Here’s the next episode of Miss Darcy’s Parisian Pin – you can find the other chapters here if you’ve missed any – I hope you enjoy it!
Georgiana dressed with care for her first ball at Bath. She was delighted with her new gown of finest embroidered muslin and chose a necklace of seed pearls to wear at her throat. Sitting at her dressing table with her hair spreading over her shoulders she waited patiently whilst her maid twisted her curls into shape.
‘Betsy, thank heavens you are here to help me, I should look a fright without your expertise.’
‘Nonsense, Miss Darcy, you have such beautiful hair, it’s never a bother, and I think this new style is going to suit you ever so much.’
‘How are you settling in, Betsy? Have you managed to see anything of Bath yet?’
‘It’s my afternoon off tomorrow, Miss Darcy. Sally and me are going for a walk out with two of the maids from number fourteen. One of them is Sally’s cousin, and she’s that excited because she doesn’t get to see her very often.’
‘Number fourteen? That’s where our friends the Audley’s are lodging. My brother knew Mr Audley at Cambridge.’
‘It’s a small world, isn’t it, Miss? I daresay we’ll hear all about the family, and after our walk we’re going for tea with the cook at number fourteen. Sally says she’s ever so nice, the best her cousin’s ever worked for.’
‘Well, I hope you have a lovely time.’
‘I’m sure I shall, Miss Darcy. I feel as if I’m on holiday I do, and that’s all down to the kindness of you and Mr and Mrs Darcy, not to mention Mrs Reynolds.’
‘You more than deserve it, my dear. Thank you so much for being so patient with me, I hardly recognise myself.’
‘Miss Darcy, you look so grown-up this evening and this new style is so sophisticated. I think all the young men will want to dance with you.’
‘Oh, I’m not thinking of dancing, Betsy. I haven’t really wanted to dance with anyone since … well, you know of whom I’m talking.’
‘I might be talking out of turn, Miss, but I think you should enjoy yourself. I don’t suppose Mr de Valois is sitting out every dance even if I’m sure he misses you just as much as you miss him. I think he would like to imagine you having fun too. There’s nothing either of you can do about being apart, and until you are together again, I’m sure he’d want you to enjoy yourself.’
‘Oh, Betsy, you always talk such sense. But my new acquaintance, Miss Audley is an invalid, and I’m not sure she’ll be joining in with any dancing. I thought it might be an idea to sit with her, and we can watch everyone else.’
‘Always so kind, and always thinking of other people, that’s you, Miss Darcy. I’ve never known anyone quite like you. Nevertheless, I hope you will meet a nice young man who will beg you to stand up with him.’
Georgiana always tried as much as she could to think of others. She recognised what a very privileged position she held in life and easing the lot of tenants and servants was her duty, something her brother had always instilled in her. Even so, she felt it was never enough, and looking at Betsy she couldn’t help feeling guilty about the stark contrasts in their lives. Betsy’s excitement at the idea of having an afternoon off made Georgiana feel very humble. The least she could do was try and enjoy the evening ahead as much as possible. She stared back at the young woman in the glass who seemed completely unrecognisable. The thought of dancing with anyone or even being introduced to any young gentlemen she didn’t know made her feel quite like her timid old self. Rising to her feet, she gave Betsy a hug before arranging her shawl about her shoulders and rushing downstairs.
The Assembly Rooms were very full. Georgiana trailed behind Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth with mounting tension. Everyone seemed to know one another, and there was a lot of ‘hallooing’ and cries of delight heard as people sought one another out in the candlelit vestibule. As they gained the top of the corridor Georgiana could see the entrance to the ballroom on her left where people were starting to gather and the magnificent show of sparkling chandeliers. To her right were the tea rooms, and a glimpse through the crowds displayed tables laid ready for tea and light refreshments. Squeezing their way through the crowds they carried on through to the Octagon Room where the majority were finding their friends, with some of the gentlemen choosing to move on to the card room.
Colonel Fitzwilliam was waiting for them, and as usual was thrilled to see them and eager to introduce them to some of his friends he knew from Bath. They were introduced to Captain Tasker and Captain Lambert, who the colonel knew from one of his old regiments, and his neighbours from Marlborough Buildings, Mr and Mrs Marshfield. Just as everybody was becoming familiar with everyone else along came Mr Audley, his sister and Mademoiselle Dufort to join the party.
Miss Audley looked more ethereal than ever, like a wraith or woodland faery, thought Georgiana. She was also dressed in white, a very fine glazed muslin with a train that trailed on the ground behind her. Her auburn hair was caught up on top of her head and ornamented by a sparkling diadem which completed her look as a faery queen. Wisps of copper curls danced on her nape when she turned to talk to her friend who held her arm. Mademoiselle Dufort was dressed in striking blue silk taffeta trimmed with lace, and looked very beautiful with her dark hair tumbling in curls from a jaunty cap. Georgiana could not help staring, Paris fashions in Bath were a delight to see, and it was clear several young men were turning their heads to admire her companion. Miss Margaretta and Mademoiselle Emmeline expressed their delight at seeing her again, and it was not long before all three were chatting away like old friends.
