Mrs. Norton had arrived while the boys were out, professing that she should not have left Mr. Norton alone in his condition but for an unwillingness to abandon Mrs. Darcy at such a time. “I can only imagine how difficult this transition must be for you, Lizzy, and especially for poor Mr. Darcy! I sincerely hope the boy’s resemblance to his father is only skin deep.”
“We are beginning to have good reason to believe that it is,” Mrs. Darcy replied. “George seems very good natured. The children are charmed with him.”
“Hmph!” Mrs. Norton replied. “We shall see. I seem to recall his father charming all of Meryton before his duplicity was revealed.”
“His father was a practiced seducer. George is a boy of ten, Kitty. Thus far, his behavior has been excellent. Until that changes, we must not judge him by his father or mother.”
“Very easy for you to say, but tell me Mr. Darcy does not see the friend of his youth every time he looks at him, and is reminded of the ingratitude with which that friendship was returned.” Mrs. Darcy could make no reply. Her sister was not in possession of the full facts regarding Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham’s breach, and she had no need to be enlightened. “I for one intend to do my part to see that he is humble and grateful for this extraordinary blessing. In that manner, I hope to be some service to the boy.”
“He would do better to be the recipient of your friendship and affection than your admonitions.”
Mrs. Norton blushed. “He has those, of course. He is my nephew. I only mean to help him conduct himself properly in this world. You do not know what it means to be dependent on another, Lizzy. I do.”
She laughed. “Surely Mr. Darcy and I do not treat you as a dependent, Kitty. You are family, and Mr. Darcy is happy to be in a position to assist Mr. Norton.”
“I know that, but it would be very unbecoming of me to forget what we owe you, nonetheless.”
“Enough of this nonsense. You need not humble yourself before us, nor ought George do so. We are all on equal footing in heart and mind, if not in the pocket.”
“That is very progressive thinking on your part, Lizzy. Do not be surprised when the world disagrees.”
At this point the boys made their entrance and hungrily helped themselves to the refreshments spread before the ladies.
“Well! I might have expected such behavior from young Wickham here, or even Tom, but I thought you, Edmund, knew better than to present yourself in the drawing room covered in such dirt,” Mrs. Norton scolded.
George and Edmund looked down at their muddy boots and trousers consciously, but Tom was undeterred. “We are growing boys, Aunt Norton, and require frequent sustenance.”
“You will change before the house tour,” their mother firmly stated.
He made a face. “Must I attend yet another Grand Tour, Mama? I was hoping to persuade Father into some angling.”
She smiled affectionately on her first born. “If you can convince your father to abandon his books today, you are welcome to whatever activity is required to accomplish the feat. He is with Mr. Thompson reviewing the rents.”
Tom knew from experience that to interrupt his father during such a pursuit would only result in him being enlisted in the tedious task, which prospect made touring the house far more agreeable. “Oh no. If he is engaged in important estate business, I had better not disturb him.”
“It is good to see you feel as you ought on certain matters, even as you disregard common drawing room etiquette.” Mrs. Norton wrinkled her nose in disgust. “You smell of the stables, my boy. It is unbefitting the heir of Pemberley.”
He laughed at his aunt but rose to leave, indicating the others should follow. “We shall relieve you of our disagreeable odors this very moment, ma’am. Where do we meet you, Mama?”
“We shall start in the portrait gallery.”
“We shall be there in twenty minutes. It is enough time for you, is it not, Edmund?” he asked archly.
“Of course,” his brother replied tersely.
“And you, George, cannot be a dandy with none but two coats to your name. Twenty minutes will suffice.”
George blushed and Mrs. Darcy frowned, noticing for the first time that her nephew was wearing the same clothes as when he arrived. “We shall have to take you to Lambton to purchase additional garments for you, George. Have one of the maids brush out your evening clothes if they have not yet done so. Tom can lend you jacket and trousers to wear this afternoon.”
“But they will be too large for him, Mama!” Tom protested.
“Sally is quick with her needle. She will fit them enough to suffice for the moment.”
“Then he shall be more than twenty minutes,” Tom grumbled.
