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Authors: Wendi Sotis

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Once their greetings were complete, Elizabeth said, “I am afraid that James is becoming quite the expert at wandering off whenever he sees something of interest to him, which is exactly the circumstance of our meeting the other day, as well. Heaven forbid I should need two hands to retrieve something from my reticule!” She raised both eyebrows and looked down at James.

James diverted his gaze to the ground.

“James, do you remember what we agreed upon if you do not mind me today?”

He looked up, eyes widened, his expression suddenly becoming full of remorse. “No biscuits.”

Elizabeth nodded. “So, that
was
the last time, was it not?”

He nodded his head quickly.

“Good. I can promise that I will not be so forgiving if it happens again.” Turning slightly so the little boy could not see it, Elizabeth winked at Georgiana.

The younger lady tried not to smile.

“Are you and Mr. Darcy enjoying Ramsgate?”

“My brother has returned to London,” Georgiana said in a quiet tone of voice. “I have enjoyed the scenery only from the window until today. It is lovely.”

Perhaps my impression from the drawing was correct. Miss Darcy certainly seems to be shy.
“And you, Mrs. Younge?”

Mrs. Younge was startled to have been addressed directly. The ladies of the
ton
always treated her as if she did not exist. “I like it very much, thank you.”

I wonder why I feel so much tension from Mrs. Younge?
Elizabeth thought.

“Is Miss Bennet with you?” Georgiana asked timidly.

“Yes, just there, near the end of the pier. Would you like to walk with us?”

Georgiana nodded, and the small group began to stroll in that direction.

“I understand your estate is near the village of Lambton,” Elizabeth stated.

Georgiana looked at her curiously. “I believe five miles separates Pemberley from Lambton.”

“My Aunt Gardiner, who—with your permission—I will introduce in a moment, spent her childhood at Lambton.”

Georgiana smiled. “Oh, yes, I
would
like to meet her. Thank you.”

Mrs. Younge did not seem pleased by the prospect. “Miss Darcy, do you not think you have had enough excitement for one day? You are here for your health, after all.”

Not willing to pass up an opportunity to discuss the area surrounding the place she thought of as home, she answered, “I appreciate your concern, Mrs. Younge, but I am not at all fatigued.”

Introductions were made, and Georgiana became quite animated during a short discussion of Derbyshire with Mrs. Gardiner as the group began to walk towards shore. Seeing that the children were becoming weary, Mrs. Gardiner excused her party, and then invited Georgiana and Mrs. Younge for tea the following day. Georgiana accepted for them both, and the two groups parted company.

~%~

Another letter awaited Elizabeth upon returning to their rented house. After seeing the children safely to the nursery, leaving them in the care of their nanny, Elizabeth and Jane retreated to their room.

A few minutes later, Elizabeth exclaimed, “I am sorry, Jane, it cannot be interpreted any other way.” She gestured towards the latest drawing. “It seems I was right not to like him. The young man who will be courting Miss Darcy will also be pursuing Mrs. Younge!”

“There must be some sort of mistake. Mrs. Younge seemed so polite, so friendly.”

“Apparently,
too
friendly.”

“Lizzy!”

Elizabeth lifted the last two pictures she had received and held them before her, side by side. Jane could not deny that Elizabeth was correct when faced with the drawing of Mrs. Younge holding the arm of the same gentleman, looking at him in an even more familiar and intimate way than had Georgiana.

“It is obvious they both take place in Ramsgate—look at the background. Mrs. Younge was wearing that dress today, so this must take place in the near future, and Miss Darcy said that she had never been in Ramsgate before now.” Elizabeth sighed. “Jane, I know that is it part of your nature to think kindly of everyone, but here is proof.” She lifted the latest drawing she had received higher than the other. “This gentleman is not to be trusted.”

“Can we warn Miss Darcy or Mrs. Younge?”

Elizabeth placed the two drawings on the table and walked to the window, wrapping her arms around her middle. “I do not know how to warn them. They would think us mad if we told them about the pictures.” She chuckled without mirth. “And we do not even know the gentleman’s name. They might not even have met him yet!”

~%~

July 24, 1811

After having tea at the Gardiner’s temporary residence at Ramsgate, Georgiana waved her goodbyes to the Bennets and Mrs. Gardiner and settled back into the seat of a coach that her brother had left behind for her use. Infinitely pleased with her visit, she was lost in her recollections of the afternoon when Mrs. Younge spoke.

“I feel it necessary to point out that I do not think your brother would approve of these ladies, Miss Darcy.”

Georgiana paled. “Why?”

“Mrs. Gardiner is the daughter of a tradesman—the former haberdasher from
Lambton
, no less. Would your brother approve of your spending a great deal of time with the daughter of Lambton’s baker or butcher?” Mrs. Younge frowned and shook her head. “The Bennets may be the daughters of a gentleman, but their mother is the daughter of a tradesman, and her brother is a tradesman in London still!”

