Robert leaned towards the window, trying to soothe his aching head against the cold glass. He had arrived at Haydon, his family estate, a few hours before, and had locked himself in his chambers trying feverishly to give some clear form to his confused thoughts and relive the events of the past days. He was completely immersed in his thoughts, trying to sort out his mistakes. His innumerable mistakes. During this long journey he had come to terms with himself, and tried to figure out what his cousin had meant by "facing his responsibilities" and he had come up with some sensible answers. His responsibility had been to commit himself to Julianne and to respect her enough to be absolutely loyal to her, at all times, without compromise. In this he had failed miserably.
However, Robert knew that the incident with Molly had not been his only blunder, He had entered an engagement without being absolutely sure of himself and had not been able to open his heart to the woman he had planned to share his life with. He would never forget her disgusted look as she addressed him and her words she used to order him out of her room, out of her life.
I want this farcical engagement to end, and I hope that any relationship of ours will come to the same amicable conclusion.
Now, get out and stop making a fool of yourself!
At that moment she had despised him, that same moment in which he finally realized that he loved her completely and was truly ashamed of the abominable way he had treated her throughout their relationship. Robert reread the letter he had written over and over again, steeling himself to pluck up the courage to seal it once and for all and to send it to Hertfordshire. Before leaving Pemberley, Darcy had told him that Julianne would have left some hours after him. The journey was shorter, but would she have arrived safely?
"God, let not anything happen to her," he prayed silently. He paused. "And let her find it in her heart to forgive me someday!"
With that, he sealed the letter, and vowed to send it the following morning.
"I have just received a letter from Robert," announced Darcy as he entered the drawing room of Pemberley a week later.
"What can he have to say?" asked Elizabeth, rather scornfully.
"He apologized again for what happened, and sent you his most humble regards," replied her husband diplomatically.
"Does he mention Julianne at all?"
"Briefly," he fibbed.
Elizabeth sighed. "I feel so guilty about Julianne. If we had not invited that rascal of your cousin none of this terrible mess would have happened!"
Darcy forced himself to feign agreement. He had got used to cope to his wife's strange, pregnancy induced humours, but he was still very glad that Robert's letter was safely hidden in his study, and that his own reply to it was on its way to Northinghamshire. He decided to take an escape route, and changed the subject. "I've also received a letter from Bingley. He says that he and Jane will be moving to their London house for the winter. It seems that they are in search of another estate in which to settle and they decided to spend the time needed to find one away from Meryton."
All this was said in his most neutral voice, but Elizabeth could not help sighing and muttering, "Mamma."
Georgiana however, entered the conversation unexpectedly. "They are going to London? How wonderful!" She suddenly slouched on the couch and let out a deep breath. "The country is so boring in winter!"
Darcy and Elizabeth arched their eyebrows and gave each other a look. That was so like “ Julianne! Seeing their surprised look, Georgiana sat up quickly and cleared her throat. "Are you really bored?" asked Darcy. "You usually prefer the country to Town. What is this sudden eagerness to go to London?" His sister blushed slightly, but gave him a noncommittal shrug.
Elizabeth decided to take the matter in her own hands. "Would you like me to write to Jane to ask them if you can go visit them for a few weeks?"
Georgiana beamed at her, but Darcy was not so convinced. "I do not like the idea of your going to London without us, and after all you've hardly been at Pemberley for a month!"
There was no answer, but Georgiana looked so dismayed that he had to give up, as usual. "Oh do whatever you like," he grunted. "But see that you behave at least!"
The servants of Haydon Manor could not quite figure out what had happened to young Master Darcy. Rumours flourished around their quarters and soon reached all the tenants. No one knew for certain what had happened to him, but one thing was certain; Robert Darcy had come back a changed man.
It all began the day after his unexpected arrival at the estate. Robert woke up early after a restless sleep, and after a few seconds of semi consciousness, had been hit by the familiar sensation of pain that had accompanied him all through the journey. To say pain was an understatement, but he could not find any suitable word to explain that feeling he had in his heart, a feeling that he had never felt before in his life, but that threatened to become a life long companion. Unable to go back to sleep, he decided to take a walk around the grounds hoping that the cold morning air would do him some good.
