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This is the last post for this book. The next book I’ll refresh and share will be Lilacs & Lavender. It will be a few weeks before I start posting that. I’ve had to obtain outside employment and so my time will be somewhat limited for a while.
Want to go back and read the previous chapters?
The Darcy family enjoyed the winter at Pemberley, once the holiday festivities had played themselves out. At that time, the weather turned snowy. For weeks, no one stirred from before their fire except to tend to livestock. There was no riding about the estate, no visiting the neighbors or shopping in Lambton, and no going to church. Not even the post made it through the deep snowdrifts and bone-chilling cold. Eventually, however, the weather broke, becoming milder and giving the residents of the area a chance to dig themselves out and move about once more.
By the last day of January, the entire Darcy family had returned to town. Georgiana willingly went back to school, eager to share with her friends stories of her time away and to hear theirs. Her father and siblings were equally as willing, though perhaps less eager, to do their duty, as well.
For the adult Darcys, the season meant returning to the endless rounds of balls and parties. Fitzwilliam had never enjoyed socializing. He found it much easier to bear with a wife at his side. Elizabeth was not averse to it, really, but in the past year had suffered greatly at such events. However, she was returning to town this time with a sense of confidence she had not felt for almost a year. She was determined to allow no one to intimidate her ever again. George Darcy had no strong feelings about the season at all. It was simply his duty to attend events and represent his family.
Jane joined them at Darcy House in mid-February, after spending a few weeks with the Gardiners. Her courtship with Bingley was progressing well. She had missed his company while he was in Derbyshire, and was glad to see him when he returned. Now that she was staying with her sister, she knew she would see more of him and accompany him to as many events as possible. The only thing that would make her happier was an offer of marriage.
The Darcys had not been long returned before invitations began to pour in. Every day’s post brought another handful. Most were discussed and the relative merits of attendance decided upon before a decision was made. Of course, some events were more important than others. A few were immediately consigned to the fire. Eventually, the most important first event of the season was deemed to be a ball to be held at St. James’ Palace, in one week.
Generally, an event such as this would require a new gown. However, since Elizabeth had dresses that she had not yet worn, and styles had not changed significantly from last season, according to Madame Claire, she decided to wear something from her closet. Madame was relieved, for even though a rush order would mean more money in her pocket, there were many ladies who ordered at the last possible minute. Mrs. Darcy had commissioned an impressive amount of new gowns for the season; she was not concerned about the extra payment and appreciated having more time to work on other orders.
The day of the ball, Elizabeth prepared with a glint in her eye. Everyone around her from her servants to her family noticed something was different. She answered no inquiries, however. When her husband asked after her health, she simply assured him she was well. When her maid asked if there was anything she could get for her mistress’ comfort, Elizabeth replied with a quiet, “No, thank you.” When she finally descended the stairs to where Fitzwilliam and Papa George stood waiting, the stunned looks on their faces elicited a smug one on hers.
Mr. Darcy looked away, hiding the smile that had begun to spread at the dumbfounded look his son was giving Elizabeth. Given the self-satisfied one she wore, this was planned.
“Elizabeth,” Fitzwilliam stuttered, “you look … magnificent!”
“Thank you, my love. Are we ready?” She inquired as he took her hand.
“Indeed. We were waiting only upon you.” He paused before asking, “Are you well?”
“Yes, darling, I am very well. I cannot explain it, but I feel somehow different. I know I will likely face continued criticism, but I survived last season’s events, as well as those in Derbyshire this summer. I know I have your support and that of Papa George,” She squeezed her husband’s hand with her own while reaching her free one out to her father-in-law. Holding it tightly and looking up to his face, she continued. “Perhaps I have my confidence back in some measure. I know that besides having two such handsome defenders by my side, I am wearing a stunning gown that leaves me feeling beautiful whenever I look in the glass. Perhaps,” she teased, “two gentlemen such as you do not understand the power of a good wardrobe.”
Her husband and his father laughed, before letting her go so she could don the pelisse held by the maid. They entered the carriage in high spirits.
