Elizabeth struggles with demands of her new role as mistress of Pemberley, Darcy struggles with his own expectations and insecurities
Fitzwilliam Darcy journeyed into Hertfordshire in the summer with his good friend, Charles Bingley. By the following Christmas they were both married to sisters from the same inconsequential country family, but so incandescently happy with their lot that neither had cause to repine.
The new mistress of Pemberley was a slight but feisty girl of twenty-one who had been deemed a great beauty in the county of Hertfordshire. Whilst unsure of her place in charge of this palatial country seat, Elizabeth Darcy was more than ready to take up the challenge before her. Even though his new bride had deemed her new home fit, Darcy had commissioned the rebuilding of the south front of the house in the new Palladian style by an impressive young architect from the continent. As well as adding a new grand saloon, state bedroom suite, portico, giant fluted columns and a new attic block for his increasing staff, he also added a balcony very similar to the one at Chatsworth that Elizabeth had waxed lyrical about for months. It meant, however, that for the first seven years of her tenure, the new Mrs Darcy was living in a building site, a very grand and beautiful building site, but a building site nonetheless.
The family moved their living quarters into the oldest part of the house - only a few parts of the house had remained after the war and in the rush to rebuild the grand medieval banqueting hall, now refashioned as a rather elaborate entrance, had been surrounded by a warren of smaller rooms and chambers, which in their part had been interwoven into a newer design half a century earlier. As such, the East wing of the house could feel like travelling through time. Elizabeth’s favourite place to enjoy her new home was the library - Darcy had remodelled this room when he first came of age and it was a beautifully modern room hidden away at the far corner of the building. To reach it Elizabeth had to pass through the family drawing room, with its grand fireplace and stained-glass windows, through the Stag parlour, where the portrait of the beautiful Sophia Darcy hung, dart across the dining room and through the ante-room. She was excited to see her husband’s designs for the house come to fruition, and she could not wait to see what the new grand staircase was going to look like, she just wished that the craftsmen could find it in their hearts to save her the journey halfway around the house and finish it quickly.
In the library the warm oak floors gave way to soft, wool rugs, led into ornate cream panelling, beautifully patterned wallpaper, gilded coving and rows upon rows of books. The walls were a warm yellow. It reminded her of the dying days of summer, when the sun was warm, and the days were long. In the first few lonely months of marriage, when the winter sun crested over the hills, the whole room was illuminated in a glorious gold and, warmed by the sunshine, she could imagine herself back in her father’s study at Longbourne. It was when Darcy was called away to town that she found herself missing her father the most. Georgiana always sensed this in Elizabeth and would play a new piece of music or suggest a trip to the village for a diversion. The new Mrs Darcy was grateful for her new sister and the pair enjoyed each other’s company, but Lizzy’s idea of relaxation was to curl up in the reading nook, tucked away in the corner of the room. Supervised by the pictures, portraits and engravings of Darcy ancestors going back generations, the Mistress of Pemberley would make plans, manage staff, write letters and devour the years of plays, poems and literature that they had collected and collated in this small room in the oldest part of the house.
Darcy always knew where to find his wife upon his return - most often she would be asleep with a book in her hand, and he would stoke the fire, take a seat next to her and wait for her to awake and welcome him home. He had never dreamed that he would have found such a happy situation in life, never thought that he would find a wife who was so like him - who tested and challenged him daily, with no regard, well not in a real sense, for his rank or fortune. They had argued before he had left – strong words about her management of her lady’s maid, Ellen – how she dealt with her in a less than formal manner and how she needed to be aware of her station. Elizabeth had snapped back with a few choice phrases and had refused to apologise or acknowledge her fault. Already late to depart, he had left without properly saying goodbye and even though they God had joined them together he wondered, albeit briefly, if he would have had an easier life with a one of the society beauties who knew three languages and their place.
He had travelled to London by horse but his anger, which had been so vehement the night before when he had stopped in the inn at Grantham, had abated and he sent his wife a small missive with an apology. There was a response waiting for him two days later when he returned to Derbyshire House after completing his business there, and even though Mrs Darcy had accepted his apology there was still a hint of frostiness in her phrasing that put him on edge and reminded him of the cold response to his first failed proposal. Darcy was a proud man, it was part of him, part of his very being, but his love for Elizabeth overshadowed that. He realised that now. It did not matter that she was overly familiar with her maid, that she cared about the family servants – Pemberley was a big house, yes, but the people in it were very much human. As was his wife. Despite having almost a day of appointments remaining, he saddled his horse and begun the journey home to Derbyshire, not wanting to spend another hour away from home. The beacons were lit as he rode up to the north entrance in the early hours of the evening, he handed his horse over to a stable hand and ran through the courtyard, up the stairway and into the entrance hall. He could hear music and followed it upstairs, Georgiana was in the drawing room practicing on the pianoforte, the candles illuminating the concentration on her face. He stopped momentarily as if to stop and embrace her, she looked up, acknowledged his return and continued to play. He was glad, he just wanted Elizabeth and knew immediately where she would be.
Darcy found his wife where he always found her, but this time she was surrounded by papers and ink and large books on household management. She looked confused and slightly perplexed. He was grateful for this as the tone of her last letter suggested that she might not be there at all.
‘Mrs Darcy?’ He realised this was more formal than usual, but he was unsure as to where the land lay, and he was erring on the side of caution.
She smiled. She smiled! He visibly felt the relief surge through his body. She wasn’t cross with him, or at least she was less cross.
"Is there reason for you returning earlier than expected?"
‘My business was cut short and so I decided to return home more promptly than first arranged. If this vexes you in some way I apologise, but I felt that I must see you after the events of last week’.
She glanced up and looked directly at his face, she could sense that he was nervous about something, but she was unsure what.
‘Darcy, are you alright? Here, let me fetch you a glass.”
She walked over towards him and gently stroked his arm before placing a tumbler of brandy in his hand and returning to the table and her work. Darcy sipped it and then walked over to the fire. He realised that he had not removed his overcoat or boots and was standing in the middle of his library looking almost savage. The smell of the journey loitered on his skin and he drank quickly before placing the tumbler down and stating what he needed to.
‘Do you regret your match with me, Mrs Darcy. Am I not, despite the large fortune that your Mother found so desirous, what you require in a marital partner?’
He said it fast, almost not sure what he was saying before it was said and out there, loitering in the air. Elizabeth looked up quickly.
‘What did you say?’ She said questioningly, her eyes searching for his.
‘Do you regret this…this marriage. Do you regret our hasty engagement?’
Elizabeth walked over to her husband and placed the back of her hand on his forehead. He could smell her scent; violets and bergamot, the perfume she had bought as part of her wedding trousseau and which would ever remind him of those weeks spent in the Lake country for their honeymoon. He closed his eyes and shook his head.
‘Darcy, are you sick? What is the matter… do I need to call Dr Jeffries?’
She sounded genuinely concerned as she took his still gloved hand and led him over the settee, where a stack of books and papers still resided. She sat him down, moved the papers and took a seat next to him. She gently stroked the back of his neck.
‘Madam, please do not toy with me.’ He brushed her hand away.
She searched his face, questioningly, his eyes looking at everything except hers until he couldn’t not look at her. He took her hand in his and looked at the Welsh gold wedding band on her finger.
‘Do you wish you hadn’t married me, Lizzie? I am asking you a direct question and I would appreciate a direct response.’
Elizabeth looked confused and then, as she realised, she sighed.
‘This is because of our discussion a few days ago… I see now.’
‘See what?’ he snapped, he had no idea what was happening.
‘Darcy, we disagreed on an issue. You had one idea of how something would happen, and I had another, but this does not mean that we now have a dysfunctional marriage or that I regret anything of what we have.’
‘The tone of your letter, Mrs Darcy, suggested otherwise!’
‘Yes, because I was cross with you and when I came to apologise in the morning for my behaviour and find a resolve, you had already left for town. I had so many questions about the Ball to ask you about and you had skulked off before I could ask you any of them.’
Ah yes, the Lady Anne Ball – why had he not remembered about this. Held on the anniversary of his mother’s birthday, the Ball was one of the most important events in the calendar – it was a massive undertaking for any woman and even his Aunt, Lady Matlock, had struggled with the arrangements in previous years.
‘I am sorry if I was short with you, Sir, and I apologise if my letter sounded ill. It was written in haste and I fear it may have sounded angrier than I actually was.’
Darcy looked at her and she smiled, her eyes concerned for the worry she had caused him.
‘Oh, Elizabeth, I am a fool.’ He hid his head in his hands and gently laughed, relief coursed through him. How idiotic for him to think that his wife would declare their marriage a failure after one disagreement.
‘Yes, Fitzwilliam Darcy, you are a fool... I understand why you must think that confrontation of any kind is a bad thing – our courtship, for what it was, played off that confrontation though and our differences as well as our similarities are what make us such a good match. I would not have agreed to your second proposal if I had not seen how good we would work together.’ She gently kissed his temples and placed her hand on his cheek, stroking the roughness of his sideburn until it was smooth. ‘My family are not as refined as yours – our arguments are all out in the open, my parents argue in front of their children and their servants, it was a natural thing to the residents of our home to see them bicker and then resolve their differences. I understand that I am a Darcy now, and that there are all these unspoken rules that I must follow, and I am fully prepared to learn all of these to be as good a Mistress of this house as I can be. It really is something, you know.’
Elizabeth looked at him, she wanted him to understand, he loved her face – her warm, caring, beautiful face - he knew that she was a long way away from her family, in both miles and manner, and he did understand now. He pulled her into him and felt her body fall into his, from comfort and relief, and then...
‘You reek! Please go and bathe…before you stink out the whole house with your stench!’
He grinned – partly to cover his mortification, but partly because he was so happy to have someone who knew him well enough to tell him he stank with such candour. He got up, kissing her on the forehead as he did.
‘No, you are seriously vile. Have you rolled in manure? Please. Go and wash, I implore you!’
Darcy practically ran to his dressing room, where his valet Brown had already lit the fire and heated the water.
When Darcy returned to the library, Elizabeth was drawing out a map on a piece of parchment – which was more difficult that she had obviously anticipated. The paper was curling up at the corners and ink had splashed onto her favourite yellow gown, he knew this would annoy her and made a mental note to have a replacement made.
‘The problem, you see, is that we have closed off the entire South wing and so we have five bedrooms that are unable to be used, and the new Saloon will not be ready by then – so where do we put everyone? We have over one hundred people who have already confirmed attendance and I have Mrs Reynolds demanding answers!’
His wife looked up at him exasperatedly, her hair falling out of its pins and hanging around her face in tendrils. He smiled at her.
“What do you find so amusing, husband? Is it my horrendous seating plan or the ink on my gown that entertains you so greatly?”
“I think you look rather fetching when you are planning things, dearest wife.” He placed the errant curls behind her ears and kissed her gently on the forehead. "I should let you plan things more often..."
“Now Mr Darcy, we don’t have time for any of that nonsense right now. As you know I am a very important lady and have”- His firm kiss on her lips silenced her for a moment, the quill still in her hand. “And what would be your opinion on White Soup to start…?”
“Eliza, could this wait until the morning? It is late, and I have been away from you for far too long…”
Elizabeth’s eyes flashed mischievously and teasingly she pushed him back at arms length, “Dearest Fitz, I really need to finish this…. but…I had a leisurely breakfast, a hearty amount of coffee and….I had planned to be awake until dawn.”
She loosened his cravat and leaned up to softly kiss behind his ear.
“Oh…Oh!” Darcy focused. “Alright, we need some supper.”
Darcy called for meat, cheese, wine and Georgiana, and together the three of them worked out their plan of action for the day, night and morning after of the Ball. He had even agreed to purchase a pineapple, a new found fashionable fruit that was seen to be the height of sophistication, at the request of Georgiana who had heard Caroline Bingley boasting about the pineapple her sister Mrs Hurst had at their house in town. Darcy knew that this Ball would cost him a fortune – it would have to be the most successful, lavish and decadent Lady Anne Ball that Pemberley had ever seen. Darcy knew how unforgiving the highest members of society could be, he had heard the rumours after his marriage – rumours that made him much prefer being here in Pemberley than in London. The disdain amongst his peers for his new wife was palpable, but if Elizabeth could hold her own with Miss Bingley, he was confident that she would be able to brush off the comments of the society ladies with a witty retort and a confident smile. Looking at her now, conversing easily with his sister as if she was her own – smiling and laughing on the settee, drinking wine in their stockinged feet - he knew that no other woman would make him as happy as she did. All the ladies of the Ton, with the exception of a few close friends and family members, were desperate to see Elizabeth fail in her first year of tenure and the Ball would be the event that they would damn her with. And he would be damned if he let them.
Georgiana had already retired for the evening and as they were sitting on the floor in front of the fire, resting their backs against the settee and talking about the food they had planned, events in town and Caroline Bingley's upcoming nuptials, Elizabeth had placed her head on his thigh, entwining her hand in his, and fallen asleep. He ran his fingers down her cheek, his hand over her arm and then pulled a blanket over her protectively. As he looked at the portrait of John William Darcy - the great statesman who married to help restore the family fortune, the man to whom he was indebted to for his fortuitous situation in life and the full family coffers that had helped to fund the restoration of the room he was sitting in - Darcy knew that to have lived without love would have been something he would have been unable to bear. He looked down at his sleeping wife - wife!- even calling her that now, now after they had been married nearly seven months was amazing to him - Darcy knew that he was a remarkably, lucky man, and he knew that, whilst marriage was a hard journey, that life would have many obstacles and challenges for him, that he was glad that Elizabeth was the one standing by his side
Chapter 2: Lady Anne's Ball - Part One
Elizabeth recalls the events of the night before...
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
The early morning sunrise was cresting over the summit of the Cage as the last carriages of guests pulled away from the front of Pemberley. Elizabeth stood at the window, the air was still and cold – her houseguests were all still tucked away in their chambers and she was sure that a flurry of maids were currently busy at work preparing food for breaking the fast later that day. She must take the time to thank those who had worked tirelessly long hours to ensure that the Lady Anne’s Ball had been an unwarranted success.
Darcy had been up since dawn the day before, helping her prepare, supervising and giving his firm instructions to Seaton. Mr and Mrs Bennett had arrived the night before and it was obvious to none but Elizabeth that his attentiveness to preparation was merely to allow him to spend as little time as possible with her relations. She had situated them in the Oak suite, which was as far away from her own as it could be without seeming impolite. Her mother had been immediately enamoured with the new embroidered bedlinen and bold turquoise decoration, and Elizabeth could see that she was making mental notes with which to brag about to Mrs Philips on her return to Meryton.
The food, despite her concerns, had been well received and the Pineapple – complete with its own pewter stand – had been the talk of the night. Emily Warner, who lived on the neighbouring estate, had even asked if she would be able to borrow it for her own event the following month. Elizabeth had agreed, of course, and this had started what to all intents and purposes was a waiting list for the loan of the pineapple.
“I say, Lizzy, that wretched fruit has a more eventful social life than we do – why I think it will be dining with four and twenty families before the evening is over,” Darcy had whispered to her conspiratorially. She had given him a gentle nudge in the side before returning to sit with her mother, who was complaining most heartily to all that despite living some distance away, she too would like to procure the fruit for a dinner she was hosting.
“Dearest Mama, it is your birthday soon, maybe we could buy you a Pineapple as a gift and send it down to Longbourne by carriage,” Elizabeth said jokily.
Darcy, still standing within earshot, guffawed loudly, but managed to disguise this breach of manners with a well-timed cough.
“Oh, Mrs Darcy…my dearest Lizzy, I knew that you would put your riches to good use to guarantee the happiness of your mama. You are such a good girl… my daughter,” she said to her audience. “Mistress of Pemberley and all you can see here today!” She waited for the collection of middle-aged women to look impressed. “Well, go on, Lizzy, stand up..”
Elizabeth rose to her feet and did a polite, if mortifying, curtsey for the assembled ladies before quickly making her excuses. She made a beeline for her husband, who grinned knowingly and passed her a glass of wine.
“Dearest, we need to procure a pineapple for my mother.” She took a longer gulp of the wine than was proper in company. “Maybe we can sell some silver to finance it, you don’t need all of those plates that have been in the family for centuries, do you?”
“No, no, not at all… Useless rubbish.” He paused for moment, “does it have to be a pineapple?”
“Yes, it has to be a pineapple…but maybe we can accidentally forget?”
The Darcys stood for a moment, watching the result of their months of planning coming to fruition, Fitzwilliam reached for his wife’s hand and gave it a tight little squeeze. She looked up at him, grinning from ear to ear. He moved his hand to her waist and pulled her in close before gently kissing one of her coiffured curls. Two younger girls, who Elizabeth recognised of friends of Georgiana’s and newly out this season, tottered past and giggled at this public display of affection, they were resplendent in their brightly coloured and befeathered turbans, the rustle of satin and stiff new gowns following them.
