March 27, 2014 – Here's the last chapter and the Epilogue. One final (long) note at the end.
After all their guests had retired, Darcy and Elizabeth settled under the covers of her bed. Elizabeth was overjoyed that all her family was with her – and at Pemberley! She was intensely curious as to how it came about, but exhausted enough to wait until the morrow for an explanation.
Darcy wished he could just let her sleep, but he had given his word, and he did not want to wait.
"Elizabeth, I know you are tired, but we need to talk."
"About our guests?"
"Among many things, yes."
Elizabeth turned and looked at her husband. "I was surprised and worried when they arrived. I thought you would believe that I had asked them to come. I would never disobey you like that."
"I know you would not. It grieves me that you even need say that to me. I should never have put you in a position to fear my reaction about anything. I wanted to surprise you, not frighten you. I am sorry. I assumed that you would comprehend that I had sent for them."
"Why would I? You were very clear when you returned from Lydia's wedding that all discourse with my family was at an end."
A look of pain crossed Darcy's face. "Elizabeth, I give you my word that when I went to London to find Lydia, my only purpose was to rescue her from Wickham and find a husband for her somewhere far from London and Derbyshire. I had no thought then of breaking with your family. It was not until the scandal became public that I made the only choice I believed possible at that time."
"I know you did. I understood your reasoning and never doubted your belief in the rightness of your actions."
"My dear wife, you are far too generous." Darcy briefly smiled before his demeanour again grew serious. "We both know that I did have a choice. I made an unconscionable decision, then compounded my blunder by demanding that you fulfil your marital vows and obey me without question. I commanded that you repudiate nearly your entire family, and in doing so, caused you and them untold anguish. I cannot think of it without abhorrence."
Neither spoke for several moments.
"Is this why you invited my family to Pemberley?" asked Elizabeth softly.
"Yes. I … I have much to atone for. I know I have hurt you deeply."
Elizabeth bit her lip. "You have been honest with me. I shall be honest with you. Though I understood why you did what you did, that did not make it easier for me to accept." Here she paused; Darcy waited for her to continue. Whatever she said, he knew he deserved no mercy. "My heart ached with the loss of my family. It ached even more with the loss of you. It was as if, when you cast them away, you cast me away too."
Oh, God, help me answer her truthfully, yet not make her hate me.
"I was angry and I took some of my anger out on you. I know it was wrong of me. I blamed you for something beyond your control." Darcy rolled onto his back. Suddenly he was aware of how very tired he was. He rubbed his face with both his hands, then ran them through his hair. "How I have wronged you." He sighed and rolled over to face her again. She deserved to see him say what he must say. He shook his head.
"I am no gentleman. Callously, I all but abandoned you when you needed me most. Yes, Elizabeth, although I refused to acknowledge it for an incredibly long time, I am very aware of how alone I left you. You were confined to Pemberley, with no women of the family in the area but Amelia – and she was unavailable for most of that time. Worst of all, I knew you were unhappy. I … I heard you cry the night I returned, and I wilfully refused to comfort you. What a husband I have been to you!
"And all the more distressing, I blamed your family, especially your father, for disgracing the Darcy name when it is I who should be ashamed. I spoke of honour and duty, yet when it came to doing my duty to my wife, I failed you completely. I did not honour you."
He was mortified, but he would not look away. His wife saw the anguish on his face. It was she who could not look him in the eye and dropped her gaze.
"Fitzwilliam, I appreciate your taking responsibility for your actions, but you cannot absolve my family for theirs, nor me for mine. I am fully aware of my parents' failures when it comes to their children. Lydia should have known better than to run off, unmarried, with any man. She did know better but refused to do what was right! My father should not have let her go to Brighton. You and I both know that she was too young to be out, much less away from her family with a woman as young as Mrs. Forster for a chaperone. My father was wrong to let her go, and my mother even more so for encouraging the decision."
Darcy was unwilling to allow Elizabeth to shift the conversation away from his misdeeds; he was in need of confession, not excuses for his behaviour. "Elizabeth, how can you blame yourself for your parents' and sister's actions?"
"I do not blame myself for that. I blame myself for my silent acquiescence to the situation. I said that I understood why you made your choices, but that does not mean I approved of those choices. If I loved you as I claimed, I should have challenged you and I did not. If you believe that you misused my marriage vows, I am just as guilty of hiding behind those same vows to avoid conflict."
"If you had said something to me, I would not have listened. I was too convinced that I was right. I would not have allowed that I could have been wrong. I gave you little choice to behave differently. This is another of my sins against you. I was willing to dwell on the faults of others, but unwilling to admit my own. I do see them now, clearly. I want to be a man worthy to be your husband, my dear wife. To that end I have set about correcting my mistakes, as much as I am able."
