Welcome back to Simshire! Er, and The Regacy! This is chapter 5.3, which generally means there were four whole generations before this one. If you‖ve read those, great! If you haven‖t, Isuggest you do… or at the very least check out the Austen Auction at my LJ page for summaries. Either way… when we left off last the Austens had just had a garden party. And… a bunch of other things happened, but it would be far tooconfusing to go through them. So! If you‖ve got your tea, biscuits, and bonnet…
Frank looked at his family over breakfast. That is, he looked at his children, and artfully directed his eyes away from his wife and mistress. Ithelped, not looking at them, to keep him focused and allow him to think actual thoughts that did not involve his…well.
Frank sighed. You know, Madam, I should very much like for you to not narrate such things. Once again, Frank, it was YOUR choice to have me return, and if you‖re going to think about ―hooing your redheads all day long, and I haveto see it, well… so do our readers. I‖m nothing if not fair… and mildly sadistic.
“He‖s talking to that woman in his head again, isn‖t he mama?” Robert wondered“Oh… probably, yes,” Alice agreed.“If you must know I had to sneeze,” Frank grumbled.
“You really ought to see a doctor about those silent sneezing fits you so often have, Papa,” Marian teased.Bella shot one of her usual glares to her sister, which was returned.
“Girls! If you do not mind putting a stop to your glaring, I should very much like to speak of you of something.” “Yes, Papa?” said Bella sweetly. Marian rolled her eyes. “Though I dread the matter to the point of going grey—I found another this morning, Alice—I have decided it is high time we celebrate yourcoming out.”
“Our? But Papa, Bella is so much younger—” Marian complained just as Isabella whined, “SHE gets a celebration?”
“I thought it best to just, well, get it all over with at once, eh? Now, now… listen to this. What say you two to a ball? A masked ball, perhaps.Do you think the two of you could work together long enough to plan such a thing? I‖m told masked balls are quite a delight, and I think itwould be extraordinary if we were to host one here.” Frank raised his eyebrows and smiled. “Especially since the remodeling has beencompleted,” he added, puffing his chest out slightly. Isabella and Marian looked at each other. Alice privately promised herself to put a stop to it after two minutes, in order to avoid an outrightrow. Next to her, Lark was thinking precisely the same thing.
Marian lessened her glare but her eyes were still narrowed. “I think Bella and I could take it on. What say you, dearest sister?” she said in amonotone.
“Oh, darling Marian, I think it would be such a delight,” Isabella responded icily. Perking up somewhat she asked, “ Mama! Does this meanwe shall be able to go to Simdon for the season?” Alice braced herself for squealing. “… Yes, my love.”
“EEEEE!!! Can you believe it, the season!” Isabella cried. She bounced up and down in her seat, smiling crazily. John blinked at her. Marian raised her eyebrows and nodded slowly. “I think that might be good fun,” she murmured. Underneath the table, she had her fistsclenched in excitement.
“Excellent!” Frank said. “Now, on to our next item of business… Robert. Are you prepared to leave tomorrow?”Robert looked up from the breakfast he had been considering eating. “Yes, father.”“Marvelous! John?”
“I—” Robert snickered. “Oh, Father, you know John has been ready to leave for weeks!” John shrugged. It was true, of course. Though he was a year younger than his brother he was exceedingly intelligent and had thereforedecided to go to Pemberley a year early. He was slightly excited. …
Later that day, when John‖s and Robert‖s trunks were being carried down into the hall to prepare for their departure the next morning, Alicegripped her eldest son‖s arm with an invariably panicked expression distorting her pretty features. She shook him ever so slightly and peeredinto his eyes. “Robert. You are QUITE CERTAIN you will have everything you need?” Robert sighed. All day while he packed his mother had asked him at various times whether or not he was ready. It was getting quite old.
He chewed his lip as he spotted John coming out of the drawing room with yet another load of books. “Nobody bothered you about beingprepared,” he muttered. “Yes, well, I always have been the responsible one.”
“ROBERT?”“AHH! That is—! Yes?”“HAVE YOU GOT EVERYTHING.”“Yes!”
Alice nodded frantically. “All your clothes?”“I have.”“Your books?”“Yes!”“Your—”
Frank‖s guffaw sounded behind them, stopping Alice short. “He‖s got his arse too, in case you might have wondered, wife of mine.” He‖d appeared at the foot of the stairs, his waistcoat and jacketdiscarded for the occasion of hauling trunks with the servants. Though Frank was grinning widely, Alice was the furthest thing from amused.
“Mr. Austen,” she chided.“Madam,” Frank returned, bowing.
Just then, Marian and Lark strode in; the simself wore a wide, knowing smile, but her daughter was frowning. Marian knew what Robertwas about to say. “You‖re certain you want to stay here with… them?” Robert wondered, thinking the answer could not possibly be “yes.” So far he‖d beenwrong as Marian had decided against attending Mary Bennet‖s Academy for Ladies quite some time ago, but he hoped still that she wouldchange her mind. “I should think you would like to get away for a little while.”
“Robert. I dare say we have been through this above one hundred times. YES, I am very, very sure I do NOT wish to join you in Simdon,Robert, and attend school,” Marian said, glaring. “Also,” she added, pointing to a set of purple boxes by the trunks,” I cannot believe you areactually borrowing those.”
Robert ignored the last part. “But why will you not come with us?” he asked for what probably was the hundredth time or so. Marian sighed. “I am simply required at home. I would very much like to plan the masque with Bella—I would, Robert—and then it wouldbe such fun to go to Simdon with Mama and, well, our parents. The season will be so very glorious.” “You could visit Simdon from school, you know Marian, seeing as the school is in Simdon.” Robert grinned crookedly at her. He so enjoyedirritating his sister, and would really, really miss it once he was away.
