Easter came and went and the Darcys departed Rosings, bound for Netherfield. A few days in London were once again required. Anne needed to visit Mrs. Langley’s and also settle some details with her housekeeper, Mrs. Thomas, in preparation for their return to Town to begin the Season.
Both Anne and Fitzwilliam were anxious to return to Hertfordshire. The letters they had received from family and friends detailed the furious pace of preparations for the wedding. Anne also wished to see for herself the progress of the courtship between her sister Mary and her friend Sir John Whitby. She felt strangely protective of the little man who had won her esteem and Mary was so young and unsophisticated. She could not bear to see either disappointed.
Georgiana had decided to join her brother and sister in Hertfordshire rather than remaining in Town under the watchful eye of Mrs. Annesley. Anne had told the young woman of her plans and Georgiana wanted to be with her beloved sister as much as Anne would allow. After all, Anne had done the same for her after the Ramsgate affair.
Mr. and Miss Bingley graciously welcomed the Darcys yet again to Netherfield and informed them that they would be staying in their usual rooms. Sir John was in residence, as were Mr. and Mrs. Hurst. More of Bingley’s relations from Scarborough were due to arrive the following day.
When they reconvened in the drawing room, Anne sat next to her friend Sir John on one of the sofas. She stared down at him with an inquisitive look on her face.
“Well?” she drew out.
She swatted his arm. “You impudent man!” All eyes in the room turned toward the two. Sir John tried to look innocent while Anne glared at him. She said nothing more and the others gradually returned to their conversations.
“You know exactly what I want to know.”
“I do, but that does not mean I have any announcements to make.”
“You are taking longer than Fitzwilliam,” she muttered.
“As I recall, your cousin allowed you an entire Season and then some before you came to an arrangement.”
“Yes, but you’ve had all winter to get to know Mary. How long does it take?”
Sir John motioned with his head towards Bingley. “You have forgotten our friend. He is getting married in a few days. Pity to steal his glory.”
“I do not think he would mind one bit if you had an announcement to make. Look at him – would anything bother him short of disturbing his wedding?” Bingley did look annoyingly happy. No one should be in such a good mood while in conversation with Caroline Bingley.
Sir John smirked. “No, but the right time to discuss this with the young lady involved has yet to occur. Take heart, you will be among the first to know, one way or the other.”
“You do not doubt your reception?” Anne asked incredulously.
“The last time I was foolish enough to believe I would be received with pleasure, I left with my tail between my legs. So while I hope, I dare not presume.”
Anne colored a bit; he was referring to her handling of him. She knew she had not been as kind as she should, even if he never got to the point of a proposal. She had sent him away long before then. “You will ask, though?”
“I would not be humoring you if I did not intend to do so.”
Anne laughed, her guilty conscience somewhat alleviated by his teasing. She also recognized she would have to tell Sir John the truth about her heritage before it became common knowledge, especially since it appeared he would soon be her brother.
That evening Charles Bingley found the opportunity to talk to Anne privately as well. He told her he would keep her secret as long as she wished, that he was honored to call her sister, and delighted to call her husband brother, even if his sister Caroline had once hoped the connection would come about through her and not Anne. He gave Anne an affectionate kiss on the cheek and left her in the care of her husband.
It was obvious that Jane was nervous about the meeting as well. It was hard to tell who was more relieved to see the other smile, but they both relaxed when they realized neither was angry with the other. Elizabeth was brought in by her nurse to be shown to the group. The little girl was growing so quickly that many comments were heard on how much bigger she was than on the last visit. When the child began to fuss, Anne allowed the nursemaid to take her little girl back to the nursery.
Jane took advantage of the disruption caused by the baby’s departure to ask Anne if she would like to take a walk with her in the gardens. Mr. Bingley, of course, knew his intended needed to speak with her sister, and Georgiana and her brother knew Anne wanted to talk to Jane as well. Thus the two young women were allowed to make their escape outdoors without any other company.
It was a lovely day. High clouds littered the sky, bringing shadow and bright sunshine to the countryside. The early spring flowers were in full color and the air was redolent with the scent of their blooms. It was a welcome distraction. They could talk about the foliage while they gained the courage to revisit their last tête-à-tête.
“The grounds are lovely; you will enjoy walking here in the future,” Anne said as they ambled along.
“I am sure I will, though Charles tells me that this place is nothing in comparison to Pemberley.”