Mrs. Darcy’s smile was tense. “Then we will wait. You had best be off now.”
Tom turned sulkily towards the door. George exchanged worried looks with Edmund as they followed behind. As soon as they were in the hall, Tom turned on his cousin. “Thanks a lot, George. ‘Tis bad enough I need trail along on a tour of my own house, but now you have gotten me in trouble with Mama.”
George was taken aback. “My aunt seemed unperturbed.”
“You say that because you don’t know her. She was very angry with me,” Tom insisted.
“I agree, but it is not George’s fault,” Edmund said. “My mother did not like to hear you speak slightingly of his circumstances. It was badly done.”
“I see how it is to be,” Tom said defensively. “You two are to ally yourselves against me, is that it? Let me just remind you both who is to be master here someday. You would do well not to forget,” and he turned and marched away, leaving Edmund embarrassed and George anxious.
“I see why you warned me,” George admitted quietly.
Edmund sighed. “He will get over it soon enough and be back in good humor. This sort of petulance is typical of him.”
“Is it not worrisome to your parents, such moodiness?”
“He rarely shows himself in such a light before them. It is sad, for I think Mother and Father rather exceptional parents, but they cannot see Tom for who he really is, or if they do, they are convinced it is symptomatic of his age and will soon pass.”
George looked hopeful at this notion. “They could very well be correct. I have heard of such cases, where disagreeable youths grew into fine gentlemen.”
Edmund looked skeptical. “He has always been this way. ‘Tis no stage. We had best hurry. Mother will have already sent Sally to you.” They abandoned their conversation and hastened to their rooms.
Edmund proved correct in his prediction. By the time the party reconvened for the house tour, Tom was again his easy and charming self. He complimented George on his appearance in the borrowed clothes and offered his mother his arm as she led the group about the premises. George had already seen a great many of main rooms, but now their aspects were admired, their furnishings dated, and the portraits and paintings on the walls given names. His aunt was delighted to discover her nephew possessed of a good eye for art, identifying the artist of more than one piece before being told. Fine furnishing were more of a mystery to him, but he was able to comment with tact and sense even on those subjects she could tell were of little interest. She silently thanked Mr. Wilkinson for the trouble he had taken with the boy. Had he been left to his parents, she doubted she would find his mind and principals so sound.
When Mrs. Darcy had conducted them through all but the servants quarters and offices, she eagerly suggested they take tea in the conservatory, and was charmed to learn that George was already engaged to her daughters. He excused himself, thanking her prettily for the tour, and she was left to lead her sister and two sons to the refreshments Mrs. Reynolds had prepared for them.
“Tell me, my sons, how you find your cousin,” she requested, once ensconced in her favorite chair with a welcome cup in hand.
Tom, as usual, was first to reply. “He seems a decent chap. He rides well enough and will make a fine appearance once you take him shopping.”
“Yes, I can see he is well-looking. I meant how do you find his character.”
Tom blinked at her, questioningly. “I said he rides well enough.”
“He is also well-read and spoken,” Edmund intervened. “His manners are engaging. He seems to think as he ought, is very grateful to be here, and anxious to make a good impression.”
“We could not help but wonder, Mama, what his father did to so infuriate my own,” Tom pressed.
“It matters little and is long in the past. Please do not pry into affairs which do not concern you, Tom.”
He looked down, chastened. “Yes, ma’am.”
“I feel for the boy. I really do,” Mrs. Norton declared fervently. “How difficult it must be for him to be away from home, and when poor Lydia needs him so! He was the nearest thing she had to a man in the house – she had to let her man servant go after Wickham’s death – and must now feel the want of one, in her delicate position.”
“I did not know she was left so unprotected,” her sister said with a frown.
“Did I not tell you? She wrote to me of it some time ago, but perhaps with all the excitement involving George’s coming to Pemberley I forgot to mention it.”
“She must at least have someone by her to call for assistance during her confinement. I shall ask Mr. Darcy to attend to the matter.”
“I am sure you need not put Mr. Darcy to any bother, Lizzy. Lydia knows how to fend for herself. She has had to do so for many years now, for Wickham never was any help to her.”
