The Adventures of Cassandra--Section I
Beginning, Section II
Posted on Tuesday, 23 June 1998
Cassandra Elizabeth Beaumaris was crying. She lay on the couch in the spacious living room of her family's centuries-old English manor, Ballyshear, and wept. "Oh, Maxim! You loved her so much, and she thought you loved Rebecca!" she sniffled through large tears that dripped onto her shirt and trickled down to the remote in her hand. She had been rewinding the boathouse scene from the Hitchcock film over and over; each time found Maximillian de Winter saying with passion, "I hated her!" and each time never failed to undo the seventeen-year-old with the auburn curls who stared into the screen. "If only men were still so noble-and so handsome…if only Laurence Olivier were still alive…" she sighed, sitting up.
"Wasn't he gay?" remarked a voice behind her, flatly.
"Of course not! He married Vivian Leigh," retorted Cassie in disdain, not bothering to turn around to face the speaker, who entered the room with two glasses of soda and a bag of pretzels. "Like you'd know anything about him, anyway. You never get within ten miles of good acting if you can help it, preferring only to reside in the land of Star Wars and Monty Python."
"You're speaking in complex clauses again, Cassandra," replied William, joining her on the couch and forcing her none too gently to move her feet to make room. His dark eyes scrutinized her teary ones, and the corner of his mouth curved up in a smirk as he said sarcastically, "Forsooth! Hast thou been indulging thy fancy in one of thy flowery English romances?"
"Oh, stop mocking me! They don't make movies-or books-like these any more! Daphne Du Maurier was a genius!"
"She wrote one gothic novel and everybody likes her. Why do you like that stuff, Cass? Go read Dostoyevsky or Faulkner-something with substance, for a change."
Cassie, who had read both, lifted her head haughtily and refused to reply. Will Dowland was her next-door neighbor-next door meaning half a mile down the road-and since they were children he had tormented her and teased her about her love of romance. She was so tired of hearing him mock her flair for melodrama, taunt her with sonnets and lines from Gone With the Wind, that she had threatened to herself to throw him out of her house should he ever do it again. But somehow he always got the better of her, and she couldn't. She knew she should be more assertive, but he was so assertive himself that whenever they fought they came so near murdering each other she always had to acquiesce and call a truce before she did him some real harm. Oh! Insufferable man! She thought irritably-why of all people should I have him for a neighbor! True, he had always been exceedingly handsome, and she had often pictured his dark features and impeccable taste as her standard of excellence in areas of appearance. There was nothing the matter with him at all in that area. But he was so-practical! Who wanted a friend who had no concept of love or passion or-or-nobility? William was about as noble and passionate as a warthog.
This thought made her snicker involuntarily. He cast her a glance and said dryly, "You're thinking I'm an unenlightened prude because I laugh at you for being carried away by a character in a book."
"No, I was thinking you had the personality of a warthog."
"Takes one to know one," he laughed. That was another thing that infuriated her: she could never get under his skin, yet all it took was one look on his part… "You know, I actually do like this movie."
"You never told me."
"You always assumed because I didn't wander around for days afterwards brooding over it that I didn't," was the wry reply. "I just don't find the stories of these fictional characters as gratifying as you do. Entertaining, yes."
"Well, naturally, you can't appreciate anything except the suspense. A man who wants desperately to show his wife how he loves her, but who can't because he's haunted by the past-there's not a woman in the world who wouldn't swoon over Max de Winter!"
"Not by your standard."
"Why shouldn't I want to fall in love with somebody like that?"
William rolled his eyes and stood. "Because they aren't real!"
Cassie smirked. "Is it possible I should depart from my imaginary image of perfection when the reality presents me with such an alternative as yourself?"
"Touché. Can it be your perspective is so warped by this image of perfection that you cling to that you cannot comprehend any pleasure to be found in reality?"
"If you deign to call yourself a pleasurable part of my experience I demur. I can't willfully encourage such misguided thinking."
"So you prefer to hide away with Laurence Olivier and Colin Frith- "
"And Ralph Fiennes. Can't leave him out."
"And Ralph Fiennes-" Will had gone to Cassie's video shelf and stood scrutinizing its contents. "Cass, do you realize you have three different versions of Pride and Prejudice, every single movie Sir Larry ever made, two different copies of Gone with the Wind, and every single Jane Austen film conceivable? In your library you have a whole wall devoted to Georgette Heyer and Regency Romances. Cass, you're crazy. You can't live like this."
"I've done well so far, thank you very much, and I'll have you remember that you may be going to Oxford in four months, but I've got letters from Harvard and Princeton on my vanity upstairs, and they certainly don't see anything wrong with my literary interests."
"That's not my point. If you were any less intelligent we wouldn't be having this conversation."
Cassie paled at this remark; it was not like him to compliment her, and when he did, especially in that tone of voice, she felt rather bewildered. He turned back to her and probed her with his dark brown eyes; he was tall, just over six feet, and he stood with his head cocked to the side as he looked down at her. "Cassie," he continued earnestly, "you're so ambitious, but you've never been able to completely remove yourself from this fantasy you have of falling in love and being led away to Pemberley on a white horse." She started, and a half-smile played about his lips. "See, I do remember something."
"Then you ought to understand why I like it. It's just a daydream."
"You're too old to be living in daydreams, Cass. You're a woman, but you act as though you were a little girl enacting a play school fantasy. You don't want to emulate these characters, or learn from them, as the rest of us do-you want to be them! You want to-oh, hell, I don't know what you want. You're so out there sometimes it's impossible to have a conversation with you unless I speak in iambic pentameter!" William clenched and unclenched his fists, his trademark sign of irritation. He played the cello; his fingers were long and narrow, and he often worked them restlessly against each other as he spoke.
His frown put her on the defensive. "Why not? Why can't I want to be something I admire? I could be Lizzy Bennet! I'm just as witty-just as intelligent-as she is! What's wrong with wanting to love someone with great intelligence and great integrity and-and a great body?" Will looked away. "Tell me why," she continued defiantly, thinking she had him.
"Why don't I like it?" he asked, still averting his glance. His voice was very somber; she felt she must have chosen the wrong day to get on his bad side. She'd seldom seen him so ticked. "Because, Cass," he said at last, giving her a fleeting, affectionate smile, "You won't be happy unless you find somebody you think is another Darcy. And whether or not you like it, he won't be able to prove you right, because Darcy isn't real."
Cassie's throat was dry, but she swallowed with difficulty and retorted icily, "Well, thank you very much for that astounding news flash, Mr. Dowland! Thank you for presuming to tell me how to choose the men I fall in love with, a pastime of which I'm sure you're all too fond! If you're done insulting me you can leave now. Unless, of course, you want to finish out the movie, all the while struggling to hold back the snide comments floating around in that matter you call a brain! Just because my taste differs from yours doesn't mean you can criticize me, or belittle the works of these writers!"
Will rose in vexation. "I have done no such thing, Cass, you've completely missed my point. I refuse to argue with you right now, I'm leaving for Vienna tomorrow, I don't want to start my vacation with a fight on my hands."
"I don't care whether you start it with a war," snapped Cassie. "I don't care whether I ever have the opportunity to fight with you again."
"I know you don't," he replied coldly, his eyes flashing. He said a brief goodbye and departed. Cassie watched his sleek black Mercedes disappear down the driveway. Stuck-up, rich, British, eighteen-they didn't get much worse than that. Who was he, to presume to know so much about her? It's not as if they'd ever understood each other even if they had known each other their whole lives! At least…she had never understood him. It was funny, how enigmatic he was, as if he had a completely different side to him that she had never been able to discover. Lately she had sensed this all too acutely. The more they were around each other the more uneasy he would become, and the more frequently they would quarrel-about such trivial things! Cassie turned away from the window and plopped back down on the couch in frustration. She would never, ever be attracted to anyone so…so-unromantic, so dispassionate, so-so everything that he was!
"I could be Lizzy Bennet," she muttered sulkily. "I could. If Darcy had met me first, she'd never stand a chance. Or Mr. Knightley-if a man like that were my neighbor, oh!-you'd never see me pulling an Emma! Why can't men be so sensitive, so idealistic, now? Maybe Fitz Darcy isn't exactly real, but…surely somewhere out there there's a man who resembles him so closely I'd never know the difference!"
And with these thoughts drifting through her mind, Cassandra abandoned the last fifteen minutes of Rebecca and went to her room, where she fell exhausted onto her bed and was soon in a deep sleep.
Posted on Tuesday, 23 June 1998
Cassandra stirred, groggily opened her eyes, which were laden with sand from the tears she had shed over the movie, sat up…and gasped. Where in God's green earth-
Was this her room? Her bed? Her-everything was completely different! She knew she was sitting in the same hard-paneled room with the cherry-wood finish and the enormous wall-length windows that overlooked the lush lawn below her. This was her room. Yet what…? Cassie managed to pull herself off the bed. As she did the rustle of her gown against the rich quilt spread over the sheets made her stop. Good God, she was wearing lace! Her bed was transformed from the simple pull-away she knew and loved into a luxurious double four-poster of a soft mahogany grain, with intricate carving on the head and foot. The pillows were cased with satin; her sheets were of soft linen. Gone were the stuffed animals and Impressionist posters that graced her shelves and her walls-in fact, gone were the shelves themselves! And what was that huge armoire doing in the corner? The writing desk by the window had been replaced by a great vanity with an ornate mirror, and as she looked into it, Cassie nearly lost her wits when she discovered that her hair was at least six inches longer than it had been when she retired. Not only was it longer, but it was kinked into a thousand curls and tangled in confusion about her pale face.
She steadied herself and gripped the nearest post. Breathe, she instructed. Be calm. If this were a dream, I wouldn't be frightened. This is my room. Something's obviously--not right. "Not right! That's the understatement of the year," she muttered. She went to the window and looked out over the grounds, knowing that they at least would be untouched.
