Two Weddings and a Funeral
On a sunny day in April, James Darlington, Fitzwilliam Darcy and Colonel Fitzwilliam stood silently beneath the noonday sun, while the remains of Edwin Darlington were lowered into the earth, beside his father. The small country graveyard was the final resting place of generations of Darlingtons. Were it not a graveyard, and such a sombre occasion, one might have felt delight at the picturesque scene of a handsome stone church standing atop a small hill. The ancient stone walls of the graveyard gave way to fertile green fields, which seemed to breathe the very hope of life on the lovely spring day.
Lady Darlington and Julia had travelled that morning from Pemberley, accompanied by Mr and Mrs Darcy, Georgiana Darcy, and Colonel Fitzwilliam. As was the custom, the ladies had earlier farewelled Edwin from Darlington Hall, where they awaited the return of the gentlemen. Re-entering Darlington Hall after an absence of almost two and a half years had indeed been a poignant moment for Lady Darlington and Julia. Despite the sombreness of the circumstances, the servants could not conceal their joy at receiving her ladyship and the young Miss into their former home. James Darlington had arrived with his brother's body the previous evening, and had passed the night there. His arrangements for the luncheon unfortunately fell short of what Lady Darlington felt was due to their guests, and she very soon had matters arranged to her complete satisfaction.
After the meal, Mr Darlington excused himself, as he had business with the solicitor in the library. He was accompanied by Mr Darcy, who, as a magistrate, had agreed to witness the signing of some documents. Colonel Fitzwilliam and Julia Darlington decided to take advantage of the lovely spring weather and take a turn in the garden. He offered her his left arm, as the right one remained in a sling. Elizabeth could not help but observe how well they looked together.
Lady Darlington enquired whether Elizabeth and Georgiana would care to take a tour of the hall; to which they gladly acceded. "I understand," said Lady Darlington, "that most of the hall was sheeted, and has lain closed since our departure. It is an enormous place, and far too large for just one inhabitant. The housekeeper tells me that since Edwin was intending to bring his bride to the hall, he had all the rooms opened up; so I have hopes of finding everything in good order."
The quality and beauty of the rooms, the furnishings, and the artwork were a reflection on the exquisite taste of Lady Darlington. The exceptional standard of all she saw, gave Elizabeth pause to reflect that there was yet something further to aspire to at Pemberley. Both she and Georgiana were lavish in their praise of all they beheld; and her ladyship was visibly gratified at their admiration.
Lady Darlington was eager to view the picture gallery, where she feared Edwin may have removed James' paintings. She was greatly relieved to discover after a quick survey that he had not done so. "My late husband, Lord Darlington, painted by our son, James," she said, standing in front of a large portrait of a handsome, benevolent-looking gentleman. She fell silent, and Elizabeth and Georgiana stood quietly beside her as she looked lovingly at the portrait. Then brushing aside a tear, she said, "And now we have a new Lord Darlington."
"What becomes of the estate, your ladyship?" asked Elizabeth.
"Since Edwin had no heir," replied Lady Darlington, "both the title and the estate, in its entirety, now belong to my son, James," she said with evident complaisance.
Georgiana laughed. "Oh dear, we shall have to call him Lord Darlington, now."
"I expect that you may be allowed a slight abbreviation, my dear," said Lady Darlington, smiling mischievously.
Georgiana blushed and Elizabeth laughed. Both ladies understood the abbreviation she alluded to, must be darling, with all that was implied.
"I suppose with Darlington Hall now belonging to your son, you will be anxious to return here, to your former home – and we must lose our dearest neighbours," said Elizabeth regretfully.
Lady Darlington smiled. "I shall never forget your warmth and hospitality, or your great generosity in our time of need, my dear Elizabeth; but naturally, I wish to return to my beloved Darlington Hall. However, as you will have seen from this morning's journey, we are but a few hours from Pemberley, and I am certain that there must always be the greatest intimacy between Pemberley and Darlington Hall," she said with a smile as her eyes moved meaningfully from Elizabeth to Georgiana.
"But what of Julia, if I may be so forthright as to allude to future possibilities that might take her from you?" asked Elizabeth.
Lady Darlington smiled. "You may be as forthright as you wish, my dear, for indeed, an understanding developed between Julia and Colonel Fitzwilliam upon his removal to Pemberley. It was only out of respect for poor Edwin that they chose to withhold their happy news until after he was laid to rest."
Much congratulation and expression of delight followed from both young ladies at the positive confirmation of what was already much suspected.
"The business, in which my son James is presently engaged with the solicitor, is the execution of the wish of his late father, to settle a substantial fortune upon Julia. When you returned from London, a week ago, Julia had in her possession a letter from James, stating his intention of carrying out his father's fond wish for his daughter. As soon as I communicated the news to Julia, her understanding with Colonel Fitzwilliam was very soon fixed. I am exceedingly happy for them both."
"Oh yes," said Elizabeth. "Love, such as theirs, which has withstood both the test of time and seeming hopelessness – not to mention the persistent and outright opposition of his aunt – cannot but produce the greatest happiness. Nevertheless, you must feel some regret in losing so beloved a daughter, your ladyship?"
"No, not at all; on the contrary, I very much hope to gain another beloved daughter," said Lady Darlington, again looking significantly in Georgiana's direction.
Elizabeth guessed that Lady Darlington had most probably been entirely aware of the love that was blossoming between her son, James, and Georgiana – and very likely for longer than the lovers themselves. She suspected that the letter James Darlington had sent with his sister, from London, very likely alluded to his intention of begging Georgiana to be his wife.
