As peaceful as they looked, snoozing in the room with an alarming disregard for propriety, the snores indicated that the culprits were sleeping as ifthey had been working vigorously hard the night before. Marian squeaked as she realized that is probably exactly what had happened. As much as she wanted to look away (and she really, really wanted tolook away) it was proving to be a physical impossibility. Wanting to be anywhere else but in front of those glass doors, Robert seized his sister‟s hand and started to pull. “Come along,” he whimpered.Robert shook his head, hard, as if he were trying to throw the memory from his mind. “I told—”
With one last horrified blink into the bedchamber as she lumbered behind Robert toward the door, Marian very nearly snarled. “If you completethat statement with the words “you” and “so” I swear to all that walks this world that I shall end your lovely existence,” she said in the menacinglysweet way only she could.
“Right. Ah, anyway... the good news, I suppose, is that they‟ve sorted themselves out now. They have all been dancing about this ridiculous messfor years upon years. Perhaps finally we can pass a meal without Mama staring longingly into your mother‟s eyes, or— oh no! It will probably be worsenow…!” He‟d lost a bit of the green color in his face momentarily but now it was back, and with interest.
“Isabella is not to be informed,” Marian decided quickly“Certainly not! Can you imagine?” Robert shuddered“If she knew she would lose what is left of that mind of hers, and somehow, of course, it will be my fault.”
“What will be your fault, dearest sister? Aside from most things, that is,” Isabella wondered aloud as she appeared suddenly coming out of Frank‟srooms.
Just as quickly as she‟d decided not to tell her sister what was going on, Marian decided that she would. Indirectly, as was her way. “Oh!” she sighed dramatically. “I spilled ink on that fabric you wanted Alice to make up into a gown for you. I am so sorry, dear sister! I know notwhat came over me, but my hand just slipped!” “Marian…” Robert cautioned. He was absolutely certain that Marian was lying. After all, the fabric in question was in his own room lying atop anold suit of his, waiting to see if there would be enough of it to fashion into a waistcoat.
“You… you WHAT?”“Oh, Bella, I am so sorry!” Marian continued, kicking her brother stealthily.“Where is it, you horrible cow?!”
“Bella—”“Quiet, Robert. It is in Alice‟s room. Hr bedchamber, specifically. She was seeing if it was salvageable.”“I‟ll have you punished for this! Just you wait, Marian!” Isabella shouted as she shoved her sister aside and stalked off to her mother‟s room.
Robert crossed his arms, fighting a smile, and turned around slowly to face Marian. “You‟re a bad person,” he said, deadpan.Before Marian could respond, Isabella‟s scream shot through the hallway and into the rest of the house at an impressive volume, even for Isabella.
Marian smiled widely as she leaned against the balustrade. “Oh, I know I am.” -----
Many things had changed at Austen Park since Lark and Marian had moved in so long ago. The most recent change had been the hiring of severalservants; with so many people under her roof, Alice could no longer keep up with the running of the country estate, and so Frank broke his family‟stradition of servant-less life to ease his wife‟s mind. The Austens now employed six servants: Daisy, Mr. Deppiesse, Mr. Awon, Mrs. Langerak, Mrs. Jameson, & Charles.
Part of the reason Frank was so willing to employ servants, completely disregarding the large household, was the rather larger house itself. Veryrecently he completed his ambitious remodeling and redecorating plans on the manor house, and several new bedrooms and other rooms have nowbeen added. No room was left unchanged, but some alterations were more important than others.
Originally, Isabella and Marian shared a room. However, the fights that ensued from that situation were so bad that the first change Frank wasintent on making was finding Marian a room of her own. It had once been Charlotte‟s and was therefore not terribly large, but Marian and her auntCharlotte were rather alike in their taste for simple elegance, not “narcissistic affluence” as Charlotte liked to call it.
Other additions included rooms for John and for Henry, William, and Lucas, as well as suites for Robert and Lark.
One of the more exciting things about the remodel was that Alice was given her own games parlor which had been Lark‟s idea. Alice was extremelygrateful, and now spends most of her time in there. Other places were expanded, such as the library which is now two floors, the ballroom, Frank‟s study, Robert‟s art room, and the hot house.
The reasons for Frank‟s remodel had been somewhat varied. Of course he said it was merely to keep up with the current trends and fashions, but that was a ruse. Really, he wished to focus on them in theinterest of distracting himself from the fact that his wife could no longer bear children, and could therefore no longer visit his bed. Once Alice convinced him to take Lark as a mistress Frank calmed down. For about half an hour, that is. As soon as Lark and her daughter movedinto the manor, Frank learned that Lark was expecting another child.
This development sent Frank into further hysterics, and the state of his mind was not helped by the terrible recurring nightmares he was having.
The worst nightmare, in Frank‟s mind, involved him being rather… pregnant. He always woke up when the “labor pains” started, though.
The other nightmare involved his mother Edith‟s painting. In actuality, Edith‟s painting hung in the entrance hall proudly, but in the dream it was shrouded in curtains and mystery. Every instance of thedream had Lark walking by it, and then the curtains would fly open and Edith would scream piercingly loud. Her favorite things to say were along the lines of, “VERMIN. FILTH. SIMSELVES DESECRATING THE NOBLE HOUSE OF AUSTEN.PESTS. DISGUSTING SCOURGE OF THE WORLD. A PLAGUE UPON MY HOUSE, SIMSELVES. TERRORIZERS. WHORES.PARASITES!!!!”
The one time Frank decided to share this dream with Lark was the last as she was the farthest thing from amused. The one about his pregnancy,however, had both she and Alice crying with laughter.
