July 20, 1831
The sound of music and the voices of nearly one hundred guests echoed through the halls of Pemberley. They were all there to celebrate the nuptials of Elizabeth Darcy to her cousin and lifelong friend, Malcolm de Bourgh. They had just been married by the Reverend Henry Bennet, rector of Kympton and Elizabeth’s uncle.
The announcement of the match a few months earlier had caused some stir. The bride and the groom were not yet twenty, having arrived into the world a few months apart in 1811. She was even older than he! However, both sets of parents were more than happy to sanction the marriage they had encouraged since the couple’s infancy. Anne Darcy often teased her cousin Arthur de Bourgh that she was only following the advice of her late mother in securing such an advantageous match from the earliest possible moment.
What Anne did not know was that her husband and her cousin Arthur had the marriage settlements written when their children were but sixteen. Neither man had told his wife what he had done, and thus his reasons for doing so. As far as everyone else was concerned, the two young people had fallen in love and decided that they would not wait until they were older to wed. Their families knew they had been wanting to marry for several years as it was.
The second generation de Bough/Darcy marriage was again a match most advantageous. The wealth Elizabeth and Malcolm brought into the union was substantial, but it paled in comparison to the knitting together of two willing and worthy souls. Anne and Fitzwilliam Darcy, as well as Helena and Arthur de Bourgh, were thrilled to see their children have the chance to share a love as strong as the one they each had with their spouses. Arthur and Fitzwilliam were relieved that their agreement ended up with the best possible outcome, for Elizabeth’s dowry was not the money originally outlined in her parent’s wedding settlements – it was Rosings Park itself. Fitzwilliam Darcy would have it no other way.
April 25, 1828
The Darcys had just arrived in London from their annual Easter pilgrimage to Kent. After the death of Lady Catherine, the family still spent a month at Rosings every spring, with the only exception being when Anne was too heavy with child to leave Pemberley.
A message arrived at the Darcy townhouse from the Peters household. Maggie Peters, nee Stuart, their former Rosings Park housekeeper, was very ill and had not long to live. Fitzwilliam knew that Anne would want to see her old housekeeper as soon as she could. Unfortunately, she was on a day-trip to the outskirts of Town to visit her aunt and uncle and would not be back for many hours. He left a note for her, along with the summons from Mr. Peters, and hurried off to Gracechurch Street to visit the dying woman.
Darcy had always found it somewhat ironic that Maggie Stuart had become mistress of the home formerly owned by Anne’s Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. Maggie’s husband had purchased the home from the Gardiners when that couple decided to move to a larger home in a more fashionable part of town. Mr. Gardiner had grown very wealthy from his business. With the final vanquishing of Napoleon at Waterloo, Europe entered into a time of peace and prosperity. Mr. Gardiner’s ventures into textiles and other new industries had been perfectly judged. In fact, he had been able to purchase a second home, just outside London, for his family. That was where Anne and the older children were for the day.
Mr. Peters was one of Mr. Gardiner’s partners in the textile business, and while not as wealthy, for he was one of the lesser partners, he had been able to live the past fifteen years in the quiet company of his wife, Maggie. They had no children, and thus had decided to enjoy the plethora of opportunities for diversion available only in Town. Maggie had lived in the country long enough. Both had worked hard their entire lives to achieve the financial independence they now possessed and they were determined to make do with a few servants to maintain their house and not worry about anything else.
The familiar doorknocker greeted Darcy at the house near Cheapside. How often had he come here with Anne when the children were young, getting to know more of Anne’s family? The owners might be different, but the house was little changed.
He was greeted by Mr. Peters and then taken to see his old servant. Maggie looked extremely frail in her bed, her face weathered from the eight and fifty years she had spent on the earth. Her husband sat away from them on the other side of the room to give them a little privacy.
Moved by the reality that the woman he had known for so long apparently had so short a time left, Darcy sat by her side, took her bony hand in his and tried not to allow the tears in his eyes to escape. The warmth of his touch must have awakened Maggie, for her eyes fluttered open.
“Mr. Darcy,” she rasped. Her eyes searched the room for someone she did not find. “Where is… Anne?”
He squeezed the old woman’s hand. “She took the children to visit Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner. She will be back before dinner. I know she will want to come and see you as soon as she discovers you are ill.”
