AMFW Prologue – Chapter 4

Prologue

Alone at last! That was all Fitzwilliam Darcy could think of as he escorted his wife into the bridal chamber.

The day had begun very early. He had awoken with the dawn and could not go back to sleep. Eventually, his valet was summoned and they prepared for the wedding. There had been little question that it would take place in the home country of his bride; she would not have had it any other way. Her mother had suggested a grand wedding in Town, but Darcy was happy that he and his bride were of like mind. A wedding in the country, the wedding breakfast at the manor, and then they could leave everyone behind and retreat to the Darcy Townhouse for some peace!

There was nothing spectacular about the marriage service, although his new mother-in-law spared no expense entertaining her guests at the meal afterward. Everything was meant to proclaim that her daughter had married one of the richest men in Derbyshire and would thereafter take her proper place as Mistress of Pemberley. However, before they would go to Pemberley, they would stop in London.

Ah London! Only a half-day’s journey from the home of his mother-in-law, it was the center of culture of his nation. Too bad there were also people there. Still, Society would spare them from any necessity of entertaining. Newly wedded couples were afforded at least a few weeks as “not at home”.

But that was for the future. At present, Darcy didn’t care to see anyone but his bride – preferably unclothed.

The air in the Mistress’s chambers was heavy with the scent of roses from the two bouquets in the room. The new Mrs. Darcy had been inspecting the changes she had ordered in her new quarters – not too many, but enough to make it hers and not her predecessor’s.

Darcy, who had escorted her into the chambers only to have her abandon him at the doorway, grew impatient as he watched her move about the room. Walking was not the activity he wished to observe. He considered himself a disciplined man, able to wait until his wife would signal her readiness for intimacy. But he was unable to stay any longer, in her presence, in her room with both of them so fully clothed. He closed the door behind him and spoke, desire dripped from his voice.

“Dearest, I know we have just arrived…” Surprisingly he found himself at loss for how to continue his speech.

She smiled seductively at her husband’s open-ended request and sauntered back to stand before him. He watched in fascination – and increasing lust – as she laid her hands against his chest and then slid them up to his cravat and began to untie the intricate knot. Once this task was accomplished, she removed the article, stood on her tiptoes, and nipped at his neck.

The moment her lips touched his bare flesh, Darcy was finished being passive and pulled her firmly against his body. Soon, their clothes were strewn about on the floor and they tumbled onto the massive bed. He could not wait and neither could she. The consummation of their union was fast and torrid and satisfying and when it was over they lay panting in each other’s arms. Before long, they were asleep.

It was still light outside when Darcy awoke; his bride snuggled against his body. He loved the way her dark tresses, free from any restraint, lay in contrast against her pale, soft skin. Her hairpins were someplace in the room, most likely on the floors with their forgotten and for now unneeded articles of clothing. He had been in too much of a hurry to run his fingers through her curls earlier and the offending pins had been dispatched without any worry as to their final destination. Now her hair was a glorious and unruly mass; he would ask later if he could brush it for her.

She must have sensed a change in her husband’s breathing because soon the bride awoke and joined the bridegroom in the joyous reality of the recognition of being in the arms of a lover.

“Did you sleep well, Mrs. Darcy?”

“Uhm, rather well, Mr. Darcy. Although I am not usually one to nap in the afternoon.”

“You have had quite a day. It is not just any day when you are wedded, feted and ravished.”

“Indeed not, I must admit I was a bit disappointed.”

“Over the wedding or the breakfast?”

“Of course not those.”

Darcy was a bit indignant. “I had thought… You seemed to enjoy…”

She smiled that damned sexy smile at him again. “You know very well I did, husband. Did I not tell G*d that?” Darcy smiled at her reference to her rather vocal responses in their earlier activities.

“Then why did you say that you were disappointed?”

“I did not say I was disappointed in my ravishment. I am only disappointed that you have not yet begun to repeat those pleasures.”

“Minx!”

“Really, Fitzwilliam, what would my mother say to such language?”

“I do not give a damn about Lady Catherine. The only person I plan to please, dearest Anne, is you.”

And with that he began once again, though much slower, to do just that.

Chapter 1

Kent, 1790

Two weeks after Lady Catherine Fitzwilliam wed Sir Lewis de Bourgh, the new bride was convinced that her mother had lied to her. Because she feared her mother and did not wish to think contrary of her, Lady Catherine had given the situation a full two weeks to improve; however, nothing had changed. The only reason the she could credit as a possibility was that her mother had cruelly deceived her.

Simply put, the performance of her wifely duties was not the pleasant experience her mother had lead her to believe it would be. The first time hurt, just like mama had warned, and the only improvement she had experienced in all of the subsequent encounters with her husband was a lack of pain. That Sir Lewis certainly did not seem to find the situation lacking, based on his frequent visits to her bedchamber, did not improve her mood. Lady Catherine could only pray that she would soon fall with child. Then, she could refuse him admittance to her bed. Once an heir and a spare were produced, she could, in good conscience, permanently lock the door between the master’s and mistress’s suites and never have to put up with the discomfort again!

Unfortunately for Lady Catherine, she did not become pregnant. Instead, she suffered through the first year of her marriage with nary a missed monthly course. The second year was proving as fruitless as the first. Even Sir Lewis was becoming discouraged and his visits became fewer and farther in between. That is, until he came to the conclusion that he would need to visit some of his vast holdings – in particular those in the West Indies. Upon the realization that he would be gone from England the following spring when the weather was better for the crossing, Sir Lewis renewed his campaign to sire an heir. Lady Catherine was, unsurprisingly, quite put out. She had enjoyed the respite from her duties and was rather disappointed in their frequent resumption. She prayed all the time for a child, but it seemed no one was listening.

Well, if Providence would not help her, she was willing to give it a hand. And so she hatched a scheme that, if it worked, would solve her greatest problem. First, she enlisted the aid of a few servants placed in strategic positions in her household. They would be well paid for their work, and then sent off someplace where they could not betray her secret.

The first servant thus approached was her own lady’s maid, Maggie Stuart. Lady Catherine had little doubt that Stuart would object, but she was a little surprised at the young woman’s audacity.

“I will help you, your ladyship, in exchange for the position of your housekeeper here at Rosings.”

That earned Maggie a raised eyebrow from her mistress. Lady Catherine took a moment to observe the young woman before her. Her maid was nearly the same age, and although she was just a servant, appeared un-intimated.

“Well, well. You are shrewder than I would have guessed. I like that in a servant, Stuart, as long as you keep your place. How do I know you will not betray me to my husband?”

“Pay me well and do not ask too many questions and you have my unswerving loyalty, my lady.”

“Deceive me and I will see you ruined. Do you understand?”

Maggie squared her shoulders and dared look her employer in the eye.

“As long as you remember that such threats go both ways. I will help you and I will keep your secret and see that the others do as well. Do we have a bargain?”

A smile threatened to escape onto Lday Catherine’s face. Stuart had the nerves needed to play the gambit. “And you will enlist the aid of others?”

“Only as absolutely necessary for success. I assume they will not be in residence long?”

“Of course not! I will see to it that they end up far away from here when the time comes.”

“Then I accept.”

“Choose well; you have as much to lose as I do.”

“No, not nearly as much. Then again, I have not nearly as much to gain. Very well, I will see to it that certain items are obtained without them being traced back to you and begin to make other preparations for the time ahead. You do realize, don’t you, that the greatest difficulty will lie in finding a midwife to agree to this?”

“Money will persuade the matter.”

