Author's Note: My thanks to everyone who has read this, and has given feedback on it, each review was a pleasure to read and I glad this was so well received. This is the last part, where we hear what Society thinks of the recent events, before we leave the characters to row their own path. Enjoy.
Although Elizabeth often vowed to herself that her courage always rises at any attempt to intimidate her, she could not deny that she approached the second visit to Pemberley without experiencing a mild trepidation at the prospect. During her first visit her mind possessed nothing more than curiosity for the grand estate of which, had not a man drowned, she might have been mistress.
Even as she grew to admire the elegant interiors, that were pleasing in their simplicity as opposed to being overly fine or outrageous in their rich furnishings, and the surrounding grounds that nature could not have done more for, beyond a slight pity that she was not able to enjoy many a pleasant ramble within the ten mile round park, her heart had remained untouched.
Now however she could ramble as much as she chose, admire where she wished, give loose to her every fancy and indulge her imagination in every possible flight, supposing herself mistress of all that she surveys, for such an estate was true.
Thanks to the generosity of her husband's relatives and friends, she and Darcy would soon take up permanent residence in Pemberley's halls and parks. Their true state had been announced to Society, their acceptance assured by their fortune and patronage.
As she and her husband witnessed the overtures of many a gentleman and lady who only a few months ago had been more than pleased to drop her acquaintance upon hearing that she had all but eloped with a secretary, Elizabeth experienced some significant regret concerning how her own behaviour had been just as shallow when she was socialising in such circles.
There was no denying that she had spent her first months as the ward of Mr and Mrs Reynolds in a dreadful bitterness of spirit, too concerned with the grief over her loss of a sacrifice that would have ensured her family's future. She had been fortunate that Mr Darcy, or Mr Hurst as she had known him them, had been able to see through such self pity to love the real woman who hid herself beneath it, in a effort to protect a heart too broken by the many loses it had endured in close succession.
Indulging in many a ramble within the grounds of Pemberley would be a delight, but it was not that over which Elizabeth was experiencing trepidation. It was the knowledge that she was now mistress of this estate, and expected to run a household of servants, see after their care and that of the tenants, as well as becoming hostess to events in the surrounding villages, to soirees and balls at the estate.
Even when her father owned Longbourn, and she and Jane assisted him and their mother in running the estate, it was only in a tiny capacity, Longbourn being but a fraction of the size of Pemberley.
"My love, we are both new at this," William reminded her as the carriage and horses covered the remaining distance to the entrance of the country house. "We shall figure things out together, and receive help from many sources."
His words proved true soon after they settled, as Mr and Mrs Reynolds happily assumed their previous duties of steward and housekeeper, which had occupied them until his later father had taken them with him to the dust yard in Maiden Lane.
Within a few weeks they helped the new master and mistress learn the ropes of managing such a large and prosperous estate, so that by the time the master's sister returned home from the Cape, they were able to welcome her and the surrounding neighbourhood with all the style and gentility that the Darcys had been known for.
Georgiana was delighted to return home, to see an estate she remembered through only fleeting glimpses of her childhood when it was her grandfather's domain. Though the woods and hills were not immediately familiar to her, or the halls and parlours, they soon became as infinitely dear to her as that of her brother and sister in law.
In the Cape she had led a relatively sheltered life, the small quantity of English Society large enough to build her confidence, but not so large as to be overwhelming. Under her brother's watchful eye she had flourished into a beautifully accomplished young lady, who played and sang all day long. There had been nothing but the memory of their father's miserly treatment to damage her innocence, no rakes nor scroundels had threatened her heart.
A small, intimate family party came to Pemberley to welcome her home, consisting of the Bingleys and Richard Fitzwilliam. Charles was improving day by day and although he would never be quite the same man he was before he was attacked, in terms of mind this he believed was an improvement, though not in terms of strength.
He was considered well enough now to be moved from the Lambton Local Arms for the short five mile journey to Pemberley, where he was destined to reside during the rest of his recovery. During this time, he made the proper acquaintance of his brother in law, previously only seen during vague moments of awareness through his wedding ceremony.
