Rivals & Rascals
by Maggie (Zevin)
August 6, 2006
The next morning was bright and sunny. Georgiana woke up feeling much more optimistic than she had the day before. "Everything will go smoothly," she reassured herself, as her maid brushed out her hair. "And if it doesn't, at least it will not be dull."
On her way downstairs, Georgiana encountered Mrs. Reynolds who informed her that Mr. and Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley had all requested breakfast trays in their room. The housekeeper also informed her that the Mr. Darcy had risen early and was currently meeting with his steward. Georgiana quietly entered the breakfast room. Neither Mr. Bingley nor her cousin appeared to notice her presence.
"Bingley, now that we are alone, you must tell me the story of your sister and Hurst. You left me dangling all night. Is it a sordid tale?"
Although, she was intensely curious to know what her cousin was speaking about, Georgiana felt that good manners demanded that she announced her presence. "Good morning."
Both gentlemen leapt to their feet. They greeted Georgiana and remained standing until she was seated.
"It is a beautiful day is not?"
"Yes, just as your brother predicted. You would never know that it was pouring down rain last night." Georgiana looked surprised, "It rained last night? I had no idea." She picked up a piece of toast that had suddenly appeared before her and started buttering it.
"Yes, Darcy, Bingley, and I were out walking at the time and got quite soaked. We were beginning the think that Miss Bingley was able to predict the future, but as she predicted it would rain today, not last night, it seems she is not prophetic, after all."
Georgiana nibbled delicately on a piece of toast and studied the two men out of the corner of her eye. Mr. Bingley was rather subdued compared to his usual exuberant manner. His almost perpetual smile was absent and he seemed preoccupied with private thoughts. He was behaving rather like her brother, thought Georgiana. This in itself was incredible because Mr. Bingley and her brother were extremely different in temperament. She was more convinced than ever that Mr. Bingley, like her brother, was suffering the effects of love. Whether they were both in love with the same women, Georgiana did not know, but was determined to find out.
Her cousin on the other hand appeared very much his usual self. He whistled off tune as he read the newspaper, looking up occasionally to smile at Georgiana. Georgiana was aware that the colonel's whistling was a great source of displeasure to Aunt Catherine, who had frequently told the colonel that it was ill mannered to whistle in company. Georgiana usually found the colonel's habit of whistling endearing, but this morning she found it oddly irritating. At least he did not appear at all to be a man in love. Unlike Bingley and her brother, he appeared, in fact, to be in even more high spirits than usual. As she observed the little smile that played on his lips as he put down his paper and picked up his coffee cup, Georgiana had a sudden thought. "Perhaps, he is indeed in love with Miss Bennet and is in good spirits because he knows his love to requited." She gave a start at this thought that caused her to rattle her coffee cup.
The colonel immediately turned his attention to Georgiana. "You must have slept well last night, Georgie, if you did not hear the rain. It rained like the very dickens for several hours."
"Yes, I did sleep quite soundly."
"I am glad to hear that," replied the colonel. "You have a lot on your hands today, entertaining all of us, and having additional guests for dinner. Do you need assistance with any of the plans for our entertainment?"
"No, thank you. I was thinking that since the day is so lovely, that we could play games out of doors. Perhaps Pall Mall? We have a new set. Or archery for those that don't care for Pall Mall?"
Mr. Bingley looked up and his pale face brightened slightly. "Pall Mall is a capital idea. Even Mr. Hurst plays it. I must warn you, however, that my sister Caroline excels at the sport. She's quite good at knocking balls out of her way."
The colonel stood up. "I believe I will go for a ride before it gets too hot. I will return before too long."
Georgiana was left alone with Mr. Bingley. She wondered if it was proper for her to be alone with him. She looked around her, the breakfast room doors were open and two footmen were in the room, so they were hardly by themselves. In any case, Mr. Bingley seemed so much a part of the family that it seemed silly to wonder about propriety around him. Thoughts of propriety aside, she was glad for the opportunity to speak with Mr. Bingley alone. Before she could think of a way to broach the subject of Miss Bennet, however, Mr. Bingley spoke.