This time, perhaps, was not the best to choose for his favorite pastime, however, which he quickly surmised with Marian‖s ferocious glowerand by the finger she was shoving in his face. Marian had had enough. “And just what would I gain from going to school? Shall I hope to improve my feminine skills? I dare say I couldout-stitch, out-play, out-wit, and out-dance those ninnies already—DO NOT interrupt, Robert, I KNOW Story is there and that she is not aninny! But, REALLY. Shall I go and pray that my marvelous education will fetch me a good husband with a large fortune. For one thing, Robert,men only want simpering, silly wives, or the normal ones do at least. Ugh, SPORK! For another, according to polite society I am the eldestdaughter of one Frank Churchill Austen, Esquire, so I SHOULD have no issue with finding a gentleman to lord over me and turn me into aBROODMARE. Men should be FALLING from the SKY, hoping to LAND on my EXTREMELY ELIGBLE HEAD so they may MARRY me for myFABULOUS dowry and FANTASTIC connections. So! I shall THANK. YOU. TO. STAY. OUT. OF. IT. ROBERT. SO. HELP. ME. PLUMBOB.”
With one final screeching sigh, Marian turned on the spot and stomped up the stairs to her room. Everyone else stared at Robert. He groaned. Robert did not enjoy being yelled at, nor did he enjoy being stared at. “Excuse me, I do think perhaps I forgot something in myart room,” he lied, and made his escape downstairs. This is why I do not like women… …
Everyone gave Marian a wide berth for the rest of the day, and when evening came Lark found her daughter still hiding away in herbedroom. Though dinner had been announced, and more than once, she‖d not come down. “Marian, we are all waiting for you downstairs.” “I am not hungry.”
Lark smiled and sat down on the bed while Marian dragged herself to a sitting position. “How very adolescent of you. Unfortunately, hungryor not, you are expected at dinner.” Marian sighed. “Fine. Let us go down, then.” “Wait.” “Wait? Mama I thought you said everyone ELSE was waiting for ME. Should we not get this over with? I am so looking forward to Bellaright now, truly.”
“Marian, why are you not going to school?” “I have told you, Mama. I prefer to stay here for no reason but that I do not feel the need to attend school. You have taught me all that I needto know.” Marian smiled at her mother with that last part. “Really, do not worry. I have no secret evil plan in mind.”
Lark nodded. “Thank goodness for that! But… do you not think perhaps going might… you know what, never mind. Your silly mama willnot prod you about it any further.” Marian sighed a breath of relief. “Thank you.” “Shall we go now?”
“Actually I need to… ”“Ah. Well I will see you downstairs momentarily.”
Marian nodded and let her mother believe a trip to the water closet was in order. When she heard Lark‖s footsteps on the stairs, she floppedback onto the bed and looked at the canopy. “I do not want anyone to forget me.” She allowed herself two more minutes of wallowing before she hauled herself up, blew out the candle, and left the room.
Marian composed herself before the door to the dining hall was opened for her, and by the time she sat down nobody would have been ableto guess that at that moment she was trying not to scream.
Nobody, save Isabella. She may have had some very intense problems of her own mind, but if nothing else it made her more astute when itcame to noticing others‖. Isabella watched her older sister join them at the table and concluded that maybe, just for one night, she would notprovoke her. She even tried to smile.
Robert, John, and Frank looked in Isabella‖s direction at the same time, concerned at the expression on her face.“Bella, are you in pain? What is that look for?” John asked
Robert rolled over and stared at his window. There was a noise, somewhat like knocking, and it was not at all to his tastes. He flipped overagain and tried to go back to sleep, but the racketing continued. “For the love of Saint George…” he muttered as he practically fell out of bed and went to his window.
He knelt down, tossed the curtains aside, and threw open the offending window. He shivered as the icy air blew in. “I say! Who is there?”
“It is I, your Romeo!” said a familiar voice. Robert felt himself shiver again and squinted to see where the voice had come from. He finally located Tristan near the hedges on theperimeter of his grandmother‖s rose garden, hand still raised mid-throw.
“Were you throwing rocks at my window?” he called down in a half-whisper.
“Possibly? And by possibly I mean yes, yes I was. Now be quiet, I am trying to recite Shakesimspeare at you,” Tristan demanded, throwing hisarms wide as he sunk to the ground. “The light! It breaks through your east window and you‖re the sun!” “Right. You do realize my father just had these windows put in?” Tristan dropped his hand to his chest and frowned. “Are you saying you do not like my vastly romantic gesture? My tender heart, it burns indefeat at your rejection and hatred. Get your arse up, fair sun. ”
Robert sighed down at him. “Do shut it.” He was trying very hard not to smile. He was failing.Tristan chuckled as he rose to his feet. “Let us do something celebratory. You‖re leaving tomorrow. All school and books from here on out.”“Nonsense, I will have time for other things.”“Not for me. I will be on a boat somewhere.”“Why should I make time for you anyway?”
“Because I am your best mate. Now stop brooding up there and come down!”“But I am tired, Tristan, and I‖ve got a long day to—”“Oh, wah, Juliet. Sleep when you are dead!”
Robert eventually agreed, as Tristan knew he would.
“I cannot believe you made me take your Marian‖s horse.”It was a short ride across the bridge and down into the small village of Simyton. Their destination was an old pub.
