be the best place for you just now–the seaside perhaps; Brighton or–”
Frederick smiled while putting on a brave front. “The journey alone would do me in and my physician is here. No, I am resolved that I shall be no more before summer—probably long before summer.”
Frederick reached feebly for the water carafe at his bedside table only for his brother to stay his hand to perform the service himself. Placing the glass in his brother’s not quite steady grasp, he helped him to drink. With his thirst quenched, Frederick settled back into his pillows and closed his eyes for a moment. A long silence ensued allowing the Colonel to study his brother’s pale features. And Frederick, sensing the inspection, could only do what he could to lighten his brother’s mood.
“And so, you were about to tell me of Rosings. How does my cousin Anne? Still as sickly as ever? Is she as sickly as me?”
The Colonel smiled slightly at his brother jest, before allowing his forehead to crease. He remembered how strong and handsome his gentle and loving brother had been just a little over a year ago, only to be brought low by an illness that seemed to appear from nowhere. However, the colonel soon rallied and answered in a sarcastic tone that he knew his brother would appreciate.
“No one, my dear brother, can possibly look as sickly as you.”
The jab had its desired effect and Frederick’s smile was broad.
“How was my esteemed Aunt?”
“As cantankerous and as opinionated as ever.”
“Good, good, I would not have it any other way. Did Darcy like his stay?”
“You know Darcy, he bore this visit as he always does, and yet–.” The colonel paused and became thoughtful for a moment, until Frederick prompted him.
“It is nothing, I am sure, yet when we left Rosings this morning our cousin was definitely out of spirits.”
“Perhaps–” Frederick stopped briefly to cough once more, before continuing, “Perhaps he cannot bare to be parted from his betrothed.” Frederick smiled again; it was an old joke between the two brothers.
“Heaven forbid!” exclaimed the colonel. “And mind that you don’t let Darcy hear you call Anne his betrothed; there will be hell to pay.”
“And how diverting that would be.” Frederick laughed as heartily at that as he could muster. “Come, I must have some amusement at my family’s expense.”
The colonel let his brother see his slight smile before he turned away to hide the anguish that he felt before blurting out: “And I met a charming young lady in Kent.”
Frederick said nothing for a long moment, which prompted his brother to turn. When the Colonel looked into Frederick’s face it was to see him grinning back at him.
“A charming young lady, you say.” Frederick raised his eyebrows in challenge. “Charming, but not pretty?”
The colonel rolled his eyes heavenwards, knowing that look.
“Yes, she was pretty, very pretty, and no, I am not in love with her.”
“Well, this is a first,” replied Frederick, a mischievous glimmer in his eyes.
“The young lady is far too fine to trifle with, and far too clever and witty to succumb to my poor charms.”
“Ah, clever and witty, you say; not the type you usually go in for. But then, dear brother, you can hardly say poor; you shall be the next Viscount Hartwick, after all.”
“Now, if you had said sweet and beautiful beyond compare then I would have instantly known you to be a lost man.”
“You really are incorrigible, you know.” Shaking his head, the colonel stepped over to the bookcase near his brother’s bed, perusing the volumes there. “What shall it be tonight, Mr. Wordsworth or Lord Byron? However, if I remember correctly, we were reading Cowper’s poems when I left for Kent.”
“Mother and I finished Cowper just last week. I am in need of a new book, I find. A novel would suit this time, I should think.”
“A novel?” cried the Colonel, scandalised. “And no doubt something sadly popular.” Now laughing, he shook his head with mock disapproval, knowing his brother’s voracious appetite for almost anything literary and new.
“Yes, yes, something highly amusing, taking place in a wretchedly dilapidated manor with dark and damp passages. And the heroine will naturally be the daughter of a curiously imbecilic vicar who stutters. Now, bring me that, dear brother and I shall not say no.”
“If you think I intend to walk out of Watterson’s book shop with something called Rosalinda or Arabella tucked-up under my arm, then you are highly mistaken in my regard for you.”
“Well then, so as not to offend your delicate sensibilities, I wonder if you might find me a copy of Scott’s latest, the Lady of the Lake. Could you see your way clear looking about for that, Harry? Unfortunately, not a volume of it is to be had in all the usual places; Mother has had a go at it, without any success. Apparently it is all the rage, and I have a great desire to read it–.”
