Kitty's oldest memory was of being sent away by her mother. "Oh! Kitty, why must you plague me so? I cannot do anything for you. Go and play with your sisters, and leave me in peace!" The memory had been worn thin by repeated recollection, but Kitty thought her throat and ears had hurt, and she knew that Lydia had been present, chattering away to a doll and ignoring their mother's chastisement of her next-eldest sister. So Kitty had gone back to the nursery and curled up on the bed in misery.
Longbourn had, in general, great care for health, well-being, and nerves; but only enough such care for one resident, and that resident was Mrs. Bennet.
Mrs. Bennet suffered from headaches, spasms, frequent pain throughout her body, and a generally nervous disposition. On bad days, her moans could be heard throughout most of the house, and while her husband retreated to his study and her children amused themselves in the garden, the servants would spend the day cosseting her and running to fulfill what whim of hers they might.
Kitty, however, received no such solicitude when she had a cough or a headache, which was often. If she went to the kitchen for a cup of tea with honey in it, the cook would give her one; but if she rang the bell for the maid to bring her one, it would go unanswered as often as not if Mama was ill. As for her sisters, there was little help to be had there.
"Mama does what she can when she is unwell," Jane said once when Kitty had not felt up to coming downstairs and was hoping for company, "but it does make the running of the household more difficult. Mary and Lydia are both growing so quickly, and Lydia is so hard on her clothes." Jane sighed. "I know you are not feeling well, but … perhaps you could work on some mending while you are indisposed? Surely that would not be too taxing, would it?"
Kitty's head ached abominably, and her ears kept popping, and too little could not be said about the state of her throat. But Jane was difficult to say no to, and the mending did need to be done, and it was so very boring to sit alone in her room with the curtains drawn hoping it would ease the throbbing in her head. Lydia should do her own mending, but if asked she would go crying to Mama and probably be let to play instead of sew. Kitty had done her fair share of the mending and other domestic chores since she was ten, the age her younger sister now was; but Lydia got out of almost everything. "I will try."
"Thank you, Kitty," Jane said, brightening. "I know it is a great deal to ask, but the house needs to be turned out this week and—"
Kitty listened as Jane helped with the mending and chattered on about all the goings-on in the household. Organizing the spring cleaning, settling disputes between servants, planning out how much of what to plant this year in the kitchen garden, tending the ornamental gardens, providing food to one of the tenants who was recovering from a fever. It was all very mundane, but along with the work it was at least some distraction from her misery.
But, alas, it was not long before Jane was called away, leaving Kitty to the sewing and the tedium of illness.
She made some little progress; she would work until her head was unbearable, and then lie down again until the boredom was worse than the pain.
Eventually, she heard Mary and Lizzy talking, and after a moment she realized that they had come into the drawing room directly below her chamber, and with windows in both rooms open, she could hear every word they said.
"It is so very convenient, is it not," Lizzy said, "that Kitty is always sick in the spring, when it is time to turn the house out?" The servants did all the heavy work, of course, but with the spring cleaning going on at the same time as the planting, the daughters of the house had to help with the lighter and less tedious parts. The older ones, anyway; Lydia was excused by being Mama's favorite and the baby, and Kitty on account of her illness.
Mary said something Kitty could not quite make out. Kitty held her breath, fearful of coughing and being heard.
Lizzy went on in that vein for quite some time, exactly the sort of jokes Papa said about Mama's nerves. They were not so amusing now, when Kitty herself was the butt of them. And so unfair! It wasn't as if she wanted to be sickly; she did not choose the timing of her colds and pains!
"I think you are being very un-Christian, Lizzy," Mary said at last, "mocking those who are ill." Kitty instantly forgave Mary for every trite moral platitude she had ever misapplied, and every extract from a book of sermons she had ever bored them with.
"Well, I think it very un-Christian of Kitty to be always too indisposed to help when there is work to be done!" Lizzy retorted. "Just like Mama."
"Lizzy, that is unfair," Jane said. She must have just entered the room; she would have turned the conversation to something else long before this. "Our mother's illnesses are inconvenient, as are Kitty's, but that does not mean they are feigned. You have always enjoyed the blessing of good health; do not judge those who are not so fortunate."