“Oh, calm down. My sister‖s mare can outrun my stallion on a good day.”
“Two pints of bitter, my good sir.”The barman gave Tristan an appraising look. “How old are you?” In the back of his mind, Tristan noted a Simerican accent.“Old enough,” Tristan said, flashing one of his most charming looks.“Of course you are,” said the barman with a roll of his eyes.
“This is bloody terrible,” Robert groaned as he set his glass down.“They call it bitter for a reason.”“Eugh.”
“Aw, is the spoiled prince not used to the working man‖s beverage? Shall I pour you a glass of wine?”“Stuff it.”“I bet you‖d like that.”
―So! What did you have in mind for this evening‖s…activities?” “‖Activities?‖” Robert repeated. “Certainly! What say you to a trip to the Delhi Den? I‖d wager we could sneak in the back. Oh! Or the Scarlet Slipper! Mm, just thinkabout the ladies at that establishment…” Robert‖s face turned a nasty shade of green.
Tristan rolled his eyes and affected the most posh accent he could muster. “Oh, I say,, why do we not have a dash over to the club for a bit ofcard playing? Would that be better suited to your tastes, my dearest tea cake?”
Robert merely raised an eyebrow. “I have no intention of partaking in the use of opiates, prostitutes, or gambling. Ah-ah-ah!” Robert addedas Tristan tried to add to the list, “No swimming in the Simthames naked, either.” “I can hardly contain my shock at your decline.” “We could just go to your establishment.” “The cottage?” Tristan gulped. “Is that a problem?”
Suddenly Tristan was the reluctant one. “You know, maybe this wasn‖t the best of ideas. My father is there, after all, and he sort of, wellhe…er.”
“Your father is not a problem for me. I can hardly breathe as it is… blasted colds…. Come, I should love to beat you thoroughly at a game ofwhist.”
“Whist? You say no to gambling but you would like to play that? No, we‖ll have to play something far, far more interesting.”Robert didn‖t want to ask what that was.
The young men stepped out of the tavern and right into the rain.“Blast! Come on!”
They hurried to untie the horses and rode as hard and fast as they could back to their little corner of Simshire. By the time they entered thefront hall of the cottage they were both sopping wet and snickering uncontrollably.
Tristan eventually managed to eek out “Lets go to my room, I‖ll find us something dry to wear.” Robert looked uncomfortable. “I‖ll stay here and try to start a fire, I think.” Tristan shrugged and retreated down the hall. Robert stood there by the door for a moment and listened to the sound of Tristan stompingaround upstairs in what must have been Marian‖s old bedroom.
Robert looked around himself as he headed into the tiny parlor, both grateful and concerned that Mr. Surilie had left a candle burning. “Its so bare here now,” he said aloud . Robert was trying not to see just how desolate the place looked without Marian and Lark‖s femininetouches. “Except for that…” He raised an eyebrow at a very red satin cushion lying on the irritated-looking settee. He shrugged at itsrandomness and made a mental note to paint something to hang over the fire.
He grabbed a few logs and tossed them in the grate, but once he dropped them he could see that his hands were damp.“Empty AND damp in here? I‖ll have to have my father order repairs done.”He tried for several minutes to get the logs to light but it was a wasted effort.
By the time Tristan reentered the room Robert had discarded his jacket, waistcoat, and shirt and was working in just his trousers over the fire.Tristan gave an approving whistle as he took in Robert‖s pale back and wiry arms without the barrier of clothing. “Shut it.” Robert commanded. “The damn logs are damp,” he added.
Tristan didn‖t say anything but handed Robert a clean shirt.“Thank you,” Robert grunted.“Mm. It may be a bit big for you, mind.”“Nonsense, you are a string bean.”Tristan frowned. “Says you.”“Yes, I say, because it is the truth.”
“Really now?” Tristan smirked and yanked off his newly donned clean, dry shirt. He tossed it aside and made a pose. “String bean you say?”
“Should I take my pants off too?” Tristan asked as his hands dropped to his waistband.“W HAT? No. Why would you even…?!”“Well that is where it gets really impressive, see.”“…There is something very, very wrong with you.Tristan just waggled his eyebrows more.
“Wasn‖t a compliment,” Robert muttered.“I know how to settle this! Wrestle me!” Robert just stood there. “Robeeeert, have a bit of fun. It will be ages until we see each other again.”“I thought we were to play cards? How does your mind even go from playing cards to wrestling…? We are playing cards.”“Not if you can’t light that fire.”
“As I said, the logs are bloody wet.”Tristan scoffed. “Rain occurs rather often in Simland if you had not noticed, Robert. One should be used to damp wood by now.”“Yes, but my servants—”“Oh hang your servants.”“I do not know that that is entirely called for…”
Tristan ran a hand through his mop of wet black hair. “Witty.”“I thought so.” Robert grinned and stabbed the fire once more, though the flame was more of a flicker and was not even really hot.
Tristan picked up the dry shirt he‖d brought for Robert and handed it over again. “You really ought to put this on,” he said. “This cold anddamp can‖t be good for you.” “Don‖t mother me,” Robert sighed. “Plumbob knows you don‖t need any more of that seeing as you have two of them.”
“Hn.”“Really, Robert, I am just looking out for you. Put the blasted shirt on.”“You put a shirt on.”“I wouldn‖t want to break your heart, so…no. Go on then.”Robert rolled his eyes, but he put it on.
Tristan sighed and plopped down on the old couch. “So. You will not wrestle me.”“No,” Robert grunted, joining him.