“As you wish, your ladyship.”

~~~//~~~

Finally, spring arrived and Sir Lewis made his preparations to sail. His wife was ecstatic, though she did her best to hide it. Three months previous she had put her plan into motion. At first, her maid’s cooperation was all that was needed in the disguise. Lady Catherine had also made an effort to eat more to put on some additional weight. She hadn’t gained much, just enough to make her clothes a tight fit. It was time to talk to her husband.

Lady Catherine waited until Sunday after church services. She found him in his study.

“Lewis, I know you are leaving in two weeks and this may not be the best time to tell you, but I think I may be carrying your heir.”

The reaction of the gentleman was as to be expected. First, he was in a state of shock, and then he became very happy. His face displayed the shock most men feel when told they will be a father. Such dismay was soon replaced by a look of relief – his seed was capable of taking root after all – and finally to happiness that he would have an heir! His cousin would be very disappointed.

“Truly?”

“It is too soon to know for certain, but I believe it to be so. My courses have stopped.”

They had not, but Lady Catherine had most conveniently become ill during the last two and stayed ill until they were over. All traces had been hidden away by her trusted maid and no one in the house was the wiser for it. The extra items Maggie had procured had done their jobs.

“That explains why you were so ill! I have heard that women who are with child can be afflicted most severely.”

“Yes, but that is all passed now.”

Suddenly the obvious occurred to the man. A palm to the forehead preceded his next speech.

“The timing of this blasted trip could not be worse! I should stay in England with you, but I just cannot. I must go and see to my plantations!”

Lady Catherine continued to play her role.

“As much as it pains me to agree, yes you should go. You must not worry about me. Think of your child. He will depend on the income from those properties once he inherits.”

“Yes, yes! You are most correct. My son must have enough money to live in the style he deserves.”

“It could be a girl.”

She had decided it would be.

“Oh, I suppose so. Then I will go to see that her dowry is fabulous enough to tempt even a Duke!”

Or a Darcy. A girl to marry her nephew Fitzwilliam and unite Pemberley and Rosings.

And so Sir Lewis left his expectant wife to secure his holdings in the Americas. He would be gone for six months, if things went according to his plans. That left plenty of time for hers.

~~~//~~~

News of Lady Catherine’s condition spread throughout the household. Orders were given to prepare the Nursery; the room had not been used in since Sir Lewis was a child. A general sense of relief pervaded the staff. At last, a child!

The weather warmed as spring turned into summer. Lady Catherine’s orders where increasingly passed on through her maid to the housekeeper, Mrs. Ward. Mrs. Ward observed the increased intimacy between her Mistress and her maid, Maggie, and reasoned it was a result of her ladyship’s condition. Suspicion of her fate never crossed her mind.

Once Maggie agreed to help Lady Catherine fake her pregnancy, she used all of her cunning and connections to see to it that it succeeded. Maggie Stuart had been born in poverty. Her parents could not really afford to feed another mouth and as soon as she was old enough, Maggie found herself looking for work. By the time she left home for good, she had only a meager education and could barely read or write. However, she was a clever girl and smart enough to learn where and when she could. And thus she advanced herself far enough in the world of servants that when Lady Catherine de Bourgh needed yet another lady’s maid, she was in the right place to fill the request. From the beginning, Lady Catherine had wished her to stay; perhaps the great lady had found a kindred spirit. But whatever the reason, Lady Catherine was pleased with the results and found Maggie’s wrong connections most advantageous to the prosecution of her scheme.

About six weeks after Sir Lewis had sailed, Maggie brought up the subject she was most concerned about.

“I think we need to find a midwife soon. Not one from here, but London,” Maggie suggested as she dutifully worked on Lady Catherine’s toilette.

“If not London, we can say that she is from there. I suppose your contacts will be able to help find a woman of discretion? Tell me, Stuart, how on earth were you ever recommended for the position of a lady’s maid? With all I have learned about your past acquaintances, I’m surprised you were considered qualified.”

“Who ever said I was?” she allowed herself to smirk. “I hope I have not displeased you.”

“Oh no, at least not yet.”

Maggie fussed with her ladyship’s hair.

“Have you given any more consideration to where you will find a child? Newborns are more difficult to acquire than a babe several months old.”

Lady Catherine frowned.

“I do not want to raise some foundling as my own child. Nor do I wish to pollute Rosings with the offspring of some whore or godforsaken peasant,” she said.

“A gentleman’s daughter?” Maggie frowned back. This could prove more difficult than expected.

“At the very least.”

“Maybe I can find news of some girl sent away from her family to bear someone’s natural child.”

“That is certainly a possibility more palatable. A gentlewoman by birth would be best. Whomever it is, I do not want to know any of the details other than assurances that the child is from a respectable family. And it must be a girl. Do I make myself understood?”

“Yes, your ladyship.” Maggie answered as she finished Lady Catherine’s hair. “Rest assured the midwife will be given explicit instruction on your requirements.”

Lady Catherine looked in the mirror, lifted her chin, and turned her head from side to side. Not displeased with the results, she dismissed her maid to go greet her guests.

~~~//~~~

The following week Lady Catherine left Rosings for Town. She was not fond of staying in the city at that time, but she needed to be there to allow Maggie to make arrangements for a sympathetic midwife. Once one was secured, the search began for potential expectant mothers who would deliver within the time needed.

Maggie and the midwife agreed that a child of a gentleman’s daughter in disgrace was not a possibility. Those women were sent as far from London as possible. The delivery to Rosings needed to be made within the day of gaining the newborn or else the risk that the child could die was too high. A wet-nurse from town would be found and the babe brought to her. They would then secretly be taken to Kent and smuggled into Rosings with the minimum of servants in the know. This meant a baby must be found someplace fairly close to London, but in the opposite direction of Kent. A discrete search began.

Lady Catherine was thankful that Sir Lewis did not monitor her pin money too closely. She was amazed by how much money she was spending. It meant less new clothing whilst her husband was away to offset some of the cost of her “descentant by duplicity” plot, but since she had practically gone into a seclusion to hide her true state, she did not begrudge the sacrifice – too much.

In the area of her clothing, Maggie was of great help, as well. She had a friend who was a seamstress and who owed the maid a great favor. Together, they devised a strap-on contraption that could simulate for the would-be mother a state of expectancy. With this invention in place, Maggie took the new measurements for Lady Catherine and used them to order the few altered gowns necessary for the charade of her confinement. All was ready.

Come September, when the chosen child had been born – and turned out to be a girl – Lady Catherine would herself go into labor and “deliver” the new heiress of Rosings Park.

~~~//~~~

Mr. Trent, a man of questionable repute, was hired to collect the child. The midwife had located 5 potential expectant mothers. When word came that a child was safely delivered, he would be sent to see if he could pinch the babe. The first two children born were boys. The next was a girl, but she did not survive the day. Another girl was both born and healthy, but there was no opportunity for Mr. Trent to get near the child. After a week, he gave up. He was desperate; only one child remained unborn. At last the midwife received a report of a little girl born just the day before. Mother and daughter were both in good health. Mr. Trent was dispatched to see what could be done Hertfordshire. He was in luck. When the opportunity came, he stole the child away and headed straight for London. He did not know the family destined for the little girl, but with the amount of money he was paid, Mr. Trent was certain that the child would be raised in a home much grander than the small estate to which she was born.

The midwife sent word that the child was in her possession and that she would be coming to Rosings that night. Lady Catherine went into labor as planned.

“You must give a convincing scream of pain, your ladyship.”

“Who do you think I am, some actress? You do it Stuart.”

“But you are the one who is supposed to be in labor!”

“I will not and that is final!”

