Posted on Monday, 3 December 2001
Author's Notes: Vignettes should have updated you to the situation following the end of HHAP & China Roses, but I think you could manage with this story, even if you haven't read those stories. Oooh, Michelle is Shem's alter ago, and Anatole is my beloved.
JANE BENNET BINGLEY : Married in 1813, with Mark two months younger than John Darcy. Victoria Frances is six weeks old.
MARY BENNET CHAMBERLAYNE : Married in 1814. Mary's fondness for Fordyce has greatly waned, largely due to the influence of her lieutenant husband Humperdink, who left his regiment when he inherited a house from his grandmother.
CATHERINE BENNET : At almost 21, still unmarried, but far more sensible than previously. Firm friends with the former Georgiana Darcy, and as a result of being a frequent guest of her sisters or friends, spends little time at Longbourn.
EMILY & KATE GARDINER, LADY NATALYA ROMANOV-FITZWILLIAM : At 12, 9 and 10 respectively, these girls form the younger female contingent of the Bennet/Darcy/Fitzwilliam clan. Natalya, the daughter of Natasha Romanov, was adopted in 1816 by Richard and Anne Fitzwilliam.
ISABEL FITZWILLIAM, VISCOUNTESS HARTLEIGH : Married Samuel, the eldest Fitzwilliam, in 1814, and has since borne him James Timothy (1815)
ANNE FITZWILLIAM, MARCHIONESS OF FAIRMONT : Since marrying the former Colonel Fitzwilliam, the former Miss de Bourgh has gone from happiness to happiness. The only knowledge to dampen her felicity was that after Amily's birth last year, she would be unable to have more children. She and Richard decided to adopt the Princess Natalya Romanov.
LADY CHRISTABEL FITZWILLIAM : Remains unmarried while yearning for Anatole Pavlovich to return from Russia to her.
THE HON. MICHELLE (TRIX) GRUFFUDD : Sister-in-law of the former Georgiana Darcy, at twenty is a very flighty woman who frequently finds herself in scrapes.
GEORGIANA GRUFFUDD, LADY BENTLEY : Becoming a dowager at seventeen, on the day of her wedding three years ago, was not Miss Darcy's intention. However, it happened, and she had had to try and move on. The 20 year old Viscountess is now in the midst of preparing to leave her home at Atherton Court with Michelle for their first season since Patrick's death.
"GEORGIIIIIIIIIIEEEEE!!!!!!!" Came a loud voice, reverberating through several hallways and minor rooms. "I've lost my shoes again!"
"How many times does that make it today?" Georgiana retorted. "Five? And they're so high you wouldn't think you could lose sight of them!"
"They make me taller, which is really important, as you know. Oh, and it's only been four times, you exaggerator."
Georgiana laughed, and walked into the room where her sister was being a scavenger on the floor amongst tapestries, clothing, boxes and a few outrageous bonnets. She smiled as she dumped a pair of heavy boots beside her. "Try looking on the staircase first, next time, okay? They always land there when you fling them."
"Bah! All this packing is dreadful - so much dust, and all these forgotten treasures (looking at a pair of polka dot ice skates and a doll with multiple injuries, three arms, one leg four wisps of singes rainbow hair and a face that had seen a few too many fireplaces - "I call her Barbie", Trix had confided in Georgiana earlier on). Can't we just forget about it and go outside and chase the ducks?"
"Trix, I think the ducks are still recovering from last time you did that, when they nearly died. Here, I just got a letter from Anne. Would you like to read it with me?"
"Anything's better than cleaning up this dump. Coquelicot ribbons! As though you would wear them with a lime green dress! My mother must have had no fashion sense at all! What's Anne up to?"
"Anne... Ah... Mamma?" A soft voice echoed through the stairway of an obscenely large townhouse. A girl stood at the top of the steps, looking down the three levels. She was ten years of age, but the expression of her face held a look of maturity that belied her years. In body the child was slight, but in mind intelligent, for already she was fluent in three languages.
Her ivory skin made her dark straight hair and dark expressive eyes stand out. But then Lady Natalya's eyes had always stood out - even before she had become a Lady.
"Nataly, yes?" The Marchioness replied as she saw the girl.
"C'est Amily. Elle est contrarie."
"Pourquoi?" Anne asked, concerned.
"Eh... C'est l'heure du petit somme?"
"Oh, nap time, of course. We can't forget that now, can we?"
"She'd never let us." Natalya smiled, lapsing back into English. "Is Christy coming today?"
"You were planning to go walking, weren't you?"
"Aye. Just us."
Natalya and Christabel got along together like the best of friends, as adored niece and trusted companion. Natalya did not make friends with ease, and Christy could never forget that it was largely due to her that Natalya had been able to escape her former life as Princess Natalya and her masquerade as Natalya Wilkenson.
"The season starts soon. Would you like to help me prepare for a ball? Richard thought you might like to."
"Oh aye! But Amily wants you now. Au revoir -ah! Is that Christy? Bon! It is!" Natalya dashed down the staircase while Anne watched her with a grin. Almost nothing excited Natalya more than the promise of Christy.
About the same time that Anne was seeing to her baby daughter, somewhere else in London, Isabel Fitzwilliam was admonishing her husband for splurging on her yet again. At times she felt he was too devoted to her; what if something was to happen, and she died? How would he ever recover?
"Samuel, I feel like I have about a hundred darling hats already - what made you think I needed another?"
"The feather is very stylish, don't you think?"
"Yes, I do think, but it is a wanton extravagance Samuel, really!" After a moment, Isabel added "But I simply adore it! I'll have to wear it when I promenade this afternoon!"
Lord Hartleigh sighed with relief. His wife had exquisite taste, and he knew that despite her protestations, there was little she liked more than stylish new apparel. Perhaps now he could tell her that Nurse was ready to hand in her resignation, because Lady Ophelia Farrow was less trouble than the Hon. James Fitzwilliam, an individual who averaged about four hours sleep at night, and demanded attention for the other twenty hours of the day.
"Oh, did I tell you I found Christy crying the other day she was here, Samuel?" Isabel said as she undid the ribbons of her bonnet.
"No. What was the matter?"
"I think it had to do with him. I only know that she saw him once or twice before he left London, but you cannot deny she hasn't been quite the same since."
"What was his name? I never saw him, if you recall."
"Oh, I can't remember, unfortunately. That was two years ago, at least!"
"She tries to hide it, but I wish she was not so unhappy. Poor Christabel, if only she could find someone eligible that she could like enough to marry - or better yet - to love."
"Bub-bye house! Byeee bed! Cheerio roadway! So long smoky fireplaces! Au revoir mon staircase! Toodles trees! Goodbye ducks! Doorway, farewell!" Trix cried for the last half hour before she left.
"I suppose you'll welcome all the furniture in London in a similar fashion?" Georgiana asked wearily.
"Don't give me ideas, dearie. "Michelle replied.
"Have you said goodbye to the goldfish? In other words, are you ready to go?"
"The goldfish!" The girl cried in mock dismay. "Forget me not Hermione!"
"She didn't want to be called Horatio. It was the closest I could come to it without sounding totally preposterous. See, I can't abide by Horatia. It's just wrong."
"Just get in the carriage, will you? Henry wanted us gone a quarter of an hour ago."
"I won't ask."
"Probably safest not to."
The Lady Christabel Fitzwilliam sighed. This night would be just like all the others she had attended in years past - for the most part insipid. Previously, if she had been desperate, she would flirt with someone, but since she had met Anatole - well, it was unthinkable. So she was destined to experience a bit of boredom amongst the buffet and quadrilles. Things just weren't enjoyable as they had used to be - her youth was beginning to fade away, leaving her a twenty-six year old woman who still longed for marriage.
There was nothing special in her dress that night - if the truth be told, it was an old dress she had altered to suit the changing times. The garnet ring she always wore to remind her of Natalya, and how she met Anatole, was set off by the dress, of a similar hue, and her hair was simple, with little more than a ruby ribbon entwined in it. Christy took one look at the company present already at the Countess Lieven's pre-season ball, and knew she'd have about as much fun at home asleep. Then she saw Anne with Richard, and went over to them. Perhaps this night held some promise, after all.
"We can't stay all night, you know. Must be back for Amily and Nat. I never thought I'd feel so fulfilled being a mother! Oh, I'm sorry Christy.... I.... Did I upset you?" Anne apologised. Though Christabel disclaimed any hurt, she knew inside that it was not entirely the truth. For well over a year now, she had wanted very much to become a mother, and a wife. But it all seemed impossible.