“But how on simearth shall we keep warm?” “You could put your clothes on?” “Pfft. Will you not oblige me because you hurt your delicate artist‖s hands with the terribly heavy poker? I know you are not used to manuallabor.”
“Oh, yes very funny. Har har.” As it was, Robert did feel a bit of chafing between his thumb and forefinger.“Poor you, and none of your marvelous servants around to help you poke things.” Tristan waggled his eyebrows. “Or to tend to your wood.”
Robert snorted. He knew there was subtext in that sentence, as there often was when Tristan was speaking. As usual, he pretended to ignoreit. “You know, whilst you were upstairs—” “Who says ―whilst‖…?” “—I thought about having my father see to some repairs about the cottage. There is a leak over by the fire, which accounts for the dampwood, and it is just in ill repair. I think he would do it, if I told him how his cottage was, and he may even provide a servant or two for yourconvenience. It is so filthy here, and the smell—”
“Oh, hah. Yes well… that is just my father. The stench, that is to say.”Robert nodded. “Soap really does nothing for Mr. Surilie?”“Not a thing. Not anything of consequence, anyway.”“That is too bad.”
Tristan‖s face fell into a frown. He knew Robert was accustomed to finery, and that Austen Cottage had VERY little in the way of that exceptfor the silk cushion. He sighed again, starting to brood. Robert recognized the dark look on Tristan‖s face and kicked him. “Well! This certainly beats having my six siblings all over me. Stopbrooding, you are oddly terrifying that way and I prefer to be the frightening one.” Tristan didn‖t brighten. “Should I growl for you?” Robertasked.
Tristan snorted and stood up to stretch. He yawned a bit too casually before saying, “Hm, were we not speaking of something before myfather‖s stench came into the conversation as it so often tends to do?”
Robert, not wishing Tristan to feel poorly again, leered at him as best as he could manage, which is to say not very well at all. “Somethingabout poking, if I recall correctly.” Tristan grinned. “Mm, and wood, as well?” “Unfortunately, yes.”
Tristan laughed again as he moved over to the windows where Marian‖s pianoforte once sat. Of course he knew there was somethingbetween himself and Robert, but as Robert liked to pretend otherwise, and as Tristan preferred to joke around about it to make light of adangerous situation, neither of them had made much progress in the way of admitting anything at all.
“Is it time to brood at the window while looking dejectedly out into the night, now?” Robert muttered as he joined Tristan.“It certainly looks that way, does it not?”
Robert, his hand shaking, brushed a bit of inky hair out of Tristan‖s eyes. “There is something so odd about your eyes…” he thought aloud,admiring the eerily clear blue.
Robert jerked his hand away, shocked at his own forwardness, but Tristan caught it. “Will you miss this?” Tristan swallowed and attempted a lazy smile. Mostly he just looked uncomfortable, because he was. Robert winced at the direction the conversation had gone. “Are you frightened? I wish you had accepted my father‖s offer to pay your wayto Pemberley.” Tristan nodded slowly. “Mm, I often find myself wondering if perhaps I should have. But I have made my decision. I am to be a sailor, and Iwill fight for our country. On a boat. Not sure how I will go about doing it on a boat, really, but I suppose there ought to be something useful Ican do if they are paying me to do it.”
“It will involve a great deal of swabbing, I should think,” Robert teased.Tristan grinned. “Most likely. If it does, though, I may now blame it on your prediction.”“To, ah… to answer your question… Yes. I will miss you—this! I mean this.” Damn.
Tristan let Robert pull his hand out of his grasp but he trailed his fingers up and down Robert‖s tensed forearm, not wanting to break contact.It drove Robert mad. He was confused. And angry.
“I did not ask you to marry me, Robert. I just touched your blasted arm. But clearly you have been thinking about this a lot more than youcare to let on…!”
“Ugh! All this taunting, all this playing about… we are men! Gentlemen! You, a sailor! Me… I will be the master of the largest estate in thecounty!” “Oh, I don‖t know, I think Blickling may be larger.” “This is not the time for jokes!”
“No. Listen, I know you have a duty to your family. I do not want to get in your way. I just want, well, I want you. Plumbob damn it, I amsick of pretending I don‖t! Are you not? I can see it on your face—since that first day, since then I have known you wanted me just as much as Iwanted you! I could die next week and this may be my last chance to tell you… ugh! I need a reason to come back to this hell. I need you to sayyou want me, too, even if I probably know it better than you do.”
Robert made an odd sound as he frowned at what Tristan was saying. “You have to come back. You must. I—I demand that you come back.”
“I HATE that you feel as if you can demand anything and it will just happen, just like that! You can demand that your feelings for me will goaway but I swear to Plumbob they won‖t.” Robert wasn‖t listening, too focused on the fact that Tristan sounded as if he wasn‖t even going to try to live through the war. “You have tocome back,” he said again.
Tristan moved across the room so quickly that Robert only noticed when he found Tristan‖s hands on his shoulders. Their eyes locked oneach other.
Robert felt as if he were literally on fire. He raised a shaking hand and stroked a thin line down Tristan‖s cheek. Tristan leaned into it andmoaned with pleasure but when he reached out to grab the hand Robert pulled away again.
“You want me. I can feel it.”“What would you know about it?” Robert breathed.Tristan laughed huskily. “Nothing. This is all so bloody new…”
Robert glared. “I hate you for making me feel like this.”“I am pleased to say that I do not feel at all the same.”“I should punch you straight in the jaw.”“You can do that if you like. Rough is good,” Tristan teased gruffly.“Be quiet! Plumbob, you‖re so… you‖re so...nngh.”
