New story, yaye! Here comes another one-shot in the post P&P lives of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. This also comes as an appeasement gift to those wonderful and patient readers who've alerted me and my other stories , i.e., my way of saying -"Sorry for the delay, here's a nice long story, please don't eat me!"
Although I'm strongly tempted to add a nice, humourous disclaimer, P&P is currently open-source, so I guess it's not really required. *sighs*
Mrs. Darcy was an exceptionally felicitous woman. After a brief, though no-less trying phase of misunderstandings and mishappenings, she finally attained the state of joy and happiness she wished for, and was, indeed, entitled to -marrying the man she loved. Mr. Darcy was everything she could want or require in a husband -nay, perhaps more, as she often recalled herself. As is common in such cases of young love, Mr. Darcy thought much the same of his wife. Thus, in such blissful states of selfless admiration and gratitude, the Darcys' connubial life passed, with nary a hitch to lessen their effervescence.
A great man once said that -'All good things must come to an end'. Perhaps you, reader, do not find yourself much inclined towards this notion betwixt such a joyous scene of marriage -be assured that the Author does not very much like this thought herself, and will thus make an effort to rid the unpleasantness from the paper as soon as is possible.
Nearly ten months had passed since the Darcy-Bingley double wedding, and Mrs. Darcy had since settled into the role of Mistress of Pemberley quite admirably. Within a month of her reaching Pemberley, she had mastered her duties and obligations with an ease which quickly earned the servants' fervent respect, and Mr. Darcy's fond pride. A routine was quickly formed -broken only by a short visit to town where she dazzled the ton, after which she returned to Pemberley reigning triumphant -and already established was a certain manner, a tradition, of running things in the vast country household.
This fine autumn day began like all the other days so far for Elizabeth Darcy. She finished her toilette, broke her fast, decided the day's menu with Mrs. Reynolds, and walked in the gardens with Georgiana, after which the younger lady retreated to the music room for her daily practise session. At this point, Elizabeth would either make way to the library, or remain outside, if the fine weather held. On this particular morning, Elizabeth directed her steps toward her own personal study, despite the clearness of the day, for she had letters to take care of. She did not look upon this change in routine with ill-favour, for she was expecting several letters from her dearest friends. On inspecting the collection of letters she was not disappointed –Jane had written to keep her to date with her first confinement, and Mrs. Gardiner had written a joyous letter full of fond remembrances of their visit to Pemberley the previous winter, and of hopeful conjectures as to their next visit. Elizabeth was thus agreeably engaged for the greater part of a half hour when she espied amidst the others a letter so ill-directed, on such a cheap sort of paper that Elizabeth was astonished –it took her but a moment to recognise the hand.
"Oh, Lydia!" –she cried to herself, irked and dismayed.
With no little vexation, she broke the seal and read:
"My dear Lizzy,
I do apologise for the delay in writing but be assured that Wickham and I thank you most heartily for your aid –indeed little Gilbert fares all the better as a result and you may depend on me for reminding him often of his rich Aunt Darcy and how kind she is. As matter of fact, dear Gilbert does not fare as well as he ought and could, for the neighbourhood in which we live is so mean and mannerless, the air so stale and suffocating that the child quite languishes with suffering. I should be very glad if you could loan us a little amount –as little as three hundred pounds –to make our home in a better environment –Wickham has already seen a perfect little cottage that would suit us admirably! Do send back the money as soon as you can for Wickham is worried we might lose the cottage to someone else.
"Oh! Impertinent girl!" –Elizabeth thought, distressed at her youngest sister's callous writing. "A perfect little cottage indeed! Gambling debts if I'm not mistaken!"
She flung the letter onto her desk, and after an irresolute moment, decided that a walk in the brisk air outside would calm her agitated nerves considerably. She duly set about accomplishing her decision, and spent, on the whole, a very enjoyable walk through the gardens, often stopping to address and advice the gardeners.
In the meantime, Mr. Darcy, who had not had the advantage of spending a blissful morning, and had been confined to his study for several hours with matters of the estate, had finally found himself liberated enough to seek his wife's scintillating company. Knowing beforehand that Elizabeth had intended to see to her correspondence that morning, he made his way to her study with eager anticipation, but alas! –found it bare and devoid of her presence.
