Rivals & Rascals
by Maggie (Zevin)
August 5, 1812
When Georgiana and Darcy arrived at the Lambton Inn, the innkeeper told them that the Gardiners and Miss Bennet were out, but were expected to return shortly. Darcy informed the innkeeper that they wished to wait.
"If you will excuse me, Sir," the innkeeper bowed deferentially, "I will have someone show you to the upstairs parlor. You will be more comfortable waiting there." The innkeeper disappeared into the back of the building.
Soon a freckled face serving maid appeared and showed them into a small, dark parlor two floors up from the main floor. The girl seemed completely awed by the Darcys. When Georgiana thanked her, the maid ducked her head, curtsied a few times too many, and fled out of the room.
Darcy and Georgiana sat down on a long bench near the door. Darcy took his hat off and twirled it around in his hands. He did not seem inclined to converse. He repeatedly crossed and recrossed his legs, as he usually did when he was anxious or uncomfortable. Georgiana was suddenly nervous herself at the thought of meeting Miss Elizabeth. "What do I say to her?" she thought. Like her brother, Georgiana Darcy did not have the talent of conversing easily with strangers.
She turned to her brother. "I believe you mentioned in a letter that Miss Bennet enjoys music? Does she play or sing?"
Darcy turned to his sister and a look of pleasure appeared on his face. "Yes, she is very fond of music. She plays the piano and she sings. She is not formerly trained, however, I find both her playing and singing delightful."
"Did she play at Rosings?" Georgiana hated playing the piano before her aunt.
"Yes. I thought she played beautifully. I regret to say, however, that our aunt chastised Miss Bennet by telling her that she would never play well unless she practiced more."
Georgiana flinched. If someone had said the same to her, she would have been mortified. "How did Miss Bennet react to our aunt's censure?"
"With amazing equanimity. Miss Bennet never seemed the least intimidated by Aunt Catherine. She even contradicted our aunt several times, but she did it in such a good natured manner, that Aunt Catherine was at a loss to find offense with her. "
Georgiana was amazed at this news. "Miss Bennet must be quite extraordinary."
Just then they heard the sound of light footsteps on the stairs. Darcy's head jerked up in anticipation and both he and Georgiana rose to their feet. Soon a young woman appeared. Her face was flushed as if she had just run up the stairs. She curtsied gracefully before the Darcys. Darcy bowed before her.
"Miss Bennet," he murmured. "Allow me to introduce my sister, Georgiana Darcy." Miss Bennet reached out her hand to Georgiana and smiled at her with a natural warmth that touched Georgiana.
"Please come in and have a seat." Miss Bennet gestured towards the inner part of the room. As Georgiana and Darcy took a seat on a stuffed sofa, Miss Bennet moved to one of the windows and opened the drapes. Afternoon sunlight flooded the room and bathed Miss Bennet in a soft glow. Georgiana, who had, on first glance, thought of Miss Bennet as rather pretty but not beautiful, was amazed at how lovely she looked. Georgiana darted a glance at her brother. If she had harbored any doubts before as to her brother's feelings for Miss Bennet, she had none now. He stared at Miss Bennet with a liquid look in his eyes and a faint smile on his lips.
Miss Bennet seemed oblivious to the affect she had on Mr. Darcy. She moved across the room and soon engaged Georgiana in easy conversation. Darcy spoke little. Georgiana could tell from his general posture that he was content to sit and listen to their conversation. She noticed that his eyes rarely left Miss Bennet.
Georgiana shyly broached the subject of music and was thrilled to discover that Miss Bennet was well acquainted with the music of Mozart and considered him to be the finest composer of recent times. The conversation next turned to Elizabeth's travels. Georgiana learned that Elizabeth and her party had intended to travel to the Lakes but ended up in Derbyshire because of Mr. Gardiner's business schedule. She decided that this was a good opportunity to try to involve her brother more in the conversation.
"My brother traveled to the Lake District last year," she said. "He promised to take me next spring, as he thought it was one of the most magnificent places in England." She turned to her brother. "Do tell Miss Bennet about your journey to the lakes and how you met William Wordsworth."
Miss Bennet focused her full attention on Darcy. "Is that true, Sir? You met Mr. Wordsworth in the Lake District?"
"Yes," replied Darcy. "It was completely by chance. I was on a walking tour with a friend. When we stopped to rest by Grasmere, we met a man who was sitting on a rock. He was so still, we initially did not notice him until he started speaking to us. We only learned as we exchanged cards upon parting with him that he was William Wordsworth. I still keep his card as a reminder of that day. It is an elegant card and has one of his verses hand printed by him on the back."