The whole room was filled with people and music - the six hour candles, recommended by Mrs Reynolds, were flickering away happily around the room and everywhere there was gaiety and merriment. Darcy spotted his sister over by the pianoforte where she was happily engaged in conversation with Colonel Fitzwilliam. Georgiana had always been a little shy, and whilst his own reserve presented itself as a haughty arrogance, hers was overwhelming and she had always sought to retreat rather than attempt to fight it. It was here that the presence of Elizabeth had benefited Georgiana the most, she was blossoming into a confident young woman who knew her own mind and her own heart. Poor Darcy, he was so bullied and teased now in a house with two ladies who thought nothing of mocking his majestic moods. They made him laugh at himself in their company, however, in public Fitzwilliam could return to his stately manner and they would have a great deal of work about them to crack his veneer. Luckily, the two most important women in his life were very good at it, and this was how Fitzwilliam Darcy found himself more than slightly drunk just before midnight and dancing a country reel with his mother in law.
Elizabeth spotted her father walking to join them from the other side of the banqueting hall and waved him over. The stress of living with two of the silliest girls in England, or three if you counted Mrs Bennet, was taking its toll on Mr Bennet and he was looking forward to spending the next few days having conversations that did not involve talk of soldiers, ribbons or sermons. As much as it pained him to not have her close, he could see how adored his Lizzy was here in Derbyshire and how effortlessly she had adapted to be the mistress of a great estate.
“Elizabeth, what is all this I hear of your mother being gifted an expensive tropical fruit from Mrs Darcy herself!” He gladly took a glass of wine from Darcy and with a sardonic smile sighed, “How will I ever afford the upkeep of such a precious delicacy?”
Elizabeth missed the playful banter and easy wit of her father, the company of her mother being a fair price to pay to be back in his presence even if just for a few nights.
“What about a painting of a pineapple? Or maybe an embroidered pineapple… I’m sure you could turn your hand to embroidering a pineapple for your mother, Lizzy.”
“You know as well as I that any embroidery from me would not be a gift that one would want to receive,” she laughed.
“I can testify to that,” Darcy murmured.
“I am very sorry, Papa,” she stated with a faux solemnity. “But I am afraid we have committed to the purchase. Besides, I think we all know quite well that Mama has probably already sent a letter by post to notify everyone in Meryton. Would you like to be the one who tells her that you have declined the gift?” she teased, arching her eyebrow.
Mr Bennet looked at Darcy, who looked at his wife, who looked at her Papa. He sighed and finished his wine.
“I’ll be in the library,” he said. “If you see your mother, please don’t tell her where I am.”
He kissed his daughter on the cheek and shook the hand of the host before retiring into the family’s private rooms.
Darcy held Elizabeth’s hand and squeezed it gently. She glanced up at him for a moment and beamed, before turning her attention to the dancing, which she watched with glee. Darcy thought his wife was the most beautiful in the room that evening. She was positively resplendent in a blue satin gown with a gold brocade trim, it was the most perfectly cut gown that she had even worn, excepting her wedding dress, and he must thank his Aunt for recommending such an adept and talented modiste. Her hair had been placed in curls with jewelled flower clips holding them in place and the look was reminiscent of a Grecian goddess, her long neck elegant and almost regal. He wished that he could take this image and preserve it forever, keep it locked next to his heart to remember this vision of beauty. Darcy had take the liberty of requesting his mother’s diamond and sapphire necklace from their vault at the bank in Threadneedle Street, Elizabeth did not need precious stones, she never desired them, and she certainly did not expect them, but this was a special event and warranted something grand. He had thought the necklace old fashioned and had asked her if she would like it remodelled, but she had declared it perfect and begged him not to change a thing.
As she stood next to him wearing it, the gems sparkling and glowing in the candlelight, he could see the attention that it drew from the ladies as they walked passed or thanked their hosts for the evening, and he smiled to himself as Mrs Darcy received the recognition she deserved and accepted it graciously. There was something different about her tonight, almost as if she had blossomed overnight into her position of lady of the house. She was so assured, so confident… Elizabeth had received an education befitting that of a gentleman’s daughter, she had not been schooled by a governess in the unspoken and complex rules of the aristocracy and he knew that her composure often belied an underlying anxiety of being unable to stand her ground amongst the ladies of high society. But tonight, she had been formidable – gracious, generous, funny, attentive and completely riveting - and he knew, probably knew better than she did herself, that she had no need to be worried about anything.
Elizabeth watched the dancing and clapped her gloved hands. Observing others gave her time to think, and she was currently thinking that she must have tried too much of the food over the last few weeks as her dress was much tighter than she remembered it being when she went for her final fitting in town with Lady Matlock. But never to mind, she could survive a few more hours of discomfort if it meant that Darcy would continue to keep looking at her like he did. She was looking forward to later, when they could crawl into bed together and stay there until the early afternoon. Darcy and Elizabeth usually kept separate chambers, but the cramped conditions at Pemberley this weekend meant that they were breaking with social protocol and sharing for three nights. It was glorious inconvenience for Elizabeth, who loved waking up with her husband and an even better one for Darcy, who secretly loved playing the ladies maid, helping her remove her attire with all the playfulness of a naughty schoolboy.
The evening passed in a whirlwind of introductions, reunions, laughter and food. Jane and Bingley arrived earlier that day and happily confirmed with their closest friends that they would be expecting a new addition to the family sometime in the autumn. Elizabeth was thrilled for her sister and excited about the prospect of becoming an aunt. Married life suited Jane and this happy event had made Bingley even more decided to relocate from Netherfield and further north. They had found a solid estate in Cheshire and planned to move there before the baby was born. The distance between the sisters would now be a lot more manageable with good roads between the two residences. The whole assembly became aware of the news once Mrs Bennet was informed, and no-one had seen a woman happier that evening – although Elizabeth was unsure if this was a result of the baby or the pineapple. Either way, her mother’s nerves had absconded for one evening and this had made her company a whole lot more pleasurable for all concerned.
Elizabeth watched as the final carriage disappeared around the bend of the driveway. How beautiful her home looked in the early days of Spring, from the front of the house she could see down into the valley below and how the colours of the forest were turning with the seasons. It had been over a year since she had returned to Pemberley, not as a visiting guest, but as the wife of the master of the house. She had come to love these walls, floors and ceilings as much as she loved the home of her childhood, and the longer she stayed here the more she knew about it. She knew, for instance, that the Long Gallery was over 130ft in length, that the fireplace in the centre of it was constructed for visit by Henry VIII and one of his many wives, and she also knew that her husband was secretly measuring to see if he could fit a billiard table in there. It didn’t need to be a secret though, she adored playing the game, despite the gentlemen of her acquaintance frowning upon it, but she was looking forward to the table being installed so she could thoroughly trounce him for the arrogance of his sex. The more Elizabeth knew about Pemberley, the more she loved it and it gave her much pleasure to think of the future days that would be spent here.
Elizabeth made her way to her chambers, slowly opening the door so as not to disturb Darcy who had retired to bed at just past four am. The clock in the room chimed to signify that it was now quarter to six, she removed Lady Anne’s necklace and placed it in the chest on her dresser, it was too early, or late, to call for her ladies maid, so she lay on the bed to rest, just for a moment, but still clothed in her gown, she fell asleep.
The house was stirring and Darcy awoke to see his wife sprawled out on the bed, her hair had become loose in the night and was spread out over the pillow. Still fully clothed, her dress was crumpled. He did not know how she could sleep laced in her stays, but she had had a long day. Leaning over gently, he stroked her face, she stirred a little, turning over so that she was facing him. He adored these early morning moments that they sometimes shared.
“I love you in this colour blue,” Darcy murmured.
Elizabeth awoke, but did not open her eyes. She was hoping that he would go back to sleep and let her rest.
“This blue… it’s beautiful,” he whispered. He must still be drunk, she thought.
“Beautiful Eliza Bennet in blue…” he said softly, gently tracing his finger behind her ear and over her décolletage before resting his hand on her waist and gently pulling her to him. He kissed her tenderly on the lips, and she responded to his gentle persistence.
“Darcy, the dress is cerulean.” She teased. “If you are going to be painfully annoying, at least be accurate about it.”
“I will be accurate about taking you out of this damn dress, for beautiful as it is I would much rather see you in your chemise.”
Quickly, potently, he kissed his wife with vigour, his hands were all over her body as he attempted to unlace the dress, Elizabeth giggling as his still-tipsy fingers fumbled over the fastening.
“There is no need to make fun of me, Lizzy, I am a desperate man!” Defeated, he left the lacing and fell back on the bed exasperated.
“There will be plenty of time for that later, you incorrigible man!” She kissed him firmly so that he knew she meant it, confirming it once more by looking into those dark grey eyes that could captivate her from across a room.
“Also, please do not forget that you danced with my mother last night,” she giggled, before getting out of bed and walking over the window. The drapes were still closed, but she opened them in a dramatic move that let mid-morning sunlight spill into the room.
“Oh, oh god, I danced a reel. With your mother. Did Georgiana laugh?”
“She was hysterical, particularly as you forgot the movement more than once,” Elizabeth said. “But I suppose I will forgive you for being such a liability on the dancefloor.”
She sat back down on the bed next to him, reaching out a hand to brush a curl from his face. He looked so young first thing in the morning, as if all of the troubles and responsibilities had been taken from him. She leaned over and kissed him overcome by a sudden burst of affection, and he responded enthusiastically. Elizabeth wished that she could stay in bed with him all morning, alas…
Darcy reluctantly pulled the bell for the servant girls to come and tend to his wife. She was right, there would be plenty of time later, when the majority of their guests had left, and they would be alone to reflect on the weekend’s events and much more interesting things too.
The Cage is the hunting lodge, which is on a hill overlooking the estate.
There is another half to this story, which I haven't written yet - this was just a little vignette that I couldn't get out of my head - partly triggered by my OH thinking that cerulean was black (like obsidian, right?)
Chapter 3: Lady Anne's Ball - Part Two
The guests of the ball enjoy a post-party morning and Elizabeth discovers something unusual.
It was a fine evening when Mrs Bennet was informed by her eldest daughter that she was to become a grandmother. This news had been all she had hoped for in the months since she had seen her two oldest daughters wed. Secretly, she did not think it would be too much longer before Lizzie would be making her own announcement and she was looking forward to the days when she could pronounce the birth of the heir of Pemberley to the captive audience of ladies in Meryton. Of course, she would need to take some time to speak to her second daughter tomorrow regarding the pineapple. She didn’t like them. They were strange and too extravagant for the society circle that their company was kept in. Yes, it was impressive and grand, and although it would be the talk of Hertfordshire society for Mrs Bennet of Longbourne to be in possession of a pineapple, it was too much. She needed to make Elizabeth aware that she was not in requirement of such an expensive gift. As she retired to the beautiful room which had been prepared for her, she made up her mind definitely. Perhaps in the future, when she came to live at Pemberley permanently once grandchildren had arrived, it would be a much more suitable present and one that she would be grateful to receive.
Jane Bingley was first to rise that morning. It had been the same every day for the last few months, up with the crow and vomiting into her chamber pot. She felt guilty, as the poor maid who had taken it away to empty it each morning also visibly retched. The young girl was no older then her sister, Lydia, and yet their lives would have been markedly different. Mrs Wickham was now happily ensconced with a regiment in Newcastle, where she was able to flirt with officers and make a fool of herself with little embarrassment or negative reflection on her family. There was inevitably requests for money, but the older Bennet girls had obliged their younger sister – who was unable to manage a budget or her husband – with occasional gifts from their own purses. The Wickhams were not welcome at Pemberley and, despite the protestations of both Lydia and her mother, an invite to the ball had not been forthcoming. Likewise, Kitty Bennet was too missing from the Hertfordshire party, lately residing in Brighton with Captain and Mrs Forster, in place of her errant sister. Kitty had become much more refined in the last year or so, and Elizabeth attributed this to her spending considerable amounts of time away from Longbourne and in the company of Georgiana, who she aspired to be like. It was with great persuasion that Mrs Darcy had convinced her father to allow his next-to-youngest daughter to travel to the seaside town with the regiment, and her sister had been significantly grateful.
Charles Bingley looked at his wife’s pensive face – she was bearing the brunt of this pregnancy in her amicable way, but he knew that for the most part she was putting on a brave show of it. For the last few months, she had been sicker than he expected, and he hoped that the nausea would soon abate so that she could enjoy her bloom. Jane caught glimpse of his worried face as she turned around on the bed and then settled back into the warmth of the sheets, gently kissing his brow to allay any worries. He returned her embrace, and the Bingleys settled back into their slumber, aware that the residents of Pemberley would probably not be rising until noon.
Mrs Reynolds was always a flurry of nerves in the week leading up to the Lady Anne Ball; it was a massive undertaking, even for an experienced woman such as herself, and that morning she congratulated herself with a small glass of port from Staughton’s cupboard and prepared to thank her staff for a job well done. Mrs Darcy had looked beautiful and acted with all the grace and decorum of a lady with twice her breeding. Of course, the Darcy’s housekeeper had been aware months before the official engagement announcement of her master’s predilection for this Hertfordshire Miss. Her impromptu visit a few summers earlier had sparked something in Fitzwilliam Darcy that Mrs Reynolds had not seen before, and she had wondered how long it would take before Elizabeth Bennet returned to Pemberley as his wife. Now as the evening of the Lady Anne’s Ball had passed without setback or drama, Mrs Reynolds helped herself to a leftover biscuit and rested her feet for a while whilst her kitchen staff busied themselves with preparing breakfast for the waking guests.
Elizabeth was frustrated. Her dress fit most ill, even with lacing, it looked… wrong. She was annoyed as the daring crimson morning dress that she had chosen for the post-ball lunch had been her absolute favourite item this season, and she had been looking forward to wearing it since the first appointment with her dressmaker in town. Money was no-longer an object for Elizabeth, as the mistress of Pemberley it was expected that she would have the best gowns in the finest fabrics, but ever the country gentleman’s daughter, she had stuck close to her budget and used fabric that she had found in her new home. The sheer, shimmery fabric was interwoven with a thin, delicate gold thread – patterns of diamonds and flowers embroidered into it – it was spectacular, whilst at the same time being understated. She knew that Caroline Bingley would have sneered at her gown, the colour, the fabric, her - but it did not matter, for she would not be wearing it for the unappreciative glances of society ladies, but the admiring glances full of longing that her husband would direct across the table. Darcy loved her in bold colours, and red was his particular favourite. The trouble was that the gown did not fit – not even slightly. Ellen pulled out the new dress that had arrived last week, a replacement for the one she had spilled ink all over, Darcy would have to settle for his wife in yellow this morning, and if time and guests permitted, she might let him take her out of it this afternoon.
A few of the larger State Rooms were still closed off as Darcy’s elaborate restorations took place, so Elizabeth found herself taking a shortcut down through the servants’ staircase, saying hello to Betsy – one of the younger maids - before crossing the courtyard and entering again through the front door. As she traipsed across the house, Elizabeth acknowledged to herself that she had been walking a lot less now she lived on the estate. She could not simply march the five miles to Lambton through the endless rolling hills that surrounded her new home, and even though she and Darcy had walked the twelve miles to Kympton a few months back, she had to admit to herself that her lack of exercise, coupled with the vast array of new and delicious foods had probably contributed to her expanding waistline. Never to mind, she would wear the dress soon enough.
Unbeknownst to her, it would be years before Elizabeth Darcy would wear the red dress that hung in the armoire in her room. Life would intervene in wondrous and horrific ways, and by the time she did wear it, fashions had changed so much that it was deemed terribly old-fashioned by her daughter, who giggled with glee as her mother paraded down the bright gallery, dancing and laughing, in an old red dress with golden embroidery that glittered in the sunlight of a glorious Pemberley morning.
Darcy found his father-in-law in the library that afternoon, sipping on coffee and eating Prince of Wales biscuits left over from the night before. He wondered if it would have been more pleasing to Mr Bennet to place his bed in the library for the duration of his stay as the gentleman was found in here more often than he was found elsewhere.
“Darcy,” uttered Mr Bennet, as he took a bite of his biscuit. “How are you feeling this morning? Sore feet?”
The humour of the situation was not lost on the congenial host, who laughed gently to himself before pouring a cup of coffee and joining his father in law in front of the fire.
“I have been informed by your most amused daughter that I may have filled your wife’s dance card toward the end of the evening.”
“You most certainly did, and most appreciated it was,” Mr Bennet stated as he poured himself another cup of coffee from pot engraved with the intertwined initials of his daughter and her husband. “Why, the problematic issue of taking a wife who is decidedly younger than oneself, is that one often does not wish to dance, whilst one’s spouse does. This can cause a veritable cacophony of dramatics, where a gentleman is forced to choose between a display of nerves or a show of vexation. Indeed, Fitzwilliam, I find that often it is easier to escape the whole situation entirely and leave the dancing to the younger generation.”