The unsaid words: before I die hung in the air like a heavy, leaden weight. They simply stared at each other for a moment.
The colonel was the first to look away, keeping his emotions tightly curled in his chest. Swallowing deeply, he said. “You do realise that you are asking entirely too much of me!”
“Come, come, we cannot all find your histories and epic war tomes very entertaining. I simply must have it. You will not find it in Clarke’s, I’m afraid, nor Watterson’s. Mother begins to think she will be forced to search as far as Chelsea and really, brother, can you see our mother there?”
Henry laughed slightly, imagining his stylish and very elegant mother being forced to shop anywhere further than Bond Street.
“So in other words, you’d like me to seek out this book for you, going as far and as wide as the seedier sections of London, no doubt?”
“Dear brother, it is not as if you’ve never set your very highly polished boots out of Mayfair before. I remember a time when—” he paused to cough, then reached for the carafe, and found it empty.
“Empty,” he said, closing his eyes as if suddenly very tired. “Would you mind brother? I’d have you ring for Underhill, but he has, lord bless him, been up and down the stairs at my beck and call all this morning.”
“Of course; I’ll be back in a shot.”
Harry exited the door, closing it firmly behind him. On the opposite side the corridor his mother sat with her head lowered in contemplation, as if she knew she would be required when her younger son left the room. And there also stood Underhill, standing in attendance, as the elderly butler would be, always waiting to be of service.
Hearing the door snap shut the Countess lifted her head to regard her son. Underhill, seeing what was in his hands walked over to retrieve the carafe and soon hurried away to attend to this small duty himself.
Henry remained where he was for a few moments staring at his mother as if willing her to understand everything that he was feeling in his heart, before walking across the hall, taking her in his arms and desperately fighting his great urge to cry.
Jane Bennet and her aunt Gardiner stepped down to the pavement in front of the grand town-house on Curzon Street. Her aunt was a regular visitor there, for the current Countess of Reston and Mrs Gardiner were friends of long-standing.
It was not that Maria Gardiner usually moved in such exalted circles, rather, it was from the fact that Lady Reston, the current mistress of the house was a former school fellow when she was no more than the pretty Miss Penelope Hawkins, the daughter of a linen merchant.
The former Miss Hawkins had made a very fortunate marriage, exceedingly far above her station. Her late husband, Mortimer Clifton, the Earl of Reston, had, at first, done his duty by marrying the daughter of a Duke. And when she had died in the producing of his heir, the Earl naturally married secondly to please himself.
However, that good man had suddenly succumbed to a chest ailment not two years previous, leaving his heir to the care of his lively and energetic young wife.
Jane had now been known to the Countess for several weeks and was at the point where the Countess felt she knew Miss Bennet sufficiently enough to address her by her Christian name, beg a visit from her every week, and meddle in all of her private affairs.
“Maria,” said the Countess to Mrs. Gardiner none too quietly while nodding in Jane’s direction. “I do not think I like Jane’s colour this morning. She does not look at all well.”
Jane was about to answer to say that she was, indeed, very well, when a servant entered, bringing with her Lady Reston’s young daughter for her friends to see and exclaim over. The nursery maid was immediately followed by a rather tall, rather gangly, and a rather fair and florid young man: the Countess’s seventeen year old step-son, Percy Clifton, the current Earl.
The Countess, laughing gaily behind her fan, leaned forward and whispered loudly. “And here comes your beau, Jane,” said she. “You know he can never keep away when you are come to visit.”
Jane blushed furiously as she and Mrs. Gardiner both arose to make their curtsy.
“Good morning, Lord Reston,” said Jane.
“M-Miss Bennet,” Percy said, stammering, then blushing and bowing deeply to cover it. Arising, he stared for a brief moment before recollecting himself and turned to greet her aunt. “Mrs. Gardiner.”
“It is a pleasure to see you again, Lord Percy,” replied Mrs Gardiner, addressing him less formally as she had been asked to do as a concession to her intimate friendship with his step-mother. “I hope we find you well today?”
