I hope you and your loved ones are all keeping safe.
As some of you may know, I am a Ph.D. candidate. Over the course of the last twelve months, I have been getting my dissertation ready for defense and I expect to have a defense date sometime this August. I have to admit, the last few months have been particularly difficult for me. Anyone who has written and defended a thesis knows that it is a lonely process. I have experienced a myriad of emotions, from joy, pride, and excitement to self-doubt, anxiety, and depression. But, it looks like I am finally getting there. The reason I am sharing this is that other than chapters of my dissertation, I have not had a chance to read, write, or even think about anything this month. So, for today’s post, the only thing I have to share is a personal favourite excerpt from my second novel, To Love and Cherish, featuring another lake scene at Pemberley.
I hope you will enjoy it!
Within half an hour, the Darcys and their guests arrived at their destination, which was a pleasing sight, with the river running on one side and the woods on the other. Soon, blankets were spread out while the servants set out the refreshments. The gentlemen walked in the direction of the river with their tackles. The viscount, finding a comfortable spot under a tree, sat down and refused to go any farther.
“Why should I go after the fish when I can sit here in the shade and allow them to come to me? Seems to me a great waste of energy.”
“You are hopeless, George!” Colonel Fitzwilliam shook his head. “We will leave you to the shade.”
Lord Paisley asked, “You are not going to sit by the bank like an old man, are you, Darcy?”
Mr. Darcy laughed. “And allow you to have all the entertainment? No such luck, my friend. We will have our sport as we used to.”
“What does Mr. Darcy mean?” Lady Sophia asked as they watched the four gentlemen slowly disappear from view.
“I confess, I do not know,” Elizabeth said, busying herself with her son. “But I believe we should allow them to have their amusements.”
Georgiana sat, at a distance slightly removed from the ladies, sketching the scenery before her.
After an hour of conversation with Lady Sophia, who seemed more pleased with her own consequence than anything else, Elizabeth turned to address her sister.
“I believe it is time for luncheon. Georgiana, my love, will you be so kind to find the gentlemen and invite them to join us?”
“Certainly,” Georgiana said, and walked in search of the gentlemen.
Georgiana came upon the viscount enjoying the shade under the tree and told him the food was set out. Leaving her cousin behind, she walked a little before she saw Colonel Fitzwilliam and Lord Barton standing together by the river. Although they stood close enough to converse, they both seemed to enjoy the silence.
Georgiana was about to break the silence and address the gentlemen, when her attention was captured by a deep sound of laughter. She turned toward the sound and her breath caught as she beheld Lord Paisley, standing atop a large rock in the middle of the river, dressed in nothing but his breeches. A little distance away, his clothes were abandoned on the grass. He was speaking to her brother, who was standing farther away from him in a similar state of undress.
Unable to move, she stared at Lord Paisley as he bent down and ran his hand inside the water, splashing cool water onto his face. She could not take her eyes away from him. He looked so masculine. She had never imagined that under all his fine clothes, he would be so…so… Her face burned. He was laughing, and Georgiana admitted to herself that he had a pleasing laugh and a handsome face. And it was at that precise moment that he saw her. His gray eyes widened with shock and his laughter died on the air. He tore his eyes from her face and taking a few steps across the water, he reached for his discarded clothes, pulling his shirt over his head and covering his torso as quickly as he could.
With a jolt, she turned away and walked to where her cousin stood with Lord Barton. She cleared her throat, making her presence known.
“Georgiana!” Colonel Fitzwilliam exclaimed.
“Elizabeth sent me to invite you to join us for luncheon.”
“Wonderful!” Colonel Fitzwilliam said, at once abandoning his fishing tackle and putting on his coat. “I confess I am very hungry.”
“As am I,” Lord Barton said, following the colonel’s actions. “Have you been enjoying yourself, Miss Darcy?”
“Yes, my lord,” Georgiana said, looking everywhere but at Lord Paisley who was walking toward them. “I…I was drawing.”
“I should like to see your drawings when we go back.” Lord Barton smiled at her face, pleased by her heightened color.
“Oh, and here come Darcy and Lord Paisley,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said.
Mr. Darcy approached his sister and said, “Is something the matter, my dear? Why are you not with the others?”
“The luncheon is ready,” Georgiana said. “I have been sent to invite you to join us.”
“Of course.” Mr. Darcy smiled and offered his arm to his sister, who took it gratefully, all too aware of the pair of gray eyes that followed her.