"Starting with reuniting me with my family?"
"There was no better place to begin."
"What wrought such a change?" Elizabeth asked.
"Anne," Darcy said simply, and then explained further at the uncomprehending look on Elizabeth's face. "I should say the circumstances surrounding her birth. You were asleep when I came into your chambers after she was born. When … when I held our beautiful little girl something … broke inside me. I … I finally saw my folly and understood what I had done to you and what I had denied you – what I would be denying our daughter unless I could heal the breach with your family and regain your good opinion. I knew what I must do to show you that I had repented from my wretched conduct."
Darcy took a deep breath; it was time. He had confessed his transgressions. Now he must beg for her mercy.
"Elizabeth, I have been supremely arrogant and selfish, and I most humbly importune you to accept my apology. I am not yet deserving of your forgiveness."
She raised her hand to caress his face and smiled, though there was a hint of sadness in her expression. "Darling, do you not know that I have already forgiven you?"
"How?" he said in wonder.
"I came to understand that I must forgive if I was to find peace – and I have." At this pronouncement, her countenance changed and the full intensity of her love poured forth as she beheld him.
Tears threatened to spill from his eyes as Darcy was nearly overwhelmed with emotion. She still loved him. Despite everything that he had done, she still loved him. He could not speak for want of words. "Elizabeth, I do not deserve you," he said softly.
She smiled again, this time without any sign of regret. The look she gave him was one of compassion.
"It could not have been easy to bring my family here."
"You are mistaken; there was nothing easier in the world," he said passionately, willing Elizabeth to understand he would move heaven and earth for her. "The difficulty lay in facing them. They are justifiably angry with me and I expect they will remain so for some time. I apologized to the men tonight, and I will apologize to your sisters, your mother, and your aunt tomorrow, but I do not expect them to welcome me back with open arms. It will take time to earn their absolution."
"Was it so very awful?" she asked quietly.
Darcy laughed mirthlessly. "It was nothing more than I deserved. I had not fully considered the ramifications of my actions upon them. Your father was exceedingly explicit. I hope never to earn such warranted hostility again."
"I did notice a certain coolness towards you when the gentlemen rejoined us after dinner this evening. I rather guessed that words had been exchanged. I am surprised that you did not make a clean breast of it tonight and speak to my mother, sisters, and Aunt Gardiner."
"I would have, but after I was thoroughly berated by the gentlemen, I believed that I needed to apologize to you first. I asked for and was granted the delay in approaching the women. Your father agreed that you deserved to hear my admission of guilt.
"Elizabeth, you may wonder why I have not confessed all this to you before, why I waited so long after I realised my failures. I considered telling you on the night that Anne was born. But I comprehended that I needed to first demonstrate to you that I am willing to change. And so I wrote to your family and requested they come to Pemberley. I am sure they thought I was rather imperious in my entreaties, but it could not be helped. There were more people involved in this than you and me. Thus, I brought those others involved, your family, here, so that I could apologize to each of them and to tell them how very much I regret the pain that I have caused. I wronged all of you."
Darcy took her hand in his. The next part would be painful to admit. "Elizabeth, I also know that you have carried a black ribbon on your person to mourn the loss of your family." Elizabeth gasped. "I am ashamed that such should have been necessary. It was only after reuniting your family here at Pemberley that we could begin to heal the desolation that I inflicted upon us. We shared something remarkable before this … this hell I put us through. I long for its complete return."
"Dearest, so do I. So do I!" Darcy brushed a tear off Elizabeth's cheek. She took his hand and placed a kiss on his palm. "And I thank you, with all my being, for restoring my family to me, and to Anne."
He shook his head. "Do not thank me for righting a wrong, a wrong of my own doing."
"But I must, for my heart is overflowing with gratitude."
"Ask of me anything, anything, and it shall be done."
Elizabeth appeared lost in thought. He waited, and when she spoke, her question surprised him.
"Why did you change the name we agreed upon for Anne?"
"Anne's name is another way for me to atone for the discord I caused. I hope you approve? You were not expecting it."
"No, I did not. But I was very happy."
"I was persuaded of what it should be on the night our daughter was born. As I told you, that was when I realised that I had been utterly and completely wrong, and that I had taken from you what I had no right to take. Do you know what else I realised that night?"
Elizabeth shook her head.
"I finally understood how much you love me. You told me, all those many months ago, but I never appreciated the depth of your commitment. I was able to look back and recognise how, in even the smallest things, you proved your affections. I was not able to accept it for what it was until I looked into the face of our new born child and saw our family and our future reflected in her features, your features. In you, my family has been reborn." He stopped to compose himself.
