NMT Chapters 18-19

Chapter 18

Each morning since Elizabeth invited Darcy to walk with her, the couple repeated the exercise, although for the past two days, they had not strayed from the paths adjacent to the house. Elizabeth was a fit and healthy young woman, but her unborn child demanded so much from her body that she no longer had the energy for anything more than a short constitutional. Her back hurt, her feet hurt, her knees hurt, her ankles were swollen, and her legs cramped at night. She was both ready and eager for the child to be born.

While they walked, Darcy was greatly amused by his wife’s gait, which he found difficult to describe as anything other than a waddle. Then Elizabeth winced as if in pain, and her steps faltered.

“Elizabeth?” Darcy asked in a worried voice.

“Tis nothing. I am simply not as light of foot as I have been in the past. I doubt that I could perform even the simplest of dance steps now.”

Darcy looked at her with concern. “Would you like to return to the house?”

“Aye, and then I will go to my rooms and rest.”

They slowly made their way inside. Darcy immediately guided Elizabeth to her chambers. She needed Marie and Mrs Reynolds immediately, but did not want to alarm her husband. Fitzwilliam Darcy was not a man accustomed to feeling powerless and powerless he would most certainly be if she understood what was happening to her.

“There is no need for concern. I will rest now. Would you please summon my maid before you go?”

Darcy pulled the cord and then sat down next to Elizabeth until Marie entered the room. “You will send for me if… if you need me?”

Elizabeth laughed and touched his cheek. “Marie can see to my immediate needs. Mr Wright is waiting for you.”

“I… well… Yes, he is. Please rest.”

“I shall.”

He finally turned to leave and closed the door just as another pain nearly overwhelmed Elizabeth, stronger than any so far. Once it subsided, Elizabeth asked Marie, who had immediately rushed to her mistress’ side, to fetch Mrs Reynolds. The housekeeper came into Elizabeth’s chambers a few minutes later.

“Mrs Darcy?”

“I think it is time to summon the midwife.”

“Tell me what you are experiencing. Have you had any pains?”

“I awoke to a slight discomfort. As the morning progressed, the discomfort has become more intense and is now quite painful when it occurs.”

“Your waters?”

“They have not come.”

Mrs Reynolds watched her mistress for several minutes as another contraction came and passed. “I will send for Mrs Rowe now, and inform the young woman who is to act as wet nurse. Marie, stay with your mistress. Mrs Darcy, you would do well to keep walking if you can. Do you want Mr Darcy to be informed?”

“Not as yet, but please send word to Kympton, to the Arnolds, and ask them to come directly. Do not give them cause for alarm.”

“Very good, madam.”

“Marie, do not leave me,” Elizabeth pleaded after Mrs Reynolds left to ready the household for the birthing.

“I will stay by you until the child is born,” Marie vowed.

“Thank you. Now help me walk, as Mrs Reynolds suggested.”

After the midwife arrived and examined Elizabeth, she declared that the child indeed was on the way. Elizabeth sent word to her husband, asking him to come to her. Darcy was surprised to find his housekeeper and the midwife with his wife.

“Would you give us a moment, please?” Elizabeth asked, and the women filed out of the room.

Elizabeth took Darcy’s hand and placed it on her swollen stomach. “Our child has determined that it is time to enter this world.” Darcy gasped, his worries confirmed. “We knew this day was coming, and now it is here. I have already sent word to the Arnolds, and I expect that they will arrive shortly.”

Darcy tried to interrupt.

“Shhh. Let me speak. I know that you are concerned. I cannot tell you not to be.” Elizabeth stopped as another pain descended upon her.

“You are in pain.”

“It must be so,” she said when it subsided. “Fitzwilliam, look at me. It is a woman’s lot to bear children. I am doing only what your mother did to give you life. The discomfort will soon pass. What will remain is my love for you, and for our child.” Elizabeth put her hands around his face. “I do this joyfully, for you, for us. Promise me that you will not abuse the servants or Bartholomew while you wait.”

“I promise.”

“My love, do not be afraid. I will not die today.”

“How can you be so certain? What would I do if you left me?” Darcy’s voice shook.

“Oh my husband!” Even in her distracted state, Elizabeth realized this was the closest he had ever come to sharing what he felt for her. It gave her hope, and she knew she must give him hope in return, as much as she was able in a way he would accept.

“I cannot be certain that I shall live, nor can you that I shall not. That is in God’s hands. However, I have no intention of leaving you for many, many years. You are well and truly stuck with me, Mr Darcy. Go now, before Mrs Rowe orders you from this room.” She pulled his face to hers for one last kiss before she pushed him away. He walked to the door, turned, and stared into his wife’s eyes.

“Elizabeth,” he whispered. And then he was gone.

<<<>>>

The Arnolds arrived just as Darcy was leaving his wife’s chambers. He met Amelia ascending the stairs as he was descending.

“How is Elizabeth?”

“She seems to be doing well. I know nothing of these matters.”

“I will go to her.”

“Amelia, take care of her. I do not…” his voice broke.

Amelia Arnold had known Fitzwilliam Darcy for almost her entire life. She saw how frightened he was and was filled with compassion. If ever a man loved a woman, Fitzwilliam loved Elizabeth. She did what could to comfort him.

“Nothing will happen to her, other than that she will become a mother. Have faith, Fitzwilliam.” She gave him an encouraging pat on the arm. “My husband is looking for you. Go and keep him company.”

Darcy found his cousin in the library.

“Do you think you have read even a quarter of the books in this room?” asked Mr Arnold as he greeted Darcy.

“Perhaps that much. It would take a lifetime to come close to reading them all.”

“I doubt that you are much inclined to read now. What do you say to a ride?”

“I do not wish to be away, should I be needed.”

“From the level of activity that I have witnessed, the babe is unlikely to come anytime soon. The house staff is far too serene.”

“Still…”

“Darcy, I asked your housekeeper, whom I was surprised to see…”

“Elizabeth asked for a few minutes alone with me.”

“Ah, that explains why she was not with her mistress. As I was saying, I spoke with Mrs Reynolds and she is of the opinion that it is very early. Let us escape outdoors for a while. I promise not to take you too far from the house.”

“If you insist,” Darcy replied ungraciously.

“I do, and I have already ordered our horses be made ready. Come, Cousin.”

Seeing that resistance would prove futile, Darcy followed Mr Arnold to the stables where his horse was, in fact, ready for him.

The two men rode across the valley in front of the house and up the hill opposite. The view of Pemberley from that vantage was unsurpassed. Neither man could fail to be impressed by it.

“I am not a covetous man, but this view always makes me at least slightly envious of you.”

