JA quotes and intro

"I should infinitely prefer a book." -- Chapter 39, Pride and Prejudice
"...I wish my collection were larger for your benefit and my own credit..." -- Chapter 8, Pride and Prejudice
"I shall be glad to have the library to myself as soon as may be." -- Chapter 20, Pride and Prejudice

Thanks for dropping by! Titles are below and to the right, under the following headings:
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Note: Some stories include direct quotes from Austen's works, and there is the occasional nod to one or other of the adaptations.

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Monday, July 5, 2010

Such an Inclination


(2010)
Emma
Specific request for Emma fanfic
Mr John Knightley's remarks cause Emma to reconsider her opinion on Mr Elton's matrimonial interests—and to discover where her own interests lie as well.



‘Mr Elton in love with me! What an idea!’

‘I do not say it is so; but you will do well to consider whether it is so or not, and to regulate your behaviour accordingly. I think your manners to him encouraging. I speak as a friend, Emma. You had better look about you, and ascertain what you do, and what you mean to do.’

‘I thank you; but I assure you, you are quite mistaken. Mr Elton and I are very good friends, and nothing more;’ and she walked on, amusing herself in the consideration of the blunders which often arise from a partial knowledge of circumstances, of the mistakes which people of high pretensions to judgement are for ever falling into; and not very well pleased with her brother for imagining her blind, and ignorant, and in want of counsel.

—Chapter 13, Emma




A minute passed before Mr John Knightley continued the subject. “Had I known the possibility had never even occurred to you, I might not have offered Mr Elton a seat in my carriage. Under the circumstances, it would be best if he were not to have everything made easy for him.”

Emma, rather offended that her brother persisted in speaking of the matter, looked coldly at him. “What can you mean?”

“Do you think I did not see his look of pleasure, of exultation, I dare say, when he accepted my offer and turned to you? It was not simply because he thought I understood his intentions and approved of them. Yes,” he insisted as she stared at him in disbelief, “I am sure he thought exactly that. And it was certainly not because I shall spare him a very cold walk.” He turned a fond eye towards his boys, who had run ahead, well out of hearing of their father and aunt’s quiet conversation. “I cannot say whether his feelings are deep or shallow at present, but I know the meaning of that look. I am a man, Emma, who has not been so long married as to have forgotten the beginnings of romance or how quickly admiration can turn to love.”

“If you must you continue to entertain this fanciful notion,” she said, not bothering to hide her exasperation, “I only ask that you not seek to persuade me to take it up as well. I have never had such an idea, and I cannot adopt it now.”

“You may protest all you like, but I am convinced that it is hardly my company he anticipates, or that of the Westons.” He said no more.

Emma was too angry to respond, and her only satisfaction stemmed from having shown enough of her displeasure to keep John quiet. Eager to be at Hartfield again, she hurried on to keep pace with her nephews. Her brother’s words would not leave her mind, however, and the more she endeavoured to put them out of her head, the less secure she became in her ability to refute his conjectures. He had a man’s view, something in any other situation she believed she would be disposed at least to value for its own sake, whether she agreed with that view or not. Moreover, John rarely offered an unsolicited opinion on a matter so unconnected with himself. ‘I speak as a friend,’ he had said.

His brother had already declared that Mr Elton would not choose Harriet Smith, that the vicar would never marry so imprudently. Emma would be forced to examine Mr Elton’s actions in a very different light if she accepted these two pieces of intelligence as the impartial observations of two intelligent men. And she ought to do so, for what could the brothers truly gain or lose if she, and not Harriet, were Mr Elton’s choice? Especially as she would never consider marrying the man! It would be madness and presumption for Mr Elton to think himself worthy of her.

Yet what pain and humiliation lay ahead if he really preferred her to Harriet! What an idea, indeed. How would Harriet bear it? How would Emma herself bear with the awkwardness of being in company with her or Mr Elton again?

Her brow creased as she made polite conversation with her family. Sigh followed sigh as she dressed for dinner. By the time the carriages were brought round to convey them all to Randalls, her head positively throbbed. Isabella noticed something was amiss and fretted, but Emma assured her that she was well enough to go, more for her sister’s sake and her father’s than honesty’s, and declared that in any case she should be miserable at home, which was true enough.