Robert grabbed Tristan by the shoulders and spun them around so that Tristan‖s back was to the wall.Tristan let out a throaty chuckle. “Finally… ”
“I said be quiet.”“…Make me.”Robert pulled Tristan away from the wall a hairsbreadth then slammed him back into it. He crushed their bodies together…
“Mmmm,” Tristan moaned as Robert pulled back the smallest of distances. “Remind me to go to war every day.”Robert hissed. “You will go, and then you will come back to me.”“But what of all the pretty Simfrench ladies I‖ll meet in port?” Tristan wondered with pretend innocence, not able to help himself.
Robert thrust one of his hands down and grabbed Tristan‖s hip, yanking it forward to meet his. “I said,” he grunted as he traced his fingersacross Tristan‖s waist, “to be quiet.” …
Somehow, though he was completely in a daze the following morning, Robert managed to load himself into the carriage with John that wasto take them away to Simdon. Unfortunately for John not only did Robert pass out before they had even really left, but Robert was also apparently having so vivid a dreamthat audible moaning was necessary.
John momentarily considered jumping out of the carriage and going to school much, much later, but then realized who he‖d be living withinstead: his parents.
Isabella and Marian sat on the floor of Isabella‖s room together, both staring down the various sheets of paper with lovely designs of the latestfashions from Simdon and Simparis. They were trying to decide what it was they should wear to their ball, and, for the moment, they wereactually getting on fairly well. And then they were not. “I like this one,” Marian said. She poked a drawing of a gown with a high cut featuring no sleeves. “In green, perhaps?” she added as shescribbled ―green‖ along the page‖s edge. “Oh,” said Isabella, her lovely face slowly moving into a frown. “I liked that one.”
“Bella...you only want it because I do. You haven‖t even looked at it properly…”“I did! I did, I saw it, and I liked it.”“Well we cannot have the same dress.”“Of course not! Imagine it…! It should make you look rather dull, all that fine satin. It would be far finer on me.”“Oh really?”
Isabella huffed and turned away. “Well think of it, Marian. Your complexion is so…so base that everything falls flat against your skin.”“Oh that is right, base. Ugh. Somehow you always find a way to remind me from where I come.”“Nonsense Marian. I merely meant that you need color.”“I see,” Marian grumbled.“Heavens, the way you jump to conclusions…”“Goodness, I wonder why I should possibly do that?”
“Oh you—you know how it gets, when I am…overwrought.” Marian snorted. “Overwrought. Right. Anyway, if color is my only problem then perhaps I might borrow your rouge for the evening?” “Rouge! I wear no rouge! I shall have you know that I am completely natural, and I‖ll thank you not to think otherwise.” “What was that jar I found in your room, then?” She craned her neck around to look at her sister‖s dressing table. “I think I see it right there,in fact. It is the one that says ―rouge‖…” “I…. why were you in my room without my permission?!”
“Really, Bella, it is not as if you are not constantly in mine, looking through my books. You would think the hundreds papa has in the librarywould be good enough for you, but no. You must have the ones I keep in my own possession. Anyway, I was looking for one of them yesterdaywhen I saw it. Goodness, keep your bonnet on.” “I hate this…this whole thing! It should by my ball, not our ball! “And why is that?” Marian challenged.
There were a thousand things Isabella wanted to say to that, but she tried very, very hard not to. “It‖s just not fair,” she finally grumbled.
Marian sighed. “Bella. You know why we must act this way in the public eye. Anyway, as soon as I am married, you will be Miss Austenagain!” Isabella almost bit her tongue in the rush to blurt out, “Anyone who sees you knows whose daughter you are.” “Yes, they do. Papa‖s. You know I look more like him than any of us, the boys included!”
“I want that dress, Marian,” Bella sighed. “Have the dress, fine! I do not see why we are not following the dress theme like the rest of the guests anyway. If they are meant to bemasquerading, should not we be?” “No indeed! They are to be masquing so that the attention will be on me—er…us.”
Marian snapped. “Well then. I‖ll do what you want, Bella. I will join in the masque and will wear a fancy costume, and you can have thisdress. That way I‖ll blend in and you will have all of the attention. That is exactly what you‖ve always wanted, isn‖t it? More attention, morelove, more anything than I have!”
“I—” “Though, really, I advise you to get it in red rather than green. Green is MY color, and it makes you look like a tree stump.” Isabella narrowed her eyes. “What is it exactly that you are trying to say” “I am not trying to say anything! I have successfully alluded to the fact that you have put on quite a bit of weight, and that you really oughtto stick to your better-featuring colors, or else risk looking like some sort of blunt object.”
“How very eloquent of you, Isabella. Really, I am quite proud of your mastery of the mother tongue. Why do we not try Simfrench now?”“…”“Haven‖t you got anything to say? Perhaps something about my mother? Perhaps something—“
“Mama! Mama, where are you?” Marian shouted. She did not hear a reply but Charles came in just then, so she asked him, “Charles, haveyou seen my mother?”
Charles was not an outgoing young man. Indeed, he was practically mute from fear at speaking to people. However, he made the effort forMarian, for she was a very pretty young lady, and was always nice to him. “I, er, I believe, Miss, that your mother… er, well that is she may be indisposed at the moment, and ah… your father is, well… seeing… to…her?”
