Before the week was out, the Darcy’s had arrived in London and were almost immediately beset upon by Lady Matlock and Colonel Fitzwilliam.
“Aunt Lucinda, Richard, you are here at an ungodly hour. We have only begun to break our fast.” Fitz stood and gave their aunt a kiss on the cheek.
Georgiana and Lizzy started to push away from the table to stand, but Lady Matlock waved them down. Richard called out a cheery ‘good morning’ and promptly attended the sideboard. Lady Matlock settled beside Georgiana and accepted a cup of tea from one of the footmen.
“To what do we owe the honor of your company so early, Aunt?” Fitz asked once he’d resumed his place at the table. “Richard, I know, came only to stuff his face with my food.”
He gave his cousin a mild glare as Richard sat down next to Lizzy after filling his plate to near overflowing. Richard’s reply was to raise an eyebrow and take a bite of his fresh baked roll.
“We have no time to waste,” Aunt Lucinda began. “Elizabeth and Georgiana’s presentations are but a scant eight weeks away. Not near enough time to accomplish everything I’d like. I have arranged several fittings at Etienne’s, for which I am eternally grateful to the Duchess of Adborough. Normally, Madame Etienne has a line weaving down the street for her services, but Margaret was able to exert her influence and hire her exclusively to attend all our girls.”
“Caroline and Kitty, as well?” Lizzy asked.
“Oh, yes. Margaret adores both of them and is determined to have them shine this upcoming Season.” Lady Matlock let out a satisfied sigh. “There are rumors the Prince Regent himself may attend in honor of Lord George’s loyalty to the Crown. I would not be surprised if he doesn’t bestow on George his own dukedom.”
Georgiana’s memory briefly touched on the near-scandal a few days before Nathan and Caroline’s wedding. Guests at Pemberley had been informed that a gun accidently discharged in the stables and Viscount Stanhope had been tragically killed. She knew that to be a falsehood as she’d overheard Fitzwilliam and Cousin Richard discussing Stanhope’s treachery.
“I hear the Barwick Duchy is vacant.” Richard volunteered the information around a mouthful of ham. “At least two hundred acres of valuable farmland and long-term tenants.”
“Yes, of course. And there are the secondary titles of Marquis of Glanworth and Viscount Mandeville.” Lady Matlock enthused.
“You are a veritable walking and talking volume of Debrett’s, dear aunt,” Fitz teased.
“You laugh now, Fitzwilliam, but when you and your lovely bride begin to move among London’s finest, you will be glad to know whom to avoid and whom to curry favor with,” she decreed with an elegant sniff. “If not for your sake, then for Georgiana’s. We expect her to make a splendid match this season. Already there are rumors the Marquis of Trevayne is on the hunt this year.”
“Dear God, Mama. You make it sound like he’s about to call the hounds.” Richard exclaimed. “Trevayne needs to find a wife, that a certainty, but he is not about to stalk the halls of Almack’s and pounce on innocent debutantes their first night out.”
“Be that as it may, I expect the foyer of Darcy house will be filled with flowers and cards when eligible gentlemen discover how beautiful my niece is.” Aunt Lucinda patted Georgiana’s hand.
Georgiana’s insides shriveled at her aunt’s sentiments. Her aunt meant well, however, she knew, just knew, many eyes would be on her because she was a Darcy and because she was wealthy. Not for the first time she was grateful Elizabeth, Caroline and Catherine would be by her side the whole season.
“Mama would be in raptures if Kitty became a titled lady in her own right,” Lizzy said with a laugh. “She will be hard put to remain humble if that happens.”
“As soon as you are finished with breaking your fast, we shall meet the Duchess at Etienne’s. With six of us to outfit, she will need all hands-on deck.”
“Mother, where have you learned Navy terms?” Richard slathered more creamy butter on yet another roll. “Your second and most favored son is an army colonel” – Lady Matlock raised an elegant eyebrow – “one would assume you would use terminology more suited for land warfare.”
Lady Matlock waved a hand in Richard’s direction, as though shooing his concerns away from her thoughts. “I do know a few Admirals and Navy Captains, Richard. My social circle is quite wide, which you would know if you attended some functions with me.”
“Ah, but then you’d expect me to dance attendance on some fresh-faced chit of a girl and make polite talk with dewy eyed innocents.”
“Sorry, Mother. That was quite unchivalrous,” Richard apologized, casting a slight eye-roll in the direction of her brother.
The all knew very well that Richard gave no thought, what-so-ever, to finding a wife. He was happily situated as an army Colonel and had no intentions of settling down. Aunt Lucinda would be better served finding a wife for her eldest son, Viscount Waverly. Although, he’d proven just as wily as Richard when it came to avoiding young misses and their ambitious mamas.
“Is Kitty meeting us at the modiste?” Lizzy interjected, obviously trying to move the conversation past the dangerous territory of Lady Matlock’s marital plans for her two unwed sons.
“No, George is escorting both Catherine and your sister Mary here. In fact, I’m surprised they’ve not arrived yet.”
“How lovely,” Georgiana enthused. “I cannot wait to see them both again. I delight in their companionship very much.”
As if on cue, Hutchins appeared at the door for the second time that morning.
“Lord George Kerr, Miss Bennet and Miss Catherine Bennet have arrived. They are in the blue drawing room.”
“Thank you, Hutchins. Would you please find out if they would like some tea while we finish in here?” Lizzy instructed.
“Already taken care of, ma’am.”
Hutchins gave a polite half bow and left the room.
“Brother, I have finished my breakfast, do you mind if I go on ahead and visit with Mary?”