The night she gave birth Lark had been in her room near the kitchen speaking to Frank, or rather arguing over a name for their baby, when the painshit. Alice and Marian were called for, and Frank was kicked out. Before anyone was ready, there were two new Austens in the world, and they wereboth little boys.
Lark and Frank had even more to argue about at that point. They agreed on Lucas for the older son, but Frank was insistent on William, after hisfather, for the younger. Naturally, Lark despised the idea. She wanted something like Shion or some other name Frank did not understand, but Frankrefused, insisting that it was only right to name one of his sons for his father, to which Lark responded that no son of hers would be named for afamed philanderer… and thus the Great Name War was begun. Alice eventually stepped in and suggested they name the child Two. Odd as it wasthere did not appear to be another option and so for the first few days of their lives, the twins were called Lucas and Two. Eventually, Lark agreed toWilliam on the condition that he be referred to as Liam. Luke and Liam, she said, had a nice ring to it. While the rest of the family bickered overWilliam being called Wills or Liam, Alice chose to stay neutral and continues to call him Two, affectionately of course, to this day.
The boys grew quickly. Lucas was soon discovered to be quite the daredevil, always escaping out of his bed, running about the house, and climbingeverything the moment he knew how to walk. William was a direct contrast to his twin and appeared to be a very quiet baby,. His favorite things to dowere to sleep and draw.
As his sons grew, Frank returned to a somewhat normal state of mind and was optimistic that neither of his nightmares would ever come true. Hecontinued to work on the house and time passed peacefully. As peacefully as it could with the constant noise of the remodeling and the ceaselessbickering of Marian and Isabella, that is.
Amongst the physical changes of Austen Park were the changes in the Austen children. Now, all traces of swaddling clothes and nursery rhymeshave evaporated and are replaced with books, gowns, tea, and nonsense.
The day John turned fifteen it was one of the most embarrassing of his life. He hated parties; he really did, especially ones for his birthday. And ashe was finally attracting female attention, that one was the worst so far. After cake he was immediately surrounded by Josephine Austen, Phoebe Simself, and Cecilia Legacy. They were all talking to him at once andsmiling and giggling and being distinctly there...! He just did not know how to handle himself and so he ran off.
“John?” John, a book, and a very-sadly-empty cup of tea were found in the library by Marian a quarter of an hour later. John grunted softly to acknowledgehis sister‟s presence, but did not look up as she crossed the large room.
“John, what in the world are you doing? This is your party, should not you spend time with your guests and well-wishers? Isabella is absolutelyappalled. Not,” she added,” that that is particularly uncommon.” “I-I they, well, everyone was CROWDING me.” “Er…who was crowding you?”
"Erm, it-it-it was Miss Legacy. And Miss Simself, the one without the glasses. AND Miss Smith!"Marian laughed. "Oh, have you found a paramour already little brother?"“What? Wh-what? Are you quite mad? No! Absolutely… that is… no!”"Oh, come now. They are just so happy to see you so grown up, and so very handsome."“Handsome?" he scoffed. "Hardly.”
"First, take a look at great-great-grandpapas portrait and then in the mirror. Second, you have red hair." Marian twirled a lock of her own. "Thatautomatically makes you handsome.“ “Red hair isn’t as lovely on men as it is women. On you it looks exotic, exciting; on us it merely makes us look like, I don’t know… but strange and not at all fetching.Ergo…you are full of nonsense. But—but thank you. ” “Must you rationalize everything like that?”
“…I think so, yes,” John acknowledged with a wide grin he tried unsuccessfully to hide. He laughed and suddenly felt a little bit better, but ofcourse he soon turned pink again. "I cannot go back in there, Marian.“
"Well! We do not have to. We can sit and read, if you like. The book papa ordered for me from Simparis arrived yestermorning. Would you like tosee it? It is in Simfreeeeench, and I know how much you like—!” "Oh, excellent! Where is it?”
Robert sat crankily at the party for quite some time before he finally decided he had had rather enough and went to find John. He simply would notbe subjected to the fawning of tittering ladies if his brother did not have to be.
“‟No spring nor summer beauty hath such grace as I have seen in one autumnal face.‟ Humph.” “What are you doing?” Robert had looked high and low for his brother and there he was, seated with Marian , rather happily, in the corner of theupper library.
Marian smirked. “I am currently attempting to teach young John here a bit about poetry,” she said. John shook his head slowly. Robert looked at John quizzically, and John instantly turned as red as his hair for no immediately apparent reason. “Indeed?” Robert asked. “Mydear John, I had no idea you were at all interested in poetry!”
John frowned, scarlet in the face; it gave him the look of a rather distressed peach. “I do not, and Ill thank YOU to not throw such hideous accusations at me. Poetry, whatever our sister may say, is HORRID. Poets are so… so…so blasted pretentious. „Oh, that flower in mine eye reflects the inner beauty of thine soul‟ or some such nonsense, I do not even… ”
“That was a terrible poem, John,” Marian chided, teasing.
“Yes, yes, well! So are they all! What is this one meant to mean anyway? Autumnal face? Bah. What, has the young lady got dead leaves foreyebrows?”
Robert bit back a laugh but Marian giggled loudly. “Yes, of course!” she agreed. “And acorns, for eyes?”John nodded gravely. “Straw, for hair.”“Oh! We must not forget: apple cheeks!"
Robert stared at his siblings, amused. “You are both utterly ridiculous. You are aware of this?” “Yes!” Marian cried. “Thank you!” John rolled his eyes. “Come now, you can tell me what she has for lips and toes as we go back to the guests. Mama and Papa and Lark will probably wonder where weare.” Robert smirked as his brothers face twisted into his practiced expression of martyrdom.