Marian blanched. “Oh.” She swallowed. “It‖s two o‖clock in the afternoon! They really ought to learn to control…”
“Forgive me. Erm. Charles? I wonder if I might persuade you to escort me to Martin Hall. I wish to pay a visit to my dear friend LadyEmma.” “Shall I send a card round first, ma‖am?” “No… actually, yes, that would probably be wise. And anyway, she will probably laugh at the formality of it all.” “L-lady Emma is not like most people, is she ma‖am? Interesting… lady… I mean to say.” Marian laughed and patted Charles on the shoulder. “Yes, interesting is one way to put it.”
Charles blushed furiously at being touched by a person, let alone a woman. “I‖ll just get that card out now, then.”“Thank you, Charles.”
“Miss,” he acknowledged, bowing his way out of the room. Marian found Charles hilarious, for he never turned his back on her, and always bowed to her as if she were a queen. A nice change of pace,she thought, after rowing with Isabella. Another thought occurred to her.
“Oh, Charles?” “Yes Miss Austen?” Marian thrilled at the title, though she knew should probably just feel bad about being mean to Isabella. “See if you can find time to send acard out to Sporque Manor. I would really… I mean, my mother wishes to invite the O‖Leerys for dinner.” Charles looked even more surprised than usual. “Master Bleu, as well?” “Yes, him too. Thank you Charles that will be all.” “Ma‖am.” …
“So good to see you!” Emma squealed when Marian arrived at Martin Hall an hour later. “Really, it has been SO dull here today. All mycousin George – and, well, my other cousin George, too — all they want to do is lock themselves in their rooms ALL. DAY. LONG. DoingPlumbob knows what, I really can‖t imagine, but Mrs. Haggerty and Mrs. Haggerty are always in there with them. Separately, I mean. Youknow, it would be extraordinarily helpful if all this propriety was gone. It is hard enough with three separate Georges in the house, but withtwo Mrs. Haggertys it is just downright confusing calling them all Mr. Haggerty and Mr. Haggerty, Mrs. Haggerty and Mrs. Haggerty. LittleGrace and I must stick together it seems. Or maybe I shall just refer to them as Georgiana and Lucy one day and see what happens. It will bevery shocking, do not you think? Oh, do come in! I suppose we ought not to stand in the hallway this entire afternoon, no? L-O-L.”
Emma grinned. “What? L-O-L! Isn‖t that a vastly enjoyable way to show one‖s amusement? I hear the simselves saying it all the time.Especially Miss Deanna! She is terribly witty. And I do mean terribly, sometimes… the things she says…!” “Dear, as one who lives with a simself I can tell you that it is usually best not to repeat anything they say.” “Like…spork?” Emma teased. “You say that all the time and I know you got it from Miss Lark.” Marian frowned. “…Follow my words, not my example.” “LOL.”
“Oh, Plumbob…” Marian laughed at her friend as she gave her a tight hug. “So. You got my card?”
“Oh, I did! Very pretty design, I must say, were they new? But Marian really, you know you are welcome here at ANY time, no need forcards or anything, though I did have a good laugh at ―Miss Austen requesting an audience with The Lady Emma Bingham‖.” “Yes, I thought you would enjoy that.” “Shall we have tea? Nobody here drinks much tea, and it is very odd, very odd. I thought you Simlish drank tea all day long. (I think I heardonce you do not run on humours but on tea.) Anyway, I think my cousins only enjoy tea at breakfast and very occasionally in the afternoon, butI say! I do require tea far more often than that.”
“Yes, we have a kettle going at all times in the kitchen at home; John has quite the collection of teacups in his room, though he attempts toclean them out daily. It just never seems like they leave for he is always in there, sipping away and studying his books.” “I think scholarly gentlemen are very fine indeed,” Emma said dreamily. “That does not shock me one bit,” Marian said as she stifled a giggle. “Has he told you his plans? I must admit I am still in awe of his ability tospeak to you at all. He gets nervous with me at times and I am his sister.” “It is very odd… we never want for things to speak of and he only rarely blushes. I see nothing of the bashful young man you tell me of.” “Perhaps he just looks at you as another scholar and not as a woman,” Marian theorized.
Emma‖s face fell only slightly at Marian‖s thought. “Anyway, to answer your question he has only told me he would like to study medicine.”
“Yes, though I think now he may go into the army after Pemberley if papa can get him a commission. “Oh, how valiant of him! To serve the wounded soldiers on the battlefield must be very rewarding but very arduous. I shall have to speak ofhim about that the next time we meet! One of my brothers took the same path, in fact. Medicine is vastly fascinating, do you not agree?” “To be perfectly honest the whole business makes me quite ill. I am only brave until the leeches are brought out.”
“My brother James used to keep leeches. One of them was named Arthur, I think.”
Marian blinked. “Oh! He must be the doctor.”“Good heavens, were you thinking he just kept them for pleasure? How silly!” Emma giggled.
The ladies chatted for a while longer on the importance of doctors in the world, and whether or not handsomeness was a requirement formedicinal learning or if it had just worked out that all the doctors they knew were devilishly attractive. “It is so amusing that we should both have five brothers and that two of them are interested in medicine. Of course most of my brothers areolder than me and yours are younger.”
“And I have Isabella,” Marian said, managing to not clench her jaw overmuch. She still felt slightly bad for the things she‖d said to her sisterearlier. “Yes, Isabella. I cannot get a handle on her! Sometimes she seems truly lovely but other times I think she is about to scream in my face! Isshe quite well?” “I think she is simply jealous of me for being the older sister.” “Well that is hardly your fault, is it?” Marian winced. She hated lying about her mother, but she wasn‖t about to go against her parent‖s wishes and blurt it out, either.
“You know what we should do? We should extend ourselves to include Isabella, to make sure she knows she is important as well. What doyou think?” “I think that would be lovely but unhelpful.” “Why? Is it not best to try?”