To her surprise, her brother approached her and remarked in a low voice, “You have been unusually quiet since our walk. Are you concerned about that matter we discussed earlier? You need not worry. George and I shall be ready to intervene if the need arises.”

“I thank you for your concern, but I do not expect any difficulties.”

“You are not very good at dissembling, Emma.”

His rueful smile made her feel even worse. If she had drawn the attention of both Isabella and John, how was she to appear tolerably cheerful at Randalls? Mrs Weston would immediately take note. “I am well,” she determined, “if not perfectly so. Let us talk no more of this. I am anxious to see Mrs Weston.”

“Now, that I can easily believe.” He smiled and they walked together to the carriage.

The evening turned out to be just as dreadful as she had feared. Mr Elton clung to her side, inserted himself into nearly every conversation she attempted with others, raised a few eyebrows with his overly solicitous behaviour, and generally cast a pall over the otherwise cheerful holiday atmosphere. John and his brother did what they could to draw Mr Elton’s attention away without being uncivil, but the vicar proved a tenacious suitor. Emma could only be grateful Harriet had been spared those mortifying scenes.

Either John somehow knew when she had reached the limits of her endurance, or for once their separate, selfish concerns coincided in a joint wish for an early end to the evening. Soon after the gentlemen rejoined the ladies in the drawing-room, he took the opportunity to glance outside. One well-aimed remark about the amount of snow covering the ground, and Mr Woodhouse rapidly grew anxious to depart; moments later, Mr Knightley rang the bell and the party broke up.

Mr Elton escorted Emma outside, to her great consternation, and for an instant she feared the two would have a tête-à-tête drive. Fortunately she caught her brother’s eye just as he, having forgotten their previous arrangement, very naturally prepared to enter the first carriage with his wife and father-in-law. He came to her aid immediately.

“Go with Isabella and your father,” he whispered. “I shall see Mr Elton home.”

Emma thanked him, surprised to discover her throat was too thick with emotion to say any more, and she did what he advised without looking back.

At Hartfield, gruel was sent round for some and the usual sort of refreshments for others. Mr Knightley had joined them instead of continuing on to Donwell, and at the first opportunity he drew Emma aside. “Now tell me, Emma, what brought on this crisis of courtship that I witnessed tonight. Elton could not have demonstrated his preference for your company more plainly had he stood atop the Westons’ dining table and shouted it to us all. Either he did not notice your manner had cooled towards him, or he did not care.”

“Foolish man! How could he imagine for a moment I would be pleased?” She immediately blushed as she recalled several instances when her words, manner, or both might have given more than enough encouragement to a man so self-deceived. “Must have been the wine,” she said half-heartedly.

Mr Knightley smiled and took a sip from his own glass. “Did you not take it upon yourself to find him a bride? I heard you say, in this very parlour, that such was your intention.”

“I never meant to include myself among the possibilities!”

“I know that, but it is only because I know you so well that I have never believed the preference you have lately shown him was meant to bring on his addresses.”

“I am just glad the evening is over and he is away from us all.”

“Do not be so hard on him.”

“That is easy for you to say. He did not follow you about all evening. ‘Miss Woodhouse, may I get you some more cake?’ ‘Miss Woodhouse, I fear you are too warm. Might I suggest a seat farther from the fire? Or perhaps you are too cold, Miss Woodhouse.’ ‘Miss Woodhouse, Miss Woodhouse, Miss Woodhouse!’ I was growing weary of my own name.”

“You must admit that so many smiles and compliments as he has received in the last several weeks might turn a man’s head, especially coming from a young lady as beautiful and witty as she is charming.”

“Mr Knightley, you flatter me.”

“I only speak the truth.”

“There are several beautiful faces in Highbury, some of which I had hoped he would notice.” There was one, at least. Poor Harriet!

“Confess, Emma, that you did want him to marry Miss Smith.”

She looked down. There was no use in denying it. “Yes, I did. I can only be thankful that he did not say something so pointed as to force a confession from me tonight as well.”

His smile made her almost comfortable again, and his next words soothed her even further. “Tell me, Emma,” Mr Knightley entreated, clasping her hand. “Are you truly well?”

