It was a tall, handsome building situated slightly apart from the town to which it pertained. Kitty's neck strained at she stared upwards at its many mullioned windows and the dark, imposing stunted spire.
Inside, there was hardly room for the guests for all the flowers. Such colours! Kitty had never glimpsed such an array of colours... And the scents! Glorious—all of it, so incredibly glorious—a wedding fit for a duchess, or a princess—or even a queen! She could barely hold herself still among the heady fragrances, her entire being in anticipation of the great ball afterwards, for that was surely the reason the other guests were sitting in such ceremony. Such a ball it would be, too. The lily closest to her shifted in a light breeze from the open church doors and tickled Kitty's sensitive nose with its petals, but she would no sneeze for all the riches in the world. She would sit and smile at her sister's great felicity, then attend a fantastic ball.
And dearest Elizabeth was certainly a sight no one could have foreseen for she was so clearly in love, even though it was with that horrid Mr Darcy. Not so horrid these days, but a sight less pleasant than his wonderful friend; Kitty much preferred Mr Bingley, although she charitably acknowledged Elizabeth's preferences were more likely to be taken under consideration.
Apart from her taste in grooms, Lizzy's judgement did not seem to have failed her when it came to every other aspect of her wedding. The crowning achievement was certainly her bride's garb, which was constructed from the most exquisite of fabrics—a firm, white satin with gilt threads sown through, the gold shining as if Lizzy's frock were a beacon against the cold stone of the church walls. It was reason enough, as far as Kitty was concerned, to smile beatifically, even though one's future husband was more than a little disagreeable regarding all things but his future wife, it seemed.
Another draft touched the church's insides, and every petal twitched. Indeed Kitty would not sneeze, indeed she would not, but, where her nose failed, her throat succeeded.
At the front, the vicar was asking the assembled for a case as to why the bride and groom should not be married.
In the pew, Kitty's throat chose that exact moment to give a groaning cough, which resounded against the walls in the silence left by the guests holding their breaths at the vicar's question.
The moments following Kitty's ill-timed cough were filled by the vicar visibly stumbling while standing still, Mrs Bennet gasping in obvious dismay, Mr Darcy's sister sharply turning to peer at Kitty's profile not unkindly, and, against all odds, Mr Darcy himself cracking what one could surmise was a smile. Taking that last under consideration, Kitty could almost persuade herself that she had single-handedly greatly improved the wedding for all involved.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Kitty thought guiltily, greatly enjoyed the sound of her own voice. It was this initial thought which had led to the next: Kitty must take great care not to express such an opinion where human ears could hear. Therefore, she rightly endeavoured, for the reminder of the present evening at Pemberley, to immerse herself in any activity which did not require that she should do so. That excluded conversing with any of the assembled party—a daunting, if not impossible, task—for fear she would overhear Lady Catherine's voice and blurt out an unseemly comment.
Taking great care to avoid Lydia's corner of the drawing room, Kitty manoeuvred herself to an empty seat on the other side of a fainting couch currently occupied by Mr Darcy's sister. While such a situation involving any other young ladies would readily result in conversation, Georgiana Darcy was perpetually shy and unlikely to initiate conversation. Moreover, Kitty suspected Miss Darcy preferred comfortable silence to forced civility through trite small talk—a fact which suited Kitty's current intentions, if not her disposition.
Crossing the drawing room did not present any difficulties. Her disappointment at not being halted, mid-step, to share in an intriguing conversation revealing secrets of the highest order was only mild, as that sort of situation rarely involved her person—regardless of her frequent strategic positioning of herself within any drawing room she were to inhabit.
Presently, she reached her target and smiled in greeting to Mr Darcy's sister. She then took the vacant seat without a word, her fan working all the while. She observed Anne de Bourgh approaching the piano, her mother loudly encouraging her to do so, while Mr Collins all but applauded from a short distance away. How Charlotte could stand the man was anyone's guess, but they would both be gone by this time tomorrow anyway, and Kitty had yet to find Mr and Mrs Collins leaving great distress in the wake of their removal from any particular place or party.
"You have been enjoying yourself, I trust," Georgiana Darcy surprised Kitty, who felt shocked at being addressed by the most taciturn person in the room, apart from Mr Darcy. For an instant she was tempted to regret her choice of seating and companion, so startled was she, but her choices of associate were few if she were to refrain from engaging in too stimulating a conversation.