“I can honestly say that I am unsure.”Emma sighed quietly. “I see this makes you uncomfortable. I apologize. Perhaps we will reconsider this conversation later?”
Marian nodded, smiling.Emma beamed. “You are welcome! Now! Tell me about your other brother, and I mean the blonde one this time.”
“There are two of those.” “Good heavens! Now I feel utterly useless for I seem to have forgotten his name and have no way of hiding it! How is your brother, the-blonde-one-who-has-gone-to-Pemberley-just-this-morning?” Marian grinned. “Oh, I knew who you meant.”
“How very unkind, I am deeply, deeply offended, Miss Austen,” Lady Emma said dramatically.Marian grinned wider. “Forgive me, my lady. Robert—”
“Oh! Robert! How could I have forgotten? One of my brothers is named Robert.” “Really? What are the others‖ names, if you do not mind me asking?” “Well there is the eldest, Stuart, and he is the Earl of Simlucan now that papa has passed away. Then there is Robert, who I mentioned, thenPatrick, Jamie, er—James, the doctor, and little William.”
“And where are they all? Not at home, I think I heard you mention before?” “No. Well, William is at home—he is but four years old. I hope to one day bring him here if I should, erm, well… stay. Patrick and Jamie arein Simfrance with the army and Stuart is…honestly I do not know where he has gotten himself off to now, but he‖s not in Simireland as of hislast letter. Robert is at university but he plans to take holy orders. ”
“Ah! The Church of Boolprop will gain an excellent shepherd, then, I dare say.”Emma‖s little nose scrunched up as she looked around uncomfortably. “Erm, as it happens my family is of the Maxian faith.”“Oh, of course.” Marian was suddenly very interested in her fingernails.
“Well this is horridly awkward!” Emma exclaimed, standing up and startling Marian. They both laughed and nodded.
“Is it terribly awful that I‖ve never met a Maxian before?”
“Really? What of Mrs. Simself? She allows me to join her for services, so I hope she is Maxian…”
Marian rolled her eyes. “I do not think Mrs. Simself knows WHAT she is. All those simselves in one place… I think they are driving herrather mad.” “Ooh, yes! Is not another one of them, er, in a delicate situation?”
“The last I heard, Miss Lily moved to Simdon to be the governess for my cousin Benjamin‖s son Ezra, but now she is with child.”“Oh, GASP! How very shocking! We must send her a note to show our concern for her welfare immediately. Come along!”
Lady Emma grabbed Marian‖s hand and began pulling her from the room, fully intent on sending something to Miss Lily, if only to see thereaction of everyone when it was discovered that The Lady Emma approved of this infant. “You just love to shock everyone…” “Ah, my dear Marian… what other joy may we ladies find in life? Needlepoint? I should most decidedly think not.”
“My dear Miss Lily Simself… ” Emma said aloud as she started the note. “Your sensitive condition has recently come to my attention… ” …
The O‖Leerys pulled up to Austen Park in their carriage at precisely eight o‖ clock in the evening. The hour was somewhat late for dinner, butof course the O‖Leerys were very, very rarely seen in the daylight anymore. The three O‖Leerys started to walk toward the stairs leading to Austen Park‖s main hall when the sound of a window creaking open washeard, and Marian Austen appeared above them.
“Bleu! Aunt, Uncle! Come round to the back, we are eating in the garden!” she shouted. Under most circumstances, Marian‖s actions would be most, most improper, and would be greeted with disdain, but as the guests were theO‖Leerys, this did not apply. They were possibly the family closest to the Austens of Austen Park, and even if that were not the case, the O‖Leeryshad long been known as the sort of people who cared very little for silly things like propriety. Bleu grinned and waved up to her before showing his parents around the side of the house. Marian quickly shut her window and dashed down the two flights of stairs to the garden, eager to see Bleu‖s face again.
“Welcome!” Frank said as he kissed Gwendolen O‖Leery on her icy cheek. “You are lovely as ever, sister,” he added with a knowing smile. “Thank you, Frank,” Gwen grinned, flashing her teeth. “A good idea, this…an impromptu garden party to celebrate one of the last mildevenings of the year.” “My ideas are usually brilliant, are they not?” “I‖ll have to answer that one later after a good deal of thought.”
“O‖Leery! Good to see you, old boy. And Bleu!” he called, sitting back down. “How can it be that you are still growing?”“I think, Uncle, perhaps it is you who are shrinking.”Everyone laughed at this and Frank shrugged. “Yes, perhaps, perhaps! I am getting older by the minute! Now sit!”“Sit by me!” Marian whispered in Bleu‖s ear.
“Where are Wills and Lucas?” Gwen wondered, now seated. “I haven‖t seen those charming nephews of mine for an age!”“I am afraid you run on very different schedules these days!” Lark told her.“Ah, of course!”
“Gwen, is that gown new?” Alice asked.“Oh, not a bit! I‖ve only just added new trim, do you like it?”“It is very fine indeed. I am of a mind to—”
Marian and Bleu let the rest of the conversation drown out as they turned to each other.“You look well this evening, Marian,” Bleu said in a low voice.“How very kind, thank you,” she said, willing herself to leave it there and add no sarcasm.
She gasped quietly as she felt a hand brush her dress and find her hand. “I am glad you got my note,” she breathed.“Your note? I thought it was from your mother?”“Well… I may have led Charles to believe that it was my mother‖s idea to invite you.”Bleu feigned a sigh. “Poor, poor Charles. Is he still in love with you?”“I am afraid so, yes.”