"My precious Elizabeth, the day you told me that you loved me, I stupidly told you not to expect a return of those feelings. Darling, even then I denied the true condition of my heart. It belongs fully, completely, irrevocably to you alone."
He paused only a moment. "I love you."
Elizabeth felt a gentle nudge on her shoulder. "Mistress," Marie whispered. "Mrs. Darcy, the baby is fussing and will not quiet. I believe that she wants to be fed."
Darcy was sound asleep next to her and Elizabeth did not wish to wake him. She slipped out of bed and donned the robe that her maid held out for her before she ambled through the door that led to the nursery. Alice was walking about with Anne in her arms, trying to calm the babe. Tired though she was, Elizabeth smiled as she settled into a chair and was handed her daughter. Soon all that was heard were the tiny sounds of a suckling child.
Elizabeth closed her eyes in contentment, and allowed herself to rejoice in the events of the previous hours.
He loves me!
She knew that she would always remember how she felt at the moment that her husband declared what was in his heart.
"I love you."
Three words she had feared she would never hear him speak. Three words with the power to fill her with complete and utter joy.
They had been lying on her bed facing each other when he told her. At first Elizabeth was unable to move, unable to think. Throughout his speech, her hopes had risen, but she hardly dared believe that her greatest wish would finally be fulfilled. When the reality of his declaration registered, she flew into his arms – sobbing.
"How I have longed to hear you say those words to me. I love you so very much."
"No more tears, my dearest love. You have already spilt too many because of me." There was true contrition in his voice. "I am sorry for the pain I have brought you."
Darcy held his wife to him, deeply unsettled by the knowledge that he was the cause of her distress. "Please do not cry," and with a catch in his voice he vowed, "I promise to be a better man for your sake."
These last words caused Elizabeth to lift her head and look at his face. She could see, in the dim light, the unshed tears in his eyes.
"Oh, beloved, these are tears of joy and relief. They are a gentle waterfall washing away the sadness. You love me, Fitzwilliam! You love me and have done everything in your power to repair your mistakes because of it. I want for nothing!"
Elizabeth Darcy watched as her declaration unleashed her husband's tears. She pulled him to her and simply held him until his sobbing stopped.
Slowly he drew away. "Better?" she asked. He would not look at her. "Do you feel better now?" she asked again, wondering why he would not look at her after all they had shared.
"I am sorry, I should never have …"
Comprehension dawned. "Fitzwilliam, look at me!" Elizabeth demanded. Darcy reluctantly obeyed and she saw shame on his face. Instinctively, she put her hands on his cheeks, his beard scratching against her palms. "You are a proud man, Fitzwilliam Darcy, and I know that you think tears from a man are a sign of weakness. They are not. There is no more intimate way that you could show that you love me than to allow me to see you in your distress. I do not think less of you as a man; I respect you all the more. You have given me your love – give me your sorrows and concerns, as well as your hopes and your dreams. Let me be your mate in every way."
He looked at her, his eyes a window to the turmoil within him. She waited, and was rewarded when she saw the storm receding. A tremulous smile pulled at his lips.
"I do not deserve you," he whispered again.
"Perhaps not, but I am yours anyway." Elizabeth pulled his face to hers and kissed him with all the tenderness and assurance that was within her.
They were both exhausted when he tucked her body next to his. They slept.
Elizabeth finished feeding Anne, left her in the care of her nurse, and returned to her husband. She slipped back under the covers and immediately moved to lie next to Darcy. Without waking, he pulled her back into his arms. She was asleep again in minutes.
The next morning, Darcy fulfilled his pledge to apologize to the other women. Elizabeth stood by his side throughout, demonstrating that they had reconciled their differences. Mr. Bennet explained that Darcy had already spoken to the gentlemen and that they had accepted Darcy's apologies. For Elizabeth's sake, and as the first step toward familial reconciliation, he urged the ladies to do the same, no matter how unwilling they might be to do so.
Jane, Lydia, and Mrs. Gardiner had already been told by their spouses of the encounter in the library the evening before and were thus more prepared to act. Lydia Pritchford, very much aware of her role in causing the breach, was the first to speak. She surprised everyone but her husband by asking Darcy's forgiveness in return, with an eloquence and humility that touched everyone's heart. One by one, the remaining ladies addressed Darcy, and one by one extended tentative absolution.
Although these first steps held the promise of a happy resolution of months of discord, it was many days before awkwardness gave way to the beginning of acceptance. Lingering acrimony initially threatened the fragile peace, but in the end, the unspoilt innocence of a new born babe and a genuine desire by the principals to start anew prevailed. Harmony was at last restored.
