C.Allyn Pierson is the author of Mr. Darcy's Little Sister, a novel about Georgiana Darcy. For more information on Pierson's upcoming titles, you can check out her website www.callynpierson.com.
You can also find her at the Austen Authors blog or her personal blog callynpierson.wordpress.com
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"Are you going to try sea-bathing while you are here, my dear Miss Darcy?" Mrs. Younge asked her charge.
Georgiana hesitated. She would love to bathe, but it would be so mortifying to be undressed in such a public place. She looked up at Mrs. Younge. "Do you think that it would be proper for me to do? It seems so…fast somehow."
Mrs. Younge gave her a comfortable smile. "Well, we will see. The ladies bathe in a different area than the gentlemen and everything is done to make the bathers comfortable. We will see some of the bathing machines when we walk on the beach and I'm sure you will see how perfectly proper it is. You mustn't let your nonsensical fears keep you hiding in the house."
Georgiana hung her head. She knew that her shyness was a great burden for both her dear brother and Mrs. Younge. She had been sorry when her governess had been dismissed and a companion hired. Her brother had done it for her good and dear Miss Green did tend to treat her like a schoolroom chit rather than a young lady…but she had been so comfortable to be around! When Fitzwilliam had been thinking about finding Miss Green a place with some friends with younger children, Georgiana had braved his study to remonstrate with him.
"Dear brother, why can Miss Green not become my companion? I do love her so, and see how much she has taught me about music and art! I could continue my studies with her."
Fitzwilliam had heard her out, then came around the desk and sat next to her, taking her hand with a tender smile.
"I know you love her, my love, but sometimes we need to be jostled out of our comfortable existence for our own good. After all, dearest, I go to balls and routs in London and you know how much I dislike dancing!" His eyes twinkled at her and she bowed her head in resignation. Mrs. Younge certainly was a jostle. She was kind, but she was always pushing Georgiana to try something new, and she had encouraged her to do things like sea-bathing which seemed unexceptional, but which Georgiana would not have tried otherwise.
At the end of their first week in Ramsgate, Georgiana finally worked up her courage enough to try sea-bathing. Mrs. Younge bathed with her, of course, but she was still rather embarrassed to step out of the bathing machine and into the water. She could feel her face burning as she went down the first two steps, but as the water came up she gasped at the cold.
"Oh! I thought the water would be warmer than this!" She shivered.
"Come on, my dear! Once you are used to it you will find it quite comfortable!"
Mrs. Younge was quite right, and Georgiana walked around, moving her arms in the water and felt the sea lifting her gently. It was an amazing sensation. She wanted to swim around like a fish and roll in the salty, fascinating water, but too soon it was time to climb back in the bathing machine and dress.
"See Miss Georgiana? I knew you would love it once you tried it."
Georgiana smiled. "You were right, ma'am! I do love it! I wish I had a private beach where I could paddle around without having to worry about strangers watching me. If only there was an ocean at Pemberley!"
Mrs. Younge laughed and patted her hand. "Silly girl! Would you trade your brother's lovely home just for a beach?"
"Of course not! I love Pemberley."
Georgiana was beginning to feel sleepy as they rode back to their lodgings. How wearing it was to bathe in the sea! She felt relaxed and happily tired and wanted nothing more than to lie on her bed and nap when they got home, but a surprise guest changed her plans.
When the butler admitted them he said, "Mrs. Younge, Mr. Wickham has called and decided to await you and Miss Darcy, since I thought that you would be home soon."
Mrs. Younge briskly drew off her gloves and bonnet and shivvied Georgiana towards the stairs. "Come, come, my dear! We must make ourselves presentable, mustn't we?"
"But it is just Mr. Wickham. I have known him all my life…we need not have any pretense with him!"
"But my dear," Mrs. Younge lowered her voice. "perhaps your dear brother has sent Mr. Wickham to you to test you on your comportment! You must look your best!"
Mrs. Younge hurried over her toilette and came back to help pin up Georgiana's curls again. Running her eye over her charge, she nodded her approval. "Yes, very nice, Miss Darcy. You look quite presentable."
Downstairs, Wickham tapped his toe impatiently while awaiting Georgiana. Mrs. Younge was an old friend of his, and owed him a few favors. It had taken very little persuasion to convince her to help him lure Georgiana into a hasty marriage. Her avaricious eyes glowed when he told her how they might obtain Georgiana's £30,000 dowry, and was happy to be paid by both that damned Darcy and have a share of the blunt from this rig. Perhaps he would not share as much as she thought he would, but for now they were both content. Before he could repress his smile at these reflections, both ladies entered the drawing-room and he swept his eyes down Georgiana and gave her a twirling embrace.
"My dearest Georgiana! It has been so long since we last met!"
"Yes, Wickham, it has. Where have you been these past two years?"