The quip at last brought a smile to Darcy’s face.

“The first time my father brought me here, I could not believe that all this would be mine one day. I hope to bring my own son here some day.”

“There is a distinct possibility that your heir will be born today.”

“Yes, so he could.” Darcy again grew serious.

“Fitzwilliam, Elizabeth will be fine. Women have given birth for countless millennia.”

“I cannot help but worry.”

“That is only natural. When it is Amelia’s time, I expect that I shall have the same fears and concerns as you do. It is difficult to know that the one we love is at risk. Do you not agree?”

“I would not know.”

“What do you mean you would not know? You love Elizabeth.”

“You assume too much.” Darcy urged his horse forward.

“Darcy, stop! You cannot run away from me. It is obvious to anyone who knows you how much you love your wife, even if you deny it.”

“I do deny it! I admit that I am fond of her, and that I am content to be married to her, but I categorically deny that I love her.”

“Your actions betray you! I have seen how you look at her, how you care for her, and it is not as a man indifferent. You are a man so in love with a woman that you instinctively know you cannot live without her. Deny that!”

Darcy said nothing.

“I know that most alliances in your circle are marriages of convenience. I doubt that you entered into yours with any other thought in mind. But I am not spouting ridiculous romantic idealism when I say that something remarkable happened to you. You fell in love with your wife, and she with you. Amelia and I have spoken about how much Elizabeth adores you. My mother was won over by your wife’s devotion to you. How can you not see what your closest family sees?”

Darcy looked away and said simply, “I vowed to protect her.”

“Yes, of course you vowed to protect her.”

“You do not understand. I can only protect her by not loving her.”

Mr Arnold looked at Darcy in amazement. “No, I do not understand. How does not loving your wife protect her? And protect her from what, exactly?”

“You do not understand!” Darcy nearly shouted. “Only once have you lost someone close to you – your father. Every person I have ever loved has been taken from me. First my mother, then my father, then Georgiana. I determined that it was better never to love anyone like that again than to open my heart and have it crushed when I lost them.”

“And so you vowed not to love Elizabeth, because you could not bear the heartache if you lost her, too.”

“Yes.”

“What about the child? Do you think you can keep from loving your own flesh and blood? Is your son or daughter to be nothing more to you than some prized foal? My dear cousin, for much of my life I have looked up to you because I could see that you took your responsibilities seriously. You have always looked after the welfare of your servants and your tenants. You have proved to be a dependable husband. But never in my wildest dreams did I ever think that you would take your obligations so seriously that you thought to impersonate God Almighty.”

That garnered Darcy’s attention. He snapped his head around to look at his cousin. “I never presumed…”

“Yes, you did. You thought you could control your wife’s destiny by denying her your affections. Aside from being the most convoluted piece of reasoning I have ever heard, no man knows the exact number of days he is given on this earth by his Maker. When it is a person’s time to die, there is nothing anyone can do to change that. Nothing you do will add one more day to Elizabeth’s life, or your own. Not unless our Lord allows it.

“What makes this all the more tragic is that you are breaking the vows you made to your wife before God and the witnesses at your wedding. You promised to love her. From what you just told me, you have withheld the love she has earned. I sincerely doubt that she has done the same.”

“No, she has not.”

“How do you know? Has she told you that she loves you?”

“Yes.” Darcy hung his head in shame.

“What, pray tell, did you say to her when she confessed that?”

“I told her that she must never expect me to return her feelings.”

“You said that, yet she loves you enough to accept it? Remarkable. Do you have any idea of the precious gift you have in Elizabeth? She must love you as unreservedly as anyone has ever loved another, and I do not only mean a husband and wife. I sincerely hope you think hard on what I have said and mend your ways before you destroy the both of you.”

Darcy flinched as Mr Arnold’s salvo hit its intended target. He tried to cover his agitation and said in as neutral of voice as he could muster, “Do you say this as a clergyman or my cousin?”

“Both, and also as an old friend. Be careful, Darcy. Elizabeth needs you now more than ever. You are the only close family she has left – thanks to your edict. The baby will help dispel her feelings of loss, but if you continue to deny her what she is due as your wife, the love you so wilfully repress, you risk making her regret your marriage. I do not believe you could live with yourself if that happened. And if you cannot think of your wife, think of your child.”

With those words, Bartholomew Arnold urged his horse down the path that led back to Pemberley. Darcy had heard the words of his cousin, and they weighed heavily upon him. Without knowing what he was doing, he turned his horse to follow the other. Thankfully, Darcy’s mount was well-trained and followed the lead of the animal ahead, as his master was too lost in thought to heed where he was going.

<<<>>>

A servant knocked on the door of the birthing room with a note for Mrs Reynolds. The missive bore disturbing news. The young woman who was to be wet nurse had contracted a fever and lay ill in her bed. There was no possibility that she would be well enough to come to the great house for at least another day. More troubling was that there was no one else in the immediate area who could fill her role. If the mistress should be unable or unwilling to nurse the babe herself for at least a few days, the consequences could be dire. Mrs Reynolds excused the servant and went back to Mrs Darcy. She would need to speak to Mr Darcy soon, but for now, she would assist the midwife.

There was little other concern inside Elizabeth’s chambers. Elizabeth was doing well and Mrs Rowe was confident that before too many hours passed, Mrs Darcy would successfully deliver her child. There was nothing so far to give the midwife cause for alarm, and the fact that the young woman’s mother had little difficulty birthing five children gave reason to hope that Mrs Darcy’s labours would be equally without complications. If no unforeseen events transpired, the Pemberley heir would be born before the sun rose on a new day.

<<<>>>

The two cousins arrived safely back at the Pemberley stables. They were quickly informed that no word had been received about Elizabeth’s progress. Hoping that no news was good news, and wanting to put the unpleasantness of their last conversation behind them, Mr Arnold led his friend back to the library where he poured each of them a drink.

“To our wives! May we somehow deserve them.” They took a small sip. “I hope Amelia brings us news soon. I think it would do you some good.”

Only a few minutes later, that lady appeared.

“Elizabeth? The child?” Darcy asked anxiously

“Has yet to be born. Do not be concerned. Elizabeth is well and the midwife assures us that she is pleased with how the confinement is progressing. However, she believes it will be several hours before Elizabeth is ready to deliver. I suggest that you both get something to eat while you wait. I will come with news as soon as I can. Will you continue to stay in here?”

“Yes, my dear. I’ve already taken the father-to-be out for a ride. I doubt he would consent to leave the house again.”

After his wife left, Mr Arnold attempted to engage Darcy in more conversation. “Have you decided on names?”

