Letters Part 30-40

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30.

The five sisters sat alone in a smaller parlor. Jane and Elizabeth after consultation with Emily Pope, had decided that they needed to speak with their younger siblings before the guests started to arrive. Elizabeth took the lead, knowing Jane preferred it that way.

“As you all know, tonight is Miss Darcy’s first public event. Jane and I wanted to speak with you reminding you of the importance of the evening and how your behavior will reflect on our hostess.”

“Oh, we know that, Lizzy!” Lydia argued.

“Be that as it may, if something is important, then it bears worth repeating. Jane and I expect you to behave in a manner that will bring honor to the Darcys and to the memory of our own parents. We all know how excited our mother would be for you, for all of us to be here.”

“And would let everyone know,” muttered Mary.

No one disagreed.

“The fact remains that with Jane’s marriage to Mr. Bingley, you three will be in position to meet men of fortune, like our new brother, when you are in Jane’s home. Those men will either respect you because of your conduct, and consider you an eligible female, or will see you acting like a silly female and dismiss you as nothing more than an object of flirtation. Objects of flirtation do not receive offers of marriage or other honorable intentions. They end up insulted, brokenhearted, or abandoned.”

“We know that; you have told us that before,” Kitty protested.

“As I said, good advice bears repeating. I will also warn you that if you do anything to bring shame on your friend, you run the very likely risk of never being welcomed to Pemberley again. And that, my dear sisters, would be a shame since not many people are invited to visit, from all that I have been told. Am I correct, Jane?”

“Caroline says this is only the third time she has been here, and that she has had many people ask her about the house, wondering if it is a grand as is reported.”

“It is!” Kitty said excitedly.

“So you understand what an honor Mr. and Miss Darcy have extended our family to have us here. This is why Jane and I are asking you to repay this honor by exhibiting your most pleasing manners tonight. Only Miss Tell is young like us. The older ladies will, no doubt, be most interested in seeing how Lady Anne’s daughter handles herself in her mother’s role. Be a friend and support her when you can, and let the women lead the conversation. Jane and I will help her, as will Mrs. Hurst and Miss Bingley. When they speak to you, be pleasant and polite.” Then Elizabeth smiled and finished her speech. “And when in doubt of how you should act, pretend that you are Jane and all will be well.”

“Lizzy!” Jane cried and all five of them giggled.

When they all calmed, Kitty asked the question the others were thinking. “You said the three of us would be thrown into the company of other rich and eligible men. What about you, Lizzy?”

“She has her Mr. Darcy, silly,” Lydia said, looking at Elizabeth expectantly.

“He is not my Mr. Darcy and I have no desire to leave Longbourn ever again.”

None of the five really believed her.

<<>>

The first larger dinner party hosted at Pemberley in many years was going splendidly. The weather continued to cooperate and the guests all arrived without any incident. Now they were seated at the massive table in the elegant formal dining room.

Seating for dinner had proved to be the most troublesome aspect of the planning. None of the women helping Georgiana, with the exception of Mrs. Reynolds, knew much about the other invited guests. Miss Bingley’s opinions on whom should be seated where were prejudiced by her main desire to be seated next to the host of the evening. Elizabeth, long attuned to the working of her home neighborhood, was of little use. She did, however, make a suggestion that was almost instantaneously seized upon my Miss Darcy. She would ask her brother to help her make the final seating arrangements.

<<>>

Elizabeth looked about her. They were in the middle of the first course of the much anticipated dinner. She had to laugh inwardly at Darcy’s cleverness. He had indeed helped his sister decide who should sit where and he was very careful to make sure Miss Bingley was neither slighted or unduly honored in comparison to Elizabeth. While he did not tell her that was his intention, she could tell by the satisfied look on his face when they all first sat down. And while Elizabeth would have enjoyed sitting next to him, a part of her was glad that if she was not, neither was Caroline Bingley or Louisa Hurst. Instead, she was in the middle of a delightful conversation with Mr. Mitchell, Mr. Arnold and Miss Tell. As soon as the elder minister, Mr. Mitchell, had learned that her late husband had been a clergyman himself, they had begun a spirited discussion of the life of a country parson.

“Your husband was rector for Lady Catherine de Bourgh? How amazing a coincidence!” Mr. Mitchell cried.

“Is that how you met Mr. Darcy?” Mr. Arnold asked.

“Indirectly. I knew who he was when he came to Hertfordshire with my Brother Bingley, but we had not met before then.”

“How did you like living so near Lady Catherine?”

“Rosings Park was but a lane from Hunsford; yes, very near. Hunsford was my husband’s first living. He worked as the curate in Meryton until he was old enough to be ordained. I encouraged him to take the living, so I was prepared to live with the consequences. Lady Catherine does like to be of use.”

“You have avoided my question, Mrs. Collins.”

Elizabeth smiled. “I suppose that any woman whose husband’s livelihood was as the mercy of another would feel a certain level of resentment on being so beholden to another. However, I was grateful for all the work she had done to the parsonage before we took possession, and my husband was happy to have her as his ‘noble patroness’.” Mr. Mitchell stared at her, waiting for her to finish her response. She smiled mischievously, “I also learned to pick and choose which bits of advice I listened to.”

Mr. Arnold laughed aloud. “A very wise thing to do with my Aunt Catherine, Mrs. Collins. I have told Amelia the same thing.”

Elizabeth looked to the head of the table; she saw Darcy looking at her, a small smile on his face that she recognized as the one he wore when he was content. Their eyes met and he gave a slight nod of acknowledgement before he returned his attention back to those seated near him. She then looked to the foot of the table, and saw the same look on Georgiana’s face. The siblings’ continence’s showed that dinner was, so far, a resounding success.

After the meal, before the men rejoined the ladies, Elizabeth was in conversation Miss Tell.

“I asked your betrothed about the wedding plans and he said that he left them all to you and that as long as he knew when to meet you at the church, he could care less.”

At Elizabeth recital, Amelia Tell rolled her eyes. “Heaven help me. While he may spout such nonsense to you, I assure you he has been more involved than that. It is his responsibility to see to the arrangements for his family who are attending. Although since they are staying here at Pemberley, I suppose all he had to do was ask Darcy if he would host them and Darcy has done the rest. He is like that, Darcy, always willing to see to the comfort of everyone under his care.”

“Yes, he is, as I have discovered. He is a very attentive host.”

“Have you enjoyed your stay at Pemberley? It is a most coveted invitation, I assure you.”

“I can believe that. The house and grounds are the finest I have ever seen, by far. The servants have been quite helpful. My children will be disappointed to return to our meager, by comparison, home.”

“I hope you will return in the future. If I know Darcy, he will insist his goddaughter come and visit him again.”

“Perhaps the next time we are here, she will be old enough to remember.”

The two continued to talk, forming the bonds of a friendship that would last for many years.

The rest of the evening was just as pleasant. A few of the ladies were prevailed upon to play. Miss Darcy proved to be the most reluctant to preform, but duly took her turn last. It was fortunate for the other performers that she did. While Caroline Bingley played very well indeed, Georgiana’s performance was exceptional. It was obvious to all what a tremendous talent the young lady possessed. Once she gained confidence, she would be amongst the best in the ton.

After the last of the guests departed, when the opportunity presented itself for a moment of privacy, Darcy asked Elizabeth if they could go on a drive in the morning. She agreed, and the planned to go out at their usual meeting time.

<<>>

Darcy was both excited, and fearful as he handed Elizabeth up into the curricle. After he climbed aboard and took the reins, the stable hand who had been steading the horses ran around and alighted on the rear of the vehicle and they were off.

“I wanted to show something but we will have to walk a little to get there. Robbie will see to the horses while we are gone.”

Darcy drove them up the main road into Pemberley. When they had reached the spot where the coach had first stopped to give them her initial view of the great house, Darcy stopped them as well. There was a wide spot in the road there and that is where they left the team with the groom. Darcy showed Elizabeth a faint trail she had not noticed before.

It was not long before they exited the wood into a small clearing. Elizabeth gasped as she saw Pemberley across the valley.

“I am biased, but I think this is the best view of the house to be found.”

“You are not, for I can hardly imagine another better. I had not notice this place before.”

“My grandfather wanted somewhere to see the house besides from the road. He found this spot and had a few trees strategically removed. Since then the grounds staff kept the view unobstructed, and worked to make this place as pleasant as possible for the family.”

“You must not bring many guests, for if you did they would never wish to leave.”

“Do you wish to leave?”

“I think I could live my entire life in Derbyshire, but I must return to Longbourn sometime.”

“Then stay in Derbyshire; remain at Pemberley.”

“As tempting as that is, Longbourn is my place, my life. Besides,” Elizabeth said with a hint of mischief in her eyes, “what would the neighborhood say to a widow and her three children encamped at Pemberley like it was their home?”

Darcy made her turn and look at him, taking her hand in his. He had refrained from touching her for so long that for him to do so immediately brought her eyes looking into his.

“They would think nothing of it if that widow was my wife. Stay with me. Marry me. Let me be a father to the fatherless. I will love your children as my own. I already do. Please?”

He saw the shock and recognition of his words in her eyes. He also saw the doubt, and then the sadness as she pulled her hand from his and turned to look out across the valley again, her arms wrapped around her. He spoke before she could reply.

“I know you said you would not marry again. But I am not Collins, Elizabeth. Whatever your marriage was like to him, it will not be the same with me.”

“I know that you are not he, and yet, I cannot…”

“I strongly suspected you are not ready, not now.”

“Then why ask?”

“I considered waiting until you gave me a sign you wanted my proposal. But I value your friendship too much to keep it to myself any longer. I would not have you continue in ignorance of my wishes when everyone else here but you could see them.”

Elizabeth would not reply, so he forged on ahead. He walked over to where she was and stood next to her, careful to not touch her. “Know this as well, I will wait for you until you want me too.”

Elizabeth did not respond for several moments. “I will not hold you to that promise when it has been too long to wait any longer. You and I both know you must marry and produce heirs.”

“I will take my chances with you.”

He could see by her posture that she disagreed with his optimism. They stood silent. He looked over at her; she looked at the magnificent house. She was the one to speak first.

“Will this change anything?” she said almost in a whisper. His heart ached with longing, but he would not bring her any more pain if he could help it.

“Only if you allow it. I am the same man I was before we left this morning.”

Elizabeth shook her head. “No, you are not,” she stopped and sighed before continuing, “but you are still my friend.”

They were both silent then. Darcy knew she was overwhelmed by what he had said. He was, too, for now she knew he wanted to marry her. After a while he acknowledged that they should head back to the house. They returned to Robbie and the horses. This time when he helped her up, he felt her tremble at his touch.

Neither said a word the entire journey back.

31.

Elizabeth’s thoughts were in turmoil and she was grateful to escape to the nursery and her children.

Miss Pope found her there.

“Are you unwell, Elizabeth?”

“What?”

“I asked if you were unwell,” Emily replied, concerned.

“Forgive me my inattention. I am well, I just have much on my mind.”

“Can I be of assistance?”

Elizabeth smiled ruefully. “You already are. I do not know what we would do without you.”

Emily blushed, and Elizabeth could tell her words pleased her young friend.

“Upon further thought, I think I would like to take a walk be myself. Would you please tell Maggie where I have gone when she returns?”

“Of course. Go. You always do your best thinking when you are walking about. I hope you find answers to whatever is on your mind.”

Elizabeth reached over and squeezed Miss Pope’s hand. “Thank you. I shall return.’

“Eventually.” Both women laughed.

Darcy looked out from the window in his study. He saw a woman walking away from the house at a brisk pace. It was Elizabeth and he was not surprised to see her going off alone. He had not seen her during William’s riding lesson; William told him his mother was in the nursery. She was not with the rest of the ladies when he and William returned. He decided that is she did not wish to be in company, then neither did he and so he had retreated to his private refuge.

It was not so private that he did not have company. As he stood watching Elizabeth disappear along a path, Bingley knocked on the door as he opened it and stepped in.

“You are supposed to wait until you are bade entrance.”

“Why prolong the inevitable? A footmen told me where I could find you.”

“For being master of such a large house, it is hard to escape.”

“Do want me to leave?”

Darcy turned around and sighed. “No, stay.” He walked over to the ever present decanter. “Would you like some?”

“No, thank you.” Darcy decided he did not wish for any spirits either and put the decanter and tumbler back on the tray.

“Well, are going to tell me what is the matter?”

Darcy sat down and stared into the fireplace.

“She did not accept my offer of marriage.”

“You do speak of Elizabeth?”

“Of course!”

“I just wanted to be sure.”

“Bingley…” Darcy practically growled.

“You finally asked her then. Were you not expecting her to refuse?”

“I said I did. However, it still does not make it any easier. I cannot imagine my life without her, Charles. Even though I was fairly certain she would say no, I was still excited to finally reveal my desires to her. I guess a part of me refused to listen to my reasoning’s that she is not ready for marriage yet.”

Both men remained quiet, contemplating the situation. Bingley finally asked the obvious. “What will you do now?”

“I told her that my offer remains, that I would wait for her. She did not seem to be happy to hear that.” Darcy scowled.

“She gave you no hope?”

“Not voluntarily. But she is not indifferent to me.” Darcy looked his friend in the eye, as if he needed Bingley to agree with to him. “When I helped her back into my curricle I felt her tremble.”

“There you go!” Bingley obliged, but Darcy still doubted.

“Is it enough? Can I let her leave with only a memory of a touch to sustain me?”

“We are still here, and will be a little while longer. Continue to be her friend. Ask her to keep your morning meeting.”

“I told her nothing had changed. We both knew that was a lie.”

Conversation ceased. The only sounds were the crackling of the small fire in the grate and the men’s breathing.

“I wish she would tell me about Collins. I feel like I am fighting a battle I cannot win, not knowing what it was about their marriage that makes her so decided against marrying again.”

“He was not abusive. Jane has said that. Maybe you should just ask Elizabeth?”

Darcy snorted. “I do not think that wise.”

“Perhaps not… I know, I will talk to Jane, ask her for her advice, and she will want to know what has happened.”

Darcy thought it was a good idea and said so. Then another idea struck him.

“Bingley, do not take this the wrong way, but have you ever contemplated the differences between your two sets sisters? I doubt Louisa would be concerned if Caroline received an unwanted offer of marriage.”

“She would likely scold her for turning down such an eligible match.”

“Your wife, however, would wish to comfort any of her sisters for any reason.”

<<>>

Elizabeth returned to her room from her walk, intending to go to the nursery for Henrietta. Instead, she found her daughter fussing in the arms of Jane. Elizabeth was very happy to see them there. Immediate she took the child and sat down to feed her. A very unladylike groan followed. Elizabeth looked sheepishly at Jane.

“I do not know who is more relieved, you or my niece.”

“I should have been back an hour ago and am paying for my folly,” Elizabeth replied over the noisy sound of a hungry child taking nourishment. After a few moments, Elizabeth had Henri change sides of her nursing, though the little one protested the interruption for a brief moment.

“Someday, if your husband allows it, you will understand the pleasure and the pain of caring for your baby in this way. Then again, if you ask I do not think Charles could refuse you from nursing your children yourself.”

Jane smiled her serene smile, “Charles and I are often of one mind.”

Elizabeth laughed and Henrietta voiced her displeasure. “I am sorry, little one. Momma will try not to disturb you again.”

The sisters talked of the coming days’ events. The Hursts and Miss Bingley were to leave first in ten days’ time. They would travel to Mr. Hurst’s family’s estate in Cheshire. The rest would depart a sennight later. Mr. Darcy was once again providing a coach so that there was room for all, though there would be little extra room.

Once Henrietta was finished, Jane called a servant to take the babe to the nursery, rather than either of them. Elizabeth was silent while the maid was in the room, but once they were alone she asked, “Why did you have a servant take Henri? I could have done it.”

“Why did you refuse Mr. Darcy’s offer of marriage?”

“Excuse me?”

“I sent Henri away so I can ask you why you refused Mr. Darcy.”

“How…”

“Charles told me. He found our host alone and much subdued. Since he knew Darcy was going to ask you at some point, he was fairly certain of the reason for Darcy’s demeanor and it was confirmed during their discussion.”

Elizabeth was not ready for the conversation, and amazed at the nonchalance of her sister.

“I will confirm that he asked and I declined but that is all that I will tell you.”

Jane, showing a determination Elizabeth had rarely before seen, would not allow her sister to flee. “I know you do not want to talk about it, but I am not going to let you leave off. Darcy is an honorable man, who will make a good father, who already adores you and your children.”

“I told you I do not want to remarry, Jane. It is as simple as that.”

“Then tell me why you wish to remain a widow when you can be a wife. Lizzy, I am married to a man who loves me and I know that you know what it means to be held is such regard by your spouse, to be cherished. Whatever Collins was or was not, he was completely devoted to you. You cannot tell me that you do not miss being held, loved.”

“One does not need to me married to experience that, not that I have been with another man.”

“I did not mean just the marriage bed.”

“I know, but… Jane, my marriage…”

“What? Help me understand so I can help you.”

Elizabeth sighed. Jane would not relent. Not this Jane.

“I spent most of my day alone contemplating this very thing.” Elizabeth got up and walked around her room, finally standing with looking out the window, her back to Jane. “It is difficult to be adored when the feeling is not reciprocated.”