Frank Pritchford was obliged to return to Devon only a week after his arrival at Pemberley. Mr. Bennet and Bingley offered to escort Lydia and the boys back to their home, if he consented to allow them to stay behind. Pritchford was willing to give his wife the extra time with her family, and he acknowledged how much his children enjoyed the attentions lavished upon them by her family, especially Mr. Darcy.
Darcy asked him into a private conference a few days before he left.
"Pritchford, thank you for agreeing to meet with me. I have asked you here today because I want to help you and my sister."
"Sir, you have already been more than generous."
"Let me be the judge of that. I have been considering how I might best be able to help your family in a lasting way. I have thought about the differences in our stations that are but an accident of birth. I am well aware that I had many advantages as the child of a gentleman that you have not, nor will your children. However, I have it within my power to bestow upon your sons a gift, as my father once did for the son of his steward."
"What might that be?"
"An education, Pritchford. I am willing to sponsor both of your sons, and any more your wife might bear you. Obviously, this will require both books and tutors. When Thomas is old enough, I will arrange for his studies with the ultimate goal of attending University, or, if he prefers, an apprenticeship or commission. Perhaps a governess might be in order now? That would certainly be a help with any daughters that might come as well."
"I cannot provide an appropriate room for a proper governess."
Darcy did not hesitate. "I will send my man to see what needs to be done to rectify that. You shall have a governess if that is your wish."
"I … I do not know what to say. A proper education for my boys? It is more than I could ever have dreamt! Thank you, sir! I will see that you never regret this. I swear it!"
"My only stipulation is that you impress upon your sons that this is an opportunity, not a birthright. The boy my father sponsored was the man who seduced your wife, Pritchford. He became an ungovernable, ungracious scoundrel who expected to be given all that he wanted in life, not earn it by honest means. His father was a good man, but he was blind to his son's lack of character. Fortunately, he did not live to see what a rogue his son became. I do not want your children to repeat the mistakes of the last beneficiary of Darcy patronage."
Pritchford extended his hand. "On my honour, sir, I will see to it that they understand that what they have been given is a means and not an end. I will do my utmost to raise them as men of character and honour, sir, as you are."
Darcy's determination to help improve the lot of his Bennet family did not end with his offer to educate the Pritchford children. He had two unmarried sisters at Longbourn, but he was wary of approaching Mr. Bennet with any offer of help, no matter how benign his intentions. His father-in-law had been thoroughly disgusted the last time Darcy had spoken to him about the behaviour of his family, and he was at a loss at how to raise the subject again. Fortunately, he was becoming more open with his wife, and it was Elizabeth who suggested a solution.
"I think my father would accept an offer if it came from me."
"I mean to do more than just invite Mary and Catherine to stay with us, Elizabeth. I am more than willing to employ the appropriate masters for them and provide the funds needed to send them to school, if that would appeal to your father."
"It would, I believe, under the right circumstances. However, I want you present when I speak to him. He must see us united in our purpose to understand that the offer is kindly meant and that he is the one who will determine how far our patronage will extend."
"Tomorrow we will seek him out. I believe we will need look no further than the library?"
Elizabeth laughed. Her husband was becoming more adept at teasing her and she enjoyed this more playful side of the man she loved.
The next morning after breakfast, Elizabeth and Darcy, to neither's surprise, found her father alone in the library.
"I would never have guessed that I would find you here, Papa."
Mr. Bennet smiled at his second daughter. She was a beautiful woman, married and a mother herself, but she would always be his little Lizzy. He saw that her husband was with her, and his smile instantly faded. He acknowledged Darcy with a curt nod of his head.
"Papa, Fitzwilliam and I would like to invite Mary to stay with us when it is time for everyone to leave. We plan to remain at Pemberley until spring and will be happy to bring Mary back to Longbourn at that time, or arrange to return her sooner if you desire her at home."
Mr. Bennet pursed his lips and looked back and forth between Elizabeth and Darcy. "Have you spoken to your sister about this?"
"No, sir, we wished to receive your blessing first. I have not forgotten your censure for my approaching Elizabeth with an offer of marriage without seeking your permission before hand," Darcy answered.
"Touché, Mr. Darcy. We both have long memories. However, I see no reason why Mary cannot stay, though Kitty might be disappointed to be the sister who remains at home once again. She was most disappointed when I allowed Lydia to go to Brighton as Mrs. Forster's particular friend." Mr. Bennet frowned at the thought. He knew that his behaviour had not been above reproach. It was time to confess his culpability.