“I am too biased to give an accurate account, but Pemberley’s gardens and park are magnificent. But I hope you will make your own judgment soon enough. Fitzwilliam and I would love to see you there this summer. My de Bourgh cousins have been invited as well. It is time we return Bingley’s generous hospitality. We have not been the easiest of guests.”
“Thank you for your invitation. I will speak to Charles and then we will give you an answer. But Anne, I am surprised you are not angry with me. I had no right to speak to you the way that I did. I cannot think of it without abhorrence. I do not know what led me to make such outrageous demands. You are not to blame for what happened to you, for who you became. My outburst was most unlike me, I assure you. My selfish resentment appalls me.”
Anne knew Jane needed to apologize, for Jane had been wrong, but so had she.
“Perhaps your admonitions were not altruistic in nature, but that does not mean that your conclusions were wrong. You gave me much to ponder in your… our father’s bookroom. It was … difficult to be honest with myself and acknowledge the real reason for not declaring my parentage. In short, you were right. I was ashamed to be a Bennet. To my mortification, I must admit that I was raised to think entirely too well of myself. The shock of learning that I was not who I believed myself to be was extreme. I could accept my family as individuals, but I could not accept their inferior position, for that brought me down to a level of society that I have always regarded as unworthy of my time.
“I am a proud, arrogant and vain woman, Jane. I now understand to what extent and I do not like it. Your reproofs were well aimed.”
“I think you are a wonderful woman,” Jane cried in Anne’s defense. She really did have a difficult time thinking ill of a person. “Your gift of the dresses I did not deserve, not after my infamous treatment of you.”
“My purpose was to show you that I had taken your words to heart. By providing you access to an exclusive modiste – your new sister Caroline has been trying for years to get into Mrs. Langley’s shop – I hope to help establish you in London society. People will discover whom you patronize and make judgments of you based solely on that, I am afraid. And I really do love the gowns Mrs. Langley creates. You will find no better.”
“They are beautiful and I thank you. I look forward to wearing them when I go to Town with my husband.
“Have you forgiven me for being so selfish and demanding things I ought not?” Jane asked with trepidation
“Of course, if you can forgive me for being the same, ” Anne replied with great sincerity.
“If it helps you, I now think your reactions were justified. And I was wrong to force you to make such choices. If you wish to remain my cousin, so be it. You are my sister now in my heart.”
Anne was very relieved, but steady in her purpose. “Thank you, Jane, but the truth needs to come out. It will be better for us all, including Caroline Bingley, if my parentage is known. Young Anne looks too much like me to hide it forever.”
“But what of your reputation?”
“I think honesty and integrity the most important.”
That was an answer Jane was willing to accept. Anne then told Jane of all her plans for after the wedding. Jane was a bit awed by the extent of the engagements, and even more surprised with the news that Lady Catherine was to be in attendance as well. Anne explained the reason she had asked her mother to join them in London and Jane again saw the merit in her reasoning. By the time they returned to the house, they were walking arm in arm, laughing and looking forward to the days and weeks ahead. From then on, they endeavored to make their disagreement, and its resolution, the foundation for their deepening friendship.
Anne discovered it the night before the wedding.
Sir John had an air of confidence about him that Anne had never seen before. It did not take her long to deduce what had brought about such a change in her friend.
“You finally asked,” she said under her breath, but loud enough for him to hear. They were seated next to each other.
“I told you I would.” He sounded very proud of himself even at a whisper.
“By your downcast countenance, I would hazard that she refused,” she teased, and he was willing to indulge her.
“Utterly and completely,” he prevaricated.
“Smart girl!” Anne was quite happy. “When will this great misfortune that is to befall Miss Mary be announced?”
“In a few days. Mr. Bennet wishes to recover from one wedding before the next is thrust upon him.”
“What is that you are whispering about?” Fitzwilliam asked his wife after he sat down opposite Sir John.
“Why the wedding, my dear,” Anne answered elusively.
“Yes, you have certainly proven yourself to be quite energetic on the topic of late. Forgive my wife, Whitby.”
“Mrs. Darcy is always forgiven, even before you realize she has already bested you.”
“Aye, something about which I have a great deal of firsthand knowledge,” Fitzwilliam affirmed. When Anne smiled and nodded, he said to Sir John, “I need to speak with you privately.”
Sir John was caught off guard by the request. “Now?”
“If you do not mind.”
The two men excused themselves and Anne gave her husband a grateful look before they left. They chose the billiards room for some privacy.