"Making my way in the world, my dear, but I have missed you sorely. The tedium of learning the law is not to be believed!"
"Are you finished with your studies, then?"
"Not entirely, but a friend invited me down for a few days repairing lease and I saw that you and Mrs. Younge were here just this morning in the paper. To think I might have missed you and gone home entirely ignorant of the presence of my favorite little girl. I am shocked to realize what a beauty you have become, my dear!"
He turned to Mrs. Younge with an elegant bow. "And you must be the aforementioned Mrs. Younge. I am delighted to meet any friend of my dear little friend. Any friend of Georgiana's is a friend of mine." He shook her hand and turned back to Georgiana, who shyly motioned him to sit down at an encouraging motion from her companion.
Now that their first burst of enthusiasm was over she did not know what to talk about. Wickham took over the conversation and drew her out with questions about her stay in London and what her brother was doing. She knew that there was some coolness between Wickham and Darcy, but surely it would pass. Her brother was a high stickler in matters of decorum and she had no difficulty at all believing that the easy and gregarious manners of Wickham might sometimes offend dear Fitzwilliam's sense of what was proper.
Wickham had always had a way of making her feel at ease, but as she looked at him talking to Mrs. Younge she was surprised to realize how handsome he had become. He was tall and elegantly dressed, and no one could find fault with his address. Before she had the opportunity to pursue this thought, Wickham brought his conversation with her companion to a close and bowed his way out. Mrs. Younge motioned for Georgiana to accompany their guest to the door, and before he mounted his horse she said, "Mr. Wickham, would you honor us with your company at dinner this week?"
He smiled at her, and then looked at Georgiana. "Would you like me to come, my dear?"
She nodded and he accepted an invitation for the next evening. After Wickham had departed Georgiana walked slowly back to the drawing-room. Mrs. Younge joined her and commented, "What are you frowning about, my dear Miss Darcy? Did you not wish me to ask Mr. Wickham to dine?"
Georgiana blushed and stammered, "Oh, oh, of course I did. I just wondered who else we could invite. We do not know anyone else in Ramsgate."
"Why should we invite someone else? Mr. Wickham has such an easy way with him that we will be quite well enough entertained."
Georgiana fidgeted with her handkerchief, a troubled look on her face. "Would it not be improper for us to entertain a gentleman alone?"
Mrs. Younge chuckled merrily. "My dear Miss Darcy! This is foolish without permission! Why should it be improper to invite a young man whom you have known your entire life to dine? He might be a brother…or more likely a cousin to you, my dear. There would be no impropriety."
"Good. I always enjoy visiting with Wickham…he has always been very kind to me, even when I was an awkward little girl who had no one to play with. He was always willing to tolerate my childish games." She sighed with relief that they could invite Wickham.
The next few weeks were heaven for Georgiana. Wickham seemed very happy to spend part of every day entertaining his friends, and Georgiana found herself, for the first time in her life, perfectly comfortable with a young man. Mrs. Younge seemed to have fallen under Wickham's spell and it was not long before she quit putting any limits on how often or how long Wickham would see the two ladies.
At the end of the third week, Wickham was invited to dine again, and he came early while Mrs. Younge was still dressing. The maid always helped Georgiana first and this night she dressed her hair in a new style; swept up, with curls framing her face and falling below the knot to bounce enticingly against her neck as she walked. When she came downstairs the footman informed her that Mr. Wickham had already arrived and was awaiting them in the drawing-room. He held the door open and Georgiana entered and found Wickham standing with his hands clasped behind his back, gazing absently at the sea from the window embrasure. He turned quickly at the sound of the door and smiled.
"Georgiana, my dear!" He came to her and took both her hands and then continued in a low voice. "I hoped to be able to see you alone tonight, but I feared that your dragon would protect you every moment."
She blushed and stammered, "Wh—what did you want to talk to me about?" Her heart was hammering in her ears in her embarrassment at his touch. Wickham drew her gently over to the sofa and sat down next to her.
"Georgiana, my dear girl, I never thought to see myself in this position. These past few weeks with you have been the happiest of my life. I never thought to fall in love with my little friend from Pemberley, but it has happened. Georgiana, I love you and I want you to be my wife. Please tell me if there is a chance that you will feel the same."
Georgiana's face reddened even more and she stared down at her hands. "I—I…" She stopped, unable to continue.
Wickham lifted her chin and looked at her sadly. "I understand, my dear. You do not love me."
She swallowed convulsively and blurted, "No, I do love you! I…just do not know how to say it."
He lifted her hand to his lips and kissed it tenderly. "But you have said it very well, my love. Will you marry me?"
"We must ask my brother for his permission."
Wickham sighed and gently laid her hand down. "Then all is lost."
"Wickham...why do you and my brother not like each other?"