Lady Catherine would not be moved.

There was nothing for it. Maggie let out what she hoped was a convincing cry of pain.

“Next time, put a bit more grunt in it, Miss,” the midwife coached.

Maggie just hoped that the orders that no one disturb them were followed. If she was going to have to bellow the next few hours until the baby arrived with the wet-nurse, there would be no voice left to keep the any disobedient servant out.

At last, the hired coach bearing the new Miss de Bourgh and her wet-nurse arrived at the hovel of one of Lady Catherine’s man-servants. The chambermaid that Maggie had brought into the plot was waiting there with her beau and took the bundled up child and raced to the great house and to her mistress’s chambers while the wet-nurse remained behind. After an hour’s wait, she too was brought to Rosing by the ever-vigilant, and somewhat out of breathe, female servant.

Once the babe was safely in her new mother’s chambers the “labor” came to a climax and the child was brought into her new world. The midwife pinched the sleeping girl to make sure she cried and the deed was done. Lady Catherine was made to look as if she had just spent the day giving birth, complete with a thoroughly rumpled and damp gown, and simulated perspiration; even her hair was wet. Once the new mother was ready, the other servants were finally allowed into the room to spy their mistress laying in her bed with a newborn swaddled by her side. The clever midwife had brought along enough counterfeit evidence to suggest that a birth, in all is bloody mess, had indeed taken place.

Lady Catherine would, the next morning, write to her husband that he was a father and that the little girl was awaiting his return to England. The new mother also wrote to her sister, Lady Anne Darcy, and informed her of the safe delivery and asked if that lady would consent to be the child’s godmother. Anne de Bourgh would be christened when her father was back in Kent.

Chapter 2

In the weeks that followed the arrival of Anne de Bourgh to her new family, Lady Catherine spent as much time as she could with the newborn. It could be supposed that a spark of maternal affection was the catalyst for this behavior, but that would put too noble a light on the lady’s actions. It simply would not do for her husband to come home and see the child screaming whenever her mother held her. It would also be unfair to fail to note that Lady Catherine’s attitude towards her daughter did soften. She no longer thought it odious to hold and comfort a child. Amazingly, she was quite pleased when the little one would settle and fall back asleep in her arms. All said, the situation was surprisingly… tolerable!

Lady Catherine’s parents were the first to arrive. Lady Catherine had still not forgiven her mother for the advice she had given before the wedding. In some strange twisting of blame, Lady Catherine laid at her mother’s feet all the fault for forcing her to go to such extreme measures to produce a child. Therefore, she derived an inordinate sense of pleasure when her mother pointed out certain Fitzwilliam family characteristics in the face of little Anne. None of the rest of the family was so effusive in their praise of Miss de Bourgh as her mother, but her sister Lady Anne Darcy’s comments on the beauty of the child were the one Lady Catherine coveted the most. She had plans for her sister’s son – and his estate.

Sir Lewis arrived back at Rosings unaware of what had occurred. The letter his wife had written was passing in one direction across the Atlantic while he was sailing in the other. He was anxious for news of his wife and child and so, once his ship had docked in England, he traveled with all haste to his home.

He found his family in the refurbished nursery, his wife leaning over the bassinet.

“Is it a boy or a girl?”

Lady Catherine jumped at the familiar voice of her husband.

“We have a daughter, Lewis. Come and meet Anne.”

She retrieved the sleeping child and gave her to her father and held her breath. This was the moment. Everything depended on his reaction.

For Sir Lewis, there was no doubt. One look into the bright eyes of the child in his arms was all he needed to fall hopelessly in love with the girl. Here was his daughter. The muscles in his face relaxed and a gentle smile pulled at the corners of his mouth.

“Hello my precious Anne. I am your Papa, just come home from a long journey.”

The tenderness in his voice surprised Lady Catherine. She had never heard such a thing from him before. Theirs was a made-match, one to combine her connections as the daughter of an Earl with his wealth and knighthood. There was a substantial gulf in age; he was nearly twenty years her senior. But with her relatively modest dowry of fifteen thousand pounds, she had reached for the most advantage match she could get. So far, with the obvious exception of the activities undertaken in their bedroom, she was satisfied. He was rich enough to support her as she wished and he was a kind man. She may have wished he were more dashing and handsome, but really, she had made her choice and would do her best not to regret it.

Now, with the prospect of rearing a daughter as she saw fit, Lady Catherine was at last delighted with her situation. The inability to conceive a child had given her the opportunity to pick a girl, a girl who would someday inherit Rosings. Lady Catherine no longer had to fear being sent away from her home when her husband died and he left his estate to a nephew. Now, he would leave it all to Anne. If Lady Catherine had any thing to say about it, Anne would be the only heir.

Fortunately for her, while Lady Catherine was exulting in her success, Sir Lewis was drowning in his daughter’s eyes. Nothing was to be spared to bring about her happiness. He would send instructions to his attorney in the morning; Anne was to be formalized as his new heir. He sincerely hoped that one day she would have brothers and sisters reap the benefits of the trip he had just made. He hoped Catherine would agree to more children. He would love his daughter all the days of his life. Being a father was glorious!

~~~//~~~

Unfortunately, Sir Lewis did not live long enough to see his daughter learn to walk. An influenza epidemic swept through Kent and Sir Lewis, weakened by some tropical disease he had picked up the previous year, succumbed to death. Just a year old, Anne de Bourgh inherited all of her father’s assets. Her mother and her uncle Darcy were appointed as her guardians, with her uncle as trustee of the estate.

In the years that followed, Anne grew from a precocious toddler into and even more precocious child. Lady Catherine paid minimal attention to her, instead delegating the task to the paid help. As long as her daughter was able to show the proper respect to her mother, Lady Catherine was content to leave child rearing to the nursery maids.

Anne loved those who provided her care, and strived to please them. In turn, the adults in her life found her to be a bright child with a strong will. When Miss de Bourgh set her mind on something, heaven help the person who had to tell her “no.”

During this time Maggie Stuart, or Mrs. Stuart as she was now known, became Anne’s champion of sorts. Maggie developed a great fondness for the child and became devoted to her. Maybe it was the fact that Maggie knew Anne had been born into a different family and that she felt guilty for depriving those unknown souls of such a lovely child that moved her. Perhaps it was a distrust of her mistress. Whatever the reason, Maggie shielded Anne from her mother as much as she could. Lady Catherine rarely heard of the harmless pranks Anne devised, nor saw the torn and muddied skirts the girl frequently returned to the house in after an adventure in the park. It was not until Anne turned twelve that the trouble between mother and daughter really began.

~~~//~~~

Anne’s twelfth birthday proved to be a watershed event in her life. Up to that point, she had been allowed to grow up with a minimal amount of interference from Lady Catherine. A governess had been selected when she was old enough to begin formal her formal education and Lady Catherine was content as long as Anne made the progress that it was assumed she should make. Various masters were consulted as needed and Anne began to learn to play the pianoforte at a young age. She drew very well and was fluent in French and to a lesser extent, German.

To celebrate, and to more importantly, display this paragon of youthful accomplishments, Lady Catherine had arranged a celebration in honor of Anne’s birthday. All of her Darcy and Fitzwilliam cousins, as well as a few of her more distant de Bourgh relatives, were in attendance.

