Thursday, June 17, 2010

Heartbreak Comes Quickly ~ Part 1

I stepped quickly out of the carriage, turning to offer my hand to Maria to help her out of the vehicle as well. We had arrived at the Darcy's. Papa was standing as though he was strict and stern, but I knew he was pleased to be invited. Much had happened in the many years that had passed since Papa had attempted to elope with Aunt Georgie. Papa himself seemed to have changed; he was kinder and more generous. Uncle Darcy had cautiously invited him to this ball, in the hopes of renewing the friendship they had as boys. I smiled up at Papa, hoping that their camaraderie would be renewed this night.

Mama was beaming with pleasure that her daughters should be invited to such a fine ball, but she refused to admit that even a single piece of furniture was up to the standards of our home. "Tsk, tsk," she would complain. "This chair needs dusting," or "this sofa is entirely too fancy; quite spoils the sitting if one is always worried about ruining the furniture." Maria shot a sharp glance at Mama, her green eyes blazing. I knew that she did not want Mama to embarrass us even as much as I did. She pointedly brushed her gown and smoothed the ribbon in her hair. Nothing was to stop her from making her grand entrance tonight.

I too shook out my own gown, but not because I was worried about my entrance. I had overheard a conversation between a few gentlemen nearby, and I recognized one voice. The low voice of Mr. Kingsley rang back into my ears, and I blushed while trying to make myself look busy with my gown. Mama turned to me with a question in her eyes; I was not usually this awkward. I could tell that she was about to ask a question when I heard Maria scream.

"Leland!"

All heads turned to look in our direction. I blushed furiously at the attention, but I forced myself to look at Maria. Many emotions played across her face at this moment. Surprise, joy, anger, shock, disappointment, I counted off each one as it left her face. Surely she did not have any emotions left. But with a wild shriek, she tore herself from Mama's arms and flung herself into the swirling dancers.

"Leland!" she called once more.

And he turned. His face was surprised, but not particularly pleased. I could see him manfully hiding his disgust as Maria rushed at him.

"Oh, Lee, it's so wonderful to see you - did you never get my letters? - I was so worried - why, Leland, what on earth is wrong?"

Leland Smith withdrew from her embrace with a slight prying of Maria's arms.

"Miss Wickham," he said stiffly. "I never encouraged any of this behavior! Where would you get the idea that I -" he choked on the word - "loved you? When did I ever give you any reason to think that?"

Maria stepped back. In a shaky voice she said, "But - but, at that party-"

"I don't believe I was anything more than polite to you, Miss Wickham. I intended only courteousness, but I see you took more from my actions than I intended. I do not see how bringing you a towel when you spilled punch on your dress is love-" He stopped. "I am sorry, Madam. If you will excuse me." He bowed and walked away towards the Darcys.

It happened so quickly I barely had time to draw a breath. Maria shook, shuddered. Her face grew wild with pain. And then she collapsed.


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