Darcy had the worst day in his life.
Finally, he was able to go to his rooms, yet it was not his rooms. Everything had been difficult, having to remember he was not in his own body. Having to remember to go to the rooms assigned to his sister, to have her belongings around her, was frustrating. Having to pretend when in company with the others taxed his limits.
Mrs Younge was difficult to fool. She had continued to inquire if Darcy was well, as he had continuously slipped up and acted like himself, rather than how Georgiana would. Tolerating the companion was difficult. The mindless conversations between ladies was impossible. What did it matter if one could paint a screen or what fashions were coming in to style?
The chance to watch Caroline Bingley from safety was one of the only bright spots of the day. The lady did everything short of flinging herself into Georgiana’s arms, making over the person she thought was to be Fitzwilliam Darcy. Georgiana appeared to be just as uncomfortable with her behavior, which made Darcy feel some comfort. If he was to be miserable, so should Georgiana.
During the afternoon, Darcy had gone outside and searched the garden for the blue john stone, only to meet with no results. He was certain that the change he and his sister were experiencing were connected to the stone. It had to be found, and the sooner, the better.
“Miss Darcy, are you ready to prepare for bed?” Georgiana’s maid, Ruth, asked as she entered the room.
“Oh, well, I am fine. You will not be needed any further tonight.”
Ruth wore a frown when she looked at the young lady’s form before her. “Are you certain, Miss Darcy? Will you require assistance in undoing the buttons of your gown?”
Darcy realized he would be unable to reach the buttons to do the task himself. The thought of a maid seeing his body troubled him, even though he knew the body the maid saw was that of a young lady. How was he to accomplish the change into night clothes?
“Very well, if you could undo the buttons, then you may leave. I can manage the rest on my own.”
Though Ruth found this to be peculiar, she decided to do as instructed. Once the buttons were unfastened, Darcy turned his body to the side. “Thank you, that will be all for the night.”
“Yes, Miss Darcy. And what time do you wish to be woke in the morning?”
“I will wake as I usually do, as I would like to take a ride before breaking my fast.”
This was yet another odd statement in the maid’s opinion. Georgiana Darcy rarely left her bed before ten each morning, and she always took her breakfast on a tray, in her rooms. Never, in the two years that Ruth had been Miss Darcy’s maid had she seen the young lady go horseback riding, let alone before breakfast.
“I do not believe we brought one of your riding habits, Miss Darcy. Had I known you would wish to ride, I would have packed one of them.”
Darcy realized he had made another mistake. “No, no, it was just a notion. I forgot that I had not brought a habit, and I am certain my brother would be using his horse in the morning, so I would not have a mount. Never mind.”
“Yes, Miss Darcy. If there is nothing else you require, I will be in my room.”
Walking over to the bed, Darcy flopped backwards on top of it, all the while wishing that he would awake to find this was all just a nightmare.
Looking around, Darcy spied the pile of books his sister had brought with her. Gothic novels, and all sorts of rubbish. Why did he allow her to read such trash? He wished he had the book he had been reading, as he was enjoying the story.
A knock sounded on the door of the bedchamber. Darcy stepped across the room, opening the door slightly. With a sigh of relief, he stepped aside and allowed his sister to enter the room.
“Fitzwilliam, I am glad you are still awake. I wished to retrieve one of my books.” Georgiana stated nervously.
“I wish you had brought mine to me.” Darcy replied.
Pulling her hands from behind her back, Georgiana produced the volume. “Is this the one you hoped for? How do you read such a book? I could only make it through one page before I could no longer tolerate the book.”
“As you prefer your novels which are mindless drivel.” Darcy motioned for his sister to enter further into the room. “You know where everything is in here.”
Georgiana found what she was looking for, yet she was in no hurry to leave. Finally, she looked at her brother. “Do you have to have your valet assist you with removing your clothing? I mean, are you able to undress yourself?”
“I could ask the same of you. Your maid must think I am unbalanced, as I told her that I would not require her any further tonight. The thought of a young girl touching my skin without clothing was far too distasteful.”
His statement was met with a chuckle. “I feel the same of your valet assisting me. Even though I see your body in the looking glass, it is me feeling the anything that touches this body.”
Darcy nodded his head. “It is the same for me. We had best find that stone soon, for it will be quite difficult to be able to take a bath while in your body.”
“Tomorrow, we should search some more. Perhaps the stone was thrown further away when we were flung to the ground.” Georgiana suggested.
“Is there anything else you require from your rooms?” asked her brother.
“Well, yes, there is one more thing.”