Disappointed, he made his way to the handsome desk where she invariably wrote, determining by the half-opened pile of letters that she had indeed been in the study for some time before quitting it. He turned away; at the last moment he espied a name that he could not believe could be present in her correspondence. Shocked beyond belief, Mr. Darcy picked up the offending article; as he read through the unmannered missive, he found his worst fears realised!
Elizabeth, after a very productive conversation with the head gardener concerning the herb garden, made a more stately, calm return to her study than her departure, and found, to her pleasant surprize, her husband waiting for her.
"Fitzwilliam! Are the tedious matters of business finally disposed of for the day?" –asked she joyously. Her husband replied with such a cool manner that Elizabeth was concerned and immediately begged to know if anything bothered him. Mr. Darcy complied-
"Pray tell me, what is the meaning of this letter?" –asked he, with forced calmness.
Elizabeth glanced at the sheet of paper in his hand –one glance was enough, and she coloured. "I don't see what there is to explain, my dear."
Mr. Darcy, who had been seated, stood up and began to pace –a sure sign of agitation, as Elizabeth very well knew.
"Several points. The fact of your continued correspondence with Mrs. Wickham, for one thing. And what of this –" reading from the letter –"'Wickham and I thank you most heartily for your aid' –what of this, madam? What sort of aid have you been providing this woman with –aid I have heard mention of only in this letter today!"
Shocked and goaded by the vehemence of his manner, Elizabeth replied coolly –"That woman, as you name her, is my sister, sir. I do not see any reason to apply for your permission to help my kin in any manner I see fit."
"Indeed!" –cried he. "No reason at all –except that you do it behind my back! Lie and steal away my money to aid your sister and her hoydenish endeavours!"
Elizabeth was angered beyond belief.
"Mr. Darcy! How dare you! –for your kind information, the money I sent was mine in my own right –and crude she may be, uncivil and mannerless she may be, but Lydia Wickham is my sister first and foremost and I will not have you disparage her in such a manner!"
"Yes, defend her. Defend her lack of morality, her mercenary qualities, her affinity to the worst sort of fiend who came near destroying my life –defend her, solely because she is your sister! Send her money she does not require and does not deserve, taint the hard-earned product of the grand estate that is Pemberley! –after all, have I not made you Mistress of the estate? Do it all –splurge and waste away to your heart's content; feed the wants and desires of that devil –after all, he was your favourite once, was he not!" –every agitated word he spoke was edged with sarcasm, which hurt and angered our Elizabeth to higher degrees.
"How could you!" –she cried. "How could you speak thus –as if you do not know me at all, as if we were once more in the Assembly Rooms in Meryton –callous, callous man! How could you, after nearly a year of companionship doubt my disinclination towards that man; and to imply that I misuse my position as Mistress of such a household –do I indeed? Do I shirk and disdain my duties such as they may be, as your wife, as a sister to Georgiana? Have all my efforts, my sacrifices, in the past ten months come to naught? It is as I feared," she added, lowering her voice but not the distress in her tone –"it is all come to naught. You, sir, have maintained your character with such persistence as must be laudable –you are as proud, as contemptuous, as selfishly blind as ever!"
Mr. Darcy, who had seemed repentant along her speech, was brought to his previous ire by her closing words.
"And you, madam," said he, "are no less constant in your behaviour –I must applaud you. You still pronounce unfounded judgements with unvarying joy. As unchanged as you might perceive me, I see in you no more than the impertinent, prejudiced daughter of an obscure country gentleman."
"That is quite enough, sir. You have made your feelings perfectly apparent to me. Pray excuse me so I may withdraw such a displeasing countenance as mine from your presence."
And with these words she exited the room, tears held only in check by the resentment that was yet flaring within her.
Mr. Darcy, however, in addition to being seriously distressed by the altercation, was even more surprized and vexed at the direction the conversation had taken. Instead of berating Elizabeth for trying to help a no-good swain like George Wickham, he had somehow ended up insulting her and her family in a most horrible manner –how had this come to be?
