Posted on Tuesday, 6 May 2003
Georgiana walked tentatively up the familiar stairs that led to her cousin’s townhouse. Her heart beat erratically in her chest as she rang the bell. As she waited for the footsteps of John, Richard’s servant, she rested her hand in her dress pocket and fingered the packet of letters that were concealed inside the folds of her full skirt. Moments later she heard the footsteps that she had awaited. She quickly pulled her hand from her pocket and tried to appear calm. The footsteps stopped and she took a deep breath as the door opened slowly. Instead of John’s friendly features greeting her behind the door she saw the bright face of Richard. He lunged forward and brought Georgiana across his threshold exchanging friendly words. This change of plans threw Georgiana off slightly but she tried not to show it. After a slight hesitation she squeezed her cousin’s hand and spoke casually.
“Richard, this is a surprise. Is John not well or did you just feel like welcoming all your guests yourself today?”
Richard laughed. It had been a long time since she had seen him laugh like that. “No, John is just fine. I asked him to let me get the door this time. I knew it would be my dear little cousin. This is your regular visiting time. You must not think I am so dense that I did not realize that after three months. It is just that I needed to talk to you before you visited Elizabeth.” Georgiana’s heart jumped slightly. She hoped that he did not suspect something.
“Oh, well that is a good explanation. What do you need to speak to me of? Is Elizabeth ok?” Richard nodded.
“Oh yes she is fine, I am sorry I did not mean to worry you. I just wanted to warn you that this will have to be a short visit. The doctor is coming to check on Elizabeth in about half an hour. I should have written to you but things have been so crazy around here it slipped my mind. I am sorry you have come all of this way but I have arranged for my carriage to take you home. Please forgive me my dear.” Richard placed his large hand on his cousin's dainty shoulder. Georgiana felt relieved. Though this would give her less time to speak to Elizabeth of important things, her secret was still safe. She smiled sweetly at Richard.
“Oh Richard, do not be worried. I am not put out at all. It will just be lovely to see Elizabeth again now that she is awake.”
“Yes, yes.” Richard nodded his head. “ I have to admit, a light has returned to this house now that she is awake. So lets not waste any more time, I will bring you to her again.” Georgiana nodded and they ascended the stairs. When they reached the door Richard knocked lightly. Elizabeth’s voice granted them entrance.
When they entered the room Elizabeth sat upright in bed. Her eyes were bright and Georgiana knew that the old Elizabeth was back. Elizabeth’s smile grew as Georgiana entered the room but the smile dimmed a little when she realized that Georgiana was alone. Georgiana ran forward and gave her friend a hug.
“Oh Lizzy it is so good to see you well again. Richard has told me that we have but a short time to converse but we have so much to talk about.” Elizabeth patted her good friend’s hand that she still held in hers and smiled.
“Oh Georgie I am so glad you came, no matter how short our visit. I am a bit disappointed in one member of your family though. Where is that brother of yours? From what information I could get out of Mary you have always come alone. Do I have leprosy and you all are keeping this from me? Is that why William insists on treating me in such a cruel manner? I cannot guess what else it would be.”
Georgiana did not know what to say. She tried to look at Richard to see his reaction but his face was blank. It was time for Georgiana to play dumb.
“No Elizabeth, he has just been very busy with work. He has been as concerned as anyone about your well being but there was nothing he could do to get away. I am sure you understand.” The smile fell away from Elizabeth’s face as Georgiana spoke but she nodded as though she understood. Georgiana looked to Richard for approval but all she saw was a deep look of sadness overcoming his previously happy demeanor. Richard spoke softly and excused himself from the room.
“I will be back in half an hour for you Georgiana. Enjoy your visit.” Richard quietly closed the chamber door finally leaving Georgiana and Elizabeth alone. Georgiana turned to face her friend once again. Elizabeth gestured to the seat beside her.
“Please sit and make yourself comfortable.” Georgiana removed her gloves and bonnet, placed them on the bedside table and sat close to her friend. Elizabeth still seemed a little distracted as she began to speak.