“Q-Quite well, and q-quite eager to finish my discussion with your niece. I mean, if I may–” he added quickly, turning back to Jane for her acquiescence. “If that is agreeable to you, M-Miss Bennet.”
“Yes, most agreeable, Lord Reston.”
As Mrs. Gardiner resumed her seat, the young Earl stood awkwardly for a moment as if at a loss for something to say to his pretty visitor before Jane kindly prompted him herself.
“Did you have a chance to finish Marmion?”
“Y-Yes, yes, indeed. I…” his voice tapered off when he observed his step-mother watching him closely with an amused smirk gracing her lips. He then held out his hand and nodded in the direction of the settee on the opposite side of the room. “I shan’t like to bore Mama for she has no taste for discussions of Mr Scott.”
“Oh, heavens, I should think not!” exclaimed the young dowager. “And I don’t understand what you and Jane find so interesting about him, either. It’s all Scottish bandits and Jacobean intrigues; I tell you I am not sure what you find so fascinating.” And swiftly changing the subject, she turned to engage Mrs Gardiner in a discussion of a mutual acquaintance. “Did I tell you, Maria, that I saw Mrs Scokney in the street the other day?”
With his step-mother now talking of whatever it was she talked about, Jane and Percy were able to slip away and settle themselves in comfortably. Percy produced a small volume from inside his coat pocket and laid the book on the tea table before them.
“Here is your book, M-Miss Bennet, safe and sound. I am grateful for the loan of it.”
“It was my pleasure. How did you like it?”
“I was very much interested. Mr Scott’s descriptions were so v-vivid. I should think—I think I should like to make a study of the area, one day. My tutor, Mr Cookson, tells me that Scotland has many very beautiful p-prospects.”
“Indeed? Perhaps you will, one day, get your wish.”
“Yes, after my studies are complete, I shall depart on a grand tour and I will be sure to add the wonders of the highlands as part of my journey.” He paused and added hurriedly. “Perhaps you would like to see Scotland for yourself, as well—one day?” The tips of his ears then flushed bright-red and he looked away, silently cursing himself for seeming so transparent.
The Countess, seeing that her step-son had now fallen into silence, called to him from across the room.
“Percy, dearest; did not you have something to ask Miss Bennet? You asked me most particularly, several times in fact, to remind you.”
If possible Percy flushed even deeper while staring at his hands which he was currently twisting in his lap.
“Yes, indeed, Mama. I was j-just about to ask.”
“Well ask then,” she exclaimed, the lace on her cap fluttering with the violence of her agitated movements. “Jane does not have all day.”
Percy winced and swallowed, plucking up all of his courage.
“I-I w-was wondering, M-Miss Bennet, next week, Tuesday next, in fact—and you are probably very busy–and I shouldn’t imagine you would wish to come–.”
“It is Percy’s eighteenth birthday,” added the Countess, losing patience. “There is to be an entertainment and cakes and ices in the afternoon. Your good Aunt has had her invitation for weeks now, but I did not think to include you, Jane dear, until Percy inquired particularly about it. It has been Miss Bennet this and Miss Bennet that all week now. And now that you, dear Jane are quite of our circle since you have been in town, you must come to be with us along with all of Percy’s other little friends coming to partake of the amusements.”
Percy was embarrassed beyond all endurance. His step-mother was making it sound very much like a children’s party, other than the very grown-up musicale that he had envisioned. He looked heavenwards to keep from having to see Miss Bennet’s apparent disgust with the idea of associating with him further.
However, Jane, knowing what it was like to have a very exuberant, very forthright mother, noticed the young man’s mortification and sought to put him immediately at his ease.
“It sounds delightful, Lord Reston; I should be honoured to attend.”
Percy’s countenance brightened considerably. “Shall you really come? Truly?”
At his smile, Jane smiled herself. At least there was one drawing room in all of London where people eagerly desired her company.
On the ride back to Gracechurch Street, Mrs Gardiner, after noticing Jane’s long stretches of quietness, sought to have some conversation with her niece.
“Jane, having grown up with Penelope, I do know, more than most, what she can be like; she truly does have a kind heart.”
“Of course, Aunt.”
“She does not mean to mortify you.”