In accordance with her mother’s lectures of the entire week previous, Anne had done her best to display “proper” deportment. Lady Catherine was adamant and Anne was indigant; her mother had never taken her to task like that before. Her mother never was bothered with her that much before, why start now? Miss Anne de Bourgh, heiress of Rosings and other extensive properties, was not some insignificant little girl. She was nearly a woman and her mother’s implication that she did not fully comprehend what was demanded of her was insulting! She was the one with a great fortune, not her mother, and if that woman thought she was in some way deficient, she had few things to learn about her daughter! Anne would show her mother she was ready to take her place in society just as soon as she was old enough. Filled with such righteous indignation, Anne had gone searching for someone other than her younger cousin Georgiana to display her poise and sophistication.

She heard the somewhat familiar voices of her three eldest male cousins in a room down the hall. Before she entered to greet them with the most proper of curtseys, she stopped to listen to their conversation. Eavesdropping was one of her weaknesses.

“Darcy, have you met your future bride yet today?” she heard her eldest cousin, Martin Fitzwilliam, the Viscount Newman, say.

“I am not engaged to Cousin Anne, as you well know. She is just a child.”

“Stop teasing Darcy; you are just jealous that Aunt Catherine didn’t pick you to fixate upon, Martin.” Andrew Fitzwilliam, the younger brother of Martin, replied. He was Anne’s favorite cousin.

Anne heard the men snort. She had nearly snorted as well. Her mother expected her to marry her cousin Darcy?

“That’s because Aunt Catherine knows Darcy is worth more than me. I have the title, but he has the superior estate.”

“Do not be so modest; your father has done much to revive Perryton since he inherited it from our Grandfather.” Darcy said in sympathy.

“If our grandfather had not been such a wastrel it would never have been necessary. I think Father’s greatest motivation was to be able to offer larger dowries for my sisters than he was able to give to his sisters.”

“That will never be a problem for Anne. She’ll eclipse them all. I would think that would be enough incentive for you to make the match, Darcy,” Martin Fitzwilliam said in earnest – Anne could tell by the tone of his voice that he had said it in earnest.

Darcy took his time answering and Anne stewed in the background. Insufferable man!

“I admit that the thought of such match should not be dismissed without a great deal of thought. It would consolidate two fine estates and make us a very wealthy couple. But as I said, Anne is just a child. I have no idea what kind of a woman she will mature into. You have to admit she is not a pretty as she was when she was younger. And marrying Anne would mean that Lady Catherine would become my mother as well.”

Somehow Anne could feel the men shudder. Not that she blamed them.

“I do not wish to marry some vapid, insipid creature. I would wish for a wife who is lively, yet submissive. And let us not forget that, while I am not yet twenty, she I but twelve! Gracious, it will be at five years before she is even out. Much can happen in the intervening time.”

“You would be a fool to dismiss it out of hand.” Martin countered.

Yes he would! I am more than an acceptable match for him! My father had a title, his does not! I own an estate as great his. My mother… perhaps he has a point there. But how dare he think so poorly of me. Not as pretty as I used to be. Hah! A child? I will show him! Someday he will regret his disregard when I make an even more splendid match. Wait! Who said I had to get married? I do not even want to get married. I want to continue here at Rosings as Mistress of this place, beholden to no man!

Anne was so engrossed in her ruminations that she missed her Cousin Darcy’s response.

“I am not dismissing Anne, only giving her time to grow into womanhood. When she is older and ready to think about such things, and if I am not yet married, we will see. Truly, I have no idea if we would get on together, but for my mother’s sake I would be willing to explore the possibility.”

“Shall we go and find the rest of our party?” Andrew asked.

The sound of men getting out of their seats brought Anne out of her reverie. While the men took their time in leaving the room, Anne hurried to escape. In fact, she ran upstairs and hurried her way right into a very surprised Aunt Anne Darcy.

“Slow down, child.” Lady Anne saw the stricken look on her goddaughter’s face. “Has something upset you?”

Not wishing to make a scene in front of the footman, or anyone else for that matter, Anne grabbed her aunt’s hand and pulled her into a private sitting room. After she closed the door she wrapped her arms around her aunt and started to cry. Aunt Anne felt a little softer around the middle but Anne did not seem to notice.

“Shhhhhh, it is your birthday! Nothing can be that awful.”

“Oh yes is can!” came the sobbing reply.

“Anne, darling,” her aunt placed a finger under the distressed girls chin and forced her to look up at her. “Tell me what is wrong. I cannot help you fix what you do not tell me.”

“Is… Is it true that my mother wants me to marry Fitzwilliam?”

“Where did you hear that?”

“Someone was just mentioning the fact.”

“You were listening to someone’s conversation? Anne, you know better than that.”

“Well, (sniff) I did not mean to, it just happened. I do NOT want to marry my cousin.”

Anne suddenly remembered who her cousin’s mother was. Her hand covered her mouth in horror.

“Oh, I am so sorry. He is your son, and a fine man. I…”

Lady Anne was amused.

“I know you meant no disrespect,” she said. “I think you could do a lot worse than marrying Fitzwilliam.”

“It is not just Cousin Fitzwilliam. I do not want to marry any man! I do not need to marry any man. I am perfectly content to live life on my own. I may not be pretty like you, but I am intelligent enough to run Rosings someday all on my own.”

Lady Anne was starting to have some suspicions about what Anne had overheard.

“Not pretty? Anne, you are a very pretty young lady and soon you will be a beautiful woman.”

“Do you think so?”

“Of course, dearest. You are in that wonderful and awful stage of life where you are no longer a girl and not yet a woman. I promise, this will soon pass and you will look back on this time and laugh.”

“But will I have to marry my cousin?”

“Only if you want to. Yes, your mother has long made it known that it is her wish, and I too would love to have you for a daughter, but no one will force you into something you do not wish, least of all my son.”

“Oh Aunt Anne, thank you! I only hope that my cousin’s heart will not be crushed when I tell him I do not wish to marry him, or anyone else.”

The lady gave the girl a good squeeze before releasing her from her grasp. She looked down at the girl in front of her and took out her handkerchief to dry the last of her tears. With a twinkle in her eye she told Anne, “I hope you are gentle with him then. Come, let us go to my room so you can wash your face and be presentable for company.”