“While I am still shocked by Mr Elton’s boldness, I sincerely hope I have not injured him. Yet I cannot believe he is really in love with me, for anyone who knows me at all must know we should not suit.” She sighed. “I am well.”

“John will be glad to hear it.”

“Your brother’s assistance was invaluable. I have thanked him, but it seems so little. I hope he understands how much I appreciate his efforts. And I appreciate yours as well.”

He squeezed her hand and held it. “I am certain John knows, and I am always glad to be of assistance to you. Now, the material question is this: are you convinced that you ought to have done with match-making?” He looked into her eyes and would not allow her to avoid his gaze.

“But what about Har—”

“Emma?”

What about Harriet, she had been about to say. She no longer cared if Mr Elton ever found a companion to share the vicarage.

“If you are worried about your friend,” Mr Knightley said, “I know of one deserving young man who still pines for her. Perhaps—but we need not revive that subject.”

She quite agreed; she was not so chagrined as to have reconsidered her opinion of Robert Martin. “A thousand things may arise in the next weeks and months.”

“Highbury may be inundated with eligible young men, for instance.”

“At least one eligible young man is long overdue.”

He stopped smiling. “You speak of Frank Churchill.”

“Of course.”

“You have never even met him! You cannot intend him for Harriet Smith, can you?”

“No. I had no thought of it.”

“For yourself, then?” This time he looked down, but she could not fathom why.

“I own that if I were inclined to marry, Mr Frank Churchill would seem the perfect choice.” Even with Mr Knightley’s face turned away, she could see him grimace. “Yet tonight, I found myself quite out of charity with him.”

“Oh?” He raised his head.

“I resented his absence, and you will not think better of me when you hear why. Oh, of course I felt the slight to dear Mrs Weston, but my anger also had selfish roots. I know it is ridiculous, but I cannot help but think that had he done as he ought and visited his father’s new bride, I might have had an easier time tonight.”

“He would have taken Elton’s place as your suitor.”

“He would have been the focus of the evening! All attention would have been on him! Mr Elton would not have found it so easy to vex me, that is all.” She laughed at his forlorn look and wondered at it. “The more I think on it, the more I am convinced Mr Churchill and I would not suit, either. He really should have come to pay his respects to my friend. How can he neglect his father so?” She glanced at her own father. “His continued absence savours of disrespect or disapprobation, and I have not made up my mind as to which is worse.”

“Truly?”

Mr Knightley’s face took on a more familiar look now, and to prevent his lecturing her, Emma said, “I know I should not speak ill of Mr Weston’s son. I am sure he is a worthy young gentleman, despite the influence of Mrs Churchill.”

“You may be right. And we have spent far too much time on the subject of matrimony, I think.”

“Yes. It is pointless for me to talk of marriage, at least for myself. I could not leave my father.”

“No. I suppose not.”

“Therefore it does not matter whether Mr Churchill is disrespectful or disapproving.”

“True.” He looked as if nothing mattered very much at the moment.

“Do you smile because you agree, or because I have continued to talk of marriage despite your claim that we have talked of it long enough?”

His smile widened into a playful grin, making him appear for an instant to be the younger of the two Knightley men. “You may speak of whatever you like. You are mistress of this house.”

“Yes, I am. The topic was marriage, I believe. You never speak of it in regard to yourself. But then who is good enough for you?”

“Who, indeed?”

He seemed to be staring hard at her, almost staring into her, studying her. There was no anger, no anxiety; it seemed a look to signify a great deal of curiosity and interest, but what was there about her that he did not already know and had not known these many years?

“May I tell you something in confidence?” he asked her.

“Certainly.”

“It has been a long time since I thought seriously of marriage. We live in a rather confined, unvarying society.”

“True. Highbury has no more been inundated with eligible young women than with young men.”

“Precisely.” His smile was brief. “Recently, however—very recently, in fact—I have found myself considering the possibility again.”

“But little Henry would be supplanted!” She felt instantly stupid for having voiced her thoughts, but for some reason the very idea disturbed her and she had been unable to check herself.

Thankfully, his chastisement was gentle. “I said possibility, Emma, although John would rather see me married than gain the estate for his son. He speaks highly of the institution himself, as well you know.”