“Dear Aunt Gardiner, she does not mortify me. Well, not so very much. And, unlike some, she is very good to admit me into her acquaintance.”
Jane retreated into silence once more and sighed quietly, just enough to be heard over the din on the road. Mrs Gardiner watched her for a moment as Jane stared out the carriage window, seemingly, or so speculated Mrs Gardiner, looking for the face of a particular gentleman in the face of every young man they passed in the street.
“Jane?” she questioned, softly, after another long interval of silence.
“Yes, Aunt.” she replied, her face turning but her eyes lingering momentarily on the back of a tall young man in a green coat, before facing her aunt completely.
“I think you grow very tired of London.”
“Oh no,” Jane exclaimed, brightening. “No indeed. Forgive my reverie, but I was only thinking of Lizzy just now.”
“Lizzy?” replied Mrs Gardiner in surprise having assumed that her niece’s distractedness was attributed to Mr Bingley.
“I was only thinking that it was too bad that she does not join us for two weeks. I could not help but think that she would appreciate the Reston Musicale more than most.”
“More than you, you mean?”
“No, not at all. I look forward to the occasion.”
“Even though, I am sure, that Percy and his friends are a little younger than yourself; an age probably more suited to Mary and Kitty.”
“I believe I will enjoy the afternoon. And you will be there—and Lady Reston. It is good to be able to claim some true friends in London.”
Instead of Miss Bingley, thought Mrs Gardiner, seeing Jane’s brow crease slightly, she was sure, at the thought of being taken in by such false friends. She then thought of a way to bring a smile to her niece’s face.
“I was thinking Jane, what do you say to a new gown for the party?”
“I would say I should not like the expense. Father gave me my pin money before I left and it is all spent on presents for my sisters.
“I meant that it was to be my gift to you; and early birthday gift, if you will. And seeing how you have something to look forward to in the Reston Soiree, it is rather providential, don’t you think?”
Jane smiled delightfully. “Oh Aunt, you are far too good to me.”
“Nonsense. And we shall look about ourselves tomorrow and it shall be very becoming and it shall be blue.”
The next day, in a more fashionable part of town, Fitzwilliam Darcy sat at his breakfast table perusing his long neglected correspondence in the foulest of moods. His sister, Georgiana, studied him closely. She had no idea what had happened to upset him so since his return from Rosings, but he was nothing like his usual cheerful self. Mrs Annesley sat across from her and between drinking her coffee and buttering her toast was giving her sympathetic looks that said all would be well.
Georgiana, consumed with her watchfulness, started slightly when the door to the breakfast room opened and the footman announced her cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam.
“Harry,” exclaimed Georgiana, quietly, though happily.”
“Colonel Fitzwilliam, a delight, as always,” agreed her companion.
“Good morning, Mrs Annesley” he said stepping forward to bow over that good lady’s hand.
“And good morning, Gigi. How pretty you look today.” He came round the table and gave his cousin his customary greeting: a quick tickle to the back her neck followed by buss to her temple.”
“Oh Harry,” Georgiana smiled good-naturedly at such a childish hello. “Must you continue to do that? I am no longer four years old.”
The Colonel scoffed as if to say, you will always be four years old to me, while picking up the coffee pot.
Her brother had not looked up for he was far too busy slashing angrily at his letters with the letter opener.
“Brother, look who has come,” said Georgiana, nervously, eyeing him with something like apprehension. “It is Harry.”
When Darcy did not reply, the colonel shared a glance with his younger cousin. He then sat in his chair with a great deal of commotion and so much fluttering of his coat, that it stirred the air just enough to send several of Darcy’s letters flying about.
At this, Darcy finally glanced up, utterly astonished.
“Harry! Where the devil did you spring from?”
“The question is, dear cousin, where the devil has your head been not to have noticed my arrival.” He glanced at the disapproving look of his cousin’s companion before he recollected his language. “I beg your pardon, ma’am.”
She nodded her head minutely just as Georgiana asked after her eldest cousin. “How does Freddy fair this morning?”
His brow creased and a troubled look descended.
“I was very much surprised at the way he now looks. Before I went into Kent, I was so certain–. He is—as well as can be expected.”