“So how have things been since I have been ‘indisposed’? Is there any news I should know about? No engagements or weddings that I should be privy to?” Georgiana knew that Elizabeth was searching for something but she could not pinpoint what so she answered honestly.
“Well not much has happened. Bingley and Jane were to be married about a month ago but they put it off because Jane was too upset with all of this to have a happy wedding. William Godfrey is engaged to Katie Lawrence. Of course your engagement to Richard is the main talk of the town.” Elizabeth’s eyes filled with tears and her chest tightened. Disappointment overcame her. Georgiana tried ignore her pain and continue. Elizabeth’s tears gave Georgiana as much confirmation of where Elizabeth's feelings as Georgiana needed. She now just needed to pick the perfect way to tell her everything. Georgiana continued her speech.
“Oh Charlotte Collins is expecting. She will have a new arrival in a few months. I don’t know her well but Jane thought that you would like to know. Many people sent me messages for you while you were asleep. I would read them to you every day, hoping that you could hear me.”
Elizabeth’s delicate hand shot out and lightly grasped Georgiana’s hand stopping her at the end of her sentence. Elizabeth’s moist eyes met Georgiana’s pleadingly. With her quivering voice she spoke.
“Georgiana, thank you for your consideration and love. You are a wonderful cousin and best friend. You are so dedicated to me and you know me so well. It is for these reasons that I feel that I can ask you the questions that have been burning within me for the past two days. Please, no matter how much pain they may give me please tell the truth.” Georgiana felt her chest tighten and she knew what was coming. She prepared herself to tell the truth.
“I will tell you what ever you want Elizabeth. I am glad you asked because there is much you need to know that I did not know how to tell you.” Elizabeth squeezed her friend’s hand. This comment would make this task much easier for her to undertake. Elizabeth turned as much as she could in the bed to face her friend.
“Georgie I have to be honest. I don’t remember anything that has happened for the last three months. The last think I remember is running out the front doors of Pemberley in the rain.” She shook her head. “ I don’t know what came over me. I was so sure you would be ashamed of me and that I was ruining your lives. Now I feel like I have entered another world. I don’t know what is going on. I awaken in Richard’s townhouse with him dutifully by my side. We are engaged, as we were before, but William is no where to be found. Please tell me what is happening. What happened after I left the house? Why am I here and not at Pemberley and why is your brother treating me like a stranger? Georgiana I must know.”
Georgiana now knew it was time. It was time to tell all, to clear the air and to comfort her friend. She took a deep breath and started her narration.
“First let me tell you my dearest friend that you have in no way shocked or offended me. When I saw you and William on the stairs I was so happy. Don’t look so shocked. Everyone seems to forget I am not a little girl any more. I understand the heart and how it works, well most of the time at least. I had known for a long time that William was in love with you.” Georgiana whispered these words. “It was so clear to me in every move he made and every look he gave you. The only thing I was unsure of was your feelings. I did not know how you felt. Well I did know that you were kind to William and that you enjoyed his company but I could not tell if there was any love there. That is until that night. I tried to sneak away without being seen but I knew it was too late when I heard William’s feet in the hall. I wish you had been there for that conversation Elizabeth. I was so happy. I knew it would not be easy for you or William to weather the social judgments that perhaps would come upon you but I knew that you would be more miserable being thought of well and apart than being despised and together. I gave William my blessing and I was on my way to give you the same when we discovered you missing. I was so scared. William tried to act calm but I could see the panic rising in him every passing moment that you were not discovered within the walls of Pemberley.” Elizabeth interrupted with a soft pleading voice.
“Oh I am so sorry Georgie, I am so sorry. I did not know what I was doing. Things were getting so mixed up and crazy. My heart was breaking and I felt like an animal that needed to escape. I regret it now and I regret the pain I put you all through. Please forgive me!” Tears started to gather in Elizabeth’s eyes. One trickled down Elizabeth’s still pale cheek. Georgiana leaned forward and gently wiped it away and patted Elizabeth’s cheek.
