am happier even than Jane. She only smiles; I laugh.
— letter from Elizabeth Bennet to Margaret Gardiner, October 1812
Despite the prosperity of the parish, the magnificence of the chapel, and the youthful good looks of the vicar, the church at Kympton had not been so well-attended in years.
The Darcys were chiefly responsible for this increase in piety. They were a young married couple, just returned from their wedding in Hertfordshire, and the neighbourhood took a proprietary sort of interest in them. Mr Darcy, after all, was one of their own, and his bride, a perfect stranger — what could be more intriguing? Rumours flew faster than they had in the last four weeks.—Mrs Darcy was a connection of Lord Arlington's, or a tradesman's daughter worth 100,000 l.; she was a clever, conniving little piece, or an ignorant, illiterate girl from the country.
None of these were remotely close to the truth, but that hardly signified.
Immediately upon the Darcys' arrival, every eye fell on Mr Darcy and the slender young lady at his side. Never was a congregation so alert in standing up at the proper opportunities. Mrs Trent, a martyr to rheumatism, and old Mr Willard sprang up even before the psalm was given out.
As soon as the sermon was finished, they all rushed to the churchyard, and the lady walked out, leaning on her husband's arm. Such an incident! Everybody curtseyed and bowed and caught easy glimpses of Mrs Darcy's pretty dark face. Nothing could have exceeded the gratification of the entire assembly; the gossips declared her scarcely tolerable, the romantics sighed at such a striking pair, and the Darcys themselves could scarcely contain their amusement.
This was not an unusual circumstance. By nature, they were clever, good-humoured, satirical, and when happy themselves, considered other people the world's finest entertainment.
And they were happy, perfectly so — no mean achievement at the respective ages of twenty-one and twenty-eight. Yet with youth and wealth, virtue and passion, brilliance and beauty, with every thing in their favour, why should they not be happy? What signified some small neighbourly impertinences, a few family obstacles? Elizabeth Darcy certainly could not imagine anything superior to those heady first weeks of marriage. Even the trivialities of daily life delighted her; she picked up gossip from her maid, stories from the housekeeper, and shamelessly stole kisses from her austere husband.—She condemned 'trivial fripperies' and pored over La Belle Assemblée; she vigorously denied interest in sentimental novels, and kept a volume of Cecilia hidden in her prayer-book.
Alas, even they could not forever remain in a state of unending bliss. The winter was cold, the tenants suffered, and the Earl of Ancaster returned from London, his family in tow.
Fitzwilliam Darcy was Lord Ancaster's nephew and acknowledged favourite — the Earl, disappointed in his own children, loved him with a blind and therefore unreasonable affection. This particular fondness for Darcy, and the very strong family feeling shared by nearly all Fitzwilliams, far outweighed the dismay he genuinely felt. He spoke of the match with delight, sent a furious letter to his sister Catherine, and forbade all of his other relations from breathing a word of disapprobation. He then spent two days drafting a note of what might be generously termed congratulations, and requested the company of young Miss Darcy during the first few weeks of the marriage.
About a fortnight thereafter, mere days after the Fitzwilliams' return from London, the Earl's own son and heir happened across Elizabeth's path.
She was returning to the house after a long brisk walk, her head full, when she glanced up and saw a man walking towards her. Darcy seldom left his study at this hour, yet even through the thickly falling snow she could make out a familiar tall, spare figure, the dark hair scarcely distinguishable from the black of his coat.
'Fitzwilliam?' she called out, startled.
Though he turned towards her at the name, she almost instantly realised her mistake. She knew Darcy, his posture, gestures, manners, even the infinitesimal changes in expression — she had been observing him for over a year before her wedding-day. This was another man entirely.
'Oh, I am sorry.' Elizabeth shielded her eyes against the reflected sunshine as he approached. 'I mistook you for somebody else.' At this distance, she could see that despite a certain resemblance in colouring and countenance, he was by no means her husband's double — about ten years older, and at least two or three inches shorter.
'I will take that as a compliment,' he replied, with a rather odd half-smile. 'I presume that I have the honour of addressing Mrs Darcy?'
'Yes,' said she, her voice firm, 'Yes, you do. Forgive me, I do not believe we are acquainted . . .'
'No, of course not. I am Lord Milton.' He gave her an enquiring look, then continued, 'I recognised you from my brother Richard's account.'
Elizabeth tried to think if she knew a Richard.
'Richard Fitzwilliam?—he is a colonel in the army, you met him at my aunt's estate in Kent.'