Despite such disparate characters, the two relations by marriage soon grew close, Darcy appreciating Bingley's easiness, openness, the ductility of his temper, though no disposition could offer a greater contrast to his own, and though with his own he never appeared dissatisfied.
Bingley found much to like in Darcy also, coming to value his judgement, steadfastness, quiet reserved fastidiousness and his superior understanding. He was by no means deficient through his education and attainment of the bar, and it was through that skill he recognised intelligence when he made their acquaintance.
When Georgiana arrived home, she found the three gentlemen to be the closest of friends, loyal to her and, in the case of Darcy, Bingley and Mr Reynolds, to their wives, as well as to each other. The eight soon bounded together against what personages of Society dared to darken the environs of the ten mile round estate, as all slowly recovered from the effects which the last year had dealt upon all of them.
Naturally one recovery was of a much longer duration than the rest, but he soon came to possess the energy he could summon before, giving him the confidence, if not alittle trepidation as well, for such is always felt when one returns to pastimes after a long absence, to attempt some exercise.
The first of these was a leisurely occupation, requiring only courage and conversation on the part of the gentlemen involved, for the pastime was fraught with the dangers of nature. It involved a boat, which Darcy would row gently across the large lake which was situated in front of Pemberley House, whilst Fitzwilliam would talk and Bingley also, when he had conquered the reminders of what happened to him the last time he was near a natural source of water.
"Now that I have the energy, Richard, I've been thinking about the future," Charles informed him and Darcy, who sat passively rowing between them, content to listen. "I've had the idea of taking Jane to one of the colonies, working at my vocation there."
"I shall be lost without you," Richard remarked, knowing that he would not be the only one, for his cousin's wife would miss her sister dearly too, as would Darcy, who had become close to both of his relations since their removal to Derbyshire.
But then Richard considered the other factor which might sway his friend's mind, one largely ignored since their retirement in the country, but one which would have be faced and endured sooner rather than later. "Maybe you're right," he conceded.
"No, I would not be right," Charles replied quietly, but with a firmness which indicated that his blood was up, a rare occurrence from such a mild disposition as he was known to possess. "Makes me angry to think I could turn coward on Jane, sneak away with her as if I were ashamed of her. Where would your friend's part in this world be, Richard, if she had turned coward against me and on immeasurably better occasion?"
"That's well said of course, Charles," Richard acknowledged, for he not considered such vocation to be attributed to such ignoble behaviour. Nevertheless, he felt must proffer his own opinion on the subject, for he sensed that was what his friend desired by his manner of venturing to declare such a proposition. "But are you sure that for her sake, you might not feel some slight coldness towards her on the part of s... society?"
Charles laughed, startling both gentlemen, for it was an expression of amusement that lacked none of the energy which usually accompanied such emotion, a sure sign of their brother in law and friend's return to strength.
"Yes you may well stumble on that word, Richard!" he cried. "Now listen to me. My wife is somewhat nearer to my heart than society is. I owe her a little more than I owe Society, and I am prouder of her than I ever was of Society. Therefore, I will fight it out to the last gasp, with her and for her, here, in the open field. So if I should ever think to hide her away, then you, who I love next best in all the world, will tell me what I shall most righteously deserve to be told:- that she would have done better that night I lay bleeding to death, to turn me over with her foot and spit in my face."
He spoke with such an energy upon the subject that a glow, provided by the sun on a warm spring day, so irradiated his features that he looked, for the time, as though he had never been mutilated. His youthful countenance struck his relatives and friends speechless for a time, just as it would have his wife, were she near enough to hear him.
But that was not possible, for the boat was nearing the middle of the large lake, far from the bank where Mrs Bingley sat, along with her sister Mrs Darcy, their sister in law Georgiana, and Mr and Mrs Reynolds. Only able to see the gentlemen in the boat were they, and then but at intervals, for another occupied their attention, a bundle held gently in Mrs Darcy's arms, the son and heir to the great estate in which they all currently resided.