Georgiana reached out to him and took his hand. “Wills and I had planned to call round later today.”
“Actually, that is why I have come. Frederick so looks forward to your visits, but first he sends me on an errand this morning and I wanted to see if Mrs Annesley and your brother could spare you today so that you may aid me in my quest. I will, of course, escort you to Hartwick House afterwards.”
“Certainly. Anything.” Recollecting herself, she looked to her companion who simply smiled and nodded. “And you brother, do you agree?” When he said nothing she called his name. “Wills?”
“Yes. What? No, no; do not think I me. I have plenty to deal with this morning before our visit this afternoon,” he said, nodding to the pile of letters that had accumulated in his absence. He picked up one in particular and slid it forward. “Here, this one may be of interest to you.”
Releasing Harry’s hand she picked up the missive and perused its contents for a moment.
“Oh, it is an invitation from Lady Reston. It is Percy’s—,” at Mrs Annesley’s raised eyebrow she quickly corrected herself—“I mean, it is Lord Reston’s birthday on Tuesday next and she asks, most kindly, that we attend a little gathering in the afternoon. Shall we brother? But of course we shall.”
“I imagine I shall be busy that day; Mrs. Annesley will take you.”
Georgiana, immediately protested. “But Wills, that is Mrs Annesley’s day with her sister and you know I cannot go alone without an–.”
Darcy stood so abruptly that he cut his sister’s entreaty in half. “Did you want me for anything, Harry?”
“Well, no, I—”
“Then I shall see you both at Hartwick House this afternoon. I bid you a good day.”
He left the breakfast room instantly leaving all within astonished and wondering what had happened to change Fitzwilliam Darcy into someone none of them recognized.
With the shopping for the new gown having been completed, and her aunt having a need to call into the Haberdashery, it was agreed that Jane would pay a visit to the booksellers. She stepped into the cosy confines of Mr. Marchland’s shop ostensibly on a commission of Mary’s but thinking it the perfect opportunity to seek out a gift for her young friend.
Mr Marchland had just such an acquaintance with her Uncle Gardiner as to be very well known to her. The old gentleman smiled delightfully as he was always happy to have her there.
“Miss Bennet, back in London, I see. How have you been keeping of late?”
Jane smiled at the thought of being so well remembered. “I am very well, sir. And you and Mrs. Marchland; you are also well, I trust?”
“Quite hale and hearty, as you can see. Mrs. Marchland will be disappointed to have missed you; she only just stepped out this minute to pay a call.”
“You will, of course, extend my regards.”
“Indeed I will, most happily. And my regards to your excellent aunt and uncle. Now, let me see if I can remember. You were in here last, I believe, seeking out some comportment books for one or two of your sisters, correct? I do so hope they were much enjoyed.”
Jane thought back to Lydia and Kitty’s ungrateful reactions upon the presentation of the books. Lydia had laughed rudely and Kitty had fretted at the thought of not being considered quite lady-like already. Fortunately, the books eventually became very much admired by another sister entirely.
“My sister, Mary, finds them most instructive.”
“Capital. And does Miss Mary’s enthusiasm bring you back for more of the same?”
“I am actually on more of a pleasure hunt today; I seek a gift for a young friend who celebrates the year of his birth next week. What have you that a boy of seventeen might enjoy?”
“Seventeen you say? A friend from Hertfordshire? Does he take an eager interest in farming or perhaps he has an interest in horses. I have some very excellent agricultural digests just here.”
Jane smiled, finding it humorous that Mr Marchland assumed that a girl from the county would naturally only have friends from the country, as well. Feeling no need to mention her friend, the Earl, she took another tack.
“Actually, he has expressed to me a great interest in traveling, and more particular to Scotland. He has also just finished a volume of Mr Scott’s poetry.”
“Ah, yes, Scotland is all the rage now and I have just the thing. A new book of poems by Mr Scott, The Lady of the Lake–.”
Mr Marchland’s words were interrupted by the ringing of the shop’s bell announcing the arrival of two new customers; a man in regimentals and a young woman very fashionably dressed.
“—let me call my clerk from the room in the back to assist you.”