Hours later, they disembarked in the same mood. This first ball had been a wild success for Elizabeth. All of London society would be talking on the morrow of her poise and serenity. She had shown no fear, and even the Prince Regent had asked her to dance, entranced as he was with her display of assurance and wit.
Her triumph did not end there. At every event she attended, she gathered more admirers, both male and female. And with every admirer gained, her confidence grew. By the end of this season, her second as a married woman, Elizabeth Darcy would be known far and wide as a woman worthy of deference and respect. There were, as there always will be, naysayers; but her certainty that she belonged, combined with the sure knowledge of all the ton that her family members were her staunchest supporters, convinced the majority to accept her unconditionally. She was actively sought as a guest at every event, and her patronage requested for the most popular charities.
Her husband and her Papa George could not have been more proud. And while Fitzwilliam resented every dance that took her away from him and into the company of another man, he contented himself with the knowledge that it would be he taking her home. His wife encouraged him to dance rather than stand along the wall and glower at her partners, and to please her, he began asking the young ladies who lacked partners. His own reputation in society was raised as a result, for he was no longer seen as quite so haughty.
While their evenings were filled with enjoyable, though exhausting, soirees, the Darcys’ days were less varied. As usual, George and his son were taken frequently with business. Often it was Pemberley business, but there were other estates to manage, as well as investments.
Elizabeth maintained in London the habit she had begun at home of beginning her day in conference with the housekeeper. Mrs. Bishop was very glad to see her mistress much recovered from the happenings of last year. She was in the habit of exchanging letters with Mrs. Reynolds, who could not say enough good things about Mrs. Darcy and her progress with all things related to a household. To see evidence of it before her was a glorious thing.
As often as they could, the Darcys visited with the Gardiners, either at Darcy House or at the Gardiner home. The family had been unable to visit this past summer, due to a new addition to the family. Mrs. Gardiner had been suffering from the early effects of a pregnancy at that time, and her spouse had decided to keep his wife at home. It was the first summer they had missed visiting the Darcy estate in many years, and the loss was keenly felt by all.
One of the activities that Elizabeth was required to participate in was visits. Her day “at home” was Wednesday, and her day every week for visiting was Thursday. Her feelings about these visits were mixed. While she felt as confident as ever, it did not follow that she desired to spend any more time with members of her new society than she absolutely had to. However, one could learn quite a bit if one kept one’s lips closed and ears open during these visits.
One of the things she learned a month into the season was about her former nemesis, Lady Penelope Mays. When she later related the story to Fitzwilliam, she was all glee, for despite doing her best to live in love with all men, as she learned in church, she was still a human being with all the frailties accompanying that state.
“Lady Susan was there, Fitzwilliam, and do you know what she told me?”
“No, but judging by the eagerness in your voice, it must have been very interesting.”
“Indeed it is! She told me that she heard from Mrs. Jackson that Lady Penelope has disappeared.”
“Disappeared! Is it certain?” By now, Fitzwilliam could see why Elizabeth was so excited by the news. He was certainly intrigued!
“Quite certain. Mrs. Jackson had it in a letter from a neighbor. You know, of course, that the Mays’ estate is in the same area as the Jacksons’.” At his nod, she added, “Well, this neighbor of the Jacksons added into this letter that Lady Penelope’s maid was looking for a position, and when the maid was asked why she was let go, said that her mistress had packed a bag and rode away one night on a draft horse. No one saw Lady Penelope; the horse was missing in the morning and when it was discovered that the daughter of the house was also missing, it was assumed the two events were related.”
“And there has been no word of her?”
“Did her father search for her?”
Elizabeth nodded, “According to Mrs. Jackson’s information, yes. For months. I cannot imagine he has stopped as of yet. I certainly would never stop searching for my daughter, were she to go missing.”
“I can guarantee that no daughter of ours would ever go missing. Any girls we have will be raised to respect themselves and others, including their parents,” Fitzwilliam declared firmly. “But in the event one of your daughters should be so rebellious as to disappear in the night, be assured I would leave no stone unturned in the search to return her to you.”
“Oh, she would be my daughter, were she to disappear?”
