Sons of Pemberley, Post 10, Ch. 12

I think you’re going to need this. The characters we spend the most time with are in bold, the really important ones in this chapter are highlighted in pink.

Chapter 12

Pemberley, Derbyshire, Summer 1791

“Mind where you go, Fitzwilliam!” Anne called to her son where he ran across the grass, chasing his older cousins.

Her elder brother and his family were visiting, as well as her cousin Lady Julia and her children. Her brother Randall was the Viscount Hyde—he would inherit the Matlock earldom when their father died. Hence, he was at the mercy of their father, who often required his presence in Town or at the family estate in Staffordshire. The old earl had little use for his two daughters or his younger son, but he had great use for his eldest son and child, the one he imagined would carry on his legacy long after he had shuffled off this mortal coil.

Randall was a decent fellow. Good-tempered, but weary of arguments and with the look of put-upon badger about him. Their generation of Fitzwilliam children, bar Catherine, were long and lean and fine-boned. They looked rather like a flock of birds, settled down in the drawing room, all long legs and pointed noses. Catherine had somehow inherited the size and dominant personality of their grandfather, but the other three children were pattern cards of each other. Each fair haired, blue eyed, and almost frightfully thin.

Randall and Anne had always been close, due largely to the fact that he had been five when she was born and rather enamored of the real-life doll in his mother’s arms. They shared a love of horses and fruit tarts, which they would still occasionally sneak to each other’s rooms to share after everyone else had gone to bed.

Lady Catherine was the second Fitzwilliam daughter, only a year younger than Anne but thrice her size in personality. If there was a conversation, Catherine must take part in it. If there was a party, Catherine must direct it. If there was a dispute, Catherine would settle it—often to no one’s satisfaction but her own. She was constantly inserting herself where she was not needed or wanted, but she would hear no correction, even when it was kindly meant.

When their father betrothed her to Sir Lewis de Burgh in Kent, a county blessedly far away from their home, they all secretly rejoiced that she would be so far removed.

In contrast, Anne and Randall enjoyed their relative proximity and were frequent visitors to each other’s homes, though Anne preferred to visit when her father was not in residence. She did not hate her father, but neither was she fond of him, and thus they shared only the occasional letter and basic pleasantries when they were in shared company.

Randall had been married off young, at the insistence of their father who was afraid he would die before he could see his son properly wed. Without his guidance, his children would of course all choose poorly and ruin the family name forever, driving it into disgrace and destitution. Thus Randall found himself married before his twenty-second birthday to the daughter of the Marquess of Chatham, Lady Philadelphia Cosgrove. He was a father by twenty-three, and when Anne married Mr. Darcy at nineteen, Randall was bouncing his second son on his knee.

Their younger brother, Richard, was a colonel in the regulars, and had sworn never to marry. Anne suspected it was because he knew his father would never allow him to choose a woman he actually liked, and with Richard’s lesser income, he would be forced to share small quarters with a woman he despised. Anne rather suspected that if her father were to suddenly die, her brother would soon after find himself betrothed, but it was only her suspicion.

Randall and George Darcy were attempting to show the boys how to bat at cricket, while Anne, her sister Lady Philadelphia, and her cousin Lady Julia watched. Julia had delivered her third child, a plump little boy, only two months ago. She had had a wretched time of it and was spending the summer at Pemberley to recuperate. She still had crying jags at the oddest times and felt poorly most days. Anne had made it her personal mission to cheer Julia up.

Julia’s daughter Marianne was only a month younger than Fitzwilliam and the two had got on splendidly since they were old enough to play with one another. Philadelphia and Anne were both in the family way, lounging on soft chaises in the shade, patiently awaiting their confinements.

Lady Philadelphia—Adele to her friends—was due to deliver her fifth child any day, and it was decided she would do so at Pemberley. Her last confinement had been at the Matlock seat and her father-in-law had been an absolute bear. He had nagged her constantly on what she should eat and how she should behave in order to produce a son, ignoring that her fist two children had been boys and only the third had been a girl. She ignored him as best she could, but when the babe was born a girl, he had been unbearable. For her fifth confinement, she wisely decided to be away when the birth would come upon her suddenly, with no time to return home.

Anne had introduced her to the midwife and the chamber was prepared. Now they were only waiting on the young Fitzwilliam to arrive.

Anne had another two months to go until her confinement. She had a strong suspicion this babe would be a girl, and she was ecstatic about it. A little girl to dress and teach and dote on. A girl who would not have to be sent away to school, but who would stay with her mother until she married. Anne was quite looking forward to it. She thought they might call her Regina, or perhaps Charlotte. Anne was named for her mother, and Catherine had named her only daughter Anne, making it a complicated option. Perhaps Matilda? Or Madeline? The vicar had a little girl named Madeline and she was a darling thing.

Anne turned her attention back to the ladies and away from her own thoughts. Adele was giving Julia advice on her daughter Marianne, who was a bright but stubborn little girl. Marianne did not want to play with her dolls. She did not want to have tea parties with her friends. She did not want to wear lacy dresses with pretty satin bows.

She did want to chase her cousins and climb trees and catch toads, to her mother’s great horror. Anne tried not to laugh. Julia was her dearest friend, but she was a touch dramatic. Marianne would be perfectly well. She was merely a little different than the other girls they knew, and very different from how her own mother had behaved. But Anne remembered enough of her childhood with Julia to know her cousin had not always been a perfect lady, and that wild children eventually grow up, at least to some degree.

Adele was smiling serenely at her cousin, her hand absently rubbing her round belly. Five children! Anne could not imagine. Of course, if things had gone differently, this child would be her fourth little one, not her second. Adele seemed born to be a mother. She was serene and gentle and endlessly patient. Her eldest son Alexander was a rascal of the first order, followed closely by her second son, Richard, named for his uncle. Yet she never lost her patience with them or raised her voice or issued harsh punishments.

Somehow, looking at her savage children with her big gray eyes full of disappointment, she made them feel awful over whatever it was they had done until they apologized and punished themselves! “I will make it right, mother. I didn’t mean to hurt Marianne.” Or, “I didn’t mean to cut the horse’s tail. The scissors slipped!” followed closely by, “I will help the grooms for a fortnight! I will take such good care of the horses!” Anne had bitten her lip hard when she heard that one, not wanting to laugh and spoil their guilt-ridden state.

The three women looked up when pounding footsteps rushed past them. Fitzwilliam and Marianne were running hell for leather, Richard in hot pursuit. Alexander was at the other end of the lawn, taunting his cousins.

“What are they playing at now?” Julia complained.

“They’re children. Let them run,” said Anne.

~

Two days later, the house was in uproar. Lady Philadelphia was in labor, and the babe would not descend. Her children were dreadfully worried, especially the two eldest boys who understood what the maid meant when she said the lady was “like not to pull through.”

Darcy stayed with Randall in the library, plying him with brandy and empty platitudes. The nurses did their best with the children, but eventually they took them to the lake and let them run free in an attempt to spare them from whatever was happening in the birthing room.

Anne and Julia stayed with Adele, changing the cloths on her forehead, offering encouraging words, and silently praying while they shot each other worried looks. The midwife was experienced, but she was a bit in awe of Lady Philadelphia. She had gradually accustomed herself to Lady Anne, but Lady Philadelphia was both the daughter of a marquess and the wife of a viscount, destined to be the next Lady Matlock. She was hesitant to suggest anything the lady might find undignified. Sensing the midwife’s restraint, and her sister’s waning strength, Anne drew the midwife aside.

“Is there nothing that can be done? Surely there is something!”

The midwife twisted her apron but seemed hesitant to speak.

“If there is anything you can do, anything at all, no matter how odd or unconventional, please do it! Her children cannot lose their mother today,” Anne said somberly, her blue eyes pleading.

“Very well. We need to get her up and moving.”

Soon, the midwife had Adele moving about the room, circling her hips in an odd rhythm, and squatting down low while her sister and cousin supported her on either side. Her strength was flagging, but she knew her life hung in the balance, and that of her child, so she followed every instruction, and held every bizarre position while the pains crashed over her relentlessly.

Eventually, she was clutching the bed post, Julia under one shoulder and Anne under the other, while the midwife instructed her to push at her signal. In what seemed like no time at all, she was holding her new baby, a flood of tears covering each woman’s face. Anne gingerly wiped Adele’s brow and brushed her hair back, replaiting it loosely. Julia, who could be surprisingly practical when the situation called for it, collected a fresh nightgown, and slipped it over Adele’s head after the maid cleaned her up. Finally, they got Adele and the baby clean and in a fresh bed, ready to receive visitors.

“I shall go fetch Randall. He will be anxious for you.”

Adele grabbed her hand tightly and pulled Anne close. “Thank you, sister. You have saved me this day.”

“You did the difficult part,” Anne said with a watery smile. She kissed Adele’s forehead, then the baby’s, and left to find her brother.

~

“It was an eventful day,” said George as they prepared for bed that evening.

“Yes, it was.”

Unsurprisingly, everyone had been too exhausted to bother with a proper dinner. Anne had trays sent to everyone’s rooms, and now that the children were assured Adele would live, they were properly impressed with their new brother and cousin, Andrew.

“It was frightening for a while. I feared she would not survive,” Anne said quietly.

“I am sorry, darling. That must have been awful for you.”

He took her hand and led her to the sofa before the empty fireplace. He encouraged her to sit back and took one of her feet in his hands, gently rubbing along the arch and sole.

“That is lovely. Thank you.”

“Are you well, my dear?” he asked sincerely.

Anne sighed. “I will be. I was afraid, and worried and anxious, but the worst is over now. The babe appears healthy and Adele is resting. Though I do not think she will want to have another child for some time.”

Darcy chuckled lightly, “No, I doubt she will. Poor Randall was beside himself. I had to restrain him from barging in more than once. He was convinced she was going to die.”

“She nearly did.”

They stared blankly ahead for a time, allowing the events of the day to settle over them like a thin shawl. Randall and Adele had not had a passionate love affair. Their union had been arranged by their parents, but they were both so kind and unassuming, so gentle and respectful of each other, that love of a sort could not help but bloom between them. Regardless of how they came together, they were very good friends and a devoted couple, and Anne knew Randall would be lost without Adele.

~

Anne spent the next few days in a flurry of activity. She could not explain it, but she felt an irresistible urge to clean her house—which she did not know how to do—and to cook something—a skill she refused to learn. She sorted the baby clothes in the nursery. She placed fresh flowers on every table in every public room of the house. She sewed two baby bonnets and a long gown, and began a painting she thought to hang in the baby’s room.

“Do you not think you are doing too much?” asked her husband. “I do not want you to tire yourself out.”

“I feel wonderful!” she cried. “I cannot explain it, but I cannot sit still for long at all.”

George watched her with a wary eye. She had done the same thing before Fitzwilliam was born, and again with their son George. She had not with their stillborn daughter, but then the babe had been breech. Perhaps that had something to do with it? She was still several weeks away from her lying in. He feared that if she were delivered of a child now, it would not survive. Though she was large enough… perhaps they had estimated the dates incorrectly?

~

Unfortunately, George’s concerns for an early delivery were proved correct. By the end of the week, only eight days after Adele had delivered her babe, Anne was brought to bed. She repeatedly said it was too soon, but the babe wished to be born and born it would be. She labored for a short time before the midwife said she was ready, and Julia held her hand tightly as Anne bore down, the babe coming surprisingly easily.

“I am sorry, my lady.” The midwife held the small babe, tiny and blue, and draped a blanket over its face. “She was too small to survive.”

Anne was in shock. The labor had been so easy, the delivery nearly painless.  How could the babe be stillborn? She had felt it kicking only a few hours ago.

The midwife was pressing her belly, Anne staring blankly ahead in shock.

“It is as I suspected. There is another babe, my lady.”

“What?” cried Julia.

“I’ve seen it ‘afore. The smaller one does not survive, and its death causes the pains to begin. The bigger one will be coming shortly.”

Just then, Anne felt a kick in her abdomen, strong and solid, and nearly wept with relief. She was alive! She was still alive! The pains began again and soon Anne was bearing down, this one significantly more difficult than the tiny babe before it. Julia held her hand and wiped her brow and told her to continue on, that her daughter was on the way, that she just needed to push a little more, just one more time.

Somewhere through the haze of pain and fear, a lusty cry was heard and the next thing she knew, Anne was holding her daughter in her arms, pink and squalling.

“A girl! I have a daughter!”

Julia cried with her, both of them insensible and overwhelmed.

“I shall call her Julia, for the dearest friend I have ever had,” Anne said quietly.

Julia opened her mouth to speak, but could only make a breathy sound before dissolving into tears again.

~

“May I meet my daughter now?” George asked. He entered the room quietly, smiling to see Anne propped up on pillows with the baby in her arms, Julia in a chair beside the bed.

“I shall go give Adele all the news,” she said as she slipped out of the room.

“Look at her, George.” Anne beamed at him.

He touched the downy cheek. “She is perfect.” The babe clutched his finger and he felt tears pricking his eyes. “What shall we call her?”

“I am calling her Julia.”

He raised his brows and she looked back at him sheepishly. “She is my dearest friend, and she was an enormous help during the birth. Besides, she looks like a Julia, does she not?”

He smiled. “She does. How about Julia Anne?”

“That is perfect.” Anne looked at her daughter, then back to her husband, her eyes shadowed. “Did they tell you there was another?”

“Another babe? Yes, the midwife explained. She said the second babe was much smaller and would not have survived, even had she lived to be delivered.”

“Probably not. What should we call her? We have to put something on the stone.”

“How about Mary?” George suggested.

“For your mother?”

“Yes. Or would you rather save it for another daughter?”

“We do not know that there will be another. Let us call her Mary, the poor dear.”

“At least this one survived. That is something to be thankful for.”

“Yes, it is.” She looked far away again. “I worry for her though. She is very small and born too soon. Her lungs are not strong, I think.”

They listened to the strained respirations for a minute without speaking.

“The midwife said some babes born this soon continue to develop outside the womb and become perfectly healthy children,” Anne said quietly.

“And others?” he asked, his voice a near whisper.

“Others do not survive more than a few days.”

“So we should prepare ourselves,” he said somberly.

“It would be wise,” she said, pulling her shoulders back and sitting up a little straighter. “But I do not want to be wise. I want to hold my baby, and kiss her hair, and not worry that she will die any moment. Is that so enormous a wish?”

“No,” he answered, his voice choked, “it is a perfectly rational desire.”

Feed the muse below.

Sons of Pemberley, Post 9, Ch. 11

I’m setting these up to go live in the early morning in the US, so those reading across the pond can get it with their morning coffee. Never let it be said that I don’t take requests. Happy reading!

Chapter 11

Hertfordshire, October 1811

Netherfield Park, 26 October, 1811

Dear Richard,

You must thank me for I have done you the most wonderful service! What have I done for you, you ask? Only found a perfect wife for you, that is all!

Before you discount my information, I ask you to recall the last time I recommended a lady to you. Casting your mind back, I’m certain you have realized that I have never done such a thing. Having proven myself to be the opposite of a matchmaker, I insist you trust me now.

Miss Elizabeth Bennet is the second daughter of the second largest estate in this corner of Hertfordshire (there is a delightful symmetry to that, do you not think?). Her father is a well-read gentleman with a satirical wit and a rather dry sense of humor. You would love him. Her eldest sister, (Bingley’s latest angel—more symmetry there—he of the largest house in the neighborhood and she the prettiest of the girls in said neighborhood), is a very sweet girl. She is rather too kind, but she does remind me somewhat of Nora, all wide eyes and innocent expressions.

The younger sisters are drab, dull, and vulgar in turn, but nothing too shocking. And they would hardly live with you. Mrs. Bennet and Lady Anne have become friends, oddly enough. Mrs. B is the sort of woman our aunt would normally never associate with, yet they have some sort of common interest and have called on each other at least twice per week. Mrs. B is doing her best to imitate our aunt’s manners, to the entertainment and benefit of all. I believe she is normally a rather loud and crass woman, but being around Lady Anne has inspired her to new levels of gentility.

Or so says Miss Elizabeth. I shall not keep you in suspense any longer and will tell you all about her. She is a delightful creature and I am sure I shall be friends with her for years to come. She has a wonderful sense of humor and laughs when others would cry or shout in anger. She is patient and kind, but not of the sickly variety, and she does not wear too much lace—something I know you will appreciate as you are always complaining of the stuff.

As for the attributes more important to men—she is quite pretty, second only to her elder sister. Miss Bennet’s beauty is such that I believe most women would be second to her, so do not hold that against Miss Elizabeth. Elizabeth has shining dark brown hair with rather a lot of natural curl I think—or else it holds its shape from the wrappers remarkably well. Her complexion is bright and healthy, not that ridiculous pale sickliness so in fashion.

On another note, Miss Bingley is a fan of the extremely pale face and looks positively ill half the time. At least her fear of a robust complexion keeps her indoors most of the time, so I may walk out as often as I choose without unwelcome company. And before you ask, I have been remarkably well-behaved. Little Rosamund keeps me quite busy, and I promised Lady Anne I would be kind—to an extent.

Back to Miss Elizabeth. Her eyes are bright and sparkling. I believe they are brown, but then I saw her in a green gown and they looked more green, then gold in yet another gown, so I shall settle on hazel. She is shorter than me but taller than your sisters. Her figure is formed but trim. I believe her penchant for long walks has seen to that.

And that may be her most perfect quality—she is robust of health and enjoys being out of doors. She would not faint at the idea of a summer spent following the drum in Spain. And she plays the pianoforte and sings rather well, enough to entertain you of an evening. Her personality is delightfully impertinent, just the sort to keep you entertained and on your toes, for you know you are too apt to become bored and get into mischief. I do not believe she would put up with any ridiculous behavior—a wonderful quality in a wife—and would likely make a good sister for Alexander as well.

In short, she is as charming a creature as ever existed and I would very much like for her to be my cousin. Do come to Hertfordshire to meet her. Or if you cannot, I will invite her to Town next spring as my guest and you may meet her then.

Your matchmaking cousin,

Lady M

Fitzwilliam House, London, 30 October, 1811

Dear Marianne,

Your suggestion that I escape to Hertfordshire is a good one, except for one tiny detail. I would be escaping London and my matchmaking mother for a matchmaking cousin and aunt. Lady Anne is not nearly so invested in my matrimonial prospects as Mother, but I would not be surprised if Mother deputized Lady Anne to act in her stead. Do not let her innocent expression fool you—she is forever plotting the demise of my bachelorhood.

Your Miss Elizabeth sounds lovely, but you have forgotten one tiny detail—her dowry. Since you were so thorough in her other attributes, I can only assume she has none, or very little. I must remind you, dear cousin, that a second son cannot marry without some consideration to fortune, as much as I wish it were different.

Now, how is my new cousin? Or shall I be Uncle Richard? It is odd calling a girl thirty years my junior my cousin. And I have not heard that I am to be the godfather. I assume this is only a mistake on your part, for I am certain you must remember the conversation. I know it was proper for Pickering’s brother and yours to stand godfather for your first son, but then you chose Darcy and your younger brother for your second—shameful that I was passed over there. I know John is your favorite brother and close to you in age, but you barely tolerate Thomas, and you and I spent nearly every summer together when we were children.

For shame, Marianne.

I shall take this opportunity to refresh your memory. You had recently been delivered of little Joseph, and I had come to bring him a gift and to visit your tired, puffy self, when you were so grateful for my consideration that you promised the next babe would be my godchild. I recall it quite clearly, though your lack of sleep at the time (remember the circles under your eyes? You looked positively dreadful!) may have prevented you from recalling it.

I can assure you that the promise was made, and that I have every intention of calling it in.

Your teasing cousin,

The Colonel

Netherfield, Hertfordshire, 3 November, 1811

My Dear Colonel Fitzwilliam,

You know you are one of my favorite cousins, only second to Fitz, and he is more of a brother really. I prefer you even to Reggie, at least now that we are older and you no longer tug my braids or dip my hair ribbons in ink and get me in trouble with Mother. No one can replace you in my heart—especially Thomas. He is not all bad, he is merely a dreadful bore and rather enamored of his own voice, but no family can be solely comprised of interesting people full of stimulating conversation. Arabella is fascinating enough for two brothers, so we shall have to be satisfied.