"Go and find out what society thinks of me, my dear fellow," Charles added, "if it will make you feel any better. As for myself, come hell or damnation, I really couldn't care less."
His friend's judgement lingered long in Richard's mind, the impact and import of his words lasting through his return to town, causing him to accept an invitation to dinner from Sir William and Lady Lucas, who had been, as usual, indefatigably dealing dinner cards to Society, and whoever desires to take a hand, had best be quick about it, for the House of Overend, Gurney, was due to make a resounding smash next week, the wreckage casting about all those who once invested in its wake.*
Of these the Lucases would suffer the worst, having found out the clue to that great mystery of how people could contrive to live beyond their means, to make corrupt deals or accept bribes, to the limit and beyond the means of their resources. Next week, it shall come to pass, that Sir William will be obliged by the discovery of these nefarious methods of acquiring wealth, to accept the post of the Chiltern Hundreds, a meaningless sovereign stewardship requiring him to resign from the House of Commons and retire to Calais, surviving on the living provided by on Lady Lucas's diamonds.
It shall likewise come to pass, at as nearly as possible the same period, that Society will discover that it always did despise Lucas, and distrust Lucas, and that when it went to Lucas's dinners, it always had misgivings - though very secretly at the time, it would seem, and in a perfectly private and confidential manner.
The next week not yet arrived however, there is the usual rush to the residence of Sir William and Lady Lucas, of the people who go to their house to dine with one another and not with them. There is Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mr King and his daughter, Mr Forster and his wife, Lady Metcalfe, Miss Morris-Pope and Mr Harrington, whose presence is almost always forgot, that gentleman so reserved and fearful of expressing his opinion in the company of those he was anxious to keep as friends.
And there is Richard Fitzwilliam, who comes to observe these representatives of the Voice of Society, to reflect upon their judgement when it is expressed, how it relates of that of his cousin and his friend, and if he can find it within himself to possess the same opinion as his friend, of 'not caring less.'
The size of the dinner party was such that it made the room usually assigned to such an occasion heated and crushed, causing the host and hostess to move the dinner outside, or rather, for the servants of the host and hostess to make the arrangements just so. Lucas Lodge, as Sir William and his wife affected to call their salubrious residence, for it lodged beside the river, boasted a fine expanse of garden at the rear which led down to that source of water, along with a dock for steamers to float by.
When the meal gave way to brandy and cigars, Richard had been the first to escape the group, as his presence had ignited a rigorous, though hardly sound, debate on the merits of marriages which crossed the boundaries of Society. For a time he had recalled his friend's words, and staunchly stood his ground amongst them, but their opinion soon gave rise to his disgust, causing him to abandon the dining table for one which carried the remains of the courses which had been sampled this evening.
His freedom however, was not to last.
"Really, Richard, as you refuse to join our debate, we've had to bring it to you!" Lady Catherine declared, the first amongst the persons present to breech his reprieve, bringing most of the party within her ordered wake.
"A debate," Richard remarked, with it must be said some degree of sarcasm and tiredness from having listened to much of it already, "on such a pleasant evening?"
His Aunt ignored his ill-humoured reply in favour of continuing with her own discussion. "Our debating question was, does a young man of very fair family, heir to a fortune, possessing a good appearance and some talent, make a fool or a wise man of himself by marrying a female waterman turned nursery maid?"
Lady Catherine made no mention of names, for she was very aware of the fact that her family was connected to the gentleman and female in question, but it was perfectly obvious to Richard and the rest of the persons present who she was referring to.
"That is hardly the question," Richard replied, determined to defend his friend, disgusted beyond keeping silence, as he had been enduring such derision for most of the evening since he arrived. "Which is I believe, whether the man who you describe does right or wrong in marrying a brave woman? I say nothing of her beauty."
"Excuse me," Sir William cried, the decibel of his tone serving to silence the rest of those present, so all might hear his response and the judgement of the lawyer. "Was this young woman ever a female waterman?"