Elizabeth left the room seemingly within an enraged stupor; she wandered with much agitation until she found herself within her own chambers. She made her decision immediately –anger and resentment deciding for her, she summoned her maid with such forcefulness that poor young Wills appeared in the room at a run, her cap lopsided and her dress ruffled. Then, to the utter astonishment of the girl, Mrs. Darcy bade her to pack a trunkful of clothes, for she was departing from Pemberley the very next morning. Shocked and worried to no end, the maid tried to dissuade her mistress from such a harsh resolve, for already it was known that the Master and the Mistress had been involved in a most dreadful altercation –but Elizabeth would not be moved.
"Pack everything that I brought with me from Hertfordshire, Wills. And only the rosebud gown and the plain yellow muslin from the new ones. Leave the rest," said she with cold determination.
At such directness, the young woman could do naught but obey and did so meekly. After a minute of forced silence, Elizabeth left the room, finding it suffocating to remain indoors with such inaction after such a terrible ordeal! –she quickly gathered her bonnet and parasol and quit the room; on her way outside she established with the butler that she wished to book a seat on the earliest post to Hertfordshire on the morrow. Once again disregarding any troubled objections, she passed from within to without, visibly relieved, she immediately directed her steps towards the north of the grounds –much of which was unexplored and unfrequented.
Her objective was simple –to get as far away as possible from the Master of Pemberley and everything he represented. In the latter half of her wish, Elizabeth found fulfilment quite impossible, for she could distance herself from the Master, but not his lands. For the first time, Elizabeth found herself berating the fact that Pemberley had to be nearly ten miles around in every direction! –but she would certainly go as far as she could! With such determination and anger to fuel her steps for her, Elizabeth covered much ground, but after an hour of brisk walking, found exhaustion intruding upon her awareness. The sun was brighter with the passing of the day, the land, not being as flat as Hertfordshire countryside, more strenuous to cross, and she found herself wishing for the comfort of indoors –which was more than three miles behind her. She walked for ten more minutes with fast depleting energy, until, not far from her she espied a little glen of trees, amidst which she could make out the glimmer of water. Relieved, she made her way to the little lake of which she had hitherto not known the existence of.
It was an idyllic spot, beautiful enough to soothe her nerves, and some strategically placed rocks formed practical enough lieux for repose. Elizabeth placed herself upon one such rock in the shade of a wild apple tree –thus she found her alimentary needs satisfied without much trouble. It took but ten minutes for her to replenish her energy, and she was finally left alone to ponder over the state of her marriage.
Two years ago, had Elizabeth Bennet been told that being the Mistress of Pemberley was her destiny, she would have laughed outright, or regarded the informer with scorn and mistrust. Not once in her ten months of marriage had Elizabeth wondered at this change in ideas. Not once during the days of her engagement, when she was greeted with unconcealed shock, nor during her sojourn in town, when she was forced to bear with the convoluted malice of the ton, did she regret her choice. And now she was forced to analyse her decision, forced by the one man she never expected!
She had long known and blamed herself that her first impressions of Mr. Darcy had been abominably wrong. She had thought him unfeeling and ungentlemanly, unjust and vain. In truth it had been but mere pride and social discomfort –which were lesser evils indeed and did nothing to diminish her later high opinion of him. It was very well to ignore these little follies when in the blush of love, but now, nearly a year into the married state, every little foible and quirk was brought out with undisguised fervour, and Elizabeth was left wondering how on earth she would bear to live with a man with such pride –lessened than before, certainly, and a wonderful man on the whole, yet a prideful one –how could she?
This thought only distressed her further and she remained by the water's edge in a thoughtful stupor for nearly a whole half hour when she was awaked from her ruminations by the unmistakeable sounds of an approaching horse. Surprized, she rose and endeavoured to smoothen her appearance, even as she heard the rider hurriedly dismount; the very next moment, he stepped into the little glade, and she was shocked to behold the man dominating her thoughts –her husband.
Mr. Darcy seemed no less surprized, and let out an unrestrained –"Elizabeth?"
"Mr. Darcy," she acknowledged coolly, and turned to depart. She could not yet face him, not when his visage brought her such pain and resentment!
"Wait!" –cried he, and quickly advanced toward her; the urgency in his tone halted her steps for her, and she turned to face him once more, her expression inquiring, if not welcoming.
He seemed to struggle to settle his expression, with a guarded voice, he said –"I was not aware you knew of this lake."
