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 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.
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**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.”