Elizabeth Bennet had listened raptly as Mr. Darcy spoke. "How I should love to meet him myself. I admire him greatly. I have always thought him aptly named - as he makes me truly appreciate the worth of words."
Darcy smiled. "Yes, he is a great poet. I often think of his words when I look at a great work of nature. 'For I have learned to look on nature, not as in the hour of thoughtless youth; but hearing oftentimes the still, sad music of humanity, nor harsh nor grating, though of ample power to chasten and subdue. And I have felt a presence that disturbs me with the joy of elevated thoughts;"
"Oh, yes," said Elizabeth. She looked at Darcy gravely, for a moment as if seeing him for the first time. Then she smiled at him; it was smile that emanated from her eyes as much as her lips. Darcy let the moment wash over him.
Elizabeth then turned her attentions back to Georgiana. "Do you read poetry Miss Darcy?" Before Georgiana could respond, a flurry of voices were heard nearby.
"Oh, I believe my aunt and uncle have arrived."
Darcy stood up as Mr. And Mrs. Gardiner mounted the top stair. He was bowing to Mrs. Gardiner when he heard the sound of a third person mounting the stairs. Darcy straightened up just in time to see his cousin enter the room.
"We met Colonel Fitzwilliam quite by chance," said Mrs. Gardiner. "He told us that you and Miss Darcy were on their way to call on us, and we hurried back here straight away." Mrs. Gardiner turned her attention then to Darcy who introduced his sister to the Gardiners.
During these introductions, the Colonel walked over to Elizabeth and greeted her. The Colonel said something to her in a low voice and she laughed. She said something in reply and the colonel joined her in laughter. It was clear to Georgiana that they enjoyed each other's company a great deal.
After exchanging pleasantries with Mrs. Gardiner, Georgiana walked over to where the colonel and Miss Bennet were conversing. "Miss Bennet," she said softly, "my brother and I were wondering if you and your aunt and uncle would be our guests at Pemberley tomorrow for dinner."
Elizabeth looked briefly at Darcy who reiterated the invitation. Elizabeth then looked at her aunt and uncle who nodded and smiled with pleasure.
"We would be delighted to accept your invitation. We have no fixed engagements tomorrow."
After the details of tomorrow's invitation were discussed, Georgiana looked over at her brother. She had noticed that Mrs. Gardiner looked rather fatigued and Georgiana suddenly felt the full effects of her earlier journey. Her brother seemed to read her thoughts. He smiled graciously at Miss Bennet and the Gardiners and informed them that he and his sister needed to return to their guests. He reassured them that he and Georgiana were looking forward to the pleasure of their company on the following evening.
Darcy glanced at his cousin. "We are departing, Fitzwilliam. Are you joining us?"
The colonel looked at Mrs. Gardiner. "If I can impose on your hospitality a little longer, Madam, I would like to give my horse a chance to rest a while." Mrs. Gardiner assured the colonel that he was most welcome to stay as long as he liked.
Georgiana looked uneasily at her brother, but his face betrayed no particular emotion. "Come, Georgie," he said, taking her arm.
With a parting look at Miss Bennet, Darcy guided Georgiana down the stairs. By the time they had reached the bottom of the stairs, Darcy's expression had turned quite severe. The sight of his face as he rounded the landing frightened the freckled-faced maid who was polishing the banisters. She dropped her cloth on the floor with a muffled cry.
Georgiana was grateful to see that the carriage was waiting for them in front of the inn. She sank into the soft carriage seat. Assessing her brother's mood by his grim expression, she knew better than to say anything. She gazed silently out the window as the carriage navigated the narrow streets of Lambton.
When the carriage neared the grounds of Pemberley, Georgiana finally spoke. "The poetry verse that you recited to Miss Bennet was beautiful. I should like to read Mr. Wordsworth's poetry."
Darcy looked momentarily startled as if he had forgotten that Georgiana was present. He looked at his sister and his expression softened. "We have several volumes of his work in the library. I will help you locate it, if you like. I tucked the card Mr. Wordsworth gave me in one of his books. I thought that was a fitting place for it."
"Oh, I would love to see Mr. Wordsworth's card with his hand written verse."
Darcy smiled. "Of course."
"Perhaps, tomorrow evening you might like to give Miss Bennet a tour of the library and show her Mr. Wordsworth's card?"