There. Have I flattered your vanity enough? Shall you forgive me the slight of not asking you personally to be godfather to little Rosamund? If you are willing to do so and able to get to Staffordshire, you are to be her godfather, with all its attendant glory and responsibilities. I fully expect you to teach her to wield a sword by her twelfth year, or I shall consider you derelict in your duties.

I am surprised you do not already know this. Henry says he wrote to you the day after her birth to announce her arrival and ask you to do the job. Did you not receive the letter? Did you only read the first half and become distracted by some shameful activity or other and miss the most important part? You must admit that would be rather like you. Or perhaps you spilled jam or coffee on it as you have a terrible habit of reading at the breakfast table when you know you have always been horribly clumsy.

Or are you merely harassing me for not writing myself? I have just been delivered of a child, Richie. I have been rather busy.

Now, about Miss Elizabeth Bennet. Lady Anne likes her, Georgiana likes her, Henry likes her, even baby Rosamund likes her! Luke is utterly enamored of her, so you will have some competition there, but I rather think you can best him in the end. A woman does like her husband to be taller than her, and of age when possible.

As for her dowry, I believe she has one thousand pounds, a trifle I know, but it is something at least. And surely the right woman would be worth setting such considerations aside? ‘She herself is a dowry,’ I believe is the quote, or some such nonsense, from King Lear. Or was it Richard III? I shall leave the study of the bard to you and only say you really should move your focus from her dowry to your own felicity. All the money in Matlock will not make a poor partner more palatable. Ask your grandmother.

And I am sure Uncle Randall would do something for you. In fact, he is much more likely to see to your comfort than Alexander is, especially if he likes the lady. And I have already said Lady A thinks her lovely and you know Uncle almost always agrees with her. You should move quickly before Ally spends all the money on some ridiculous bet and your father won’t be able to do anything for you. Time is of the essence, dear cousin. You know you are not getting any younger, and ladies like Miss Elizabeth do not remain available for long. I am certain she is only still free because she is recently turned twenty and she rarely goes to Town. I shall remedy that myself, and when some wealthy gentleman scoops her up, you will be filled with regret and wonder why you did not listen to your cousin.

Do come! You could spend a few days in Hertfordshire, then travel with us to Harkley Hall for the Christening. Shall you spend the festive season at Matlock? It would be an easy journey there, and to Pemberley as well if that is your destination.

Think on it.

Your luminous and not at all puffy cousin,

Lady M

Fitzwilliam House, 6 November, 1811

Dear Major Marianne,

You are proving as tactical as ever, my dear cousin. As much as I hate to admit it, you are right about Alexander. He is unlikely to offer me much, despite the fact that we are brothers, or perhaps because of it. He is also likely to plow through the family coffers with a shovel if something isn’t done.

Keep this between us, but father is taking measures. He is considering increasing my sister’s dowry in such a way that the money cannot be accessed by the estate. It is too late for Adele, but at least she married and made use of her dowry while she could. But something can still be done for Clara, though I don’t know that she will ever marry. She seems not to wish it, but then a larger dowry might be more necessary to her. She could live off the income if she wished to leave Matlock.

Father is placing Darcy and myself as the trustees for her money. Alexander will be livid when he finds out, but he cannot be surprised. He goes through money like water. Father has five children—he cannot allow one to bankrupt all the rest.

Father has also talked of doing something for both me and Andrew. I believe he means to buy Andrew a house in Town—his law practice is finally beginning to earn income and if he had a home, he would be able to marry soon. You know that would make Mother very happy.

Grandfather Chatham has also made noises about some sort of inheritance, but I don’t know that I can trust anything he says. After all, Uncle is in charge of the estate now, and who knows what he means by inheritance? He may simply leave me his favorite stud. I would appreciate the gesture, but it would hardly be a financial boon.

Alas, I cannot resist your entreaties and I am sure you realize you have several valid points, much as I hate to admit it. Grandfather Matlock was a difficult man—I do not know how grandmother withstood him as long as she did. I must disagree about the money not being of help in such a situation. Were they in a small house in Town, they would have been thrown together every day, for much of the time. At Matlock, they had rooms on opposite sides of the house. They had separate friends and I know she often traveled without him. She was at your grandmother’s nearly half the year!

But you are right that the situation was not felicitous, and I would not wish such a union for myself. I should like to at least be friends with my wife.

So, my scheming cousin, I shall join you in Hertfordshire and take the measure of your Miss Elizabeth. I promise nothing but to keep an open mind, and I am trusting you to do nothing to embarrass myself or the lady. We are both too old for childish pranks—or at least those perpetrated on those outside our circle. Darcy is still fair game. Do we have an agreement?

Your ungrateful but resigned cousin,

R. Fitzwilliam

Netherfield, Hertfordshire, 10 November, 1811

My dear cousin,

You have a deal! I shall be a perfect lady, and you shall see I am right about Miss Elizabeth! I have spent many happy afternoons walking the surrounding countryside with her and I only like her more on each encounter.

We depart Netherfield for Harkley on the 22nd of November. Might you come before then?

Your excited cousin,

Lady M

Fitzwilliam House, London, 12 November, 1811

M,

If I have an invitation, I shall arrive on the 16th. Does that suit your scheming?

R

Netherfield, Hertfordshire, 13 November, 1811

Dear Richie,

Ha!

Lady M

Folded inside her letter was another, written in an elegant, looping hand.

Dear Col. Fitzwilliam,

Please accept our invitation to stay at Netherfield with your cousins. We would be most happy to host you. You are welcome for as long as you would wish.

Sincerely,

Caroline Bingley

Colonel Fitzwilliam had to laugh at his cousin’s scheming. Nobody could say Lady Marianne Pickering did not know how to get what she wanted. He called his batman and told him to prepare to leave for Hertfordshire the day after next. Despite his dismissals to his cousin, he was curious about this Miss Elizabeth.

~

Elizabeth arrived at Netherfield to find it in turmoil. Servants were rushing to and fro in the entrance hall, the front door was ajar, and there was shouting coming from above stairs.

She saw Mr. Bingley running toward the stairs and called his name. “Have I come at a bad time?”

“Miss Elizabeth?” He looked at her in bewilderment, as if he had no idea how she had come to be there.

“Mr. Bingley, good day. I came to call on Lady Marianne. I gather this is a bad time?”

He stepped close to her and said in a low voice, “There has been an accident. Young Luke fell from his horse.”

She gasped and pressed her hand to her mouth. “Is he badly injured?”

“The apothecary has been sent for. He is alive and awake, but his left leg took the brunt of the fall. I fear it is broken.”

Her eyes widened in horror. “No!”

“Lady Anne is beside herself, naturally. Darcy carried him into the house and up the stairs, white as a sheet, both of them. I’ve never seen him so frightened, Darcy that is. I oughtn’t be telling you this. Forgive me.” He paced away from her, then toward her again.

She touched his sleeve gently. “What can I do to help? Is anything being done for his pain?”

“Lady Marianne said she knew of something. Her husband was shot in the war, you see, but I do not know where she has gone. The stillroom, perhaps.”

Elizabeth smiled at him gently, for he was clearly on the verge of panic, and said she would join Lady Marianne in the still room to see if she might be of assistance.

Elizabeth rapped on the door frame as she entered the still room. Lady Marianne was rapidly picking up glass jars of dried herbs and smelling them, as there were precious few labels, and examining those plants still hanging from the rafters to dry.

“May I be of some assistance?”

“This blasted still room is useless! All they have is lavender. Lavender! As if I couldn’t find that in any obliging field in England!”

She turned to face Elizabeth, her face red and her arms akimbo.

“The still room at Longbourn is well stocked, I believe, as is the herb garden. If you like, we can send a note and request what you are looking for.”

Marianne made quickly for the door. “We can send ourselves, that shall be much faster.”

Elizabeth ran to catch up to her. “As you wish, my lady.”

“Did you ride over? Is your horse still saddled?”

“I walked. I am no horsewoman.”

Marianne looked at her strangely for a moment, then gruffly told a footman to see her horse was saddled quickly. “Miss Bennet, would you please write me a note for the housekeeper? I shall have to be abominably rude and go straight to your still room without calling on your mother.”

“Of course.” Elizabeth quickly penned a note at the writing desk in the sitting room and handed it to Marianne.

“Are you sure you do not wish me to accompany you?”

“It will take too long to ready the carriage. I shall be quicker on horseback.” She looked to the window and saw her horse being brought around. “Damn side saddle. I could go faster astride, but there is no time to change. I shall be back shortly, Miss Bennet.”

Surprised in a dozen ways and not knowing which to start with, Elizabeth merely nodded and told her to be careful. Knowing herself to likely be in the way, she made her way to the front door to leave when Mr. Jones burst in.

“Miss Lizzy! Wonderful. I shall need you to assist me.”

“Oh! I, uh, yes, very well,” she said hesitatingly. Everyone in Meryton knew she assisted Mr. Jones when he was tending to a tenant at Longbourn and occasionally a neighboring estate, but the visitors did not know that, and she knew her mother would be mortified for her extra-curricular activities to become common knowledge. Thankfully, Miss Bingley and Mrs. Hurst were visiting a friend in Stoke, fifteen miles away, and were not due back until the following day.

She followed Mr. Jones up the stairs, keeping her head low. Soon they were at the door to the sickroom and she hovered near the doorway, not wanting to intrude.

The room was very full. There was Mr. Darcy near the bed, guarding his brother like a sentinel, Mr. Bingley near the window, looking worried, and Lady Anne and Miss Darcy sitting on the bed on either side of a prostrate Luke, who looked sweaty and pale with pain. Mr. Jones politely asked everyone to make room so he could examine the patient. Mr. Darcy looked like he did not like the idea, but he complied.

Mr. Jones uncovered the leg and poked it a bit, causing Luke to hiss in pain. “The break does not look severe, but it is broken. I believe it is a clean break, though. Setting it properly should restore the bones to good order.”

Elizabeth felt she was intruding where she did not belong and stepped further into the corridor. Close enough to call if she were needed, but not close enough to hear everything being said—or to anger the Darcys for inserting herself in something that was none of her affair.

“I shall need some assistance,” Mr. Jones said.

Darcy stepped forward. “What do you need?”

Mr. Jones looked at him in surprise, having forgotten the quiet man was there. “Have you any brandy? If he can drink a little, it will help with the pain and keep him calm. Setting the leg will be painful.”

“I shall get it,” said Mr. Bingley as he rushed out of the room.

Georgiana looked very pale where she sat on the edge of a chair near the bed. Sensing things were about to get difficult, Lady Anne said, “Georgianna, dear, please check on the baby. All the noise may have upset her.”

Georgiana looked grateful for the occupation and followed after Mr. Bingley, leaving only Lady Anne and her two sons with the apothecary.

“Would you mind if Miss Bennet assisted me?” asked Mr. Jones, as if he only now realized he was not dealing with tenant farmers who did not care who helped them, as long as the help came.

“Miss Bennet?” repeated Darcy in surprised tones.

Elizabeth winced in the hallway.

“Yes. She often helps me with things of this nature on her father’s estate. There are a great many children at Longbourn, and they are always falling out of some tree of other.”

Elizabeth wanted to sink into the floor. He made Longbourn sound like a jungle filled with monkeys masquerading as children, and she the keeper of them. She began to tiptoe towards the staircase to make her escape.

“Surely I can assist you,” said Mr. Darcy. “We needn’t send for Miss Bennet. It would be nearly an hour before she could arrive.”

“She is already here, sir!” said Mr. Jones, perplexed that they did not know this information, and triumphant with what he saw as a victory. “I brought her upstairs with me. She is just in the corridor. Miss Lizzy!” he called.

Elizabeth cringed and halted her escape. She turned around and stood near the door, saying perhaps the family would prefer she not be the one to assist Mr. Jones.

“Nonsense,” said Lady Anne firmly. “If you have done this before, you know more than my son and I do. Please, Miss Bennet, assist as you will.”

Elizabeth curtsied to the great lady and made her way to Mr. Jones’s side. Mr. Darcy was clearly not happy about this turn of events, but he made way for her without objection.

Poor Luke was drowsy, she supposed from laudanum, and looked at her with glassy eyes before drifting into what looked like a light sleep. Mr. Jones told Elizabeth what to do, how to hold the limb, what to fetch from his bag, and she moved about mechanically, as she would do in any tenant’s home, or so she hoped. Mr. Jones looked at her quizzically once or twice, but said nothing of her unusual silence. Normally, she would chatter with the patient, keep them distracted and calm. Now, she said not a word.

As they set the leg, Luke roused with a great cry. He sat up in the bed, struggling to be free, and Mr. Darcy immediately sprang into action. He pressed Luke’s shoulders into the bed to keep him from thrashing as Lady Anne brushed his hair from his face and told him to lie still, all would be well.

Elizabeth did as she had always done in such situations: she stroked his good leg rhythmically, crooning that all would be well and they were nearly done, that he could hold out just a little while longer, that the pain would not last long. Luke’s glassy eyes fixed on her and she stared at him while she held his leg in place for Mr. Jones. She continued speaking in soft tones, little nothings about how very brave he was being and how she knew the pain was awful, but it would be of short duration. He should look at her, just keep his eyes on her. Focus on her voice, nothing else.

Lady Anne watched in astonishment as Luke responded to Miss Bennet with a nod and a stoic expression, biting down on his lips instead of crying out. She looked to Fitzwilliam, and he merely quirked a brow at her, expressing his surprise and suspicions.

Soon enough, Luke’s leg was splinted and wrapped and he fell asleep, the pain dulled by laudanum and brandy. The group made their way downstairs in time to see Marianne coming in from the still room.

“Did you find what you were looking for at Longbourn?” asked Elizabeth.

At Fitzwilliam’s questioning expression, Marianne said, “Yes, you have a well-stocked stillroom, Miss Elizabeth.”

Elizabeth nodded her thanks. “It is an interest of mine. I’m glad it was of use to you.”

Marianne gestured to the mixture in her hand. “This should help young Luke with the pain. It will not do to have him on laudanum for several weeks together.”

Mr. Darcy looked as if he wished to ask questions of the two ladies, but Marianne was hurrying upstairs to deliver her concoction and Lady Anne was tiredly making her way to the drawing room with Mr. Jones, who was speaking of Luke’s continued care. Darcy found himself alone with Miss Elizabeth at the bottom of the stairs.

“Miss Elizabeth, please allow me to thank you for your assistance with my brother today. Your help was invaluable.”

“I was happy to do it. No thanks are required.”

“Nevertheless, you have my gratitude.”

She nodded. “I should be going home, my mother will want me.”

“Do you have a carriage?”

“No, I walked here.” She looked out and was surprised to see the sun was beginning to set. She had been gone longer than she realized. With a frown at the dimming sky, she said, “I shall ask Mr. Jones to take me back to Longbourn on his way home.”

“There is no need. I will call the carriage.”

Before she could object, he had summoned a footman and asked the carriage to be brought around.

“There is truly no need. I would be perfectly comfortable with Mr. Jones.”

“It is the least I can do after your service to my family. Besides, I believe Mr. Jones arrived on horseback,” he said with a slight quirk to his lips.

“Oh! Well, in that case, I thank you. A carriage shall be infinitely more comfortable than the back of Mr. Jones’s horse.”

Darcy’s eyes widened as his brows shot up in surprise.

Elizabeth allowed a small smile to escape. “I am only teasing, Mr. Darcy. Mr. Jones has not taken me home on his horse since I was ten years old.”

He smiled in response to her happy expression. “You have known him long, then?”

“My whole life. He grew up with my father. My sisters and I played with his children nearly every day when we were young.”

“And you are no longer young, Miss Bennet?” he asked. His voice was even, but his lips were twitching in one corner and his eyes crinkled from holding back his smile.

“I am exactly the right age, Mr. Darcy.”

He barked out a laugh, the tension and oddity of the day making it more vigorous than it otherwise would have been.

The footman came forward to tell them the carriage was ready, and he led Elizabeth outside and handed her up, placing a hand on either side of the door as he leaned in slightly.

“Thank you again, Miss Bennet. You were of great help today.”

She smiled softly. “Please tell Master Luke I am sorry he was hurt and I wish him a swift recovery.”

“I will relay the message.”

“Good evening, Mr. Darcy.”

“Good evening, Miss Bennet.”

She sat back in the carriage with a strange feeling, as if she were being watched, and when she looked back from the end of the drive, she saw Mr. Darcy still standing on the front steps, watching her departure.

Thoughts?

Sons of Pemberley, Post 8, Ch. 10

This chapter is short, but the next few days will each have a long post.

Chapter 10

Derbyshire, Spring, 1789

Rachel climbed down from the wagon and held little George’s hand as he jumped down behind her. “Thank you for the ride, Mr. Wickham,” she called to the driver.

“Any time, Miss Connelly. You may call me Gabriel if you wish. We are family now.” He smiled as he made the suggestion for the dozenth time. She always smiled, thanked him, and went on calling him Mr. Wickham.

George thanked his uncle and waved goodbye as Gabriel drove the wagon onward. Rachel shook her head and rapped the knocker on the cottage before letting herself in.

“Rebecca,” she called. “I’ve brought George back.” She set her nephew’s things on the bench near the door and helped him out of his coat and then draped her own shawl on the peg. “Becky?”

She moved through the cottage, looking for her cousin. She finally found her out back, talking to Samuel where he stood near his horse just on the other side of the small fence.

“Oh,” she said awkwardly, looking at the ground. “I’ve just brought George home. I’ll head back to the village.”

“That isn’t necessary,” said Samuel, just as Rebecca said, “Don’t be silly.”

Rachel ignored their words, tipped her head slightly, and turned back into the house to say goodbye to George.

She was wrapping her shawl around her when Rebecca found her. “You mustn’t go so soon, Rachel. You’ve just arrived.”

“Gran will be missing me.”

“Nonsense. I insist you stay for tea. Tell her, Samuel.”

Rachel’s head shot up and she saw that Samuel had followed her cousin into the house.

“Rebecca is correct. There is no need to rush off. Please, stay for tea.”

Cornered, Rachel nodded and sat in the small parlor while Rebecca called for tea. They had a maid, but she was not adept at serving, so Rebecca usually brought in the tray herself. Today, she had the maid bring it in. Rachel thought that perhaps her cousin had sensed her desire not to be left alone with Samuel and thought well of her for a moment. Perhaps Rebecca could be kind when she wished to.

Samuel passed on the tea his wife handed him to Rachel. “Miss Connelly.”

“Call her Rachel! We are all family. No need to stand on ceremony. We have been married five years now. Plenty of time for you two to become accustomed to using your Christian names,” Rebecca said with a hard smile.

Seeing the gleam in her cousin’s eyes, Rachel rethought her position on Rebecca’s kindness.

Samuel smiled awkwardly and sipped his tea, clearly wishing he were someplace else. They drank on, listening to Rebecca prattle about the gossip in the village. Finally, Rachel took her leave, refusing every entreaty to stay and insisting that she must return to her grandmother.

She was nearly a mile from the cottage when she heard a carriage approaching behind her. She stepped to the side of the road to allow the vehicle to pass and was surprised to see it was Samuel Wickham in Mr. Darcy’s curricle.

 “Will the master mind you going out and about in his curricle?”

“I am hardly going out and about, and no, he will not mind.”

She nodded and turned to continue her trek toward the village. It was another three miles to home and she still had tasks to complete.

“May I take you back to Lambton?” he asked.

“That is not necessary, thank you.”

“I know it is not necessary, but I am offering.”

“I wouldn’t want to keep you from your duties.”

“It is no trouble.”

Knowing when she was beat, Rachel closed her eyes and took a deep breath, then turned and climbed into the curricle. She did not wait for Samuel to dismount and offer her a hand up. She was no fine lady, and there was no use pretending otherwise. “Thank you,” she said grudgingly.

She sat as far from him as was possible and looked out at the scenery, hoping he wouldn’t try to talk to her.

“Thank you for spending so much time with young George. He is very fond of you.”

“He is a sweet boy,” she said simply. The poor lad cannot help his parents.

“He is much like his mother,” said Wickham. Something in his tone made her look at him quizzically, as if he were searching for something, but she knew not what it was.

“I only saw Becky once as children, and I barely remember it. By the time she moved to Lambton, she was nearly thirteen. No longer a baby.”

“No, of course not,” he said quietly.

What was he trying to ask her? Why had he stopped to offer her a ride? Had he gone and gotten the curricle just to convey her home? If so, why? Just because she spent time with his son? Surely not!