“Indeed,” he replied in the haughtiest voice he could manage given his position in bed with his wife and the accompanying nudity. “For no daughter of mine would ever be inclined to leave my side. From you, however, they would run screaming as soon as they were of age!”
Elizabeth’s mouth hung open for few seconds, partly in surprise at her husband’s tease but partly because she had no words with which to fight such a fanciful notion.
“Well. Are we not just full of ourselves tonight? It would not be me they flee, oh husband mine, but you and your ever-present scowl.” She scoffed, narrowing her eyes at his innocent look. “For that, you will pay,” she added, attacking his sides with her fingers.
He yelped at the unexpected assault, curling into a ball, at the same time grabbing for one of her hands. Not too much later, he was the tickler and she his victim, until she pled for mercy and he let her go.
One day not long after this conversation, Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth planned to go shopping. Fitzwilliam’s favorite book shop had some new volumes recently delivered, and he wished to peruse them as soon as possible. They were to make other stops, as well, and so as they broke their fast that morning, they asked Mr. Darcy if he should like to ride along. He declined, citing a meeting with his attorney.
Shortly after his children left for Bond Street, Darcy also boarded a carriage. Four streets away, he realized he had forgotten a sheaf of papers he needed, and rapped on the carriage to alert the driver to stop. After a brief conversation between Darcy and a footman, the equipage moved again, this time turning down a side street to make the trip back to Darcy House.
Unbeknownst to Darcy, a young man he would have trusted with his life was about to steal from him. George Wickham, son of Pemberley’s steward, was a favorite of George Darcy’s, his godson, and he had provided in his will a living that would set the young man up for life, if he would take Holy Orders.
Young Wickham was outgoing and charming, the total opposite of Darcy’s own son. The boys had practically grown up together at Pemberley, as close as brothers, or so Darcy thought.
Once he had sent the boys off to school, he began noticing a subtle change in their relationship. Attributing it to the expansion of their group of friends, he paid it no mind. However, upon the young men reaching University, the chasm between them seemed to grow wider. Fitzwilliam was unfailingly polite to his childhood playmate, but when it came time to socialize, he chose other companions. Darcy could not imagine them growing completely apart, so again he let it go, hoping that with time and maturity, they would mend fences.
Then one day last spring, shortly before Fitzwilliam’s marriage, Darcy had learned, while dining at White’s with another landowner, of many misdeeds that his favorite had committed. Not inclined at first to believe what he considered an idle report, he learned that his tablemate gained his information from his own son, who was part of the group that entered Cambridge when Fitzwilliam and young Wickham did. The next time Darcy saw his godson, he witnessed inappropriate behavior on Wickham’s part towards Elizabeth and discerned Fitzwilliam’s anger. He had given Wickham a stern talking to and sent him off with a few coins in his pocket, trusting that the boy would straighten himself out.
So, when he walked back into his study on this particular morning, he was shocked to see his favorite trying to pick the lock on a strongbox that held money for the household accounts.
“George! What are you doing?”
George Wickham jumped, as he had not heard the old man enter the room. “Um, I was just …” He stammered. “Fitzwilliam asked me to bring some funds to him. He was … he was at the confectioner’s with Mrs. Darcy and forgot his wallet.”
Darcy knew this information was incorrect, because he had spoken to his son and daughter-in-law not thirty minutes previously. They were not likely to rush through a visit to a bookshop, not even for sweets.
“I think not, son. Come.” He gestured the young man around the desk to the settee in front of the fireplace. Reluctantly, Wickham did so. He was certain he would be able to talk himself out of his predicament, given enough time. Recalling his last conversation with his patron, he swallowed nervously. He was unsure just how much time it might take.
Unfortunately for Wickham, as he came around the desk, he caught his coat pocket on the corner, ripping it. Out onto the floor spilled a fortune in jewelry and other small, saleable items. Horrified, he looked at his godfather, and knew without the shadow of a doubt he would not be getting out of anything.
“What have we here?” Darcy asked. The disappointment in his voice could not be more clear. “Where did you get these items?” He paused, then. “I know this necklace. Fitzwilliam gave it to Elizabeth as a wedding gift. It was his mother’s. You stole from my household!”