“If it is a girl, she will be called Anne Amelia after her grandmother and godmother.”

“And a boy?”

“Robert George Bartholomew, after me, my father and you. Robert is one of my given names.”

“I never could keep track of all my cousins’ names.”

“We have too many of them. I have four. Fitzwilliam Robert Henry George Darcy.”

“Quite a mouthful.”

Time passed slowly. At some point, the men decided to adjourn to the billiards room. Unfortunately, as they walked out of the library, Amelia walked out of Elizabeth’s chambers — just as Elizabeth let out a scream.

“Elizabeth!” Darcy cried out in fear and began to climb the staircase. Bartholomew grabbed his cousin’s arm to stop him from charging into a place where he was not welcome. Amelia saw what had happened and hastened to meet them.

“Darcy, you must not go in there. Elizabeth is fine.”

“No! I heard her scream.”

“She is nearing the time when the babe will be born. It is all as it should be. Pain in childbirth is normal.”

“I must do something. Please!

“You can best help your wife by staying calm. You will only distract her if you try to see her now. I was coming to tell you that it will soon be over. If I had waited a minute longer, you would not have heard her.”

“Come, Darcy. Perhaps a game of billiards now is a bad idea. Amelia, we will be in the library.”

<<<>>>

Darcy sat alone with his thoughts… again. He could not remove the sound of Elizabeth’s cry from his memory. That, and the words of his cousin, troubled him greatly. Had he wronged his wife? Was she suffering more than she ought because of him? He had locked his heart away, wilfully refusing to allow it to be touched by the one person who loved him most in the world. He had treated her abominably. Would she live so he could tell her what he only just today had acknowledged and accepted – that he loved her?

The room was silent except for the ticking of the clock. It was now seven in the evening. The sun had set, and the sky was growing ever darker. How much longer must Elizabeth suffer? Conversation had been abandoned.

The clock had struck the half-hour when the men heard footsteps approaching the door. They both stood as it opened, hoping for news of Elizabeth and her child.

A tired but happy Amelia Arnold walked over to Darcy and took his hand.

“You have a daughter, and she is beautiful.”

“And Elizabeth? Both she and the child are well?”

“Yes, very well. Elizabeth is resting. She is understandably exhausted.”

“May I see her now?”

“In a few minutes. Mrs Reynolds asked to see you first.”

“Thank you for everything, Amelia.”

“My pleasure. If you do not mind, I would also like to rest now.”

“I will join you,” her husband said, and shook Darcy’s hand, then both left the dazed new father to await the conference with his housekeeper.

Mrs Reynolds entered the room as the others left.

“Is anything wrong?”

“Nothing with your wife and child, but I did receive news that the woman hired to be wet nurse has taken ill. Unfortunately, I know of no one who can take her place. Mrs Darcy is the only one who can nurse the baby at this time. I know this is not what you wanted, but I see no alternative for the time being.”

“Have you spoken to my wife?”

“Yes, sir. She is in agreement. The midwife is showing her how to nurse the child even now.”

“There is nothing for it. What must be done will be done. However, please make additional enquiries in the event that a different wet nurse needs to be secured.”

<<<>>>

The walk up the stairs to their bedchambers had never before seemed so long or so cumbersome. Darcy was weary from the accumulated events of the day, and each step seemed to require enormous effort. As eager as he was to see for himself that Elizabeth and the baby were alive and well, he was unsure that he was ready to face his wife. His emotions were in turmoil, and he did not know if he could maintain his composure before her.

He entered her chambers through his own. Elizabeth was resting on her bed, her faithful maid in a chair by her side. He saw that his wife was asleep, with their child nestled beside her in a protective embrace. Marie smiled and stood, carefully extracted the slumbering babe from the arms of her mother, and handed the child to her father.

She left the three of them alone, her vigil over, her promise fulfilled.

Darcy stood rooted to the spot, his eyes transfixed on the new life he held in his strong arms. This was his child, created by his joining with Elizabeth. She was a part of him in a way no other human being could be.

My Anne.

He pushed the blanket away from the infant’s face. Her head was covered with fine curls the colour of her mother’s auburn tresses, her skin smooth and unblemished.

He opened the blankets further to examine her arms and hands. He counted ten fingers. On her feet, ten tiny toes.

She was perfect in every way. His precious daughter. Love for her swelled within him, and he could not contain emotions he was helpless to control. He was a fool to think he ever could. Darcy trembled as he re-covered his daughter in her blankets and then brought her small body up against his own, his hands nearly engulfing her as he then gently held and caressed her.

“My beautiful little girl,” he whispered as the tears fell down his cheeks. He had a family again, someone to love and be loved by. It had been so long. He had forgotten how wonderful it felt to know that there was one person alive in the world who would always love him.

Darcy turned to look at Elizabeth and realized his foolishness – for since his marriage, he already had such a person in his life. What an arrogant, heartless, ungrateful idiot he had been! Obstinately, he had not allowed her to express her love for him in the way she would have preferred. Instead he had forced her, by his callous disregard for her feelings, to resort to looks and touches and actions. He also comprehended that her actions spoke more eloquently than the words he now knew he must say could ever hope to do. Day after day, Elizabeth had demonstrated her love for him, despite knowing that he might never reciprocate that love. Even more so since the humiliation that Lydia had brought to the family. He knew he had wounded his wife, yet Elizabeth had somehow initiated their reconciliation. His tears of joy for the miracle of his daughter turned to sobs of deserved self-recrimination.

Little Anne stirred against his breast, and his thoughts were instantly pulled back to her. She was so small, so vulnerable. He would take care of her. He would see that she lacked nothing. He would be a more attentive father than his own had been. Anne’s life would be different from his. She had two living parents who adored her. She was not the orphan that he was.

The orphan that he had made of her mother.

Oh merciful God! Is that what he had done?

Yes, but what choice did I have?

For the first time, he finally understood what Michael and then Bartholomew had been trying to tell him. He did have a choice. He had made the one that society required as prudent, but it was one that had cost his wife everything. In his selfish desire to protect his good name, he had demanded that all the sacrifice be hers, that she sacrifice her family.

What is done is done.

He knew that was not true. It was not too late. The Bennets were still alive and well at Longbourn. They were not lost to Elizabeth, as his own parents were forever lost to him.

As he thought about his behaviour in the last months he had no illusions about the torment his wife must have felt. He was all too well acquainted with the singular pain of bereavement. How she had withstood it he could not imagine, but his role in it brought him despair in its acutest form. What sort of husband had he been to her? He had abandoned her, even as they lived in the same house. How could she not despise him?