"I am quite aware that I made a terrible mistake letting Lydia go to Brighton. She had neither the sense nor the experience to be off on her own."
Darcy and Elizabeth exchanged startled looks but remained silent at this unexpected turn in the conversation.
"Mr. Darcy, I know I was rather severe on you that first night here at Pemberley, and you probably wanted to rant and storm that you were not the only guilty party. I gave you no quarter to do so, though you could have made a strong case against me. The actions you took were the result of a situation of my making. I acknowledge that. Nevertheless, it neither absolves you for the choices you made, nor does it absolve me from the years of neglect that led to Lydia's running off with Wickham." Mr. Bennet paused and shook his head. "I suppose that I just wanted to hold on a little longer to my resentment for what you did to Elizabeth and all my family. Your subsequent restoration of my daughter to us and your willingness to humble yourself to each of us were proof that you are the better man. I know myself well enough to realise that I could never have done what you did. I would have hid myself among my books and tried to ignore what happened."
Mr. Bennet walked over to Darcy. He extended his hand towards the younger man. Darcy grasped it immediately. "I would be honoured to leave Mary under your protection and care."
"Thank you, sir."
"Can you forgive me?" Mr. Bennet made certain to hold Darcy's gaze.
"If you can forgive me."
"Then it is done."
Darcy nodded and they broke their handshake. Elizabeth looked relieved at the sight of the two most important men in her life making peace and, with tears in her eyes, hugged her father. After they had all sat down, Darcy continued the conversation about Mary's stay.
"Mr. Bennet, Elizabeth has requested that a piano master come to Pemberley to help her. I do not know if you are aware of the amount of time your daughter has spent practicing since we married. Her playing, while always delightful, has improved greatly. However, she tells me that she is in need of instruction if she is to progress. And because I have come to know that my wife is never wrong, I have engaged a master according her wishes. If it is agreeable to you, I would like Mary to avail herself of the piano master while she is with us. That is, if Mary wishes it as well."
Mr. Bennet was pleased with Darcy's playful verbiage. Elizabeth deserved a husband who matched her wit and intelligence. He could tell the couple were trying very hard to not appear overbearing in their requests.
"I think it is a sensible idea, Mr. Darcy."
"Just Darcy, sir."
"Darcy then. You may call me Bennet."
"With all due respect, you are my wife's father. I would feel discourteous to be more familiar in address."
The corners of Mr. Bennet's mouth twitched. Darcy might have been more tolerant of his family's foibles, but the young man still held fast to his ideals about propriety. As well he should. Mr. Bennet was not offended, only amused at the staidness of his son-in-law's character.
"As long as we are on the subject of masters, Mr. Bennet, and at the risk of once again offending you, I would like to offer my assistance in employing any masters as might be appropriate for my two unmarried sisters. You should know that I have spoken to Pritchford and arranged to become patron to his sons in their education, as well as provide for a governess for the children. I take my responsibility to my family seriously and I am ready to assist as you deem fit."
"That is a very generous offer. I have always made whatever masters my daughters desired available to them."
"I have conveyed that to Fitzwilliam, but he insists, and I am in agreement, that while my sisters dwell with us, we should bear the burden of the expense. One that we hope you will accept, Father," Elizabeth interjected. "I assure you that my husband's motives are sincere; he only wishes to be of use to his sisters. He has also told me that he would even pay for them to go to school, but felt you might not be ready to hear that."
"Elizabeth …" Darcy started to interrupt.
"Fitzwilliam, I am the one offering, not you. Well, I am offering your money," Elizabeth said gaily. "Papa, think about it, please?"
"I shall. Perhaps Kitty would like to go away to school. Do you have any place in mind?"
"None at all," Darcy replied. "I leave it to you to decide if and where. My sister Georgiana was in an educational establishment for girls for a time, but that was a few years ago and she was much younger than either Mary or Catherine."
"And Kitty is just as welcome as Mary to stay with us, either in Town or here at Pemberley," Elizabeth added as Darcy nodded his agreement.
"I believe that one of your sisters at a time is more than enough, Elizabeth. Just wait until your mother hears of this. You know she will be disappointed if either one returns to Longbourn without at least one offer of marriage from a rich gentleman."
The day dawned clear and brisk when Anne Harriet Amelia Darcy was christened in the Pemberley church. The Bennet clan had arrived three weeks before, and after Darcy apologized to all the members of his family, a happy chaos descended on the once quiet mansion. Darcy's confession to Elizabeth of his undying love had brought the couple close again. Their friendship deepened as their love blossomed and bloomed in the crisp Derbyshire autumn. It seemed serendipitous to celebrate the renewal of the Darcy family with the baptism of the firstborn of the next generation of Darcy descendants.