It seemed, upon a further moment's consideration, that the topic could scarcely lead to any improper comments on her part, thus Kitty swiftly recovered to respond. She turned sideways in her seat to better engage in the forthcoming conversation. "Very much so," she said eagerly. "Indeed, Pemberley is glorious, and it will surely require numerous visits on my part to acquaint myself with all of its secret nooks." Her knee lightly bumped her companion's on the small couch, but, as neither seemed to mind the contact or the familiarity—indeed, neither acknowledged it through speech or gesture—Kitty did not feel it incumbent that she should move away, though propriety dictated that she should do so.
"It has been my home for all of my life, and yet I still find myself discovering new spaces to pass the time." Georgiana's tone was wistful and her eye lost, perhaps in one of the aforesaid places she clearly loved.
"On this occasion, Elizabeth and Darcy have invited us to stay for a fortnight." Kitty could have jumped in glee at simply uttering the words. Pemberley was an adventure each time, a pleasanter enjoyment than even Bath or London, for it was brief and rare and without equal in the whole of England. Lydia would return home to Wickham the day after tomorrow, her visits the shortest, but Kitty found she enjoyed herself at Pemberley as she never did anywhere else, regardless of company.
"And do you look forward to your stay? You seem as if you do." Georgiana sighed before continuing. "I wish, I so wish, you would all remain for longer. The estate is far better for many people enjoying it. I know I surely am," she added in a wistful manner.
"There will be other visits," Kitty remarked. Privately, she agreed that a longer visit would certainly suit, but it was not her place to say such things. "This one has barely started. We shall have a full fortnight, hopefully of pleasant weather to walk outside each day, and we shall thus explore and enjoy Pemberley at its fullest."
"It may have just started, but I fear it will end all too soon. I do so enjoy your company."
"We would be more of us if Lydia could but remain longer. And, of course, dear Charlotte and Mr Collins must leave us as well."
"Yes, of course, a bigger party would certainly please, but I did mean, well..." Georgiana trailed off with a startling blush. Kitty felt her own cheeks blooming faintly, though she could not properly ascertain which aspect of their conversation was causing such a reaction. Looking downwards, she noticed her knee was yet pressed against Georgiana's.
Miss de Bourgh's playing trailed off; praise greeted its end from every corner of the drawing room. Kitty was glad of the chance to converse further without the distraction of retaining a vague eye on their entertainment and a contestant ear for the opportune moments to grant praise or entice the performer towards further play. It did not seem, however, as if Miss de Bourgh could be enticed further, despite Lady Catherine's ardent attempts.
"I am certain dearest Fitzwilliam would adore to have you stay further, even if only to please your sister. And he would certainly accede to such a request if it were to hail from his own sister," Georgiana continued, almost wistful.
Kitty noticed both of Bingley's sisters heading for the pianoforte, each in possession of a look of determination and a swift foot. Taking the opportunity of the short respite between players, Kitty turned fully to her companion, only to find Georgiana Darcy intensely scrutinising her face. Kitty wondered whether she had missed a vital portion of their exchange. It did not seem to her that her attention had been away enough to warrant any anxiety over a grave impropriety on her part, but that left her puzzled at how to respond to Georgiana's look other than with a potent blush.
"I would not dream to impose," she said weakly.
"You would not," was returned without hesitation. "I would adore to have you—and your dear mother and father—join us for longer—and either or both of your sisters, of course. We are now sisters, you and I, yet we know so little of each other. I would endeavour to learn all there is to know of you, if you were to permit me the privilege," Georgiana said breathlessly.
Kitty felt, for an instant, wrong-footed and sliding downwards, although she was most notably sitting down comfortably on a fainting couch possessing steady legs. Her presence in a grand drawing room indoors did not seem relevant to her current state of inner turmoil. Just as suddenly as the world titled one way, however, it titled right back in order to return very near its original position.
Georgiana Darcy was still looking at Kitty, her eye focused and warm, and Kitty, for fear of catching fire if she were to blush more so than she already was, tipped her head forwards and coughed nervously, if rather loudly. Unfortunately, her cough timed itself to the exact moment when the piano's keys were again touched.
The room heard a startled oh and a clashing of piano keys, and, upon turning, Kitty noticed Anne de Bourgh had been yet again persuaded to take possession of the instrument. Miss de Bourgh proved herself of a noteworthy skilfulness at persevering with her music even in the face of unexpected noises from her audience. It became a useful skill indeed as the evening proceeded with Kitty and her companion never leaving each other's company.
The fact that the entirety of the British Empire was seemingly pressing on Mrs Bennet's nerves was, for once, only tangential to Kitty's existence.