For the first time in his life, he was looking at the estate with a different view. Up to then, Haydon Manor had always been a place to spend a few days in between travels and a location for an occasional ball. As he walked through the grounds, he noticed how well tended they were, and how prosperous the fields looked from the hill on which the house was situated. He had always thought his father to be a good landlord, but he had taken the managing of the estate for granted. It had been Philip Darcy's job. Although his father has been away for some months, Mr. Worthing, the steward, had assured him that everything was under control, and that there had been no outstanding business to tend to.
Maybe your father isn't as irresponsible as you made him out to be in these last years... said an accusing voice within him. Robert cringed and went walking on briskly. He had to admit, the voice was probably right.
As he turned to the back garden, he caught sight of the gardener and his son, who were intently studying the roots of the great elm. Robert looked at them for a long time, feeling some envy towards that young boy whose father was teaching him, with so much enthusiasm, the tricks of his trade. He had never really given parenthood a serious thought, but though he was still young, he felt at that moment, a nagging feeling, a wish for someone to whom he could talk, to whom he could instill the pride and honour of the family. Robert and his father had never shared such a relationship, especially after he had left for school but he knew that most of it was his own fault. He had never sought his father's company and the letters he always wrote to him were just polite, not really affectionate.
Another thought suddenly hit him. He did not even know the gardener's name! What kind of a Master was that who did not know his tenants, and had not cared to try to get to know them? It was on that day that he decided to make up for the lost time, and during the following weeks, to their absolute astonishment, all the tenants received a cordial visit from the Master's son, the same one that had not once before stopped to acknowledge their presence.
"A letter for you, Miss Philips," announced the maid
"Thank you Lane," replied Julianne. "And thank you for separating these particular letters from the rest, it saves me from answering some very awkward questions," she added with a small smile.
Lane curtsied and left the room, carefully keeping her face void of any possible emotion. It was true that Miss Philips received daily letters from Northinghamshire but it was not for her to comment, especially since the young Miss never seemed to answer them back.
The elderly servant would have been very surprised to know that Julianne did not even open the letters. Every day she would just check the letter's sender, and carelessly toss it into the fire. "This is the fourth letter this week," she said to herself as she watched it burn. "Robert, give up will you?" She walked towards her writing desk, and sat down to answer Jeremy's letter. He seemed to be in very high spirits, and mentioned something about preparing to meet the Bingleys and Georgiana. She wondered what Georgiana would be doing in London at that time of year, but dismissed the thought immediately, like she dismissed all those thoughts remotely connected to her visit to Derbyshire.
Georgiana shifted on her seat impatiently. They were soon to arrive in London, and Jane and Bingley were rather surprised at her enthusiasm. She secretly went over the letter that Jeremy had written to her, where he had promised to meet her as soon as possible.
I can't wait Jeremy, I just cannot wait to see you again!
"Any letters from Hertfordshire Merriman?" asked Robert eagerly.
"No sir," replied the butler. "But there is one from Tuscany, from Mr. Darcy."
"Tuscany? Wasn't my father in France some weeks ago?" asked Robert, annoyed. He still couldn't get used to the usual disappointment of receiving no answer from Julianne. "Doesn't he know that we have an estate to run?"
Henry Merriman looked down, to avoid looking at the young Master in his eyes. He could not trust himself to hide his smile. "Sir, if I may say so, I believe that Mr. Worthing mentioned something about Mr. Darcy visiting an acquaintance of his who is a doctor."
"A doctor? In the Italian peninsula*? What is wrong with my father?" The butler did not answer, obviously he did not know. "Prepare my trunks at once," snapped Robert. "I'm off to Florence to meet my father!"
He went up to his chambers, to write again to Julianne, but he suddenly stopped. Julianne had not answered any of his letters. Should he give her some time to think about her feelings? He put his pen away slowly, and sat back. "If time is what you need to forgive me, then time is what you will get," he said to himself sadly.
"No letters for me Lane? Are you sure?" asked Julianne.
"Yes Miss. Quite sure Miss." With a curtsy, the maid left the room.
Julianne sat down on her bed. He had not written for three days. Did it take him such a short time to forget her?
What do you expect? You never answered his letters! Happy now? Isn't that what you wanted?
That was what she told him that she wanted, but she was not so sure about that anymore. She was not happy when he wrote, but felt even more wretched without his letters. She stared at the fire, not knowing whether to laugh or cry. She had won a victory but maybe it was one she could have perfectly done without...
To be continued...
