Ch1: Propriety

Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy of Pemberley and Derbyshire was no stranger to impropriety. As the sole heir to a grand estate, he was raised at an early age in all that was proper. As such, he had a keen eye for breaches of conduct in those with whom he interacted. Shopkeepers, businessmen, eligible young ladies and their determined mama's; no one was safe from the master of Pemberley's discerning eye. Even though society at large saw the young gentleman's solemn visage as universal disapproval, those close to him knew to look for the barely noticeable twitches at the corner of his mouth and the hidden spark of mirth in the depth of his eyes.

For Mr. Darcy was one who dearly delighted to laugh at the harmless follies of others. This enjoyment was the result of caring for his sister, ten years his junior, after the regrettably early passing of the Darcy's esteemed parents. While other young men might have grown bitter for having to shoulder the many responsibilities of the young Master of Pemberley, Mr. Darcy found that his darling sister's youthful innocence and exuberance for life prevented him from hiding away his heart. For all that brother and sister were often alone in such a large establishment as Pemberley, their days were filled with laughter and true contentment. Mr. Darcy in particular discovered a hitherto unknown talent for mimicking others and would often enact silly scenes from his experiences to the great delights and adoration of his young sister. Of course, visitors were always welcome at Pemberley, particularly the presence of the amiable Colonel Fitzwilliam, cousin to the Darcy siblings. What both Darcy's lacked in social grace in company unfamiliar to them, the good Colonel made up for with such gentlemanly charm that those with whom he conversed always left his company delighted at having made his acquaintance. The Darcy siblings also felt a great indebtedness to their good cousin. For Colonel Fitzwilliam it was who insisted on Mr. Darcy's openness with his sister. Knowing the siblings' shy dispositions and predilection for hiding their emotions, Colonel Fitzwilliam made good use of his battlefield experiences and managed to help brother and sister confide in one another in their grief and so emerge from the mourning period all the stronger.

So it was that as Fitzwilliam Darcy faced his Aunt Catherine and her idiot sycophant of a clergyman, Mr. Collins, only his cousin saw through Darcy's serious mien. The good Colonel knew that in his mind, Darcy was already planning a re-enactment of such a scene for dear Georgiana once they reached Pemberley on the marrow. For though neither cousin could stand the ostentatious bearings of their most beloved aunt, propriety as well as family obligation demanded that they continue to suffer through their yearly Easter visits to Rosings. Finally, the droning voice of Mr. Collins and his multitude of platitudes for the most gracious and honorable Lady Catherine de Bourgh ceased long enough for the grand lady herself to imperiously order the cousins to their carriage, for certainly though she (and her daughter Anne) greatly enjoyed the young gentlemen's presence, it would be most unwise to leave too late after the sun had risen. After all, young gentlemen of good breeding should not laze around the mornings but should rather apply themselves to practical task of good industry. Resisting the strong urge to roll his eyes, Colonel Fitzwilliam bowed as was expected and exited the breakfast room as quickly as he could and still stay within the bounds of polite behavior.

Neither cousin said a word nor looked at one another until their carriage safely left the oppressive confines of Rosings. Only then did they feel free to breath in the free air and release their tensions in uproarious laughter.

Grasping the sides of the carriage for support, Darcy caught his breath and admitted wryly that though he knew laughing at his aunt was un-gentlemanly, he could not but think her most ridiculous and expressed great sorrow that Cousin Anne had to live with not only such a mother but also the scintillating company of Mr. Collins.

Colonel Fitzwilliam sighed before replying with a chuckle that letters from Anne were always illuminating and could always raise his spirits even when conditions inside of his tent was hardly drier than the muddy battlefield outside its confines.

Sobering immediately at the Colonel's mention of his life in service to the crown, Darcy shook his head sympathetically and asked when Fitzwilliam was going to quit his lonely life as a soldier, return to England, and make Anne de Bourgh the happiest of woman. For though both cousin knew that Lady Catherine's fondest wish was for Anne to wed Darcy, thus jonining their two great estates, the least-well-kept secret within the family (at least within the Darcys and Fitzwilliams) was that Anne and Richard shared great affection for each other almost from the moment they met. Darcy knew that Anne's letters were Richard's greatest treasures while Richard's presence always made Anne's eyes shine the brighter. Indeed, seeing two of his cousins so content in each others' company was the only real joy Darcy had in the yearly pilgrimage to Kent. Though the Earl and Lady Matlock made their pleasure at the match known to Richard and offered to settle a most generous estate on him and his bride, the Colonel was not yet willing to approach the formidable Lady Catherine. Alas that the Colonel inherited the great stubbornness of the Fitzwilliams, for he was insistent on making his fortune quite independent of the connections of Earl and Lady Matlock so that he may be a worthy suitor for the hand of his beloved. And Darcy, who had learned to be independent at a young age, could not fault the Colonel for his wished to stand before Aunt Catherine as his own man.

Not one inclined for melancholy, however, the good Colonel shook himself from his wistful state and removed his hand from his breast pocket where a handkerchief from Anne lay to tease Darcy about Darcy's marriage prospects. Though both cousins knew that the Lady Catherine's wishes union between Pemberley and Rosings would never become true, they could not deny the truth in her insistence that it was high time Darcy wed. Even Darcy could not deny that at three and twenty and having successfully taken over the running of a grand estate such as Permberley, he did not feel some emptiness that neither the most melodious songs from his sister nor the most outrageous tale from his cousin could fill. Now that the mourning period had ended, he would be expected to find a Mistress to care for Pemberley and a guide for his young sister.

But where was he to find such a woman to answer his heart's yearnings? Certainly not within the rigid confines of the tearooms and the banal chatter at the balls Lady Matlock insisted that he attend. Though their society demanded that a well-bred young lady be well-read, propriety demanded that she restrict her repertoire of literature to the Good Book, the works of the great poet (Shakespeare), or the frivolities of popular novels. Where could he find a woman who dared to acquire knowledge regarding the practicalities of being a gentleman farmer, a partner with whom to share the demands of ensuring that his tenants were well fed and well-sheltered for the harsh Derbyshire winters?

Richard found that he could not find a reply to Darcy's impassioned inquiries. If Darcy's unconventional wishes regarding the attributes of his future life partner surprised him, for it was a true partner Darcy sought, the Colonel made no mention of it. After all, the late Lady Anne and the elder Master Darcy had made a love match. The Colonel's own parents had also built a marriage out of mutual respect. That Darcy should seek the same was not unexpected. Despite all the fame of the wealth and prestige tied to the Darcy name, Fitzwilliam Darcy was at heart like all the Darcy's before him, a simple country gentleman who wanted nothing more than to provide for those in his care and share in the fruits of his labors with those he loved. Instead, both young gentlemen could only commiserate together as the countryside raced by outside the carriage, little knowing that a letter from one Mr. Charles Bingley, lying innocuously in the pile of correspondences on the table of the Master's study in Pemberley, would play a role of great import in the achievement of both their desires.