John sighed loudly and stood. "Let us go back. It has to be better than poetry, anyway,” he mumbled to Robert as they headed to the door. "John! I will thank you not to disparage my glorious book.“ "I hate to say anything negative about a book,” John said, louder. “It is most true that I am very much grieved indeed to say something unpleasantabout a book, but poetry… and Simfrench romantic poetry at that, oh good heavens. I should sooner like to spend an entire afternoon watching ourparents do... whatever it is they do.“ -----
Unlike John, when it came time for Isabella and Henry to reach their teen years they were more than happy to have attention. Henry was possiblythe opposite of his brother John and absolutely adored female attention, though perhaps a little too much. Isabella just loved any occasion where shewas the center of attention, even if she had to share it with her twin. The party was, as all things involving Isabella were, quite grand, and most ofSimshire was invited.
If it had been up to Isabella, however, her sister Marian would have been kept from the festivities. It was no secret that Isabella did not often get along with her sister. To Isabella, Marian was prettier, had nicer things, and was a terrible person,considering her horridly low birth. There was something deeper there, of course, but Isabella tried to focus on the fact that Marian was a bastard. Because Isabella was so jealous of her sister, she always had to have more than Marian, and she hated it when any attention meant for her was spenton Marian. Because Marian was not really a bad person, she didn‟t care. The fact that her baby sister disliked her was irritating, but nothing more. She stillloved her sister, deep, deep down, and she didn‟t let it get to her. Much.
The one thing Marian had which Isabella had no hope of getting was a cat named Mr. Fluffy Sour Puss. She‟d had him since she was two years oldand he was getting on in years, but he was a lovely cat, and Isabella was, naturally, jealous. She tried to sway Mr. Fluffy Sour Puss‟s affections towardherself, but to no avail; the cranky white puff ball was staunchly loyal to Marian, to Lark, and to absolutely nobody else.
Isabella begged her parents for a puppy all throughout her childhood and, finally, on this particular birthday Alice and Frank conceded. They adopted one of the Blackthorne family‟s famous greyhounds for her, and Isabella was ecstatic. The puppy was named May Amelia RoseIsabella Aurora Noelle, or M.A.R.I.A.N. Marian had not been very amused that Isabella had named a bitch after her, but she lived through the insult and the birthday party. She tried veryhard to always remind herself that at least she had Mr. Fluffy Sour Puss. Most of the time.
The cat had a nasty habit of getting lost and when Marian and her mother had made the move to the great house it was as if he‟d gone missingforever. However, the very next day the cat was returned to them, and Tristan, the son the infamous Garrett Surilie, was the one to bring him back.Since that time, Mr. Fluffy Sour Puss had escaped three more times, and each time he was returned by Tristan. It had gotten to the point that everytime Mr. Fluffy Sour Puss ran off, she knew it was only a matter of time before one of the servants brought the cat to her and explained that, “MasterSurilie left this here for you, miss.” He‟d gone missing again right around the time Isabella‟s puppy May arrived.
Just a day after Isabella & Henry‟s party Marian heard a proud knock at the door and assumed it was Tristan bringing her cat home for the fifth time.Too lazy to make her way to greet the young man herself, especially because the young man seemed to think himself very attractive which annoyed herto no end, Marian settled into her chair and waited.
Robert was lounging in the drawing room when he heard the knocking at the front door. He waited for Charles to answer it, but it seemed theservants were off doing… whatever it was that servants did. Annoyed at the knocking, Robert heaved himself to his feet and went to answer the door for what was definitely the first time in his life.
When he did, he saw a very handsome young man with black hair and piercing blue eyes. Robert‟s heart fluttered at the appearance of this youngman, and at first he could think of nothing to say.
And then Mr. Fluffy Sour Puss jumped, rather impressively, into Robert‟s face.“AUGH!”
Pleased with himself as usual, the cat trotted off into the house and Robert was left standing with the young man at the front stairs.“Blasted cat.”
“Yes, I erm… well I found him in the kitchen. Again. Also again, he was using the ground wheat in the mortar as a chamber pot. So… as I am theone who had to clean it, I agree with your assessment of „blasted cat‟.”
Robert‟s face broke into an unwilling grin. “Ah. Yes. Of course…my sister would be most put out if she knew we were speaking of her belovedcat in that way.”
“Well I suppose we just ought not to tell her,” Tristan said conspiratorially. His voice was wonderful, Robert noticed. It was slightly gruff and had a hint of the accent Robert had often heard near the docks of theSimthames, but it was terribly pleasing. He felt goose bumps rise all over his skin as Tristan smiled widely, revealing shockingly white teeth.
They stood there for a moment, saying nothing. Robert thought furiously over something to talk about but could only come up with, “You‟re theson of the Surilie man, aren‟t you? You are the one who brings the cat back all the time.”
“Tristan Mortimer Surilie, son of Garrett Matthew Smith Surilie, Cat-capturer extraordinaire, at your service, my good sir,” Tristan explained with agrand bow. It was not until he stood straight up again that Robert realized he was making a mockery of things.
Robert raised an eyebrow at this obvious lack of respect. Usually he was a very serious gentleman and obsessed with propriety, but Tristan had thisway about him that made him feel… free or something like that. “Ah I am Robert Austen, son—” “Yes, I know who you are.” “Oh. Of course, you would,” Robert said pompously. Tristan rolled his eyes, and luckily Robert missed it. “So, Mr. Surilie, do you play chess?”
Tristan thought quickly. He hesitated only slightly and replied, “I‟ve actually never played. Not much for things like that, myself.” “Oh! Well, it is vastly enjoyable. How would you like to come in? I could, er, teach you?” Both of them ignored the fact that it was quite, quite improper for the squire‟s son to invite the cottage caretaker‟s son in to play a rousing game ofchess; Tristan beamed and nodded vigorously.