"Oh Christy, would you look over at that quiz of a dress Mrs. Sommer is wearing? It ought to be a violation to dress in such a thing!"
"Richard, you know she probably considers it her greatest possession." Christabel laughed, and turned away to see if she could see any more fashion disasters. Ah, there was Lady Alice Denver - she could always be relied upon - and there was Sir Wildemere Plaget - he was the epitome of a dandified fashion corruptive disaster... Miss Vestrolon looked very well.... Probably Lord Leicesterway's fault.. The Austrian ambassador seemed rather obsequious to that poor lady. Christabel wondered why, but then thought no more about it as she was solicited to dance.
While she was dancing, her attention began to sway away from her partner, as it invariably did....and it was then she saw a new addition to the ball. There was nothing else to be done : she gasped, laughed, cried and lost her step all at once, and begged her partner to take her from the floor.
For it was not just anyone she had just seen - Christabel was certain it was him.
1st Verse, Girls Just Want To Have Fun.
OH! Oh! Oh! Oh! For several moments Christabel was delirious, only cognisant of the fact that he was back - come back for her - and that was all that mattered. He was here!
But to mar her felicity, her partner was hovering about her assiduously. She ended up politely dismissing him, and earnestly wishing Anatole would come over to her. Then, she had an idea - a window onto a balcony, as she had met him on - surely the Countess had one?
Christabel dreamily found her way to an empty balcony, and took in a breath delightedly when she heard footsteps coming towards her.
Jane Bingley smiled serenely at the sight surrounding her. Kitty and Mary were actually talking with each other, adoring their niece and nephew. Victoria Bingley was at present grasping at the sky in her sleep, and looked an angel, while her proud mother beamed.
Mark sat on his Aunt Mary's lap, while Aunt Kitty played with his pudgy little hands and cooed.
"So what are you planning now, Mary?" Jane asked.
"We don't really know. I would have invited you to stay with us, Kitty, if you wanted to come, but I couldn't see you wishing to leave London for our little place outside London, just when the Season is beginning, so you see...." Mary trailed off... "Especially when you have the opportunity to be in the very thick of society - leaving wouldn't be on the agenda, I understand."
"It is very kind of you Mary," Kitty began, "But you are right. I've been invited to stay with Lizzy, and then with Georgiana and her sister - you know, the one who changes her names."
"Yes, Michelle." Mary replied. "Ooh, wait. I forgot something. We're minding Kate and Emily for a few weeks, because Aunt and Uncle Gardiner are doing something with the boys. Taking them to the beach for Henry's health? Or was it Bath? I don't recall at present, but we've got the girls, because taking another two would be such a monetary encumbrance, and because it's about time they had another visit anyway. So our Season is fairly well booked."
"I think it will be a season for you to remember, Kitty" Jane smiled.
"I think you're right." Kitty sighed. It would doubtless be memorable because it would be just like all the others - people marrying left, right and centre, largely avoiding the brown-haired girl who was trying to become a part of their society, but lacked the necessary wealth.
"Richard, where's Christy? She'd disappeared!"
"Oh, I wouldn't be worried. You know her. Like a cat. Always runs away, but when you find her, she's never fallen and landed amiss. Always lands on her feet, and begins planning some new escapade, to get herself away from the old biddies and troublesome popinjays who like to haunt her mercilessly."
"Like you, do you mean?"
"My dear Anne! Not me! Like Samuel!"
"I would wager my silk petticoat on you, and not Sam. He's a gentleman, where I know you are not, even if you do like to remember you're called a Marquis now. It hasn't changed you a whit. I know how you behave."
"The surprising thing is that you still love me after it all."
Anne smiled coyly. "I haven't got much choice, do I?"
Richard's jaw dropped. "Run that by me again, will you?"
"You are already far too puffed up in your own self-esteem, you conceited dunderhead."
Richard immediately changed the subject. "Dreadful squeeze this - so early in the season, and people already trying to suffocate you in their bid for the most populated populace."
"I suppose you are right." Anne said pensively. "And that would be why I can't see Christy." Anne then pouted. "And just when are you going to ask me to dance? This is a ball, you know!"
"Forgive me Anne. Your infinite beauty this evening has so struck me dumb that I forgot what I had meant to ask you."
"Pff." Anne laughed as she swatted her husband's arm. "Don't ever expect me to substantiate any of your blatantly prevaricated piles of tripe. And secondly, please don't ever write poetry if that is what it will be based on. Infinite beauty indeed! You, my dear sir, need an eyeglass. It would be so sweet, too."
"An eyeglass?" Richard exclaimed, struck. "Lawks a mussy!"
"You'd look like a dear old professor, of about eighty or so, I think."
"Lawks!" Richard repeated.
"How much longer Georgiiiiaaaaaana? We haven't stopped for twelve hours, I swear!"
"Closer to two, Trix. And every time you ask makes the trip seem longer."
"You're treating me like a child!" Michelle said petulantly.
"Have I reason to?"
"No! Uh.... Oh! I wish we were there!
"It is you! It is! Anatole, oh! You're back!" Christabel cried out.
"Sssh." Anatole replied, before stealing a long-awaited kiss.
"Can anyone see us?" Christabel questioned.
"Not yet, my dear Miss Dash, but it won't last long."
"Do you still call me that?" Christabel asked in wonder. "Why?"
"It brings back memories of you, you card."
"Don't forget I was called a baggage by you too." Christy reminded him.
"But you weren't much impressed, were you?"
"No" Christy smiled. "When did you arrive? How long do you stay? Will you... leave.. again?" She asked softly.
"I arrived last Friday, and I will only leave if one thing happens."
"What is that?"
"If you, Lady Christabel Fitzwilliam, refuse my offer of marriage. I wish to marry you, Miss Dash. You won't refuse me, will you?"
"Will I!" Christy exclaimed euphorically "Need you even ask! There is no man alive that I would marry but you."
"I love you, Christy." Anatole said solemnly. "I don't care whether people who don't even know you demand I forget you. I've made my decision, and it was the right one."
"What do you mean, Anatole?"
"My brother, Alexander.... Was not entirely pleased that I wished to marry an Englishwoman, even though he did - because I did not mean to follow him."
"Is it any of his concern?"
"Actually, yes it is. Christy, you see, if I leave Russia, Alexander has threatened to disown me, which could cause grave problems, and Nicholas, my younger brother, will become the heir."
"The heir to what?"
"The Russian Empire." Anatole said rather flippantly. Christy's face was blank and confused. Anatole realised he would have to make an explanation with more depth. "Christabel, did you not ever wonder how Natalya Romanov knew me?"
"Constantly, but I never asked."
"I am her uncle."
"But she's a princess! You're not..... Oh Lord! Tell me you're not........."
Anatole faced Christy and searchingly looked into her eyes. "Then you had no idea? Who do you think I am then?"
"Anatole Pavlovich. I thought you an untitled gentleman. Do you mean that you are not?"
"My name, Christabel Fitzwilliam, is Anatole Pavlovich Romanov. My father was the Tsar Paul I, and my brother Alexander, is the present Tsar of Russia, and Natalya's father, or step-father."
"Then you are ........ a prince?"
"Technically yes, though my title is Grand Duke."
"Oh Anatole! Why did you not tell me?"
"Alexander swore me to secrecy when I went searching for Xavier. He is recovered now, by the way. But the war was not at an end yet, and so I couldn't! I thought Nataly would have told you."
"You..... You.... deceived us all... And you mean to make me a Princess?" Christabel turned away to hide her tears. "Anatole, it cannot be!"
Verse, Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Elizabeth Darcy lay stretched upon a divan, her hand against her abdomen, feeling her baby kick. It was a strangely fulfilling experience, that, and made her feel particularly womanly. Her last letter from Georgiana had been placed on a table nearby. Lady Bentley's elegant cursive gave the message that she expected to arrive in London with Trix by Thursday, and was 'looking forward with anticipation to being reunited with Fitzwilliam, herself, and darling little John.'
Darling little John had just been roused upon for drawing on the nursery floor, so Lizzy had grimaced while reading that.
Her husband walked in, and seeing the sour expression of her face, laughed. "What is it?" He asked. "One would think you'd swallowed a lemon thinking it a peach."