“You cannot deny that they are perfectly polite and genteel. My brother already
did
grant his permission—”

Mrs. Younge interrupted, “Mr. Darcy was unaware of their background at that time. It is my opinion that they are not suitable company for a lady of your stature, and I would feel uncomfortable allowing your acquaintance with them to carry on without his continued approval. I will write to Mr. Darcy directly upon arriving at the house. Until we receive his answer, I do not believe you should see them again.”

“But—”

“I am sorry, Miss Darcy, but my livelihood may depend upon waiting for your brother’s approval.” Her well-practiced expression of remorse hid Mrs. Younge’s true feelings.

Ashamed of the tears that had begun to well up in her eyes, Georgiana lowered her gaze to the gloved hands folded in her lap. Unable to speak again, she only nodded.

Look at her! I do not like being proven wrong, but I could not guess how her meeting the Bennets would be the perfect addition to our scheme. Now Miss Darcy will be feeling even lonelier than ever, waiting for her brother to answer a letter that will never be sent! She will have a day to mourn the loss of her friends—and then the next stage of our plan will be put into action.

~%~

July 25, 1811

Mrs. Gardiner, Elizabeth, and Jane stood before the Darcy residence in Ramsgate. The butler answered the door.

“May we see Miss Darcy, please?” Mrs. Gardiner asked.

“Miss Darcy is not at home. Would you like to leave your card?”

Mrs. Gardiner handed over her card, and the threesome turned to leave.

“That is odd. As she was leaving yesterday, Miss Darcy said that she would be at home today.” Elizabeth looked up at the second floor and saw a curtain move. Her step faltered, and she hesitated a moment before continuing.

~%~

Mrs. Younge came up behind her charge, who was standing at the window watching her would-be guests walk away from the house. When Elizabeth had turned and looked up, Georgiana stepped back from the window and bumped into Mrs. Younge. “I am sorry.”

“Is something wrong?”

“I do not like deceiving them.”

“Now, now, Miss Darcy. The letter I have written to your brother was sent in this morning’s post. You shall know his decision before long. If he
does
approve, you may return their call very soon indeed.”

“And if not?”

“Then in delaying your meeting with them again, we have made the correct decision.”

Georgiana’s forehead furrowed as she turned back to watch her friends round the corner.

“Have I done anything to cause you to doubt my word, Miss Darcy?”

Unwilling to give anyone pain, Georgiana turned quickly from the window. “Oh, no, Mrs. Younge, of course you have not.”

Mrs. Younge smiled slightly
. Foolish child!

 

 

Chapter 4

Later in the day, as they stood watching the children play in the sands whilst their aunt was busy speaking to a lady of her acquaintance, Elizabeth said to Jane, “I wonder what Mrs. Younge could have said to cause Miss Darcy to say that she was not at home?”

“What makes you think that Miss Darcy
was
at home?”

“I saw her at the window... or I should say that I only saw the curtain move, but my instincts tell me that it was Miss Darcy watching us.”

“It does not have to mean anything nefarious, Lizzy. Yesterday, she did mention that the reason she was not at the family’s estate this summer was that she had spent a good part of the winter ill with influenza and wished to take the sea air. She might have expected to be well enough to receive visitors today, but when the time came, she was feeling fatigued.”

“I suppose—I do hope she is well. Perhaps we should call again tomorrow?”

“It might be perfectly acceptable to do so in the country, but I am not certain that is entirely proper for the London set to call the next day. I think we had best leave it up to Aunt Gardiner’s discretion. She did leave her card.”

“Yes, she did.”
I have a bad feeling about this.

~%~

July 26, 1811

Georgiana looked up expectantly from her embroidering when the butler entered the room with a small silver tray. “Is that the post, Barnes?”

“Yes, miss.”

He walked across the room to Mrs. Younge, who took her letter from the tray, saying, “It is from my sister, in Bath.”

Georgiana could not hide her disappointment.

The butler turned to his mistress and said, “Miss Darcy, there is a gentleman at the door, a Mr. George Wickham. Since you are not receiving visitors, I was about to send him away, but then he mentioned he is a particular friend of the family—”

“Mr. Wickham?” Georgiana’s face lit up with a smile and a blush. “Yes, of course I will see him, Barnes.”

Barnes bowed and left the room. Georgiana stood and shook the wrinkles from her gown, then sat again, smoothing the material. Her mind was in turmoil, memories of the handsome young man she had always fancied herself in love with swirling through her head. He could not have thought of her in any other way than a little girl back then—but
now
she was grown! Adjusting her posture to sit in the straightest manner she could manage, she followed Mrs. Younge’s example and took up her embroidery. A few moments later, Wickham was shown in. The ladies put their work aside and rose.