Blessed Jane! Kitty thought to herself. But the balm of Mary's and Jane's defense could not make up for the cruel wound of knowing what Lizzy—and quite possibly their father—thought of her, and when she heard her sisters leave the sitting room below her, she could no longer contain her tears. She buried her face in her pillow to muffle the sounds, and wept from shame.
Eventually, she cried herself out, and though her headache was worse than it had been before, she was tired enough to lose herself in the oblivion of sleep for a little while.
Kitty woke to the sound of the dinner gong, and lay there muzzily considering what to do. Her headache was a little better, and she dearly wished to avoid Lizzy, but who knew when the servants would get around to sending a tray up for her if she did not come down?
Besides, she had been in her room all day, and eventually her loathing for the four walls around her was enough to prod her out of bed and into a dressing gown. A glance in the mirror showed that at least this time, unlike most of her illnesses, she looked ill; she was flushed, and her eyes were swollen from weeping, and her nose was red from being mopped with a handkerchief so often.
"You look a fright," Lydia said frankly, when Kitty took her seat in the dining room.
Kitty pretended not to hear her, for she did not have the energy to respond with something cutting. She took a drink from her water glass and dimly appreciated how shamefaced Lizzy looked at the sight of her. Mary looked triumphant and kept shooting judgmental looks at Lizzy, and Kitty just wished for them all to fall into a deep pit and never trouble her again. Papa ignored her, as always, though he traded quips with Lizzy well enough, and Mama was having a tray in her room.
That day's events were hardly unusual; though Kitty never heard Lizzy mock her misfortunes as cruelly as she had that day, still she knew that others did not always believe her when she said how unwell she felt. Not unless there was a fever or a runny nose or other outwardly perceptible symptom to attest to her words, and even then, she was sometimes thought to exaggerate her sufferings.
Kitty learned to hold her complaints, for they would not get her the compassion she longed for. Through silence she could at least abate the censure of those who did not believe her.
"Lord! You are such a lump," Lydia said one day, flopping down on their bed and ignoring Kitty's protests. "I should not be as slugabed as you for half the kingdom. If I were sick, I would get up and about regardless, for it is such a beautiful day and it is so boring to be stuck indoors."
"When you are ill, you wail and carry on and the whole house must dance attendance on you," Kitty said resentfully.
Lydia ignored this as she did everything she found disagreeable. "I want to go to Meryton, and see if there are new ribbons or shoe-roses to be had, but Jane and Lizzy say they are busy and Mary is practicing the piano." Lydia, at thirteen, was starting to think more of dresses than she did of playing outdoors. Kitty approved of this change, for of course Kitty was always the one ordered to keep Lydia company and out from underfoot, and at fifteen she was too much a lady to play at some of the things Lydia had liked, until recently, to do.
"I wish Mary would stop," said Kitty, who had been very strongly contemplating putting her pillow over her head to drown out the scales. It did not agree at all with her headache. If she asked, Mary would stop; but she would put on a saintly air and then, if Kitty were unlucky, insist on 'keeping her company' by reading from Hannah More or something else tedious and moral.
"Come with me!" Lydia said.
"I am ill," Kitty said. "My head aches, and so does my whole body, and I have no intention of moving from this spot."
"You shall get no rest if you do not, for between Mary's scales and my own insistence, there will be not one moment of quiet," Lydia said, bouncing up and down and jostling Kitty.
"Go away, Lydia, or I shall tell Jane you will not let me be." It was a much more effective threat than telling Mama; Jane would go by what was fair and right, not by which daughter she favored and what would be the least inconvenience to her, as Mama did.
"Come with me, Kitty," Lydia whined. "If you are going to be miserable anywhere, you might as well be miserable on the way to Meryton; at least it will be something different."
"I suppose," Kitty said doubtfully. She might be well enough for a gentle walk, and they could rest at their Aunt Phillips' before coming back, and it would be something to do that would escape the stultifying boredom of being ill. And then she would not have to listen to Lydia complain, nor to Mary play scales.
Over the next several years, Kitty learned to take to her room only when she was feeling exceptionally unwell. Lydia was right, or, at least, not wrong; having things to think about and do did sometimes distract herself from her various ailments.
Besides, Lydia carried all before her; by trailing after her younger sister, Kitty could have all the benefit of amusement without having to expend thought and energy she rarely had to share. Lizzy did not approve, nor did Papa; but their approval Kitty had long since learned would never be hers. Mary approved of so little that, likewise, her favor was pointless to curry. Jane was indulgent of all but the wildest adventures, and Mama's approval sometimes included Kitty, when she was accompanying Mama's beloved baby.
