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Padua, January 1819
Padua, January 1819
Signor Bergonzi carefully placed his sfogliatelle and pasticciotti into an ordered line in the spotless glass case. His waddled fingers belied his ability to handle the sweets gingerly so as not to mar their delicate surfaces. By the end of the day, the case would be empty; only a spattering of sugar dust on the papers would hint of the treasures that had once lay inside. He tongue swiftly lapped the residue of cream and caramel off his fingertips before he swept them across the expanse of his mottled apron when his first customer of the day walked in.
“Signor Smith! Buongiorno, buongiorno! Come sta?”
“I am well. Ah… Molto bene. Grazie.”
“Your Italian is getting very well, Signor.”
Mr. Smith smiled. “Grazie, Signor Bergonzi. I will never speak it as well as my son, but I am trying to learn.”
“Si, he is very good at his Italiano. I think perhaps because he is not an Englishman?”
“Gustov? No, he is Austrian, as was his mother. She died when he was very young, but I think he has her accent as well as mine.”
“Si, I hear both accents when he talks. Now it make senso. I am sorry to hear of your wife, Signor.”
“I think your Gustov is a very smart young man, si?”
Smith grinned again. “He is.”
“He must be to study at the università. They would not take a student who was not intelligente, and not at his age. Is he a good studente, does he do well?”
“He is doing very well. His masters are pleased with his progress and he enjoys his studies very much.”
“Eccellente! I hope we will get to see what he has learned some day?”
Mr. Smith smiled. “Perhaps. Now, I dare not return home without some of your eccellente pasticcini.”
“Of course. What would you like today?” Signor Smith was one of his best customers, and he knew there was always a good sale to be made when he came to the shop.
“I would like… oh,” he corrected himself and continued haltingly, “Vorrei quattro… sfogliatelle, e trenta… pignoli, per favore.”
Mr. Smith answered sheepishly, “Yes, thirty.”
Signor Bergonzi had just finished tying the string on the boxes when he looked over to see another customer coming into the side door of his shop.
“Ah, here comes Signora Cartwright, she like my pasticcino almost as much as you, Signor Smith.”
When he turned back, the money lay upon the counter however, the boxes and Signor Smith were nowhere to be seen.
He walked as quickly as he dared without breaking into a run. He knew better than to attempt such a thing; it would draw attention to himself. God knows how many people would stop and stare at the sight of an old man running full out on a pleasant winter morning. When he at last made it back to their modest apartments, he removed the grey wig which irritated his shaved head, and immediately sought out his son.
Gustov had finished breaking his fast, the daily paper in his hands as he sat in their simple dining room. “Good morning, Father. What treats have you brought us this day?”
“I stopped by Bergonzi’s this morning,” he acknowledged, raising the boxes. Then in a much lower voice added, “But I nearly ran into a spectre.”
Gustov immediately addressed their cook, who stood nearby arranging the dishes. “Signora Ariberti, I will take these things to the kitchen later; you need not concern yourself with them. Go and enjoy your colazione.”
The old woman smiled her nearly toothless smile at him and patted his cheek. When she stood next to him at table, he could look her directly in the eye, so tiny was she. “So good to me, Signor Gustov. Tonight I going to make you Baccalà. You going to eat like an italiano, si?” she said as she shuffled out to her kitchen.
“What a treasure she is. An excellent cook, and damn near deaf to boot. I thank our lucky stars we found her.”
“Enough, Higgins, what happened this morning?”
“I almost met her at the pasticceria, Darcy.”
“You know she likes to shop there! You could have undone all we have established by such foolishness!”
“I beg your pardon, but I didn’t go looking for her. It was she who ran into me. I went to the shop as it opened, specifically to avoid the chance of running into her. I know her habits as well as you, and she normally does not buy her sweets so early. She must have had other errands to run today.”
Darcy shook his head violently. “I am sorry, please forgive me. You know how I fluster when there is any possibility she might discover us.”
Mr. Smith extended his hand to the younger man’s shoulder, reassuring him. “We are in this together. There may be near mishaps, but the two of us combined are more than a match for her; all will be well.”
“So I tell myself each day, but the nightmare of the evening I learnt she had left England keeps preying upon my serenity. If she had not stuck to her original destination, God only knows if we would have ever found her again.”
“Come, Son. Dwelling upon the past serves no purpose. She has no reason to suspect I would be in Padua; she would be looking for you. Why don’t you take up your post in the back room and watch for her return? It is Tuesday, and her son will be starting his lessons soon. Then you can go to Professore Carrera’s without fear of seeing her on the streets.”
“Who were you speaking to, Signor Bergonzi?” she asked, confused.
He looked around and laughed. “Signor Smith was here, buying his pasticcini. But I think he is very shy. He is always not talking to strangers. I think it is very sad. Maybe because he lost his wife?”
“I do not know him, or of his wife, Sir. Is he an Englishman?”
“Si, yes, he come to Padua with his son, who is Ultramontani, non-Italian, at the universita. Very smart man, his son, but also shy like his father. Gustov Smith is his name and he is Austrian.”
He leaned over and whispered conspiratorially. “Very sad. I have heard his mamma was a contessa in Austria and Signor Smith was a servant she fall in love with. Her family, they throw her out and she later die having little Gustov.”
Elizabeth’s eyes went wide. “How awful!”
“Si, si, una tragedia grande,” he said sympathetically.
“If I have the good fortune to meet him, I will be very kind to him.”
“Of course, Signora Cartwright. You are always so kind. If you would be looking for a husband, maybe you would like Signor Smith?”
She nearly choked. “Oh, no, no, Signor Bergonzi. I am married!” she cried. “I came with my son William for the university and its professore. If my husband could be here, he would be.”
“Ah, I see, Signora. Mi scusi, per favore. I did not know you husband is not dead. You dear son, he is brillante. All the people talk of him. And such a bello bambino. You must be molto proud with him.”
“Si, I am. Mille grazie, Signor Bergonzi.” She turned the subject to her business. “I think we would like two of the pasticciotti today, and I would like to place an order for a cake for the end of the month. Signorino William is having his birthday.”
“Ah! You must tell my little Guglielmo ‘buon compleanno’ - happy birthday from me. Here, you take this golosessi to him for his birthday. I do not make them very often, mostly for carnival, but people are asking me for them, so I start making them more and more.” He handed her a small stick, covered with lumps in a rich brown glaze. “You see, this is fig, and… and… apri-cats, and over all of it; caramel! Mmmm, delizioso.”
She stifled her laughter and accepted the dear gift. “Mille grazie, Signor. William will be delighted; he loves everything you make.”
Signor Bergonzi sighed. “You know I do anything per te, bella Signora.”
She blushed. “Grazie, Signor.”
The apartments Darcy had taken were several streets away from hers, but on higher ground. When they had toured the rooms originally, it was the elder gentleman who realised one of the bedrooms in the rear had a perfect view of her front door. They had leased it immediately.
Darcy’s irrational fears had abated somewhat since they had managed to establish themselves into Padua without raising any interest. However, he relied upon Higgins to reassure him at every opportunity when their business did not go smoothly. He stroked his full beard absently as he watched above the rooftops, hoping for any sign of her.
At last he smiled when he saw her approach, the familiar brown box from Bergonzi’s in one hand, some sort of greenery in the other. How typical of his love to wish for fresh plants in the dead of winter. At least it was not as cold as Derbyshire, and fresh flowers were sometimes available.
He donned his hat and spectacles and looked into the glass. His facial hair, combined with his distinctive Austrian wardrobe left him looking nothing like Fitzwilliam Darcy, Englishman. He had never been outside his lodgings without his complete disguise since arriving in Padua. He left soon afterwards for his day of lessons.
In the evening, he sat by the fire reading the letter from Georgiana once again.
“How is dear Mrs. McNally? Are her spirits recovered, do you think?” Higgins asked.
“She seems happier, less melancholy. I think only time will heal her heartbreak.”
“Aye, and another child.” Darcy frowned. “None can replace the one she lost, but those two were meant to be a mother and father, mark my word. They will make fine parents, and their children will be the best of both of them.”
“I hope you are right, Tom.”
“Plenty of time. She is very young still.”
“Yet very wise. I owe her so much.”
“I think the cleverness runs in your family, Darcy. You were the one to change all the arrangements so quickly. We could never have slipped into town without your preparations.”
“True, but time was on our side. Once we knew Elizabeth was still bound for Padua, I could take more time preparing, and give them the chance to feel no one had followed them.”
“I cannot complain. I had always wanted to see the world, and Vienna and Prague were sights to behold. Your idea later of coming here by the eastern route certainly made for a good strategy to keep them unawares as well.”
“Yes, we were very lucky indeed.”
“Hang luck. You make your own luck. If you had not done your work, you would not have succeeded. Surely time and life have taught you so.”
Darcy smirked. “I think they have. I am going to work on the sketch for Mr. Bennet. It has been months since I sent him one, and not only have my skills improved, but my son is going to be five years old in a few weeks, and I wish to remember it with a drawing.”
“Good. His grandfather will welcome it very much.”
“Yes, I think he will. May I ask you also to be available on Saturday? I have a little surprise to show you.”
“Why Darcy, I had no idea you cared. I think I may have a cry.”
Darcy snorted. “Why do I put up with your insolence, Higgins?”
As Elizabeth slowly made her way home, she could not help but glance furtively over her shoulder. She had never entirely recovered her fear that he might follow her to Padua. She had briefly caught sight of Mr. Smith retreating this morning, and was relieved his height and weight confirmed he could not possibly be Fitzwilliam Darcy. Each time she had been introduced to, or heard of, an Englishman in Padua her fear of discovery would return. It had been a risk to only change the timing of their trip and not their destination, and she often worried if she had made the right decision.
Mrs. Barnes, her housekeeper in London, had given her much needed relief when she described Mr. Bingley’s lack of wonder as to where they lived or any of their business. Indeed, the housekeeper assured her Mr. Bingley’s meeting them appeared entirely accidental, and he had not pressed them for any personal information. Both she and William corroborated the story of his apparently leaving town on business, and therefore could not spend even a short amount of time with them.
This seeming detachment on Darcy’s part, and the truth he had never approached her in all the time they had lived in London, convinced her that her plans to go to Padua were either unknown to him, or held no interest. However, despite having lived peacefully in the town for over seven months, she could not feel completely liberated from all her worries over him.
She had concocted the altered history of her now living husband soon after leaving England, when the men she had encountered had shown her too much interest. She had convinced William to allow her to say his father was still living. He understood his mother did not like the attentions of the gentlemen who looked upon her quite intently and agreed that saying she was still married would stop their pursuits.
Convincing William who Mr. Bingley was had been a bit more difficult. In the end, she told him
Mr. Bingley was his father’s twin brother, and therefore his uncle, hence the striking resemblance. The brothers had quarrelled many years earlier, which was why the Bingleys had never visited them, or acknowledged their relationship to him. William was happy he had relations, especially such a handsome aunt as Lady Angel, but being the clever fellow he was, demanded to know why they were Bingleys if his father was a Cartwright.
“Mrs. Thurgood adopted your father as her heir. Our home in Brampton, and our fortune come from her family‘s side, and they were Cartwrights. Changing your father’s name to theirs was one of the requirements for him to have the inheritance,” she offered simply.
He had thought on it a while, eventually decided her answers made sense, and bothered her no further on the subject.
She arrived at her house where William greeted her at the door, thrilled to see she had visited his favourite shop. He began to babble excitedly at her, inquiring after the pastry chef, who had she seen at the flower shop, when she managed to stop him.
“William! You must slow down, I cannot hope to follow your conversation, much less answer your questions when you talk so quickly, and more importantly, when you are speaking Italian!” she cried, exasperated.
It had been this way within a few short months after they had arrived. William, immersed in the language, picked it up so thoroughly his first thoughts now came to him in Italian instead of English. It was an excellent aide for his studies, as none of his teachers, save one, spoke English, but his mother had yet to catch up to him.
“Scusi, Mamma. How was your morning?”
She laughed and ruffled his hair. “Come, impertinent boy. You may have one of these before your first lesson if you are quick about it.” She was heading to her room when she heard the squeals of her son and their cook from the kitchen.
“Golosessi!” they cried.
On Saturday, Darcy and Higgins headed out of the city in a hired coach. The day was crisp without being too cold, and both men were grateful for the chance to breathe the sweet air of the countryside. They headed south on the main road until Darcy turned westward.
“Abano?” Higgins inquired.
“Yes, and the Euganean Hills. I think you will like it.”
“If it gets us out of the city, I will.” Darcy smiled.
Their horses soon pulled up to the surprise; a small villa Darcy had acquired. Higgins grinned at the sight of the simple, yet handsome stone building. It was not large, nor ornate, instead showing excellent repair, and a communion with the nature around it that appealed immediately.
The Po Valley lay beneath them, a charming, pastoral sight to behold from the windows, and rising behind the home was a vast forest of oak and chestnut, heading up into the hills. Nearby was Abano, a popular town for tourists who came for the spas and beautiful natural environment which abounded in the area.
“Only one thing missing to make this perfect.” Higgins slyly challenged as he stood on the front steps. In the next instant, a boy came round the front of the villa, two fine horses trailing after him, both saddled and ready for a ride.
“Ah, Son. Now you are going to make me cry,” Higgins said with feigned emotion.
“I suspect I may too, after seeing how you ride,” Darcy challenged.
“Oh, ho! If it is a proper fancy gentleman’s seat you would have me show you, you are wasting your breath. But if you want a real man’s race, I think I can teach you a thing or two, my lad.”
“A pity I know the area better than you, Papa.”
“An advantage you will only have once, figlio mio.”
They took off at a gallop not long after meeting their mounts.
When they later returned, they decided to spend the night in Darcy’s new home. They sent the stable boy into Abano for some fresh breads, meats and cheese for their supper as Darcy had not hired any other staff for the place. He felt no hurry to do so. He liked the privacy this arrangement afforded them, and with Higgins’ help they were able to keep the house sufficiently tidy, and the dishes clean and somewhat unbroken.
He turned to watch Higgins swirling his deep red Grappa in a glass in front of the fireplace of the simple drawing room. The fellow was a bit of a puzzle to Darcy, but he had to admit he counted the man as one of his good friends.
When he had gone to him after learning of Elizabeth and William’s departure to the continent, he was unsure of his welcome. Scarce moments had reassured him of Tom’s pleasure in seeing him again, and not ten minutes later had he been overwhelmingly relieved when the man agreed to leave the position he had held most of his life to accompany Darcy to Padua, posing as his father.
It was Georgiana who had come up with the idea of Darcy not travelling alone, and Higgins was the first man who had come to mind. He had never expected him to consent so easily. Most surprising of all had been Higgins’ one stipulation before agreeing to the scheme.
“I will not go as your servant, Mr. Darcy. You may pay my way and feed me; Lord knows I could never afford to do so myself, but I will not take wages from you. I go as your friend, or companion or I won’t go at all.”
Thus, their friendship had begun. At first, they spoke to one another in hesitant ways, testing out the comfort of easy banter between them. Darcy soon learned Higgins had a mind as sharp as a tack, though sadly uneducated. The things he did know, however, proved to work in concert perfectly with Darcy’s strengths. Tom had been right; the two of them combined were no match for Elizabeth. They had taught each other a level of stealth his majesty’s government would have been lucky to draw upon.
They had re-negotiated Elizabeth’s lease, cutting her cost in half, with ‘Signor Smith’ absorbing the other half in secret. William’s masters had all received a stipend through an unidentified benefactor, interested in educating Signora Cartwright’s brilliante little boy, and all had charged her a mere pittance for their services.
Little William had not yet received permission to attend the university. However, each of his masters held titles at the prestigious school, and had no qualms about tutoring the young boy in their leisure time. In truth, his studies were not quite to university standards. However, his professors in math and science admitted William’s studies would reach those levels within a year or two. His father, determined to be as educated as possible on his son’s favourite subjects, now studied with them.
After nearly seven months residence in the region, both men felt they could now take the time to relax and enjoy the riches the Northern Provinces had to offer. The secluded location of the house allowed Darcy the rare opportunity of freedom from the disguise he always felt compelled to wear while in Padua, while its easy distance to their city apartments ensured they would be able to visit the retreat often.
Over the next weeks, Darcy taught Higgins how to ride like a proper gentleman and Higgins began to teach Darcy everything he knew about horses. Darcy was surprised at how much more he could learn about one of his favourite subjects. He should have known Higgins’ declaration of liking horses had been the basis of his insatiable desire to learn all he could. The Caldharts had been very foolish not to use the man’s extraordinary talents in the past. If the chance presented itself, he would see these skills not go to waste in future.
They chose to hire only the stable boy and a woman to come and clean the villa while they were away in Padua, and therefore had very secluded, restful visits when they were in residence.
It was the middle of February, with the icy rains of winter beating against the windowpanes of their modest apartments when someone rang the bell. Few visitors ever came to see Signor Smith and his son, and, as none were expected, and the cook rarely heard the bell, Signor Smith himself answered the door. Darcy could hear the man in the small entryway.
“Well, what a sight are you two! Welcome, welcome! Do let me take your things and bring you to the warm fire.”
He rose from his comfortable chair and waited impatiently for his guests to come in to their small parlour. When they rounded the corner, nothing could have prepared him for the burst of joy in his heart as he saw them.
“Georgie, Patrick!” he cried, as his sister rushed into his waiting arms.
Padua, February 1819
Padua, February 1819
The unexpected arrival of his sister and brother-in-law brought Darcy more happiness than he would have guessed possible. He had not realised how much he had missed them. Unfortunately, he did not communicate his initial delight in seeing them as eloquently as he might have preferred, nor as good breeding would have dictated. In fact, his first words to them might have been something about their utter foolhardiness in crossing the Channel and Continent in the dead of winter; followed by questioning whether they had lost all reasonable sense they were born with. Luckily, such spirited assertions could only be construed as the verbalisation of the highest form of regard the orator had for his victims, and was not considered insulting in any way by the lady or gentleman.
When he had calmed enough to thank them for coming the long way to see him, Darcy had a difficult time not holding his dear sister’s hand continuously, as if she would disappear if he did not anchor her to the sofa next to him. They exchanged all the news, both real and gossip, about their families and friends. Georgiana took every opportunity to tease him about his beard and moustache.
Darcy was thrilled to learn they had seen the new Miss Emily Bingley and she was very much the beauty her relatives had speculated a Bingley baby would be. Anne De Bourgh was firmly ensconced with her Aunt and Uncle Matlock and no amount of pleading, threats or cajoling on the part of her mother would convince her to return to Rosings Park. They had seen her often, and the McNally’s conjectured their Cousin Richard’s frequent attendance to Anne might have done much to lift her spirits.
That afternoon, Darcy suggested he and Patrick should secure rooms at a hotel in town, and they ventured out into the downpour. As soon as they had departed, Higgins turned to Mrs. McNally, just as she was beginning to ask him about her brother. They smiled in understanding of their shared concern over him.
“How is he, Mr. Higgins?”
“As well as a man who has nothing he wants can be, I suppose. From what I understand, I believe he is very much like what he was in London.”
Georgiana‘s face betrayed her disappointment. “I do not think he lived very well in London,” she whispered sadly.
“Exactly, Mrs. McNally. Now he has even less. He will not go out of doors without the disguise you saw him put on, and he rarely ventures out just for his pleasure. I do not think the amount of time he spends simply watching for her or his son from the back window can be good for him.
“His papers from his steward and attorneys keep him busy some days, and thank goodness he has his two classes at the university, but other days he only lives for the tiny bit of time he sees them from the window. The only time I think he finds peace is when we venture to the house in the hills. It is not right. A man ought to be more, to have more purpose I think.”
She nodded. In the brief time she had seen him she had been struck by his lack of vitality. He had never been a boisterous man, but he had at least always been strong and vigorous. Now he was a man withdrawing into shadows. Higgins’ assessments had been very accurate. While he was not unhappy, seeing the pathetic amount of joy he was able to muster from this paltry existence he was living was making her angrier by the moment.
Later in the evening, after dinner had been enjoyed and Signora Ariberti finished fussing over the handsome relatives who had come to visit her employers, Higgins announced his intentions of retiring early, knowing the family would wish to speak of more personal matters than had already been discussed in front of him. Georgiana gave him a kind smile and nod, silently thanking him as he departed.
She was bold enough to suggest Darcy should write his Aunt Catherine, telling her of his plans to reside in Europe permanently, with no chance of returning to England. He was about to deflect this request of what would be considered an open declaration of war when Georgiana countered, suggesting if his aunt knew of his intentions of never offering for Anne, it might give her and Richard a chance at happiness. At the very least, Anne would be free to pursue marriage with someone of her own choosing if her mother no longer considered her to be engaged to Darcy. He told her he would consider taking her advice. She was satisfied he was at least taking her suggestions seriously.
She then assured her brother of her continued good health, but could not help her tears when she finally came to the tale of her baby son who had come too early that autumn. They had named him Patrick, after his father, before he was buried. While her health had recovered completely, she did not try to lighten the grief both she and her husband felt. Darcy comforted her as best he could, and told her he had been moved greatly by the loss of his nephew as well. Her grief was natural, and she should not attempt to hide from it, he reassured her.
They ended the evening discussing his life in Padua, what he had done for Elizabeth and William and his studies at the university. Georgiana watched him carefully as he explained all he had been doing. He reminded her of Mrs. Reynolds, when she sometimes felt melancholy and would talk of her late husband. Part of her heart was breaking to see her brother in such a state, but a larger part was growing even angrier over the stalemate he had put himself in. She was determined to talk to Patrick at length to try to discover a way to end this unacceptable situation.