“Miss Darcy!” Wickham bowed. “What a pleasure it is to see you again. From the moment I heard that you and your brother were in town, I could not help but wish to visit.”

Georgiana looked down to hide her blush as she curtsied. “And you, sir. It has been so long. Mr. Wickham, may I introduce Mrs. Younge, my companion?”

The two exchanged the barest of civil greetings.

“Will you not sit down?” Georgiana gestured towards a chair across from her.

Once they were settled, an awkward silence followed. Responding to a significant look from Mrs. Younge, Georgiana spoke again, her voice trembling, “I apologize that my brother is not here to greet you. He had business in London and then will spend a few days at Pemberley before returning to Ramsgate.”

“I am sorry to have missed him, but perhaps I will see him at some later date. How delightful it would be to reminisce about Pemberley and Cambridge.”

“I have often enjoyed listening to my brother and cousins recall tales of their time spent at Pemberley and Matlock in their youth.” Her intonation was still measured, but she seemed to be a bit more comfortable than before. “You have often been included in their stories.”

For an instant, Wickham’s face betrayed a touch of surprise, but almost immediately, an easy smile replaced it. “And how are Colonel Fitzwilliam and the Viscount?”

The two continued in the same vein, Georgiana bringing him up to date on the accomplishments of her family. Wickham slowly returned the conversation to Pemberley, recalling several occasions when the two had spent time together in their younger years, with quite a few words of compliment towards her parents and the estate in general mixed in.

Before too long, Wickham said, “I am terribly sorry, ladies. I would much prefer spending all day in your company, but I have a previous engagement and must be on my way.”

At a silent prompt from Mrs. Younge, Georgiana asked, “Are you available to dine with us whilst you are staying at Ramsgate?”

“If it would not be inconvenient, I am free this evening.”

Georgiana glanced at Mrs. Younge’s slight nod and replied, “Of course, it would be no inconvenience.”

The invitation secured, Wickham turned away from Georgiana to bid farewell to Mrs. Younge, including a wink, carefully timed so that the younger lady would not see.

When he turned back to Georgiana, he captured her eyes with a practiced, smouldering gaze which left her breathless. Taking her hand, his thumb brushed across her knuckles as he said in a low, husky voice, “It pains me to leave you after such an agreeable visit, Miss Darcy. My only consolation is that I will see you again this evening. You have blossomed into an exceptionally lovely young lady. Your brother must be very proud!”

Watching Wickham bow low over her hand, Georgiana was not sure whether she was more relieved or disappointed when he did not press her hand to his lips. A moment later, Georgiana watched closely as he swaggered from the room.

Quite forgotten was the letter Georgiana had begun writing to her brother, and her wish to see Mrs. Gardiner and the Bennet ladies was pushed from her awareness. She seemed to float in a cloud of happiness for the remainder of the morning and well into the afternoon—her only thought was that
he
had noticed that she was no longer a child!

So distracted was she that she did not perceive Mrs. Younge’s small smile of satisfaction and the sparkle in her eyes as she thought of what an easy success she and her partner had accomplished thus far.

~%~

Later that day, Georgiana sought out her companion. “Mrs. Younge,” Georgiana began, her voice trembling slightly, “is it entirely proper to have invited Mr. Wickham to dine, do you think?”

Mrs. Younge pursed her lips and furrowed her brow unhappily, making Georgiana all the more nervous. “Tell me again how things were in the past between Mr. Wickham and your family.”

“Mr. Wickham was the son of my father’s dear friend and steward; therefore, the son had been welcomed to come and go from the main house freely. He had been included in all of my brother’s lessons and was always involved in Fitzwilliam’s leisure time activities, as well. Mr. Wickham had accompanied Fitzwilliam at university, and the two young men shared an apartment there.”

“Would you consider him a member of the family?” Mrs. Younge asked.

Georgiana cocked her head to the side thoughtfully. “Although he was not in any way related to me, my father
did
treat Mr. Wickham almost as if he had been a second son.”

“Well, then, it is my opinion that, since you do have a chaperone, it cannot be wrong to invite a man who had always been treated as if he were a member of the Darcy family to dine at a Darcy household. In fact, I am sure your brother would be proud that you should extend such hospitality to Mr. Wickham.”

Georgiana replied brightly. “Thank you, Mrs. Younge. I feel much better now.”

~%~

When Mr. Wickham arrived, he appeared uncommonly handsome and refined in his blue coat. His behaviour was so charming and attentive towards her that Georgiana could not but think him perfect in every way. Throughout the evening, she had found it difficult to breathe whenever he looked at her in a certain way and could not help but hope this was proof that he was as enamoured with her as she had always been with him.