It was an unfortunate certainty that whenever something important happened, Kitty would be ill. And so it was to be at her eldest sisters' wedding. She had a cold, and although it was not much when considered against certain illnesses she had had in the past, still she had a persistent cough. At least it was in the autumn and the cold had come early, so there were few flowers and those only begonias and geraniums, which did not make Kitty sneeze or her eyes water. Mama had been fussing since the first tinges of frost had been seen, but Kitty was grateful.
"Now, Kitty," her mother said, bustling in to her room as she dressed that morning, "you won't do anything to spoil your sisters' wedding, now, will you? Jane and Elizabeth will not like to be distracted by your coughing. I'm sure they would not mind if you were too ill to attend; it might be better than a distraction. Certainly, Mr. Darcy will not wish to be reminded of how sickly you are."
"Mama!" Kitty said, appalled. Rather than a dignified, ladylike remark, it came out at a volume that distressed her throat. But it was so unfair! "I am not that ill, and I am sure Mr. Darcy will have better things to think about than me on his wedding day!"
"Kitty, is something wrong?" Jane said, from the doorway. "I heard you shout."
"Now, Jane, it is your wedding day, and your hair not half done," Mama scolded. "It is all in hand here, you should be focusing on your own preparations."
"Mama thinks I am too ill to go to your wedding!" Kitty said, suppressing a cough only by great force of will. "She believes you would rather me absent than coughing as you make your vows."
"What a ridiculous notion," Jane said. "Of course you should come, you are not that ill, and a few coughs are only a trifling matter."
When Mama tried to object, Jane pretended she hadn't heard, and asked for her opinion on which style her hair should be dressed in. Mama was unable to resist, and followed her out, leaving Kitty to finish her preparations in blessed silence.
Once done, she slipped down to the kitchen for a cup of tea with honey; for it was a certainty that on this of all days, the servants would be too busy to answer Kitty ringing the bell. She hoped the honey would do its work well.
Not well enough, for Kitty's throat simply would not stop itching. She tried to distract herself by paying attention to the service, but exciting as it was to see her elder sisters wed, Kitty's attention was sorely divided.
And then there was Miss Darcy. Kitty knew she should be watching her sisters and their grooms, or perhaps contemplating her own matrimonial future, but Miss Darcy was such a statuesque lady that Kitty couldn't take her eyes off her.
Miss Darcy was tall and slim, with a figure that Kitty could only envy, and which her beautiful green gown showed to perfection. That particular shade of pomona green also brought out the color in her eyes, and Kitty could not think when she had ever seen anything so striking. Her hair was delightful, and Kitty tried to memorize its every twist and curl, so that she might try to replicate it later.
But Miss Darcy had caught her staring, and blushed, looking down uncomfortably. Surely she did not think Kitty was finding fault with her? Kitty could not imagine anyone finding fault with Miss Darcy, who was such a model of grace as Kitty had never seen.
She felt hot, herself, and wondered if she had a fever and was so ill that she should have stayed at home. Her throat began to tickle again, and Kitty tried in vain to suppress the cough that she knew was coming.
All attempt to subdue her erring throat merely delayed the cough until the worst possible moment. She shrank under Mama's glare. If they had not been in church, Mama would have begun such a scolding as Kitty could only imagine; and it was only delayed by their being in the middle of the service, not averted. Mama would be distracted by the wedding breakfast, but not enough to forget. Kitty would be hearing about this for weeks, if not months.
Papa gave her an amused glance, but he was more likely to be laughing at her than with her, and regardless, he would not protect her from Mama. Jane might, or Lizzy on occasion, but they would not be there. They would be with their husbands.
Miss Darcy was looking at her, smiling a friendly sort of smile which much heartened Kitty. She returned it as best she could, before her mother hissed at her to behave and Kitty turned her attention to the ceremony.
Kitty sighed and felt very low throughout the rest of the service and the wedding breakfast. And tried to keep her coughing to a minimum.
Miss Darcy never came over to speak with her, though Kitty watched her closely and, from the other's darting glances, knew Miss Darcy was aware of her in return.