The girl inside her brother’s body was feeling awkward. After a moment, she walked over to the night stand, opening the drawer. At the very back of the drawer, she pulled out something that was wrapped in a handkerchief. When she noticed her brother watching her, Georgiana pulled back the cloth to show the small stuffed doll that she had been given when she was a small child. It had been a gift to her from Darcy, when she was a little girl. He was shocked to see she had not only kept the doll, but she took it with her when they travelled. The look on Georgiana’s face spoke of her reluctance to allow him the knowledge of her cherished doll.
“You always like that particular doll more than all the others you had when you were a child.” Darcy said, a tenderness in his voice.
“I do not understand why, as it is the plainest doll I have ever had. But, for some reason, it has always brought me comfort.”
This pleased her brother. “As she was meant to do. I remember purchasing the doll when our father first informed us that he was ill. You were very sad and I did not know what to do to help you.”
“Well, Miss Wiggins has always brought me comfort. Especially after Father died. Thank you for giving her to me.”
“Of course. I have always wished for you to be comforted.”
Georgiana became uneasy with the conversation. She decided it was time to retire to her rooms…or her brother’s rooms. The rooms were not as comfortable, as they contained masculine belongings. “I should turn in for the evening. Will you be searching for the stone tomorrow?”
“Yes, I will. As soon as I find it, I will let you know.”
The siblings bid each other good night, with Georgiana leaving her belongings, except the doll and book, and returning to her brother’s rooms.
~~ ** ~~
Elizabeth Bennet had not been exactly pleased with the way things were going in her life. Her father’s cousin was to arrive in a few weeks, and she could not tolerate being near her mother as Mrs Bennet insisted on discussing the triumph of her daughter being arranged to marry the heir. Mrs Bennet was not subtle, her talent at spreading gossip was well known in the community. The only one who came close to being as big a gossip was her sister, Mrs Phillips. And when the two of them were together, word was spread throughout the county rapidly.
“Diana, you know I have always said that Lizzy was destined to marry well. With her marrying Mr Collins, everything will be perfect. I will not have to move from Longbourn after Mr Bennet is gone. What a perfect situation. Why, I am certain that Lizzy would not even wish to change rooms. It is the perfect situation. And she knows how to run Longbourn, so if Mr Collins is a blundering idiot, the estate will be in good hands with Lizzy.”
“And the rest of the girls can take their time to find appropriate matches. There will be no need to rush. But you should speak with Lizzy, make sure she realizes what her duty is to Mr Collins and the estate. She must produce an heir as soon as possible. And then a spare immediately after. We need to make certain the future of the estate as soon as possible. Perhaps there is a tonic or something that we could give Lizzy, something that will assist her in conceiving immediately after the wedding.”
“Sister, we have spoken on this subject often. If there had been some tonic or other way to ensure an heir, do you not believe I would do anything to have produce a son? Look at yourself, Diana. You were never able to give your husband any children. Do not spout nonsense of tonics to me.”
Mr and Mrs Phillips had never been blessed with children of their own, and they doted on their nieces. “Well, our brother has two sons, so it is possible for our family to have them. Certainly, Lizzy is hearty enough to produce the required heir and a spare. She is built more like our mother, and she gave birth to Edwin.”
“True, you and I are more like our Grandmother Harris. She was smaller built, and she never had a son.” Mrs Bennet felt comforted by the thought that she was not to blame for not giving her husband a son.
“And when will the wedding be held? Will Mr Bennet have the bands read before Mr Collins arrives or wait for his visit?”
“You know my husband, always putting things off until later. He said that it would be best if we waited until Mr Collins arrives. Mr Bennet wanted to be certain that his cousin will accept Lizzy. Why would Mr Collins not accept Lizzy? She may not be as beautiful as Jane, or as lively as Lydia, but she is a much better choice than Mary and Kitty. We will need to speak with Lizzy about speaking of her behavior. Lizzy will need to refrain from rambling about the countryside, act more ladylike. And she will need to keep her opinions to herself. No man wishes for a wife who can speak like a gentleman on subjects that are unimportant to a lady.”
“That will be difficult for Lizzy, as she always speaks her mind. We should work with her immediately, before Mr Collins arrives. Between the two of us, we should be able to teach her proper behavior.”
As Elizabeth was sitting outside the open window of the drawing room, she had overheard the conversation between her mother and her aunt. And Elizabeth had no intention of changing her ways. If Mr Collins did not approve of how she spoke, or what she read, that would be his problem, not hers. She had no intention to change for a man she did not know if she could respect. If Mr Collins was a fool, as her father said was likely, then Elizbeth had no desire to be subservient to such a man. No, she would continue being just who she was.