She smiled. For all his faults of temper, John truly did love Isabella.

Caught up in her thoughts, she was unaware of how close Mr Knightley had leant towards her until she felt his breath warm her cheek. She shivered. “I have a proposition for you,” he whispered.

“Do you?” she breathed, hardly knowing where to look.

“If you must make matches, perhaps you had better limit your efforts to finding me a wife. I shall not mind sacrificing myself to your scheming if it will spare our neighbours.”

The suggestion, the intimate nature of it, was wholly unexpected. “Mr Knightley, you surprise me.”

“Will you consider it?”

“Are you certain you wish to commit such an important matter to my care?”

He looked at her a moment before replying, “I would be quite happy to commit myself to you.”

She stared at him, bewildered. “Oh.”

“In fact, Emma, I—”

“The snow is still falling, George.” John strode over, interrupting them. “If you do not want to stay the night here, well…”

“Trying to be rid of me?”

“Certainly not! You look quite cosy in this corner.” His light-hearted chuckle belied the depth of his penetrating gaze, and he said slyly as he walked off, “Tucked away like lovers rather than brother and sister.”

Mr Knightley laughed warmly at the remark and glanced at Emma.

She made no reply. Her mind was busy, and once open to suspicion, made rapid progress; she touched, she admitted, she acknowledged the whole truth. Why had the mere mention of a future Mrs Knightley discomfited her? Why had Mr Knightley’s warm breath made her quiver, while his daring request, so coolly delivered, had made her flush with heat?

Moreover, why had John’s impertinent comment seemed anything but preposterous?

The answer darted through her with the speed of an arrow.

How she would tell him all that her heart had begun to discover, how she would enlighten Harriet and avoid Mr Elton, how she would accomplish that most monumental of tasks: convincing her father to let her go—all these problems were safely left to the next day’s contemplation. Tonight, she needed to do only one thing, and after all the blunders of the past weeks, she determined to do this one thing well.

“Mr Knightley, you are most welcome to stay.”

“Thank you. I may do just that.” His look told her he would have said more had this been the time or place for such disclosures, but they had already been interrupted once.

“It has been quite an eventful day. I believe I am ready to retire, but before I do, I wish to assure you…” She had never been as forward as she was about to be with him now. She had never in her life felt such an inclination as this. The fact that he had put himself in her hands gave her the courage to complete what she had begun. “I assure you that I will be content,” she said. “No,” she corrected herself, smiling. “I shall be extraordinarily pleased to devote…myself…to your happiness.”

Mr Knightley’s eyes lit up, and she knew that he had understood her. He escorted her from the room, and if Emma entertained hopes for a very particular goodnight gesture once they were truly alone (and if Mr Knightley satisfied those hopes), this authoress surely would not tell.


~The End~

Saturday, July 3, 2010

The Colonel at Ramsgate


(2010)
Pride and Prejudice
What if Colonel Fitzwilliam, not Fitzwilliam Darcy, had visited Georgiana at Ramsgate a day or two before the intended elopement?



“She was then but fifteen, which must be her excuse; and after stating her imprudence, I am happy to add that I owed the knowledge of it to herself and to Colonel Fitzwilliam, who joined them unexpectedly a day or two before the intended elopement and discovered the whole. You may imagine what he felt and how he acted.”




“Good day, Holmes. Is Miss Darcy in?”

“Colonel—”

The colonel raised a finger to his lips.

“Good day, Sir.”

The colonel spoke in a low voice, “I should like to surprise her, if I may.”

“Certainly. She is in her sitting room, I believe. A right at the top of the stairs, third door on the right.” He frowned. “Her companion is…out.”

“You make it sound as if she is off entertaining gentlemen instead of tending to her duties.” The butler’s frown deepened. “Perhaps she is merely spending a few coins in the local shops, or walking along the shore? It is a lovely day.”

A noise sounded overhead, as of something heavy being moved. “Tell Mrs. Holmes I shall stay for tea.” He bounded up the stairs, a huge smile on his face, curiosity alight as to his cousin’s reasons for moving her furniture about.

Fitzwilliam knocked on the door and it swung open a little against his fist. He peered round to see clothing, books, music, and heaven knew what else spread on every available surface. His cousin was nowhere in sight. “Georgiana?”