Darcy looked at Elizabeth, so serene in her sleep. The feelings he had long hidden away, fearing to expose, had not lain dormant at all. It was just his mind refusing to see them, acknowledge them. He counted the number of people made miserable by the decisions he had made, directions he had chosen, and winced at his own arrogance in believing that he knew what was best for them.

You proved your love by loving me even after I did everything in my power to be undeserving of it. I will validate mine by relinquishing my pride and laying it at your feet. Soon, Elizabeth, soon I will show you, and then I will tell you, how much I have come to love you.

He dried his tear-stained cheeks and sat down on the bed beside his wife, his daughter still cradled in his arms.

“Elizabeth,” he said softly.

Her eyelids fluttered open. “Fitzwilliam.” Her voice was tired but tender. “I see you have met our little Miss Darcy.”

“Anne. That is, if you are still in agreement?”

“I have never thought of her as anything but Anne.” Elizabeth saw that he had been crying. “What is wrong? Why are you distressed?”

“Nothing is wrong. As I stood beholding our beautiful daughter, I could not help…” Darcy’s voice broke as he fought back sobs.

“Darling, it must have been so hard for you to wait.”

“What of you? I did not endure what you did.”

“True, but neither was I sequestered away, waiting for bits of news to trickle to me.”

“Let us not squabble over such a trifling thing. What is important is that you are safe and our baby is healthy.”

“You wanted a son.”

“I am overjoyed with a daughter.”

The trial of childbirth had left Elizabeth defenceless to conceal her emotions. She had no strength for anything other than the complete truth.

“I prayed for a girl,” Elizabeth confessed. She looked at him. “You are surprised.”

“Yes, I had thought…”

“That I was like every other woman, wanting to boast of providing an heir?”

“You are not like other women.”

“No, I am not. I could not bring what you wanted into this marriage, and instead brought disgrace and infamy. I have given you a daughter, and I am glad. Do you know why?” He sat motionless waiting for her to continue. “I began to pray for a girl soon after you left so suddenly for London. Somehow I knew that Lydia’s recklessness would come between us, and I feared the loss of what we had built together. I was right. When you returned, I despaired of ever being allowed to see the man behind the mask. I knew that if I had a girl, you would be forced to come to me again and again until I conceived a son. I hoped that in the pursuit of a male heir, I would be enough in your presence that I could regain your good opinion.”

“You never lost it. I admit that I was hurt and angry after my uncle confronted me, and I wondered if I had made a mistake. I was a fool. Look at Anne. She is our flesh and blood. Could we ever consider her a mistake, an error of judgement? No! Elizabeth, I… I care for you, very much. I thank God I took you as my wife. I want none other but you.”

Elizabeth wept with joy and relief. She would be his again. Darcy took her in his arms, Anne snugly between them, and comforted her. And unknown to her, receiving comfort himself.

After several minutes in such an intimate familial embrace, baby Anne began to wake, squirming and fussing.

“I think she might finally be hungry. I tried to nurse her earlier, but she was more interested in sleeping than eating.”

“Elizabeth, I am sorry you must do this. It is not a duty that the Mistress of Pemberley should need perform.”

“Fitzwilliam, really, I do not mind. Many ladies in Hertfordshire could not afford a wet nurse, and they did what needed to be done. My own mother…” She stopped.

Darcy did not hesitate, determined to follow through on his resolutions. “Your mother nursed you?”

“Yes. Money was always an issue at Longbourn.”

“With five daughters born so closely together, I do not doubt it.”

Elizabeth had coaxed the baby to begin to nurse. Darcy watched in fascination as Elizabeth concentrated intently on her task.

“What does it feel like? Are you uncomfortable?”

“No, not at all. There is a pulling sensation. It is like nothing I have felt before, not at all like when you put your lips on me when we, well, when you take me to bed. It is quite different.”

Darcy made to leave but she would not yet release him. “Stay with me tonight, Fitzwilliam,” Elizabeth asked with great earnestness. “I do not wish to sleep alone. I want only to sleep next to you again. Please.”

“Of course I will stay with you,” he leaned over and kissed her before continuing in a tender voice, “but first I have many letters to write. I fear I will be unable to fall asleep until I have finished them. Then my mind will be at ease. If I go now, I can return all the sooner.”

Clearly pleased that he had so quickly acceded to her request, Elizabeth said, “Then go and return when you can. And Fitzwilliam, would you call for the nursery maid before you depart? Anne will need to be changed soon.”

“As you wish.” Darcy kissed Elizabeth again, took one more long look at his daughter, then made his way to his study.

There were many letters to write, including the three most difficult letters he had ever composed in his life. Dipping his pen in the ink, he began.

<<<>>>

Late in the afternoon two days later, an express rider arrived at Netherfield. Charles Bingley saw that the thick packet was from Darcy. He hoped for Jane’s sake that it contained news of Elizabeth and the baby. Opening the letter, he was surprised to find another tucked inside, with the request that he deliver it personally to Longbourn. He was dumbfounded when he finished reading his portion. He quickly called for his horse and rode to his father-in-law’s, certain that Mr Bennet’s letter would be as astounding as his own.

George Bennet was always pleased to see the affable young man who had married his eldest daughter. He could see, however, that Bingley was agitated and wondered at its source. He did not wait long.

“I received an express from Pemberley that contained this letter for you. I brought it over directly.”

Bingley sat down to wait while Mr Bennet read. Several times, the older man paused to look at his guest, only to return his attention to the words on the page. When he had finished, he looked at Bingley in amazement. Bingley pulled out his own letter, and without a word, they exchanged correspondences. Mr Bennet’s letter was very similar to the one Bingley had received.

1 October 1812
Pemberley, Derbyshire

To Mr George Bennet, Esq.

Sir, it is my honour and pleasure to inform you that this evening Elizabeth was safely delivered of a daughter. Both mother and child are well, and I left them only minutes ago to write to you. Holding my child for the first time, I found myself wondering if all fathers were as in awe as I was. Then I lamented that I could not ask my own father that question, as he has been in the grave these five years and more. Finally, I realized that if you were here, I could have asked you. It is only because of my own folly and mistaken pride that you are not. It is my sincere and earnest desire to mend the breach caused by my callous desertion of you in your time of greatest need. I humbly request that you, Mrs Bennet, and your daughters come to Pemberley directly. I am also writing to the Bingleys and the Pritchfords, asking them to come, and have offered to pay the Pritchfords’ travelling expenses. I pray that all will be able to make the journey.