Mr Bennet raised his eyebrow at his son-in-law and smiled wryly. Darcy found that it was the exact same mannerism that Elizabeth displayed when she was teasing him, and he was pleased that his relationship with her father had reached a level of intimacy where this could be enjoyed. As much as Darcy had found Mr Bennet’s parenting skills lacking somewhat, he hoped that he would have the same easy-going bond with his own children when the time came, although any Darcy offspring would, unquestionably, be reared with a slightly firmer hand than the Bennet sisters had been.
The Darcys and their visitors enjoyed a long and leisurely afternoon. The gentlemen took to the lake for fishing, whilst the ladies enjoyed a meander around the gardens before Elizabeth and Georgiana took out a phaeton and ponies for a jaunt around the grounds. Jane returned to the drawing room, not wanting to risk the high-speed trip around the park, and her sour-faced sister in law joined her. Miss Caroline Bingley was preparing for her wedding, which was due to take place the following month. Her betrothed was a noble, if impoverished, Scottish laird, and she would be spending Christmas in Edinburgh before taking up residence in a remote highland castle. Caroline was apprehensive about the move, she would be so far removed from all of her friends and relations, and whilst she would be elevated to the ranks of Scottish aristocracy and be Lady Caroline Dalhousie, she was not entirely sure that she would be able to persuade Lord Dalhousie to relocate to London on a more permanent basis. Either way, his estate and title held much more prestige for Caroline than she would have ever attained by marrying Fitzwilliam Darcy and being shackled to Derbyshire for the rest of her life. She had done well indeed, and the next time she was at Pemberley she would expect the proper deference due to her rank and the second-best bedroom.
Elizabeth made her excuses at supper that evening and returned to her rooms early. She didn’t know if it was the exertions of the day, the heat of the summer night or the long hours that she had been keeping of late, but she was exhausted and though it was bad form to leave her guests without the presence of their hostess, she knew it would be even worse if she fell asleep in the soup. As she walked through the house, Elizabeth gradually realised the reasons for her ills and thought herself hare-brained indeed. Back in her rooms, the yellow and gold suite that had once belonged to the Lady Anne herself, she unbuttoned her gown and stood to look at herself in the mirror. She noticed the change in her body, a rounding of her hip, a fullness of her bosom – how could she have been so blind, how could she have not realised!
There was a quiet knock on the door, before it opened, and her husband appeared with a slice of pie.
“Darcy,” she said warmly, before taking the plate from him. “Did we spend so much on the ball that we no-longer have servants?”
Fitzwilliam chuckled warmly, “well, if the lady of the house refrained from promising pineapples to all and sundry then maybe I could have asked a servant to bring you refreshment.” He pulled her towards him, “although I must admit that visiting your rooms does have additional benefits.” Darcy kissed his wife gently on her neck, breathing in the smell of her. She smelled like soap, and warmth, and home.
“Here, take a bite of your pie – it’s very good, in fact I might even go back to our guests and have some more.” She laughed at his teasing, and then obliged his request, taking a seat on the chair next to her dressing table. Dressed in her chemise and robe, and with her hair unpinned, she looked positively radiant. He felt a rush of sudden desire for her; wanted to embrace her, kiss her, make love to her in the cotton sheets of the old four-poster bed that had been made for Anne Boleyn.
“Darcy,” she started. “I have something to tell you.” Her face was serious, and a wave of nauseous anxiety passed over him for a brief second.
“What?” he murmured quietly.
She stood up and walked towards him slowly, her gaze never wavering. Her dark brown eyes were looking directly into his, as though she was gazing into his soul.
“Elizabeth, what is wrong?”
She took his hand and placed it gently on her stomach.
“I am with child.”
The slow build-up had been worth the exquisite pay-off – Darcy’s face was incredulous, but as he processed the words, the realisation of the news spread all over his face, resting on his lips in the biggest smile. He pulled his wife into his arms and kissed her all over her face, before holding her in front of him, looking down at her belly again, and embracing her. This was the most wonderful news that Fitzwilliam Darcy had heard in his entire life.
He was going to be a father. Papa. Daddy.
He was going to be all these things to this little miracle of life that they had created between them. The Darcys held each other for a long time that evening, talking, kissing and laughing until the sun crested over the horizon of the Cage once more.
Chapter 4: Christmas
Christmas Comes to Pemberley
The last month of the year was passing in a flurry of excitement and activity, with Mr, Mrs and Miss Darcy eagerly anticipating playing host to their greatly extended family. This was Elizabeth’s second Christmas as Mrs Darcy, the first spent away on the continent in a blissful honeymoon state, where the newlyweds had little regard for any festivities apart from each other. However, this year was different, and Darcy was determined to make Elizabeth’s first Christmas at Pemberley a most joyful occasion, especially as the birth of their first child was imminent. For Georgiana this would be her first Christmas spent in the embrace of family, and she was excited to spend time with people her own age, as well as those that she truly loved.
The Bennets, including Kitty and Mary, who had recently become engaged to a well-spoken, well-read pastor from Kent, were to arrive on the twentieth, with the Bingleys arriving a few days later. Charles and Jane had spent the last few months busy with introducing their new daughter to relatives far and wide, and everyone who met the strawberry-blonde haired babe declared her as beautiful as her mother and as affable as her father. Jane was enjoying motherhood and could not think of a time when her days had been better spent, Lydia wrote to her second eldest sister to say that she had never seen Mrs Bingley look so well and it made Elizabeth ache for the arrival of her favourite sister. The Darcys were yet to meet little Charlotte Bingley and, despite letters being sent almost daily, Elizabeth and Darcy were both eager to meet their new niece in the flesh.
Fitzwilliam was attending to some business at his desk in the Stag Parlour. He had taken it upon himself to supervise the preparations for the Christmas feast, as he did not want to place any undue strain on his wife. He had spent most of the last eight months fruitlessly trying to convince her to rest, which had forced Elizabeth to call Dr Jeffries who confirmed that walking, and lots of it, was good exercise for the mother-to-be and would also help with an easy birth. Elizabeth did not like to be still, he found, and even when he tried to find her less vigorous activities, such as painting, he ended up watching her march to the hunting lodge on the hill, dragging an easel with her. It was all he could do not to lock her in her rooms and watch her closely for the next few weeks. As much as her liveliness and stamina had once attracted him to her, now it made him somewhat apprehensive, especially as the babe in her belly grew larger and she would not admit to herself that she was now impeded by it. She refused to. This wife of mine could be the death of me, he thought, smiling to himself, but what a blessed life we would have had.
“Mr Darcy, Sir, would you like to try the millefruit biscuits before we box them up?” Mrs Reynolds gestured at the decadent, fruit jewelled biscuits that she was holding on the tray in front of him. He could smell cinnamon and cloves, the rich, sweetened smell taking him immediately back to childhood. He remembered vividly sitting in this same room as a small boy, cuddled up on his mother’s lap as she read stories to him in her gentle, melodic voice, stroking his dark brown curls until he fell asleep sated, content and safe.
“They were your mother’s favourite, if I remember…”
“Yes,” he nodded. “Yes, they were.”
Mrs Reynolds studied the gentleman before her, she had known him since he was four years old and knew that he felt the loss of his mother most keenly during this season.
“Forgive me if I speak out of turn, Mr Darcy,” she said hesitantly. “But, I understand why you are nervous about the next few weeks.”
Darcy looked up at the woman who had cared for him in those dark days after his mother’s death and gestured for her to sit, which she did before continuing.
“Sir,” she uttered softly. “What happened with your mother was very rare, and very quick. There was nothing that could have been done that your father did not do, he would have moved heaven if he could have brought her back.”
“Mrs Reynolds, I am…” he started before biting his lip and rethinking. “I am aware that childbirth is a risky, yet necessary event.” Darcy’s statement tried to disguise his inexperience, his only knowledge taken from the day that Georgiana had been born. He had been twelve years old and the sounds and cries from his mother’s chambers had terrified him. He had gained a sister that day, but his dearest Mamma was gone.
Mrs Reynolds looked her young Master in the eye. “I cannot promise you that everything will be alright with this birth, Mr Darcy, but the mistress is strong, and you have ensured that she has received the best care.” She paused for moment, trying to make him look to the future, rather than remember the past. “What I can assure you is our new young master or mistress will be so spoiled by the whole of Pemberley, as we are all of us so eager to have children in the house again.”
She tentatively placed her hand on his knee, he covered it in his own and held it for a moment. It was a comfort. Darcy was unable to explain his underlying anguish to Elizabeth, nor was he able to disguise it from her, which meant that she had believed him to be in a foul mood for the past few months. He could not explain to her that he was filled with the insurmountable dread that in the act of bringing their child into the world, she would be taken out of it
“Thank you, Mrs Reynolds,” he said quietly. “Your words have been much appreciated.”
“You’re welcome, Mr Darcy,” she smiled softly. “Now, I think it’s time for tea.”
Elizabeth was sitting in the drawing room after lunch, listening to her remarkably accomplished sister-in-law practice for the Pemberley tradition of carol singing on Christmas Eve. She had been watching the preparations all day and was exhausted at the observations. Greenery and foliage had been being prepared in the courtyard to be brought in on the twenty-fourth, whilst the smells of spiced fruits and sweet delicacies hung in the air, the drawing room had been dressed with holly, ivy and mistletoe, and all around there was a feeling of merriment and festivity. Pemberley was getting ready to welcome guests and even though she was cumbersome with child, Elizabeth was just as excited.
“Lizzy, would you like to join me in a duet? It will sound better if you play with me,” Georgiana stated boldly.
“Georgie, you know as well as I that I will play the wrong notes and then try to cover them up,” Lizzy grinned, as she walked over the pianoforte to look through the sheet music. “When one has four sisters it is a rare thing indeed to be able to practice as much as one would wish.”
“If I had many sisters as you, Elizabeth, then I would never have practiced at all! There is something very lonely about being the only child in a house such as this,” Georgiana paused reflectively. “You must promise to have a whole host of little Fitzwilliams to fill these rooms with laughter”
“I think I should probably concentrate my efforts on this one first before making any plans for further additions.” She placed her hand on her belly, which was now large enough to prevent her from getting into the bath without assistance or fastening her own boots.
Georgina observed her, hesitantly questioning “can I touch it? Is that odd…can I ask that or am I being terribly rude?” Her brow creased in the same way that Darcy’s did, Elizabeth noticed. Surprising how two people could be so similar and different at the same time.
“No, of course it’s not odd – it’s perfectly normal, in fact,” Elizabeth reassured the younger woman, taking her hand in her own and laying her palm flat on the most prominent part of the baby bump, “if we press here very gently, I think we will disturb him and he may say hello.”
Almost on cue, the youngest Darcy responded from inside the womb with a firm kick. Georgiana pulled her hand back, shocked by the gentle force.
“Oh my! That was so strange! Elizabeth, I am all astonishment that you even manage to walk about with such a commotion going on in your insides.”
Elizabeth laughed at Georgiana’s shocked face and embraced her gently. It had been wonderful to spend the last few weeks in her company, and she was looking forward with eager anticipation at the months to come.
The snow fell on Christmas morning, coating the grounds with a fine dusting of white powder. Downstairs the Pemberley servants were preparing a feast for their guests – they would have their respite tomorrow when Mr and Mrs Darcy would present them with the boxes for St Stephens Day and, for the more senior members of staff, a half day holiday. This was not a commonplace occurrence, especially amongst domestic staff in larger houses, but Darcy prided himself on rewarding hard work and he saw to it that everyone could enjoy the festivities of the season, not just his own family and friends.
He woke to find Elizabeth standing by the window, they were now sharing the bed in her rooms more often that not, and he delighted on seeing her first thing in the morning. The heavy drapes, which had been hung in preparation for her lying in, had been opened slightly and he could see the bright, winter sunshine glinting through. He watched her for moment; rounded and beautiful, she meant everything in the world to him, but he was tormented by the innate fear that he was somehow not deserving of lasting happiness, which lingered away inside his sub-conscious. She stood for a moment, obviously aching with the weight of her pregnancy, and he rose quickly to stand beside her. The room was chilly, it must be early as the fires had not yet been lit, her skin was cold to touch, and he enveloped her in his embrace. He didn’t know if he was trying to warm her up or if he was holding onto her as tightly as he would allow himself, scared that she might slip away. Elizabeth sensed the tension in him and, turning around to face him, kissed him gently on the nose. He closed his eyes, somehow scared to open them in case she had gone.
“Darcy,” she whispered.
She took his hand and stroked the back of his knuckles gently, before intertwining her fingers in his. His hands were much larger than hers, and she always felt delicate when he took her hand in his as he had done now. He held her hand firmly, as if the slightest move to relinquish his hold would cause him to lose her forever. Elizabeth knew that he was scared about the birth, she was scared too and her talk to Jane had done nothing to alleviate this. His brow was furrowed and he was quiet and apprehensive.
“Lizzy,” he said, barely audibly. “What if I lose you?”
She studied his face for a moment, Fitzwilliam Darcy was a lot of things: a master, a landlord, a husband, a brother – well respected and well liked, he held the livelihoods of hundreds of people in his hands. For a young man not yet thirty years old, it was a massive undertaking, and one that she understood took its toll on him both physically and mentally. When people heard of Mr Darcy of Pemberley, Derbyshire, and his ten thousand a year, they were instantly of the understanding that here was a wealthy gentleman who had so great a fortune that there could be nothing else able to trouble him. She remembered with some unease that on their first acquaintance she too had those similar thoughts. However, her husband was all too human, his fears and worries were very real and as he stood before her, she wanted him to know honestly and wholeheartedly that whatever his fears were, he did not have to face them alone.
“Darcy,” she whispered. “What if I lost you?”
“If you lost me?” he said, confusion echoing across his face.
“Yes, what if you fell off your horse and banged your head and you were dead.”
“Lizzy, why are you mocking me?”
“I am not mocking you – you travel out on your horse every day, and I have to trust that you won’t have a horrible accident and die.”
Darcy looked at his wife, she was speaking with a forthright honesty, but had tempered this with an expression of great care.
“Mrs Darcy, please.”
“Mr Darcy, we cannot live out our lives every day thinking that the worst of things could happen. What kind of life would that be?”
“I understand, but…”
“I know that you are apprehensive about the birth of our child. I know that you are worried that the same fate will befall me as it did your mother.” He looked up at her quickly, had Mrs Reynolds betrayed his confidence, surely not. “I spoke to Georgiana, she is very perceptive, you know, you should give her more credit for her ability to read people. She can read you like a book, perhaps more so than I can myself.”
Darcy walked over to the window, threw open the curtains and looked out onto the east front of the house, outside he saw two of the younger maids playing in the snow, before they were quickly shooed back inside by one of the under-butlers. The garden was still once more and the feeling of panic started to overwhelm him.
“You do not understand, Elizabeth,” the words exploded from his mouth, angrier than he intended them to be. She caught his instant look of remorse and took his hand again in hers.
“Well if you do not expect me to understand, then you will need to take the time to explain to me where I am going wrong and failing to comprehend your feelings.” She was not angry, she was concerned. “You can be a public man but a private husband, Fitzwilliam. There is no requirement for you to withhold your concerns from me.” She looked at him, searching for his gaze and finding it. He held her hand, traced along her fingers with his own. How had he managed to convince this wonderful, sparkling woman to spend her life with him? In that instant Fitzwilliam Darcy realised that he could not hide the most secret parts of himself away from the person whom he loved with his whole being. He held his wife’s hand tightly in his own and he slowly let the fears seep from his body.
Georgiana Darcy noticed a change in her brother that afternoon. He was all humour and smiles, his laughter filling the room as he enjoyed the company of his nearest and dearest.
By midnight, everything would change.
The scorched remains of a medieval tapestry still smouldered in the early hours of St Stephens Day. The fire had caught just before midnight, silently climbing its way through the entrance hall and up the newly finished grand staircase, catching light to the dried foliage and greenery decorating the banisters, creating a trail of destruction. At the stroke of twelve, Staughton and the other senior male servants ran through the house waking up the residents, leading them to safety and ensuring that all members of the household, regardless of status, were accounted for. Elizabeth and her family watched in their nightgowns as teams of men from all over the estate formed a bucket brigade to put out the fire. Darcy, his face covered in soot, was at the front – trying to control the flames. At just after one am, the fire was out.
Mrs Reynolds organised for the guests to be moved away to rooms in the west wing of the house, the furthest point away from the scene of the fire, as usual she noticed that Mrs Darcy’s mother was on the verge of hysterics and made arrangements for her to be administered with large amounts of brandy and a sedative. Elizabeth refused to leave Darcy, asking him what she could do to help, where she could put herself to be of most use. Eventually she wrapped herself in a coachman’s jacket to preserve her modesty and positioned herself in the Servants Hall. When her husband was confident that the fire was now out he found her there making cups of tea for the young men who had helped him to fight the flames. He walked directly over to her and, with no regard for decorum, held her close to him, pressed to his heart, in front of anyone who could see, whispering prayers of gratitude that no souls had been lost that day. Darcy was not a particularly religious man, but he decided there and then that God, who had deigned to save all of those most precious to him, was worth thanking indeed.