Sir John grabbed a cue and leaned over the table to execute a shot. “I suppose you have been assigned to interrogate me for your wife?”
Darcy smiled, rather sadly at that. “Not at all, but I do assume you are to be married to Miss Mary?”
“Yes, she accepted me today, though the announcement will come after tomorrow.” He struck the ball and watched it careen into the others at the end of the table. “We shall be cousins, Darcy.”
“Not cousins, Whitby. Brothers.”
Sir John was preparing for a second shot but stood up, forgetting the cue in his hand when he noted the lack of mirth on his companion’s face. This was no joke. “You are serious. Who is your…” he stopped. Darcy had said brothers, not cousins. That
could only mean…“Anne?”
Darcy nodded. “My Anne was actually born Elizabeth Bennet.” He then told Sir John all that he knew about Anne’s abduction and the discovery of her real family. He then explained Anne’s decision to acknowledge her family.
“Darcy, I am speechless. I will be honored to call you brother and sister, but are you sure it is wise to make the connection public?”
The game lay forgotten in front of them.
“The decision is Anne’s and I have pledged my support. Obviously, I have reservations and so does Anne, but this is not a choice made without great deliberation. Anne has very good reasons for following this course, and as such, and because of my devotion and belief in her, we will do as she has determined. I do believe she is correct in that it is only of matter of when, not if, this will become known. The family resemblance is too great, and the Bennets’ new connections to the ton make it impossible for the secret to remain hidden. Perhaps if Anne Bennet did not look so much like my Anne at that age, it might be possible, but I tell you Whitby, had they been closer in age, people would have mistaken them for twins.”
“I am still shocked. Who would have known?”
“No one, had Bingley not taken up residence at Netherfield,” Darcy mused. “However, it has caught both you and Bingley wives, so I will not wonder what would have happened had we never come to Hertfordshire. For better or worse, my family circle has been greatly expanded.
“Will you come to London then, after the wedding tomorrow?” Darcy asked the diminutive man.
“I had planned to do so, if only to see my attorney about the wedding settlements.”
Darcy nodded. The business of marriage was not simple for a rich man. “Have you set a date yet?”
“I convinced Mary and Mr. Bennet to agree to a six-week engagement. Mary was already set to travel to Town to stay with the Bingleys. Now she can do her shopping for her wedding clothes and return to Hertfordshire a little earlier than planned. Kitty will take Mary’s place when the newlyweds travel to Scarborough and the North for Bingley to introduce his bride to the rest of his family.”
“Excellent! I know Anne will extend the Bingleys’ invitations for her London fêtes to include Miss Mary. You must come too. I am anxious to reacquaint my “little” brother-to-be with my family.”
Sir John glared, good-naturedly of course, at his tall friend. “I will have you know being shorter has its advantages.”
“A woman’s décolletage is closer to eye level.”
“At my height, I can look down at the part hidden by the fabric.”
At that comment, both men burst out laughing. Darcy shook Sir John’s hand. “Welcome to the family.”
“Are you going to ask me about the proposal?”
“No, I leave those kinds of discussions to the women. You asked, she accepted. That’s all I need to know. Anne, however, will corner Mary tomorrow and not leave her alone until she has learned every last detail. You would be surprised by how much you did not know had occurred. Then she will spend a great deal of time and effort telling me everything she thinks Mary left out. I will pretend I am interested and we will go to sleep content.”
“Ah, excellent strategy. Any other bits of wisdom from an old married man?”
Darcy did not even hesitate. “Apologize even when you do not know what you are supposed to have done wrong.”
“I will remember that.” Sir John lined up his next shot… and missed.
Mr. and Mrs. Bingley left the festivities in the afternoon, bound for an undisclosed location for a few days alone to begin their married life. They would then travel to London to stay for the Season, after which they would go to the north of England. Caroline Bingley remained at Netherfield, along with Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, until the last of their guests had departed. Then they too would journey to Town so Caroline could throw herself into her hunt for a husband. The Darcys left the day after the wedding. Anne had much to do and not much time to do it. By the time the next few weeks had come and gone, Anne knew her life would never be the same.