The trip to Pemberley was much anticipated by all the Bennets remaining at Longbourn. Mama was in raptures at visiting so grand an estate, and the entertainments the new Mrs. Darcy might be preparing for them. Papa was looking forward vocally to the library, and even more so, he said, to the prospect of hearing three words of sense spoken together by someone other than himself. (Mama did not hear this, or pretended she did not, but Mary and Kitty did. Mary had the scowling, set look which Kitty knew meant she was reciting psalms of patience and fortitude at their father's words, and for her own part, Kitty was not amused).
Mary spoke pious platitudes about sisterly affection, but from the way she grimaced and sighed at the responsibilities of the eldest daughter which now fell to her, Kitty rather thought she was looking forward to the respite of being a guest instead of a daughter of the household. Kitty did not blame her, for she had not quite realized how much of the running of the household Jane and Lizzy had done between them. Kitty and Mary both had many more responsibilities now that the duties which had once been split between the five of them (or, rather, four and a half, as Lydia had never done above half her share in her life) were in the hands of only two. Mama, certainly, had not taken up any of the things Jane or Lizzy had been used to do.
(Kitty wondered, with some bitterness which she knew was uncharitable but could not help, how much Lydia liked being married now, given that she was now the only lady in her household, and a household with few servants at that, so that there would be no one to pass her responsibilities off to.)
Kitty herself was looking forward to the respite, and the grandeur of her brother Darcy's estate, and the amusements she might find therein. But also, she felt a strange urgency to see Miss Darcy again, to see if she were really as remarkable as Kitty remembered her.
The trip to Derbyshire was long and arduous, made so mostly by the company. Five days altogether in a small space with only her parents and Mary was not Kitty's idea of an enjoyable outing. They could have made it in three, if they had travelled all day without stopping; but the easier pace allowed them to take in the sights along the way. In addition to the beauty of the houses they toured and the vistas they surveyed, such stops a welcome rest from the incessant jolting and noise of the carriage and their companions therein.
Kitty had been quite well when they started out, but now found that she was far more worn than simply sitting for five days (even in such an unrestful situation) should have warranted. The Bennets had long since sunk into silence, none of them being particularly interested in anything another member of the party might say, and so only the gently rolling scenery served to distract Kitty from her weariness.
It was with great delight that she saw the glorious manor which was now her sister's domicile come into view. The house was grand, far more than Kitty had imagined, and she would certainly admire it more later; but right now, her concern was largely with the bedchamber which was surely waiting her arrival. Would she get her own, or would she have to share with Mary? There was to be a large party, Kitty understood, but surely such a grand estate would allow her the luxury of a room of her own?
The last stretch of road seemed to last forever, and the drive was also long enough to try Kitty's patience, but at last the carriage drew to a halt and they disembarked in front of the grand, sweeping stairs.
Lizzy and Mr. Darcy were waiting for them, and Miss Darcy was as well, how thoughtful she was. Kitty knew she must look a fright, after all that time on the road, and Miss Darcy was always so well turned out, she blushed to be seen by her. She scarcely heard the exchange of greetings, so focused was she on the other girl. But at last they were led in, and, oh! Kitty did get a chamber of her very own, and, even greater luxury, a maid she did not have to share with anyone! Kitty accepted the tea (with lemon, how exotic!) with grateful thanks, and let the maid undress her so she could have a nap before supper. As she drifted off, Kitty pondered how fine Miss Darcy's eyes were.
"You look very well, Miss Catherine," Miss Darcy said as they gathered in the drawing room to wait to be led in to supper. "I hope your rest was helpful."
"Oh! Thank you," Kitty said, blushing at the praise. "I know I must have looked a fright when we arrived—"
"Oh, no, I did not mean that at all," Miss Darcy said, blushing herself. "Only, you did look rather pale. I hope you were not ill, on your travel?"
"I am often ill," Kitty said, "but today I was more tired than ill. I am not used to travelling long distances; I have never gone further than my aunt and uncle Gardiner's residence in London. And five days in a carriage alone with my family is not conducive to harmony, let us say. But your maid was most attentive, and the bed was so comfortable, I really am most grateful for your hospitality." Miss Darcy had noticed how she felt! Kitty had never been quite able to imagine swooning like a heroine in a novel, but that compliment was almost enough to experience that sensation. No one ever noticed how Kitty was feeling, and for the great and gracious Miss Darcy to pay such close attention!