The next morning, Fitzwilliam decided to open the London townhouse for the coming few months or until the start of the new season, this was primarily for the comfort of Elizabeth and the child whose birth was forthcoming, but also for their guests who would be conveyed to house on Grosvenor Square until the New Year.
“Please reconsider and travel down with us today,” Charles Bingley demanded of his host, as the two men walked around the almost unrecognisable entrance hall.
Darcy shook his head, “that I am afraid I cannot do.” He walked over to the tapestry on the wall that hung there longer than he could remember, it was barely recognisable and as he pulled the remains down from the wall, the impact sent soot and ashes swirling up into the air, causing the two men to cough and splutter.
“Of course, you can,” Bingley said, his recent elevation to the status of father giving him a greater confidence with his standoffish friend. “You are choosing not to because you think your duty is simply to remain here and sort out this mess, when you are fully aware that your duty is to remain with your wife.”
The master of the house chose to ignore Charles and walked through to the foot of the staircase; the yellow and cream wallpaper, which had only recently been hung, was black with only the faintest hint of the pattern remaining, everywhere the acrid smell of burnt wood and canvas hung in the air. Bingley was wrong; his duty as a Darcy was to remain here and ensure that his family would be able to return home as soon as possible, plus there was also the necessary administration and paperwork that he would have to complete. Surveying the damage, he realised that they had been exceptionally lucky, fires like this usually razed houses to the ground, and it had been the quick alarm of his manservants and the fast-acting work of Staughton that had saved Pemberley, and Darcy was profoundly grateful for all that they had done.
Elizabeth travelled down to Derbyshire House the following morning; she had often wondered why the house had been so-named, thinking that it would have been better called Darcy House to save confusing it with the London residence of that other great Derbyshire household, the Cavendishs of Chatsworth, where that honourable family, somewhat confusingly to Elizabeth, were titled the Dukes of Devonshire. It was only in whispered conversations with Georgiana that she learned the Darcys had once been titled as the Dukes of Derbyshire, but this had been removed by royal attainder over a hundred years earlier for reasons unbeknownst to the younger lady. The Darcys seemed to have weathered their demotion to the landed gentry admirably, and Elizabeth mused privately on how Aunt De Bourgh would have reacted to enduring the social requirement of addressing the ‘obstinate, headstrong girl’ as ‘your grace’ and deferring to her rank. The image of Lady Catherine’s face alone made her smile to herself as the coach bounced and jolted her over the hills of her adopted county and towards the capital.
The journey was proving uncomfortable and had not been something she expected to endure so late in her pregnancy. Dr Jeffries had confirmed that all was well, and she would be fit to travel on the good roads to town. The youngest Darcy confirmed his agreement with kicks and thuds so fierce that Elizabeth was convinced her son was going to be a great sportsman. She hoped that this boisterous babe was a boy, partially due to Darcy’s innate longing for a son and society’s expectation that she provide an heir as soon as possible, but then again they had discussed the possibility of a girl and he was similarly delighted at the prospect of a daughter with fine eyes and an impertinent manner. They stopped at the Inn at Stamford for refreshment and found themselves waited on most agreeably, despite it being only two days after Christmas. The whole party, glad to remove themselves from the cramped conditions of fine coaches, rested and ate their fill of tasty meats and breads, as well as mulled wine which provided much needed warmth.
Elizabeth ensured that each member of her party was suitably reinvigorated, specifically Jane who was caring for baby Charlotte. The child had slept for most of the trip, wrapped up warm against the biting winter wind, and her aunt took time to coddle the baby whilst her mother enjoyed the respite and the chance to stretch her legs. Kitty was most aggrieved to be sharing the coach with Mrs Bennet, who had complained about the cold and inconvenience, whilst at the same time commenting on the fine upholstery and comfortable springs of Mr Darcy’s second best coach, which she was sure cost more to run each year than her husband’s whole income. Mr Bennet decided that for the remainder of the journey he would travel with the Bingleys, much to the vexation of his wife. Charles sent a messenger back to Pemberley to assure Darcy that all was well, but it would be a letter he would not receive. The coaches were barely out of view when Darcy made a decision; and nobody was more surprised than Elizabeth that he had arrived in London before them and was there to meet her on her arrival.
Feeling somewhat chastised by the words of his friend, Darcy had his head coachman saddle his horse, Hermes, and prepared to ride down to meet his wife. He had left Staughton and his steward, Willis, to ensure that repairs were carried out and the house restored to the best of their ability in the time allowed. This horrible incident had taught Darcy that he was just one person, in a team of slightly over a hundred, who worked tirelessly to ensure that Pemberley continued to thrive and grow. He gave permission for the annual servant’s ball to go ahead on New Year’s Eve in his absence and authorised the distribution of the sum of one pound to be paid to each upper servant and 10 shillings each to be paid to the rest. Staughton, the butler who had been in charge since before Darcy was born, had resisted this, stating that the servants of the house were only doing their duty and that there was no requirement for additional reward outside of their own wages, but Darcy insisted, most adamantly. He knew that, if he had the taste for gambling, he could easily lose that total amount in half an hour on the tables at his club in Bermondsey, but he was aware that this small gift would make a significant difference to the lives of his servants and he wanted to show his utmost appreciation for their efforts. Hermes thundered on over the hills, as Derbyshire passed into Leicestershire, into Northamptonshire, and beyond.
Elizabeth retired early, before dinner, causing a level of concern amongst her husband and Jane, who knew it was most unlike her sister to miss out on any fun, especially when in the company of her father, and she took it upon herself to see how she was. Jane gently opened to the door of Elizabeth’s bedroom and saw her sister sitting up, bedclothes thrown back, the stench of vomit in the air.
“Lizzy,” she exclaimed as she hurried towards where her sister sat in obvious discomfort. “What has happened, what is the matter?”
“Oh Jane,” Elizabeth said pitifully, “there is so much pain. So much, I can’t bear it.”
Jane put her arm around her sister, holding her close to her, she was acutely aware of what was happening. Elizabeth’s nightgown was drenched from the waist down, the pallor of her face, the pain radiating through her - Jane knew, from her own experiences, that the eagerly anticipated Darcy baby was preparing to make an appearance.
“Lizzy, it is time.”
“No!” she exclaimed. “It is too early, it cannot be…” Her voice took on a wailing tone and she grasped Jane’s hand tightly as the wave of pain came over her again.
“I must call for Fitzwilliam, Lizzy,” she said softly, removing her own hand from her sisters and ringing the bell for attendance. “It’s going to be alright, you have ten times the resilience I have, and I managed perfectly well. I found that if you concentrate as the pain washes over you and….” She was unable to finish as Elizabeth screamed out in pain. Ellen knocked on the door and entered as Jane yelled at her to fetch her master. Even though she was concentrating on the wave of pain as advised, Elizabeth took a moment to note that she had never heard her sister yell at anyone before.
Darcy was enjoying a game of billiards with Bingley and Mr Bennet when the under-butler advised that this presence was requested upstairs immediately. He ran up the stairs and could hear his wife, obviously in great amounts of distress; it was so reminiscent of the haunting cries of his own mother that he felt immediately nauseous fearing the worst. He paused for a moment before recovering his composure and entering the room.
“Is it now? But, you said February… surely this is too early, is it too early?” he looked pleadingly at Jane for confirmation.
“They say that it is not an exact science…” she reassured. “But for the sake of Lizzy and the baby, you need to call for your doctor or ask the servant girls if they know of a midwife.”
Darcy knew all of this; all of the plans that he had so carefully put in place for the birth to take place at Pemberley – the arrangements with the doctors, acquiring the services of the midwife – all of it for naught, and now the baby was coming and he had not been able to prepare any of it. Jane sensed Darcy’s trepidation and directed him towards his wife, whilst she hurried down the stairs to seek her husband and the services of a medical professional who would be able to assist. Bingley sent his man out into the cold, dark December night and they waited for help to arrive.
Elizabeth looked at her husband, he was holding onto her so tightly, helping her move and breathe and tolerate this immense pain. It was almost as if she was being wrenched in two, and she did not know how she would bear it.
“My dearest love,” he murmured frantically. “What can I do?” His brow was furrowed, and he looked scared half to death.
“Just stay, please. I need you here.”
Ellen came in with hot water and clean linens, she placed them next to her master and observed her mistress writhing uncomfortably on the bed. Elizabeth’s maid was a girl of not quite twenty-two, but she had seen this before and she wanted to help. Mrs Darcy was always kind to her – treating her with a great respect and appreciating the work that she did – and Ellen was grateful to have a senior position with the family when most girls her age were working as under maids. Being the oldest of seven in a household that could not afford a doctor, Ellen had seen her share of births and she knew that she could make it easier for her mistress, could even deliver the babe if she needed to.
“Excuse me, Mr Darcy,” she said hesitantly. “Please forgive me if I speak out of turn, but Mrs Darcy needs to stand. It will help.”
Darcy nodded; he did not know why he was trusting the advice of a ladies’ maid in the matters of childbirth, but he felt so helpless that any assistance was well-received. They helped Elizabeth to her feet, Darcy supporting the weight of her on his shoulder, her legs buckled again as her body shuddered with the intensity of another contraction and, as she cried out in pain, Ellen could see tears of fear and frustration running down her master’s face.
Where was the doctor? The midwife? Where was any help at all? Jane had appeared an age ago to assure them that help was on the way, she had brought water flavoured with orange flowers and calming words, before the cries of her own child had forced her to leave. They had been in this room for what felt like hours now; the yellow walls and heavy drapes felt like they were closing in on him and he felt claustrophobic with panic. He had taken a seat and a shot of brandy as he watched Ellen press cold flannels to Elizabeth’s forehead and whisper words of encouragement. He did not know what was worse; watching his wife suffer so much pain or feeling so terribly helpless because there was naught he could do. He had no idea what Elizabeth was feeling, but with her hair hanging loose and with beads of sweat dripping from her, she looked completely exhausted. He understood now why men were not usually present during the birth of their offspring; not because of decency, but because this was horrifying – any man subjected to this would surely never want to impregnate his wife ever again and he sincerely hoped that his wife would be happy with just the one child.
“Mr Darcy, the baby is nearly here,” Ellen prompted. “You need to get Mrs Darcy to push when I say so.”
“Yes! Stand there,” she said pointing to the head of the bed. “When I say push,” she said to Elizabeth, “you need to push. You need to push hard.”
Elizabeth nodded and looked up at Darcy, taking her hand in his she squeezed it tightly, looking in his eyes for confirmation that all would be well. He looked back at her, scared witless, but trying to hide it.
“Mr Darcy, now!”
The head was crowning; Elizabeth had never felt a pain like it, the immense burning sensation running through her whole body. She screamed out in pain, taking the intensity of it and using it push down. There was relief and then, four weeks earlier than planned, Fitzwilliam George Darcy gave out a loud cry to announce his entry into the world.
Elizabeth coddled the tiny dark-haired child in her arms; he had her unruly curls and his father’s piercing grey eyes. Now three months old he was getting stronger every day, the frightening nature of his early birth assuaged by his good-tempered nature. He was, Elizabeth thought, the most amenable child that she had the fortune to meet, and she counted herself lucky that he belonged to her; holding him close, she rested her head on her husband’s shoulder as the carriage rumbled on towards Pemberley.
The quick delivery of their son had astonished both Darcy and Elizabeth, but despite being perfect in the eyes of his parents, there was nothing to hide the fact that he was incredibly tiny and at least a month early, indeed Ellen had never seen a baby so small, and she swaddled him in cotton and blankets to keep him warm on this cold December night. Darcy had gone downstairs to inform the waiting party of the arrival of his son and heir to find everyone had gone to bed, with the exception of his sister, who was uncomfortably asleep and perched on a chair, and Bingley and Jane who were asleep on couch, their heads resting on each other in a display of comfortable matrimony. Internally he scolded himself for ever doubting the sincerity of Jane’s affections towards his friend; they were the most content and amiable couple that he had ever had the pleasure of spending time with and he delighted in seeing Bingley so happy in his marriage. He walked over and poured himself a glass of brandy – it had felt like a long night, however, after checking the clock on the mantelpiece he could see that it was a little after 3am. The whole process had taken just over four hours, and in that time, he had become a father. It was an exceptional feeling, and one that he felt overwhelmed by. For all his emotional reticence in public, or in the presence of strangers, Fitzwilliam Darcy was a passionate and caring man who loved his wife, his sister and now his son to levels of extreme. Standing at the window, looking down on to the snow scattered cobbled street below, he shed a small, significant tear of happiness for his fortunate position in life.
Darcy slowly creeped back into the room where his wife was nursing their newborn son; she looked so vulnerable and so unlike his normal resilient Elizabeth that he felt a sudden rush of tenderness and feeling, wishing that he could hold her inside his heart and keep her there forever. Master Fitzwilliam Darcy was tiny; barely bigger than a pup, but he would be strong, and he would be loved beyond measure. Elizabeth gazed at her husband with a look that he had never seen before; it was the contented love of a new mother. She nuzzled into him and he kissed her gently as they gazed at the pink perfection of their baby for a long time. When Ellen came back into the room an hour later, the Darcys were asleep on the bed and now they were three.
Jane was the first to hold Fitzwilliam and declared him absolutely perfect, followed by his Aunt Georgiana, who promised, after observing his long fingers, that she would teach him how to play pianoforte to such a high standard that he would be the most accomplished gentleman in England, as well as being the most handsome. Mrs Bennet, who took it upon herself to hold both of her grandchildren at the same time, found herself predisposed to grand-motherhood, much more so than raising her own children. This was helped by the knowledge that both had fathers who were considerably richer than her own husband and would want for nothing, in addition, the most rewarding delight, she found, was that she was able to hand both Charlotte and Fitzwilliam back to their respective parents as soon as any sign of inconvenience was displayed by either. The first morning of his existence was a busy one for the smallest Darcy, who found himself hugged and sang to by all four of his aunts, with Georgiana and Kitty taking the time to perform a duet, the latter’s own playing recently being much improved; Mary commented on how fortunate they all were to be together after a tumultuous few days and everyone agreed that for once she was completely accurate in her assertions.
Elizabeth did not ever think that she would have been able to love someone with such an overpowering and deep love; not even the love she felt for Darcy – as tremendous as that was – compared to the emotion she experienced when she held their son in her arms. Indeed, watching her Darcy men observe each other over the past month with their soulful grey eyes made her weep with joy, much to her chagrin.
“Darcy,” she murmured softly. “When can we return home?”
He looked at her, still fragile, still more delicate than he would have hoped, she was drained; even though Master Fitzwilliam was relatively undemanding child, compared the fractious Charlotte, whose temperament was completely at odds with that of her parents, he was still a small child who needed his mother. He took the baby from her, taking a moment to hold the tiny smallness of him close to his own chest, then he called for the nursemaid to take him to the nursery, for tonight his wife needed to rest, and he was determined that she would. For once in their short marriage, Elizabeth Darcy did not protest or argue with her husband and as Darcy climbed into bed with his wife, she snuggled into the crook of his arm and settled.
“You did not answer, Fitzwilliam,” she persisted. “When can we return to Pemberley?”
The fire at the house in Derbyshire had not caused considerable damage; most of it was superficial, excepting a few destroyed tapestries and a scorched painting of a distant ancestor that had once hung at the top of the stairs. Darcy was confident that the repairs would be completed in time for the family to return before Spring and, even though he rode up to survey the damage for himself when Fitzwilliam was two weeks old, he left the management of the refurbishment to his staff. He requested that the nursery be repainted in a fresh cornflower blue that he knew his wife would approve of, it being the same colour as the waistcoat he wore on their wedding day, Elizabeth always taking the time to comment on how much she loved the shade. Darcy took the time to thank his steward and butler again for their continued service before riding back to his wife with a small token of his love and devotion in his pocket.
On the occasion of the birth of his son, Fitzwilliam, George Darcy presented his wife, Lady Anne, with the traditional gift given to each Darcy wife in the days following the successful delivery of her firstborn son. The necklace consisted of a simple chain, and from it hung a pendant made of diamond and pearls – the pearls themselves were Darcy heirlooms having been in the family for at least three generations. Although no one was exactly sure, it was Pemberley lore that these pearls had once belonged to Mary, Queen of Scots, who had once been held at a nearby and long-gone manor called Moreville, and gifted to the lady of the house for her kindness. Nobody knew the truth, the facts of which had been lost to history a long time ago, but regardless of their origin, the Darcy Pearls were a important gift to give. After the birth of a Darcy heir, three of the gems were carefully removed from the tripled-stranded necklace, remounted in gold, and encased with diamonds, before the precious strands were returned to the family safe for another generation. Anne Darcy received her pendant with the greatest of pleasures, wrapping her arms around her husband and enveloping him in the deepest of embraces.
“Jane! Jane!” Georgiana Darcy was beside herself with excitement as she witnessed Charlotte Bingley sitting up on the floor completely unsupported. Her mother arrived too late, and the baby fell over, crying out as her face landed on the chenille rug. Jane laughed and gathered the child up into her embrace, whilst Georgiana was mortified.