The shock she received nearly sent her back to the bed in a faint. "This cannot be!" she whispered, gazing out on the lawn, where all her life, ancient chestnuts and oaks had formed an orchard leading to Ballyshear's wide, spacious expanse of lawn, which ended in a garden and a small, modest pond. She and her brother had played there as children, but as they grew older it had become so choked with algae and waterlilies that it became something of an eyesore. Now, however… the garden had vanished. The orchard was there, but instead she saw only young saplings hardly comparable to the great majestic trees that lined her park. And just beyond the sloping hill she knew to be the one on which sat her own house, was a beautiful lake, pure, rich, inviting, sparkling in the cool morning sunlight. Horses grazed nearby, and instead of the road that wound through her estate and into the rest of Derbyshire, she discovered only a well-trodden dirt path leading to a rather impressive, though quaint, number of stables.
"I'm going crazy," Cassie said flatly.
"What? You're not crazy, Cassandra, stop your nonsense."
Cassie spun around and beheld her mother, who had entered without knocking, as usual. Only-Mrs. Beaumaris was donned in a pale cotton housedress that went straight to her ankles and had no waistline. Her hair was done up in a rather unbecoming twist that allowed a strand or two of golden curl to escape and reveal its beauty; yet the whole effect was so unlike any image Cassie had ever seen of her mother, that for a moment she was completely speechless. "Mom?" she finally stammered.
Arabella Beaumaris* looked at her daughter' pale features and straightened in alarm. "Goodness, child, why are you so pale? Did you open the window again last night? I keep telling you the draft will be the death of you! If only you'd be sensible!" She reached an anxious hand to Cassie's forehead.
"Where am I?" Cassie managed, although she had a feeling that wasn't the wisest thing to say.
Arabella pulled her hand away and now stared in genuine fear at her daughter. "Cassandra Elizabeth! You will not joke about such a matter. Do you feel well? Your father will be severely put out if he learns of your playing games like this."
"My father?" Cassie's father had died when she was two in an auto crash. "Good God, I think I need to lie down," she said absently.
"You're not truly ill?" her mother's voice was full of concern. "Sweet, perhaps you should come down by the fire. You won't get any warmth in here, and you know you always hate the lighting." It was then that Cassie noted the lack of light fixtures in the room. Oh, well, she thought, it's just an extra ploy to make me think I'm in the wrong century… She stopped on her way back to the bed and went rigid. The-the wrong century?
"Cassandra? Cassie, dearest," her mother urged her gently. She was suddenly accosted as a pair of fists fiercely gripped her shoulders.
"What year is this?"
"Please, tell me! What year is this?"
"Eighteen twelve," responded Arabella uncertainly.
Cassie was quiet for a long moment. Then-then it was true! She had been transported, how or why she could never hope to comprehend, back in time to her own house, in a completely different age. She had never relished the extensive history lessons her mother had given her concerning her genealogy, but suddenly she was eternally grateful. There had been a Cassandra Elizabeth, and her family name had been Beaumaris since shortly before the Napoleonic wars. The first Mr. Beaumaris, Robert, had married a young lady named Arabella Tallent, and they had settled in the house which was now the grand estate known as Ballyshear. They had then had a son named Austen and a daughter named Cassandra. The family legend held that Mr. Beaumaris and his wife had been on good terms with the family of Austen, whom they had met during an excursion to Bath, and that Cassandra Austen, sister to the famous writer, had been the godmother of Arabella's only daughter. The Christian names had been reused again and again in the family for the next thirteen generations.
Could it be? Was she looking at the original Arabella Beaumaris? And-if indeed such a thing were possible-
Was she the original Cassandra??
(* Arabella Tallent is the title character of the Georgette Heyer novel Arabella. Robert Beaumaris is the man she weds, a wealthy, debonair gentleman worthy to stand beside any of Jane's heros.)
Chapter 2 B
Posted on Wednesday, 24 June 1998
Author's note: This installment of Cassandra is dedicated to Ewa, to whom I wish all the happiness in the world. I hope this endeavor cheers her up even though it's a meagre substitute...
Cassandra's throat was dry. "1812," she repeated, barely in a whisper. "Why, I-how long have I slept this morning?"
"Oh, darling," replied Arabella Beaumaris, cupping her daughter's face in her hands and making no effort to conceal her worry, "You slept half the day away, it's already nearly ten o'clock. I started to send after you, but you were so tired after dinner last night-I told your father it was probably better for you to sleep a good while, since your quarrel with William made you so upset-"
"Will? Will Dowland?" Cassie nearly shrieked in excitement. "Is he here, too?"
"Cassandra, what's gotten into you! You know Mr. Dowland and his family left this morning for Austria, like they always do." Cassie's face nearly sank, so instant and complete was her despair. Just like that infernal man, always to be gone the moment she needed him!-not, of course, that she had ever needed him…
Arabella continued, admirably oblivious to her daughter's consternation, "And besides, you need your rest for the party tonight. I know how you've been looking forward to it, and I'd hate for anything so trivial as a slight illness to spoil it. Unless, of course, you really don't feel well." Here a bit of Arabella's gaiety returned, and she said to her daughter, with a coyness that surprised Cassie almost as much as the fact that her mother was wearing a petticoat, "I know, after all the time you've spent fawning over your new dress, that you aren't about to lose the opportunity to wear it tonight, and show off in front of Rachel and the colonel."
"Rachel and the colonel?"
"I can just hear her mother now-Oh, Arabella, that dress was so expensive-surely you could have afforded something less elegant!-while your dear cousin, of course dressed in something outlandishly becoming, will try her best to get you to lend it to her for the next ball. Oh, I shall have so much fun watching you!"
"You shall have fun? Where is…my dress?" For that matter-where was the ball, who was giving it, who the heck were Rachel and the Colonel, what was Will Dowland doing in 1812 with her, and how were they ever going to get out?
"In the armoire, of course-no, you're right, I think Ewa had it downstairs to finish repairing the hem."
"It was torn?" asked Cassie, momentarily distracted by the thought that the elegant gown she was to wear tonight, at the ball she'd apparently been waiting weeks for, was flawed.
"Oh, just around the edge on the side. You'd hardly notice it, but Eva was so obliging she had to finish it before tonight." Ewa-- must be my lady-in-waiting, guessed Cassandra. Ooh, that sounded so Elizabethan!
"Well, did she get it finished?" Cassandra inquired eagerly.
Arabella had no opportunity to reply, when a light tap at the door caught their attention. An instant later it opened and a lovely young lady with distinctly European features entered. She curtsied, said, "Indeed, I did, Miss Beaumaris!" and held up before her the most beautiful gown Cassie had ever seen in her life. It was heavy silk, and the skirt rustled as she ran her hand over it. It was thick, with a straight cut and a bodice that was tight enough and low enough to be sufficiently shocking. It flowed straight to the floor in one long arc of material, and the sleeves and the neckline were encased with a tiny border of beads that sparkled in the light that filtered into the room. The style, however, had nothing on the color of the gown itself. A deep, deep crimson, as dark as the best red wine Cassie had ever seen, it brought out the subtle brown tints of her hair; her deep green eyes, fluttering in excitement under dark lashes, sparkled with even more intensity when she held the gown to the mirror. She had never seen anything so stunning, and told Ewa and Mrs. Beaumaris so with frank astonishment.
"But that's exactly what you said Thursday when you got it from Christianne's," replied Arabella, amused at her daughter's exuberance. "Really, Cassandra, it's not proper to be so excited over a dress."
"I bet you said the same thing when you wore your first ballgown to Allmack's!" cried Cassandra. This delightful lady was not her mother-her mother was stiff-necked and drab in comparison. Cassie had never been so thankful for all the Heyer novels she'd devoured as a child. She would never have known what to do in any other circumstance.
"Well…" Cassie was delighted to see Arabella blush. "I think my excitement was caused more by the knowledge that I would be dancing with a certain gentleman--one Mr. Beaumaris by name."
"Did you really fall in love with him, and he you?" Cassandra asked her, studying her features intently. Her mother never spoke of her father with affection-only of his lineage and the ancestral fortune he had bequeathed them.
Arabella looked away. She's really very young to have a daughter my age, thought Cassie. She can't be much more than thirty-five. That means she must have been married when she was-Cassie gulped involuntarily-my age! "I loved him more passionately-than I had ever before thought possible," Arabella said with a small smile. "And the most wonderful part of all, is-my sentiments were and are entirely reciprocated." She smiled at Cassie, the affectionate smile of a mother, and said, taking her hands in hers, "I do so hope you will find that kind of happiness."
Cassie read the love in Mrs. Beaumaris' eyes and smiled warmly. "I hope I shall, too, mother." Ewa beamed at the tete-a-tete and remained silent.
"I did so hope you might dance with William tonight," continued Arabella, only this time with a gleam of mischief in her eyes.
"What?" Cassie racked her brain frantically. No…no…no Dowland had EVER married a Beaumaris. Thank God for that! "I'd rather dance with a-a-" she chose the first available metaphor-"a warthog than with Will Dowland!" She cringed at the memory. Last year at prom he had asked her out of politeness, but the dance had been a slow one, and why he had had the audacity to pull her so close, as though he actually wanted to be there with her, was beyond anything Cassie could comprehend. At least he wouldn't be there tonight!"
That reminded her. There-where? And how to find out without passing herself off as an idiot? "Um…mother, could you excuse me for a moment? I'd like to discuss some things-some-aspects of the ball-with Ewa." Both the mistress and the maid of the house looked at Miss Beaumaris in some surprise, but Arabella stepped away and acquiesced with a wave of her hand.
"You're sure you feel all right, dearest?"
"Yes, mother," responded Cassie. She was beginning to accustom herself to this formal informality. Mrs. Beaumaris gave her a last look to ascertain her daughter's health, then nodded to both girls and left the room.
Cassie turned to an expectant Ewa. "All right," she said. "Tell me everything you know."
Ewa's eyes widened. "What, Miss?"