"Something happened at Cambridge that turned me against him. I do not want to go into the details…I would never want to damage your opinion of your brother. I know that you love him and he is your only remaining family."
He rose and walked slowly to the window to stare pensively out. "I…I am afraid that I know too much of your brother's true character for him to ever feel safe around me."
"But I don't understand how this can be. Fitzwilliam is so good to me and so kind."
"Georgiana, my love…" He paused to nervously tug on the lapels of his tailcoat. "There are some men…No, I cannot…" He returned to the sofa and sat down again, tenderly taking her hands. "My dear, I am not trying to say that your brother is all bad. For his careful attention to the needs of his little sister alone I must have a regard for him." He gave her a sad smile. "But, dearest, the part of him which feels a sense of responsibility is not all of his character. He is reserved and his inner thoughts are well hidden."
Georgiana stared down at their clasped hands. "It is true that I do not always understand him and what he is feeling. He seems so much older than I…much more than the difference in our ages. He is so serious that I am sometimes almost afraid to tell him if I am upset or worried about something, or have done something wrong."
"I understand, my dear. I truly believe that he takes his responsibilities seriously: you, his tenants, his land, his servants. He makes sure that his decisions that may affect their welfare are carefully thought out. He does not want the world to see him as irresponsible as are some of the young men his age. But, Georgiana, his reserve well and truly hides his thoughts…"
He sighed. "I do not know how to say this and I do not want to upset you…While we all have thoughts that we keep to ourselves, there are some men who live their real life inside their minds. They have an entire world of thoughts that they hide from others because they know that society would condemn them if they knew what their thoughts and desires were…To live a life of secret thoughts, unchecked by the rules of society, is not healthy, my love. Sometimes those thoughts can be so overwhelming that they must act on them, so after a day of respectability they become night creatures and spend their evenings in the dark places of society and with the dregs of humankind. I—I am afraid I cannot in good conscience say more, but there were some incidents at Cambridge…"
He let go of her hands and dropped his face into his, shaking his head slightly. Georgiana felt as if she had been given a stunning blow. She thought of how difficult it was to understand what her brother was thinking. Of how she felt a little afraid of him when she had had to confess a transgression in the past. Could he truly be so careful of her upbringing while he was sneaking off to the filthy byways of London to do…what? She could not even imagine, but Wickham's words, careful as they were, made her fear her brother and wonder what he was truly like inside.
Wickham spoke again, "My darling girl, I do not want to disparage your brother, but I do want you to understand why I am in worried about asking him for your hand. I fear that he will separate us forever. I even fear that someday his…activities…will be uncovered and your society will turn on the Darcy family and your name will be dragged through the mud with his. If we were married when that happens you will be safe. I was concerned when I thought of you as my little friend, but now, now that I realize what a jewel you are I feel helpless."
Georgiana wiped a tear from her cheek. "You are so good to me Wickham. I—I cannot even begin to believe that my brother could be so different from what he seems, but you frighten me. If my brother dislikes you so much, though, our case is hopeless. It will be six years before I can marry without his permission."
"Do you think that Colonel Fitzwilliam would approve our engagement? He seems a good and sensible man."
"He would never agree to it without discussing it with my brother."
"Then all is lost. The only way open would be to elope."
"But how would that help? Would we not still need my guardians' permission even if we went off to Derby, or another large city where we are not known?"
"We would have to go all the way to Gretna Green. The laws are much less restrictive in Scotland and we could be married immediately."
She recoiled from him. "Gretna Green! Oh no, I could not do that! We would be shunned by society forever if we did that."
He laughed a little ruefully. "I think that you have been instilled with all those old rules that were invented by frowning parents and governesses to keep young ladies from rebelling. There are many ladies in the ton who have taken their lives into their own hands and married the man they loved rather than submit to and arranged match designed to further the ambitions of their families. But do not distress yourself, my love. I would rather give you up and live my life in sorrow than to give you even a moment of uneasiness. We will not discuss it further."
Before Georgiana could say anything further, Mrs. Younge came in and greeted Wickham. She did not seem to notice Georgiana's lack of spirits and kept up a lively conversation with Wickham throughout dinner. Her charge was relieved when Wickham excused himself early on the count of an early appointment the next day. When he shook Georgiana's hand the compassion and sorrow in his gaze almost brought her to tears, but she somehow managed to say goodbye and convince Mrs. Younge that she would retire early with a headache.
"Ah, I thought that you might have one, my dear. I could tell that you were not yourself tonight. I hope Mr. Wickham did not think that you were unhappy to dine with him."
"Oh no! I hope not, Mrs. Younge!" Georgiana said, distressed that she might have appeared rude.
Mrs. Younge patted her hand reassuringly and said, "I am sure he understands, my dear, and will not take it amiss. He is almost family and surely will not be angry over a small, unintentional slight."
