My Idea of Good Company.
"My idea of good company, Mr Elliot, is the company of clever, well-informed people, who have a great deal of conversation, that is what I call good company."
"You are mistaken," said he gently, "that is not good company, that is the best. Good Company requires only birth, education and good manners, and with regard to education is not very nice."
Persuasion, Chapter 16.
"There was a time when I could not dare to think I deserved to try again, indeed I still believe I do not, but I can no longer wait in silence. Would you do me the great honour of becoming my wife?" There, it was out, no going back. Now comes the agony of the waiting for an answer. Oh, please say yes.
"Mr Darcy, I am sorry, I had thought I had made my feelings perfectly clear the last time you asked. These alterations in your character appear to me only a mask. My answer is still no. I would not marry you if you were the last man upon this earth!"
"Elizabeth!" Darcy shot upright in horror. Rapidly his mind sought to comfort him from what was quite obviously a very bad dream. His eyes swept round the room, displaying to him not his bedchamber, but the principal suite that lay adjacent to it, separated only by a small, sweet anteroom.
In short it was the chamber reserved for the Mistress of Pemberley. That mistress was quietly sleeping next to him at that moment, and to his grateful relief, it was and had been for almost two years, Elizabeth Bennet, now Darcy. After assuring himself that the woman lying next to him was no figment of his imagination, Fitzwilliam Darcy rose from the bed and walked quietly over to the balcony.
The sun had just risen over his estate, casting an emerald green to the grassy prospect that the balcony looked over. Darcy stood surveying it, his arms resting upon the stone balustrade. The cure achieved its usual effects. Rationally his mind began the search for an explanation as to why that particular nightmare had chosen to fester upon his sleep on this day.
This day. Of course! Darcy could not believe he had forgotten. It had been one of the most important days of his life, however horrible it had appeared at first. This day marked the revolution of his character for the better and his reward was the hand of the lady that lay sleeping beside him when he woke.
At least, that had been her position. Now as a hand came to rest upon his own, the gold wedding band beside the ruby and sapphire betrothal ring signalling to him that she was no longer sleeping.
He chose to greet her with emotion, his lips kissing her devotedly, clasping the hand that covered his own. "Happy anniversary," he murmured.
"Anniversary?" Elizabeth queried puzzled, for theirs had passed some six months ago and he had been as prompt and as romantic as could be expected for a man devoted to his wife.
"It was exactly two years ago today, my love, that I first proposed to you."
"Hunsford!" She exclaimed in understanding. "I thought you would not look upon that with anything but sadness," She uttered.
"I have learnt to treat instead as the first day of the revolution of my character for the better, my darling," Darcy replied, his arms wrapping around her tightly. "Glorious it was not at first perhaps, but I am grateful for its passage upon me. As I am equally grateful for you giving me a second chance."
Elizabeth smiled in reply and they drifted into companionable silence for the moment. "Did something disturb you this early, Fitzwilliam?" She asked a moment later, for it was only just dawn. "I hope it was not the prospect of tonight."
Tonight? What on earth was happening tonight? Suddenly he remembered and groaned as a consequence. "Until now, my love, the ball had not crossed my mind."
Indeed there was to be a ball at Pemberley tonight. The entirety of Derbyshire's wealthy and influential populace had been invited, in order to witness Miss Georgiana Darcy's first ball. Her eighteenth had been but a week ago and now it was time to launch her into the realms of society and matchmaking.
Darcy had been dreading this night from the moment it was arranged, for it signalled only the beginning. No more would they be allowed the blissful solitude that had occupied the first twenty months of their marriage. Instead they would have to suffer the countless visitors that would no doubt flock to their doors once the news that Miss Darcy was now eligible reached them. And he would have to be on his guard so no disreputable ones encountered his sister's favour.
Elizabeth saw her husband's brownstudy1 and quickly brought his attention back to the present with a tender enticing kiss to his lips. The moment she pretended to pull back, he drew her in deeper, all thoughts of the coming ball disappearing completely from his mind.
As a consequence of such pleasures, it was well past the usual breakfast hour when they emerged from their bedchamber to partake of it.
Georgiana and Richard exchanged a mutual grin as they witnessed the couple enter the breakfast parlour in blushes of embarrassment at the late hour. It was of part amusement and part happiness at the sight, for both had witnessed some moments of their courtship and struggles that had preceded it, and now rejoiced in seeing them so content.
After sending a mock glare to his cousin, Darcy asked him what his plans were for the day. Richard smiled broadly as he replied with, "to avoid the house as much as possible. I have no desire to endure the preparations as well as the event itself."
"I do declare you are almost becoming as bad as my husband," Elizabeth remarked. "Is this hating of balls a family trait?"
"You mistake me, Elizabeth. Usually I do not hate balls. It is just that upon this particular one many superiors of mine shall be in attendance, thus I shall have to be in dress uniform, which will make me a bulls-eye for every lady there to strike a target at."
"And a colour-blind one at that," Darcy muttered, causing all to laugh, for as bespoke his regiment the 95th Rifles, his cousin would be wearing green not red.
"I have a solution," Georgiana commented, for she was also nervous about the event, "restrict yourself to dancing with relatives only."
"An excellent idea, Georgie. And I shall act upon it at once. Have I your permission, Darce, to open the ball with this delightful debutante seated opposite me?"
"Had not you better ask the lady herself?"
Richard instantly set his most pleading glance upon his cousin. "Will you let me open the ball with you, dear Georgie?"
"Yes, I shall."
Later, as Georgiana readied herself for this ball, she reflected upon the morning, finding herself blushing now at her cousin's request. Such a feeling had never come over her before and she wondered why it would now. She and Richard had known each other for as long as she could remember. He had been- and still was -her guardian in conjunction with her brother from the death of her father.
Since the age of twelve this relationship had drifted into friendship, when she would receive letters from him while he had been abroad in Spain, serving under Lord Wellington. For a long time she had regarded him as one of her heroes, often collecting parts from newspapers that detailed any battles he had been involved in, looking for his name or his battalion.
Now she blushed at the recollection of this, along with the remembrance of another, this in her youth, when he had, to the shock of her parents and brother alike, taught her sword fighting. The image of them battling with wooden swords remained to this day one of her fondest memories.
Her hero-worship of him had grown when she witnessed his vow of wishing to kill Wickham on the spot the next he saw him. She hardly thought of the latter man at all now. Her disappointment at Ramsgate had been dwelt upon frequently, until the introduction of Elizabeth into her life. Georgiana was delighted at the change her sister in law had wrought both in her and in her brother. To find that her mistake was only human had been most comforting.
She was extremely grateful for all that Elizabeth had done to prepare her for tonight. There was a time when she would have wished to never enter society, even now she felt nervous, but the prospect of opening the ball with Richard put a shine to the evening that she had not anticipated. Georgiana found herself sighing at thought of dancing with him, and was instantly driven into astonishment that, for the second time in one evening, such feelings had crossed her mind.
The quiet chiming of the mantle-clock brought her back to the present. After casting one more look at herself in the mirror, Georgiana exited her bedchamber.
When she descended the grand staircase a few minutes later, she found herself blushing once more, as her brother complimented her upon her looks, and her cousin, resplendent in his dark green and silver buttoned dress uniform, gallantly bowed before her, taking her hand and raising it to his lips, declaring that she looked beautiful.
1. Brownstudy: Gloomy meditation. Thomas Brown's Union Dictionary, circa 1810.