"This is Grandfather Darcy’s room and has been kept just as it was when he died.”
“How remarkable to have so many rooms you can keep one in memorial!” George exclaimed, gazing about wide-eyed as he followed Tom across the room towards a glass display case, Edmund trailing behind.
“There are a great many with almost no purpose at all,” Tom explained. “You are to receive the Grand Tour tomorrow. Only when we have very large parties are all the rooms in use. Here is your father. I am told you look a great deal like him and I suppose I see the resemblance, but I do not think it so very striking.”
“You fail to account for the age difference. Mr. Wickham was a man when this likeness was taken.” Edmund turned towards his cousin. “In time, when you face lengthens and features sharpen, I think the resemblance will be remarkable.”
“You have my sympathies,” Tom said to George as he took a seat behind a formidable writing table and propped his feat upon it.
George assessed him a moment before replying. “My father was considered a remarkably handsome man.”
“Oh, no doubt you will be a favorite with the ladies, have no fear on that score. It is just that my father detested Mr. Wickham, you know, and Aunt Norton says that he will forever be thinking of your father when he interacts with you.”
“Idle speculation,” Edmund countered.
“Perhaps, but I heard my mother and father worrying about the very same thing. Father said himself that it would be a struggle.”
“You were eavesdropping,” Edmund frowned.
“I came upon them accidently, but it is not to the point. A friendly bit of advice, George: I would not speak about him before my father. You already bear his name and face. No need to stir up anymore memories.”
George nodded. “I had the sensation that Mr. Darcy was displeased with me. This explains it. Do you know what happened between them? My father used to speak of their great friendship as children, but he never could adequately account for their falling out. I know it must have taken place before my parents met,” he said with a blush, “though I suspect their marriage did not improve relations.”
Tom looked to Edmund before shaking his head. “No one ever told us what Mr. Wickham did.”
George gazed at the miniature of his father as a young man. He wanted to ask how they were so sure it had been his father at fault, but he feared it was probably the truth and had no wish to offend his hosts. “Your father was the only relation at my parents’ wedding besides Aunt and Uncle Gardiner, from whose house she was wed. Strange, is it not?”
“Exceedingly so. I know of no other mysteries in the family’s past. I wish there was some way to find out what happened,” Tom said enthusiastically, jumping to his feet. “Shall we figure it out? T’would be great sport, I should think.”
“Our parents would have shared the information if they thought we should have it. You are looking for trouble, Tom. Why not leave well enough alone?”
Tom shrugged off his brother’s admonition. “What about the stables then? Should you like to see them?”
George’s face lit up. “Very much so.”
“Let us go at once. Can you ride?”
“Yes, but I have always been confined to city parks.”
“We are sure to find a mount in the stables that suits you.”
“You are certain it is not an imposition?” George wondered.
“Not at all. We will speak to Mr. Wilcox about it. He will find the horse for you.”
“You give yourself away, Tom,” Edmund said. “This is not about mounting Cousin George but extracting information from Mr. Wilcox about Mr. Wickham.”
Tom feigned innocence. “What a suspicious mind you have, Edmund! If you do not wish to come, stay here, but do not hinder George from joining us for a ride in the morning.”
“I have no desire to do anything of the sort. Go on, then. Meddle in the past. You have been warned.”
“Are you coming?”
“I think not.”
“Very well, then. Come along, Cousin.”
George looked between the two brothers, smiled warmly at Edmund, and then bade him goodbye, following Tom out the door.
The boys stepped out into the fresh summer air with an air of expectation and adventure. Tom set an eager pace, but George had the spirits to match him, and they made their way to the stables with a growing sense of comradery, Tom pointing out various landmarks such as the ice house and estate office.
“You see how conveniently these structures are located, yet still situated in such a manner as to blend effortlessly into the scenery. Repton himself oversaw the improvements, in my grandfather’s time.”
“I can see his hand in the picturesque consideration for the landscape,” George thoughtfully replied, pointing towards an emblematic clumping of tree.
“I see what you mean,” Tom said, squinting in the direction indicated. “To tell you the truth, I have little taste for such stuff. Edmund knows a great deal more about it than I do, but I plan to place my own mark on the land, when Pemberley is mine. Father never wishes to change anything, but I should like my descendants to know I had a hand in shaping their surroundings.”
“Surely Mr. Darcy’s influence can be felt everywhere. The estate appears to be perfectly tended. I have yet to know much of such things, but from what I do know, he must be a superb landlord.” George was still feeling very nervous about Mr. Darcy, but he thought this spoke well of him. A man who did well by his dependents must be honorable.
“Well, yes, I must say he is, but I should like to extend the house. If you are to be my steward, Pemberley will be ours to improve together. You seem to have a natural knack for this sort of thing.”
“I have read only one book on the subject,” George protested.
“‘Tis more than I have. Besides, you have plenty of time to become expert. Father is perfectly hale. Here we are,” he unnecessarily declared as they entered the large enclosure surrounding the impressive stables. “Mr. Wilcox!” He called out, and an old man with a bald pate came around the corner.”