The couple left quite late, needing a good night’s rest before either could spend their usual hours dissecting all they learnt that day. The next morning they had a chance to share opinions on Darcy’s state of mind and health, and had just begun to try to find some solutions when Higgins came to their door. He apologised for intruding so early, but Darcy had come down with a very bad cold in the night, and was feeling miserable this morning. Signora Ariberti was not capable of tending a man nearly twice her size, besides having a very difficult time going up and down stairs, and Darcy did not like to ask the lady who cleaned for them to do such a personal job.
Georgiana understood her brother’s reluctance. His servants at Pemberley and in town had been with them most of their lives and his ease with them was pronounced against his nervousness with strangers, especially in the sick room. She immediately offered to nurse her brother. Patrick would be along shortly, and keep both the kitchen, and the sick room supplied along with Higgins’ help.
Darcy spent the next few days suffering with chills, aches, coughs and sniffles, while Georgiana did her best to keep him company and entertained when he was actually awake. She encouraged Patrick and Higgins to go out in the city and see the sights when the weather turned better three days later. Higgins begrudgingly donned his old wig once again, and escorted his guest into the city.
Darcy was sleeping peacefully for once and his breathing was much easier than it had been of late. She ventured downstairs to find something to read. She could not help but be disappointed by the limited choices her brother’s modest apartments afforded, yet she understood he did not wish to be bogged down with too many possessions to move, should he have to leave quickly to follow Elizabeth. She had all but given up hope of finding something good to indulge herself in when she spied a thick book peeking out of the centre drawer of his desk. Part of her flushed to think her brother might have purchased another one of his more…enticing… pieces of literature, given he was clearly hiding it away. However, she was not prepared for what she found when she opened the heavy red leather binding.
Elizabeth sat quietly mending a shirt in the window seat, relishing the sun’s recent return that morning. She could hear the occasional voices of William and his teacher in the room across the hall, lulling her as they methodically went through his lessons. She had not realised her inattentiveness to the rest of her surroundings, until her housekeeper interrupted her solitude by bringing her a calling card with an unfamiliar name,
Elizabeth was intrigued over this stranger calling upon her. She stood to greet her guest, though later was still confused as to who she might be even after their introduction.
“Thank you for receiving me today, Mrs. Cartwright.” Georgiana began as the two women eyed one another carefully.
Elizabeth could not help but be impressed by the lady’s fine garments and sophisticated air. However, her visitor showed not the least sign of haughtiness. Surprisingly, Mrs. McNally’s face exuded a warm regard for her. They were about to take their seats after answering each other politely when a hard knock was heard upon the door followed by William bounding happily into the room.
“Signora told me you have a lady visitor, Mamma, and I have been given a short leave from lessons to come and greet our guest.” He turned to Georgiana, who took the advantage to stare at her nephew while his mother shook her head in dismay.
“William, this is Mrs. McNally. Madam, my son, William Cartwright, who likes nothing better than to meet a pretty lady.”
William blushed to his roots, but could not keep his eyes off the lovely Mrs. McNally. Georgiana laughed heartily as she curtseyed to his bow. “It is a pleasure to make your acquaintance and I thank you for the compliment, Mrs. Cartwright. What lessons am I keeping you from, Mr. Cartwright?”
“It is mathematics; I do not mind.”
“You do not enjoy your mathematics lessons?”
“No, you do not understand, Ma’am. They are my favourites along with the sciences, and I study them constantly even for pleasure. Therefore, I can spend time with you and not get behind in my studies.”
“How happy you must be to near the university where Galileo himself was professore, si?
William’s eyes lit up. “Si, Si, Signora! Do you study physics? Have you read his works?” he asked excitedly.
She laughed lightly. “I did have some lessons in physics, but my master was not well versed, and I had to give it up. I did enjoy much of what we were able to learn, though. Are you planning on studying it?”
Elizabeth stood silent, enchanted by this fine lady who was taking such an eager interest in her son. He made friends easily, however fine English ladies were not typically interested in reciprocating the relationship.
“Perhaps someday, when I have studied longer. I want to study so many things; I do not know what I will choose.”
“Of course, Master William. You are very young and have years before you will need to decide.” She then gave him a rather longing smile with a barely perceptible sigh, which reminded Elizabeth of the amount of time that had passed.
“I think your leave has come to an end, William,” his mother gently reminded him.
He smiled at both women. “I hope you will come again, Mrs. McNally. Mamma does not get many visitors here in Padova, especially English ladies. I hope you will be her friend.”
“Thank you, Master William, I would like to visit you again. It was delightful to meet you.”
He bid them both adieu and left the ladies alone. Mrs. McNally continued to look to the door he had exited through, deep in thought. “He is a beautiful boy. You are very fortunate,” she said sincerely.
“I… thank you.” Elizabeth answered, attempting to understand her visitor’s sudden melancholy.
“I expect you must be confused as to my purpose in coming here.”
“I must admit to being a little muddled, Mrs. McNally. Can I be of help to you in some way?”
Georgiana smiled ruefully. “You could be, Mrs. Cartwright. However, whether you will, is quite another matter. Please allow me to introduce myself more properly, I am Mrs. Georgiana McNally formerly Miss Georgiana Darcy.”
It took several minutes’ time for Elizabeth to speak again. “Why?” she managed to say.
“Why am I here?” Elizabeth nodded. “He is my nephew, Mrs. Cartwright. I want to know him and help him.”
“You know?” Her hands began to tremble.
“Nearly two years.”
Elizabeth sat stunned, breathing heavily. Then she became angry. “Jane! I would never have thought my sister could be so little trusted.”
“You are wrong. Your dear sister said nothing. I am afraid it was you, Mrs. Cartwright.”
Georgiana nodded knowingly, as the truth began to dawn over Elizabeth. “Yes, my brother was at the Bingley’s house the day you came to see your sister and he heard your every word. He even managed to meet William in their library.”
Elizabeth sat shaking her head back and forth, as if she could will these truths to disappear. She knew he had met William, but did not know what extent of her conversation with Jane he might have overheard.
Mrs. McNally continued. “All this time he has known everything, and yet he has left you alone, made no attempt to take your son from you or force your hand.”
Elizabeth’s emotions were torn between wishing to burst into tears and venting her anger now that her world was collapsing with each word his sister spoke. Her anger won out. “I would hardly expect him to acknowledge me or his son, Mrs. McNally. Our acquaintance ended years ago. That will never change.”
“You believe he had no desire to contact you again?”
Elizabeth’s defiant face was resolute.
Georgiana replied with steady conviction, “I assure you, Madam, you could not be more wrong.”
Elizabeth could barely ask the next question. “Is he here?”
She gasped, and started shaking her head again. “He should return to his home. I cannot see him.” Then without thinking she added, “Is he well?”
Georgiana bit back her smile at Elizabeth unwittingly showing her affections were still engaged. “He will not leave, Mrs. Cartwright, for he no longer lives in England; he has lived in Padua for nearly a year. As for his health, I am sorry to say he has recently been taken ill.”
“He is in no danger?” she could not help blurting out.
“It was a bad cold and fever, but he is already recovering. I expect he will be up and about by tomorrow.”
Elizabeth suddenly realised the impropriety of asking into the concerns of the man. “I apologise, I have no right to ask.”
“Do you think I would be here, telling you about him, if I did not believe you had any rights? I am sorry for the pain this interview will bring, but I must tell you: I know everything. My brother and I share confidences, and I know he loves you. I think you love him as well.”
“But I am not worthy of his regard, much less anything more! If your purpose in coming here was to persuade me to speak with him, I must refuse.”
“Why can you not? What are you not worthy of?”
Elizabeth refused to answer her.
“Or is it easier to hide behind your martyrdom and take up your role as mother, forsaking all others or the pursuit of your own happiness? Are you truly living, Mrs. Cartwright? What example of adult life are you teaching your son? What will happen to you when William grows up and leaves you? What life will you have after his has begun?”
“I cannot let Will disgrace himself, or you and your husband! He would lose everything he has, all that he is and cares for. You do not know what it is to live in a society that shuns you, whispers behind your back and holds you in contempt. Why would I wish it upon someone I love?”
Georgiana shook her head. “You do not know him. I see that now. He has spent so long in your shadow and knows you so well, but you have not seen him these past six years. You have no idea what he has become. You have no idea what he values most in the world. Can you imagine what it does to him to know you use professors and masters as substitute fathers to the son he would happily embrace?”
Elizabeth gasped. “I will face the penance for my sins someday, but I refuse to let people of whom I ask nothing to sit in judgement of me. You have no idea what I suffer. You cannot judge my actions.”
“You are worthy to be forgiven for most of your transgressions, Mrs. Cartwright, and I would happily give it if you asked.
“However, there is one thing you have done which cannot be forgiven, for you do not repent it, and continue in its abuse. You have forbidden my brother his free will. You think you cannot marry him, yet you do not give him the opportunity to choose. If this is not cruelty, I do not know what is. You see; the choice was not yours alone to make, yet you did make it, and without knowing everything.
“If you were a gentleman I would call you out for your arrogance.”
“Yes arrogance, Mrs. Cartwright. You presume to know what is best for many; I suggest you do not.”
Georgiana brought forth her satchel, removed a thick tome and dropped the book heavily upon the table. “I will save you the pain you might have suffered under my foil.”
Elizabeth looked shocked.
“Oh, yes. Fitzwilliam spent years teaching me to master fencing. One of many examples of what you do not know about him.
“Instead I challenge you to an emotional, no… an intellectual duel. I give you this,” she gestured to the book, “as proof of your folly and lay it out before you, Madam. Read this in its entirety and then come to me and justify your actions and wishes. If you can prove to me their righteousness, I will never bother you again.”
Georgiana then leaned in closely to Elizabeth’s face. “But if your heart can be opened and you can see the justice in what I accuse; then I demand satisfaction.”
She faltered, shocked at this brave woman who confronted her. “What… what satisfaction would you require?”
Georgiana smiled. “Ah, Mrs. Cartwright, this is no time to feign ignorance. You know exactly what I would expect. If I am proved correct, the demand is both reasonable and, if I may be so bold, highly desirable to myself.”
“You would want me for a sister?”
Georgiana put a comforting hand on her arm. “I would, and I would want a life enriched by the presence of my nephew in it. Most importantly, there is an extraordinary boy who deserves the best life possible, not due to material wealth, but because he has two loving parents willing to raise him together.”
Elizabeth’s lip trembled at hearing the one argument she could never reconcile herself against.
“Now, I suggest you have a great deal of studying to do and should start. My brother was a difficult taskmaster the years he taught me, but I suspect you will not shirk from learning this particular lesson he needs to teach you. Be brave, my Dear.”
Georgiana had nearly reached the door when Elizabeth’s cry stopped her.
Georgiana turned. Elizabeth lifted the heavy journal. “Does he…”
“He does not know I am here, Mrs. Cartwright. Nor that I have brought you the book. It is a transgression Iwill have to beg his forgiveness for. I hope you do not make me regret my actions.”
Georgiana attempted to control her heavy breathing in the cold February air. She had to stop more than once to calm herself on the short walk back to her brother’s apartments. Despite her bold and brave statements, the fear she had made a terrible mistake began to take hold in her heart. She entered the modest rooms and immediately went up to check upon her brother. He was awake and surprisingly lively. His illness was at last abating.
She fed him a goodly portion of soup laced with plenty of meat, and he at last showed himself to be an accommodating patient. He bade her spend the night with her husband as she had shown Patrick so little attention the past few days. She did not hesitate to agree, relieved to escape his scrutiny lest he notice the guilt in her countenance.
Georgiana climbed the steps to their hotel. She felt worn like an old leather strap. Each rise took the remaining shreds of energy out of her. When she at last saw her beloved Patrick, she broke down in his arms, confident he would take care of her, now that she was with him.
“Oh, Patrick! What have I done?”
Elizabeth had spent most of the day reverting to an old habit she had forgotten she possessed - avoiding the uncomfortable. She had left the book on the table of her sitting room and proceeded to keep very busy the rest of the day. Her duties often brought her into the vicinity of the fine leather bound missive, where she would often watch it. Once she was forced to move the object to another resting place in the late afternoon and she took the opportunity to further inspect it, without opening the pages.
Late in the night, after the household was fast asleep, she crept down with her candle, curled up on her sofa and apprehensively turned to the first page.
and I love nothing more in the world
than Elizabeth Bennet and our son, William Bennet Cartwright.
Georgiana and Patrick awoke late the next morning, relishing the absence of duties. Her face was first one of complete relaxation, until the reminders of the previous day played clearly across her face.
“My darling, why do you doubt yourself now?” Patrick asked, attempting to calm her.
“What if it all comes to naught? What if they cannot see past their misconceptions and reconcile?”
“You have done what needed to be done and broken the stalemate. They might have continued on forever had no one interfered. If I may say so, Georgiana, you have finally made the last transition; your metamorphosis is complete.”
“Yes, you are finally a completely female incarnation of Fitzwilliam Darcy; charging in to save the day. Congratulations, my Dear. Shall we get you outfitted for breeches now?”
She slapped his chest playfully. “I am no knight in shining armour.”
He wrapped his long arms around her as he chuckled. “No, your figure is too magnificent to belong to a knight. However, you need only ask, and I will draw forth my lance to aid you in any quest.”
She was about to chide her husband for his scandalous words when a knock was heard upon their bedchamber door, and the servant called for him. Patrick returned with a note for Georgiana.
She swallowed hard and read it. “My brother requests my presence as soon as may be.”
“As you knew he would, when he discovered the diary missing.”
She grimaced and nodded.
My name is Fitzwilliam Darcy and I love nothing more in the world than Elizabeth Bennet and our son, William Bennet Cartwright.
Such are the words I wish to write first in this book, for they encompass the most important thing I would wish you, the reader, to know about me. Most diaries are mere accounts of a person’s daily life, thoughts and experiences, but I wish for this journal to be more.
Last night I stood and contemplated my ancestor’s portrait and told myself he was a good man, a fair man, a loving man; but in truth, no one knows if this is correct, least of all me. I am now determined that the thoughts and actions of my life should be laid forth in this book. Whoever reads this, perhaps even my grandchildren, can judge me and my worth after I am gone by what I have written. I hope I will be worthy of your esteem and plan to work hard to earn it…
Elizabeth stopped and attempted to steady her heart. Her guilt at having started the journal had quickly abated when she realised she was not reading Will’s diary; she was reading his autobiography. She was completely undone by this intensely private man’s wish to leave a written legacy of himself.
She continued reading page after page, held rapt by the unaccustomed honesty with which he described his history, actions, hopes and dreams.
Her fingers had been absent-mindedly stroking the smooth edges of the fine leather as her eyes devoured each word he had written. The clock struck six, breaking the trance she had been in for the past several hours as she came to his final entry,
Georgie’s recent letter gave me hope that her heart may someday reconcile itself to her grief over the loss of her baby son. I cannot begin to know what they two have suffered, but when I think of the possibility of being separated from William, my heart constricts and pain grips at my chest. Georgiana’s sorrow must be a thousand fold. I am determined not to be grieved over living apart from William. I am blessed. I see my son each day, and provide for him and my beloved in every way possible.
She had cried, gasped and bitten her lips until they nearly bled as she read this insight into the man she had not seen in almost six years. Such pursuits came with a high price: she was physically and emotionally exhausted.
Just then her cook and housekeeper came in, surprised to see their mistress sitting in the near dark, neither ready for breakfast nor dressed. William ran in behind them, and Elizabeth could not help but choke back a sob as she grabbed him in a fierce embrace.
“Signora Cartwright, you are well?” her housekeeper asked.
“Please do not be concerned,” she managed to say with a small amount of calm. “We will be in to breakfast directly.”
The two left the room slowly, eyeing the mistress the entire time with frowns upon their faces, clearly unconvinced she was well.
As soon as the door was closed, Elizabeth took her son’s face in her hands.
“My Love, you know everything I have ever done was to make your life better, to help you in any way I could?”
“My darling boy, I am not a perfect woman; but please remember, I wanted to be the best mother I could be for you.”
William frowned and kissed his mother’s cheek. “Is this one of your sad days, Mama?”
Her eyes glistened from emotions running too high. “No, William, but it has been difficult. I promise you; I am not sad. Now let us see to our breakfast.”
Georgiana did not hurry her morning ablutions, or her pace in walking to his lodgings. She steadied herself for the onslaught she knew was coming with each step until at last, confident in her purpose, she was upon his doorstep. Unsurprisingly, he was in the doorway before she had lifted her hand to knock. He opened it wide and bade her enter by cocking his head. She looked boldly into his apprehensive eyes, and quickly entered.
“I am glad to see you up and about; do you feel yourself recovered?”
He was momentarily taken aback. “I… yes, I feel very well today, if only a little fatigued. I thank you for all you have done these past days in nursing me.”
“It was my pleasure, Brother. You are very welcome.”
“Where is it?” he suddenly spurted out.
She drew a great breath. “I do not have it.”
He closed his eyes and frowned hard. The next voice was one she had never heard before. It was small, frightened and pleading. “Please, tell me you did not give it to her.”
At first Georgiana was touched by a motherly instinct to help him and wanted nothing more than to reach out and take him in her arms and soothe his worries. But quickly she recognised the example of what she had seen these past days. This was not her fault; it was his and Elizabeth’s. They had carefully orchestrated events over the years to put each of them in this impossible sham of an existence.
She steadied herself and answered in a voice she hoped brooked no opposition, “I did the one thing you were not brave enough to do, yet had to be done. Yes, Fitzwilliam, she has your diary.”
“You have taken my life!” he cried.
“No! I have given you a chance to finally have a life!”
“You have no right to decide what is best for me.”
“You would be right, if you were acting as a reasonable man. However, I have seen your reason turn to trepidation. You live the life of half a man. Look at you! You hide yourself away from the world. The only joy or happiness you have comes from observing people you are too afraid to claim for yourself. You cannot bind yourself to a painting!”
“This is your opinion of me? After all I have endeavoured to do for those I love, you hold my life in such contempt?”
“You do not have a life with them. You are no more to them than a patron to an orphanage!”
“How dare you compare me in such a way!”
“I dare for I am my brother’s protégée. If you wanted a quiet, demure woman you should never have sat me astride that horse! You turned me into the woman I am and that woman does not back down.
“You once told me it was fear itself that cost people their lives when up against an enemy, not their skills. The fear of taking the final step to Elizabeth has crippled you. You are not brave enough to try to make her yours.”
“It is not possible!”
“Yes, it is!” she countered forcefully. “If all you truly desire is to marry and have a family with Elizabeth, it is possible. What would either of you have to give up? Your place in society? You have not moved amongst society in over two years. I no longer need your name or connections in the ton ; if you wish to turn your back on them, I shall have no cause to repine.
“You can return to England every year to keep your claim on the estate and when William makes his way in the world, return with Elizabeth and live out your days. The shades of Pemberley will hardly have noticed your absence.”
“Forgive me for refusing, but I have not been used to submit to any person’s whims.”
“You are so obstinate and headstrong, Fitzwilliam! This is no whim! I say if you are willing to live anonymously as a pauper, you can certainly do so while married to her.”
“No! This match to which you presumptuously wish me to aspire can never take place!”
He rose and took up his accustomed post at the windows, his hand twisting the signet ring on his finger. In another meek voice he revealed his true worry. “She will not have me.”
Georgiana was caught by his honesty, but refused to treat him with pity. “She might not have wished to marry the man she knew six years ago. Tell me what of that man still exists?”
“What if she can only love the man she knew? What if she can no longer love the man I have become?”
“Do you think you have not improved? Are you in any way less than you once were? I think you are so much more now, but she does not know you.”
“Exactly! What makes you think she would give me the chance to court her, to allow me into her life long enough to win her again? The last time I spoke with her I told her never to seek me out or speak to me. I told her she had no right to tell me she loved me. I am afraid, Georgie! Afraid she will run and then the pittance I have will once again be lost to me.”
“You refuse to oblige me then? I came to try you. I hoped to find you reasonable, but I find you too caught up in your self-pity and fear.
“But you are not my only concern; William is estranged from his true father. She has done this, and you support her deception by staying away. Your son suffers unknowingly because of the lie the two of you live. Every child deserves its mother and its father. My true contempt comes from watching the two of you, with a living, breathing son who deserves better, yet is treated as if he does not exist. You scorn God and his gift to you by cheating William of his due.” She choked out her last words. “You do not know the blessing you have been given.”
“Oh, Georgie!” He opened his arms to comfort her.
She held out her hand abruptly. “No! I do not want your pity! I want you to take action and do what you should have done two years ago!”
He hung his head. “I can only act in a manner which will, in my own opinion, constitute my happiness.”
“Untrue,” she admonished bitterly. “You can act for someone other than yourself.”
He scowled at her and stormed out of the room. Moments later her shoulders flinched as she heard the front door slam and saw his shadow pass by the front windows.
Several hours later Higgins came in to find a worried Georgiana awaiting. She briefly explained the circumstances under which her brother had left and her concern of his poor health being compromised in the inclement weather. Higgins agreed he should not be out this long in the cold and departed immediately to fetch Mr. McNally and begin a search for Darcy.
By sundown, Georgiana was beginning to feel the effects of the guilt at having caused the rift between herself and her brother. Not normally one to give in to flutterings and imaginings, each passing hour tried her nerves greatly. Her relief was quick when she heard voices upon the front steps and the sounds of the men entering. Sadly, only Higgins and Patrick rounded the corner.
The two had searched the city, including inquiring at Mrs. Cartwright’s house, without success. Fortunately, Higgins had suggested they see the man he and Darcy had often used to hire horses and coaches for travelling to the house in Abano. Signor Smith had indeed hired a horse in the early afternoon.
As they neared the small town, a chill winter fog descended, making the journey more difficult and adding to Georgiana’s worries.
“I am sure he is merely nursing his wounds in front of the fire at the villa,” Higgins attempted to reassure her.
She gave a small smile. “I hope you are right, Mr. Higgins. I can only hope he will be willing to speak to me when we arrive.”