As Elizabeth made her way to one of her favorite paths, a rider was coming up the lane towards the manor house. Perhaps it is a message from Mr Collins saying he was unable to come to Longbourn. But I could not be so fortunate.
“Oh, Lizzy, I have been invited to dine at Netherfield with Mr Bingley’s sisters and Miss Darcy. The men are to dine with the officers who have just arrived at Meryton.” Jane was thrilled. The eldest of the Bennet daughters never saw negative in others and saw the invitation as approval from Bingley’s sisters.
Mrs Bennet, on the other hand, was disappointed. “Mr Bingley will not be at Netherfield to dine with you? We must find a way to delay your visit with the sisters, so that when Mr Bingley returns home, he will be able to spend time with you.”
“Mamma, that is not appropriate.” Jane was shocked at her mother’s suggestion.
“Well, we must do what we can to catch Mr Bingley for you, dear. With Lizzy marrying Mr Collins, it will be up to you to make a match that will put your other sisters in the way of other fine young men. Who knows, perhaps you could introduce them to titled men in want of wives.”
Lydia frowned. “Who wants a titled husband? I wish to marry a man in a red uniform.”
“Pish posh, you will be happy to marry an earl, or a duke, as they will be able to buy you all the beautiful gowns you will wish for and take you to all the best balls in society. Think of the jewels, the fine carriages. No, you will marry far better than all the rest of your sisters, including Jane. Then, if I tire of living at Longbourn, I could visit you in your fine London townhouse. Would that not be grand?”
With a roll of her eyes, Lydia spoke volumes without uttering a single word.
Elizabeth looked outside, as she had seen rain clouds moving their direction when she was on her walk. “Mamma, Jane will require the carriage. There is a storm approaching.”
Mrs Bennet hurried to the window, glancing at the sky. “No, no, the carriage cannot be used. Jane must go on horseback.”
“On horseback?” Elizabeth was appalled. “She will be soaked before she arrives at Netherfield.”
“And she will need to spend the night, as she will be unable to return. Then she will be able to see Mr Bingley when he returns.”
“Mamma, you cannot be serious. Please, do not send Jane out in such a manner. The only horse Jane could ride is Bessie, and she is extremely slow. She would be better to walk to Netherfield, as it would be faster than riding Bessie.”
“No, Lizzy, Jane will ride Bessie, and that is my final word on the matter.” Mrs Bennet turned and left the room, with her two eldest daughters watching her in mortification.
Finally, Jane decided there was no further discussion to have on the subject. “I should prepare for the evening. Lizzy, would you assist me?”
“Of course, Jane. Though I believe it is safe to not worry too much over your appearance, as it will be ruined by the time you arrive to dine.”
The sisters went to Jane’s room and began preparing.
~~ ** ~~
“Fitzwilliam, I cannot imagine attending this dinner tonight. I would be mortified to be alone in a room filled with strange men, all speaking in a manner they would never do in front of women.” Georgiana looked at her true body, knowing that her brother resided in it momentarily.
“And you believe my night will be enjoyable, spending it with Caroline Bingley and her sister, as they torment Jane Bennet? You realize that they plan to find some way to humiliate her, to dissuade Charles from becoming attached to her.”
“Oh, I am aware of their plans, as Miss Bingley asked me to keep her brother out as long as possible. She even hinted that she wishes me to marry Mr Bingley. Can you imagine such an arrangement? Can you imagine, me married to the son of a tradesman? Our relations would think me ready for Bedlam if I were to do such a thing.”
“You will have to accept that you will be with the men tonight. Since Miss Bennet will be here, perhaps Bingley will desire to return to Netherfield early.” Darcy stated. “I pray that Miss Bingley stops asking me to play the pianoforte. That would be a disaster.”
“If you had only practiced over the years, you would have been able to fool the likes of Miss Bingley. She is far from being an expert in music. The seminary she attended did her no favors in telling her she was talented.”
The knock on the door announced the arrival of Charles Bingley coming to collect his friend for their evening in Meryton. As the men prepared to leave, Darcy turned to his sister and wished her a pleasant evening. This did nothing for Georgiana’s demeanor.
The men, along with Georgiana looking like her brother, arrived in Meryton, and were shown into the dining tent of the officers of the militia. Sir William Lucas had already arrived and was introducing all of the men from the community to Colonel Forster, who was in charge of the militia unit that would winter on the outskirts of merchant village.
As the men were introduced to the officers, one officer in particular appeared, making Georgiana’s heart begin to race. George Wickham was standing before her, with a look the girl had never seen him wear before.
“If my eyes do not deceive me, I see before me Fitzwilliam Darcy. The royalty of Pemberley has lowered himself to visit with those so far beneath him. How shocking.”