Cassie bit her lip in frustration. "Hmm. Okay. Come sit over here, please," she instructed the bewildered maid, going to the fourposter and throwing herself ungently onto the cushions.
"On-on your bed, Miss?" Ewa couldn't have been more horrified if Cassie had handed her a sword and commanded her to run her through.
"Yeah-don't sweat it, it'll be okay." This style of phrasing did nothing to relieve Ewa's uncertainty. "I assure you," Cassie tried again, "no harm will come to you by seating yourself at my side. I only want to ask you a few questions."
"Of-of course, Miss," stammered Ewa, seating herself very gingerly, at a proper distance from Cassie, on the immense bed. "What would you like to know?"
"I-are you Scandinavian?" That wasn't at all what she wanted to know, but it seemed like a good opener.
"Me? Why, I'm Polish, if it please you, Miss," responded Ewa.
If it pleased her? Cassie swallowed a laugh, then continued soberly, "Thank you. Ewa, I seem to have had a rather fitful sleep."
"Oh, dear, Miss! I'm so sorry! That William Dowland-he should never have been so uppity with you, even if he has known you all his life!"
Cassie paled and her curiosity soared. "I'm so glad you said that! You see-my restless sleep appears to have robbed me of my memory, and I can't really-I don't recall…" she trailed off significantly and looked at Ewa, who caught on and nodded in understanding.
"Oh, of course, Miss. You see, you'd been out with Miss DuBarry all yesterday afternoon, and the two of you came back right when Mr. Dowland arrived to call on your father before he left." Miss Dubarry, noted Cassie. I'm friends with a Miss DuBarry. "Well, you know how gay a thing Miss Rachel is, Miss, and she'd no sooner walked in the door of Ballyshear than she was dying to have you show her your dress. You refused, and you both began trying to outdo the other with talk of how fine your gowns were and all that. You spoke so frequently of it in front of Mr. Dowland that he got into one of his ill humours-you know how he can be, of course-" here Cassie had to stifle a laugh. So Will hadn't changed! "-and seeing as how he was so worked up, Miss Rachel started to tease him about how he was really just upset because he wouldn't get to see you in your dress tonight."
Cassie wasn't too sure she liked this Rachel person. "Naturally, he didn't say a word," Ewa continued. "But you-" she laughed-"you flew into a rage and began to deny for him that he wanted to see you there, and then you started in on Rachel and the colonel, only that just delighted her. It ended with William trying to calm you down, to no avail, and finally he got so angry at the both of you he cracked his top and shouted that you were both the wildest bunch of immature ladies that ever made themselves and their family ridiculous." Cassie started; she knew that line well… And he said that you especially were to be ashamed because you were old enough to know better than to let yourself be so upset by something so trivial."
"Sounds like William," Cassie responded dryly. "What'd I say?"
"You said that you were old enough to know one thing, and that was that you should never put stock in HIS opinions, and that you didn't care whether you saw him tonight or never. He retorted that he was well aware of your aversion and he would hardly suffer its increase, and then left the house."
"Where did all this take place?"
"Downstairs in the parlour," Ewa said somberly.
Cassandra pondered all this in silence. There was still much-much she had to learn, and she knew she could count on Ewa to give her the other information. She knew that Rachel DuBarry was her cousin, and that she was infatuated with some sort of colonel…but beyond that…?
"What did father say?"
"Oh, Mr. Beaumaris likes Will so much he couldn't be mad at him, but he did say you had a right to be upset, and you should go right upstairs to bed. Are you sure you feel all right, then?"
"Oh, yes, of course! And-and Miss DuBarry?"
"Oh, well, even if she did start the whole thing there wasn't much you could do about her-she's so young, you know, and at fifteen if a girl takes it into her head to be a bit of a tease, it's not exactly any harm done, is there? Anyway, she immediately apologized, and she's been afraid to come near you all morning, though she did say she hoped you wouldn't stay mad at her up to the ball, because if she had to go by herself to Pemberley she'd be just mortified."
Suddenly every sense in Cassandra's befuddled brain awakened as completely as if she'd just been given a vodka stinger.
Posted on Thursday, 25 June 1998
This is turning into so much fun!! Thanks for all who wrote asking to be in the story. There's plenty of room for more...thanks also for all of the enthusiasm! Just keep reading and tell me how I'm doing...:) AR
Cassandra could hardly breathe.
"P--Pem..." she shook her head to clear it, blinked hard, and repeated, "Pemberley?"
Ewa nodded in confusion. "Why yes, of course, Miss Beaumaris--surely you remember?--or can you?"
Cassie stared with narrowed eyes at the linen pillowcase beside her, biting her lip as she was wont do to when extremely perplexed. "Maybe you'd better tell me once again, Ewa, if you can," she suggested in an odd voice. "We are going to Pemberley tonight?" Ewa nodded. "Then we are--we are friends with the owners?"
"With the Darcys? Oh, miss, your father's family's been close to them for years! You used to play with the son, Master Fitzwilliam, in the park over there, many a day, before he grew up and went off to Eton. Don't you remember?"
Cassandra Elizabeth Beaumaris was personally acquainted with Fitzwilliam Darcy! "Why, I--it's coming back to me," she managed. Pathetic, she thought. "And when he came back from Eton? Did he still--" she gulped-- "play with me in the park?"
"Mr. Darcy? Why, no, Miss Beaumaris!" Ewa said solemnly. "By the time he finished Eton and Cambridge you were a young lady, sent to Paris to live with your aunt, and you hadn't seen him in--Lord knows how many years it's been! He's been away so much to London, you never saw him when you were home from France, and since you've only now just come back--" Ewa stopped and stared at her mistress's intent countenance. "But then, you know all that yourself--you haven't stopped talking about how good it will be to see them both after all this time--when Miss Georgianna called on you the other afternoon and you were out, you were both so disappointed! Well, I daresay you'll have plenty of time to catch up on all your doings."
"Georgianna...Georgianna has lived here at Pemberley with her governess, has she not?"
"Yes, of course, with Colonel Fitzwilliam as her guardian when Darcy couldn't be there to look after her. Of course, the poor dear has so missed feminine companionship--two grown men with lives of their own to lead are no company for a young lady!"
The colonel. Something clicked in Cassie's brain. "This Colonel Fitzwilliam is the one I was teasing my cousin about?"
Ewa laughed heartily. "Yes, miss! Poor Miss Dubarry--she's completely smitten!"
Cassie frowned. "Well, the colonel--does he-- he hasn't been leading her a dance, has he?"
"She only wishes he would! Come, Miss Cassandra, you know the colonel's too much of a gentleman to bother himself about someone so young! She may be charming, but he knows better than to toy with her affections when he'd never think of proposing!" Here Ewa paused and reflected. "But she seems to have a knack of clinging to him, if I say so myself. She may yet surprise us all and win him over."
Cassie stifled a smile. From all she had heard of this Miss DuBarry she was capable of causing quite a stir. She might indeed, win the colonel over, she thought...But then--wouldn't that ruin the book? Wait--what was she talking about, the novel was fiction, and this was...
Bloody hell. What was this?
"Ewa," said Cassie slowly. "Is Mr. Darcy married?"
Now Ewa was confused. "Have you hit your head, miss? Surely you remember he's practically engaged to Miss Anne deBourgh." Cassie nearly let her delight show! I know something you don't....
"He should be, then, near his twenty-eighth year," she ventured.
"Yes, miss, that's right. And Miss Georgianna is--"
"Sixteen," finished Cassie. Oh, Jane! she thought. How indebted I am to you! "And Colonel Fitz in his mid twenties."
"Ah, I see your memory is starting to come back after all!" exclaimed Ewa with great satisfaction.
"Perhaps," laughed Cassie weakly. "Yet--my memory refuses to tell me--have I yet to meet Darcy after all those years in France? Have we yet to renew our acquaintance?"
"Miss Beaumaris, have you forgotten that this is to be your first party in Derbyshire after yours and Miss Rachel's return from France? The Darcys are throwing it specifically in your honour--and who better to do it, since you've only been back in the neighborhood a month! Miss Georgianna was so excited to issue the invitation--though I do say it took her a lot of trembling to get it out!"
Here was valuable information! Fitzwilliam Darcy had been away, had not seen Miss Cassandra Beaumaris for years; Georgianna was still shy and awkward among strangers, but Cassie, of course, would cure her of that once her brother fell in love with her... This Cassandra Beaumaris had apparently been many years with her French aunt in Paris--and I can't speak a word of French! she thought in agony. "My cousin is staying with us, then?"
"Yes, she and her governess came back with you, and high time they did, what with Monsieur Bonaparte on the rampage! Your mother was so worried you'd be killed by association--it's hard enough having a French name, but being in Paris under English citizenship--If your father hadn't been the man he was I daresay you'd've been suspected of treason long before this!"
"Is my father a Frenchman or no?" Ask a dumber question, Cassandra.
"English to the core, Miss Beaumaris, though his ancestry is all French. His family's lived in London for generations--the men are all associated with White's and St. James--your father's met the Regent on occasion."
"Has he really?" Cassie smiled. She rather liked what she was hearing of Mr. Robert Beaumaris.
Downstairs in the morning room, Mr. Beaumaris was absorbed in the papers and a very enjoyable croissant when his wife entered, lovely in her thin, light gown, the gold tones of her hair enhanced by the fresh sunlight pouring through the large bay windows. He looked up, and as her clear blue eyes met his deep grey ones a shiver of delight involuntarily ran through her, and a blush crept quite unconsciously into her cheeks. He ran his astute gaze over her face and once, swiftly, over her lovely form, before rising and taking her in his arms. "Hello," he said with a smile, and drawing her into his arms he kissed her so passionately she nearly lost the ability to stand.
She was not at all adverse to the idea of fainting in his arms, however, and neither was he opposed to keeping her there for the rest of the morning; it was some minutes, therefore, before they separated, and she recovered enough to move away and respond with some semblance of gravity, "I see you have not quenched your appetite, sir, and I thought surely breakfast was satisfactory."