Maggie nodded. She looked like she wanted to say something, so Darcy waited patiently for her to speak. Instead she lifted her other hand and pointed to a glass of water on her bedside table. Darcy immediately stood and fetched the glass. He lifted her head to help her drink. She smiled gratefully and settled back into the bedding. Mr. Peters continued to sit and watch.
“I am glad you came alone, Darcy. I need to tell you something and I don’t know if Anne should hear this.” She swallowed hard and Darcy helped her take another sip of water. He did not correct her use of the familiar; Maggie had been another mother to Anne.
“Take your time.”
“I do not have much of that left, Darcy.” Maggie looked at her husband, who gave her a reassuring smile and then waited for his wife to do what she had planned. “You must know. Lady Catherine was behind it all.”
Darcy looked confused. “Behind…?” But then he knew of what she spoke. “Anne.”
“Yes, Anne’s becoming Anne.”
The two men watched her become Maggie Stuart again, transported back in time.
“I was Lady Catherine’s lady’s maid when she asked me to help her. She was desperate for a child and Sir Lewis was leaving. She wanted, one way or another, for him to return home a father. After he departed, when it was obvious she was not in the family way, I helped her make it look as though she were. I told you long ago who else helped us. Lady Catherine wanted a girl, in case she ever had a child by Sir Lewis and it was a boy. I was charged with finding a midwife who could deliver such a baby. But I swear to you I never specifically asked her to kidnap one! I told the midwife how her ladyship wanted a daughter gently bred, but I assumed she would find some girl carrying a gentleman’s natural child. I should have known that the midwife would think it was an absolute requirement, as if Lady Catherine could have known if the baby were well bred or the abandoned child of a penniless couple. Lady Catherine never knew, until you brought the portrait to Rosings, how Anne came to be her daughter. And frankly, I myself did not ask the midwife. I decided it was best that I did not.”
“Did you ever wonder?” he asked as he helped her take a third sip. Her voice was raspier and losing strength.
“Thank you. All the time, and I felt the guilt of it too. Miss Anne became like a daughter to me, and after what I had done, I vowed to protect her as best I could. I kept the secret until today. No one but my Roger has ever heard what I have just told you.”
Needless to say, Darcy was taken aback. He had always wondered if his mother-in-law had told him the complete truth, and now he knew she had not. Sir Lewis was innocent! He helped Maggie take another drink of water. He could see she was flagging, so he needed to get to the salient point.
“And Sir Lewis, did he know Anne was not his real daughter?”
“No, not that I know. Lady Catherine was very thorough in covering her deeds.”
“My God,” Darcy whispered, shocked and distraught.
Maggie touched his hand lying next to hers. “But he loved her fiercely, Mr. Darcy. Sir Lewis adored Anne. I think he was more sad to leave Anne than his wife when he was dying.”
“Why, why tell me now?” he pleaded as he let go of her hand, breaking the connection between them.
“When you face the end of your days, you want to make peace with yourself. You will right my wrong, but not tell Anne?”
Darcy was devastated. In his agitation, he ran his hand that had just held hers through his hair. “You ask too much of me. You should have taken this to your grave. How can I bring up this hurt again?”
“If anyone can, it is you. That is why Anne fell in love with you, despite her trying not to do so.
“I know I ask the impossible.”
Darcy had to leave. Then he took one look at his old housekeeper and his heart softened. She had done them a great wrong, yet he owed his marriage to Anne to her deception. Perhaps there was a way. However, he was certain of one thing. Anne could never know what her mother had done. It would destroy her.
“I will bring Anne to see you later today,” he said in a flat tone.
Before he could turn to go, Maggie once again grabbed his hand. “I am sorry for what I have done, but I will always love Anne.”
“I know. I will return with her soon.”
Later that evening he did bring his rather distraught wife to the house on Gracechurch Street. Maggie opened her eyes briefly and recognized Anne, but she did not speak – other than the tears that poignantly ran down her cheeks. Two days later, on a beautiful spring Sunday, Maggie Stuart Peters slipped into eternity. The last conspirator in the kidnapping of Elizabeth Bennet was dead.
The following Monday, a somber Fitzwilliam Darcy received a very unexpected guest; Maggie Peters’ widower had called. He was dressed in his mourning clothes and Darcy could see the man was tired. Why had he come?
“Thank you for receiving me, Mr. Darcy. I dare say you were not expecting me.” They shook hands and sat down.
“My condolences on the loss of your wife. We did not have a chance to speak after the funeral service.”