“Elizabeth, there is no need for these apologies. I can understand your panic and your pain. I do not blame you, no one does. Especially for what happened next. Do you remember anything from that night?” Elizabeth shook her head.
“No, I do not. Like I said before I remember running through the rain. It was cold and I was shaking and I heard hooves beating behind me. I thought it was William. I ran to hide and after that all I remember is pain and mumbles. I did not know where I was or who I was with. All I wanted was to awake from the fuzzy dream world I had fallen prisoner in. Georgiana, do you know what happened to me that night.” Georgiana nodded.
“I only know what I saw and what little William told me. As you were running from the road you fell. You hit your head and broke your arm. Only the rider on the horse was not William, it was Mr. Mitchell. He had been watching us all evening. He saw you and William kiss on the front stairs and when you left he decided it was his chance to get you alone and convince you of his love. He later admitted he had been following you for weeks. William was devastated that he was responsible for this psycho being near you at all but we all tried to convince him it was not his fault.” Elizabeth shook her head softly, not believing what she was hearing. It was like a story from a novel not something that could actually happen in her life.
“I don’t even know if I want to know what happens next. No, no I am being over dramatic. I do want to know what happens. Please go on.” Georgiana nodded.
“Well all I know is what William told me so I am not even sure if that is the complete story but I will tell you none the less. As the story was told to me Mr. Mitchell took you back to the parish house. He put you into one of his spare rooms and then went out and pretended to hunt for you along side all of the other volunteers. It sickens me to think of it. As Mitchell pretended to search for you my brother agonized over your disappearance, believing it was him that caused it. Yet he could not share this pain with anyone but himself. He did not sleep at all after you went missing. He rode half the night to Lambton and then to Richard’s. Then back again. He never returned to the house and the men that would come in to warm up and refresh themselves spoke of his undying fervor. As William was hunting he came upon Mr. Mitchell. Mitchell, in his great stupidity or great arrogance invited William back to his home. For some reason William relented for the first time since everything started. When William was in Mitchell’s home he some how discovered your hiding place, fought with Mitchell and in the end rescued you. Richard swooped in and brought you home leaving William alone and exhausted. He gave me no more detail than that.” The two women sat in silence for a few moments letting the amazing story soak in. Elizabeth let these words tumble over in her mind trying to remember anything from those missing hours. Nothing came. She sighed and broke the silence.
“Thank you for sharing that with me Georgie. I have to be honest, I do not remember anything you spoke of but I trust it is true. I never thought Mr. Mitchell to be such a dangerous man but William knew and he warned me. I should have listened.” Georgiana shook her head.
“Elizabeth there is no way you could have known that he would do this. It is not your fault, the fault lays all on Mitchell. This has made you quite the talk about town though. Everyone is singing your praises and have kept close tabs on how you are doing. Mitchell thought that this would ruin your reputation but instead it has raised it.” Elizabeth laughed at the irony.
“I did nothing but sleep for a few months and London is impressed? This is such a strange town.” Georgiana laughed. She was glad to see her old Elizabeth coming back. But the smile on Elizabeth’s face suddenly disappeared as she looked at Georgiana more seriously.
“Wait you have forgotten something.” Georgiana silently went over the story in her mind and was quite sure that she had told all that she knew.
“No I believe I told you all that I am aware of. Perhaps you are remembering something that I was not told.” Elizabeth shook her head vehemently.
“No, not about Mr. Mitchell. I am satisfied with your story and I am sure any memory I might have of that time will slowly come back. What I need to know is not about what happened when I was missing but what happened when I got back. How did I end up here and why is William treating me like the plague? What happened? Please tell me you know.”
“Ahh, yes you are right. I am sorry. I will tell you what I know but once again this is just what William has told me and some of what I saw as an outsider.”
“That is fine. At this point I think you are the only one I can turn to.” Elizabeth urged Georgiana on.
“Well soon after you returned William was brought back. He had passed out soon after his fight with Mitchell. The doctor examined him and told us that we had nothing to worry about, he was just suffering from exhaustion. I was still worried. We had been told that you were hurt quite badly and at that point we did not know if you would live. I could only imagine the life filled with pain William would endure if you died during his sleep. I prayed that night that you would live and William would awake.