"You are welcome," Miss Darcy said quietly, lowering her eyes. "I hope you will enjoy your stay."
"I am certain I will," said Kitty. "Who could not, in a place like this?" She cast around for something more to say. Lydia would have known, but Lydia was not here, and Kitty had never had the same easy gift of conversation her sister had.
Still, Miss Darcy did not seem troubled by the silence, and at last Kitty relaxed enough to enjoy the simple companionship until the last of the company arrived and it was time to go in to supper.
The Bennets had not been the first to arrive; Mr and Mrs Bingley had been there before them. But nor were they the last. Most notably, Lady Catherine de Bourgh and her daughter were to arrive three days after them, with Mrs. Collins and Miss de Bourgh's companion.
Kitty spent a great deal of time fretting, the day of Lady Catherine's arrival. The only lady she had ever met was Lady Lucas, and Lady Catherine was in a different category entirely. She had the wealth and power that a lady truly ought to have, and Kitty did not know what to expect of her.
Her nerves were not helped to see that Miss Darcy also appeared agitated by the imminent arrival of her august aunt. "Is Lady Catherine such a terror, then?" she asked.
"I beg your pardon?" Miss Darcy said in some confusion.
"Lady Catherine," Kitty said. "I have never met such a great personage, but she is your aunt—surely you have nothing to fear from her?"
"She is so very forceful," Miss Darcy said in a low voice. "It is not that I fear her; it is rather that she has such expectations for the only daughter of her beloved sister, and I can never seem to equal them."
"But you are so accomplished," Kitty said in astonishment. "You are all perfection in every way: beauty, grace, skill, taste—what fault could she possibly find?"
"You are very kind," Miss Darcy said. "But she will find some reason—she is always telling me I must practice more at the pianoforte."
"More?" Kitty said. "I've never seen anyone practice any accomplishment as much as you do." In the three days Kitty had been at Pemberley, Miss Darcy had spent as many hours at the pianoforte as Mary ever did. To that she added extensive time practicing French and Italian with her companion Mrs. Annesley, and although Kitty had yet to see her use the painting tools in the cabinet of her sitting room, Miss Darcy drew and sketched a great deal.
"And she believes I should speak more, but only on topics she approves of; she always found fault with the housekeeping or the menus or some such thing, and it is horrible of me I know but I am so very grateful that my new sister Elizabeth will be in charge of running the household, so Lady Catherine cannot complain about my failings there."
Kitty managed to stop herself before commenting that Lady Catherine sounded like quite an ogre; Lydia would have said it, but then Lydia would not have cared if she insulted Miss Darcy by doing it. Before she could think of what she would like to say, she had a coughing fit.
Miss Darcy was all solicitude, ringing the bell and asking for tea. "With honey in it," Kitty added between coughs. The servants, Kitty noticed, were far more prompt here than they were in Longbourn.
"Are you ill?" Miss Darcy asked, once they were settled with their tea.
"I hope not," Kitty said. "Sometimes a cough is just that; sometimes it is the herald of a cold or fever. But then, sometimes I am sick without any outward symptoms at all. I am merely very tired, and suffer pain from my head to my toes. But even if I do become ill, I assure you I will not allow it to force me to take to my bed; I would not wish to miss even one moment of my time here."
"Oh, but you must take care of yourself," Miss Darcy exclaimed. "If you are ill, I will keep you company in your room and you will recover more quickly that way. I often sit with Cousin Anne, when she is ill enough to stay in bed and we are in the same house, so I know how to be of use at a sickbed. I can read to you if you wish diversion or simply sit quietly if that would be better for you. And I'm sure my brother would not object to extending your stay to make up for any days lost to illness; and of course, as my new sister you will be invited to stay many more times."
"That is very kind," said Kitty, for indeed it was; she could not remember the last time someone had volunteered to sit with her if she was ill. Her sisters often indulged her when she requested it; but they did not offer. And it had not occurred to her that her stay at Pemberley might be extended, nor that such visits might become regular occurrences.
"It is only what anyone would do," Miss Darcy said quietly, eyes lowered.
"No, it is not," Kitty said, with the voice of long experience. She resolved then to do anything in her power to shield Miss Darcy from Lady Catherine.