"Oh it's John. He's a riot, Fitzwilliam! I don't know what to do!"
"Lizzy, he's just passed the Terrible Two's and is now on to the Trying Threes. Also, mama never feels up to playing with him anymore, because of his baby sister."
"Brother." Lizzy said swiftly.
"Because of his baby sister."
"His baby brother." Lizzy repeated.
"Lay you twenty pounds she's a girl."
"Well, if you insist upon making me twenty pounds richer, my little lad won't complain, will you sweetie?"
"I'm coming John! Mama's coming."
"But Christy... What could I do? Alexander swore me to secrecy, as I told you..."
"But how was I to know? Why, you're the next Tsar! You cannot wish to marry me! I have no ties with royalty, I'm only an earl's daughter - I'm beneath you!"
"Miss Dash - once you told me you detested toadies. Pray don't rave on about my rank. It is of little consequence to me when I ask you to be my bride. I ask you only because I am in love with you. Had you been the florist's daughter I would still act the same. I am not ambitious for my sake - or for anyone's sake! - but I am who I was born - something I find impossible to change."
"But... A prince! What would the people of Russia think?"
"Christabel Fitzwilliam, I come to you not as a prince, but as a man in love*. I don't care what they think - it's not them I wish to marry!"
"Samuel!" Isabel hissed to her husband. "Come quickly!"
"What is it?" Lord Hartleigh asked, in a very curious tone.
"It's Christy - she's here, and I just saw him too! If only we could get them together."
"Are you sure?"
"Yes, I'm positively certain. That gentleman has a rather unique look - come from being foreign, I suppose."
"Foreign?" Samuel whispered, struck.
"Did I never mention he looked entirely Slavic?"
"You did not Isabel! Christy can't marry a foreigner! My parents would have a fit!"
"Well, they're hardly going to marry yet, are they? She probably hasn't even seen that he is here, let alone met with him."
"I cannot believe this Anatole! This just isn't happening to m! No, it's not. It...... Is..... Not." *deep breath* "It......... Is......... Not...... Oh WHY is this happening? I cannot believe it! Ruined!" Christabel sobbed.
"Hush, darling, nothing is ruined." Anatole soothed.
"But it is! Don't you see?" I can't marry... a prince."
"Why can't you, love? Hath not a prince eyes? Hath not a prince hands, organs, dimensions, and all that other criteria Shakespeare thought up**? Christy, I am a prince. I can't help it, but that should not be your grounds for refusing me. While you thought me beneath you, you could marry me, but now that you think yourself beneath me, you cannot? Christabel, why? Do I only mean something to you if I am not my true self?"
"Oh - Anatole - you don't understand!" Christy began as she turned away, crying her eyes out and running from everyone - everywhere - everything. The last thing she remembered was falling......
"Finally! It's about jolly time too, you know. Oooh, we're in London now - I can have a ball and a beau and a host of fun!"
"What was I thinking, to bring you with me?" Georgiana sighed as she looked at her sister-in-law.
"You were thinking, oh how grand it will be, and oh what fun, and oh - I need some company. Michelle, the dear, would be perfect, and what good sport we shall have together!"
"How on earth have you managed to live twenty years without being strangled?"
"Well, actually, it's been a near-run thing on more than one occasion." Trix grinned as she admitted this, and then cried out with delight. "Oh, here is the darling house! I'm in love already! I wish my poor Murgatroyd hadn't run away to the circus. He would have loved to make a mess here, I'm sure."
"Murgatroyd... Why the devil did you call your dog that, and what makes you think anyone would be addlebrained enough to want that mongrel in a circus?"
"GEORGIANA! Your language! I'm the one that's meant to be impolite, not you. After all, I'm not a Lady."
"Off with you, termagant, before I find myself tempted to box those deserving ears!"
"Ah, that's my Georgie." Michelle smiled. "D'you think we'll find someone this year, now that we're out of mourning?"
"I don't know, Trix. I don't think I'm quite ready, but you... Well, I don't know. Quite possibly, I suppose. So behave yourself, just in case, okay?"
"Yessir!" Trix saluted.
"Hopefully someone who does not object to putting you in line!" Georgiana joked.
My dear Mama,
I hope you are in health, and in happy spirits. This letter finds me situated in the think of London society, in the company of many peers, few paupers, and even fewer people of whom I call dear friends.
I have seen Mary, and she is very happy to be off to Mr. Chamberlayne's grandmother's old estate. Jane's little baby Victoria is the sweetest most adorable creature I ever beheld....... When she's not crying. Unfortunately she does that a lot. A very lot.
Little Mark... has his moments. Lizzy's John though, is a little devil! He's quite Lizzy's despair, though I don't think I should have told you that. Mama, John is a little boy, and that should be excuse enough for his at times questionable behaviour.
I am to attend Lady Charteris' ball, one of the festivities to mark the beginning of the season. I go with Lady Bentley and Miss Gruffudd, and they have also invited me to stay with them after Lizzy's confinement.
We are all in the best of health, and I hope your card party with my Aunt Phillips and Mrs. Long was as pleasant as you had expected it to be.
Give my love to Papa!
Miss Bennet sighed as she reviewed her letter. Perhaps she should not comment on her sisters' children.
I hope this finds yourself and Papa in good health, and in happy spirits. I wished that your card party with Mrs. Long and my Aunt Phillips went well - did it?
The season is about to begin, and we all very much look forward to it. Lady Bentley has invited me to stay with herself and Miss Gruffudd further on in the season. Have you heard from Mary? She is off to visit the estate Mr. Chamberlayne's grandmother left him.
Lizzy is calling me, so I must bid you adieu.
There. That was a little better. Not much, but a tiny bit, at least.
Kitty frowned. She was bored. She didn't like to play with John, because he was forever being a terror. The Darcy's had a lovely pianoforte though - perhaps she should play that. After a few minutes of tinkering, it became obvious that she desperately needed to be outside - away from the splendid but stifling Darcy Townhouse.
For four years now, she had been flitting between Longbourn, London, Pemberley, Bonham (the Bingley's estate), and Atherton. She longed for somewhere she could call her home, but which did not house her mother, who Kitty thought in the past few years had become dreadfully silly - worse than ever before the weddings of her daughters.
Kitty never suspected that it was because she had grown in sense that it seemed her mother's was diminishing. She began to see her for what she was, and though there was a filial bond, Kitty did not mind being away from her mother. In fact, she rather liked it, for there was no bemoaning of her unmarried state to hear.
It wasn't because she did not wish to marry that Kitty had not yet wed. It was because she had not yet encountered her Darcy, Bingley or Chamberlayne yet, and she wasn't going to marry until she did. Which was why she was still a spinster at twenty.
Twenty was not so bad. Lizzy and Jane weren't married until after then. However, Lady Bentley and Darcy's cousin Lady Christabel was still not married, and she was twenty-six! Kitty rather thought Lady Christabel must have by now given up all hope.
Lady Christabel was not quite considering giving up hope at that moment. In fact, she was not quite considering anything. She remained unconscious, and was beginning to seriously alarm Isabel.
"Richard, we really ought to be going back to Nat and Amily. I promised Nat I'd be back before midnight."
"That's rather early, my dear! But of course, I'll tell Samuel."
As he prepared to do so, Samuel came up. "Christy's fallen. I think she's really hurt herself. Can you come?" He asked anxiously.
Christy was found at the foot of a staircase, assisted by Isabel and a handsome man neither Anne, Richard or Samuel had seen before. He seemed far too distressed to introduce himself. All he could do was speak with a barrage of Russian words.
"We have to get her home." Isabel said decidedly. Her personality was not one where she would be easily ignored - within ten minutes, all the Fitzwilliams had left the ball.
"Did you hear about Christy?" Anne asked Natalya the next morning. "She had an accident."
Natalya sprang up, startled. "Is she very bad? Oh, can I go to her? S'il vous plait? I'll look after her! What happened?"
Anne explained to the best of her knowledge, which cause Natalya to become anything but submissive, and demand that she be there for her Christy. Anne sighed, but knew she couldn't refuse. Christy had a bond with Natalya, and it was stronger than all bonds Natalya had with anyone else. It was more than an aunt and niece bond, it was the bond of friends, confidants and rescuers. Lady Fairmont didn't fully understand why they should be so close, but correctly guessed it had something to do with the mystery surrounding the girl's kidnapping, discovery and final adoption.