Jane stayed mute, waiting for her sister to explain.

“You know I married William for you and my sisters and my mother. My marriage to him meant we were all free from the specter of genteel poverty. I suppose in the beginning I was happy enough knowing how much we all benefited from the match. William was a good man, if a simple man. Papa was right in that I could steer him toward decisions, that I could mold and manipulate him to be a better father and husband.”

“What happened?”

“I grew weary of it all. I appreciated his good temper, and the way he loved me and the children, but I could not truly respect him. He was no challenge for me except the challenge of not revealing that I never loved him. Jane, it would have devastated him. I mean, I never told him that I loved him, but I also never said that I did not. He also did things, little things, that began to grate on my nerves.”

“I had no idea.”

“I was in Kent and not seen you for several months. I became rather proficient in hiding my discontent. I focused on the children and the new Parrish and our new home. After William’s death, I felt guilty to be so free from the marriage. I came home to Longbourn intending to spend the rest of my life seeing to it that his children enjoyed their birthright. I gave five years of my life so that my family could remain in our home. I have no intention of giving it up for any man.”

“Mr. Darcy is not Mr. Collins.”

“I know that, Jane, but he is still a man. Even you cannot absolve him of that.”

Elizabeth was finished, and suddenly very tired.

“Jane, I would like to lie down for a while, if you do not mind.”

“Of course. Shall ask for a tray for you for dinner?”

“No, I will have the maid wake me.”

“Very well.” Jane got up to leave, but stopped before she reached the door for one last word. “I think Collins would be very grieved to know that he caused you to lose faith in the institution of marriage. Your union made a man of him, do not let it have destroyed the joy of being a wife in you.”

<<>>

Elizabeth did come down for dinner. She watched Darcy, trying to see if he treated her any differently. He did not, but she was better able to see what she had missed before. He greatly admired her and it showed on the look on his face whenever he looked at her. Now she understood what that look really meant.

As soon as possible, she excused herself to go to her room and asked Jane if she would come with her for a few minutes. Jane acquiesced. They walked arm and arm to nursery to say goodnight to the boys and to collect Henri for her final feeding of the day. Alone, with only her daughter as witness, Elizabeth asked Jane, “You said earlier that you knew Darcy was going to propose?”

“Charles asked Darcy about his intentions months ago. He in turn asked us for advice on how to proceed with you.”

“I cannot believe you interfered…”

“We did not interfere. We simply offered advice right after he revealed his intentions. The only other part we have played since then was to convince you to accept his invitation to Pemberley. I knew you needed to see the life he could give you before he asked.”

A thought occurred to Elizabeth. “Was the idea to refurnish Longbourn his after all?”

“No, that was my idea. Once the invitation here was proffered, I started to think back on when the last time Longbourn was vacant and could not remember anything other the few trips we made to London to visit the Gardiners. That led to realization that the servants had not had a prolonged period of uninterrupted opportunities to do some much needed cleaning. Mother only would tolerate a room unavailable to her at any one time. From there the improvement ideas sprung forth. And before you ask, Darcy only added the painting to the servants’ quarters at the end of the discussions. The rest really was my inspiration. All I had to do was to have Charles agree to pay for the extra labor and supplies. I confess I am looking forward to seeing the old house all clean and shiny. After the tragedies of the past year, it was time for a new beginning, so to speak.”

After Jane had left and she returned Henrietta to her nursemaid for the night, though tired, Elizabeth lay awake for a long time.

Over and over she reviewed the conversations she had with Darcy and with her sister and yet she still did not regret her decision. She did regret having to refuse a man she instinctively knew she could be happy with, but she would not change her mind. What Darcy had offered her was not enough. He never spoke of affection or love – for her. Even if he had, she would have given him the same response. She had given up too much for Longbourn to give it away again, even for Pemberley.

And what of her friendship with the tall, reserved man from Derbyshire? That she did not want to lose. She could admit to herself that she enjoyed his friendship and that her reservations upon coming had gradually faded away as they spent more time together. He knew her almost as well as Jane now. And she had flourished safely in their platonic intimacy.

So when she reviewed his proposal and response, she knew she had handled the moment poorly, and replied in a manner she now found lacking. She had given him little reason for her rejection and he deserved to know more. Perhaps it would help him understand and move on from whatever it was that motivated him to offer for her and find a woman who was imminently better suited to be his wife. It was time to bring up the subject they had both avoided for so long; William Collins.

32.

“I was afraid you would not come,” Darcy said as Elizabeth entered into his study at their customary hour.

“Why should I not? You yourself yesterday said nothing had changed.”

“I lied,” he said plainly.

“I know,” she replied, just as honestly.

“And yet you are here.” He seemed encouraged by her presence.

“We are still friends. Come, Darcy, let us walk together. There must be some path you still have not shown me.”

Minutes later they were exiting the house, headed away from the main façade of the building. Elizabeth did not wait long to speak.

“It occurred to me last night that we have never really spoken much about my husband or my marriage.”

“I did not want to pry.” Darcy replied guardedly.

“I appreciate that, truly.”

“You were so young to marry,” blurted out, unable to stop himself now that the subject was open.

She had been, and so she began.

“I was but fifteen. I was younger still when William’s father passed on. My father and William’s father had a strong disagreement and were estranged. Papa had never even met William when his father died and he became my father’s heir. About three months after Mr. Collins’ death, on an impulse Papa wrote to William and invited him to Longbourn. I think my father felt a little guilty arguing with a man he never met over something of which he had no part. He also felt sorry for him, knowing how harsh a man Mr. Collins senior was.

At that time William was studying at Cambridge to become a clergyman, and Papa invited him to come between terms. My mother and sisters were all wary of him, knowing the man potentially held great power over us. My father, however, was simply curious. He later told me that their interactions over the first few days at Longbourn did nothing to disprove his preconception that his heir had suffered under the iron rod of his father.

My sisters and I were surprised that he was not a commanding presence. Instead he was anxious to please, and seemed easily impressed. I witnessed William beginning to fawn over my father, so starved he was for notice of those above him in life.

Papa realized that if he would exert himself, he could greatly influence his heir for his family’s betterment. However, there was one repercussion of the visit he had failed to anticipate. My mother reasoned that if one of her daughters were to marry the heir, then all their troubles would be solved. Unfortunately, she mentioned this to my father in the company of William and he took a keen liking to the scheme. Of course, his initial attention had been captured by Jane. However, there was a very eligible suitor writing very bad poetry to her at this time.” Elizabeth chuckled a bit in remembrance of the situation. “Mama was quite hopeful of the match and quickly let Mr. Collins know of her unavailability. Of her other daughter who was soon to be out, me, there was no such encumbrance.”

Elizabeth glanced at her companion then. He looked straight ahead, his face a picture of concentration as he listened to what she was telling him. She had always appreciated he ability to listen and not feel the need to interject unless he needed a clarification.

“My father was no fool. He did have doubts about our compatibility, but he could not afford to dismiss the notion out of hand.

“The next morning he called me to his book room to speak with him in private. He told me what had occurred with Mama, and that Collins was interested in me. He was honest with me about our family’s situation and his belief that I was the kind of wife that could improve our cousin. He explained that William would return to Cambridge to complete his studies and then return in June. I was to give William a chance during a three to four months courtship, but that I would not be asked to give him a decision until after Michalmas. Papa also gave his word that he would speak to Mama and that she would not pressure me into accepting William.”

“You were so young, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth shook her head in agreement. “I was, but I was not so young not to realize that my father was acting reasonably, even if I did not particularly like the idea of marrying when I was fifteen. But, knowing the nature of the entail on Longbourn, I agreed to wait and see.

Mr. Collins was informed of the decision and was quite happy to agree to Father’s terms. He even kissed my hand when he left to return to Cambridge. I remember blushing and being teased about it by my sisters.

Before I knew it, he had finished his studies and was back in Hertfordshire. Those summer months were spent not only in a courtship, but with William getting to know the entire family and the family estate. I knew full well that most of a marriage to him would be spent at Longbourn living with my family so I demanded that Father include him in the business of running the estate. There is no greater cruelty I could imagine in marrying for duty than to marriage a man who would run Longbourn into the ground, leaving as me as poor a married woman as I would have been as a spinster.

In the middle of September my father spoke with me again, asking me if I knew my mind yet. In reply I asked him if he thought William would make a good master of Longbourn. He said he believed he would eventually. He had already learned to ride, a skill he did not possess when we met him. Papa told me that my presence as his heir’s wife would be key to making the estate prosper. He promised to continue to groom him and not to fall back in his previous patterns of disinterest in the management of Longbourn.

I confessed had my doubts, but papa reminded me that I would likely never receive such an eligible offer.” Here Elizabeth stopped and blushed. She picked up the narrative before allowing herself any time for regret.

“To help assuage my doubts, Papa pledged that he would insist William renew the entail as part of our marriage agreement. I in turn promised to strongly consider saying yes. I spent the next few weeks alone with my thoughts until at last I was ready to accept Mr. Collins.

Of course, Mama was ecstatic with my decision, especially since Jane had not received the hoped for marriage proposal.

While I freely admit I enjoyed being the center of attention for once in my life, I still had concerns. Father told me that it was only natural, that everyone wondered at least once during their engagement if they were doing the right thing in marrying. He then told me he had thought much about how to help us and had decided that is gift to us would be two weeks in London – alone. He wanted to give us a chance to start our marriage on a more tranquil footing than what remaining at Longbourn would ever allow. It helped. I was excited to go to Town. London meant trips to the theatre, to museums, and to Vauxhall Gardens! William joined me in my enthusiasm. He told me he had even less experiences in the pleasures of Town than I.

And so we married in Longbourn church on the 29th December of 06. We greatly enjoyed our two weeks in London. I took special delight in encouraging my new husband to have fun. I saw a side to him that was endearing and my heart broke just a little in realizing how difficult his life must have been as a child. I grew to understand that young William Collins was punished for his failures, perceived or real, and that had molded him into the man I married. He tried ever so hard to please me. I knew by the time we left London to return to Longbourn, that no matter what other deficiencies William might have, I would always be cherished by him and that someday he would make a wonderful father. And I was correct. Ten months later William was born and twenty months after that, John came along.

When the curacy in Meryton opened, Papa urged William to apply. The salary was low, but as we were living at Longbourn, the extra income was welcomed and the experience invaluable preparing him for ordination. He was picked for the position, no doubt as a favor to Papa. He still had his estate duties at Longbourn, but my father agreed he should be about the Lord’s work as his primary employment.

And then last year in March, William was ordained. Shortly thereafter he was contacted by Lady Catherine. You might recall that her previous parson died in February. He had been without a curate and she was anxious to fill the position and somehow she heard about my husband and wrote asking for a meeting.

My father advised my husband to meet with her. A living would allow us to save money, something we could not do before. William was unsure, worried about the distance between Rosings and Longbourn, I thought it rather a good thing. I was tired of living under the same roof as my mother and urged him to at least go to Hunsford to meet Lady Catherine to see if it was an acceptable situation.

The meeting with your aunt went well, though I could tell she would be a very attentive neighbor. As long as I could run my household they way I saw fit, something I told William I insisted upon Lady Catherine understanding, I was in favor of accepting.

From there you already know most of the rest of the story. Lady Catherine must have been satisfied with the interview, because she offered the living that day and William accepted. We moved to Hunsford and worked to establish ourselves in the community. As a surprise, my husband arranged for us to take a short trip to Ramsgate. We only lived in Kent for a few months before his death. We did not even know for sure I was with child when it happened. I returned to Kent, packed up all of our belongings that we had just unpacked and returned to Longbourn with my father.”

Elizabeth finished and did not know what else to say. She waited for Darcy to speak

“Thank you. I had always wondered how you came to be married when you were. May I ask you one question?”

“Of course.”

“Were you happily married, Elizabeth?”

“I was content. William was never vicious or cruel. He never raised his hand against me or our sons. In that I found a kind of happiness.”

“What if Collins had not come to Longbourn when he did, and instead came when you were five years older. Would you still have married him?”

“You only asked if you could ask one question.”

“Please, Elizabeth. This is important to me.”

“Who is to say what I would have done for I do not know what kind of man he would have become? I would have been more circumspect, that is for certain. I hope I would have been able to see the good man inside him, the one who cared so much for me and for our family. Yet, being older I would have had more experience with men and perhaps have chosen a spouse based less on material consideration and more on compatibility.”

“I think you would have wanted a husband who did not always let you have your own way. Someone who would have challenged you, someone you respected enough to pledge obedience when you were old enough to understand what that really meant.”

Someone like you. She did not say it, neither did he, but it was unspoken and true.

“This is all speculation. We should return to the house. You have a riding lesson to give my son and I have sisters I have ignored for too long and whom I intend to spend the day with, when not needed by my children.”

“William has improved so much these past weeks. I suppose this is a good as time as any to tell you that I asked Mr. Grainger to find a new horse for William in Hertfordshire. He will have Paul and Old Wiggens approve to the mount. I will, of course, bear the burden of the animal’s purchase price and upkeep.”

“I did not doubt that you would do so. You are too used to having your own way.”

“Not in everything.” Elizabeth blushed. No, not when it came to her.

33.

Elizabeth found her younger siblings and Miss Darcy planned to spend time outside playing games. The skies were clear and the weather glorious. Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst declined, not wishing to be out in the sun, afraid they would become tanned. Jane offered to keep her sisters company. Miss Pope joined in to make even the number of contestants. It seemed like years since Elizabeth felt so carefree and the women laughed and generally enjoyed the various contests. Mrs. Annesley was pressed into service as referee, though none was really needed.

They were engaged in a spirited archery contest when Lydia asked, “Can we please buy some bows and arrows so we can shoot when we get home?” Elizabeth finished her shot, which by some small miracle landed near the center of the target.

“Let me have a look at the household accounts when we are back in Hertfordshire. If they allow it, I see no harm. But I cannot promise enough bows for all of us to use at one time.”

“Jane can ask Bingley for the rest, Lizzy.”

“Lydia,” Jane tried to be stern, but the effect was lost with the smile on her face. They all knew that Jane had to but ask and her devoted husband would give her anything she desired.

“And Mr. Darcy will buy bows for William and John.”

“John is too little, as is William for that matter.”

“That will not stop my brother,” Georgiana added.

Elizabeth shook her head. She knew they were correct. Besides, in her mind she had already picked out the perfect spot for the targets.

“I am glad we could spend the day together, I have been neglecting you.”

Mary shook her head, “There is much to do at Pemberley, and you have your children who need you. We see you every day.”

“I feel as if I have neglected you.”

“You have not. Truly,” Kitty replied.

“I do not blame you, sister. If I had a man like Mr. Darcy, paying attention to me, I would leave you all in a heartbeat.” Lydia proclaimed, then added, “sorry Georgiana, but your brother is so very handsome and so very rich.”

Georgiana colored slightly, but laughed along. “Oh, I know he is, and he is the best of brothers. I could not ask for one better.”

Elizabeth was proud of Miss Darcy. The young lady had come a long way out of her shy disposition when in company with she and her sisters. Her companion, Mrs. Annesley looked pleased as well.

“Whose turn is it?”

“Mine!” Kitty said and stepped forward to take aim. She managed to hit the target, earning applause from her companions and the game was back on.

Dinner that evening was less awkward than the night before for Elizabeth and Darcy and over the coming days things mostly went back to the way they were before Darcy proposed. Mr. Mitchell and then Mr. Arnold came to dinner again.

<<<>>>

Before she knew it, it was time for the Hursts and Miss Bingley to leave. Darcy was ever the attentive host, going out of his way to walk Caroline to the carriage himself and hand her in once all of the farewells were said. Elizabeth was mortified to acknowledge that she felt a pang of jealousy and possessiveness over Darcy even though she knew he had no absolutely intentions toward the lady.

Once the carriage was on its way, they all walked back into the house. Without thinking, Elizabeth reached to take Darcy’s arm, to which he offered with the some lack of thought. She felt the return of the now familiar jolt of awareness that happened whenever they touched redoubled when he laid his other hand over hers, pinning her to his side. He would not release her again until they entered the parlor and he helped her to sit. Immediately thereafter he excused himself, proclaiming that his steward was waiting for him and that he would be out for most of the rest of the day. Elizabeth knew this, but she was still sorry to see him leave. She gave herself over to her hostess and the plans for the day.

Miss Pope and Mrs. Annesley had agreed that the girls deserved a treat, and so they would spend time in the ballroom practicing their dancing. Mr. Bingley enthusiastically agreed to lend a hand, or rather, his two feet, but more often than not the ladies did not need a gentleman to be their partner. Bingley, of course, was most happy when he could partner Jane, but was a good enough sport to partner any of the other ladies if asked. Elizabeth, Georgiana, Mary, Miss Pope and Mrs. Annesley took turns playing the piano so all had a chance to dance, though the two companions and Elizabeth shared the bulk of the playing duties. And when they decided to practice some lively country dances, several footmen were summoned to increase the numbers and the pleasure of the exercise.