“Oh no, that will not be necessary. I believe I can find it myself.”
“Very good then; you will find it on the last shelf in the back, at the very top; already bound in a red leather binding.”
Jane nodded and set off just as the military man brushed by her.
Colonel Fitzwilliam, stepped to the counter in a distracted manner. He and his cousin had visited, it seemed, every book shop in London looking for the blasted copy of The Lady of the Lake. His nerves where on edge, he had been away from his brother far longer than he liked and his patience was so thin that his manners where somewhat lacking in their usual politeness. And when he spoke to the proprietor before him, his tone was less than it ought to be.
“I am looking for a copy of Mr Walter Scott’s latest: The Lady of the Lake. Do you have it?”
Mr Marchland blanched at the abruptness, but then, he suspected that these new customers were of the quality and likely used to having things all their own way.
Georgiana, who had observed her cousin’s frayed nerves with increasing distress, laid her hand gently on his arm to forestall further abrupt inquiries.
“What my cousin means to say,” said Georgiana, gently, “is that we would be very grateful to know if you can help us find a copy.”
Mr Marchland directed his answer to the kindly young lady alone and ignored the man.
“I have the set, Madam, in a red binding on the last shelf in the back, however, I have another customer who may be–”
The Colonel, having little patience for niceties and wanting nothing more than to get the books and go home to his brother, started toward the back of the shop. Dismayed, Mr Marchland turned back to the young lady with an expression of disbelief. Embarrassed and not a little dismayed herself, Georgiana turned towards the window and inquired about an expensive looking atlas on display there in hopes of purchasing it for her brother to make up for any appearance of rudeness.
At the back of the shop, on her tip toes, Jane ran her fingers over several volumes on the very top shelf. Many of the books looked similar, but two volumes at the end of the top shelf were the only books bound in red leather. She reached for the first book, took it down and stepped towards the window to inspect the frontice-piece:
Lady of the Lake
The military man who had previously been at the front of the shop now passed her by as he walked over to the last shelf to begin perusing the selections there.
Jane stepped aside to be out of his way and then down the aisle a few paces to stand closer to the window there. She then turned her attentions back to the book in her hands. Inspecting the fine binding, the colourful end papers, and the uncut sheets, she instantly knew that it was just the sort of thing young Percy would take enjoyment in.
Colonel Fitzwilliam continued to scan the shelves rapidly and almost immediately found what he was looking for. Plucking the red, newly bound volume from the shelf he flipped in open.
Lady of the Lake
His eyes went back up to the shelf, searching in earnest for its twin. Not seeing anything similar he turned round to make his way back to the front of the shop to seek the aid of the shopkeeper. However, before he could take many steps forward, he eyes were arrested by the twin of the very book he desperately desired in the hands of a lady standing near the window.
Her head was lowered and the brim of her bonnet obstructed his view, but he noted that she was in the middle of inspecting it in a casual manner. Not thinking about his mode of address, he simply spoke.
“I would have that.”
Jane, thoroughly engrossed and not realizing she was being addressed, continued on with what she was doing.
The colonel huffed impatiently.
“Do you not hear me? I said I would have that book!”
Here Colonel Fitzwilliam was incredulous. The young woman was either choosing to be ridiculously obtuse or was most definitely ignoring his request for some malevolent purpose of her own. He took another step forward, purposely intruding into her space.
“I say, are you both deaf and blind?”
Jane immediately drew back. For a man quite unknown to her had appeared before her out of nowhere. She gasped loudly in fear, just barely suppressing the urge to scream outright, pressing her body against the window and dropping her book.
The colonel bent to retrieve the volume. “Of all the rudest, most disobliging people I have ever come across in my life, you madam, are by far the worse of the lot!”
Jane, astonished out of her wits, could only cry out for assistance. “Mr Marchland, Mr Marchland!”
Alerted instantly to the commotion at the back of his shop, Marchland left the young woman he was attending and practically ran to see what was happening to Mr Gardiner’s dearest niece. He found Miss Bennet in a state of shock, her face turned away in obvious distress, the military man looming over her looking none too pleased.
Jane immediately went to stand behind him, grateful for his quick appearance.
“What is this?” cried Marchland. “What do you do to this young lady?”
