Thorough-Bass and Human Nature: Miss Darcy Intervenes

A light snow had fallen overnight in Derbyshire, and Georgiana Darcy and her companion, Mrs. Annesley, had muffled themselves to the eyebrows before the front doors of Pemberley were opened and they stepped out into the early-morning sunlight. Colonel Fitzwilliam, in greatcoat and muffler, waited to hand them into the first of two coaches that would make the two-day journey to Netherfield and the wedding. Once the two ladies had been tucked under rugs with hot bricks at their feet, Georgiana’s cousin sprang lightly into the coach, the door was closed, and the short procession started off.

Colonel Fitzwilliam smiled affectionately at his cousin. “You can be sure it won’t be this cold in Hertfordshire,” he began. And Coachman tells me we should encounter warmer weather tomorrow.”

Georgiana smiled in return. “I am wearing a woolen gown, a heavy pelisse, and this enormous shawl. I don’t think I fear the cold.” She laid her fur muff on the seat and re-folded the shawl more loosely about her shoulders. “I’m looking forward to seeing Miss Elizabeth again as well as to meeting Miss Bennet.”

“I’m not acquainted with the elder Miss Bennet either,” he replied. “She is reputed to be the beauty of the family, and I’ve heard Miss Bingley refer to her as a sweet girl.” He paused. “Though with Miss Bingley, one never knows.”

“It will be good to have some time to become better acquainted with all of the Bennets before Miss Bingley and the Hursts arrive. My brother would not like me to say this, but the Bingley sisters give me the fidgets.”

Her cousin leaned over conspiratorially. “I’ve been a soldier these ten years, but they terrify me.”

Mrs. Anneslie, who had taken out her knitting, joined the conversation. “Miss Georgiana did very well with Miss Bingley and the Hursts last summer, Colonel. She was a most gracious hostess for three weeks during her brother’s absence until they finally left. But I must agree. Miss Bingley in particular is enough to try the patience of Job.”

They rode in silence for a mile or two until Georgiana broke the silence again. “I know you are looking forward to spending the holidays with your nephew, Mrs. Annesley. And your dear little grandnephew.”

“Indeed I am! Little George is in leading-strings now and is quite the intrepid explorer, I’m told. It will be wonderful to see them.” Mrs. Annesley would rest overnight at Netherfield and make the short journey to London in Mr. Darcy’s coach the day after that. Georgiana would join her after the wedding festivities and the Christmas holiday, and they would take up residence in the Darcy town house. Elizabeth had expressed a desire for no other honeymoon than a quiet time spent at Pemberley, and the newlywed couple would journey there after spending the wedding night in London.

The three occupants of the coach settled into a companionable silence. It would be a long, tedious day.

The travellers made excellent time. The roads were clear, and the weather warmed appreciably as they moved further south. They turned off for Netherfield shortly after midday on the second day of travel to find Bingley and Darcy awaiting them at the front door. Both men came smilingly down the steps as the coach door was opened, handing the two ladies out and waiting while Colonel Fitzwilliam jumped down. Georgiana kissed her brother and turned to shake hands with Mr. Bingley

“Miss Darcy! Welcome to Netherfield. I’m delighted to see you again.” Bingley smiled down at her. “There are two friends of mine here who would be pleased to make your acquaintance.” Georgiana, though uncomfortable around strangers, smiled shyly. Her smile widened as Bingley placed two fingers between his lips and blew an ear-splitting whistle.

Two massive deerhounds came bounding up, and at a word from Bingley sat obediently. Georgiana approached them fearlessly, caressing their ears and murmuring, “How do you do, dear sir? Dear madam? I’m sure we will soon be the best of friends.” She turned to Bingley with a smile. “Duke and Duchess, are they not?”

Her brother added, “Elizabeth is very fond of them. Something else you ladies have in common. But how did you learn their names?”

“Mr. Bingley told me about them last summer when he made the acquaintance of Jupiter and Juno.”