“We‟ve a board in the drawing room,” Robert explained as he led the way through the entrance hall.Tristan snorted. “I‟ve always wondered what it looked like in here. I always thought it would be really frivolous, but it‟s not so bad.”
Robert looked affronted, and he was. “I beg your pardon…!”
Wearing a confident grin, Tristan backpedaled. “Oh come now I mean no disrespect.” He paused. “Ah, well perhaps I do. Come; let me beat youat chess.”
“You‟ve never played!” “There is a first time for everything, is there not now Mr. Austen?” Tristan said ridiculously just as he and Robert disappeared into the drawingroom.
Marian, who had wondered at how long it was taking for someone to bring her cat to her, was standing at the top of the stairs observing the scene.Isabella, unable to keep her nose out of anything, had joined her moments later with May in tow. “Really. I cannot believe Robert is letting that person in our house. I should tell mama.” “Oh stop it Bella. Alice would only go down and try to be his new best friend.”
Isabella processed that, and finally found a way to turn it around on Marian. Plopping May unceremoniously on the floor and standing to face hersister, she said with a huff, “Yes, well, I never have understood her judgment. She lets you and your mother live here, after all.”
She spun around and walked off in the opposite direction, leaving Marian to just stare after her, crankily, in disbelief; neither of the girls noticedLark as she exited Frank‟s bedchamber.
“Little piece of—!”“Marian, it really doesn‟t help things if you call her names,” Lark said from behind her.“But she‟s so—!”“Don‟t pull your hair out, love.”
Marian groaned. “But mama she really IS a—!”“That may be so, but it is unkind and does not help her think better of us.”Marian glared at her mother, but eventually gave in. “Yes mama.”
“What are you doing standing here, anyway Marian?” Lark asked. She felt something tugging at her gown impatiently and squealed. “OH! You areback! Where have you been, you rotten cat? Back at the cottage, eh?”
Lark picked up the poufy feline and Marian sighed. “Maybe ONE day he will stick around for a moment or two, but at least he is here now. I onlyjust heard a knock at the door and came to see for nobody had answered it, but I found Robert standing there with that young man from our oldcottage, and the young man had Mr. Fluffy Sour Puss with him. Again.” “Oh Tristan? He‟s a such a nice boy. BIG improvement from his father, I think.” “Ugh, Mama… do not say that too near him for I think he rather agrees with you, and then some.” “I see…” “But…yes. It was Tristan.”
“Wonderful! Is he still here?” she asked happily. Marian nodded. “Well! Let us go and thank him. I‟ll fetch Alice and Frank. They are probablystill abed,” Lark said with a leer.
Marian shuddered and knelt down to scratch behind the cat‟s ears. “My mother scares me,” she whined. She‟d had her suspicions even then as to what her parents were up to, but not until the morning she and Robert found them intertwined that horridmorning years later were those suspicions confirmed. Thoroughly, thoroughly confirmed.
A little while later, most of the Austens had come up with the same idea: to “spend time” in the drawing room, which of course meant “to watchRobert play a game of chess with Tristan Surilie.” “I do not understand it, mama,” Henry whispered rather loudly. “He has not said one unkind thing to him this past hour.” “I think our brother is broken!” Lucas observed cheerfully.
Alice smiled at them all. “Oh, come now, children. Robert can make friends too.”
Tristan glanced over at the Austens, raising an eyebrow. “Your family is aware we can hear them…?”
“Most definitely. I highly doubt they care, however.”“Clearly not! Are you—are you truly never kind to anyone?”“Nonsense. I am extraordinarily kind to everyone all the time,” Robert said, expressionless.
Tristan‟s eyebrow rose higher still. “Really.”“Not at all,” Robert admitted with a smirk.“So I must just be special then!”
Robert was horrified.“NO! I mean—just play, Surilie. For heavens sake! What a thing to say…” What a terribly true, wonderful thing to say. Wait—what?
Tristan laughed and moved his piece. Surveying the board proudly he said, “Checkmate, mate! ”
“Checkmate?! But I…you…we…I…you learned to play just... it was not even an hour ago!”
“Yes, ah…I may have fibbed about that.”“You didn’t…!”“Ohhh, but I did. Sorry about that. Huge misunderstanding.”
Robert stared at Tristan. He could not fathom how this young man‟s brain worked or why he but, for whatever reason, he was dying to know..In fact, he was dying to know everything about him, but first he would call him out.“So really, you cheated.”“I did no such thing!”“I think you did.”
“Should we…step in, perhaps?” John wondered. “Robert cannot tolerate cheating. At all.”
“Especially when he isn‟t the one doing it,” Marian added.
John nodded, still trying to listen in on Robert‟s conversation, but Isabella was the one who spoke next.“Do not be silly! Robert is making a friend who is not Marian. It is groundbreaking activity, do you not agree?”
Alice clucked at her daughter. “Oh Bella, really. Robert has friends!”“Like whom? Story? Bleu? That girl with the shockingly multi-coloured hair? They are just as mad as Uncle O‟Leery.”“Isabella…”
Isabella huffed and stood up. “I should go work on that embroidery I started this morning.” Marian laughed but did not turn her eyes away from the duo at the chessboard. “You know for someone who loves her embroidery silks andneedles more than actual people it isn‟t exactly appropriate for you to call Robert out on his lack of friends.”
Isabella froze. Slowly, she turned to look straight at Marian. “At least my mother isn‟t a—”
Tristan‟s and Robert‟s heads snapped around to look at the assembled Austens. Marian and Isabella were staring each other down, and it was quite,quite clear that something physical was imminent.
“A what? A WHAT?” Marian was in Isabella‟s face, her cheeks matching her fiery red hair exactly.“Nothing. She is nothing.” With that, Isabella shot a glare at her mother and ran from the room, slamming the door behind her.