*At the time the all Jane Austen's novels were set, Italy as we know it today did not exist. Tuscany, a region in Italy, was at that time under the Austrian empire, but the peninsula itself was still known as "Italy". (All this information was kindly given in an interesting monologue by a friend who is particularly keen on Italian history --- thank you Jean-Paul!)
"Merriman, are my trunks ready?" asked Robert anxiously.
"Thank you. Has Paul seen to all the arrangements for my lodgings in Florence?"
"Yes, sir." The elderly butler paused and then cleared his throat. "Master Robert, if I may express an opinion," he began.
"Of course Merriman, by all means," replied Robert as he continued to struggle to get into his coat.
"Sir, are you quite sure that your presence is needed in Tuscany? After all, your father may be visiting this doctor just because he is an old acquaintance," he said reasonably. Henry Merriman had been in the service of the Darcys of Haydon Manor for over thirty years, and was respected enough by the household and the Master himself to be allowed to question his decisions. However, he wasn't quite so sure about the Master's son and waited rather cautiously for his answer or reprove.
"You're right Merriman," replied Robert seriously and the butler breathed a sigh of relief. "But have you ever had the feeling that something was really wrong? I mean, why would my father go to Tuscany all of a sudden, without telling anyone of his plans, just to visit an old acquaintance of his, who also happens to be a famous doctor? I don't know if you are aware of this Merriman, but Alfredo Moratti is famous all over the Continent."
Merriman shook his head, he didn't know about that last fact, and could not help wondering whether the young Master was right after all. "Well, Sir, I wish you a pleasant journey, and I hope to see you very soon again at Haydon."
Robert forced a smile. "Thank you. I hope that in a couple of weeks, I'll be back, and my father will be with me." He gave him a pat on the shoulder. "Goodbye Harry," he said and walked out of the room.
Merriman stared after him, and arched an indignant eyebrow. "HARRY?!"
The Bingleys had been in London for a week, and had invited some friends for dinner. Among them, there were of course Miss Bingley and the Hursts, the Gardiners, and also Jeremy. All the acquaintances of the Mr. Bingley, except for his sisters of course, were charmed by the young Mr. Philips' polite, easy manners and by his handsome looks. Caroline Bingley couldn't help associating him with the "odious" Mrs. Darcy, especially when she saw that even her dear friend Georgiana clearly preferred his company to hers.
No one really commented on the attention that Miss Darcy and Mr. Philips were giving each other, but it was not really hard to realize that they was a great attraction between them and that if anything, their friendship was based on ease and affability, and was strong and loyal.
At the moment, they were both sitting at the piano. Georgiana had gathered enough courage to perform, probably because of the insistence from Jeremy's side, and the fact that he had offered to turn the pages for her. They were close enough to carry on a conversation without being heard by all the other guests, and could discuss the events that had taken place at Pemberley with relative ease.
"How is your sister?" whispered Georgiana tentatively. "I know that she writes to Elizabeth quite often, but from what I hear, she avoids the subject of my cousin completely."
"I haven't seen her since I left Derbyshire, but she doesn't write anything about Robert either," he answered in a low voice.
"I would love to see her again Mr. Philips," said Georgiana gravely. "Do you think she would mind if I would visit her at your estate some day?"
ESTATE? What kind of delusion did this girl live in? Did she think that he was the future master of an estate like Pemberley???
Georgiana noticed the strange look that Jeremy was giving her and wondered what she had said to offend him.
"Miss Darcy, my family does not own an estate. We live in a modest house in Meryton," he said rather stiffly.
Georgiana blushed furiously. She had hurt him by that stupid allusion to his house, she was sure. How could she have been so stupid? He must think that she wanted to show off his inferiority! "Mr. Philips," she said hastily. "I would love to see your house too. I'm sure it must be wonderfully charming!"
Oh lovely, Georgiana. Wonderfully charming. What are you talking about? His mother's tea set?
Jeremy gave a small grimace and went off. Her heart sank as she saw him leaving the room to go out in the balcony. As soon as she finished the piece she was playing, she went out after him, to find him deep in thought.
"Mr. Philips, Jeremy, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to--"
"Georgiana, I think I've made the biggest mistake in my life," he said seriously, still refusing to look at her.
"What mistake?" she asked, sincerely puzzled.
"I've made the mistake of falling desperately in love with a lady who totally beyond my reach," he replied, facing her for the first time.