“I appreciate your attendance, sir. My Maggie was only a servant to you, and after what she told you…”
“Yes, well, I had to go. Anne would have wondered why I did not. But I did want to pay my last respects to someone who was very important to me and my wife for many years.”
Peters nodded. Neither man spoke for several moments. “I suppose I should tell you the reason for my visit and then leave you to your family. As you may have guessed, what I have to say concerns Maggie’s confession to you.”
Darcy sat behind his desk in a familiar pose, his fingers steepled in front of him. He had no idea what else this man could tell him, but he was most eager to find out. Perhaps it might help him resolve the dilemma that the confession had thrust upon him – namely determining who was the rightful owner of Rosings Park.
“Everything Maggie told you is true. What she did not tell you is how I know she spoke the truth. She would have done so, but she knew it was my secret to tell. You see, I have not always gone by the name of Peters. That was my mother’s family name. Before I moved to London and eventually went into business with Edward Gardiner, I was known as Roger Walls.”
Darcy recognized the name, but it took a few more moments to place it. “You were Sir Lewis’ valet? My uncle searched for you for months!”
“He would have had a very hard time finding me. I made certain not to visit places I had frequented as Sir Lewis’ man when I came to live here. A new name, and a providential bequest from my old master, allowed me to have a new life. Only my Maggie knew who I had become. I wanted to marry her back then, you know, but she would not leave Lady Catherine or Miss de Bourgh. My wife, with all her faults, was fiercely loyal. We would have been married sooner had not the circumstances of the kidnapping come out. She was all set to quit her position when Mrs. Darcy discovered her family in Hertfordshire. When that happened, Maggie knew she had to wait a little while longer to protect me, and the life we had planned. After that, providentially, Mrs. Darcy’s newfound connection to my partner Gardiner helped create a credible excuse for our acquaintance and eventual courtship. Maggie and I had used the years before we married to earn enough money between us that we would never have to work again. Or in my case, not as fervently as I had before.”
Darcy leaned back and shook his head. “Incredible. All this time you were right under our noses.”
“Yes, and as Maggie said all the time, no one ever notices the servants if they do their jobs properly. I may not have been a servant after Sir Lewis died, but I had learned my lessons well.”
Darcy nodded. She was right, of course. Yet he needed to know more.
“Can you… Do you know… Did Sir Lewis know about Anne? Please, you must tell me. I have to know.”
“I know you do,” Peters answered calmly. “That is why I am here, but I am afraid you will not like my answer.”
Darcy put his hands in his hair, his habit when he was disconcerted. “He did not know Anne was not his.”
“No, that is not what I was going to tell you.”
“Dammit man, which is it? Did he know or not?”
“He never told me he suspected anything, but I watched him. I heard things no one else could have heard. He… he did think she was his own. However – and this is why I am here today – there was one time when he was holding Anne and he thought no one else was near by.” Peters chuckled softly. “I did not count as a someone. A servant, you know. But I digress. He was alone with Anne and what he said struck me so forcibly that I can hear him as clearly as if he had just spoken. He said, ‘I would love you forever, my darling girl, even if someone had the audacity to imply to my face that you were not mine.’”
“Then he knew,” Darcy concluded.
Mr. Peters sighed. “No, that is not what I said. I have thought on this for many years, Mr. Darcy. My master did not know his daughter was anything but his own flesh and blood.”
“Then I have my answer.”
“I disagree. Listen to the words again. ‘I would love you forever, my darling girl, even if someone had the audacity to imply to my face that you were not mine.’ He loved her, sir. I think if he had known, he would have kept the secret too, so great was his devotion to his daughter.”
“But we will never know, will we?”
“No, but you have reason to hope.”
Darcy was not so sure. “Is there anything else?” he asked tiredly.
Mr. Peters slowly shook his head and then stood up. Darcy rose with his guest and offered his hand. “Thank you for coming. While I am conflicted by what you have said, at least I now know what became of Sir Lewis’ valet.”
The other man smiled wryly. “Good luck, Mr. Darcy.”
“Thank you. I think I am rather going to need it.”
Three weeks later, Darcy had arranged to meet his wife’s cousin. Arthur de Bourgh was curious as to what Darcy wanted, for the man had insisted on a private meeting with neither of their wives the wiser for it having occurred.
