Well this is it! Thanks for staying with me to the finish.


Chapter 23

Mr. Bennet sat alone in his library as was his custom, a favorite tome in his hand, sipping abstractedly from a glass of port. It was a new bottle, one brought specially by his future son-in-law from London. It was quite good, much better than his own inferior brand, and he was slightly perturbed by its superiority, wondering if Mr. Darcy had meant the gift as some kind of slight. When that illustrious man from Derbyshire had asked to court his Lizzy, Mr. Bennet had chalked it up to being a lark, certainly nothing would come of it! But then Lizzy had returned from London, all smiles again to insist that she was indeed desirous to marry the man, that she loved and respected him above all men she had ever known!

Well, frankly, it had hurt to hear such words from his favorite daughter. Somewhere, deep inside, Mr. Bennet knew that he was far from an ideal father, but at least with Lizzy, he had always done his best to guide her and mold her into the perfect companion. And now she was leaving him. He sipped the port again. And for a man that a poverty stricken father could never compete with! Mr. Darcy had been far too clever, for all of them.

Mrs. Bennet tittered to herself as she moved about her house, happy at the success of her own machinations. For certainly, if she had not thought to send Lizzy to London, none of this good fortune would have come to them. It had been a very good idea of hers, and now they would all reap the benefits. She found her attention settle onto the hallway rug, considering it carefully. For many years she had longed to change it out for something much more modern. And with such a rich son-in-law, anyone in Meryton would extend her all the credit she could ever wish for; all she would have to do was bring up Mr. Darcy's name in casual conversation! And imagine the credit that would be extended to her in London! She licked her lips with glee.

Chancing to look into the sitting room, searching for Mary, she spotted at the window the curtains that her mother-in-law had handpicked some decades before, when Longbourn had still been a profitable estate. The curtains, now of indeterminate age, flowed languidly in the spring breeze coming through the window. Mrs. Bennet had always hated those curtains. What good fortune that she could now update her entire house at so little cost to herself! She searched around for her bonnet, determined to make a morning call. Oh, Lady Lucas would turn green with envy when she heard the news!

In a rather dingy barrel that was in need of a good washing, the noble cane sat once again wedged between undignified company; if there was a less moth-eaten umbrella somewhere amongst his present company, it had yet to be pressed against it!

It is perhaps of value to know that this particular day was the cane's 547th birthday, though such an anniversary would pass unawares by the entirety of the world, including even the most distinguished cane. It had never bothered to learn its numbers, but if it had, it would, of course, have been a great proficient!

At the moment, it was being disturbed by a rather loud bit of crying coming from one of the upstairs bedrooms of its current abode. Was that? Could that possibly be an…an infant? Oh, for goodness sakes, what kind of household was this that children were allowed to cry so belligerently? Never at Rosings had there been such…such caterwauling!

The cane wondered again how it had come to be here. It remembered briefly having been handled by Miss Anne de Bourgh, the sickly daughter of its own wonderful mistress, but it had passed from her hands quickly, finding itself in a palm of such sticky sweatiness that the cane shuddered even now at the memory. It had been carried across Rosing's park and finally been deposited in this barrel. How much time had passed it knew not. Whatever the passage of time had been, though, it knew it had a right to greatly feel the insult done to its delicacies at such neglect.

A voice called from above the stairs, exuberant and sniveling, "A boy. Oh my dear Charlotte, I have an heir at last! I must inform them at Rosings. They will be so pleased."

That same sticky, sweaty hand that the cane detested so much rested itself around its head, and began leaning on it rather too heavily, the cane thought, to guide its steps towards Rosings, the once great home of the cane.

The hand caressed the cane slightly, and the sniveling voice spoke again, "I knew they could not remain angry at me for long. After all, they have given me Lady Catherine's own exquisite possession, such beautiful workmanship! No one has ever had such a cane as this. And now I have an heir for Longbourn as well. My fortune is complete."

A complete fortune indeed, the cane decided sneeringly. Mr. Collins stopped for a moment to rub at his left arm, feeling curiously short of breath all of the sudden. Ah well, must be from all of the excitement at my son's birth!

Andrew Fitzwilliam had not previously been a man for deep contemplation. Military-minded, he was as strategic as he was brilliant, but it wasn't often that he could be found sitting in a chair, a cup of coffee at his knee, just thinking for the sake of thinking. He looked at the letter again, just arrived from Netherfield, his cousin's written words a bit shaky in his exhilaration. Darcy was finally marrying his Miss Bennet. The wedding was still several days away, but Andrew was certain that at least his mother would be anxious to attend the festivities as soon as possible.