“Is that you, Wickham? What will Mrs. Younge say if she finds you up here?” The tone of her voice conveyed excitement rather than anxiety. “Oh! Is she with you?”

Images and thoughts flashed through Fitzwilliam’s mind. He watched with a sense of unreality as a bright shape on the other side of the room moved back and forth, revealing itself to be Georgiana’s gown with Georgiana in it. She was bent over, removing items from a large trunk and draping them over her arm.

He parted his lips, and his tongue felt thick in his mouth. “Mrs. Younge,” he said, recalling the butler’s words, “is out.”

“You sound like my cousin.” She straightened and turned, smiling, until their eyes met. The gowns she had been holding fell to the floor. The silk pooled at her feet.

“Stay here. Do not make a sound.” He did not trust himself to say anything more, not yet.

He closed the door, bounded back down the stairs, and found Holmes, instructing him to tell no one else of his presence. “Especially not Mrs. Younge. In fact, tell her Georgiana has a headache and has asked not to be disturbed.” He arranged for tea to be brought up and then returned to his charge.

He heard her weeping as soon as he opened the door. At least it was too quiet to be heard outside the room. “Georgiana,” he said, struggling to keep his temper in check, “why had you expected Wickham to come to your room?”

“I did not expect it! I receive him in the sitting room downstairs—well, only in the last day or two. He would never come into the house until very recently. We generally meet at the beach.”

“This is George Wickham, the son of your father’s steward, is it not?”

“Yes, the same George that my father loved as his own son.”

Fitzwilliam closed his eyes. “Georgiana, tell me you are not as intimate with him as you seem to be.”

“No one was to know until it was over,” she whispered.

“Know what?”

Georgiana’s eyes filled with tears again, and she said something unintelligible through her quiet sobs.

“I cannot be very effective as your guardian if you will not tell me what is happening.”

“You will not need to be my guardian in a few days. I am to be married.”

“At fifteen?” He clenched his fists and just barely stopped himself from standing over her and yelling it in her face.

“Fifteen is old enough.”

“You cannot convince me you have Darcy’s permission to marry that—that—” Dog, he almost called him. “Man,” he said, trying not to offend Georgiana before obtaining the intelligence he needed.

“We go to Scotland in two days.”

“So that profligate can get his hands on your money? I think not.”

“Profligate? Wickham is a gentleman! He loves me! He does not care about my money!”

George Wickham loves no one but himself, he thought. “He does not love you enough to obtain the consent of your guardians. He does not love you enough to allow your own brother to be present at your wedding.”

“I…. I did wonder at that at first, but Wickham assured me it was best to go to Gretna Green. He is so violently in love! He tells me so every day.”

Colonel Fitzwilliam locked the door and sat, his legs suddenly too weary for standing. “Georgiana,” he said gently but firmly, “do you think it is best?”

“I…”

“Do you? Are you so violently in love, too, that nothing else matters?”

“I am in love, I think. I have never been in love with anyone before, so I cannot be certain. I…I would like Fitzwilliam to be at my wedding. I shall be sorry not to have him there.”

“What did Wickham say to that?”

“He said Fitzwilliam would never understand. He feels unworthy of me, you see. He hopes that he,” she bowed her head, “that we shall soon be forgiven.”

“And you think Darcy will suddenly understand when he learns his fifteen-year-old sister has run off with a man who has caused him nothing but grief for the last several years?”

“Grief? Wickham mentioned jealousy, but I thought Fitzwilliam would not hold Father’s preference for him against him.”

“Georgiana,” he laughed mirthlessly, “you do not have the least idea. George Wickham was never preferred over your brother in any regard. He was a great favourite, undoubtedly, and even after Uncle Darcy’s death, your brother continued to honour your father’s wishes for Wickham as far as he could.”

“Not all of Father’s wishes. Fitzwilliam would not give him the living at Kympton.”

“Did Wickham tell you that he first refused it and was handsomely compensated?”

“No,” Georgiana whispered. “He never said that.”

“It is true. As I recall, he resigned all claim to assistance in the church, should he ever be in a position to receive it, in exchange for a tidy sum. Your brother has the documents to prove it. Ask Darcy to show them to you if you do not believe me.”