Natalya was taken to the Fitzwilliam Townhouse, where Christy was staying with her parents. Lady Matlock greeted her gently, and led her up to Christy's room, which was the place Natalya always went when she came to this house. Half-expecting to see Christy looking to be on death's door, Natalya was slightly surprised to see her favourite aunt sitting up in bed cheerfully.
"Ah! Nataly, you came! I suppose you thought I was about to die?"
"No... Not.. Really... Yes." Natalya replied as Christy laughed.
"Really, I am fine. Mama has been very worried, but I don't see why. Here, sit down. Mama, thank you. You can leave Nataly with me."
Natalya, usually perceptive when Christy was concerned, looked at her under scrutiny." You say you are fine, yes? What bothers you then? You hide something from me."
Christy's face turned slightly paler. "You are right, Nataly. But the truth is, I have seen him again. He's in London."
'Him' could mean only one person to Natalya. "Anatole! He's come for you!" She cried with joy.
'Yes." Christy replied with less excitement than Natalya expected.
"What is it, cherie? Why are you upset? I thought you wanted him to."
"I did, Nataly. I did.
* From Ever After
** Adapted from The Merchant of Venice, Act III
Author's Note: Um... the only note I really have to say is that... in my head at least, the Sade bit in Ashley-Sade sounds like raid or spade.... not like bard or card (thanks to Shem for that description!).
With thanks to Georgette Heyer for inventing Jessamy Merriville, and to JA for inventing Henry Crawford (you'll see why!)
That's all they really want
When the working day is done
Girls-- they want to have fun
Oh girls just want to have fun,
Last verse, Girls Just Want To Have Fun
Kitty had finally managed to escape the walls of the Townhouse. All of yesterday, Lizzy or John, or even Darcy had plagued her attention, and the opportunities had been lost. But today, she thought if she didn't get out, she'd be suffocated. Kitty walked around a park which was a few blocks away from the house, but she had never been there before. She turned a corner, and immediately ran into someone, who apparently had been walking backwards.
"Beg my pardon." She squeaked.
"Don't worry about it. I'm always running into people. Sometimes I even accidentally knock them over." The person replied. "Should I introduce myself to you? I suppose so. My name's Ferdinand, but I don't much like it. So everyone calls me Milly."
"Why?" Kitty asked amused, forgetting her manners due to curiosity.
" 'Cause I'm Lord Milford, you see." He said apologetically.
"Oh, I see." Kitty replied with restrained amusement. "I'm Miss Bennet."
"Ooops. I ought to have asked you. Knew I was forgetting something! Don't you hate it when that happens? I've tried pieces of string around my finger, but do you think that works? The only thing that reminds me of, is that your blood circulation is not supposed to be restricted. And naturally," Milly added after a moment, "I only remember it when my finger has turned purple." Milly smacked his forehead. "Blast this memory of mine! I'm forever losing chunks of it."
Kitty was half amused and half appalled by the idea of chunky bits of memory being displaced - it sounded rather uncouth.
"Do you walk here often? He asked interestedly.
"No, never, sir."
"Well you must have walked here at least once, namely today, or else you're a figment of my imagination, and I don't think I'd like that. I'd rather see someone as pretty as you in the flesh, and not through some illusion. It's fortunate that you did come, else I wouldn't have met you, and been blessed by your company, Miss Bennet." The man bowed, his dark blonde hair falling over his light brown eyes.
Kitty thought his body was rather gaunt, but he had a handsome appearance, and couldn't have been more than six years older than herself. She was hard pressed not to blush for the rest of the day, whenever she recalled his comment about being blessed, or her being pretty, or when she recollected the look in his face after he'd bowed to her, that accompanied those charming words.
"Christy, I have come for you! My love, I am here!" A well-loved voice echoed through the rooms, causing Christabel to cry out, and run in the direction of her Anatole's voice. She saw him, and reached for him, but there was a great cavity between them, that she had little hope of crossing. There was the slight chance, though, and she took it.
Suddenly she was engulfed by darkness, and fell away from him. "Anatole!! No!!!" She cried, slower and slower, feeling herself getting further away from him.
Every time she reached out for him, she slipped further away, until he was obliterated from her sight. "Anatole!" She screamed. But nothing happened......
Christy awoke from her nap, which had turned from a slight slumber into a nightmare, and she was plastered in sweat. She heard herself calling out Anatole's name. Then she burst into tears.
The reality was almost as bad as the dreams. What could she do? Everything was wrong. Everything. How could life ever be just the same as before?
Anatole's long awaited return had brought more problems than could be solved, and Christy didn't know what to do.
"GEORGIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIE!!!!!!! Are you ready yet????" Michelle called from the top of the staircase.
"Almost! Give me a minute!" The reply came a short time later.
"Have you forgotten Kitty?" Miss Gruffudd asked. "We're meant to pick her up..... In two minutes time." She added, after consulting a timepiece.
"Coming!" Georgiana answered, dashing into the room, with only one shoe on. "We'll go no, okay?"
"Good." Trix grinned, while Georgiana, flustered, hurried out.
Miss Catherine Bennet was rather glad that her companions were late this evening, because she had taken much longer to prepare than normal. This was the result of overmuch daydreaming and abstraction. By the time Michelle bounced in, she had recovered herself to the extent that she was able to appear fairly much herself.
Lady Charteris' soiree ball was not destined to be flat, and the three young women knew this for a fact within moments of their entry. Georgiana was glad when their chaperone Mrs. Pennicook ( a middle-aged cousin of some sort to Michelle, who tolerated being called Penny by her) bustled them in, found partners and punch glasses.
Mrs. Pennicook had been invaluable as Michelle and Georgiana's companion, because if they had not had her, two young, somewhat silly, innocent and unprotected females could have got into trouble in such a large metropolis. And Michelle got into enough scrapes already, there was no desire for more ruinous ones. They had been perfectly fine alone at the Dower House at Atherton, but London was another matter entirely.
Georgiana did not dance immediately, but Kitty and Michelle were literally having a ball, simultaneously dancing, chatting or respectively ogling gentlemen. "There, love," Mrs. Pennicook said to Georgiana, "I understand this is essentially your first dancing party since you became a Dowager, is that not so?"
Lady Bentley answered in the affirmative.
"Aye, and it's been three years, which is longer than many a woman would have before re-entering society. You're very proper, and if someone should ask you to dance, do accept him, for your sake."
"Yes Maria." Georgiana answered meekly, not daring to tell her that Michelle and herself had been practising their dancing together for the past year in the event of such a night as this, and that there was no chance of her refusing someone, unless he had injured other women by treading on their feet.
Jane Bingley smiled at her sleeping son. Mark was very much like Charles, even down to the curly tresses, and was fairly much an angel when it came to sleeping habits. Miss Victoria Bingley, however, seemed born to be an attention seeker, and as soon as night fell, turned into a screaming bundle. It happened every night, and Jane found herself rearranging her life around Victoria, to such an extent that she became a recluse, and never set foot out of her home after nightfall.
Bingley was a loving father, but his jovial outgoing disposition didn't suit the new changes thrust upon his family. He just wanted to squire his lovely Jane everywhere, but she would not go.
Mark giggled in his sleep, and Jane stroked his small frame. She was about to go up to Charles and tell him that perhaps they could go out, after all, but a loud whimpering followed by shrieking cries made her forget her plans. Victoria was at it again.
"Coming darling. I'm coming!" She cooed, and dashed to the nursery cot.
Charles meanwhile, sulking, prepared to go to his club. He slid outside without saying a word to his wife. She should guess where he was off to - the same location day in, day out, a place where he could forget about Victoria's screaming, and gull down Blue Ruin to the extent that he rarely left able to walk straight.
"Well, my Mary?" Humperdink Chamberlayne addressed his wife.
"Hmm? What is it, Dink?"
"I think... I do believe..... They come tomorrow, yes?"
"Emily and Kate. They have names, you perceive."
"Ah, of course. Names not so charming as Mary. No wonder I forgot."
"Atrocious." Mary said primly, then permitted herself to grin.
"Too true. You know me too well. Thus, it should come as no surprise to you, that as we have one night of freedom before the house is invaded, I would suggest........"
"You rogue..." Mary began, but found her husband's crooked grin too enticing. "Well, come on then!"
She called, and made her head start, before being pursued by the amorous redcoat.
Samuel was in Darcy's company, so Isabel and James visited Elizabeth and John. The women bounced each others' child on their laps, and chatted, like most young mothers do, about the innumerable virtues, talents and activities of their offspring.
