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December 26th 1816
The Yule log was still burning in the grate and the candle’s flame still shone in the dining room when I retired last night. Uncle Henry and Aunt Charlotte, as well as my cousin Milton and his wife, Amelia, joined us for Christmas services and shared the delicious dinner Cook prepared. The day was a wonderful time for our family, though I do wish Milton and Amelia had brought Hugh and baby Cecilia with them as William would have much preferred a playmate his own age to the familiar company of Lydia and myself. Richard arrived in time for the meal and engaged in his usual antics, teasing us all and indulging in Fitzwilliam’s supply of brandy.
Lizzy, Lydia, and I drank wassail and played cards with Aunt Charlotte. After dinner, Lizzy, Amelia, and I all played the pianoforte and Lydia sang. I never knew she had such a clear, strong voice hidden behind her girlish giggles. I shall have to tempt her to sing in company when I have the first opportunity. She has hidden her talent in Meryton, which was a grave mistake. Those awful harpies need to see Lydia’s accomplishments have expanded and are no longer limited to flirting!
Thus far, I have been able to avoid Lydia’s inquisition over what occurred in Gunter’s, but I know she will not relent for long. I enjoy having a sister closer to my age in which to confide, yet I am appalled to have had nightmares and spoken in my sleep while in her company. I confess I had hoped the dreams that began more in earnest when I made the decision to come to London would be held at bay by the presence of another. I was wrong.
How much does she know? When I first made the acquaintance of Lydia Bennet, I would not have confided in her unless I desired all of England to hear my secrets, but I believe her now to be sincere. She has assured me of her silence, and has, thus far, kept her word.
She placed the ribbon along the binding, but left the journal open so the words might dry. With a sigh, she again read through the entry. Careful of the wet ink, she then turned back two pages.
I could scarce believe my eyes when I searched for the gentleman Lydia found so handsome and discovered Nathaniel. Indeed, his tall frame was difficult to miss as he stood across the room. I find myself amazed at how little he has changed. He has grown taller and has acquired other attributes which distinguish him from the boy he once was, yet I could see the boy I knew in the eyes of the man—particularly when he smiled.
Could his manner be much the same as it was? I dread meeting him face to face because of his antics when we were children. Why do irrational fears seem to be my lot in life? He would not be respected among his peers if he persisted in stealing the dolls of young girls, pulling curls, and proclaiming himself betrothed to them all.
Despite my twenty years, I remain a silly girl!
She was a silly girl. At the slam of her bedchamber door, she jumped and shut the book with a snap.
“You have avoided me thus far, but I shall not allow it to continue.” Lydia dropped ungracefully onto the bed and pulled a pillow beneath her chin. “I wish to know of the young man at Gunter’s.”
Georgiana rubbed an ink smudge on her fingers, yet regardless of how she scrubbed, the mark would not disappear. “He is no one of consequence. His parents were friends with my own. We were often in company together as children.”
She licked her finger and began to wipe the offending black mark with more vigour. “Pardon?”
“His name, Georgiana.”
Her hands dropped to her lap. “Nathaniel Howard, Viscount Sele.”
Lydia grinned as she lifted to a sitting position, still holding the pillow to her chest. “That was not so difficult, was it?”
Shaking her head, she stood and moved to the window. “You well know that you will not stop with his name. You merely requested the simplest information first.”
“Oh, very well!” Lydia shifted to sit as primly as one could on a bed. “Is he a sensible young man, a man of information?”
An improper noise escaped as Georgiana, who fought to stifle a laugh, began to chuckle through her nose. “I have not been in company with him since I was twelve or thirteen. I could not tell you.”
“Well, what was he like when you knew him?”
She leaned against the window seat. “Insufferable.”
“You are insufferable, Georgiana Darcy! One word is not a sufficient response! No, I want a description. I want to know why your complexion is scarlet when you lay eyes upon him, and why, when he took notice of you, he gave you such a lively grin?”
She threw her hands into the air before they dropped to her sides. “He teased me, he pulled my curls, he hid my favourite doll—I still do not know where. He always insisted upon his way, he swore he would marry me, he put a frog in my reticule, and he claimed no girl could ride a horse as well as a boy.”
Both of Lydia’s hands were palm out in front of her. “Wait a moment. Go back two complaints. Did you say he swore he would marry you?”
Heat radiated from her body as though she was standing before a roaring fire instead of a cool window on a misty December day. If Lydia heard her dreams, she knew far worse incriminating information, so how could trusting her with more be a problem?
“Yes,” she grumbled, watching her slipper clad toe trace the ivy pattern on the carpet below.