“But here I am keeping you ladies standing in the cold!” Bingley exclaimed. “Come in, come in.” Mrs. Stabler, the housekeeper, awaited them in the front hall. “Mrs. Stabler will show you to your rooms. Once you have refreshed yourselves, please join us in the breakfast-parlor. I’ve arranged for a light luncheon.”

The evening passed quietly and pleasantly, and the household was up betimes next morning to breakfast with Mrs. Annesley and see her safely off to London. Georgiana’s gentle companion was loved by everyone, and there were gifts for her as well as for the young grandnephew. Georgiana then enjoyed a walk with her brother and the dogs, and she had an hour’s practice on the pianoforte before it was time to dress. A morning-visit was planned to Longbourn.

Georgiana’s impression was that the drawing-room at Longbourn House was crowded with people. She made her curtseys to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, was presented to Miss Jane Bennet, and embraced Elizabeth warmly. Elizabeth in turn introduced the two younger Bennet sisters still at home. Miss Catherine Bennet, the younger, smiled warmly and welcomed Georgiana to the neighborhood with an inquiry about her journey. Miss Mary Bennet was plainly dressed in a pinafore and white blouse, her dark hair drawn severely back into a bun. Her steel-rimmed spectacles did not quite disguise the dark circles under her eyes. She curtsied and murmured a formal greeting but said no more.

The silence grew awkward, and Georgiana began to feel excessively self-conscious. Still, she was determined to overcome her shyness. She turned again to the forbidding Mary Bennet and said, “I understand you are very fond of music. I should like to hear you play.”

Mary, who never missed an opportunity to exhibit her talent (or as some in her family would say to expose herself to ridicule), led the way to the small back parlor where the instrument was located. She sat down at the small square piano and played a few chords. Georgiana, who had pulled a chair up, noticed three things. First, the instrument was sadly out of tune. Second, Mary had brought her fingers down on the keys with what seemed to be a great deal of force. And third, only a few of the notes of each chord sounded. Several keys were strangely, frustratingly silent, and one or two others made only a clicking sound.

Mary’s narrow lips became even narrower as she turned towards Georgiana. “I am sorry, I will not be able to oblige you or to invite you to play today. This change in the weather has caused a number of the keys to fail to move. It is always this way when it grows warmer or colder, even worse when it is damp. And some of the keys are worn out entirely. Still, I try to be philosophical about it.”

“Yes,” agreed Georgiana. “That is often the best approach toward adversity. Still, I notice that the instrument requires you to strike the keys with great force. That must be fatiguing.”

“It is,” replied Mary. “I try to remind myself that it will improve my playing on other, better instruments. But in reality, they are more difficult for me.” She paused, and when she went on, a bitter note had crept into her voice. “Reels, jigs, and country dances are much easier to play–and more appreciated. I should confine myself to those.”

Georgiana was prevented from replying by the shrill voice of Mrs. Bennet summoning them for refreshments. The rest of her visit was occupied in answering the somewhat impertinent, but kindly meant, questions of Elizabeth’s mother. When the Netherfield party rose to take their leave, she noticed that Mary had returned to her former stiff, unsmiling demeanor. Nevertheless, Georgiana smiled at her. “I hope to see you again soon, Miss Bennet. I enjoyed our conversation.”

The following morning, her brother joined Georgiana, as he often did, for her morning walk. Duke and Duchess ran ahead, circling back and running off again. “I believe they are better behaved than Jupiter and Juno,” observed Darcy. They approached a bench in a spot sheltered by trees, and Georgiana sat down.

“Do you have your notebook and pencil?” asked Georgiana. When he extracted them from his inside pocket, she went on. “Good. I should like to ask something of you if you don’t mind.”

When they rose to return to the house, Georgiana whistled for the dogs. Darcy’s face wore a thoughtful expression. “I’ll prepare the necessary letters immediately,” he said when they parted at the door. “You write your note, direct it, seal it, and I’ll enclose it in my letter.” He clasped her hand and looked into her eyes. “It does you credit, Georgiana. I should never have thought of it.”

