Updated: Oct 10
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Threat of Scandal Chapter 1
A loud rapping on the thick oak door of the London townhouse startled Georgiana Darcy from her sketching moments before Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam’s urgent voice was heard in the foyer.
“Grey, where is my cousin? I must speak to him immediately.”
Georgiana left her easel and went to the sitting room door, anxious to know why her cousin seemed so distressed.
“Mr. Darcy is in his study, Colonel,” the butler replied. “Would you like me to announce you?”
“No, I will announce myself.”
Georgiana peered into the hall just in time to see her cousin hasten into the study, his dark red military cloak swirling behind him. The door closed with a boom, making her jump.
Returning to her easel with a puzzled frown, Georgiana spent above a quarter of an hour fiddling with her pencils. She was unable to concentrate; she could not help but wonder what her cousin and brother were discussing. Abandoning her easel once more, she stood at the window looking out at the picturesque garden copse at the side of the house, the very scene she had been attempting to sketch. Last night’s rain had left droplets of water clinging to the branches of the budding shade trees, and songbirds were returning from their winter away. The pleasant aspect that had so captivated Georgiana this morning held no charm for her now as she pondered the possible reasons for Richard’s apparent distress.
She remained thus for some time, lost in unpleasant speculation, until the sound of someone entering the sitting room drew her from her thoughts.
“Good morning, Georgiana. I trust you slept well.” Elizabeth Darcy, Georgiana’s sister by marriage, took a seat in her favourite chair near the fire.
“Yes, Elizabeth, I did. How are you this morning?”
“I am well, thank you. I was just reading a letter from Miss Hazel about the children. I miss them dearly.”
“As do I. What news from Longbourn?”
“Miss Hazel writes that little Jane is completely weaned off pap and is now eating solids. My mother is most happy about this. It seems Grandmamma Bennet has taken to carrying biscuits in a little drawstring pouch with which she expertly bribes the children for kisses.”
“I can very easily imagine Mrs. Bennet doing just that,” Georgiana said.
“Miss Hazel also reports that now the weather has turned for the better Grandpapa Bennet takes little Bennet with him almost everywhere. The two of them are inseparable; Bennet is hardly in the nursery anymore.”
“I am sure Bennet is most happy to be with his Grandpapa Bennet. Those two are an adorable set.”
“I agree. I wonder if my father would have behaved the same way had he had a son.”
“I am certain he would have.”
“You will never guess what else. Miss Hazel said my mother has asked her to bring Bennet and Jane to breakfast with her and my father every morning. Can you believe it?”
“It does seem a little unusual, but then again, they are used to a full and active household and now it is just the two of them. Perhaps the commotion of two young children seems a little more normal to them.”
“You must be correct. I know the marriage of all her daughters has calmed my mother’s nerves, but to willingly bring toddlers to the breakfast room on a daily basis is almost too unusual to comprehend. But Miss Hazel is an honest creature, so it must be true.”
Elizabeth looked at the small clock on the mantle before asking, “Have you already had your breakfast?”
“Yes, I was up quite early this morning. I think I have sufficiently recovered from our late night at the Harrisons’ ball last Saturday.”
“What about your brother? Have you seen him this morning?”
“He is in his study with Richard.”
“Richard?” Elizabeth sat forward, evidently surprised. “Is he here?”
“Yes, he arrived about half an hour ago. He was in a great hurry and went straight in to speak with Fitzwilliam. They’ve been sequestered in the study ever since.” A tingling sensation swept up and down Georgiana’s spine. Something must be gravely amiss. She walked to the chair opposite Elizabeth, but did not sit; her mounting sense of unease would not allow her to relax.
Elizabeth’s eyes darted to the door. “Well, I’m sure we will see them as soon as they have concluded their business. You know how men can be. Why don’t you take a seat?”
Georgiana sat down. “Lizzy, Richard arrived in quite a state. He barely said a word to Mr. Grey and he did not even remove his cloak. In addition, he slammed the door to Fitzwilliam’s study. He never slams the door.”
“Never?” Elizabeth raised an eyebrow. “I can think of at least three times he has slammed doors. I think he visits in such a state at least twice a year or so, does he not?”
“I suppose you are right,” Georgiana admitted.
“Do not worry, Georgie. I am certain if something is the matter your brother will inform us. For all we know, their business was done in five minutes and they are now discussing the breeding of hunting dogs.”
Georgiana wished she could so easily justify the men’s absence as Elizabeth, but she could not.
“Did your brother eat with you?” Elizabeth asked.
“No, he did not. He told me he was going to wait for you and went straight to his study.”
Elizabeth smiled sweetly. “Yes, that is what I thought he would do. I shall wait to go in to breakfast until he is ready.”
“My brother will not fault you for going in to breakfast without him. I am sure he could not have known Richard would arrive and take up his entire morning.”
“I suppose you are right,” Elizabeth said. “I know you said you already ate, but perhaps you would like to keep me company?”
Georgiana followed Elizabeth into the breakfast room where Elizabeth filled her plate and Georgiana poured herself a cup of tea.
Darcy and Richard emerged from the study three quarters of an hour later. Richard took his leave in the hall, promising to meet Darcy at the appointed time and place.
Georgiana looked towards the door in time to see him hurry past without so much as a good morning to her or Elizabeth. It was so unlike him not to at least say hello and kiss her cheek. He always had time for her.
In an instant, a memory of the only other time her cousin had arrived in such a state, sequestered himself with her brother in his study, and then left without taking his leave flashed through her mind. It had happened little more than five years ago, when she had been younger and a great deal more naïve about men in general. A chill ran up her spine at the horrible memory of the almost-elopement with George Wickham. Thank God, thought Georgiana, they do not have to deal with something like that again.