What must His Lordship think of me? she thought, blushing again, as she walked beside her brother.
“There you are,” Lady Sophia said upon seeing the group. “We were worried that dear Miss Darcy lost her way.”
“Nothing of the sort happened, Sister,” Lord Barton said, taking a seat on the blanket. “We had moved farther by the bank to set up tackle and Miss Darcy had to walk some distance to find us.”
Georgiana blushed deeply. No matter what the others believed, Lord Paisley knew she had been watching him.
“Georgiana, my dear,” the viscount addressed his young cousin, taking her heightened color to be the result of having spent the day out of doors. “How lovely you look today. You have indeed inherited your mother’s beauty. You are going be a success this season, my dear.”
“Thank you, Cousin.” Georgiana smiled at her cousin’s kind words.
Lady Sophia smirked. “Really, my dear! Your fondness for your young cousin does you credit, but you go too far with your compliments. Miss Darcy is a charming young lady to be sure, but it will not due to puff her up.”
“I always say that it is necessary to know one’s strengths and weaknesses,” Lady Sophia said, ignoring her betrothed. “It is far better than deceiving oneself.”
“I could not agree with you more, my lady.” Elizabeth smiled. “It is above all, the most unbecoming conduct for a lady to expose herself with self-importance and vanity.”
Colonel Fitzwilliam hid his laugh behind his drink and Mr. Darcy sent his wife an amused look.
“My cousin has the classic beauty that is much admired,” the viscount said.
Lady Sophia chimed in. “My brother has always admired ladies of classical beauty, Miss Darcy. Is that not so, Brother?”
“Indeed.” Lord Barton smiled, his eyes traveling to rest on Georgiana’s face. “There’s something enchanting about a lady with golden locks.”
Georgiana blushed deeper and continued to stare at her plate of cheese and fruit. Lord Paisley took a large gulp of his drink, forcing his features to maintain an indifferent façade, while Mr. Darcy cleared his voice, not particularly pleased with the conversation. It was Colonel Fitzwilliam, however, who broke the silence.
“I am in agreement with you, my lord. But we should make allowances for gentlemen whose tastes are different from ours. Darcy, for instance, I know, is partial to ladies with fine, dark eyes.”
“Correction, Cousin. I am partial to only one particular lady’s fine, dark eyes.”
“Well, everyone has different tastes, I suppose,” Lady Sophia said.
Lady Sophia’s insulting words, though clearly understood, were ignored by everyone except her brother, who promptly sent his sister a warning glare.
“You have been very silent, Lord Paisley,” the viscount said. “You are renowned for your good taste in all matters of fashion and style. Tell us what you consider beautiful in a lady.”
Lord Paisley considered the viscount’s words, valiantly ignoring the beautiful blue eyes that had consumed his thoughts during the day and had invaded his dreams every night. Little did he know that the same blue eyes were now watching him, waiting for his answer, with no little curiosity.
“Beauty is a subjective notion,” Lord Paisley said. “I cannot tell you how I judge a lady beautiful or otherwise. It is neither the color nor the shape of one’s face that renders one beautiful. Beauty lies in the experiences, the feelings, when with a lady.”
“What do you mean?” the viscount asked.
“Well, since you used my friend Darcy as an example, I will do so as well. There is no secret that Darcy finds his wife beautiful. But I do not believe that he finds Mrs. Darcy beautiful because he admires ladies with dark features. I rather believe that had Mrs. Darcy been a classical beauty with golden locks and blue eyes, Darcy would still have found her beautiful. He does not love her because he thinks she is a handsome woman. Rather, he finds her beautiful because he loves her.”
Georgiana smiled upon hearing his reply. Darcy, too, nodded his agreement, looking at his friend with an appreciative smile.
“I never took you for a philosopher, my lord,” Lord Barton remarked. “Or a romantic.”
“I simply answered the viscount’s question.”
“No, my lord”—Lord Barton smiled—“I believe you avoided answering the question in a very clever fashion. You complimented all the ladies present while not signaling one out as beautiful or otherwise.”
“You give me too much credit, sir.” Lord Paisley smirked. “I neither flatter undeservedly nor censure unjustly. But you, my dear Barton, are full of contradictions today. Last night, you called me a dandified gentleman, and today, you call me a philosopher. You must admit that the two cannot go together.”
All eyes traveled from Lord Paisley’s mocking face to Lord Barton.
“I cannot say for certain anymore, sir,” he said with a smile that did not reach his eyes. “But I will concede that I have misjudged you.”