“I am so sorry, Jane,” she apologised. “That was all my fault.”
“Not to worry, a little falling over hurt no-one and Charlotte is perfectly alright. Do not concern yourself, Georgie, you did nothing wrong.”
Jane had come to visit the house in Grosvenor Square for the afternoon, to take tea with Mrs and Miss Darcy and discuss their mutual plans to visit Hertfordshire for Mary’s wedding the following month. It was also decided that the Darcys alone would call to visit their Aunt De Bourgh and take the newest family member to be introduced to their formidable relative.
“I must say, Lizzy, you are very brave to visit Lady Catherine,” Jane stated, whilst sipping tea and rocking Charlotte on her knee.
Elizabeth smiled with good humour, “why not at all, Jane. I find that Lady Catherine is a very pleasing sparring partner once one has married into the family and already polluted the shades of Pemberley.”
Jane laughed at her sister’s humour; she did not envy Lizzy for the visit – Lady Catherine terrified her, and her first meeting with the noble mistress of Rosings Park had left her stomach in knots. Georgiana too felt similarly wary of her Aunt and her sudden demands for attention and gratification; it was because of this that she asked Jane if she were able to reside with the Bingleys for the duration of the Darcy visit to Kent to which Jane kindly obliged, the younger Darcy lady content that her remaining time away from Pemberley would be spent in their happy home.
Darcy was in the nursery of Derbyshire House, his cravat loosened, his boots off, and he was sitting in the rocking chair in his stockinged feet, cradling his son in his arms whilst simultaneously telling him an incredible story of pirates and shipwrecks. Fitzwilliam cooed and smiled at his father, which caused him to smile to himself. The youngest Darcy was now strong enough to travel; the doctor who had been unable to attend the birth and who was now outrageously apologetic for his absence, had deemed the child perfectly healthy and progressing at the correct rate. It was a relief for Darcy, who had treated the child and his wife with the utmost care and most observant of attentions in the ten weeks since the birth. Elizabeth was now herself again and, although he had been as traumatised as any other gentleman would be after witnessing the birth of his child, he professed to her one night, when the candlelight was dim and they had drunk lots of wine, that he would like them to have enough babies to fill every room at Pemberley. Elizabeth had laughed, knowing full well that her husband had drank far too much port, and that there were over twenty-five bedrooms at their home, but as he had kissed her slowly, almost reverently, and passionately for the first time since the birth, she knew, submitting to his desire as well as her own, that she would happily have as many children as he wanted, and fill their house with laughter, love and life.
It had been a long few months away, with visits to relatives, the baptism of Fitzwilliam George and the arduous visit to Rosings Park. After their wedding, which Lady Catherine had refused to attend, Elizabeth had taken it upon herself to make amends with her husband’s relative, accompanying Georgiana whenever she was summoned to Kent and eventually charming the self-appointed family matriarch with her steady wit and restrained flattery. Darcy had refused to make amends with the lady after her treatment of his betrothed and his refusal to yield had maddened his wife to the point of exasperation. After the birth of the younger Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth had pushed and prodded him to reconcile, the culmination of which had been the successful visit by Mr, Mrs and Master Darcy to the De Bourgh home where all past ills and resentments were forgotten. Lady Catherine was immediately besotted with her new great-nephew and delighted for the return of Darcy, who had always been her particular favourite.
The carriage passed through the gatehouse and over the bridge which crossed the river, Darcy felt relief as he saw the illuminated outline of his own great house on the horizon. The beacons were lit, and he could hear the excited hum of a house waking up from the enforced winter slumber. Elizabeth was resting against him in the carriage and he leaned over to gently kiss her on the forehead, and she stirred and opened her eyes momentarily. The carriage rumbled over the cobbled driveway, clattering as it did so, the heat and smell from the torches drifting over towards them as they pulled up the gatehouse, just as the clock in the tower struck eight o’clock.
“Mrs Darcy”, came the whisper. “We’re home.”
The morning had been quiet, there had not been the sound of running up and down the halls, nor the frustrated shouts of the nursemaid, nor the general uproar that usually accompanied sunrise in the Darcy household. In fact, Elizabeth had been surprised when she had been able to rise at her own leisure, enjoy a bath before beginning her toilette, and enjoy a somewhat still and restful breakfast. It was a rare thing indeed, and something that she had enjoyed very much. Now as she finished her book and enjoyed tea with lemon biscuits, she gazed down onto the front lawn from her position in the library and could see Fitzwilliam and his younger, more adventurous brother, James, playing croquet with their father. The older boy was more reserved, much more like his namesake – observing and calculating every outcome before committing to any action, whereas the younger threw himself all in and damned the consequences. Darcy was laughing and smiling, picking the boys up and swinging them around, until all hope of completing their game was abandoned and her three boys were chasing each other up and down the grass in the early April sunshine.
The grounds at Pemberley were bursting into life all around, with flowers beginning to bloom and poke through the winter dull and being welcomed by unseasonably warm sunshine. Winter had been long and arduous, and she was looking forward with anticipation to the lighter nights and happy events that the coming seasons promised. It was a wonderful day and if she hadn’t been so encumbered with child and ready for her confinement, Elizabeth would have running and chasing them around the house. The past few years has gone by in a whirlwind and before they had even settled into a daily routine of family life, the Darcys had found themselves as the parents of two boys. Fitzwilliam had been not quite two when James was born, a wonderfully easy birth which she had rejoiced in, and they were the best of friends and partners in crime. Now five and three, they were about to welcome a new Darcy into the world and although she would have never said out loud, Elizabeth hoped that this new babe would be a girl, so she would, at last, have an ally in the household. That said, she was so large and unwieldy that Darcy was convinced there were about five babies in there. Jane, who had borne four children in quick succession, said that it was normal for your body to be different with each child and that, whilst she enjoyed being the mother of such a large brood, she had banished Bingley to his chambers for the present time to avoid any happy accidents whilst her own body recovered.
The Bingleys had their hands full with Charlotte, Abigail, Charles and Peter, and were nearly always in the country now and very rarely in town, much to the disappointment of Mrs Hurst who, now widowed and childless, loved to spend time with her gaggle of nieces and nephews and frittered away her inheritance on them in lieu of offspring of her own. The house at Dunham was very comfortable and, much to the delight of Mrs Bennet, had very good attics. Like Pemberley, the house was based in expansive grounds and home to a herd of deer who provided much sport to the gentlemen when it was the season. With such gentlemanly pursuits available to both Bingley and Darcy so close to their own homes, it was no shock to anyone that the families only travelled into London for the first two weeks of the season, before retreating to their estates and declaring that they much preferred their own society.
The children had been taken to the nursery for the afternoon and he had convinced her to take a walk with him around the grounds, he knew that walking was always good in the later stages of pregnancy, and he knew how much his wife loved to walk. Darcy held his wife’s hand tightly in his own, who would have known seven years ago on his first visit to Hertfordshire that he would eventually return to Pemberley and Miss Elizabeth Bennet would be its mistress. They journeyed out of the south front of the house and stood for a moment in front of the lake before turning left and walking up past the Orangery. It was the route that they had taken on Elizabeth’s first visit to Derbyshire when Darcy, filled with hope, longing and anxiety, had taken it upon himself to show her how much of a gentleman he could be after her rebuke and rejection of his first proposal. She had not realised how much hurt that had caused him, throwing the words out, as she did, like arrows and not caring where they landed. But he was grateful. He was grateful because she had highlighted to him the error of his ways and had allowed him a second chance to prove to her that he was worthy of joining his life with hers. They trod their well-worn path up to the rose garden where once, newlywed and enamoured, they had foregone propriety and kissed fervently under the tiled roof of the pergola, before returning to their rooms quickly before all modicum of respectability was lost.
“Darcy, I hope you know this, but this life of ours makes me happier than I ever hoped I would be.”
Elizabeth was leaning back on the wooden bench looking down onto the newly budding roses and the lake beyond. Darcy reached for her gloved hand and raising it to his lips, gently kissed it.
“Mine too, Miss Elizabeth Bennet.”
She laughed at him before kissing his hand in return and holding it tightly, resting it on her lap, Elizabeth always felt that she could conquer the whole world with one hand if Darcy was holding the other.
“I never thought that I would ever be the mistress of somewhere like Pemberley, I never wished it for myself, my only wish was for the deepest love and maybe a small household somewhere far enough from my mother that she would think twice about visiting every day.”
“I hope, Mrs Darcy, that you did eventually marry for love.”
Elizabeth smiled wryly, “mainly for love, partly for the big house.”
Darcy laughed, “and my ten thousand a year!”
Even though he laughed, she could sense his fleeting but underlying insecurity that it was his wealth and not himself that had attracted her, it was something that not even nearly eight years of marriage and two children could fully abate. She gently cupped his face in her hands and kissed him gently on the nose.
“You know I would love you even if you were penniless.”
He recovered, taking a short moment to recover himself and look oft into the distance at the grand south front façade of the hall, with its Palladian columns and ornate statues. He knew his self-doubt was a failing and he was constantly trying to resolve it; he gave his wife an appreciative look, which she returned, her eyes sparkling in the afternoon haze. She knew of the inner workings of his mind and the constant battle he had within himself to be both Mr Darcy of Derbyshire, and Fitzwilliam, the husband and father.
“But ten thousand a year always makes a man appear more attractive in the eyes of a woman.”
“This is true, I mean if you had not a great estate in Derbyshire then I would not have been able to overlook your pointy chin.”
“My chin is not pointy.”
“It is, husband, something we cannot deny, but hopefully beards will be the fashion again in the not too distant future and you will be able to disguise it somewhat.”
“Mrs Darcy, I have never been so offended in all of my life!” He looked at her with humour, enjoying the teasing and easy repartee that had become a fixture of their everyday lives.
“Well, Mr Darcy, if you would be so kind as to accompany me to the top lawn then I will be happy to oblige you with more offence than you are used to.”
They walked up to the very edge of the grounds, before the estate faded into the wilderness of the deer park and the moors beyond, taking a time to rest on a bench at the far reaches. From there you could see the vast expanse of the grounds, where the edge of the house dipped down into the Dutch Gardens and beyond.
“My mother used to sit here quite often, it was her favourite place to sit and read and look out onto the grounds below.” Darcy was wistful, without falling into the trap of sentimentality. He sometimes wished Lady Anne were here so that she could approve of his choice of wife and enjoy the company of her grandchildren. More importantly she could have been here to witness Georgiana’s wedding these coming summer months and enjoy the merriment that had invaded every inch of the house.
“I know you miss your mother, and I know that every pregnancy makes you nervous that I will suffer the same fate she did and that our children would struggle.”
“It would not be about the children…children are resilient, children can overcome such a loss,” he paused for a moment, unsure of how to intonate his feeling. “But how could I live without you?”
Elizabeth looked at Darcy’s pensive face and was filled with an immediate rush of love for this complicated man who she shared her life with.
In the whole of their married life, there had only been one time, one time, when she had ever doubted Darcy’s love for her – when he had declared a prudent, but loveless, match for Georgiana would have been better than one made in a wave of sentimental haste. If Darcy had insecurities about their match, then Elizabeth had had them tenfold, as well as the judgment and condescending tones of society ladies who had first assumed that she had trapped Darcy into marriage, and then secondly judged her for the inferiority of her connections, one of the things that Darcy had initially pointed out when first asking for her hand. She had heard these murmurs and whisperings on the evening of her first Lady Anne’s Ball, where she had worn cerulean and sapphires and attempted to charm everyone in the room. Darcy did not hear these affronts and Elizabeth, ever the gracious hostess, did her best to ignore them and prove to the sneering women of their society that they were completely wrong about her. She had worked doubly hard to assume her place as a leader of Derbyshire society and deem herself worthy of their respect in her position as Mrs Darcy of Pemberley. Fitzwilliam never saw her struggles and she made every effort to keep them from him, confiding in Mrs Collins and Jane through lengthy and frequent correspondence. She did not want Darcy to know of the slights that she had faced, knowing as she did that he would fly into a rage and remove them from the country and to the house in Grosvenor Square. After all, she never did really like town.
Turning to Darcy, with his sad grey eyes and his mournful look, she pulled him into her, letting his head rest upon her chest as she stroked his hair and held him close.
“You would live without me, Fitzwilliam, and whilst I would expect a decent level of mourning and sadness, I would not expect you to pine for me for the remainder of your life. You, above all people, need someone to laugh with, pull you out of your moods and remind you that there is always something to be thankful for and enjoy.”
She stood up and tried to drag him to his feet, struggling a little with the weight of her belly and the imbalance it caused.
“Anyway, all this worry is for naught,” Elizabeth stated jovially, still tugging on his arm as he playfully resisted. “I have no mind to die young and leave a tragic footnote in history, and neither should you, for even though I would be able live without you, I would rather not.”
He stood up and engaged her arm in his, a smile returning to his face, all melancholy gone for the moment, and the Darcys began to walk back to the house the long way around, laughing and teasing each other as they did.
I carry your heart with me (I carry it in my heart)
Sad tale of grief and loss, recovered in the end.
The screams echoed down the corridor, Elizabeth – her face red with effort, her hair matted and mussed from the twelve hours of labour – shouted out in pain. Darcy had tried to follow Ellen into the room and was pushed back, she begged Staughton to take the master away, this was not the place for him right now. He slumped on the chair outside the room, refusing to move, even when the screams and cries became too much for him and he thought he might go mad with the frustration of being so useless. The corridor turned dark; a maid came with a candle and some coffee, the moon rose in the night sky, then came dawn and yet he remained.
The baby did not cry.
Darcy saw the small body covered over in the white sheet and the look of fear and anguish on his wife’s face, Dr Jeffries shouted for him to be removed from the room, but he refused to go. Ellen was trying to push him away, but then he heard a cry. A small cry. Was he going mad? He turned around to see Dr Jeffries wrapping another baby in a blanket. Ellen looked at him, shocked, but with a relief sweeping over her, revealing itself on her face as she was handed the child.
“It’s a girl,” she said, handing the precious newborn to her father. Darcy looked at his daughter, she had Elizabeth’s eyes and his dark hair, and he was immediately and overwhelmingly besotted with her. He took her over to his wife, who looked completely drained and he presented the baby, showing her the fruits of the labour that she had endured for nearly thirty-six hours. Elizabeth, shaking with cold, exhausted and in pain, turned away and buried her head in the pillow.
Elizabeth looked around at the grandeur of her room, the printed paper on the walls, the wool rugs, the gilt dresser, the canopy – stitched with gold and silver thread - that stretched all the way to the ceiling. But all she could see everywhere she looked was the small body, wrapped up in a sheet as if to be thrown away. She had heard Dr Jeffries asking a maid to dispose of the bloodied sheet and she had howled, a low frantic moan, pulling at the covers, begging to see him, hoping and wishing that her love alone would be enough to bring him back to life. Reluctantly they allowed it, despite Darcy’s objections, and brought him to her wrapped in a pale blue blanket. He had the longest eyelashes she had ever seen, the same long tapered fingers shared by his oldest brother, and the Darcy chin. He was perfect. Stroking his face, so soft and so cold, she held him close to try and warm him up. She sat there for a long time, softly whispering lullabies and kissing the top of his head until they came and took him away.
Darcy arranged for Samuel Joshua Darcy to be placed in the family mausoleum at St Peter’s Church in Lambton; it was something not usually done in cases such as these, but he felt that it was the proper resting place for his son and he arranged for an appropriate service and a marker to signify this. He had been saddened by the event – wondering what Samuel’s future would have been, what his life would have been like – and in his own way he grieved deeply for the loss of his child. But, unlike his wife, Darcy knew that they had been very fortunate to not have lost both children, or even Elizabeth herself. He remembered, all too well, the death of Princess Charlotte the winter before, where both the Prince Regent’s daughter and grandchild were both dead after a long labour. In this instance the Darcys were fortunate, they were lucky indeed.
Mrs Reynolds had employed the services of a wet nurse for feeding the baby as Mrs Darcy, still unwell, was unable to feed the baby herself. It was a peculiar time, the lady thought as she swaddled the youngest Darcy in cotton blankets and held her as she once did Miss Georgiana. Mrs Reynolds though was worried about her mistress – she had not eaten properly since the birth, had not dressed or moved from her rooms and showed no interest in the baby at all. It was concerning, although it was sad to lose one babe, they were fortunate to have one who was beautiful and healthy. Yes, she thought, these were peculiar times indeed.
The baby girl, who had still not been named, was now a month old and Elizabeth had still not displayed any interest in her or the boys, who she avoided whenever she could. She kept to her rooms, which were stifling hot and unaired, and was rarely seen outside in the grounds. Darcy had held her, cradled her, wrapped his arms around her and caressed her face, but nothing could fill the hollow emptiness inside of her as she wept for the loss of her child. He didn’t know how to help her or what he could do, it was as if his own feelings and emotions were disregarded, his wife consumed by an all-encompassing grief that was consuming her and he did not know how he was going to get her back.