'Oh! Colonel Fitzwilliam! Yes, of course I remember. Surely you would like to go into the house? I hope you have not been outside long.'
'Not long at all,' he assured her, 'though I can endure this trifling inclemency quite well, I am Yorkshire born and bred. I do have business with my cousin, however.'
Lord Milton gestured for her to lead the way, and chuckled. 'I suppose you think we are all quite deranged, but this is a warm day for the season.'
'Mr Darcy says the winter is colder than usual,' Elizabeth said stoutly.
'The winter, yes.' A familiar flicker of worry crossed his brow; then his expression cleared. 'Today, however, is lovely.' He shook some snow off of his boots. 'But you are from the South; it cannot be the same for you.'
'No, I am dreadfully spoilt,' she agreed cheerfully. 'Before my marriage, I never dreamt so much snow existed in the world, as is here gathered in one park.'
Lord Milton laughed outright. 'It must be a great change.'
'Yes, of course. I suppose it always is, when a woman leaves her home.' She thought of poor Jane, constantly subjected to the meddling of her mother and sisters-in-law. 'I am very far from minding a trifling inclemency, though; I far prefer Derbyshire to Hertfordshire.'
'Yes,' said Milton, with an intent look, 'I rather imagine you do.'
Once at the house, he took his leave of her and went in search of Darcy, and Elizabeth, occupied by a dispute between two parlourmaids, scarcely spared him a second thought until later that evening. Just before giving the usual orders for dinner, she remembered her meeting with him, and sent for a servant.
'John, please discover if Lord Milton would like to remain for dinner.'
He returned with an affirmative, so Elizabeth altered her plans. Within a few minutes, the cousins joined her, their business apparently concluded, and Darcy performed the formal introductions.
'Elizabeth,' said he, 'this is my mother's nephew, Lord Milton. Milton, my wife.'
They murmured greetings and acknowledged their earlier encounter, then everyone seated themselves and waited for the meal.
Milton began the conversation straightaway.
'I cannot tell you how amazed I was to hear of your engagement,' he said. 'Though I suspect my father's astonishment exceeded my own. It must have been a very rapid courtship.'
'Such things are always relative,' Elizabeth replied. 'Some might consider a year rather quick, I suppose.'
'A year?' Lord Milton's grey eyes widened. 'You have been sly, Darcy; when we saw you in London, you never breathed a word of any attachment.'
'You are startled to discover that I might prefer to keep my private affairs private?'
Milton laughed. 'I did not think that even you could keep absolutely silent on a subject of such import for such a length of time; forgive me for underestimating your discretion, cousin — though I am not the only one at fault. The expression on my father's face was like nothing I have seen before.'
Darcy's eyes narrowed. 'Speaking of whom, how is my uncle? I am surprised that he did not insist upon joining you.'
Elizabeth, watching with a considerable degree of interest and amusement, easily perceived her new cousin's discomfort at the innocuous question. 'I . . . I do not believe he is aware of my presence here.'
'Not aware?—how is that possible? Surely you and Diana have been at Houghton this week past? Before he even arrived?'
'No.' Lord Milton straightened, lifting his chin. 'The Leighs were good enough to extend an invitation to us.' Hastily, he turned to Elizabeth and explained, 'The Leighs are our cousins; I do not know if you will have met them yet.'
'I seem to recall several people by that name,' she owned, and recognising the displeased wonder on her husband's face, filled the uncomfortable silence. 'I did not know they were connections of ours, however.'
'Darcy's grandmother was a Leigh before her marriage,' said Milton.
Darcy recovered his temper and voice. 'I think I may presume that you have not yet paid your respects to my uncle and aunt, then?'
'Oh — they have not been in the country more than three days. I did not want to impose so early; Ella tells me that Mother is not in the best of health.'
'I see,' said Darcy, his expression incredulous. With a visible effort, he went on, 'And I hope that Diana is well?'
Milton suppressed a grimace. 'Very well, thank you.'
The rest of the evening passed in like manner. Elizabeth attempted to forward the conversation with little success, triviality succeeding triviality. Whatever their kinship, the two men were plainly not on the best of terms, the tension between them nearly palpable. To his credit, Darcy at least tried to conceal his disapproval behind forbiddingly correct civility, but his cousin's good breeding did not extend beyond the most perfunctory politeness, his manner towards Elizabeth a blur of admiration and suspicion. Clearly, each cousin felt equipped to pass judgment on the other, and just as clearly, each found the other wanting.
Thankfully, Milton left directly after dinner, and Elizabeth, upon retiring upstairs, wasted no time in questioning her husband as to what had just taken place.