She hated being near him. She hated not understanding what was happening. Things were not as they seemed, but no one would tell her what was going on. She wanted to shake him and make him answer her questions, but she knew he would not.

He made some comment on the weather, she said something that passed as an answer, and they rode on in silence. Lambton was visible in the distance when he said quietly, “I wish things were different.”

“What do you mean?”

He looked at her sincerely, with the look he had given her that summer five years ago, and she looked back suspiciously. He shook his head. “I would stand your friend, if you would let me.”

“Your friend?”

“Yes. I can be a very good friend.”

She couldn’t help the smile that tugged at her lips. “So I’ve heard.” She sighed. “Very well, we shall be friends. But I shall still call you Mr. Wickham.”

“Very well, Miss Connelly.”

He smiled again and drove her home, handing her down quite civilly when they arrived in front of the bookstore.

~

“How is young George?” asked Mr. Darcy. He poured himself a measure of brandy and did the same for his friend.

“He is well enough. He spends much of his time in Lambton with his Aunts,” Wickham answered. He stretched his legs out in front of him, repositioning himself in the chair to relieve the pressure on his hip.

George settled into the chair next to him and leaned back, sipping his brandy with a sigh. It had been a long day. Two tenants who had been on Pemberley land since his grandfather’s day were having a dispute over a fence. One claimed they had an agreement to share repairs on the fence, the other said the first man had damaged it, therefore it was his responsibility to repair it. Somehow, the argument had devolved into another about the property line, the first man claiming the second had given himself a little more land the last time he had worked on the fence.

George knew the argument was not truly harmful yet, but he had seen small disputes turn into grudges that lasted decades, and he wished to avoid that. So he and Wickham had spent the day listening to the tenants, examining the fence, then the property line, and consulting maps to ensure everything was in its proper place. Neither of them particularly enjoyed dealing with grown men who behaved more like toddlers, but it was worth it to avoid greater problems in future.

“I am glad to see the back of this day,” said Samuel tiredly. He let his head loll back against the chair and closed his eyes.

“Does George see many other children?” asked Darcy.

Samuel opened his eyes slowly, tracing the conversational thread back till he understood what his friend was speaking of. “Not many. The vicar has a boy near his age, but Becky doesn’t care for him.”

“Abara? What does she object to?”

“One never knows with that woman,” he said quietly, not wanting to talk about his wife. “Why do you ask?”

“I thought he might like to spend some time with Fitzwilliam. They are not so far apart in age, and it would be good for them each to have a friend so close.”

Wickham nodded. “What did you have in mind?”

“Fitzwilliam is learning to ride, as you know. Perhaps George could join him in his lessons?”

“I don’t know that George is big enough for that pony.”

“There is a Shetland in the stable. Fitzwilliam only rode her for a year before he grew too tall.” Wickham shot him a look at the understatement. Fitzwilliam was so tall, he looked a good two years older than his age. George only smiled in paternal pride. “The pony might do very well for young George. Why do you not begin teaching him the basics, then the boys may begin riding together? You could even keep the pony at your cottage if you wished.”

Wickham nodded. It was not an altogether bad idea. And young Fitzwilliam was a sweet boy. He might be a good influence on young George.

“Thank you, that is a very kind offer. I’m certain George will enjoy the chance to ride.”

“Think nothing of it.” George studied his friend carefully, not speaking for several minutes. “Samuel?”

“Hmm?” Wickham’s head had found its way to the back of the chair again, and his eyes were drifting closed.

“George is only a wee boy. He is not his mother.”

Samuel’s eyes flew open and he turned to face his friend. Another minute of silence passed before he said, “I know that. But you know what Rebecca is. Sometimes, I see George do something, or say something, ordering things to his preferences, manipulating outcomes, and I see her in him.” He looked away, his countenance troubled. “It chills me to the bone.”

“Is that why you allow him to spend so much time in Lambton?”

Samuel nodded. “Miss Connelly is a good woman. And she loves George. And old Mrs. Connelly is a sweet lady. They are always kind to him. A child should know kindness.”

George looked at his friend sadly. “Yes, he should.”

Samuel stared at the fire, then gave his friend a resigned smile. “I thank you for the offer of the pony. It will be good for George. I’ll let you know as soon as he’s ready to ride with the young master.”

Sons of Pemberley, Post 7, Ch. 9

We’re up to daily posts now!

Chapter 9

Netherfield, Hertfordshire, October 1811

Livingstone House, London

Dear Fitz,

It is done. I am delivered of a baby girl. After much discussion, we have decided to call her Rosamund Anne, for Henry’s mother and yours, though do not tell my mother she has been passed over in such a fashion. She would never recover.

I am well, and little Rosie is a wonder. She has thick black hair, soft as a kitten, and the most elegant little fingers. Mother is sure she will be a fine pianist. I would be glad were she simply to become a fine sleeper.

Henry arrived with a few hours to spare. I was already feeling the first pains and preparing to call the midwife when he came bursting into the house. I shall spare you the horrifying details and simply tell you that I am well, and that Henry is the best husband a woman could ask for. I can’t imagine anyone else keeping my mother so well occupied while her first granddaughter was born.

We shall remain in Town another week, then we will travel to Lincolnshire. Henry is anxious to see the boys and I am certain Lady Baringer is no less anxious to see me and be relieved of their care. If Napoleon would stop being so bothersome, we might all spend a summer together.

How is Hertfordshire? I visited it once before and it was a lovely county. So much gentler than Derbyshire or the moors country. Has Mr. Bingley settled into his estate well? Do pass on my best wishes to him. He is a delightful young man. I wish my younger brother had half his amiability. Perhaps it has something to do with trade? I have noticed in my time with the army that occupation can do wonders for one’s disposition. Surely an eldest son who is not active on the estate can have nothing better to do but spend money and wait to inherit. Not the most effective system, I’m sure you agree.

Henry sends his best and asks that I convey his thanks to you for keeping me sane while we visited with our families. You have my thanks as well. If it weren’t for you, I’m certain I would have forcefully stuffed a teacake into Mama’s mouth more than once. I do love her, but she is trying at times.

Tell Georgie I shall send her a letter in a few days, wherein I shall properly thank her for the lovely gift she sent. It is beautiful and currently hanging above the cradle. I shall take it to Harkley when we leave.

Be careful with Miss Bingley. Her brother is a dear, but she has her sights set on Pemberley. I am certain your mother is already working on putting her in her place, but watch your back all the same. The enemy often attacks when we least expect it. Remember to lock your door.

And perhaps have your valet sleep in the dressing room.

Your exhausted but happy cousin,

Lady M.

“What has you smiling so, Fitzwilliam?”

Darcy looked up from his letter to see his mother watching him from across the breakfast table. “A letter from Marianne.”

Caroline looked up from her tea with a worried expression.

“Is she in good spirits? I am still awaiting a reply to my last.”

“Yes, she seems very happy. She and the baby are well, and she is happy to have her husband back home with her.”

Caroline relaxed.

“Did she say when they would return to Harkley Hall?”

He scanned the letter. “They should leave next week.”

“Hmm. I should have liked to see the baby before they travel, but there is not time to travel and open the house. Though I suppose I could stay with Lady Livingstone.”

“I shall escort you, if you wish to make the journey,” offered Darcy.

Lady Anne smiled at him. “Thank you, Son. I shall consider it.”

“If I may,” Caroline spoke and startled Lady Anne, who had forgotten she was there, “if it would be convenient, your cousins may break their journey at Netherfield, if you’d like.”

Lady Anne looked at her with surprise and something akin to appreciation. “That would be lovely, Miss Bingley, thank you. I shall ask Lady Marianne what she prefers. It is so difficult traveling with an infant, and so close after one’s confinement. But she does not wish to stay in Town in the heat and disease, and I cannot blame her.” She looked back to Miss Bingley and nodded. “I shall let you know her response. Thank you, Miss Bingley.”

~

Darcy stood outside Netherfield next to Bingley, wondering if his entire family was to be in residence at his friend’s home. Bingley bounced on the balls of his feet and smiled as he looked at the surrounding countryside.

“Still find living on an estate to your liking?”

Bingley turned to him abruptly. “Yes, of course. Why would you think otherwise?”

Darcy twisted the ring on his finger. “My entire family has descended on you like a plague of locusts. Some might find it tiresome.”

Bingley laughed. “A plague! You do have a turn for the dramatic, Darcy. We are hardly overrun. Nathaniel has gone back to Eton, and Luke is great fun. Miss Darcy and Lady Anne are hardly intrusive. In fact, Caroline has been much less trouble since they arrived. I was going to invite you all to stay longer.” Bingley laughed at his friend’s expression. “I know the idea of a house full of guests is torture to you, but I like people.” He slapped Darcy on the back. “And you should enjoy these people. They are your relations, after all.” He smiled again and loped toward the approaching carriage, a scowling Darcy behind him.

“I am not a curmudgeon,” said Darcy.

“No, of course not. Just a man averse to company.”

Before Darcy could reply, the carriage stopped and Colonel Pickering stepped out.

“Darcy!” he boomed. He turned and helped out his wife, who quickly rushed to her cousin.

“Fitzwilliam, it is so good to see you!” She kissed his cheek and he smiled genuinely for the first time that day. “Mr. Bingley! What a lovely home you have here!” She smiled in delight as she looked around her, and Bingley’s chest puffed up as he raised his chin and thanked her. She gave him her hand, and somewhat surprised by the gesture, it took him a moment to bow over it. She smiled kindly at him and introduced her husband. “As you can see, my dear, Mr. Bingley is every bit as amiable as I said he was.”

Darcy rolled his eyes, Pickering shook Bingley’s hand and thanked him for the invitation, and Marianne smirked at her cousin as she took his arm.

“Take me in, Fitz, I’m desperate for a cup of tea.”

“Before I see my new cousin?” he asked, gesturing to the nursemaid standing next to the carriage with a wrapped bundle in her arms.

“If you care to preserve your sense of smell, you’ll wait till she’s had her bath.”

He wrinkled his nose and Marianne laughed at him and tugged his arm toward the doors.

Bingley soon introduced his sisters to the Colonel and Marianne, who pretended she had not met them at two separate balls last season, for lack of better sport. Miss Bingley was every bit as insufferable as she remembered her to be. And despite Miss Bingley’s current deference, when she had met Marianne the first time, she had been abominably rude before she realized Colonel Pickering was the son of an earl and Marianne was the daughter of another. On their second meeting, she had sneered at Marianne’s simple gown and not remembered the acquaintance.

Marianne would be polite now; she was never a rude guest. But Fitzwilliam was her favorite cousin and Marianne was not going to allow this harpy to hunt him like a fox.

Lady Anne gave Marianne a warning look and Marianne smiled back innocently, not fooling her aunt for a moment.

~

“Where are you off to this morning?” asked Marianne when she saw Lady Anne in the corridor the following morning.

Lady Anne tugged on her gloves and answered, “I am calling on Mrs. Bennet, the mistress of the nearest estate. She has daughters near your age. Would you like to come along?”

“I’d love to. Let me collect my things.”

Soon, the ladies were in the Darcy carriage headed to Longbourn. “Tell me about the Bennet family. I assume they are the same family Luke mentioned last night?”

Lady Anne sighed and looked heavenward, a small smile on her face. “Yes. I invited Mrs. Bennet and her two eldest daughters for tea a few days ago, following our introduction at a local assembly. It was clear that Miss Bingley was not fond of them—”

“Who is she fond of?” interjected Marianne.

Anne continued without answering her, “—so we walked in the gardens. Georgiana walked with Miss Bennet, who is a very sweet young lady, and I walked with Mrs. Bennet. Luke accompanied Miss Elizabeth.”

Marianne’s brows shot up. “I see. How old is Miss Elizabeth?”

“I believe she is nineteen or twenty.”

Marianne stifled her laugh. “Oh dear!”

“Poor Luke. He is destined for heartbreak,” said Lady Anne, mostly joking.

“Poor Miss Elizabeth! She’ll not have any peace now. He can be tenacious when he wants something.”

Lady Anne looked out the window thoughtfully. “That he can. Let us hope Miss Elizabeth lets him down gently.”

“Or he moves on before he makes a fool of himself.”

“It may be too late for that,” Lady Anne said with a small smile.

Longbourn was bustling when they arrived. The two youngest girls and Miss Bennet were about to head into Meryton to call on their aunt there. Seeing their visitors, Jane suggested she stay, but Lady Anne insisted she go ahead with their plans and invited her to call at Netherfield the following day.

Soon, Marianne and Lady Anne were seated in a sunny parlor with light blue paper and east facing windows. Mrs. Bennet had called for refreshments and Miss Elizabeth sat beside her mother, making polite conversation.

Curious, and a little bored, Marianne decided to speak to Miss Elizabeth on her own to see what all the fuss was about. She moved to the window and asked Miss Elizabeth something about the prospect. Soon, the two women were in conversation in a pair of chairs away from the others, laughing and talking like old friends.

It didn’t take Marianne long to come to three conclusions.

First, that her poor cousin Luke was destined for heartbreak.

Second, that she would very much like to be friends with Miss Elizabeth Bennet.

And third, that this young lady would be perfect for her cousin, Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam.

~

“How did you find Miss Elizabeth?” asked Lady Anne in the carriage on the return trip to Netherfield.

“I found her delightful!” cried Marianne. “She is everything a young lady ought to be—pretty, lively, and impertinent.”

“Is that what a young lady ought to be?”

“If she can. She would be marvelous on campaign! Can you imagine how much more interesting the long marches would be with such a companion?”

“I cannot, but I shall take your word for it.”

“I shall make a friend of her.”

Lady Anne shot Marianne a look. “Remember that she is a lady, Marianne, not a puppy you have found and wish to bring home.”

“Lady Anne! That was years ago!” she cried indignantly, stifling a laugh.

“Nevertheless.”

“I mean to make her a proper friend, not a pet. I am not Miss Bingley.”

Lady Anne looked heavenward, as close as she would ever come to rolling her eyes. “And we are grateful for it.”

“I think she would do wonderfully for Richard.”

“Your cousin Richard?”

“Of course.”

“What makes you say that?”

“They are both fond of conversation and well versed on a variety of topics. They enjoy society and are good company, and he needs a wife who can handle a Spanish summer, not one of the wilting roses Lady Adele keeps throwing at him. Miss Elizabeth is fond of both books and dancing. What more could a man wish for?”

“A dowry, for one thing,” said Lady Anne drily.

“Tosh. The grandson of a marquess and an earl ought not to be concerned with such things.”

“Maybe he ought not, but Richard must. My brother may do something for him, but with Alexander causing so much trouble all the time, there may not be enough for Richard. And don’t forget your younger cousins.”

“Stupid Ally,” said Marianne with disdain, rolling her eyes. “He is always getting into scrapes and expecting someone else to get him out of them. Everyone ought to stop helping him for a minute and see if it does him any good.”

“Randall does not wish to encourage his behavior,” she said, referring to her elder brother, the earl, “but it is well known that Alexander is the heir. If he makes promises against his inheritance, there is little Randall can do about it. And there is the family name to consider.”

Marianne pursed her lips and looked away. She had never been very fond of her eldest cousin. The only person who could get him to behave was his mother, Lady Philadelphia. She had a way of making a person feel absolutely horrible for even a minor infraction, and she wielded her power over her sons like an avenging angel. But Alexander and his father had a difficult relationship—which was terribly sad because Randall was a very kind man, though not a forceful one—and the only man Alexander had ever listened to, Uncle George, had been dead these five years. If he did not change his ways soon, Alexander would not live to be the next earl. He would be shot in some gaming hell brawl, or break his neck racing that ridiculous phaeton. Then Richard would be the next earl—it was not an altogether unpleasant thought.

“I have never understood men’s notion of honor,” said Marianne thoughtfully.

“How do you mean?”

“They will gamble away all their family’s money, make public fools of themselves, and pauper their mother and sisters, but the family will pretend it isn’t happening, and support the behavior, all in the name of honor.”

“Would you have the family break with your cousin?”

“I was not referring to Alexander specifically—he is not as bad as all that, though perhaps a little distancing would do him some good—but of the way men think in general. They gamble their sister’s dowry and call it a debt of honor. Yet if a man were to do what is truly necessary—retrench when it is called for, live within his means, refuse to play cards for high stakes—he would be said to dishonor his family name. It makes little sense to me.”

“The rules of men are not meant to make sense. We should not try to glean meaning where there is none.”

“Lady Anne, are you saying you believe men to be ridiculous?” asked Marianne in teasing indignation.

“Upon occasion, yes, men are ridiculous, as are women. But because the world is ruled by men, their ridiculousness becomes the law of the land.”

“Which makes it considerably more than a little ridiculousness, if you ask me,” said Marianne with more than a little heat. The rights of women was a pet topic of hers and given the opportunity, she could speak on it for hours. Her family had begged a reprieve some time ago, stating that they agreed with everything she said, and would agree forever, if only she would quit speaking of it.

Lady Anne nodded, thinking of her husband, the least ridiculous man she had ever known, and how very much better off the world would be with more George Darcys in it.

~

Netherfield, Hertfordshire, 22 October, 1811

Dear Julia,

Your granddaughter is a beauty! I know you must be thrilled to have the first girl of the next generation. Marianne is keeping well and seems to be fully recovered from the delivery. I know you were not comfortable with her visiting before she was churched, but she is not going out much, and I believe what company she has is good for her spirits. Remember how you were after Thomas’s birth? I would not like to see her in such straits.

The babe is sleeping as well as can be expected and Col. Pickering is quite enamored of his daughter, as he should be. Fitzwilliam pretends he is only mildly interested in the babe, but I caught him sitting with Marianne and the babe only yesterday, and he was rocking her slowly, humming to her while Marianne talked to him. He seemed quite content. I think you were right—it will not be long before he is looking for a wife of his own. He has a restlessness about him, a longing to be settled. At least I hope that is what it is, and not some horrid secret I know nothing of.

Hertfordshire is a lovely county, all gentle hills and soft grass. The weather seems much milder than Derbyshire, but that is to be expected. We have made friends with many locals, including a family by the name of Bennet. Have you heard of them? Their seat is called Longbourn, and it has been in their family for some generations. The eldest daughter is something of a favorite with Mr. Bingley. I do not know if he will make her an offer, he is often in and out of love, you know, but he certainly seems enamored.

Marianne has made a friend of the Bennet daughters, especially Miss Elizabeth, the second daughter. She reminds me a little of Marianne, though rather softer. I trust you know what I mean. Her elder sister, the one Mr. Bingley cannot stop talking of, puts me in mind of Nora or Georgiana, so shy she is. I cannot tell how she truly feels about Mr. Bingley. If she is merely hiding her feelings, she may do herself a disservice by hiding them from the object of them. If she truly does not feel much, it may be to her benefit if Mr. Bingley moves on as quickly as he has done in the past.

Time will tell.

Miss Elizabeth, the spirited sister, is quite well-read and witty. Georgiana likes her very well. Miss E has taken the time to draw her out and speak patiently with her. You know me well enough to know that that alone has endeared her to me. But besides her kindness to my daughter, she has made something of a conquest with Luke, though I do not know if she realizes she has done it. Poor boy! He is destined to be disappointed. I hope he shall move past the infatuation before he makes a fool of himself or does something to upset her. She is a sweet girl, I think, and I would hate for her to be put in an awkward position.

So far, she has been patient and kind with him, like an indulgent older sister, and God willing, Luke will come to see her as such in time.

How are John and Thomas? Has Arabella decided to leave off torturing poor Lord Charles and accept him already? Or does she prefer another?

Do keep me informed of events. Georgiana is so shy that I doubt we will ever experience anything like Arabella’s season. I must live vicariously through you.

Give my love to John and the children.

Your cousin,

Lady Anne

~

Luke smiled when he spied a bonnet moving through the woods ahead. He spurred his horse on to the boundary between Netherfield and Longbourn and slowed as he approached her.

“Good morning, Miss Bennet!” cried Luke.

Elizabeth turned toward him in surprise and smiled brightly. “Good morning, Master Darcy. Enjoying a morning ride or are you headed somewhere?”

He dismounted and bowed neatly, then said, “I was just enjoying the autumn weather. May I walk with you?”

“Of course.” She smiled and waited for him to tie his horse to a tree. This was the second time he had come upon her while she was out walking. Once was a coincidence. Twice was by design. Thankfully, she enjoyed his company.