He sighed to himself. With the spring planting fully in force at Rosings for the first time in nearly five years, Andrew knew that he would not be allowed such leniency to be away from his future estate to attend the wedding. Probably his father would go, though, already reconciled to Darcy's choice through the gentle subtleness of his wife's influence. The Fitzwilliams would need to make a show of supporting Darcy at his wedding against the derisiveness he would surely garner from the uptight and rigid members of the ton.

So it would only be him and Anne, alone, at Rosings.

Anne.

She hardly said a word, which he liked. She rarely asked for anything at all from him which he definitely liked! Rosings's menu had already been subtly altered under her influence for the better; there were more sweets to be had at every meal.

He knew that he would never be as happy as Darcy was with his Miss Bennet, there was little helping that. Though Anne had improved, her mind was still rather weak. She would never be truly intelligent like the future Mrs. Darcy, but all this withstanding, he couldn't say that he was unhappy with his choice.

A few weeks ago, when he had read in the papers of the disastrous outcome of the Earl of Chatham's advance against the mad Frenchman at Antwerp, there had been some regret that he hadn't been there to offer his aid and expertise. When the casualty lists had finally arrived however, reporting the names of dead enlisted men and colonels alike, he could only feel profound relief to have missed out on such bloody carnage. It was cowardly of him, he knew.

Additionally he couldn't quite shake the feeling that compared to Darcy, he was truly the fortunate one. He was alive and safe from future battles and that was much to be grateful for— a gratitude that he was certain would sustain him throughout the rest of his life. No matter how retiring it turned out to be.

How could he possibly repine when Rosings would soon be turning a profit, making him an exceedingly rich man? And he decided, as he noted Anne's passing by the library on the way to her sitting room, she was looking particularly rosy today. All in all, not a bad existence for a previously penniless Army Colonel.

Lady Matlock smiled indulgently at her husband of some seven and thirty years as he read his own note received recently from Darcy informing him of his impending nuptials.

Lord Matlock leaned back in his chair and scratched at his chin, considering. "Well, she brings nothing to this marriage, it seems, except for her charms which, according to your son and nephew, are considerable."

"And Georgiana likes her," Lady Matlock informed him a bit smugly.

Lord Matlock quirked an eyebrow, wondering at such a commendation from his usually more taciturn niece, "Really?"

"Yes, a letter from her arrived for me yesterday. Four pages, crossed and re-crossed, speaking of nothing but the woman who is to be her new sister."

"So unlike Georgiana to be so verbose."

"Yes, but it makes Miss Bennet seem all the more worthy, does it not?" Lady Matlock challenged.

"So when do you propose that we leave for Hertfordshire to welcome her into our family?"

Lady Matlock giggled delightfully, making her look just as she had the day her somewhat prejudiced husband had finally fallen in love with her. "My dear, I thought you would never ask!"

The couple much discussed and contemplated by all of their closest friends and family were rather oblivious to all of these diverse musings. Today, after sitting with Mrs. Bennet in her parlor for several tedious minutes they had finally made their escape, heading towards a secluded shrubbed path in a distant corner of Longbourn park, with Kitty as a seemingly rather distracted chaperone, trailing behind, a basket at her elbow ostensibly picking flowers for a spring arrangement.

Darcy had intertwined his fingers with Elizabeth's the moment they had walked far enough beyond the prying eyes certainly present at any one of Longbourn's many windows. Her hands, he had lately discovered, were often much warmer than he ever had anticipated—even felt through the gloves she wore—and always so very delicate when compared to his own. He raised their intertwined fingers, looking at them together, turning them over.

"What is it you see?" she asked archly. "Is there a spot of mud on my otherwise impeccably clean gloves?"

He shook his head but otherwise refused to answer. He gathered her hand through his arm, pressing her close his side. The top of her bonnet barely grazed his shoulder. For such an energetic woman, she was certainly small. Her effervescent personality made her seem larger than she really was, and it was only in moments like this that he felt his own larger stature acutely.

If only she were a bit taller! There was something that he wished to do, something that he must do, or suffer the consequences of going crazy before he even reached his wedding day! He checked behind him. Kitty was nowhere to be seen, though he could hear her humming to herself from somewhere nearby.

"Does Miss Kitty sing?" he found himself suddenly asking.

"No she does not. It has never been something she wished to demonstrate."