Isabel lightly mentioned that she was surprised James was being so good for his Aunt Lizzy (after all, they were essentially related through their marriages to cousins), which set Lizzy off on a tangent bemoaning her little tyrant's behaviour, while all the while John grinned at her and stuck his tongue out.
"I'm doing something wrong, Bel, I know it! He's a veritable demon at times, and I can't do anything about it!" She sobbed. "My child is a terror!"
Isabel attempted to soothe Mrs. Darcy, but she'd never been really good at all when it came to sympathetic compassion. She knew Lizzy spoke the truth, and was glad her Jamie was no such devil.
There was no denying it. Master John Darcy was the most troublesome, devilish, irascible and mischievous young lout imaginable, and those concerned worried about him, only hoping it would pass.
Christabel and Lord and Lady Fairmont were attending a separate function from Lady Bentley and her companions. Anne and Richard were almost instantly on the floor, dancing with each other, leaving Christy (who had recovered from her fall, but was still slightly wary) to be solicited by a Baron who danced borderline on tolerably bad.
Christy was glad to be off the floor, until her partner whisked her into another room. For in that room was the one person she didn't know whether she wanted to see there or not. There could be no escaping it, his eyes sought hers as soon as she entered the room.
The level-headed Lady Christabel was churning, quivering and muddled on the inside. She wanted him - yes, but did she want a prince? - no. Did she want him to be here - she supposed so, did she want to talk to him? - yes? no? She was torn.
Christy found herself suddenly confronted by the Austrian ambassador, in the company of the one man in the world she had had the misfortune to fall in love with.
"My lady, this gentleman begs me most profusely to introduce himself to you. He is the Grand Duke Anatole Pavlovich Romanov. 'Servant, Lady Christabel Fitzwilliam."
"It is very nice to ...meet you" Christy said shakily, shuffling amusement with anxiety, as the Ambassador left again.
He whispered as they took their places "I thought it best if people didn't know I knew you. Does that make things easier for you?"
Christy blinked at him.
He continued "If you wish it, my love, things can be changed, but I wish to spare you ill-mannered rumours. I will always be of the same mind regarding my feelings for you, precious one, but I leave your decision up to you. It is you who shall decide whether I stay here and court you, or leave once more for Russia, but never return. Well, my Christy, which do you choose?"
"Might I have this dance?"
"You might." Michelle answered demurely, smiling at her new partner, but really, if there was a way out, she would have taken it. She had been having a great run so far - not a single dance had she been required to sit down for. But with a partner like this...... Sitting down alone looked very appealing....
"I believe, that you are acquainted with the vision over there?" The gentleman, introduced as Sir Fotheby Winthrop asked, as he pointed towards a punch table, where a pretty young woman with light brown hair was being served.
"The punchbowl???" Michelle said, her nose wrinkling delightfully.
"No, the fair goddess." Sir Fotheby replied impatiently.
"Kit.... But.... Yes, I am acquainted with her."
"Will you add to your benevolence by introducing me?"
"Er... Alright." Miss Gruffudd acquiesced, all the while thinking that this man was intolerably rude, and that Kitty would kill her later on.
Miss Kitty Bennet took one look at Sir Fotherby Winthrop and inwardly groaned. He was going to be bad. She acted politely, because she knew she had to, but unfortunately this was taken by him for encouragement. By the end of the evening, she knew she did not wish to ever see him again. He, on the other hand, was entranced.
"Lady Fairmont! How nice to see you again!" Lady Sefton greeted Anne.
Richard had escaped into the card rooms by now, and Anne was mingling around, and chatting with friends. She joined Lady Sefton, the Almacks patroness, where they exchanged commonplaces for a short while, before delving in deeper.
"Your cousin Lady Christabel appears much recovered from her recent fall. It was a fall, was it not?"
"Indeed. A slippery staircase."
"Shockingly dangerous, they can be, especially after being polished. But I simply must ask you, Anne, who is her partner? I know I shouldn't look because of dear Sefton, but what a leg! And what a fine face!"
Anne pretended to glance over towards Christabel. She had been watching Christy's partner all the while, but was not about to admit that. "I do not know him." She said finally. "What we need to do, therefore," she added with a gesture clearly like a grin, "Is to inquire."
"We'll ask Sally." Lady Sefton advised. "Sally knows everyone."
Accordingly the two joined Lady Jersey, and asked her who the stunning gentleman was. "Oh, him? The Grand Duke Anatole Pavlovich Romanov, of Russia." The woman known as Silence said flippantly, hiding the reverence she felt.
That man was too handsome for his own good, and the fact he was dancing with a Lady who society had nearly given up hope of marrying, made him appear compassionate. He was even taking pains to speak with the Lady Christabel, it could be seen. This made many of the married women smile kindly upon him, but wish he was paying them attention instead.
"A Grand duke?" Lady Sefton repeated. "Royal and handsome? Why do some people have all the luck?"
Anne watched Christabel keenly. She was dancing with a prince. She must know it, too, because she looked very much flushed and flustered, unlike the normal cool, collected Lady Christabel.
Well, Anne would certainly be asking her how it felt to be in the arms of such a handsome, prestigious and charming personage.
Georgiana and Michelle watched Kitty, Michelle with increasing dread. "She'll kill me after this." She whispered softly.
"Nonsense." Georgiana replied. "Kit loves you more than any other!" She exclaimed, smiling.
"I'm not going to take the chance." Miss Gruffudd declared with decision, and dashed away. Georgiana grinned, and presumed her sister was headed for the punch, and was soon close to forgetting Michelle's presence in the enjoyment she was feeling after returning to society following her extended mourning period.
Georgiana afterwards went to the punchbowl, but could not see Michelle anywhere. It was then that Georgiana remembered this was Michelle's very first season, and that on no account should she be alone or in an unsupervised situation, which it seemed she must be in now.
There are so many girls, and so few princes. ~ Liza Minelli
This was not precisely the truth. Michelle had been alone, but at the moment she was finding herself accosted by a gentleman, though he certainly wasn't acting like one. The gentleman had a slightly rakish look about him ("Oooooh, a Rake!" Had been Trix's initial thought), that was accentuated when he grinned. Leered, more like. His dark hair gave him the look of the Corsair, and though Michelle was impressed with his appearance, she tried not to show it. Mulish grey eyes, with heavy eyebrows stared down at her, and the sardonic grin ....leer..... he had worn when he entered the courtyard was replaced by one of unholy glee. The gentleman took a swift glance perfunctorily around the room, then swooped on Miss Gruffudd, kissing her roughly.
Michelle was by far too shocked and surprised to do anything but stand mute.
Then, she realised he was about ti kiss her again, and she squared her little shoulders. "Don't!" She warned him. "Or I'll plant you a leveller!"
The gentleman only laughed loudly. "What..... You? A squab of a girl?"
"I am not a squab, sir" she spat at him, fierily glaring.
"No." He agreed. "More like a Bird of Paradise." The man pursued, looking more devilish rakish every moment.
"A Bird of.... Why you..... you..... you... you beast! You menacing, shabby, mangy gut-foundered, avaricious, licentious, sordid, illiberal, insulting beast!" Michelle shouted at him, before continuing to roundly and capably abuse him.
His laughs became more pronounced, until she dealt him a ringing slap. "Go away! I hope I never have the misfortune to meet you again!" She cried out, but her words fell on infertile soil, and within seconds her arms had been wrenched behind her back, and she'd been dragged, kicking and screaming, to outside a fountain.
"Look, I don't know your name, but you're coming with me." The gentleman told the astonished young woman.
"But I don't want to!" Michelle exclaimed, and then wished she'd kept quiet.
"Maria.... Mrs. Rushworth, I should say, is gone out for the evening to the theatre. What say you to an evening of pleasure?"
"Good God Mr. Rushworth! Let me go!"
"Disabuse yourself of the notion that I'm that sop Rushworth. My name's Crawford."
Michelle wished to swoon, but knew that now was NOT the time or the place. She felt herself being kissed again, and once more started a scream-fest of which many modern vocalists would be proud.
Her mouth was gagged, she thrust it away. She bit Mr. Crawford's hand, kicked his nether region, rivalled the highest recorded decibel range with her shrieking, prayed what seemed like fifty times in five minutes, and was about to give up all hope when Mr. Henry Crawford was suddenly sent sprawling by a facer.
