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!