“Do? Do to her? I did nothing whatsoever to this woman!”
“Marchland turned back to Miss Bennet. “Are you well, my dear; did he hurt you?”
“Oh, Mr Marchland, he has been most unkind.” She sniffed quietly, opening her reticule to retrieve her handkerchief.
“What!” roared the colonel in a voice he had heretofore only ever used in the heat of battle?
Mr Marchland saw the tears forming in the lady’s eyes and that was enough to inspire in the proprietor all of his fatherly protection.
“You, sir, will apologize to this young lady at once!”
“Apologize? Apologize, for what?”
Georgiana, by now, had joined them, alarmed at the unpleasantly loud voices, especially that of her cousin.
“Cousin,” she exclaimed in dismay, “what do you do here?”
The colonel baulked. “Do? Why does everyone say that I did something? As I was saying to this man, I did not do anything. I simply wanted this book,” he indicated the books now in his possession, “that this woman would not hand over.”
Georgiana gasped in horror. That her cousin could act in such an ungentlemanly way quite astonished her.
“Harry,” she cried in disbelief, “did you—did you take the books from her hands?”
“Of course not! She dropped it to the floor and I picked it up!”
“After, you, sir, demanded it,” exclaimed Jane, suddenly finding her voice.
Georgiana didn’t quite know what to do or say. Either there was some gross misunderstanding on the lady’s part, or her cousin had quite lost his head.
Another voice now joined into the discussion. Mrs Gardiner had entered the shop and hearing the raised voices and knowing her niece to be within, rounded the bookshelves.
“Jane dear,” she asked in alarm, “whatever in the matter?”
“Oh, Aunt Gardiner, how distressing,” she cried, flinging herself into her aunt’s arms and hiding her wet face away on her shoulder. “That military man has taken the book I was to purchase for our friend.”
Mr Marchland, patting Miss Bennet’s trembling hand, sternly addressed the gentleman again. “Sir, I believe we are still waiting to hear your apologies.”
“This is utterly ridiculous!”
“Harry!” exclaimed Georgiana, wringing her hands, confused and not used to finding fault in her elders, pleaded with him to offer his regrets. “Harry, please!”
Colonel Fitzwilliam momentarily stood his ground. Frankly, he felt that he had done nothing to warrant the offering of apologies, but his cousin’s distress was clear. He heaved a great sigh.
“I beg you would excuse me, madam; I apologize if I have caused you any… distress.”
He bowed his head curtly, then held out the two volumes in the young lady’s direction which Marchland snatched away from him immediately so that Miss Bennet would not have to suffer the indignity of contact with his person again.
Jane, still thought him rather insincere, but he had offered his apologies and far be it from her to behave in an unchristian way. She somehow found the courage to glance upwards and look him in the eye.
Colonel Fitzwilliam started at meeting the lovely, round blue eyes and the full, pink–he blinked, twice. He then cleared his throat and went bright red as the lady held his gaze. He immediately cleared his throat again, stepped back as if burned, bowed once more, now having lost all his previous bravado and quite forgetting his cousin, made a rapid escape out the shop, the door’s bell clanging loudly in his wake.
Astonished at his peculiar behaviour, all eyes followed him out. Then three sets of eyes turned slowly towards his abandoned companion.
Georgiana, eyes widening, was never one to like attention directed at herself. She swallowed nervously, dropped a quick but deep curtsy, before her embarrassment got the better of her and she too fled the scene.
When his visit had come to an end with Frederick, Darcy was admitted to the drawing room. For all of his distraction of late, a blind man could have seen the coldness in his sister directed towards their cousin Harry. She was avoiding all of Harry’s looks and when he arose to sit next to her, Georgiana merely turned away.
Harry stood once again and walked agitatedly about the room swigging intermittently from his glass of claret with his eyes now trained on the fire.
Darcy looked to his Aunt for explanations but she seems just as puzzled as he.
Darcy spoke to his sister. “Whenever you are ready to return home, I am at your—” he had no opportunity to finish, for his sister had jumped up, kissed her aunt goodbye, and was out the door in a shot.