Darcy raised an eyebrow and looked at his sister intently. "Are you meddling, Georgiana?"
Georgiana sank back further into the carriage cushions. "I suppose I am." She replied in small voice. "Are you angry?"
Darcy smiled wryly and shook his head. "No. I do not approve of it, but I am not angry."
Georgiana looked out the window. They were pulling up in front of Pemberley's main entrance. Mr. Bingley was standing expectantly on the bottom step. Georgiana was struck by a wave of guilt. She had forgotten all about Mr. Bingley and his sisters. "Oh, no. I have run out on our guests without informing them of our whereabouts. My manners are deplorable." She covered her face with her hands.
Darcy leaned towards his sister and grasped both of her small hands in his. "I am sure they managed to survive without you for a short time." He lifted one of her hands and kissed it. "Unlike me." he said softly. "I could never survive without you, Georgiana. Not for one moment."
Bingley bounded up to Darcy as soon as he had handed Georgiana down from the carriage. "Is it true, Darcy?" He cried. "Can it be true?"
Darcy looked at his friend. "I am sorry, Bingley. You have to clue me in. Can what be true?"
"Colonel Fitzwilliam told me that you had gone to visit Miss Bennet who are staying at an inn in Lambton. Could it be…?"
Darcy interrupted his friend. "It is quite true. Miss Elizabeth Bennet is visiting Lambton with her and aunt and uncle. They will be dining with us tomorrow night." Bingley's pleasure at this news was palpable.
'Good lord,' thought Georgiana in some distress, 'don't tell me that Mr. Bingley also has designs on Miss Bennet.'
"And her family, are they well? Are they all well?" asked Bingley.
Darcy looked rather uncomfortable. "I understand that they are quite well," he said. "You will have the opportunity to ask her about them tomorrow. If you excuse me, Bingley, I have some business matters to attend to before dinner. I will see you in an hour. You know to make yourself at home." With a nod, he walked briskly towards his study.
Bingley turned his attention to Georgina. "So you met Miss Bennet this afternoon. Is she not delightful? We got to know the Bennets quite well while we were staying at Netherfield," he explained to Georgiana. "They are a wonderful family, especially the elder two sisters. Indeed, I have never …" Bingley suddenly closed his eyes and stopped talking.
"Is anything the matter, Mr. Bingley?"
"Yes. No, never mind. I believe I might just rest before dinner." He smiled rather shakily at Georgiana and headed off to his room.
Georgiana felt overwhelmed. "This is too much," she thought wearily. The long journey and the unfolding revelations of the day had taken its toll on her. Although she knew that, as the hostess, she should attempt to locate the Hursts and Miss Bingley and apologize for the Darcys' sudden departure to Lambton, she simply was not up to it. Instead, she slipped up to her room and promptly fell asleep.
Dinner that evening was an awkward affair. Georgiana's all too brief nap had only increased her feeling of fatigue and made her feel quite out of sorts. The Colonel, who arrived only just in time to dress for dinner, was uncharacteristically solemn. Darcy, too, was taciturn and grave, making little or no effort to entertain his guests.
It was Miss Bingley's behavior, however, that preoccupied Georgiana. Miss Bingley had sailed into the dining room on the colonel's arm and had insisted on taking the seat that was the furthest away from Darcy. She spoke with great animation to everyone but Darcy. She hardly even glanced in Darcy's direction. Although Georgiana had never liked the way Miss Bingley fawned over her brother, Miss Bingley's uncharacteristic indifference towards him made her uneasy.
Mr. Bingley did not help matters. He seemed intent on conversing about the Darcys' visit to Miss Bennet. Georgiana decided after observing everyone's reactions when Mr. Bingley first brought up their visit to Lambton, that this was not a safe topic of dinner conversation. Despite Georgiana's efforts to steer the conversation in a safe direction, Mr. Bingley would intermittently ask Darcy or Georgiana questions about Miss Bennet and her family. The tension in the room increased every time the Bennet name was mentioned. By the time the fish course was served, the tension in the room was thicker than the aspic that was dished onto their plates.
Georgiana began to feel panicked. "If everyone is this uncomfortable just upon mention of Elizabeth Bennet's name," she thought, "I cannot bear to contemplate what tomorrow's dinner will be like." Detecting something of his sister's discomfort, Mr. Darcy decided to contribute to the conversation. Being as it was July and there had been no clouds for weeks, he determined that the weather would be an irreproachable subject.