“He is a good man, Ma’am. When his anger wears off, he must come to see you have done the right thing. I will be happy to support your campaign.”
“Thank you, Sir. You are a good friend to us both.”
Georgiana’s fears were unfortunately for naught. When they finally arrived at the villa, the group was disappointed to find the horse in the stable, but no sign of Darcy.
It was nearly an hour later before the stable boy was found. He had not seen their arrival due to the dense mist, and was contentedly sitting in his parent’s small cottage when Higgins found him. He confirmed that Darcy had arrived earlier, then sent him into the village for some provisions for dinner. When the boy returned in the late afternoon, Darcy set out for the woods. He had not been seen or heard from since.
“Can you help us look for him?” Higgins asked.
“ Si, Signore . I will have my Papa and brother come, too.”
Patrick addressed Georgiana. “We will find him, Lass. Higgins and I will light the fires and you must keep them going while we are gone.” Georgiana nodded obediently. “I would put on the water for tea or coffee. If we are out long, we will need to eat and get warm when we can.” A lump formed in her throat which she tried to squelch.
“You shall do admirably, Mrs. McNally. Now show me the formidable woman I know you to be, and take charge here. If the lad’s mother comes by, you ask her for help without hesitation, yes?”
“I will. Please be careful, Patrick. The hills are steep and the weather is so cold and damp now…”
“Take heart, my Love. We will find him and you will not lose me, I promise.”
As soon as the men had left, Georgiana perused the house. She was determined to find any supplies she might need for whatever situation might arise later but was sadly disappointed at what the house had to offer. The lack of a woman running the place was grossly apparent although she eventually managed to locate the most basic items.
The next hours moved slowly as she attempted to keep busy. She sat in the rustic drawing room, occasionally stoked the fires throughout the house, stood guard at the windows and regretted not having better employment to distract her nerves.
When she heard the sound of horses and wheels nearby, she ran to the front entrance before the bell had rung. Throwing the door open expecting to see the mother of the stable boy, she was instead startled by the face before her.
Elizabeth stood unsure upon the front threshold. “Mrs. McNally, I apologise for intruding upon you at such a late hour. I went to your brother’s lodgings this evening and his cook told me he had gone missing. She said you were hoping to find him here and I … I wished to confirm he is well.”
“Oh God!” Georgiana blurted. “I am so sorry, he has not been found.”
Elizabeth’s hand flew to cover her mouth as she stifled her moan. “What has been done, what has been attempted to find him?”
“The men are out searching the woods as we speak. We know he arrived here earlier and went out in the late afternoon but he has not been seen since. I take it he did not see you today?”
“No, not at all.”
“They have yet to return or send word. Would…would you consider staying here for the night? I would welcome the company whilst I wait, and I suspect you could be of great help when they return.”
Elizabeth’s hesitation was obvious.
“Please. I could not send you back to Padua so late and surely you will desire to see for yourself he has come to no harm?”
Georgiana then noticed the couple behind them in a small carriage, obviously concerned for Mrs. Cartwright’s well-being and welcome into the house at such an unseemly hour.
Elizabeth saw where her eyes were directed and explained. “My cook and her husband were kind enough to offer to bring me here tonight. She is very protective of me and worries easily.”
“Please reassure them I am happy to receive you. Oh, but your son! Is he travelling with you?”
“He is at home with my housekeeper, who is looking after him. I thank you for your invitation, Mrs. McNally, but do not wish to intrude upon you further; I merely came for my peace of mind.”
Georgiana had nearly come to the end of her fortitude and reached out a trembling hand to Elizabeth’s forearm. Her voice betrayed her anxiety. “Please, I cannot bear this waiting alone. My brother and my husband are out in this dreadful mire and the quiet of this house preys upon my feelings. Please, Mrs. Cartwright, I could bear this torture if only you would stay with me.”
Elizabeth’s eyes softened instantly. “Then I shall stay,” she stated quietly, and Georgiana whispered her sincere thanks.
The two women later sat in the drawing room, sipping the tea Georgiana had, with Elizabeth’s help, made in the great fireplace of the kitchen.
“It is a lovely home, despite the lack of furnishings,” Elizabeth remarked nervously.
“I believe its simplicity is what drew my brother to it.”
Elizabeth set her teacup down. “I am sorry if his disappearance today was due to me,” she said solemnly whilst studying her hands clasped in her lap.
“No, it was not you. We did not see eye to eye on the subject of the two of you, Mrs. Cartwright. The conversation was long overdue, I am afraid. Yet, it gives me little comfort. The fault is mine, the danger he may now be in is… my doing. It was a risk to bring you his journal. He did not wish you to have it, but I was willing to gamble, and have risked something infinitely precious to him. He may never forgive me.”
Georgiana took another sip of her tea. “Have you read it?” she asked, while her lips perched at the edge of the rim.
Elizabeth nodded, unable to meet her eye.
“Then you know it all. I have not read it. I merely saw the first page and knew what my brother intended it to be, so decided you should have it. You have seen into his mind and heart and know what he wants. Is it not time for you to put aside your fears and trust in him and his abilities? I would rather see him give you both up than continue living as the shadow of a man he has become whilst following you.”
Elizabeth fidgeted. “You are very much like your brother, Mrs. McNally,” she said while wringing her hands. “You argue just like him.”
Georgie laughed. “You cannot know how much, Mrs. Cartwright.”
“Actually, I … I do. He wrote about your years at Pemberley…
Before Elizabeth could finish, they heard the shouts from far off, full of urgency and approaching quickly. Georgiana said a small prayer of thanks before rushing once again to the door. The stable boy had run ahead and reached them first, chattering quickly in Italian as he came in.
“They have found him, but he is wet and very cold. He says they will need dry clothes and a warm bed for him at once,” Georgiana translated. She was hastening down the hallway to the bedrooms before she had finished the sentence.
Elizabeth thanked the boy for all his help and asked if Signore Smith was walking back to the villa on his own. The boy’s mouth went grim and his dark eyes widened as he told her the big man was carrying the gentleman. She was unable to translate one word he kept repeating until its meaning was made dreadfully apparent.
Higgins approached while carrying a lamp to light the way for Patrick, who struggled with the cumbersome load over his shoulder. A limp human form hung from him. ‘ Addormentato ’, the boy had been saying; ‘asleep’. Darcy was unconscious.
Within minutes, the men had carried him into the bedroom. Patrick and Georgiana removed his wet clothing and dried him as best they could before covering him with a dry nightshirt and placing him in the bed.
Georgiana had sent Higgins to fetch the blankets off the other bed in an attempt to warm him up. When he returned, the McNallys were sitting next to Darcy, holding his cold hands in theirs. His face was a sickly shade and his lips a pale blue. There had been no injuries to him when they found him. Apparently, he had simply lost his way, exhausted himself in the night and finally collapsed. Now they could only try to warm him up and hope he would awaken. They took turns placing their ears to his chest and listening for his heartbeat.
“It is so slow, Patrick. I am worried how slowly his heart beats.”
“He was out in very cold weather a long time, Georgiana; I think his body decided it was best to rest until he could warm up again.”
She nodded her head.
Higgins had gone out to the empty drawing room but heard noises in the kitchen. When he entered, he found Elizabeth acting as hostess to the three who had helped in the search. They stood and bowed to Higgins and thanked Elizabeth for the food and hot drinks. Before they departed, Elizabeth assured them they should return the next day after resting, as no doubt the master would wish to thank them for their help.
She and Higgins regarded each other tentatively until she held out her hand and he took it firmly.
“Hello, Mr. Higgins.”
“How did he find you?”
“He saw the two of us talking in Hyde Park.”
She nodded, lost in thought for several moments, then without hesitating asked, “Did you betray me?”
“I have kept your secrets, save one; I told him you didn’t kill your brother-in-law Wickham, when he thought you might have. Tell me, did I do wrong?”
She looked to the floor and shook her head.
“I don’t owe you anything, but still I kept your secrets. He doesn’t know them all but I think you should tell him, including about your sister.”
Her face betrayed her surprise and her rising anger.
“You think your son is so sharp from only your wits? You don’t know Darcy, then. He is every bit as clever as you ever are, maybe even more so. Look at all he has done without your knowing, and pulled it all off just the way you wanted. You get his son, you get the love and the chance to be with that boy and he sits back and gives it all to you. Because it was what you wanted and no other reason.
“The only thing he ever asked was to be able to watch. To look at you like some fine painting in a gallery but never touch you, or talk to you, or live the life he wants so badly with you and that boy he loves so much. So before you run, or rant at me or him about how angry you are, or whether anyone has betrayed you, think about what others have done for you and for your son. You are not the only one, Miss Bennet.”
He turned his back on her and walked back to Darcy’s room. There he found Georgiana and Patrick, still holding their brother’s cold pale hands.
“Does he seem to be warming?” he asked. Patrick looked up and shook his head. Higgins approached and examined Darcy closely, touching his skin and assessing his progress. When he had finished, he called Patrick into the hallway.
“Mr. McNally, I have seen people exposed to the cold too long before, some gone as much as Darcy. In Derbyshire, we have an old remedy we practice when nothing else is available. I fear it will never get very warm in this stone house and we should try this other… method. You could see it done while I ride into Abano and find the doctor. I’m sure we could use more help if I have your approval.”
“Certainly, Higgins. Please explain your idea.”
Higgins left soon afterwards while Patrick sought out Mrs. Cartwright to bring to his wife. Elizabeth agreed to enter Darcy’s bedroom, as she had little choice with Mrs. McNally refusing to leave it.
She slowly walked into the brightly lit room. The cheerfulness from the fire sharply contrasted the danger for the man in the bed. She did not take her eyes off his pale, unmoving form.
Patrick drew Georgiana to the door, embraced her tenderly and told her what Higgins had said. He did not try to sweeten the threat to Darcy, and Georgiana’s eyes betrayed the worry she had been stifling.
“Now, Lass. Your brother needs you,” he whispered quietly to her. “And he needs her, too. The both of you have it in your power to save him. You have to convince her.”
Georgiana looked to him, glassy-eyed.
“You are the bravest woman I know but you also have the biggest heart of any person on earth. Show her, Georgie, be sister to her and convince her to be wife to him.”
He dismissed her with a kiss to her forehead, and told her he would wait outside until she called, before closing the door firmly behind him.
Elizabeth looked up from her stolid vigil at the end of the bed. “What has happened? Why have the men left?”
“Higgins has gone to find a doctor and my husband is in the hallway should we need him.”
Georgiana took a deep breath, sat down on the edge of the bed, and began to remove her boots and then her stockings. She stopped for a moment, observing Elizabeth calmly.
“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it," she said steadily as she stared at the woman her brother loved.
She then felt into her hair and removed the pins, placing them methodically on the stand next to Darcy’s bed.
Elizabeth frowned while watching her odd movements steadily. “I do not recognise the quote.”
“Thucydides, a wise Greek whose words we must heed tonight.” She shook out her long dark tresses. “Higgins has told us of a method which may help my brother. I am willing to try it, but in truth, it is not my place to do so.”
“I beg your pardon?”
Georgiana ignored her as she unbuttoned the front of her dress. “Fitzwilliam is nearly frozen through. This room will never be warm enough and we have no bath to put him in to try to bring his body temperature up. The common folk have a practice, apparently used for generations whenever such a situation arises. It is very simple; one uses the application of body heat against the patient. The warmth of the healthy skin against the cold skin is very effective.” The dress was now carefully removed and placed over the chair in the corner.
“Could you help me with my corset and stays, please?” Georgiana asked without pause. Elizabeth absently went to her and helped her remove them, along with her petticoats until she stood only in her thin chemise.
Georgiana could see the shock on Elizabeth’s face. “I am more than willing to throw aside convention, propriety and modesty to help my brother, but it would be more effective, as well as your place… to join me.”
Elizabeth sputtered. Georgiana grasped her hands firmly before she could move away.
“You know how he feels about you; he has long considered you his wife. He will never give you up, surely you know that now? Can you not take your place by his side?”
“I…I am unsure.”
“Has he not proven himself worthy enough for you to help him? How much more must he sacrifice to satisfy you?” Georgiana’s face was pleading with all her heart, a heart that shared the blood of Elizabeth’s beloved, and for a brief moment Will’s face became hers, asking Elizabeth to save them both.
“I have been my own master for so long…” She looked down at Darcy, eyes filling, then pulled her hands out of Georgiana’s grasp and clutched them to her bosom as she turned away and strode to the fire. Georgiana spoke to her back.
“Have faith, Elizabeth. Have faith in him, his love and all the family who have supported you and William. Give him the chance, but first come to him and help him.”
Georgiana could see her shoulders shaking but refused to comfort her. She knew Elizabeth must be standing on the precipice of her final decision and must be allowed to make her choice by herself.
She turned finally, tears streaming down her cheeks. Georgiana feared she was about to refuse to capitulate and leave, when Elizabeth took a deep breath and, shaking her arms violently, pitched her dress to the floor in a heap.
Darcy woke before dawn to find something tickling his nose. He tried to shake his head to dislodge the annoyance from his face, to no avail. When he attempted to raise his hands to move the object, he found they were bound by some unknown force holding him tightly. When he tried to pull them free again he realised they were grasped strongly to a person’s body.
“Be still,” a warm, yet sleepy voice admonished. He froze. A woman’s voice.
He moved his fingers tentatively against the warmth surrounding them to discover a thin layer of silk and soft bare skin under his touch. He began to withdraw his fingers slowly and had them almost freed, when she, in her semi-conscious state reached out and purposely placed his hands back to their original position; which Darcy could now comprehend was crossed over her chest, and tucked under her arms. Satisfied he was now in the correct position, she patted his wrists gently, sighed lightly and quickly fell back asleep.
“Elizabeth?” he whispered disbelieving.
“Hmmmm?” she answered, still falling into her sleep.
He had to stifle his cry. He was mad for a candle. He felt if he could not see her face, it might not be true. Perhaps he was dreaming her - here in his arms, purposely taking care of him.
He looked to the windows, the barest of change evident in the indigo of the night sky now becoming lighter. He turned back to the angel in his arms. He leaned his head forward, now welcoming the mass of waves in front of him and breathed in her scent deeply. Roses. She always smelled of roses.
An annoying twinge in his feet reminded him of his folly the night before. Georgiana must be sick with worry over him. She might not know of his whereabouts. Two choices lay before him; to wake Elizabeth and be apprised of all that had happened and make sure his relatives knew he was well, or possibly extend his family’s suffering by languishing in the arms of his lover until the morning came.
In the end, the choice was not left to him. He had been unconsciously stroking the smooth skin of her ribs and the sides of her breasts as he laid thinking. Just as he had determined to indulge himself and stay with her, he nuzzled her ear and murmured, “Elizabeth, my dearest.”
She was instantly awake, and rolled over in a flash. “Will? Oh, you are awake!” she cried, throwing her arms around his neck. Their bodies moulded against one another as he threw his leg over her hip and crushed her tightly to him. She seemed to suddenly remember his pains, and searched his face earnestly while her hands took stock of his shoulders and arms, as if feeling them would allow her to assess his good health.
“Please tell me, are you well?”
“I feel well, except my feet tingle.”
She was immediately up and lighting a candle before he could stop her. Darcy was shocked when he realised he was wearing a nightshirt and nothing else, and she was in the thinnest chemise, her body only too plain for him to see. He was about to protest the loss of her warmth when she threw the bedding back and positioned herself at the end of the bed. She did not hesitate to send his hem past his knees and position each foot back under her arms again, this time covering the rest of his feet with her own arms.
“I need you to position the rest of the blankets around us both, especially my chest. My warmth will help your feet recover. They were very nearly frozen, Will.”
His face fell. “You are here,” he indicated the bed, “because of my injuries?” He tried not to sound disappointed, yet failed miserably.
He saw her hold back a tiny smile at his obvious disappointment and shake her head. “Would that every man had a lady friend so willing to come to his aid.”
She absently stroked his ankles while her breathing began to increase. His feet could feel her heart beating faster inside in her ribs. It was both comforting and arousing.
She seemed to find the courage she needed as she leaned her head down against the arch of his elegant foot, hugging him to her. “No, Fitzwilliam Darcy. I am here because this is where I belong.”
He stopped breathing.
She could not meet his eye as she whispered, “You have only to request it, and I shall never leave you again.”
The cry that left his throat startled her and she looked up again in time to see him lunging forward, dislodging his feet from under her and trapping her against the foot of the bed under his great mass. His unshed tears allowed his eyes to speak the volumes he still had not uttered. He stroked her face with trembling fingers and she mimicked the action and tears.
“You are my only love,” he whispered to her and kissed her lips with reverent tenderness. Heaving a great calming sigh, he pressed his forehead to hers.
“Never leave me, Lizzy, not for as long as we live?”
She closed her eyes in sweet relief. “Until death parts us then, Will.”
The log in the fireplace cracked in half, exposing new flesh to fuel the blaze, but neither of the occupants of the room noticed. The two softly cocooned under the bedding, completely caught up in the tender joy of rediscovering the feel of their beloved’s skin under their fingertips while gently exchanging kisses when desired. Their ministrations were slow and purposeful, anchoring each in the truth of the other’s presence and dedication.
During the last two days, Elizabeth’s heart had been pinpricked a thousand fold, splintering the shields she had built around her. Now, being the recipient of Will’s loving smiles and ardent gazes, along with the physical connection to him under the counterpane, the gates ruptured and a surge of intense emotions flowed into the breach. She knew she was inextricably committed to him and, in acknowledging that truth, was moved to open her heart to him.
“I have loved you since that day at Pemberley, but it was nothing to what I felt yesterday and only half of what I feel now in your arms. I have been a great fool, but my heart has always been yours.”
“Shhh..,” his fingers swept across her lips, “do not speak of regrets.”
“I…I cannot help it. I am so sorry, Will.” Her voice trembled. “I have cost us so much. All these years…” He drew her firmly to him and she wept against his chest.
“My darling, we have both made mistakes. If we stop to catalogue them all we will never get on with the business of starting our lives together. The past errors do not sit upon your shoulders alone. I am sorry I was not clever enough to find you. Two years ago I should have come to you and been brave enough to try to win you. Will you forgive my failings? Can we make a truce to learn from our mistakes, but not dwell upon them or allow them to overshadow the happiness we have now?”
She sniffled sweetly and wiped the tears from her cheeks, nodding. “There is nothing to forgive. I was mistaken about many things, most of all you. I was wrong to think I could not allow you into our lives.”
He shook his head. “Neither of us is without fault, let us agree on that and let the rest fall by the wayside.” She nodded.
He slowly searched her face, then reached over for her hand, kissed her palm deeply, and set it against his face. Outside the sun was finally rising, filling their room with a lambent glow which reflected the spirit in their hearts. Darcy looked about, then back at her. “We finally love in the light, Elizabeth. No disguises, no lies, just the two of us, our true selves, bared to the world. Hmmm… bared.”
He sat up and drew his nightshirt over his head, then looked to her, seeking permission. She was staring at the sight of his bare torso until she saw him regarding her, reddened, yet acquiesced. The two sat nude amongst the sheets and simply looked at one another in the streaming gold.
He then reached out and cupped her face in his hands. “You are so beautiful. I have not seen you so for so long and now I look upon you and… your eyes are so alive and full of love …I cannot breathe.”
A single tear crept out of Elizabeth’s shining eyes. He caught it before it disappeared into her waves which tumbled artlessly over her shoulders. “I think this is a happy one,” he whispered, as he inspected the little bubble.
He looked back to her face as he brought the tear to his lips and kissed it away, never moving his eyes from hers.
“I want to be there to kiss away all your tears, Elizabeth. I want to be there when William needs his tears kissed away, and I want to be there when our last tears are shed, when we are old and our bed is the only place we live. I want that right as your husband.” He smiled timidly, but suddenly pulled her firmly into his lap. She wrapped her legs tightly around him and he took both her hands in his. “I dearly hope this is the last time I shall ever do this,” he said, mostly to himself.
“Elizabeth, you have breathed life back into my hands. It only seems fair they be claimed by you, now. Will you do me the honour of accepting my hand?”
He shook his head and put a finger to her lips. “I will find a way. All I ask now is your acceptance. Please, Elizabeth? Marry me?”
“Yes, Si, oui, per sempre, zawsze tak. Forever yes, Will.”
“The most beautiful words I have ever heard you say, my Love,” he said, as his lips met hers once again.
A mourning dove lamented outside the window, awakening Georgiana to the budding light of day. Her foggy mind trailed behind her eyes and both forced themselves to alertness. She willed her aching body to rise, knowing she should look in on Elizabeth and her brother and confirm they were both resting. She could sleep again later.
She smiled and fetched her shawl while she remembered Elizabeth in her arms earlier, bemoaning her fears for the fate of the man who was so precious to her. The walls the woman had built up to protect her from relying on anyone else had been rigid and almost infallible, but when Elizabeth determined to let them fall, she did so like all her other pursuits in the world - with unrestrained passion.
The night before…
“I cannot lose him now.” Elizabeth cried in her arms. Georgiana attempted to calm her, and seemed to be successful when suddenly the elder woman scrambled out of her arms and turned her back abruptly on her. She was shocked at the move, about to voice her indignation, when Elizabeth lifted her hair.
“Please, Mrs. McNally, I cannot reach the top lacings,” she said, as she indicated her corset.
Georgiana laughed. “Elizabeth, I stand here in my shift, divesting you of your clothes; do you not think it is time to call me Georgiana?”
The laughter seemed to take Elizabeth aback, but then she too, began a nervous giggle, as her ties were unlaced and the last of her things removed. “Indeed, I do. How do you propose we go about this, Georgiana?”
“His extremities are the largest concern, according to Mr. Higgins. We must be careful to attend them diligently. I would suggest setting him on his side, one of us in front to warm his hands, the other wrapped around his back and feet.”