The wedding, of course, was lovely. The holidays were festive even without the newlyweds. And some weeks later, when January had given way to February’s chill and gloom, a rumbling of wheels was heard on the drive in front of Longbourn House, and a glance out of the window revealed a large covered wagon. A look of annoyance crossed Mrs. Bennet’s face. “Some tradesman. Hill will direct him round the back.”

But Hill appeared at the door, eyes wide with astonishment. “It’s a gentleman from London, Mr. Broadwood, with two apprentices, ma’am. He refuses to go around to the back. He’s given me this note for Miss Mary.”

Mary read the note, placing it safely in her pocket before her mother could snatch it away. Her face was deathly pale, and she sat down for a moment. “Direct them to bring it to the back parlor, please, Hill. I will open the double doors. Bring them that way.”

The gentlemen had formed the habit of gathering at Netherfield at Michaelmas for a few weeks of shooting, and near the end of their first year of marriage, the Darcys travelled to Netherfield. This marked Elizabeth’s first trip home since the wedding. She was, of course, anxious to see her sister Jane, and she would confess privately that she looked forward as well to seeing her parents and two younger sisters. Georgiana accompanied her brother and sister-in-law. She and Elizabeth had developed a warm and close friendship over the past months, and Georgiana’s original shyness was long forgotten.

The morning after their arrival, the Darcys and Mr. and Mrs. Bingley set off for the short drive to Longbourn. The initial flurry of greetings was joyful and noisy, with Mrs. Bennet’s shrill voice ringing out over all the rest. Georgiana, after being exclaimed over by Mrs. Bennet, looked around for Mary. She found her standing off to one side, smiling warmly but making no move to approach. Georgiana noted that her dress was a bit more stylish and that someone–perhaps her sister Kitty–had arranged her hair in a more graceful style. While she still wore her steel-rimmed spectacles, the dark circles were gone. Georgiana could wait no longer. “Well?” she said with her shy smile.

Mary moved to greet her, then said quietly, “Come and see!” The two young women slipped through the door to the back parlor. Darcy followed unobtrusively.

A few minutes later, those gathered in the drawing-room were greeted by the sounds of what Elizabeth recognized as the third movement of one of Herr Mozart’s sonatas, the rondo “Alla Turca.” It was a difficult piece, and she had never attempted it. Though she knew that Louisa Hurst often played it, she had also never heard a rendition by Georgiana. She turned to whisper a question to her husband only to find him gone from her side. The rest of the room stood or sat listening quietly, but Elizabeth slipped silently through the door to the back parlor.

The old instrument was gone, replaced by a beautiful, modern pianoforte. Though smaller and plainer than the instrument at Pemberley, it dominated and beautified the small room. To Elizabeth’s astonishment, Georgiana was not seated at the keyboard. She stood by, head bent in concentration, turning the pages for Mary Bennet. Mary’s execution of the piece, though not quite perfect, was entirely creditable. For the first time, Elizabeth noticed that her sister’s hands were strong and graceful. Elizabeth looked over at her husband. His face wore an expression of mingled satisfaction and tenderness that she found quite endearing.

Later, Darcy accompanied Elizabeth on one of her favorite country rambles. When they paused to admire the sight of a mare and foal in a nearby meadow, Elizabeth turned to Darcy and demanded an explanation. She began by saying, “Of course the old instrument was awful. Three of my sisters gave it up in disgust. Mary and I kept at it, but I finally abandoned it as a bad job–hence my fudging and slurring.”

“Yes, only Mary persisted,” replied her husband. “Georgiana has had years of study and practice with some of the finest masters available. I felt her opinion as a musician must carry considerable weight despite her youth.”

“And what was her opinion?”

“Simply that the obstacles to proficiency on such an instrument were too great to be overcome, that your sister deserved a great deal of credit for her efforts, and that her struggles could be easily laid to rest.” He paused, smiling at his wife. “While her generosity pleased me, it’s also by no means the first time Georgiana’s observations have been correct. After all, she likes you very much, does she not?”

To the Library