She was immediately rewarded for her impudence by a sensuous kiss that began on her forehead and traveled slowly down the the nape of her neck. "There are some foods, Arabella, for which the appetite only increases with every attempt at appeasement."
"I have never pretended to be capable of appeasing you, Mr. Beaumaris," she murmured tenderly, pressing her hand to his smooth cheek.
His eyes flickered with laughter; she had never, in their twenty years of marriage, completely gotten out of the habit he detested of calling him by his last name. "Darling, someday you shall leave off referring to me with such ridiculous decorum."
"I believe I gratified your desire for informality quite recently, sir," was the demure response, spoken under averted eyes which nonetheless sparkled with mischief. "And if you recall, I spoke your first name quite prettily during the exchange, along with other equally intimate sentiments. If you cannot recall what they were, I shall be only to happy to remind you..."
Mr. Beaumaris burst into laughter, his eyes smiling in affection. "No, Arabella, two such encounters before noon and I shall be completely undone--I do not think I have recovered from the last!"
She smiled, so innocently his heart practically crumbled into pieces at the sight. "Then I have appeased you after all? This will not do! If this continues you will have me believing I am the old and decrepit mother of two grown children, and I shall be forced to wear a dustcap and use a lorgnette, and you will want nothing to do with me."
"Don't be obscene, Arabella," he replied, and silenced her before she could protest.
Cassie entered the morning room, a feat accomplished only be a quarter hour's worth of wandering haplessly through endless rooms of polished wood, high ceilings, and marble fireplaces, and discovered her mo--Mrs. Beaumaris--locked in the arms of possibly the most impressive gentleman she had ever scene. Had he not been pressing Arabella closer to him than a wetsuit, Cassandra would still have been convinced of his prowess as a lover--such a tall man, impeccably dressed, uniformly handsome, "imperially slim," to quote her favorite bit of poetry--how could such a paragon of humanity be lacking in any other area?
The stare she wore was enough, when Mr. Beaumaris glanced up and saw his daughter standing uncertainly in the doorway, to immediately dispel all hint of passion from his demeanour. Instantly he removed his wife from his embrace and said with a smile, "Good morning, Cassie, dearest!" and before Cassandra had time to prepare herself, he went to her and embraced her, giving her a gentle kiss on the forehead. His height prevented him from observing her wide eyes, and she was eternally thankful he could not know her thoughts. Stop it, Cassandra! she instructed, trying not to reel from his closeness. He's your father, you can't be attracted to him! She forced her mind to move steadily uphill out of the depths to which it had instinctively plummeted; still the attempt exhausted her capability of coherent speech, and after she had responded only with vague mumblings to Mr. Beaumaris' greeting, he inquired in concern, "Cassandra? You don't feel well still? Don't tell me you've worried yourself over your fight with Will?"
"What?" The mention of Will recalled her to her senses. "No, I--I...was just thinking of the party tonight. You know how excited I am at the thought of seeing the Darcys again."
"Are you really? You haven't expressed any overt desire to see Darcy again, though I know you missed Georgianna." Mr. Beaumaris' eyes were a cool grey, and they penetrated her face unnervingly.
"Well...I am curious to see how he's turned out after all these years."
Arabella laughed. "You'd say he was just the same as always, cold and proud." She cast her husband an affectionate glance.
"Of course, I remember a time when I once thought a certain gentleman haughty and aloof--I soon learned how greatly I was mistaken."
What? Oh, no, Cassandra Elizabeth, she scolded the person she was standing in for, you should never have believed that! "Why, I--I am not at all convinced he is a disagreeable fellow," she responded feebly. "I most eagerly look forward to seeing how the years have changed him. And if his sister's behaviour is anything like his, what is really diffidence may well be mistook for coldness."
Mr. Beaumaris studied his daughter. "You are much altered over the course of one evening! I wish Mr. Dowland could here you speak so sensibly now--he might regret taking your head off last night."
"Well, you let him," Cassandra retorted peevishly, remembering Ewa's remark that her father was very fond of that young man. "I daresay if anyone deserved a talking to, it was him! Coming into our house and belittling his hostess and being abominably rude! He is the most--the most--uncouth ruffian I have ever set eyes upon!"
Her father chuckled. "I believe you made your sentiments quite clear on that point. Fortunately you won't have to see him again for three months."
"Three months?" Cassie looked at him in alarm. Any other time she would rejoice--but would she be able to wait three months to meet him and find out what on earth they were doing here? Or could it be that the William Dowland she knew was safely tucked away in the year 1998? Was it possible that some other William Dowland, whose personality matched his exactly, was the one who had left for Austria? No--impossible! But then again, she was no longer in a position to deride anything as impossible...
The expression on her face caused her father and mother to exchange glances of significance. For someone so eager to be out of a certain young man's presence she had not reacted at all joyously at the thought of such a long separation. "He will, of course, be returning before he leaves for Cambridge in the fall."
"Oxford, he's going to Oxford," mumbled Cassie.
"Really?" remarked Arabella. "When did that change?"
"What? Oh, I--I suppose you're right, actually--I was confused."
"Austen is the one who's at Oxford, Cassie, or have you forgotten that, too?" Mr. Beaumaris rejoined with a pat on her back. "You know of course, he's coming home today."
"Austen? My...brother?" There expressions did not contradict this statement, and she gave an inward sigh of relief. "No, I--I didn't."
"Oh, Cassandra, where is your memory? He's coming home for the ball and he's bringing Henry Crawford with him."
Cassandra blanched. "Henry Crawford."
"Yes. You remember him, he and Austen met at school, he's been our guest here at Ballyshear several times, although you've never met him til now."
"Henry--Henry Crawford, the nephew of Admiral Crawford? The half-brother of Mrs. Grant?"
Arabella looked at her daughter in frank astonishment. "Why, yes--how on earth did you come to know of his connections? Have you met any of his family?"
Cassandra felt the blood rushing to her head. Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam, Mr. Crawford... "If you'll excuse me, please," she ventured faintly, holding a trembling hand up to prevent them from questioning her, "I think I shall go have breakfast."
Arabella began to protest and inquire what was wrong, but Mr. Beaumaris stopped her with a slight pressure on her arm. "You'll find it ready for you in the dining room," he instructed Cassie, who merely nodded and walked dazedly out of the room.
When she had gone Arabella fixed her husband with a gaze of uncertainty. "I came to tell you she was acting rather odd. Did you see the way she looked at us when we told her about that Mr. Crawford? You don't think she knows him! And what about her strange behaviour concerning William? And Darcy--she can't have changed her steadfast opinion of him!"
"She certainly seemed preoccupied. But, darling, I will not have you think yourself into a fit of premature worry. You'll only make her uncomfortable. Wait until Austen arrives, maybe she has communicated information to him which she has withheld from us."
"You don't think she actually has become acquainted with this Mr. Crawford?"
"I doubt it--he hasn't been near France, and she's been esconced there with her aunt and Miss Terror--excuse me, Miss DuBarry," laughed her husband.
"You should not be so flippant. You know Rachel is a charming young lady."
"Yes, I know it well--and if she had her way she'd be the most outlandish, outrageous Paris debutante that ever set foot into the English countryside. The way she's been scheming for the poor Colonel!"
"Well, I certainly can't hold her faults against her--they remind me too much of her uncle," replied Arabella fiendishly, snuggling her head contentedly against his shoulder. "But before we leave Cassandra, Robert--what do you think is bothering her?"
"My dear, I am convinced the only thing that could be bothering her is Will Dowland."
"Of course. She's upset because she misses him, and she's loathe to admit it to herself or anyone else. And to have him leave her in such a fit of anger--she's just guilt-ridden and peevish. Let her sit and pine away for him, and in three months, when he returns..." he trailed off.
"You do so want them to make a match of it," mused Arabella, "but I can't see it. They fight so much, and he always seems so displeased with her conduct..."
"Arabella, you know our daughter is a brilliant, intelligent young woman, and had she any severe faults of character you should have discerned and corrected them long ago. The things he upbraids her for--they are things only a man looking towards his future happiness would desire to correct."
"I cannot argue that point. It's so obvious that he loves her. But I wonder--if this last incident will not prove to discourage his affection."
"If true love could be discouraged by something so trivial," replied her husband before sweeping her into a ravishing kiss, "I would hardly call it true love."
Chapter 4 A
Posted on Saturday, 27 June 1998
Cassandra's thoughts were in turmoil as she exited the morning room and wandered dizzily down the foyer, headed she knew not where. She wanted---she had to---be alone to contemplate--nay, attempt to comprehend!--all that she had learned in the space of the past hour. She found her way to the seclusion of the dining room, where breakfast had been laid for her. She ate, though she had no appetite for anything but her thoughts.
That night, that very night, she was to attend a ball at Pemberley! Given in her honor, by none other than Fitzwilliam Darcy! Her young cousin Rachel appeared to be in love with Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was evidently there as well. Her brother, Austen, no doubt named after the family just as she, Cassandra, had been named after Jane Austen's sister, was bringing, that very afternoon, one Mr. Henry Crawford to stay at Ballyshear with them! Before, if she had known such company was to be hers, she would have been transported to the highest throes of elation. At present, though, Cassandra was thrown into such bewildered anguish she knew not how to support herself. It was little consolation that the very man whom she knew to be her father, Robert Beaumaris, was altogether so attractive himself, as to give her great discomfort in his presence. And above all people, the one man whom she actually
The irony of the situation she suddenly found herself in was too great not to be mulled over in its turn; yet Cassie's mind could not dwell on the complexities of her predicament right away. She had more pressing worries. For one thing…she could hardly remember
She had her prior knowledge of Crawford's character to vouch for her wariness…How could she best use her knowledge of the Darcys? She knew their characters as intimately as her own, and was blessed with a perfect memory of all their family and acquaintances which would no doubt astonish her mother and father as greatly as had her impromptu revelation of her knowledge of Mr. Crawford's history. She must not give away her advantage by shocking them all--suppose she were to slip and reveal to Mr. Darcy that she knew of Georgianna's tragic visit to Ramsgate!…but then, had that happened yet? Yes, by all accounts, that event had taken place the year before, after all, it was late summer, and undoubtedly…
She blanched. Undoubtedly, within a few very short months, Darcy and the Bingleys would be traveling to Hertfordshire…
Great God, it was already August! She only had a matter of weeks to captivate Darcy before he would go to Longbourn and meet Elizabeth Bennet! She was quite convinced that some great trick of destiny had decided that
Will Dowland might have the answer--if indeed he was there with her…but she would not see him for three months! Anything could happen in that span of time…by that time Darcy might be at Netherfield, and she, Cassie, would be stuck in Derbyshire, and who cared then where Will Dowland was?
