George awoke the next morning after a night of dreamless repose, a gift to the exhausted, but though refreshed and energetic, he did not immediately arise. Lying on his back, enveloped in the most comfortable bed in which he had ever slept, he gazed around at the fineroom which would now be considered his own. Very little in his life had ever been entirely his own, at least not since his infancy, and he luxuriated in the privacy. Once his studies began, he would be able to read and work uninterrupted. He grinned at the thought. He missed his brothers and sisters, certainly, but he knew this to be a remarkable opportunity to forge a better life for them all, and his determination to do so was far more powerful than any yearning for home. The biggest obstacle in his path, as he had come to understand over the course of the previous day, was Mr. Darcy himself. The hand that had been extended to George was reluctant and might be pulled back at any time.
George had counted the privilege of calling Mr. Darcy “Uncle” a triumph, and had retired confident that he would win his benefactor over in time, but both Edmund’s words on the matter and the stark morning light undermined his assurance. He now considered how awkward it would be for him to continue calling the gentleman “Mr. Darcy” when all the world knew he was his nephew. The concession might have more to do with this appearance than any softening of the man’s heart.
He climbed out of bed and dressed himself. Carefully guiding his way through the stately halls, using tables and paintings as landmarks, he found Edmund’s door and knocked.
He was called into a much grander room than his own bearing all the appearance of being well-lived in and rendering his own Spartan in comparison. Edmund was sitting at a writing desk, working. George crossed the room and looked over his cousin’s shoulder to behold a detailed drawing of a finch.
“You are an artist, Edmund!” he exclaimed.
“No,” his cousin blushed. “Not really. I just enjoy sketching.”
“That is awfully detailed for a mere sketch. You have talent. Did Mr. Carson teach you?”
“No, my Aunt Georgiana.”
“You should take lessons,” George insisted.
“I don’t think so,” Edmund replied, reordering the papers on his desk to hide the finch. “Tom already teases me for my interest.”
“You should not let that stop you.”
“Do you still want to see the library?” he asked.
“More than anything!” George replied enthusiastically. Edmund put on his jacket and led the way downstairs.
The library was an impressive, two-storied room. Large windows along one wall provided ample light while masses of books lined the shelves everywhere else. George stood in the center and turned, taking it all in. “It is the most wonderful room I have ever seen,” he proclaimed in reverent tones.
Edmund smiled. “It is my favorite in the house. My father and mother’s, too. Though it has always served as the library, my grandfather had it enlarged and the room remains as he designed it, other than the addition of newer works to the collection.”
“Another memorial to the elder Mr. Darcy. I begin to understand what Tom said of making his mark on the house. This is an extraordinary legacy! I do not know where to begin,” George admitted, now running his hand along the shelves, stopping to smile at familiar titles.
“I thought you might find these interesting,” he guided his cousin to a low shelf filled with oversized books. “These are the estate ledgers going back well over one hundred years. Look, here are the records from when your grandfather was steward.” He pulled one of the shelf, laid it on a nearby table, and opened to a random page. “I think that is probably his handwriting. The other hand is my grandfather’s. I know if from old letters and documents my father keeps.”
George ran his eyes down the page upon which a variety of items were listed along with their associated costs and purposes. It made for mundane reading, but Edmund could not help but wonder if the information might prove useful. “Thank you for showing me this, Edmund. I think I might learn a lot from such records. One immediately perceives how very complex and detailed the running of such a large estate must be.”
“It is a daunting task, but do not fear. You will be prepared for it when the time comes.”
“I do hope so.”
“There you are,” Tom’s voice interrupted the two boys in their perusal. Both looked up to perceive him standing in the doorway. “I thought we were to ride this morning, not bury ourselves in books.”
“George wanted to see the library,” Edmund explained.
“And so he shall this afternoon, when Mama plans to conduct the Grand Tour. Now is the time to get some exercise. Come to breakfast that we may be off.” Without waiting for the others he exited the room, certain they would follow his command.
Edmund closed the ledger and returned it to the shelf. “We had better go.”
“Tom seems already the Master of Pemberley. He is a natural leader,” George commented, admiringly.
“Oh yes, he is as in command as he can be for a boy of thirteen, and he is not one to let anyone else forget that he will one day be in complete control of all our lives.”
“A little bluster is to be expected from someone so fortunately placed as himself.”
“Tom has more than a little bluster.”
The girls were in the breakfast parlor with Miss Lee, who smiled kindly at George and invited him to sit beside her and talk of himself. She was a cheerful woman who had been with the Darcys for nearly a decade. Maria shyly asked her cousin if he really had seven siblings at home and a new baby expected on the way. He laughed and confirmed her information, and when pressed as to which he would prefer, another sister or brother, his ready affirmation in favor of the former won him a firm little friend. The bond was further solidified when she asked if she could join the boys on their ride, a request which Tom was quick to deny, but George seemed very sorry to lose her company. Three hungry boys will only linger so long over their food, and soon Tom was itching to be off. An invitation was extended to take tea with the girls later that day, which George accepted with a formality that delighted his youngest cousins.
“Come along, George,” Tom said impatiently. “You can dangle after my sisters later.”
George blushed but smiled. “Maria reminds me of our little Lydie at home. I suppose she will have grown into quiet a young lady by the time I next see her,” he sighed.
Tom laughed. “Sisters are plaguy things. I do not know why you should wish for more.”
“It has been my experience, having a great variety of both sisters and brothers, that the former are a deal less trouble, especially in infancy. A girl will be easier for Mama to manage.”
“If they are less trouble at first, I imagine they make up for it at last,” Tom replied, knowingly.
George laughed. “You may very well be right, Cousin. Hopefully, Mama will be fortunate in her next marriage before being put to such a test.”