"Her humming is delightful," Darcy grinned down at his fiancée.

Elizabeth blushed, "Oh, you can hear that? I'm afraid I taught her how. When we were chaperoning Mr. Bingley and Jane, we would often stay just out of their sight, but hum so they still knew us to be nearby and not neglecting our duties."

"Most effective," Darcy smiled. "And now Miss Kitty affords us the same privilege?"

"Of course," Elizabeth said. "She likes you."

"At least one member of your family seems to," he muttered.

"Whatever can you mean? Jane likes you, and even my mother lately has been kind, in her own way."

Darcy tugged at his suddenly tight cravat, "I am however uncertain as to your father's opinion of me."

Elizabeth placed her hand on his elbow reassuringly, "My father does not yet know you. When he does, I am certain he will claim that he likes you just as well as Mr. Bingley. And for my father, that is high praise indeed."

Darcy hoped rather than believed her to be right. At least Pemberley was far enough away that if Mr. Bennet remained stagnant in limiting his affections, Darcy would not be forced to endure it often.

Miss Kitty, had by this time, just turned the shrubbed corner nearest to them and was standing not five feet away, carefully looking at the flowers in the hedge rather than at them. Obviously by the bloom in her cheeks, she had not expected to come upon the couple so unexpectedly.

Elizabeth caught her sister's eye and briefly smiled before looking back up at her fiancé, raising one eyebrow impishly at him. She tucked her hands together over his arm, "Shall we continue, Mr. Darcy?" It was spoken so delightfully that Darcy once again felt the desperation of a man much in need of a moment alone with his fiancée!

He took a quick assessing look around the corner of the shrubs standing innocently beside him. At the opposite end of the park, near to those rhododendron plants beginning to bloom, he could just make out a largish stump that looked like it would serve his purpose rather effectively. He did not know how Elizabeth would react to being drawn quickly across the lawn so he kept her talking as he pulled her eagerly towards his object. "It has been many months since I have heard you sing."

She smiled softly as she tried her best to keep up with him, "I must confess that I am surprised at your willingness to hear me sing. I know I lack the talent of other women."

"I think you sound delightful," he told her sincerely.

The stump having been thusly reached, Darcy quickly put his hands about his beloved's waist and lifted her onto it. "Mr. Darcy!" She only called him that when he succeeded in completely surprising her. "What are you doing?"

Now her chin was at his shoulder. Perfect. He took both of her hands in his, ignoring her outburst, "Will you hum for me, dearest, loveliest, Elizabeth?"

She looked at him sharply, for his words seemed in jest, but she could see that he was being perfectly serious. "And what pray tell would you have me hum?"

He smiled, "Anything you can imagine."

Mischievously she picked a silly children's song and started the first few notes with an enthusiastic cheerfulness. Her voice died away when she suddenly felt his fingers at her neck, loosening the ribbons of her bonnet, letting it fall behind her back. "Fitzwilliam," she said breathlessly, "You are distracting me."

His hands returned to hold her own, squeezing them gently. "Terribly sorry, please continue," he said with mock severity. He was still learning to tease she decided, but with time, he would truly be a master of it. Perhaps even rivaling herself, she did not doubt!

She had just reached the second verse of the song when she felt his busy fingers once more, one of them raising to caress her cheek, the other at her back, drawing her closer to his body. Her voice died away as she looked up at him, suddenly very close, his eyes roaming her face, scorching in their intensity.

Slowly, he bent his head, his breath mingling with hers, to delicately touch his lips to her own. It was very gentle, soft as the whisper of a butterfly's wings when in flight, but it made her heart pound and her face suddenly flush. The hand at her cheek firmed minutely as he bent again, pressing his lips slightly harder against her own, urging her to respond. She complied; she could do little else. It seemed that she had only ever existed for this moment; nothing could ever compare to this again! Not a favorite book, or a warmed cup of tea on a cold day. This was what she had waited for her entire life!

Her breath caught in her throat, and he sensed it, stepping back, giving her time to compose herself, though one hand still remained at her back, and the other was now lightly twisted in the curls at her temple. "Fitzwilliam Darcy," she finally managed to intone, "I do believe I shall like being married to you."

His answer was laughter, rich and pure, and completely delighted before he bent to kiss her again.

Somewhere else, at not too great a distance from the preoccupied couple, Kitty suddenly grinned for no apparent reason at all and snipped off the first of the rhododendron flowers adding them to her ever growing bouquet.

The End


AN: Check out my new novel Allyson Rowe at Amazon!