Mr. Julius Pritchard is not the most well-known music master in the city of London, but every Tuesday, in a large and presumptuous townhouse in Portnam Square in London, he is hailed as the best. A servant of the Darcy family for twelve years, he knows the styles and preferences of his pupil well, and when he brings new pieces to be learned it is always with the confidence that she will accept the challenge and, eventually, play it as it was meant to be played.
The girl is tall – quite too tall for her age – thin, and with sadly arranged brown hair. The room holds her one friend in the form of a well-used pianoforte, which she hammers at relentlessly. Poorly too, for she is not paying attention to the music sheets. That girl is me – I am Georgiana Catherine Abigail Darcy.
I am waiting for Mr. Pritchard to arrive to deliver my lesson. This has always been the best part of my week, and I am especially eager to see him as I have not had a proper lesson in more than three months. I no longer truly need his instruction – I am possessed of a natural talent and love of music which has always been nurtured in me – but he and I have similar tastes in music, and it is good to have familiar conversation.
Mr. Pritchard has been my master since I first sat down at the keys. I was only four years old then, and living with my father and brother. I barely remember those days, but with clarity I can recall the first time ever I played a piece right – some nursery song or other – and my brother Fitzwilliam was there. He clapped for me and told me how well I had played. I adore the man and when I was a child I wanted to marry him. He was grown in my eyes – he was sixteen years old, and since he had chosen Mr. Pritchard for me, and I liked my new music master so well, I was especially eager to learn my lessons to please them both.
When Mr. Pritchard comes I greet him fondly; he gives me one of those smiles that make me wish he were my grandfather. "Miss Darcy," he says, fluttering papers about, "I am quite gratified that you are returned from Ramsgate. I trust your stay there was all you hoped?"
I smile sadly and take his hand. "It was not, in fact," I reply. "But let us not talk of it. What have you brought me?"
"If you are in a somber mood, Miss Darcy, perhaps the selection I have brought today is more appropriate than I knew." He smiles and flutters some music sheets in front of me. "Now, come and play. You will enjoy the piece, I hope. But first, warm your fingers and play me something merry."
I sit next to him, and I play a piece which I have known for many years, which I know he likes. It is Mozart, and I know he will be pleased. When I am done he claps and praises, and I smile, for I know his sentiments are truly felt. How much easier would things be, if only everyone could be as open and honest as Mr. Pritchard?
He bids me to play my new piece. I read the notes, one by one, and then I play the whole piece through, hearing the tick of the pendulum, the deep timbre of the notes, the slow progression of the piece, but not the music. Mr. Pritchard tells me to play it again. He has moved to the chaise to sit back and listen. "Truly you are paid for nothing," I tease him.
"Play your lesson, Miss Darcy," he says, and tries to sound stern. I smirk and turn back to the instrument. "And listen when you play – oh, you will like this piece."
I play. The music is haunting – it is low and deliberate and each note rumbles in my stomach. I am carried away by the melody, melancholy rushing over and through me. Suddenly I am no longer in the music room, but away again – back in Ramsgate, where the ocean pounds the rocks and the air smells warm and salty. I can feel his gentle hand upon my chin and his firm lips on mine; I can hear the tender words whispered in my ear. Silent tears roll down my cheeks.
I ought to be paying attention to the music sheets, but I cannot think and stumble several times. I cannot control the bent of my thoughts; they always turn toward him. I know he does not love me. In my head I do. In my heart, though, I hope even still, for though I now understand that he never loved me as he professed to so passionately, I love him still. Oh . . . my heart aches for him.
The piece is over. Without looking up I ask who has written it. I don't hear the answer. Mr. Pritchard kisses my cheek gently and leaves the house in Portnam Square.
I remember with clarity the day my father died. I was not yet twelve years old, and on that morning I had risen with the determination to go outside and walk, as I had not been allowed to for several days. Fitzwilliam came to my chamber before I was quite ready and I recall being angry with him for that. I could never forget the words he said – "Georgiana, Papa died in the night. . . ." – words delivered in such a low, soft, and sorrowful voice as I had never before heard. My heart broke.
I simply cried for an hour straight. My brother, you see, does not lie and does not exaggerate, so any information he delivers, no matter how shocking, must be taken at face value. There was no need to question, reason, or see for myself. My Papa was gone, and the only two Darcys left in the world were young, devastated, and quite alone.
