READ PART ONE
Young Wickham was to share Edward’s tutor, an arrangement thought to be of no burden as Tom would no longer be studying at home. Mr. Carson saw it rather differently, having heard gossip of the Wickhams, and dreaded taking on an untutored, undisciplined dunce, so it was of all George’s new acquaintances Mr. Carson who was most pleasantly surprised by the lad. The children had all been granted a short holiday from their lessons that they might become better acquainted with their cousin, but Mr. Carson still presented himself at his new student’s quarters, located not far from his own, no more than an hour after the boy’s arrival. Offering to help him get settled, the tutor perceived none of the coarseness of manner nor lack of education he feared. George did not bring many possessions to Pemberley. His trunk was only partly filled, containing an adequate supply of sloppily tended garments, some letters and pictures drawn by his younger siblings and given as parting gifts, and a small selection of books. Mr. Carson could not help but inquire where he had come by them, and George explained that a neighbor, Mr. Wilkinson, had a large library to which George was granted access. Over the years, he had occasionally gifted his young friend a volume, and they were George’s most prized possessions. He had a collection of Cowper’s verses, Paradise Lost, a few volumes by the requisite French philosophers, and a selections of orations by Cicero.
“You read both French and Latin?” Mr. Carson questioned.
“Some” he casually replied. “Mr. Wilkinson taught me.”
“What other schooling have you had?”
He blushed. “Nothing formal, I am afraid. My mother would not allow me to attend the church school and could not afford to hire a tutor. Mr. Wilkinson very kindly undertook to educate me and I ran errands for him in exchange.”
“He was a gentleman?”
“Yes. A younger son of someone or another my mother thought very impressive. It never mattered much to me. He has been the best of friends to me for as long as I can remember.”
“He is a friend of your parents?”
“No. They know him through me.”
“And how did you meet him?”
George grinned sheepishly. “I wanted to ride in his phaeton. As my mother was too busy to properly see to me and my nurse rather easy to evade, I presented myself to Mr. Wilkinson, just as bold as a three year old can be, and demanded he take me up beside him.”
“And he acquiesced?” Mr. Carson asked in surprise.
“Not for a few years! Eventually he even taught me to ride, but upon our first acquaintance he admonished both my nurse and my mother for allowing me run untended through the streets. He took an interest in me after that, addressing me when we saw each other about. Some of my earliest memories involve him stopping me in the park and asking my plans for the day, and Nurse far too scared to say or do anything more than curtsey a half dozen times. At some point he petitioned my parents to allow me to visit him and learn to read and write, which turned into the more formal arrangement I described to you before, with me running errands in exchange for lessons.”
“Your mother never taught you the rudiments?”
“Only my alphabet. She is an excellent correspondent, but I never saw her with a book in her hand, unless she was removing one from mine.” He smiled fondly in remembrance.
“What of your siblings?”
“I taught them what Mr. Wilkinson taught me, or at least the basics. None of the others had much interest in history or languages, you see.”
Mr. Carson nodded, taking stock of the impressive young lad before him. While Edmund showed aptitude for higher learning, Master Tom was not studious. The tutor was confronted by the pleasing aspect of much more productive and advanced lessons than he had yet been able to conduct. By now the unpacking was complete. George had even pinned the childish drawings brought from home to the wall above his bed. “I see you are settled now and will leave you to the agreeable task of getting to know your relations. We will have time soon enough to assess your aptitude and develop a course for your instruction.”
“Thank you for taking me on, Mr. Carson. I can promise you shall find me diligent in my studies and most anxious to learn. I shall require all the schooling I can attain to someday be entrusted with management of such a great estate. I do not wish to disappoint those who have provided me with this extraordinary opportunity,” he confessed.
Mr. Carson gave him an encouraging pat on the back. “I believe you will do just fine, Mr. Wickham. The Darcys are good people. You could not be in better hands.”
George smiled enthusiastically at this news and thanked his new teacher before being pointed in the direction of the conservatory, where he would find the family gathered for tea. On his way he met Edmund, and the two boys fell instep together.
“I am not a dead bore, you know,” Edmund assured him, “despite what Tom says.”
George chuckled. “That is too bad, for I am a dead bore, or at least so my nearest and dearest inform me, and I was hoping to find myself in like company.”
“Are your siblings a torment to you, too?”
“Oh no, for I am the eldest, you see. We first born sons quite naturally rule the roost.”
Edmund sighed. “I do not begrudge my brother his position. I just wish he was not so quick to belittle mine.”
“You must not take it too seriously. It is in our province as big brothers to be a bit harsh at times. I am sure he means nothing by it.”
Edmund smiled doubtfully but with appreciation for the sentiment.