She felt her lip tremble at the thought of being abandoned in 1812, and she was nearly on the verge of bursting into tears over her muffin and fruit, when the slam of a door behind her shattered her thoughts. She turned to the sound of a very bright, impertinent voice uttering a string of cheerful French phrases which she had no power to comprehend, and found before her a young lady dressed alluringly in blue, with tight black curls bouncing around a very small, round face. She entered noisily, and promptly plopped down in a chair beside Cassandra with a satisfied, "Salut! Bonjour!"
Cassandra stared, smiled weakly, and responded, "Hello…Rachel!"
Part 4 B
Posted on Monday, 29 June 1998
Author's note: Pardon my French!!! I aplogize if my character butchers the language--I'm a new student, and so at the mercy of my own ignorance.--AR :)
Rachel took one look at Cassandra's faded expression of cheerfulness and immediately sombered. "Why, Cassie, ma cherie , you're not mad at me still? S'il-vous plait, you cannot be. Why, I thought my heart would break last night when you and Will fought--and I was too scared to say a word, even though it was all on my account! Oh, I should never have come back with you from Paris! I am too much trouble, trop mauvais! Je suis la pire femme en tout L'angleterre! "
Cassie was not quite sure what to reply to this, so she just smiled what she hoped was her agreement. To her dismay Rachel's eyes widened alarmingly, and her childlike countenance--surprisingly innocent considering the degree of mischief Cassandra had learned to attribute to her--filled with despair.
"Oh! You do hate me!" Cassie shook her head to no avail. Ah, oui! Tu es fâchée! Bête, bête Rachel!" And Miss DuBarry began to cry.
Rallying herself, Cassie slipped an arm around Rachel's small shoulders. "Of course I don't, dearest! You know I'm delighted you came back with me from France." A slight pause ensued, while Rachel continued to sob, and Cassie pondered what else to say. "You know," she ventured, gathering warmth, "that I would never allow Will Dowland to come between the two of us!"
Rachel's spirits brightened and she sat up. "Jamais?"
Rachel nearly desisted, but doubt remained on her features, and she eyed Cassandra warily. "Tu es serieuse? I hope you don't think I meant to make him fâché with you. He was being so awfully orgueilleux, tu comprends, and you were so obstiné aussi--I couldn't help being un peu espiègle! Besides, I just wanted to see what his reaction would be--I had no idea he would be so mechant!!"
Cassie managed a small laugh. She had understood half of her vivacious cousin's outpouring, but the part which she comprehended inclined her to think rather well of Miss DuBarry. "I assure you, your fears are most unwarranted. Indeed, I can't imagine why Mr. Dowland's little tantrum should have made me so angry at all." An unconscious blush rose in her cheeks. Her mind went back to the previous afternoon's argument, the one with her Will Dowland. Had she been right to be so upset? Perhaps she would never know. She sighed. Apparently some things were timeless.
"Oh, Mssr. Dowland is a fine man--so elegant and tall!"
Cassie nearly choked on her laughter. Rachel looked askance at her. "Well, even if you do not think so, il est vraiment sophistique. Je le trouve très sympa--even if you don't. Besides, you've known him for so long your perspective is wrong." Rachel smiled away the protest forming in Cassandra's throat, and added an instant later, rather dreamily, "Besides--il a de beaux yeaux."
Something about the tone of her cousin's voice when she uttered this last phrase, though she had no idea what Rachel had said--caused Cassie to feel a slight twinge of annoyance. "Oh, really?" she countered, her green eyes flashing. "Well, if you're so intriguée about Will, what shall I tell the colonel tonight at the ball?"
Instantly Rachel's head shot up, all thoughts of Will Dowland fled from her mind. "Fitzwilliam? Oh, please, Cassie, do not mention any other man within the same breath as the Colonel! Why, personne, no one has such looks, such good taste, such gentility, such a romantic heart! I am quite convinced he is--to quote Mssr. le Bard--"he is the only man of England!"
Am I talking to the incarnation of Marianne Dashwood? Cassie thought amusedly. It's too bad the Colonel's name isn't Brandon! "Oh, Cassie, he has promised me two dances tonight! I am so nerveuse I shall faint the moment he looks at me! But if he asks you to dance the first two, you won't keep him for longer, will you?--but then, of course, you shall probably be asked to dance with Darcy, since he is the host and you the guest of honour. Why, ma couisine, qu'est-ce la problemme?"
"Mr. Darcy's fondness for the activity has improved, then?" sputtered Cassandra.
"What? Lord, je ne sais pas! I don't imagine he'll refuse to honour you, though, even if he does detest it--he's too much of a gentleman for that."
"How do you know? You've never seen him."
"Yes, I did, don't you remember? We were riding out towards Lambton un jour and we caught sight of Darcy and his sister in the barouche. Remember, those people were with him-- the other, light-haired gentleman and that tall, spindly lady. They were too far away to greet, but you said the others were guests of the Darcys and the lady was the gentleman's sister. The Bean-- Binghams-"
"The Bingleys," sighed Cassie. So now, it appeared, on top of the company of the colonel, the Bingleys were also to be in attendance? Would this influx of acquaintances never end? "And so they did not stop and greet us, did they? Hardly surprising, given Mr. Darcy's company. Miss Bingley could have had no desire to stop and converse with two country ladies on horseback."
"Oh, but they couldn't, we were headed in the opposite direction, after all! The carriage slowed and Miss. Georgianna waved to us--remember how surprised you were at her being so forward? I daresay she's changed from the shy girl you always said she was."
"Doubtless age and--experience has improved her," Cassie concurred warily. "But nonetheless she still requires time and a healthy environment to enliven her personality and add the sparkle of gaiety to the grace she already has."
The manner in which Cassie spoke did not escape her friend. "And who better than you to undertake the task?" Cassandra remained silent, but looked archly away. "Can you have your own motivation for wishing to befriend dear Georgie?" Rachel continued slyly. "Surely Mssr. Darcy will be very grateful for your influence!" Cassie blushed. "You have your eyes upon cet grand gentleman?" Her cousin's expression did not discourage the idea. "Oh, la la la la!" laughed Rachel in triumph. "You have chosen un homme formidable! Why, he probably has women right and left falling down in front of him--you'd have to be une goddesse to win him!"
"And who says I can't?" Cassie retorted saucily, her eyes lit with excitement at the prospect of being in his presence. After all, I have inside information…
"Why, no one! Oh, Cassie, je voudrais très beaucoup for both of us to fall in love with our Fitzwilliams! Mine can be Fitz, and yours can be--" Rachel paused. Fitzwilliam Darcy was hard to condense.
Cassie nearly suggested, "Fwood," but the thought made her homesick, and she realized she would never be able to use the term without dissolving into laughter. Nevermind that she would undoubtedly never be able to look at him without thinking of the epithet! "I shall not dare to call him anything except Mr. Darcy, and you can have the satisfaction of Fitz all to yourself--though I daresay the Colonel would be most taken aback at your informality! Has he given you permission to take such liberties with his name?"
"Oh, no, not yet," Rachel answered unconcernedly. "Of course, the time will come when I will be able to call him whatever I wish!"
This confidence alarmed Cassandra. "What? You cannot mean to tell me your acquaintance has so progressed that he has--"
"What? Oh, no, Cassandra, not at all! But I mean for it to, you see, and dear Fitz--he is so adorable!--he's sure to follow through and get the hint eventually. Oh, Cassie! I wonder what sort of husband he will be? Surely I will have the most dashing, handsomest man in Europe--won't I be the envy of Paris when I take him there?"
Cassandra held her tongue. It was abominable, being thrown headlong into such a situation. While it was obvious her cousin had no qualms about being as unreserved with her as possible, she could not know how much influence she had over Rachel, or if any of her cautionary words would be greeted with any sort of seriousness. Thankfully, Rachel was not a Lydia! She had at least more taste, more natural good sense--though, Cassie thought, hiding a smile, her opinion of Will Dowland was certainly not testament to it!
As if reading her mind, Rachel, who had been rambling away on the subject of her love for the colonel, suddenly interrupted herself with, "But how singular! If I'd known about your interest in Darcy I would never have teased Mssr. Dowland at all! I wonder what he'd say if he knew?"
"Knew? About what?"
"About you admiring Mssr. Darcy!"
"Why should he have anything to say about it?" Cassandra replied hotly. "And if he did have anything to say, what in the world could it matter?" Rachel pursed her lips firmly and hesitated. She finally decided not to reply, but muttered something in French under her breath. "What was that?" Cassie suddenly felt uncomfortable.
"I said," Rachel responded irritably, "Je comprend qu'il aurait un gran mal de jalousie."
Cassie stared. "Jealous." Her stone countenance decided Miss DuBarry not to answer. "You think Will Dowland…" she could not complete the thought, so foreign was the idea to everything her senses could comprehend.
Rachel saw her cousin's disturbance at the thought was very real, and with alarm she hastily emended, "Oh, but you know me, Cassandra! I love to imagine romance wherever I can! I might have thought he had a slight tendre for you, but--who am I to say? I hardly know him, and you certainly could tell if I were right."