Georgiana was very grateful the choice of sides was not left up to her, for Elizabeth immediately climbed into the bed and rolled Fitzwilliam towards her. There were several more attempts at positioning before both women could be comfortable, yet keep Darcy secure. Only when the two agreed they had found the ideal positions, did Georgiana finally call out to her husband.
Patrick came in and beheld a sight unique in his lifetime: Darcy in bed with two beautiful, nearly naked women, yet unaware of his great good fortune.
His wife apparently was well acquainted with her husband’s jovial predilections as she interrupted his thoughts almost immediately.
“I will trust your good breeding and excellent gentlemanly manners preclude the necessity of my extracting your promise of never telling another soul what you are witnessing,” Georgiana admonished before her husband could make a single joke. He cleared his throat and looked guilty. Elizabeth, despite only her face peeking out from the blankets, blushed.
“Please examine us closely and see if the bedding covers all of him, and us. He is so chilled, I fear it will be quite some time before Elizabeth and I feel warm again.”
Both women shivered as they attempted to nestle up to the cold body. Georgiana had her brother’s feet wrapped in her arms and began rubbing them without thinking, as Elizabeth did the same to his hands. Patrick supplied them with hot tea for the next hours and slowly the patient began to warm. Unfortunately, as Darcy’s temperature rose, and some of his consciousness began to return, the uncomfortable feelings in his fingers and toes pained him and he began to thrash about. They struggled to restrain his limbs and attempted to soothe him.
The doctor arrived not long after his unpleasant outbursts started and examined Darcy while the two ladies took a much-needed respite to refresh and attend to personal needs after so much tea. The doctor was well pleased with Darcy’s recovery. He agreed the ladies’ attendance to his person was paramount and seemed unconcerned about the patient’s lack of consciousness. He attributed it to the exhaustion of having just recovered from an illness and too much walking while he was lost. He assured the family that the man merely needed to sleep and not to expect him to awaken fully until late morning.
By the wee hours of the morning, Elizabeth and Georgiana had nearly exhausted themselves keeping Darcy in the bed and warm, and with talking to one another. His body eventually showed signs of complete thawing; his skin temperature stayed warm, his colour returned and his jerking motions finally ceased. Around four in the morning, Elizabeth suggested Georgiana seek some much-needed sleep.
“I had the advantage of a very long nap yesterday afternoon, while you were no doubt fretting over your brother. I must insist you get some rest now. He is calm, and I think one of us is enough to keep him warm.”
Georgiana agreed, and was about to leave the bed when she felt a hand reach out to her. Soft fingers entwined with hers and she looked up to see Elizabeth regarding her with great tenderness. “I shall not leave him,” she whispered quietly.
Georgiana knew Elizabeth was referring to more than the present moment. She squeezed her hand and both women murmured “Thank you” at the same time, before sharing a knowing smile.
Georgiana now made her way down the ever-brightening hall when she espied Higgins coming in.
“Are you only just arriving, Mr. Higgins?
“Yes, Ma’am. My final journey from Padua. I think I have everything we need; anything else can be purchased later today.”
“Dear Mr. Higgins! How much we owe to your efforts. May I express my thanks for all you have done?”
“You are very welcome, Mrs. McNally. I was happy to help Darcy. But if I may say so, fetching the linens from our lodgings serves us all; now I have a decent bed to rest in as well.”
“Oh, of course! You must be anxious to avail yourself of it at last. I was about to enquire after my brother before returning to my bedchamber. Shall we see how the patient is faring?” Higgins nodded.
As the two approached Darcy’s door, they both became embarrassingly aware of certain noises emanating from the room. An unspoken communication directed the two quickly past the door without stopping. Georgiana finally spoke when they had turned the corner.
“I daresay we can probably wait to see him until later. If Elizabeth needed anything, I am sure she would not hesitate to ask.”
“Yes, I think staying out of that room right now is a very wise decision,” a very nervous Higgins replied.
Neither dared look the other in the eye as they swiftly departed to their respective rooms.
Inside the patient’s room, Darcy was attending his nurse’s lips with great enthusiasm.
She moaned against the feel of his succulent, hot skin. “You have no idea what your kisses do to me,” she whispered as he changed angles and they repeated their actions.
She darted her tongue across the line of his bottom lip. “I taste your flavour which is like the sweetest nectar to me. My mind shuts off all other thoughts but to continue delving into the savoury dish set before me. My mouth demands I never stop.”
He groaned and clenched her tighter to him.
“While my taste buds are being taken to another world of existence, the rest of my body makes itself known in a most violent manner.” She could feel him smile while trying to kiss her.
“More…” he whispered as his tongue drew in her lip to suckle upon. They continued for several minutes. He released her and laid her back upon the bed. His lips began to swipe along her hairline, and nip at her ear.
She giggled, then gasped and wrenched his head away. His face showed his confusion until she began to trace her fingers along his jaw.
“You have a beard. And a moustache.”
He smiled. “I know.”
“It tickles my skin when you kiss my neck.” He arched his brow, to look the question. “I think I like it very much.” She smiled and her fingers rummaged deeply into his whiskers.
His eyes closed tightly and she stopped. “Do I hurt you?”
“Not in the least. You can be as rough as you like, and I shall never complain. Quite the opposite.” He began a new onslaught upon her delicate clavicle.
“Oh! Yesssss, that feels wonderful.”
He stepped up his assault and lingered for some time.
“Speak to me, Elizabeth. Let me hear your voice. Tell me how I make you feel.”
“Wanton,” she replied without thinking, then felt him chuckling as his tongue continued where his lips had left off.
“In what manner?” he demanded. Now it was her turn to smile. Of course, it made sense he would wish to hear her voice. He had spent the last years only able to watch her and now wanted his other senses to be touched by her love. She was thrilled to tell him how much he made her desire him.
“Your slightest touch makes me yearn for your hands upon my skin.”
“Like this?” His hand moved to stroke her while he watched her reaction.
She nodded while her eyes slowly closed. “My mind is in conflict when I feel what your hands are doing but,” her fingers indulged themselves down his back, “I also desire to do similar to you.” He groaned loudly and replaced his hand with his lips, giving the lovers new sensations to relish.
While Will’s touches were all she could have desired, Elizabeth found herself continually distracted by the stimulation of his skin against hers. She no longer wished to be merely a recipient and boldly took his head in her hands, stopping him.
“May I… that is…” she cursed her sudden timidity, “ I desire to touch and explore you. Will you allow me?”
The smirk he bestowed upon her could not be mistaken. She thought to punish his impudence, but frankly her lust was much too overpowering at that moment. She ungraciously pushed him off and settled him beside her where she could finally feast her eyes upon his form.
“Men are very different from women.”
Darcy laughed. “Have you only concluded this just now?”
She ignored his teasing and ran her hands across the top of his shoulders. “These bones and muscles are so much more pronounced, but lovely to feel.” She leaned forward to sweep her dry lips from his neck all the way to his arm. “Your skin is so soft despite the firmness beneath it.” She nuzzled her nose against him, caressing him with long drawn-out strokes and taking even longer whiffs of his aroma. She wanted to immerse herself in every nuance of his body, involve every sense in her endeavours.
In her mind, the process of discovering Will was taking on the semblance of a dance. There was a rhythm to her touches, a cadence to the brushes of his skin with her mouth, her nose, her chin. She thought she almost could hear music in her head as she made love to him.
Her fingertips and lips sated, her hunger and thirst were now making themselves known. “Does my mouth have a mind of its own?” she wondered as her tongue finally laved his skin.
She moaned at the taste.
“You are delicious,” she said, “and I am so very lickerish,” causing Darcy to snicker. She continued with her tongue, then suckled at his neck and shoulders until she had had her fill. She lifted up, intending to move to his broad chest when she felt the unmistakable coolness of liquid upon her chin and her hand quickly flew to stop the telltale dribble from her mouth. She looked at him, mortified.
He only had amusement on his face and she could not be angry with him as he softly asked, “Enjoying your breakfast, my darling?”
Not one to let him have his teasing ways all the time she replied, “Ardently,” and stopped his cheer when she immediately descended upon his chest and gorged with a vengeance. Soon his laughter was replaced with very satisfying hisses and he continued to try to touch her. She pushed his eager hands down and insisted, “Not yet, sir. I am not through with my quest.”
“Quest? You have a mission in mind for your actions? Whatever can it be?”
She smiled at him and shook her head as her hands travelled down his hip and to his legs. “These are wonderful.” she said. “So very different from mine. Strong, well muscled and very masculine.”
“I beg to differ. You would have me let you think your legs are weak or not lean and that is far from the truth.”
Her hips were near his head and his hand had crept up the back of her thigh and was gently fondling the length of her. “Your legs are exquisite. Absolute perfection to me, and I would like nothing more than to have them next to me every night.”
She giggled but knew she had to take control again, or she would soon loose her opportunity to finish. Purposely, she moved her hips out of range of his hands. Her fingers skimmed the surface that covered his hipbone and travelled outwards to the side of his waist while he squirmed under her. Her hand reached out to where the bone met his side, where his skin was silkiest, yet unequivocally male.
“Here,” she pronounced. “Here is my place, my favourite place on your person. I claim this place as my own, and decree no one else may touch it for it belongs solely to me.”
He snatched her hand and brought it to his lips. “Only this place?” She nodded. “You need not limit yourself, my love. After all, you have only seen one side of me.”
She laughed. “Such cheek! I would never have expected it.”
“Best to accustom yourself to being surprised, then. For I shall do so often, I promise you.” ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Ages later, Darcy’s body glistened in the sunlight as the exertions of being the recipient of his lover’s thorough attentions, while holding back his own contribution, had proven energetic. When she finally fell back against the sheets, a grin of decided opinions graced her flushed face. He sprang forward and showed his betrothed that his sense of fair play was such that he was very willing to participate in a game where no losers were possible.
She later confessed that while his palate was not as sophisticated as hers, his finely honed work ethic was of such a high standard, it easily enabled her to overlook any shortcomings. Again and again.
Much later, the room echoed from the increasing moans of the physical delight they both were experiencing. He began a stippled decent of staccato kisses, when he suddenly ceased his attentions. “Lizzy, if you do not wish…” he began.
“If you dare stop now, Will Darcy,” she panted in complete seriousness, “I swear I will never speak of my desires again.”
Still he did not move. She thought she might know the source of his distress and moved to assure him. “Only you, Will. In the moonlit garden first, and never another since. I have always been only yours.”
His face betrayed his wonder at her confession, then he amazed her further when he whispered gently to her, “I would never have asked you, Lizzy, but I thank you for telling me. I promise you I will never hold your past against you.”
He suddenly blushed, a rare occurrence in Elizabeth’s acquaintance with him and then revealed, “I have been faithful to you in heart and in body since that night as well, my love. I only stopped now out of consideration for you.”
She gasped a small “oh” and then smiled shyly at him. “I have borne your son, Will. I think I can tolerate your attentions quite admirably; I am no china doll.”
After that, all speech was limited to one, though sometimes drawn out, syllable.
Georgiana rose some hours later to find herself alone in the bed. She could tell it must be nearing midday by the sunshine and washed and dressed herself quickly. She fully expected to find her husband in the kitchen and hoped that Higgins was continuing to sleep, as he had not retired for bed until the sun was rising.
She never imagined she would turn the corner of the hallway to find the two men leaning against the wall on either side of Darcy’s door, staring at the floor while making no attempt to hide their smiles or bouncing shoulders as they boldly eavesdropped. Both men nearly bolted out of their shoes when they heard the loud single stamp of Mrs. McNally’s foot and saw her standing, hand on hips with a furious countenance directed at the two guilty parties. She silently pointed to the kitchen and her scowl never faltered as the two sulked, then quietly walked to their punishment.
All three, however, suddenly had to clasp their hands over their mouths, and double their speed for, before they could leave the hall, the combined chorus of two lovers in the pinnacle of their bliss sang out clearly to the heavens, and to every occupant of the villa.
He collapsed in a heap on the pillow next to her, panting heavily. She quickly covered his side with her own body, still heaving from the excitement.
“I think I would like to do this until we exhaust ourselves. You will not mind, will you?” he said between breaths.
“I had no idea one could do it so often as we already have, I hardly think I can have an opinion. Well…” she smiled, “other than thinking it is the most exquisite thing I have ever known.”
He chuckled sweetly, then kissed her nose and hugged her to him. “I think it to be the most exquisite thing I have ever done as well.” Then without warning, he was unable to stifle a huge yawn.
“Will!” Elizabeth admonished. “Your exhaustion will come sooner than you realise if you do not get more sleep. Much as it pains me to have to say this, you must get several more hours rest right now or I shall leave this bed.”
He simply smiled. “No, you shall not.”
“You must rest!” she cried.
“I will, but you will not leave. You promised to never leave me again. It is printed here,” he touched his heart, “and I have your word. Therefore, you will not leave this bed.” She rolled her eyes.
“However, as I fully intend to do this again today, I will happily agree to seek more sleep.” He nuzzled his face into her crown. “I must rest if I am to perform admirably for my lover, for her cries I cherish above all other sounds.”
Elizabeth squelched the urge to hide herself under the bedding in embarrassment. She wondered what the others in the house might have heard. Her entire body blushed as she groaned.
“What distresses you, my Love?”
“I think I shall never live this down.”
“Do not be shy around me, Elizabeth. Your unbridled passion is everything I could wish for. This is nothing to be embarrassed over.”
“Perhaps I could accept I apparently act like some wild heathen in our bed and that you enjoy it, but….”
Darcy laughed aloud. “Wild heathen? Why ever did you think a lusty appetite for me was wild or heathen? Good heavens, no! Elizabeth, the Italians know a voracious desire for one’s spouse is a blessing, just as it will be for us. Please do not think I want you to change how you respond to me. It shall be a gift to us both, and the envy of other couples, I assure you.”
“Some may envy us already.” Elizabeth let slip out.
“Who…what? How can anyone envy us?”
“We are not alone here, Will. Your sister and her husband and Higgins are all staying in the house.”
Now it was Darcy’s turn to burn bright red. “Why did you not say anything before?”
Elizabeth smirked. “Let me say my mind was more agreeably engaged and leave it at that.”
Darcy burst into laughter. “An admirable sentiment, my little wife-to-be. Well there is nothing to be done for it. They have no doubt heard us. I expect no small amount of teasing when we finally face them again. At least I no longer have to feel guilty for not telling my sister of my whereabouts. I am afraid the temptation of you in my bed quite overtook my responsibility to her.”
Elizabeth giggled sweetly at this Darcy who was romantic and playful with her. Suddenly her jovial mood was interrupted by the terrible memory of when she had entered his house the night before, and all she had suffered before he woke in the morning. Her emotions had been wreaking havoc with her, not unlike when she carried young William in her womb; one moment deliriously joyful, the next overwhelmingly saddened. She buried her head into his neck as her arms wound around his head.
He felt her shake, as sobs overcame her. He found himself soothing her, stroking her hair and trying to reassure her as they held one another.
“I swear you will never lose me, Elizabeth. I will never leave you and we shall be together always.”
“No, please. Do not speak of this. Not yet. I want to tell you all of it, Will. I want you to know all of me before you say that. I do not have a diary for you to read, but I want you to know my history, my hopes and dreams too. Then tell me we shall never be parted and I will know you can have no doubts or apprehensions, nor live to regret choosing me. Please? Will you hear me out?”
He took her little hand in his, and raised it for the lightest of kisses. “I will listen.”
She could not bear to see his face while she spoke, choosing to stare at their joined hands instead. His disapproval was now the only thing she feared in the world. She took a shuddering breath and began.
“George Wickham and my sister Lydia never married. My poor sister died in October of 1812, losing his bastard child.”
His hands gripped hers tightly. “When did you learn this?”
Her lip trembled again and the tears fell slowly. “That night, after the Blakely’s ball…”
When the tale was done, and her heart and soul lay completely bared to him to do with as he pleased, she finally dared to look upon his face. A new torrent of emotions swept over her as she saw the expression of his eyes overflowing with love and tenderness and when he spoke, he did so with earnest devotion.
“Dearest, beloved, Elizabeth. We shall be married as soon as may be and never be parted again. Please trust me.” She nodded slowly and returned to the sanctuary she found in his arms, at long last confident in their love and the future.
Eventually their breathing began to fall in unison, their hearts beat together in time and they drifted off into a deep slumber which only comes after intense loving and heart-wrenching confessions.
The three sat uncomfortably in the kitchen, meticulously attending the food which did not merit such regard. Georgiana had had no chance to give admonishments to the mischievous gentlemen when they finally made it to the kitchen, as Higgins had not stopped there. Instead, he continued out the rear door of the villa and apparently several hundred more yards, for much later she and Patrick heard what was obviously uproarious laughter, from a distance very far away. The couple merely chuckled quietly to themselves.
“Do not consider yourselves absolved because of my amusement,” Georgiana warned. “The two of you should still be ashamed of yourselves.”
“Yes, Ma’am.” Patrick obediently replied, then drew her into his arms and kissed her forehead soundly before giving her a loving squeeze. He attempted to soften her.
“You should be happy we have proof your brother is feeling much better.”
She slapped his arm. “Some proofs a sibling can do without. And before you allow that smug look upon your face, imagine if it was your sister in that room with her lover.”
Gone was the smugness.
Much later, after Higgins had returned, they finally found their voices and discussed the future of the couple they all held so dearly in their hearts.
“How long should we let them stay in there?” Higgins ventured.
“They will need to come out for food.” Patrick offered. “Eventually.”
Higgins stifled a snicker in the form of a cough.
“Well, I trust Elizabeth to make a sound decision as to when they will emerge, but I must put my foot down at some point. We have a wedding to plan and attend, and it cannot happen if the bride and groom insist on taking their honeymoon first.” Now Patrick and Higgins felt permission for laughter had at last been granted and freely indulged.
Georgiana merely sighed at the propensity males had of turning into schoolboys. “This house is also in desperate need of many things. After we finish our meal, what say you to going into Abano and purchasing some supplies as well as some much-needed household items? We could try to furnish as much as possible today and present it to the newlyweds as a present!”
Georgiana’s enthusiasm for shopping was well known to her husband, as well as her brother and every shrewd shopkeeper in London. He knew better than to thwart her efforts or her schemes. She was not easily gainsaid.
“I think it a wonderful idea, Mrs. McNally.” Patrick approved. “We shall leave directly after our meal. Now, let us think upon the best way to get these two married.” All agreed.
“It should not be here, or in Padua.” Higgins offered. “I think a trip to Verona would do nicely. Less society people are likely to be there, compared to Venice, and it’s far enough away that no one from Padua would know Miss Bennet or Darcy. They could merely be tourists who wish to get married.”
“Verona!” Georgiana squealed. “The city where Romeo and Juliet lived and died. How romantic!”
Higgins swallowed uncomfortably. “Yes, well, it is a good distance away and serves the purpose, Ma’am.”
“Perhaps when we are in Abano today, we may enquire how one procures a marriage licence in this country and hopefully the process will be the same in Verona.” Patrick added.
Georgiana clapped her hands. “Excellent, gentlemen. This is coming along better than I would have imagined. We have the beginnings of a wedding, and I thank you both for your ideas.”
“The harder question is, how do we explain William to the world if the Darcys have just married?” Patrick asked.
“Actually, I have an idea about that,” Higgins started. “I will first need some information from you, Mrs. McNally.”
The trio arrived back late in the afternoon, followed by two carts being driven by local merchants and filled with the luxuries Mrs. McNally considered essential while they all were to stay at the villa. Patrick had merely smiled and produced his purse at every shop. The men quickly delivered the goods into each room they were meant for and made to set up the two new beds and mattresses which had been purchased. Unfortunately, one man had gone to the wrong room and Georgiana and Patrick had intercepted him before he opened the door to Darcy’s room.
Georgiana nearly shouted to him. “No, that room is locked,” she lied in Italian. The truth, however, was quickly revealed as a new round of noises began to reach their ears from within. The worker merely smiled knowingly, “Si, si, Signora,” he said and joined his co-workers down the hall, but she had not taken three steps before she heard him remark to them, “ Dove ci sono le donne innamorate, è inutile tenere le porte serrate.”
Patrick saw the amused expression upon her face when she turned the corner. “What did they say?”
“It is an old Veneto saying, ‘When women are in love, locking the door is futile’.”
“How very wise,” He waggled his eyebrows.
“Fortunate for me we share the same room. I would hate to have to break your lock,” she retorted back with a smirk.
Georgiana spent a considerable part of the afternoon arranging the new dishes and the larder supplies, happy to know they would not have to rely on the stable boy as often. She found evidence someone had been in the kitchen while they were gone; a half empty pot of tea sat on the table, and the loaf of bread and cheese were missing.
“It seems our mice have found a source for sustenance while we were out. I daresay unless we demand it, they might not come forth at all.”
Patrick chuckled. “Are you sure you wish to force them to come out? I imagine Darcy is recuperating very well. He has his warmth, and now some food, and his heart will have been healed by his companion. Why bother him at all? We could head back to Padua and wait for them to return.”
Georgiana was exasperated. “Because they should not wait to marry! We will be aunt and uncle again before Christmas if history repeats itself, and I for one do not want anyone counting the days!”
Patrick laughed at his wife. “You want a wedding, just like every other woman, Georgie. Do not try to fool me.”
She shrugged her shoulders. “I should like to see my brother married…”
“Go and knock then. But make sure they hear you. I do not want to hear you are struck mute because you dared to walk in on them.”
“You are incorrigible,” she said, though she headed immediately to the bedchambers. She stood hesitantly at the door, then, with a mischievous smile, she mustered all the strength she could and knocked as though the house itself was on fire.
“Elizabeth, I should like to check on Fitzwilliam!” she shouted. “May I come in?” A large amount of movement could be heard, small giggles and laughter and a decidedly large kiss being bestowed before the door was opened by a radiant, smiling, Elizabeth, fully clothed in her dress from the night before. Her brother was positioned, most properly and covered, in the bed.