Elizabeth knows nothing of this request, and I would like to surprise her with all her family arriving together. I therefore ask that you delay your departure so that the Pritchfords might journey from Hertfordshire with you, and God willing, the Bingleys.

Please send word as soon as you can. If all goes as I hope, we shall see you at Pemberley in about eight days’ time.

Your repentant servant,
Fitzwilliam Darcy

<<<>>>

Chapter 19

Darcy returned to Elizabeth’s room as soon as he finished his correspondence. Although it was late, he had dispatched the three express letters that evening. The rest of the birth announcements could wait until morning.

The one thing that could not wait was Elizabeth. He could not stay away from her, not now that he finally understood — and accepted — what was in his heart.

She was asleep when he slipped into bed beside her. She was so beautiful; if only he could gaze into her fine eyes, then all would be perfect. He wanted to run his finger down her cheek, cup her face in his hands, and kiss away the memory of all the tears that Elizabeth had shed because of his misplaced pride. But she needed rest more than he needed such gratification, and he was unwilling to wake her. Instead, he relived their earlier conversation.

Darcy was humbled by Elizabeth’s apparent eagerness to put the past few months behind them. He knew that he had wronged her greatly, so much so that she believed she had lost his good opinion.

Have I been that resentful? Have been that blind to her pain?

Yes, he had. His behaviour towards everyone since he had returned from Lydia’s wedding could not be described as anything other than uniformly uncivil. It was a wonder Bartholomew and Amelia would still talk to him, though he began to suspect that they received him more for his wife’s sake than his own.

Poor Elizabeth! To know that she had prayed for a daughter so that she would have the chance to become close to him again felt like a blow to the stomach. Darcy was devastated by her admission, all the more so because he understood that she had legitimate reasons to doubt his desire to recover the camaraderie they had shared following their marriage. He was ashamed, awed, and thankful. Ashamed at his misplaced resentment – Elizabeth had nothing to do with Wickham’s schemes or his own actions when events had not gone as he had arrogantly directed. Awed that despite his actions and his near-abandonment of her, his wife still loved him. Thankful that he would have the chance to repair the damage he had done to his relationships with his wife, his closest friends, and his family in Hertfordshire.

Later, a gentle knock on the door preceded the entrance of the new nursery maid, carrying a whimpering, hungry infant. The girl was startled to find the master awake and in bed with the mistress. Mrs Reynolds had evidently neglected to mention that possibility to her.

“I beg pardon sir, but Miss Darcy is fussing, and will not quiet. She needs to be fed, I figure.”

Darcy nodded and nudged Elizabeth. “Mrs Darcy, our daughter is in need of attention, and I am afraid that you are the only one who can bestow it upon her.” Elizabeth, slowly wakening, was very happy to see her husband beside her.

A small cry from her baby pulled her attention away from her spouse. She sat up and held out her arms.

“Please bring her to me.” The maid complied, then bid a hasty retreat.

Elizabeth smiled. “I think your presence here upset the poor girl.”

Darcy responded to her teasing in kind. “I am here at your express invitation.”

“True. I suppose that I should have warned her, but I did not think to do so.”

“What is the girl’s name?”

“Alice. Her name is Alice McBride.”

“Alice. Thank you. I will not forget.”

Darcy watched with interest as his wife opened her gown to expose her breast to their child. The little one eagerly nursed; her father laughed softly.

“Our daughter was hungry.”

“From the feel of it, famished might be a more accurate choice of word. Ouch! Slow down little one,” she said as she caressed the baby’s tiny head.

“Does it hurt you?”

“Not at all. She was suckling a little more vigorously than before. She has slowed now.”

“I still feel guilty that you must do it, but I readily admit that it is a wondrous thing to watch. To know that all children are nourished in this way, I had never given the matter a thought before now.”

“Tis how God intended it to be.”

“And it is very good.”

When Anne was finished feeding, Darcy called for the nursery maid.

“I am told that your name is Alice,” he said to the nervous young woman.

“Aye, sir, Alice McBride.”

“Well then, Alice, when did you arrive?”

“But a few days ago, sir.”

“Welcome. I hope you will be happy at Pemberley.”

“Thank you, sir.”

“Before you leave, I would like to explain several things to you. First, I am very aware that you did not expect to see me here tonight. From this day, expect it.”

“Yes, sir.”

“If the baby needs Mrs Darcy in the night, knock on the door and wait for an answer. If you are not directly given leave to enter, wait a few moments, then knock again. Only after you have knocked twice and received no answer may you open the door. Once the wet nurse arrives, there should be no need to disturb your mistress during the night. Do you understand these instructions?”

“Perfectly.”

“Good. Good night, Alice.”

“Goodnight, Mr Darcy, Mrs Darcy.”

Elizabeth gently chided her husband after Alice left. “You frightened the poor girl.”

“She will not enter hastily again. I would not want to scandalize our newest servant.”

“Fitzwilliam!”

“Come here,” he commanded. Elizabeth allowed Darcy to tuck her body against his.

“Gently, dearest, I am very sore in many places.”

“I will be gentle. Now go to sleep.”

Within minutes, Darcy felt Elizabeth’s body relax, her breathing deep and regular. She was fast asleep.

“I promise never to hurt you again, my love,” he whispered into her hair. Finally, his mind calmed, Darcy joined Elizabeth in the world of dreams.

<<<>>>

The next several days passed with Elizabeth confined to her chambers. Darcy insisted that she stay in bed to rest and heal. At first, she was inclined to acquiesce to his demands, but as the days went on, Elizabeth grew restive and less compliant.

“I cannot stay in these rooms any longer. At least let me walk in the hall.”

Darcy was pleased to see her spirit returning, even if she did direct her challenge toward him. He laughed to himself, realizing that she would not desist until she got her way, and agreed to walk with her. Donning a robe before he could change his mind, she walked to the door and waited.

“You mean to walk now?” Darcy asked with an upturned brow.

“Yes, now,” came the exasperated reply.

Gallantly he joined her, tucking her arm into the crook of his. “Who am I to disappoint my lady wife?”

Darcy was careful to stay clear of the wing where rooms were being prepared to receive Elizabeth’s family. Mr Bennet had answered his letter immediately, strongly hinting that the invitation to Pemberley be extended to the Gardiners. No sooner had Darcy read those words than he dispatched an express asking the Gardiners to come. He had also received a reply from Bingley, but no one else, and he could do nothing but order enough rooms be made ready in the event that all his guests arrived.

He watched each night as Elizabeth fed baby Anne. In her tired state, Elizabeth’s emotions were not hidden from him. Darcy could see the joy she derived from nursing their child. He had instructed Mrs Reynolds not bring the wet nurse to Pemberley until it was certain that the woman was completely healthy. The fever had lingered, and it was feared that her ability to fulfil her function would disappear, and indeed, so it proved to be. Mrs Reynolds conveyed the bad news to her master.