Wickham flinched at the stirrings of anger he heard in Darcy’s voice. All his words to himself last spring about the unfairness of his situation as the poor son of a steward momentarily fled his memory. He had never before seen his godfather angry at one of his escapades. Disconcerted, he was silent for a few minutes, until he heard Darcy ask the butler to send for the constable.
He spent the next quarter hour justifying his actions, his resentments bubbling to the surface, but his words only solidified the hurt and anger of the older man. When he had expended his charm, explanations, and anger, he became silent.
“I favored you in part because your father is my most trusted employee, and because I could see something in you. You have the makings of a great man, if you would but apply yourself to some useful employment.
“Fitzwilliam is my son, and yes, he is my heir. I am sorry that by affording you the privileges I have, I caused you to become resentful of your situation and your station in life. I had never imagined such a thing. You have always been so charming and happy in appearance. I thought I was assisting you by welcoming you as I would a second son.” Darcy’s sadness and disappointment were clear in his voice.
He was silent for a few minutes as he contemplated his next step. “I told you what I expected of you. I will not bend in this, George,” Darcy informed him. “After our chat a year ago, I thought you understood that your future rested on good behavior. How you count that as stealing from one as close as family to you, I do not understand.”
After this, there was silence again, as Darcy composed a letter and recalled the butler to send it express. Turning back to Wickham, he began, “That was a letter for your father. I have requested his presence as soon as may be. I will not hide this from him, poor man. I can only imagine how much greater his disappointment with you will be.”
Before another word could be spoken, the constable arrived, and Darcy had Wickham carried off to Newgate. His last words to his godson, before the young man was led away, were, “Think about this, my boy. Think about the trust you were given, and that you betrayed. Think about the future you could have had and the future that could very well be yours now.”
A week later, John Wickham was knocking on the door to Darcy House, the express from the master in his hand. His shame was great as he entered the study.
“I am so sorry, Mr. Darcy. I do not know what has got into him!”
“Rest easy, John. Come, sit with me, and we can discuss our options.”
Ringing for tea, Darcy urged his steward into a seat on the settee, then took the armchair nearest to him. While they waited, Darcy explained the situation more fully. Wickham was mortified.
“I blame my late wife, sir. She was never happy with what I was able to provide. Once she was gone, I was better able to economize, and I tried to assure George that I was well able to afford an inheritance for him when I leave this earth, but her complaints must have had a greater impact than I thought,” he sighed. “What have you done with him?”
“I sent him to Newgate, though I have provided sufficient funds for him to have clean bedding and clothing and good food.”
“Thank you, sir. He does not deserve such consideration,” Wickham responded bitterly.
“None of that, now. He is young and foolish, I agree, but there is hope for him yet.”
“I hope so, sir.” He paused before admitting, “I had heard rumors of his misbehavior but did not believe them at first. I trusted him so far as to not question him at all. Eventually, when enough tales of gambling and debauchery reached me, I began to see they must be true.” He stopped for a moment to wipe at his eyes. “I feared for him, sir. Even as I prayed he would begin to accept his place in society, I was afraid something like this would happen. I should have spoken to him, remonstrated him. I have failed in my duty as a father, instead leaving it to you to teach him. I apologize.”
Darcy hastened to reassure him. “I share in the blame, as well. Fitzwilliam, I learned, has been covering George’s misdeeds for years. He did not want me to be hurt. I noticed a strain between them, but instead of questioning the boys, I let it go.” He shook his head. “If I could go back and begin again, I would have discussed what I saw with both of them.”
The two men sat in contemplation for a brief time, until Wickham inquired about the theft. He dreaded the response but had to face it.
Darcy sighed before answering, “He had enough stolen items in his pockets to send him to the gallows.”
Wickham gasped, covering his eyes with his hand to hide the tears that gathered there.
Seeing his steward’s response, Darcy leaned forward, urging him not to despair. “Fear not; I believe I have a solution. If you are agreeable, he will not hang.”
He went on to explain that, were it acceptable, Darcy would pay passage for George to Canada, with the proviso that he never return to England. Darcy was certain he could convince the judge to approve the punishment in lieu of any other. Wickham agreed, expressing his gratitude over and over to his employer.