Lydia and Kitty thought the last set of dances were the more gratifying. Though their manners had improved, they could not resist a little flirting with the footmen participating. Thankfully, they did not approach their previous level of gaiety and thus were spared a lecture at the end – though their sister Elizabeth did mention to them that they needed to remember their station and not cross the line toward unseemliness. It was unfair for the servants to do so. Kitty and Lydia took her words as they were intended, and were not offended. Yet another sign of the strides they had made under Miss Pope’s tutelage.

“You missed a marvelous afternoon, Darcy,” Bingley told him after dinner while waiting to rejoin the ladies.

“I am heartily disappointed that I did. Had my steward not had need of me, I would have been able to assist you.”

Bingley grinned. “I think this might be the first time you actually wanted to dance, and you could not. Ah, the irony!”

“Bingley!” Darcy tried to appear stern, but his friend would not have it. Both men laughed.

“Shall I suggest to Jane that a repeat of today would be appreciated?”

“After hearing the ladies, I do not think it necessary. Fortunately for me, unless something unforeseen arises, I am at leisure to join the party for the remainder of your stay.”

“Capital, capital!” They laughed again. “In all seriousness, I am glad to see you back in spirits.”

“It is hard to stay in a dull mood when Elizabeth is not in one, too. I think if she had avoided me, I would not be so hopeful. But she has not and the awkwardness is mostly gone. We still spend time together in the mornings as we did before that day, and our friendship remains strong.”

“Is that enough?”

“For now; she told me about Collins.”

“Did it help?”

“I think so. Now that I know why she married him, I understand her better. She gave up so much when she wed Collins and I think she fears she will give up more if she remarries.”

“Then your task is to convince her that she has more to gain than to lose by marrying you.”

“That is what I think, too.”

“How will you accomplish this in a week?”

“I will not. It will take time and my constancy to show her what she can have with me. Until she understands we cannot live without the other, she will not marry me. I only hope it will not kill me to wait for her to come to that conclusion.”

“I do not envy you, Darcy. She has led you on a merry chase.”

“Tis a chase worth the prize at the end. You have your own Bennet girl. You know it is worth it to call one your own.”

<<<>>>

Darcy’s supposition came to fruition the final night to the house party. His cousin, Mr. Arnold was asked to dinner again, as was Mr. Mitchell. Afterwards they repaired to the ballroom and an impromptu ball was begun. Darcy summoned his steward and his man of letters, both of who knew how to dance, so even out the number of ladies to gentlemen, with the only one lady required to sit out a dance.

There was much laughter, and quite a few toes trodden upon – ladies’ and well as the gentlemen’s – and all were is high spirits as the evening progressed. When it was suggested that a break was in order, refreshments were called for and most everyone moved to the chairs assembled for that purpose.

Darcy, who was looking for an opportunity to spend one last time alone with Elizabeth, suggested a walk outside in the lovely cool evening air. She agreed and they excused themselves from the rest of the party, stating their intention to take a stroll outside. If anyone smiled at their desire to be alone, Elizabeth chose not see it.

He led her to other side of the house and the veranda there. They walked over to the balustrade and looked out over the darkened park. The lights from the house were just enough that they could see each other clearly, though.

“May I ask a favor, Elizabeth?” She turned toward him, tilting her head to one side, waiting to hear his request. “I ask for a kiss. A taste, so we both know what it is between us.”

He knew he surprised her by the look on her face. Then she grew thoughtful and finally nodded as she moved near, tipping her head in acknowledgement of her consent. He dipped his head and his lips at last met hers. If this was to be the only kiss they would have, then he was determined to make it one he would always remember. He began in all tenderness, slowly and lovingly; as she did not withdraw, he deepened it. She seemed surprised, but quickly adjusted, clearly following his lead. His hands, having begun on her arms soon wandered pulling her closer and closer to him. When she was completely pressed against him, he continued the assault on her senses with his mouth and exploring her curves with her hands. He knew she could feel his need pushing against her, but he did not care. After this, she would have no doubt how much he wanted her, and he was left with no doubt that she wanted him. When he reached that point where he knew his must make a choice, he chose to honor her. So he brought his hands back to a more chaste position and slowly ended the kiss. Elizabeth looked up at him, by then as shaken as he.

“What was that?” she asked in wonder.

Somehow Darcy knew the answer.

“Your first kiss.”

“I have kissed a man before.”

“That was for duty. Those do not count. This was your first real kiss, Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth’s eyes grew wide as she looked at him, and then they narrowed again to deep dark pools before she initiated her second ‘real’ kiss. Darcy was almost helpless to refuse her until he felt her hand begin to pull at his cravat. He broke their second kiss and grabbed hold of her wrist.

“no.”

Their eyes met, and then her gaze fell. He let go of her one wrist so he could lift her chin.

Tenderly he said, “Look at me.”

His tone must have given her courage, because she did.

“I want you, Elizabeth, but only as my wife. Anything less is unworthy of you. Do you understand?”

She nodded, and then hugged him, laying her face on his chest.

“I am flattered, dearest, that you desire me. I know you can tell how much I desire you.” That was plainly evident to her pressed up against him as she was. She giggled. “Promise me you will not be embarrassed around me because then I shall have to be embarrassed around you?”

“I shall try.”

“Good.”

They stood there, alone on the veranda, embracing the safety of the dark, both dreading tomorrow when she would leave him and Pemberley returning to her life in Hertfordshire.

Darcy considered asking her again to marry him, but refrained. She needed to go home and decide what was more important; Longbourn or happiness. For no longer was Longbourn and all the sacrifices she had made for it, both.

When they returned to the ball room they found most of the party has gone to bed, only Bingley, Mr. Mitchell, and Mr. Arnold remained and they were only waiting to say farewell to their host. Arnold was spending the night at the parsonage with the Reverend Mitchell. Elizabeth said goodnight, leaving Bingley and Darcy alone. They moved to the library for a nightcap before they too went to bed.

They sat before the fire, nursing their drinks. Darcy knew his friend wanted to be with his wife, but he could not bring himself to send him away just yet.

“Are you sure you will not come to Netherfield next month?”

“I have things to do here, and then I need to take Georgiana to Town so she can resume her lessons with her masters. She wishes to spend the next year perfecting her playing.”

“She’s nearly perfect now.”

“She would disagree, Bingley. I do not know enough to be a judge either, but Mrs. Annesley has told me that Georgiana is right. She also believes that it will add to her confidence to focus on her studies and better prepare her for her formal coming out and presentation the next season. And since she will reside mostly in Town, I will be spending most of my time there as well. That is, unless I am needed in Hertfordshire.”

“You are always welcome at Netherfield, even if we are in Town.”

“I appreciate that, and I will take you up on the offer soon enough.”

Bingley nodded, and looked into the fire. He sighed.

“I do not know how you can let her go, Darcy.”

“I know not either, but it must be, and so it shall. I depend on you to keep her safe for me, and to summon me if needed.”

“I will, on my honor.”

“I know. Thank you. Now go to your wife. You need your rest for your journey.”

Bingley started to say something, but shook his head and smiled instead. He stood up and wished his friend a goodnight and then left Darcy alone with his thoughts.

Darcy remained a while longer, his thoughts a jumble as he tried to make sense of his encounter with Elizabeth. He was surprised at how innocent she appeared when he had kissed her, something he thought impossible for a woman with three children. Then again, after all he had learned about her late husband and their marriage, perhaps it should not be such a surprise. At that moment he felt sorry for all that she has missed and gained a little more understanding why she was so reluctant to re-enter the marriage state.

<<<>>>

September 14, 1812

Elizabeth wished she had been able to sleep better. Her thought about Darcy and their kiss keeping her awake much too long. When the maid awoke her at the appointed hour, she wished she could go back to sleep. Instead she was up and preparing herself and her children for their departure.

It was time to return to Longbourn.

She thanked the ladies maid who had served her during her stay, and had a special word of thanks for maids who had assisted Maggie with the children. William, of course, wished to say goodbye to Misty, the pony he had been riding. Darcy assured the lad that the horse would indeed miss him but that it was also happy to return to its normal home. John clung to Darcy’s leg as they waited to depart. Bingley took the responsibility of paying the vails to the servants, something Elizabeth was grateful for as she had never done so herself.

When the carriages came round, the time had come for the final farewells. Elizabeth was the last to enter, and Darcy was there to help her in. He took her hand and raised it to his lips for a kiss before he assisted her inside his best conveyance.

“If for any reason you need me, send word and I shall come as soon as I am able,” he told her.

Elizabeth did not trust herself to speak. She nodded and knew he understood.

“Until November, then,” he said to her and to the drivers, “move out!”

The two carriages set out and the mounted guards Darcy insisted upon followed behind. He sent the same escort he would have had it been Georgiana in those carriages. His would send no less for his future bride.

34.

A very weary party arrived back at Longbourn after seven weeks away. For the younger girls and Jane and Bingley, it had been even longer. Still, they were all excited to see the changes that had been made while they were all away.

Jane was especially delighted to see her girlhood home looking so improved. The new fabrics, paper and paint worked wonders on the tired old manor. Mrs. Hill proudly led them on a tour, explaining in detail all the work that had been done to the different parts of the house. They even took a peek in the servant’s quarters. Darcy was wise to suggest they not be neglected. Elizabeth could see how pleased those inhabitants where with their own portion of the updating.

The final rooms they visited were the redecorated Mistress’s suite. Elizabeth gasped as she entered. They were so different! Unbeknownst to her, Jane had ordered the rooms completely stripped. New furniture and fabrics greeted them.

“Do you like your new rooms, Lizzy?” Jane asked softly.

“Oh, Jane,” Elizabeth said as she fell upon her best friend, “Thank you. I needed this to happen for me to claim them.”

“I know you did. That is why I asked Charles and he agreed. You are finally Mistress of Longbourn in your own right, but you needed a change here to do so without guilt.”

Jane, so kind and so wise. That was why all of her sisters loved and respected her.

“I left the masters suite up to you to complete. I thought you might have a better idea what they should be than I.”

“It will not be needed any time soon. I will leave that expense for later.”

Jane just smiled. Elizabeth knew what she was thinking, but was too tired to argue with words unsaid. Instead she told Jane and Bingley that they should come back tomorrow after they had a chance to recuperate from the long journey.

The residents of Longbourn and Netherfield slept well that night.

15 September, 1812
Pemberley House, Derbyshire

Elizabeth,

Be not alarmed, my friend, on the receiving of this letter, by the apprehension of its containing solely those sentiments that you were not ready to hear, but had to be said nonetheless. You know my wishes for our future and I wait for the day when your wishes match mine.

There, that is over with. Now I may continue as I probably should have begun.

You have been gone one less than two days and I find myself missing you most dreadfully. I also miss your family, in case you wondered. The house is too quiet, though Georgiana has taken to her instrument much of the time in an attempt to fill the silence we were once so accustomed to. I have decided Pemberley is a much happier place when its halls and rooms abound with the sounds of conversation and laughter. I intend to see it become a regular occurrence.

Misty the pony was returned to her owners today. I rather think they had hoped I would ask to buy her, but I did not make the offer. I have no use for such an animal until the next time your children come to Pemberley.

Besides returning the horse, my steward has kept me busy visiting different tenant cottages and surveying the improvements he has been overseeing this past summer. Our crops have been bountiful and the tenants seem happy. I am blessed.

You should realize by now that I want to see the same type of prosperity at Longbourn as I see here. If all goes well, William will assume control of an estate that is flourishing and able to provide a good dowry for his sister and an equally fine bequest to stake his brother John into his chosen life. I believe such a thing is possible and want it to come true.

My father often told me as I grew that passing the estate to my heir in a better situation than it was passed to me should be my primary goal in life. In coming years I hope my stewardship of William’s inheritance matches that of my stewardship of Pemberley so that he can give his brother a legacy and his sister a generous dowry.

Until then, I hope all three of them enjoy swimming in the pond. John was swimming on his own by the time you left. I thank you once again for the privilege of teaching him to swim. I was doubly blessed to teach both of your sons each that something I dearly love. We must come up with something equally clever for me to impart upon my goddaughter. I would hate for her brothers to have an advantage over her in firsts that I have witnessed.

Or her mother, for that matter. As much as I enjoyed introducing you boys to a favorite pastime, nothing thrilled me more than doing so for their mother.

Are you blushing yet?

Your admirer and your loyal servant,
Fitzwilliam Darcy

Elizabeth did not know what to expect in his letter and it seemed as though he knew how to meet everything that she should. But most of all, it demonstrated he was the same complex, clever man that she was growing to care for too much for her peace of mind.

And she missed him even more than she did before she read his letter.

William had been asking if they could all go swimming. As much as she hated to admit it, she could no longer take him. He was past the age of seeing a female so informally dressed. She would ask Mr. Grainger to arrange for a couple of the men to take the boys since she did not think her Brother Bingley was competent enough in the water to watch over her sons.

Suddenly Elizabeth had a great need to hold one of her children. Henrietta was awake and happy to reach for her mother. Since the weather was so fine, Elizabeth decided to take her daughter for a stroll.

She made her way down the stairs, their high polish catching the light, through the immaculately clean entry at out the freshly painted front door. The steps had been scrubbed of all their accumulated mud and moss and the gravel was neat and raked and absolutely level. Once in the attached gardens, her feet trod over the freshly cut grass and she beheld the flourishing plants that filled the weeded beds. She finally arrived at her favorite bench, the one with the view of the house.

She had never seen Longbourn look so well, inside and out. The gardens had suffered after she and Collins had left for Hunsford. Her late husband spent much of his free time tending them, helping her father probably more than he should. However, Elizabeth knew how much William enjoyed the pastime and encouraged him to indulge in his passion. She reasoned that the exercise he received was beneficial and it all helped instill a pride in the house and environs that she had hoped one day would extend to the estate as a whole as they put their own mark on it. Once they had gone, her father was incapable or unwilling to keep them up the way her husband had and there was not enough hired help to maintain the standard that her husband had set. And so things were allowed to become wilder and a little too untamed even for Elizabeth’s tastes. However, the men Darcy had sent to them had painstakingly brought the grounds back and even surpassed where they had been a year and a half ago. If this is what Darcy meant by leave an estate in better shape than when one received it, Longbourn was in the best of hands with his oversight.

When Henrietta grew fussy, Elizabeth returned to the house.

“Mama!” John cried out with excitement when she entered the nursery. He was sitting on the floor playing with some wooden blocks while William was seated at a table with some chalk and a slate practicing writing something. When he saw his mother he smiled and held up his work. It read ‘WILLIAM’.

“Well done, son,” said Elizabeth in lavish praise. He was such a good boy, so earnest and endearing. He had much of his father in him.

Elizabeth gave Henri over to Maggie and gave her attention to her sons. John was content to continue to play, but William wanted to work on writing his letters. For the next half hour they practiced on the slate until the boy lost interest. Elizabeth commended him on his progress and let him play with her brother.

She looked around her and was once again struck by how well the room looked. She had decided that other than a new coat of paint, and some wax and polish, the room would remain unchanged whilst the rest of the house was refreshed. And while it was in essentials, the same, it looked and smelled cleaner and brighter and more inviting. Her children would not know the difference, but she did and she was grateful to her sister and to Darcy and to the servants who spent so many hours making it so.

Miss Pope asked to speak to Elizabeth soon thereafter about the work still needing to be done on her sisters’ rooms.

Before she married, Elizabeth had shared a room with Jane and Mary with Kitty. Lydia had still been in the nursery, much to her consternation. Once Elizabeth wed and she and Collins were given the other pair of connecting rooms, Jane and Mary moved into a new room together and Lydia was put with Kitty. After Jane’s marriage, Mary no longer shared a room. While the family was away this summer, the ceilings had been repainted and everything thoroughly cleaned, but nothing else was done.

Jane had asked Elizabeth, while they were in Derbyshire, if they should update the girl’s bedrooms when they returned. Elizabeth thought it a good idea, but insisted the estate pay for it. Jane agreed, as long as she could gift her sisters with new bed linens. It was Emily Pope’s idea that they could use the improvements as part of their gentlewomen’s training. Miss Pope did not mean just the choosing of the new wall and window treatments, but the actual sewing of some of the items. The girls would be responsible for the new quilts that covered the beds, as well as complimentary pillow covers and other such things. While the estate could afford to purchase these items already made, both elder sisters and Emily agreed that it would be foolish to assume that the three would make matches where they could afford to buy such things. Instead Miss Pope would help them make them themselves as well as bring an upholsterer into the house to recover the any furniture so that they could learn how that was done as well.

There had been some complaining, mostly from Kitty and Lydia, but that was quickly silenced when both Elizabeth and Jane offered their assistance with some of the sewing.

That morning the girls had been Meryton select their fabrics. Miss Pope was reporting on their efforts.

“Mrs. Bingley has very good taste and your sisters appreciated her advice, but she was very good about letting her sisters make their own choices. They did well and I think they are more accepting of the idea now that they see what will be in their rooms.”

“I am glad to hear it. I was not looking forward to another plea from Lydia.”

“She is actually the reason I wanted to talk to you. Have you considered what social events you will allow her to attend?”

“No, I have not. I am still a bit overwhelmed by all that happened in our absence.”