He held out his arm and she took it, thinking it an adorable gesture and hiding her smile. Without his hat he was a little shorter than her, and with it he just passed her. He stood with his back stiff and straight to make himself appear taller.

“Are you enjoying your stay in Hertfordshire?” she asked.

“Yes, it is very pleasant country, much different from Derbyshire and Kent.”

“I wouldn’t know, I have never been to either, but I shall trust your word.”

“You have never been to Kent?” he asked, surprised. “Not to visit the seaside?”

“Sadly, no. I have never been there, though I have heard it is lovely. I have seen the Channel, though. The year I turned fifteen, I accompanied my aunt and uncle on a trip to Essex. My elder sister Jane was supposed to go, but she became ill just before it was time to depart and I went in her place.”

“I have never been to Essex,” he said. “Is it like Hertfordshire?”

She described the landscape and the towns they had visited, and he listened with rapt attention, laughing in all the right places and asking intelligent questions that proved how sharp his mind was and how thorough his education had already been.

How odd that my favorite companion of late should be a twelve-year-old boy, she thought.

“Tell me about Derbyshire,” she said as they walked along a stream, both enjoying the other’s company so much they were oblivious to the time.

“Oh, Derbyshire is the most beautiful place in England!” he cried. “It is much different from Hertfordshire, more hills and rocks, but just as green.” He went on to describe the streams and lakes and forests, the caves he had explored with his brother and the sheep that dotted the landscape.

“Are you looking forward to Eton next year?” she asked after the subject of Derbyshire had been exhausted.

“Not particularly. I shall miss home and Mother and Georgiana. And Fitzwilliam, of course, though he is not often there. But it will be good to be with Nathaniel.”

“He is two years your senior?”

“Yes, nearly three, really. This is his second year at Eton. Georgiana misses him dreadfully.”

“I can imagine. If I had such fine brothers, I would never wish them to leave me,” she said sweetly.

He smiled beatifically at her and she reminded herself not to encourage him too much. It would not do to hurt the dear boy.

“Georgiana often wishes for a sister, but Mother says she should be satisfied with keeping her gowns to herself and having three brothers to protect her.”

Elizabeth laughed and said, “Your mother is correct. Sisters can be wonderful, but they also steal your ribbons, make over your bonnets without your permission, and make a dreadful amount of noise before a ball.”

He laughed and was about to say something when a loud voice interrupted them.

“Luke! Come, you’re wanted inside.”

Elizabeth looked up and saw Mr. Darcy astride a great grey beast, glaring at them from his high perch. Luke pulled himself up high and drew her a little closer.

“In a moment, Brother. I must bid good day to Miss Bennet.”

He released Elizabeth’s arm and bowed smartly before her, thanked her for a lovely walk, and ensured she would make her way home safely on her own. She informed him that since they had traveled back to where they had begun, nodding to his horse tied a few yards away, she would be perfectly well. She curtsied, thanked him for the walk, and told him she had had a very pleasant time. She gave a curt nod to the elder Mr. Darcy and turned to go.

“Fitzwilliam!” Luke hissed once they were some distance from the woods where they had left Miss Bennet. “Must you embarrass me so?”

Darcy looked at him in bemusement. “I apologize if I did, it was not my intention. Mother has been looking for you above half an hour. Miss Bennet should know better than to drag you off on one of her walks without informing anyone.”

Luke huffed. “She did not drag me anywhere! I approached her on her morning walk. We were having a perfectly lovely time until you came along and spoiled it!” He looked straight ahead, his lips pursed in annoyance and his eyes hard.

Darcy stared at him in surprise, then straightened and said formally, “Forgive me. I didn’t mean to spoil your morning or embarrass you in front of your friend.”

Luke thanked him curtly, still refusing to look at him, and took off toward the house at a canter. Darcy watched him go, a suspicion forming in the back of his mind.

Comments feed the muse.

Sons of Pemberley, Post 6, Ch. 8

Sorry this one took so long. My internet was out for a few days. Happy reading!

Chapter 8

Pemberley, Derbyshire, Summer 1788

Samuel Wickham walked up the long path towards the cottage, stepping carefully in the darkness. His hip had been smarting all day and he didn’t want to risk falling and making it worse. A movement drew his attention to the hedge encircling the small yard. A figure was moving quietly toward the gate.

“Who’s there?”

He heard the gate’s creaky hinges opening and the snick of the latch as it fell into place, then boots moving swiftly away.

He took a breath and entered the small garden and let himself in through the blue door, its bright paint black in the darkness. Rebecca was adding a log to the fire, her hair in a loose braid over one shoulder.

“I’m back,” he said quietly when she didn’t turn or acknowledge his presence.

She poked the fire a bit more, then turned and smiled at him. “How is Mr. Darcy this evening?”

“Well.” He hung his coat and hat on a peg and shucked off his boots. “Becky,” he said hesitantly, “who was the man I saw leaving out the side gate?”

“What man?” she said, pouring hot water into the teapot.

“Don’t lie to me. I saw a man leaving just before I got here. Who was he?”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” She sliced bread from the loaf and put it on a plate, then set it on the table in front of her husband, leaning slightly across him.

Wickham smacked his hand on the table ledge and the dishes rattled.

“Dammit, Rebecca, I’m not stupid. I can smell him on you! There was a man here. Who was he?”

She stared at the wall for a moment, then finally looked at her husband. “He’s no one you know.”

“What was he doing here?” he ground out, as if he didn’t know the answer.

“Keeping me company,” she said with a sly smile and a wicked glimmer in her eye.

“Dammit, Becky! I told you! No more!”

He limped toward her, anger making him clench his fists and grind his teeth.

She quickly moved to the other side of the table. “Sometimes a woman needs a real man. A cripple doesn’t always satisfy.”

Her blow hit its target and he took a step back, shock evident on his features.

She smiled triumphantly. “Good night, husband.” She walked down the short hall and into the bedroom, shutting the door behind her.

He didn’t realize she’d left until he heard the key turn in the lock.

~

Rachel Connelly walked into the bakery and the room quieted. It had been happening often lately, and she knew all too well why. Her cheeks burned with embarrassment for her family and her former friend, but she would hold her head up high. Her own actions were beyond reproach. If they wanted to gossip about Rebecca, there was nothing she could do about it.

But why could her cousin not be discreet? Was it not enough that she had stolen the man and the life Rachel had wanted? Did she have to ruin her reputation as well?

Aunt Appleby had died last winter, and at first, Rachel thought Becky’s odd behavior had been grief over losing her grandmother. After all, Abigail Appleby had taken in Becky after the girl’s father had died. She could have said no. She could have said that she was too old and too poor to look after a child. She could have let Becky go to the orphanage or the workhouse. But Abigail had refused to allow her son’s only child to grow up without her family and had taken the young girl in, though she could ill afford it. It had been a generous thing to do, everyone had remarked on it. It was no wonder Becky would grieve for such a relation.

But in such a way?

Rachel could not understand it. If Samuel Wickham had been her husband, she would never have even looked at another man. But that was the difference between Rachel and Rebecca. Rebecca had always needed the attention of dozens. She could not be satisfied with one man’s devotion—she needed the entire ballroom to wish to dance with her, the entire town’s adoration. Every man she came across must admire her, every woman must be envious, or Rebecca was not satisfied.

Rachel tried to feel sorry for her cousin. Becky seemed to have a gaping hole inside her she could not seem to fill, no matter how hard she tried. But the longer this went on—the more Rachel heard the whispers and felt the stares of her friends and neighbors, the harder it was to have pity on her cousin.

Squaring her broad shoulders, she stepped up to the counter and made her order, then left the shop with her head held high. Rebecca had taken enough from her. She would not take her dignity.

~

“You must see how this is harming the family?” pleaded Rachel. She sat across the worn kitchen table in Rebecca’s cottage, the tarts she had brought from the bakery on a plate between them.

“There isn’t much family to harm,” Rebecca replied blithely, daintily biting a pear tart.

Rachel fell back, stunned. “So Gran and I are no longer family, are we? And what of your son? Your husband? Do they not matter at all?”

Rebecca rolled her eyes. “Don’t be so dramatic, Rachel. What harm has befallen you? Have your suitors gone running?” She laughed bitterly.

Rachel stared at her cousin, surprised at her blatant cruelty. Rebecca had always been thoughtless. Selfish. Dismissive of the needs of others. But this was so cold, so hurtful.

So deliberate.

Rachel swallowed painfully. “Where is my nephew?” she asked with false cheer.

Before Rebecca could answer, young George came into the room, sleepily rubbing his eyes. He eyed his mother warily before spotting his aunt.

“Auntie Wachel!” He smiled brightly and scrambled up onto her lap, laying his head against her bosom happily.

Rachel cuddled him close and kissed the blonde curls springing wildly about his head. He might be Rebecca’s son, but by some odd twist of fate, he had inherited her corkscrew curls. “Did you have a nice nap, Georgie?”

He nodded, his eyes closed and his thumb in his mouth. Becky reached across and tore his hand from his mouth, startling the boy.

“No sucking your thumb,” she said harshly.

“He is only two, Becky,” said Rachel softly, holding him a little closer.

“Nearly three, and it’s unseemly. He’ll never be allowed to play with Master Darcy if he continues with such habits.”

Rachel rubbed circles on George’s back and took a steadying breath. “Are the boys friendly, then?”

Rebecca shrugged. “Not particularly. But I have high hopes for their friendship. They are close in age, and there are no other children for the young master to play with. Why not my George?”

Rachel could think of several reasons why not, chief among them Lady Anne, daughter of an earl and mother to the young master. But her cousin never wanted to believe she was beneath anyone, no matter how true it was.

Rachel focused on little George for a bit, breaking up a tart for him to eat and asking him about his daily activities. Finally, she looked up at Rebecca. Her cousin had a faraway look in her eyes.

“Becky?”

“I had hoped he…” said Rebecca quietly, her gaze fastened on the window. Rachel reached out and touched her hand where it rested on the table. Rebecca’s eyes snapped back to her cousin. “No matter. George will become friends with the young master, and that will put all to rights.”

Rachel wondered what her cousin was not telling her, but given everything she had heard of late, she thought it might be better that she not know. She nodded along and changed the subject, then left with young George in tow, saying her grandmother would welcome a visit and that she would bring him back in a day or two.

Rebecca did not argue—she never did when Rachel suggested George spend some time with her in Lambton. It was always the same. Rachel would come to the cottage with something from the bakery, or occasionally a toy made by one of Samuel’s brothers at the carriagemakers, and George would leave with his aunt and spend a few days with her in their rooms over the bookstore. The poor boy was always more relaxed at his aunts’ home than his mother’s, and Rachel was happy to provide what respite she could.

As she walked the nearly four miles back to Lambton, little George holding her hand, and then held in her strong arms, she contemplated her cousin and her choices and the unfathomability of her behavior. Rebecca had always done as she wished, but this, this was beyond the pale. This was humiliating, to herself, her family, her child, her husband!

Why had Samuel chosen her? He did not even seem to like her. Rachel knew what men looked like when they were enthralled with her cousin—she had seen it often enough. But Samuel avoided looking at Rebecca when they were in company—when he wasn’t avoiding her presence altogether.

She stopped in the road, the truth tugging at her mind like a cold wind in January.

Samuel did not appear to like Rebecca because he did not like Rebecca. He had never liked her. Rebecca was cruel and heartless, and she always had been. And somehow, she had stolen Rachel’s beau like a thief in the night.

~

Two weeks later, Wickham and Mr. Darcy were in the study when they heard a great commotion in the hall. The study was located near the front of the house and the sound of feet running past and doors opening and closing was impossible to miss. They looked at each other for a moment, then both leapt up and burst into the hall.

“Is it time?” asked Darcy, to no one in particular.

A footman was hurrying to the front of the house. “I believe so, sir. The physician has been called, and the midwife already arrived.”

He sprinted for the stairs. Why had the physician been called? Had they agreed on that beforehand? He could not remember. Surely this babe was not breech as well?

He burst into their chamber and found Anne pacing the floor in a dressing her gown, her gait wide and her cheeks red. “Are you well, my love?”

She smiled at him, then cringed as another pain came over her. “Quite well,” she managed to get out when it passed.

“The babe is comin’ fast, sir. Best say yer piece and move on,” said the midwife crisply.

He nodded and took Anne’s hands in his own. “I will be just outside if you need me. Be well, dearest.” He kissed her forehead as she squeezed his hands through another pain. She smiled at him weakly and he gave her hand a quick kiss.

“The room is ready!” Her maid, Lucy, rushed through the door.

He watched as the midwife and Lucy led his wife into the birthing room—what had been her room before they decided to share his chamber. He knew she was in good hands, but he hated to leave all the same.

George paced the hall, ignoring the maids bustling in and out of the room with hot water and fresh linens, and cringed every time his wife cried out. She did not scream, but she did moan and growl and shout at her maid, which he had never heard her do before. It was quiet for nearly ten minutes, then he cringed when she suddenly cried out in what was clearly horrific pain. He nearly tore through the door when he was stopped by the sweetest sound—a tiny cry, thin and disgruntled, followed by Anne’s happy cries. He couldn’t help himself. He burst into the room and rushed to his wife where she was holding their baby to her chest.

“I did it,” she said tearfully, insensible to everyone moving around her. “He is here!”

“He?”

She nodded, tilting the bundle in her arms so he could see the face of their son. “Isn’t he handsome?”

“He is perfect.”

She laughed through her tears, exhilarated and exhausted and utterly in love—with her new son and her husband and the second chance she had feared she would never get. She reached up and wiped the tears from her husband’s face, smiling beatifically.

“What shall we call this little fellow?”

“George, for his father,” she said proudly.

Darcy felt honored and humbled at her suggestion. That she would go through such pain, such horrors, to bring forth their son, and would then wish to give the babe his name. He took her hand up and kissed it fervently. “My very dear, you honor me.”

She continued to weep quietly, interspersed with laughter, overjoyed and overwhelmed at all that had happened.

The physician soon arrived and George was dispatched to deal with him while his wife and son were cleaned up and put to bed for a good nap. Once they were settled, the physician looked in on Lady Anne—speaking to her for only a few minutes before declaring her in good health—then he examined the baby.

“I do not like his color.”

“Pardon?”

“See how he looks a little blue around the edges? He may not be breathing properly. His heart is beating too quickly.”

George got closer and examined his son. He was pale, but weren’t all babies? Perhaps his lips were a touch on the blue side…

The physician continued to poke and prod until the baby cried, a thin, watery sound.

“Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“His cry is weak.”

“He is small. He will get stronger,” George asserted.

“I hope so. Watch him closely for the next few weeks. He may grow out of it, or he may not. Send for me if I am needed.”

He gathered his things and bid Darcy farewell, having sufficiently robbed him of his enthusiasm. He gathered his son to his chest.

“All will be well, my boy. No need to listen to the mean old man,” he crooned. He was met with the steady breaths of sleep, but he could not help but notice how they sounded just the tiniest bit shallow.

~

“What is wrong?” Anne cried. “George! Call for the physician! He cannot breathe!”

George looked over his wife’s shoulder at his son’s blue face. “Has he choked on anything? Is something in his mouth?”

Anne frantically swept his mouth with her finger. “No, nothing! Call for the physician.”

She held the baby close to her as George raced out the door and sent a footman for the physician. He knew it was useless. The boy was barely breathing. The physician would never make it in time. What they needed was a miracle.

Anne paced before the window, clutching her baby and praying frantically. He couldn’t make out her words, only the occasional “dear God” and strangled sobs. He watched her helplessly, knowing there was nothing he could do but aching for action. Two weeks! The boy had been with them two weeks. George had thought that meant he was safe, that he had grown stronger.

Suddenly, Anne’s scream rent the air. She sank to her knees as if her legs had been cut out from under her, a cry unlike any he had ever heard ripping from her breast. She keened and rocked on the floor, their son’s lifeless body clutched tightly in her arms.

“Anne, let me hold him. Anne, dearest, let me.”

She looked at him with wild eyes, her grief a living creature suddenly sprung up between them. He put his hands on her shoulders and stroked down her arms, keeping his eyes locked on hers. Finally, she relaxed enough for him to pull her to him, his large hands rubbing circles on her back as she sobbed aching, heartrending tears onto his shoulder, their dead son pressed between them.

Lucy found them that way, the three of them in a puddle on the floor.

“Sir, my lady, the physician is here,” she said softly.

Anne lifted her head from her husband’s shoulder and met the eyes of her maid, the woman who had seen her through her come out, her wedding night, three pregnancies, and now two losses, and all she could say was, “Oh, Lucy!” before dissolving into a flood of tears.

“My lady!” Lucy rushed forward and brushed the hair back from her mistress’s forehead, making comforting sounds.

Darcy rose from the floor and said he would dispatch the physician and fetch Mrs. Reynolds.

Lucy nodded at him, as Anne was insensible where she wept next to her on the floor. “Let’s get you into bed,” she said softly. She rose up slowly, carrying her weight and Anne’s. She led Anne to the bed, baby George still wrapped in his blanket and held snugly in his mother’s arms. Lucy pulled back the coverlet, and before she climbed in, Anne turned toward her and looked at her with hollow eyes.

“You take him, Lucy. Take care of my boy.”

Lucy nodded and gently took the bundle from her lady’s arms. Anne crawled wearily into bed, her knees curling up to her chest. Lucy pulled the blankets up slowly, then crept out of the room.

She met Mrs. Reynolds in the hall and the two of them were so intent on their conversation that neither of them noticed the door to Lady Anne’s room open and a tiny figure slip inside.

“Mama?” Fitzwilliam whispered into the dark room. “Are you sleeping? I heard you crying.” He crept into the room on his toes, making his way to the bed. He could see his mother in the moonlight, her face pale and tear-streaked, with red blotches near her eyes and on her cheeks. Jutting out his lower lip, he climbed onto the bed beside her and put his head on the pillow next to hers. She mumbled something in her sleep and wrapped her arm around him, holding him close.

More than an hour later, after speaking with the physician and the housekeeper and his wife’s maid, Darcy was changed into his nightshirt and ready for bed. He stumbled into his wife’s room and climbed onto the bed, surprised to feel a small body in his usual place. Realizing what had happened, he smiled and scooted his son over enough to make room for himself and lay down to sleep beside them.

Sons of Pemberley, post 5, Ch. 7

Assembly time!

Chapter 7

Meryton, Hertfordshire, October 1811

The Meryton Assembly was a hopeless crush. The Netherfield party—Lady Anne, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Miss Bingley, and Mr. and Mrs. Hurst—arrived as the musicians were tuning their instruments before the dancing began. The public rooms were overflowing with sound and people and their attendant laughter and scents. Darcy was overwhelmed by the latter when he walked into the room. Someone ought to tell the woman who had bathed in rose water that felling any gentlemen who came within sniffing distance ought not to be her goal.

Sir William Lucas had called on Bingley when he first arrived in the neighborhood and he now made his way to the party of newcomers, a broad smile on his face and his blue coat straining at the buttons.

“Mr. Bingley! We are delighted you could join our little assembly!”

Bingley introduced his party, then Sir William introduced his family—a rather plain but sensible looking daughter, another less plain and less sensible daughter, and a wife from whom the overwhelming rose scent seemed to be originating.

Before Darcy knew what had happened, he was promised to dance with Miss Lucas, after she completed the first set with Mr. Bingley. His mother smiled at him knowingly, and he resisted the urge to roll his eyes. It would do him no good regardless. His mother would be appalled if he refrained from dancing while ladies were sitting down. He must do his part as a gentleman, even if he hated every moment of it.

Sir William then led them to a pretty woman near his mother’s age and said she was Mrs. Bennet of Longbourn, the largest estate in the area after Netherfield. This woman proceeded to gush effusions on the guests, but thankfully Darcy was far enough behind the other members of his party that he did not hear everything she said. He did, however, feel his mother pulling his cuff and stepped forward to be introduced to the Bennet daughters where he dutifully asked the eldest to dance. She was engaged for the first set, and the second was promised to Bingley, but she offered him the third with a demure smile and dip of her pretty head, and he was relieved to know he would have at least one passable partner.

His mother’s fingers pinched his wrist and he looked at her, seeing her eyes dart toward another young lady standing before them. Besides the mother, there were three other girls, the pretty eldest he had already engaged for the third, a shorter brunette he had glanced over, and a bored looking girl who didn’t look much older than Georgiana and seemed to wish she were anywhere else. Assuming she wanted him to dance with the middle daughter, he looked at her questioningly, hoping she understood that he had not heard the young lady’s name.