“He is awake, and I think well recovered, Georgiana,” she said happily.
Georgiana hugged Elizabeth tightly, then, keeping her arm around her shoulder, walked to the bedside. “You are looking much better. How do you feel?”
“Considering my folly last night and the pain in my feet earlier, I am feeling remarkably well,” he answered jovially.
“From what we have been hearing I would say you are feeling miraculously better. At least I know now your senses have recovered,” Georgiana retorted.
The guilty parties blushed pink. “Mrs. McNally, if you were younger I would put you over my knee.”
“You can save such pleasures for your lady love, brother. As the matron in this room, I will be the one to say if any punishment shall be meted out.”
“Well said, my love,” Patrick concurred as he strolled in. “High time to repay your stalwart brother for all the evenings I spent sitting next to him instead of sneaking a stolen hand squeeze from my betrothed under the pianoforte.” He stopped next to Darcy and patted him on his shoulder. “I am glad to see you both looking so well.”
Darcy nodded, and then grimaced. “I am heartily sorry for my foolish actions yesterday. Mrs. Darcy-to-be tells me it was you and Higgins who found me and you who carried me home, Patrick. It seems I am to be ever indebted to you, and now it is with my life.” He reached out his hand towards his brother but Patrick would have none of it and gave him a hearty embrace instead.
“Thank you,” Darcy said, greatly moved.
Georgiana suddenly understood her brother‘s not very sly hint. “Mrs. Darcy-to-be? Oh, Fitzwilliam! Have you proposed? You have been accepted? Please tell me all is settled between you!” she effused.
Darcy laughed, “I have.”
Elizabeth added, “He was.”
The lovers looked at each other and nodded their assent. “It is.”
Early that evening, Will and Elizabeth stood in the doorway of his villa. He held her hands tightly whilst kissing each slender finger thoroughly.
Elizabeth attempted to look at him sternly. “I shall return in a few hours,” she gently chided.
“This is our first parting. I wish to make it memorable.”
She laughed lightly. “My love, the last twenty four hours have been more than memorable. I have only to think back on it and I shall be desperately longing to be here. Mr. Higgins will take very good care of me.”
“I have no fears for your safety. I only wish I could see our son with you.”
She bent her head round to look up into his face with deep compassion. “Surely you can bear two more days?”
“Of course. Will you…will you give him these for me?” He lavished kisses over her eyes and cheeks, causing her to giggle sweetly. “I have seen you do such things to William before, but this time, give them from me?”
Her heart was once again pierced. “I shall deliver your gifts, dearest Papa.”
The endearment made his breath hitch and he smiled tremulously. “Thank you.”
Over Elizabeth’s shoulder, Georgiana called to her brother. “Enough, Fitzwilliam! Elizabeth and I have much to do! We would like to be able to return before midnight!”
He took her hand once more and gallantly kissed it. “Goodbye, best beloved.”
“Until later, sweet Will,” she returned.
In the coach driven by Higgins, Georgiana quickly laid out all she wished to accomplish. “Did you bring the list of things to pack?”
“Yes, I have it, and the information to leave should anyone in my household need to reach me.”
“Excellent! Goodness, I do hope we can accomplish it all in time to leave tomorrow. If my brother had not been so obstinate we might have left at least an hour earlier.”
Elizabeth laughed when remembering his flat refusal to allow her to leave the villa. It was only the painful truth of William having never been parted from her before, along with her need to see he was well and bearing their separation in good spirits, that convinced Darcy to allow her to go.
“He may prove an implacable husband,” she answered Georgiana. “Perhaps he only allowed my leave knowing you would be happy to act as best man and assure him of my attendance at our wedding.”
The two ladies fell into a fit of gaiety.
William lay on his little bed, a single candle burning next to his mother while she covered his faces in kisses.
“Those were from someone who loves you very dearly,” she whispered, smoothing his curls. “I will tuck you into your bed tonight, but tomorrow you will have Cook to put you to bed and she will be in the house all night with you. I shall come again on the evening after. Will you be well?”
“I shall miss you, but I can bear it, Mama. I am glad you are friends with Mrs. McNally. I like her.”
“She is a wonderful lady; I think you two shall be very happy knowing each other. Now, what say you to a story?”
William nodded enthusiastically and Elizabeth began their nightly ritual eagerly. Much later she kissed his dozing head and went to see how her housekeeper’s packing was faring. She had given the instructions regarding her absence and they had just finished their work when the bell rang. Mrs. McNally was on the doorstep to return Elizabeth to Abano. As the two settled in for the ride, Georgiana’s enthusiasm could no longer be contained.
“Just think! This time tomorrow you shall be my sister!” she cried.
Signor Toderini, Ufficiale di Stato Civile de Verona stood proudly in his office. He had served the city for over thirty years and joining couples in matrimony was the one area wherein he felt his oratory skills were superior to all men who attempted the ceremony, including the Cardinale’s nuptial mass in the cathedral. Even Padre Magratho had once commented the Church would never have been the same had he joined the priesthood instead of choosing civic duty.
With little regrets for the holy fathers’ deprivations of his natural gifts did he happily prepare to join the handsome couple in front of him. These were the days he enjoyed his employ the most; no nervous, tittering bride, no irritated relations, but two mature people, obviously deeply in love and ready to commit themselves to one another for all eternity. He sighed. Yes, these two would appreciate the efforts he had put into his masterpiece on the perfection of love, the beauty of the connubial state, and the duty to God and country, which he had agonized over and now perfected into one magnificent hour-long recitation of great significance.
“Elizabetta, e Guglielmo …,” he began.
Georgiana stood silently by as her brother fulfilled his fondest wish. Despite her whirlwind activities of the morning, and seemingly endless energy, this ceremony would take its toll. She felt Patrick’s hand creep into hers and pull her against him. He always could read her moods. She looked into his handsome face, willing all the love in her heart to shine through her eyes. His face softened instantly and he nodded in comprehension.
“And I,” he answered softly.
Her brother stood handsome and tall in his plain brown suit of clothes. She could just make out the tiny bump of iron in his breast pocket, there to ward off the Italian ‘mal'occhio’ - evil eye. His face was one of perfect contentedness as he gazed upon his bride. Georgiana was glad Elizabeth had agreed to the local custom of wearing a lace veil upon her head. Her simple gown was brought to life by this old fashioned bridal tradition, and its ability to render the bride even more beautiful to the groom had made the frantic search through the shops worth Georgiana’s temporary panic. She felt a tear slip as she took in the glow upon Elizabeth’s fearless face. Her new sister’s happiness was plain for anyone to see and she was satisfied that it matched her own.
Patrick watched the scene with much the same sentiment, though he focused on his beloved wife’s presence. A wedding heralded the beginnings of many things and this particular joining would bring an end to the sufferings of many, his darling Georgie included. He loved his brother, and knew the relationship with his wife was closer than almost any sibling could boast, yet he could not help but be grieved at how deeply Georgiana felt her brother’s pain. Darcy’s marriage to Elizabeth and the joy which would now surround him would surely allow Georgiana to relieve herself of her pathos to his past sorrow. It was time for her to pass on Fitzwilliam’s care to his new wife, and concentrate on her own happiness. He hoped to have a chance to speak with the newlyweds on the subject before they left Italy.
The bride and groom were radiant before him. The grandiloquent official was in high voice. He could make out descriptors every now and then and certain words being repeated, however he soon gave up trying to understand as it was obvious that the man neither required, nor cared, if anyone paid him any attention. His own voice was apparently enough to please him enormously.
The last witness, Higgins, watched on with smug satisfaction. He was not a man who dwelt upon his past, but could not help feel some responsibility in this particularly happy event.
He had been honoured when Elizabeth had asked if he would give her away. Darcy had once asked if he was in love with her, and perhaps he may have been at first. But some part of him always knew she was never for him, and another part knew he wanted to protect her, be her friend. As soon as his mind had made that judgement, Elizabeth had become like a daughter to him, and he knew she was in the right place in his heart. Giving her away as a father would, had brought him great happiness. She had smiled brightly at him and squeezed his hand tightly the moment before he placed her hand into Darcy’s.
He saw the glint of light as Darcy brought the jewellery to his bride’s finger. He was oddly touched at this medieval custom they had chosen to use. A circular ring, without end, and given in love. A stone the Italians believed to be cast by the flames of love, unbreakable, and more brilliant than any other. Yes, that was his dearly loved Darcy and Elizabeth. The little ring was the symbol of them, and what they would always be together. He cleared his throat uncomfortably.
Elizabeth tried to concentrate on the words binding her to the only man she had ever loved. She worried she would be unable to contain her tears this day, as she had never attended a wedding in which she was not moved to shed them. She had attended funerals where she was not compelled to weep, yet weddings always brought them on. Now she silently chided herself, for as she stood in front of Will, her hand in his as he repeated Signor Toderini’s words, she felt no tears, only euphoria. This was what she was meant for, she and Will, hands clasped together and vowing their love and fidelity until they perished. The rightness of the act, and their future, were as solid as the diamond he was placing upon her finger. She felt the dependability of his love with every blink of his warm eyes and the strong mooring of her hands in his. The way ahead was with the man in front of her.
Will marvelled at the woman he was marrying. He could see the trust in her eyes, the simplistic happiness radiating from her face and the love in her heart as if it were script to be read. How few days ago was she living a completely different life, and now, because of knowing him and the truth of his heart, she was willing to give herself over to him completely. He suddenly felt the weight of his role in honouring, cherishing and loving her for the rest of their lives. No fear accompanied the insight, merely the magnitude of what they were doing and how much he welcomed it.
As the man droned on Will took the opportunity to study her in depth, and felt he could not be more pleased with each tiny nuance of her person, until his eyes alighted upon a new spot. Her lovely bridal veil fell softly around her lustrous curls and even the good luck tear in the delicate covering, the sight of which the Italians had all approved, was considered precious to him.
Soon however, their vows having been said, the ring having been placed and the minutes having slowly ticked by, he became aware of the content, not to mention duration of what the civil ‘parson’ was saying. He wondered what in the world Dante and Beatrice had to do with a happy marriage, but the man had quickly continued on to more wise anecdotes from the ancients.
When Darcy clearly heard Niccolo Machiavelli’s name he was about to intervene but the official had already begun his mistake.
“He who wishes to be obeyed must know how to command,” he quoted in Italian, with a significant nod of his head to the groom.
The silence that followed, combined with the fury most obviously being directed at Signor Toderini by two formerly demure members of the wedding party, caused the registrar to forget the tribute he had once written to each and every one of his favourite historic authors and suddenly draw a complete blank for the rest of his speech.
“Ah…ah…” he stammered, and then threw up his hands in defeat.
“You sposato - marito e moglie.”
“Husband and wife!” exclaimed Georgie.
The happy wedding party gratefully departed out into the piazza and the waning sun. Darcy and Elizabeth only had eyes for one another and would have announced their intention to retire for the evening, despite it only being five o’clock, but Higgins made an announcement. “While Mrs. McNally was preparing the wedding this morning, Mr. McNally and I have prepared the wedding feast.”
General exclamations of delight resounded with the exception of Patrick who was deep in thought.
“What disturbs your happiness?” Georgiana asked.
“That man! That… until now, I had no idea someone could permanently delude himself into honorificabilitudinitatibus.
The two ladies held their tongues until their eyes met and then the two burst into giggles, while Darcy and Patrick shared a laugh and Higgins looked bewildered.
Several minutes later, they arrived at the entrance to Ristorante 12 Apostoli near the Piazza Erbe. As they walked into the old establishment, Darcy and Elizabeth were inundated with good wishes, handshakes, and much to Darcy’s perturbation, kisses on his new bride’s cheeks by what seemed like every man in the place. Patrick and Higgins shared a knowing smile, as the owner had warned them earlier that tradition called for the bride to be kissed to make her new husband jealous. The owner had also warned it was expected of the best man to provide the guests with generous libations, and Patrick had happily provided a hefty down payment towards the pleasure of the wedding festivities.
The staff and lucky guests dining at 12 Apostoli that night toasted the newlyweds for many hours, happy to join in the party, as well as the free Soave the groomsman was providing. Musicians showed up no less than an hour after the wedding party had arrived and serenaded everyone through the night. Soon the restaurant was turning away customers, as the neighbourhood had obviously heard a rich Englishman was footing the bill of his brother’s wedding banquet. Neither the McNallys nor the Darcys had ever attended a celebration more overflowing with simple happiness and joy.
Elizabeth was beaming with love at her bridegroom, while he was grudgingly admitting to enjoying himself, if not the constant attentions paid to his new wife. When the clock struck eight, she rose and looked pointedly at her groom, intent on departure to their hotel. A look of pride and smug superiority could not be denied from his face as he slowly stood and looked around, daring any man to deny who was truly the best man in the room.
The Veronesi were hardly able to contain themselves, and as soon as the newlywed’s backs were turned, yet still in the room, they applauded, whistled and began throwing out remarks (which Darcy had thought were only common in the wild norths of the Derbyshire countryside) as they headed out the door.
“I must send the staff another case of fine wine in the morning for giving me some very creative ideas for my wedding night,” Darcy whispered in her ear while they made their way across the piazza.
“I must commend my new husband on his excellent understanding of Italian. Thank goodness I could pretend not to comprehend what they were saying. Though I wonder at some of the suggestions being physically possible!” cried Elizabeth.
“I believe the attempt to disprove them might be very enjoyable.”
He stopped her behind the shadows of a deteriorating stone column, stealing a luxuriant kiss and then slowly removed her bridal veil, folding it carefully and placing it in his pocket. “I would rather not give the hotel staff any more information than is necessary, Mrs. Smith.”
She smiled and nodded her approval.
They ignored the looks they were given as they entered, clearly raising many brows that seemed surprised any couple would retire to their rooms at so obviously early an hour. The two were laughing as they entered their chamber at last.
She turned to him and pressed her hand gently against his chest. “My husband,” she whispered softly, petting the front of his jacket.
Instead of a tender reaction, Will grasped her roughly and drove his lips down onto hers in a fierce kiss. He continued to her neck, nipping at her and sucking hard against her skin in a blatantly territorial display. She was sure his efforts would be highly visible in the mirror the next morning.
“My wife,” she heard him mumble against the strong beat at her throat. His hands were in her hair, haphazardly drawing out any pins he came across until her thick cascade tumbled to her shoulders. He did not stop to play in their folds but immediately set to the ties at her back, not hesitating until she felt him pulling on her sleeves to allow it to drop to the floor. She continued to hear him whispering her new title against any newly exposed skin as he worked quickly to strip her nearly bare.
“I believe you may not appreciate the finer points of Italian wedding traditions.”
She heard him grumble an incomprehensible reply against her skin. He made to take her lips once more but she tipped her head away and arched her brow at him in question.
“From now on, Mrs. Smith, the only men who will be kissing your cheeks had better be either relative, or me,” he growled then stopped to remove his outer garments.
Elizabeth contemplated her suddenly possessive husband and decided such strong feelings should not be denied, nor indulged in alone. “Fair enough, Mr. Smith. As long as you realise you married a woman who will not tolerate anything less from her husband,” she countered and quickly made short work of his simple cravat. Within seconds she had untied it, and soon after his fine shirt was sailing through the air to points unknown. Will began to laugh until his wife lunged forward and latched onto his breast with a vengeance. Soon Elizabeth heard his amusement turn to gasps as she taught her beloved how well she remembered his own methods of lovemaking. She tarried long and diligently, struggling to secure her claim upon her spouse’s skin and providing him with tangible evidence of just whose body she worshipped.
He looked down at her handiwork when she finally released him and gave her a feral grin that instantly flushed her body from head to toe and made the room feel as if the fire had suddenly roared.
“I expect this may fade with time,” he spoke seductively whilst gazing at the angry mark she had left. “Will you promise to renew this brand you have left over my heart?”
She nodded absently. Without thinking, she slowly began to rid her self of the last of her under things while he kicked off his shoes and then unbuttoned the final piece and let it slide to the floor.
Her brow arched once again; challenging.
“On the bed, temptress,” he commanded.
Elizabeth woke slowly as the new day dawned. Despite their rather rumbustious evening, she felt amazingly rested. Her body began to twitch and she moved to stretch her limbs and felt her new husband extend his legs and yawn. She was about to greet his handsome face when they both heard as clear as if someone was in the room with them,
“Are you awake, Geoffrey?”
They froze like frightened deer.
“I am, my dear. I shall be ready for breakfast in ten minutes. Will you have sufficient time to finish with your maid?”
“Certainly, I am nearly ready myself. Are you sure you do not need more time? You look quite dreadful this morning. Did you not sleep well?”
“As well as can be expected, I suppose. You finish and I shall tell you over breakfast.”
They looked horrified at one another, blushing as red as a rose.
They heard a door close and some minor shuffling until a few minutes later ‘Geoffrey’ apparently finished his ablutions and vacated his room.
Elizabeth was the first to grab a pillow and cover her face as she burst into hearty laughter. Will was not as light-hearted about the matter. When she had finally calmed, he whispered softly to her.
“You may laugh, Mrs. Smith. Nevertheless, we have to leave this room at some time. We have yet to hear our neighbours on the other side, nor what they might have heard. Are you sure you would be able to hold your head up high and walk through the entryway knowing someone might have heard you last night?”
“I cannot imagine anything I might have said that I should be ashamed of,” she whispered back.
His face showed his disbelief, then his mischief. “Are you sure you were never moved to utter anything last night which might be considered in baaaaaaaaad taste?”
Her face had just recovered only to flush brightly once more. “I did?” He nodded.
“Will, how are we ever going to escape?” she hissed.
If Elizabeth had ever thought her very proper husband could not surprise her with original and shocking antics, watching him perched with his eye at the keyhole, spying for signs of their neighbours in the hallways, with not a stitch of clothing on, would certainly have changed her opinion. She dressed in silence while he took the first watch, then reciprocated the gesture for him when she was done. An hour later, they were finished, packed and ready to attempt to leave. They had never heard anyone in the next room, and could only hope it had remained empty the night before.
Darcy cautioned her to be as quiet as could be with their bags, which luckily were small, as they had only spent a single night away. They had left the room and were making their way down the stairs when an elderly couple coming up the stairs began to speak.
“I think it best you rest before we go out again, Geoffrey,” the lady said. “Surely that pair will have gone by now, or at least will not indulge so loudly in the middle of the morning.”
The gentleman was not listening to his wife; instead, his attention was drawn to the lady with the healthy glow, now blushing, and the virile man who accompanied her coming down the stairs. Before he could attempt to hear their voices and confirm the identity as the amorous pair who had kept him, most interestingly, awake the night before, the fellow spoke.
Darcy had not missed the look, nor the fact they had most likely been caught out but decided to try to save his beloved’s dignity by saying, in a voice considerably higher than his own,
“Sono molto stanco, Giacinta. Il tuo padre ha bevuto troppo ieri sera e mi ha mantenuto svegliato fino a sta mattina. Poi dopo, il bambino si e svegliato. Non mi sono dormentato quasi per niente.” - I am very tired, Hyacinth. Your Papa drank too much last night and kept me up late. And the baby awakened me. I hardly slept at all.
Elizabeth looked to him with raised eyebrows as he guided her down the stairs away from Geoffrey’s prying eyes and ears. She quickly surmised the situation and abruptly wrenched her elbow out of his hand and answered angrily in a voice rich in resonance from her nose and high in its pitch as well. “Sie un austriaco. Pensavo che tu potrebbi tollerare il tuo vino.” - You are an Austrian. I thought they could tolerate their wine.
Chi ha detto che ho bevuto il vino?” - Who says I drank wine?
“L'odore sul vostro alito, il mio marito caro.” - The smell of your breath, my darling husband.
By now, they were on the street and looking for their carriage and the rest of their party, but still enjoying themselves a great deal.
“Do you think we managed to convince Geoffrey we were not the ones to keep him awake last night?”
“Dearest Giacinta, I sincerely doubt it.”
Padua, February 1819
Padua, February 1819
Elizabeth watched her jubilant son looking out of the window of their carriage as they headed to Darcy’s house in the hills. They had had few opportunities to travel outside of the city and his enthusiasm for this trip to stay with Mrs. McNally and her husband, the story he had been told, delighted his mother.
"I am pleased to meet you at last, Master Cartwright."
William’s eyes went wide as he peered the long way up to Mr. McNally’s cheerful face. "I… I thank you for inviting me, Mr. McNally, Mrs. McNally." He returned the bow but stared up at Patrick until his mother nudged him slightly. He blushed and apologised. "You are a very large man," he stated the obvious. The adults chuckled.
"Indeed, I have heard it thus said. But it does not follow that being a great, tall fellow means I have the temperament of a giant," Patrick answered cheekily.
William laughed, "I am glad to hear it, sir."
Elizabeth then introduced him to Mr. Higgins. Their ease and friendliness was almost instant, especially after Higgins offered to show the lad the horses later. Soon the group split up, tending to the business of unpacking from their trip to Verona, and seeing to the dinner for the evening. Mr. Higgins had a special task to attend to, for in two days time, he would be making a long journey.
William sat on the bed dangling his feet off the edge while his mother unpacked his belongings. She observed how her son could be both child and young man at once, but then reminded herself that no matter his age, she would always be his mother, and he was going to need his mother very much over the next hours. She sat down next to him to have the conversation she had been dreading since his birth.
"I have always told you that your father died before you were born, but it was not true. My dearest son, your papa lives."
"My father is alive?" William asked, shocked.
She nodded. "Before you were born, your father and I had a terrible argument. Though we loved each other very much, we…no… I did not think we could have a life together and I sent him away. He did not know he was going to be a father yet or he would never have let me banish him. After you were born I hid us from him, and he never knew that you existed or where we lived."
William‘s face fell. "You kept me from my father?" his voice faltered. “Why?"