“Longbourn looks well, indeed, Elizabeth. While Lydia was in Derbyshire, she was in company with us all of the time, as was Miss Darcy. I think you are asking for trouble if you try and curtail her visiting to what it was like before our time at Pemberley. I am not saying that she should be completely out, but she should be allowed to join us when we are out in the neighborhood for evenings. I also believe she is even ready for assemblies, as long as she does not dance with anyone other than Mr. Bingley, or stand up with one of her sisters.”

“Do you think she can behave properly?”

“Do you?”

“She has come along and I have nothing of substance to complain about. Yet, she is her mother’s daughter.”

“And you are not? She learned much from her time at Pemberley. I think you do not give her enough credit if you think she will revert back to an untamed child the first time she is out in company. If instead you offer her praise for her newfound poise and self-possession, I think she will be eager to show you how she has become a young lady and that Kitty will follow in her footsteps, which in this case is a good thing.”

“I must confer with Jane, but I own that you probably have the right of it. And Lydia is the tallest and most formed of us all. She no longer will be considered a child physically, even if she were still one in her sensibilities.”

“I think in her case, expectation of mature behavior on her part will lead to it, and now that the militia and its officers are no longer in the neighborhood tempting her to flitter and flirt, she and Kitty will be easier to manage. I suspect that they still think of the remaining young men who could encourage wild behavior only as the boys they have known all their lives and not possible marriage partners. At least not at this time.”

“If we add in the incentive of a trip to Town to stay with Jane and Bingley, then we might have our solution to regulating their behavior.” Elizabeth smiled, very pleased with their conclusions. “Emily, have I told you how much I appreciate you and your work with my sisters? Asking you to come live with us is one of the best decisions I have ever made.”

Emily laughed; they had had this discussion before. “You saved me for a dreary existence. Accepting our offer was one of the best decisions I ever made. Now I should go and find your sisters and continue to mold them into marriageable women. The sooner they find a mate, the sooner I can begin teaching your wonderful children. Protecting young ladies’ and their reputations can be tiring. I will be ready for a new challenge.”

<<>>

It had been two long weeks since the house party had finally disbursed before Darcy was finally rewarded with the only letter he wanted to receive. She had finally written!

25 September, 1812
Longbourn, Hertfordshire

Dear Darcy,

I know how much you wish me to call you by your Christian name, but that is still too much to ask of me. You see, men go from Mr. Darcy to Darcy to Fitzwilliam. That is three steps to transverse. Women only move from Mrs. Collins to Elizabeth. We shall leave nicknames out of the equation for arguments sake. So then by my reckoning, we are at the same place in our progression.

Forgive me for not writing sooner. I have been very busy since we returned to Hertfordshire. After almost two months away from home, it has taken us a while to settle back into our lives.

The children are well. William loves his new pony and asked me most earnestly to tell “Mister Darcy, thank you I love my new pony though I still miss Misty but I shall like riding Barony as much even though he is chestnut and not black.” No, he did not take a breath when he asked me to tell you that.

I was nearly overwhelmed when we first arrived. Longbourn looks so much more … dare I say … grand? Jane’s selections were perfect and even where the only changes made were a thorough cleaning, the house looks wonderful. I love my new chambers and my sisters are enjoying completing the changes in their own rooms. The ever so efficient Miss Pope has made it part of their education. I would not have been as enterprising as she.

It took being away from here for an extended time, though, to recognize the improvements to the rest of the estate. I do not mean I can see an increase in the yields of the crops or a multitude of baby animals running about. I have noticed, however, how much more kept the house and grounds appear in comparison to before papa died. I know this would not be possible without the infusion of men to perform the chores that go into making it so. My father used to complain about the lack of men in the house. It was a lack of men on the entire estate besides our tenants. That is the case no longer and I have you to thank.

Even more, I thank you for sending men into our household who are exemplary. I hesitate to call them servants. That word seems to belittle them too much. While I understand that they are employed to serve me and my family, they are so much more. They become a part of this entity I call Longbourn. They see us every day in our triumphs and disappointments, in our joys and in our sorrows – something we have an intimate acquaintance with this past year. They laugh with us, cry with us, protect us, depend on us and become one of us in a very special way. You chose men for us that would not abuse the trust you had in them to live in peace with us.

I feel so blessed to call you my friend. I know you wish for more, and I think you understand why I cannot give you it. I know I would if I could. I also know that I miss our morning time together. It was foolish of us to indulge so regularly when such meetings were doomed to cease once I returned to where I belong. We will probably be foolish and repeat the same mistake when next you come to Hertfordshire to visit Bingley.

Until then, our correspondence must suffice.

Give my greetings to Georgiana. I miss her gentle spirit. I shall write to her next time. My sisters’ letters must be sufficient until then.

As always, your friend,
Elizabeth

Whatever Darcy expected to feel as he read her letter, it was nothing to the longing he felt when he was finished. Oh how he loved this woman. She was a mixture of impertinence, wit, liveliness and empathy and he was bewitched. He had not told her of the strength of feelings and the depth of his attachment, that would come some day in the future, but he had let her know that he felt enough to want her for his wife and that would have to do for the present. Now he should find Georgiana and deliver her letters and Elizabeth’s greetings. Then he would return to his room, call his secretary and his steward, and work to prepare to leave Pemberley with plans in place for its continued functioning while he was away seeing Georgiana installed in Town so she could avail herself of her masters. Then he could go to Hertfordshire to try to convince the woman who held his future and his heart in her hands to marry him.

35.

November 3, 1812

Elizabeth was excited. After a seven week separation, she would see Darcy again. He had arrived the evening before at Netherfield and sent a note to Longbourn advising them of his intent to call the next day as well as meet with Mr. Grainger, Longbourn’s able steward.

In the time they had been apart, Elizabeth had spent many hours reviewing the entirety of their acquaintance. She saw how soon he had counted her as one of the privileged few that he considered worthy of his protection and care. She heard tales of his warning off of Wickham, how that man had been very curious about her and her family but had been frustrated in any attempt to come near them by the precautions Darcy had sent in to place, unknown to her. His ideas for improving the income of the estate had impressed her uncle and her steward.

Elizabeth also appreciated how he waited for her to bring up subjects she found difficult or distressing to address. He showed her respect and patience and she could not help but respect him in return.

Now if only he could find a way to answer her concerns about leaving Longbourn and leaving her sisters, she thought she might be ready to listen to what he had to say about wanting her with him at Pemberley. But as excited as she was to see him, a part of her feared that the obstacles she saw to a future with him would be greater than even he could resolve.

<<>>

Fitzwilliam Darcy had long considered Elizabeth Bennet Collins as one of the most handsome women of his acquaintance. However, when he saw her again after their separation, he was nearly felled by her beauty. She was the most enchanting woman he had ever seen. Somehow the years of social graces got him through those first few moments and he was able speak coherently.

Her smile confirmed her pleasure in seeing him again. He decided to be bold and walked up to her and took her hand to kiss it before he claimed the seat next to her. Her answering blush was becoming to him.

“I am glad you could come before Jane and Bingley leave for Town.”

“They have offered to allow me to stay after they leave, but I would feel awkward.” Elizabeth’s face fell. Was she disappointed that he would leave in a week? “I would remain if you asked.”

That earned him the renewal of her smile.

“I know you would. Thank you. I do not imagine your business with my uncle and Mr. Grainger will require more time than allotted by my sister’s departure date.”

“It should not.”

They came to their first impasse. To continue would mean revisiting things she was likely not ready to confront.

“Could I visit the children?” he blurted out. Elizabeth appeared amused by this uncharacteristic loss of composure. She nodded her head in consent.

“They are upstairs. I did not tell them you were coming today. They would never have stopped pestering us about your whereabouts. William will want to show you his pony.”

“I should like to see the pony, too.” Darcy was delighted to hear her musical laugh in reply. He was relieved that she did not appear ashamed in his presence by the memory of their kiss and her reaction to it. He certainly was not embarrassed by what had occurred. He could hardly wait to hold and kiss her again.

The pair made their way up to the children and Darcy had the chance to observe for himself the changes made to the home with the help of his London staff. He was very pleased with all that he saw. He would make sure they knew how pleased he was when he returned to Town and he would also leave some money with Grainger to give to Longbourn’s staff as well. He knew he should give it to Elizabeth, however he had a feeling that she while would take it she would say he was being too generous. He was, but he did not care. His goddaughter deserved as good a home as he could arrange, as did all of the family, especially her mother.

The boys were very happy to see their tall champion. He greeted the m cheerfully but told them to wait so he could see Henrietta.

“You have grown since you left Pemberley. My clever, clever girl!”

“I have grown too!” William declared. If he had, Darcy could not tell.

“Perhaps so, my lad, but it is easier to see in babies because they change so quickly compared to other children.”

“Mama, have I not grown?”

“Let us see.”

She took him over to the place on the wall where she had marked the progress of the boys’ growth. Thankfully, the servants had left the marks on the wall when they cleaned and painted the room. William stood as tall as he could and Elizabeth made a fuss over making the mark.

“Sure enough, you have grown a little since last we checked. Come here John, let us take a look at you.” John had increased more than his brother.

“Well done!” said Darcy as he ruffled the boys’ hair. “Come on you two, show me the pony I bought.”

Even the stables looked better. The general air of disrepair was gone and Darcy understood that much had been accomplished by the male servants over the summer. He noted the new wagon loaded and ready for its next trip to London. He would ask Grainger about that later. Instead he allowed himself to be led to the stall where Barony the pony currently resided. His knowing gaze swept over the beast and Darcy was pleased by the horse his men has found. As long as its temperament was as placid as it appeared, it would make a fine animal for the boys to learn to ride.

“Can I take him out for lesson?”

“Not today. I will speak to your mother about tomorrow, though. For now I just want to look at Barony with you.”

“Oh good! I have missed our lessons. Hal has been teaching me, but he is not as a fun a teacher as you.”

“Thank you, son.”

“When you teach John then I can race him and beat him. But first he must grow bigger, and we will need another pony for him while I am on Barony.”

“Horse?” John finally spoke and pointed to Barony.

“Yes, that is a horse, John.” Darcy answered patiently.

“Me ride horsey?”

“Not until you are William’s age, son, but I how about I ask your mother again if you can go riding with me on my horse?”

John smiled up at Darcy, nodding profusely.

“Can I go for a ride with you, too?” William asked excitedly.

“I do not see why not, but John goes first, if your mother consents, that is.” Both boys seemed content, both trusting that their mother would say yes. Darcy hoping she would trust her children to his care.

Of course, Elizabeth was perfectly content to let Darcy take her boys for a ride. She knew he would never to anything to jeopardize them. He would come again tomorrow and after giving William his lesson, he would fulfill his pledge. He would also meet with the steward to review estate matters.

“Do you have time for a walk in the morning, like we did at Pemberley?” he asked before he left to return to Netherfield.

“I thought you would never ask.”

<<>>

That evening Bingley and Darcy shared drinks after dinner. Jane claimed fatigue and excused herself leaving the men to their own devises.

“How is she doing with the child?” Darcy asked.

“She claims she is fine, and that Elizabeth was the same when she was carrying her three. I worry, but Jane tells me she is healthy country stock. Still we plan to stay in London until the baby arrives. With Caroline determined to make a match of it this season, I doubt we will return here much until spring.”

“For your sister’s sake I hope she is finally able to accept that I am not a candidate for a spouse.”

“She has eyes enough to recognize at Pemberley that you have already selected your wife, and that women is not her. I think she held out hope for so long because you were too kind to be blunt with her about your complete ambivalence to a potential match between you. Louisa and I did try to tell her.”

“At least she was wise enough to keep any opinions about Elizabeth to herself. I would not have tolerated anything being said against Elizabeth while she was my guest.”

“Yes, she knew that. I am relieved that she took the hints. I have to give the most credit to Caroline’s new determination to marry to my other sisters besides Elizabeth.” Darcy looked at him, intrigued. “Jane and I have decided to bring Mary to Town in the new year to stay with us until after the baby is born. I know Jane will be comforted by her sister. They did share a room for several years. I may have let it slip to Caroline that we were looking to forward Mary in society in hopes that she will make an advantageous match, as Jane did with me.”

Darcy was amused. He had wondered if something of the sort had been suggested but had not had the chance to ask Elizabeth if any of her sisters would join the Bingleys in London.

“Hurst and Louisa are already in Town with Caroline and I have given my blessing to a larger than normal clothing allowance with the understanding that this will not be a regular occurrence.”

“If you are not careful, you will gain a reputation of a matchmaker, Bingley!”

Bingley laughed at his friends teasing. “Frankly, if I manage to marry off my four maiden sisters to respectable gentlemen, I would not care if I did.”

“Miss Catherine and Miss Lydia are a bit too young still, so you are safe for a while.”

“I think they will be the easiest of the four, actually. They both are lively and fetching ladies, especially Lydia, that once they are out in society, they will have no problem attracting gentlemen.”

“The more crucial matter, though, is if they are able to keep them.”

“Marry their sister, and they will.”

“I am trying,” Darcy sighed.

“I know. Have you made any progress?”

“I do not know, but I have hope. I have asked Elizabeth to go for a walk in the morning.”

“Like at Pemberley?”

“Yes, as we did at Pemberley. I will try to ascertain where my suit sits with her and if she is more amenable to a future union. She was pretty opposed to it in Derbyshire.”

“You expected her to refuse you then. I do not know how you do not lose hope.”

“I cannot allow it. She is too precious to leave behind, and I am too engaged in her life to withdraw now. You are fortunate, in that you met Jane first, before another man could claim her.”

“Whereas with Elizabeth you were second.”

“Yes. But I will be the last if I have any say in it.”

“Well, you are always welcome here at Netherfield in you quest, whether we are in residence or not. I have informed my housekeeper and my butler.”

“Thank you. I appreciate your help.”

Bingley nodded and they both took a sip of their spirits.

“What we do for our women, eh Darce.”

Darcy smiled. “Aye.”

<<>>

Somehow Darcy’s man knew that his master had an important call to make and dressed him with extra care. Darcy was pleased and thanked his faithful servant before making his way downstairs for some nourishment. It was one mornings such as this that he really appreciated his hosts. Mrs. Bingley, Jane, had left orders with the kitchen to have some food ready in case Darcy wished to eat early. They had assured him that his time was his own and they would see him when he was at home. This lack of expectation was freeing, and not having to worry about Caroline Bingley or anyone else for that matter claiming his attention was certainly refreshing.

He arrived much too early at Longbourn, and was unsurprised to find Elizabeth there ready for a walk.

“How would you ever survive Town hours?” he asked, pleased that she was as eager to see him as he was to see her.

“I should ask your advice for clearly you keep the same hours in the country as I.”

Darcy offered her his arm, and she hesitated only a moment before accepting it. “Where shall you take me today?”

“I thought we could walk out to see where Town life meets country manors.” Darcy laughed delighted at her display of humor. “We do not have the luxury of time though, not like at Pemberley. I have to be back in an hour.”

“Let us not waste even a minute of it.”

As they walked along, Darcy explained further his plans to improve Longbourn’s production and how closely he would monitor the yields over the next two years to see if his London feed and waste scheme was working the way he hoped.

“I have no doubt that they will. I can already see the changes your oversight has wrought around Longbourn’s grounds. I cannot remember them looking as well kept as they are now. You were right to send the men that you have and I am grateful for your attention to my family’s home and my son’s inheritance.”

“Giving you pleasure brings me pleasure, Elizabeth. I do what I do for Longbourn for you and for your children.”

“I know, and I thank God daily for it.”

Darcy was very pleased by what he was observing. He saw evidence that the changes he had instructed Mr. Grainger to make were, in fact, being implemented. The whole of the estate looked better kept than it did a year ago when he first came to Hertfordshire. When it was time to head back to the house, Darcy gathered up his courage to go forth with the resolution he had made the night before. His time at Netherfield was short and he did not wish to leave Elizabeth again without a better understanding of where he stood with her.

“Elizabeth, I cannot help but wonder if you have any less disinclination to marriage than you did before. I mean, do you have reasons for eschewing marriage besides not wishing to put yourself in the power of another man as his wife?”

Darcy held his breath, hoping she would give him an obstacle he could remove that would bring her closer to becoming his. She took her time formulating an answer.

“I suppose there are two issues I cannot see my way around. The first are my three younger sisters. Longbourn in their home and should I leave, they would have to leave as well. I would hope they make good marriages and move into their own homes, but that could take years. If Lydia is as old as Jane was when she married, her own wedding is six years away.”

“Or it could be a year.”

“Like me. Yes.”

“And the other?”

“Again, it is this, Longbourn. I married Collins so my son could be a gentleman as my father was before him. If I married a man with his own estate, then I would leave here, and take my children with me. I… I gave up on a dream for my son’s inheritance. I want him to grow up on his estate, not my husbands. Is that so terrible of me?”

“No, I can understand and appreciate it, as I was raised at Pemberley knowing it was to be mine. But tell me this, would you be more inclined to accept me if I could find answers to these problems?”

“Part of me wishes that you would and another part of me fears it.”

Darcy stopped their progress and turned her to face him. He tenderly caressed her jaw and Elizabeth leaned into his touch.

“Then I shall seek acceptable solutions and try to make your wishes greater than your fears.”

As tempted he was to kiss her, even as his gaze bore into hers, he dropped his hand and indicated they should continue on to the house, but not before sharing a look of need and renewed hope.

