Posted on Friday, 23 May 2008
Miss Georgiana Darcy and Miss Katherine Bennet were turning the morning room upside down. They were looking for a particular piece of music that Miss Darcy had misplaced somewhere. Miss Katherine, though, seized the day and interrogated her friend on a matter that had been on her mind for a while.
"So, what is the story between you and Mr Bentleigh?" asked Kitty.
"You do not know already? I have not told you?" answered Georgiana, contrite that she had disobeyed this fundamental rule of friendship.
"No! And I am a bit miffed that you have not." Kitty held up a stack of papers. "Is this the one that you are looking for?"
"No, not this one," said Georgiana after looking at it and hastened to rectify the disparity in information allocation. "Well, I met him at the Matlock ball and we talked and danced. He really is the most agreeable man I have ever met. Intelligent, warm and charming ..." the girl trailed off with a sigh.
"One does not find those often nowadays," said Kitty sagely.
"I know. I was happy to have found him. I thought that he liked me, too. He gave every sign of it. At supper -"
Kitty interrupted her excitedly, "He sat near you? You lucky girl!"
"Even better! He sat next to me. We had the most delightful conversation and even my brother deigned him good enough to talk to him."
"Now you are having me on." Kitty could not reconcile the picture that she had of the man with what her friend told her. "Mr Darcy never talks to the men who pay you attention. He only glowers at them menacingly."
"I assure you that it is true. He said, ‘Pass the salt, please,' and ‘Thank you'. He did not even growl. He said it all politeness." Georgiana was still stunned at the proceedings.
"Well, I never would have thought it," mumbled the other, as stunned as her friend.
Miss Darcy shook her head and came back to the topic at hand, "At the end of the evening, he kissed my hand and -" Kitty interrupted her again, this time with a small squeak of delight. Georgiana giggled, girlishly excited, "Is it not the most romantic gesture?"
Both girls sighed in raptures.
"So, he kissed my hand and said very seriously (another sigh preceded what the gentleman had said) -- he said, ‘I have enjoyed this evening tremendously, Miss Darcy'. Tremendously!"
"Oh," sighed Kitty and clasped her hands in front of her bosom. "Nobody ever enjoyed an evening with me ‘tremendously'. You are so lucky, Georgiana."
"That is what I thought, too, and I was sure he would follow it up with a call on me one of the next days. But he has not come!"
"No!" Kitty was honestly shocked. "Not a sign? Have you heard from someone else? They might know what has befallen him."
"Not a word," wailed Georgiana. "I do not know what is the matter with him."
"Maybe he was called away from London. Urgent family business," offered Kitty. "So urgent that he had no time to tell you."
Georgiana thought out loud, "I think he said that he is in the army."
"And he got his orders to move all of a sudden," Kitty latched onto her friend's train of thought.
"But then someone would know about it. Nobody that I spoke to had any idea where he has gone."
Miss Bennet refused to let her theory die so soon. "Well, they could not know anything if he is a spy for the crown."
"Oh no, and now he is out there on the continent and doing all kinds of dangerous things and I am here, thinking ill of him!" exclaimed Georgiana. Kitty took her into her arms to console the stricken girl. Then, seeing something she had missed before, she grabbed another stack of papers and held it up for Georgiana's perusal. The other nodded this time and took them.
Both leaving the room, Miss Darcy fretted, "I hope he will be fine."
Outside, next to the window that opened on the terrace, Mr Darcy turned to his wife, horrified. "Your sister is a bad influence on Georgiana!"
Lizzy laughed. "Do not worry so much, dear. All young girls are like that."
If possible, Mr Darcy looked even more horrified than before. "That is not true," he denied.
"Yes, it is."
Stubbornly, Darcy shook his head.
"Well, I was a girl of seventeen once, too. So I know better. Trust me on this, all girls are like that." Mrs Darcy turned to the garden and proceeded with the ramble that the couple had interrupted to listen in on the girls' conversation.
"I am sure that you and Mrs Bingley never talked like that," he said, catching up to her on the walk.
She grinned, "You believe that if it makes you happy."
"No, not you!"
Lizzy merely laughed.
"But you are witty and intelligent and -" Darcy floundered out of his depth.
"That means nothing when you are having man trouble," stated his wife.
"Man trouble?" He looked scandalised. "My sister is too young to be having man trouble. She is but seventeen!"
"Old enough to be fretting about men."
"There is more than one? This is getting worse by the minute! That is it. I am sending her to a nunnery."
Lizzy stopped on the path and regarded him severely. "Do you remember that you said I should tell you when you are too protective?"
"Yes," he grumbled.
"Well, this is one such instance." She tried to reason with him. "You know that Georgiana would never do anything untoward. You can trust her."
"I do trust her," assured Darcy. "I do not trust those young men though. They are all rascals, scoundrels and I know not what but nothing good."
Lizzy raised her eyebrow but waited for what was to come.
"Not one decent bone in their body. I have been a young man, too, and I know full well what goes on in those hot-air heads. Trust me, we have much to worry about." Darcy took a short breath. "I do not trust that lad who has been eyeing Kitty an awful lot, either."
