Here it is, the final word must belong to Lady Catherine.
To celebrate, I have place a copy of the original FFN version of Given Good Principles and If Only I had Learnt on Gumroad for you to down load and pay what you think it is worth. A number of you have asked for the original rather than the published version and I've finally found a way to make it happen. You an find it at: gumroad dot com forward slash mariagrace
I hope you enjoy it.
Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. Hill out did themselves with the wedding breakfast. Individually the housekeepers were a force of nature, but together, it was hard to imagine something they could not accomplish. Bennet could not recall a finer table ever spread and he had supped with royalty. It was exactly the kind of day his Cathy deserved.
Finally, Darcy and Lizzy rode off together and the guests disappeared. The boys were away and in good hands and Jane visiting Georgiana, much to Fitzwilliam's satisfaction. Perhaps he was becoming too lax in his supervision of his daughters. Then again, the Colonel would not tempt the Admiral's wrath and Jane was far less…free spirited…than Lizzy. It would all be well.
Bennet turned to Cathy and offered his arm. "Come, my dear."
She bit her lip and slid her hand into the crook of his elbow. It trembled just beneath his fingers. The poor dear, despite her elegant beauty and poise, she was just this side of terrified.
Francs and Ellen had come to him as maidens. With their high spirits and young love, they were exited to embark on their new journey with him. Not so Cathy. She knew what to expect—what she might expect—and it was the worst sort of expectation, one based on harsh reality.
Sir Lewis has been a boorish brute and that was the best that might be said him. She had survived, in the most literal of ways, by turning him way and locking the door to him. She escaped his pox, but her heart would bear the scars of his betrayal forever.
Today was time for a new course to be charted. But it must begin carefully.
He guided her upstairs, to the sitting room between their chambers. A tray with selections from breakfast waited for them. He seated her at the small table. A sunbeam gazed her cheek with a golden glow that so reflected her heart, his eyes misted.
"You are very lovely today." He sat beside her.
"I am glad you approve." She avoided his gaze.
"No." He placed a finger under her chin and pressed her to look at him. "That is not how we shall begin."
She met his gaze, so fragile, so vulnerable, a careless word or even thought would surely shatter her. Doubtless no one else has ever been privileged to see her so. "I am not him."
"No, I do not think so. You are willing to accept the possibility, but you do not believe, not yet."
He shook his head. "No, I know you desire it to be so, but you cannot lie to me."
"I admire Elizabeth's bravery."
"It does much to recommend her, but it is born of fool hardiness."
"How can you say that?"
"She has no idea of the waters she could face. Innocence often begets such courage."
"But Darcy would never—
"Nor would I." He took her hand—cool and soft, and pressed it to his face. "Look at my daughters, Cathy. They are your surest picture of who I truly am and how I will treat you. What do you see in them?"
"That you are a man who must be managed with a very strong hand."
He chuckled. "I suppose that is true. What else?"
She blinked rapidly and chewed her lip. "They trust you."
"They know you are an honorable man."
"If I am only honorable, then I have failed."
"You are loyal and dependable and would lay down your life to defend them like you did for Philip and David."
"My sons, my grandsons, my daughters—and you Cathy." He kissed her palm.
She sniffled and choked back a small cry. "I am sorry. I am a fool."
"Not at all, you are wise to be cautious. But, I will not have the ghost of another man steal what we have from us." He rose and strode to a small desk in the corner near the window. He opened the top and removed a small stack of papers. "Do you know what these are?"
He handed them to her and she gasped. "Where did you get these?"
"From Darcy. Apparently Anne had saved the scandal sheets reporting Sir Lewis's excesses. Why she would want such a thing I do not know."
"I had no idea." Her gaze skimmed the pages, color draining from her face.
"Darcy showed them to me when I asked about him." He carefully pulled the papers from her grasp. "What do you want from this day forward—this—him or me?"
"You." Her voice quivered but contained no doubt.
"Then let us be through with him." He tugged her to her feet and held the papers out at arm's length. "This is your chance—say to him now all those things you never gave voice." He pointed at the trembling sheets.
"How could you do that, Lewis?" she whispered.
"I loved you I brought you everything you desired." Color flushed her cheeks "I gave it to you and you threw it all away." Her voice climbed louder and higher.
He placed his hand on her back. "What else."
"You treated me like some cheap piece of laced mutton that you bought off the street, not even as well as the courtesan you kept. I, who was the source of it all, did not even rate that much courtesy." She pumped her fists at her side. "How dare you, you low born, disgraceful bye-blow. You were not even fit to darken my door yet you flattered my father enough with your lies—" Screaming now, she stalked across the room, stomping so hard she left prints in the carpet. "Damn you, you worthless piece of…of…"
"Yes, yes exactly."
"I…I do not know how. I…I know not the words." She covered her mouth and giggled awkwardly.
"Shall I continue for you? I have acquired rather the right vocabulary for it."
He tucked the pages into his sling and extended his hand to her. She took it, clutching it hard. When she returned to his side, he unleashed a blistering storm of invectives even some of his sailors might not have understood. From the corner of his eye, Catty mouthed the words just a phrase behind him.
Poor dear, how horrified she would be when they slipped out unbidden in some future conversation. However, it was well worth the risk now.
"Have you anything else to say?"
"I am done with you! I never wish to hear your name again." She nodded sharply.
He handed her the papers and pointed to the fire place. She crumpled one sheet at a time and threw them into the flames. The last one left her hand and burst into flame.
He dropped to his knees and sat on the floor she curled up beside him. Tears trickled down her cheeks, landing on her gown leaving dark spots in their wake.
"It is done now." He slipped his arm around her.
"Yes it is." She sniffled and swallowed hard. "And now I shall remember the past only as it gives me pleasure. I love you."
Warmth exploded in his chest. "And I you." He nuzzled the side of her neck until she sighed that pleased little sound he longed to hear. "Let us go and do something about that."
And they did.