"I believe the weather tomorrow will be quite fine."
To everyone's amazement, Miss Bingley gave a loud, derisive snort from the other end of the table.
"That shows how little you know about the weather, Mr. Darcy. Any fool can see that it will rain tomorrow. Do you not agree Colonel?"
Everyone lapsed into shocked silence. Such incivility to the host was inexcusable. "Her behavior is worse than Aunt Catherine's and she does not even have a title." Georgiana thought indignantly.
Mr. Darcy stared at Miss Bingley for a moment. He then shot his cousin a suspicious look.
"Perhaps, we should take bets on tomorrow's weather," said the Colonel, shifting a little in his chair. "Hurst, do you care for a wager?"
Hurst looked up from his meat. "I wager against the rain. Darcy is no fool. Only person I know who is not one. Besides, this is the only time of year that it doesn't rain. Ten pounds, I'll wager."
No one felt it was politic to take up Hurst on his bet.
By the time, dinner had ended, Georgiana had a blinding headache and wanted nothing more than to crawl back to bed. Somehow she managed to make it through the rest of the evening. She kept Miss Bingley occupied for a time by entreating her to pour the after dinner coffee. Miss Bingley seemed very pleased with this role. She made no further rude remarks to Mr. Darcy, and he was wise enough not to approach her for a cup of coffee.
Georgiana was also grateful that Mrs. Hurst accepted her entreaty to play the piano. For the next hour, Mrs. Hurst kept up an endless stream of energetic music, which did nothing to help Georgiana's headache, but obviated the need for much after-dinner conversation. The ladies and Hurst retired to bed shortly after ten o-clock, leaving the three younger gentlemen alone.
Darcy poured brandy for himself and the other two men. His cousin looked at him uneasily, when Darcy handed him his glass.
"Cards?" asked Bingley.
"I think not."
The colonel sipped his brandy. "Billiards?"
"No, I think not," said Darcy adjusting his cuff. "I feel like doing something more energetic."
"Fencing then?" asked the colonel with an edge in his voice.
Darcy stared at his cousin.
"No," said Darcy. "Not tonight."
Bingley patted his stomach and groaned a bit. "I ate too much this evening. I never can resist roast beef with horseradish or glazed pheasant. I wish, though, that I had stopped before the cheese."
Bingley got to his feet and looked out of the window. "There is a full moon tonight. Why don't we take a walk outside?" Bingley looked at Darcy and then snapped his fingers. "I know," he cried, "a moonlit swim!"
"I will walk with you if you like, Bingley," replied Darcy. "If you have over eaten, it is not wise to swim." He looked his cousin. "Besides, the pond is filled with scum this time of year."
Colonel Fitzwilliam threw back and his head and laughed. "Yes, a moonlit walk is a fine idea."
The three men walked around Pemberley's western perimeter. Due to the soothing effects of the moonlight and the light evening breeze, some of the tension between Darcy and his cousin dissolved during the course of the walk.
Bingley suddenly stopped short while they were walking down Pemberley's western slope. "I almost forgot, Darcy. I must apologize for Caroline's uncivil remark about the weather. It was most unlike her." Bingley blinked. "I mean, it was most unlike her to be uncivil to you. I will speak to her about this tomorrow."
Darcy laid his hand briefly upon Bingley's arm. "Do not distress yourself, Bingley. I was surprised, but not offended. I am sure your sister is very tired from her journey. There is no need for an apology. I must say, " he added, a few moments later, "that I was equally surprised by Hurst's defense of me."
Bingley made a small choking sound and both Darcy and Fitzwilliam turned to look at him. "No one was more surprised than I," he said. "I have seen Hurst almost every day for the past three years and tonight is the first time I have ever heard him say anything civil. In fact, I believe it is the first time I have ever heard him say anything intelligent."
The colonel turned to Bingley. "I am curious. Why did your sister marry Hurst? I gather he has no fortune and few social connections. Somehow, I doubt she desired him for his looks or charm."
"Well," said Bingley, and he started to choke with nervous laughter again. "That is a long story. It is rather embarrassing, really. I don't mind telling it, if you promise not to say anything about it to Caroline or Louisa. Are you sure that you want to hear it now? It may take a while."
"Yes, I am sure," the colonel assured him.
Darcy nodded. He had always wondered the same thing about the Hursts, but was too polite to ask.
Before Mr. Bingley could respond, however, there was a loud crack of thunder and it started to rain. The three men were completely drenched by the time they reached the house.
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