"Do Julia and Colonel Fitzwilliam intend to make their home here, at Darlington Hall?" asked Elizabeth.
"Indeed they do," replied Lady Darlington happily. "In his letter, James expressed the wish that they should live here, at the hall. However, if they preferred, he would offer them the manor house at Winsford; which is part of his estate. Although it is only a few miles distant, I am very pleased that they have chosen to make their home here, at Darlington Hall; which, as you can see, is large enough for several families.
Georgiana's imagination was running away with her by this time, and she had a great desire for a private conversation with James Darlington. As luck would have it, he emerged from the library just as they completed their tour. "Lord Darlington," she said, causing him momentary confusion, for he was not yet accustomed to the appellation.
"Miss Darcy," he said with a smile, "I was very much hoping that you might allow me to give you a personal tour of my beautiful grounds."
"I would be delighted," said Georgiana, taking the proffered arm. They walked for a time in silence, while Georgiana admired the great beauty before her. As they entered a lovely avenue of birch trees, she said, "I was hoping that you might grant me a private conversation, during the course of the day, Mr Darlington."
James Darlington laughed heartily, for young ladies were supposed to wait for the gentleman to make such a suggestion. "I had much the same wish, and was hoping that our present excursion might provide the desired opportunity. However, I beg you to wait just a little, until we reach a particular place I have in mind. I understand that my mother has given you the grand tour of Darlington Hall. May I ask how you like it?"
Georgiana smiled at him. "I like it very much; it is beautiful. And the grounds are delightful. Your mother is so happy and full of joy to be again in her own home."
"Yes, she is. I am so happy for her, but will you mind… err, no, I cannot yet ask you that question; let us walk on a little further."
So they walked on silently, arm in arm, enjoying the lovely day, and feeling a wonderful sense of anticipation. Finally, James Darlington led Georgiana to a beautiful rose garden. It was not on so grand a scale as the one at Pemberley, but it had a delicate beauty about it, that Georgiana greatly admired. They stopped at the centre of the garden, beside an ornamental fountain. Georgiana laughed.
James Darlington turned to face her, and took her hands in his so that they were standing in an identical pose to that he had assumed with the Countess de Namur at Pemberley. "Fear not, no one will come upon us," he said, smiling.
"Did you practice the words you are about to address to me with the countess?" asked Georgiana playfully.
"Indeed not. But I have been practicing them, or at least, imagining myself saying them to you, for a very long time, my dearest Georgiana," he said, becoming suddenly serious. "Since the day that your sister contrived to have me paint you in the conservatory, I have loved you as I have never loved before. When you told me that you had no wish to marry, the desire to make you my wife was planted firmly in my heart, where it has flourished and thrived. It was only my poverty that prevented me from paying you my addresses until this time."
"And I, too, have loved you since that day – although, for a time, I attempted to persuade myself that it was no more than deep friendship. Though I felt such pain, whenever we were apart, and wished to be always in your company, I told myself that I did not wish to marry you. It was not until the Beauchamps came into Derbyshire, and my conversations with Gwendolyn, that I gave serious thought to what it means to be a wife. Then I knew, without the slightest doubt, that I wished to be your wife."
"Are you paying me your addresses, Miss Darcy? Although I am no stickler for social conventions, I always believed it to be the prerogative of the gentleman. But since you are so unconventional a young lady, perhaps I should allow you to finish."
"Yes, you should," said Georgiana, smiling lovingly, and squeezing his hands. "If you recall, I almost came to the point that night in the library at Pemberley, when I told you I had changed my mind about not marrying."
"Indeed, I do recall it. I was amazed in thinking it over afterwards: that had Lord William not happened upon us at that moment, you might very well have informed me that you had decided to marry me."
"Yes, it may well have ended like that; although I had in no way premeditated such a thing – as I do now: James Darlington, I love you, with all my heart, and I wish to be your wife. I cannot live without you."
"I thought you would never come to the point," he said smiling happily. "And yes, with all my heart, I accept you, my dearest, darling Georgiana." And with that, he released her hands, took her in his arms, and they kissed, for a very long time.
Afterwards, Georgiana said, "You took a great liberty in kissing me like that, James, for you do not yet know if my brother and Colonel Fitzwilliam, who are my joint guardians, will approve of the match."
"They have both approved the match, already. I asked Colonel Fitzwilliam in London, and your brother, this morning," he said with a smile.
"Then you had better kiss me again," said Georgiana, "now that I know it is properly sanctioned."
As they walked back towards the hall, brimming with joy, James Darlington asked, "How will you like sharing Darlington Hall with my mother and sister? I hope that you do not object to the arrangement, for I could not, in my heart, deny my dear mother her own home, or the company of her beloved daughter."
"Oh, James, how could you imagine I would object? I should only have objected had you not begged them to live with us at Darlington Hall. You must know that I love you mother dearly; as much as any daughter could love a mother – and now I shall, in truth, be her daughter. Nothing could make me happier. It is evident that your mother loves to run the establishment at Darlington Hall; and it is my desire that she should continue to do so for as long as she wishes. I shall gradually learn from her. It will suit us both very well, I believe, and will leave me free to pursue my writing. As to your sister, Julia – who shall now also be my sister – and my cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, I am overjoyed that they will live with us at Darlington Hall, for I love them both dearly. It will all be entirely perfect!"
And so we reach the happy ending
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