Georgiana was in town, preparing her trousseau for her wedding to the young attorney, Henry Alveston, in the summer, however, the post she received from her brother immediately made her arrange a return to Pemberley. The carriage had barely stopped before she was running up the steps to the front door and into the arms of her beloved brother. He looked like a haunted man; he needed a wash and a shave. They were standing in the grand entrance hall, with its restored tapestries and grand columns, the place where they celebrated happy times.
Master Fitzwilliam was running down the steps which lead from the drawing room, whilst his brother was now pressing keys on the pianoforte behind them. Darcy picked up the younger boy and held him close before placing him down and asking the nursemaid to take them both to the nursery. He led his sister over to the sofa, before holding her close to him. He held her a moment before tears began to fall from his eyes and he found himself sobbing.
“Brother, what is it?” she enquired urgently. “What is the matter?”
“She is gone.”
“What?” she searched his face, his eyes for clues. “Darcy?”
Dressed in a simple gown, jacket and her sturdiest boots, Elizabeth Darcy woke before the crow and ventured outside. She was surprised to see that the world around her was still the same when she was so different; all her emotions somehow deadened by the loss she had experienced and the grief that still overcame her when she was least expecting it. She had pretended to be asleep when her husband, he himself still grieving, had come into her room last night and sat gently on her bed, pouring out his heart and soul to her, not aware that she was listening to every word he said. He felt the pain too, he said. He did not ever think that they would lose a child, but that they had been given a great gift and had another baby to look after and cherish, and this baby and their sons needed their mother, and he needed his wife. O God, how he needed her, he couldn’t do this alone. She had wanted to speak up and tell him that he could not experience the loss in the same way she had, had not carried the babe in his belly for nine months and felt him move and grow, and now there was nothing; no life and no future for the dead child, the lost son, the missing Darcy.
Elizabeth planned to walk to The Cage, which she managed in reasonable time, taking a moment to look back at her home which was still as beautiful today as the first time she ever saw it. She walked further, onwards and onwards, through the deer park and into the moorland beyond. The early summer months had hardened the ground and she found it strong and easy to stride across. With new purpose, she pushed on until she could no longer see the outline of the three-hundred-year-old hunting lodge dominating the skyline. She kept the momentum of one foot in front of the other, onwards and onwards, over stiles and past cottages on the furthest expanses of the estates, whose tenants she visited in the winter, bringing them gifts from the house. It was mid-afternoon before she decided to stop; her feet aching and her mouth dry. She was unsure of how many miles she had walked, and she was aware of the impropriety of it all. But Elizabeth knew where she was going now, and she trudged ahead, onwards and onwards.
Gallagher called for his mistress as he opened the door to see Mrs Darcy of Pemberley, sunburned and dehydrated, standing before him. Jane, who had been out in the garden came running through the house, her bonnet coming lose and falling to the ground as she reached her sister and gathered her up, before calling for water and ice. Elizabeth collapsed into Jane’s arms and was held there on the floor of the house for a long time, crying and sobbing until there were no more tears left. Jane gently stroked her sister’s forehead until she fell asleep, Elizabeth slept until the following evening and Bingley had rode over to Pemberley himself to let Darcy know that his wife was safe and well at Dunham.
“Jane,” Elizabeth said weakly. “I am so happy to see your face.”
Mrs Bingley placed some ice to her sister’s lips, which were dry and chapped from the summer sun.
“Lizzie, how I have missed you,” she smiled softly. “We have all been so worried.”
“Oh Jane, it has been so hard, and I have been so lonely.”
“Lonely, why? Surely you can speak with Fitzwilliam…”
“There are some things men do not understand, Jane, and I fear this is one of them.”
“What do you mean, Lizzie?”
“Everyone keeps saying that I should feel happy that we are so fortunate that I survived, and she lived….” She held back a sob. “All I can think about is how he did not live and how unfortunate that is.”
Jane pulled her sister close to her and embraced her gently.
“It was very unfortunate, and I know that Darcy feels the loss keenly, but he is grateful that you and your daughter did not suffer the same fate, for it is very common to lose everyone. You cannot judge your husband, Lizzie, for taking comfort in the fact that you survived… and that your daughter survived.”
Elizabeth knew that Jane always spoke the absolute truth, there was nothing bad about her and no reason to live or contrive a situation. It was only through speaking to her dearest sister that she began to feel the tremendous burden of surviving begin to leave her.
It was a week before Elizabeth returned to Pemberley. She wrote to Darcy every day, asking him to forgive her for running away and assuring him of her deepest love. She asked about the baby and wondered why there was no name yet -it will be amusing, she wrote, if Miss Darcy reaches her coming of age and we are still referring to her as ‘baby’. Darcy wrote back that there was one name that kept coming to him every time he went to see the baby in the nursery or held her in his arms. Better an imaginary name than no name at all, she replied.
When she arrived back at her home, Elizabeth stood in the courtyard, looking up at the blue sky overhead, she understood now that Samuel would always be a part of her that she carried around inside her heart. And that the loss of him should not prevent her from living.
“Mrs Darcy,” came the loud cry from the far side of the house.
She looked up and saw Fitzwilliam and James running down the courtyard steps, one on each side, embracing her with such force that she was sure she was going to fall over. She knelt, kissing and embracing them before rising to her feet to see Darcy, holding their daughter in his arms. Walking over slowly as if being introduced to a stranger, she peeked at the little girl and found herself looking into eyes exactly like her own.
“Elizabeth,” Darcy said softly. “Please let me introduce Mabel Anne Darcy.”
“Mabel,” she smiled. “It’s an honour to meet you.” She took the little hand in her own and Mabel immediately grasped back, prompting an ‘Oh’ from her mother.
“It’s from the Latin,” Darcy said. “Amabilis… It means lovable.”
Elizabeth took her daughter into her embrace, and Darcys – now a family of five - walked out together to the front lawn to enjoy the sunshine.
Only a short chapter - thank you for all of the lovely feedback. I enjoy reading your comments a great deal. Thank you for reading :) xx
The marriage of Georgiana Margaret Darcy and Henry Montague Alveston was the most joyous of affairs, the happy couple exchanging vows at the small church in Lambton, before returning to Pemberley for their Wedding Breakfast. Elizabeth had arranged with Mrs Reynolds for a delightful summer feast, and the ladies of the kitchen had excelled themselves in the preparation of such. The centrepiece was a rich, fruit cake, covered in sugared icing and decorated with flowers. The new Mrs Alveston and her husband were to travel firstly to Kent, and then onwards to visit relations in Scotland as part of the bridal tour. Darcy thought that he might burst with pride upon seeing his sister so deliriously happy and he knew that this marriage with Alveston was more than he could have ever wished for her – the two were so in love and he was anticipating great things for their future, especially as he hoped to see them both in Derbyshire very frequently.
“Elizabeth!” The shrill tone echoed from the entrance hall, “Mrs Darcy, I must demand your attention at once!”
Turning on her heel, Elizabeth made her way back down the stairs and towards Lady Catherine De Bourgh. Once so intimidating, Darcy’s aunt had begun to shrink in her old age, both in size and demeanour. Nine years had passed since she had refused to attend their wedding, stubborn to the core and with a ruthless snobbery that affected all her close personal relationships, it had taken effort on Elizabeth’s part to make it right between her new family; it had not been easy, and Lady Catherine had been a hard taskmaster
Anne De Bourgh, had now been married to her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam for these past two years; Mrs Fitzwilliam, once dominated by her strong-willed mother, but now strengthened by the love she never thought she would find, had enforced a move to the simpler dower house and away from Rosings for her mother a few months after her wedding, which had caused ructions in their relationship. The Fitzwilliams were not in attendance this day, the argument between Darcy and his cousin still hanging in the air. In the early days of their acquaintance he had told her that his good opinion once lost was lost forever and she had continually found this to be true. Colonel Fitzwilliam was not a bad man, he had simply made some regretful decisions, whilst Elizabeth hoped that her husband would renew his friendship with his cousin, she feared that it would never be, resigning herself to it with a sad inevitability. Lady Catherine, reduced to the living on her widow’s allowance, which was still a generous two thousand a year, found herself travelling the length of the country in the barouche box that her daughter still permitted her to use, residing with any relatives gracious enough to permit her to stay. She was usually in residence at Pemberley from the last week in July until the second of August – a three-week stay being the limit for the Darcys and their household.
Lady Catherine was sitting in the large satin upholstered chair next to the new fireplace that had been recently installed and she was scrutinising it, looking through the eyeglass that hung on a chain around her neck.
“Was this your idea, Elizabeth?” She sounded haughty.
“Lady Catherine, do you approve?” Elizabeth always found the best way to counteract her Aunt by marriage was to ask her another question, the Lady always enjoying advising others of her opinion, whether they asked for it or not. In this, Lady Catherine was not altered.
“I do approve,” she nodded. “I find that it always benefits a house such as this to install new fancies and fireplaces to keep abreast of fashion. People scoffed when I commissioned the new chimney piece at Rosings, the cost alone – eight hundred pounds, which is a vast amount of money – was a source of ridicule and dismay amongst many in our circle.”
“It is a very impressive chimney piece, Lady Catherine, I can testify to its superiority”
“Why of course it is, Elizabeth. My taste and fine eye for fashionable accoutrements are incomparable, I have often been told this by the greatest people of our acquaintance.”
“I am glad that you approve of the fireplace, Aunt,” she said in an affectionate tone, she had grown to hold this crotchety woman in high regard and whilst she would probably never say that she loved her, she appreciated her visits. Lady Catherine reached over and took Elizabeth’s hand in her own, holding it tight.
“Elizabeth, since you have joined our family I have been astonished at how amicably a woman of low-born connections such as yourself can assimilate so satisfactorily into the role of mistress of Pemberley.”
If Elizabeth held back a laugh and smiled genially at the woman.
“Thank you for your compliment, Lady Catherine, it makes the toil worthwhile to know that you hold me in such regard.”
“Indeed, it must be daily struggle for you. Now, where is my niece?”
Elizabeth knew, with a relief felt in every bone of her body, that she had been dismissed and called for her sister-in-law, the new Mrs Alveston.
Darcy was sitting in the grand chair in his study at the front of the house. From here he could see out onto the driveway, down the hill towards the gatehouse, and then onto the gardens of the west front, where the ornamental gardens – laid out only the summer before - were now fully in bloom, the scent of camellias drifting in through the open window on the warm, summer breeze. This was his study, his domain; on one side there was a row of bookcases from floor to ceiling – it was here that he kept items from his own private collections, volumes that had had collected on his grand tour, and manuscripts and books that had been given to him by his father-in-law on the occasion of his marriage from the gentleman’s own admirable library at Longbourn. In the centre was the large oak desk that had belonged to George Darcy – the portrait of the gentleman hanging above the fireplace opposite. How he wished his mother and father were alive to see this day; to see Georgiana so agreeably matched and beginning her married life from their ancestral home, and how delighted they would have been to see his own young family. There was a knock on the door; Henry.
“Mr Darcy,” he said quietly. “I thought I would find you here.” Darcy grinned at the younger man, who looked slightly intimidated.
“Henry, you should call me Fitzwilliam,” he smiled, patting Henry on the back and handing him a celebratory glass of port. “We are brothers now.”
“This is true…um…Fitzwilliam. I am sorry, Darcy, it feels peculiar to call you that. May I simply refer to you by your family name?”
“Of course, you may, Henry, my wife does as a rule!”
Henry Alveston was a tall, fair haired man of nearly thirty and had been educated at Cambridge, as had Darcy; he was the second son of an earl and worked as an attorney in London. Georgiana, with her dowry of thirty thousand pounds, had decided that they would live in Derbyshire House for the first few years of their marriage, she had enjoyed the company of society in town and had made a strong circle of friends with whom she was regularly seen at countless parties, balls and the theatre. Nurtured by her sisters in law, she had flourished and grown into a desirable, accomplished and well-liked young lady of the Ton.
“Darcy,” Henry stammered slightly. “I know that you initially had concerns about me and my…erm…my fortune. I would simply like to promise you that I will…um... do all that I can to make your sister…my wife… the happiest woman walking the earth. Georgiana is my sun and moon, and I am so grateful that you were able to reconsider me as a partner for her.” He took a large gulp of the port and walked to the window.
Darcy smiled to himself as he looked at Alveston, who was so full of nerves and yet so cheerful. He reminded him of himself on his own wedding day and he was taken back to that joyful day when he knew that Elizabeth would be his and his alone until death parted them. Walking over to Henry, he placed his hand on his shoulder and gave it a firm squeeze. The two men looked at each other and acknowledged an unspoken understanding – outside on the driveway, their wives were walking and laughing with a crowd of small children who were running about in the summer sunshine. Georgiana, dressed in a simple wedding gown that belied her ancestry, had flowers in her hair and an immoveable smile on her face; her sister in law was dressed in lilac and skipping along to the tune that was playing in her head.
It was June when the news arrived of the death of Lieutenant George Wickham. Darcy was handed the letter by his steward, Willis, absorbed the details of his brother in law’s demise and then mounted his horse to travel to the Wickham household on the far reaches of the estate. Old Mr Wickham had been a good and honourable man and Darcy’s father, George, had trusted him implicitly – the role of steward was a highly trusted position in the household, being responsible for the estate in the absence of the master. Whilst Wickham’s son had had ideas above his station and attempted to ingratiate himself in to the higher reaches of society, his wife, Eleanor, and remaining children were hard working and devoted members of the Pemberley estate and continued to be well-looked after and favoured by the Darcy family. Peter, the second eldest Wickham, worked as an under-butler, whilst his brother David was second coachman. Bridget, the only daughter, had been skilled in sugar craft and had been utilised by Mrs Reynolds and the Chef, Mr Artaud, in the kitchens, before marrying a local cousin and raising a family of her own. Darcy was dreading telling Eleanor that George was not coming home from Waterloo; she had cried something dreadful when he had bought the commission to the Newcastle regiment and now this would destroy her. She was a soft, welcoming woman who had held him as a young man after his father had passed away and he had run away to Paddock Cottage on the edge of the woods to escape his family responsibilities. He had no secrets from Eleanor Wickham. Travelling through Knightslow Wood, he felt a small shiver of regret that his last words to George Wickham had been ones of anger, and he wished that things could have been different between them.
Raised almost as brothers, he had been closer to Wickham than anyone else in the world, and they had grown together, as boys, as young men… It had been George Wickham who had travelled with him to Cambridge as they studied together, he was always more daring – always wanting to drink a glass more, ride a little harder, study a little less – at the end of their second year it was clear that his friend was not destined for the Church as their fathers had decided. Darcy would have assisted Wickham in any profession that he desired; he knew that his own fortuitous situation in life was based upon the luck of his birth and wanted to do anything he could to help his friend and brother find success. Darcy had an easy going and loyal nature; it was true that he could be obtuse and distant with those he did not know, and he was quick to judge people based on initial impressions, but he was fiercely devoted to those he loved. It was this that made the continual betrayals by George Wickham especially difficult to bear. Firstly, he ran up debts in Darcy’s name with local innkeepers and merchants – resulting in Darcy receiving a beating one evening when returning home to his lodgings. Wickham had laughed jovially upon seeing his friends bloodied face and ripped coat, before flouncing out of the door with a young lady of questionable reputation on his arm.
It was after the death of George Darcy that Wickham’s behaviour escalated. Darcy - grieving, scared, drowning under the weight of the responsibility of the huge Darcy estates and the guardianship of his sister – gave in to his friend, lending him large sums of money and paying for his lodgings and bills. Wickham genuinely cared for Darcy, but he cared for himself more. He knew that old Mr Darcy had bequeathed him the living of Kympton – a clergyman! There were a lot of roles that George Wickham could assume, but he was most definitely not a man of the cloth, could not bear the thought of preaching about a non-existent God to a dreary bunch of worshippers before returning home to a less than comely wife and dull children. No, the Darcys had shown Wickham life outside of his social sphere and he knew that he was charming enough, handsome enough and a good enough lover to snare himself a reasonably wealthy widow who could offer him a good life in more respectable society, if not he was sure he could convince an heiress that he was half in love and marry her before she was any the wiser. His was not to be a life left languishing in mediocrity.
Darcy had been expecting the announcement of Wickham’s arrival at the house in Grosvenor Square since nine. He had risen early and dressed suitably, his countenance dominated by grief, his demeanour carrying the weight of his heritage. Wickham believed that being a Darcy was about parties, balls, women and wine – but he forgot that the true inheritance of being Fitzwilliam Darcy was being responsible for hundreds of people and a massive estate that encompassed thousands of acres. George Wickham did not understand this because on the days when he had been taken by his father fishing on the river, or swimming in the lake, Darcy had been in the schoolroom on the second floor of the house, learning how to maximise the profits of his estates, how to run a household, manage staff and general level of comfort and respectability that his family were used to.