“Miss Elizabeth,” said Lady Anne, “I do love the shade of your gown. That fabric is so elegant.”

The one called Miss Elizabeth thanked her and said she had gotten it on her last trip to town.

Before his mother could pinch him again, Darcy said, “Miss Elizabeth, might I have your hand if you are not engaged for the next?”

“I am not engaged, sir.”

Lady Anne smiled happily and sent the young couples off to dance, happy with her work for the moment.

“Such a handsome man is your son, my lady,” said Mrs. Bennet.

Anne was surprised it was said so quietly, as everything else that lady had said had been at a volume designed to be heard over the musicians. At least Anne hoped that was her reason. She was glad to know the lady could speak at a more discreet level. And was that wistfulness she heard in her tone? Or was she imagining things?

“Yes, he is a very handsome young man, though I shouldn’t boast of my own child,” said Anne with no little pride.

“Tosh! Mothers ought to be able to boast of their children amongst each other. We’ve earned that right.” Mrs. Bennet shifted her weight and pursed her lips, looking like a hen on her roost.

Lady Anne smiled. “Yes, I suppose we have. Your daughters do you credit. They are very beautiful and such graceful dancers.” She looked to the dancers moving down the line.

“Yes, they are lovely girls. My Jane is the beauty of the county, everyone says so, though I have a mother’s partiality. Elizabeth has the look of her father’s mother about her, but she is pretty in her way.”

Lady Anne looked carefully at the young lady they were speaking of as she danced down the line with her son. “That she is. She seems a happy sort of girl,” she added with a tilt of her head. Miss Elizabeth smiled broadly at the ladies she was standing in a circle with as they danced about, then turned back to her partner. Did Fitzwilliam nearly crack a smile? Such joy would be contagious, Anne thought.

“Oh, yes! My Lizzy is very cheerful. Always laughing and singing and scampering about. She has been that way since she was young. She has not Jane’s figure, but she is lively.”

“I think her figure light and pleasing,” said Lady Anne. Miss Elizabeth was not voluptuous, but neither was she boyish. Though compared to her sister, Anne could see why Mrs. Bennet referred to her as she did. Miss Bennet was everything feminine and lovely. Honey colored hair, bright blue eyes, ivory skin with cheeks pink from dancing, and a figure that kept her partner’s attention riveted to her neckline.

Mrs. Bennet was about to respond that Elizabeth was too thin, but looking at her very slim conversation partner, she wisely, and uncharacteristically, closed her mouth before she could say something that would insult the lady. After all, Lady Anne was the daughter of an earl and the mother of an eligible son. Who knew how many nephews and cousins she knew who might be in need of pretty young wives?

Wanting to find out more, she said, “Your son seems an excellent dancer. Is he your eldest child?”

“Thank you, and yes, he is my eldest. I have a daughter waiting for us at Netherfield—she is only fifteen and not yet out, and two more sons. Nathaniel is away at Eton, but Luke is here in Hertfordshire.”

“Three sons!”

There was that wistfulness again. She was sure of it this time. “Do you have a son, Mrs. Bennet?” she asked softly.

Mrs. Bennet looked away, then back at her feet. “No, I do not. There was once—but he—but it was not to be.”

Lady Anne knew that look well. She recognized the pain on the other woman’s face and impulsively reached out and grasped her hand. Mrs. Bennet raised her head in surprise, and the two ladies shared a look of understanding before Lady Anne released her hand.

“You have three healthy daughters. That is something to be proud of.”

“Three! Oh, my lady! I have five! My two youngest were in the other room when we were introduced. They are just there dancing. The tall one with the blue ribbons is Lydia, and the one in the pink dress is Kitty.”

Lady Anne nodded as she found the giggling girls in the crowd. “Five daughters is quite the accomplishment.”

Mrs. Bennet beamed and wanting to return the compliment, said, “Your son has a very noble look about him. Does he take after your side of the family?”

“No, he is nearly the image of his father, though George was rather larger.”

“Larger?” Mrs. Bennet squeaked before she could stop herself. She clapped a hand over her mouth, hoping she had not offended the lady. But really? Larger? Than Mr. Darcy? The man who stood a full head above Jane who was quite the tallest woman in the area. He towered over poor Lizzy. The top of her head only reached his shoulder!

Lady Anne smiled and shook her head. “I know. Mr. Darcy was a very tall man.” And broad and strong and warm and wonderful, but she need not say all of that to a new acquaintance. “My son does have my eyes, though.”

Mrs. Bennet nodded, not knowing what to say that would not offend and still shocked that such a man could exist, or that such a lady would want him. Why, how could a lady lie next to such a man without fearing he would roll over and crush her in her sleep? Thankfully, she was saved a response by a pause in the music and clapped for the musicians. Seeing her friend pass near, she seized the opportunity.

“Let me introduce you to Mrs. Goulding.”

I am curious about the reactions to this chapter. I have some thoughts of my own, but I want to see if you guys think the same.

Sons of Pemberley Post 4

Here we go, loveys! 2 more chapters.

Chapter 5

Pemberley, October, 1785

Samuel Wickham and George Darcy were riding along the north pastures when the dark clouds that had been threatening rain for the last two hours finally opened up and quickly soaked the men through. Darcy gestured to a barn in the distance and they began heading in that direction, briskly but carefully. They were still some distance away when there was a large bolt of lightning, bright and incredibly close. Both horses began to dance about and whinny, and Mr. Darcy’s horse reared up on his back legs, unseating his rider. Darcy was an experienced horseman, and he quickly rolled away from his frantic horse once he hit the ground. Wickham cried out, and before anyone could stop him, Darcy’s horse had bolted and was making his way back to the stables.

Wickham calmed his horse as best he could, and when the beast had finally stopped stomping and snorting, he dismounted and barely managed to tie the agitated gelding to a limb.

“Sir, are you well?” he cried. He leaned over Darcy where he lay on the ground, trying to shield him from the worst of the rain.

“I am, but my leg,” he gestured to his right leg. “Oberon kicked it a bit.”

Wickham looked at the leg with worry but was happy to see there was no unnatural angle—it was unlikely it was broken.

“Come, sir, we must get you out of the rain.” Wickham stooped low and struggled to help Darcy to his feet. George Darcy was a tall man and broad besides, and Wickham had a leg that could barely hold his own weight. He wanted to put Mr. Darcy on his horse, but the beast was still prancing and snorting nervously, and Wickham thought it was more likely he would bolt the moment he was untied than safely carry his friend.

Eventually, he was up and the two began staggering toward the barn. Both were relieved to see that George’s leg was still functioning, just badly bruised. There was a little swelling, but he was able to bear weight on it with the help of his friend. They were a hundred feet from the barn when Darcy slumped beside Wickham and suddenly Samuel was holding Darcy’s entire weight.

“Sir? Sir! Mr. Darcy! George!” he shouted his friend’s name but there was no response.

He pulled George’s head more upright and was horrified when he saw blood on his hand where it had touched the back of Darcy’s head. Quickly, Wickham reached down and tried to heft Darcy onto his shoulders, the way they had carried men in the war. The rain was strong and fast and it took him three tries to get a good grip. He moved as fast as he could on the sliding earth and with only one good leg, the rain stinging his eyes and making his clothes feel heavy and restrictive.

He slipped and stumbled and was covered in mud, but eventually, they were in the barn and out of the rain. He placed Darcy on a pile of hay and found a rag in the tack room. He blotted the blood from the back of his friend’s head, then tied the cloth all the way around his head in the hope of stopping the bleeding.

Wickham’s entire right leg was burning and throbbing, and his hip felt like someone had stabbed a knife into it. His stronger left leg was smarting from carrying the extra weight and he was starting to feel a little lightheaded from all the pain. He sat down in the hay with George until the dizziness passed.

He looked at his friend and saw that he was breathing regularly. He felt his forehead; thankfully it was not hot.

He got up painstakingly and looked out the door of the barn. “The rain won’t stop anytime soon, and you need a physician. I’ll be back,” he said to his unconscious friend.

He made his way back to his horse, limping painfully, and rode as quickly as he dared to the stables at Pemberley. In short order, a bevy of riders and a cart was sent for the master.

When Wickham tried to climb onto the cart to accompany them, the stablemaster grabbed his arm. He swayed, and the older man looked at him suspiciously.

“You’re in no position to be going out again. Someone should wait for the physician and his Lady will have to be informed. Go up to the house. I’ll send young Joseph for some dry clothes for you.”

Wickham agreed begrudgingly, but insisted he wait at the stables for his dry clothing. He would not drip all over Pemberley’s fine marble or see Lady Anne in this state. Half an hour later, he was dry and awaiting Lady Anne in her parlor.

She swept in, her pale blue dress adding to the sense of cool sophistication about her, her swollen belly the only approachable trait Wickham could discern.

“Mr. Wickham, what has happened? Lucy said there was some commotion at the stables. Where is Mr. Darcy?”

“We were caught in the storm, my lady. He was thrown from his horse.”

She gasped. “No!”

Wickham held up his hands and shook his head. “He is alive, my lady, but unconscious. Or he was when I left him.”

“Left him?”

“His horse ran off and George was kicked. His leg was too hurt to walk far, though it didn’t seem damaged. We made it to a nearby barn, but he must have hit his head, for he fainted before we could get inside.”

Lady Anne was pale, her right hand playing anxiously with her necklace, her left resting protectively over her belly. “So you rode back to the stables for help.”

“Yes, my lady,” he said quietly.

Finally, Lady Anne looked at him and seemed to see him, not just the bearer of bad news. “Please, do be seated Mr. Wickham. You must be exhausted. I shall ring for tea.”

She rang the bell and sat stiffly across from her husband’s steward, clearly agitated and uncomfortable. Samuel wasn’t sure if it was his presence that contributed to her discomfort, or merely the situation. Regardless of her feelings about Wickham, and he knew she was not overly fond of him, she was a gracious hostess. Soon he had a steaming cup of tea in his hands and a small plate of sandwiches. He did not feel much of an appetite, even though he could hear his stomach rumbling. He realized Lady Anne must have heard it too and he blushed in mortification. It was bad enough he sat before her with wet hair and the news that he had left her husband behind in a storm, but now he was subjecting to her to the symphony of his digestive system.

He quickly took a bite of his sandwich and willed his body to be quiet.

Lady Anne looked out the window, her tea untouched, her fingers still working her beaded necklace.

Finally, when Wickham was preparing to go to the stables to check on the progress of the rescue mission, there was a commotion in the hall. Lady Anne rushed out the door of the parlor so quickly her beads spun behind her and her dress tangled around her legs.

“George!” she cried.

The unconscious man on the stretcher did not respond.

“Has he woken at all?” she asked one of the men carrying him.

“He said a few words on the way here, my lady. Mostly nonsense. He’s been drifting in and out.”

“Has the physician arrived?”

“Should be in the next quarter hour, my lady.”

The men continued their processional up the stairs and Lady Anne followed along, one hand on the railing and the other clutching her belly. He could not die! He simply could not! She needed him too much. They were having another child next month. He wanted to meet her so badly. He was certain the babe was a girl. He had suggested names. Men who were naming new babies should not die. It would be too cruel!

On her mind ran as she made her way up the stairs and down the corridor to her husband’s room.

Wickham looked at the stairs looming before him and gathered his strength. He had a hand on the bannister and had gotten up the first two steps, with a hiss of pain and his face twisted, when the butler stepped forward and asked him to please wait for the physician. He needed to check things below stairs and assure the footman were reassigned as some would be sent to the master’s chambers to assist. Wickham nodded gratefully, his hip burning so badly he couldn’t hide his discomfort. He was only glad Lady Anne was not there to see him like this. He sank into an ornate chair in the entrance hall to await the physician and prayed desperately for his friend.

“Please don’t die. Please don’t die. Please don’t die.”

~

Samuel stepped into the master’s chambers at Pemberley, his hat in his hand, the brim nearly ruined with his twisting.

“Stop standing there like a dolt and come where I can see you,” George called from the bed.

Samuel shook his head and took the seat by his old friend’s bed. “How are you faring?” he asked.

“I have been better,” answered George. “The physician says my leg will heal fully if I give it adequate rest.”

“I am glad to hear that. And your head?”

“I barely notice it anymore—the headaches are fading.”

Samuel nodded and smiled, his shoulders falling in relief.

George looked down at his lap, then up at his friend again. “I see you have yet to give up your habit of saving my life.”

“I would, if you would quit getting into trouble.”

George laughed soundlessly. He reached out and placed one large hand on his old friend’s shoulder. “You are a good man, Wickham. I’m proud to call you friend.”

Wickham looked down with red cheeks. “You would have done the same for me.”

“Yes, I would have. But that does not lessen my gratitude, or the valor of your actions.”

Wickham met his eyes and nodded solemnly. “I understand,” he hesitated for a moment, “George.”

Darcy’s eyes lit up and he smiled brightly. “I’m glad to hear it, Samuel. How does the new babe?”

“Your namesake does well enough. He seems to have a strong aversion to sleep,” said Wickham with a rub to his eyes.

Darcy laughed. “That will pass in time. You know you are welcome to a bed at Pemberley if you need it.”

Wickham shook his head. “You are generous, but I will be well. Rebecca is considering fostering him out. She is worn out with his care and feeding. And with no mother or sisters to help her…”

“Will her cousin not come stay? Miss Connelly, was it?”

Wickham rubbed the back of his neck and looked about the room. “I wouldn’t feel right asking her.”

George looked at his friend shrewdly. “How goes it with you and Rebecca?”

Wickham sighed. “Well enough. Little George takes all our energy. I haven’t thought of much else in some time.”

“Perhaps that is how it should be.”

“Perhaps.”

~

Rebecca was exhausted. An exhaustion she felt in her bones. Even her hair felt tired. Nine long months of feeling fat and ungainly, followed by two days of hard labor and innumerable sleepless nights had left her feeling like she could fall asleep while standing.

Samuel had suggested a nursemaid, she had wanted both a nursemaid and a wet nurse, and they had had the money for neither. Samuel had been incredibly angry when the bill from the dressmaker arrived. His face had gone a deep red and the vein in his forehead had bulged. She thought he would humiliate her by forcing her to return those items that could be returned, but instead, he had said the bill must be paid and paid promptly, and she would simply have to economize until his next wages came in.

She had thought the most insulting thing he could do was to return her new hat. But no. Forcing her to nurse her own child was infinitely worse. Her figure would be ruined. She would never wear her favorite gowns again without looking like a flabby old woman.

He should have put the tradesmen off and hired the wet nurse. She was certain it was not half as important as he claimed it was to pay them so quickly. They must have many customers who paid late and were therefore accustomed to it. Samuel was overreacting.

Besides, if it was so important, he could ask Mr. Darcy for the money. Everyone went on and on about what great friends they were. What was a new hat or two between friends? Lady Anne must spend twenty times what Rebecca did on clothes. She was hardly frivolous! Boots were always a practical purchase. And she had needed the new spencer as her old one had faded, and the hat was so becoming on her she had been unable to resist it. Surely, when he saw her in it, he would forget all about his anger.

Alas, a month had passed, and Samuel had not forgotten. He had paid the greedy shopkeepers and refused to hire a wet nurse until they could afford to pay her. Rebecca was incensed at his stubbornness, but she was too tired to fight him properly. Finally, inspiration struck. She would take George to her aunt and grandmother’s home. The old biddies would love to spend the day holding a baby, and perhaps Rebecca could finally get some sleep.

“Let me hold my grandson,” said Abigail Appleby, reaching for the bundle in her granddaughter’s arms.

Rebecca handed over the babe gladly, sinking into the divan in exhaustion.

“You look tired,” said Aunt Connelly.

“Little George never sleeps! I am exhausted.”

“Why do you not go lie down in Rachel’s room for a spell? We shall watch over the little one.”

Having achieved her aim in coming to visit, she stumbled to her cousin’s room and fell gracelessly onto the bed, asleep within moments.

Rachel arrived home a half hour later to find her grandmother and aunt cooing over her cousin’s baby, young George Wickham. He was a cute enough baby, she supposed, but hardly worth making all this fuss over.

“Would you like to hold him?” asked Hannah Connelly.

Knowing she would appear churlish or worse, jealous, if she refused, she reached for the tightly wrapped bundle and settled into a chair by the fire. Young George was sleeping, and against her better judgement, she felt her heart reaching out to the tiny child. He was her blood after all, no matter how distant, and his mother had been something like a sister to her for the six years they had lived together. And his father had been precious to her once. It was difficult to harden one’s self to a defenseless infant, especially when the babe insisted on curling his little hand around her finger and making the most delightful noises while he slept.

Looking up surreptitiously, she saw that her grandmother had nodded off across the room, and her aunt was occupied with her sewing. She was free to indulge her fantasies. For a moment, she dreamt this was her baby, and Samuel was her husband, waiting for her at the cottage at Pemberley. The babe would be the first of many, and she would be a devoted mother, and Samuel a wonderful father.

She allowed herself the image for a few minutes longer, then forced herself to return to reality. George was Rebecca’s babe, not hers. Samuel was Rebecca’s husband, not hers. The cottage at Pemberley belonged to her cousin, not her. She should not think of such things. It would only make it more difficult to face the truth. She would never have a husband. Never have children who looked to her for comfort and reassurance. Never have a cottage of her own. There was no use pretending. It would only break her heart.

Chapter 6

Pemberley, Derbyshire, November 1785

“Really, dear, I don’t know why you spend so much time with your steward. It is unseemly.” Lady Anne said petulantly as she settled on the sofa.

“He is not only my steward; he is my friend,” replied her husband.

“That makes it worse!” she cried.

He smiled and looked at her charmingly. “He is my oldest friend, and a truer man I challenge you to find. Have you already forgotten the service he rendered me last month?”

She shuddered. “No, I have not forgotten. Mr. Wickham has my deepest appreciation for saving your life. Did I not gift his wife with a new cradle and linens for the babe and have them to dinner to thank him? It was a very great compliment. Many stewards never enter the main dining room unless it is to deliver a message!”

George Darcy laughed. “My darling little wife.” He pulled her rigid form closer to him. “How I love you.” He kissed her cheek and rubbed her arm, smiling at her while she sat as straight as her extended abdomen would allow and stared into the fire, refusing to soften or look at him. “You are ever the great lady.” Her head whipped toward him at that. “And I love you for it. But Samuel is my friend. I will not change that, nor do I want to.”

~

The midwife stepped into the hallway and the physician followed her. Mr. Darcy leapt to his feet and stared at them expectantly. The midwife shook her head slowly and looked at him with pity.

“I am sorry, sir, the babe did not survive.”

Darcy closed his eyes and exhaled. He had feared that would be the outcome. Anne had been laboring for more than a day when the physician was brought in to assist the midwife. The babe was breech, and nothing they did would make it turn.

“I am sorry about the babe, sir. But Lady Anne will survive if she does not develop a fever,” said the midwife. “The babe was breech, and large besides. She should not have another for some time—allow her womb to heal.” The midwife gave him a significant look and he stared at her blankly.

 The physician wiped his spectacles with a large handkerchief and said, “I’m certain you have other options.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “Though you do have a son already, so the loss would not be devastating.”

The midwife gasped and George finally looked at the strange man.

“What did you say?”

“It does not bear repeating!” cried the midwife.

The thin physician looked down his long nose at her and sniffed. “I was merely saying that the gentleman is young and could marry again or not as he chooses as he already has an heir.” He sniffed again and perched his now-clean spectacles on his nose.

George looked at him coldly. “I will see my wife now.”

The midwife said something he did not comprehend and left, taking the physician with her. George entered the birthing room quietly, shutting the door softly behind him. Anne lay in the bed, still and sleeping, and a cold breeze coming through the open window rustled the curtains gently. He wondered at its being open for a moment before the acrid smell of blood hit him. He saw his wife’s maid coming through the dressing room door and approached her.

“Lucy, how does my wife?” he whispered.

“She is well enough, sir, but her spirits are brought low,” she replied.

He nodded. “Of course.” He looked to the open window again, then back at the floor. “What has been done with the babe?” he asked, his voice sticking in his throat like a carriage wheel caught in the mud.

“Mrs. Jones took her in there to be cleaned and prepared, sir.” She pointed to the dressing room.