"I did not, sir. I happened upon it only this morning."
He did not seem to have expected such an answer, and was silent as a result. Seeing no more words forthcoming, Elizabeth made to depart once more.
"Good day, sir," said she.
"Wait!" –he cried again. "I must talk –you must let me explain. I –I cannot apologize, Elizabeth, you cannot perhaps understand that, but I am willing to make you. Please –will you bestow upon me but one chance?"
Elizabeth found her annoyance increase –that he was still too proud to apologize to her after insulting her so abominably!
"I do not see why I should, sir," said she with some aspersion. "I do not see why it is so impossible for you to offer a simple, well-meant apology for your horrible words this morning." Seeing that he intended to interrupt, she continued swiftly, "Yes, you wish to make me understand this curious inability of yours to acknowledge your wrongs and furnish the most basic reparation due to me. And yet I do not see why I should abandon the little self-respect I am entitled to, and bow down to your every inexplicable request to explain the most obscure reasons for the worst sort of misdeeds!"
His expression was so pained that Elizabeth would have stopped her rant at this point, even if she had not run out of breath, as she had in reality.
"You misunderstand me," said he finally. "I intend fully to apologize to you for my atrocious words. It is for my behaviour, however reprehensible, that I cannot beg pardon. You must know –as my wife and my dearest confidant, you must know all that has passed between me and that man! –perhaps you will think me justified, perhaps you will remain determined to hate me –but all I ask of you is to hear me out."
This was said with such admirable calmness, and were words of such sense, that Elizabeth was obliged to agree, albeit grudgingly, to his request. "Very well. You may not be as humble as one would wish, but you certainly are just. I will listen," said she.
She half-expected him to get offended by her jibe, but to her surprize, he remained calm and contrite. He bade her to seat herself, which she did. He seated himself a few feet away from her, judging correctly that she would require her privacy, and stared out onto the water, silent and thoughtful for several minutes. Elizabeth waited –her patience surprizing herself, but she was aware that Mr. Darcy always took time to gather his words, especially when speaking of a serious matter. When he spoke, his words quite surprized Elizabeth.
"Did you know George and I first learnt to swim together here, in this very lake?"
The implication was lost on Elizabeth, who inquired, confused, "George?"
"George Wickham. He and I were playmates growing up, as you are aware."
Elizabeth could not reply to this; it was true that she was aware of George Wickham's every connection to her husband, and yet it did no less than shock her when she realized the true extent of their previous friendship. Childhood playmates always had between them a certain special bond, a bond like no other, as Elizabeth very well knew. And Fitzwilliam Darcy had always been of a quiet, reticent nature, thus aggravating the depth of the bond between him and his only playmate, George Wickham. For the first time, Elizabeth was aware of the true pain and disappointment that her husband must have felt at the betrayal of his earliest friend.
Mr. Darcy continued, disregarding her silence, "We spent most of our time outdoors in this vicinity. For years this lake and the surrounding copse of trees were our own private domain, where we frolicked and reigned supreme."
"I did not know," Elizabeth admitted finally.
"Yes, I suppose you would not, for I rarely wish to speak of it, much less remember it."
"Of course," said she.
There was another minute of strained silence, after which Mr. Darcy began his tale in earnest.
"I first met George Wickham when he was in his cradle and I was a mere child of two. I remember the instance perfectly. Mrs. Wickham had the babe in her arms as we visited. I do not recall the exact sequence of events, but the result of it was that she dropped the child. There was a lot of fuss and confusion over the mishap, and yet he remained silent and unconcerned, not crying out as other infants might have done. I told my father, with my limited vocabulary, that he would one day make a fine seat on a horse. The idea pleased my father so immensely that he promised to have the boy taught to ride as soon as he was old enough. It was then that a lifetime of adoration and benevolence towards George Wickham began on my father's part. As to myself, our friendship began the day he was brought to the stables –a young boy much confident for the tender age of seven, often more than I myself felt at the higher age of nine.
"From horse-riding, we quickly advanced to swimming, fishing, and hunting until we became such inseparable playmates that we began to take lessons together. It was only there, in the schoolroom, that we had our disagreements, few as they were. George could not see the importance of onerous topics like Latin and Arithmetic –while I staunchly supported their cause. Once outside the schoolroom, however, all arguments were forgotten; we were inseparable once more, and little could upset our bond. So it remained, until a few years later when into our lives came Gigi."