"Dearest, he is a clergyman."
"Still a man." Nostrils flaring, he leaned close to her and warned her in a low, dangerous voice, "Never trust a man."
"So I should not trust you as well?"
"Me, you should not trust at all," he said with a rakish smile, drew her close and kissed her deeply.
When he released her, he continued after a ponderous while, "I would still like to know who that fellow is whom Georgiana and Kitty were talking about. I do not remember him at all. Well, I was preoccupied with a blister I had on the sole of my left foot that evening. It hurt terribly." He looked at her questioningly, "Do you remember the man?"
"No, I had problems with my right knee that night and could not concentrate on anything but the pain." She grimaced at the memory.
"Good grief," exclaimed Darcy and Lizzy thought that he sounded a lot like her mother. "We are not even married for a year and, already, we have turned into an old couple."
Solemnly, she said, "I am waiting for rheumatism to set in any time now."
"Speak for yourself but I intend to stay forever young," he declared.
Her eyebrow went up again. "Oh, that is something one can decide?"
"Yes, and I have decided it just now." Darcy never let reality interfere with his plans. It was the reason why he had received such a bad reality-check in Kent the other year.
"Interesting." Her other eyebrow joined the first one up on high. "I dare say that it will be very interesting to grow old and decrepit next to a man who does not."
"Pffft," Darcy dismissed her. "When you are old and decrepit, I am going to cast you aside and take a young mistress."
"Poor old me," remarked Lizzy, amused.
Darcy grinned, "I am sorry to seem so cold-hearted but one should always accessorise according to one's age or feigned age."
"I understand completely." She tried to hide her mirth. "I have a question though. What shall you do if you age after all?"
"I shall keep you around then. I will need someone to wipe off the drool from my mouth."
"Now I remember why I married you. You are so reasonable and so sensible." Her mouth twitching, she asked, "What makes you so certain that I shall wipe the drool off your mouth and not the other way around?"
"Well, let us assume, for argument's sake, that I will age. The fact that I am older than you gives me reason to believe that I will also be ahead of you in decay. Also, one must not forget that your impertinent streak will take years of my time off of me." Mr Darcy looked remarkably cheerful at such a bleak prospect. "There you have it. I will be old and withering away while you will still be pretty and blooming. Point proven."
Lizzy laughed and echoed his words from earlier, "When you are old and decrepit, I will cast you aside and take a young man as my lover."
"Then you will have man trouble again. Do you really want that?" grinned Darcy.
"Point proven," admitted his wife.
"While we are on the topic ... What kind of man trouble did you and your sister discuss? Any particular men?" He tried hard to appear the picture of innocent curiosity.
"Would you not like to know?" Lizzy was not fooled.
"Well, yes. As a matter of fact, I would like to know."
Stubborn man. She rolled her eyes. "What for? It is all in the past now."
Darcy looked as if he deliberated lying to her, but decided on the truth. "I would like to bash their heads in for daring to look at you and then I would like to thank them for being stupid enough to let you go."
"Not a chance, dear."
By lunchtime, Kitty and Georgiana had, between themselves, decided on the fate of the lamentably absent Mr Bentleigh.
Reluctantly, Kitty had given up on the spy theory, as Georgiana had been too upset about it. Miss Darcy had nearly had a fit of anxiety when she imagined all the dangers he would be in. It had taken them a while to find a suitable explanation for the gentleman's absence but, in the end, they did.
The moment he had arrived at his home from the ball, his trusted servant -- who, they had decided, had been in Mr Bentleigh's service forever because Mr Bentleigh was the best master -- had handed him an express that had arrived that evening. His sister -- they were still thinking about a name for her -- had written to inform him that his father's health had taken a sudden, alarming turn for the worse.
Mr Bentleigh, being a kind, loving and compassionate family man, had immediately saddled his horse and left London for his father's estate. Kitty had wanted to add a little adventure with highwaymen to the tale, but Georgiana had wanted none of it. She did not want him to have come to any harm. Kitty had relented and said, "Well, you are right. He kissed your hand. It would be unkind to have him robbed and beaten."
Thus, Mr Bentleigh had had an uneventful ride but, naturally, he had worried for his father all the way.
Arriving at the estate, matters had been even worse than his sister's express had led him to believe. His father had been bed-ridden and unresponsive to word or touch. Since his arrival, Mr Bentleigh had sat beside his father's bed.
Both girls agreed that it was incredibly romantic to have him sit there in despair, his head cradled in his hands. They allowed for him to have sob once or twice but -- and there was no discussion on that point -- he had not cried, for he was a manly man.
"I can now forgive him that he has neither called nor sent word," Georgiana said. "If my brother were so ill, I would not be able to concentrate on anything else but him, too." After a moment's pause, she sighed, "Would it not be great if these things really happened to men?"
"I would certainly feel better about myself," agreed her friend, sighing too.
Georgiana looked at her with feeling. "Your clergyman?"
"He has stopped calling and I do not know why," wailed Kitty and off they went on another round.