36.

Darcy decided that as a burden shared was indeed a burdened eased, and what Elizabeth told him affected the Bingleys as well, that he would ask his friend for counsel that very evening.

“You have made progress, my friend. If my sister was so opposed to marriage she would not have given you a different answer to her concerns.”

“I thought the same. Still, she does have two very valid concerns. Something tells me that if I can solve one, the other will be mostly solved as well.”

“You would have to split your time between the estates.”

“I have no hardship with that. Elizabeth also has forgotten that once William is old enough, he will be away from school more than he is at home.”

“He is still many years away from that, though.”

“He could be gone to school before his last unwed aunt marries.”

“Still, I think I can convince her that we can spend enough of the year in Hertfordshire to satisfy her concerns. We are close enough to Town that I can stay here instead of there most of the time. It would depend on how much of the season she wants to endure.”

“You mean how much of the Season you can escape! Still, I cannot see her wishing to spend more time in London than absolutely necessary, not with three children already born and more to certainly follow.

“I will speak to Jane, if you will allow me, and ask her for ideas.”

“I would appreciate it. Thank you.”

Bingley waved his hand dismissively. “Think nothing of it. She has been concerned for her sister’s wellbeing. This will give her another chance to meddle.”

Darcy raised his glass in solute. “To Mrs. Bingley, may she succeed where we have failed.”

<<>>

Two days later at breakfast a very excited Bingley entered the breakfast room with his wife at his side. Spotting their houseguest Bingley broke into a huge grin.

“Darcy, I have married an angel!”

“I already knew that, old man. Mrs. Bingley, good morning.”

Jane was blushing but she too looked very pleased. “Let us fix our plates and then I shall tell you our idea. Or would you prefer to, Jane, as it was yours?”

“You can, Charles, as it most affects you.”

Darcy was intrigued, but was too well bred to rush his friend. He waited patiently as his hosts sat down to break their fast.

“When I spoke to Jane, she admitted that she was not surprised at her sister’s reservations. She had wondered about the same things, especially as it pertains to her sisters. We had already decided, as I had told you before, to do what we can to do put all of our unmarried sisters in the paths of eligible men. Jane said then that she was very thankful for the presence of Miss Pope. Having her already in the household would be a welcome relief to both Jane and Elizabeth, as Miss Pope will be able to chaperone when they are courting men. Even if one of the Miss Bennets is in Town, with one of us the others will have a companion at the ready.”

Darcy had not considered that facet of her place in the household.

“So even if you and Elizabeth are at Pemberley, if the girls wish it, they can stay here in Hertfordshire at Longbourn.”

“Not alone! Not three unmarried sisters so young with no one other than a companion to protect them.”

“No, not alone. With us; with Jane and me.”

“Longbourn is still four miles from Netherfield.”

“It is, but we would not be at Netherfield. We would live at Longbourn.”

“You would give up the lease? No offence Mrs. Bingley, but that is quite a step down.”

“I grew up there, it is no hardship for me, and is that not for my husband to decide?”

“Of course, forgive me, but Bingley, I thought you meant to purchase an estate.”

“I think my wife would be happier if we found an estate closer to her sister, should she indeed decide Derbyshire is to her liking.

If you are concerned that it is too small for you, I have a proposition. I could invest the money I would spend to be a tenant at Netherfield into an expansion of Longbourn. If Elizabeth’s future husband is willing to supplement my portion, I think between the two of us we could have a house big enough for both of us to reside in at the same time, at least, for a few months of the year.”

“Between Charles and I and you and Elizabeth, the house would be occupied a good part of the year and we can still have our sisters in society here and in London,” Jane added, clearly pleased with their proposition. “And,” she continued, “It would give me the perfect excuse to finish what we started this summer. We only cleaned some of the rooms. There is still some updating to do.”

Darcy smiled and thought that Mrs. Bennet would have been very proud of her eldest at that moment.

<<>>

Elizabeth was surprised and delighted when Jane entered the room.

“I thought you would be too busy to come and see me today preparing for your move to London.”

The sisters embraced and then sat down next to each other.

“The servants have everything well in hand. There is nothing so important as it could not wait. Visiting my sisters is far more enjoyable way to spend the rest of my morning.”

“I am sorry! They are in Meryton this morning with Emily. They will call on our aunt as well so are not expected back for several hours.”

“Then I shall have you all to myself,” Jane said in a way that helped Elizabeth not to feel guilty about having her sister all to herself.

They spoke more about the Bingley’s departure and the plans for Mary to join them there in January. Jane asked some questions about Elizabeth’s three pregnancies and births. Even though Elizabeth had been at Longbourn for all three deliveries, Jane’s understanding of what was happening had changed once she was ushered into womanhood by her husband.

“My husband had a very interesting conversation with our houseguest the other evening.”

“Jane, I asked you not to interfere.”

“Darcy asked Charles for advice about what you told him was some of your reasons for not marrying him. Come now Lizzy, I was not too surprised to hear those you gave him. Even if you had not expressly said them to me, I could have guessed what they were.”

“Are you going to tell me what your husband said to him?”

“Of course I am. It was my idea to tell you instead of Darcy because I am the one who came up with the solution. Come now, dearest, did you honestly think that it is solely your responsibility to keep our sisters? I could easily argue with you that it is more mine than yours.”

“Longbourn is their home, Jane, and so I am the one who will be more involved, unless they are with you in London, that is. If I married Darcy, they could not stay here alone with just Emily.”

“I agree, which is why I suggested to Charles that we consider giving up Netherfield to live here at Longbourn.”

“I cannot ask you to do that!”

“You are not asking; we are offering. Obviously you and Darcy would spend part of your year in Derbyshire and another part in Town. If we were to live here, our sisters could be at Longbourn whenever they wished.

Charles is willing to add on to the house in lieu of the rent we would spend on Netherfield. As much as he likes it, it is not for sale and he really does wish to own his own estate. We could live here and wait for the right one. I would be coming home, too, if only for a few years.

With Emily as our sister’s companion, you could take your family to Derbyshire knowing they will be well looked after. So please do not use our sister’s as an excuse to refuse him.”

“I do not know what to say.”

“Say you will consider it? While we will be in London for the next several months, there is plenty of time to hire an architect to design an addition and have it ready for when we return.”

“There remains the issue of taking William away from his birthright.”

“Lizzy, he will be off to school before you know it. Even if her spends half of his year in Hertfordshire before then, it will be more than he would should you marry once he’s started in started his schooling. He will not be taught from home until he is ready for university. Would he not be better off with a father and half his year at Longbourn?

What about you? You will be happier married to Mr. Darcy than here alone, pining after the loss of the great love of your life. Look at me; look at Aunt Gardiner. Marriage to the right man is anything but a curse.

I am not pushing you to do something you do not want to do, at least deep down inside of you. Think about what I have said. Charles and I would be just as happy here as at Netherfield, possibly even more. Marriage to Darcy would only help our sisters find eligible matches and your children would be much better off with a father. Most importantly, he is the kind of man who could make you supremely happy and a man who loves you.”

“He never said anything about love, Jane.”

“He may not have said it, but he shows it to you in everything he does for you and the way he obviously respects you and is sensitive to your feelings and wishes. Nothing he has done has been done without your advice and consent. Unlike Collins he is your equal intellectually and seeks your opinion because he respects you, not because he is led by you to form his own.”

Elizabeth nodded her head and fell into her sister’s arms. Jane only wanted her happiness, this she knew. She would do as Jane asked and allow herself to seriously consider doing that which she had vowed never to do again – marry.

<<>>

Darcy has spent a very frustrating day in Meryton. It was not frustrating because he did not accomplish his business. He had. He met with Mr. Philips to discuss the financial and legal matters regarding Longbourn and its inhabitants. Darcy was satisfied by the progress that had been made to increase the profitability of the estate and the measures in place to protect his wards.

He was frustrated with not seeing Elizabeth that day. He had allowed the Bingleys to convince him to stay away from Longbourn to allow Jane Bingley to speak with Elizabeth. He had complete trust in Mrs. Bingley’s knowledge of her sister, but he still wanted to see her! He only had a short time at Netherfield before he was obliged to leave.

When they met before dinner, Darcy did his best to appear calm before his hosts. It took all of his vaunted self-control not to ask about Jane’s visit to Longbourn. Fortunately for him, she brought up the subject right away.

“I was surprised and relieved to find Elizabeth alone. Thankfully, my other sisters were in Meryton. It made my errand much easier to accomplish.

I will not keep you in suspense. Our conversation went well. I told Elizabeth Charles and I would be willing to live at Longbourn for some years for our sister’s sake, including our intention to add onto the house should we live there. I also suggested that you would be willing to live part of the year at Longbourn as well, and that she should be willing to accept such an arrangement until William is sent off to school.”

“She seemed open to it all?”

“For the most part; I do think I stumbled upon one other sticking point that she did not voice to you.”

“Yes?” Darcy said with trepidation.

“I would suggest, sir,” Jane made sure she looked him in the eye, “that you reveal to my sister how you really feel about her.”

Darcy, not breaking eye contact, took a moment to understand what she had said. When at last he comprehended her intent, he nodded. Jane seemed content and moved the conversation in another direction. Darcy tried to pay attention, but it was difficult. His heart raced in anticipation. Jane Bingley was right, it was time to tell Elizabeth the truth of his devotion.

Not wishing to leave too much to chance, after dinner Darcy sent two notes to Longbourn. The first was to the steward, confirming his intention to meet the next day while informing the man that he would be meeting Mrs. Collins as well, and that their time together would be dependent on the time Mrs. Collins granted him. The second missive, of course was to Elizabeth. He advised her of his intent to come early see her, as well as meet with Mr. Grainger afterwards.

<<>>

By a mutual unspoken accord, Darcy and Elizabeth chose to leave Longbourn for a walk as soon as Darcy appeared. He did not hesitate to offer her his arm, something he had rarely done before, and Elizabeth took it without hesitation. One of them shook with delight in touching the other; neither knew who had done so.

Darcy waited until they were a short distance from the house, and any prying ears. “I hope you are not put out with me for asking the Bingley’s for their advice on my situation. I had no idea that Mrs. Bingley would ever think of giving up Netherfield to come live at Longbourn.”

“I was surprised at Jane’s proposition, I grant you, and indeed her presumption that she should be the one to present such a plan to expand the house.”

“I do not think she thought about the additional tax levies such an expansion would bring.”

“Even more so to idea that I would be so willing to go along with it. My sister has rarely showed the world that she is Harriet Bennet’s daughter.” Elizabeth sighed. Darcy was growing concerned.

“I apologize. I should have insisted I speak to you about the possibilities your sister and brother suggested.”

“I am not angry with you, at least not any longer. Oh, for a moment or two I wished to throw it all back at you, but when I had a chance to calm my temper, I began to see the situation in another light. I have to confess it did not flatter me at all. I came to realize I was showing the same presumption arranging my younger sisters’ futures as Jane showed in assuming she knew what I would wish for Longbourn’ and mine. I had not asked them where they preferred to live. I just assumed they would not want to leave Longbourn until they married.”

“I am as guilty as you when it comes to Georgiana, or so my cousin tells me. In this we are a matched pair.”

Elizabeth, delighted in his ability to see and accept his faults, continued. “Thus last night I broached the subject after dinner and after the children were in bed. It was a most enlightening conversation.” Darcy said nothing, only looking down at her to see the expression on her face as he awaited her explanation. She sensed his gaze and met it, with an amused expression. “Are you going to ask me what they said?”

“Your words implied you would tell me. I did not wish to interrupt.”

“Teasing man! I wonder how many would be amazed that the stoic, formidable Mr. Darcy of Pemberley had such a sardonic sense of humor?”

“Quite a few, I imagine. I have never been one to be open and artless like your new brother Bingley.”

“He really is the perfect male foil for you. No wonder you are such good friends.”

“He is nearly as good a friend as you, Elizabeth.”

They would be serious now.

“Hmmm. My sisters were very quick to inform me that while Longbourn would always be the home the remembered of their youth, that they were willing to spend only a portion of the year here if it meant that I could be happy. In fact, Lydia was very adamant that it would be quite cruel for me to deny them the pleasure of spending at least part of the summer at Pemberley. She then informed me that if I was so concerned about my sisters making a good match, one in which they could consult their hearts and not strictly their pocket books, that to not marry you would be a deprivation to us all, for who better than you to introduce them to rich, single men in want of a wife? I countered that Bingley was just as capable. Mary, of all my sisters, scoffed, informing me that while our brother is well off, he is nothing to you! I did not think Mary put much notice such things, but obviously I was wrong.”

“She is right.”

“Obviously. None who visit Pemberley would disagree.”

“Then is your first concern, about your sisters, settled enough in your mind to consider my offer?”

“Again, obviously. I know you well enough to know that you would do all that you could to see them well matched, and comfortable and content in your home while they resided with you.”

“And what of the other, wishing your children to be reared here?”

“Had Mr. Collins not drowned, we would even now be living in Kent. I lost sight of that. I think that were I to marry you that my children would spend more time here in their childhood than I had anticipated when Lady Catherine granted my late husband his living.”

“We would spend at least two months a year here, possibly more depending on the season. It is such an easy distance to Town that we could spend more of the season here than in London itself. I would also make it my priority that William learn to be a respectable landowner be it here or at Pemberley, and that John be given enough training that he could take his brother’s place if something ever happened to William, God forbid.”

“You would be a wonderful father.”

Darcy was pleased, but he did not respond, intending to push his point. “That is the second of two reasons you gave me answered. There is another, though, that you have not told me, yes?”

“Yes.” There, it had been said.

“I believe I have an idea what it might be, which is why I need to speak now before you can say anything else.” Darcy stopped their progress; he took her hands in his and turned them so they faced each other. He needed her to see him when he spoke again.

“When we first met and I offered you my friendship I had no ideas other than that as an acquaintance of yours, willing to come to your aid should there be a need. The camaraderie that soon developed between us was a surprise and I enjoyed forming our friendship. I had no intention of seeing our friendship progress to anything more than I had our initial acquaintance. But the longer I knew you, the more I needed to know you until I was well and truly caught. There came a time, when I went to Kent, that I knew I must make a choice – it had to be all or nothing when it came to you. It was then that I realized I loved you, and I returned to Hertfordshire to win you. You had told me of your determination to not remarry, and you were also still in mourning. I accepted that my courting of you must wait until you were free of any expectation to remain true to your late-husband’s memory and so I did. I asked for your sister’s help to convince you to come to Pemberley. You deserved a chance to make your choice knowing all that a life with me would include.

Your time at Pemberley was all that I could hope for. You are not indifferent to me. Your kiss could not lie.” Elizabeth blushed, but did not try to pull away. “I knew you were fighting some internal battle against the attraction and so I asked you to marry me expecting your refusal, saving one last weapon for later. It is time to use it.”

Elizabeth stood transfixed, unable to not look at him. Waiting. Fearing. Hoping.

“Dearest Elizabeth, oh how I love you! I think you love me, too and that is why marriage to me would be very different than the marriage you already experienced. You married Collins because you knew it would protect your family from an uncertain future. You loved them enough to tie yourself to a man you knew you was not your equal in so many ways. He did love you, though, and you found comfort in that, but over time it was not enough to make you truly happy. Do you not see, beloved, that you will be happy with me for all the reasons you were not happy with him. You will be a fortunate woman indeed, to have been married to two men who loved you and adored you. You will be even more fortunate to spend the rest of your life with a man you love in return.

I cannot promise you that I will never hurt you; those we love have the greatest power over us. But I do swear that I will do my best to try to be a man you can respect and love.

Please, Elizabeth, allow you sensibilities to be in collusion with your good sense. Marry me. Raise your children with me. Grow old with me. Live with me. Love with me. Be happy with me.”

He did not wait for a response; instead he gathered her in his arms and kissed her with all the passion he felt. He rejoiced when, a heartbeat after he began, she returned his kiss with equal furor. He withdrew only a fraction to whisper, “Say yes,” against her lips before reclaiming them without giving her the opportunity to speak. They continued, how long he knew not, until she trembled and tipped her head back to utter the most perfect word in the world.

“Yes.”

37.

To say that she was overwhelmed would be an understatement. Elizabeth stood, clinging to Darcy unable to answer him because his mouth was covering hers.

He had asked again, and finally, in his amazing speech, given the answer to her dilemma. Oh how she had wanted him and oh how afraid that desire had made her. Her vow of widowhood was something she had held fast to for over a year now. It had saved her during those moments of sorrow and profound loss as three of the most important people in the world had been taken from her. It gave her direction when she wondered how she would cope as mistress of her son’s estate. And now, in a blink of an eye, the anchor she had built her life on was at last pulled free. She was no longer tied down to her past choices. She could live again, tethered to safety by a new vow of marriage made in love instead of the old vow made in duty and sacrifice.

She knew not whether to laugh or to cry. She settled for resuming the most consuming kiss of her life.

<<>>

Elizabeth and Darcy both knew where their kiss would lead if they did not stop. One of them moved first, though which one it was did not matter. They stood embraced; her head lay against his heart. She could feel how fast it beat for her. They had much to discuss when they could speak again.

“Walk with me. I need to return to the house and the children.”

“How do you feel about enlarging Longbourn?”