"Miss Georgiana, I must ask you. When you spoke to Miss Bennet yesterday, did she happen to mention her eldest sister, Miss Jane Bennet?"
"No, I do not recall her mentioning that name. She did say, however, that all of her family were well and all but one of her sisters were at home."
Mr. Bennet blanched. "All but one?"
"Yes, she mentioned that her youngest sister was visiting friends in Brighton, I believe."
Mr. Bingley lit up like a candle. "Ah," he said. "Did she? "
Georgiana wondered why Mr. Bingley cared so much about the younger sister visiting Brighton. His next comments indicated, however, where his interest lay. "I wish you could meet Miss Jane Bennet, Miss Georgiana. You would like her exceedingly, I believe. She is an angel on earth."
Georgiana smiled warmly at Mr. Bingley. She was greatly relieved. It appeared that Mr. Bingley was indeed in love with a Miss Bennet, but it was not Miss Elizabeth Bennet.
"I am sure I would her. I liked her sister immensely. After only knowing Miss Elizabeth a few minutes I felt that I could speak with her as if she were an old friend. I rarely find such a connection to anyone." She wondered if she was being too outspoken.
"Yes, Miss Elizabeth is charming. She and Miss Jane Bennet are very close." Mr. Bingley proceeded to prattle on about Miss Jane Bennet for the next ten minutes. Georgiana wondered why, since he was so obviously enamored of Jane Bennet, that Mr. Bingley had not made an offer for her. "Perhaps, he did" she thought "and she turned him down. Surely, if she had done so, however, he would feel some resentment towards her." Mr. Bingley appeared to have no rancor towards Miss Jane Bennet at all and seemed delighted that her sister would dine with them this evening. The whole thing was a puzzle, one that interested her, but that she did not have time to dwell on at the present.
Fifteen minutes later, the whole party was assembled on the lawn. They decided to play Pall Mall, using two teams, instead of three. After much discussion, it was decided that Georgiana, Darcy, and Mr. Bingley would be on one team, with Bingley as the captain, and that Miss Bingley, Mr. Hurst and Colonel Fitzwilliam would be on the other, with the colonel as the captain. Louisa Hurst had opted not to play Pall Mall, proclaiming that even with her bonnet and parasol, she could not abide the sun.
Consistent with Mr. Bingley's earlier warning, Caroline with a mallet in her hand was a force to reckon with. She seemed more focused on knocking Darcy's ball afield than on winning the game. At one point, she whacked Darcy's ball so hard that the ball went clear across the lawn and frightened a flock of geese into the air.
"Try not to kill anything, Caroline," called Bingley, "it is not hunting season, you know."
Darcy was wondering if he had done anything to offend Miss Bingley. His nerves were unsettled by thoughts of the evening ahead and these inexplicable signs of animosity from Miss Bingley increased his anxiety. He was glad, he supposed, that she was no longer fawning over him. Her behavior was so unpredictable, however, that he feared that Miss Bingley might do something extreme, such as pour a tureen of soup over his head tonight at dinner. He was mortified enough at having encountered Miss Bennet while he was still dripping with pond water. The idea of trying to converse with her with soup dripping down his face was insupportable.
Darcy glanced at his cousin who had just knocked his own ball into Bingley's with a whack that sent Bingley's ball careening off course. Colonel Fitzwilliam leaned against his mallet with a smug expression. Darcy suspected that Fitzwilliam had something to do with Caroline's strange behavior. If his cousin was behind this, the object of his plan was not clear. "I must be prepared for anything to happen tonight," Darcy thought.
It was Georgiana's turn next. She raised her mallet in the air and with a graceful arc, swung the mallet so it sent her green ball flying neatly through the red wicket. "Nice shot," exclaimed Mr. Bingley. Darcy smiled at his sister and then, once more, went to search for his ball.