Almost all the participants in the play that was Anne Darcy’s life had reassembled in London. Lady Catherine was in residence at the de Bourgh townhouse. Jane and Charles Bingley had settled into their domestic situation and Mary had finally joined them. Sir John had opened his townhouse. Caroline Bingley had chosen to stay with her sister and Mr. Hurst. Georgiana was at Darcy House with her brother and sister, and the Fitzwilliam clan had gathered at Alton House. The rest of the Bennets had remained in Hertfordshire for the time being. Mrs. Bennet had learned she had another wedding to plan and not long to do it. Jane and Mrs. Gardiner would see to Mary’s wedding clothes.
The first of the three events Anne had planned was a night at the theatre. She had limited the party to nine persons. Charles and Jane, Mary and Sir John, Mr. and Mrs. Hurst and Caroline Bingley. Jane knew that her husband’s siblings had not yet been informed of the Bennet family secret and she had given Anne leave to choose when they would be told. So for that night, at Anne’s request, Anne Darcy would remain a distant cousin to the new Mrs. Bingley. She did, however, insist that Jane wear the jewelry selected when her gown was ordered. It was a piece favored by the last Mrs. Darcy, Lady Catherine’s sister.
Two carriages were required to deliver the party to Drury Lane. Jane, understandably, was very apprehensive; it was her first public appearance as Charles’ wife. Anne was a bit chagrined knowing that tonight she would not be the center of attention in their group. She was used to being the woman with whom people wished to be seen, but she did not begrudge her sister the attention. Besides, Jane Bingley was stunning in the new gown Anne had gifted her. The added ornamentation of the necklace Anne had lent Jane for the evening completed the effect magnificently. Still, she knew herself well enough to know her vanity would be bruised.
Bingley grinned like a fool as he proudly led his wife through the throng and into the Darcy box. They would have many visitors during the intermissions.
Jane had been anxious on the way to the theatre, and by the time the performance was about to begin, she was somewhat unnerved.
“Why is everyone looking at us?” she whispered to Anne, who was seated beside her.
“To see you, of course. They want to get a look at the woman Bingley married. It also helps that you are as beautiful as a goddess. Men and women alike admire beauty when it is placed before them.” Anne lightly patted Jane’s arm. “Relax, soon enough you will become accustomed to such notice. I know I did.”
“Is it always like this for you?”
“Not anymore, but when I came out, and when I married Fitzwilliam, I received much attention – too much, really.”
“I had no idea,” Jane said weakly.
“How could you? And after your ball, I will have the unwanted pleasure of the renewal of such pointed interest in me. Not that I am complaining; it is my choice. I doubt you will notice that much of a difference for yourself, but all in all it will die away from us soon enough. Frankly, I would rather be done with it all and left in peace.”
Jane turned white as the color drained from her face.
“What have I done? Anne, I had no idea what my outburst has wrought.” Anne could see how distressed her sister was becoming and knew she had to soothe the poor woman before others saw it too. She squeezed her sister’s hand and spoke in a quiet voice.
“Jane, you must calm down. Stop berating yourself and instead,” she motioned with her head towards the curtains, “enjoy the play. It has received glowing reviews.”
Anne smiled encouragingly and then made a show of sitting up straighter and focusing on what was happening on the stage. Soon enough, her elder sister’s attention was there as well.
The next evening was the family dinner at Darcy House. In addition to their guests from the previous evening, the Darcys were joined by Arthur and Helena de Bourgh, the Earl and Countess of Perryton, Colonel Andrew Fitzwilliam, Georgiana and Lady Catherine. The Viscount Newman, Martin Fitzwilliam, and his wife Matilda were also present for the first gathering of the Fitzwilliam family since Anne and Darcy’s wedding.
Once again, Jane wore a gown ordered at Mrs. Langley’s establishment. For this night, she wore a necklace that Lady Catherine immediately recognized as coming from the de Bourgh family vault. Mary was not left out either. She wore a locket Anne had suggested would be perfect with her gown. It was a necklace that had been given to Anne by her aunt and uncle Fitzwilliam and she had often worn it before she married.
The meaning would not be lost on the older adults. Anne was showing her acceptance in a very subtle yet tangible way. This was the night when her Bennet connections were acknowledged.
Earlier, before the rest of the guests had arrived, Jane had a private word with Anne.
“Are you sure you want to do this? Once Caroline knows, the secret will no longer be a secret,” Jane worried.
“I appreciate your concern, but I will not turn back now – unless you can convince me that it is in the Bennets’ best interest that the past is forgotten?”
Jane blushed. “We both know the connection will enhance our siblings’ ability to marry well. Yet now, after last night, I finally comprehend the difficulties this will cause you, and the damage it will have on your reputation. It was very wrong of me to ask this of you.”