“Do not let that trouble you,” Lord Paisley said as he stood and addressed Elizabeth. “If you will permit me, Mrs. Darcy, I believe I will go for a walk and enjoy some of Pemberley’s fine paths.”
Elizabeth nodded and watched the gentleman walk away. “I believe we have all been sitting in this attitude for too long. I know I will benefit from a walk with my husband as well.”
Mr. Darcy stood and handed his son to his nurse. “I believe he is ready to return to the house.”
The nurse took Alexander from his father, curtseyed and walked toward the chaise she had left the house in.
“Would you like to join us, Lady Sophia?” Elizabeth asked, not wishing to offend her guest.
“No, thank you. I have been in the sun far too long and I do have a fair complexion which I mean to preserve. I would like to return to the house and rest a little. Will you join me on the ride back to the house, my lord?”
“No, my dear,” the viscount replied, oblivious to his betrothed’s pique. “It is simply too fine a day to stay within doors.”
“I will escort you back, Sophia,” Lord Barton said, shaking his head at the viscount’s neglect. He offered his arm to his sister, but turned to address Georgiana. “Will you join us, Miss Darcy?”
“I thank you, no.” Georgiana smiled.
“Do you not find it too hot?” Lady Sophia asked. “Do you not worry for your complexion?”
“No, my lady. I rather enjoy the fresh air. And this bonnet has a wide brim.”
No more arguments left to offer, Lord Barton led his sister to the awaiting chaise.
“Will you walk with me, Georgiana?” Colonel Fitzwilliam asked his cousin, offering his arm to her.
The two couples set out in different directions, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy preferring some privacy and Colonel Fitzwilliam desiring a moment to speak to his cousin.
“My dear, I hope you do not mind my interference and I certainly hope I do not sound as if I am reprimanding you….”
“This already sounds ominous, Richard,” Georgiana said with a nervous laugh. “What have I done?”
“Oh, nothing of consequence, my dear. But I believe it my duty as your guardian to ask you to be mindful of the opinions you express.”
Georgiana turned toward her cousin in dismay. “Are you referring to my conversation with Lord Barton in the library?”
Colonel Fitzwilliam nodded gravely. “You have been allowed to read freely, and think freely, and I have no problem with that.”
“As long as I do not express myself freely,” Georgiana said sardonically.
“You will have to learn that speaking freely in the company of those you do not know well enough may cost you,” Colonel Fitzwilliam explained. “I am grateful for Lord Paisley’s interference at the library. He was correct to interrupt you. He understands how the ton works. His assistance will help your entry to society.”
“I am not sure if I want His Lordship’s assistance in society,” Georgiana said petulantly.
Their conversation came to an abrupt end as Lord Paisley materialized from a stand of trees, walking in their direction. To Georgiana’s surprise and relief, he seemed to be in good spirits. He joined them and pointed toward the river. “I found the boats Darcy was speaking of when we were fishing earlier. I should like to take one out on the river if I may. I was coming back to see if anyone would like to join me.”
“Lady Sophia and her brother have returned to the house,” Colonel Fitzwilliam said. “Darcy and Lizzy have gone for a walk, and I believe George is enjoying a pleasant nap. I am not a great oarsman, but if Georgiana would like to accompany you, I will watch you from the bank.”
Georgiana, who was all smiles and enthusiasm as soon as Lord Paisley suggested the activity, nodded and for the first time since their earlier mortifying exchange, looked up at his gray eyes. “I should like that very much.”
Lord Paisley gestured for them to follow. They were soon by the riverbank where Lord Paisley, with the assistance of Colonel Fitzwilliam, prepared one of the smaller boats. He stepped onto the boat and, once assured of its stability, held out his hand for Georgiana. Lord Paisley assisted her to take a seat across from him, then promptly took control of the oars. With a few masterful strokes, they left the bank and moved along the river.
Georgiana watched in fascination as he pulled on the oars, moving the boat forward.
“Are you proficient at this sport, sir?”
“Sufficiently,” Lord Paisley said, his eyes lingering on her face.
She could not help noticing the strength of his arms, as he seemed to move the oars effortlessly. She was no longer surprised by his strength. She had seen his arms and his masculine chest. She blushed crimson and chastised herself for her unladylike musings. She looked up at his face and blushed deeper upon seeing the amusement in his eyes. She looked away uncomfortably, not wanting to give him the satisfaction of unsettling her.