While the colonel's team was busy trying to knock her teammates' balls off course, Georgiana quietly set about shooting her ball through wicket after wicket. It was Georgiana's skill that eventually caused her team to win the game. Bingley was delighted with the win, holding Georgiana's hand in the air with one hand and waving his mallet wildly in with the other. Darcy tried not to look too pleased by his team's win, but he couldn't help feeling a certain amount of triumph that his team had bested his cousin's.
The rest of the day passed quickly and uneventfully. Soon it was time to dress for dinner. After careful consideration, Georgiana decided to wear a pale yellow dress and matching ribbons in her hair. After she was dressed, she went downstairs for a final survey of the place settings. She then went looking for her brother. She finally located him in the library. He was dressed in black evening attire, and looked, to Georgiana's eyes, quite magnificent.
Darcy kissed Georgiana's cheek. "That color becomes you, Georgie. Have our guest come downstairs yet?" Georgiana informed him that everyone was downstairs and that sherry was being served to them in the front drawing room.
"I suppose we should join them." As they exited the library, a footman approached them and bowed.
"Sir, your carriage has returned from Lambton. It has just entered the drive."
Darcy nodded and held out his arm to Georgiana. "It seems our other guests have arrived." His eyes gleamed with sudden emotion. As she placed her hand lightly on his arm, Georgiana's hand trembled slightly. Darcy put his other hand on top of hers to steady it.
Georgiana looked up into her brother's face and smiled. His composure steadied her nerves. "Let us go outside and greet them."
The carriage had just come to a stop when the Darcys stepped outside. Georgiana held her breath and closed her eyes as the door was opened. The Gardiners alighted first. As Georgiana waited for Miss Bennet to appear, she gave way to the sort of superstitious guessing game that she had engaged in since she a child. "If Miss Bennet is wearing blue, she loves my cousin. If she is wearing any other color, she loves my brother and will marry him." Georgiana opened her eyes, just in time to see Miss Elizabeth step down step from the carriage, supported by Mr. Darcy's arm. She was wearing a pale blue gown. Georgiana tried not to let her dismay show as she stepped forward to greet Miss Bennet.
Miss Bennet stood in front of the carriage, with her hand still resting lightly on Mr. Darcy's arm. Their dark heads momentarily leaned close together as they greeted each other. They looked so perfect together that Georgiana almost forgot about her childish superstitions.
************** An hour or so later **********
All of Darcy's worries had come to naught. His cousin had not interfered when Darcy escorted Elizabeth into dinner and seated her next to him. Mr. Bingley had ceased asking questions about the absent Bennet sisters. Even Miss Bingley was behaving quite graciously. She had greeted Elizabeth coolly, but with civility, and she had been distant but respectful towards Mr. Darcy himself. He was now seated, at the head of his dinner table with Elizabeth sitting to his left. Despite his amazing good fortune, Fitzwilliam Darcy was miserable. The problem was Hurst.
Darcy had deliberately placed Hurst on Elizabeth's left, thinking that of all of his guests, Hurst was the least likely to pose any competition for Elizabeth's attention. Darcy distinctly recalled that when Hurst had been seated next to Miss Bennet at Netherfield, he had shown no inclination to talk to her at all after she had espoused a preference for plain dishes over a ragout. This evening, as soon as they had sat down, however, Hurst had immediately asked Miss Bennet her opinion of white soup. She had responded that she liked it, but preferred brown soup. Hurst greeted this statement with consummate approval. He decried the use of anchovies in white soup, and praised the brown soup above all others, excepting turtle soup, of course. Hurst then launched into a long discourse on turtle dishes of all kind. From there, he moved to the subject of fish, from Dover sole to cod to carps. He harped on sauces of all sorts, giving especial praise to corbullion. Elizabeth was silent throughout Hurst's monologue, nodding occasionally as politeness demanded.
Darcy listened closely to the conversation between Hurst and Elizabeth, if one could call it that, but could see no unobtrusive way to call Elizabeth's attention away from Hurst. Mrs. Gardiner, who sat at Mr. Darcy's right, made occasional gracious comments to Mr. Darcy about Pemberley, but her attention was chiefly taken up by Mr. Bingley who showed a remarkable interest in the Gardiners' children, of which there appeared to be a large number. Mr. Darcy divided his attention between listening to Hurst's ramblings about food and listening to Mrs. Gardiner talk about her children.