“I told you, the choice was mine to make and I made it. Let this finally be the end of it.”
Jane could see that it was futile to argue and relented; the evening would proceed according to Anne’s plans.
When the words explaining Anne’s true situation were at last spoken to the company, the different reactions were predictable. Lady Newman, four years ago the recipient of Anne’s disdain and biting wit because her family made its fortune from trade, had a gleam in her eye. Matilda Fitzwilliam knew better than to attack Anne with the family present, but Anne was certain that lady would take great delight in seeing her brought down a notch or two in society. Martin and Andrew were stunned at the revelation. They had no idea that Anne was anything other than the younger cousin they had known all her life. Arthur and Helena had been told what was coming when they called after their arrival in Town, so they were not surprised, nor was the earl. Lady Perryton knew of the connection, of course, but was shocked that Anne was so foolish as tell anyone else – family included. Bingley’s sisters were astounded. Mr. Hurst shrugged his shoulders and let his wife talk – she would say enough for both of them. Caroline recovered before Louisa Hurst.
“That means we are … sisters?!”
“Yes, through your brother’s marriage to our dear Jane, we are sisters.”
“Oh my! Sister to Mrs. Darcy! I had hoped for the possibility before Charles found Jane, but never in my wildest dreams… ”
Anne smiled. She could see the various scenarios flitter through Caroline Bingley’s mind. She and Fitzwilliam would help her make a good match, for Jane’s sake as well as Caroline’s. And for their own.
The presence of Mary and Jane precluded those who disagreed with Anne’s decision from voicing their dissent. It mattered not, for the presence of Lady Newman, Caroline Bingley and Louisa Hurst ensured that the news would spread like wildfire through London. The ball held in honor of the Bingleys’ wedding became the most sought after invitation in London. It would be a crush.
“I wore these for my first ball after I came out,” she explained to an awed Jane. “They have been in my father’s family for a long time.”
“I… this is too much! First the gowns, and then the loan of the necklaces – I never understood why you insisted I wear them until now. But you have nothing to atone for. I cannot wear them,” Jane cried. Anne began to wonder if her normally reserved sister would always react so strongly when her emotions finally broke through her defenses. Then again, she had married Bingley and he certainly was a very modest fellow. They were well matched in that respect. She hoped the servants would not cheat them too much for it.
“Yes, you can. I insist. The gown was made to be worn with these pearls.”
“I will find something else.”
“NO! No, Jane.” Anne searched for the words to convince Jane what it would mean to her to wear the pearls. She seemed to be doing that frequently with her elder sister.
“Let me tell you a little bit of the history of this necklace. The pearls were first worn by my father’s – Sir Lewis’s grandmother. They were purchased when she came out and all her sisters wore them as well, and then they were put into safekeeping until my father’s mother came of age. She wore them, as did her sisters, and then once again they were saved for the next generation. Unfortunately, my father had no siblings and so they were put away until it was time for my debut in society. I wore them that night thinking my daughter would be the next to don them. I never imagined I had five sisters who would need them as well. You and Mary and Catherine came out before I found you, but you deserve to wear them somehow. This seems to be the best I can make of the situation. I will find an appropriate time for Mary and Catherine to have their turn, and see that Lydia and Anne wear them when they come out. But it must start with you.”
“But I am not a de Bourgh daughter. You are.”
“Yes, but I am also a Bennet, and you are my sister. There is nothing more symbolic than this to acknowledge to my adoptive family, to society and to my heart what we really are.” Anne paused. “Jane, you asked me not to come to your wedding if I were ashamed to be a Bennet. Selfishly, I now ask the same of you. If you are not ashamed of me, wear the pearls to the ball. Accept me in front of society as I will you.”
Jane could not speak, but she could nod and embrace Anne. They both wept a little, though Jane far more than Anne. However, Anne did not have time to indulge in a prolonged emotional display. Laughingly, she wiped away her tears, made her excuses and left for home. Time was running short and the ball was the next evening, ready or not.
Even Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had come to London for the event. They had brought Catherine, the only one besides Mary old enough to attend. Anne had briefly mentioned a presentation at court for her sister Catherine, but that was a subject for another day.
In the time spent waiting for the first guests to arrive, Lady Catherine came to stand beside her daughter.
“I still think your revelation is insanity itself, but I will remain by your side as long as you wish.”