Elizabeth let a momentary smile lighten her features at the mention of her newest sister's childhood epithet. Miss Darcy had always revelled in the appellation, until she had discarded it in a fit of patriotism and solemn maturity at the age of fourteen.
Mr. Darcy smiled, too, as was his wont when he spoke of his sister, especially in her endearing name. "George was furiously jealous of the babe, for she had attracted everyone's attention. For nearly four weeks after Gigi was born, George was not invited over once –mostly due to my mother's declining health, but George took this effrontery personally. It was then that our differences began to come to light –that his mean, selfish and resentful personality began to show. Soon afterwards I left to Eton, and things never were the same.
"When I came home over the summer, it was readily apparent to me that George Wickham had changed –that he was no longer the engaging friend of my youth. There was a certain arrogance, a certain amount of falsity in his manner that repulsed me. My mother, who was fast reaching her end, was the only person other than I to notice this. She warned my father against Wickham, and I am sorry to say that her warnings were disregarded. Blessed as he was with a silver tongue, Wickham was a great support to my father in the latter days of my mother's life, perhaps even more than I myself." His face showed poignant sadness at the recollection. "I do not begrudge him for that. He knew just the right words to say, and Lord knows my dear father needed those words, even if they were hollow." Mr. Darcy paused here, and seemed quite unable to speak for a moment. Elizabeth felt deeply for him and longed to comfort him, but she realized that the tale had to be finished, for it could not be retold a second time. "After my mother passed away, it was a difficult time. Gigi was still much of an infant, weak and sickly. My father never was able to recover from his bereavement, and I was alone and forlorn at Eton. Through all this Wickham was the one person who remained fresh and buoyant. He was as a light in the darkness, drawing us out of our moods and bolstering our strength. Georgiana has a formidable memory; she remembered every little favour he had performed for us then, and that of course strengthened her regard for him at Ramsgate."
Here he stopt again, for neither of the Darcy siblings could speak of Ramsgate, even now, with any amount of equanimity.
The silence was suddenly too oppressive and Elizabeth endeavoured to break it. "I suppose that explains it –I had often wondered, for Georgiana is much too sensible to fall for common hollow flattery, and yet-"
"And yet she was deceived. I'm afraid Wickham's flattery, at least with respect to Georgiana, was not of the common kind." All of Mr. Darcy's sorrow seemed to vanish and hatred replaced it. "Notwithstanding his much-required support, George and I were never again close friends after my mother's death, for the simple reason that he began to rise to the position of being my father's favourite –he even taunted me with the fact. I am sorry to say that I was not magnanimous enough to let it pass. I resented him, deeply and with determination. Those few years before Cambridge were hard, to say the least; he had everybody's favour and attention, while I had none. With my recent loss, and all my adolescent insecurity, I suffered; Heaven knows how much I suffered then, Elizabeth!" Again Elizabeth experienced a stronger urge to comfort him, but he gave no pause in which she could make herself heard. With a grim smile, he recovered and hastened, "You must not make yourself anxious, my dear. The suffering is long past over and done with forever. Indeed, I do not lie," said he in a gentler tone, "Eton did not last for eternity, for Cambridge followed immediately. At Cambridge George was to join me, and, I was certain, make my life more miserable. I could not be more wrong. Cambridge refreshed me, strengthened me, returned much of the self-confidence that George had purloined from me. I had friends and acquaintances far more bent to my way of thinking, more of my position than George Wickham had ever been. Although it sounds rather prejudiced on my behalf, Wickham was put in his place almost the very minute we stepped into our classes. He had his set of disreputable friends, and I had my group of reputable ones. Our separation was mutual, final and complete. It was then that began a long period of unconcern on both our parts. Wickham descended rapidly into lower levels of mischief but I remained untouched by it all. Our final cordial contact was as formal as between indifferent acquaintances –it was in the aftermath of my father's death. You know the result of that visit. Every last regard I had left for him, was dispelled on that day. To think so little of a valuable bequest, to accept the passing of his life-long benefactor with such unconcern! –'twas money –but for the money he would not have returned at all. My opinion on him was set, but, I am still sorry, Georgiana's was not. Thinking her too young and innocent and beyond all the trouble, I left her ignorant of the details –and paid sorely for that mistake!
