Following the best dinner in which he had ever partaken, and which he thankfully managed to survive without making any major etiquette blunders, George was called into Mr. Darcy’s study for a private conversation with his aunt and uncle. The latter’s rigid formality intimidated George, but he was determined not to let his behavior betray that fact and maintained a warm and cheerful demeanor throughout the interview, mostly conducted by Mrs. Darcy. She inquired into the state her sister’s household and offspring while her husband watched on, observing attentively and with what George believed to be displeasure.
“Your mother suggested Samuel is suited to a career in the military.”
George laughed and shook his head. “I cannot see him submitting to the discipline required.”
“He is strong-willed?”
“Mama calls him a handful.”
“It is often such boys who require stronger discipline. Military life might prove the making of him.”
“Perhaps,” George conceded. “Some officers are very good men, I am sure. I believe Mr. Darcy’s cousin, General Fitzwilliam, to be among the best. He occasionally calls on my mother, you know, to pay his respects when he is in that part of the country.”
Mrs. Darcy looked to her husband, who seemed surprised by this report, and replied, “I did not know.”
“If Sammy were to join the military, I should like him to become an officer in General Fitzwilliam’s style. Not so high, of course,” he added consciously, “but he is a fine, honorable man, do you not think so?”
“I know few better.”
“That is what I thought. He is always very gracious with my mother, all ease and consideration, and greets me by name. I know little of his military adventures but what is implied by his rank, yet he is what I would call a fine officer. They are not all like that,” he confided, thinking of his own father.
“No,” Mrs. Darcy replied sadly. “Wherever life takes you, unfortunately, you will find that be true of men, regardless of profession.”
“Yes. I suppose I must,” he said, his young face serious with consideration.
“Tell me, does Lydia have many callers?”
“Oh yes, my mother is very popular and has lots of friends.”
“Good. I should hate to think her lonely.”
He smiled. “That is one worry I do not have for Mama.”
“But you have others?” she asked gently.
“Yes,” he sighed. “More than I can count. You see, Mama is not a very good manager, but you must know that, having grown up with her.”
She smiled. “She was always first to spend all her pocket money.”
“She has no patience with numbers. I became accustomed in the last few years to do her accounting for her. She is forever short on funds and will be more so now that my father has passed. It was very good timing, sir,” he turned towards Mr. Darcy, “your sending for me when you did. Thank you, on behalf of all my family, for this opportunity. I will do my best to prove worthy of your trust.”
“I am sure you will, George,” Mrs. Darcy replied on her husband’s behalf.
“I will not disappoint you, Mr. Darcy,” he persisted.
The great man sat on in a deep silence which seems to last forever to poor George, then said, “You may call me Uncle Darcy.”
George, clearly touched, stood and reached out a hand to grasp his uncle’s, shaking it warmly. “Thank you, Uncle Darcy.”
Mr. Darcy, somewhat taken aback by the boy’s emotion, replied uneasily. “Certainly, certainly. It is rather late, is it not?” he turned towards his wife with a look of desperation.
“It is. You must be exhausted, George, and had best be off to bed. Can you find your way?”
“Yes, Aunt Darcy, I believe I can. Thank you,” he embraced her, a gesture she both welcomed and returned.
“Goodnight, my dear. And I am Aunt Lizzy to all my nieces and nephews. You may call me that as well.”
He hugged her one last time. “Goodnight, Aunt Lizzy. Goodnight, Uncle Darcy.”
“Goodnight, Nephew,” Mr. Darcy replied, finding it easier to own the relationship than to use the lad’s given name. When the door was closed behind him and his footsteps receded down the hall, Mr. Darcy sank back into his chair with relief. “I am glad that is over. He seems a good lad, but the resemblance to his father is unnerving.” He rubbed his temples with his fingers. “This is going to be even more difficult than I anticipated.”
Mrs. Darcy moved behind him and took over massaging his head. Mr. Darcy closed his eyes and abandoned himself to his wife’s ministrations. She soothed his brow for several minutes before asking. “You did not know Richard was in contact with my sister?”
He kept his eyes shut as he responded. “No, but it does not surprise me. I knew he kept an eye on Wickham. This must have been his way of letting him know he was being watched and had best not neglect his duty to his family. If he had found Lydia in truly bad straits, I think he must have told me. This gives me hope her situation is not as desperate as feared.”
“Does he know George is here now?” she inquired.
“I told him he was coming in my last letter, but I have no way to know if he has yet received it. It might very well be chasing him about the continent.”
“I should like to hear his perspective on my sister’s predicament. George’s account of Lydia’s behavior is all too believable. She sounds just as she always was, careless and consumed with frivolity. He does not think well of the military, I fear.” She rested her hands on her husband’s shoulders and thought for a moment before starting to massage his neck. “I do not think he was fond of his father.”