Anne felt compassion for her mother and guilt for what was to come. “I know this is difficult, ‘tis difficult for all of us, but mostly for you. I wish it were not necessary but it is. I appreciate your support when I know you believe I am making a mistake – and what people will think of you when the news gets out. The whirlwind of gossip that I am unleashing is very unfair to you, I know that, and I am sorry. If there were a better way, I would take it, but I cannot find one. Believe me, I have tried.”
“I know you have.”
“Mama, I will always be your daughter and I will always love you. Nothing anyone can say against us will destroy my devotion, or lessen my gratitude that you chose me.”
Lady Catherine placed her hand on her daughter’s cheek and then kissed the other. She smiled with what could only be called parental fondness for many moments. “My dearest girl,” she said with trembling voice. Just then a commotion was heard in the hall. The first guest had arrived. “It is time,” the older woman said as she dropped her hand. Together they turned to find their places. Darcy stood off to the side of the room. He had witnessed the exchange between his wife and her mother. So much had been said in words and actions. This would be a difficult night for both women and he was prodigiously proud of them.
Over the years, there would be many who claimed to be in attendance the night Anne Darcy revealed her adoption and presented her unknown family to the ton. Details of how she was taken from the Bennets and adopted as a foundling were not abundantly clear, but that was overshadowed by the news of the adoption itself. It even eclipsed the couple for whom the ball had been held. However, Mr. and Mrs. Bingley did not seem to mind at all.
In the days and weeks to follow, the adoption of Anne de Bourgh Darcy was the talk of the drawing rooms of London and beyond. Many suppositions, nearly all of them incorrect, were discussed.
In the face of such scrutiny, the family remained united in their support of Anne – and Lady Catherine. Eventually Anne was proven correct in that after the initial excitement died down, someone else took their place as the main topic of gossip. There would be those who never liked Anne and used her new circumstances as an excuse to look upon her with disfavor, but they would have treated her with the same disdain had the scandal never erupted. If the Darcys did receive fewer invitations to the most fashionable soirées, they were not bothered. They had friends enough without the intrigues of the insincere in the first circles.
The Darcys left Town halfway through the Season, and much earlier than expected. Anne invited her mother to Pemberley, but Lady Catherine declined. She was ready to return to her domain at Rosings. So instead, the Bennets were invited, along with Charles and Jane Bingley, Arthur and Helena de Bourgh and the newly married Sir John and Lady Whitby. They were a merry party and enjoyed a splendid summer in the cool Derbyshire hills. The idea that Anne had retreated to Derbyshire in shame was dispelled when she gave birth to a son on the 29th day of December 1812. The boy was christened Joseph Lewis George Darcy; Pemberley had its heir.
Those close to the family understood the significance of the first name. For like the character from the Bible, Joseph symbolized the peace Anne finally made with the past. What could be seen purely as a great wrong against her and her Bennet family had, in the end, turned out for the better of them all. Anne was given great wealth, had married a man she would never have met, who loved her with a great love. Her birth father had admitted that the loss of her had changed him and encouraged him to be a provider for the rest of his family that he would not have otherwise become, for he understood his disposition towards indolence. Who knew, Mr. Bennet might have given up on ever having a son after the birth of a fifth daughter. Longbourn might have been entailed to his cousin, Mr. Collins – what then would have become of the Bennets?
For all the bad that had happened, good had come of it.
With the first light of day streaking through the sky, the Darcy coach was on its way south. The roads were in horrible condition, even for that time of year, and the progress was agonizingly slow. Four hard days spent on the road brought them at last into Kent.
Anne ran inside her childhood home as soon as the carriage door opened. A sense of deep foreboding permeated Rosings and Anne felt it immediately. Breathlessly, she entered her mother’s chambers. The odor of sickness made the contents of her stomach roll and she barely made it to a pot next to her mother’s bed. When she finally stopped retching, she looked up to see her dying mother. Anne would never be able to erase that image from her memory. Lady Catherine lay gaunt, insensible to anyone and anything. A cup with remains of the last dose of laudanum sat on the bedside table. Anne could do naught but cry.
Eventually, Fitzwilliam found Anne clinging to her mother’s hand.
“Come, refresh yourself,” he spoke softly in her ear.
Ann shook her head. “I will not leave her.”
Fitzwilliam gently persisted, “It will only be a few minutes. I will stay with her. Your maid has some water for you to clean your face and a new gown ready to wear. Go, and then come back.”