The carriage clattered noisily down Brook Street and upon gaining Darcy House, Georgiana fairly bolted from the carriage before the footman could properly let down the steps. When Darcy entered the house he saw his sister making her escape up the staircase.
“Georgiana.” His voice was low and unyielding.
He had not called her Gigi, so she knew her brother meant business. She stopped.
“Yes, Brother,” she said, her voice equally low and unhappy. She did not turn round.
“I will see you in my study when you have refreshed yourself.”
She hesitated momentarily before agreeing. “Yes, Brother.”
Ten minutes later Georgiana knocked.
She immediately came forward, huffed, and stood before his desk.
Darcy, taken aback, leaned back in his chair. He did not like this new manner of Georgiana’s in the least nor did he appreciate the clipped fashion of her speech.
“What do you have to say for yourself, sister?”
Dithering about and pretending that she didn’t know what he was about was beneath her and the flood gates instantly opened.
“I should like you to consult your solicitors; I should like you to find some way where Harry no longer has any responsibility for me.”
“I beg your pardon.”
“Did you not hear; I refuse to have anything more to do with him. I refuse to speak to him ever again. I hate the very sight of him and if not for cousin Frederick, I would never set foot in Hartwick House again if I know that he is in residence there.”
“In fact, I would appreciate it very much if his name was never mentioned between us again.”
“What on Earth–?”
“If you had been there today to see the ungentleman-like way he behaves to young ladies you would call him out yourself.”
Darcy blanched visibly at the word ungentleman-like. It had scarce been a week since he had last heard that most unfortunate word.
Georgiana continued, her tears and hysteria building with each new word uttered. “He has mortified me in a way that I never thought anyone could ever mortify me. He has brought shame on the very name of Fitzwilliam and by association he has brought shame upon the Darcy name as well. And if I never…” here she stopped, as if suddenly realizing she had gone too far going by the look on her brother’s face. She released another strangled sob and ran from the room.
Upset females were obviously the form in recent days and with his confidence so lately shaken he had no idea what he was supposed to do. He was just about to summon the footman to seek out Mrs Annesley so he could glean some knowledge from her, when there arose a great commotion in the front hall.
“Where is my cousin? Where?”
Darcy stepped out of his study to find his cousin, the colonel, in an agitated state. Thinking that it could only be a situation concerning Frederick he alerted Harry to his presence.
“Here I am.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam turned and waved at him dismissively. “No, not you; Georgiana!”
Before Darcy could say anything about his sister’s indisposition, nervous breakdown, or whatever else it was that his sister was current experiencing, the Colonel had set off and bounded up the staircase.
Moments later, from above, there arose another great commotion: loud knocking on doors, a female voice, who could only be his sister, shouting back, more entreaties to be let in, more shouting.
Darcy surmised that he had to get control of his household, before the servants lost all respect for him. He took the stairs two at a time and found his cousin outside of his sister’s sitting room door, begging quietly to be let in.
“Georgiana! Georgiana. It is imperative that I talk to you.”
“But you said that it isn’t about Frederick.”
“No, it is not. You know what it is about!
“Then I have nothing to say to you.”
“Please, Georgiana, please let me explain. You know very well that I did not mean it. I don’t know what came over me today.”
“You embarrassed me,” came Georgiana’s small voice from the other side of the door.
“No, not you, I embarrassed myself. It was a vulgar, uncouth display.”
“But you were not there, after you went away, you did not see the way they all looked at me. I am certain they all blame me.”
“No one blames you.”
“I am sure they all hate me.”
“No one can ever possibly hate you.”
“They all did, I am sure of it. I can never show my face in that part of town ever again.”
“What is this about, Harry,” cried Darcy, disturbed by the strange and cryptic things he was hearing.
The colonel quickly held up his hand to stop him saying more.
Note: there is much more after this as the story currently “clocks in” at over 17,000 words. Unfortunately the rest is dis-jointed and tiresome. Believe me, you don’t want to read it. Actually, the story is at such an advanced stage that I could probably post it to one of the “boards”… that is, if I sat down for a few more weeks and focused, but I begin to think there is really nothing “new” here. You all know I have “writing ADD” and will probably start working on something else entirely if I can’t think of a way to make this story more interesting.