“George says his mother will remarry soon enough,” Tom said. “Apparently she is still comely and likely to have scores of suitors.”
Mrs. Darcy blushed. “Still more the reason she should not be unprotected.”
“That is not what George said, Tom,” Edmund protested.
Tom shrugged. “Near enough.”
“This is not a seemly conversation,” their mother declared. “We shall say no more of the subject. Where did you take George on your ride this morning?” The discussion proceeded along more mundane lines for another half hour, when Mrs. Norton realized she had been away far longer than intended and rushed off, insisting Mr. Norton should never have been left alone at all. Elizabeth dismissed her sons to their pursuits and went in search of her husband, whom she found chatting amicably over a cup of tea with Mr. Thompson, the estate steward.
“Hello, my dear,” he rose to greet her and led her to a chair. “I was just about to call our new resident in to meet Mr. Thompson. The two will be spending a great deal of time together in the future.”
“He is taking his tea in the nursery with the girls.”
Mr. Darcy looked surprised. “I thought he would be with you and the boys.”
“He was, but he promised Maria faithfully at breakfast to attend her little party and could not be persuaded to break the engagement.”
Mr. Darcy laughed. “It is good of him to entertain her, but they must be finished by now. Will you send someone for him?”
“Certainly,” she rang the bell and asked the footman who responded to fetch Mr. Wickham. She noted her husband’s easy mien falter at the sound of the name. “I have a matter I should like to bring to your attention before he arrives. My sister informs me that Mrs. Wickham has had to dismiss her man servant.”
Mr. Darcy frowned. “When did this occur?”
“Apparently, some months ago.”
He sighed. “With all of Mrs. Norton’s attention to the affairs of others, she failed to mention this matter sooner?” Mrs. Darcy simply raised an eyebrow in reply. He sighed again. “Mr. Thompson, please contact an employment agency near Mrs. Wickham’s abode and have them find some respectable, older couple to wait upon her. I shall pay their wages.”
“Yes, sir,” the good man replied, making a note in the pocket diary he always carried.
Mrs. Darcy took her husband’s hand within her own and squeezed it affectionately. “You always know just what to do. Thank you. I shall worry less for her now.”
“She ought not have been left unattended at such a time.”
There was a knock on the door and George was admitted into the room. He bowed to Mr. Thompson and shook his hand, professing in his friendly way his pleasure at the acquaintance.
“The pleasure is all mine, my boy. I look forward to training someone up to this job. Truth be told, I am starting to feel my years and could use the assistance.”
“I am anxious to be of service to you, sir.”
“I have instructed Mr. Thompson to find some help for your mother. We have only just learned of the diminished nature of your household.”
George’s eyes lit up. “That is quite marvelous of you, sir. I confess I was worried about her being so much alone at this time.”
“We shall see she is properly attended,” Mr. Darcy assured him, uncomfortable under the suddenly adoring gaze of his nephew. “If you know of anything else she requires, please do not hesitate to ask.”
“Thank you,” he bowed and said no more, seeing that his emotion discomfited his uncle, though his heart soared with gratitude.
“You have the afternoon to yourself, George,” Elizabeth said. “How do you intend to spend it?”
“I want to return to the library,” he replied. “It is a most magnificent collection you have, Uncle Darcy.”
He smiled, always happy to discuss books. “It is the work of many generations. We are quite proud of it.”
“Understandably. It is even finer than Mr. Wilkinson’s library, and that is saying a great deal. He has more than a thousand volumes,” he said reverently, “and Aunt Lizzy tells me there are more than three thousand in your collection. It must be the finest in all the country!”
Mr. Darcy laughed at the boy’s infectious enthusiasm. “No, not nearly so. I assure you. I must take you to Chatsworth one day. The Duke’s library is truly impressive.”
“That would be splendid!” he enthusiastically replied.
Mr. Darcy laughed again. “Now off with you, George. Enjoy your free time. Studies begin tomorrow.” The boy scampered off. Mrs. Darcy happily noted that her husband had finally called the boy by his name. He had even smiled while doing so.
Come back tomorrow to read Part Seven!
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!