"Not two years later he appeared before me, quite suddenly. You know what reasons he presented to me, and how he wished his 'inheritance' back –inheritance indeed! Quite cognisant of his depravity(having already been obliged to provide for two illegal issues of his), I refused flatly. I believe Wickham had been in real danger on that day, I heard not a week later that he had been set upon by his creditors and battered to an inch of his life –forgive me, but such unsavoury happenings are quite common in such a life as he leads –I do not know how he finally repaid them, neither do I wish to. Wickham never forgave me for disregarding him, in fact, he made his intentions quite clear in a letter he sent me soon after –and what a letter it was! Couched in the coarsest terms possible, in a hand so illegible as would proceed from a broken arm, Wickham swore that he would avenge himself upon me. I destroyed the letter immediately, and was unconcerned as a whole, for I only imagined harm for my own life –in which case Wickham could not prevail, myself having forever bested him in physical combat. I was foolish, Elizabeth, over-confident and foolish, never imagining that he would strike me at my weakest link, that he was cunning and unscrupulous enough to take advantage of my regard for dear Gigi!"
Yet again came the agitated pause, the inability to speak. Elizabeth could not be silent at this juncture, not for worlds! She had barely begun to speak when her husband interrupted her:
"No, no, you must not worry. I am nearing to the end of this narration, you must let me finish. I do not –I do not think I could repeat myself ever again if I should stop now –" taking a deep breath " –I next saw him only at Ramsgate. After Georgiana had confessed all, I made her summon him –she believed I did this to give him a chance to redeem himself, I wished only to call him out and thrust a sword through his black heart!" At Elizabeth's shocked gasp, he smiled, humourlessly, "Rest assured it did not come to that. I realised, quite easily, that Georgiana would never forgive me and would never know his true character. Therefore I simply told him, in the presence of Georgiana, that on the event of their marriage, I would exercise my rights as her guardian and withhold her entire dowry, that I could not in good conscience bestow such a huge amount upon an as yet unproven affection. At first he agreed quite wholeheartedly, convinced that it was merely a test, a bluff –but when he saw that I was perfectly serious, and had drawn a legal document which he was required to sign in front of witnesses, he broke. No, it was not him, it was her –she broke at his reaction. For his reaction was so violent, so crude that I was filled with disgust. He flung every sort of obscenity at me, Elizabeth. So imbalanced with rage was he that his entire plot, his deviousness, his thirst for revenge –every morbid detail poured out of his mouth –and poor Georgiana was crushed. She hardly spoke for nigh on two days whilst we withdrew to London and after. It seemed he had utterly destroyed her, but he did not stop there. A week later, in Town, he intercepted Georgiana while she promenaded in a park. There he tried to convince her that he had spoken in anger, that his feelings for her were unchanged. But Georgiana would not be swayed. She had seen him for what he was, and my brave little girl told him so. I still thank the Lord for the fact that she was accompanied by Henry at that moment. Before he could retaliate to her harsh words as any cur would, Henry had him on his back and had called him out."
"They duelled?" –Elizabeth asked, horrified.
"Wickham lost, of course. There were times, afterwards, that Henry and I rued that we had only settled for first blood."
"Heavens! –surely you could not harbour such violent thoughts."
"Do you not yet understand, Elizabeth? He has tried numerous times to ruin my life in the worst way possible. When Georgiana was out of his reach forever, he turned his sight to you, instead."
Elizabeth was shocked. "Me?"
"Of course. He grew up with me, my dear, I'm sure he understood very soon that I held a special regard for you –just as Henry and Georgiana had so quickly divined the same. When he learnt that you did not favour me very much, he took his opportunity in poisoning you wholly against me. Thus, when you brought out his name that morning in Hunsford, can you imagine what might have gone through my head? With what despair and anger I might find myself injured once more by his hand? At that moment, I believed truly that his revenge was complete."
"No more of that day, sir!" –cried she. "You give me yet another reason to deeply regret my words."
"You must not distress yourself. What did you know of his character, of his real history with my family? –you could not have guessed."