“The girl is unable to nurse?” he asked.

“That is correct. I have continued to search for a replacement, but have yet to secure anyone suitable.”

“Continue on then. I will speak to Mrs Darcy.”

If Mrs Reynolds was surprised with her master’s calm acceptance of the situation, she was too well-trained to show it.

Darcy immediately went to speak with Elizabeth.

“Your wet nurse is recovered from her fever, but it has robbed her of the ability to discharge her duties.”

“I can continue on until another is found.”

“Do you wish for another to be found?”

“I… I would be willing to continue without one, but you can not be happy with such an arrangement.” Elizabeth’s voice betrayed the confusion of her feelings. Darcy winced. The Elizabeth of the first months of their marriage would have told him her opinion unreservedly. This Elizabeth was still circumspect in regard to his pride. He had much to make right.

“I asked you if you wished for another wet nurse to be found. Please, I want to know what you want. Do you wish for one, or would you not?”

“A woman of my station does not nurse her own child. I will not expose you to further reproof or ridicule.”

Darcy’s expression softened. “Elizabeth, all I want is for you to be happy. I have watched you feeding Anne. I can tell that it pleases you to do this.”

“It does fill me with joy when she is at my breast, I will not deny that. But neither will I allow you to be looked down upon in any way. The Darcy name is too important to you and to me.”

The old Darcy’s pride was assuaged by her commitment; the new Darcy knew he must allow her to decide without worrying about what society dictated she should do.

“Elizabeth, tell me this. If you believed that no one would pass judgment one way or the other, would you continue to nurse our daughter?”

“Yes, I would, and happily.”

“Then it is settled. I will tell Mrs Reynolds that there is no need to find a new wet nurse.”

“Fitzwilliam, I cannot allow this if you are in the least uncomfortable with it.”

“I would only be uncomfortable were I to see you gaze wistfully and enviously at our daughter being nursed by another. You shall perform that duty for Anne for as long as you choose to do so.”

He finished his speech, then kissed her before leaving the room.

Elizabeth sat astounded. Her heart leapt with hope as she considered the import of his words.

<<<>>>

A coach pulled into Longbourn late in the afternoon. Mrs Bennet did not recognise it and wondered who was coming to call at this strange hour. She shrieked with joy as her darling Lydia was handed out of the equipage by a plainly dressed stranger. Mr Bennet walked up to the couple and shook the man’s hand.

“Mr Pritchford, welcome to Longbourn. This is my wife, Mrs Bennet.”

“We came as soon as we could.”

“You are most welcome, sir! Oh, Lydia, I think you have grown since you went away.”

“Oh Mama, I have missed you. But the boys are asleep in the carriage. The poor dears are exhausted.”

“You brought your sons as well! Let me see the darlings.”

Mr Pritchford reached in and picked up the larger of the two boys, who stirred briefly when he was handed to a servant. The second made even less movement as his father carried him into the house.

“I think you might need to wait a little longer, Mama.”

“We have time enough. Your father said not a word of your coming. What a wonderful surprise! How long will you be in Hertfordshire?”

Mr Bennet answered for his daughter. “They leave tomorrow.”

“Tomorrow? They must stay longer.”

“I am afraid their plans are fixed, but so are ours. We will all be leaving in the morning. For Pemberley.”

“Pemberley?” Mrs Bennet exclaimed.

“I received an express four days ago. Elizabeth has been delivered of a daughter, and Mr Darcy has summoned all of her family to Pemberley. That is why Lydia and her husband have come. Jane and Bingley will be travelling with us as well.”

“I have a granddaughter! Oh, my! I am a grandmother! Elizabeth! Oh, is she well? And the child?”

“Both mother and child are well.”

“Thank goodness.” After a moment of revelling in the idea of finally having a grandchild, she remembered the rest of her husband’s proclamation. “Mr Darcy invited us to Pemberley? He wrote to you? I thought he forbade Elizabeth from even writing to us?”

“Yes he did. He has changed his mind and wrote himself, and I, for one, am overjoyed to be seeing my Elizabeth again.”

It then occurred to Mrs Bennet that they would be leaving in the morning. “You should have told me four days ago! I must see Hill!”

Harriet Bennet might have been silly, vain, and ignorant, but faced with the task of entertaining four unexpected visitors for the night and packing for a long trip to commence the next morning, she forgot her nerves and set about organizing everything with an easy precision that surprised everyone except her husband.

The next evening found the Bennets, Bingleys, and Pritchfords settling into their rooms at an inn on the road to Derbyshire. They were surprised when familiar voices greeted them.

“You have caught us,” Mr Bennet said as he offered his hand to his brother Gardiner.

“We left at first light, hoping to find you tonight. Fortunately, we made excellent time.”

“We would have waited, had you sent word.”

“That was unnecessary, and we did not have much time to prepare. All is well, and we can travel together the rest of the way.”

The large party steadily made its way north, the pace an easy one out of consideration for the young Pritchford and Gardiner children.

<<<>>>

The Darcys were advised that four coaches were approaching Pemberley. Elizabeth was at a loss to know who could be coming in such vast numbers. Darcy had not mentioned that either the Arnolds, or the Fitzwilliam clan, or any other large party was expected. She went with Darcy to the front of the house to greet the mysterious visitors. But as soon as she saw the coaches, her mood changed from curiosity to apprehension.

“Fitzwilliam, that is my family! I swear to you that I did not invite them. Please do not be angry with me.”

“Elizabeth,” he said calmly, “they are here at my invitation.”

She looked at the man next to her as though she did not recognise him. She would have stood rooted to the spot had not the first carriage come to a stop. Her father stepped out of the compartment.

“Go,” Darcy whispered as he nudged her forward. Elizabeth did not stop to think; she flew into the waiting arms of her beloved father. Darcy went to the open door of the coach and helped out Mrs Bennet, Mary, and Kitty.

Elizabeth moved from her father to her mother and then to her sisters. She looked at the next carriage and saw Bingley helping Jane. She nearly stumbled as she ran to embrace her dearest sister. Through tears of joy, she saw the Gardiners coming out of the third vehicle and moved to greet them as well. She had nearly forgotten that a fourth coach also had arrived until she looked up and saw Lydia, standing with her husband and his two boys, afraid to approach. Darcy appeared at Elizabeth’s side, and escorted her to her youngest sibling. He took it upon himself to make the introductions.