Lark was paler than normal. Alice reached out and held her hand, stroking it softly. “Lark, dearest... ”“It is nothing.” Lark tried smiling, and failed.
“Why can you not ever admit that Bella is a horrible little demon?” Marian screeched, completely forgetting—or not caring—that Tristan was still in theroom. “I… ”
Tristan blinked at the Austens. “What IS going on over there?” Robert quickly explained what he knew about his parents and their history. He wasn‟t sure why he did it as he hardly knew this young man, but thewords flowed easily.
“Your parents are… really? And it does not bother your mother?”
Robert shot a wry, sideways glance at his family and stretched. “Welcome to Austen Park, my good sir.”Tristan chuckled. “I think I will like knowing you all.”
Since that day, Tristan and Robert were the best of friends. Tristan was often round for tea at Austen Park, and he quickly became close with the rest of the family as well. He was so much a part of the familythat Frank offered once to try and sort out a way for Tristan to attend Pemberley University with his sons. Surprisingly, Tristan politely refused. Heexplained that he‟d had plans to join the Navy and go to war, and this impressed Frank greatly. Robert, however, had not been at all pleased to hear of that development, and spent a lot of his time trying to convince Tristan to change it.
Marian was the only person to know just how much Tristan‟s rejection hurt him, and why. -----
“When is everyone meant to arrive?” Isabella asked. “I must say we have been waiting an awfully long time.” “Nonsense, Bella. Nobody is meant to be here for another quarter of an hour,” Marian explained. “Robert, did you hear something? It was almost as if some horrid wind—” “Don‟t be childish, Bella,” Robert chided. Isabella promptly rolled her eyes. She hadn‟t been particularly amused when she‟d found her parents in “adisgraceful position” an hour before but was now pretending it was all a bad dream. A very, very bad dream. Marian and Robert had managed to get the young twins clean and dressed, and after attempting to block out the memory of her parent‟s rear endsIsabella had found her beloved fabric unscathed. John and Henry only presented themselves after the screaming had stopped, and now all seven of theAusten children were occupying themselves in the drawing room until tea.
Lucas jumped up and ran to the window with his twin. “It is the Haggerty carriage!” he shouted, leaping onto the chair. It teetered dangerously, butsomehow stayed upright. “Lady Emma is here!!!” William echoed, beaming. He rather fancied Lady Emma; she was pretty and kind, but more importantly to the littlebookworm: she gave him books.
Robert frowned. “So much for being fashionably late.” “Oh, Robert,” Marian laughed. Robert had only met Lady Emma a handful of times, and each time she had behaved perfectly. Marian, however,was one of Emma Bingham‟s closest friends, and she knew just how little Emma liked to do anything the “normal” way.
Alice, Marian, and Isabella arrived at the Haggerty family‟s home at Martin Hall promptly at two o‟ clock in the afternoon one Thursday. They werecalling on Mrs. Haggerty, the new Mrs. Haggerty, and Lady Emma Bingham. It would be the first time the Austen ladies would be meeting Lady Emma,and the first time for the younger girls to be properly introduced to Lucy Munster as Mrs. Haggerty. Naturally, the entire way over, Marian and Isabella bickered over some bonnet they‟d seen in town, and whether Frank would purchase it for one ofthem or for the other. Alice said perhaps it would be best if it was not given to either of them and, using her best, most unused Mother voice, she toldthem that she would have the carriage take them straight home while she visited with the Haggertys alone, should the young Austen girls not be able tocontrol themselves. Luckily, the ride was extremely short. Had it not been raining the girls would have simply walked for Martin Hall was not even an entire mileoutside of Austen Park‟s boundaries.
“Behave,” Alice commanded her girls as they were shown into the Haggertys‟ drawing room. Sitting about the fire were Georgiana, Lucy, and… “Kitty! Forgive me, Mrs. Legacina… it is quite a shock to see you here,” Marian exclaimed. She couldn‟t help but smile, though she knew she‟dspoken out of turn. Since learning of Kitty‟s connection to the family, Marian and Mrs. Legacina had grown quite close due to… vaguely similarcircumstances.
Kitty nodded and smiled. “Yes, my mother and I have been spending much time together of late. She has been most kind to my husband and me.”
After the Austen ladies were seated, Isabella realized something off. “Aunt, where is Lady Emma? We were expecting to meet her here.”
“Oh! Oh, she has gone up to Austen Cottage to take… ” Georgiana paused. She swallowed once before trying to get the words out again. “Shehas gone up to Austen Cottage to take Mr. Sur—Garr—well, the man there, and his boy, some fresh pies. She has taken up the oddest friendship withthe boy there.” Nobody missed it when Kitty smiled at the mention of Garrett and Tristan Surilie. “Oh, how very disappointing,” Isabella moaned. “She should be returning at any moment. My son is under strict instructions to have her brought back quickly.”
“Ah. And speaking of George… Mrs. Haggerty, how do your children do? We heard the birth was entirely normal and smoothly run.” Lucy raised an eyebrow. “You… could say that, I suppose.” In reality, Lucy had spent an extraordinarily long time in labor with her twins, but thatof course was not appropriate to speak of in polite company. That, and she was dead tired from being up with her twins all night. “Grace and Gordyare quite healthy. They are eating and sleeping the usual amount, as my mama-in-law tells me, and they are growing like little weeds,” Lucy explained aspolitely as possible. She desired a strong cup of tea, or better yet: a large glass of wine. Alice was oblivious and happy as ever. “How wonderful!”