Wickham entered the oak panelled room and took a seat without being asked. Darcy visibly rumpled at the polished gentleman before him. He was the same height as Darcy but carried himself with a different air – one of arrogant, but undeserved, superiority. His clothes were always of the finest cloth and he had an aura of one who was comfortably affluent. Darcy himself did not, as a rule; he was shaven and clean, but he had not purchased a new suit since his graduation from Cambridge and he failed to keep up with the latest fashionable trends, more focused on keeping his affairs in order.
“Fitzwilliam,” Wickham stated with a forced geniality. “How the devil are you?”
He placed his hat on the desk, Darcy noticed that it was made from finest beaver pelt and looked relatively new, he wondered how much this fashion would eventually cost his own purse, given as it was that he was currently subsidising Wickham’s lifestyle to an alarming degree.
“As well as can be expected,” he stated solemnly. He had no desire to reveal anything of his heart to George Wickham.
“Death of a father is a terrible thing,” he said shaking his head. “Why it has been but three years since my own passed on. It has been hard for my mother, of course. One suspected that Peter would have inherited the position of Steward, but I can see that it was not meant to be.”
Everything Wickham said was pointed. Every remark made designed to inflict hurt. He did nothing without fully thinking it through.
“Peter was offered the chance to train to be a steward, George,” Darcy corrected. “But he declined it as he felt much more comfortable in the stables, you understand that. Have you been to see your mother recently?”
“She has been ill with a fever these last few weeks and I have stayed in town in order to prevent the spread of it.”
“Mrs Wickham was in perfectly good health last Thursday week when I visited her.”
George visibly wavered. He was all for the appearance of outward respectability but did not like being questioned or contradicted in his assurances.
“Ah, yes,” he agreed. “I admit I have been away longer than anticipated. It is not as easy to travel back to Derbyshire when one has to travel by post, I would not expect you to understand as you always have the luxury of the coach.”
“Actually,” Darcy stated. “I have been travelling back and forth on horseback. I find it takes less time and costs a lot less money than the coach. Besides which, my sister Georgiana is currently visiting the coast with her companion and I thought it better for her to have exclusive use of it for the season.”
“Why, yes,” Wickham agreed. “What a splendid idea. The seaside will do her a great deal of good after the last few months of sadness. Losing a parent when one is so young will obviously have an impact.”
“Well, quite,” Darcy snapped. Both men knew why Wickham was here, it was not to make pleasant small talk or exchange niceties. He was here to receive what was coming to him under the wishes of Mr Darcy’s will. There had already been an exchange of correspondence between Wickham and the Darcy attorneys in Lambton and Darcy had already granted his former friend a sum of three thousand pounds instead of the living at Kympton, in addition to the thousand pounds that he had already been granted as Mr Darcy’s godson. Taking the envelope from Darcy, which he promptly placed in his inside coat pocket, Wickham offering his hand and Darcy reluctantly shook it. He sincerely hoped that this would be the last he would see of George Wickham.
Eleanor had howled; long low moans of grief at the death of her firstborn son. Peter and David had been told the news up at the main house and travelled back to the cottage as soon as they could, Bridget lived in Lambton and Darcy had sent a man there to fetch her before he had left for the cottage. The Wickhams were like a second family to him and he shared in their grief, holding Bridget in his arms like a sister as she wept.
“What about Lydia, Fitzwilliam,” Eleanor asked. “What will happen to Lydia?”
Darcy had not thought about his sister-in-law, but it stood to reason that he would send the coach to Newcastle for her.
“She will come and stay at Pemberley with us and I will send her to you once she has settled.”
“You know that she is with child, Fitzwilliam?”
If Darcy visibly blanched then he did well to hide it, he had not been aware that Lydia was pregnant, and he wasn’t too enthusiastic about a child of George Wickham’s being raised at Pemberley.
“I did not know, but this is remarkably good news on this sad day, Eleanor.”
Mrs Wickham looked at him wistfully, “yes,” she said sadly. “But I cannot bring myself to be happy about it today.”
Darcy left the family to their grief, promising to make all the suitable arrangements for burial and service, and to ensure that Lydia would be safely at Pemberley within the next week. Mounting his horse, he rode back to the house the long way around, it was dusk, and he had been at the cottage for longer than he had intended.
Lydia Wickham arrived ten days later with three trunks and a list of creditors. She was large with child and her usual frivolous and self-centred self. Dressed in a black velvet gown and with her hair curled high upon her head, she looked every inch the demanding duchess and summoned her sister as if calling for a maid. Darcy did not understand how Elizabeth could stand deferring to her sister in such a way, and he had Lydia and her various possessions placed in one of the less grand bedrooms in an act of rebellion against her. She had ordered three mourning dresses and charged them to the Darcy account, as well as a number of bonnets and hats. Darcy trusted that his sister-in-law’s stay would be short, hopeful that the Bingleys would be willing to receive her at Dunham for the duration of her confinement.
The funeral passed with little drama, even from Lydia whose emotions were muted on the unseasonably overcast day. Darcy himself felt empty as the walnut coffin was lowered into the Wickham plot at the church in Lambton and he held onto his wife’s hand as if trying to make sense of it all. It was Elizabeth who encouraged her husband to grieve for George Wickham in the days that followed, to remember the past with as much pleasure as he could. Despite the incident at Ramsgate and his dastardly elopement with her own sister, Elizabeth was fully aware that Wickham had been a charming and affable man, and after conversing with Darcy about his childhood and his life before her, she knew that some of his positive qualities were as a direct result of knowing him. It was because of having to pay off his friend’s debts at the tailors and hatters in fashionable parts town that Darcy had begun to invest in himself; paying for newly tailored suits more befitting his status, buying himself beaver pelt top hats and spending time at the theatre and recitals. It was because of Wickham that Darcy had a sense of adventure – usually young men would travel to the continent after finishing their studies, but due to Napoleon’s dominance of Europe, the two men had travelled to the Far East – visiting Cairo and Greece. They had returned to Pemberley with tales of their exploits and the sights they had seen, and artefacts from the holy lands that were on display around the house, as well as lengths of exotic silks and satins. It was talking about these escapades and remembering the aspects of his youth that Wickham had positively enhanced, which forced Darcy to remember George with fondness and he truly mourned the loss of a brother and friend.
Sorry for the delay in updating. There is a massive time jump here and a little bit of sadness. Thank you for reading :) xx
Francis Darcy was born on a cold March morning in a delivery that was quick and surprisingly easy, although marred by the sudden passing of his older brother two months before he was born. Eight years younger than his oldest brother, he was closer to his sister, Mabel, who was only three years older and who had shared the nursery with him. He was a jolly, cheerful child with the light countenance of his Bennet relations and the impertinent nature of his mother, which was generally encouraged by the company of his sister, who shared the same defiant personality. Elizabeth adored her youngest son, even if she still grieved the loss of James; the fever which had taken him had been quick and for that she had been grateful.
Fitzwilliam Junior had grown into a serious boy and was due to start Eton in the September of that year, his father believing that he had learned all the necessary skills in the schoolroom at Pemberley. The death of James, with who he had been particularly close had affected Fitz in lots of ways. There were the nightmares, horrible nightmares where he could see James, pale and sickly, standing at the end of his bed calling out to him, reaching for him and making the boy recoil into his bed, hiding under the covers; then there was the loneliness. As the oldest son, Fitz was fully aware of the responsibilities that lay before him; he could see the crease in his father’s brow deepen every year as he managed the many affairs of the Pemberley estate. It had been at least two winters since he had taken the sled to the big hill at the front of the house and careered down it with his father sitting behind him and holding him close.
Fitz looked out from his bedroom at the corner of the south front of the house. It had only been six months since he had been moved from the relative security of the nursery on the second floor of the house, and placed here in the state suite of rooms, next to those of his parents. The room was large, with a tall ceiling and heavy wooden panelling all around, he found that at night he could hear the house creaking, almost as if it was rejecting the new parts of it that had been so recently added, he didn’t like this new part of the house, which still smelled like plaster and paint. Sometimes his mother would hear his sobs and come into the room, climbing into bed with him and wrapping him up in her enveloping warmth, letting him fall asleep next to her, comforted and secure. He had heard the arguments between his parents as they had discussed his education, his mother shouting that he should be allowed to remain at home with a schoolmaster, whilst his father screamed back that Darcy men were always educated at Eton and that Fitzwilliam would be no exception, despite what she might think or say. There had been slamming of doors and rattling of windows and he would sneak down the back stairs and into Staughton’s parlour, where he would be given cups of tea and slices of seed cake with best butter slathered on top.
“It will pass, Master Fitzwilliam, it always does.” Staughton was sitting behind his massive oak desk, totting up accounts and working out bills to pay. The fire blazed in the huge stone fireplace which was dominated by the huge Darcy Coat of Arms that was on display above it. Fitzwilliam noticed for the first time that it was the same as the fireplace in the Long Gallery, he never paid attention to the details of the room, preferring to concentrate on learning how to play billiards, which was a gentleman’s sport, even though Mama had insisted that Mabel should learn too when she was old enough to hold a cue properly.
“I know, Staughton,” he smiled at the kindly butler, who always looked after him, this room becoming a special sanctuary. Fitz placed his cup down and nodded his goodbyes to the gentleman before wandering off outside. He needed to run, needed to get rid of some of the energy and so he did, blessed with his mother’s energy and his father’s stamina he found that he was at The Cage before he had even realised, and he stood for moment to look at the expanse of land ahead of him. This was all Darcy land and he would be responsible for it all in due course, would need to look after his tenants and be a good landlord and master. He looked back towards Pemberley, only the top floor could be see from this far away and he waved in case his sister was playing in the Long Gallery as she often did.
Mabel saw her brother waving from the top of hill and she saw as he fell to the ground.
Elizabeth ran down the gallery, screaming for help, across the landing and down the steps of the Grand Staircase before she grabbed Darcy, who looked at her, confusion across his face; all thoughts of their argument had been forgotten as they ran to out of the house together – he was faster than her, stronger, and he ran up the steep slope that led to The Cage, not caring as the chilly wind from the East took away his breath. He could see the figure of Fitz on the floor ahead of him, looking small and helpless against the dominating structure. There were not many times when Darcy called for the help of God, but this was one of them, he had already lost one son this year and he was as sure as hell not going to lose another. The boy’s forehead was thick with blood and he could see that the wound was still bleeding.
“Fitz,” he shook the boy gently, “Fitz, can you hear me? It’s Papa.”
He ripped some fabric from his shirt and placed it on the boy’s head to stem the bleeding, before gently picking him up as if he were a babe and beginning to walk back down to the house with him. He was heavier than he remembered, how could it be possible that his firstborn son – the most precious thing he had ever seen – was now nearly a man, ready to be sent away, when did he get so big, when had they last played together. He could not remember, but all he could think of now was getting his child help. The distance from Pemberley to the summit of The Cage was not far, but Elizabeth had sent two men up as fast as they could to help Darcy bring Fitz back home. She had called for the Doctor and was now on the cobbled drive waiting to see her husband come back with their son. She knew that God could not be so cruel as to take her oldest child away from her, not so soon after losing James, she could not bear it if she lost Fitz as well. Her precious darling boy, who looked so much like his father, with the same serious eyes and the little furrow in his brow. She could see them now, could feel herself running towards them, could see Darcy holding their boy in his arms, not trusting anyone else to do it, not believing that anyone else could love his son as much as he did. Together they hurried the lifeless body of Fitz into Staughton’s parlour, laying him out on the small bench in front of the fire. Elizabeth knelt next to him, stroking his brow.
“Fitz, darling Will… It’s Mama, please can you wake up for me? Can you hear your Mama?” Her voice was close to breaking, her eyes pricking with tears as she felt a terrible sense of deja-vu sweep over her and she was immediately taken back to the nursery, when James had been so ill and there had been nothing that she could do to comfort him. Immediately she felt the warm and comforting presence of Darcy’s arm around her shoulder and he kissed her gently on the head, as they both stood vigil over their beloved boy.
It was over an hour later when Fitz woke up to see his mother ashen-faced and his father standing behind her looking suitably sombre. Apart from the piercing pain in his forehead he could not remember what had happened or even why he had gone to the Cage. Elizabeth cried tears of relief as Fitz sat up and asked for seed cake, and Darcy held his wife close and pulled his son towards him.
Later that evening, Darcy went to his son’s rooms and found the boy standing up at the window, looking out at the south expanse, over the formal grounds and into the moorland beyond. He looked so tiny, dwarfed by the huge windows and the very grown-up furniture that had been placed in the room. Had he made a mistake? Should he let the boy revel in the last few years of his childhood? When Darcy looked at Fitz, he could only see Elizabeth – yes, he had Darcy’s own eyes and the same serious expression – but everything else about him, for the curl of his hair, to the way he stood was all Bennet.
“Fitzwilliam,” he murmured softly as he walked into the room. He sat in the bed, so high for him, let alone a child half his height. “How do you feel?”
Fitz shrugged his shoulders, “I feel alright, but I have a pain in my head that doesn’t go away.” He jumped up onto the bed, grabbing a cushion and fiddling with the gold tassel that adorned it. The fire crackled gently, and Fitz lay his head back on the soft pillows, his father deciding to lay down beside him.
“What kind of pain do you feel, my dearest? Is it all of the time or only sometimes?” Darcy felt that he knew what might be causing the distress.
“Whenever I think about the future, whenever I think about you not being here, or Mama not being here, I get so scared and it’s like a pain in my head that travels all over my body and then I see stars and then nothing.” Fitz looked scared as he relayed his fears to his father.
Darcy understood his son’s fears, after the loss of his mother he had experienced the worst of night terrors, believing that one day he would wake up alone within nothing and no-one.
“Fitz, there will come a time when I am not here to help you, but I promise that I will do all I can to give you all of the skills and the knowledge you need to be a wonderful master of Pemberley,” he took the boys hand in his own to reassure him.
“Why are you sending me away to learn how to do it?” Fitz looked scared, look angry. “I don’t know how to do it, and when I do know how to do it you will die, and I will have no-one!”
“You have your sister and your brother, Fitz, and you have Mama and me,” he pulled the boy to him, even though he resisted, pushing against him until he relented and allowed himself to be embraced.
“I don’t have James… I don’t have James…” the sobs escaped from Fitz’s body violently, and Darcy realised for the first time how deeply the boy had suffered from the loss of his brother. They had always been together, had looked after each other when Mabel was born… He could not understand what Fitz might be feeling, had never had a brother, but he knew that his son needed to be held that night, and he held him close and told him stories of pirates and princesses as he had done when the boy had first been born. Slowly, Fitz relaxed, comforted by the presence of his father, and he fell asleep. Looking down at the sleeping boy, Darcy wondered if he was right to send his son away so early. He was on the cusp of manhood, but still a boy and he wanted to do all he could to preserve his childhood, to allow him to grow at his own pace. He was loathe to admit it, but he was beginning to think that his wife was right.
Darcy left the sleeping boy and went to the nursery to check on Mabel; he didn’t usually do this, but he felt that he needed to see her face and check she was sleeping. In the dim light of the small patterned room at the top of the house, he could see his wife sitting in the chair nursing their youngest son. Mabel was asleep in the cast-iron bed in the corner, swathed in an embroidered coverlet that had been sent by her Aunt Kitty, her dark curls spread over the pillow and her thumb in her mouth. Darcy leaned against the doorway, taking in this perfect sight, before moving over to his wife and kneeling beside her. Francis was nearly asleep, and he took the baby from her, breathing in his milky smell, before placing him back in the cradle. He took Elizabeth’s hand and silently, led her to bed.
They had been married for nearly thirteen years now and there had been many celebrations and much sadness, but Darcy and Elizabeth had weathered them all. Now as they stood there in their now-shared chambers, Darcy undressed his wife with a quiet admiration, kissing her collarbone and the gentle arc of her breast; she shuddered slightly, kissing him back with a fervent passion and desire.
Fitz woke up. Hearing the sounds from his parent’s room, he gave a little smile before falling back to sleep. All was well.
Sorry for the delay in updating this chapter! Lydia returns ) x
Lydia Wickham was never known for her subtlety, in fact it was one of the many reasons why her esteemed brother-in-law Charles Bingley very rarely invited her to stay with his family in Dunham, preferring instead to refer her to Pemberley, which had more rooms and bigger estate with which to escape from her and her raucous brood. It had only been two years after the death of Lieutenant George Wickham that his widow had remarried a highly eligible, if older, gentleman of fashion called William Hart. Darcy had not been sure if Lydia had been motivated by love or by the Hart family fortune, but he approved of the match and did much to secure it for his sister-in-law. The family of five, consisting of the posthumously born George Wickham-Hart who was now eight, the three-year-old twins Emma and Eliza, and their parents, were visiting Pemberley for Easter, along with Mr and Mrs Bennet, who were travelling up from Hertfordshire, and the Bingley brood. The visit was planned for three weeks and Elizabeth was delighted that she would be surrounded by her family for this happy time.