Anne knew she should listen to her husband. He would stay at his post until she returned. Reluctantly she stood, afraid that if she let go of her mother’s hand, Lady Catherine would cease living. Finally, Anne leaned over and kissed her, promising to return.
As expected, Anne was back in Lady Catherine’s chambers less than 15 minutes later. She sat across the bed from her husband and clasped her mother’s free hand.
“Thank you.” Anne gave him a small smile.
“Do you feel better?” He was concerned for both women.
“Yes, but no.” Anne looked her husband in the eye. “I will not leave her again until this is finished one way or …”
“She stood by my side all last Season and I will return the favor,” Anne vowed.
“She did it because she loves you,” he reminded her, though she needed no reminder.
“I know, as I love her.”
“She knows that too.” Comprehending that he could do more elsewhere for Anne, he announced, “I will leave you to see to everything.”
They never broke their gaze until he stood and left.
When he returned an hour later, Lady Catherine appeared no better.
They sat in silence as time slipped by.
“I am afraid to lose her,” Anne said simply. Fitzwilliam walked around the bed and pulled up a chair next to his wife. He put his arms around her. She would not release her mother’s hand. He understood.
In the early hours of the morning, Lady Catherine de Bourgh passed on from this world. Anne was there the entire time, holding her hand. Tears streaming down her face, she watched as her mother’s breaths grew further apart until there were no more. Fitzwilliam stayed with his wife, lovingly helping her through the ordeal. When the new day dawned, the official mourning began.
On the way back to Pemberley and their children, the Darcys stopped for several days in Hertfordshire to visit the Bennets. Anne felt the oddity of being newly orphaned and visiting her two living parents. However, her Hertfordshire family provided a much-needed balm for her grieving soul. They were aware of what she had risked to acknowledge their relationship and loved her more for it. Mrs. Bennet especially was sensitive to her daughter’s plight and did not try to take the place of Lady Catherine. Just Mrs. Bennet’s presence, and the similarity of her appearance to Anne’s own, was enough to bring some relief to the sense of loss. The family resemblance was comforting. Jane too was a caring attendant. The two sisters had become close since Jane’s marriage and Anne found herself wishing the Bingleys lived nearer than a three-day’s journey.
Finally, Anne and Fitzwilliam returned to Pemberley. Once there, it dawned on her that Derbyshire was now her home. Rosings was her childhood, but Pemberley was where she belonged. Little Elizabeth toddled out to greet her parents and Georgiana brought baby Joseph to his mother. Anne felt better just holding her son.
The days and weeks that followed were filled with grief for the loss of Lady Catherine, but as always happened, the pain became less pressing and slowly those left behind looked forward again.
Word was finally received from America; no trace had been found of the two servants. For Lord Perryton, his duty was over. The investigation was finished. He wrote to his nephew and niece with the news. It was another chapter of Anne’s life that had come to a close.
Caroline Bingley finally married, though because of their deep mourning, the Darcys did not attend. During the previous season, with her close connection to Pemberley revealed, Miss Bingley managed to turn the head of a Yorkshire landowner. Peter Bagshaw found the daughter of a tradesman the perfect remedy for an acute shortage of cash. She was happy enough to trade her dowry for position of mistress of his ancient family’s estate. Her entry into the gentry gained her the respectability she had long craved.
When Anne deemed Joseph old enough to travel, the carriages were ordered ready, the servants instructed to pack, and letters sent to Town and to Rosings to prepare for the arrival of the family.
Anne had no idea what to expect when they went into Kent. She smoothed the black fabric of her mourning dress as they made the familiar turn up the drive. Soon Rosings itself came into view and Anne felt… nothing as grave as she had dreaded. Rosings Park was just the same as it always had been. The gardeners had made no discernable alterations to the landscaping. The hedges still grew the way her mother preferred. Mrs. Stuart still came out to greet them. The only immediate difference was an absence of the command to attend her ladyship in the parlor, and her ladyship herself.
After she had washed and changed, Anne gathered up enough courage to visit her mother’s chambers. They looked as they always had. If she had not known better, she would have sworn Lady Catherine was visiting friends and would return at any moment. The only thing missing from the room was that awful smell that Anne had encountered on the last visit. This alteration was welcome.
With no crisis to weather, Anne finally had time to see to the details she had overlooked before they last left. She saw the list of people who had come to offer their condolences. One of the names, she noted, was Mrs. Collins. Her cousin had taken a wife! She smiled. Mama must have been pleased.