"What a thrust!" Michelle said admiringly, and impulsively hugged her saviour. She rushed at him with such speed that she really should not have been so much surprised when her effort sent them toppling into the knee-deep fountain.
"There there, Victoria. Calm down. Mama's here." Jane soothed her infant daughter continually. Yet there was no silencing her. As if that were not bad enough, Mark perceived that his sister was receiving far more attention than himself, and accordingly demanded at least an equal share.
Jane finally realised that her affectionate heart had done her a disservice when she had refused Nurse's assistance when it came to putting the children to bed. This meant that now they would let none but their mother put them to sleep, and if they had difficulties, then their mama was the only one permitted an attempt to solve them.
Victoria cried without end, and Mark joined with his warbling. Charles had left her alone once again, and Jane wanted out.
Victoria was quiet for a moment, and Mrs. Bingley dared to think she might be settling down. A louder cry than before emanated, and Jane, wholly defeated, patted her baby then collapsed on the floor, crying her eyes out, equally as loudly as her infant children.
"Well, Christy? Will you... Can you.... Could you answer me?"
"Anatole, I...... oh..... I must think! I don't know!"
"I said I'd come back for you, Christy, and so I have."
"But a prince!" Christabel whispered, clutching at straws.
"A Grand Duke." Anatole amended.
"Anatole, let me speak frankly for a moment."
"When have I not?" He asked, stunned and startled.
"I love you. I think you know that. I was... I still am, I think.... willing to marry you. I always said I would never marry but for love - and look where it had led me! So I.... I shall marry you, but not immediately. Let me have time to adjust to this. And please, let my family have a chance to know you, or..... Or they will never let me leave England for you."
"What can you mean?" Anatole exclaimed. "I don't mean for you to leave England! You love it far more than I love Russia."
"I will live here, if you wish me to. I speak English far better than you speak Russian, yes? You have spent all your life here, I have always been moving around. You have a proper home, and besides, I was never particularly enamoured of the place. Do you know how cold it gets? And it would hardly be kind to separate you from your loving family. I've practically been disowned, anyway, so I have no problem with living here, if you have no problem with it."
Christabel smiled at him tremulously but tenderly. That was a great weight off her shoulders.
"You will teach me Russian, will you not? And how did your English come to be so good?"
"Of course I will teach you, my Christy. My education was undertaken in various places - St. Petersburg, Moscow, Paris, Vienna, even London, and I was taught with the intention of becoming a diplomat, so I learnt many languages. I never really did become a diplomat, and between you and me, I would have made a woeful one. Bonaparte declared war on us, and at eighteen, I found myself serving under my brother Alexander at Austerlitz."
"I remember reading of that battle. 1805, was it not? Richard, my brother, had joined the army by then, and we became very military minded. The first battle that affected my directly, however, was Corunna, a few years later."
"How was that?" Anatole asked gently. Their dances had finished, and he led her to a lounge away from the dancers.
"Well... When I was eighteen, I fell in love with a soldier - James - he was a friend of Richards', and - he was sent to the Peninsula. He was killed at Corunna. I did love him, and I never met another I could love until I met you."
Anatole smiled, and asked. "Your brother - Richard, you said. Is he your only brother? I recall you had a sister-in-law... Isabel? Isadore?"
"Ah, things have changed a bit since we first met. I have twin brothers, Richard, my favourite, and Samuel, the eldest. Sam is married to Isabel, and they have a little boy, James. Richard married only a little while before I met you, to our dear cousin Anne, and they have little Amily, the most delicate baby you can imagine. And Natalya too - they adopted her."
"So my niece is your niece?"
"Yes." Christy blushed. "She has been my confidant, yet she never told me that!"
"How is she? I have not seen her in so long."
"She is perfectly well, dotes on Amily, and speaks English as though it were here first language. But she often flits to Russian or French. Sometimes, I think, because she doesn't want us to know what she's saying. I think she likes to stir us. I don't know why Natasha never thought much of her, because I think Natalya is the prettiest girl I have ever seen. She's unforgettable, you know, and I love her dearly."
"I'm sure you do, my Christy, but I believe we had best part now. Have you seen how many people have been staring at us?"
"Yes." Christy admitted.
"We'd best not start the rumour mills just yet, thought it is probably inevitable."
"When will I see you again?" Christy asked.
"Why, tomorrow! I must call on you, to see if you are not too fatigued to go driving with me." He added with a wink and a grin.
Christabel laughed. "But you don't know where I live!"
"That, my dear, can be easily remedied."
"Heyyyyyyyy!" Michelle cried, once she had resurfaced. "What fun that was! Can we do it again?"
The young man who had punched Henry Crawford stared at her. Miss Gruffudd had barely a chance to look at him before the fountain was surrounded by inquisitive party-goers.
"Trix! Are you alright?" Georgiana had joined the crowd, and then saw that Trix was not alone. "Good heavens." She recoiled.
"I...uh.... Fell in." Michelle explained, disengaging her waist from the gentleman's hands quietly.
"You scoundrel!" An elderly woman tittered to the man. "Who do you call yourself? Ought to be ashamed!"
"Jessamy Merriville, ma'am. Oh I beg your pardon, Miss! I'm beyond mortified! Oh, please forgive me!"
"No need." Michelle said bluntly. "It was an accident. Besides, I'm always getting into scrapes, so you needn't blame yourself. Wait a minute! Did you say your name was Jessamy? What a strange name!"
"I have two sisters named Frederica and Charis." Jessamy defended himself.
"Oh! You poor things! That's just awful! Are you very wet, and have you wrecked your waistcoat? How sad!"
The crowd around Jessamy and Michelle spoke disparagingly of the morals of young folk, causing Mr. Merriville to blush, and Michelle to grin wryly. "Oh, it's nothing." She said demurely, which brought most of the attention to herself.
"NOTHING? Lordy, Miss, what reputation you had must be gone now. What were you thinking? And you looked such a lady, too!" A woman bemoaned.
"But it was an accident! I .. tripped on my dress!!"
"Then how do you explain the gentleman's presence in the fountain with you?"
"Well. When I tripped I accidentally fell forwards, and knocked poor Mr. Merriville in with me. Please believe it was not on purpose! Why, he must be two years younger than me! I promise you I've never seen him before in my life, and I apologise profusely for having acted so improperly! But all my dresses are too long, because I'm so short! Walking can be difficult, and I often trip over!"
"I believe her. Do you honestly think her capable of a tryst in which she would ruin her muslin?" a deep voice cut through the crowd. A pathway opened up between the group, and the air was suddenly filled with whispers.
"He's supporting her."
"She must be innocent."
"Why is he standing up for this chit?"
"Not in his regular style.."
"Do you think...."
"Mama, it's him!"
Almost instantly Mr. Merriville was professed free from guilt, and Michelle became a paragon, who occasionally needed to be more mindful of her skirts. The crowd, along with Jessamy, dispersed soon afterwards, but Michelle remained, walking pensively around the fountain.
She had almost forgotten that she was not alone, but was recalled to her senses when the man, Ashley-Sade, stood in front of her, and she ran into him. "Oh!"
"Oh?" He flashed a smile.
"Why did you say that? You don't even know if that's the truth. Why did everyone believe you?"
"I'm the Untouchable." The man said simply.
Immediately Michelle reached out and touched him. "That's a load of bull."
The so-called Untouchable let his head back and laughed.
"What's so funny?"
"Never mind. Why have I never met you? What's your name?"
"Why should I tell you?" Michelle asked, her hands on her hips.
Ashley-Sade looked curiously at this girl. She had no idea of who he was, and it seemed his name meant nothing to her. This was a decidedly new experience.
"If I tell you my name, will you tell me yours?"
"I s'pose so. I don't see why you wish to know, though."
"I'm Lord Ashley-Sade, but most people call me Ash."
"A Lord, huh? My brother was a Lord, until he died. I'm the Hon. Michelle Gruffudd, but I'm called either Michelle or Trix. Call me Shelley and I swear you die." With that, Michelle turned and walked stately away, leaving Ash staring at her retreating figure in astonishment.
He was the Untouchable, what did she mean by just leaving him there like that?
Posted on Tuesday, 30 July 2002
Author's Note: Summary so far...
Lizzy's having another baby, and she's certain it's a boy, but Darcy bet her it's a girl.