“It was a girl?” he asked, his voice higher than usual.

“A bonny girl, sir. I’m so sorry, sir.”

He waved her away and Lucy bobbed a curtsey before scurrying out of the room.

A girl! Anne had borne a girl! And the poor babe had not taken a single breath, nor seen a slit of blue sky, nor smelled the clean Derbyshire air after a spring rain. Choking back a sob, he sank into the nearest chair and dropped his head into his hands.

~

“Dearest, you must drink something,” Mr. Darcy held the glass near her face, waiting for her to open her eyes and lean forward to take a sip, but she stubbornly pressed her lips together and refused to look at him. He sighed and sat down in the chair by the bed and pressed his hand to his mouth. “Very well. We will not drink today.”

Several hours later, he awoke in an awkward position in the too-small chair. He squinted to see his wife in the dim light and was troubled to see tears tracking silently down her porcelain cheeks. Quietly, he rose from his seat and found her maid in the dressing room.

“Please bring Master Fitzwilliam here, Lucy.”

She practically ran out of the room and he went back to his wife, standing far away from the bed near the door so that she might weep without an audience. Lucy returned a few minutes later with Fitzwilliam in the arms of his nurse. When he saw his father, he reached for him and smiled brightly.

“Good afternoon, Son. Would you like to visit Mama?”

“Mama!” cried eighteen-month-old Fitzwilliam.

Mr. Darcy took his son from the nurse and dismissed her and the maid, then closed the door quietly and walked to his wife’s bedside.

“Anne, Fitzwilliam is here. Would you like to hold him?”

“Mama?” said Fitzwilliam in a small voice. He furrowed his brow and looked at her seriously, his blue eyes probing.

Lady Anne opened her eyes and looked at her son, her expression crumbling when he reached his chubby little arms out towards her. She reached forward with a sob and snatched him from her husband, pressing her face into her son’s hair and shaking with the force of her grief. Young Fitzwilliam clung to his mother, his small arms tight about her neck, until his hair was wet from her tears and she lay limply on the bed, her anguish spent for the moment.

~

“What are you two about?” asked Mr. Darcy jovially when he walked into his wife’s chambers. It had been over a month since the stillbirth, and she had sent for Fitzwilliam every day since her husband had first brought him to her. They were now prettily arranged on the carpet before the fireplace, stacking colorful blocks into a tall tower.

“We are building a tower, my dear. Can you not tell?” she asked playfully.

She had painted the blocks herself with her cousin, Lady Julia. It had been something of a project for them when each was expecting her first babe. Each block was a different color and had a unique picture painted on it. Some featured flowers that grew in the Pemberley gardens, others were covered with birds and foxes and various animals Fitzwilliam was learning to identify. She had spoken of painting more when she saw how Fitzwilliam loved them, with vague images of family members on them, shortly before the recent birth. He wondered if she would consider painting them still.

“Will you join us?” she asked with a smile.

“Papa! Bwocks!” cried Fitzwilliam, holding up two blocks for his father’s inspection.

“I see that, Son. A fine builder you are. Now let us see if we can create a bridge.” He sat down next to his son and they began creating a simple bridge over Lady Anne’s shawl, which was laid across the floor to look like a river.

Darcy looked up from his task to see a soft expression on her face and her eyes shining like they had not in months.

“My dear?” he questioned.

“I am very pleased to be married to you,” she said quietly.

His brows rose in surprise and he smiled. “As I am to be married to you.”

~

The midwife had said it would be wise to wait some time before having another babe. Her womb had been tested terribly with the breech birth; her body was tired. Allow herself to heal, a year, perhaps more, then try again. The midwife had given her a few suggestions to try to prevent pregnancy while allowing her to lie with her husband. Anne blushed furiously and could not imagine having such a conversation with him.

We may continue sharing a bed, my dear. As long as you do not spend inside me, all will be well. She was mortified at the thought. Had the physician told her husband the same? If she turned him away, would he understand her reasons? Would it harm their marriage? Would he seek comfort elsewhere?

The idea of her husband in the arms of another woman, kissing her, caressing her, making a child with her, was not to be born. Lady Anne Fitzwilliam Darcy, daughter of the Earl of Matlock and great-niece of the Marquess of Cheshire, was second to no one. She did not cower before difficulties but met them head-on. Awkward or no, she would speak with her husband.

And share him with no one.

~

Anne wrapped her favorite dressing gown tightly about her and knocked on her husband’s door. She stumbled and stuttered but eventually came to the point and told him that she was not averse to lying with him, was in fact quite happy to do so, in a month or so when she had healed further, so long as he was able to control himself enough to not deposit his seed inside her. Her cheeks flamed bright red and her husband looked at her with such a soft look on his dear face, his eyes unbearably tender, his mouth tilted in a gentle smile, that she felt equally touched and mortified. Her pride blanched at his pity, at being seen as a bumbling fool. But he was so very dear to her, and she was bumbling at the moment. She was grateful for his understanding, truly.

He reached out and took her hand and she let him pull her closer, until she was standing only a few inches from his body. She placed her hands on his lapels and peeked up at him. He was a tall man—terribly tall, her mother called it—but she liked it. Anne was not small herself. Thin and willowy, but taller than her friends. She liked that he made her feel less like a heron standing by a stream, all long legs and sharp angles, and more like a gracious lady. She slid her hands up to his broad shoulders and ran her fingers over the fine lawn of his nightshirt. She stepped closer, closing the tiny distance between them, and immediately felt his heat covering her.

His hands settled loosely around her waist, and she sighed and rested her head on his chest.

“I have missed this,” she said quietly.

“I have missed you.”

“Could I sleep with you tonight?” she asked before she could second guess herself.

He sighed and rubbed his face into her hair. “I should like nothing better.”

As they lay together beneath the counterpane, her head on his chest and his arm wrapped tightly around her shoulders, he stroked his hand aimlessly over her skin, drawing meaningless shapes with his fingers, gathering his courage to ask an awkward question. Finally, he found the bravery when he remembered how his wife—his delicate, proper, ladylike wife—had come to him that very night to explain how the land lay in their intimate relationship. If she could muster the courage, so could he.

“Dearest?”

“Hmm?”

“Do you enjoy sleeping with me?”

She lifted herself up on one elbow and looked down at him. “Of course, I do. Did you not know it?”

“I know you sometimes enjoy my company, especially in January when the nights are cold.”

She swatted his shoulder playfully. He caught her hand and toyed with her fingers.

“I mean, what do you think of sharing a bed every night?”

Her eyes widened and she looked at him in surprise. “You wish to sleep with me every night?”

His enthusiasm dampened at her expression. “Not if you dislike the idea.”

“No, I like it! I was merely surprised.” She looked down and fiddled with the ribbon on her nightgown. “So, would we sleep in your chamber or mine?”

He smiled and tucked her hair behind her ear. “It matters not to me. Pemberley has many rooms. Perhaps we should make a study of them all and choose our favorite.”

He smiled in that way that had always made her knees feel unsteady, and she leaned into it, kissing him sweetly on his smiling lips, then his strong jaw, already rough from the beard that never fully gave way to the razor, and a final kiss on his nose, impressive appendage that it was.

“Shall I take this show of sweetness to mean you like this plan of mine?”

“I like most plans of yours, but no, that is not why I kissed you.”

“No?”

She shook her head. “Do you not know by now?”

He raised his brows in question.

“I cannot resist you when you smile at me like that, George Darcy.”

In a flash, she was beneath him, gasping and laughing as he playfully kissed her all over, from her hair down to her ankles. She smiled at him indulgently as he stroked the top of one foot, tickling her toes and smiling when she laughed.

“I can never resist you, my sweet. Whether you’re smiling or not.”

Her mirth quickly shifted to tenderness and she smiled softly at him and held out her arms. “Come here, my husband.”

“Yes, my wife.”

~

Anne Darcy closed the gate behind her and slipped into the graveyard, making her way swiftly to the corner with the family plots. It had been six long months, but the soil had finally settled, and a small curved stone had been placed. She set her bag on the ground and took out the trowel. She dug a small space in front of the stone, then gently removed the tiny rose bush from her sack. She settled it into the hollow and scooped dirt around it, patting it gently into place. She sat back on her heels, heedless of her clothes, and looked at her handiwork. Pink roses, for love hopeful. She touched the cold stone with her gloved hand, tracing over the name.

Rose Catherine Darcy

B. – D. November 22, 1786

She took a deep breath, stood, and dusted the dirt from her skirts. She gathered her tools into her bag and made her way back to Pemberley.

Thoughts, please! You know I thrive on comments!

Sons of Pemberley Post 3

As promised, here is a family tree to help you navigate the story. I’ve also gone back and added it to chapter 1. A lot of these people are not mentioned for a while, if ever, but what can I say? I’m thorough. The characters we spend the most time with are in bold.

Chapter 4

Margate, August 1811

“I hear you have found an estate, Mr. Bingley,” said Lady Anne at breakfast.

“Yes, in Hertfordshire. Blackwood recommended it. The owner may wish to sell if the terms are agreeable, and it is an easy distance to Town.”

“I am pleased for you. When will you view it?”

“Tuesday next. If all is agreeable, I will sign the lease and my sister will act as hostess. I may take possession by Michaelmas.”

“Wonderful! You are well on your way to fulfilling your father’s wishes, Mr. Bingley,” added Lady Livingstone. She had taken her time warming up to the un-landed gentleman, but Bingley had won her over after a summer of smiles and guileless amiability.

“Thank you, my lady. My sisters are well pleased.”

“Are they in the country at present?”

“Yes, they are staying with my brother Hurst’s family. They have an estate in Suffolk. I will travel there when I leave Hertfordshire.”

“We will be sad to lose your company, but it is good for family to be together,” said Lady Livingstone.

Bingley smiled and thanked her, and barely managed to restrain his laugh when Marianne rolled her eyes at her mother’s condescending well wishes.

“You will be missed, Mr. Bingley, and we wish you well with your new endeavor,” she said sincerely.

“Thank you, Lady Marianne. I wish you a safe journey to Town. Have you heard from Colonel Pickering recently?”

“I had a letter from him this morning,” she said brightly. “Campaign season will be coming to a close just before the babe is due to be born. He believes he may arrive in London in time for the birth.”

“That is excellent news,” said Bingley.

Lady Livingstone sighed. “I do not know why you must have your confinement in Town. It is so much more pleasant in the country.”

Bingley blushed in discomfort and Marianne made no effort to hide her expression from her mother.

“Because I do not wish for a long carriage ride when I am so close to my confinement, and because Henry would never make it all the way to Staffordshire in time for the birth. I wish to see him as close to his arrival as I may.”

“An understandable wish, of course, dear,” interjected Lady Anne. “Now let us speak of more gentleman-friendly topics before Mr. Bingley matches the jam.” She smiled at her son’s friend and Bingley laughed, wondering where Darcy and his brothers were.

~

Bingley viewed the estate in Hertfordshire, called Netherfield, decided it was perfect for his purposes, and signed the lease immediately. He left for Suffolk to collect his sisters and brother and planned to return in September.

He wrote to Darcy of his plans and invited his family to visit, even if it was only to break the journey north. The Darcy family had shown him great hospitality and he wished to repay the favor. Lady Anne agreed and added a note to her son’s letter, saying how proud she was for Mr. Bingley that he had taken this step. Darcy thought his mother was being overly sentimental, but Lady Anne thought Bingley would appreciate the gesture since he had no living parents to look up to. Incidentally, she was right. Young Charles Bingley was one of Lady Anne’s greatest admirers.

The Darcy and Livingstone families traveled to London together, leaving Lady Livingstone and Lady Marianne at their home in Town to await the latter’s husband and confinement, hopefully in that order. Lady Anne stayed long enough to see her goddaughter settled and began the journey north. She had no great love for Town and only suffered the Season as much as she must. She blatantly refused to participate in the Little Season, and she felt great pity for her brother and cousins who were required to be in Town longer for their duties to Parliament. Once Darcy House was sufficiently closed, they headed north to Hertfordshire with no plans to return until spring.

~

Bingley stood outside the stately house, bouncing his heels on the steps. His sister Caroline stood beside him, nervously twisting the rings on her fingers. She had only met Lady Anne once, at a ball hosted by a Darcy family friend. The great lady was everything Caroline hoped to be, and she had been so nervous when she met her that she barely said three words. Lady Anne had been gracious and kind but had quickly moved on to talk to her friends. Now she was staying at Netherfield, and Caroline was to be her hostess. It was a dream come true and a nightmare all rolled into one. Would Lady Anne be pleased with her apartments? Would she be put off by the outmoded decoration? Would the menus be to her liking? What of the servants?

Caroline shook her head and told herself to stop worrying. There was nothing to be done now but be as gracious as she could be. She looked up from her study of the steps when she felt a hand on hers. Charles looked at her with earnest eyes the same blue-green as her own.

“You’ll be wonderful, Carrie. Don’t worry. Lady Anne is gracious, and you are a talented hostess. All will be well.”

She smiled in relief and her shoulders visibly lowered. “Thank you, Charlie.”

A carriage pulled onto the drive and they turned to face it, heads held high. It stopped before them in a flutter of dust and a flash of a family crest. The Bingleys stood a little straighter and smiled when Darcy handed down his mother and sister.

“Welcome to Netherfield.”

~

Darcy joined Bingley in the study once he had seen his family well settled. “How do you like having an estate?”

“I like it very well!” he cried. “The neighborhood has been very friendly.”

“I’m sure half the men in Hertfordshire have come to call on you,” said Darcy.

“A good many certainly have. I have returned a few calls myself but haven’t met many families.”

“You mean many gentlemen’s daughters,” said Darcy with a grin. “You never change, Bingley.”

“I am dependable in this, at least,” he said with good humor. “There is an assembly tomorrow in Meryton. I told Sir William I would come if my party did not object. He knows you have only just arrived. We need not go if you do not wish it.”

 “I shall ask Mother. She might enjoy a night of dancing. She occasionally attended assemblies in Lambton or Kympton.”

Bingley’s expression showed his surprise. “I would not have thought that,” he said carefully.

“With an estate as large as Pemberley, one has a duty to the local towns and villages. They rely on Pemberley’s continued prosperity for their livelihoods. It is good for them to see us and know we are thriving, and it gives them an opportunity to talk to us of their concerns. It encourages loyalty and discourages poaching, among other things. The Darcy family has always been a force for good in Derbyshire—the people there must know that we care for them and will take care of the villages. That is hard to accomplish if we never show our faces.”

Charles nodded his head with an expression that showed he wished he had been writing all this down. “You make an excellent point, my friend. I shall ask Lady Anne if she would like to go.”

Lady Anne accepted the invitation and encouraged Mr. Bingley to make the most of this opportunity. If he was considering purchasing Netherfield, he must become acquainted with the local landowners. They would have to work together on occasion, and they would be his source of company in the months he spent in the country. It would be wise to make friends where possible. She said the same to Caroline, who was sitting on a chair near her.

“Miss Bingley, you should befriend the young ladies of the area. One can never have too many friends when living in the country.”

Caroline was quick to agree with her and assured Lady Anne of her willingness to be kind to the country ladies of Hertfordshire. She was sure they would be in much need of direction in their fashions and behavior. Caroline was all too ready to help. Her sister Louisa agreed with an absent look and a jangle of her bracelets. Lady Anne merely looked at them for a moment before changing the subject.

~

The following morning, Lady Anne joined the gentlemen for breakfast before the other ladies came down. Unsurprised, she smiled at the young men and proceeded to ask them about the estate. Bingley was all excitement and eager to tell her of his accomplishments. She indulged him and encouraged him, while Fitzwilliam looked on with a suspicious look in his eye. If he had not known better, he might have thought Bingley was flirting with his mother. Bingley was solicitous and attentive, and there was adoration in his eyes when he looked at Lady Anne.

Turning his gaze to his mother, he saw indulgence, affection, and pride in her eyes, not unlike the expression she often gave her younger sons. She turned and met her eldest son’s eyes and one brow quirked up while her lips pursed. Realizing he had been caught staring and more importantly, been caught in the wrong by his mother, he nodded in recognition of defeat and she turned her attention back to Bingley.

Who would have thought? His mother had a soft spot for Bingley, and she had been right about him: Charles valued her opinion and looked on her not quite as a mother, but with sincere admiration and more than a little awe. Like a favorite aunt who is beloved and familiar, but with the distance that comes from not sharing a home. Fitzwilliam could only smile to himself and shake his head. He was happy to share his mother with Bingley. His friend’s parents were both deceased and Charles often lamented the loss of both their affection and guidance. It would be terribly stingy of him to begrudge his friend a little maternal affection. Besides, Lady Anne was clearly enjoying his company. When he thought about it, he realized Charles was about the age his brother George would have been, had he lived more than a fortnight.

Feeling suddenly melancholy, he turned his attention back to the conversation at the table. Caroline and Louisa came in, both dressed in stunning morning gowns with hair fixed much more elaborately than he would have thought appropriate for a simple morning at home.

“Good morning. I trust you all slept well?” Caroline asked.

“I did, thank you, Miss Bingley,” answered Lady Anne. “My rooms are quite comfortable in every respect.”

Miss Bingley flushed and thanked her guest. Lady Anne was in the best room Netherfield had to offer. It had been Caroline’s own room, but when her brother told her of their guests, she quickly realized no other room would do and moved her things into the guest wing. Mr. Hurst had protested all the moving about when she insisted all the family move as well, but Louisa had agreed that their guests must be comfortable, and the two ladies made quick work of directing the change.

“Do you know how often the assembly is held?” asked Lady Anne.

“I believe it is quarterly,” answered Bingley.

“And what is the size of Meryton? Are there many prominent families about and are they likely to be present this evening?”

Bingley was unsure of the exact size, but Fitzwilliam believed it was a little bigger than Lambton. As far as the families went, Bingley knew there were several with small estates and that Sir William Lucas would be hosting the night’s festivities. A Mr. Bennet owned the next largest estate, called Longbourn, but he did not recall meeting or hearing about anyone with any titles in the area or homes larger than Netherfield.

“That will make choosing my gown for the evening much easier. Thank you, Mr. Bingley,” said Lady Anne.

“I am always pleased to help a lady with her attire,” declared Bingley good naturedly.

“We must show these country ladies what true fashion looks like,” said Caroline. “They must be in want of a guiding hand.”

“On the contrary, Miss Bingley. I asked about the neighborhood so that I might choose my attire appropriately, not to make the ladies of Hertfordshire look out of fashion. I would never go into someone else’s home or ball and attempt to make them feel unworthy. A true lady leads by example, not disdain.” She smiled kindly at Miss Bingley while Caroline stared at her wide-eyed.

“Perhaps you might be willing to assist me in choosing something appropriate?” Caroline asked uncertainly.

“I would love to! Let us go up after breakfast.”

Two hours later, Caroline’s bed was piled high with gowns of every imaginable color. Louisa sat on a chair near the fire, unsure what to think about this exercise, while Georgiana happily helped her mother sort through ribbons, turbans, and feathers.

“What about this one?” Caroline held a peach gown up to her shoulders and looked in the mirror, then turned to face Lady Anne and Miss Darcy.

Georgiana’s nose wrinkled slightly. “I think the blue looks better with your complexion.”

“Yes, I agree.” Lady Anne looked at the gown critically, then turned Caroline toward the mirror. “For someone with your complexion, pale pink is better than peach. You have such lovely ivory skin. You should wear something to complement it.” She reached into the pile of gowns on the bed and pulled out a beautiful pale green ball gown. “Here. Try this one.”

Caroline looked at the gown doubtfully. It had been suggested by the modiste, but when it was delivered, she thought it too simple and had never worn it. “Do you not think it plain?” she asked.

“No!” declared Lady Anne. “I think it just right for a country dance. You do not want to be overdressed, but neither do you want to be overlooked. This brings out your eyes. See.”

She held the gown near to Caroline’s face and the younger woman looked in the mirror, surprised to see how bright her eyes appeared next to the fabric.

 “Yes, and it is lovely with your hair,” added Georgiana. “Jade pins would be perfect.”

“What a wonderful idea, Georgiana!”

“I have just the ones!” Caroline cried, now agreeing that the gown was splendid on her.

Lady Anne left Caroline in peace and planned her own attire for the evening, satisfied that she had done right by the motherless girl. Miss Bingley was not the most pleasant young woman, but she had some potential. If Lady Anne was going to be thrown into her company, she must draw it out—if for nothing but her own sanity.