“Mrs Darcy, may I present Mr and Mrs Pritchford and their sons, Thomas and Phillip? I believe you know Mrs Pritchford.” Again Darcy urged Elizabeth forward and the two sisters fell upon each other with unrestrained affection.

Eventually all made their way inside the house. Darcy decided it was best if his guests where taken directly to their rooms and Elizabeth was allowed a little time to recover from the emotional upheaval.

An hour later, the entire party reconvened in one of the larger drawing rooms. Darcy had rarely seen his wife so happy. Elizabeth had Anne brought in to introduce her daughter to her family. All eyes were fixed upon the infant as Alice handed her to her mother. Before Elizabeth could speak, Darcy walked to her side, put his hand on the small of her back, and addressed the group.

“It is my great honour and pleasure to present our daughter, Anne Harriet Amelia Bennet Darcy.”

For the second time that day, Elizabeth’s husband had managed to both delight and amaze her; her head was spinning, and she did not know what to think. She gave Darcy a dazzling if somewhat teary smile, then turned as her mother came to her and asked to hold the child. Baby Anne calmly suffered the admiration of all, including many comments on how much she looked like her mother. Mr Bennet allowed a tear or two escape down his cheek as he gazed at his first grandchild. Even Darcy smiled when Mrs Bennet proclaimed the child beautiful, then almost in the same breath ordered Elizabeth to next bear a son.

When Anne started to fuss, Elizabeth laughingly told those not so fortunate to as yet hold her daughter that they would have plenty of opportunities in the days to come.

<<<>>>

Marie’s eyes twinkled while she worked on her mistress’ toilette before dinner. Elizabeth had chosen to wear an elegant deep blue gown to complement the diamond and sapphire necklace that Darcy had given her a few days before to commemorate Anne’s birth.

Elizabeth recognized the knowing smile on her maid’s face; it was the same as she had spied on most of the servants since her family had arrived at Pemberley.

“Am I the only person on this estate who did not know that my family was arriving today?”

“Oui, madame,” Marie laughed. “The master was most specific in his instructions. Everything was to be made ready so you would suspect nothing.”

“You all certainly succeeded. I do not think I have ever been as completely surprised in my life.”

Marie said nothing.

“Hmmm …Yes, well my husband has often extolled the discretion and efficiency of his staff and today has done nothing to discredit his praise. I must remember to give my compliments to Mrs Reynolds.”

But her pleasure tonight mirrored that of the rest of the staff. They were satisfied with a job well done. Their mistress was proud of them, and astonished at their assignment.

Supper at Pemberley was unlike any Elizabeth had ever hosted. Although she had entertained a large party when Amelia and Bartholomew married, this was decidedly different. The guests at her table were people, other than Bingley and Jane, she believed she would never see again. Elizabeth was full of joy, but she was subdued in its expression. Her husband was seated opposite her at the other end of the table, and though he spoke with the Pritchfords who were seated on either side of him, she could tell he was uncomfortable. However, she could also see that his discomfort was not from disgust over the manners of his companions. Gone was the mask of hauteur he had always worn before in the presence of her younger sisters. In its place was a man taking pains to become better acquainted with his family.

As endearing as her husband’s efforts were, her youngest sister’s behaviour was a revelation. Lydia was… subdued! More than once, Elizabeth found herself staring at Lydia. The Lydia she remembered would not have been content to eat in relative silence. She would have loudly dominated the discussion around her, and never deferred to others. She would have been flirting outrageously with any male seated nearby. Yet there sat Lydia Pritchford, listening politely to the discourse between her husband and Darcy. She even had a small, shy smile on her face when she looked at Mr. Pritchford.

After the meal, Darcy invited the men to share in port and cigars. Considering the events of the day, Elizabeth had hoped that he would not insist on this ritual on this of all evenings. She did not know that he had a particular purpose in mind, one that could not be fulfilled if he did not separate the men from the women.

Bingley, Pritchford, Mr Gardiner, and Mr Bennet made their selections and waited on their host. No one had said much to him other than a perfunctory greeting since they had arrived. Darcy nervously cleared his throat.

“I want to start by thanking all of you for coming to us. I know I gave you little time to prepare for travel, especially Mr Gardiner and Mr Pritchford. With that said, I believe you are all entitled to an explanation.

“I will begin with the events of last August. When we received word of Lydia’s flight with Wickham, my intent was to travel to London, discover her whereabouts, and separate her from the knave, then quietly send her away. As soon as I arrived in Town and learned that they had not married, I knew what game Wickham was playing. I was confident that I could defeat him. I sought a man such as you, Mr Pritchford, and arranged for you meet and, if you were agreeable, to marry Lydia. Everything went according to plan, and I believed the matter behind us and that, minus Lydia’s presence, we would go on as we were before. Frankly, I expected never to see Lydia again after I left Devonshire. Wickham was sent from England, the danger had passed.”

The men shifted in their seats, looking at each other to see who would be the first to speak. Darcy raised his hand to forestall them. “Yes, I know, I was an arrogant ass, but please let me finish.

“Unfortunately, my former boyhood companion had a trump card up his sleeve, and the news of what he had done with my sister-in-law became the fodder of the scandal sheets. My uncle, the Earl of ______, brought that news to my attention. He had received a letter from Wickham. I can only guess that someone posted letters for him by previous arrangement, for he had no opportunity to do such before his ship set sail. It was at that point that I did the most selfish and foolish thing of my life. I ordered Elizabeth to cease all contact with her family, save your wife, Bingley. I only allowed that because of our long friendship. I am ashamed to admit that I thought only of own my position when I decided on this course. I wanted to mitigate the effects of the scandal on the Darcy name.”

Darcy took a breath and continued. “I was completely wrong in my actions. I recognize that I have offended you all and deeply injured my wife. I stand before you now to ask you to accept my apology and to beg your forgiveness. Your presence here gives me hope that you are willing to at least consider healing the breach that I have caused. If you cannot bring yourself to forgive me, then I ask that you absolve Elizabeth from any blame. She was neither consulted nor in any way involved in my decision. Her only fault might be that she kept to her marital vows too assiduously, and obeyed my commands completely.”

The men all looked to Mr Bennet, who finally broke the silence. “Have you told all this to Elizabeth?”

“No, sir, not all of it. I will tell her tonight.”

Mr Bennet took a sip of his drink, put down his glass, then fixed his gaze on his son-in-law.

“Darcy, your actions wounded me in ways that I never thought possible. For many months, I have grieved for a daughter whom I believed was lost to me forever. You caused all my family great distress. Yes, the scandal reached Hertfordshire, but it was made infinitely worse by your severing all connection to us. Yes, Lydia’s folly shamed us, but that was nothing compared to the grief of losing Elizabeth and the threat of never knowing the grandchild she then carried.