Jane's just had another baby, Victoria, who never stops whinging, much to the annoyance of her elder brother Mark. Bingley isn't coping with things very well, he's become a regular at the pub.
Mary is being chased around her bedroom by Chamberlayne, who isn't too fond of the idea that the two Gardiner girls are coming to stay for a while (I think he thinks he'll have to behave, not to mention put the ladies' frocks away).
Kitty has just met a chap named Milly, who seems rather mad. She's starting to panic about ever marrying, though I don't see why she should be, especially when she can see how not too happy Jane is. Oh yes, and because she was so chirpy and polite the other night at a ball, she now has a persistent admirer, named Sir Fotherby Winthrop (should be nicknamed The Wet Sock).
Lydia lives in Newcastle still. She's really a non entity at the moment.
Isabel is really boring, but she did get to see Anatole before pretty much everyone else, and she knew she'd seen him before.
Anne, along with the rest of London, wonders how Christy fared when she was dancing with the Grand Duke of Russia, and why Natalya seems to be so amused and interested whenever he's mentioned.
Natalya is amused and interested whenever the Grand Duke is mentioned, because she knows a couple of things about him that practically no-one else does.
Christy met Anatole once more after 2 years of separation, and he shocks her with some revelations (the stuff Natalya knew already) The prime shock was that Anatole is the second heir to the throne of Alexander I of Russia (in other words, he is the Tsar's brother, the Grand Duke). Christy cries, Anatole soothes then offers an ultimatum, Christy accepts, and now they're all happy somewhere in a carriage, secretly engaged, and sharing their histories, while making Lady Matlock swoon with ideas that maybe Christy isn't so past the shelf as she made out.
Georgiana, our very own reluctant widow is getting about as merrily as she can, after discovering that her dead husband whom she adored only married her for her money. She has tried to forget it all, and be caught up in the thrills of presenting Michelle, her sister-in-law, and in returning to society after her long break. In the midst of this though, she *is* lonely, and wondering if the only person who is not really like Wickham is her brother, who is obviously someone she can't marry (ew!).
Michelle, also known as Trix, is a complete rascal, debuting into society. In the last scene, she was accosted by Henry Crawford, and fell into a fountain with a character I stole from Georgette Heyer's "Frederica", and when her reputation was about to be completely besmirched, a lad named Ashley-Sade (no, he's NOT named after the pornographic Marquis, I liked the way the name sounded when rhyming with spade, plus it means I can call him Ash if I want to!), who is also known to the ton as the Untouchable, for some reason clears her name. This really irks Michelle, and she sees nothing impressive about him, his name, or his reputation. Naturally, he is piqued.
Kitty wished to escape. Sir Fotherby Winthrop had been clamouring about her for the better part of an hour, and she was beginning to feel sick. Or rather, what had first begun as a slight feeling of indisposition, had multiplied to a headache and queasiness of gargantuan proportions. She was therefore extremely grateful when Georgiana came up to her with Mrs. Pennicook, and said they would be going. Michelle had to be found again first, though.
Michelle was eventually found kicking as broken chair and hurling insults at it. "The thing broke when I sat on it. Broke! Do you know how humiliating that is? Added to the fact that my dress is still sopping... I think I'm going to end up with...." She suddenly sneezed. "Make that, I have ended up with a cold! Can't we go home so I can have a bath? I neeeeeed a bath." She moaned.
Georgiana hid a smile as she rushed forward. "Yes, we're going now. Come on, follow me. We're all waiting for you."
"Aww, that's very sweet." Trix said, and she hugged her sister appreciatively.
"Look! Now you've made me all wet too!" Georgiana cried, as she dragged Miss Gruffudd down towards the awaiting carriage.
"Hurry up! We'll never get there at this rate! Have you got snails attached to your feet or something? Why aren't you ready yet?" A fair girl with hazel eyes admonished her mousy-haired sister. Her sister's chocolate-brown eyes flashed as she retorted a strongly worded diatribe on the viciousness of the impatience and insolence of certain damsels who spent far too long doing their hair, and thus keeping the housemaid completely occupied.
Kate Gardiner, who only listened to ten words of her elder sister's monologue, smiled gently then skipped down the stairs towards her parents. She kissed her brother Henry, who like five-year olds do, tried to wipe it off. "Blech." He responded, when Kate asked him what was the matter.
"The carriage is ready." Seven year old Robert announced majestically. "Are you even going to come down, Em'ly?"
"Robbie, go away." His exasperated sister told him.
But she came downstairs anyway. She wore a reasonably new crimson pelisse above her white dress, and her soft hair had been braided. Miss Gardiner was not a beauty, though it was fairly obvious Miss Kate would become one of those highly sought ethereally fair and waiflike creatures parading their elegant and lovely appearance to the ton of the time.
Miss Gardiner just always took longer to come downstairs, because nearly always Nurse wanted her for something, or Henry or Robbie lost something and needed their Em'ly to find it. This morning, it had been the discovery of Robbie's missing frog in the nanny's bed that caused her to be late.
Miss Gardiner and Miss Kate were finally ready, and as they stepped into the carriage, their final goodbye's were given, and their mama told them, as always, to behave themselves. They dutifully nodded, and the groom set to. It wasn't very far to the Chamberlayne's residence, and so the girls arrived soon after Mary, a mid morning riser, had awoken.
She welcomed her nieces keenly, and informed them that Dink was off doing some manly business which would have bored them past tears. The girls dutifully sighed, but were not overly distressed.
"Well, what shall we do today then?" Mary asked, only to be bombarded with suggestions. To visit the Pantheon Bazaar was number one on the lists. To the Bazaar therefore, they were to go.
"Maman, may we leave now?" Natalya inquired of Lady Fairmont.
"Yes, I'll just get Amily's coat on, then we'll go." Anne replied, fussing over her young daughter. "There!"
Amily was not incredibly impressed, and told her mother so by yelling. Anne was not about to take any nonsense, so she bundled up her child and escaped outdoors with Natalya.
Their walk was pleasant, but not of a very long duration, as it was not too far to the Matlock Townhouse. Anne, Natalya and Amily entered, and the eldest two were surprised to see Lady Matlock actually dancing in the hallway.
"Oh! Do come in, and stop staring at me, my child! You make me feel as though I'm a spectacle! But oh, Anne! Can you guess what has happened?"
"No, " Anne said slowly.
"Well, if you're here to see Christy, as you usually are, you can't."
"Why? Where is she?" Anne asked, handing Amily into Lady Matlock's outstretched arms.
"Not here?" Natalya murmured. "Oooooh." She added with a smile.
"Exactly, little one, though how you guess is beyond me. Oh, Anne! I never thought I'd live to see the day!"
Lady Fairmont was by now thoroughly mystified. Her mother-in-law continued. "A prince, by all that's famous! A prince!"
Things finally began to dawn on Anne, but she missed seeing Natalya's satisfied grin.
"Imagine, a prince coming here to take my Christy for a ride in his curricle! I mean, I know it's not quite the thing for a single girl to be doing, but how could I refuse them?"
"What did she say?" Anne asked eagerly.
"Oh, I was in such transports I hardly noticed. Anne! I've just had the most fantastic thought. What if the prince would fall in love with Christy? I vow I had given up on her, especially lately, now that she's so mopy. But now my imagination has run away with me. What do you think?"
"But they only met last night - don't laugh, Natalya, it isn't polite - but I confess I hadn't expected he would, well, pursue her like this. Natalya, I'm warning you, no snorting!"
"I know I know!" Lady Matlock cried. "Isn't it marvellous?"
"Oui! C'est magnifique!" Natalya said expressively, before erupting into giggles as Anne looked at her sternly. If only they knew what she knew.....
"Well, if we can't speak to Christy, we may as well visit Isabel instead." Anne suggested.
"Yes. Let's." Natalya responded, feeling she had better behave after her outburst, though she couldn't help but laugh.
"And so I said, No, sir, I couldn't possibly..... And so he said, but you must!....."
"So you gave in? How could you?"
"Well, what else could I do?"
"And endure strictures for months afterward on how impertinent I've grown, with you wondering if I was aware how impolite is to walk away while someone is talking, and chastise me forever about it? I thankyou no!"
"Kitty... What will you do now?"
"Now?" Kitty laughed scornfully. "Oh, I suppose I shall have to forever endure the attentions of Sir Fotherby Winthrop. I wish I were married - just so I didn't have people like him after me!"
"Catherine, you don't... mean that, do you? Surely......"