“Say no more, John. You have been a faithful employee and companion these many years, and George is my godson. I could do no less.”
“Thank you, sir. I will be off to Newgate now, to inform my son of what awaits him. I wish to do my utmost to impress upon him the opportunity he is being afforded, and the alternative that lay before him.”
Shaking hands, the two men parted company.
Two weeks later, George Wickham boarded a ship bound for Canada. His interview with his father had been harsh, for his parent had given no quarter. No excuses were acceptable, no reasons rational. He had never in his life seen John Wickham so angry.
Despite the life of dissolution he had led the last few years, George was ashamed of himself for so distressing his only remaining parent. He had not considered anyone’s feelings but his own; it had never occurred to him that, should word of his actions even reach Derbyshire, they would have an effect on anyone there.
His father and godfather were both at the dock to see him board the ship and sail away. Each man had taken the opportunity to admonish him to take advantage of this new life and turn himself around. He sighed to himself as he listened, nodding in all the right places. Being banished forever to the wilds of Canada did not sound like a pleasant opportunity to him. However, with the alternative being a noose around his neck, he had no other choice. He would go and make the best of it, but he refused to be happy.
Not long after the Darcys’ return to town and plunge into the social whirl of the Season, Elizabeth began to sleep more than was normal. She thought little of it at first. After all, they were up for hours every night eating, drinking, and dancing, and when they retired, there were other activities that simply must be participated in before she and her husband were able to sleep. Who would not be more tired than usual after a couple weeks of constant activity?
Eventually, though, she began to notice other things that had changed. For example, her bosom was tender. She discounted amorous activities with Fitzwilliam as a cause of that. They had been married nigh onto a year. Surely any of that should have passed long ago.
Another strange thing was that she could no longer stand to be in the room with certain smells, for they made her nauseous. Cigar smoke was one of the worst, but at times, food smells caused a similar reaction.
When the day came that she lost the contents of her stomach upon arising, she knew she needed advice, for while she thought she knew what was wrong, she was not certain. Thankfully, Fitzwilliam had already arisen and was not in the bedroom. She shuddered to think of his reaction to such an event. After getting cleaned up and dressed, she dashed a quick note off to her Aunt Gardiner, asking her to come visit today, if she could make the time.
What her aunt had to say to her both frightened and delighted her. She was to be a mother! She asked what felt like a million questions, and her aunt patiently answered each.
“I shall have to tell Fitzwilliam! Oh, but wait …” She paused. “His mother died in childbirth. He told me she struggled through several miscarriages and they weakened her. I have seen his discomfort with pregnancies. How am I going to tell him?”
“Why do you not wait until you feel the babe move before you share this with him? Surely it will be soon; I estimate you are several weeks along, and they generally make themselves known to the mother when she is three months or so. Perhaps once you are past the most common period of miscarriage, he will not fret as much,” she advised. “You will need to alert Mrs. Bishop. She will be very helpful to you, and I daresay she is able to keep a secret for a few weeks. Also, tell your maid. Then, call the doctor or a midwife to come examine you. Either of them will be able to reassure him of your fitness. Gaining information is likely the best way to keep him calm.”
Nodding, Elizabeth replied, “I will do that. Thank you so much, Aunt Maddie!”
As Mrs. Gardiner stood to leave, the two embraced tightly. “I am so proud of you, Niece. I have heard of the wonderful impression you have made upon the ton since your return, and to see the sparkle in your eyes today and the self-assurance with which you carry yourself is a joy. My Lizzy is back, and I am delighted!”
“Thank you. I could not have done it without you and Uncle, nor without my husband and new family. I love you!” Kissing her aunt’s cheek, she let her go.
Six weeks later, as she was dressing, Elizabeth felt a flutter in her belly. She stilled, waiting for it to happen again. When it occurred a second time, then a third, her smile of delight grew. She caressed over the spot where she now had proof that a baby rested – her baby with her wonderful, loving husband. She whispered to it, “Welcome, my darling child. Now I may tell your Papa about you.”