“I do not need to see any documents,” she said, her voice faltering. “I trust my brother. I believe you, but I do not know why Wickham never told me.”

“Do you not?”

Georgiana remained silent and fretful for some moments and finally looked up at him with confusion, and a little fear, in her eyes. “You will not let me go, will you?”

“Do you think I ought to?”

“Tell me why you called him a profligate. Tell me why you said he has caused Fitzwilliam grief.”

“First tell me why you were willing to disregard all propriety and elope.”

Georgiana inhaled sharply and pressed her arms close to her body as tears streamed down her face. “I did not think…”

“No. You did not think. What if I had arrived three days hence? I would have been frantic with worry. What if Darcy had come to Ramsgate to find you gone?”

“I never meant any harm! I would not hurt my brother for the world!” For many minutes there was no sound save sobs and laboured breathing. At last, she dried her tears and calmed herself. “Tell me why you do not like Wickham.”

“Is it not enough that he has convinced my very proper cousin to take part in his foolish scheme?” He wondered how much to tell her. “Wickham leaves debts wherever he goes. He is always in need of more money. Uncle Darcy left him one thousand pounds, but that was not enough. When Wickham declared he had no use for the living at Kympton, your brother gave him three thousand pounds more. Somehow he managed to spend it all in three years and have nothing to show for it, for when the living became vacant, Wickham tried to claim it.”

“What?!”

“He wrote to your brother. Of course Darcy refused his request. What else was he to do?”

“Indeed.”

“And now here he is in Ramsgate, seeking his highest prize yet: thirty thousand pounds.”

“You truly believe that is all he wants with me?”

“Georgiana, I swear to you that if you were penniless, he would not have looked at you twice. At least not with marriage in mind.”

She gasped.

“You may as well know. You were about to throw yourself into his power. You ought to know the sort of man he is. I doubt he would have been an ideal husband.”

Footsteps sounded in the corridor. The colonel quickly moved to conceal himself and gestured for Georgiana to go to the door.

“But I am not fit to be seen!” she whispered.

“Tell that to him, or her, whoever it is,” he whispered back.

They heard Holmes’s voice, and Georgiana visibly relaxed. She opened the door. Fitzwilliam motioned the butler inside.

“I hope you will pardon the presumption, Miss Darcy, but in light of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s instructions, I took the liberty of bringing this myself.” He set the tray down on the one available horizontal space. “Mrs. Younge has not yet entered the house, but she and Mr. Wickham have been seen approaching.”

“Very good,” the colonel answered. “Miss Darcy is still indisposed.”

“I understand, Sir.”

“I appreciate your discretion, Holmes.”

“Thank you, Sir.”

Alone again, the cousins looked at each other. Fitzwilliam secured the lock once more. “You will not have to open the door again just yet, but you will have to answer Mrs. Younge, at least. I expect she will seek you out despite what Holmes tells her.”

“I think you are right.”

Several minutes passed, but eventually they heard a knock and a voice. “My dear Miss Darcy! Holmes said you are unwell.” Mrs. Younge knocked again. “Miss Darcy?”

Georgiana stood frozen in place. She did not move or speak, despite Fitzwilliam’s expressive looks. In the next moment he had reason to be grateful for her silence, for when Mrs. Younge spoke again, it was not to her charge.

“George! What are you doing here? You know better than to follow me upstairs! What if someone had seen you?”

“No one did. Where is Georgiana?”

“In there, sleeping off her headache, I suppose. I have knocked loudly enough to wake the dead, but she does not answer.”

“Poor thing. What shall I do now I have come all this way for nothing?”

“What indeed?” Mrs. Younge giggled like someone half her age. The sound stopped abruptly and resumed after a moment. “But here, in this house?”

“Why not? I shall soon be family after all.”

Their laughs mingled, and they whispered back and forth. More quiet laughter followed, but laughter and conversation were not the only sounds that could be distinguished by the colonel’s ears. Soon another door opened and closed, and their voices could no longer be heard at all.

Fitzwilliam turned to Georgiana, and his anger immediately gave way to compassion. She stood there shaking, no doubt in grief and mortification as well as shock at the alarming things that had been said and the even more alarming things that, presumably, were this moment being done by her ‘betrothed’ and the woman she had trusted to serve as her companion.