Just then, the door to the parlor opened and a mud-and-rain-soaked Lady Emma Bingham stumbled in “Oh! Sorry, tripped on the—well I‟m sure I tripped over something, not my own two feet! Er, how do you do?” She said all of this very fast andwith an enigmatic grin on her face.
Marian raised two thin red eyebrows, but it was nothing compared to Isabella‟s grimace.
“Please don‟t get up on my account,” Emma joked, more surprised than affronted that none of the ladies had gone so far as to nod to her.
Isabella turned to her sister and whispered, “Are we supposed to curtsey to her?”“I‟m not actually certain. Alice is not…?”“Yes but Mama seems to be utterly thunderstruck.”“Yes but look at Lady Emma.”“Completely covered in mud.”
“Erm. Sorry, I‟ll just go and clean up, hmm?” Emma said awkwardly. Georgiana had made her way to standing by about half then plopped back down in her seat as Emma turned on her heel and ran up the stairs to herroom.
Nobody said a word for a moment. Alice, finally, thought of something to say. “She‟s a lovely girl.” Good heavens, her gown!
“Oh, yes!” Marian agreed. “Very beautiful complexion.” OR Dr. Mud’s Facial Elixir…
Isabella nodded stiffly. Marian kicked her. “She has… hair. It looks well indeed. Very shiny.” Essence of Rain, no doubt.
Georgiana laughed at them all. “Do not worry; Emma will think nothing of being covered in mud before the wife of my brother and his children.She‟s a bit of a free spirit, and endlessly curious. If I take a guess, I dare say she challenged my son to some sort of mud fight.”
George Haggerty the Second came in right on cue. He bowed to his mother, and winced as he saw a glop of mud drop from his hair to the shiningfloorboards. “Apologies, Mama. Lady Emma was inclined to… play.” ~
“Oh! We ought to fetch Mama and Papa!” Marian realized as she heard the Haggertys and Lady Emma coming up the front steps. Gluing on hermost angelic face she asked, “Would you like to fetch them, dear?” “There is something very, very wrong with you.” “Isn‟t it marvelous?” Marian preened. Isabella obliged Marian with one of her best glares before instructing William and Lucas to go find their parents, hoping to Plumbob that theAustens and Lark had finally… reorganized themselves. ~
The Haggertys and Lady Emma were not the only guests invited that day. The Legacinas had come as well, in addition to Vaughn and ApollineFitzhugh along with Mrs. Fitzhugh‟s brother and sister, Bleu and Story O‟Leery.
Every time Story visited, Robert noted, she looked odder and odder. The first time she came home she‟d donned a man‟s coat and trousers as wellas her father‟s best hat. The second, she‟d sheared off all her long, pretty brown hair. That was not so strange, Robert supposed, as her elder sisterApolline had done the same with her hair, but it had been a shock. This time, the most shocking thing of all was that she looked almost…normal. “How can you walk around like that, Story?” “Funny how you ask me that now, Robert. Now, when my sister has forced me into this unimaginable disgrace of a frock, and not when I waltzedaround like a gentleman.” “…Yes, I suppose it is odd, at that. And—and I don‟t think it‟s disgraceful at all! Perhaps slightly plain, but a good sash could—stop laughing at meright now.”
“Sorry,” Story snorted. “No, you‟re not.” Story winked at him. “You have me there, dearest.” “You know…I never did manage to work out how you could walk around in these either,” he said, gesturing vaguely at himself. “In a coat, andtrousers…” “Oh, much easier, I think. Petticoats are SO inconvenient.” Robert laughed. “Yes, I know.”
Story raised an eyebrow at him. “I know you know.”
Robert blushed. “Nonsense! No, I mean… Erm, Bella and Marian complain about it ALL the time. Yes, that is what I meant.” Robert and Story had sworneach other to secrecy about the one afternoon they‟d traded clothes.
“Right. Of course.” Story bit her lip so as to stop from laughing. Then she failed, miserably, and it was a full two minutes of scowling from Robertbefore she‟d calmed down.
“Anyway…how do you find Simdon? I‟ve not been.” “Oh it is wonderful! There is a young lady at M. Bennet’s who is making my time even more enjoyable,” she said with a leer. Story always did that, said things toshock people. The fact that she was hinting at an intimate relationship with anyone, let alone a woman, would have been wicked, but the woman partjust made it all the more fun for Miss O‟Leery.
“You will be going tomorrow, will you not Robert?” “No not tomorrow, the next day.” “Why the delay?” “I was sort of hoping to have Marian change her mind. I know, deep down, she would really like to go to M. Bennet‟s, but for whatever reason, shewill not.” „Should I speak to her?” “No. No I do not think that will help at all.”
Story glanced around and spotted her brother heading, in a very purposeful way, toward Marian.“Maybe Bleu will help change her mind.”
Robert sighed and picked at the blanket. “I seriously doubt that.” Since he’s the entire reason she’s staying here. Women… ~
“Marian!” called her favorite voice in the world. She looked up, and saw Bleu O‟Leery walking her way.“How do you do?” he asked as he met her. He bowed, she lowered her head.“Very well thank you. I was looking for my moth—Miss Lark.”“Really Marian, you do not have to call her Miss Lark before me. Plumbob knows I know who she is.”
“Right, sorry. I get nervous sometimes, like there‟s someone following me all the time, ready to point at me and say AHA! You‟re a bastard.”
Bleu laughed in such a contagious way, Marian noted. No matter how upset she was, if he was laughing, she had to smile. “Nobody will say such things about you when I am around, trust me. I wouldn‟t allow it. And anyway, they‟d be more likely, were we together, topoint at me and say AHA! You‟re the crazy O‟Leerys‟ son.” Marian frowned. “Your parents are not crazy!” “Not in the least! Bleu admitted with a grin. “But…when you have an eccentric father who happens to be Simerican, well… people tend to get alittle bit carried away.” “Yes! Can‟t trust those savages across the pond, can we?”