“Hello there, young master,” he said, glancing up and down at George as he pulled a cap from his pocket, shook it out, and pulled it down on his head in salute. “What can I be doin’ for ye today?”
“This here is my cousin George, come to live with us.”
“Aye, I can see that it is,” Mr. Wilcox replied. “I knew yer father, and yer grandfather both. Yer grandfather was a good man. T’was a sad loss to all of us here at Pemberley when he died,” he concluded, staring pointedly at George’s dark armband even as he omitted any sentiments regarding the more recently deceased.
“George will be needing a mount, Wilcox,” Tom declared.
“Aye, and so Mr. Darcy and me discussed givin’ ‘em Midnight,” he replied, gesturing for the boys to proceed him into the cavernous stables. “I said t’was like to be too much horse for ‘em, but perhaps young Wickham can handle her,” he concluded, looking the boy up and down in assessment.
“I am to have a horse of my own?” George questioned in awed surprised. “It is quite beyond anything I ever dreamed!”
“You cannot go over the land and learn it like the back of yer hand, as ye will need to if ye are to be steward here one day, without a horse. Pemberley is ten miles round the perimeter, and ye will cover a great many more, crisscrossing about it. Have ye a good seat?”
“I have been told I have some natural aptitude, but I have had little opportunity to practice.”
Mr. Wilcox nodded in approval. “Yer father was a picture on horseback, I’ll say that for ‘em. Took to it like he was born in the saddle. I taught ‘em to ride myself,” he said with a reminiscent chuckle.
“You did?” George asked, surprised less by the revelation than by the sudden hint of fondness in the old stable master’s manner.
“Aye. A charmin’ little scamp. Had us all wrapped round his finger, he did, and none more so than late Mr. Darcy. He could have made something proper for himself, with all those advantages, but instead he squandered it.” He narrowed his eyes at the boy. “‘Tis quite a thing, another Darcy giving another Wickham such a start in the world. ‘Tis the wish of all of us who knew this place of old that their generosity be better rewarded this time.”
“It will be, sir,” George unhesitatingly replied.
The old man grunted and said, “This is Midnight. She’s a beauty and of fine lineage, easy goin’ and good endurance. A large horse for a boy yer age, but like I said, perhaps ye can handle her.”
“She is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen,” he replied, gazing into the horses eyes in awe. When he reached out and stroked her muzzle, she whinnied softly in approval.
“I see ye two will hit it off alright. Will ye be joinin’ the young masters in the morn?”
“Oh, yes!” George replied softly, still enrapt with Midnight.
Wilcox chuckled. “Very well then. She’ll be ready for ye.”
“We were wondering, Wilcox, if you knew anything about the breach between George’s father and my own.”
“Aye, but nothin’ I’d be sayin’ to ye, young Master. Ye finished yer business here and be on yer way.”
“What could he have done so very bad as to be banished from the estate for life?” Tom persisted.
“He was always a trouble maker, young Wickham that was. Let it be a lesson to both ye boys that evil begets evil. I’ll say no more.”
Nor would he, no matter how Tom pled. Dejected, he finally gave up. “Come on, George. We might as well go back to the house. It must be nearly time to change for dinner.”
George thanked Mr. Wilcox and wished him a good evening before turning to follow Tom. “Will the evening meal be very formal?” he asked, betraying some nervousness.
“Yes a bit, but we are just the family. You do know a salad fork when you see one and not to put your knife in your mouth?”
“Yes,” affirmed George.
“Then you will be fine. If you are uncertain of any etiquette I should not hide it, if I were you. Mama will want to know of any deficiencies you have so that they may be amended before we do have proper company.”
“I should not dream of it.”
“Good. We had best hurry. Dinner starts promptly at seven, and Father will be ever so cross if we are late.”
George need not be told twice. Both boys ran the half mile back to the house, their hurry turning into a playful race as they went. Tom, though taller, only barely beat George to the front door. “Good show!” he exclaimed, panting and patting George on the back. “I have not had such fun since Mark last visited.”
“Mark?” George asked.
“Yes, Mark Bingley. He is your cousin, too, of course.”
“He is the best of fellows. The whole family, and there are an enormous number of Bingleys, will be here on Saturday to meet you.”
“So many new sights, experiences, and relations!” George exclaimed. “It is too much!”
Tom laughed. “I shall see you through it, Cousin. Have no fear.” He extended his hand and George shook it warmly before they both entered the house and scrambled off to their individual rooms.
Come back tomorrow to read Part Four!
ATwisted Austen Giveaway:
Stop by, read the story, and enter to win! Increase your chances of winning by leaving multiple comments (be sure to include you email address in at least one). At the end of the event (giveaway open through November 7th), I will randomly select two grand winners. Each will receive copies of all five Twisted Austen ebooks, including Young Wickham, plus a set (six each) of these adorable decorative clothes pins, purchased at my local grocery here in Switzerland. Two runners up will receive Young Wickham ebooks. What if you already have all the Twisted Austen books? Enter anyway. We'll work something out. This giveaway is open internationally. Extra entries for social media shares, but you must mention them in your comments for credit. Good luck to all who enter, thank you so much for reading, and have a very happy Halloween!