“Shall we agree, Miss Darcy,” Lord Paisley said after a short pause, demanding her attention, “that your presence where gentlemen are not appropriately dressed is in no way acceptable?”
“Are you reprimanding me, my lord?”
“Were you expecting a congratulatory note, Miss Darcy?” Lord Paisley asked, raising both eyebrows in surprise.
“You are not my brother, sir,” Georgiana said, with her chin held high.
“Indeed. We are not brother and sister.”
“Do you believe Fitzwilliam would be amenable to your lack of appropriate clothing?”
Lord Paisley smirked. “I rather believe he would be, as he himself was dressed as I was.”
“It is altogether unfair,” Georgiana said, once she had recovered from her shock, “that you gentlemen should do as you please, where you please, and then blame us, females, for humiliating encounters.”
“This is not an attack against your gender, Miss Darcy.”
“It certainly feels like one to me,” Georgiana said, her ire rising at his nonchalant attitude. “When I was sent to invite the gentlemen to luncheon, I was not aware of your idiotic notion to—”
“Yes,” Georgiana said, too angry to back down. “For that is what I should call two grown gentlemen who would think it acceptable to remove items of their clothing within such close proximity to the ladies.”
Lord Paisley stared at her, more impressed than offended.
“You are right, Miss Darcy,” he said. “Darcy and I should not have been so careless. But in our defense, we did not expect any of the ladies to come upon us.”
“So, you admit that you were in the wrong?”
Lord Paisley nodded. “And I should like to offer you my sincerest apologies for having shocked you.”
Not wanting silence to break their fragile truce, she addressed him again.
“I agree with what you said about beauty earlier.”
“I am glad you agree with me on something.” Lord Paisley stared at her. “However, I did not mean that I cannot describe beauty.”
“Despite what I said earlier,” Lord Paisley said softly, “or perhaps, because of what I said earlier, I have a very vivid picture of what beauty looks like.”
Georgiana’s pulse quickened, but she was unable to look away from his gaze.
“I think you are beautiful,” Lord Paisley said with such conviction that Georgiana did not know if she should take it as a compliment or a statement of fact.
“You ought not to say such things, my lord,” Georgiana said, her heartbeat making it impossible for her to hear her own voice.
“Because I am not out yet,” Georgiana said, blushing even deeper.
“I am painfully aware of that. And yet, that does not make you any less beautiful.”
“You know my meaning, sir.”
“I do.” Lord Paisley nodded. “Young ladies who are not out should not be noticed by gentlemen. But your cousin called you beautiful not longer than an hour ago.”
“And I was promptly punished for it by his betrothed.”
“Lady Sophia punishes anyone at the center of attention.”
“I have no desire to be the center of attention.”
“I am afraid that is out of your control, Miss Darcy.”
“That is neither here nor there, my lord,” Georgiana said, ignoring his compliment. “If my much older cousin chooses to call me beautiful, that is not at all questionable. He is family.”
“Is it also not questionable when Lord Barton calls you beautiful?”
“He did not call me beautiful.”
“I beg your pardon,” Lord Paisley said begrudgingly. “He called you enchanting. Do not be daft, my dear girl. It does not suit you. You and I know that Lord Barton had none but you in mind when he said those words.”
Shocked and embarrassed in equal measure, Georgiana stared at him, unable to refute his claim.
“He likes you,” Lord Paisley said softly, for the first time looking away from her. “You are too intelligent to have missed that, and too honest to deny it.”
“It would be vulgar of me to claim knowledge of something that has not been communicated to me by the gentleman,” she whispered.
“It would be infinitely more stupid to deny knowledge of something that is plain for everyone to see,” Lord Paisley returned with ill-humor.
“You are neither my brother nor my guardian, sir,” Georgiana said. “While I appreciate your concern, I must ask you not to pursue the matter any longer.”
“As you wish.”
As surprised as Georgiana was by his words, she was even more surprised by his sudden change of demeanor. He was distant, formal and resigned. They returned to the bank, where the colonel was waiting to collect Georgiana to return to the house. Lord Paisley separated from them, claiming he was in need of a long ride.
It was hours later when Lord Paisley returned. He was dusty and tired from the ride, but he needed to do something before he lost his resolution. He entered his friend’s study to find Darcy standing by the window.
“Ah, Julian,” Darcy said. “Come in.”
“I apologize for my appearance, Darcy,” Lord Paisley said as he closed the door behind him. “You must be surprised I am sure—”
“On the contrary,” Darcy said, his voice firm, “I have been expecting you for some time now.”