William Hart was a good man from a good family, they owned a portion of the Lancashire coalfields on which their fortune was built. He had a handsome and refined air, enjoying the pleasures which music and literature provided, but he was also a large, tall man with a stocky frame and he sometimes felt awkward stomping around the ballrooms of Bath trying fruitlessly to keep up with his beloved, who adored dancing. He knew that Lydia, desperate and living with any members of her family who would take her, didn’t love him when he first proposed, even though he was completely enamoured with her. The many qualities of the former Miss Bennet which frustrated her sisters were ones that he was drawn to, and he loved her lightness and silliness. Even though he knew that she didn’t love him, he did all he could to make her want him as a real, true husband – he never wanted to force her or make her feel obliged to him - and it was only after they were wed that William courted his wife and wooed her with ardent desire, treating her as if she were the most precious thing in his life, which she was.
Elizabeth noticed the difference in her sister immediately; she had only seen her fleetingly at family events since her second marriage, but she became aware that rather than being silly, Lydia’s vivacious personality was now tempered into sometimes more beatific. She still sparkled, of course, still demanded the attention of everyone in the room, but now it was only for good. During her time as Mrs Hart, Lydia had learned how to play the harp and now delighted everyone with beautiful recitals in the drawing room, playing on the instrument that Darcy had bought Georgiana as a wedding gift. Mrs Bennet, always the biggest supporter of her youngest daughter, now had genuine reason to rave about her talents and advantageous marriage. Darcy would shoot a knowing look at William during these reveries of their mother-in-law and the gentlemen would politely retire to the cosy comfort of the stag parlour for port and cigars and about an hour’s peace from Mrs Bennet before she demanded attention.
With the Darcy and Hart children firmly tucked away in the nursery, Elizabeth and Lydia were sitting alone in the grand Saloon, the waning sun of early spring catching the opulent gilded woodwork and causing the room to almost glow. The doors to the balcony had been opened to allow fresh air into the room before supper, which was being taken at London time due to their visiting guests. Elizabeth viewed her sister with new eyes; motherhood suited her, and it was obvious that she revelled in being so adored by her youngsters.
Lydia was standing on the balcony, looking over the calm, still lake “I want to apologise to you, Lizzy, for being such a vile sister when I was younger,” she blurted out.
“Vile?” Elizabeth looked confused, “Silly and ridiculous sometimes, but never vile, my dearest Lydia”
Lydia scrunched up her face and shook her head, before taking a seat on the yellow velvet sofa next to her sister.
“I did a terrible thing by running off with Wickham,” she whispered. “I was so determined to have him.” “Lydia, nobody blames you for that. You were but fifteen years old and Wickham…”
“Wickham had a terrible reputation. Yes, I know.”
“What can you have done that was so terrible? It was foolish and unthinking, but you were taken advantage of.”
Lydia looked up at her sister, half petrified to reveal the truth about her trip to Brighton and the ensuing elopement that caused so much aggravation and nearly ruined the reputation of the whole Bennet family.
“It wasn’t like that, Lizzy.”
“Sister, pray tell me what happened.” Elizabeth looked at her sister with a concerned expression. She had never really known the details of what had happened, despite asking Darcy to reveal the secrets of the marriage negotiations that she had taken on the family’s behalf. She saw Lydia visibly take a gulp.
“Now Lizzy, if I tell you, you must promise to never reveal this to another soul.”
“Lydia, I promise.”
“I seduced George,” she stated bluntly. “I seduced him one evening when he was drunk on wine and we had been dancing and I went outside with him and we were alone. Then I kissed him.”
“A kiss is one thing, Lydia, but that is not a seduction. I think you are blaming yourself for something that Wickham, a man who was thirteen years older than you, could have avoided.”
“No!” She shook her head. “No, he could not have avoided it, because I made sure that people saw us. Despite his dubious character being known to most of Derbyshire, you must remember how half of us, including Mama, were half in love with Wickham when he was in Meryton, and it was the same in Brighton – everyone loved him, and he was eager to maintain this newfound admiration. He certainly would not have thought about risking it for a poor country girl with no fortune, would he?”
Elizabeth nodded, “but I do not think that for one minute you should take responsibility for this. You were a child.”
“Lizzy, I think that being Mrs Darcy had taken away some of your cynicism – you are becoming rather like Jane in seeing the good in everyone. Oh, la!”
“I simply do not want you to feel remorse over this.” “I feel remorse that dear Wickham, God rest his soul, would have rather signed up for war than spend another day in my household.”
“That cannot be true.”
“You have always been adored by every man you meet – clever and handsome Elizabeth Bennet. I never had such a luxury, I have always been pointless Lydia, the youngest Bennet who gets drunk on wine and makes every laugh at parties. When I saw how Wickham looked at you, I wanted him for myself. I knew he could never marry any one of us, of course, so I decided to force his hand. Mrs Forster knew what my plan was, she told Wickham that he would have to take me away to Gretna to wed and so we set off that night. I was so scared but thinking about the look on all of your faces when I returned to Longbourn as Mrs George Wickham soon assuaged any fears that I might have had.”
Lydia poured them both a cup of tea from the stand at the corner of the room and returned to the sofa, the cups clattering in their saucers.
“So, my plan was working, however, Wickham decided halfway to Scotland that he wasn’t sure about this, that surely some negotiation could be made as no severe improprieties had occurred. He knew that we had nothing, could offer nothing and you know that for George, after growing up here in the splendour of Pemberley, he would never settle for that. We went to London and he contacted a lady of his acquaintance called Mrs Younge who, as you know…”
“Georgiana’s companion! That’s how Darcy found you.”
“Yes,” Lydia confirmed. “They were trying to figure out a way of getting me home with no mention of any scandal, but by this point it was already too late and half of London already knew that I was living, unmarried, with George Wickham and there was nothing that could be done.”
Lydia glanced at the room around her, and then at her sister who was now nearly thirty-four years of age and getting more beautiful each time she saw her. The younger was always jealous of Lizzy, who commandeered the attention of their father and had a boundless energy that could be rarely matched. Lydia truly believed that her sister was fearless and when she made the decision to make George Wickham her own, she truly believed that it was something that Lizzy might have done if she had her own gumption and disregard for society’s rules.
“What happened at the wedding?”
“Darcy stood up with Wickham, as you know, and Aunt and Uncle Gardiner were there. Even though he didn’t want to marry me, and by this point I didn’t want to marry him either, we were too embroiled in the situation to escape it and we had to go ahead.” Lydia looked up at her sister, “he married me to save my reputation and to save yours. For all the damage that Wickham tried to inflict on Darcy by attempting to elope with Georgiana, he truly saw him as his brother. He married me because he knew that Darcy was in love with you and any taint on our family reputation would have severely hindered his being able to make a proposal of marriage, or of you being accepted in Derbyshire society.”
Elizabeth took a sip of her tea, it was cold. It was taking her a moment to process this new information about Wickham; she wished that he could have decided on what type of character he had wanted to be. “Anyway, after we moved to Newcastle it was different. I wasn’t clever enough, or funny enough, or witty enough and he was bored of me very quickly. I tried to distract myself with balls and dances and, you will not believe this Lizzy, visiting the poor.”
“Visiting the poor? My my, Lydia, you must have needed the distraction.”
“I did,” she said softly. “He had a mean temper and he lost at the card tables a lot. When I wrote to you and Jane asking for money, it was mainly to buy food rather than new gowns or anything of merit. We had very little. I know that Darcy gave him a fortune to wed me, at least eight thousand pounds, but it was all gone within the year with nothing to show for it. When they told me that he wasn’t coming back, I… I was glad that he was dead. I was sorry that he was gone, but I was glad that I was free from him.”
Elizabeth pulled her sister into a firm embrace and the Bennet sisters sat there for moment, listening to the soft birdsong traveling across the lake. Outside the smell of magnolia drifted in and Lydia hugged her sister even tighter, feeling as if a massive weight had finally been lifted from her shoulders,
“Look how things turned out,” Elizabeth said brightly.
“Yes, I never knew what love would feel like when it finally hit me. I thought it would be like in books – all immediate and sparkling – but this love is so very tangible, so very safe. Friendship, I think, is always a very firm foundation on which to build a marriage and I am so very fortunate to have been given a second chance.”
“Well it is clear to me that William loves you a great deal”
“He does,” Lydia grinned. “And Georgie too… and hopefully this next babe will give him a legitimate heir.”
“Truly? What fantastic news,” Elizabeth hugged her sister again and they sat silently for a moment.
“The thing that troubles me though, Lizzy, is this,” Lydia said with a mischievous grin. “If I had known that Darcy had already laid his heart at your door, I could have seduced him instead and of all this I could have been mistress!”
Elizabeth laughed at her sister, who was now dancing about in the grandeur of the saloon, admiring herself in the massive full-length mirror that dominated one wall. She was happy to see that her sister was now settled and saddened that she had not known the full extent of Lydia’s suffering at the hands of Wickham. Even though he had been gone for nearly nine years now, George Wickham would always cast a shadow over Pemberley, because even if his marriage to her sister was protect her own reputation, she was, unlike Lydia, convinced that he would not have been acting truly altruistically. When Darcy returned to the room, stinking of cigars and slightly merry, she held him close in a way that she usually only did when they were alone. He looked at her curiously, unsure of what was happening or if he was in trouble for something that he wasn’t aware of, looking up at him with brown eyes the colour of cocoa beans, she held his hand in hers and firmly kissed it before leading him through to the dining room where supper was being served.
Thanks to years of practice, Mabel Anne Darcy was accomplished in a great deal of things deemed suitable for a girl of her rank and age. Her singing was delectable, her drawing and painting refined; she could play both the pianoforte and the harp, as spoke French and Italian to a high degree of fluency, although she could never quite perfect needlework or anything to do with hats. Ribbons were a curse, and she was happy to leave trimming hats to her Bingley cousins, who were frequent visitors. Mabel loved to hide away in the hidden spot under the grand staircase with a pile of books – the special kidskin bound tomes of Shakespeare that had come from her grandfather’s library at Longbourn, or the smooth leather hardbacks filled with history and science, sometimes even the sensually gothic novels of Ann Radcliffe that she enjoyed reading in secret during the dark, deep hours of the night.
The house was busy with people – it was the week of preparation before Lady Anne’s Ball, and everywhere there was hustle and bustle and noise. Her father had already ridden out early this morning; pretending that he had urgent business to attend to, when really, he was hiding up in the woods until the cacophony had abated, whilst her brothers were all away at school leaving Mabel to entertain herself for the most part. Fitzwilliam had an easy-going nature and reminded her of their mother. He delighted in anything fun, and loved balls, dancing and the company of ladies. He was in his last year at Cambridge, although everyone knew that his real education would come from Papa as he learned to run the Darcy estates in their entirety once his formal education was completed. Francis had been sent to Eton for Michaelmas Half and then returned at least six inches taller than he went; he had always been serious, but school had made him more so, and he stomped around the house with a frown on his face – only deigning to speak to her through gritted teeth, as though her very presence grieved him a great deal. She was grateful when the carriage carried him back from whence he came, and she did not have to avoid his foul moods and horrendous temper.
She ran her finger up and down the lines of regimented books in the library, each ordered by size and then alphabetically, each book rebound to her father’s exacting standards and each manuscript stamped with a tiny golden bull on the spine before it was admitted entry. She picked up a thin, tightly bound novel and flicked through its pages quickly before tucking it into her pocket; with the red leather-bound book carefully stowed away, Mabel danced up the grand staircase, lightly stepping on each of the wide, shallow steps, twirling past the aspidistra that dangled over the edge of the bannisters, saluting General George and trying to avoid becoming a nuisance to the hordes of servants that were scuttling about the corridors and staircases. At last she stowed away in her hideaway at the far end of the long gallery, where she could see the smoky haze of Manchester in the distance – the great Stratton-Darcy cotton mills of Ancoats pumping soot and steam into the atmosphere. Taking out the half-inch wide book, she didn’t have to read too far into it to realise that this story was something very close to home. It had begun with the names – Elizabeth, Jane, Kitty – common names, aye, but Bennet? And then the places – Meryton, Rosings, Pemberley… Mabel closed the book quickly, her hands holding the red bound novel tightly shut. She flicked back through the smooth paper pages to the front of the novel, then closed it again, then opened it again. She had been enjoying the story very much, and even though she was almost certain that she knew how the narrative would end, she wanted to see how the author arrived at the conclusion. At the end of the first volume she danced back down to the library, eager to complete the remaining two.
Elizabeth Darcy was getting ready for dinner when there was a loud knock and her door opened. Mabel. Even though there were definite hints of herself in her daughter – the impertinence, the obstinance and the sharp remarks – she was, for the most part, the epitome of Fitzwilliam Darcy in the form of a sixteen-year-old girl and was usually a fearsome thing to behold; but tonight, she was softer, understanding, looking at her mother with an almost dreamy expression. She threw herself onto the bed, causing the wood to creak and Helen, the lady’s maid, to exit the room with undue haste and a knowing look to her mistress. Elizabeth remained perched at her dresser, continuing her toilette and eyeing the figure lying on the bed.
“Mother,” came the sigh. “I need to question you about a novel I came across today in the library.” She removed the book from the pocket of her dress, before placing it on the embroidered coverlet. Elizabeth picked the leather-bound volume up and eyed the spine, she inadvertently raised an eyebrow and an amused smile crossed her lips.
“Why are you smiling, Mother?” Mabel folded her arms and looked at her mother questioningly, “this book is all about you… and Papa… and our Aunt and Uncle Bingley….” She had read all about how her father had tried to stop the marriage of her favourite Aunt, how he had arranged the marriage of her third favourite Aunt, and how he had loved her mother most ardently, so much so that he proposed twice.
Elizabeth flicked through the pages of the book, eyeing a passage and looking amused as she did so. “Pray, child,” she soothed. “If you have read all of this novel,” her eyes questioning her, “tell me, which is your favourite part?”
“I like all of the parts, Mama.” She picked up the book and flicked through the pages, pulling at her dark curls, before finding the page she was looking for. “I think Elizabeth Bennet is the most wonderful character in all of English literature.”
“I find that I must agree with you on this point,” Elizabeth said as she finished pinning her hair. “I think my favourite part is when she tells Mr Darcy that he is the last man on earth that she could ever possibly marry.”
Mabel rolled her eyes and deep sighed again, “ever be prevailed upon to marry, Mama.” She grabbed the book and turned the pages vigorously until she reached the correct chapter. “Look, you are quoting it incorrectly.”
“Oh yes,” she smiled. “How very foolish of me.”
“Mama,” the younger woman prodded. “Are you the Miss Bennet of this story?”
Elizabeth eyed her daughter carefully, “what is your own opinion of this? Do you think that I am the Miss Bennet of this story?”
“Aye,” she nodded, “I do. There are far too many similarities for it to be purely coincidental, and she talks like you do. She has your same… manner.”
“My same impertinent manner.”
Mabel blushed slightly, her cheeks reddening. She was still so young in so many ways, Elizabeth thought, and so like her parents in both the good ways and the bad. She didn’t suffer from the restrictive shyness which had been a key flaw in Darcy’s own character, and she was much less likely to judge other’s on first impressions, always taking everything and everyone at face value; she was a wonderfully warm, loving girl whose personality was painted in vivid colours, contrasting with those of her brothers; her mother knew, that from the curl of her hair to the pout of her lip to the jut of her chin, she was a Darcy through and through.
“Well then, that is settled; I am firmly of the belief that once any of the Darcys – be it you, your father or any one of your brothers has decided upon an opinion then there is naught I can do to persuade you otherwise,” she stood up. “Although, if one were the Miss Bennet of the story, then it may be a very foolish thing indeed to have the story of one’s own courtship – hindered through pride and conceit – lying about for their daughter to read, do you not agree, Mabel?” Elizabeth rose to her feet, smoothing the soft yellow satin of her gown, “That is, if I were the Miss Bennet of your story.” She eyed her daughter mischievously before walking out into the softly lit bright gallery.
Mabel smiled softly to herself, before holding the book close to her heart and falling back on the bed in her mother’s chambers, fully believing herself to have been let into the confidence of a great secret.
The lights were low after supper when the distant sound of the piano being played less than adequately by her mother, followed by the sound of her father singing and then laughter, so much laughter. She softly stepped down the staircase, peeping into the drawing room, where her mother was sitting at the pianoforte; her father stood to one side turning the page as she fudged and slurred through the hard passages of the work, and he looked at her adoringly, a sparkle in his eyes as she smiled and laughed at his off-key singing and forgetting of the words. She slipped along past the edge of the drawing room, and through into the library; she placed the book back in its spot on the shelf, ensuring that it was perfectly aligned, and returned to the drawing room, where her mother stopped playing and called her over with a warm smile, and her father beckoned her towards him, pulling her into the firmest of embraces.
As she stood with the hero and heroine of her story, the daughter of Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet realised that, along with her brothers, she was the epilogue to a beautiful tale – one that was still being written.