As they walked down the hall to Lady Anne’s rooms she imparted one last bit of advice: “Never say never, Anne. I said never once.”

~~~//~~~

That night, when Anne retired to her room, her mother came in to speak to her.

“You will be moving out of the nursery and into your own rooms very soon. I will order the suite at the end of the east wing to be made ready. It is my main birthday gift to you. The decorators will be here the day after tomorrow to begin. In addition, from now on you will take all of your meals with me. It is time I begin your final education. Well, what do you say, child?”

“Thank you, Mama,” was Anne’s unenthusiastic response. Her spirits were still subdued due to learning of her mother’s plans for her future.

“You sound ungrateful!”

“No, you misunderstand me. I am excited to be moving into my own rooms. I am only a little sad to be leaving these rooms.”

Lady Catherine seemed mollified by her answer.

“It is time you begin to grow up. You are no longer a child. All too soon it will be time for you to come out and be presented in court. I have much to do to see you are ready to assume your position in society.”

“Does that position include becoming a wife to Cousin Darcy?”

Lady Catherine peered intently at her daughter.

“Why do you ask?”

“It was only some conversation I overheard about the expectation that you have that we will be married.”

“I see.”

Lady Catherine pursed her lips.

“It would be a fine match for you. I have long dreamed it would take place,” she owned at last.

“What if I do not wish to marry Cousin Darcy, nor him me?”

“Nonsense! When the time comes, you will both do your duty.”

“But…”

Lady Catherine glared at Anne before she could finish.

“While you have done well acquiring those accomplishments necessary to all women of good breeding, I see you have not been taught the importance of duty. Very well, I know what course to take with your education now. We will speak of this more later. For now, think on what I have told you and be prepared to learn what you must learn. Good night, Anne.”

A few minutes after lady Catherine left, Maggie Stuart crept into Anne’s room. As expected, she heard sniffles.

“Miss Anne?”

“Mrs Stuart?”

Anne sat up and wiped her tears away. The housekeeper sat on the edge on the bed and smoothed a curl away from her young mistress’s forehead.

“There now. No one should cry on her birthday! Did you not like your presents?”

“They were lovely. No, the problem is Mama.”

“Has her ladyship said something to upset you?”

“Did you know she wants me to marry my cousin?”

“I have heard her mention it before.”

“But I do not want to marry anyone!”

“Of course not, you are only just turned twelve.”

“Not now, silly, ever!”

“Well… ever is a long time, Miss Anne. I think you should stop worrying about it for now and enjoy becoming a young lady. Soon enough you will have beaus of every kind at your feet. You may feel a bit differently, then.”

“I will not!”

“As you say, Miss Anne.”

“My mother told me I will be moving to my own apartments very soon.”

“Your mother spoke to me about it a few weeks ago.”

“Do you suppose she will allow me any say on how they are decorated?”

“Let us strike a bargain. You promise me not to worry too much about who and when you marry and I will promise to use all of my influence to see to it that your tastes are taken into consideration.”

“Mama will just have her way.”

“Not if I can help it. I am very resourceful, you know.”

“Yes I do know, Mrs. Stuart.”

“Then we have an agreement.”

Anne beamed.

“Certainly!”

“Good, now it is time for you to get your beauty sleep. Goodnight, Miss Anne.”

“Goodnight.”

Maggie was just getting ready to leave when Anne stopped her.

“Mrs. Stuart, why did you never marry?”

“I am afraid I have been too busy seeing after you and this household to have time to marry.”

“But would you if you ever had the time?”

“I suppose that would depend on if I ever met the right man. I have a pretty good life here. It would take a man of some means to provide me with something as satisfactory. And surely such a man as that would never stoop to marry a servant, even a housekeeper of such a grand house. That is not something that will ever hinder you, Miss Anne.”

“I am sorry, I never stopped to think. You are happy here?”

“Yes, I am. I will not leave you. I promise.”

Anne did not respond for several moments.

“I will not fail you, Mrs Stuart.”

“Goodnight, Miss.”

“Goodnight.”

Chapter 3

The next five years saw many changes in Anne de Bourgh’s life. She grew from the awkwardness of a girl into the grace of a young woman. It was not an easy transformation. Like any maturing female, she had her share of moodiness and dismay as her body lost the angularity of a child and rounded into the more curvaceous form of an adult.

Handling traumas such as the onset of her courses was left to the wise counsel of Anne’s governess and the faithful housekeeper. Her mother had not thought to warn her of what was to begin and when she saw blood on her under things and petticoats, Anne panicked, certain she was dying. A fair amount of tears later, Mrs. Stuart had managed to calm the hysterical girl down and then told young Anne that she would survive, and that from now until the day she became with child that the same plague would visit her each month, as it did all women. Anne was embarrassed by her lack of knowledge and wondered if and when her mother had ever planned to speak of such things to her.

By the time Anne was fourteen, she was dining with her mother whether in company or alone. These meals were not easy for Anne. Much to her chagrin, it was made perfectly clear that until she was older, she was to be seen and not heard when other adults were present. If she had been a quiet and reserved young lady, such restraint would have been as natural as breathing. However, Anne was not such a shy creature. Her personality was lively and outgoing. Many times, she was forced to literally bite her tongue to refrain from commenting on some absurd utterance of her mother or her mother’s guests, or to feign a cough in order to suppress a giggle. After such evenings, Anne regaled her maid with stories of the oddities she witnessed amongst those who were supposedly of greater maturity than she.

On the subject of men and marriage, well, suffice it to say that as Anne grew into a woman, the concept of the male/female attraction began to claim it charm on her. The first male to garner her attention was a footman. Anne began to take notice of the handsome young man who often helped her with her chair at mealtimes. Over the course of several weeks she would sneak looks at Thomas (she had learned his name) when she thought no one was looking. This could not continue forever and when, one evening in the course of dining Lady Catherine caught her daughter eyeing the servant, and then saw her lower her eyes and blush, the grand dame’s gaze hardened. All the servants were immediately dismissed.

“Servants are servants, Anne. They do not deserve your notice.”

“Pardon?”

“Silence! Do not prevaricate. I saw where your gaze lay. I witnessed also your ensuing blush. Your duty rests elsewhere, with gentlemen.”

“Such as my cousin?”

“Yes. Fitzwilliam Darcy is exactly he to whom I refer. The sooner you accept your future, the better. You will not waste your time mooning after your social inferiors! The man is a servant. He was born a servant and he will die a servant. He understands that better than you, I dare say.”

“I know exactly what he is. I only look to admire.”

“And admiration can lead you into foolishness. Enough. Do not let me catch you in such an indecorous display again.”

“Yes, Mama.”

“Your dinner is over. Retire to your room immediately.”

Sometime latter that evening, Mrs. Stuart brought Anne a tray through the servants’ entrance to her rooms.

“I thought you might still be hungry. Lady Catherine ended dinner rather abruptly.”

“She thought I had lost my appetite.”

“Had you?”

Anne did not reply.

“Lady Catherine spoke to me this evening.”

Maggie’s voice carried a hint of disapproval.

“I swear I did nothing wrong. Please do not be angry with me.”

The housekeeper sighed.

“Miss Anne, I have to dismiss Thomas. I have no other choice; your mother will not be moved on the subject. At least I was able to convince her to provide a reference for the poor lad. I’ll send inquiries to some of the nearby estates and see if I can find him a place.”

Anne gasped.

“I had no intentions of harming anyone… I feel horrible!”

“I believe you, but you must learn from this. I lost a good servant today because of your lack of self-control. Think of what could have happened if you had allowed your fascination of him to lead you to initiate contact with the man. For Heaven’s sake, learn your place and leave unsuspecting servants alone!”

By this point Anne was sobbing softly into her handkerchief. Maggie put her hand on the young girl’s shoulder.

“Forgive me for upsetting you. But you must understand the error of your ways and not repeat your mistake.”

“I promise; I will never do it again.”

“Good, now have some food. Your mother would not be pleased if she knew I have brought it for you. I’ll stay until you have eaten your fill and then remove the evidence.”

“Why did Mama have to send Thomas away? He is innocent. It seems so cruel.”

“Lady Catherine felt there was no choice and frankly I agree with her.”

“You do?”

Anne was surprised.

“After what she saw tonight, she could not have him remain in her household, yet she did agree with my scheme to find him a new position. Miss Anne, I know I should not speak ill of your mother, but I know you do not always – shall we say – see eye to eye with Lady Catherine. She seems harsh and unbending in her ways. Please consider that she has been her own master for many years and she has always done what she believed was right for you from the very beginning. You owe everything to your mother; never, ever forget that.”

“I know, and I owe just as great a debt to my father.”

“Sir Lewis loved you very much.”

“Tell me what you remember of him”

And so the servant told the young miss about the father she never knew. Anne had heard it all before, but somehow the remembrances of a missing parent helped to sooth her resentment over her living one.

There would be other males that Anne would notice. A stable hand caught her attention for a few weeks, but Anne had learned her lesson from Thomas the footman well. She never let any signs of her favor escape until the day she spied him kissing a scullery maid, a discovery that cured her of that inclination. Later, she thought well of a neighbor’s son. He was her partner for dancing instructions. And although she would never admit it to herself, the most handsome man of her limited acquaintance was her Cousin Darcy. It was too mortifying to agree that the man her mother would have her marry was, in form and face, very appealing. No, it would not do at all!