"Lizzy. Just forget I ever said anything, okay? I'll go now, and besides, didn't you say Lady Hartleigh was coming? Good-day." Kitty stormed out of the room, angrily brushing back tears. Her sister fared a little better, and blamed herself for distressing Kitty as she had done. The fact that Lizzy felt like a beached whale did nothing to soothe her, and she rolled up on the divan and covered her face.
Kitty went up to her bedchamber, but this did nothing to excerbate her temper. Trust Elizabeth to blame her for something she couldn't help! Trust Elizabeth to make her feel inferior and unwanted. Trust Elizabeth.....
Kitty looked up at the roof. Get me out of here.
Kitty sighed. That was the problem. Everything was not wonderful. She would never marry, like Christabel Fitzwilliam. She would never have a home away from her far too numerous relations. Most distressingly, she would never be able to escape Mama's "Twenty and still not married! What ever is to become of her?" Squeal.
Kitty decided she needed to do something drastic.
Like run away.
But she was no longer so silly, and could see some serious flaws in that plan. What she needed was to be away from three people : Sir Fotherby, her mama, and blasted "Look at me. I'm having another baby. I can't do anything wrong" Elizabeth.
If she didn't have any ideas for Kitty, then there truly was no hope. But Michelle always had ideas. Kitty thanked the roof for reminding her of the one and only Trix, and escaped from the house towards Curzon Street.
*Excerpt from 'Wonderful', by Everclear. (It's my favourite song, and I've been trying to find a place to stick it for ages.)
Elizabeth wished she didn't keep having disagreements with her sister. But they just kept happening. Then there was John. He might be her son, but that didn't blind her from noticing his obnoxious behaviour. Added to that the unborn baby - her unborn baby son - had been kicking very much in the past few days. Lizzy was worried. John had been very early, would the next Darcy be the same?
It seemed all her problems were escalating. Soon there would be a fracas, she could just feel it. Beached Whale Syndrome had depressed her severely, she saw nothing but problems facing her. Well, except Fitzwilliam. He was not a problem..... Though he was a contributing factor to the problems of her children... Knowing that in a few weeks or so she was going to endure a great deal of pain for Darcy's sake was hardly something to be looking forward to. Pain was pain, no matter how you looked at it.
Elizabeth grimaced, and happened to look over at a cabinet. On it stood a positively hideous vase.
That decided it.
All of her problems were that woeful vase's fault.
"Well, Miss-Let's-Have-Some-Intrigues-In-The-Fountain, are you going to get up before tomorrow?"
"I'll consider it" Trix answered lazily.
"Very obliging of you, I'm sure" Georgiana commented, "But what am I going to do with the gentleman downstairs waiting for you, if you don't get up?"
"Gentleman? What gentleman?!" Michelle cried as she jumped out of bed on the instant, causing Georgiana to laugh out loud.
"Do you know what? I don't think I'll tell you!" She said as she walked out. "Mind you don't keep him waiting long."
"You wretch!" Michelle called out.
Nevertheless, she got dressed quickly, ran down some of the stairs, tripped on her dress, grabbed the banister (which made a creaking noise), lost her balance and tumbled down the rest of the staircase.
"Well! What a dramatic entrance! I surpass myself every time" Michelle said ruefully as she looked at the ruined concoction that the Milliner had called a hat, before it got sat on. Michelle stumbled across the hallway, and fixed herself up again before entering the Visitor's Room, better known as the parlour.
Michelle stood transfixed to the spot, and blinked. Across the threshold was someone she had not been expecting to see. Whether she had wanted to see him or not was a moot point, because she really hadn't considered the issue previously.
"Oh, it's You." she said after a moment's silence.
"I confess that was not quite the response I was expecting." The gentleman said stiffly. "But you are full of surprises, it would seem."
"I thankyou, my lord." Michelle replied woodenly.
"Lady Bentley has said you have no fixed engagements this morning. Would..."
"How kind of you to say, Lady Bentley" Michelle brokenly hissed at the confused Georgiana.
"Would you be so kind as to accompany me to the Richmond Gardens?" The gentleman continued, unruffled. "I have explained to Lady Bentley that her duty of chaperoning you is not necessary on such an occasion as this, for we will be meeting with Lord and Lady Sefton, friends of mine."
Michelle wanted to say no. Georgie wanted her to say yes. He wanted her to say yes. Georgie had made it impossible for her to back out, by citing that she had another engagement.
"If it pleases you." Michelle answered, defeated. "Pray let me fetch my gloves." She turned around and left the room. Georgiana quickly excused herself and followed her sister-in-law. "What is the matter?" She asked, obviously puzzled.
"Thank you very much" Michelle hissed.
"That he should have the audacity! Infamous! Oh, I declare I hate him already!"
"But darling, he's as good as Brummell was when it comes to leading the ton! Indeed, he's one of the acknowledged leaders! Only think what his driving you will do to your consequence! Darling, that man could make or break you. Do behave!"
"I don't care that he is such a personage! It is foolish beyond measure to idolise someone merely on account of who they are! I hate him!" Michelle replied, yanking on her gloves.
"Oh Trix! Don't ruin your chances over some petty spite! I haven't got you tickets to Almacks yet, and you know Lady Sefton is one of the patronesses."
"I promise I will behave, Georgiana. But please don't let him do this to me again -he is insupportable!"
"How? What has he done to you?" Georgiana asked.
"He..... He....." Michelle was stumped for a moment, realising she didn't have a logical reason for why she disliked this man. "He offends my nostrils!" She offered finally, and turned to walk towards her persecutor.
"I am ready, Lord Ashley-Sade," she said politely, and within moments had been driven off in one of London's most bang-up equipages, by a member of the Nonesuch Club - which boasted the finest nonpareils of the whip and the like.
The Untouchable was so called not just because of his hidden and never reached heart, but because he was a Corinthian beyond compare, who aspired to be first in so many fields that to all other aspirants that were not his bosom-buddies, he really did seem untouchable.
Lady Bentley watched his Lordship's blacks disappear around the corner.
"Insupportable, hmm? Myself, I thought he was very handsome."
Anne and Natalya reached the Hartleigh's residence just as Isabel was preparing to leave for the Darcy's. "Well, we may as well invade Lizzy all at once" was the general consensus and the sister's-in-law set off together to visit their cousin's wife.
The footman regretted to inform Lady Fairmont and Lady Hartleigh that his mistress had left twenty minutes ago, after receiving an urgent message from her sister, Mrs. Bingley.
"Well, we may as well invade Lizzy and Jane all at once" Isabel laughed.
"What a gaggle it will be" Anne smiled, but then had to spend the next ten minutes explaining to Natalya what a gaggle was, which highly amused Isabel.
They arrived at the Bingley's house to be told that Mrs. Bingley wasn't receiving guests. However, considering that both the Ladyships were not going to take this as a suitable answer, and were essentially relations, they were eventually permitted inside.
Victoria Bingley was easy to find - you only had to follow the voice. The others - Jane, Elizabeth and Mark, were found shortly after.
The scene was not a happy one.
Elizabeth, far too pregnant to be fussing about as she was, was trying to calm her usually serene sister down.
Jane, was overwrought. She had had as good as no sleep, her husband was missing, presumed drunk, her cook had given her notice, her daughter's colic-induced yelps never stopped, and now her poor Mark was sick.
Mark, usually as active as the average two-year-old, lay silently tossing in his crib.
"The doctor says it's whooping cough" Jane whispered, distraught. "Charles doesn't know yet - I can't contact him oh, Mark, my baby, why?
The smiles and good humour Anne and Isabel had brought with them vanished rapidly. "Nataly, go get Victoria, and John, too, if he is here. Bring them to us." Anne told her daughter, who promptly obeyed.
"I'll take Victoria" Isabel said decidedly "So there's no fear of her catching it. Lizzy, you're not in a fit state to be looking after her, in your condition."
"You are too good" Jane whimpered.
"Quarantine. Do you know where he caught it, Jane?"
"No, I cannot begin to imagine. I cannot think. Sir Henry, Halstead, you know, thinks that......" The words caught in Jane's mouth. "He won't make it." She managed finally, dropping into a chair and covering her tear-filled eyes.
"But he must. He must!"
"Jane..." Lizzy began gently.
She was cut off by a chilling stare from Jane. "He must not die," she said vehemently, while her eyes glittered with passion. "My little boy must live."