Mrs. Stuart was an invaluable help; then again, Anne mused, when had Maggie ever not been invaluable?
When Stuart asked for a meeting with the master and mistress, Anne wondered what her old servant wanted. If it were at all in her power, she would grant it.
“Not at all. What did you wish to discuss, Stuart?” Darcy answered. He was the master.
“Well, sir, as you can plainly see, I’m not getting any younger and I was wondering if you had given any consideration to who would take my place as the next housekeeper?”
“You have been here so long, I cannot imagine anyone taking your place,” Anne commented, clearly not happy with the idea of Maggie being gone.
“My wife and I have never considered it. Are you leaving us?” Darcy countered after his wife’s comment.
“No, no. I have no intention of leaving right now. It is just that… with the passing of my old mistress, I have thought about all the changes that life brings, and it led me to think about my position here and what would happen when I pass away.”
Darcy looked seriously at the woman in front of him. She looked healthy, and yet the same could have been said about his mother-in-law when she left Pemberley. “I suppose we would consider our housekeepers in Town, Mrs. Thomas from Darcy House and Mrs. Barker. Is there someone here you think might be more worthy?”
“No, not at this time. A few show promise, but they are a bit young for the position.”
“You were very young, I believe, when you took over,” Darcy observed. Stuart quickly recovered.
“That was different, as you know. May I make a suggestion?”
“Go right ahead.” He was very interested in what she had to say.
“Might it be prudent to have Mrs. Thomas and Mrs. Barker come to Rosings so that they are familiar with the house, should anything happen to me?”
“You begin to frighten me, Stuart,” Darcy said with a hesitant smile.
“I have no plans to die in my sleep, Mr. Darcy, but I do think it would be wise to prepare for the eventual change.”
“Very well, Mrs. Darcy and I will discuss it and let you know if and when you will have a visitor.”
“Thank you, sir.” Her voice was hesitant.
“Is there something else?”
“Yes… I would like your permission, sometime after you leave, to take a few weeks to visit with my family in London. I have not seen my brothers and sister since my mother died.”
Darcy looked to Anne and she gave him a look of consent. “After the house is closed, I see no reason why you cannot go. You will leave us directions for where you are staying, in case you are needed back at Rosings?”
“Of course.” Maggie evidently was finished. Not waiting to be dismissed, she stood, curtseyed and said, “Thank you.” Then she left.
The door closed and for many minutes neither Anne nor Darcy said a word.
“Why do I get the impression that Stuart was saying goodbye?” Anne finally asked.
“Because she was, I believe.”
“She has spent a lifetime managing me and Mother, why should now be any different?” Anne reflected.
They discussed Maggie’s suggestions for a successor; Mrs. Barker was the logical choice. The de Bourgh London residence was shut down and would remain so for the time being. It was very possible that they would solicit offers to purchase the extra house in Town. There was no other family to inhabit the place, unless Arthur and Helena wished to live there. Georgiana was too young to live alone, even with the excellent Mrs. Annesley as her companion.
A letter was dispatched the next morning and the following evening the Darcys had their response. Mrs. Barker would be pleased to journey to Rosings for a week spent with Mrs. Stuart.
Anne’s supposition proved true when late that summer a letter arrived at Pemberley announcing the betrothal of Maggie Stuart and tendering her resignation as the housekeeper of Rosings Park.
When Anne finished reading the missive, she immediately went in search of her husband. She was crying when she fell into his arms.
“Maggie is leaving. She is to be married,” she managed to stutter through her tears. Fitzwilliam tried the positive approach.
“Ah, so she found someone after all these years. Good for her.”
When Anne calmed, she laid her head against her husband’s broad chest. He stroked her back.
“I hope she will be happy,” she said at last. “I shall miss her.”
“As will I.”
There was silence as Fitzwilliam comforted his wife.
“I remember a conversation we had once,” Anne finally said. “I asked her why she never married. She said she had other things to occupy her time. Now that Mama is gone, and I have you, I suppose that she believes her work for the House of de Bourgh is finished.”
“Then she has earned her retirement,” he replied sagely, trying to help his wife accept Stuart’s decision.
“Rosings will never be the same,” she reflected.
“That was inevitable,” Fitzwilliam pointed out.
“I know, but that does not mean I have to like it.”
“No, but you must accept it. Be happy for her. She is for you, else she would not go.”