Georgiana nodded and made her way upstairs to her room, but she was not able to hold off her tears until her maid had finished letting down her hair. "Miss Georgiana! Are you feeling well?"
"Yes, yes. I just have the headache a little. I am sure it will get better when I lie down."
"Indeed yes, ma'am! I will hurry tonight so you can get into bed quickly."
After what seemed like an eternity, the maid's "hurry" finished and Georgiana was left alone in the dark to think about the distressing and delightful conversation with Wickham. What was she to do? Wickham was so kind and thoughtful, not to mention wonderfully handsome. She loved him and thrilled to the touch of his hand on hers, and his lips…what would it be like to be kissed by those lips? She could not imagine a more delightful husband and he understood so well how difficult it was for her to act in a way that would upset her brother. Her brother to whom she owed so much. Could it really be true that Fitzwilliam had a dark and frightening inner life that he hid from her? It was so difficult to know what he was thinking. She tossed and turned most of the night, going over the conversation again and again until she felt she would go mad. Was Wickham right? Were the strictures with which she had been laden her entire life merely tricks to keep her on the straight and narrow path? Once she was married would she find that the rules changed? Fitzwilliam had never told her why he and Wickham were estranged, but he was the only person she had ever heard her brother speak ill of. Of course, the closest friends and family were the ones that knew the best how to raise ones bristles. Look at her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam. He was so different from her brother in the ease of his conversation and his sense of the humor in life. With these thoughts churning in her minds, she finally exhausted herself and fell into a troubled sleep just as the sky began to lighten.
Wickham was to meet them at the beach for a walk before breakfast so they could enjoy it without risking their complexions. As they walked along, looking at the ocean, and watching the seagulls as they squabbled over a piece of flotsam, Georgiana was very aware of Wickham as he walked bare inches away from her. After the previous day's revelations, she was nervous and tongue-tied with him. He was so handsome and yet so gentle and thoughtful. She both feared and longed to speak with him again. They neared the end of their usual stroll on the beach and Mrs. Younge was hailed by one of the friends that she had made at Ramsgate. She turned to Georgiana and said,
"You two go ahead. I want to just speak with Mrs. Russell for a moment about a recipe she promised me. I will catch up with you in a moment."
The two turned and continued up the beach and Georgiana waited silently to see if Wickham would speak. It seemed unlikely this morning that his declaration of love the day before had been anything but a dream.
Wickham cleared his throat and said, "I am sorry about my declaration yesterday…" He saw her face fall in mortification. "No, no, I do not retract anything about my feelings for you, my love! But I am sorry that I mentioned it. I can see that it has cost you a restful night, and I would never want to make you unhappy. I wish that I had left Ramsgate and not told you about my feelings. Then only my heart would be broken. I do not see any way to pull ourselves out of our dilemma. Your brother hates me and will never allow me to marry you. Even if he could be forced into accepting me for your husband, I should have kept myself aloof. You are far too good for me, Georgiana. My father was your father's steward! No one on earth would consider me as a potential husband for you. I knew that, but my heart overcame my head…" He stopped walking and turned her towards him. "I am now going to leave, though. I must not stay here where I will constantly see you…to watch your lovely face and all the delightful expressions flitting across it is infinitely painful to me. We will finish our walk and then I will make my adieus…"
"No!" Georgiana exclaimed. "How can you do this? You have not even given me time to speak and you are talking of leaving me!" Tears burst out of her eyes and she pulled out her handkerchief. "I guess that you do not really love me."
"Ah, Georgiana." He looked sadly into her eyes until she felt like she would drown in them. "I love you too well to ask you to lower yourself and marry a man without estate or income. I must make my way in the world and you deserve a peer of the realm."
Georgiana was overcome with panic as he prepared to leave her. "No! Don't leave me! I love you! Let us elope and once we are married I am sure my brother will come around when he sees how happy we are!"
Wickham searched her face for a moment before he spoke. "Are you sure that this is what you want? I do not want you to regret loving me, no matter how happy you are making me!"
"I am sure."
Before they could make further plans, Mrs. Younge came up and they turned back. When they reached the housed they had leased, Wickham wished Mrs. Younge a good day and, when she had turned to remove her bonnet, whispered to Georgiana, "I will see you at the Corwin's rout tonight and we will make plans."
She smiled tentatively at him, but nodded, and he departed. The rest of the day was tedious in the extreme. Georgiana wanted to talk about what she was planning, but she did not trust her maid to not give her away to Mrs. Younge. The afternoon was marked by a surprise, however. Not long after three a ring at the bell announced the arrival of Georgiana's brother. She was happy to see him, but his arrival put her into a terrible flutter. Now what was she to do?
A.) Tell her brother about the proposed elopement
B.) Keep quiet and run off with Wickham before Darcy realizes that his enemy is at Ramsgate?