“George, what are you doing here? I thought you were to be in Ramsgate.”
Wickham frowned. How did his childhood friend know about Ramsgate? Had Georgiana let the news slip? “I am here as I must earn a living somehow. You left me with so little after your father’s death. How is a man to live on a mere four thousand pounds?”
This was surprising to Georgiana, as she had always believed that her brother had swindled Wickham out of his inheritance. “Four thousand?”
“I should have insisted on more for signing over my rights to the living at Kympton. I know your father would have wanted me to have more. I was never fit to be a clergyman, as your father well knew.”
“I thought you still wished to take orders and have your own parish.”
Wickham gave an evil chuckle. “I no more wish to take orders than I wish to become saddled with a wife, unless she has a large dowry, and can put me in my proper place in society. Your sister’s dowry was thirty thousand, if I remember correctly. Such an amount would allow me to live my life the way I wish and keep dear little Georgiana from knowing the truth of my behavior.”
“And what behavior is that?” Georgiana inquired, nervous about what she was learning about the man she believed loved her. How could this Wickham be so different from the one she had received such pretty letters from?
“Come now, old friend, we both know the reason I am unfit to take orders. How many times did you have to find another place to sleep when we were in the university together? I always wondered why you did not inform your father of the women and the gambling. Were you afraid your father would tell you to be more like me?”
“But when you marry, you will settle down, live a proper life.” Georgiana was becoming desperate. If only he knew the truth. Perhaps he was speaking in such a manner because he was angry with her brother.
“Goodness, Darcy, after all these years, how could you expect me to give up the ladies? The thought of being faithful to one lady is disgusting. I have far too many ladies all over England who believe I will one day marry them. A few have even born my bastards, though I do not need to remind you of such, as I am certain you have seen to the care of them, as you have my debts all these years. You cannot help yourself, making certain that merchants and the whores are cared for, yet refused me any more funds directly. But I will make you pay for your treatment, Fitz. On that you can count.”
Wickham turned his back to Georgiana, acknowledging Mr Hurst. The young lady, trapped in her brother’s body, was learning more than she had ever expected. She had been thrilled to see the man she believed herself to be in love. But did she really know the man? She could excuse some of the bragging to his being jealous of Georgiana’s brother. The two had been so different from each other, yet Wickham had admitted to receiving money in exchange for the living. He had her believing that her brother had been cruel and refused to abide by their father’s wishes.
Georgiana was not feeling well, as a headache was beginning to set in, and the thought of food made her queasy. She prayed that Bingley would wish to return to Netherfield very soon.
As if the gentleman had heard her need to leave the dinner, Bingley materialized beside her. “Darcy, was that Wickham? What is he doing here, of all places?”
“He claims to have joined the militia.”
“Then we will need to make all invitations to the militia clear that Mr Wickham is not welcome at Netherfield. I will not have such a vile man at my estate. Though I have not known him as long as you have, the thought of what Geoffrey Adams’ little sister endured at the hands of that man makes my blood boil. Poor girl. And Geoffrey lost his mind after her death, with Wickham’s son dying with her. He has been in the country, away from society, ever since. The girl was only four and ten when it happened, and we both know she was taken by force. Nothing could be proved, of course, and her family would have been ruined if they had pressed charges against scoundrel. Hopefully, he will be caught by some father or brother who will take matters in their own hands. Or a husband, as we know Wickham is not the sort to allow the woman’s status as being married take away from his pleasure. You have been collecting his debts over the years, surely you have enough notes you have purchased to put him in debtor’s prison by now.”
There was a slight pause before Georgiana was able to speak again. “Forgive me Bingley, I am not well. Perhaps it would be best if I returned to Netherfield and rested.”
“If you are returning to Netherfield, I will go as well. With Miss Bennet coming to dine with Caroline and Louisa, I did not wish to attend this dinner at all. Now I will have a good reason to leave early. Allow me to gather Hurst and we will be on our way.”
In less than twenty minutes, the trio was loaded in Bingley’s carriage and were on their way to the manor house of the estate. Georgiana did not utter a word on the return, she had so much on her mind. And she did not wish to speak with her brother, at least not just then. There was much to think about, from what both Wickham and Bingley had said. Much she would need to sort through.
As they walked up the stairs to the front door, Georgiana turned to her host. “Forgive me, Mr Bingley, but I wish to have a tray sent to my rooms and retire early. Will you inform my sister I will speak with her in the morning?”
With Bingley’s agreement, Georgiana made her way up to the rooms with her brother’s belongings. How she wished for her own belongings at that moment. At least she had her doll to cling to that night.