“I am. . . I have served this neighborhood well!” cried Mr. Cannonby.
“I am not convinced. Mrs. Gardiner is satisfied her niece has no need for your services. You are dismissed and so is the second laundry maid. Next time, wait until you are summoned.”
Mr. Cannonby bowed his way from the room. Miss Darcy kept her eyes on her folded hands until her brother crossed the room to touch the tip of his fingers to her cheek.
“Peace, dear sister, I do not hold you responsible for the gossip of the laundry maids. That is beyond your purview.”
“I am sorry,” whispered the girl then glanced up to meet Lizzy’s eyes. “And, you, Miss Bennet. I apologize.”
“Oh, dear girl,” said Lizzy, with a laugh. “I have observed any number of laundry days at home. I know very well how women gossip around the wrangle. I am not offended, I promise you.”
Darcy glanced about the room. “You all look very settled and comfortable here.”
“Yes, thank you, sir,” said Miss Bennet. “Everyone has been so kind and accommodating.”
“Shall I have some luncheon fetched for you?” asked Georgiana, leaping to her feet.
“Please, sit, Georgiana. If you do not mind, I shall have our picnic fetched up here and we shall join you.”
“Oh, please,” said Georgiana.
Darcy glanced toward the invalid in her bed who blushed and inclined her head to grant consent. It was the work of a few minutes to provide the men with sustenance and when all were provided for Darcy continued the conversation.
“And how shall you ladies occupy yourself this afternoon?”
“If Miss Bennet is well enough,” began Georgiana then faltered to a halt. “It all depends on what Miss Bennet desires.”
“Well, Miss Bennet?” inquired Darcy. “Shall you play at cards? Read? Sew? My sister might offer to play for you. . . but the music room is too far away. No matter, that can wait until your health improves.”
“I do not believe reading will serve for the moment,” said Lizzy. Although she was feeling a little better in herself her leg did still ache very badly and she would have preferred to rest, quiet and alone in her room but it was clear that her hosts would not permit that. The honored guest must be entertained. Besides, Miss Darcy looked so eager to be of use that it amused the studier of character that was Miss Bennet. Smiling at the younger girl, Lizzy continued, “But, if Miss Darcy can spare me the time, I might enjoy a game of Backgammon.”
“Oh, yes, please. That is a game I do enjoy. And I am good at chess, if you like that!”
“We shall save chess until I am a little better.”
“Good, that is settled,” said Darcy. “Mr. Gardiner, after luncheon, shall we go and find out if the trout have returned from their hiding places in our absence?”
“Lead on, Mr. Darcy!”
When the gentlemen left the ladies settled down for an afternoon of milder entertainment. Mrs. Gardiner fetched a novel she had been reading and laid claim to a chaise lounge near the window. Georgiana brought a chair closer to the bed and set up the playing pieces.
“Do you enjoy music as well as games, Miss Bennet?” she asked. “Do you play and sing?”
“A little,” said Miss Bennet accepting the cup and dice. “I would not wish to excite your anticipation. I share our old pianoforte with four sisters so you may assume that my practice time is of necessity too short to become a true proficient!”
Georgiana laughed. “You are quoting my aunt, Lady Catherine. That is her favorite phrase. In all her letters to me she urges me to practice more.”
“You have caught me out,” said Lizzy. “Should I apologise for imitating your relatives?”
“Not at all.” Georgiana glanced at the servant seated, waiting to be useful near the door and lowered her voice. “I have always thought her the oddest thing. You have met her recently, so you might tell me. Does it make sense to you that she says she would have been a true proficient had she learned to play? How can she tell?”
Mrs. Gardiner, who was not that far away, lifted her attention from her book. “Yes, Lizzy, I thought the same when you told me of the woman. Miss Darcy, if you quote me I shall deny saying it, but in my opinion, a woman who has not learned to play is lazy and cannot claim proficiency! It is like a house builder who has never built a house demanding praise for the houses he thinks he might have built! He knows not the materials he would have used or the color of the paint, nor the shape of the rooms, but he claims they would have been great! What nonsense!”
Both girls giggled and Georgiana pulled her chair still closer to the bed and settled in for the first sisterly coze of her short life.
The next morning the news passed from the innkeeper’s daughter, to the ostler’s son, to the kitchen maid’s cousin, to the Pemberly under butler, to the Darcy household’s breakfast table – that during the night Mr. Cannonby’s house had burned down destroying his books and still room, rendering him both homeless and deprived of a profession.
The neighborhood was aghast!