Finally, he got the opening he needed. Hurst had finally seen fit to include Darcy in his conversation. "Well, Darcy," he asked, "what is your opinion of mackerel with fennel and mint?"
"I care little for it."
"Nor do I," said Miss Bennet after Mr. Hurst had looked quizzically in her direction.
Mr. Hurst looked at Elizabeth and Darcy in dismay. "Don't care for it?" he asked incredulously. With that, he turned his full attention to his dinner.
Elizabeth looked at Darcy with an impudent lift of her eyebrow.
"Well, Mr. Darcy, do you have anything to say else to say on the subject of mackerel or should we move on to other topics of conversation?"
"I think enough has been said on the subject of fish." Darcy paused and Elizabeth looked at him expectantly, waiting politely for him to direct the conversation. There was so much he wanted to say. How beautiful she looked in her blue dress. How wondrous it was to see her sitting at his dinner table in Pemberley. How much he regretted his words at Kent. He took a sip of wine.
"Miss Bennet, do you have an interest in air balloons?"
Elizabeth tilted her head to the side, and looked bemused. "Is that a new dish Mr. Darcy? I do not believe I have tasted it."
Darcy smiled. "No, although there may be such a dish. I was referring to hot air balloon flights, however."
"I have heard talk of such things before. I have even had dreams about riding in one. The idea of soaring through the air propelled by a balloon sounds almost too fantastical to be true."
"I bring up the subject because I have just gotten a letter today confirming that two days from now there will be an attempt of a air balloon launch in Derbyshire. The starting point is only a few miles from here."
Elizabeth clasped her hands to her breast. "How wonderful. I should love nothing more than to see such a thing. How did you come to learn of it?"
"For several years now I have invested money in the science of air ballooning. It appeals to me for many reasons. I am generally kept apprised when there is to be a launch in England."
Elizabeth looked directly at Mr. Darcy. "I never knew that you had such interests," she said quietly. Darcy wiped his moth delicately with his napkin and then looked into Elizabeth's eyes.
"I plan to go and see the launch. My sister is coming, as well. Would you care to join us? We would have to depart quite early in the morning, I am afraid, but I believe it would be worth it."
"Of course, it will be worth it!" Elizabeth cried. "I would love to go, even if we had to travel the entire night. I would give almost anything to see such a sight."
Darcy took a sip of wine and gazed at Elizabeth's lovely face. He had never wanted her more.
"You accept then? Your aunt and uncle are invited, of course, as is all of our company. I have not yet informed everyone of this event as I have just learned of it myself."
"Yes, Mr. Darcy." She sounded joyful. "I accept your kind invitation. I am quite sure my aunt and uncle would be thrilled to accept as well."
At this point, Mrs. Gardiner joined the conversation.
"I could not help but overhear part of your conversation, Sir. Is it true that you are offering us the opportunity to observe an air balloon launch?"
"Yes," replied Darcy.
Bingley greeted this plan with glee and soon the whole party was informed of the upcoming event. This news caused a great deal of excitement.
Even Hurst dragged his attention away from his food and looked at Darcy with interest. "We must have champagne for the launch, Darcy."
Mrs. Hurst chimed in "Champagne at balloon launchings is all of the thing in France, you know." Darcy assured the party that champagne would be served.
Darcy did not have the opportunity to converse privately with Miss Bennet for the remainder of the meal. He was not too disappointed, however, because Miss Bennet occasionally looked at him and smiled in such a way that made his heart leap.
Towards the end of the meal, Miss Bennet leaned towards Mr. Darcy and said softly, "You have given me much to look forward to, Sir. I thank you." Darcy's heart pounded strongly at those words and her accompanying smile.
His happiness would have been complete if he had not glanced down the table at that moment and observed the rather predatory look on Miss Bingley's face. He then glanced at his cousin who was gazing intently at Miss Bennet. "The night is far from over," Darcy realized with an inward sigh.
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