As she turned to leave the room and find her husband, the door opened and in he walked. “Elizabeth,” he began, “we have to talk. Come; sit here with me on the settee.”
Alarmed, she sat where he indicated, asking, “What is wrong? Is it Papa George? Should I go to him?”
“No, no, my love, nothing like that.” He paused to gather his thoughts. He knew better than to just blurt them out. That always caused misunderstandings with his Elizabeth, and what he had to discuss was far too important to be disrupted by an argument.
“I want you to see a doctor.” He held up his hand when her mouth opened. “I know you think you have hidden it, with the help of Jenny and Mrs. Bishop, but I have noticed your tiredness of late, not to mention that when we love each other, your moans are not always of ecstasy, and you are rushing off in the mornings to use the chamber pot … and I hear you being ill.”
Now he stood and began pacing. “I have waited and waited for you to say something but you have not. I want a doctor to examine you so we can make sure there is nothing seriously wrong with you.” He sat back down, grasping her hands in his. “I love you too much to lose you, Elizabeth.”
She smiled at him, removing one hand from his and brushing hair away from his eyes, tenderly running her fingers down his cheek. “My love, I will agree to see the doctor if you will listen to me first. I have news for you.”
At his nod, she continued. “Fitzwilliam … I believe we are to be parents this autumn.”
Her husband sat there, staring. He was not entirely sure he understood. “Parents? We are to be parents?”
“Yes, silly.” She laughed. “You are to be a father and I am to be a mother. I am with child.”
His eyes bulged and his head came forward as his eyes dropped to her midsection and his mouth fell open. He gently laid his free hand over her stomach. “A child? Inside you?” He looked up at her, joy beginning to appear in his eyes. “My child! Inside you!” The more he thought about it, the more smug he got. “I did that,” he declared with a wide grin.
“Yes, well, you did have a little help,” his wife stated dryly as her eyes rolled.
Fitzwilliam jumped up, pulling her with him. “A baby! We must go tell Father!” He grabbed her hand, pulling her laughing from the room.
Mr. Darcy was thrilled to hear of his coming grandchild, and when the boy was born, crowed about it to everyone he knew. He spoiled the child, named George Bennet Fitzwilliam Darcy but called Ben by his family, insisting on holding him as often as possible and giving in to his every cry. It was only by the sheer determination of his parents that as the child grew, he was sweet and gentle rather than haughty and demanding.
Ben was followed over the years by six siblings, two more boys and four girls. Pemberley and its residents were filled with love and laughter for many years.
Bingley proposed to Jane after a six-month courtship. They married from Longbourn, and leased Netherfield when its owner moved permanently to London. After a year and before the birth of their first child, they purchased an estate not thirty miles from Pemberley, to the delight of the sisters. The road between the estates was well-traveled.
Georgiana attended school until she was seventeen, at which time she was presented and survived her first season. When she was twenty, she fell madly in love with a viscount who was equally enamored of her. They married and had four children together. Fears that she was too much like her mother to survive childbirth were put to rest.
Lord Regis never bothered the Darcys again. He refused all invitations to balls and dinners, completely withdrawing from society. That summer, immediately following the death of his mother, he removed to one of his estates in Scotland, near Dumfries. There he met and married a local, very wealthy, gentleman’s daughter, before even half of his mourning was over.
Elizabeth’s relationship with her mother remained strained for the rest of that lady’s life. She was never invited to Pemberley, though her husband and other children were. Nor did Elizabeth ever again visit Longbourn. Mrs. Bennet never learned to recognize her misbehavior, instead blaming it all on Elizabeth, who, when her mother passed, mourned the relationship she didn’t have more than the person who died.
Both Elizabeth and her adoring husband were happy to see her return to the confident lady she had been before their marriage, the one whose courage rose with every attempt to intimidate her. The gossips of the ton quickly moved on to fresh meat, and those ladies and gentlemen who remained antagonistic toward her were quickly conquered by her ready wit and sly insults. While still more careful about how she presented herself to people and less apt to trust quickly, she was no longer fearful. She was safe, had a husband who loved her to distraction, and the support of her extended family.