The rest of the family were already assembled when the two cousins arrived. Mrs. Norton was on hand and immediately made herself known to her nephew. “Well, you must be poor Lydia’s boy. I am your Aunt Norton, and your mother and I were the best of friends as girls. You have something the look of her at your age, though not so blooming, but I fear you more closely resemble your father, and a pity it is. Do you miss him a great deal?”
George, who had paled during the course of this greeting, replied without his customary warmth of manner, “I am afraid I did not know my father very well. He was rarely home. His death was, nevertheless, a terrible blow to my family.”
“Of course it was, my dear,” Mrs. Darcy said soothingly, taking him by the arm and leading him over to the table upon which Mrs. Reynolds was overseeing the arrangement of such a variety of delicacies as to make the hungry boy’s mouth water. He was soon settled with a cup of milk and a heaping plate on a frighteningly elegant sofa beside his male cousins. The girls were settled at a nearby table with their governess, and the adults sat across from the boys. George watched nervously as the others elegantly managed to converse and eat simultaneously. He strived to imitate their ease.
“I trust your journey was uneventful,” Mrs. Norton said to George. “I thought to meet you in Derby but Mr. Norton is suffering from one of his gouty complaints, you know. However, had it been a niece my sister was sending to us, I should not have hesitated to make the journey regardless of Mr. Norton’s gout. I should have thought nothing of the inconvenience to either him or myself, were you a niece. A young man, like yourself, can be trusted not to fall into a scrape on his own. How did you come?”
“I took the mail coach.”
Tom’s eyes widened. “I should like to take a journey by the mail coach. Do tell us: were any of your travelling companions quite detestable?”
“There was an old farmer who ate onions throughout,” George replied with a smile.
Tom shuddered dramatically. “Oh the horror!”
The two boys laughed, but Edmund could not share their mirth and frowned. “Perhaps he has some ailment for which they serve a medicinal purpose. It is unkind to mock him for it.”
“Edmund is destined for the church, you see, and has already assumed the gravity of a rector at his tender age,” Tom informed George in a false whisper.
“Tom,” Mrs. Darcy said warningly.
“Yes, Mama,” he easily replied. “I shall try to be kind, though it is a trial. I want to hear more about the mail, Cousin George. If you can manage to travel on it and come to no harm, I do not see why I cannot be trusted to do so when I go to school.”
“Because you have the benefit of a private coach and can be there in a fraction of the time,” his father explained.
“And with a fraction of the adventure,” Tom countered.
“I suspect adventure sounds much better in books and fairytales than the reality should prove,” Edmund said.
“Very true,” Mrs. Norton nodded. “There is nothing like staying at home for real comfort.”
“I have found that some degree of adventure will inevitably befall us all in life. One need not court it,” Mrs. Darcy offered, hoping to ease her eldest’s disappointment.
“This has been an adventure,” George confessed. “Not the journey, so much, though there was much to see, but being here, amongst you all. Pemberley is even more grand than my parents suggested. My father spoke of it very fondly.”
While Mr. Darcy shifted uncomfortably, Mrs. Darcy said, “There is a miniature of your father as a young man that you would like to see, I am sure. If you boys are done, you may take your cousin to your grandfather’s room and show it to him.”
George could have eaten more, and he suspected so could his cousins, but the two instantly rose and bowed so he followed in kind. The little girls were likewise soon dismissed.
“This is not a very promising beginning,” Mrs. Norton commented once the adults were alone. “I thought he would have behaved better. He must know his father was unwelcome here. To purposefully bring him into the conversation! I had not expected him to be so bad.”
“It was you who first brought him up, Mrs. Norton,” Mr. Darcy reminded.
“So I did, for someone had to offer condolences. He is still in mourning! It that not enough of a reminder of his father to inflict upon you, my dear Mr. Darcy?”
“You are ungenerous, Kitty.”
“I am sure I do not mean to be. I hope this budding friendship between him and Tom does not lead to trouble.”
“Why ever should it?” Mr. Darcy questioned. “Tom is a steady lad, or at least as steady as one can expect a thirteen year old to be. He will be a positive influence on young Wickham.”
“Edmund is far steadier and a full two years younger,” Mrs. Darcy said.
Mr. Darcy frowned. “Yes, but Edmund is not a typical young man. I worry about him. When last did you hear him laugh? Tom is right to try and shake him out of his sober mood, though I cannot always approve of his methods.”
“I imagine you were just such a serious youngster,” Mrs. Darcy retorted with a sparkle in her eye. “How would you have felt if an elder sibling had been around to forever tease you on the matter?”
“I had my cousin, Richard.”
“But he was not always at hand.”
“Perhaps I would have learned to laugh more if he were.”
“Perhaps,” she conceded and sipped her tea to hide her amusement.
Come back tomorrow to read Part Three!
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