“Georgiana! He is so handsome! All of those complaints you listed were attempts to gain your attention. What if he meant what he said?” Her eyes glazed and her voice held a faint, dreamy quality Georgiana had never heard. “What if he has been waiting all this time for you to come out?”
“I am certain he was never truly enamoured of me.” Lydia opened her mouth and Georgiana rushed forward to cover it with her palm. “Even if he was, that was a long time ago. With the exception of a Christmas here and there, he has been in Ireland since he completed Oxford. I am certain he has long since forgotten me.” She removed her hand and sat upon the edge of the mattress.
“What if he still loves you?”
“He does not love me, and if he once did, ‘tis a good thing he came to his senses. If you will remember, I do not plan to marry.”
“You cannot allow one bad experience to dictate your life.”
Georgiana glared into Lydia’s eyes. “I would never expect you to understand what occurred or how it has affected me since.”
Lydia took her hands. “I have heard your nightmares. I am assuming it was the man who proposed who hurt you so dreadfully.” She paused, but Georgiana would not meet her eyes. Instead, she studied the fire as each tendril of flame curled upwards, changed colour, and wavered before it tapered to a curved point. How much did Lydia know? “If you continue to shun the world, you allow him influence over your future—he is still a part of your life. He deserves no such attention.”
Her stomach tightened and churned. How could flighty, immature Lydia have proven to be so discerning?
“Do not stare at me so. I learnt a great deal while I sat in solitude and observed those around me. I can now understand why Lizzy is so often occupied by the activity. I also have little to do but think when I am awakened due to your dreams.”
She swallowed the sick that had risen in her throat. “You could have removed to your own bedchamber.” Her voice was weak and shaky. Lord, but she hated when she was feeble-minded!
“I considered doing as much, yet you were so terrified, I could not leave your side. Instead, I remained and held your hand.”
Her vision blurred, and she blinked hard, looking anywhere but at Lydia. She would not cry! “What do you believe happened?” whispered Georgiana.
“I am not certain, but I hope one day you might trust me enough to tell me.” Lydia’s head tilted. “I want to know more about Lord Sele.”
Georgiana groaned. “Nathaniel. Fitzwilliam calls him Sele since we have grown, but when we were children, he was Nathaniel.”
“Was he handsome?” Lydia bit her lip with a smile.
“He looked much the same as he does now.”
She rolled her eyes. “Tosh! He is sure to be taller than he was then, and I doubt his shoulders were so broad or that he could grow a beard.”
Her lips tugged upwards on each end. “Well, of course not, but whether he was handsome or not was irrelevant because he was the most infuriating boy. I was once so irritated by his presumption I kicked him in the shin.”
Lydia rolled back onto the bed in a fit of giggles. “Why?”
“As I mentioned before, he insisted he would marry me.”
“If he made such a proclamation to me, I would not argue one jot!”
A light knock made them both turn towards the door.
A maid entered. “I beg your pardon, miss, but Mrs. Darcy asked me to tell you of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s arrival.”
They rose from the bed, straightened their appearance before the mirror, and hastened to the drawing room where Lizzy stood near the fire speaking with Richard and an unknown lady. Georgiana made an abrupt halt.
Richard held out his arm. “Georgiana, I would like you to meet my betrothed.” Her eyes pained her they bulged so. Richard was marrying? Why had he not said as much yesterday when they were a small family party rather than shock her with the information in company? She put a tentative foot forward, but a hand grabbed her elbow and hauled her in their direction.
She shook herself free. “Lydia, I can walk on my own.”
When she approached, Richard steered the lady to step closer. “Miss Julia Raeburn, I would like you to meet my cousin, Miss Georgiana Darcy.” He gestured towards Lydia. “And this young lady is Lizzy’s sister, Miss Lydia Bennet.”
Once the ladies all curtseyed, Miss Raeburn glanced to Richard and back to them. “I am pleased to meet the both of you. I have heard much of you, Miss Darcy, and I anticipate knowing you better.”
A painful jab to her ribs prompted her to jump. “Yes, congratulations, Richard.” She stepped forward and kissed him upon the cheek. “Forgive me. My cousin has been quite circumspect. I had no idea he was planning to marry.”
Richard’s expression softened as he smiled at Miss Raeburn. “I hope you will forgive me, but we have been betrothed for nigh on two months. I wished to tell you in person, so I requested your brother not say a word. I thought the announcement would be better with Julia present, so I delayed until today. We set the date for when we knew you could be in attendance, so we marry in a fortnight.”
A fortnight! “Is it to be a grand wedding?”