Cassandra sat in stupefaction. Could she tell, if it came down to that? She had known Will all her life, but only in the twentieth century, not the nineteenth. And certainly everyone seemed to make so much out of their argument the preceding night--could her mother--could Arabella have really been serious when she spoke of Cassie's dancing with him at the assembly tonight? Oh, thank heaven he was out of the country!
"Tu es très amusante, ma cherie," she smiled at last, relaxing when relief swept over Rachel's features. "Let's just be glad dear Mssr. Dowland is safely on his way to Austria, and that he doesn't have to know a thing about either of our Fitzwilliams."
Rachel giggled. "Ah, mais oui!" For the first time she straightened and looked around her at the table and the food that was set before them, fresh and inviting. "Mon dieu! Have you eaten yet?"--not noticing the crumbs of Cassandra's muffin and toast. "Je suis mort de faim!"
Immediately, to Cassie's infinite gratitude, conversation ceased as Rachel busied herself with acquiring a plate full of fruit and pastries. Cassie wondered whether to excuse herself, but no sooner had Miss DuBarry seen to her meal than she promptly began again, this time on trivial subjects which both diverted Miss Beaumaris and allowed her to reflect upon the many thoughts crowding her brain and vying for attention. Among the foremost was her impression of the exuberant girl beside her; she was too outspoken, to be sure, but Cassandra was liked Rachel, and was quite certain she would grow to esteem her even more than she did at present.
She was beginning to rejoice in Miss DuBarry's company, for while entertaining, the conversation at hand was not of a sort which required her full attention, and Cassandra found a better use for it, in contemplating the character of Fitzwilliam Darcy, and determinedly not contemplating Will Dowland's.
So engrossed was she in the attempt--indeed it was rather more of a pitched battle against his image, which would surface most unreasonably just when she had turned her mind towards the prospect of dancing with Darcy that night at Pemberley--that she failed to note the entrance of Mr. Beaumaris, despite the formidable sound of his heavy, determined tread against the hard oak floor. He came in, greeted his niece warmly, and then spoke to his daughter. "Cassie, dearest--Cassandra…" she was lost in thought, and so he gently put a hand on her shoulder and was taken aback when she jumped at his touch.
"Oh! I'm sorry--yes? Sir?" she managed, staring up at him with wide eyes. Robert Beaumaris eyed her, pondering what change had come over his dearest Cassandra, and wondering if indeed her fight with William was the cause.
"I have the great pleasure of informing you lovely ladies that Austen is returned from London."
"Oh, is he really?" cried Rachel. "So soon? I thought he wasn't due back til this afternoon."
"He has surprised us, as usual," said Mr. Beaumaris with a pleasant smile, and a good deal of affection in his voice. He kept his hand on Cassandra's shoulder, and despite the fact that the contact unnerved her, she recognized the love evident in the gesture, and warmed to the thought that such a man was her--father. Yes. For all intents and purposes, he was her father.
"Shall we go outside and greet him?" she asked with a smile, which was answered by a gentle upturning of Mr. Beaumaris' lips.
"I should think you'd better, Cassie," he said good-humoredly, "or else he'll be furious with you. You know you can't expect him to bring home a guest and find no one outside to give him the hero's welcome he obviously expects."
"The hero's welcome, sir, or the prodigal's?" his daughter rejoined, and the expression which entered his eyes told her Mr. Beaumaris was reflecting that such a reply was more like the Cassandra he was used to.
"I leave that up to your discretion, my dear. But as for Mr. Crawford, I'm rather inclined to think the latter circumstance more applicable."
Cassie's brief spurt of normalcy could not last, for instantly her features paled, and she repeated, "Oh…Mr. Crawford, is it? How could I forget?" Under her father's intense scrutiny she shakily rose from the table and continued, "I suppose we can't possibly overlook him, can we?" and calmly nodded for Mr. Beaumaris to precede her out of the dining room and into the long hallway which led to the entrance of Ballyshear. Beyond its massive doors awaited a brother she had never before laid eyes on…and, what was infinitely more daunting--
Posted on Friday, 3 July 1998
Upon first stepping outside into the bright, cloudless August afternoon, Cassandra could see nothing, so blinded was she by the piercing introduction of the sun, which momentarily obstructed everything before her. An instant later, however, the view changed, as a loud and affectionate bark was accompanied by a pair of heavy paws thrust upon her shoulders. She found herself staring a huge German shepherd in the face, its eager nose snuffing her cheeks in excitement, its thick pink tongue lolling dangerously near her skin. "Whoah!" was her initial reaction, immediately followed by the stern remonstrance of Mr. Beaumaris.
"Sandy! Down!" The dog obligingly removed its legs from the forefront of Cassandra's pelisse, and turned its frisky head to her master, who rewarded her with a brief, affectionate pat on the head---much like his connection with his daughter, thought Cassandra good-humoredly. The dog was accompanied by another, aged mongrel who rested adoringly near her master's feet and was fondly referred to by that gentleman as Ulysses, causing Cassie to wonder how such a mutt could have won a place in the hallowed halls of Ballyshear. She had just resolved to find out the dog's history with Mr. Beaumaris, when Arabella joined them at the door. She was the first to bypass Sandy and make her way down the marble steps of Ballyshear, towards the two gentlemen who were even now stepping out of the chaise and directing their smiles at the welcoming party.
Cassandra was relieved Arabella went before her, for by appearance or behaviour she could not discern who was Austen Beaumaris and who was Henry Crawford. Both were tall young men of distinguished figures and tasteful dress--neither was particularly outstanding in countenance, but the light hair and playful features of one was countered by the sallow complexion and dark, high brow of the other, providing a sufficient contrast to make both appear striking. Both advanced towards Mrs. Beaumaris with familiarity, and though Cassie knew that Henry Crawford had visited Ballyshear several times the degree of intimacy seemed slightly inappropriate to her mind, at least, though as yet she could not tell to which of the two gentleman to attribute the fault.
"Austen! Thank God you are arrived safely!" Arabella went to the second, dark-featured young man and embraced him with all the warmth of her character. He returned the gesture, and a smile of generous proportions lit his somber countenance. She took his face in her hands and kissed him on both cheeks. "I should have known you would trick us all and arrive ahead of schedule! Did you have a safe trip?"
"Not a bump the whole drive from Oxford," said Austen genially. "We stopped in Leicester for the night, a quaint little inn, lovely---and then we came straightaway to Derby. Nothing could be easier." He embraced his adoring mother once more for good measure, then turned his attention to the rest of his family, who had descended the steps to the courtyard to meet them in good stead. "Cassie!" His voice grew animated. "Cass, have you really come back from Paris looking so lovely?" and before she knew it she was in the arms of Austen Beaumaris, being vigorously hugged. "I would never have recognized you--turn around, let me see you!" his surprise and admiration were readily evident, and she wondered what kind of a fright she had presented before she went away. "Two years and you have to grow up on me--why, Cassandra!"
She wanted to speak, but as yet was too frightened of saying something completely inappropriate, so she only looked her pleasure. Austen Beaumaris was indeed a fine-looking young man. Not as handsome as Will Dowland, but then again, not possessed of such a sober, grave countenance. His eyes sparkled with the same lively green hues as her own; his black brows arched above fine lashes, and a firm jawline accented his wide and engaging smile. Appraising him, and seeing the love present for herself in his aspect, she began to like him on the spot. She had no brothers---in her next life?---and she welcomed the thought of having this gallant play the part. She welcomed him back with real warmth, and released him to go to his father with a broad smile.
While Austen greeted Mr. Beaumaris, whose demeanour had melted altogether into the tender, gentle father Cassie suspected him of being all along, she turned her attention to the other of the two gentlemen. Her glance wavered as their eyes met, for Henry Crawford was known and yet not known to her, and one look at his elegant figure, his pleasing manners, and his determined air of amiability, was enough to put her own her guard. He was not exactly handsome---his features lacked the distinctions of firm chin, defined lip and intriguing brow which Cassandra was used to feel necessary for that title---but judging from his current behaviour, he more than made up for his lack of looks in his demeanour, which was calculated to give pleasure. Already he was relating the details of his trip with a regaling levity to Arabella, who listened happily, since her own son had failed to deliver half the required information---who they had seen, the state of their rooms on their journey, whether or not they had had rough weather---and interspersed with his witty remarks he shot Cassandra a look of conspiratorial cheer, as if to say, "Mothers? What can you do with them?" Cassie hardly knew how to answer such a look, and reflected that had her knowledge of him not been tainted by Mansfield Park she might have immediately felt for him the same ready affection that she felt for Austen---though one was her brother, the other appeared to have all the characteristics she most liked---wit, charm, and affability. Austen was tender, but perhaps a bit too much like...
Her thoughts were torn away from the direction they were heading, to her infinite relief, by Henry Crawford's addressing her with, "And I see all Austen has told me about his charming and irrepressible sister has not lived up to the reality by half---my dear Miss Beaumaris, it is an absolute pleasure."
Cassandra had never been complimented with so many complex clauses in her life. "Why, sir, your kindness does you credit," she stammered, hoping she'd approximated the style of gallant speech she had so often seen depicted in her Regency novels.
"Oh, no, madam, I assure you," responded Mr. Crawford suavely.
"Mr. Crawford, what a pleasure this is. Why has it taken you so long to impose upon our hospitality?" Mr. Beaumaris genially came to his guest and, rather by design, Cassandra thought, inserted himself between the charming young man and his engaging young daughter, clapping him heartily on the shoulder with a violence that was perhaps intended to make Mr. Crawford jolt forward and cough as he did. Cassandra stifled a laugh. She was beginning to like her surrogate father more and more.
"Ooh, la la, mademoiselle, you look ainsi sophistique!"
"Merci, Mme. DuBarry," smiled Cassandra as she examined herself in the mirror. The deep red of her silk frock brought out her dark olive complexion, and made her reflect that she looked on the whole, rather well, though a bit more tanned than she would have liked. Then, however, recalling that Mr. Darcy had reflected that Elizabeth had looked none the worse for her many days spent in the sun, decided that after all, a dark skin might be more to her advantage.