So what do you think? I know today’s chapter is a bit short, but they will start coming more quickly in a couple of days. Thanks for reading!

Sons of Pemberley Post 2

Chapters 2 and 3! Moving back in time to 1784. The saga begins…

Chapter 2

Lambton, Derbyshire, Spring 1784

“Rachel Connelly, who are you getting all fancied up for?” asked Rebecca as she entered the small room.

“No business of yours,” she said with a smile.

“Just as well. Keep your secrets. I won’t tell you who asked for a dance this evening.”

Rachel looked at her cousin, wondering if she was telling the truth or just trying to make her jealous. “We’d best be going,” said Rachel.

She stood from the dressing table and removed her shawl from the peg. She pulled it around her shoulders, trying to make them look a little less broad, and carefully arranged two bright red curls to drape over the pretty blue fringe.

Rebecca slipped a delicate pink shawl over her equally flattering dress and pinched her cheeks in the mirror, her bright blue eyes shining large in anticipation of the party. Rachel swallowed a sigh and refused to be bothered by her cousin’s effortlessly superior beauty. Samuel Wickham had returned in one piece. Nothing could mar her happiness this night.

The cousins walked into the assembly room together and as they always did, every male eye turned toward Rebecca Appleby. She looked around the room, receiving their admiration as her due and searching for an agreeable partner.

“Who shall I make fall in love with me tonight?” she teased quietly to her cousin.

“Shh, they might hear you,” scolded Rachel with a smile.

Rebecca sighed. “Very well. I will spread out my attentions amongst them all.”

They laughed together until a young man approached and asked Rebecca for a dance. With a wink to her cousin, she was off. Rachel smiled at her antics and scanned the room, looking for the one face she had hoped to see this night. Finally, she saw a thick mop of sandy hair near the punch table and made her way thither.

It was him. He was thinner than when she had last seen him, and though she had expected him to be taller, he seemed the same height as ever.

“Mr. Wickham?” she said quietly.

He turned to face her, their eyes nearly at the same level, and looked at her quizzically. “Yes? Miss—?”

It was clear he did not remember her name, but she was too happy to see him to care.

“Connelly. Rachel Connelly.”

“Rachel Connelly!” he exclaimed in surprise. “You’re a woman now!” He reddened at his outburst and she blushed and laughed with him. “Forgive me, Miss Connelly. Of course, you grew up. It has been six years. You were what, thirteen, when I left?”

“Yes, just barely,” she said softly. “How are you?” Her eyes were full of concern and he smiled lightly.

“I am well enough. A little worse for the wear, but I hope to be set to rights soon enough. How have the years treated you?”

“Very well, thank you.”

They exchanged pleasantries and reminisced about their shared childhoods. He eventually told her of the canon fire that had permanently injured his leg and caused a constant limp, though he assured her it was no longer as painful as it had been. She giggled softly when he showed her his trick—when he stood on his right leg, he was merely an inch taller than her, but when he stood on his left, he grew two more.

Rachel couldn’t remember when she’d enjoyed an assembly more.

Rebecca had danced three in a row and went in search of something to drink. Rachel was standing near the punch bowl, talking to some disheveled man she didn’t recognize.

When Rachel saw her cousin approaching, she made the introductions. Rebecca had moved to Lambton the same month Samuel joined the army and neither remembered the other. Rebecca said she was glad he was returned safely and went off to find another partner. Rachel thought she had been a little rude, but she wasn’t sad to have Samuel to herself again and said nothing. She happily spent another quarter hour in conversation with him, with barely an interruption.

Before she knew it, the assembly was over and her grandmother was herding them toward home. Wickham said how good it had been to see her and that he hoped he would see her in the village soon. She assured him they would meet before long and with a shy smile, she bid him goodnight.

~

Rachel was elated. She had seen Samuel Wickham nearly every day for a month and she was sure she was in love with him. She thought he held her in some affection as well. She knew she wasn’t pretty; her complexion was ruddy and her hair was wild, and she had the height and shoulders of a man. Her bosom was pleasantly full, but instead of adding to her attractions, it made her appear all the larger. She knew she was quite homely in comparison to her cousin Rebecca. Becky was possessed of the sort of delicate beauty that drove men wild. Even had she not had shiny hair and a perfect smile, Rachel thought she would have compelled them through sheer force of personality alone. Rebecca had made an art of flirtation, and somehow, though Rachel could never see how she did it, she made whatever man she was speaking with feel like he was the greatest, bravest, most attractive man in the world.

Rachel had tried it once herself with disastrous results. She had only recovered by telling the poor man she had attempted to flirt with that she was unwell and thought she might be developing a fever. She had left the party quickly with a flushed face and the sting of humiliation in her eyes.

But Samuel Wickham was not like that. He was a good man, a kind man. He didn’t mind that she was nearly as tall as he was and just as stout. He had even told her that her hair looked like fire dancing atop her head. She had thought he was teasing her, but then he had looked at her in such a way, and smiled self-consciously, that she realized it was a compliment. She had thanked him and looked down, filled with nervous pleasure.

She encouraged him as much as she could. She even baked him a pie last week when she heard his brother was ill. Technically, it was for the whole family, but he had complimented her cooking and she had beamed with pride when he told her he’d never tasted better. She thought he might even offer for her. Surely he would, if things continued to progress in the same direction. He wasn’t the sort to toy with a woman’s affections.

Pemberley, Derbyshire, Spring 1784

“He’s a fine lad, Darcy. You must be very proud,” said Wickham as he looked at his oldest friend’s infant son.

“Thank you. I’m grateful it ended well. There was a little while when we thought,” he trailed off and looked toward the window. “It’s no matter now. Lady Anne is on the mend and Fitzwilliam is proving to be a healthy babe.”

“I’m surprised you didn’t name him after yourself,” said Wickham with a smile as his friend handed the babe over to a waiting nursemaid who whisked him away.

“We discussed it, but Anne’s family will appreciate the gesture.”

“I’m sure the old earl will be right pleased with his grandson.”

Darcy guffawed. “The old earl is pleased by very little. He already has two grandsons and his second daughter will be brought to bed any day, and he doesn’t seem any more pleased than he was before.”

Wickham made a noncommittal noise of agreement and Darcy poured them both a small glass of brandy.

“So what are you going to do with yourself now you are back, healthy and hale?” asked Darcy.

“I haven’t sorted that out yet. My brothers are using me a bit in the shop, but it can’t support three men, so I won’t be able to stay there long.”

Darcy nodded. “Have you thought of another line of business you’d like to go into?”

“I’ve toyed with a few ideas here and there, but nothing seems right just yet. Lambton doesn’t have many empty shops. There was talk Mr. Smith was going to sell his inn, but his nephew has decided to take it on.”

“Oh? Do you want to be an innkeeper then?”

“Not particularly, but it was an idea. I don’t know that I’d do well with all them stairs,” he said with a shake of his head. “My legs aren’t what they used to be.” He took a sip of his brandy and swallowed, inhaling sharply as it burned down his throat. “I’ve a fine head for numbers, always have, and my captain had me tracking supplies in America, so I wouldn’t be completely at sea in business, but I haven’t settled on anything yet. I hate to leave Lambton now that I’ve just got back, but I may need to in the end.”

Darcy nodded thoughtfully. “You’re a clever man, I’m sure you would succeed in any endeavor.”

Wickham smiled. “Thank you, friend. Now I just need to be lucky as well as clever.”

Darcy smiled enigmatically, and Wickham asked him what was so amusing.

“I have been thinking of something, but I am not sure if it would interest you.”

“Oh? What is it?” asked Wickham.

“My steward is retiring next year. He will need to be replaced soon. We have been looking for someone suitable to begin training with him, but the two men we have interviewed won’t do. Then you came back and I have been wondering, would you like to be a steward?”

Wickham stared at him open-mouthed. “A steward? Me?”

Darcy nodded.

“Steward of Pemberley?”

Darcy nodded again. “You could begin training with Mr. Sanders immediately. There is a cottage on the estate for you to use and a horse, of course. He would teach you everything you need to know. I am sure you will do well—you said it yourself: you’re very good with numbers, and I know you’re clever besides. You already know most of the neighbors and tenants and the merchants in Lambton, and you have their respect. But most importantly, I trust you.”

He looked at Wickham seriously and his friend looked back at him, his expression thoughtful.

“I’m honored you would think of me,” Samuel Wickham said quietly. “But are you certain? Steward is an important job, and I would hate to damage such a fine estate as Pemberley.”

George smiled. “You have confirmed I’ve chosen the right man. Pemberley has been in good hands for some time and won’t crumble to the ground with a few mistakes. You’ve proven you put the good of the estate in front of your own personal gains. That’s exactly the sort of man I want for the job.” Seeing Wickham’s doubtful face, he added, “Let us begin the training. If you find you are not suited to it, you may walk away with no amity between us.”

“I will say the same for you. If you find me unsatisfactory in any way, you must tell me and send me off. Don’t let our friendship stay your hand.”

George smiled and reached out a hand to his oldest friend. “So we have a deal? You will begin training as Pemberley’s steward?”

“Yes, we have a deal.”

~

“Is that him?” Rebecca nodded to the men across the busy Lambton street.

“The one talking to Samuel Wickham?” confirmed Rachel.

Rebecca nodded.

“Yes, that’s Mr. Darcy.”

“Why’s he talking to Wickham?” asked Rebecca.

“They’re old friends, of course.” At Rebecca’s look of surprise, Rachel said, “Oh, I’d forgotten you didn’t know them then. We all played together as children, the boys mostly, but I saw them racing to the horse chestnut tree nearly every afternoon. Samuel and George Darcy were always friends, since they were wee boys.”

“I see.”

Rachel wondered at the strange look in her cousin’s eyes but said nothing about it. “Let’s go into the shop. Mr. Simmons got some new ribbons in.”

Rebecca looked at the men a minute longer, then followed her cousin inside.

~

“How long will you be gone?” asked Rebecca.

“Only six weeks. Miss me already?” teased Rachel.

“I’m just wondering how many of your ribbons I can wear before you get back,” returned Rebecca. She smiled at her cousin and folded Rachel’s blue shawl and put it into the small trunk.

Rachel playfully emptied her drawer of every ribbon and put them into her trunk, and she and Rebecca dissolved into peals of laughter.

Soon enough, she was ready to depart. Rachel’s maternal uncle had invited her to visit some time ago, and she was finally making the trip. His daughter was approaching her lying in and Rachel would assist with her younger cousins while her aunt attended the birth. Her uncle was a successful carriage maker in Clayton, a town thirty miles west of Lambton. She would enjoy a nice visit with the family she only saw every few years and be of help to her aunt and cousins in the process. Fortuitously, a local shop keeper was traveling within five miles of her uncle’s home and had offered to let her accompany him and his wife. Rachel was happy for the opportunity and bid her grandmother, great-aunt, and cousin goodbye.

When she told Samuel Wickham she was going, he had seemed sad to hear it and said he would look forward to hearing all about her adventures when she returned. She could hardly allow herself to hope, but she thought she was not too amiss to expect him to declare himself when she returned in July. She could only hope her absence would make him realize how much his happiness had come to depend on her.

Chapter 3

Pemberley, Derbyshire, July 1784

“How is the training coming, Wickham?” asked Mr. Darcy.

“It’s coming along well, Mr. Darcy,” answered Samuel.

“What’s this Mr. Darcy business?” he asked. “You’ve always called me George, or Darcy.”

“Things are different now. You’re my employer.”

Darcy nearly laughed, but stopped himself when he saw the serious expression on his friend’s face. “Very well, Mr. Wickham, if that’s how you want it.”

“It is, sir,” Wickham replied.

Darcy gave him a small smile and asked about his mother, and the conversation moved on.

~

Rachel stepped off the coach, looking around her eagerly. It was so good to be home! The streets were familiar and the shopkeepers waved at her with a smile. Visiting her uncle had been pleasant, and she had enjoyed their company and especially seeing all the new sights, but nothing quite compared to Lambton for her. It would always be home. Her grandmother’s neighbor caught her attention. He had come to fetch her trunk with his cart. She pointed it out to him, thanked him kindly, and began the short walk home.

Ten minutes later, she was stepping into her grandmother’s rooms above the bookstore with a smile on her face. She found her grandmother and great aunt in the parlor, sewing with a pile of lace and ribbon on the sofa between them.

“Rachel! You’re back!” cried her grandmother. She rose and embraced Rachel, followed by her sister, and the two older women talked over each other trying to inform her of everything that had happened in her absence.

“Oh, but you haven’t heard the news!” cried her grandmother.

“Shh, Hannah, Rebecca will want to tell her herself,” said Great Aunt Appleby.

“Tell me what?” asked Rachel, bewildered.

The two women looked at her with matching expressions, deep-set blue eyes in gently lined faces, lips pinched as if to stop them from opening without permission.

Rachel continued to stare from one to the other, until finally her grandmother burst out with, “Rebecca is to be married!”

“Hannah!”

“Oh, hush, Abigail. She’ll find out soon enough.”

Abigail Appleby pursed her lips but was soon caught up in the tale her sister was telling. He had come to deliver firewood. Wasn’t that nice of him? And Rebecca had invited him in for tea. He had accepted—of course he had. He was a kind young man and Rebecca was so lovely. Who could resist her? They had had an easy conversation, and he had met her in town on several occasions, and she had spoken to him for above half an hour at the last assembly. Next thing they knew, they were betrothed. Wasn’t it wonderful?

Rachel followed the story with amused eyes, glancing back and forth between her aunt and grandmother. She had no idea whom they were talking of, but it all sounded regular enough. Though one’s only granddaughter does not marry every day, so she supposed it was due more excitement than she was allowing it.

Her Aunt Appleby continued. He had a good position lined up. He was in the early training period now, but soon enough he would have his own cottage, and a right nice one at that, and be surrounded by beautiful countryside. He would be given a horse to do his work and they were sure he could use the carriage sometimes, or perhaps the master would sell him an older one for a good price. They had a good relationship, always had. Everyone remarked on it. The master would be willing to assist such an old friend, surely. Look what he had done already? And there was no reason to think he would desist. Quite the contrary. They would grow closer than ever, with nearly daily proximity, and that could only benefit their Rebecca.

Rachel’s heart began thudding in her chest and a sick feeling filled her stomach.

“Who is the man? The man Rebecca will marry?”

“Why, Samuel Wickham, of course. Didn’t we say that?” said Aunt Appleby with a confused look at her sister. Not waiting for an answer, she continued on with details of the wedding and the gowns they were making for Rebecca, for surely she would sometimes be in Mrs. Darcy’s company, and the daughter of an earl was sure to always be dressed in the height of fashion.

Rachel felt her cheeks growing hot, and then her neck and ears until her scalp was tingling. She sank back on the cushions out of a sudden inability to hold herself upright. Samuel! And Rebecca! She had only been gone six weeks. What had happened? How had it happened? Rebecca knew Rachel was sweet on Samuel, she always had. She had teased her about it mercilessly.

How had it all gone so wrong?

~

Rachel was hanging her last gown in the closet when Rebecca waltzed in, all smiles and easy grace.

“Hello, cousin! Was your journey pleasant?” she asked airily.

“It was uneventful,” said Rachel plainly. She took her favorite blue shawl, the one she had been told made her eyes look like the clear Derbyshire sky in high summer by a drunken dance partner once, and draped it over the peg by the door.

“How was your family? Is everyone well?” asked Rebecca, as if everything was exactly as it had always been.

“They are perfectly well, thank you. They send their regards.”

Rebecca fixed her hair in the small mirror over their shared dressing table. Satisfied with her superior appearance, she turned to her cousin and said, “So Aunt and Gran have told you my news?”

She smiled expectantly, clearly waiting for praise and congratulations from her cousin. Rachel thought she would be sick.

“Yes, I heard. You are to be married.”

“In three weeks!” cried Rebecca. “The banns were read last Sunday in church for the first time. I was so giddy when they called my name; I had gooseflesh all over.”

Rachel looked at her skeptically, then turned away to place her neatly folded petticoat in a drawer.

Rebecca continued on, oblivious to her audience’s lack of reception. She spoke of the bonnet she had purchased for the occasion—it cost an entire month’s allowance, but it was her wedding, after all—and the dress her gran was making for her. It would be cornflower blue, to bring out her eyes. She thought they were her best feature, did her cousin not agree?

“And you must stand up with me, of course!”

“What?” Rachel whipped around, her face clearly expressing her shock.

“Of course, you must! You are my cousin—we share a home. We are almost as sisters!” She crossed the small room and took Rachel’s cold hands in her own. “Say you will stand by me on the last day I am an Appleby. It will be a lifelong memory and I want you to be in it,” she said earnestly.

Rachel looked at her, her mind in riot, before finally saying, “Yes, Cousin, I will stand up with you.”

Rebecca beamed at her while Rachel barely held back the bile rising up from her stomach. 

~

There were a few teas and a party thrown by Mrs. Simmons, the milliner’s wife, but otherwise Rachel stayed away from all society until the wedding. She had not seen Samuel since before she visited her relations—when he had told her he would miss her. When she had been so sure there was something between them, that this thing she felt was not hers alone. But she had been a fool. Samuel Wickham had never thought of her. Why would he? Her hair was red and wild, her shoulders too broad, her height too high, her arms too strong to be feminine but not strong enough to be useful.

She could not even remind herself of her bright blue eyes—eyes like the Derbyshire sky in high summer—or of her pretty smile or easy disposition. She only saw hands that were worn from helping in the kitchen, and a face that was a little too broad to be pretty. She would never look like a delicate lady. She was too much like a man to be wanted by one. She was doomed to be a spinster and there was no use pretending otherwise. 

The morning of the wedding, she wore a green dress and walked to the church with her grandmother. Rebecca had wanted to put her in yellow—a color that always made her look sallow and splotchy—but her grandmother had refused. Yellow may have been Rebecca’s favorite color, though Rachel didn’t remember her ever loving yellow before, but Hannah Connelly refused to let her granddaughter look ridiculous at her own cousin’s wedding. She had worked all hours making a beautiful green dress for Rachel. It had simple lines and was gracefully decorated with embroidered flowers and a tiny bit of lace trim. Rachel had never looked more lovely. How ironic that it was for her cousin’s wedding to the man she loved, instead of her own.

She entered the church with her head held high and swept to the front of the chapel. She heard appreciative murmurs behind her, but she kept her eyes on the vicar and did not look away. When she took her place at the altar, she thought she felt Samuel’s eyes on her, but she refused to look at him. She would completely break down if she did, and she refused to humiliate herself in front of the entire town.

Finally, it was over, and they were signing the register. It was then that she realized Mr. Darcy was standing up with Samuel. He smiled at her kindly and handed her the pen and thanked her when she returned it. He made sure to take her arm and escort her out, and she felt him pull her a little closer when everyone crowded around to congratulate the young couple. He was probably the only man within ten miles whom she would look small standing beside, but she was too distracted to enjoy the novelty. Though she did clench Mr. Darcy’s arm when Samuel thanked him for standing up with him, her eyes glued to the stone pavers outside the church, and she was grateful for his bulk that allowed her to hide behind him.

Mr. Darcy seemed to recognize her need for privacy and shielded her first from Samuel, then from the crowd around them. When everyone had dissipated and it was time to go to the breakfast, Rachel gave him a watery smile in silent thanks and he returned it, patting her hand gently and looking at her with a strange expression.

It would take her some time to comprehend it, but she eventually recognized the look in Mr. Darcy’s eyes. It was pity.

Commen please! I’d love to know your thoughts!

Sons of Pemberley 1

Hello loveys! I’m doing something I’ve never done before – posting a long story (also known as the one about to be a book) on this site.

I’ve been working on this one for a while now, and you may have seen me reading excerpts at the JAFF in June conference hosted by Austen Variations. This story is long and involved, with a lot of characters and plot-lines and spanning a few decades. There are date markers to help keep everything straight, and I am making family trees to insert here and there.

Each installment will have a number after the title (see above) so you can keep them straight. I’ll be posting frequently; you may want to subscribe to get regular updates. This is going to be fun!