“While I appreciate the offer, I do not think it necessary. My sisters are happy to live with Jane or me wherever that might be.”

“How would you feel about living at Longbourn for the winter? We could go into Town a bit during the Season, and then return to Pemberley in the summer.”

“Can you be away from your estate for so long?”

“What did you think I was doing since you left Derbyshire? My steward is perfectly aware of my wishes and desires for the upcoming year. While I have spent a good portion of the year there in the past, I am not tied to my estate in matters of business and management. I pay people to look after it well in my absence. I return there because it is my home and I enjoy living in the country. However, as much as it is my heritage, you are my heart, and I shall dwell with you should there have to be a choice between the two.”

With that speech, Elizabeth wondered why she ever resisted this man who would be her new husband.

<<>>

Young William was very happy to see his tall friend. “Have you come to give me another riding lesson, Mister Darcy?”

Darcy squatted down so he could look his future son in the eye. “Not today. I came by to talk to your mother before I have to leave for London, but I promise that I will be back very soon shall then.”

“Can we going swimming too?” William was very excited and Darcy laughed softly.

“We shall have to see if it is warm enough. Your mother would not be very charitable with me if you or John caught cold from an ill-advised trip to the pond.”

“William, Mr. Darcy has much to do before he leaves. Say goodbye and go back to the nursery and I will be with you in a few minutes”

The boy lunged into Darcy arms and hugged him close “Come back soon,” he implored and then let go and raced up the stairs.

Darcy stood and watched him go. Both adults were amused, and touched, by the child’s antics. Elizabeth laughed and brushed a tear away.

“I do not think I ever admitted how much he needs a father, Fitzwilliam.”

Pleased to hear her say his given name, he took her hand in his and bestowed a kiss. “As I need two sons and a daughter, and most especially a wife.”

His touch, still so new, thrilled her. As much as she did not wish to send him away, she had children waiting for her and he needed to speak with her uncle and with the steward. Reluctantly she pulled her hand away.

“We both have our tasks to complete. Mr. Grainger awaits, as does Uncle Philips.”

“I will be back next week. Hurry on that new wedding dress my love, I will hold you to your word. Soon I will be yours.”

Seeing they were alone, she quickly kissed him and then followed the path her son had taken minutes before, leaving him to his appointed tasks, all the while daydreaming of the gown she would have made to wear to meet him at the altar.

Left alone, Darcy allowed himself a moment of contented stillness before taking himself off to meet Mr. Grainger. The steward of Longbourn was about to find out that there were major changes to be made in the family’s situation and more daily involvement by one of the estates’ trustees.

<<>>

It was late in the afternoon when Darcy finally returned to Netherfield. Tucked into his coat pocket was a packet from Mr. Philips for his solicitor in London, as well as a letter for Mr. Gardiner. After much discussion, it was agreed that Elizabeth’s uncle would come to Town on Wednesday in order to speed along the process of completing the wedding settlements. Darcy had offered to host the gentleman, but Mr. Philips declined, saying that he would lodge with his brother and his family instead.

Philips was very happy to grant Darcy’s request for his blessing on the marriage, and promised him that he would wait to contact Gardiner until Monday, giving Darcy a chance to ask Elizabeth’s other uncle for his blessing as well.

Before he could speak to Mr. Gardiner, he would tell the Bingleys of his success.

In the end, he did not need to say a word. The heartfelt delight diffused all over his face gave him away as he entered the drawing room.

“Darcy!” Bingley happily cried, “we are to be brothers at last?”

“Yes Bingley,” Darcy laughed and shook his head, bemused that his news was so evident to his good friend. “Elizabeth finally said ‘yes’.”

“It is about time!” Jane said with great feeling, too happy for her sister to feel any regret that the news was not delivered in person by Elizabeth.

Once all the congratulations where given, they sat down so that Darcy could relate all of the wedding plans and obtain the Bingley’s agreement to the part he and Elizabeth wished for them to play.

<<<>>>

A similar scene had already occurred at Longbourn. While Darcy had been meeting with Mr. Grainger, Elizabeth had gone in search of her sisters. Fortunately, they were with Miss Pope discussing plans for a walk into Meryton. They too could tell something momentous had happened by the look on their elder sister’s face. Sly smiles were exchanged while waiting for Elizabeth to confirm her news.

Elizabeth got straight to the point.

“Mr. Darcy came to see me today to ask me to marry him and I said yes.”

“Oh Lizzy!” squealed more than one sister as each spoke with heartfelt delight of the match finally made. Questions tumbled out as they all spoke over each other.

“What did he say when he asked you?”

“When is the wedding?”

“Are you to be married from Longbourn.”

“Who will stand up with you this time now that Jane is married?”

“Are we all going to live at Pemberley?”

“Can we go with you to Town for shopping for your trousseau?”

“Will we get new dresses for the wedding?”

Elizabeth laughed at their enthusiasm and she and Emily shared a knowing look before Elizabeth began to answer their questions. Or rather, the questions she was willing to answer.

Kitty and Lydia were especially pleased with the news that they would be going to London.

Elizabeth let Miss Pope know that she would have a private word with her later, while assuring her that she was still very much a valued member of the household for as long as she wished to stay.

<<<>>>

The conversation Elizabeth was most looking forward to and dreading at the same time would be next. She walked up the stairs and into the nursery to find both of her sons awake and playing. Henrietta was up as well, entertained by Maggie.

Jonathon saw Elizabeth first.

“Momma!” he said as he got up and ran over to hug her skirts. Elizabeth ruffled his hair affectionately and picked him up.

“Uff! You are getting to be such a big boy! What are you and your brother playing?”

“Making fworts, Momma.”

“John and I are playing with our blocks,” William clarified even though his mother could see exactly that.

“Master Jonathon is doing much better about not knocking them over before Master William is finished stacking them.” Maggie reported from the other part of the room.

“I am very pleased to hear so.” Elizabeth hugged and kissed her younger son and set him down on the floor. She sat down in her chair, the one placed in the room so she could sit and watch her children. “Please come over here so we can talk.”

Both boys scrambled over to sit at her feet. They look up at her, faces eager to hear whatever she had to say to them.

“I just finished talking to Mr. Darcy and…”

“Mister Darcy is still here?!” William said, suddenly squirming as he sat.

“Please do not interrupt, William.”

“Yes, Momma.”

“Mr. Darcy was here, but he has left by now. Tell me, did you enjoy spending time at Mr. Darcy’s estate, Pemberley?”

Both boys grinned and nodded their heads up and down quickly.

“So did I, though I missed Longbourn after a while.”

Again the boys smiled and nodded, though not as vigorously as before.

“We miss places when we are someplace else. After a while, though, we miss them less as we grow accustomed to our new place. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” William answered for the both of them.

“And we miss people too. I missed Mr. Darcy when he was gone and I know you boys did too.” Again they nodded. “Do you miss your father?”

This time they hesitated a moment, but both boys nodded. John took longer to nod than William.

“Maybe not as much as before?”

“I miss him when we do things he and I used to do. Like swimming. But not as much as I did before.” William paused. “Is it wrong that I do not miss him as much as I used to. Or Grandpa or Grandma?”

Elizabeth smiled, a bit sadly. “Not at all. I do not miss them as much as I used to, but there are times when I missed them very, very much.”

John had not said a word, but she could tell he was listening to everything that was said. It was time to introduce the real reason for all for the questions.

“Have you ever wished you had another papa?”

William’s eye grew large for a moment then he dropped him gaze to his lap. “Sometimes… sometimes I wish…”

“Wish what?” Elizabeth said very softly, trying to encourage him to finish his sentence.

“Sometimes I wish Mr. Darcy was my papa.”

Elizabeth smiled. She leaned forward to slip off her chair and rested on her knees on the floor.

“Mr. Darcy wishes to be your be your papa, too.” William and John looked up in wonder and their mother. She could see a hope in their eyes. “I told him that I would like for him to become your papa, and Henrietta’s.”

“Really?” William asked, a quiver with excitement.

“Yes, I did. He asked me to marry him and today I accepted. Mr. Darcy will become your father.”

“Yippee!” Both John and William got up and threw their arms around their mother. Elizabeth hugged them fiercely, closing her eyes to try and stop the tears from flowing. When she opened them again she saw Maggie watching her intently, a grin spread across her face.

All four of their lives where about to change, again, but it was for the best. Of the four of them, William’s life would change the least. He was still the master of Longbourn, and would be for the rest of his life. His place in the world was set. She would have been content to live the rest of her days in Longbourn. She would still spend a great about of time there over the coming years, but in the end Pemberley would be her home. However, it was John and Henrietta whose future was to be the most altered. Her marriage to Fitzwilliam Darcy would open up new opportunities for them both. Many more than she would ever have been able to afford them. Though she and Darcy had only spoken in general terms before they had parted, she knew her new husband intended to provide well for them, undoubtable settling money on them as well as her in the marriage settlements. Their children would be Darcys, but he would not forget his stepchildren and leave them to shift in the world for themselves. Why, oh why, had she resisted the man for so long?

38.

There was still a sense of excitement a week later. The Bingleys and Darcy were in Town. Darcy had sent a quick note to tell her he had arrived safely and had given their news to his sister and to warn Elizabeth to expect a long letter from her future sister. It had arrived the day after.

She had sent a short letter in reply, enclosing a note for Georgiana as well.

Dearest Fitzwilliam,

I know it is futile, and that once your mind is fixed upon a thing that it is hard for anyone to change it, but I must try for my own conscience. You must forgive me, I have lived my life jealously guarding every farthing I could to provide a better future for my family. One might even call it being miserly. So be it. I still do not approve of your extravagant wedding gift. It was difficult enough to accept it from Jane, but how can one say no to Jane? We do not need to refurbish the rest of Longbourn! I will concede your desire to make your rooms your own, but the rest? It is too much!

I know, I am supposed to let you lavish me with gifts, but I am afraid you will spend all of your money and me and there will be nothing left from the eight children I am sure to provide you. After all, I have already birthed 3 healthy children and I suspect I will enjoy trying to provide you with an heir that I will not be able to stop at the obligatory ‘heir and a spare’.

There you have it. You have betrothed yourself to a wanton hussy!

I love you, dear man.

Hurry back to us.

Your Elizabeth.

This afternoon she received a second missive, much thicker than the first from her intended, delivered by one of his servants from London.

Darcy House, London
14 November, 1812

My Darling Elizabeth,

Please forgive my lack of correspondence until today. I have worked diligently to accomplish all of the tasks I must complete before I can return to you.

I must tell you I have read your letter over and over again until I have it nearly memorized. Wanton hussy? Yes please! I long to take you in my arms and do more than just hold you there and I look forward to the day when I shall see your belly swell again, this time with my child.

Your Uncle Philips and my solicitor finished the marriage articles today. I know you will say that it is too much. Darling, what good is a fortune if is never enjoyed? Your children will be my children. You will be my wife. I could not live with myself if I did not treat you with the respect such a position demands. You will be well taken care of for the rest of your days, should I precede you from this earth. John and Henrietta will not wonder why their siblings have so much while they have so little in comparison. You will sign them, along with your uncle, without complaint!

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner have agreed to host you and your younger sisters when you call come to Town. Jane and Bingley are still willing to house your sisters after the wedding until we all return to Longbourn. I leave the final decision to you.

I have purchased a license from the parish priest and he has agreed to a ceremony on the 20th as we had discussed. My cousin, Colonel Andrew Fitzwilliam is in London and should be able to stand up with me at the wedding. I have visited all of the shops Georgiana frequents, and those your aunt suggested, and opened accounts for you. I must admit I took great pleasure espying the looks of several women who over heard the transactions. The general aura of disappointed hopes sat well with me. I shall be glad to not be a target for eligible females ever again. It had grown tiresome many years past.

Despite your protestations, I have engaged a furniture maker to provide the new pieces for my rooms, and for anyplace else in the manor I deem necessary. Come now, you did not think I would relent? If you so choose, blame it on my arrogance and a desire to live in a house that is both comfortable and refined. I am not trying to make Longbourn into Pemberley, but I am going to spend a good deal of time in Hertfordshire over the next twenty years and I am much better company when I feel do not have to wonder what on earth happened to the chair across from me to cause such abuse to such a nobly made artifact. Your uncle Gardiner has engaged the services of the other trades needed for the completion of the transformation of Longbourn. He is very pleased to forge new business relationships with these people.

Have I convinced you yet to let me win our argument? If not for my pride, or your uncle’s business, then for your son’s inheritance? Or consider that our children should never have cause to wonder why one of their country homes is so grand while the other is so plain. Longbourn will not be inferior to Pemberley in its essentials if I have anything to do with it – and I do.

Think of it as a gift for William’s future if you must. Except it you will, we both know it.

As a concession, I give you complete leave to do what you will to your chambers here in Town. Other than new bed linens and a new mattress, the mistress’s suite remains unchanged since it was last inhabited. Mrs. Thomas has ideas of her own though, I will warn you. She has suggested it was time to update it many times over the past five years since my father died.

I have spoken to my uncle, Lord Perryton, about the marriage. He and Lady Perryton are now resigned to the match. They had hinted at several young ladies over the years but they were never very good at suggesting women who attracted me in the least. After the recovering from shock of learning I was marrying a widow with children and with little in comparison in the way of a dowry, I think they took a bit of perverse pleasure in anticipating the reaction of Lady Catherine. My aunts do not get on well. I did assure them that Anne knew I was not interested in marrying her, and that she would not be disappointed by the announcement. They will send an invitation for dinner once we arrive back in Town for the wedding. She hinted at hosting a wedding breakfast but I told her that Bingley’s staff was already preparing for it.

Tomorrow I ride to Kent to inform Lady Catherine in person. You know her well enough to know she will not the react favorably to the news. I am glad you will not be subject to what promises to be a very uncomfortable interview. But it must be done and if I do not do it now, she is bound to show up any time to express her displeasure and I would rather not that be in the middle of our nuptials.

I miss you, Elizabeth. I missed you when we were apart before, but now that you have pledged yourself to become mine, I find that emptiness I feel without you near to be more acute than ever. I rejoice that once I return to Hertfordshire to collect you and your family, I will not have to leave you again, I hope, for a very long time.

I love you, most ardently. You are my heart, my future, my God-given mate.

Yours alone,
Fitzwilliam

 

When Darcy came downstairs early the next morning he found his sister and his cousin waiting for him.

“You need not have awakened early to see me off. I told you last night I would be back tonight.”

“Good morning to you, too, Darcy,” the Colonel answered before Georgiana could reply.

“I was going to speak to you next,” Darcy retorted.

“Andrew and I are going with you.”

“You most certainly are not.”

“Save your breathe, Cousin. I’ve already tried to talk her out of it but she is being as stubborn as Aunt Catherine.”

“I forbid it.”

“But I do not.” Darcy shot his gaze back to his cousins. “As her other guardian I am desirous of her company on my trip to Rosings today.”

“But you just said you tried to talk her out of it.” Darcy replied, clearly exasperated.

“Yes, but only because I wanted to insure that she was up to the challenge and knew what she was getting involved with should she go to Kent with us.”

“I do not recall inviting you either.”

“I decided to visit Aunt Catherine today and since you are going as well, it only made sense to take one carriage.”

Darcy looked at his two would-be interlopers. They both wore the Fitzwilliam stubborn set of the jaw look. He threw his hands up in the hair. “Very well, but I shall be very poor company on the return journey.”

The Colonel slapped his cousin’s shoulder. “That is why we are going with you, to help rid you of the temper you will undoubtedly be in after braving the dragon. We do not want you still brooding on your way back to Hertfordshire.”

Darcy relaxed the hold on his irritation, allowing a small smile to escape. “The things I do for Elizabeth.”

“There is the spirit, old man! Come, let us break our fast and be on our way.”

A triumphant Georgiana Darcy led the way to the breakfast parlor.

<<>>

The Darcy carriage rolled to a stop in front of the tavern at Hunsford.

“Why are we stopping?” asked the colonel even as Darcy opened the door to exit the vehicle.

“I shall return in a few minutes,” was all Darcy said in response. Colonel Fitzwilliam looked questioningly at the other remaining inhabitant, but Georgiana looked as puzzled as she felt. He shrugged his shoulders, resigned to wait.

Before long Darcy returned and closed the door. Immediately thereafter they were on their way again.

“Well?” Fitzwilliam asked.

“I was meeting with the man I sent yesterday to see if his mission was a success.”

“And was it?”

Darcy smiled slightly. “We shall find out shortly.” The coach had just turned into the lane that led to Rosings when they again slowed down and came to a stop. “It appears it has, Darcy answered cryptically as he once again opened the door to alight from the compartment.

Fitzwilliam was able to spy Cousin Anne’s phaeton with Anne aboard. He watched Darcy walk over to the rig and climb aboard. They spoke for several minutes and then he kissed her on the cheek before disembarking the phaeton. Anne waved at her other cousins who remained in the Darcy carriage before driving off towards Rosings. Darcy watched her go and returned the others.

“Would you like to stretch your legs for a few minutes? We need to wait a half hour before we continue on to allow Anne to return home.”

“I take it your man’s purpose in coming was to set up your meeting?”

