From Chapter One:
To save thy secret soul from nightly fears.
-Thomas Gray, "The Bard, a Pindaric Ode"
Georgiana finished folding her letters and quickly sealed them before she had time to think about them further. Mrs. Annesley, her companion of just over a year, looked up from her book and smiled.
"Are you finished with your letters, Miss Darcy?" Her voice was soft and low, with just a hint of the music of Scotland, although Georgiana would never consider mentioning this linguistic idiosyncrasy to the woman she considered a friend as well as a paid companion. Mrs. Annesley was a native of Derbyshire but had spent a number of years in Edinburgh, where her husband held a minor position as a tutor at the great university there. She called those years "the Babylonian Exile" and felt that the cold, damp winters of Scotland had injured her husband's health and hastened his early death. Not that she talked of these things. Mrs. Annesley would never discuss anything that she felt would cause melancholy thoughts in her charge, and Georgiana generally appreciated her reticence.
"Yes, I am done. I should like to post them before I think of a dozen pages of additional thoughts. If I do they will never reach my brother and his fiancée before the wedding, and I do not want Miss Elizabeth Bennet to think that I do not welcome her into the family."
"I have always found that it is better to post my letters immediately, with the exception of comments which are angry-those it is better to hold until the next day and reread in the cold light of morning before posting."
Georgiana gave her a wide smile. "Well, these hold only happy thoughts. Do you think we could post them yet today?"
The older woman glanced at the watch pinned on her bodice. "It is a pleasant day for a drive and it is only two o'clock; we should easily be able to drive into Lambton and post these and return in time for a cup of tea before changing for dinner. I also need another skein of silk for my embroidery-perhaps we could get that as well. Would you order the carriage, my dear?"
Georgiana flushed slightly and rang the bell. When Smithfield answered, she gravely said, "Please order the carriage, Smithfield. Mrs. Annesley and I are driving into Lambton."
Smithfield bowed with all the solemnity of an archbishop and answered, "Yes, Miss Darcy. Would fifteen minutes be suitable?"
"Quite suitable, thank you, Smithfield."
Georgiana slumped back in her chair with a sigh and a brief frown. "Another comportment hurdle crossed. We shall label this one 'giving orders to servants.'" She sat up abruptly and grinned at her companion. "I know! Let us take Pilot with us. He enjoys a ride in the carriage."
Mrs. Annesley winced briefly as she looked at the gigantic Newfoundland dog who had been the constant companion of Georgiana's father and who was now lying calmly at his mistress's side. "How you can bear to be around that drooling monster, I do not know. As far as the orders to the servants, as you know 'practise makes perfect.'"
"I just wish I could have practised more before Miss Bennet's visit last summer. I did not exhibit stellar comportment on that occasion. The surprise of my brother's introduction of a young lady of whom I had heard not a word beforehand and the gimlet eyes of Miss Bingley watching our second meeting the day after were too much for me to bear with equanimity. But Miss Bennet was lovely, was she not?"
"A very sweet-tempered and well-bred young lady, as well as very pretty. I am sure you will be good friends when you are better acquainted."
"I cannot imagine why Miss Bingley brought Wickham's name into the conversation on that occasion. That was the topic that completely destroyed my composure. You do not suppose she knows about my past indiscretion with Wickham, do you?"
"Well," Mrs. Annesley paused to consider her words and then said, "I suspect that Miss Bingley is jealous of Miss Bennet. After all, Miss Bingley would have been as aware as you were of the significance of your brother introducing you to the young lady." Georgiana gave her a sardonic smile and drawled, "Yeessss, I am quite sure she was."
Smithfield entered and her smile faded, replaced by the austere courtesy which she had been taught to use when interacting with the servants.
"The carriage awaits, Miss Darcy."
"Thank you, Smithfield." She rose and called Pilot, and they left.
- - - -
Two days later, Georgiana was practising a difficult Mozart sonata when she was interrupted by Smithfield, who announced, "Colonel Fitzwilliam, Miss Darcy."
She jumped up and tipped several music books off the pianoforte in her haste. Her face flushed over her clumsiness, but she retained enough composure to bob a quick curtsey to her guardian and say, "Colonel! What are you doing here?"
The colonel, his blue eyes crinkling in amusement, answered, "What a lovely greeting from my little cousin. I could leave if you prefer."
Georgiana could feel her blush deepen. What an idiot you are, Georgiana. Can you not behave with a modicum of poise even with your closest relations? She forced herself to smile graciously and say, "Of course I am delighted to see you, Colonel Fitzwilliam. I am, however, surprised to see you at this time of year. I would have expected you to be off with some of your fellow officers killing birds."
"Your brother has interrupted my pursuit of grouse and eligible young ladies with his wedding plans. He sent me to bring you and Mrs. Annesley to Netherfield. Have you not received his letter?"
Her eyes sparkled at the news and she forgot her pretence of maturity. "Not yet. I sent him one asking to go only two days ago. I see my brother has anticipated me." She suppressed her eagerness and added astringently, "Why did he not just send a servant? I would think a colonel would have better things to do than act as errand boy."
"Undoubtedly, Miss Darcy. However I was already planning to visit Pemberley to check on my little cousin. I am such a responsible guardian. Now, if you will excuse me, I will run upstairs and change out of my dusty travel clothes." He smiled at her and kissed her on the top of her head before heading for the staircase, patting Pilot as he went through the hall. Georgiana noted with a prick of annoyance how similar his attitude was towards her as the dog.