It was then that Fitzwilliam developed that controlled façade that I hate so much. I know the very moment it first appeared – right before he delivered the news to me. For a while, I really believed him as indifferent on the inside as he appeared on the outside. Then I learned to read his eyes – windows to the soul, Mrs. Reynolds once told me. It could not be more true in the case of my brother. His face could be absolutely blank and yet if one were intuitive enough, one could read Fitzwilliam's eyes.
He almost always wears that infernal mask, the only exception being when it is only he and I together. I have learned to know when he is teasing me, when he is frustrated, when he is tired, and when he is pleased. But very occasionally, I can get him to take it off – I can get him to open up and talk with me. These times, I feel, are the only moments I truly spend with my brother. They are always very brief, but I cherish them with all my heart.
Tonight is one of those nights. The mask is definitely off, likely because he wishes to cheer me. He is just returned from Pemberley and tomorrow he promises a visit from someone whom he says that I should like very much.
"Mrs. Priscilla Annesley is the widow, if you recall, of the late rector of Hunsford Parsonage. Our aunt disliked her greatly, so I am certain we shall find her a sensible woman. I have applied to her to visit, and if you like her, dear girl, you shall have a new companion."
I long to observe that I do not want a companion, but a sister, or better still, to have my brother always with me, but I know that neither is very likely. "She is a young woman, as I recall," I reply, looking into my tea. Then I look up, and with the expression on his face, begging liveliness, I cannot help but oblige him a little. "Shall she try to charm you?"
He smirks. "As you well know, my dear sister, I am not easily charmed. And I do not think the widow of a clergyman would be quite suitable," he says. My face falls, but my brother does not know why, and he asks.
"Who would be suitable?" I ask him. "Who is good enough for you?"
He looks away, uncomfortable. "Our aunt thinks Anne is good enough," he says with a smirk.
"There is no one good enough for you, Fitzwilliam," I say, shaking my head and looking away. "What woman exists, among those who would be suitable, who does not fawn over you without having been acquainted with you beyond your fortune? And what man exists who will not hunt me for mine?"
He takes my chin in his hand. "These are questions too heavy for a girl your age," he says, sadness descending into his eyes. And then, carefully, he adds, "There are those who I trust – honorable young men, with integrity, who are artless."
Knowing exactly of whom he speaks, I look away, not wanting to talk about Mr. Charles Bingley. I know that I ought to marry and ease my brother of the burden of caring for me, and if I absolutely must, Mr. Bingley is not an altogether bad option. Fitzwilliam wants Mr. Bingley to marry me; whether Mr. Bingley would have me is not likely, and I am not certain that I would welcome that fate.
I wish that I could tell my brother this. I wish he would not hint at it. It is not because I do not like Mr. Bingley – he is kind and a good friend to my brother. It is, rather, that due to my knowing him most of my life, I do not think I could look upon him as anything but a brotherly figure. I am fortunate in that I am still full young for marriage, despite what I may have thought some months ago. It will be another year at least before I am even out.
I dodge Fitzwilliam's comment. "And what about for you?" I ask.
"Do not worry for me," he replies. "A gentleman may stay unmarried far longer than a lady and still be considered eligible. I shall find someone, I am sure."
I take a disinterested sip of my tea and decide a change of subject is in order. "Has Lady Catherine found a suitable replacement for Mr. Annesley?" I ask, referring to the late rector of the parsonage connected with our aunt's estate.
"I believe Hunsford parsonage is again occupied, at last," he replies, smiling. "Though I must admit I am not looking forward to meeting the man. His noble patroness herself has described him to me as a bit of a sycophant."
"That cannot be a good sign," I agree as my head fills with the image of a tall, rail-thin, elderly gentleman scraping his elbows whilst he follows after my aunt, which is just the sort of person Lady Catherine likes to have about.
"I shall meet him soon," continues my brother, reminding me of his unfortunate, but annual, invitation from Lady Catherine to spend Easter time visiting Rosings Park.
"Yes," I say, grateful that I do not have to go along with him. "Please be sure to send me a full report."
"I am sure he cannot be so bad," says my brother. "You might ask Mrs. Annesley about him; she must have shown him the parsonage and introduced him to the servants."
"I beg you would forgive me if I should happen to forget," I say in reply. "But when you meet him, you must be sure to tell him how curious I am about him, and invite him to write me." My brother grins – a handsome sight. "I wish you would smile more often, Fitzwilliam."
For a moment he looks as if he wants to say something more. He does not. The mask goes up and he returns to his tea.
(c) 2008 J. H. Thompson