“I did not think it fair to Anne to not warn her of what is coming. As much as I felt it best to tell Lady Catherine about my marriage in person, I thought our cousin deserved to hear it directly from me. She knew I did not wish for a marriage between us and congratulated me on choosing a wife who would not let me get my own way.” Darcy could not keep a grin off his face with his last pronouncement.

“You could have warned us.”

“You were the ones who insisted on coming with me.”

“Enough, Andrew,” Georgiana chided, “I would rather walk a bit than argue with my brother, even if he should have told us about his plan to meet Anne first.”

<<>>

“Mr. Darcy, Miss Darcy, Colonel Fitzwilliam,” announced the Rosings butler, who then closed the drawing rooms drawers from the outside before his mistress could bid him to leave.

There had been a lively debate on how the task of informing Lady Catherine of Darcy’s engagement should be accomplished. Through it all, Darcy had been adamant that Georgiana would not be left in Lady Catherine’s company without his presence. Now that the moment finally was upon him, he pushed aside his misgivings about the interview, and faced his aunt’s calculating gaze.

“To what do we owe this unexpected honor of your company?”

“As for Georgiana and Fitzwilliam’s presence, they heard I was coming, and decided they wished to keep me company on the journey. I, on the other hand, have come in person to tell you that I am to be married next week in London.” Darcy finished and waited for Lady Catherine’s reply. He saw her jaw tighten upon his pronouncement and then watched as her eyes flicked over to her daughter and then back to him. She was frowning then.

“Your words imply that Anne is not to be your bride, or have I mistaken you?”

“You have not.”

“This is not to be born! You have been destined for each other since you were in your cradles. I you have been engaged for years!”

Darcy saw Anne roll her eyes in irritation giving Darcy all the confirmation he needed that he had done the right thing in telling Lady Catherine of his impending marriage in person.

“An engagement that only existed in your imagination. Had you ever asked Anne, she would have told you that we never had an understanding between us. Anne and I have already spoken about my betrothal and she is very happy for me and approves of my choice.”

“And who has so lured you in that you forget all that is due to your family?”

If at all possible, Darcy stood even taller with pride before delivering what he knew would be a difficult blow to his aunt. “I am engaged to Elizabeth Collins. You know her as your former clergyman’s widow.”

He was correct, for Lady Catherine fell back against her chair in shock and mortification.

“Good God Darcy, what have you done!?!?”

“I have secured for myself a partner in life who I look forward to growing old with, your ladyship.”

“But she is a widow, whose late husband was of no consequence.”

“Yes, she is a widow, with three beautiful, loving children. She is also mistress of her family’s estate and most importantly she will make me a better man by our marriage.”

Darcy was struggling to control his emotions. All of the passion, love, possessiveness, pride and joy that was so closely guarded for so long when it came to Elizabeth wanted to burst forth in defense of his beloved. He would go anywhere, do anything for her. He stood silent, staring at his mother’s sister, daring her to say something, but for once, her ladyship had nothing to say. He could feel that he was breathing heavily and sought to calm himself, waiting for someone else to speak. No one was inclined to break the spell that had fallen over the room.

Georgiana, Anne, and Andrew sat looking at Darcy and Lady Catherine, and glancing at each other. After it appeared that no one would speak, Anne rolled her eyes again and exhaled loudly.

“Mother, I think you should give in and see that Darcy will marry Mrs. Collins and no one else, no matter what your opinion on the matter may be. I for one would not want a husband who is obviously so in love with another woman that he is not afraid to show it in front of me. At least there should be no problems begetting an heir with his choice of bride,” she quipped at the end of her speech.

“Thank you, Anne.” Darcy was still looking at Lady Catherine even though he was addressing his cousin.

“I can only imagine how you look upon her. Would I that I may find a man to look so upon me.”

That drew his attention. His gaze wandered over to hers and his face softened. “I would that you had that too, Cousin. You deserve nothing less.”

Anne smiled and nodded her head. Lady Catherine still had not spoken.

“If you are feeling well enough to travel, you are welcome to attend the wedding. It will be small, of course, with only immediate family invited.”

“Mother and I shall let you know. Now then, I know you intend to return to London yet today, but will you enjoy a small repast with us before you leave? Mother?”

“What? I mean yes, please do. However, I ask you to excuse me. I find myself suddenly fatigued.”

Darcy immediately rose to his feet and was there to offer his hand to assist her to stand. Automatically, his aunt took it and allowed him to lead her out of the room. The ascended the stairs to the family wing. Once they reached the top, she stopped and turned to him.

“Your mother used to get the same look on her face. We knew her mind was made up and there was nothing any of us could do or say to change it. It was the look she showed when she decided she wanted your father.

“I think you are making a mistake, Fitzwilliam. Anne would make you a better match, but you will not have her and it looks that as long as Elizabeth Collins lives, Anne will not have you. I hope you do not live to regret this choice.”

“As my mother regretted my father? We both know that was not the case.”

“Maybe not your father, but she was not always correct in her choices, else she might still be alive today.”

“What is that supposed to mean?”

“There is no spare, Darcy. Only you and your sister.”

Lady Catherine pulled her arm away from him and began walking the rest of the way to her room calling out, “If Anne wishes to go to the wedding, I will not try to stop her.”

Darcy had no chance to reply. She entered her room and shut the door behind her, never turning to look at him. He stood there for a moment, staring at the closed door, before turning to return to companions. If he heard a cry of frustration emanating from his aunt’s chambers, he was too well bred a gentleman ever to make mention of it.

39.

“Georgiana was not happy to be left behind this time,” Andrew Fitzwilliam said, a grin across his face.

Darcy, seated across from him inside his carriage agreed. “She resembled Aunt Catherine when you took my side.”

All of the tasks Darcy had set out to accomplish in his trip to Town were complete and he was on the way back to Hertfordshire to collect his intended and her family. A folded copy of the settlement her uncles and his solicitor had approved was safely tucked inside his coat pocket.

“I cannot believe I am finally to meet your betrothed.”

“It is unusual that you have never before, but not too surprising. You did not come to Pemberley this year and she has had no reason to leave Longbourn except to come to Pemberley.”

“Georgiana certainly sings her praises, and I know you have been enamored with her for a long time. I am quite eager to meet the woman who finally breached your defenses.

In all seriousness, Cousin, will you not tell me what it is about this woman that convinced you to make what society would call a degrading match?”

Darcy was thoughtful for a few moments before offing a reply.

“I find it hard to put into words. How does one describe the fragrance of a bouquet of flowers?” He stopped once more to ponder his next words. He knew his cousin would not allow him to not answer the question.

“In looks she has a light and pleasing figure, though softened by the bearing of three children. I thought her pretty when we first met, but now consider her one of the most beautiful women of my acquaintance. Her best feature is her eyes, which are very fine. They shine with intelligence and wit for she is a clever woman. Unlike me, she is prone to laughter and looks to find amusement when others would look to find fault. She is very loyal, and she, maybe even more than me, understands about duty and self-sacrifice. Elizabeth is a very honorable woman. She is also stubborn and once she makes up her mind about something, is very slow to change it. She is not perfect, for she has her faults and foibles, but she is the one woman I have met who I can see spending the rest of my life with and is willing to put up with all of my faults and foibles as well.

“Did you know that we knew each other for nearly half a year before we ever even touched each other? We were already dear friends and then I took her hand in mine and it was if my life had finally begun.

“I would be miserable without her, Fitzwilliam, and she will be the making of me.”

The colonel raised his brow at his cousin’s last pronouncement. “High praise indeed.”

“I am in earnest. Without even trying, she has challenged me to look more kindly to those outside my immediate circle of friends. I invite a tradesman into my home without moment’s hesitation. Can you imagine me doing so a year ago, before I met Elizabeth? It would have been insupportable, and I would be the lesser for it.”

The conversation had grown more serious than both men had intended, and so they moved on to safe topics, among them Longbourn.

“How much has improving Longbourn cost you?”

“Much less than you think. The Bingleys bore the brunt of the work done this summer. But I have been involved in several schemes to make that estate more profitable and it has done my London household some good. My stable master is very pleased with how his ‘beasties’ are faring now that they can spend part of the year away from Town. As for the other costs, I am doing very well buying my feed for my mews from Longbourn. So all in all what I have spent on Elizabeth’s comfort is mere pocket change. The average man at Whites loses more money in one night than I have spent on the Estate. I am happy to do it and I have high hopes that I will no longer need to put more cash in, but will end up better off in the household receipts.”

Eventually the conversation dwindled to nothing. Both watched the scenery become increasingly rural as they left London behind. Darcy recognized when they were nearing their destination, spotting the now familiar landmarks. After passing through Meryton, the coach increased speed such that Darcy pounded on the roof and telling his driver to have more care.

“Tis the horses, sir!” came the response. “They started running harder on their own, just like they do in Derbyshire when they near Pemberley.”

Darcy’s cousin chuckled. “The ‘beasties’ are eager to be home, Darcy.”

Chagrinned, Darcy had shook his head. “I told you my stable master was happy with the new arrangement. Now I know why.”

“I only hope the ‘beasties’ do not sulk when they are back in Town.”

“Undoubtedly,” Darcy laughed, sharing in the amusement. It was good to know he was not the only being who was excited to return to Longbourn.

<<>>

There had actually been much debate over where the cousins would stay before they returned to Town. Bingley offered Netherfield, but Darcy felt the inn would be better, seeing as the Bingleys had just closed the house and put the servants on half pay. It was Jane who pointed out that Longbourn would be acceptable, seeing as there were still many family members there, as well as the Colonel. Darcy quickly agreed, not wanting to give anyone time to find a reason she should not stay there. Fortunately, no one wanted to disagree with Jane Bingley’s suggestion, trusting the two people involved to be willing to wait a few days longer when any such concerns would be moot.

Thus when Darcy’s carriage pulled in front of the Bennet family seat, all of the household, family and servants alike, where there to welcome the next defacto master. Young William broke away from his mother’s side and ran armed outstretched to Darcy. He reached down and lifted the boy up so that their smiling faces were level.

“Momma said you are going to be my new papa.”

“In a few days, yes.”

“Can I call you Papa now?”

Darcy looked over at Elizabeth before he answered, he could see she was smiling and trying not to cry. Oh how he loved her! She needed no words to exclaim how happy she felt. He grew emotional as well. Swallowing thickly, he reassured the boy. “I would like that very much, William.”

He felt a tug on his trousers and looked down to see John smiling up at him. “Mr. Papa, up?”

Laughing with joy, he moved William to his hip and with one arm free, he picked up the second boy, his other son, and held them both close. John seemed melt into his side.

At that moment, Darcy felt he knew perfect joy.

Much too soon, the moment was over, and William started to wiggle, sending the signal that he was ready to be let down. Darcy was ready to let him down. Holding both boys had begun to grow taxing. Once back down on the ground, William finally took notice of the army officer who was standing next to the carriage.

“Who is that, Papa?”

“That is my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam. Cousin, this is William Collins, master of Longbourn, and his brother John. The bewitching beauty holding my goddaughter Henrietta is my fiancée, Elizabeth Collins. Her sisters: Miss Mary Bennet, Miss Catherine and Miss Lydia. The other lady is our chaperone, Miss Pope.”

At last Darcy put John down so he could greet Elizabeth. “Hello, beloved,” he kissed her hand, refusing to relinquish it so soon. “I have missed you.”

“As have I you.” Henrietta did not wish to be left out and reached towards Darcy who laughed and took the girl in his arms. “Hello luv,” he said and kissed her forehead. Henri gave him a toothless grin and then reached back to her mother.

“Fickle child,” Elizabeth laughed while taking her daughter back into her arms. “I for one would not be so eager to leave your father’s embrace.” Darcy blushed, but was pleased. She turned to his traveling companion.

“We meet at last, Colonel. I have heard much about you.”

“I pray you, only believe the good things my cousin has said about me!”

“You assume there were any?”

“Knowing him, he would never let me within twenty feet of you if there were not.” He bowed over her hand. “Charmed, madam.”

The Colonel looked as if he was trying to decide on more mischief when Darcy decided to head him off. He took Elizabeth’s arm and said it was time to go inside so the servants could take care of the horses and their things. Elizabeth gave Henri to Kitty to carry inside. The Colonel received his cousin’s message and offered his arm to Mary, her being the eldest, leaving the others to follow in behind, though William and John both raced ahead of the adults and back into the house.

They were nearing the parlor when Darcy veered off towards the bookroom, turning his head to inform the others that they would join them in a few minutes. No one said a word against them, though they were all amused.

Once safely inside Mr. Bennet’s former sanctuary, Darcy wasted no time taking Elizabeth into his arms and kissing her senseless. When they had reached that point where further kisses was highly inadvisable, they stood embraced, with Elizabeth’s head laying over Darcy’s heart.

“Are you going to tell me now who the man was riding with your coachman?” It took Darcy a few moments to work out what Elizabeth had asked.

“Oh, yes. I went to the furniture maker’s to begin placing my order for the new master’s chambers yesterday. In the course of discussion it became apparent that someone from the shop needed to come to Longbourn to survey the room and look at other potential new pieces. As I was coming here today, it seemed expedient to offer transportation to the man’s senior most apprentice. He will find a room in Meryton for the night and return with us tomorrow. Though he is not one of my servants, I do feel better having another able bodied man with us to discourage anyone who might wish to meddle with our party.”

“It is probably a good thing that I had the old furniture removed from your new chambers this week.”

“Elizabeth, that was not necessary. I would not…” She put her finger over his lips.

“I did it not because I do not trust you. I did it because I do not trust myself.”

What was a man to do with such a declaration but to kiss the woman in his arms senseless? Again.

<<>>

It had been a full day. Elizabeth lay on her bed, trying to calm her mind so she could go to sleep.

As much has she had tried to talk her fiancé out of it, she was excited about the renovations planned for the chamber that connected to hers. She had, after token resistance, also acquiesced to Darcy’s insistence on proceeding with an order for the remainder of the new furniture he desired. Longbourn would soon be the most fashionable house in the country!

They had agreed that the London craftsmen would provide the furnishings, but the work in the house itself would be done by Meryton laborers. Darcy was of like mind that as much of their custom that they could keep locally, they would. Though Town was but a half day’s travel, Longbourn would support the local merchants and tradesmen whenever it could.

Most of the work would be done while they were in in London. It would give the servants more pay, and help assure that the dust would not affect the family.

While thoughts of the continued rebirth of her ancestral abode were present, even more so was the man who was making all of it possible.

Fitzwilliam Darcy.

How such a wonderful man could fall for her would forever remain a mystery, but she was now so very thankful that he had. The way he looked at her sometimes, with a gaze so intense that she felt on fire, made her long for something she thought was gone forever. She was perfectly serious when she admitted that she had his room stripped of it furnishings to remove the temptation. As a woman married several years, she knew what happened between a man and wife in the privacy of their own chambers. While she did not love her first husband the way she would love her second, it did not mean that she never enjoyed the intimacies of marriage. And while she had promised herself that she would never compare the two men, she had an inkling that being Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy would be a very different experience than being Mrs. William Collins.

Added to all of it was a different sort of yearning. William, John and Henrietta were gift of love given to her entire family. In her children, the Bennets would remain at Longbourn. Seeing her beloved Fitzwilliam today with her children brought such joy to her heart. She knew he already loved his stepchildren as if they were his own, but she wanted to give him children of his own loins, progeny to pass down the Darcy name and estates as she had already done for her own family.

She lay in bed with her hands over her own belly, envisioning the day when it would once again be filled with a child, their child. Conceived as well in duty, yes, but this next time also in love for the man.

Finally, she allowed herself to whisper that which soon would be hers. “Elizabeth Darcy. Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy.” Yes, that sounded right in the way that Elizabeth Collins never could.

<<>>

Whereas the Darcy carriage left the day before for Longbourn, it returned to London the next day with the Bennet carriage AND a wagon full of luggage. The entire convoy arrived and Charles Bingley could only look on chagrinned to see his home overrun with his exuberant new family as they pulled up in from of the Bingley’s townhouse in the early afternoon. Amid much laughter and a copious amount of hugs, the five sisters were once again reunited under one roof. Miss Pope had wisely given up on trying to subdue her charges, and had even joined in with the merry party as they were given a tour of Jane’s London digs. Elizabeth’s boys were just as excited to see their rooms and all of the new toys contained therein.

Darcy stood by his friend and soon to be brother. “Are you sure you can handle all of the disquiet, Bingley?”

“After living with my sisters, I assure you this is a welcome change. And besides, it will only be for a little while. Soon you will be the one living with all of the noise, though since it will mean you are finally married to Elizabeth, I do not think you will mind too much.”

“I see Miss Bingley is out.”

Bingley rolled his eyes. “I think Caroline will be out visiting a great deal the next two weeks. I know I shall pay for it escorting her to balls every night, but it is a small price to pay to finally see her settled in her own home.”

“Any possibilities?”

“A few, I think. She is handsome enough with a respectable dowry. As much as she does not want to admit it, having you as her brother in law cannot hurt her appeal either. I would wish her the same felicitations as I have with my bride, but I think one marriage for love in the family is enough for her. As long as she chooses a good, honorable man, I will be happy for her.