She smiled to herself as she adjusted her spencer and grabbed her reticule. "I always wanted one of these," she murmured as she sorted the items in the thin velvet pouch.
"What, dear?" her mother countered as she entered her daughter's dressing room, where she and Rachel, surrounded by maids and the remnants of half a day's labour over hair, face, hems, and perfumes, were at last preparing to leave. She looked lovely, her blonde hair piled gracefully upon her head and curling around her face in adorable little wisps, her cream muslin dress flowing long and smooth over her chemise. Rachel was similarly attired, not too alluringly, as befitted a young lady on her coming out---for though Rachel had attended many livelier parties the previous year in town, the distinctions of a Paris gala were nothing like the simpler proprieties of a small English ball, and for all intents and purposes, Miss DuBarry must consider herself as being introduced to proper society for the first time.
Her governess, Miss Kent, stood anxiously watching her charge prance about the room in her becoming lavendar gown, her dusky locks bouncing with each exuberant laugh that emerged from her lovely young throat. Cassandra reflected that it was a shame Miss Kent had not been invited to Pemberley this evening, for truly, her good sense and beauty did as much credit to the family as any of its members. In a society comprised of gentlemen and ladies of lesser stature, she might have been able to move comfortably in and out of the circle of acquaintances the Beaumaris shared, but of course, Pemberley would never think of extending the invitation to one not born a gentlewoman. It was a pity, she thought. When she married Mr. Darcy, her influence would no doubt soften his characteristic pride...
This reflection led to the other, more daunting one---what on earth would she do about Lady Catherine?---and her complexion took on an added pallour as Ewa fastened around her neck the crowning glory of her attire, a ruby finely cut and embedded in diamonds. It was an heirloom descended from Arabella's great-grandmother, and Cassandra noticed Mrs. Beaumaris watching her intently as she brought her hand to cover the great stone with her palm. "I hope you like it," she said calmly, and Cassandra cast her a look of incredulity.
"Not like this---it's the most magnificent stone--oh, mother!"
"It is one of the most prized possessions of my family," smiled Arabella. "My mother wore it to her first ball, and I to my first assembly at Allmacks, and...well, I know you have never desired to make your appearance anywhere so noisy, but I thought tonight was a special occasion."
"Oh, Arabella," cried Cassandra, impetuously using her mother's Christian name, much to that lady's surprise, "I assure you it is!" She thought of Mr. Beaumaris courting Miss Tallent then. Would Mr. Darcy continue the tradition tonight? Her skin thrilled at the thought, and the goosebumps which arose on her arms convinced her mother that she was nervous.
"Dearest, I promise you have nothing to be worried about," she said soothingly, reaching an arm around Cassie's shoulders. "Doesn't she look lovely?" she addressed the general assembly of ladies present and was greeted by a chorus of agreement.
"Indeed, Mrs. Beaumaris, she's the picture of elegance," Ewa volunteered, her smile wide and full of excitement. An occasion like this one must be enough to excite everyone in the household, thought Cassandra, even those not directly connected to the event in question.
"Oh, Aunt Arabella, do I not look so much taller than I did this morning? Sacre bleu, these shoes make me feel as though I were on stilts!"
"Do not tromp around on the balls of your feet, dear, and you will manage much better," instructed Miss Kent.
Rachel pouted but submitted happily enough. "Just think, Cassandra, tonight you will meet ce bonne homme, Mssr. le Colonel. I hope you will not be too friendly with him, for, as beautiful as you look he's bound to fall in love with you, and then pauvre Rachel!" Her dejected frown was met by many laughs, and, always glad of extracting a smile from her onlookers, Miss DuBarry instantly banished all gloomy thoughts from her mind, and with an impatient, "But we waste time---on to Pemberley, allons!" she herded them out of the room and downstairs, where they met their escorts, all devastating in their dark dresscoats and silk cravats---the sight of Mr. Beaumaris and his dashing waterfall necktie was enough to make both mother and daughter draw in a breath, while Rachel, observing the friendly elegance of Mr. Crawford was convinced she was being escorted by the most gallant young man in all the world---she considered the Colonel long past the age of "young."
They took the barouche---so Cassandra thought, for she assumed a gentleman of Mr. Beaumaris' quality would drive nothing less to a party given by the Darcys---still she could not ask, and had no firsthand knowledge enough to tell whether they came by landau or hack---but the thrill or riding in a genuine carriage was not sufficient enough to to drive away her mounting anticipation; indeed, every bend in the road which brought them nearer to Pemberley, while jolting the occupants of the barouche out of their light-hearted conversations, continually jolted Cassandra into a heightened frenzy of worry, doubt, and exhilaration. Too, too soon, the final bend in the road appeared, and she beheld, along with the rest of the group, the brilliantly lit rooms of Pemberley, doubly lit by the reflection of that great hall in the lake that extended directly below the wide, immense lawn. At least, Cassandra supposed it was immense, as twilight had settled upon the land with rapidity, and the approaching darkness obscured all natural aspects of the view. She easily discerned, however, that Pemberley looked nothing like the building in the A&E film, and she was rather disconcerted at the thought that perhaps, after all, Darcy would not look so much like Colin Firth...but these thoughts barely had time to form before they were all banished by the firm announcement of Mr. Beaumaris:
"Well, here we are. Pemberley, at last."
Chapter 6 A
Posted on Friday, 3 July 1998
Henry Crawford handed Cassandra out of the carriage with a smile, and the words, "Rather a grand place, I'd say."
As she observed the huge greystone structure that was Pemberley towering before them, its every room lit with the glow of a thousand flickering candles, Cassandra could have boxed his ears for such a banal statement. Had she the use of her tongue at the moment she might have conjured a myriad of adjectives which would have served the place better, but they too seemed shabby in view of the sight before her: Pemberley, the object of her adoration and her dreams for so long, its lush pastures and gardens stretching beyond the lake, which shimmered invitingly in the moonlight; Pemberley, with its high stone walls and innumerable cut-glass windows, its two towers reigning above the countryside like sentinels keeping watch over their own private kingdom; Pemberley, with its wide courtyard, lined with the livery of the finest houses of the neighbourhood, its tall, polished mahogany doors, opened with such grave decorum by an elegantly-clad servant; Pemberley, whose threshold she was even now being ushered across; Pemberley, with its ornate crystal chandelier dangling from a ceiling twenty feet high in a foyer of marble floors and ivory balustrades, ending at last before a high mahogany staircase, extending up several floors in ornate splendour; Pemberley, with its oakwood paneling, its great row of life-size portraits lining the entryway, depicting men and women genteel as itself, with its beckoning terraces overlooking the spacious grounds beyond, its everlasting hallways bypassing room after room after room; Pemberley, with its huge length of rich velvet curtains overhanging Venetian windows which stretched from ceiling to floor; Pemberley, with lush, colorful tapestries and intricate paintings gracing the walls, stately Chippendale desks and Louis IV furniture ornamenting the rooms; Pemberley, with its two engraved doors of polished white oak gilded with fine gold leaf, opening into the longest room she had ever seen, full of people, their finery surpassed only by the house itself; the ballroom of Pemberley, painted in subtle greens and burgandies, narrow and interminable from one end to another, the pianoforte at the end of the room, so elegant and new, the gentlemen lined up on one side of the floor, the ladies on another, six magnificent brass lights above, dripping with wax candles and glowing brighter than Apollos; Pemberley, home of Fitzwilliam Darcy, who was somewhere amidst this throng who stared at her so curiously and threatened moment by moment to make her faint dead away and never, ever reawaken....
All the while Cassandra was gathering her wits and composing herself for the ordeal ahead of her, conversation was floating in one ear and out the other; Rachel had not stopped discussing the colonel since she entered the carriage, and rather than time decreasing her discourse on the subject, she now gathered increasing energy as she walked through his residence. "Oh, Cassandra, c'est magnifique! It is so...so...perfect! And le bonne Colonel Fitzwilliam, he will someday be owner, no?"
"No, Rachel," replied Austen, who was escorting her with a decorum that contrasted humourously with that lady's spirited demeanour. "It is all Darcy's---it will go to his sister upon his death, unless he marries, and has a son."
"He means to marry, though, no?" Said Rachel slyly, with half a glance for Cassandra, who hardly heard. "Surely such a man, he cannot be lonely toujours, can he?" As their party entered the ballroom no one deigned to reply to her question, and it was immediately forgotten in light of the scene before them. They advanced hesitantly, except for Mr. Beaumaris and his wife, who confidently strode into the room. Well, naturally, thought their daughter enviously, they have all the advantage of knowing who their neighbours are! She was alert for sign or sight of Darcy, and when Rachel leaned forward and, pointing surreptitiously, whispered, "There he is," Cassie had never been more grateful for her presence.
He stood in the far corner of the room, conversing with several ladies and gentlemen, and at first Cassandra was hardly stricken more by his appearance than by his easy familiarity with the people of Derbyshire. He had much lighter features, a kinder smile, and a more playful expression about his eyes, than Cassandra would ever have supposed the proud Darcy to own, had she not had advance knowledge that when in his own element he behaved with much more ease than elsewhere. He looked in their direction, and cast them an idle glance; but upon recognizing the figure of Rachel he smiled slightly and favored the ladies with a nod. Cassandra was rather disappointed that his gaze was not arrested at the sight of her, for she had been determined that their eyes would meet 'across a crowded room;' and that after once catching sight of each other, they would need no introduction, but be wordlessly drawn together in the middle of the crowd around them, where they would proceed to dance every dance together for the remainder of the evening...She held back a sigh as he looked away again, apparently unaffected by her lovely silk number.