“Never!” “Oh, but I like Uncle O‟Leery! He is so, erm… how are they handling the, ah, transition?” “Oh, tolerably well I say. Mama still prefers to eat and drink the usual things, though of course she craves the… other things often. You should have seen my sister’s facewhen she came for tea yesterday! My mother has taken to using… an alternative to cream in her tea.” Marian suppressed a shudder. “Blood?”
“Yes! I find it quite amusing, but oh... my sister actually fainted!” “Which sister was this?” “Oh, Apolline, of course! Can you imagine Story fainting? Ever? I think she‟s never been afraid of anything.” “Mm. It is only that they are both out of the house now, so I was not certain.” Bleu nodded, and then something dawned on him. “And soon you will be away as well! Are you not set to go to M. Bennet‟s soon? That is what Ihad heard, at least.”
Marian winced. “No, I…. well I have chosen to remain at home. I do not think school is for me…?” Marian ended on a question for she was not atall certain whether or not Bleu would think her choice wise or stupid.
He nodded again. “Excellent! School is positively dreadful, horridly boring, even if it is located in Simdon. I cannot imagine what prompted mysisters to go in the first place.”
Marian‟s heart skipped a beat. “Really, you think so?”
“But of course. Anyway, what would a beautiful young lady such as you hope to gain from school? I‟m sure you have everything you need.”
Marian blushed hotly as Bleu coughed and took a step back. “You really have blossomed, Marian, if it is not too bold to say so.”
Marian recovered quickly. “Not at all! I mean, well it is positively familiar of you to say such a thing, but I certainly do not mind it… I mean…,ah… how are your lady-friends doing of late?” she deflected.
Bleu groaned quietly. “I… well, I imagine they‟re well. What have you heard?” “You forget your sister Story is my brother’s dearest friend. Also that your sister Story loves nothing more than a shocking thing to say.” Bleu laughed uncomfortably. “No I do not forget at all, I simply… well for whatever reason I am not at all pleased to know that you are aware ofmy actions at school. I am, to put it bluntly, rather embarrassed and ashamed of myself.”
“And you know not why this is?” Marian asked“No.”“In return for your honesty I, too, will admit something.”
Marian raised an eyebrow. “I do not like hearing of your exploits, though of course I am my father‟s daughter. I understand how men‟s mindswork.”
Bleu smiled at this. “Oh, do you?” He took a step closer to Marian and took her hand. “Why do you not elaborate? Tell me, Marian Austen,” hemurmured, “how does my mind work?”
She didn‟t miss a beat. “Oh, I think you think yourself quite handsome.” “Ha! Do I? And? Am I not handsome?” Bleu preened. “That is neither here nor there,” Marian blushed. “You find yourself extremely attractive and think you can woo any lady you choose. So far,indeed, it seems that you have been successful.” Bleu looked away dramatically and sighed. “Yes, my charms do seem to get me rather far.” “It does not surprise me, sir, but should you ever have cause to think that I am some weak ninny to fall for easy romantic words and a flower or two,you would be very, very mistaken.”
“Marian, I would never insult you as to think you so easily swayed!” “Good.” “You deserve far better than what I am now, anyway. I should not waste my time. I should sooner woo the sun, for you are far more radiant thanshe, and she may look down on me and see happiness.” Marian snorted indelicately. “What in the name of heaven does that even mean? Really! Does that work on other ladies?”
“…Yes, actually, comparing the young lady to the sun, or the moon, seems to bring absolute success.”
Marian burst out laughing. “Did I not just say that would not work on me?”“Wait! Wait; allow me to try my smoldering technique.”“Smoldering technique? Really. And just what does this smoldering technique entail?”
Bleu turned around and took a deep breath. When he turned again, his face wore an expression that he clearly felt read “smolder”…
Marian peered at him. Then she doubled over giggling madly. “You need—hahahaha—a mirror!”“What! Marian! Don‟t laugh at me, if you please, that was very serious!”“I‟m so sorry, it is just— ahaha haha hahaha—I cannot countenance it, it was so silly!”“Thank you, madam, for throwing my pride down and dancing on it. You‟ve hurt my manly feelings.”“Oh, any time!”
Bleu smiled, though it was a product of frustration and affection. “You are a very interesting girl.”“Of course I am. And you should not forget this.” Or forget me…
“I could never forget you. Er, that. I, ah, well. I should probably speak to my uncle before it is time to depart so… so I‟ll just do that, shall I?”
A quicker bow was never bowed as Bleu stalked off to find Frank.“Good day, Mr. O‟Leery,” Marian mumbled to his back.
Across the garden Alice and Isabella were conversing with Mr. and Mrs. Legacina. “I‟d heard you were leaving Darcy Manor Farm and going toMartin Cottage, but have you made the move?” she asked. Kitty inclined her head. “Yes, we have just settled in, though there is much to be done in preparation for… ” Kitty was not sure why she still feltembarrassed by her news, but she assumed it had a lot to do with her poor husband‟s shocking discovery of it.
It was only a few nights before that the family had been informed of Kitty‟s little surprise. They weren‟t quite unpacked enough to be comfortablein their new cottage, so at Georgiana‟s invitation the Legacinas made the short walk to Martin Hall for supper. As the meal was served rather late, theyspent a good deal of time beforehand catching up with Lucy & George as well as Lady Emma and Miss Katy.
When the time came to eat, Kitty was seated next to her mother. On the one hand she was distressed for it was sure to be awkward, but on theother it would give her the opportunity to speak to her without everyone overhearing. “You look lovely this evening, dear,” Georgiana said kindly. “Thank you… mama.”