Over the next several days, Kitty realized several things. First, that Miss Darcy had been understating her aunt's ogreish qualities, and there was little Kitty could do to shield her new friend. Second, that Lady Catherine had probably only been invited because she would have been offended if her parson's wife had been asked to visit Pemberley and she had not, and Lizzy wanted to see her friend. Third, that Miss Anne de Bourgh suffered more constantly and deeply than Kitty herself did, which made Kitty ashamed of how often she complained. And fourth, that while Kitty would have liked to speak with someone who shared at least some of the same experiences (even if in vastly different circumstances), Miss de Bourgh said very little and stuck close to her mother's side, and Kitty was not willing to brave Lady Catherine's company.
During the day there were many amusements which Lady Catherine seldom took part in, so Kitty only found herself in that great lady's company after supper each evening in the drawing room. And while Lady Catherine's dictums were liberally dispensed to all and sundry, they were especially focused on the niece she so ardently desired to lecture into a perfect specimen of womanhood. It was so infuriating to see Miss Darcy wilt under her aunt's scrutiny. The novelty of seeing Mama silent in awe was not worth such a cost; and as for Papa, his barbs only egged Lady Catherine on in her awfulness.
Lydia would have had the courage to tell the dreadful old woman off, Kitty thought to herself. She was in a foul mood because she had the headache, but she was not about to let Georgiana endure Lady Catherine without what small comfort Kitty could provide. Lizzy, Jane, and their two husbands all tried to deflect Lady Catherine's attention, but she was too single-minded to be distracted for long.
"Music!" Kitty said desperately as Lady Catherine's gimlet eye began to turn towards her niece. "We have not had any tonight, and I so long for some." She could see Mary swelling with the chance to exhibit herself, but that would not answer half so well as Miss Darcy playing, so Kitty ignored her sister and turned to her friend. "What is that piece you were practicing the other day? I would so love to hear it again."
"Oh! Yes, of course," Miss Darcy said. "I can play it for you now, if you wish." So saying, she hurried to the instrument and opened its cover, Kitty following close behind.
"I cannot play myself, but I can follow the music well enough to turn pages," Kitty offered; it would, after all, remove her from Lady Catherine's path as well.
"Thank you," Miss Darcy said, sorting through the music on the piano.
"However can you stand her?" Kitty asked quietly. "If she were my aunt, I would throw a fit and refuse to come down whenever she was visiting." Pemberley, unlike Longbourn, was large enough that one could probably avoid another resident completely, if one so wished.
"She has always been … forceful," Miss Darcy said timidly. "But never as single-minded as she has been on this visit."
"She's being perfectly horrid," Kitty said hotly (but quietly). Seeing that this did not raise Miss Darcy's spirits, she subsided and listened as her friend began to play.
The bench was quite wide, with ample room for two young ladies with good figures to sit. Yet Kitty found herself pressing her leg against Miss Darcy's, feeling the muscles move beneath the dress as she used the pedals. They had never sat quite this close before, and Kitty was not sure why it made her heart flutter in her chest or warmth to rise in her cheeks. It took great effort to follow the music, and yet she forced herself to concentrate, for if she did not turn the pages she would no longer have an excuse to sit so closely to Miss Darcy. It was almost enough to make her forget how wretched her head felt.
When the piece was over, Miss Darcy glanced shyly over at her and rested her hand on Kitty's own leg, leaning into her body as she sorted through her music one-handed to choose her next selection. It was delightful, and exhilarating, and Kitty could not understand why her stomach was twisting within her. Could it be a new symptom? Yet it was not wholly unpleasant.
Dimly, she heard Lady Catherine's stentorian tones, saying she knew not what. But it must have been awful, for Miss Darcy stiffened against her and her face froze in shame.
"Miss Darcy," Kitty said, ignoring whatever the old ogre had said, "I feel unwell."
"Oh!" said Miss Darcy, springing up from the bench, "then you must retire." Her eyes were large with gratitude, and she took Kitty's hand and squeezed it. "Do you feel faint? Do you require assistance?"
Kitty's illness only seldom caused faintness, and did not now; but it was the most excellent excuse imaginable to get Miss Darcy away. "Oh, thank you, that would be greatly appreciated."
Hand in hand, the two girls escaped, whilst behind them Mr. Darcy's voice rose to rebuke his aunt.
Miss Darcy lay on the settee looking wan as the maid undressed Kitty and unpinned her hair.