<<>>

Elizabeth’s first visit to Darcy house happened the next morning. Though her sisters all wanted to come, she decided to take only Emily Pope. Her friend had spent enough time in the homes of the rich as to not be totally intimated, or so she hoped.

Darcy had sent his coach to collect the two ladies and they both were in a bit in awe when they stopped in front of the house.

Elizabeth laughed a little nervously. “I supposed I should not be so surprised after having seen Pemberley.”

That seemed to break the spell they were under. They looked at each other, giggled, and Elizabeth shrugged her shoulders as the door was finally opened and Darcy stepped forward to offer them assistance out of the vehicle.

Once both ladies were out, he took Elizabeth hand and bestowed a kiss. “Welcome to Darcy House, my love.” Not waiting for a reply he tucked her hand in his arm and offered his other arm and his greetings to Elizabeth’s companion. Elizabeth could tell how proud he was showing her into her new home. And what a home it was.

Darcy House was just as tastefully decorated as Pemberley, instantly making her fall in love with it as she had the house in Derbyshire.

“Do you like what you see?” he asked her quietly.

“Very much so.”

“Then I hope you still feel so when you see the rest of the house.”

“I am sure that I will. I know you well enough to know that you do not leave tasks undone. This house will not be an exception.”

Elizabeth could tell her words pleased him and that pleased her.

The three of them joined Georgiana for tea, and then the four set about on the tour of the rest of the residence. As previously agreed, the housekeeper, Mrs. Thomas led the way.

They toured all of the public rooms first, with Mrs. Thomas giving many details about each. Of course, the library was magnificent – something to be expected if the observer had been to Pemberley and seen its larger counterpart. Before they moved to upstairs to the bedrooms, Darcy excused himself. Elizabeth suspected that there was a limit to what he could endure, and seeing her in her chambers was probably more than he could brave, after so many months waiting for her acceptance of his marriage proposal. She was rather uncomfortable to be so close to HIS chambers after struggling so long with her feelings for him. As a widow, she knew exactly what would happen there in a few days.

“Of course the Master told us to clean and air the rooms in preparation for the wedding. He was explicit though, that nothing be changed, other than the bedding, without your direction,” the housekeeper said when they finally reached the mistress’s rooms.

Darcy had already relayed the same information. It was hers to do with as she pleased, however little or much that was.

Elizabeth could tell it had been a while since any alterations had been undertaken. Though somewhat out of date, the room still was elegant and inviting, though in a style more likely to suite the previous generation than her own.

Taking time to study the room, she decided that most of the changes she wished to see would have to be accomplished after they left Town. In the interim, “Georgiana, if there is something in this room that you would like for yourself, please take it. I will ask Mr. Darcy to do the same. Whatever is left is to be stored away safely in the attics or wherever it is that Darcy House sends such things.”

“Very good, madam.”

“While I am not one to make changes for the sake of change, I do want to make this my own,” Elizabeth looked at Miss Pope. “I confess that while I was resistant to the changes Jane urged me to make at Longbourn, I was much more content with my life there after they were done, especially in my chambers.

My husband to be will be pleased to hear that I am willing to do something in here to make it my own.”

“And Jane will be amused that you are as well,” Emily teased.

“My sister may be perfect, but she does rather enjoy being right.”

“We all do, Elizabeth,” Georgiana opined. All the ladies laughed at that.

The last place to be seen upstairs was the nursery. Elizabeth could see that Georgiana was excited, and wondered why. When they entered the children’s room she was shocked to see it looking so… new.

“Do you like the children will like it?” her young sister asked.

“It is delightful! Did you have a hand in this, Georgiana?”

She nodded with a shy smile.

“The day Fitzwilliam returned and told me of your engagement, he asked me if I would help him with a surprise. He had already spoken to Mrs. Annesley and they agreed that the nursery was the perfect project to continue my education. He said that since you and he would be busy with Longbourn and you with your chambers here, and that I was the most recent resident of this space, it was only fitting that I be allowed to prepare it for my new nephews and niece.”

“You did a marvelous job,” Elizabeth said with feeling. She was so proud of the young lady.

“Mrs. Annesley was a tremendous help, as were you, Mrs. Thomas.” The housekeeper inclined her head to except the commendation. “And we had so much fun shopping for the papers and the material for the new bedding. The mattresses are all new as well. The toys are a mixture of what was here and ones we found in some shops we discovered. It was all so much fun!”

Miss Pope and Elizabeth exchanged a look, both thinking how much Georgiana Darcy sounded like Lydia and Kitty Bennet at that moment. With a wry smile on her face, Elizabeth grasped the girl’s hands. “Thank you so much, Dearest. The children will love it.”

They spent some time in the room, allowing Georgiana to expound on the changes she had made and the items therein. When they were done, Mrs. Thomas then asked if Elizabeth would care to come below stairs. Georgiana declared she and Miss Pope would return to the parlor and await them there.

Down to the kitchen the older ladies went, where Elizabeth met the cook and inspected the kitchen, pantry, and the rest of the servants’ domain. Once that was complete, Mrs. Thomas invited her mistress into her office along with the cook to discuss various household matters and Elizabeth’s preferences. It was during this time, sharing tea with the two senior servants, that Elizabeth realized that any anxiety she had felt earlier about her role as mistress was, at least for now, gone. The location may have been different, London instead of Longbourn, but the tasks were very much the same.

Again, she could not but mentally shake her head, wondering why she had taken so long to accept Fitzwilliam Darcy’s proposal of marriage. It was becoming a constant refrain.

40.

At last the day had arrived when Elizabeth would once again exchange one name for another. First it was Bennet, and now was Collins. Henceforth she would be known as Elizabeth Darcy.

Elizabeth’s new French ladies’ maid, Marie, whom Darcy had hired for her, was finishing up her hair. Her dress, which would go on last, hung pressed and ready to don.

Jane, or Mrs. Charles Bingley, came into her room to watch. The rest of her sisters were elsewhere in the Bingley Townhouse knowing this was Jane’s time to be with their sister.

“You look lovely, Lizzy,” Jane said after Marie announced her hair completed. She then produced a box and handed it to her younger sister.

“Darcy asked me to give this to you this morning.” Elizabeth took the gift, guessing it to be some sort of Jewelry. She opened it and gasped at the magnificent strand of pearls they lay within. “He said his mother wore them on her wedding day and he would be honored if you would do the same.” It was then that Elizabeth remembered seeing a portrait of Lady Anne Darcy wearing these same pearls.

“Marie, let us put the dress on your mistress.” The young maid complied and soon Jane was helping her sister fasten the groom’s gift around her neck and steered her in front of the looking glass.

“Perfection. Lizzy you are perfection.”

She did not agree, but she looked as lovely as she had ever seen herself before.

“Thank you, Jane, for everything. I know you had a hand in all of this.”

Jane came as stood behind her. “I am just thankful that I could return the favor. You did so much for all of us, you deserve to be as happily married as I.”

The two shared a look into the looking glass that said more than a thousand words ever could.

Elizabeth exhaled deeply; Jane smiled. “Come, it is time.”

“Marie, I shall see you at Darcy House.” The maid curtseyed and left to finish packing her mistress’s remaining belongings. Most of her possessions had already been transported to her new home the day before.

Arm and arm Jane and Elizabeth left her chambers to meet the rest of their family downstairs. Lydia and Kitty were entertaining William and John while Mary watched over Henrietta. Bingley was the first to spot them and gave a low whistle. “Poor Darcy. He may stop breathing when he sees you, Elizabeth.”

‘Ever the gallant’ Elizabeth Collins thought.

“Just as long as he is breathing when I reach the front of the church is all that I care about, Bingley.”

“We are all here now and the carriages are ready. Come, let us get you wed, Lizzy.”

The commotion was great and gaiety abounded as the family out on their outerwear and exited the house for the trip to the church. The Hursts and Caroline Bingley had already left for the ceremony. That still left nine and Miss Pope plus two maids to care for the children to enter both carriages. It was a good thing Darcy sent his largest to help transport everyone.

<<>>

Fitzwilliam Darcy stood waiting at the front of St _____’s. He had heard the clatter of the horses and carriages a few moments before and then the hearty laugh of his friend, Bingley.

His cousin, Colonel Andrew Fitzwilliam stood next to him, prepared to act as the best man. His sister sat beside there aunt and uncle, the Earl and Countess of Perryton. Cousin Anne deBourgh had come to Town for the wedding as well, while her mother had decide to remain in Kent.

Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner sat on the other side of the aisle, with Caroline Bingley and the Hursts behind them a few rows. Now the rest of the family made their way into the church and to the front, the children as excited as Elizabeth’s sisters.

With everyone in place, Darcy looked up to see Charles Bingley walking his fiancée towards the alter. He forgot to breath. “You are one lucky b******,” he heard his best man mutter and he mentally agreed, and remembered to breathe.

‘At last,’ he thought as Elizabeth took her finally steps and stood next to him, her escort now free to rejoin his wife. Mary Bennet completed the foursome facing the rector as bridesmaid, receiving the honor because she was the oldest unwed sibling.

For the first and last time in his life, he listened to the familiar words of the ceremony this time spoken for only one man present – him.

“Dearly beloved…”

<<<>>>

The wedding breakfast was over, and Mr. and Mrs. Darcy were ready to leave the Bingley’s house for their own. It had been decided that Elizabeth’s family, with the exception of her daughter, would remain with Jane and Charles for the night. Tomorrow the boys would rejoin their parents, for one night, Elizabeth would not have to worry about her boys interrupting her sleep.

As the couple said their farewells a few tears of joy were shed. All of Elizabeth’s sisters told her how happy they were for her, and her boys promised to be good for Aunt and Uncle Bingley. Even Caroline Bingley offered her congratulations, even though only Jane thought them heartfelt. Elizabeth was willing to allow the woman to keep her pride and did everything she could to not gloat over her success at being the one to marry Fitzwilliam Darcy. She would give her credit; Caroline Bingley was not so stupid as to allow disappointment to deny her continued welcome at Darcy House and Pemberley. One must be practical about such matters.

Darcy helped Elizabeth into the bridal carriage, and then entered himself. A servant handed him Henrietta and the new couple was ready to go. A small cheer saw the equipage off. Inside, bride and groom were smiling, but the babe was fussing. Darcy moved so that he was sitting next to his bride for the short journey to his home.

“Would you like me to hold our daughter?”

“No, I think I can manage. It is only a short trip. Is she unwell?”

“Tired and hungry, I should think. As soon as we arrive I will bring both of us some relief and feed her. Maggie can put her down for a nap afterwards.”

“What of you? Should you like to rest?”

“Mmm, perhaps.” Elizabeth pulled his head towards her and kissed her new husband. It could not last long as Henri did not appreciate being in between them. “I know, my love. You would like to eat. Soon, I promise,” she cooed.

She was correct, of course. Within minutes they had arrive at their destination and Elizabeth saw that the entire household had assembled to greet their new mistress.

She thanked them for their welcome and promised to continue a well-run Darcy House. All the while Henrietta fussed I her father’s arms.

“I would speak to you more, but as you can see, the little Miss is impatient.” Elizabeth chuckled and the servants gazed fondly at the baby. “You may return to your duties.”

Darcy led his wife upstairs, and would have continued on to the nursery, but Elizabeth stopped him and walked towards her door.

“I need to change before I can feed Henri.”

“Oh, I had not…”

“How could you have known? You just because a father today whereas I have been a mother for years.”

“Shall I meet you downstairs?”

“I would prefer our sitting room in a half hour.”

“As you wish.”

“And Darcy, make yourself comfortable. I will not be long.”

<<>>

The moonlight shown in from the windows, the curtains left open. Elizabeth lay in bed thinking about the events of the day. Next to her, her husband slept. Once she had fed her daughter, she had hurried to find him in their shared sitting room. She was pleased to see that he, like she, had worn a robe. Her hair was still styled as Marie had left it that morning, but her wedding gown, and all the things she wore underneath it except her shift were gone. It did not take long for her shift to come off once she found her new mate.

The only time she had left him was when she needed to use the water closet. A very embarrassed Maggie had brought her daughter to his chambers twice to be fed, but other than that, they had been left undisturbed. Even the food was left for them in their sitting room.

As a mother of three and a widow, she thought she knew what to expect when it came to the marriage bed. Now she knew she was as naïve as a virginal bride in some respects. She knew what lust and desire were. Those she had much experience. What she was totally unprepared for was what the emotional upheaval of passionate love would do to her. Just this morning she had reaffirmed her decision to do everything possible to not compare the two men whose name and rings she wore. They were two different and too different and neither deserved to be found wanting. William Collins had loved her, and had done everything he could to make her happy. It was not his fault that she did not love him. She was grateful, surely, for he had saved her and her family for an uncertain, perilous future. He had also given her three beautiful children. She would always hold his memory in esteem for that. Fitzwilliam Darcy loved her too, and in this marriage she loved her husband in return. He too had saved her, but from loneliness and a life devoid of a partner. It was not his fault that he had not been there first.

She had learned many things with her first husband, and now she realized she had as much to learn with her second.

Elizabeth looked over at the man asleep beside her. He was so handsome! How could such a man, who could have anything, want her? She doubted she would ever stop being amazed that he chose her.

The road to this marriage bed was long and winding. There were no perilous landslides, or robbers along the way. They had faced no grave misunderstandings. There had been pain – the pain of grief over loved ones gone – but not because they had hurt each other, and it had taken time for her to allow herself to love a man enough to become his wife. Somehow, she had made it safely home.

When she looked at Darcy’s face she saw that he was awake and looking at her.

“Hello, husband.”

“Hello, wife. Why are you awake? Is it Henri?”

“No, she is fine. I am fine. I just woke up and my mind has not stopped long enough for me to go back to sleep.”

Darcy reached over and gently stroked her cheek.

“You have no idea how happy it makes me to wake up and find that you are really here, that this is not a dream.”

Elizabeth smiled and brought her hand on to his to bring it to her mouth so she could bestow a kiss on his palm.

“I think I do.”

No further words were spoken except one.

“Again?!” Elizabeth laughed, willing to let his actions answer her impertinent and quite unnecessary question.

Pemberley, November 20, 1813

The cries of an infant interrupted the couple’s slumber. The young heir was hungry and his mother heard his pleas.

“We just fell asleep,” groaned the master of Pemberley.

“You were the one who insisted we celebrate our anniversary tonight even though the children were up later than normal.”

“What was I thinking?”

“I think you were not. To be fair, neither was I. I missed you as much as you missed me.”

“Elizabeth, go take care of Andrew.”

She slid out of bed and donned her nightgown and then her dressing gown before slipping out to of the Master’s chambers to go to her newborn son.

While she was away, Darcy too got out of bed. He had found something earlier that day when he was going through some old papers. He had read many times before, but now it had extra significance. His life changed the day it was written; so had Elizabeth’s.

Once he had it in hand, he went after his wife. It had surprised him how much he enjoyed watching Elizabeth nurse their children. He had taken such things for granted, knowing that often women of their station had wet-nurses to take on that responsibility. Not so with Elizabeth. If it was good enough for Elizabeth Collins, it was still good enough for Elizabeth Darcy. He had ceded that argument to her almost immediately.

Quietly he entered into her bedchamber. It had been decided to put his son, Andrew Charles Darcy, in the mistress’s suite until he was a bit older and not waking during the night disturbing his siblings. Maggie must have gone to check on the other children because Elizabeth was alone. She sat in a chair, eyes closed, as their child lay at her breast. It was a glorious sight to see and he was happy that he had given in to her.

His wife opened her eyes and smiled as she moved the babe to her shoulder to pat his back. Almost immediately they heard the sound they were waiting for and she returned Andrew to finish nursing.

“Jealous?” she asked, a mischievous twinkle discernable in her eyes, even though it was mostly dark.

“Somewhat,” he replied quietly so as not to disturb his son, “but I know who gets to sleep with the lady once this is over.”

“Lucky me.”

Darcy sat on the unused bed and pulled the papers out from a pocket in his robe.

“I came across this today as I was looking for something else. I do not think you have seen it since it was sent.” Darcy unfolded the pages and then walked to the chair to hand them to Elizabeth. At first she was confused, until she recognized the handwriting.

“You kept the letter William wrote,” she said, the wonder of it in her voice.

“I think I told you before that I had. It was misplaced somehow. I have no idea how it ended up with the other papers, but it did. I am glad I found it. Though I would never show it to anyone but you, it is too important to destroy.

“Though I mourn the loss of the man who wrote it, I thank God he wrote it. It saved Georgiana, and it is why we are here, why he,” Darcy nodded to his son,” is here.”

“We would have met.”

“You would have been married still.”

“You do not know that. William died somehow. We have no idea if it was related to this or not.”

“I would never have offered to be your friend. No Elizabeth, this is the most important piece of correspondence that I possess.”

“Very well.” She handed it back to him. “Since you believe it so, do not misplace it again.”

After that they sat in silence, waiting for their son to finish so they could return to bed. Darcy could think of nothing else but the pages he held in his hands. He knew, KNEW, that his life had changed course the day the missive was penned and though he sensed Elizabeth had rather not revisit it, for the days is represented where exceedingly painful to them both, he would never destroy it for he was cognizant that he owed his good fortune in finding the perfect wife for him to Mr. William Collins last letter.

An epilogue will follow