“ When I awoke the next morning Richard was packing. His eyes were red from crying but so were everyone else’s that morning. He told me, quite curtly, that he was taking you to London that day to see a specialist and that they would not be back to Pemberley. You were in no condition to be moved. I was shocked. It takes a lot to put Richard into such an angry mood. His eyes burned as he spoke. I knew something must be going on. When I spoke to William everything fell into place. William had awoken early that morning and snuck over to your room. He did not know what had happened to you or how you were. He took the risk of impropriety to visit you. Obviously you did not answer the door. Instead Richard did. Soon Richard informed William of his plans to take you to London to see a specialist. William was just as surprised as I was. I guess Richard was quite stubborn and they got into a fight of some kind.
“Eventually Richard caught on to the reason William cared so much that you were leaving. He realized that William was in love with you. When confronted with this accusation my brother admitted that he loved you but he denied that you did any thing to provoke or encourage it. He lied to Richard to protect you. He told him that he had forced a kiss upon you that dreadful night and that is what had caused you to flee. Richard labeled William your murderer and cut him off from his life. They have not spoken since and William’s only connection to you has been me.”
As Georgiana finished her longwinded story Elizabeth sat stunned. The events that had unfolded before her surprised her more than she thought they could. Her head swam and she closed her eyes to keep from breaking down in tears. She whispered quietly, as if to herself.
“So that is how it is. I am now and forever will be Richard’s. It has been decided for me. And my dear William, he is resigned to our fate. I must follow his lead.”
Georgiana listened though she felt as if she were eavesdropping on what was actually an internal conversation. Their pause was interrupted with a light tap on the door. Georgiana’s heart jumped and her nerves buzzed. Elizabeth’s eyes shot open and she swiftly wiped away her tears. With as bright of a voice as possible she spoke.
“Yes, you may enter.” The door knob turned and Richard walked in with his happy features once again restored.
“Well my ladies I hope that you have had a wonderful though short visit. The doctor is here so I must escort my lovely cousin down to her waiting carriage as my lovely fiancée is examined by her physician. You have a few moments to say farewell.” Richard closed the door without another word. Georgiana placed her hands on her knees getting ready to stand when her hand brushed the packet that was still in her pocket. I have forgotten the letters. They will explain better than I can. Georgiana swiftly reached into her pocket and retrieved the letters. She placed them firmly in Elizabeth’s hand. Elizabeth gave her a questioning look.
“As I said before after that early morning fight at Pemberley I have been the only connection William has had with you. At first I would just come to check on your progress but as time went on I started to read to you. Sometimes I would read Shakespeare or the classics but there was one thing I read to you every day. William’s letters. He wrote to you every day that you were confined here in this house. These are his letters from that time and at the bottom there is a letter he wrote for today’s visit. If you do not wish to read these please refuse them now but I plead that you at least read a few. I hope that they will show you that you are not trapped here but that you can make choices for your future.”
Georgiana had not let go of the letters until she spoke these last words. Elizabeth felt the full weight of the pile when Georgiana pulled away. Her heart lusted to devour every letter that moment. To let the words bathe her in comfort but she knew she must resist until she was alone.
Another tap came suddenly at the door. Elizabeth put the precious package under her pillow and granted entrance to her fiancée and the doctor. Georgiana could see Elizabeth’s desire to read the letters. She felt that her visit had been a success. She stood, leaned over and hugged Elizabeth, whispering in her ear.
“I will be there for you no matter what. You are my best friend and always will be.” As Georgiana tried to pull away Elizabeth tightened her grasp and spoke.
“Thank you for everything. For your friendship, for your love and today especially for your honesty. I will see you tomorrow.” She released her friend. Georgiana stood and walked out the bedroom door, past Richard’s confused face. He lightly grabbed Georgiana’s arm as she walked into the hall.
“What was that all about Georgie? Is everything ok?” Georgiana gave a light, feminine laugh.
“Everything is perfectly fine Richard. Perfectly fine.”