"She's a horrid old cow," Kitty said vehemently, "and you shouldn't listen to her, for everything she says is nonsense."
"She is not that bad," Miss Darcy protested.
"Oh, yes she is." The last of the pins were taken out of Kitty's hair, and she sighed in relief; she slumped forward against the dressing table, suddenly too weary to bother sitting upright.
"Would you—would you like me to braid your hair for you?" Miss Darcy asked.
"Oh, yes, that would be lovely," Kitty said, heart beating faster. "Thank you, you may go," she said to the maid as Miss Darcy came to stand behind her.
Miss Darcy brushed her hair with such lovely even strokes that Kitty was greatly soothed. "I'm sure your brother would tell you to disregard her, as well."
"I do not wish to speak of Aunt Catherine," Miss Darcy said quietly.
That was fair enough, Kitty thought, but she could not think of anything else to say. "Your hands feel so lovely in my hair, Miss Darcy," she said, when the other girl put down the brush.
Miss Darcy ran her fingers over Kitty's scalp and through her hair several times before beginning to braid. "Call me Georgiana," she said at last. "For we are good friends, are we not?"
"Oh yes," Kitty said, meeting her eyes in the mirror and smiling, "and you must call me Kitty."
After tying off the end of the braid with a ribbon, Georgiana stayed standing behind Kitty, resting her hands on her shoulders.
"You could sleep in here with me, tonight," Kitty said. It had been such a great luxury, when three of her sisters married and Kitty no longer had to share a bed (or even a bed chamber) with anyone; but somehow, this felt different.
Georgiana met her eyes in the mirror, and they stared at one another. Kitty's breath was coming faster than normal.
"As you wish," Georgiana said softly, at last.
The next morning, Georgiana's maid informed them that Mr. Darcy wished to see his sister as soon as convenient for her. Kitty was apprehensive, at first, as Mr. Darcy often seemed so severe; but upon reflection, she decided that anyone whom Georgiana held in such evident affection could not be too very bad at all. Georgiana seemed to take it for granted that Kitty would be with her, and Kitty did not object, and so they received Mr. Darcy in Georgiana's sitting room.
"How are you feeling, Miss Catherine?" Mr. Darcy asked.
"Well enough," Kitty said.
"Oh, but your head was so bad last night, surely you feel better now," Georgiana cried.
"Well, yes," Kitty said, "but now my digestion is … unhappy." There followed a bewildering fifteen minutes in which Georgiana exclaimed over her health and Mr. Darcy inquired as to what foods would be acceptable to her in this state and then rang for a servant to order them for her. She was left to haltingly thank them for their kindness, which both dismissed out of hand.
"It is not kindness," Georgiana said, as severe as Kitty had ever seen her. "It is the most basic courtesy."
"It is no trouble," her brother said when Kitty would have continued protesting. "And even if it were, your assistance in removing my sister from Lady Catherine's company last night was greatly appreciated."
"You are welcome," Kitty said. "But she should not be allowed to treat Georgiana so!"
"No," Mr. Darcy said grimly, "she will not be. I have made it clear to her, since apparently hints will not do, that she will treat you with kindness or she will leave."
"I do not wish to offend or hurt her," Georgiana said haltingly.
"And why not?" Kitty said peevishly. "She has certainly shown no consideration for your feelings."
Georgiana wilted. "I do not … wish to be the cause … that is, the breach in our family is only lately healed…."
"The breach was entirely of our Aunt's making," Mr. Darcy said. "She said abominable things about Mrs. Darcy, which I was only willing to let go upon considerable persuasion from Mrs. Darcy herself, and an assurance that she would treat my wife with all the consideration the lady of the house is due. I will not tolerate Lady Catherine taking her temper out on anyone, but especially not upon you. If she wishes to remain in contact with her family, she will learn to be more civil."
"Some people are simply horrid," Kitty said, taking Georgiana's hand. "You are perfectly lovely, and her resentment is no problem of your making. Do not trouble yourself about it, and choose to surround yourself with amiable people, instead of those who are not." It was advice Kitty herself had long wished to put into practice for herself, but in her entire family only Jane and her aunt and uncle Gardiner were truly amiable; none were as horrid as Lady Catherine, of course, but she had often wished herself miles away. Georgiana, besides being the sweetest person Kitty knew, had an independent fortune, a paid companion, and an indulgent brother; she of all people need never trouble herself with unpleasant people.