“Ah, the poor lad. But it was your idea to have us here this evening?” “Well, I also may have let my father believe it was his idea.” “Ah, I see… so he would not suppose his daughter wishing to invite a devastatingly handsome young man to his house to possibly sneak offand have a private walk in the garden in the middle of the night.”
“What has come over you? Has your latest lady thrown you aside, and now you think to look to me for… entertainment?” As she said it thewords stung Marian. She hoped to Plumbob that she had just made the entire thing up, but now that she had said it… it sounded far, far tooplausible. She instantly regretted it. Why do I ruin everything?
Bleu frowned. “No… I am merely… I do not know what I am doing, to be perfectly honest. I wish you would stop doing that, as well…“latest woman” indeed… did you not believe a word I said at the garden party?” Marian pulled her hand out of his grasp and took a sip of her water before interweaving her fingers under the table. She pretended to listento the table conversation before responding to him.
“So then I asked her what drones were, and as it turns out they‖re sort of like walking bottles of wine. She wasn‖t too amused by that, but itwas NOTHING compared to her face when I asked about Gwen.”
Frank smiled indulgently. While blood-drinking and the like were not his choice topics for dinner conversation, Olie was so excited about itFrank was not about to stop him. “What about Gwen?” he asked.
Gwen groaned quietly. “You‖ll regret asking that, brother.” “Well I asked her if Gwen could be my drone, since I‖m always biting her neck anyway…” Olie missed the greenish hue that filled Frank‖sface. “But she said no, in the most terrifyingly awesome way, that drones had to be among the living, and that drinking the blood of anothervampire would be like drinking day old tea.” “Ew…” Marian said almost silently.
Finding the current conversation decidedly against her tastes, Marian finally decided to respond to Bleu. She looked at him from the cornerof her eye and said, “Well. Perhaps when you figure it all out you shall be so kind as to inform me of what it is you are doing, and what yourintentions are toward… me.”
“Any intentions I could ever have toward you… they would be only the best, Marian.”
“I do not know about that. I have no interest in being another man‖s who—” she choked on the word. “I am not—not like that,” she decidedto say instead. Bleu frowned deeper. He stood up abruptly, knocking over a few goblets of water in the process, and seized Marian‖s hand. He pulled herout of her seat and away into the rose garden, much to the rest of the table‖s confusion.
Isabella stared after them. “Papa, should I follow…?”
Isabella nodded and got up from the table gracefully before going after her sister and Bleu. She moved almost silently behind them, but onlyso far as the hedge, making sure she was hidden from view. This was not only a kindness. Of course, chaperones always tried to makethemselves known but scarce, so the lovebirds could have what seemed like privacy. But for Isabella, it was also a way to make sure she sawwhat would happen if they were NOT chaperoned. “What is the meaning of this?” Marian demanded. “I think about you all the time. Every time I see you, my mind is filled with the determination to please you, to impress you. You are thedearest… friend I have ever had.”
Marian‖s face fell. She did not know how to react to the fact that the man she‖d loved for years was calling her a friend after the way he‖djust behaved. She did not miss the fact that he had not said he loved her. “I see.”
“Marian, I have my commission.”Marian started. “What?”“I am to be an officer. I am off to Simfrance, and soon.”
Marian‖s eyebrows crushed together as she took a step back. “No. No. You can‖t go.” Bleu took her hand. “Write to me. Say you will so I shall know there is still good in the world, even when life gets absolutely dreadful overthere.” “But… ” “Please.”
Marian pulled her hand from his grasp. “Why not have one of your lovers write to you? What of Miss Bruty? Mrs. Picaso?” “Again with the lovers! I made mistakes, but there are no others. We have parted ways. I think I have told you this once or twice already ,you insufferable woman!”
“I told you, Marian. I have tried to put it all behind me, and I wish you would just let me. I am trying to make you happy!”
Marian searched his face for the smallest hint that he was lying. “Why would you do that?”
Throwing all propriety to the wind, Bleu grabbed Marian by the waist and dragged her forward to meet her lips with his for one defense-shattering moment.
When he let go it only took Marian half a second to slap him.
“I deserved that.” “Yes, you did! What were you thinking?!” It was something she‖d been wanting for years, that kiss, but she wasn‖t about to let it get in the wayof her irritation. “I wasn‖t thinking!” “Clearly not!”
“Will you forgive me, if I tell you a secret?”
“That would very much depend on what you have to tell me but I shall warn you that I am not much in the mood for games.”
Isabella turned away and walked back to her family, smiling despite her better judgment. …
Robert sat in his room at the first year dormitory, his things only half unpacked, clutching a dirty, crinkled note. He‖d found it rolled up inhis favorite waistcoat; clearly the note‖s creator knew what they were about. …Robert— By the time you find this I‖m certain you will be well settled in Simdon and I shall be halfway across the Channel. I so badly wish we couldhave had more time, that we would have come to our understanding at an earlier date, but regret helps nothing. If the worst should happen, I beg you to remember just one thing… Tristan
The end! Not only were these two really good at being drama queens for me (I could NOT stop laughing at them for this particular bit) but they alsokept giving me adorably appropriate but inconveniently in-the-way heart-farts. I really hope you enjoyed this one…! I‖m sort of at a loss for words, to be honest… why is it that I had no problem filming Alice, Lark, andFrank completely naked, but filming Robert and Tristan had be blushing like a fool? Alas. The next couple of chapters will be a LOT different from my usual style, and they‖ll come in short pieces instead of long updates. SO…you‖ve been warned? Happy simming!