~~~//~~~

Not all of the changes in Anne’s life were confined to her maturing into womanhood. The most difficult, and the one Anne still had difficulty accepting, happened the February following her twelfth birthday. What she was too naïve to understand at the time was that the change in her godmother’s body was the result of a very unexpected pregnancy. The result was tragic. Lady Anne Darcy died in childbirth: the infant, a girl did not survive. In one fateful day, Anne de Bourgh lost a cousin, an aunt, a godmother and a confidant.

Little Georgiana Darcy, just eight years old was devastated. Aunt Catherine insisted her brother-in-law bring his daughter to visit Rosings at least once a year at Easter and then that Anne return the visit to Pemberley in the autumn. Although there was a four-year age difference, Anne and Georgiana developed a bond of affection that seemed stronger than that of being merely cousins. It would serve to help Georgiana when, in the winter of 1806, her father died just as unexpectedly as her mother had done. This proved to be of greater significance to Anne than she would realize at the time. Her uncle had changed his will, and his arrangements as Anne’s guardian and Rosing’s trustee. Upon his death, her Uncle Fitzwilliam became her co-guardian in jointure with her mother and her cousin Darcy was named trustee of Rosings and other de Bourgh properties, a duty he held alongside his Uncle Harold Fitzwilliam, seventh Earl of Perryton.

~~~//~~~

When the news of George Darcy’s death reached Rosings, Lady Catherine immediately took Anne with her to Pemberley.

“In such times, a woman’s presence is needed, Anne. Men have no idea what to do,” Lady Catherine pontificated in the carriage as they made their way north. “Your cousin Darcy is too young to bear such a responsibility without guidance. If this had happened in another two or three years, you would have been by his side as his wife and seen to such things yourself.”

“Mother! I will not marry my cousin.”

“Hmmph! I will not argue with you now, but when the time comes, I fully expect you to bend to your duty.”

Anne crossed her arms over her chest and, with a scowl on her face, stared out the window. She had expected this conversation to come up during the journey. How she wished it had not! Her concern was her younger cousin, not her elder. Georgiana had been so distraught after Aunt Anne had died. Anne was worried about how she would react to the loss of her father.

“Poor Georgiana,” Anne finally said, breaking the silence between mother and daughter.

“She will, of course, come to live with us at Rosings.”

“Has this been decided?”

“There is nothing to decide. She needs a parent. My nephew certainly cannot raise her. I will tell him of my offer after we arrive.”

Anne rather doubted that her cousin would relinquish Georgiana to the care of her mother. She sighed. It would be an interesting fortnight.

At last they arrived and it became clear even before they left their conveyance that Pemberley was in mourning. Black was draped everywhere one would expect, the servants were even more subdued than normal, and there was an unnatural silence. It was as if the estate itself knew that its caretaker had passed away.

Fitzwilliam Darcy was there to greet them, his sister at his side. To Anne, Georgiana looked as lost a soul as anyone she had ever seen. Her brother… Anne hardly noticed.

The rest of the family had already gathered. The funeral had already taken place. There was no need to wait for Lady Catherine’s arrival since, as a woman, she would not have been allowed to attend. Anne paid her respects to her relative before escaping to search out Georgiana. The girl had disappeared after they had entered the house, but Anne had a pretty good idea of where to seek the eleven year-old girl.

She found her in the old tree house. It had been built by Uncle Darcy for Fitzwilliam when he was a boy. Georgiana had discovered it when she was little and loved to bring Anne when the de Bourghs visited. Anne was rather fond of the hideaway herself, and though it may not have been her mother’s idea of a proper place for a girl, would agree to Georgiana’s schemes to play there.

Anne climbed up the old ladder to the tree house. Georgiana sat on the floor with her knees drawn up to her chin and her arms clasped around her legs. Her back was to the steps. In front of them both was a magnificent view of the house.

“Hello, Cousin,” Georgiana said. “I watched you coming from the house.”

“I knew I would find you here.”

“No one bothers me here. Brother knows I where I am in any case.”

Anne did not know what to say to the girl. She had lost her father too, but as an infant. It was not the same. So instead of talking, she sat next to Georgiana and put her arm around her shoulders. Georgiana did not speak, but soon Anne noticed the tears begin to stream down her cousin’s face. With her free hand, Anne retrieved her handkerchief and handed it to the girl. Georgiana sniffed and dabbed at here cheeks and eyes.

They must have sat like that for nearly a half hour. Georgiana calmed and leaned her head against Anne’s shoulder.

“Thank you, Anne.”

The words were but a whisper.

“You are welcome.”

“Sometimes I miss him so much I can hardly breathe. And then I think about Mother. How can they both be gone?”

Anne blinked back a tear.

“I do not know, but I miss them too.”

The two girls remained high in the trees in the place Georgiana’s father had built. They talked about the events of the past week and the changes that were sure to come. Anne was well aware of the gap in their ages, but she also knew they shared a burgeoning bond between them. When Georgiana was ready, they returned to the house walking arm in arm. They had loved and lost two very special people. The hurt from the loss would take years to go away, but for now they would face the family party together.

~~~//~~~

In the years since Anne’s twelfth birthday, her Fitzwilliam cousins were not idle. Martin Fitzwilliam had done what needed to be done and married new money. It was a good match for both families. The lady’s dowry would help reverse the financial losses from his wastrel grandfather and his title would buy the respectability her family craved. Thus far their union was blessed with both a boy and a continued amicable relationship between the child’s parents.

Martin’s younger brother had finished his studies at Cambridge and accepted the captain’s commission Lord Perryton had purchased in the army. He had since seen action in the peninsular campaigns and had risen to the rank of major; therefore, it was somewhat of a surprise when he was appointed co-guardian of his young cousin Georgiana Darcy, a position he shared with her older brother.