Darcy opened his eyes. “I get that impression as well. I should say such discernment speaks well for the boy, but it is a terribly irreverent sentiment to express.”
“He has said nothing to dishonor his father’s memory,” she noted.
“No. Generally, my impression of him is quite favorable. If only he did not so remind me of the past! I want to be fair to the boy, but when I look at him, I cannot help but see his father.”
“I can see him too, though I never knew him at this age. I also see some of Lydia, but not in the boy’s behavior. His manners are much what they should be.”
“They are. For that, we must be grateful.”
“Mr. Carson tells me he made George’s acquaintance this morning and was quite enthused to find him so learned. Apparently, he was the recipient of an education quite unanticipated, thanks to this benevolent neighbor he speaks of, Mr. Wilkinson, who undertook the task. He must have perceived something very special in the child to submit to such a burden.”
Mr. Darcy was much struck by the notion. “Very true.”
She stopped what she was doing and walked around his chair to look at her husband. “Better?”
“Much. Thank you.”
She laid a hand upon his knee. “It has only been one day, I know, but I believe we have been fortunate in the acquisition of our nephew.”
He smiled at her, his face devoid of the tension it formerly carried. “I think you may be correct. I do so hope you are.”
George, accustomed to sharing a bed with two brothers, was having difficulty falling asleep. As he lay considering the many events of the day, there was a soft knock at his door.
“Come in!” he called, glad for the distraction.
Edmund stuck a capped head into the room. “I did not wake you?” he asked.
“Not at all. I doubt I shall have any sleep tonight, in a strange place with so many new impressions to contemplate.”
Edmund sat himself on the bed, where George had pointed him. “I hope the experience was not too much for you.”
“Not too much, no, but it is a great deal to take in.”
“I cannot imagine what it must be like, to leave your home and go out in the world on your own.”
“Well, I am not on my own. I am with family,” he smiled broadly.
“Yes. Of course, you are.” Edmund looked at him thoughtfully before asking, “Are you not worried about father?”
George’s smile fell. “Yes. It is unfortunate he disliked mine so. I hope he will come to judge me for myself in time.” He grinned again. “He has told me to call him Uncle Darcy. I think that can be counted a step in the right direction.”
“Perhaps, though I do not know what else you should properly call him. Father is a fair man, even if he seems a bit formidable.” He studied his cousin. “You seem like a good person.”
George’s expressive face revealed some chagrin at this observation. “Is there a reason why I would not be?”
Edmund looked conscious. “I believe there was some concern you would take after your parents,” he said softly.
George was quiet as he digested this information, then he said, “Our mothers are sisters. As far as I understand it, our fathers were raised like brothers. Why should I be a product of my environment any more than they?”
“I meant no offense,” Edmund quickly replied. “I am sorry I spoke so.”
“I believe you. You seem like a good person, too.” His smile was restored and Edmund returned it three fold.
“I think I am. I try to be. Which is more than I can say for some,” he said ominously. “You ought to be careful around Tom. I would not trust him too much, if I were you.”
“He seems a nice enough fellow.” Edmund looked doubtful. “Perhaps he is a bit mischievous, but that is no unusual thing.”
“He can be more than mischievous. He can be cruel and controlling.”
“Some dominant tendencies are surely natural in the heir of such a fine estate.”
“Tom’s behavior goes beyond that. I have no wish to set you against him. I just want to put you on your guard. Do not allow him to lead you into trouble. It will not serve you well with Father.”
“Thank you for your concern. I will keep your advice in mind.”
“Good. It is late, and you must be tired. I just wanted to see how you were settled,” he said, rising. “I shall leave you now.”
“I doubt I shall sleep a wink, but thank you, Edmund, for your concern and making me feel welcome. I am most appreciative,” he put out a hand to shake and Edmund grasped it firmly.
“I am glad you have come, George. I hope we shall be good friends.”
“I think we will. You and I are much alike, I suspect.”
“Mother told me you are a great reader.”
“I adore books. When I have leisure for them, they are my best companions.”
“Has anyone shown you the library yet?”
George’s eyes lit up. “No! Aunt Lizzy has promised me a tour tomorrow, and I am most anxious to inspect that room, in particular.”
“If you are an early riser, I can show you about before breakfast when you have more leisure to inspect the books.”
“I should like that. Thank you.”
“Call for me when you rise.”
“Sleep well, Cousin.”
“You too, Edmund, and thank you again,” and with warm smiles the boys parted for the night. Despite his protestations to the contrary, the overwhelmed boy fell asleep within moments of laying his head on the dense down pillow.
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!