"All the more reason to deplore my hasty prejudice."
"Elizabeth," said he gently, "We have discussed this. Neither of us behaved as well as we should have that day –you said so yourself. You must not suffer yourself to such an extent. Think only of the past as its remembrance gives you pleasure, do you not agree?"
This finally brought a smile to Elizabeth's features. "Fine words indeed, Mr. Darcy. Surely they are the output of some great thinker!"
"The greatest I have met yet, Mrs. Darcy." Chiding him for such flattery, Elizabeth rose and seated herself next to him, whereupon he immediately claimed her hand and held it firmly within his own.
"I am sorry, most dreadfully sorry, Elizabeth. The words I uttered this morning were uncivil, unjust and untrue. I could not bear it when I saw that his shade has not yet left our lives, that he still continues to live off our happiness and good fortune. It made me furious, and irrational, and every sort of cad that you accused me of being. Will you –could you ever forgive me?"
"I think it obvious, my dear, that you are already forgiven. But perhaps, I should like to add this: do not give reign to your temper so easily Fitzwilliam. Your ire was certainly justified, under the circumstances, and yet, your words were not. I have forgiven you, my love, rest assured," added she at once upon viewing his contrite face, "but you must attend to your words."
"I understand. I shall try my utmost –and perhaps you will help and guide me when I need guidance?"
"Of course, my dear. After all, not everyone is as considerate as I!"
"You are an angel!" –cried he, beaming.
"Do display some originality, my love. You use first mine, and then Bingley's words –why do you not speak better ones, as I am sure you can?"
"You must not force them from me, madam. The words shall come when unexpected, and full of the glory that is due to them. One of these days, they shall catch you by surprise, and you shall be forced to bow to their superiority."
"I am all impatience!"
By this time they were on their feet and walking back towards Pemberley at a leisurely pace, Mr. Darcy's horse following them sedately. After several more minutes of careless banter, Mr. Darcy developed a serious mien and said:
"Elizabeth, I have been thinking about something in earnest."
"Perhaps you could invite your sister to Pemberley for Christmas."
"Of course. We have already decided upon inviting Mary and Kitty over, have we not?"
"I meant your other sister. Mrs. Wickham."
Elizabeth was so shocked that she stood absolutely still. "You cannot mean it?" –she asked incredulously.
He smiled. "And why should I not?"
"But it is his wife that you allude to."
"And she is your sister. I understand your concern for her. God Forbid, Elizabeth, had I failed at Ramsgate, had it been Georgiana, but I should still have wished to see her. He, I am afraid, shall never be welcome here, but I certainly can make an allowance for my sister and my nephew."
"You amaze me," said she slowly, "most exceedingly."
"Glorious words, were they not?" –he inquired with a teazing smile.
"Fitzwilliam, do be serious! You really intend for me to invite them?"
"I was not jesting."
She smiled. "Then it shall be done. Thank you."
"'Twas a pleasure, my dearest."
"I must ask: what made you change your mind about her?"
"Truly? –it was the child. An innocent, left to suffer in the midst of such irresponsible and immoral people as they –I could not bear the thought. He should be taught the ways of polite society, and it is our duty to educate him as well and as much as we are able. One devious Wickham is quite enough for the world, do you not agree?"
"Your words hearten me, my love. I believe you shall make a wonderful father."
Mr. Darcy smiled at the thought. "When the time comes, I suppose I shall."
"Would next May be a good enough time, do you think?"
The implied message was not ignored, and Mr. Darcy understood her implicitly. His surprise, wonder and joy at the news was unparalleled, and Mr. Darcy found yet another reason to love his wife as much as he did. They returned to Pemberley the happiest couple possible, their good humour and felicity unmarred by further altercations for a long time –excepting the times when they argued over christening names. After all, one cannot expect complete bliss with a man such as Fitzwilliam Darcy and a woman such as Elizabeth.
A/N: The "Henry" in this story is Colonel Fitzwilliam. Yes, I AM aware his name is usually Richard in fanfiction, but I've always thougt of him as Henry, and so he remains... so, humour me. ^_^
I also have to admit that Mr. Darcy didn't have so much to say when I started this fic, but I realised as the story progressed that long explanations were required because, let's face it, Darcy spoke some horrible things.