During the final course, Wickham told an amusing story about an adventure he had shared with her brother when they were young. Through her laughter, Georgiana said, “Oh, I do wish Fitzwilliam was here. I am certain he will come to Ramsgate directly when I write him in the morning and tell him of your presence here.”

Wickham’s smile faded, and he suddenly paled. He cleared his throat. “Dearest Georgiana, I would prefer it if you did
not
tell him that I am at Ramsgate.”

Georgiana answered, “But why, George? You are a particular friend of Fitzwilliam’s—” She shook her head.

“I once thought so, too...” Wickham closed his eyes for several heartbeats, and then met her gaze. “Will you simply trust me on this, my dear? It saddens me to speak of this subject. I do not wish to cause you any pain.”

“Cause
me
pain?” It was not the first time this evening that Georgiana’s heartbeat had quickened, but this time it was not a result of Wickham’s smouldering gazes or his fingers grazing her hand when Mrs. Younge was not looking in their direction. Now,
fear
fueled her rapid pulse.

Wickham sighed deeply before speaking in a reluctant tone, “I am afraid the reason I have not seen your brother for the past several years is that we have had a falling out.” His gaze fell to where his fingers toyed with the stem of his wine glass. “But, I wouldn’t feel comfortable speaking of your brother’s betrayal to
anyone
.” He quickly looked up at Georgiana with horror in his expression. “Oh! I did not mean to say that—”

Georgiana gasped. “Betrayal?
Fitzwilliam
?”

The sight of Wickham’s eyes filling with tears nearly broke Georgiana’s heart as he whispered with defeat, “My devotion to your father’s memory forbids that I should utter another word upon the subject.”

The young lady looked at Mrs. Younge to see if she knew to what Wickham referred, but her companion sat still, in wide-eyed astonishment.

Georgiana asked, “Please, will you not explain, sir?”

Wickham shook his head.

“You can trust us, George.” Georgiana reached for his hand. “I
must
know what Fitzwilliam has done to cause this breach in your friendship.”

Wickham sighed deeply. “My dear lady, please be aware of how it pains me to my very soul to expose him in this manner, but you have convinced me of your need to know more of this circumstance.” He swallowed a bracing gulp of wine before he continued. “Your father treated me like a son, Georgiana.” Wickham looked off into the distance and smiled wistfully. “Mr. Darcy was such a kind and generous gentleman; he did more for me than I had ever expected.”

Georgiana smiled.

Wickham continued, “I had nothing more to offer him in return but my love, which I shared freely.”

Georgiana had not seen a tear fall, but he wiped at his cheek, so she assumed one must have done so.

Wickham looked off into the distance once again and furrowed his brow. “When your father passed on...” Wickham paused to sigh again. “He had already been so generous towards me, but no matter how much I loved him as a father, I was not actually his son. I am sure you can understand my astonishment when he bequeathed to me a living, plus one thousand pounds.”

Georgiana’s smile fell with his next statement.

“But—oh, please, dearest Georgiana. Please, do not ask me to say anything further. Nay, I would not destroy the way you view your brother!”

Georgiana began to tremble. After a minute or two passed in an uncomfortable silence, she asked, “Which living did Father leave to you?”

Wickham swallowed hard before answering, “The living at Kympton.”

“Since you are not yet a clergyman, I assumed the living you were promised had not fallen vacant, but Mr. Harper became rector at Kympton
after
Father died!”

Wickham nodded and looked down at his plate. His voice was again a whisper when he replied, “My claim to the living was denied.”

“But how... how could Fitzwilliam
do
such a thing?” She shook her head. “And why?”

“Hearing Mr. Darcy’s laughter was a balm to my heart, and so I tried to make him laugh as much as possible. Do you remember?”

Georgiana nodded.

“We two boys were decidedly
different
from one another, and consequently, Mr. Darcy treated us differently. Fitzwilliam was always so serious. Your father limited his conversation with him to serious matters.” He shook his head and said the next with a tone full of sorrow. “Fitzwilliam felt overlooked and forgotten.”

“I cannot believe it!” Georgiana exclaimed.

“Although the signs were there our entire lives, I felt the same way as you do now. I repeatedly dismissed every symptom he displayed—until the living at Kympton fell vacant.” He shook his head. “Then, I could deny it no longer.”

Georgiana sat in silence. The shock of what had been revealed was overwhelming. Her brother was so handsome and strong; he was wealthy enough to afford anything his heart desired. Could he have been so jealous of the relationship Wickham had had with their father that he had actually denied Wickham his due?

None of it made sense until she recalled the few occasions when even
she
had been envious of the close relationship that Wickham had enjoyed with their father. It must have been even more difficult for her brother, as his son.

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