"There were things which had happened to me and to my family which I thought would hurt your father and I did not want anything to happen to him. At the time, I decided the best thing to do was to stay away. I was wrong, William."
"But Papa would have been your family, too. Did he not look for you?"
"He did, as did my own family. For you see, I also hid from the rest of my family as well."
"You told me you have no family!" His voice was laced with judgement.
"I am sorry, William. It was wrong of me to keep them from you. I felt if I was to be successful hiding from your father, I must also hide from my relatives. All of it was wrong, and I never should have done it."
"What sort of relations do I have?" He stopped himself. "Is that why Mr. Bingley does not call me his nephew? Because of the quarrel you and my father had so many years ago? Is that the disagreement he had with my father?" He looked to Elizabeth, confusion and hurt plainly in his face.
She tried to help him understand. "No, William. The man you met was not Bingley. His name is Fitzwilliam Darcy and… he is your father."
"My father was William Cartwright!" he cried, frustrated. He jumped down from the bed and ran to the window, hugging his arms around him tightly.
Elizabeth struggled to contain her tears. "Dearest William, please forgive me, but I had to make up a father for you to keep us hidden. Mr. William Cartwright was a friend of Mrs. Thurgood’s, but he died before ever knowing you or me. It was Mrs. Thurgood who gave us his name and our home. She wanted to help me hide." She could hear his sniffles and watched his bowed head tremble while his tears fell.
"You lied a great deal, Mama." He scowled at her. "All these lies to protect my father?"
"Yes, and us. It is done, however, and it was done for the best. I know now how wrong it was, but please believe me, at the time, I thought I was doing the best thing for all of us."
"But that day at Lady Angel’s house. I saw him there. He gave me my books. Did he not know I was his son?"
This was what Elizabeth had dreaded, explaining the separations of the past two years. She could see the sense of rejection on her son’s face and it caused her great shame to know she had inflicted pain upon her darling boy.
"William, when your father and I parted, I told him I would not stay with him. When we went to see Mrs. Bingley that day, your father heard me speaking to her of this, and thought I still did not wish to be with him. He also heard me say… I said I did not wish you to be his heir, William. I did not wish for you to be raised in the same manner as he."
He frowned. "What manner?"
"Your papa owns a great estate, and is its master. He is also a very important man in England. Many demands are made of him because of these responsibilities. If you were to one day take his place, your time would be filled with many obligations."
He stopped and concentrated hard. His mind now occupied, his tears ceased. "You worried if I had a great house to care for I would not be able to continue my studies?"
"I believe you were meant to do more than run an estate or be a member of society. It would be very difficult for you if you were to be his heir. I am sorry to say your father heard my opinion that day and I had been very… thoughtless in the words I chose. Because of this, he did not speak to me, only you. He could not leave without meeting you. It was the first day he knew of your existence and he thought you were a wonderful boy. I think you said he was very kind to you."
William nodded thoughtfully. "Yes. He smiled whenever he spoke to me. He gave me the books and asked me to kiss his cheek. I remember. I have his picture in my head."
"I am glad it is a happy memory for you. However, I did not know that he had met you that day, or that he had seen me. I thought we must still hide and that is what we have done."
She pulled him into her lap and dried his face with her shawl. "I have since learnt your father has not stayed away. He has been helping us since that day. In every way he could he has been caring for us, my love. His sister and brother purchased the building we lived in while we were in London. He arranged to have our house in Brampton rented and even our lodgings here in Padua are partially paid for by him. Nothing was to be done that he did not do himself. Anything that could ease our way, and improve our life has been done, in secret, by your father these past two years. All the while, he has watched us."
"He has watched over us?"
"No, dearest. I mean he has watched us. He has lived in our shadows these two years without us knowing it, both in London, and here in Padua. I believe he has had the chance to see us nearly every day. He draws pictures of you, and knows all your likes, and what vexes you. He studies with your professors at the university to keep abreast of your subjects."
"My father is here? In Padua?"
"Yes, he lives here now, since we are here. "
"But what will he think when he learns we know he is here?"
"He already knows. I have spent the last two days with him."
William stopped and thought for a moment. "Does he want to see me?"
"He does. More than anything, he wishes for us to be together as a family and I wish it too. He loves you, William. He has had the chance to know you secretly these two years, and he loves you very much. Now he wishes for you to know him, and come to love him one day."
His face brightened and he threw his arms around his mama’s neck. "I should like that, mama," he exclaimed. "But how shall we explain to the Signoras? What will you say about Mr. Cartwright?"
A lone figure rode slowly through the late afternoon streets of Padua. He stopped often and asked in a friendly manner for directions to the address he held tightly in his hand. If anyone had observed him carefully, they would notice he was also absentminded, for he had barely travelled around the next corner before he would stop and happily ask directions once again.
Near the town centre, he paused outside a fine pastry shop and ventured inside. He asked politely after the items he saw within the cases and made several purchases.
"You are new to Padua, Signor?" the owner asked.
"Yes, but I plan to live here now," the tall stranger answered.
"Eccellente! You like my pasticcini; you come here to Bergonzi’s to buy it, si?"
"I am sure I will, sir. My wife and son have often written to me how much they enjoy your delightful sweets. Good day."
The newcomer mounted his horse again and continued through the streets. At last he alighted after inquiring a few houses away from his final destination. He knocked confidently at the door and when the housekeeper answered, he found it very difficult to fight the urge to grin.
"Good Afternoon. I am Will Cartwright. Have I found the home of my wife and son?"
Elizabeth paced nervously in the sparse drawing room. They had arranged for her to leave Padua with time to spare for her conversation with William and for Will to go through the town and announce himself at her lodgings. Now that her part of the plan was done, and she and her son were waiting for Darcy, she could not contain her anxiety.
They both heard the rider approaching at full speed. William jumped from the sofa and intercepted her at the edge of the fine rug. She looked down to his face, his kind concern plainly etched there. They returned to the sofa, William placing his little hands in hers, calming her nerves.
Darcy entered the room and watched William carefully, trying to discern any animosity or anger from the boy. When he finally smiled shyly at his father, it was all the invitation Darcy needed to sweep his son immediately into his arms in a fierce hug.
Elizabeth bit back her happy cry as she watched her boy wrap his arms and legs tightly around his father while the two embraced each other. Will’s eyes were clenched as he swayed to and fro with his precious bundle. She could no longer stand idly by and joined the two, enveloping them in her arms and setting her head next to her husband‘s. She reached out and stroked his smooth cheek, surprised at how much lighter the skin which had been covered in beard that morning now looked.
William peeked out and smiled at his mama. His father kissed his top and then did the same to her. The little family stayed bound together for quite some time.
When the time came to finally sit, the three did so as a whole. William sat between them while Darcy’s arm lay across the back of the sofa so he could gently stroke Elizabeth’s shoulder as they spoke. She was glad for the comfort his touch gave her, for it had been a difficult day.
"William," Darcy began. "I know your mother has told you a great deal today, but I want you to know I truly do love you," he looked to Elizabeth, "and your mama. We mean to live as a family and never be parted again."
William nodded. "I would like to have a father, you for a father I mean."
"He is your father, William," Elizabeth gently reminded. William nodded but was now frowning.
"What disturbs you?"
"What if you vex one another again? I hear our cook sometimes. She and her husband shout at one another and they are married. What if you and Mama argue? Will you run away?"
Darcy’s hand grasped Elizabeth’s shoulder, but she quickly intervened. "No, my love. Neither of us will run away again. It is true that married people sometimes quarrel with one another, and I daresay you might hear your father and I do so, but we have promised to love and keep one another and you, for the rest of our lives, arguments or not. The promise we have made will never be broken, William. Do you understand?"
"You promise to keep me, as well?"
"You and any other children that come along," Will answered. "You might someday have brothers and sisters, should you like that?"
William’s eyes lit up. "Brothers and sisters? Oh, that would be delightful!"
Darcy hesitated when asking the next question. "Did your mother tell you what we will tell people about our lives, William? I am sorry we must ask you to tell a falsehood, but it must be done to protect all of us. Do you understand the reasons?"
William’s face fell slightly. "I do understand, sir. I know that people would be… upset if they knew you and mama were apart for so long."
Elizabeth squeezed her son’s hand gently. "When we speak to those who know us, they will be told your father and I came to Italy six years ago. No one can know about our living in Derbyshire. We must tell them you and I have been in Europe since you were born, and your father only visited us occasionally."
"Will I ever be called by my right name?" William asked.
Darcy and Elizabeth looked briefly at one another. "Someday, you can be known as William Darcy if you wish it. For now, if we wish to stay in Padua for your education, it will be better if I say I am Mr. William Cartwright. Then you and your mother will not have to move, and we can stay here for your education. The story is not far from the truth, I am your father and I am your mother’s husband. It is only our surname which we will change."
William nodded again, lost in deep thought as if finally deciding whether he would agree to the whole scheme. Elizabeth frowned and began to fidget. Darcy’s gave her shoulder a reassuring squeeze and she looked up to see him regarding her with great tenderness, but also a great deal of confidence. She drew upon his confidence, acknowledging the three of them would weather through these difficulties together and managed to smile back at him.
Neither had noticed William looking between the two of them, a much softer, happier expression upon his face. "May I… may I call you ‘Papa’?" he asked shyly. Elizabeth let out a short breath of relief.
Darcy’s lips pursed together to keep from breaking into a huge grin and risk the boy misinterpreting his reaction. He gathered his boy into his arms once again and kissed his worry away.
"I should treasure hearing you say it, Son," he answered honestly.
Several days later, many of Padua’s finest gossipmongers were buzzing with the news of the return of the lovely Mrs. Cartwright’s long absent husband. More than one man’s secretly harboured dreams were dashed when Mr. Cartwright, whom Signor Bergonzi could attest, turned out to be not only handsome, but in perfect health and of significant height and breadth. Their hope of one day comforting a widowed Mrs. Cartwright would apparently never come to fruition.
Higgins’ trip had lasted over a month after which he returned to a hero’s welcome. He carried with him a much lighter purse, and a document that would prove infinitely valuable to the two people he had come to care about most in the world. He happily presented the Darcys with a marriage license for them, dated the sixteenth of May, 1813, the day after Elizabeth had disappeared from London. The document was signed by the captain of the good ship Amberly, a passenger vessel which travelled between ports of the Channel. Their alibi was sealed.
Longbourn, April 1819
Longbourn, April 1819
Thomas Bennet left his library, the occasional sniffle still refusing to allow him his complete dignity. He asked his housekeeper and butler to turn away any visitors for the remainder of the day and verified Kitty and her husband, Walter, had arrived from Meryton and were waiting with the rest of the family in the drawing room. She assured him they were there, along with the Bingleys, and that his granddaughter Emily was upstairs in the nursery with the nursemaid. He tapped his pocket, sure that his wife’s smelling salts were secured and ready.
"I have received a most astonishing letter today, with wonderful news for us all," he began. "Elizabeth," there were gasps all around, "has written to us to announce that she is not lost, or perished, but is in fact alive, living in Italy and has been married these six years past to… Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy."
The smelling salts were out before his wife’s form slumped to the carpet.
Mr. Bennet continued the story much later. "And so despite her initial refusal of him in Kent, he never lost his affection for her and would have offered for her again in Derbyshire, had not Lydia and Wickham’s foolish actions separated them. Luckily for Elizabeth, when he returned from the continent, he sought her out again. By that time, she knew she had fallen hopelessly in love with him and happily gave her consent, whilst he convinced her he could not wait another moment. They were married on the ship they took to cross the Channel."
Bingley glanced briefly at Jane.
"But why the secrecy? Why not stay in England and marry here?" his wife whined.
"Because of your thoughtless youngest daughter, Mrs. Bennet. Lydia’s elopement had tainted our name and they feared Darcy’s family would prevent their union. Would you have risked them never being able to marry, just to appease your desire to see their wedding performed?"
Mrs. Bennet owned she would not.
"The Darcys decided to keep the marriage secret until they deemed it safe to announce it."
"What made them choose to announce it now?" Walter asked.
"I believe their staunchest enemy was none other than his aunt, Lady Catherine De Bourgh. She was convinced Mr. Darcy would marry her daughter and nothing would move her from her opinion. However, the daughter, Anne, is now living in town, away from her mother. Darcy knew he had to declare he was never going to offer for Miss De Bourgh if she is ever to find a husband.
"Lizzy writes she is very sorry for the suffering she has put us through, but promises to correspond regularly now that her husband has finally joined her and," he slyly added, "their son, permanently."
Mrs. Bennet’s eyes went wide. "A son? My Lizzy has a son?" The happy tears fell unabated when her husband nodded.
"Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy. I would never have guessed. Do you suppose he was in love with her when he and Charles lived at Netherfield?" Kitty asked.
"I dare say, yes. Else how would he have come to propose to her at Hunsford?" an astonished Mary answered.
"Oh, my dear Mr. Bennet. When shall we see them? I long to see how great my dear, sweet Lizzy is. He had ten thousand a year as I recall, and it’s very likely more now. Oh, Lord! I shall go distracted!"
"I am afraid it will be some time before we see the Darcys. Elizabeth states clearly they have no intentions to return to England for several years at least."
"But what of my grandson? Would they deny him to us?"
"Of course not, my dear. I believe they have simply chosen to not live here."
"Not live in England? Not live on that great estate of his in Derbyshire? My brother said there were few places its equal in the whole country!"
"And yet they choose Italy. Best to reconcile yourself to it, Mrs. Bennet. Lizzy writes that her husband can draw; perhaps we can persuade him to send us some sketches of the child."
"Oh, yes. That would do nicely. And what of our grandson? What is he called? How old is he?"
"His name is William Bennet Darcy and he is five years old."
Thus ended the group discussion and began the intimate gatherings of smaller groups in the drawing room. Mrs. Bennet’s happiness dissipated over the length of the evening as she slowly realised that, despite Lizzy’s overwhelming good fortune, without her now favourite daughter’s presence, she would have little proof to show to her neighbours.
Mr. Bennet approached Jane and Charles. "Despite your best attempts, I could not help but notice your surprise did not match your relatives’, Jane. Nor have I failed to notice how fortuitous it is that you and Bingley arrived this week, unannounced, and mere days before your sister’s letter came."
Bingley gave his wife an apprehensive look and turned to answer his father-in-law when Jane spoke up.
"I think you will find, Father, that should anyone in our family require it, Charles and I can be relied upon to provide help with the utmost discretion and earnestness," she answered without backing down.
Mr. Bennet stared at her in deep contemplation for some moments. Finally, he nodded. "You forgot devotion and tenacity, my dear. Our family, all our family are fortunate to have the two of you in it."
Mrs. Bennet’s effusions rang out above the room, drawing everyone’s attention. "Well at least Mary and I can rest easy now."
"Mary?" Mr. Bennet inquired. "How so? How can this affect dear Mary?"
"After you are dead and buried Mr. Bennet, which could happen any day, we shall no longer wonder what is to become of us!"
"I am sure Mr. Darcy’s wealth, while not unwelcome, would hardly have been necessary to sustain you, my dear. Charles and Walter both have said they would help you when that solemn occasion requires it."
"Mr. Darcy? Good heavens, Mr. Bennet, what are you talking of? Mary and I will not need his help. The Collinses have only a daughter. After her horrible lying in, Lady Lucas says Charlotte refuses to let her husband near her again. Lizzy’s son will inherit Longbourn!"
Cousin Richard had received his letter a week prior to his relations, in order to prepare him for the coming storm. Richard had also wisely advised Anne that Darcy was about to announce he had married six years earlier and watched carefully to see if he could detect any signs of dashed hopes.
Far from it, Anne seemed almost relieved at knowing her cousin was no longer eligible and asked Richard for any details he knew of the lady. As per Darcy’s instructions, he said he knew of the marriage, but had been asked to keep it confidential. However, he truly astonished Anne when he announced their new cousin was none other than the former Elizabeth Bennet.
When his parents later stormed into the library, letter in hand, he was ready for the onslaught.
"How could you, Richard!" his father, the earl bellowed. "All these years married, and a son as well. Darcy married with an heir and you did not tell us?"
"It was not my responsibility to inform the family, father. It was Darcy’s. As he specifically asked for my secrecy, I do not see how you can be angry with me. I believe it is your nephew who deserves the rebuke and I do not appreciate being the whipping boy on his behalf."
His father was taken aback by Richard’s counter, but rightly acknowledged his son’s truth. "’Tis true, Richard. I am angry with Darcy. I apologise for rebuking you. This woman he has married - Elizabeth Bennet - we know nothing of her. She could be the greatest fortune hunter in England. What shall we do?"
"She had fortune enough, father. A property in the north, and several thousand pounds, so Darcy says. From what Georgiana writes, the lady is delightful, and she is thrilled to have her for a sister. Both of the McNallys commented the Darcys do not live extravagantly at all, quite simple by most people’s standards. If the woman was after his fortune, why would she hesitate to spend it while so conveniently removed from his family and censure for all these years? I think there must be true affection between them."
Lady Matlock intervened. "Affection? I hardly expected such a thing from Darcy. You truly think there is a real attachment between them? It would explain a great deal. But why hide the woman? Why not bring her and the boy to England?"
"I believe they had some struggles in the beginning. You remember the episode I had with Darcy at Pemberley in the year thirteen?" His father nodded. "The result of an estrangement they had early on. Darcy decided to educate Georgiana and see her married and settled before joining his wife again. He managed to get to the continent a few times a year, but it was difficult for the two of them to be apart so much."
"No wonder at his behaviour when Georgiana came out," his mother remarked. "He was always present at any function she attended, but never gave a glance to any lady. Even your father commented upon it. So he was married the entire time. Well, I think I must agree with your assessment; it must be a love match, for no man could have resisted the charms of all those lovely young ladies around him."
"You do not give Darcy much credit. He has always been an honourable man."
The earl snorted. "Honourable, yes. But no monk, Richard."
Richard’s voice rose. "I think should you be able to look inside Darcy’s heart, you would find a man who has been completely faithful to his wife, father. Be careful you do not insult your favourite nephew by intimating anything less virtuous on his part."
Surprise registered on his father’s face. "She must be an extraordinary woman."
"On that, sir, I believe we can completely agree. However, as they have chosen to remain on the Continent, you shall have to take his, my and Georgiana‘s word for it. For now, he merely wished to inform the family and expects us to keep it to ourselves. He has no desire to put an announcement in the London papers."
Suddenly the earl groaned. "We must tell Anne…"
"She already knows."
"She is not upset?" his mother asked, incredulous.
"Not in the least. If I interpret her correctly, I would say she was quite relieved to have Darcy off the marriage market. I believe his announcement was timed specifically to help aid her. I think he and Anne hope her mother‘s illusions will perhaps cease."
Lady Matlock smiled.
The earl groaned again. "Good God. Catherine."
The next day, Lord and Lady Matlock, Richard and Anne set off for Kent. They did not wait to hear from Catherine. No doubt some baleful letter was already making its way to Matlock Manor, but they had no qualms about missing it.
Richard and Anne told them what they could of Elizabeth based on the short acquaintance they had had with her many years ago. They also spoke of what the inevitable reaction from Lady Catherine would be. They were not prepared for what greeted them when they arrived at Rosings Park.
The housekeeper solemnly informed the family what had occurred the morning before. Lady Catherine’s reaction to Darcy’s announcement had been everything they had feared. Her rage had been great and long-winded, until her age, temper and exertion had culminated and turned against her, striking her down with an apoplectic seizure.
The doctor had been called, but the episode had already taken its toll. Her body now significantly crippled, she could no longer speak, nor even communicate her wishes through shaking her head, nor move her hands with any purpose. She was able to walk with assistance but did not seem to know where she was going. The only good that had come from her ailment was she seemed to be generally content. She was happy to see her servants when they entered her room, and she ate whatever was fed to her without fussing.
The housekeeper failed to say once the shock of their mistress’ ailment was overcome; the staff had rarely spent a more pleasant day attending their employer.
Richard had grasped Anne’s hand the moment the word seizure had been spoken. He looked to her often, prepared to comfort her in her distress, but only saw determination on the part of his cousin. When the housekeeper had finished, Lord Matlock stood to speak, when Anne began in a voice which brooked no refusal.
"Thank you, Mrs. Riley. I am sure the staff have been doing their usual admirable job. Please inform them of my sincere thanks and on behalf of my mother. I will see her directly, and I am sure the rest of the family will wish to as well, but later.
"Please see to arranging our rooms for us. Lord and Lady Matlock will want the blue and green suite, while my cousin Richard, I am sure, would appreciate his usual suite of rooms. Would that be acceptable to you Aunt, Uncle?" They nodded, shocked at Anne taking over so decidedly.
"Inform cook I would like dinner at half past six, for we are tired from the road and will probably retire early. Oh, and do tell her not to prepare any of my usual dishes. Send the menu to me in my mother’s room, but tell her I expect her to come up with simple fare for adults. I no longer keep to my former diet." She turned to her subdued relatives.
"I will see mother now; shall I send for you in an hour? Will that be sufficient time to refresh yourselves?"
Lady Matlock shook herself out of her daze first. "Yes, my dear, that would be fine." She exited with her husband trailing behind, leaving Richard and Anne still sitting on the couch. He still had her hand in his and was staring unabashedly at her.
"What?" she asked impertinently.
He raised her hand to his lips and bestowed a soft kiss upon it, lingering much longer than could ever be considered proper. " I… You have just managed to render my father speechless. Do you have any idea the enormity of such an event? Anne, dearest Anne, you are a heroine!"
She rolled her eyes. "I appreciate your attempt at levity, but it is not necessary, Richard. Mama is nearly three and sixty, I knew her days were numbered and I am not shocked she is finally infirm. This is my home, and I am now its mistress. I mean to take charge in my own way from the very first; you are merely observing me in my new position."