'Lord Milton's business with you must have been very pressing,' said she, 'as I cannot think he came eleven miles to enquire after your relations' health.'
'Undoubtedly he considered it quite urgent.' Darcy straightened a pile of books. 'My cousin has, yet again, exceeded his income, and wishes me to supplement it.'
Elizabeth, stealing a sip of his brandy, choked. 'I beg your pardon?'
'Would you like your own glass, dear?'
'Of course not. Fitzwilliam, I do not understand. Why should he expect you, of all people, to pay for his extravagance? Why does he not turn to his father, or an uncle?'
'I have assisted him on several other occasions, so he is not entirely to blame for believing I could be prevailed upon once more. Also, I am one of the only people familiar with the reasons for his — plight. He dares not tell his father, and his great-uncle, Grandmother's younger brother, detests him.'
'There are reasons?'
'Gambling, and — and the maintenance of —' He hesitated.
'A lady friend?'
Darcy nodded, scowling at his books. 'I told him I would not — ' He cut himself off. 'In any case, I now have concerns greater than the cut of my cousin's coat, so he must fare without me.'
'I daresay he shall manage.' Elizabeth smiled at him, then, remembering a conversation in Kent, burst out laughing. At her husband's startled glance, she cried, 'So that is the elder brother! and not at all sickly — poor Colonel Fitzwilliam.'
'I believe I may assure you,' replied Darcy in the driest of tones, 'that, against all reasonable expectation, and despite being called Richard, my cousin has never schemed against his brother or his nephews.'
'That is a great comfort. I suppose he shall simply have to settle for some young heiress glad enough to snare an earl's son, whatever his fortune — or lack of it.'
Darcy's pale cheeks flooded with colour, earning an incredulous stare from his wife.
'Good heavens, Fitzwilliam, I am only speaking of what he himself suggested to me, when we were little more than friendly acquaintances. Has he already done it?'
'I — yes . . . no . . . that is . . .' he stopped, then, recovering his usual precise air, continued, 'he might, perhaps, have married such a person by now, had I not persuaded him out of it . . . several times.'
'If you insist,' Elizabeth said soberly, 'I shall try and appear surprised.'
His mouth twitched. 'How very kind of you.'
After some more desultory conversation, he walked around the room, extinguishing candles, and finally stopped by the window, pulling the curtains closed. Due to the dying embers in the fireplace, Elizabeth could just make out his figure, frozen at the window; all else was dark.
'Come to bed,' she said, her yawn audible. When he did so, Elizabeth immediately curled up against his side, rather enjoying the cool touch of his skin, the soft steady rhythm of his breathing. After only a few days of marriage, it was all a novelty still, strange, comfortable, and fascinating. 'Fitzwilliam?'
'Your cousin does not approve of our marriage, does he?'
Darcy paused. 'No; he rarely approves of that which gains him no advantage.'
'How long have you been on such poor terms with him?'
'We quarrelled in April,' he said shortly. 'Elizabeth, believe me, the only regard I have for my cousin is that he is my mother's eldest nephew, and father of my godchildren. His opinions are a matter of utter insignificance to all of us, not only myself. You need not concern yourself with Milton, of all people.'
'We are happy,' she replied, too weary to think clearly. 'He will see it in time, they all will.'
The gentle brush of his fingers against her forehead was at odds with his firm voice. 'Go to sleep, Elizabeth.'
For those uninitiated into the Canon of Peradan, this should help:
Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy's mother was Lady Anne Darcy, née Lady Anne Fitzwilliam, younger sister to the Earl of Ancaster and Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Lord Ancaster has three children -- his heir, Lord Milton (married to the former Lady Diana Stanhope), then Colonel Fitzwilliam (Christian name Richard) and Eleanor, Lady Northbrook (married to Lord Northbrook, heir of the wicked yet long-lived Duke of Albany). When 'Chance' opens, Milton has four children (Diana, John, Amelia, Paul) and Eleanor, two (Fitzwilliam, Catherine). Lady Catherine has one child, her frail daughter Anne. The dowager Lady Ancaster is the widow of the Fitzwilliam cousins' grandfather, the 4th Earl. There are also a pair of poor relations, James and Cecily Fitzwilliam.
The only other Darcys are the elderly, rich, and childless Sir James and Lady Darcy, Fitzwilliam and Georgiana Darcy's great-uncle and -aunt. They are also cousins to the Willoughbys of Aincourt: Lord Aldborough (who lives in seclusion in Ireland), his son Lord Courtland and his daughter Lady Dorothea, and their widowed relation, John Willoughby of Combe Magna.