He took her hand and led her as far as possible from the door.

She looked so miserable that he engulfed her in an embrace. He was thankful he had stopped at the inn and got most of the dust from the road off his face and clothes before having a drink and confirming the direction to the house. As she allowed her weight to rest fully against him, he noticed several things: she had grown taller; her hair was done up in a more mature style than when he had last seen her; her figure was very much that of a woman.

“But he…” Georgiana said, “and Mrs. Younge…how…? How could they?” She shivered. “She called him ‘George’ and they were flirting and…and he must have kissed her, and now they are in her room together! They certainly did not go back downstairs!”

He stroked her hair. “I knew nothing of their relationship. I would not be surprised to find he was acquainted with her before we engaged her as your companion. It seems they were both complicit in this scheme to get your fortune.”

“She knew all about Wickham. She was going to come with us. She encouraged me to let my affections guide me and not to worry about disappointing anyone. She said that such a pure love could not be wrong.”

Fitzwilliam cradled her head and pressed a kiss on the top of it.

“He said he would not dare to kiss me until we were man and wife. He only kissed my hand!”

“Be glad of it.”

They stood silent for what seemed like many minutes, but it could not have been very long.

“It sounds silly,” said Georgiana, her voice muffled by his coat, “and unimportant in light of everything, but I did so want to know what it is like to be kissed. I know I should be angry with Mrs. Younge, but, I am embarrassed to say, I feel more jealous of her than anything else.”

He leant back and looked in her eyes. “You still want Wickham’s attentions after what you have heard?”

“Oh, no!” Her eyes opened wide like a child’s and reminded him how innocent she still was in many ways. “No. I could never, never trust that man again. That would be impossible. I do not want him near me.” She turned her face from his. “I am only jealous that she is experiencing the very thing that I wished to.”

She is experiencing far more than that, thought the colonel. “You were not so very much in love then, I think.”

Georgiana reddened. “I have said too much. You will not mock me for it, will you? I do not think I could bear that, much as I deserve it.”

He shook his head. He had not even considered doing so.

“Are you angry that I should say such a thing?”

He heard her, but he did not answer.

“You are certain you are not angry? Why do you look at me so?”

He blinked and then stared into a very pretty pair of eyes, despite their being red from her tears. “Georgiana, do you see me as a second brother?” He was not certain why he had asked her that question.

She laughed, being careful to keep quiet. “You are nothing like my brother.” She blushed. “I could never tell Fitzwilliam what I have just told you.”

“Do you truly want to know what it is to be kissed?”

She frowned. “You are mocking me now.”

“No, I am not.” He lifted her chin so that she would look at him again.

She nodded.

He kissed her cheek and then let his face linger against hers. “Someday you will know,” he whispered. “I have no doubt of it.”

At that moment he could almost feel the woman she would become as he wrapped his arms more tightly around the girl she was now. “Georgiana,” he said, slowly moving until he could look at her directly, “you must promise me something.”

“Yes?”

“Promise you will not allow anyone to involve you in such a reprehensible scheme again. Promise me you will wait for someone worthy of you.”

“I…I will.” She looked at his mouth, not his eyes, as she spoke.

Fitzwilliam could easily imagine someone worthier than Wickham being drawn to her sweet face—not that it was difficult to think of a man superior to that scoundrel, who, after his display with Mrs. Younge, could not even claim affection as the smallest excuse for his perfidy. Fitzwilliam could even see himself developing such an attachment to Georgiana, if he were a little younger, or, even better, if she were a little older.

If he had not already seen so much of the world.

If Uncle Darcy had not made him her guardian.

If.

He released her and stepped away. “I think we had better have something to eat.”

“The tea will be cold.”

He watched as she went about clearing a place for them, taking care to keep the cups and saucers from rattling. Her voice had sounded delicate but not brittle, not bitter. Not despairing. She would recover. She was recovering already.

“It is a warm day. It will hardly matter.” Nothing would matter. He smiled as he watched her pour the tea, and his smile could not be suppressed, for he was suddenly incredibly happy that he had come.


~The End~