"...and look! There's his cousin," Rachel continued, indicating yet another corner of the room where a tall, distinguished gentleman stood conversing with a young lady, and looking as if he would much rather be somewhere else. "What think you of him?" asked Miss DuBarry with a giggle, as Cassandra swept her glance over Colonel Fitzwilliam, admiring his darkly handsome features and wondering briefly why he wasn't in uniform. He certainly was attractive, though not of the type to draw a young lady of Rachel's tastes, she would have supposed. He had not Mr. Darcy's charm, she could see that instantly. Undoubtedly he lacked the hauteur necessary for the hero of her favorite novel. No. No, she already knew the colonel could never be half as gallant, half as handsome, half as witty, half---anything!---as Fitzwilliam Darcy. Perhaps his demeanour belied the calm serenity of his countenance, but, on the whole, Cassandra was unimpressed.
She pondered her reply for a moment, and then answered soberly, the tiniest of smiles flickering about her lips, "Oh...he is tolerable, I suppose, but not handsome enough to tempt me."
Rachel stopped and gaped at her cousin; Austen, coming up beside her in time to hear her verdict, chuckled quietly. "What?" Cassandra asked him, bemused at his gentle laughter. He did not have an opportunity to reply, however, for Mr. Crawford answered for him, his riotous guffaw seconding the more solemn amusement of her brother.
"Well, the way you've been discussing Darcy, one would think you were ready to bow down to him as a king, and now it seems you find him only tolerable!"
Cassandra paled, and her eyes flew back to the man she had regarded so scathingly a moment before. That figure, that brow, that---that smirk, the passionate gaze as his eyes roved about the room in evident boredom---oh, Darcy! Heavens, that she should know him and not know him! She suddenly felt rather weak-kneed; of course, she should have known the only 'he' on Rachel's mind would not be the master of the house, but rather its occupant---how had she mistaken the gravity of one for the jocularity of the other? The friendliness of the colonel for the cool politeness of his cousin? Oh, Cassandra!
While she was still reeling Darcy's glance meandered in her direction, and upon recognizing her father and mother greeting some friends his brows lifted, and his eyes traveled to the four who stood nearest, Mr. and Miss Beaumaris, their cousin, and Mr. Crawford. The moment arrived: he saw Cassandra; her eyes widened slightly, but from across the room she impulsively sank into a deep, slow curtsey that brought the eyes of all nearby to gaze at her. With a bit more difficulty she rose, to find his eyes still resting on her in an appraising, cool manner; his expression was unreadable, but he mentioned something to the lady with whom he conversed, and she, turning to look at Cassandra, instantly expressed such immediate gratification at the sight of them all, that Cassandra knew Darcy had just revealed her presence to his sister, Georgianna.
The young lady lifted her long, flowing muslin skirt and eagerly came towards them. Her brother followed in turn, and stopped before Mr. Beaumaris and Arabella. "Sir," said Darcy briefly, a tiny, grim smile on his lips as he shook hands with Cassie's father and they exchanged bows. If Mr. Beaumaris had known what an effect that simple syllable had upon his daughter, as being the first utterance she ever heard the love of her life speak---how many lovers had that memory to keep locked away in their hearts forever? Darcy took Arabella's hand courteously, and she curtseyed with grave decorum, absolutely the epitome of grace---Cassandra had never before seen a woman of such effortless refinement. Miss Darcy returned the gesture with a bit more awkwardness, but with such real sincerity and pleasure radiating from her lovely countenance that it was impossible not to overlook her timidity. Georgianna had a beautiful face, wide brown eyes and hair the colour of cider. Her cheekbones were high and her chin well-defined, and she resembled her brother in the clarity of her profile and the alertness of mind which her keen eyes betrayed. Darcy's countenance registered gratitude to Mr. Beaumaris for having enlivened him in an evening of acute boredom; his sister's, wonder, that such a pleasurable evening should be so agreeably heightened by the addition of themselves as guests.
She had not presence of mind enough to make such a flattering statement, as she had seen other ladies do; still, she drew in a deep breath, and stammered passably well, "Will you do my brother and myself the honour of reacquainting us with your family and their guests, Mrs. Beaumaris?" Arabella smiled down at Miss Darcy, and under such a benevolent gesture her pallid cheeks grew less so, and she smiled even more broadly. She was really very beautiful, Cassandra thought---anyone who did not notice her bashfulness would think her a born cosmopolite.
"My son, Mr. Austen Beaumaris," said Arabella gently. Austen stepped forward and gravely took Miss Darcy's hand. The contact embarrassed them both, and Cassandra was amused to note that her brother, two years older than herself, still behaved the schoolboy around women---at least, around this one. His uncertain gaze into her uplifted face was countered by the wavering one her eyes maintained, flitting anxiously everywhere upon everyone, and back at last to his own, there to hold her glance an instant longer than she dared, and finally sink down to the floor in silent mortification.
"A pleasure, Miss Darcy," said Austen with an expression that indicated quite different thoughts, and then with a bow to his host he quickly stepped away again and was lost in the crowd. Cassandra thought such anti-social behaviour from a Beaumaris a bit odd, but she was beginning to see that her elder brother had no inclination for company, and had much rather sit alone in the library with a good book than parade himself before an assembly such as this. Arabella and Mr. Beaumaris, if they noticed anything striking on their son's part, ignored it, and Mrs. Beaumaris continued the introduction with her daughter, Miss Beaumaris. The two young ladies smiled upon each other and curtsied solemnly, but upon rising Georgianna stepped forward, beaming, and kissed Cassandra on the cheek.
"Dear Miss Beaumaris!" she cried eagerly, pressing her slim hand into Cassandra's, "I've wanted to see you for so long! How did you find Paris?"
"Georgianna," the voice beside her reprimanded gently. She instantly coloured, and seemed about to sink under her momentary mortification, but the presence of friends, and her own brother's kind smile---which nearly caused one of her guests to let out the breath she had been holding for some time in a long sigh---supported her, and instead of being ashamed Miss Darcy merely smiled sheepishly.
"But I do forget myself. Miss Beaumaris. My brother, Mr. Darcy."
"Charmed," he said briefly, his eyes roaming fleetingly over her once more. Cassandra met his gaze steadily---indeed, upon meeting his deep, soft brown eyes she doubted she would be able to look elsewhere for the remainder of the night---and as he bowed over her hand she fancied the tiniest smile graced his countenance.
"Mr. Darcy, it has been some time since I had the honour of seeing you here," she began brightly. "It appears you and your estate share the same qualities, for you both improve with age."
She meant her rather impromptu remark to be the merest compliment, but to her surprise he looked up; amusement entered his features, and he replied calmly, "You no doubt recall, Miss Beaumaris, the time when as a youth I allowed you and Georgianna to be lost in the maze here at Pemberley, whereupon, after you did manage to make your way out, some hours later, you swore that I was a villain and that you should never have pleasure in looking upon me again. I trust that time has improved your spirits as well."
"Oh, Mr. Darcy, you must forgive my impudence," responded Cassandra with a laugh, though unsettled by his coolness. "It has not diminished, for I am about to inform you that one could withstand the company of a great many villians for the pleasure of an evening at Pemberley."
To her surprise---again---his expression remained cool, and he merely made some polite remark about her enjoying herself, before transferring his gaze to Miss DuBarry. She stepped dutifully away and exchanged a glance with Arabella. Their host was indeed impressive, but---civil, and civil only! Where was the wit, the charm, the engaging smile...perhaps she did not know Darcy after all!
Rachel had stepped forward, curtsied, and said gaily to Mr. Darcy, "Sir, thank you so much for inviting us to Pemberley! I have never seen un maison plus magnifique!" Her good-natured exuberance brought a smile to Darcy's lips at last, and as he bowed he responded in perfect French.
The others laughed---not knowing what he said, Cassandra could only smile. She was studying her host, ingraining his dark curls, swept back over his high brow, his graceful hands, intense eyes, delicately formed mouth, the cut of his sideburns, into her memory. Feeling her gaze he involuntarily glanced at Cassandra as Rachel stepped away and Mr. Beaumaris introduced Henry Crawford; upon meeting her eyes the tiniest light of interest entered his own, and he allowed them to linger on her face long enough to ascertain that the interest was not all on his part. She felt her heart flutter at the connection, but it was too brief a moment to cause elation. Without so much as a pause in the conversation he turned to Mr. Crawford and bowed.
The latter gentleman had been observing their host's manner of appraising the company before him, and it was undoubtedly by design that he wasted no time in informing Darcy of his connections both to the family of Beaumaris and to his uncle the Admiral, so that Mr. Darcy might have ample cause to find him a gentleman of good standing and good fortune. Mr. Crawford spoke with an ease that seemed to place him on equal footing with the host; and Cassandra shrewdly noted that this behaviour did not increase his favour with Darcy, who was undoubtedly accustomed to being accorded absolute deference by everybody in sight. The thought that Henry Crawford, simply by being himself, was imposing on Fitzwilliam Darcy, brought an impulse of laughter, and she turned away so that her smile was unseen. Darcy caught her amusement, however, for she was close enough to him that he observed her movement; perhaps his indignation caused him to be a bit more gruff in his compliments to Mr. Crawford than otherwise.
His sister made up for his aloofness in her overabundance of solicitude; for she was anxious to please and be pleased, and, the two aims uniting themselves so perfectly in the person of Henry Crawford, whose compliments reduced her to a rosy bundle of nerves, she could hardly help the gracious smiles and sincere good wishes she gave him. Had Darcy been less focused on not noticing the intent expression of Cassandra Beaumaris he might have registered how well Crawford's charming manner agreed with his sister; as it was he noted only that Mr. Crawford was a pleasing, simple sort of gentleman, and that it would not be unpleasant to have him in company.
The two families conversed some minutes longer. While Cassandra was eager to attend to the conversation of Darcy with her father, Georgianna's eyes were fixed on her in an entreaty of friendship, and so she relinquished her desire to speak with the host in favour of the pleasant alternative of talking to Miss Darcy. She had the satisfaction of noting his gaze resting on her occasionally, and so she glowed with exhilaration and her demeanour took on an added confidence from the knowledge that she had captured the attention, at least momentarily, of the greatest personage in Derybshire.