He gave her hand another squeeze. "You handled yourself exceedingly well, Anne. Please let me say how much I admire you at this moment. It was not only a treat to witness you come into your new role, but seeing you in this light has been… well, rather provocative."
Thus said, Richard Fitzwilliam did two things Anne had never seen in her life; he blushed, then slowly leaned over and kissed her cheek softly, brushing it lightly with his thumb before quickly excusing himself from his startled cousin.
Anne’s hand flew to her cheek. She stared slack-jawed towards the door for some time. Finally, her mouth clamped shut, but then slowly expanded into an ever widening smirk.
"Finally, Richard. You certainly took your time noticing!"
The year was significant for the families of Matlock, Fitzwilliam and De Bourgh for many reasons. Lord Matlock lived long enough to see his youngest son Richard finally wed to his beloved niece Anne and witnessed by his sister, and mother of the bride, Catherine.
A month after they were married, the family had gathered at Rosings to celebrate the return of the honeymooners. The earl had tenderly whispered in his sister’s ear that Richard would prove an excellent husband to Anne, and that she should not have another moment’s worry for them.
Apparently, Lady Catherine took the statement as a release of her duties to her daughter and her family, for she died peacefully in her sleep that night. The earl followed his sister not a month later at the age of five and sixty. Lady Matlock proved her enduring attachment to her husband by joining him in his heavenly reward before the year was out, the last of their generation.
The Fitzwilliams settled happily into Rosings Park, eventually opening the house to more of the social circle in Kent than ever before after their mourning period was over. Richard was pleased to see his Anne now happy as mistress of the house that once had nearly imprisoned her. Letters from the continent were regular and always a happy occasion to be read aloud and wondered over.
The last letter sent was written to the Gardiners. It had been six years since Elizabeth had had any contact with them. She remembered all her aunt and uncle had done for her: their selfless help in opening their home to her and her sister when they had left Longbourn, and her uncle’s support in starting Johnson’s cigar shop to provide her with employment and independence. She owed them so much and yet she had treated them so poorly. She alone had betrayed their trust and had injured their precious relationship.
With a heavy heart, full of contrition, she did her best to convey her remorse for the suffering she had inflicted upon them. She did not trivialise the pain she knew she must have caused them by running away. To have the young woman they loved and cared for almost as a daughter disappear while under their authority must have caused them a great deal of guilt all these years. They would have been thinking they had failed her and her family by not protecting her.
The sombre letter begged for their forgiveness, and soberly announced her marriage. She wrote of her son, and their life in Padua. Lastly, she wrote her sincere thanks to them for all they had done for her when she had been estranged from her father.
Weeks later the reply came. They were at the house in Abano when Darcy noticed her absence and went looking for her in the nearby woods. She sat at the base of a great evergreen, seemingly calm until she raised a stricken face to him.
"What has happened?"
"It is from my Aunt and Uncle Gardiner. There is nothing to be alarmed about, it is simply…" Her lip quivered and he was instantly at her side taking her in his arms.
"Oh, Will. How it pains me to receive such a letter!" His grip tightened around her and he whispered words of comfort and love to her until she began to compose herself.
"Did they rebuke you?"
She shook her head. Her eyes glanced over the paper once more. "I am sure some would read this and not be disturbed in the slightest, but I know them better. I know what it was like between us in the past." She gave him the letter.
Your uncle and I are very happy to learn you are well and married to Mr. Darcy. Please accept our felicitations on your marriage. I am sure your mother and father were greatly relieved by your news, and we are pleased you have reconciled with them and, though not in person, are returned to your family.
Your uncle and I do not hesitate to forgive your actions of so many years ago. We can rest easy now knowing nothing terrible had befallen you.
Your Mr. Darcy is an excellent man. We have had several occasions to meet him at the Bingley’s home in the past and think it a very good match for both of you. We are sure you will enjoy being mistress of Pemberley.
Please send your husband and your son, William our kindest regards and best wishes for future happiness.
"Oh, my sweet wife. I am sorry."
"I knew how it would be. I betrayed their trust and now they cannot reconcile themselves to open their hearts to me again."
Darcy nodded. "But there is no resentment. I do not see resentment, only caution, and the need to protect themselves. Surely you can understand that?"
"I do, but I mourn the loss of the intimacy we once had shared. The easy, close and deep affection that had once flowed between us must be gone."
"I recognise their reaction; I used it often myself. They are putting distance between you, to keep themselves safe from the pain of caring too much."
Elizabeth agreed. "I regret having caused yet more loved ones pain. I deserve this. I deserve a letter that could have been written by Lady Lucas instead of a most beloved aunt. My father once asked what price I had paid to bring about the family’s respectability. I think this is it. I have lost their good opinion. This letter proves that as much by what she has written but also by what she has not."
"Darling, give them time. Allow them to have their pains eased over time."
Elizabeth disagreed. "I do not think it will change. There is no mention of anything personal here. They do not share their lives or feelings with me, nor do they ask about mine. There is no future wish of ever seeing one another. They are lost to me, Will, and I have no one to blame but myself." She began to cry in earnest, and Darcy could only hold his grieving wife and give her tender attentions until she had at last quieted.
In the future they did see the Gardiners again, but the relationship never developed the closeness or warmth both Elizabeth and Will knew they might have had. The two of them were ever sensible of the warmest gratitude towards the Gardiners and strove to comport themselves as better persons in honour of the two people who had given so much to Elizabeth when she was most in need. However, the pain in Elizabeth’s heart would never completely heal and she would always regret the suffering she had caused her loved ones.
Padua, April 1819
Padua, April 1819
Soon Padua was gossiping once more; this time about Mr. Smith, who was making plans to return to his native England after his son Gustov had been called back unexpectedly to Austria. His landlord and cook were sorry to see him go, but understood that, without his son, Mr. Smith no longer had ties to Padua, despite his love of the local pastries.
Mr. Smith, or Mr. Thomas Higgins, happily returned to his home county with a new and important position: he was to manage the start of a horse-breeding venture at Pemberley. Darcy had sent him back with several horses they had chosen in the spring, their little Italian stable boy and a clearly defined plan: the idea of raising the best horses in Derbyshire.
Both the Darcys and the McNallys were sorry to say goodbye to him, but it was Elizabeth who was the most affected. With a teary farewell did she finally let him go, riding a fine mount and a happy smile upon his face despite his saddened heart. Over the years, he would often see Mr. and Mrs. McNally at Pemberley, happy to learn of all the news of the Darcys from abroad.
Elizabeth and Georgina had spent the brisk spring months learning to love one another as true sisters. Georgie was struck by how different Elizabeth was from Mrs. Bingley, but soon was grateful the fates had given her this particular Bennet for a sister. Their temperaments were both playful, their minds quick and witty and their devotion to their new family unwavering. Elizabeth relished having a woman to confide in and a sister she now loved as well as her own. Their parting was very difficult.
The McNallys stayed on in Padua until the spring ended in June. They also promised to one day visit the continent again.
Georgiana was brazenly smug that she had predicted the newest Darcy’s existence before anyone else. She made Elizabeth promise to write to her of all she experienced during her confinement. She also confided to her new sister that Baby Darcy would be welcomed only two months before Baby McNally would be introduced to the world. Elizabeth was thrilled for Georgiana, and begged her to tell Will before they left. Thus, a merry party gathered the night before their departure; two radiant young wives, glowing from motherhood, two beaming husbands, deliriously proud of the beauties who had given them their hearts, and one very delighted young boy who was happy to make many canvases in his mind.
Padua, one year later
Thomas Patrick Darcy sat happily upon his Papa’s knee while his elder brother played a rollicking game of peek-a-boo with him, much to the delight of the five-month-old. He gurgled and laughed while a steady stream dribbled from his mouth.
William frowned. "Why can he not keep that in his mouth?"
His parents laughed.
"Perhaps when he has enough teeth he will," answered his father.
"Be glad it is not his midday meal coming up," said his mother. William grimaced. He had seen enough of his baby brother’s meals already.
A carriage pulled up to the front of their lodgings, sending the elder sibling to the windows. Darcy brought the baby to his mother and sat beside her, waiting to see who would be calling. Nothing prepared Elizabeth for the sight she beheld.
"Jane!" she cried and ran to her sister. They instantly began chattering while Thomas squirmed as he was pressed between the two.
Behind her Bingley entered and at the sight of him, Elizabeth caught her breath. It had been over eight years since she had last seen him.
"Mrs. Darcy. I thank you for receiving us," he said shyly.
"Oh, Charles!" Elizabeth cried and embraced him carefully trying not to squash her son. Bingley laughed and Thomas started babbling from the cacophony of noises filling the room. Jane was greeting Darcy and William, while Elizabeth was trying to introduce them as well as baby Thomas, and all of them were enthusiastically inquiring after one another’s health.
Suddenly Will stopped speaking and then Jane stopped as well. When Elizabeth finally stopped her talking due to the strange silence, she frowned at her husband who moved quickly to relieve her of their baby son. She looked confused and then turned to where his gaze lay. Her eyes filled instantly with tears and she flew to the man in the doorway.
"Hello, Lizzy," Thomas Bennet said.
William sat upon the sofa watching the scene around him. He was not sure how he felt about his young cousin, Emily Bingley. She was a pretty little girl; however, as far as William was concerned, little more than a babe, like his brother Thomas, with the exception that she could walk and occasionally say a word or two. He was glad she had a nursemaid to look after her, as he did not think he was up to the task.
Mama and Papa looked very happy talking to his aunt and uncle, and with a sigh, he had to admit his dear Lady Angel was as beautiful as ever. He liked his new Uncle Bingley. He smiled a great deal, and seemed pleased with all that he saw. Lastly, he looked at his Grandfather, who was, surprisingly, looking back at him. He nearly burst into laughter when the man winked at him, but then stirred uncomfortably as the gentleman approached him.
"William, would you like to walk out with me? I have been in the carriage since sunrise and could do with a bit of a stretch."
He looked to his mother who smiled and nodded her head.
"You look very much like your father, William," Mr. Bennet said after they had been walking for some time in silence.
He smiled. "Most people say that. I hope I will be tall like him someday."
"I think you shall, son." Mr. Bennet continued gazing. "You have your mother’s eyes," he observed out loud. "An improvement over your papa, I think."
William laughed. "I hear ladies say Papa is a handsome man. They forget I can understand them." He smiled sheepishly. "I do not laugh when they are saying things about him so they will continue to talk."
Mr. Bennet laughed. "You understand a great deal if you know when to pretend such things, William. Tell me about your studies, son."
For the next hour William told his grandfather of life in Padua, his professors and the subjects that interested him most. Lastly, he spoke about his beloved Mama and Papa and his new baby brother, Thomas.
Mr. Bennet told William about Longbourn and his grandmother and Aunt Mary. Then he told him about his Aunt Kitty and Uncle Walter and his other cousins who lived in Meryton. Mr. Bennet had the satisfaction of hearing how truly attached his grandson was to his father and brother- a point he had worried about after all the years William had spent being the sole recipient of his mother’s love. His memory of his grandson from their afternoon in the park in London three years earlier had not done the boy justice, and Mr. Bennet relished every moment spent with him.
"You seemed to have developed a close relationship with your grandson rather quickly, Papa. I am glad you have had the chance to see him once again," Elizabeth later remarked.
Her father motioned to the bench next to him and she happily sat beside him. He gently took her hand; a motion he had repeated often since arriving. "He is a remarkable child, Lizzy. I am prodigiously proud of him, and his mama." He raised her hand to his lips and gently kissed it.
Elizabeth laid her head upon his shoulder. "Thank you, papa," she answered simply. There was no need to elaborate. All the words of regret, apologies and forgiveness had been written long ago. Now there was only the need to be close to each other, to allow the last of their healing to come through the physical reinforcement of holding a hand, or an arm around a shoulder. Elizabeth and her father spent the majority of his month-long visit thus.
"What news from home, then?" she asked much later.
"I suppose of greatest import is the news that my cousin William Collins has passed on."
"Oh, poor Charlotte!"
"Indeed, she and her daughter have returned to Lucas Lodge and her parents. My cousin luckily left her with some money to live on. You might recall he was of a particularly thrifty nature with his household allowance. In addition, your husband’s cousins the Fitzwilliams have given her a small legacy for her husband’s years of service as the parson at Hunsford. She will not be a burden to her parents. I daresay Sir William will soon be spouting his great good fortune in having a dutiful and sensible daughter there to nurse him in his last years.
“However, the ramifications of Mr. Collin’s death are of particular interest to you, Lizzy. I plan to spend the time and money and break the entail. If the Bingleys have no son, Longbourn will fall to William."
"I am sure the Bingleys have not finished increasing their family, Papa."
"True, but both she and Kitty seemed to have inherited the Bennet propensity for producing girls. Kitty has just given Walter another daughter."
"Oh, dear. That makes three?"
Mr. Bennet affirmed it. "Perhaps you have some advice you could pass along to help your sisters out of their unique predicament?"
Elizabeth tried to scowl at her father but gave up laughing. "If I had a clue I would gladly share it."
"I thank you for the honour you have bestowed in naming young Thomas after me. He is as fine a lad as any I have seen. I think the hearty Bennet breeding and the noble Darcy line merge rather well, do you not? I have rarely seen two more beautiful, robust children, other than my own girls, of course."
Elizabeth laughed. "Thank you, father. A completely unbiased judgement of how handsome my sons are is always appreciated. We were very happy to name Thomas after you."
Her father kissed her forehead. "If I do not return without a trunk full of pictures of the four of you, I best not show my face on the doorstep of Longbourn. I shall have to petition your husband heartily these next weeks.”
"I think Will has something in mind for you to ease your way, Papa. But I will not spoil his surprise.”
"Very well. Keep your secrets if you must. I shall instead change the subject smoothly by telling you we recently had the honour of your sister and brother McNally calling upon us, not a month before I left."
This visit had to be pored over in detail for a full half-hour. Elizabeth was wild to hear of the new Miss Victoria McNally and her parents. Her father reassured her of her niece’s beauty and excellent disposition, as well as Mrs. McNally’s apparent good recovery from the birth.
"Your mother had the infinite pleasure of having not only Lady Lucas in her drawing room at the time, but Mrs. Long as well, when the McNallys were announced. Though I am not normally interested in ladies fashions, the elegantly attired Mrs. McNally was truly a treat to behold," he snickered. "Mrs. Long could not utter a word and sat with her mouth gaping like a trout. Lady Lucas simply nodded stupidly and your mother was in her element and never so happy in her life.
"I must admit I expected her to become overwhelmed, but once again I was surprised when she behaved like a society hostess used to entertaining the likes of the wealthy Mr. and Mrs. McNally every day,” he chuckled.
"Your dear sister-in-law said so many wonderful things about you and Darcy, and your son of course, that your mother has not so much as frowned nor had an attack of nerves since. The gossips believe every boast she makes, and even some she improvises. I think being the undisputed leader of the first circle of the neighbourhood has helped her health immensely. I shall ever be beholden to your excellent relations.
"Mrs. McNally also gave me leave to tell you that an acquaintance of both of yours, a Mr. Thomas Higgins, was soon to be married.”
"Higgins, married! Oh good gracious! Whoever is he marrying?"
"He is marrying a local lady, a widow he had known as a girl in his childhood and had not seen for some thirty years, a Mrs. Constance Edwards. Apparently he is to marry her, and bring her widowed sister, a Mrs. Keane, to live with them as she is quite a good cook."
Elizabeth was speechless. Higgins marrying one of the dear sisters from Mrs. Thurgood’s household! She began to giggle. Thank goodness she looked so different now and it would be some time before they returned to England. At least she did not worry the sisters might recognise her. She could think of nothing that could please her more than to know that three of the people who had helped her had found happiness, and were well taken care of. She would apply to Will for a lovely wedding gift.
Later that night, in the privacy of their chamber, Elizabeth detailed the story of the housekeeper and cook at Fairhaven Manor. Darcy was enchanted by Elizabeth’s tale of the silly, yet warm-hearted sisters who had come to her aid. As they prepared to go down to breakfast the next morning, Darcy shocked his wife when he made his suggestion for Higgins’ wedding present.
"It will be many years until we live at Pemberley and many more after that before I expect you to need it," he said, as he sat on the edge of the bed attending his stockings and garters. "What say you to giving Higgins and his new family the right to live in the dower house at Pemberley?" His last words were smothered by a wife who met his lips and body as she bowled him back onto the mattress. He laughed at her passionate response.
"My, if this is how you are going to react to my generosity, I may give away all of Pemberley."
She silenced him with more enthusiastic kisses. "You are the very best of men. The best I have ever known."
"Having your love makes me what I am, Lizzy." He stroked her beaming face and soon all thoughts of Higgins, or breakfast, were left behind.
The month that passed would be one fondly looked upon the rest of their lives. Their responsibilities were few, the weather fine, and the love and pleasures the Bennets, Bingleys and Darcys shared were boundless.
Mr. Bennet had been surprised when Darcy requested he return with a number of parcels, several of which were to be sent on to Pemberley. The family sat in the small drawing room one evening, when Darcy literally unveiled the precious cargo. There sat three magnificent portraits.
Mr. Bennet was first drawn to Elizabeth’s. She sat in a glorious sunlit garden. Flowers and greenery surrounded her, complimenting the woman who was at her best in the middle of nature. Her happiness effused from her face. Her delicate hand was positioned lightly over her middle, no doubt hiding her precious baby Thomas for the modesty of the painting. The brilliance of her eyes and her natural elegance had been captured perfectly. He was speechless. Bingley and Jane sat dumbfounded as well.
"I have had smaller versions made for Longbourn," Will reassured him. "But if you wish to display this, or any of the three for some time before sending them on to Pemberley, I will certainly understand."
Mr. Bennet nodded. "I think our family would be very grateful to you for that, Will. It is exquisite."
Next was a fine portrait of William, standing easily, with a mischievous look in his eye, and a clear struggle with trying not to smile upon his mouth. It was a wonderful rendition of a look his grandfather had often seen this past month. He chuckled.
"Well done!" he proclaimed.
Lastly was a family portrait, so obviously recent by Thomas’ age in it, he expected the oil to be wet still. The grouping was set in a very fine drawing room, rich wallpapers along the walls and a silk damask sofa in the middle. A happy Darcy sat on one end, his arm around an equally happy William, both dressed very finely. Next to him sat a joyous Elizabeth in a gown of shiny silk and a beautiful pearl choker around her neck. Darcy held her hand in his and Thomas sat in her lap in an elaborate laced christening gown, a jovial smile upon his little face. Mr. Bennet looked at the details of the large work and noticed Will and Elizabeth’s grasped hands lay upon a red book, untitled - a strange decoration to be sure. He also observed the painting behind the family. It was a masquerade ball from at least a hundred years ago. If Mr. Darcy preferred to place apparently sentimental clues in his paintings, Mr. Bennet was not going to comment upon it.
The significance of Darcy placing William next to him, and his hand upon the boy was not lost on Mr. Bennet. Darcy was making his claim to his son clear. If anyone ever had a thought to challenge William’s legitimacy, his father was stating his beliefs and wishes quite plainly.
"These are truly beautiful, Will. Are you sure you do not wish to keep them a few more years?"
"I have the original subjects, sir. I also had smaller versions done for us as well. And a miniature of my Lizzy of course." He smiled and kissed his wife’s cheek unashamed. "I wish for the master and mistress of Pemberley’s portrait to be hung in its rightful place in the grand gallery. If we can not be there in person, I wish at least our images to watch over the place."
"Then we shall be happy to deliver them."
"If you wish to make the delivery yourself, sir, I have prepared a letter for my housekeeper to instruct her to open the house to you; and more importantly, the library, should you wish to take a short respite of say a week or two before returning to Longbourn. I would certainly appreciate hearing my book collection was being used while I was away. Of course, my wine cellar would be at your disposal as well."
Mr. Bennet was near to tears. "My boy, you know you already had my blessing for your marriage long ago. I can only assume a true affection on your part from such an offer. Thank you, son. I could not have given my Lizzy up to someone less worthy, and I am excessively pleased that you have found such happiness as well. You both deserve your good fortune."
The end of the month did come and with many tears, the families parted. Mr. Bennet happily took up his son-in-law’s offer and eventually delivered the portraits to Pemberley in person. He spent a blissfully peaceful three weeks appreciating Darcy’s hospitality and estate. It was sadly the only time he made the trip.
In the years to come, many people came to apply to Mrs. Reynolds to see inside Pemberley. If she noticed an increase of visitors after Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy’s portrait and the Fitzwilliam Darcy family painting had been hung in the gallery, she made no mention of it. Nor did she comment when an odd couple, who suspiciously resembled Mr. and Mrs. Hurst, once requested a tour.
Longbourn, eleven years later, 1831
Longbourn, eleven years later, 1831
The gardens had changed, the trees were larger and some planting of new flowers were arranged in the beds. As her family exited the two carriages, Elizabeth circled around slowly and was struck with the urge to laugh out loud at seeing her sons and Will in front of her parents’ home. What an imposing group they made.
Darcy rang the bell and an unfamiliar face greeted them. Elizabeth had not considered that Hill would have long since been gone, and that new people would be waiting upon the Bennets. They had just entered when Mary exited the library and gasped to see her home completely filled with strangers.
“Lizzy!” she shouted as she noticed Elizabeth and quickly swept her sister into her arms for a happy reunion.
Mary glanced past her sister’s shoulder and observed her brother’s muttonchops and the silver streaks that tinted the edges of his curls. “Darcy, you have certainly changed, but so have we all!” she laughed. “Are these my nephews? What a handsome family you have, Elizabeth! I congratulate you. If one must have children, it is always so much wiser to have good looking ones.”
Darcy and Elizabeth stood with mouths agape. Will knew for certain that he had never heard more words uttered from Mary in all the years that he had known her, while Elizabeth was amazed at her sister’s good sense and wit.
Mary laughed at their faces. “Oh, do not be so droll! I have always had a sense of humour, I simply misplaced it several years back.”