The Reverend John Mitchell officiated as the youngest Darcy was brought to the ancient stone font to receive the sacrament. Darcy's cousin, Bartholomew, and his wife, Amelia, Darcy's lifelong friend, stood as the child's godparents. The small building was full of joy and the presence of family, friends, and a few fortunate servants.
Elizabeth stood next to her husband, watching the wise old parson say his blessing over her daughter. Her attention was caught by the light flooding through windows, and she recalled her desperate search for solace in this holy place. So much had changed. In the quiet of this sanctuary, she had discovered the meaning of forgiveness, acceptance, and selflessness. She would not wish to enter such a valley of shadows again, but she was grateful that she had come through to see the view from the other side. There would always be trials. She knew enough about life to appreciate that now.
Walking back to Pemberley, Darcy turned to look again at the building they had just left.
"I have always considered the church a plain, quaint building in comparison to the style of the house. Perhaps it is time to see to its ornamentation."
"Darling, I would rather you leave it as it is."
"Elizabeth, I feel a bit ashamed that nothing has been done to improve it in my lifetime."
"Have you looked at the windows? Your ancestors have given many to the church."
"Yes, they have. As a boy, I was always more entranced by them than by the sermons, I am afraid."
"Do you not see, then, that the beauty of the building is a matter of perspective? One can only appreciate it from inside. Is that not the goal of the building, to bring the people of Pemberley within its walls to worship? What you perceive as a flaw in its character is only a hindrance if you do not seek the beauty within."
"Your point is?"
"It reminds me of you."
At last, all of the guests with the exception of Mary departed, and the small family party settled into a comfortable regimen. The days grew shorter, but the pleasure Elizabeth felt with her younger sister's company did not diminish. Mary grew less rigidly moralistic as she was exposed to the contents of Pemberley's magnificent library. She still favoured religious works, but now she could avail herself of the writings of men with a more compassionate view of humanity and the God who had created them.
Elizabeth's days included her sister and her daughter, but once she retired for the evening, only her husband held her attention. Now healed from the birthing, Elizabeth was eager to resume her most intimate marital duties. Darcy was equally eager, but he had waited for Elizabeth to fully regain her health. He also wished for privacy to begin anew; he had something special in mind to mark the occasion of the consummation of their love. Mary's presence in the household was no impediment; the girl was content to let the couple retire early as often as they wished.
After dinner one evening, Darcy escorted Elizabeth to her room, but before they entered, he swept his wife off her feet and into his arms. She tucked her head into his chest and giggled but was surprised when Darcy turned and began walking away from their chambers.
"Fitzwilliam, where are we going?"
"Have you no guesses, my love?"
She was unsure until he took a turn to a certain wing of the house. She gasped.
Darcy strode through the entry into the Wales Bedroom and set Elizabeth back down on her feet. He closed and leaned against the massive door. A fire crackled in the grate.
"I know that I brought you here before, but we really should not be here," Elizabeth whispered.
"There is no better place be, my Elizabeth, for you alone reign over my heart."
Darcy knelt before his wife. In an action meant to sear their vows forever in their hearts, he took her left hand in his own and brought his lips to the wedding ring that she wore.
"With my body, I thee worship."
Then did he worship her, enveloped in their love, as he had never done before.
When Lady Victoria came to Pemberley for the christening of little Anne, she had a private interview with her nephew and Elizabeth. The couple told her of the events of the past months and asked for her advice. Lady Victoria knew that Darcy would prefer to remain outside the critical eyes of the ton, but she also knew that such a course would be a mistake. To stay away would be to admit they deserved to be ostracized by society, and only increase the whispers whenever they did return to Town in the future. She advised them to remain in Derbyshire until the spring, then return to London for the Season. Their absence during the winter months could easily be attributed to the new born, but as soon as the weather improved, Lady Victoria said, they should journey south. The sooner that the couple re-entered society, the better. Thus, with the sunny days of March, Mr. and Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, accompanied by their young daughter and Mary, returned to their townhouse by way of Meryton.
Word of the journey of the Darcys to Hertfordshire spread like lightening, and the Bennets were once more declared the most fortunate of families. Talk about Lydia's failed elopement receded, replaced by such things as the speculation on the cost of the lace on Mrs. Darcy's gowns and whether Mrs. Bingley might be in the family way – and astonishment over how much Mary Bennet's pianoforte skills had improved.
The Darcys gradually eased back into London society, dining with friends and entertaining at home. Next, they ventured out to several balls and a few nights at the theatre. They noticed the whispers when they first entered a room, but the novelty of their presence in Town soon wore off. They saw the proof of Lady Victoria's wisdom when some other subject of gossip inevitably usurped their place of attention.