Lydia had departed almost a fortnight past. "However shall I cope!" she had cried, but her words had fallen on engaged ears, and thus she had returned to her husband without delay. And now Mr and Mrs Bennet would depart with Mary in tow, leaving a most fevered Kitty by herself on a prolonged visit. Jane and Bingley, as well as Caroline Bingley and Mr and Mrs Hurst, were to say their farewells later in the day.
Mrs Bennet, although generally receptive towards her daughters accepting invitations away from home, seemed perplexed at the prospect of leaving Kitty on an estate devoid of unmarried gentlemen in search of wives. Her understanding could not reach further than her own limited ideas for her offspring, thus prompting her immediate battle with renewed nerves and her nettlesome husband.
Kitty, for her part, refrained from expressing either too much enthusiasm or too much aloofness, either of which could potentially lead to her immediate removal from Pemberley. She had never found her fate so dependant on the whims of others.
"You shall perish without distraction or worthwhile company," Mrs Bennet said, clutching Kitty's hands. "The Lady Catherine and Miss de Bourgh gone already ten days, dear Lydia but a memory, and Jane so soon to depart as well. Whatever shall become of you?" Kitty refrained from pointing out her stay was temporary and brief—only a further fortnight.
"She shall be in earnest company, among her new brother and sister." The words startled Mrs Bennet enough to firmly halt her fretting. Kitty extracted her hands and stepped back hesitantly.
Of all at Pemberley, Georgiana Darcy was the least inclined, Kitty knew, to approach Mrs Bennet and offer her sympathies and assurances of Kitty's prolonged well-being under their care. It had been Georgiana to approach Mr Darcy in the first place regarding Kitty's stay and its extended length, yet she had not demonstrated any other propensity towards anything other than her usual shy behaviour to anyone but Kitty during the last fourteen days. It was both surprising and odd to behold. Kitty could even say it had the potential to become endearing, as many of Georgiana's qualities had already done.
"Quite, yes," Mrs Bennet muttered, very much in shock. Her carriage awaited her and her husband, yet she seemed both disinclined to take it and unsure how to proceed otherwise.
"Dear Georgiana is, as we can all clearly see, the perfect guide for Kitty when it comes to Pemberley," Elizabeth remarked with a twitch of her lips.
"I would never dream to imply otherwise," Mrs Bennet said tartly. "But so far from home..." she fretted, poised for a fresh bout of agitation.
"This is as near a second home as any can be for her," Elizabeth tried again.
"A strange place for your sister when she is but a child still," Mrs Bennet replied, words at odds with previous opinions she had expressed regarding Pemberley.
While her mother and elder sister spoke, Kitty could think of nothing to add that would set her mother's mind at ease. Her head simply could not generate thoughts that did not unseemly express her excitement and utter joy. She faintly hoped Georgiana would intercede again, but it did not seem likely she had further words to add that Lizzy could not say herself in a much more potent voice that would perhaps reach Mrs Bennet's limited understanding.
Standing next to Georgiana was reassuring, despite neither speaking in order to better manage the situation. In fact, the proximity was leading to a warm blush gracing Kitty's cheeks. She peered to the side to notice Georgiana's countenance was much the same. What was supposed to be a brief look on Kitty's part, however, became a longer glance, which was immediately noticed by her companion.
Georgiana, for her part, not only smiled briefly in acquiescence, but also titled her head forward to hide her face from the others. It was a private, secret smile, reserved only for Kitty, a fact which a hundred stays at Pemberley could not have diminished. Georgiana's index finger—by accident or by design—gently brushed the side of Kitty's hand—a faint stroke that barely registered, as if a crisp breeze had touched her hand rather than another person.
It was one of several little gestures Kitty had been receiving during the last fortnight. She should have been expecting such things, perhaps; except that Kitty once again found herself coughing, quite startled, yet pleased beyond words. The most astonishing thing was how she now anticipated the next one already.
Her cough had the effect of interrupting Mrs Bennet and Elizabeth. The former jumped and expressed her wish to depart immediately in order to avoid catching Kitty's cold, her fretting quite forgotten in the face of illness. Elizabeth waved Mr and Mrs Bennet off with an enigmatic expression, though she did not comment on Kitty's interruption, even to tease their mother, and the rest of their party returned inside. They would lose more of their numbers later in the day, but could surely enjoy themselves some until then.
Kitty, walking alongside Georgiana, determined to encourage herself to cough more liberally.