The little boys and their older brothers giggled, then sheepishly looked to their parents to make sure they were not being rude. Luckily, their Mama and Papa were snickering right along with them.
Elizabeth then introduced her sons to their aunt one by one, each boy bowing politely, and three of them smiling sweetly, showing off the dimples they had inherited from their father. When Elizabeth came to William, her sister interrupted, saying, “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, William.”
“At last, Mary?” Elizabeth asked.
“Yes, I have been corresponding with this young man for many years now, and am glad to finally put a face to the name. Though I wish you had told me I need only think of your own father’s face when he was younger and saved me the wonder. Goodness, but you are the spitting image of him.”
“Thank you, Aunt,” replied William, who stood as tall as his father did.
“Well, I believe you should see Mama, should you not?”
Elizabeth nodded, her countenance grave. “How is she, Mary?”
“Oh, she is well. She is content to sit with her cat, or sometimes she will ask for needle and thread and start a little fine work. She never finishes, but often starts anew several times a day. Most days she sits quietly and watches out her window. It has been so wet this summer she could not enjoy the garden much, I am afraid.”
“Will she recognize me?” Elizabeth asked tentatively.
“I hope so. You have changed a great deal, Elizabeth.” Mary’s brow raised and indicated the roundness her sister had taken on.
Elizabeth laughed. “I fear having so many children does very little to aid a lady in keeping her girlish figure. However, I have no complaints as my husband does not object in the least.”
“Wise man, Darcy.”
“I have learnt a great deal these past years,” he retorted.
“Mama sometimes forgets about your marriage and your children. You will have to be patient with her. Will my nephews be able to behave themselves in our absence? I would not like to hear the china had been broken nor the plants upset.”
William spoke up, “Would you mind if we trample in your gardens, Aunt? I know my younger brothers could use the chance to exercise their limbs after the carriage ride.”
“An excellent suggestion, big brother,” Mary replied. “Should there be a ball or stick and hoop among your things on the carriage, I strongly suggest you bring those out as well. Just mind the flowers, boys; it would not do to give the gardener more work.”
The staircase seemed strange to Elizabeth, so much smaller than she remembered. The lack of her mother’s loud shrilling no longer ringing through the house also made it seem a bit sadder. Unexpectedly, the recollection of her father’s absence began to prey upon her. She felt a sudden warm hand upon her arm.
“Are you thinking of your father?” Darcy asked, concerned.
She nodded quickly with a grimly set mouth. “His presence invades my senses. I have never been here when he was not and it is almost overwhelming. I feel like I have gone back in time, but so many are missing.”
They had reached her mother’s door, when Darcy stopped her and took her into his arms while tenderly kissing her head.
“I feel it too, my Love. How can I help you? Is there anything I can do to relieve you of your pain?”
Elizabeth sighed into his shoulder and shook her head. “No, it is not necessary; I am better already simply hearing your soothing voice.” He tightened his arms around her and rested his cheek against her hair.
“Holding you helps me as well. I must thank you also.”
She pulled reluctantly away, and smiled slightly, “Always, Will.”
Mary had stood off to the side, waiting for Elizabeth to regain her composure. They both looked to her now, and she smiled a knowing smile; they each felt the loss of the missing that day.
Mrs. Bennet sat near the fire affectionately petting her cat. She looked much frailer than Elizabeth had expected. Her lovely rich curls were now simple wisps of white sticking out from under her lace cap and her face was lined with many wrinkles. Mary went immediately to her and told her that she had visitors come to call. Oblivious to the two who stood by the doorway, she now turned and, upon spying Elizabeth, her face contorted from frowning, then recognition, then instant tears as a fragile voice came from her worn body.
“Elizabeth, is it really you?” she cried gently. “Oh, do come and give me a kiss.”
Elizabeth went to her mother’s side, enveloping her gently in a warm embrace. “Hello, Mama, I am so glad to see you.”
“Let me look at you, Lizzy. You certainly look very well, but so much older. My, how many years have passed! Goodness! My Lizzy come back to me!” she said again, as she continued to kiss and hug her daughter. Her movements were shaky and Elizabeth was surprised at how weak her embrace was. She now clearly understood the delicacy of her mother’s health. Mrs. Bennet seemed on the verge of an attack of nerves, but she calmed upon looking slightly past her daughter. “Who have you brought with you, Elizabeth?”
“Mama, I would like you to meet my husband, Mr. Darcy.”
Mrs. Bennet’s eyes went wide. “Your husband? Truly, Lizzy?” Elizabeth nodded. Her mother sighed, and smiled sweetly, closing her eyes. For a moment, Elizabeth thought she might have fallen asleep, but soon her eyes fluttered back open.
“I am very glad for you Lizzy; you shall want for nothing and I shall not have to worry about you any more.”
“I am sorry if I made you worry, Mama, truly I am. But please do not fret ever again. Mr. Darcy and I are very happy.”
Her mother smiled. “I am glad. Well, Mr. Darcy, you must come and give your Mama a kiss, too. It won’t do to have you standing about like a stranger.” Darcy laughed and did as he was bid. As he leaned over his mother-in-law she took a good look at him.
“You filled out nicely as well, Mr. Darcy. I believe you and Lizzy must have a very good cook. I am glad to see it; I do not like it when people do not enjoy their food. It is not right.” Lizzy shook her head and laughed lightly.
The boys were apparently enjoying their games outside, for soon their clamour made its way even into the upstairs bedrooms with the windows closed. Her mother exclaimed at the noise and rose slowly with the help of her cane and Mary’s arm for support, and proceeded to her window to see what could be causing such racket.
“Wherever did all those boys come from?” she wondered out loud, as she sat, now exhausted, in her window seat.
“Those are my sons, Mrs. Bennet,” answered Mr. Darcy.
“I see. My goodness, so many! And they are all yours, Mr. Darcy?”
Darcy frowned. “Yes, of course they are mine.”
“Did their mother pass on then?” she enquired.
Elizabeth finally realised her mother’s confusion. “Mama, I think you misunderstand my husband; all of the boys are mine as well. They are our children.”
Mrs. Bennet was speechless. She turned back to the group playing on the lawn by the drive, obviously trying to assess their potential ages and began counting. Suddenly she started to giggle. “I have six grandsons!”
Elizabeth looked to Darcy who was also starting to see the humour of the situation. Poor Mrs. Bennet! Jane had given her two granddaughters and Kitty three more. Now Elizabeth, whom she had forgotten was married, had shown up suddenly on her doorstep, with one of the wealthiest men in the land, and six strong sons by him. Yes, it was a very happy and humorous thought indeed.
Suddenly Mrs. Bennet stopped laughing. Her face showed great concern and Elizabeth was worried her mother had gained a talent for mathematics. “Lizzy! Please do not tell me that Mr. Darcy’s estate is somehow entailed away to only the female line of his family!” she asked, truly worried.
It took but a moment for Darcy to comprehend the odd route by which his mother-in-law’s mind travelled. He quickly reassured her, “Not at all, my dear Mrs. Bennet. I can assure you Elizabeth and I have six sons from our own choice, not to fulfil any obligations of heredity.” She relaxed visibly.
“Would you like to meet them, Mama?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh, yes, Lizzy, but dear me, this room is not nearly large enough for such a group. Mary, do you think I might go down to the drawing room today? We could ask Louise and Carol to come and help me down the stairs.”
“If you would allow me, Mrs. Bennet, I would be happy to carry you to the drawing room when you are ready. Would that be acceptable?” Mrs. Bennet beamed at her new son-in-law.
“Thank you, Mr. Darcy! That is most kind of you. I would be very grateful to you, Sir.”
“Madam, it would please me greatly if you would call me Fitzwilliam or at least Darcy. I am family after all.”
Mrs. Bennet giggled again. “Goodness me, I do not think I could call you by your given name. I have known you far too long as Mr. Darcy. I think Darcy will do nicely, though. Thank you… Darcy.”
When the Darcy boys were lined up to meet their grandmamma, Mrs. Bennet became overwhelmed. She smiled faintly, her lip began to tremble and then a tear fell from her eye.
“Dearest Lizzy, I do beg your pardon, but you see, there was a time when this is what I wished for your dear papa more than anything. Seeing your handsome sons here in front of me, reminds me so much of my dear Thomas and what we had hoped to achieve. Please do not think less of me; I am very happy that you have these dear boys to call your own.”
“Your own as well, dear Mama. They are your grandsons, too, do not forget.”
“No indeed, they are my grandsons, just as much Bennet as they are Darcy.”
Elizabeth began the introduction with her eldest, William, who was seventeen at the time. Next came Thomas Patrick, a sensible boy of eleven who, of all the Darcy sons, resembled his father most in character. William’s studies and thoughts tended to keep his mind occupied no matter where he might be, therefore Thomas had easily slipped into the role of eldest brother when it came to responsibilities and being an example to his younger siblings.
Next, she introduced Harold George, nearly ten, and named after his Darcy ancestors. Harold was the gregarious member of the family. He was wild for any sort of gathering, kept his sleeves and knees impeccable and was already disturbingly aware of any pretty lady that might be in the vicinity. Elizabeth and Darcy would never admit it to each other, but they both assumed Harold would be the first of their sons to wed.
Eight-year-old Richard Edward stood silently as was his nature. His quiet composure and stealthy speed made him the unofficial guardian to the almost twins, Charles and Andrew. While the two younger boys were rumbustious as could possibly be, Richard’s calm demeanour never failed to capture their attention, and they dutifully minded him, nearly all of the time.
“I am not a Bennet, I am a Darcy,” huffed an indignant four-year-old Andrew, when his turn to bow came.
“Be quiet or you will upset Oma,” chided his older, yet shorter brother, Charles.
Darcy looked to Elizabeth to see her reaction to her second youngest calling his new grandmother such a sweet endearment. Charles had spent his early childhood speaking German and English together, and to this day, he, along with several of his brothers, bore accents from the country in which they were born.
Richard also tended toward the German, while Harold and Thomas had a decided Italian lilt to their English. William, when pressed, could both speak Italian with a perfect northern dialect, and change his English accent into an astoundingly thick Italian rendition, much to his brothers’ delight.
Andrew’s accent was undecided. He had spent a great deal of time in Germany and France; however, being the youngest of such a boisterous brood had a distinct disadvantage if one wished to voice an opinion. Consequently, Andrew rarely voiced anything.
In fact, when he was a small babe, his thumb proved the only receiver of any attention from his mouth, with the exception of a great quantity of food. Having five elder brothers who often stood in as nursemaids to him, proved very convenient to baby Andrew; he had only to point and grunt before instantly being rewarded with whatever he desired. Hence, he was already taller than his eleven months older brother, and would one day outgrow his entire set of siblings, his father and even his Uncle Patrick.
The carriages drew close to the beautiful home and Darcy could feel his heart pounding. His sons were chattering excitedly, knowing the last miles were being traversed. He called to his driver to stop both coaches, just as they made the well-known turn and the house itself was now in full view. He could hear the collective gasps from his family, and the staff who accompanied them.
Elizabeth leaned her head onto his shoulder. “A finer prospect I have never seen,” she whispered sweetly into his ear.
Charles, Andrew and Richard clamoured to get a better look.
“Is that our house, Papa?” Richard asked.
Darcy chuckled. “It is. Welcome to Pemberley.” He opened the window and shouted at his older sons behind him. “Welcome to Pemberley everyone!” An eruption of happy noises emanated from both carriages and they continued on to the house.
All the Darcy boys tumbled out of their confines the moment the horses stopped and eventually stood silent, waiting until their father finally stepped down from his coach, turned and handed his wife out.
Elizabeth looked around her and smirked at her husband. “Now I know why you insisted we stop so early last night. I wondered why we did not complete our journey to Pemberley yesterday.”
Darcy merely gave her a mischievous smile and pulled strongly on her hand causing her to fall into his arms.
“Elizabeth, I have dreamt of bringing you here as my wife for so many years.” He kissed her soundly then, in front of his sons, the complete staff of Pemberley lined up in their smartly cleaned uniforms, the tenants of the estate, their families and then what seemed like half of Derbyshire, all present to welcome the long absent master and mistress. When he at last released her lips, he had the good manners to blush, though he could not contain his smile.
He turned to the gathering. “Good people, it is with the utmost happiness that I present to you all my wife, Mrs. Elizabeth Darcy, Mistress of Pemberley.”
The next hour was spent in a receiving line, with all of the Darcys meeting the local populace, Will often giving a history to his family of the people they were meeting. When they finally got to the end, the master announced another surprise: an invitation to everyone for the combination of a welcome home celebration and harvest feast that very night.
“I did not want you to have to suffer the planning of such an event, dearest. I apologize for not informing you ahead of time. Will you forgive me for wanting to show you off?”
Elizabeth laughed lightly, nodded and the two walked into their home.
“Georgie! Patrick!” she exclaimed when she entered.
Later that evening, as the harvest moon was rising like a great glowing orb over Pemberley, Darcy watched with immense satisfaction as his wife chattered with his sister and Jane in the corner. They had seen the Bingleys only a fortnight ago at Longbourn, but Darcy had secretly brought them to Pemberley for the homecoming and another surprise he had planned.
After the bounty of food had been consumed, musicians had appeared at the end of the meal and began to tune up. At a nod from the master, they suddenly stopped, as did the rest of the throng when Darcy cleared his throat rather loudly.
“Ladies and gentlemen, twenty years ago today I made the most grievous mistake of my life and tonight, I mean to correct it.” He turned to the family table, where his sons sat rosy-cheeked and happily taking in all the amazing sights surrounding them in their new home. “My sons, you might not appreciate the lesson I am about to pass on to you now, though you might be old enough, William.” the crowd snickered appreciatively. “However, I will ask you heed my words and remember that anything that comes out of your mouth should reflect the very best of what you can be. Always assume the world can hear what you say, so that you will always say something worth hearing.”
With that, he looked to his brother-in-law. “Bingley?”
Bingley stood and came to him, then began in a very wooden, yet loud voice, “Darcy, I must have you dance.”
“I certainly shall not, Bingley.”
“Behind you is one of Miss Bennet’s sisters, who is very pretty, and I dare say, very agreeable. Do let me ask my partner to introduce you.” Several people giggled.
“Which do you mean?” Darcy then turned and looked directly at Elizabeth. “Bingley, I think I may have once thought to put you off by giving such a woman no consequence, and indeed, I may have once thoughtlessly said she was not handsome enough to tempt me to ask her for a dance.”
The crowd gasped and Elizabeth laughed, yet her eyes were glazed.
He turned to his friend and clapped him soundly on the shoulder, “However, with time comes wisdom, and I can only answer,” he turned back to his wife, “yours is a brilliant suggestion. I can think of no greater pleasure than dancing while looking into a pair of fine eyes in the face of the handsomest woman I have ever seen. I shall do exactly as you suggest.” He gave an imperceptible nod to the musicians who started their introduction quietly while Darcy walked to his wife’s side.
“Miss Bennet, will you do me the great honour of dancing with me?”
Elizabeth smiled sweetly through her tears. “Mr. Darcy, I think I should be delighted to give you my hand.”
With that, the master and mistress of Pemberley waltzed onto the floor.
William sighed as the carriage pulled up to the grand entrance at Pemberley. He slowly stepped out and stretched his weary legs which had been cramped for two days in various coaches, trains and ships. He could see some of the grandchildren and great- grandchildren on parts of the property, along with his sisters-in-law and the nannies.
He met Andrew first. A shadow passed over his face, startling him, when his youngest brother caught him in an embrace.
“About time, old man,” he chided William. “Thomas has been at his wits’ end, which was not a far distance to travel.”
William rolled his eyes at him. Andrew’s clever wit and his imposing size were, in William’s opinion, the two biggest factors that got him elected to Parliament. He could not deny that Andrew was an overpowering presence. “How is Abby?”
“Quite well, she is concentrating on my eldest daughter’s presentation at court.” William frowned. “No, you have not gone mad, Annabel is only thirteen yet her mother thinks it is never too early.” They both laughed. “Come, I think most of us are playing billiards.”
He was correct; all but Thomas were escaping the bustle of all the children in the house. William greeted his second youngest brother, the honourable judge, Charles Darcy, hoping that he and Andrew would make it through just one day without arguing with one another. Charles found himself defending most of his beliefs and thoughts when in the presence of his youngest brother. Andrew, at least in William’s eyes, merely did what he could to get a rise out of his stoic elder.
Richard and Harold were obviously in deep conversation with one another when William entered, no doubt carrying on a serious discussion about their respective properties. Harold had been gifted years ago by his parents with none other than Netherfield Park, when he announced, after only one year in society and only four and twenty years of age, that he wished to marry a pretty, yet very silly heiress whom all the Darcys knew had captured his fancy. Daphne Weston was equally smitten with her dear, clever Harry and doted upon him these last twenty seven years. They were also the first to present grandchildren to Will and Elizabeth.
Richard’s fortune had come just as early in life. When he was merely a boy, his father’s cousin had come to stay with them for an extended time after his wife’s death. What young Richard had not known was how much the elder cousin had come to pay attention to the cast off remarks the boy had always made under his breath, reminding him of Mrs. Darcy’s father in wit, and endearing Richard to the elder gentleman for life. Several years later, when Richard Darcy graduated from Cambridge, he learnt he would one day inherit Rosings Park from Colonel Richard Fitzwilliam. Richard, like Harold, thrived on his estate and raised an entire brood of happy children with his excellent wife, who married him because of how he could always make her laugh.
The brothers all greeted William and soon enough, Thomas Darcy, now master of Pemberley, entered. He embraced William heartily.
“I am very glad you are come, William,” he said with great emotion.
“The estate looks splendid as always, Thomas. I always knew you were the one who should have it, that you were the one who could take care of our legacy properly.”
“I owe it all to you, William. I shall never forget your sacrifice, or the good fortune you bestowed upon me.”
“Nonsense!” his eldest brother scolded. “We both did what was right. I never want to hear talk of debts from you, young man.”
They all laughed lightly, but the truth of Thomas’ words rang true. The younger brothers did not remember the event, but the story of the argument their parents had, so soon after returning to England, was family legend. It apparently had lasted for days until finally their mother had conceded. Father and William rode out onto the property, and when they returned, they called Thomas into the library where William told his brother he had decided he did not wish to inherit Pemberley and would legally sign over his rights as first-born son and heir to the estate to the next in line. William left for France the next year and Thomas was now heir to Pemberley.
William knew what he said was true. He still remembered vividly his brother’s face that first week they arrived in Derbyshire. Thomas was home. Since that day, Thomas rarely left the estate unless forced.
Thomas brought him out of his reverie. “How soon can you be ready to go up?”
He shook his head clear. “Let me change and make myself presentable, and I shall be with you in half an hour.”
The room was brightened by the sun pouring into the windows as it started its descent into the west. William trod carefully, making sure not to be noisy, lest the inhabitants be napping. They were, of course, despite the plenitude of light. His father was propped up by many pillows, yet his head was still tilted to the side where it rested on top of his mother’s. They each had an open book in their laps, and their spectacles still sat upon their noses as they slept.
William sat in the well-worn chair next to them and watched carefully. He wondered if he and his dear Sophie would one day live to see their age. Would they be content to live out their days in a bed? He could not imagine his little spitfire of a wife ever settling down so; her grandparents were McNallys, after all. And, as the aching joints in his back reminded him, she was twenty-five years younger than he was. His inadvertent groan awakened them. His mother grasped his father’s hand quickly as she uttered her surprise.
“Oh, William! My dear boy, here you are at last.”
Darcy woke up and slowly turned to his son, smiling sweetly and closing his eyes again. Elizabeth moved to prod him but he stopped her with his words.
“I am not asleep; I am just taking my time in waking. Put that finger back.” They all giggled.
William kissed them both and they caught up with all the news until the family gossip had been well and truly worked over.
“I have something wonderful to show you both,” he said with glee. He carefully brought out a small box and unwrapped a card inside. He turned it so the afternoon sun shone directly onto it, as if it were a specially made lamp just for his presentation. His parents sat in awe.
“Is that…?” his father asked first.
“It is,” William answered with no small amount of pride. “Taken six days ago. I am sorry I could not be here sooner, but we were so close, and I had hoped to be able to bring something like this back with me…”
“Oh, my love. Do not apologise; of course you wished to finish your work!” Elizabeth cried. “I am so happy for you! I am so proud of you! Oh, William! Your dream!” her tears fell unabashedly.
William embraced his parents. “I never could have done this without all you have done for me, all you have given me.”
“No, son. This is your accomplishment. We are so proud you have made this happen. So many will benefit from what you have set in motion.”
“This is yours,” William said, handing it to the both of them.
Darcy took it in his hand, his head slowly shaking back and forth from amazement as he inspected it. “No, Son,” he turned to Elizabeth, “this should be given to your mother. Without her sacrifices, as well as her wisdom, many things would have been different. It was she who decided to take the chance and move you to London, and then to Padua. She is the bravest person I know and also the most loving, for she did it all never knowing if there would ever be a day like today. She believed in your genius, William, and your spirit.”
Elizabeth’s brows rose despite her tears, reminding Will of the young woman from sixty years earlier. He took her hand and gently raised it to his lips. “Bella Elizabetta,” and placed the treasure in her shaking hands.
“I will take it for us both, then, dearest Will. For I should like to see the proof of my son’s triumph when we wake each morning.” She examined the treasure very cautiously. “I hope this means you will take some time to rest, my son. What are your plans?”
William smiled. “I plan to go home to Longbourn and make an heir.”
He stayed the whole of the afternoon in their room until they once again had nodded off to sleep, his mother’s head coming to rest upon his papa’s shoulder and then his papa’s head slowly lowering until touching hers. The sun was low in the sky throwing fiery gold into the room and illuminating the sleeping pair perfectly. William sat watching a long time, making cherished canvases of his parents in his mind.
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