‘Are you staying in England long, Mademoiselle Emmeline?’ asked Georgiana.
‘I am living here permanently, Miss Darcy, or at least until I can face going back to France one day. Unfortunately, my parents were imprisoned during the dark days in our history, and I was brought to England by my aunt. I will never see my parents again, which is an idea that breaks my heart. What has happened in my beloved country is too hard to think about, though I hope one day I will find the courage to return.’
‘Oh dear, I am so sorry to have reminded you of such sad times,’ said Miss Darcy. ‘Please forgive me, I cannot imagine how you have suffered.’
‘Miss Darcy, I am glad to talk of it, and to remind myself of happier days with the most beloved parents anyone ever had. And I am lucky … if not for the bravery of my aunt I would not be alive today, and I know how much my Maman and Papa wanted me to live the life they were denied.’
‘I would like to visit France one day,’ said Georgiana. ‘I have distant family living there in the Loire valley. I have seen pictures and it looks so beautiful, and my dear cousin described it all in such wonderful detail I feel I know each contour of the landscape, every tree and blade of grass.’
‘It is the most perfect situation, Miss Darcy, I do not exaggerate, I hope, when I say it is an earthly paradise. I am from Vouvray, so I am a little biased.’
‘My cousins live near Amboise – would you happen to know them? Their name is de Valois.’
‘Surely you do not mean Louise and Antoine de Valois?’
‘I do, indeed.’
‘But, of course I know them!’ Emmeline looked most animated. ‘They are your relations, Miss Darcy? I know them very well, though during such troubled times I have not seen them for an age. I am sure Louise must be quite out by now, and Antoine is engaged to be married to a good friend of mine, Adele Fouquet, but this you must know, of course.’
Suddenly, the room blurred, and the heat and noise in the place buzzed in Georgiana’s ears. Had she heard correctly? No, it could not be true; Mademoiselle Emmeline must surely be speaking of someone else. But, the lady was still talking of Antoine and Louise, describing them in such vivid detail and recalling every dear curl on his beloved head. With her heart hammering, Georgiana found the courage to speak at last.
‘I did not know of Monsieur de Valois’ engagement, Mademoiselle Dufort. It must be a recent one, I think. I only met my cousins for the first time last Christmas when they came to stay at Pemberley for a short while. The subject was not mentioned, so perhaps it has happened since then.’
‘Oh no, Miss Darcy, it is of long standing, though I believe it was kept quite secret until recently. But, I hope I have not spoken out of turn.’
She felt she might faint at the words, which reduced her instantly to a quivering wreck. The shock must have shown in her face because Miss Audley asked outright if anything was the matter.
‘Oh no,’ Georgiana lied. ‘I am fine though the heat in the room is making me long for some air. I hope you will excuse me, but I think I shall step outside for a moment.’
‘Please allow us to escort you, Miss Darcy,’ said Miss Audley. ‘You look very ill, and you cannot go alone.’
Georgiana was forced to endure their company a little longer. Tears smarted and threatened to overcome her but she blinked them back. Surely there must be a horrible mistake, she reasoned as she hastened from the room. It could not be her friend and love, Antoine de Valois, of whom Mademoiselle Dufort was talking.
Mrs Bennet was satisfied at last. She’d known her husband would buckle under a little pressure and now their trip to Bath was finally secured. Ever since the business with Lydia, he’d been much more amenable to accompanying them all on trips, and so long as he was allowed to find a comfortable place with a library to hand, he was happy. Mrs Bennet had made much of the fact that Bath boasted a number of circulating libraries, and her wish to travel in the morning was about to come true.
‘Oh, my dear, you won’t regret it. The library at the top of Milsom Street where folk of real quality take a subscription is just a short walk from Queen Square, and you know Gay Street, the Circus, and the Royal Crescent are just a little further along. You’ll be able to see Lizzy every day, and I know how much you miss her. Of course, I miss her too, but you were always so close, and I do not like to think of you pining for her.’
‘Mrs Bennet, there is no further need of persuasion for your scheme. As you well know, the house is taken on a month’s lease, and I have no desire to lose my deposit.’
‘Oh, Mr Bennet, you love to tease me, and I cannot wait to see the house … even if it is not quite as high as the crescent, I am sure it will be a good one.’
‘I believe it is sound enough not to fall about our ears, and will have rooms enough to accommodate all your needs.’
Mrs Bennet rolled her eyes and turned her attention to her daughter who was watching the conversation with some amusement. ‘A whole month, Kitty, what fun we shall have, what shopping and balls!’
‘Yes, the thought is exciting, though I can’t help wishing Lydia was going to be there,’ answered Kitty. ‘I know she would love to come to Bath, and if I had the money I would send for her.’
‘If only that were possible,’ said Mrs Bennet, ‘but Mr Wickham is so busy in Newcastle and I know she wouldn’t consider leaving without him.’
‘And for that, we are entirely grateful,’ muttered Mr Bennet under his breath. ‘Lizzy will have enough to suffer without adding to her misfortunes.’
‘Whatever can you mean, husband? I am certain if Lydia were to make an appearance, we should all be glad to see her.’
Well, you may think whatever you choose, and I shall count my blessings!’