A light appeared in Miss Raeburn’s eyes, and she hugged Richard’s arm a bit tighter. “I hoped for a small affair, but my father could not be stopped. He insisted he invite his business associates as they might be offended should they be excluded. I am afraid Lord and Lady Fitzwilliam took that as permission to include the entire House of Lords. Their ball in but two days’ time has been turned into a celebration of our marriage and might prove to be a greater crush than the past events Richard has described.”
Lizzy sighed. “Oh, Fitzwilliam will be miserable if your prediction is true.”
Richard covered Miss Raeburn’s hand upon his arm with his own. “Some might sneer at Mr. Raeburn as a tradesman, but I find it doubtful they would offend my father by snubbing the evening.”
As Lydia looped her arm through Georgiana’s, Lydia leaned forward a hairsbreadth. “How did the two of you meet?”
Richard’s cheeks became slightly reddened. “I happened upon Julia walking with her nephews and their nurse in the park. She was distraught over the disappearance of one of the boys, so I, being the dashing gentleman that I am, could not rest until the child was located.”
Georgiana observed Miss Raeburn while Richard spoke. Miss Raeburn appeared to be several years older than she—perhaps six or seven and twenty? Her countenance was open and happy. She looked upon Richard with fondness and blushed when their eyes met. Georgiana’s utmost concern was Richard’s long-standing claim of requiring a wife with a fortune. She did not want him to wed without affection, but her concerns appeared to be for naught. The colour in their cheeks and the looks they were bestowing upon one another were proof enough of their mutual attachment.
“I did not know the gratitude I would receive for my part in discovering him.”
Miss Raeburn peered upwards and gave a playful scoff. “You always tell the tale as though I made an improper overture. I merely invited you to dinner.”
Lizzy’s shoulders shook as she held back her amusement. Lydia wore a happy expression despite her slight acquaintance with Richard and his betrothed. Was she the lone surprised party here?
“Sir James Audley and Lady Audley.” Jobbins gave a short bow and departed.
“Jane!” exclaimed Lizzy while she rushed forward to embrace her elder sister. “I had not expected you until tomorrow.”
Sir James shook Richard’s hand before he kissed Lizzy on the cheek. “Huntleigh is but a two hour carriage ride from London. We left as the sun rose, and have settled the children at Audley House. Jane simply could not wait until the morrow to be with all of you.”
Georgiana kissed Jane on the cheek as Fitzwilliam entered and greeted the newcomers before taking his usual place at Lizzy’s side.
“I have missed them.” Jane’s voice was exasperated, yet her happy countenance was proof she was anything but upset. “I cannot wait to see William. If he has grown as much as Jamie and Clara, I fear I shall not recognise him.”
Lizzy retained her hold on her sister’s hands. “You are not one to be so dramatic.”
“Little Jamie has taken after his father. He has grown several inches at least since we returned from Pemberley, and Clara is walking! Their growth has been so swift! Jamie is not the baby he once was, and Clara is so fiercely independent. She reminds me of you, Lizzy.”
“Why are all the headstrong children in our family compared to me?”
With his hand to her shoulder, Fitzwilliam pulled her close. “Because you are the most stubborn and wilful woman we know.”
Georgiana inhaled sharply at her brother’s tease while Lizzy elbowed him in the side. “I should take great offence to such a statement,” she cried.
“You shall only prove me correct.”
A small growl came from Lizzy as she crossed her arms over her chest. “Very well, I shall know how to act.”
A bark of laughter erupted from Richard. “Poor Darcy! I believe you have spent too much time in the company of Lady Catherine.”
Lizzy paled. “Heaven forbid!”
“Do not fret.” Her brother gave a slight tug to Lizzy’s elbow and ran his hand down her forearm and entwined his fingers with hers. “Lady Catherine shall remain at Rosings until Anne and Bingley come in late January since they cannot travel without her advice and supervision.”
“Poor Bingley was well aware of Lady Catherine’s disposition before he asked Anne to marry him.” Richard grinned like he was plotting some great revenge. “He cannot claim ignorance.”
“No,” responded Georgiana, “but no amount of foresight could have told him she would become more overprotective of her grandchildren than of her daughter.”
“As long as she has no thoughts of pairing William with her granddaughter, Catherine, as she did with Anne and Fitzwilliam.” Lizzy tugged the nearby bell pull. “I have no wish for rumours to abound of my son’s arranged marriage.”
A maid bustled through the door and curtseyed. “Yes, ma’am?”
“Have tea and refreshments served as soon as they can be arranged.”