“You placed a higher value on the approval of the very society you said that you despised for its hypocrisy than on the pain you would cause your wife and her family. You put the Darcy name before ties of blood and marriage. Perhaps I should have expected that. You have never held my family in high esteem.” Mr Bennet raised his hand in dismissal as Darcy looked as if he were about to protest. “You made no secret of it. Must I remind you of a certain conversation we had in my library last spring?

“Make no mistake. My family and I are here now for my daughter and her child, not for you. I know Elizabeth, and I know that she feels things deeply. I can only imagine, because you decreed that she could not correspond with us, how she must have suffered these last months. Elizabeth, a completely innocent party, isolated, alone, and with child. I have no doubt that you withdrew your good opinion even of her, because she formerly carried the curséd name of Bennet.

“But may I also remind you that your past history with Wickham and your alliance with my family very likely influenced that man’s decision to abscond with my youngest daughter. I make no excuse for Lydia’s lack of judgment, but when all was said and done, you, sir, you went too far.”

Mr Bennet paused in an obvious attempt to regain control of his emotions. He gave his daughter’s husband, the father of his first grandchild, a piercing look as he spoke again. “You disappoint me, Darcy. Had I suspected that your pride and arrogance would manifest themselves so cruelly, I would never have consented to your marriage. I wish to God that I had not.”

A shocked silence permeated the room. Mr Bennet’s words had shaken Darcy to his core. For several moments, he could do nothing more than stare at the carpet. His emotions were barely in check: first, anger that Mr Bennet dared speak to him in this manner; then remorse, as he silently acknowledged the truth of the man’s accusations; and, finally, horror, true horror, not only at his own actions, but at the thought of a life without Elizabeth.

“Mr Bennet, Mr Gardiner, Bingley, Pritchford,” Darcy said, as he looked in turn at each man, “I do not know how I can express to you how deeply sorry I am. I deserve your censure, and your scorn. I was completely wrong. My actions harmed each of you and your families, not the least of all my own wife.” He saw no signs of acceptance and continued in a more agitated tone.

“What can I say to convince you that I am sincere in my remorse? I have done little more this past week but review the errors I made. I know my failures. Shall I name them?

“When I first heard that Lydia had gone to Brighton, I meant to send someone to watch over her – I did not follow through with my resolution. Then, after word of the elopement arrived and I travelled to London, I should have told you the entirety of my plan to recover Lydia and asked for your advice. I would have fought just as hard against Lydia marrying Wickham; she would have been condemned to a life of misery shackled to that profligate. But I should have sought your agreement before implementing my schemes. And if I were the man I thought I was, I should have shown my support of you publicly after the scandal became known, even if I could not allow Elizabeth to travel to Longbourn in her expectant condition.

“Mr Bennet, you are correct; I never held your family in any esteem. I wanted Elizabeth, and only Elizabeth. I used the scandal to remove her from your sphere.” Darcy made sure to look his father-in-law in the eye. “But sir, in one thing you are completely mistaken. Elizabeth never lost my good opinion. That… is not possible.”

Silence descended. Every man knew that they were at a volatile point. Pritchford spoke next.

“Please, gentlemen. Today is the first time I have met my sister, Mrs Darcy. She does not appear unhappy.”

“Elizabeth was not made for unhappiness,” Mr Bennet admitted. He sighed, seeming ready to relent, but then appeared to change his mind. “Tell me, Darcy, how can we be sure that this reunion you have arranged is not just some attempt to placate your wife? Perhaps Kitty will run away and you will cast us aside once again. After all, you had no qualms about coming into my house and inferring that I was a negligent father.”

“Actions have repercussions, even yours, Mr Bennet. When I asked you to come to Pemberley, I was prepared to apologize and to begin to atone for my wrongs. Please, if only for Elizabeth’s sake, judge the sincerity of my repentance by my future conduct. To begin, with your permission, I will offer my apologies to Mrs Bennet, Mary, and Catherine. And to Mrs Bingley, Mrs Gardiner, and Mrs Pritchford.

“Mr Darcy,” Frank Pritchford began, “I can speak for my wife when I say that she does not expect an apology. Lydia has matured since we married. Mrs Bennet wrote and told us what you had done. My wife understands why you separated yourself from us, and accepts her own responsibility in the matter. She wanted to write to her mother defending you, but I would not allow it. You owe neither Mrs Pritchford nor me an apology.”

“Pritchford, I thank you, but I must apologize for a completely different reason. I was prepared to shun Lydia not only because I blamed her for all that happened, but because I believed that a man of my station does not claim connections to a farmer. I now see how wrong I was. A man’s worth is not determined by his place in society. You are a good man. You took Lydia as your wife under less than desirable circumstances. You did not have to do that, sir.”

“You made it to my advantage to do so, and my boys needed a mother.”

“We both know that your decision was based on your estimation of Lydia’s suitability to raise your sons, not financial gain. It was an honourable decision.”

“Be that as it may, I understand why you did what you did, Mr Darcy. If you insist on offering an apology, I can do nothing but accept it for myself and my family.”

“Thank you. Will you allow me to belatedly welcome you, your wife, and your sons to my family?” Darcy extended his hand to Mr Pritchford, who shyly but firmly grasped it in his own.

“I would like to discuss some other matters at another time, if you are willing to listen to me,” Darcy said to him.

“My pleasure, sir.”

Darcy waited for the other men to speak.

“As a Christian, I am required to forgive you, Darcy,” Bingley said at last, albeit tersely. “We have known each other too long to allow this to be between us. Still, I must tell you that you have greatly disappointed me.”

“I have greatly disappointed many people.”

“Yes, you have. And Mr Bennet is correct; you owe the women of our family an apology.”

“I will give it to them, but I must speak to Elizabeth first. Will you grant me until tomorrow?”

Mr Gardiner answered for Bingley. “Yes, Mr Darcy. In this matter, your wife comes first.”

“Thank you.” He bowed, relieved that the first steps toward reconciliation had begun, and was about to suggest that they return to the ladies when Mr Bennet spoke.

“I have one more question.” Mr Bennet was not ready to relent. “For whom is the child named?”

“Her grandmothers, her godmother, and her mother’s family.”

“Elizabeth was surprised. Did you not discuss it with her?”

“No, sir. Only the child’s first name, Anne, after my late mother.”

“When did you decide to include my wife’s name?”

Darcy again looked his father-in-law in the eye. “The first time that I held my daughter in my arms.”

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