Darcy told a very shocked Arthur all that had transpired, complete with showing him the correspondence Darcy had saved from the late Earl of Perryton’s investigation all those years ago. At the end of it, Darcy confessed, “I do not know what to do, Arthur. I cannot tell Anne. She has long since reconciled herself to the events of the past. She believes the best of her mother and father. That they did think she was a foundling. Now…”
“I know. If you tell her, it will shatter the peace she made with it all. We both know she paid a high price to admit publicly she was adopted.”
“Yet to say nothing robs you of your rightful inheritance. Rosings Park and other properties should be yours, destined for your sons, not mine.”
“Now you have put me in as difficult a position as yourself. If it were just me… How much can one man want? But Malcolm, and Charles and Robert and the girls…”
Darcy tried not to be overwhelmed by his dilemma; he hoped the man in front of him would help him solve it. “Take some time to consider it. We can discuss this in a few days and try to come up with a solution. I will do whatever you finally wish.”
“Careful, I might just ask for your first born.” It was said in jest, but both men immediately found merit in the offhanded comment. Darcy was the first to broach the subject.
“Have you noticed the way Malcolm looks at Elizabeth these days?”
“They have not bickered like brother and sister in quite a while.”
“No, they have not.” They sat in silence for a few moments, nursing the drinks that had previously sat forgotten. “Yet how can we consign them to a marriage of convenience? I want Elizabeth to have a choice in whom she marries.”
“I want the same for Malcolm,” de Bourgh concurred.
Darcy knew instinctively that they had stumbled onto the solution. “We will watch. Should it last, Anne’s inheritance will be Elizabeth’s dowry.”
“Not all of it. That is overly generous and besides, it would raise too many questions. Rosings? Yes, it should stay in the de Bourgh family after what you have learned. I want to review the terms of Sir Lewis’ will again – and the previous one. Let us determine what Anne would have received as Lady Catherine’s heir had I been Sir Lewis’ heir to begin with. Then I think we can come to a fair agreement, contingent on our offspring’s fancies, of course.”
And so it was decided. Four months later, after observing the two young people’s attachment deepen and show no signs of ever abating, the marriage contract was drawn up. Rosings would devolve to Malcolm de Bourgh, as well as a portion of the other de Bourgh assets. There would still be plenty left in the Darcys’ possession for the Darcy heirs’ future, enough that the loss would not be terribly noticeable. However, Rosings Park would return to its rightful owner.
There were many conversations left for the future, many explanations yet to be made, but the two patriarchs had decided that the wrong had been corrected enough and no one else would ever know of Lady Catherine’s deception.
Pemberley, early in the morning, July 21, 1831
Everyone had gone to bed. The newlyweds were safely away to another location to start their life together in privacy. They would soon make Rosings their home.
Anne and Fitzwilliam lay next to each other in their chambers, exhausted.
“I am glad Elizabeth and Malcolm are finally married. Keeping those two in line this last year has been difficult,” Anne complained.
“It has been longer than a year.”
Anne laughed gaily. “Their union also relieves my conscience about Rosings. I was very surprised you made it Elizabeth’s dowry.”
“You did approve when I suggested it.”
“Well, it is worth considerably more than the money we had settled on her, but I think it has all turned out for the best. I find great satisfaction in knowing that the owners will once again be de Bourghs. I never reconciled myself to it being ours once I discovered my true heritage.”
“That is one of the reasons I suggested it to your cousin. Do not forget, until Elizabeth was born, Arthur was the heir. In the end, it seemed most fitting.”
Anne snuggled up to her husband, though snuggling was not her final intent.
“I cannot condone what was done to make me Anne de Bourgh, but it brought us together, and for all the regrets I have over things lost, I could never regret you.”
Four days later, despite all the obstacles Lady Catherine’s perfidy had placed in his way, the rightful heir to Rosings Park, Malcolm de Bourgh, took possession of the estate. The unwitting former usurper was the happiest to see her daughter Elizabeth take her place as its mistress.
Anne would miss Elizabeth at Pemberley, but whenever she grew melancholy over the loss of her daughter, she recalled the words she had overheard her new son-in-law say to his wife right before they left for their wedding night. Her stubborn firstborn was worried about something or other and in response, Malcolm had told her, “The only person I plan to please, dearest, loveliest Elizabeth, is you.” The look of pure joy this brought to her Elizabeth’s face was unforgettable. The words, so similar to the beginning of one chapter in Anne’s life, were the end of another. She would not have wanted it any other way.