"Yes, do take Miss Catherine's excellent advice," Mr. Darcy said.
Kitty's mouth dropped open in shock and she stared at him. No one had ever called her advice excellent before! For the first time she considered that Lizzy might have married him because she liked him, and not because of his wealth and position.
But further conversation on the subject would only distress Georgiana, and so Mr. Darcy retreated, leaving them to their companionship.
Over the next three weeks they were inseparable; when Kitty was not feeling quite the thing, Georgiana kept her company, reading or talking or sitting quietly by turns as Kitty's symptoms came and went. When Kitty was feeling well, they rambled around the extensive grounds, or went out riding, or Kitty turned the pages for Georgiana as she played the piano.
It was an adjustment for Kitty, being the wild one instead of the tag-along; and, mindful of Georgiana's sweetness she found that the noisy and shocking amusements Lydia had preferred were not the only things that could distract her from the trials of her body.
Mr. Darcy was true to his word, and although Lady Catherine was as loud as ever, she did not critique anything about Georgiana, instead ignoring her with a chilly silence which Georgiana fretted over but which Kitty privately thought was a great improvement. When at last Lady Catherine departed (leaving Mrs. Collins behind her), everything was perfection itself.
As the time drew near for the Bennets to take their leave, Kitty clung to dear Georgy's presence even more. She wished to stay, for Georgy had only become more precious to her as their acquaintance deepened. Kitty would be heartbroken to leave her, but any invitation must come from her hostess.
"I know you must be very homesick," Georgiana said at last one day. Her voice was very hesitant, as it seldom was any more in Kitty's company.
"No, not at all," Kitty said, surprised that Georgy should think so given the many hints Kitty had given that she would be happy to accept an invitation to remain longer. "Pemberley is ever so much more comfortable; and as to the people, I have never been particularly close to either my parents or to Mary. I should not regret being away from them for a time, and I shall certainly not regret missing five days in a carriage with them on the way back to Hertfordshire. I would miss you more, Georgy," she said, taking her dear friend's hand.
"And there are not … other friends at your home that you would miss?" Georgiana asked in some surprise.
Kitty considered this. "No," she said. "I have many friends, of course, but none of them are as dear to me as you."
"Oh," she blushed.
Kitty felt emboldened. "You are so graceful and lovely, so kind and considerate. I adore the way you scrunch your nose as you concentrate on your music, and arguing with you about Sir Walter Scott or the proper way to trim a bonnet, and there is no one in the world I would rather have with me when I am ill. I never want to be parted from you. I have never felt for anyone the way I do for you, my dear Georgy." Words seemed inadequate; she had never had the clever turn of phrase that her father or Lizzy could manage. As words seemed inadequate, she resorted to actions, and took Georgy's hand and kissed it.
"I have," Georgy said breathlessly, "felt this way before, I mean. There was a girl at school—but she turned out to be very unkind, and certainly she did not feel for me what I did for her. I have been dreading your departure, Kitty, but if you would like to stay, oh, I shall be so glad to have you!"
"Yes, please," Kitty said, and from there, the conversation was the sort of rapturous sentiments which overflow in young people filled with the first bloom of affection.
They were late to supper, and had to be fetched by Mrs. Annesley; and Mr. Darcy gladly seconded the invitation that gave his sister such evident pleasure. Papa certainly could spare her, and Mama was in raptures that her daughter might be staying in so grand a place and perhaps catch the eye of an even finer man than Mr. Darcy.
Lizzy was mortified, Kitty could see, and Mr. Darcy looked pained; but there were many worse things Mama could be saying, and it was not as if Lizzy would have desired Kitty to marry badly. Kitty, who had had the same anticipation for marriage of any girl in her stage of life, now wished rather to postpone that event, for what man could ever make her as happy as her dear Georgy?
At last the day of departure came, and Kitty kissed her mother, curtseyed to her father, shook hands with Mary, and waved good-bye as their carriage swept down the drive to the lane.
Then Kitty and Georgy linked arms and went back inside, for the bright sun was hurting Kitty's head. In Georgy's sitting room they took up residence on the sofa, with Mrs. Annesley knitting in the corner, and Kitty put her head in Georgy's lap while Georgy played with her curls and read to her, and they were both very happy.