It may not be something so serious, but she knew her brother and cousin far too well to suppose it was only a trivial matter. Something was definitely wrong.
Darcy strode briskly into the breakfast room. He rushed to the sideboard, threw some food onto a plate, and took his seat. Georgiana was shocked he had loaded his plate in such a sloppy manner. As Elizabeth poured him a cup of tea, he said, “Elizabeth, I am glad you came in to breakfast. I apologize for not being here to join you.”
“It is al—”
“I cannot accompany you to the bookshop like we had planned. In fact, I’m afraid you’re going to have to cancel your plans for today. As will you, Georgiana.” Elizabeth had looked surprised when Darcy cut her off. Something must have distressed him greatly, as he had never been so uncaring of what she would say. She no longer attempted to speak, but the worry lines creased her forehead.
Georgiana’s hands lay clasped in her lap, fear nipping at the edge of her senses.
“You and Georgiana must stay here at the townhouse. You are not to go out of doors or accept any visitors until Richard or I tell you it is safe to do so.”
“Safe!” Elizabeth gasped, her hand flying to her chest.
“Yes.” Fitzwilliam chewed his food rapidly, his breakfast disappearing off the plate faster than it ever had before.
Observing her brother’s unusual behaviour, Georgiana became scared. He never acted so improperly. He never interrupted what she or Elizabeth was saying. He never rushed his meals. He never ordered them about. She was afraid of what he would say next.
Georgiana and Elizabeth watched in silence while Fitzwilliam finished his meal and then stood. “Elizabeth, please walk with me upstairs.”
Elizabeth followed Fitzwilliam from the room. Georgiana remained seated, a cold, hard knot forming in the pit of her stomach.
Georgiana paced back and forth across the intricately woven rug in the centre of the sitting room while she waited for Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam to return.
The house was silent, as if everyone knew something was amiss. She had yet to see the housekeeper, Mrs. Grey, or any of the servants outside of the breakfast room. Normally she liked the quiet and solitude of days like this, but today it brought an eerie feeling and she shivered despite the fires being stoked against the February chill.
Hearing commotion on the stairs, Georgiana stopped pacing and watched the door expectantly. When Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam rushed past but did not enter the sitting room, Georgiana followed them to the foyer.
Mr. Grey was helping Fitzwilliam on with his coat, hat, and gloves while he issued instructions to Elizabeth.
“Remember what I said. No visitors. I do not care who they are or how well you know them. No one is to enter this house except Richard or myself.”
“I understand.” Elizabeth stretched up on tiptoes, kissed her husband, and whispered something to him before stepping back and allowing him to race out the door to his waiting horse.
“Elizabeth, what is going on?” Georgiana asked after the door closed behind him. “Why is my brother acting so strangely?”
Elizabeth looped her arm through Georgiana’s and guided her into the sitting room. When they had settled on the settee, Elizabeth spoke. “I cannot be sure of the details, but I understand Richard overheard some information about a member of our family that requires immediate attention. Have no fear; your brother will take care of everything. He always does.”
“I hope everyone is all right,” Georgiana said. “It is so unpleasant to be sick, and it would distress me greatly if someone was injured. But why would Fitzwilliam ask us to stay in and not accept visitors if that is the case?”
Elizabeth picked up her embroidery without responding.
“Elizabeth?” Georgiana questioned warily.
Elizabeth made a couple of tight stitches on her sampler before looking up with an unconvincing smile.
“Elizabeth, you know more. I am sure of it.” Elizabeth did not reply, but rather she returned to her embroidery with an interest she rarely displayed. “I am not a child anymore,” Georgiana exclaimed. “I am twenty years old. I do not see why Fitzwilliam thinks he cannot tell me his troubles. If something is the matter with someone in our family I should be informed.”
When Elizabeth remained silent, Georgiana stamped her foot and stalked to the window.
“If you are not careful, I will accuse you of taking too many lessons from Lydia,” Elizabeth scolded her normally prim and proper sister.
Georgian sighed. “I suppose you are right. I do not know what has come over me. It is just …”
Georgiana’s voice trailed off.
“Why don’t we go into the music room so you can play for me? A little music is all you need to calm your nerves.” Elizabeth tucked her sampler into her sewing basket. “It will be a long day if all we do is fret over something neither of us has any control over or knowledge of.”
“I suppose you are right,” Georgiana said, following Elizabeth into the adjacent music room.
Elizabeth took her seat by the little window that overlooked the gardens while Georgiana took hers at the piano and practiced her favourite pieces by Mozart.
The simple act of playing song after song had a calming effect on Georgiana, and soon her anxiety over the morning’s events faded.
“Elizabeth, I think you had the right idea when you asked me to play. I feel much better,” Georgiana announced half an hour later.
“Wonderful,” Elizabeth said. “Now, why don’t we have some tea and write our letters? I have yet to respond to Jane’s letter from last Wednesday. I’m sure she will think I am ill and rush to town if she does not hear from me very soon.”
Elizabeth and Georgiana took their tea together in the sitting room and then parted ways, Elizabeth intent on her letter writing and Georgiana retiring to the library to read.
She didn’t go directly to the shelves to select a book, but rather went to the window to take in the street view. She had often found interesting subjects to sketch on the busy side street below. The heavy drapes were drawn, and she parted the light lace coverings to expose the glass beyond. The usual carriages and men on horseback passed by their townhouse. The street was busier today than normal, and she noticed how more than one person seemed to stare at the townhouse as they went by.