With one last bob, the maid departed and Lizzy gestured around the room while Richard introduced Miss Raeburn to Jane and Sir James. “Let us sit while we can. Once William wakes from his nap, I shall have Mrs. Wynn bring him to join us.”
When they were seated, Richard glanced to Lizzy and then to Lydia. “Miss Bennet, you have been rather quiet. Are you enjoying London thus far?”
Georgiana looked to her hands and awaited Lydia’s recitation of their last few days. She had not ceased speaking of Gunter’s and the modiste’s, and it was possible she would repeat the entirety of her week without pausing for breath. You had no way of knowing with Lydia.
“I have seen little since our arrival: a few shops, Gunter’s, and the modiste. Yet, I have taken great pleasure in what we have done. We have fittings tomorrow at Madame Guiard’s, and Lizzy indicated we would shop for bonnets and hats afterward.”
Lizzy straightened in her seat. “Miss Raeburn, we would be pleased if you could join us tomorrow. We could all become better acquainted.”
“I would love to join you. Oh! And I would be pleased if you would call me Julia.”
A twinkle lit Lizzy’s eye. She looked to Georgiana and Fitzwilliam as though she was requesting their permission. “Well, then you should call us all by our given names as well. I am Lizzy to my family and sisters, only Fitzwilliam calls me Elizabeth, but you are welcome to call me as such.”
Richard chuckled. “You are allowed, my dear, but I am not. My staid, stingy cousin will not allow it.”
Why could Richard not leave well enough alone? He loved baiting Fitzwilliam with that nonsense!
After a pinch to his arm, Julia frowned in his direction. “Mr. Darcy is allowed to have an endearing name for his wife. Need I remind you your preference for the nickname my brother gave me when we were children? Would you care to have your cousin refer to me in such a familiar manner?” Fitzwilliam’s low, muffled chuckle was heard in the pause.
“You know I am teasing him,” complained Richard with a pout. “Why must you spoil the fun?”
“Because you have a similar habit, and I see nothing to mock in the manner in which a man loves his wife. Too many people wed for concerns other than the heart. ‘Tis refreshing to see so many marriages based on affection in one family.”
His shoulders dropped. “Forgive me.” He held his hand palm up, which Julia took in hers. “I had not thought of how unforgiving some of my parents’ acquaintances have been. I know you have been upset by their attitudes, but remember their prejudices and talk will lessen over time.”
“When I first married Fitzwilliam, the disdain of some ladies was written upon their expressions.” Julia’s eyes never left Lizzy while the latter spoke. With this similarity, they were bound to become good friends. Their likeness in temper would also facilitate their relationship. “Over time, those disappeared and a few even deign to speak with me. I care naught for those who place money and class over other considerations. They cannot comprehend what they lack. Do know that Lady Fitzwilliam will not allow her guests to abuse you.”
“My aunt does not abide the cattiness of some ladies,” interjected Georgiana. “Lizzy is correct. My aunt once had a viscount removed from one of her balls because he snubbed one of her dearest friends. If nothing else, no one will cut you for fear of losing their invitation to next year’s ball.”
“Mother and I have told her as much,” added Richard. “Though, I wish she did not worry. Besides, I shall be a gentleman once my commission is sold and Julia will be a gentleman’s wife. When we are at home in the country, her background will matter less than in town.”
“He is correct, you know,” said Lizzy. Julia looked back to her without blinking. “My mother’s father was a solicitor and her brother a tradesman, an importer, yet no one in Meryton derided her roots.”
Wait! Her head shot back in her cousin’s direction. Richard was selling his commission? “Richard, you are leaving the military?”
With a huge grin, he glanced to his betrothed and back. “I am, Georgiana. Between my allowance from Father, my investments, and my salary, I saved enough to purchase a small estate in Nottinghamshire. The house is not terribly large, but it is sufficient. Julia’s fortune is also such that I can buy a parcel of land adjoining mine since the owners changed their mind about retaining it.”
“I am so pleased for you.” How fortunate! Richard had always despised being subject to the whim of his superiors, and now, he would be free of those strictures.
“Thank you. We do hope you will join us for a stay once we are settled.” Richard’s brows rose to his forehead. “I know how you adore Pemberley, but I promise you will not be away from Derbyshire for long.”
Georgiana scanned the faces of her family. She was truly fortunate to have such relations. Even Julia gave a slight lean forward in her seat while she awaited the answer. Georgiana inhaled in order to quash the turning of her stomach. Richard would never wed someone who was not genuine. Julia would be much like Lizzy, and how could she reject another sister? The answer was simple, she could not. “When you are prepared for guests, then I shall come.”