“Of course, Georgie. We shall be along shortly, that is unless Richard fills his plate again, then it’s anybody’s guess when we will be free.”
“Richard can sit here all by himself. I wish to see my sisters.” Lizzy placed her napkin on her empty plate and stood. “Aunt Lucinda, do you care to join us?”
“You read my mind, Elizabeth. I’m more than ready to reacquaint myself with your two sisters.”
The three ladies made their way to the drawing room. With one sweeping glance Georgiana noted Lord George next to a radiant Kitty, and, on the couch across from them sat Mary, quiet as always. Georgiana hurried to her side.
“Mary, I am so glad you’ve come.” She took one of Mary’s hands in hers as she sat next to her and leaned in to whisper. “Were you surprised by Kitty and George’s news?”
“No, even though Kitty swore she’d never marry.” Mary replied, her tone exceedingly dry. “As an unofficial chaperone, I witnessed a few encounters between them. The outcome was inevitable, in my opinion.”
“It sounds so romantic,” Georgiana sighed out. In her mind’s eye she pictured Lord George thundering down the lane on a white horse, snatching Kitty up and demanding she marry him. Much like Lord Godfrey did with Lady Desdemona in the latest novel she’d read.
What would it be like to have someone declare their love so passionately? Her breath hitched at the thought of Maxwell Kerr holding her in such a daring way. Maybe even closer than he had during their dance. Close enough for a kiss. Her chest and neck began to flush at the thought. Fortunately, Mary interrupted her wayward thoughts before she turned bright red all the way to her hair line.
“I guess it was romantic.” Mary shrugged. “If you believe in that sort of thing.” She peered at Georgiana. “Are you all right? You look quite flushed.”
“Have you no romantic fantasies? Nothing you’ve thought about since you were a little girl?” she asked, hoping to divert Mary’s attention from her flustered behavior.
“Me?” Mary gave an indelicate little snort. “I have been ‘out’ in Meryton society for many years with no offers, no interest shown in me by any man young or old, and do not think this will change in the near future.”
“The men of Hertfordshire are fools if they cannot see what is set before them.” Georgiana declared. About to extol Mary’s best qualities her attention was diverted by her brother and Richard entering the room. Fitz immediately went to George and Kitty, extending his congratulations while her cousin joined her and Mary on the couch.
“You look well, Miss Bennet.” Richard said before sitting in the chair across from them.
Georgiana felt Mary start at Richard’s words. There was obviously some truth in what she said about men not noticing her.
“Thank you, Colonel.”
“Are you still at Longbourn?”
“I remain at home, if that is what you ask.” Mary replied through stiff lips and pulled herself more erect than Georgiana thought possible.
“I meant no offense, Miss Bennet. I do not keep abreast of all the gossip and only meant to inquire to your well being.”
“I am quite content. In all things.”
Well said, Mary.
“Georgiana, are you and Mary ready to leave or does my son require a few minutes to gather more gossip from Hertfordshire?” Aunt Matlock had risen to her feet and looked pointedly at Richard.
“Mother, I am but inquiring after the health of Lizzie’s sister and was about to ask if Miss Bennet had continued with her shooting lessons.”
A few weeks after the incident with Viscount Stanhope, Richard insisted that Elizabeth and Georgiana know a little about pistols and how to take care of themselves if caught alone and unaware.
“I’d forgotten that you’d instructed the girls in the arts of self defense.” Lady Matlock gave a nervous laugh. “And to think Lady Catherine was concerned about the arts and allurements of young ladies. She’d succumb to apoplexy if she knew you’d shown them how to shoot.”
“After the incident at Pemberley, Darcy and I felt it imperative they know how to take care of things if we were not around.” Richard turned his attention back to Mary. “Have you continued with your lessons?”
“No, Papa is uncomfortable with me having such a deadly weapon.”
“Such a shame. You had natural talent.”
Of the three girls, Mary excelled and had shown an uncanny ability to hit the target at various distances causing Richard to declare that if Napoleon didn’t surrender, he would escort Mary to Paris himself and let her deal with the little man.
Often, Georgiana privately wondered if anything would ever blossom from their quirky friendship, but Mary had returned to Longbourn and Richard to his flirtatious ways. As far as she could tell, there didn’t seem to be a spark of interest in her cousin’s mien.
For the next week and a half Georgiana was busy with fittings and a mad social whirl of afternoon teas, musicales and plays. By the end of the second week she could barely hold her head up and began to nod off at supper.
“Fitz, I don’t want to seem ungrateful to Aunt Lucinda, she’s done so much, but Georgiana and I are exhausted.” Lizzy cast a sympathetic glance toward her. “We are not used to Town hours and I refuse to go out this evening. Do you think Lady Fosscroft would mind so much if we missed her poetry reading?”
Georgiana roused herself enough to murmur, “I truly don’t mind−” and hid a huge yawn behind her hand. She smiled, feeling a bit sheepish. “I am tired, but I also do not want to disappoint our aunt.”
“Let us continue this discussion in the family sitting room.” Fitz signaled the footman to begin clearing the table. “I will send our regrets to Aunt Lucinda.”
“Thank you, brother,” Georgiana impulsively took one of his hands in hers and pressed it to her cheek. “You always know how to make me feel more comfortable.” To Lizzy she said, “Shall we put on our dressing gowns and have a nice cup of hot chocolate before retiring?”
“That sounds divine, Georgie. It will make us feel like we are back at Pemberley.”
“I shall meet you in the sitting room in a half hour.”