Anne’s education was conducted within the household. This had been a spot of contentions between her mother and her first co-guardian. Her uncle Darcy was of the opinion that Anne should have been sent to the finest of the seminaries established for the daughters of the wealthy. Lady Catherine was opposed to allowing Anne to live away from her. On this point she would not budge and, eventually, Mr. Darcy relented. After Mr. Darcy died and Anne’s other uncle took his place, Anne hoped she would be allowed to leave for school. Alas, the Earl was not nearly as adamant about his preference to send Anne away for her final education. Thus, she remained under her mother’s rule. Anne’s dream of some independence, and some female friends, died with the Earl’s capitulation. Furthermore, in the effort to control her headstrong daughter, Lady Catherine employed a companion for Anne once she was deemed too old (and too advance in her studies) for a governess. Mrs. Jenkensen was a colorless individual, in Anne’s opinion. And while Anne did not question her companion’s desire for her well being, she knew her mother had chosen a woman whose first loyalty was to her employer and not her charge.

~~~//~~~

One glorious summer remained before Anne de Brough turned seventeen. Lady Catherine decided that a return to her childhood home was in order. Perryton, the seat of the Earldom of Perryton was situated in northern Lincolnshire. In other words, the estate sat in the middle of the breadbasket of England.

Under the late Earl’s watch, the land had not produced as it should. The estate had suffered. This mismanagement, along with a weakness for gaming and horses, had severely depleted the coffers of the earldom.

The current Earl was ashamed at the meager dowries of his sisters upon their marriages. A daughter of an earl should be worth more than a mere fifteen thousand pounds! This deficiency in dowry was the main reason for which both Lady Anne and then Lady Catherine had accepted offers from suitors of untitled family lines. True, Sir Lewis was, by the time of their courtship, a knight, but his offspring would be born as title-less as he had been.

Much like the rest of Perryton, the house showed some signs of neglect. While the lawns and gardens were well manicured and the grounds were neat and tidy, there were yet some repairs that had been put off due to lack of funds. The servant’s entrance was in in want of attention and more than one location beside the stables desperately needed a new coat of paint. Lady Catherine had been steeling herself against childhood memories of dilapidated boards and muddy puddles. She was pleased to see that such things were gone and that the house in general looked better with each visit. When her brother had become earl, the whole family had breathed a sigh of relief. They would miss the last earl, but they would not miss the steadily declining wealth. It had taken Harold Fitzwilliam time, but Perryton was recovering. The influx of cash from Martin’s bride’s dowry would mean that the next generation would not suffer the same uncertainty over the financial solvency that Harold Fitzwilliam and his siblings and offspring had.

Of these Fitzwilliam family misfortunes, Anne was not aware. Her mother was not as fanatical about visiting Perryton as she was of their yearly pilgrimage to Pemberley. Anne was not one to compare the three estates as a child. Her eyes did not notice the disparity in wealth between her Fitzwilliam cousins and herself and the Darcys. Each place, and family, held its own charms. This visit would change that, for there was now in residence at the family seat the next countess of Perryton – the Viscountess Newman – the former Miss Matilda Harris. Her father was a very, very rich merchant who aspired to match his only daughter with peer. Her dowry was large enough to tempt Martin Fitzwilliam into matrimony. To be fair, Martin’s motives were not entirely mercenary; he found Miss Harris to be a highly accomplished young woman. She was not what one might call a “real beauty”, but to not grant her the description of “pretty” would be a disservice.

Unfortunately, the future countess did not always get along with the current one and when both were living under the same roof, tempers were bound to flare.

Thus was the situation when a carriage bearing the de Bourgh crest arrived at the manor. It did not take Lady Catherine long to see that mother and daughter-in-law would rather be anywhere but in the same drawing room together welcoming the newest guests. Anne was as perceptive as her mother and struggled to school her features least she give her diversion of the matter away. Lady Catherine noticed her daughter’s struggles. It was at times like these that she forgot that Anne was not her own flesh and blood, so similar was their ability to find their amusement in the folly of others. What set the pair apart were their opposite manners of expression. Lady Catherine tended to be patronizing, while Anne was more forgiving of the foibles of her fellow man and favored the ironic approach. She was always respectful of her Aunt Alice Fitzwilliam, but in her playful moments, Anne could also be mischievous.

This was one of those times.

“It is so good to be back at Perryton, Aunt Alice. And with most of the family in residence! So many people these days take family for granted. With the wars on the continent, one can never know when families of our station – with sons serving the crown – will be able to meet on their estates. Do you not agree, Lady Newman?”

“We are all pleased Major Fitzwilliam will be joining the party, Miss de Bourgh.”

Alice Fitzwilliam pursed her lips.

“I for one will be glad to see the whole family here.” She stared at her daughter-in-law and then added, “Andrew has his leave and Darcy has promised to bring Georgiana. Speaking of Georgina, she is growing up quickly. I remember the year you turned twelve, Anne, and the family gathered at Rosings to commemorate the event. That was before you met Martin, Matilda.”

Anne noticed her cousin’s wife flinch. As far as Anne knew, Matilda Fitzwilliam never called any of her family by their Christian names and she expected everyone else to call her Lady Newman.

“Oh, that must have been three years ago? I first made the Viscount’s acquaintance shortly after then.”

“Nearly five years ago. Anne is will be seventeen in September,” Lady Catherine clarified, clearly displeased at the slight of her daughter.

“I am sure Matilda meant no disrespect, Catherine,” her sister assured her, “she is not used to seeing beautiful young women who look younger, instead of older than their age. You certainly aged well and I do believe Anne is following in your footsteps.”

With a wicked gleam in her eye, the countess turned to her son’s wife and continued thusly –

“You see, my dear, if your children take after the Fitzwilliam line, they too have hopes to retain their looks like their aunts. Lady Anne Darcy, God rest her soul, was another Fitzwilliam who looked years younger than her actual age.”

Left unsaid was the fact that Lady Newman did not share the great fortune of aging well. She was three and twenty but if Anne did not know that, she would have guessed the woman closer to her thirtieth birthday than her twentieth.

Satisfied with her daughter’s mischief, Lady Catherine declared that she was tired and asked to be taken to their rooms. Equally pleased with her niece’s bit of fun, Lady Perryton quickly agreed.

On the way to their quarters, Lady Catherine admonished her daughter. “It is a little early in the visit to be baiting your cousin.”

“Matilda is an insufferable social climber. As if she were born the daughter of a gentleman, much less a titled one!”

“Nevertheless, you must display to her your superior breeding. And do think of dear Martin. He had to marry her, or someone like her, for her wealth. At least I hear the boy is partial to her. Poor Alice. Promise me you will behave for the rest of the day?”

“Yes, mother.”

There were times when Anne and Lady Catherine got along famously. Today happened to be one of them and Anne decided that for once she would acquiesce to her mother’s request. She knew they would be back to their accustomed battles soon enough. Mama was home again; today would be hers to enjoy without any disagreements with her independent-minded daughter.

Chapter 4

About a week after the arrival of the de Bourgh ladies to Perryton, Georgiana Darcy arrived in the company of her elder brother. Following Lady Catherine’s demand that Georgiana come to live with her at Rosings after her father’s demise – and Darcy’s adamant refusal to consent to such a scheme – the relationship between the mistress of Rosings and the master of Pemberley had cooled considerably. Only lately had both sides resumed their previous levels of communication. Darcy did not stay long at Perryton. Business called him back to Derbyshire, but he knew his sister was looking forward to seeing her favorite cousin and thus had taken the time to bring her to their Uncle’s estate.

Anne had taken a strong liking to her youngest cousin. The time she spent at Pemberley after the death of her uncle Darcy had only strengthen her fondness for the girl. Having grown up without a father, Anne could understand some of the feelings of unsettled absence Georgiana suffered. Yet that was not what had drawn Anne, four years older, to Miss Darcy. Anne saw in Georgiana a young girl who could be painfully shy and desperate for female companionship. She sought to provide that companionship.

Her reasons were not wholly selfless. With the need for a friend, she could sympathize. Like her cousin, Anne had no sisters in which to confide. Her wealth was also contributed toward her feelings of isolation. Her mother would never stand for her to befriend the child of a servant or tenant. If Anne were pressed for the person she considered her closest confidant, she would truthfully reply that it was her housekeeper! Aunt Anne Darcy had once been that to her, and when that lady died, both she and Georgiana lost someone very dear. So, whenever the family gathered, Anne was able to put aside the differences in age and maturity and delight in Cousin Georgiana’s company.

Of course, Anne’s acceptance of Georgiana – a mere “child” in the eyes of Lady Newman – in the drawing room, made Matilda Fitzwilliam even more insufferable and Anne took every opportunity to remind her of their differences of birth.

“Lady Newman, how wonderful it must be to be secure in the knowledge that your children will enjoy their childhood in Perryton!” Anne enquired one afternoon. “I am sure Cousin Georgiana will agree that there is nothing finer than the freedom of a country estate. I spent much time as a girl wandering around the grounds at Rosings. It is a shame that you were not afforded the same opportunity. Living your whole life in Town must have been stifling. Did you ever long for a ride in the countryside?”

“I assure you I felt no such dissatisfaction. There are many amusements found in Town that are unknown in the country. My father saw to it that I wanted for nothing.”

“Yes, it is comforting to have the best of everything.”

Anne turned to address her mother.

“Mother, do you remember first time I took my phaeton and pony for a drive around Rosings?” she asked.

“How could I forget?! You were determined to run the poor thing through its paces.”

“The groom you sent with me was ready to take the reigns from me at the slightest sign of trouble,” she said with chagrin. “Tell me, Lady Newman, do you enjoy driving?”

Anne knew the woman neither knew how to drive nor wished to learn.

“I prefer to let my coachmen do their jobs.”

“Oh, but you miss the thrill of the wind in your face and the feel of the strength of your team through the leads. Do you not agree, Georgiana?”

“I must certainly do!” she cried.

Anne was pleased to see that her young cousin’s face lit up with unsophisticated joy and she continued thusly –

“Fitzwilliam began teaching me to drive this summer. I have been pleading with him for a few years to let me learn. He finally relented and even accompanied me on some trips to the more remote parts of the park.”

Georgiana realized she was the center of attention and lowered her eyes in a closer examination of the pattern of the carpet. Anne, sitting next to her, discreetly squeezed her hand. She felt a little guilty using Georgiana in her game of annoying her other cousin – but only just a little.

“Now that you have witnessed our cousin’s enthusiasm, Lady Newman. Perhaps you might persuade your husband to give you lessons. I cannot imagine Martin saying no.”

“Lord Newman has more important matters to attend to,” she insisted, distain apparent in her voice. Anne was quick to respond.

“Forgive me, Cousin, helping my uncle with Perryton must take up much of your husband’s time.” Here Anne paused for effect. “Well, it is the lot of all of us who own a grand estate. Fortunately, my uncle and my cousin Darcy have found a very capable steward to run mine. Mama and I are very grateful for their assistance.”

“Anne certainly is aware of her fortune as heiress of Rosings, Lady Newman. It will make a fine inheritance for a second son, one day.” Lady Catherine added.

“Speaking of Anne’s matrimonial prospects, have you set a date for her presentation or her coming out ball?” Alice Fitzwilliam asked, effectively changing subjects.

“I was speaking with Harold about his yearly visit yesterday. He wanted to confirm his plan to travel to Rosings with Fitzwilliam at the beginning of April. Since the season should start almost immediately after Easter, I think we will seek a date for her ball in the middle of the month and her presentation in early May.”

“Ten more months, Anne. They will be gone before you know it,” Aunt Alice opined.

“I am looking forward to it. I wish it could be sooner, but Mama insisted that I would not come out during the Little Season.”

“I should think not!” Lady Catherine looked scandalized at the mere thought. “It will not hurt to wait the extra three to four months.”

“And she has promised a few trips to Town and the theatre and opera this winter,” Anne enthused.

“Certainly within allowable activities for a young woman not yet out, as long as you have the proper escort. Harold and I will be in London some of that time. We would be happy to accompany you and Anne, Catherine.” Lady Perryton offered, and then added, “Martin and Matilda will be in Town then, as well. Surely Martin will agree to do his duty to his cousin?”

“Undoubtedly,” Lady Newman replied and said no more.

Conversation continued about Anne’s upcoming birthday and her coming out the next year. Her aunt and her mother debated the merits of certain fashions with her cousin Matilda adding more to the conversation. Georgiana quickly became bored but tried desperately not to show it, afraid she would be sent from the company of the adults if she did.

Anne took pity on her, and skillfully extracted herself from the conversation to speak with Georgiana.

“Such talk of finery and lace looses its charms after a while.”

“I am very interested to learn all I can, Cousin,” she said in all sincerity

“Georgiana, dear, I am not.”

Anne gave her a significant look, combined with the ever-effective raised eyebrow.

“Oh…”

“Would you like for me to make our excuses and, say, go riding?”

Georgiana’s eye grew wide and she nodded her head.

“Mother,” Anne said, interrupting the conversation she had just abandoned, “Georgiana and I wish to go riding, with your permission of course.”

Before Lady Catherine could answer, her sister-in-law spoke up.

“Let the girls go, Catherine. I think a little exercise will do them good.”

“Very well, but do not go far and take groom with you. It would not do for you to become lost. Georgiana’s brother would never forgive you.”

“That is assuming I was found again. Come Georgiana, we must change while the servants are preparing the horses.”