"Never. But she might sometimes have rowed in boat with her Uncle," Richard answered, for indeed such was the case, as it had been the task of Philips to discover and collect the bodies, while his niece guided their vehicle along the river behind them.
"Has the young woman got any money?" Mr Foster asked in much the same manner as his business partner, although, if next week were here, such a state would not be the case, and emphatically denied as ever having been the case.
Fitzwilliam could not deny possessing some amusement knowing that his reply would do naught but vex them exceedingly. "Absolutely nothing!"
"Well then my gorge rises against such a marriage!" Sir William remarked, it being well known that he had married his wife on the strength of her diamonds, and she accepted him on the strength of his knighthood. "It offends and disgusts me! Why, it makes me sick."
Lady Lucas, eager to lend her support to her husband, sniffed delicately, as if she had caught the pungent smell of effluence, foul and cloying from the river behind them. "There must be equality in station," she observed. "A man accustomed to society must look out for a woman accustomed to society."
"And what if the man does not care for society?" Richard countered, all but stating the opinion of his friend, though his style was in the same vein as the debate had been conducted, in a certain hypothetical manner.
"Does not care for Society!" Lady Catherine echoed incredulously, as though the very affection was one which she had never heard existing before. "Really, nephew! What an absurd opinion." She scoffed at the notion, having been brought up, as the eldest daughter of an Earl, to regard Society as the kingdom in which she reigned, when the sovereign was absent of course.
There was a brief hush after her disbelief was expressed, causing her to wonder for a moment if any cared to agree with her. Casting about the group for one who could be relied upon to voice their support, she continued. "Mr Harrington, you are so small, I had forgotten you. You never say a word, always silent as a mouse. Come now, speak up and tell us what you think!"
Mr Harrington was cautious in the nature of his response, but nonetheless when he did open his mouth, it was not to the satisfaction of his damsel. "I am disposed to think that this is a question of the feelings of a gentleman."
"A gentleman who contracts such a marriage has no feelings!" Sir William declared emphatically, causing all to join him in a murmur of support, although when next week is upon them, such a gesture will be just as steadfastly denied as to ever having taken place.
"Pardon me sir, but I don't agree," Mr Harrington replied. "If this gentleman's feelings of gratitude, of respect, of admiration, and of affection, induce him to marry this lady."
Sir William was outraged by such an epithet being used. "Lady?" He queried incredulously for one would hardly describe a female waterman turned nursery maid as someone belonging to such a noble station.
"Why, yes, sir," Mr Harrington continued. "For what else would you call her, if the gentleman were present?"
It must be said at this moment that Sir William had the grace to look chagrined in despite of himself, a state which, when next week is upon us, Society will attribute as to him possessing some foresight of the smash which was to come.
"I say again," Mr Harrington continued, "that if this gentleman's feelings induced him to marry this lady, then he is the greater gentleman for the action, and she is the greater lady."
This opinion having silenced the committee, not perhaps in agreement with the judgement, but in shock at such a normally reserved gentleman as Mr Harrington being known to voice it, the speaker walked away from the committee, to the railings of the dock, at the edge of the garden.
And thither also went Mr Fitzwilliam, pausing to fetch two glasses of brandy and a couple of Sir William's excellent cigars on his way, before joining the gentleman whom he had gained a new respect for, as a result of this evening's debate, as well as a great regard for, as he had spoken justly of his friend and his lady.
"Time for one more before we go back," he remarked, offering one of the brandies and cigars to Mr Harrington, who took it with a quiet smile, before resting his arms in a similar fashion upon the railings before them.
Below them the gentle waves of the river flowed and ebbed, as the night descended, and the party faded from existence.
*1) Overend, Gurney & Company was a London wholesale discount bank, known as "the bankers' bank", which collapsed in 1866, around the time when Charles Dickens set Our Mutual Friend and I have set Along the River, owing about 11 million pounds, equivalent to £981 million at 2008 prices. Until events at Northern Rock in September 2007, it was the last run on a British bank. For more information, visit a well known online encyclopedia.