A few weeks later, the Bennets and Bingleys followed the Darcys to Town. Not long after, Darcy suggested that they all, plus the Gardiners, make use of the Darcy box at the Theatre Royal in Covent Garden for an evening of opera.
In a box on the other side of the auditorium, the Earl of Perryton frowned when he saw his wayward nephew arrive. The countess noticed as well and began to bemoan the event to the woman at her side. The earl was still furious with Darcy and could not believe that his nephew had the presumption to be there that evening. Disgraced relatives had a duty to remain unseen, in his opinion. He thought he recognised Darcy's guests from the previous Season and Mrs. Darcy's ball, but could not be sure; he assumed that they must be Darcy's wife's relations. He saw that others also had noticed the Darcy party, and he could see society women, ladies whose opinion the earl knew mattered, watching them, furiously whispering behind their fans. Fuming over this perceived slight to his standing, the earl failed to note the entrance of an infamous courtesan, or of the man escorting her. His wife did not. A few minutes later, he was surprised to hear his wife abusing someone other than his nephew. That was when he realised that he was the only one paying the Darcys any attention; there was a much more deliciously scandalous party in attendance now.
The warning bell rang and five minutes later the orchestra began the overture. The audience's attention was drawn to the stage as the curtains parted. The earl could not concentrate on the performance; his eyes kept returning to the Darcys. Unable to stop himself, he raised his opera glasses and looked more closely at his prey. The light was sufficient for him to make them out across the auditorium. His gaze was suddenly arrested when his nephew leaned over to whisper something to his wife. Before sitting back in his seat, Darcy gently kissed Elizabeth's ear. She turned and smiled, bringing his fingers up to her lips for a kiss of her own. She had obviously been holding her husband's hand.
The earl felt as though he was intruding on a very private moment, but he could not bring himself to look away. He saw the look of passion and adoration that passed between husband and wife, as if no one else were in the building except the two of them, before they turned their attention back to the performance.
"Harold, stop looking at them. People will notice!" Alice Fitzwilliam hissed. Harold Fitzwilliam, Earl of Perryton, looked at his wife in annoyance. He hated it when the witless woman was right.
Yet he could not forget the look that Darcy had exchanged with his Elizabeth, and for the first time, faltered in his opinion that his nephew's marriage had been a grievous mistake. From the look on his face, Darcy would disagree with anyone who said that he was not the most fortunate man in England in his choice of wife. The same could not be said of the earl.
George Wickham stood in the Chapel of St John's Cathedral waiting for his bride. When he arrived in Antigua, he had been presented with a letter in which Darcy offered one thousand pounds in exchange for his pledge never to return to England. Wickham sent his acceptance, even though he knew that Darcy would be furious when he learned about the missives that had been left with his accomplice and doubted that he would ever see the money. He was quite amused when, little more than a year later, he received a second letter from Darcy. It was short and to the point.
You may not be a man of honour, but I am.
Enclosed were the promised funds.
Wickham could not believe his good fortune. His old playmate carried duty and honour to the extreme. The fool, he thought. Considering the windfall a sign from providence, Wickham took the money and entered a high stakes card game. Luck was with him, and he left that night with five times what he had brought to the tables. With a considerable sum now in his possession, he embarked upon a new quest to achieve what he had previously tried to accomplish – to woo and wed a woman of means.
Today marked the culmination of his schemes. He was marrying the only child of the wealthy and aging owner of a large plantation on the island. The girl had just come into society, and her naïveté was no match for the charm of the army officer. Wickham had taken great pains to be seen as a suitable match; he had at last learned the importance of a certain amount of discretion in the conduct of his affairs, and the girl's father was too ill and too proud to give credence to the gossip that might have spared his daughter such a husband.
George Wickham would never want for money again.
Christmas Day, 1814
Elizabeth finished nursing her infant son. Robert George Charles Darcy was a healthy five-month-old baby, his older sister now a very precocious two-year-old. Darcy sat at a nearby desk writing a letter. Elizabeth could not imagine being any happier or more content. She wanted for no material possession, her husband adored her, her children were her pride and joy.
"Have you finished?"
"I am closing it now," Darcy replied. "Would you like to read it before I seal it?"
"If you do not mind, I would."
Darcy sanded the page, then handed it to Elizabeth. She read this, his annual missive, eager to see what he had written.