Georgiana‟s eyes still lit up at the word, especially when Kitty said it; she‟d heard it from Georgie for over 20 years but had missed it from Kitty forfar more than that. “It is nothing but the truth. Now tell me, how do you like the cottage so far?” Kitty straightened her cutlery as she thought. “I like it well. It is small, but very beautiful. The restorations have made it nearly unrecognizable. Weare so grateful to you for this kindness.” “I only wish you would accept it without rent!” “I think it is a matter of pride with my husband,” Kitty said, glancing at Oz. “Not that he is particularly proud, but there is something about a manbeing able to provide for his wife… well, you know.”
“I do! I am pleased that George and he were able to come to an understanding, though for goodness‟ sake! It should not have been necessary. Ihave come to the conclusion that you simply must be fibbing to your dear mother about your husband losing his family estate to a sister.” “Odd though it may seem to us, it is true enough,” Kitty argued, grinning. “Surely he must have committed… some… some crime?”
“Certainly not!” Kitty was laughing now, and being watched by her step-father and husband with soft smiles on their faces.Georgiana was smiling too. “Well then, what would the reason be for him to be so crassly disinherited?”“He does not like to speak of it. He says he never wanted the fortune, but I think he is not entirely honest about that.”
“Ah, men do that, indeed. I wonder…” “Yes?” “When George came to you and offered you the cottage, did he tell you, my love, that the entire job was his idea?” “His?!” “Do not misunderstand me, Kitty. I would like nothing more than to know you live but a quarter of a mile from my, to know that I may see youevery day if I wished. The times you have spent visiting here are the happiest I‟ve ever been! It was far, far too long since I‟d seen you... ” Georgianatrailed off. “Do you know… they only let me hold you for just above two minutes, and then you were gone away from me, seemingly forever?”Georgiana looked down to control herself, and Kitty could see her shudder slightly.
Kitty put her hand out and touched her mother‟s. Rubbing softly she said, “I am here now. I will not leave you again.” And when Kitty said that,she knew it was true; now that she thought of it, she really liked what she‟d learned of Georgiana. The old woman was very amusing, and had noqualms with getting straight to the point with things. The only thing Georgiana Haggerty ever seemed to be upset about was Kitty, and as Kitty had itquite within her power to ease that pain, she would always try.
“Let us speak of something jolly!” Georgiana said. She was not unaware that the eyes of the rest of her family were on her. “I believe you told meonce that Mr. Legacina wishes to go into business?”
“Indeed, yes, and so do I! He has begun looking at a small property in Simyton in which to open a shop for… oh, all sorts of things for ladies.Ribbons, perfumes, the like. I hope sincerely, that if we watch our accounts closely for a time then we will make our way in the world. The inheritanceyou so relentlessly insisted I take will certainly help us, but there have been so many things we‟ve had to purchase for… ” Unconsciously, Kitty rubbedher belly. “And will need to purchase for.”
Georgiana gasped and gripped her daughter‟s hand beneath the table. Her face could hardly hold itself together with the force of her smile. “Areyou of a delicate condition?”
Kitty smiled. Having a mother was not so bad, she was learning, and thought that since she was to have her own little one in the coming monthsthat a mother would be very handy indeed. “Yes, yes I am with child,” she whispered. Not entirely proper for table conversation, but she was notabout to lie. “You must be so happy my dear. Oh, my baby is having a baby!” she whispered excitedly, bouncing.
“SHALL WE RETIRE TO THE DRAWING ROOM FOR DESSERT?” Georgiana said rather loudly.
George looked at his wife. “My love, we‟ve not even begun the soup.”
“Oh, yes,” Georgiana sighed. Half a second later she cleared her throat and eyed the servants to indicate that they should begin serving dinnerimmediately, and that things should move quickly.
Kitty giggled quietly, endlessly amused at her mother‟s excitement. “I take it the news pleases you.” “Oh, I cannot say how much it pleases me. I have gone from thinking my daughter lost forever, to finding her but thinking she despises me, tofinally thinking progress might be made, to learning that I will be a GRANDMOTHER BY THE VERY DAUGTHER I HAVE MISSED SO LONG.IT IS MARVELOUS.”
The entire table turned to stare at Georgiana Haggerty; Oz looked as if he‟d just seen a ghost.“Wha—” was all he managed to get out.
Kitty panicked and shook her head fervently at her mother. She hadn‟t had the chance to speak of the baby to Oz yet, for she had only seen DoctorTrimble that very morning and well… she had decided to take a little while to adjust to the mad idea that she would be a mother before putting thesame stress on her husband. Georgiana, of course, did not take the hint. “Congratulations on the impending birth of your child, Mr. Legacina!” Oz slumped and fainted right into the soup that had just placed in front of him. ~
Kitty laughed quietly at the memory, but spoke almost without delay. “Mr. Legacina and I are expecting a child,” she finally said. ~
“So,” Story whispered. “Lady Emma and John—what do you think? Married by Winter?”
Robert‟s eyes followed his younger brother down the garden with pity. “I wish I could agree with you.”“Oh, Robert. Even you can see it!”“Mm. She likes him.”“Clearly.”“Not to John.” -----
This chapter was brought to you by Sneery Bella Inc.
Okay seriously, now… I hope you enjoyed this chapter far, far more than John enjoys any sort of poetry—particularlySimfrench romantic poetry. Special thanks go to rosefyre for putting “Sneery Bella” into my head and apparently locking it in there forever. Or rather…special non-thanks. As this was originally a two-parter, the next chapter is written. I am hoping to have it out very soon! Don‟t hold me to that…or maybe you should! Thank you so very, very much for reading! Have a fantastic day. Evening. Afternoon? Whatever.