“Do you expect that she will marry again?” Edmund asked, breathing somewhat heavily as he struggled to keep pace with the others.
“I have no doubt she will.”
“A mother of nine children is unlikely to find the suitors banging down her door,” Tom commented slyly.
“Oh, Mama is remarkably well preserved and has a wide social circle. She will have her choice of husbands. I just hope she chooses wisely.”
Mr. Wilcox had their horses saddled and ready. George approached Midnight slowly, holding out an apple he had brought along to help win her affection. Mr. Wilcox watched as he mounted, adjusted his saddle, and corrected his posture before saying with a grimace. “Aye. I suppose ye’ll do.” With that the boys were off, George not as at home as his companions but making a creditable display. His cousins took him to some of their favorite parts of the estate. They rode by the old house, dating back to the reign of Elizabeth, and having since served as the Dower House, unneeded for three generations. It occasionally was tenanted by some select family visiting the area but was otherwise unused. Then there was the Hermitage, said to be even older than the old house, and left to ruin centuries ago. The last stop on their tour was the outlook from which one could see all of the vast estate, the town of Lambton beyond to the west, and the smaller hamlet of Kympton to the south. Tom pointed out landmarks with pride of ownership, knowing one day all before him would be his. Edmund, destined for the living at Kympton, pointed out some of the notable features of its church.
George was overawed by the magnitude of Pemberley. He felt the weight of the responsibility he had been given: to care for this land, its people, and to someday advise the boy beside him in the governance of it all. At the same time, he was forcefully struck by the notion that his own father had probably stood on the same spot, perhaps beside a former heir to all below, thinking his life was tied to this land and people. Both his father and mother had long claimed that the elder Mr. Darcy had intended the living at Kympton for Wickham, and because of some lack of specificity in his will, the current Mr. Darcy had denied it, forcing him to seek a career in the military instead. At one time, George had felt an anger towards this unknown uncle, certain he had deprived the entire family of a better life, but he later reconsidered his position after realizing how ill-suited his father would be for such a role. Mr. Wilkinson knew Mr. Darcy by reputation to be an honorable man, and though reluctant to say anything that might disparage his young friend’s father, when presented with the circumstances he said confidently that the matter was sure to have been handled equitably. George was never close enough with his father to inquire directly into the matter, but he learned to take the man’s grievances with a grain of salt. Wondering if his cousins knew anything of the matter, he cautiously said, “My father always maintained that your grandfather educated him for the Church. He felt the living at Kympton ought rightfully to have been his.”
Both of his cousins looked surprised by this news. “I certainly never heard anything of it,” Tom said dismissively.
Edmund, in keeping with his nature, took the matter more seriously. “Do you imply that Captain Wickham was deprived a promised living?”
“No, though he certainly saw it that way, I believe his perspective was limited. He would have made a terrible clergyman,” he confessed. “No conscientious landlord would place him in such a position. I feel certain your father behaved honorably towards mine, perhaps assisting him in another career.”
Edmund looked relieved by this admission and was ready to speak of other subjects, but Tom now found interest in the matter. “I wonder if that is not the reason they fell out? If
Father objected to Mr. Wickham as a rector and so cut him out?”
“I cannot conceive of Father doing such a thing,” Edmund said, now truly scandalized.
“I am sure there is a logical explanation for it all,” George quickly asserted.
“Yes, surely there is, but no one will share it with us,” Tom complained in frustration. “If only there was some way in which we could learn the truth.”
“You know, I was thinking there might be some clues in those ledgers you showed me earlier, Edmund,” George said. “The rupture must have taken place between the time of your grandfather’s death and the marriage of my parents. If we searched the entries during those years, we might learn something valuable.”
Tom’s face lit up while Edmund frowned. “That is an excellent idea, George!”
“What you propose requires a great deal of time. One would have to scan six, maybe seven years of entries. The task would take hours and probably avail you little.”
“The time can be of no matter,” Tom said. “I understand you to be a bookish fellow, George. I suspect you would enjoy the task, would you not?”
George looked skeptical. “I do not know that I shall have much leisure for such a pursuit. I begin studying with Mr. Carson tomorrow.”
“Carson is not such a task master. I dare say you will find yourself with ever so much more leisure than you have been accustomed to,” Tom countered.
George thought of the mystery behind his father’s disgrace and softened. “I should like to know anything that might shine light on the reason for our fathers’ falling out. It would help me know how best to proceed with Uncle Darcy.”
“Then that settles it. Mama will want us back for the Grand Tour now, so we had best get going. If there is time when she finishes, you can begin your research then,” he commanded.
“You forget I am promised to your sisters for tea.”
Tom grimaced. “Next time you will know better than to so beholden yourself.”
“I look forward to getting to know all my cousins better.”
“Yes, well, I suppose there is no hope for it now. You can begin tomorrow when we have our ride, instead.”
“That is unfair, Tom. George only just arrived!” Edmund protested.
“And the sooner we solve this mystery about his father, the sooner he can make headway with Father,” Tom countered. His expression softening, he said, “I only want ensure our cousin’s comfort.”
“I am unaccustomed to the luxury of a daily ride. Missing one will do me no harm,” George conceded.
“I knew you were right one,” said Tom, slapping George approvingly on the back. “And you can continue in the afternoon, once your lessons are complete.” With that he turned his horse and began leading the way back to the house, not bothering to see the look of hurt on his normally smiling cousin’s face.
“You need not do what he says,” Edmund said in an undertone, so as not to be overheard.
“No, he is right. Learning more about my father may very well be the key to my own future here. It ought to be my priority.” George spurred his horse into a trot to catch up with Tom, leaving Edmund shaking his head behind him.
Come back tomorrow to read Part Six!
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