~~~//~~~

Lincolnshire being… Lincolnshire, the terrain was too flat for the ladies to get lost if they had ventured out alone. The groom needed only to stay a respectable distance away whilst the girls allowed their mounts to wander about the estate.

This was not the first time the two had gone out riding together. The past few years they had explored both Rosings and Pemberley this way. Obviously, there was much more to see in Derbyshire than Kent, but that did not discourage the girls when they were together in the south.

Georgiana and Anne had also been correspondents for several years. Anne thought fondly of the improvements in penmanship and in the crafting of words she had observed in her cousin’s letters. Georgiana had last written about the changes to take place come autumn.

“Has your brother decided on what school you are to attend?”

“If he has, he has not told me. I so wish I did not have to go. I would prefer to remain at Pemberley. You never were sent away from Rosings.”

“That is only because my mother did not trust anyone else to see me become a refined young woman of superior breeding and intelligence.”

Georgiana giggled; Anne had finished her sentence perfectly mimicking Lady Catherine’s voice.

“You should not speak so, Cousin.”

“You, Cousin, only say that because your guardian’s voice is too low to do justice.”

Georgiana responded by saying, in as deep a tone as she found possible, “I have no idea what you mean.”

Anne laughed and her horse shook its head in response.

“Careful, if my mother knew you were becoming capable of such impertinence she would make Cousin Darcy keep you as far away from me as is possible.”

“But then where would I go when you married him?” Georgiana asked in mock horror.

“Please, not you too! It is bad enough that Mama is constantly hinting that such a match is my one true duty in life without my intended’s sister forwarding the same.”

“Would it be such a horrible fate being married to Fitzwilliam?”

“I am in no hurry to be married to anyone. Mama may push me towards your brother, but I am just as capable of pushing back. I plan to enjoy my first season without any promises to any one.”

“What does Aunt Catherine say to that?”

“Plenty, I assure you. Not that I always listen.”

“Anne!” Georgiana scolded. Anne just laughed and urged her horse into a trot, calling on her cousin to catch up.

~~~//~~~

All too soon for Anne, it was time to return to Rosings. She said goodbye to Georgiana – who would be leaving Perryton for her new school – and took leave of her other cousins and her aunt and uncle.

The time in Lincolnshire had been well spent. Despite her protestations to Georgiana, much had been planned for Anne’s first season. Shopping trips to town had been arranged and a date for her ball had been set. Anne even came to an unspoken truce with Lady Newman. They still did not call each other by their Christian names, but Anne had ceased to bait the other woman. Anne was no fool, and a rather good judge of character; thus, she was able to sense how much Martin really did like his wife. Matilda Fitzwilliam was a proud and pampered woman, but she made her husband content in his marriage and that was worthy of Anne’s respect.

Anne supposed she had better get used to meeting such people once she was out. As Miss de Bourgh, she did not want for wealth or connections. She could be discriminating in her eventual selection of a mate; women like Lady Newman were not so fortunate. What she had not lacked in fortune, she had lacked in family. That was the reason why her match to Cousin Martin was so well made. Anne silently thanked her mother and her dearly-departed father. She, at least, would never be forced to choose a husband by any reason other than the inclination of her heart.

End of Part I

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