Christmas Morning, 1814
Another Christmas has arrived, and I sit down yet again to write to you. It is difficult for me to believe that this is the eighth Yuletide since your passing. I remember the feelings of despair that your absence so regularly engendered. I still miss you, but my life has become so filled with my own family now that I must confess that those times have become less frequent. Those I hold dear could never replace you, but they have enriched my life in ways that, as a father, you would easily understand. I never anticipated the deep emotions that I felt the first time I held my daughter and then my son. You are a grandfather again. Elizabeth was safely delivered of a boy on the 20th of July.
Pemberley rings with the laughter of children. I hope and pray that even more will come as the years go by.
I am content and happy. The only thing I lack is the presence of loved ones, such as you, Mother and Georgiana, who no longer walk this earth.
Three Christmases ago, I wrote to tell you that I would marry in a few days and that you would not be pleased with my choice of wife. Two Christmases ago, I told you that I had hurt my wife deeply, but by the grace of God she had forgiven me. Last Christmas, I revealed how I had spent many months atoning for my failures of the previous years, and how confident I was that the life I share with my wife would grow in meaning and purpose. This Christmas, I wish you could be here to see how happy she has made me. Pemberley and its people are thriving, most especially its master and mistress. Elizabeth loves me completely, as I have learned to love her. Because of her devotion, I have become a better man.
Some might call me a romantic fool. So be it. Such as they can never know the ecstasy of unconditional love. I pity them.
Until next time, your besotted, content son,
With a tear in her eye and love in her heart, Elizabeth returned the letter to her husband. Together they walked to the fireplace, a sleeping Robert in his mother's arms. Smiling, Darcy consigned the missive to the flames. Husband and wife watched the parchment catch fire and be consumed, knowing full well that it was only through their willingness to embrace love that their marriage and their lives had been spared a similar fate.
Thank you for reading my story. It's been fun sharing it with a new audience. For those of you who have taken time to leave reviews, I truly appreciate it.
I've already had questions about continuing this or writing a sequel. I'm sorry, but I won't be doing either. When I write a story, for the most part, I have a beginning and an end in mind, with a couple of scenes in the middle and an idea of how I will get from the premise at the start of the story and then to the end. The main creative part for me is filling in all in bits in between. Once I've told the story I set out to tell, I am done. In all the years I've been writing there is only one story that needs a sequel and it's my one and only modern and it's on my list to get to one day. As a writer, you want to leave them wanting a little bit more.
As to Mr. Wickham's end – well, I will leave that up to you to decide. Personally, I think he miscalculated and his wife is going to be a handful. And considering all to the diseases that could kill you in the West Indies, I think he may have died very young.
Mr. Bennet has his share of the blame, but it's been months since Lydia was married. His response in chapter 19 is lifted pretty much from canon he responds to the letter from Mr. Gardiner telling him Lydia has been found. He knows he should feel guilty but the feeling has for the most part passed by this point.
I was very kind to Lydia giving her a very good husband. Think William Martin from Emma. He's basically a good man who knew he needed a wife and to get one with as large a dowry as Lydia – even 2000 pounds was a lot of money for a man of his station – was worth the risk. I like to think that he could see the potential in what she could become. He also probably had some pretty frank discussions with Mr. Gardiner and Mr. Bennet. Lydia won't be able to see her sisters very much for the rest of her life. She really can't afford to travel much (which is why Darcy had to pay all of their expenses to Pemberley) so unless she is a diligent correspondent, she's going to lose touch with most of her family. Oh, and she did't get pregnant with Wickham and her husband wanted a little time to make sure she wasn't carrying another man's child before he bedded her. She could be pregnant by the time they got to Pemberley, but it would have been very early.
By the time we get to the epilogue, Elizabeth is pretty much back to her old self, but less quick to judge. Two children and enduring such a scandal has mellowed her a bit. She won't let Darcy dominate her like he did during the first 8 months of her marriage. She's become his helpmeet in all the positive ways that the term implies. He's had to learn to let her into his world to be his second conscience. That's why when he writes his letter to his father, you can sense the contentment in his heart. She's softened him and he's broadened her world.
I decided to end the story with the letter so you could see the contrast and the growth between the man Darcy was just before he married to the man he became at the end because of his marriage. Elizabeth wasn't the only one to undergo a metamorphosis. And that is exactly how it should be in a marriage of true minds.
There are a lot of themes in this story: love, forgiveness, repentance, restitution, and integrity to name a few. I hope you've had a chance to reflect on at least one of these as you've read along.
And finally – I will be posting some more of my stories here. I will probably post next the very first one I wrote, The Sister She Always Wanted. It's nothing like No More Tears, not in focus or intensity – or editing and historical accuracy. Hey, it was my first story and I really didn't know any better!
Until next time…