A few housekeeping details:

  1. Please comment! A big part of why I do this is to get feedback from readers. I’d love to know your thoughts on the characters, the story, the setting, whatever. Just please be civil (to me and to each other) and don’t get hypercritical in public. It’s just rude. If you feel a burning need to dump a boat load of creative criticism, please email me at elizabethadamswrites@gmail.com and spare my artistic ego a public flogging.
  2. THIS IS TEMPORARY. When the book is published, this will come down. You’ve been warned.
  3. I’m still working on the end of this book, so what you read here may not be what ends up in the published version. I may post outtakes later. We’ll see.
  4. Comments are moderated, as per usual. Anything that is polite and not spam will get through. It just might take a little while. Regular commenters automatically bypass moderation.

**Family Tree Added**

Sons of Pemberley

By Elizabeth Adams

Prologue

Lambton, Derbyshire, Summer 1769

Samuel Wickham walked through the woods with his fishing pole over one shoulder and a string of fish over the other. His mother would be pleased with his catch; he could almost hear the grease crackling in the pan on the old stove. He was lost enough in his imaginings that he didn’t hear the footsteps running towards him until he was nearly bowled over by a boy a little smaller than himself.

“Oy! Watch yerself!” cried Samuel.

“Pardon!” cried the boy. “I must fetch help!”

The boy took off running again and Samuel called after him, asking what the problem was. The smaller boy yelled over his shoulder, “My cousin! At the pond!”

Wickham’s eyes grew wide. He dropped his pole and fish and sprinted in the direction the boy had run from. The Dark Pond was a quarter mile away, just on the boundary of Pemberley and another small farm. Samuel could run like a deer and he was at the pond’s edge before he lost his breath.

He scanned the surface of the water, seeing nothing out of the ordinary. Then, so suddenly it made his breath catch, a pale hand shot up out of the water, followed by a gasping mouth that quickly sunk back into the pond.

Samuel shucked off his shoes and pulled his shirt over his head before diving in. The water was murky and filled with reeds and other plants. He could hardly see an arm’s length in front of him. He swam toward where he thought he had seen the flailing arm, but he had to resurface for air and find his bearings. Finally, he saw what looked like an opaque wall where he knew the center of the pond to be. He hoped the cloudiness of the water was caused by someone attempting to swim free and pushed down his fear of creatures lurking on the muddy floor. He felt his way through the cloud and soon came into contact with flesh. He grabbed an arm and pulled the limp body toward him. Soon he had reached the surface and swam as fast as he could to the ledge.

He laid the small body on his side and pounded the boy’s back as he had seen his father do. He said a prayer, then another, and continued to hit the boy high on his back as he balanced him on his side, water trickling from his mouth.

Finally, when Samuel had all but given up, the boy coughed and spluttered and spat up the pond water. He fell onto his stomach, continuing to spit and hack, and pushed himself up on his elbows.

“Are you well?” asked Samuel.

The boy turned his head and looked at him with dazed eyes.

“Can you speak?”

The boy continued to stare at him and Samuel began to worry.

“Your cousin has gone to fetch help. Someone should be along soon.”

“My cousin?”

Samuel sighed in relief. “You can talk!”

“Of course, I can talk,” said the boy, looking mildly insulted.

“Well you cannot swim. It didn’t seem much of a stretch to think you couldn’t talk either.”

The boy looked at him in shock, his mouth dropped nearly to his chest. After a minute of silence, his shoulders began to shake, and he laughed breathily, interspersed with coughing, until he was shaking and guffawing loudly. Samuel Wickham joined him and shook his head until the other boy quieted.

“George Darcy of Pemberley,” said the boy with a hand outstretched. “I’m pleased to make your acquaintance.”

“Samuel Wickham of Lambton. Pleased to meet you.”

Lambton, Derbyshire, Summer 1776

“I hear Master Darcy’s back from Eton,” said Michael.

“Yes, he wrote he would arrive soon,” replied Samuel.

“You two still writing letters?” asked his brother.

“Of course,” replied Samuel Wickham. “Why wouldn’t we?”

Michael gave him an eloquent look and Samuel looked away.

“We’ve been friends near our entire lives. George is loyal,” Samuel defended.

“Aye, that he is, I’ll say that for him. He sent mother a basket of fruit this morning.”

“He did?” asked Samuel in surprise.

“Aye. Straight from the Pemberley orangery.”

His brother smiled and Samuel looked away again. The disparity in their situations had never bothered the two young boys when they were running across Pemberley’s fields or racing to the village green. But as they got older, Wickham couldn’t help but see the differences in their stations. His uncle was a gardener at Pemberley and his family had a small cottage in Lambton. George’s father owned Pemberley—an enormous mansion surrounded by miles of land all belonging to them and more besides.

Some days, he was surprised George Darcy still wanted to be his friend. But his brother Michael was right: George was nothing if not loyal.

~

“Come back here, George Darcy!”

“You’ll have to catch me first, Wickham!” George ran down the slope, his legs flying beneath him.

Wickham finally caught up to him by the creek on Pemberley’s eastern border and George reluctantly gave back the hat he had swiped from his friend’s head. They cooled themselves and sat in the soft grass, talking like childhood friends are wont to do after a long separation.

After nearly an hour of easy conversation, Samuel looked away and told his friend his news: he was leaving Derbyshire.

“What? Why are they sending you away? Can you not be apprenticed here?” asked George.

 “I’m not being apprenticed. I’m joining the army.”

“The army! But why?”

“Because Michael and Gabriel will take on father’s business, and David has already joined the navy. I can’t stay home like my sisters. I have to earn my way.”

George shook his head. “They’ll send you to America.” Wickham looked away and George exclaimed, “What if you get shot?”

Wickham smiled his crooked grin and said, “I’ll try not to. I imagine it’s fair unpleasant.”

George shoved his arm as his friend laughed, then sighed and looked at him in resignation. “I wish you well, Samuel Wickham.” 

“Same to you, George Darcy.”

Chapter 1

London, Spring 1811

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a young man can refuse any woman who wishes him to dance when he would rather not—except his mother.

“Fitzwilliam, I must have you dance. Allow me to find you a partner.”

“Yes, Mother,” he said dutifully.

She smiled at his reluctance and led him to his cousin, Lady Arabella Dryden. He smiled at her in thanks and led his cousin to the floor.

“Are you enjoying the Season, Cousin?” she asked.

“Not as much as you,” he replied.

She laughed. “Be careful, Darcy, or it might become known you have a sense of humor.”

“Have you made any conquests yet?” he asked, ignoring her teasing look.

“Of course!” she cried. “Lord Epping has called on me twice, but I don’t think I could bear to look at his face across the breakfast table every day, so I will let him down gently.”

“How kind of you,” said Darcy dryly.

“And of course there is Mr. Arlington. You remember him from last Season. He is a very determined man. No matter how many times I tell him I am not interested in his attentions he insists on pursuing me. He is forcing me to be rude.”

Darcy shook his head and separated from her for a minute.

“Are there any gentlemen you wish to encourage?” he asked when the movement brought them back together.

“Well, there is one,” she said slyly. “But mother will not like him. His estate is small and he has no title. But he does have the loveliest smile,” she sighed and turned around him and Darcy barely resisted rolling his eyes.

His young cousin was pretty, rich, and well connected—her father was an earl and her mother was the daughter of one of the wealthiest peers in the realm. Her family had high expectations of her marriage and she was determined to enjoy a few Seasons before settling down to a Life of Sameness as she called it. Her first Season had been wildly successful. She had been invited to every party, soiree, and ball, and danced every dance. Eligible gentlemen were falling over themselves to court her and she turned them all down, with a smile and an offer of friendship. She had introduced two of her would-be suitors to the ladies they eventually married—and she had no qualms taking credit for the matches.

In short, she was a force to be reckoned with and one he was glad was on his side—as long as she didn’t turn her match-making skills on him.

~

“Will Mr. Bingley come to Pemberley this summer?” asked Lady Anne at breakfast.

“I have invited him, but his plans are not fixed. He should let me know soon enough.”

She nodded. “Is he still planning to lease an estate?”

Darcy nodded.

“You should send him to Blackwood. He may know of something.”

“I already have,” he said with a smile before biting his toast.

She returned it with an almost identical smile of her own. “I should have known. My ever-capable son.”

He nodded in thanks and they ate quietly until Lady Anne said, “What do you think of the seaside?”

“In general, or for a specific purpose?”

She ignored his impertinence. “I have thought of taking the children this summer. Luke was so young last we went I doubt he remembers it. Georgiana has been longing to go since her friends from school went last year and told her all about it. I have never seen her so envious as when she was recounting their adventures.”

“Did you have somewhere in mind? Brighton or Ramsgate?”

“I had thought Margate. Brighton will be terribly overrun and even Ramsgate will be crowded. Margate will be peaceful and idyllic, don’t you think? Your father and I stayed there in ninety. It was lovely.”

“That was twenty years ago.”

She shot him a look. “I am sure the sea is still there, Fitzwilliam. I will write to my cousin and see if she wishes to join us.”

“Very well. I will ask Jones to inquire about renting a cottage.”

“Thank you, my dear, but that won’t be necessary. I’m sure my uncle will grant us the use of his house. You are welcome to join us, you know. If Mr. Bingley has not committed to a visit yet, it may be the perfect time to adjust your plans. The children would love it if you came—Luke especially.”

“I will think about it, Mother.”

She smiled and left the table.

~

The third week of June, the Darcy family left London and made their way to Margate. Darcy, his closest friend Mr. Bingley, and his brothers Nathaniel and Luke rode alongside the carriage. Lady Anne Darcy, her daughter Georgiana, her cousin Lady Julia Dryden, the countess of Livingstone, and that lady’s daughter Lady Marianne Pickering rode inside.

Lady Julia and Lady Anne’s mothers had been sisters; Anne and Julia had grown up together, gone to school together, come out together, and married within a month of each other. Their friendship was a steady one, and they spent much time together over the years.

Lady Julia’s eldest daughter, Marianne—born a month after her cousin, Fitzwilliam—was expecting her third child and spending the summer with her mother and aunt. Her sons were with her husband’s parents in Shropshire—at their insistence—while her husband himself was on the peninsula. He was a colonel in the eighty-second light division. She would have followed the drum as she had done in previous summers, but her pregnancy kept her in England until the babe was safely delivered.

Lady Marianne could have done better than a second son and a colonel—with her dowry and connections she could have gotten a first son and heir, or so her mother lamented, but she would have the colonel and none other, and his father was an earl, so her parents could not object too much. Privately, Marianne thought herself too plain to bring a high price on the marriage mart, but she would not point this out herself if others were disinclined to notice it. Her youngest sister was toying with the heir of a marquess; that would have to satisfy her mother’s plans for matrimonial greatness.

They arrived in Margate with little hassle and made themselves at home in the rambling house. Lady Anne had been born a Fitzwilliam; her mother, and Lady Julia’s mother, had been born Digbys, of the Somerset Digbys. This house was owned by her maternal uncle, Sir Colin Digby, and Lady Anne smiled to see the family crest framed simply in the vestibule.

“Where do you want me, Lady Anne?” asked Marianne in her straightforward manner.

Anne smiled. Marianne spoke as plainly as she dressed, yet she could not help but find it refreshing. “Let us see if Mildred has ruined anything with her redecorating,” she answered as she led the way up the stairs.

Mildred Digby was her cousin’s wife, who, with Colin Digby’s declining health and increasing years, had begun redecorating his homes as if they were already hers. It was terribly indelicate, and Anne felt no shame in despising her for it. Her Uncle Digby was greatly loved and valued by his family, and she found anyone who wished his death a moment earlier than God ordained it to be unworthy of her time and heartless in the extreme.

“Let’s put you here,” she said to Marianne. They entered a breezy room with large windows facing the sea. “If Fitzwilliam says anything about you getting the best room, tell him pregnancy earns you precedence. And then send him to me.”

Marianne returned her mischievous smile and began to settle in. Her mother’s maid bustled in shortly to help her unpack. Marianne refused to keep her own maid; it was impossible to have one always with her on campaign—one of the lower soldier’s wives was usually happy for the little work she gave them, and when she was with her family or her husband’s there was always someone who would do to help her with what she couldn’t manage herself. She would much rather save the expense—and herself the trouble of elaborate hairstyles and ridiculous gowns.

The women in her family were horrified by this, naturally.

Lady Anne settled everyone into their rooms, Nathaniel and Luke sharing a chamber at the back of the house and Fitzwilliam and Charles Bingley in linked rooms far from the ladies.

Lady Anne rather liked Charles Bingley. He was not who she would have originally chosen as a close friend for her son, but he was a significant improvement over George Wickham, whom she thought was not worth the breath one wasted in talking of him. Bingley’s fortune had come from trade, but she was not so blinded by prejudice that she could not see how kind he was, and how genuine his affection for her son. His father had educated him as a gentleman and he was looking to purchase an estate of his own. All of this would of course make him more acceptable to her circles, and she would do what she could for the boy. It was rare to find someone so pure of heart, so utterly bereft of malice. His situation was not ideal, but his character was exactly what her son needed in a friend. And she could admit to being a little beguiled by him herself.

He reminded her of her husband, and of her son Luke. So cheerful and unguarded. Fitzwilliam was more like herself—reserved, thoughtful, preferring intelligent discussions and debates to light conversations on inconsequential topics. She and George Darcy had been good for each other that way. She had grounded him when he became too carried away by his own joie de vivre; he had lifted her out of what could have become a depressing well of silence and introspection. 

She hoped Mr. Bingley would be as lightening an influence on her son as her husband had been on her.

~

The beach was perfect. Darcy took his brothers swimming with Bingley and only had to fish Luke out of the deep water once. His youngest brother had come up spitting and gasping, declaring that he would have righted himself in a moment and his brother’s interference had not been necessary. Darcy had laughed, then apologized for doubting Luke’s aquatic abilities.

Georgiana split her time between the pianoforte and her cousin Marianne. She was fascinated by her cousin’s life. Marianne had been on the peninsula several times since she married seven years ago, traveling with her husband’s regiment. Marianne had seen the troops prepare for battle, and even assisted the surgeon by organizing supplies for operations. She had slept in a tent, and been on a ship, and ridden across Portugal on a horse.

Georgiana peppered Marianne with questions while stitching a cap for the baby; she adjusted her cousin’s shawl, brought her a cushion when she looked uncomfortable, and always poured her tea exactly the way she liked it. Lady Anne and Lady Livingstone found it terribly amusing, but they never let Georgiana see for fear she would be embarrassed and cease to be so entertaining. Lady Anne would never admit it out loud, but she too enjoyed hearing stories of life following the drum. It was so very different from what she had always known; she couldn’t help but be fascinated.

~

“Why are you hiding away by yourself?” asked Marianne when she came upon Fitzwilliam in the garden.

“I am not hiding,” he said, straightening his back on the bench he was sitting on.

“Of course, you aren’t. You are merely sitting on a bench by yourself behind a hedge in an empty garden. I can’t imagine why I thought you were hiding.”

He glanced sideways at his cousin and gave her a half smile. “You are too observant for your own good, Marianne.”

“Out with it. What has you hiding from your dear mama and mine?”

He looked into the empty garden and said nothing.

“Shall I guess?” He gave her another look and she continued, “Your mother has found the perfect woman for you to marry, from a good family and with a respectable dowry. If it wasn’t for her hair, her face, and her personality, you would be thrilled with the match.”

He grimaced.

“Am I right?”

“Nearly.”

She looked at him expectantly.

“Her hair is tolerable.”

Marianne burst out laughing. “Poor Fitzwilliam!” After she had calmed a bit, she touched his arm gently. “I am sorry. I know it’s awful when they play matchmaker.”

“How did you stand it?” he asked after a few minutes of silence.

“I chose my own husband before they could get too far in their scheming.”

Darcy scoffed.

“Mother wasn’t happy he had no estate, but at least the connection was good. And I think she was beginning to think I wouldn’t marry at all,” she added ruefully.

“You were twenty when you married Pickering. Hardly an old maid!” Darcy replied.

“It was my third season and she had wanted me to marry my second. Remember Josiah Cuthbert?”

Darcy groaned. “How could I forget? I can’t believe she considered him.”

“If that’s what you thought of him, imagine how I felt! Thank God for Father. He put him off before he could propose. Though I have wondered if it was because he didn’t like him, or if he thought I would refuse him and cause a scandal,” she said thoughtfully.

“I imagine it was a little of both.”

“Yes, likely so.” She turned to face him again and put one hand on her protruding belly. “You will not distract me so easily, Cousin. Why not simply choose a woman to marry yourself? You’re attractive, respectable, wealthy. It shouldn’t be too difficult to find a decent woman to marry you.”

“Thank you for the glowing praise,” he said. He looked heavenward and sighed. “It is not that I am averse to marriage altogether, but…” he trailed off.

“But you have not met anyone you wish to be married to?”

“Yes.”

“A wise choice, Cousin. Marriage is for life; it’s better to frustrate your family a little now than frustrate yourself for the remainder of your life.”

“I cannot disagree with you.”

“Take it from a woman who has been married some time now. Your choice of partner may be the most important decision you make in life. There is so little we have control over. We know not when or where we will be born or die, if we will have children or how many,” she said with a rub to her belly. “So much is left to chance. This is one arena where you may exercise some discretion. I suggest you take it.”

“Did you learn that in a tent in Portugal?” he teased her.

“You may laugh, but some of the happiest times of my life were spent in Portugal, splattered with mud, bone tired, alone in a tent with Henry. I can’t imagine being half as happy in the same circumstances with anyone else.” She watched her cousin’s thoughtful expression for a moment. “May you find a woman you wouldn’t mind spending months in a tent with.” She smiled and left him to his thoughts.

~

“Care to share your thoughts, Fitzwilliam?” asked Lady Anne quietly as she sat next to her eldest son on the beach.

He looked out across the water, watching his brothers and Bingley chase a crab along the surf. They darted in and out of the waves, laughing and calling to each other in excitement.

“Sometimes I think Bingley is more like Nathaniel and Luke than I am,” he said thoughtfully.

“They are full young. You were not so very different when you were their age; you simply do not remember it as such. And you have a great many responsibilities, thrust on you when you were very young.” He turned to face her, and she brushed the hair off his forehead tenderly. He smiled gently at the gesture and she looked at him with soft eyes. “You are more like me, Son. Reserved, calm, as likely to observe as to participate. It is no less estimable than one who is lively. I daresay your quiet nature will serve you well in the years to come. It has certainly kept you out of trouble thus far.”

They shared a rueful smile and she continued, “Your brothers are more like your father. Careening wildly through life, looking for something to anchor them, though they do not know it yet. I was that anchor for your father, and I perform a similar office for your brothers, alongside yourself. All too soon they will grow up and marry shy, blushing ladies I can only hope will be the steadfast companions they need.”

They watched the young Darcys running on the beach quietly for a few minutes.

“I do not think you would suit a quiet woman,” Lady Anne finally said.

Darcy turned to her in surprise. “Oh?”

“Just as I needed your father’s joy in life, his optimism, you need a woman who can make you laugh, who will not allow you to remain silent for three days together.” She nudged him gently with her shoulder and he shook his head, his hair falling over his brow again and ruffling in the breeze as they continued to watch the waves roll in, falling into silence as they so often did. “It is a mother’s prerogative to see her children well-married. I know you have been considering it of late.”

His head snapped toward her with wide eyes and she looked at him knowingly. He finally hung his head in recognition of his mother’s understanding. “I, I do not…” he tried to speak, but could not form the words he wanted to say.

“I am sorry I pushed you,” she said. He looked at her in surprise again, wondering if this was a day for astonishment. She gave him a guilty smile. “You are my eldest son, the heir, my firstborn. You have a special place in my heart, Fitzwilliam, more than you will ever know.”

She looked at him with watery eyes and he nodded, leaning over to kiss her cheek softly. He knew of what she spoke. He remembered long afternoons spent reading with her on her bed when she was too ill to rise. He had seen the tiny graves in the churchyard.

“I know, Mother. We are of a kind, you and I.” They sat quietly for some minutes before Fitzwilliam spoke hesitantly, “I should like to marry a good woman. One I hold in affection.” He squinted into the waning sunlight and whispered, “I should like to be happy.”

Lady Anne rested her head on her son’s strong shoulder and watched her children frolicking, a soft sigh escaping her.

“Very well. I will leave you be.”

“Thank you.”

“Promise me something. Do not leave it forever. I would like to see grandchildren while I am still young enough to hold them.”

“Very well, Mother.”