Georgiana immediately grasped his meaning, and tears welled her eyes. "It wasn't a mistake Jeremy. I'm not beyond your reach, don't say that!" Jeremy didn't answer, but just shook his head. "I don't care whether you have an estate, or a house or a stable to live in! I just don't care if there is you," she sobbed.
"You may not care, Georgiana, but I do," he answered. "It is never going to be said that Georgiana Darcy married a man who was unable to provide for her the riches she was accustomed to." Before she could say anything he made his way back to the house, leaving her in to cry. He left a few minutes later, amidst the amazement of those present.
The Philips' house in Meryton...
Julianne went slowly down to the drawing room, and cringed when she discerned the familiar soprano pitch of her aunt Bennet and the equally musical tone of her mother. She entered slowly and sat down by the window, trying to attract the less attention possible.
"Have you received any news from my Lizzy, Julianne?" asked Mrs. Bennet.
"Oh yes, I've received a letter from her just yesterday," her niece replied stiffly.
"My dear Elizabeth, I always wonder why she does not write to me more often! I'm sure that stern husband of hers is behind all this," the indomitable lady cried.
"Oh no Aunt Fanny. Mr. Darcy is a very kind husband. Lizzy is just very busy running the estate," snapped Julianne.
"Oh sister! And such a grand estate it is too," cried Mrs. Bennet, addressing Mrs. Philips. "I sincerely hope that your dear Julianne would have the sense of securing a rich husband!"
"Oh Fanny, I agree! And have you noticed that my dear Julianne has dropped all her rude manners since she came back from Derbyshire? She doesn't whistle or kick stones all over the place now!"
Julianne rolled her eyes. She hated being talked about, especially while she was still in the room! She excused herself and hurriedly left the room.
Mrs. Philips frowned. "She has become such a disagreeable girl. I am quite put out!"
"I hope she has not grown accustomed to the riches and finery in which my dear Lizzy is living," exclaimed Mrs. Bennet. "It is very likely that she would have to settle for a husband of much more modest means!" She paused and suddenly whispered. "You don't think, sister, that she is pining for some lost lover do you?"
"I sincerely hope not Fanny! If I knew that she had a beau and let him go, I would never see her again!"
Robert left quickly his inn, and walked briskly in the direction that led to the Moratti mansion. Although it was now the beginning of February, the weather was milder than in Britain, and the sun was bright in a cloudless sky. He reached the manor, and found that unfortunately, the Signori Moratti e Darcy were not at home.
"Where could I find Mr. Darcy?" asked Robert in relatively fluent Italian. He breathed a silent thank you to a college mate at Cambridge, who had had an Italian mother, and who had taught him the language in their free time.
"The signore mentioned going to the chapel near Pontevecchio, Sir."
Robert nodded quickly, and left off in search for his father. As he walked along the "Old Bridge", with all it's shops and banks, he could not help wondering about his father. No one who knew Phillip Darcy would think him religious enough to go and pray, especially in a Papist chapel in a foreign country! Something was wrong, he was almost sure of it. So caught was he in his reveries, that he hardly noticed a little girl running straight into him until he heard her angry cry at being thrown back on the ground.
"I'm sorry, Miss," he said apologetically.
The girl, who couldn't be more than ten years of age, flashed a pair of blue angry eyes at him, and he caught his breath. That expression...it was so much like the look Julianne gave him before...He shook his head quickly. This was too much! The girl was still looking at him angrily. "Why don't you look where you're going?" she cried in indignant Tuscan.
"It's my fault, and I apologize again."
"You don't sound or look Italian. You are not Austrian, are you?" she said suspiciously.
Robert smiled a little as he remembered the hatred that most Italians had for their Austrian rulers. "I am English Miss. My name is Robert."
The girl smiled. "I'm Giuliana," she said as skipped off merrily at the sight of a friend of hers.
Giuliana...the English equivalent of Julianne! Robert followed her as she ran off and could not help laughing bitterly. "You will break the hearts of many 'Robertos', Miss Giuliana with your lively manners, I'm sure!" Could it be only a coincidence?
Some time later he reached the small chapel and went quietly inside. He had visited a large number of European churches, but his interest had almost been one limited to a polite tourist. This time however, he immediately sensed an aura of peace and his eyes were caught by the gentle, smiling image of the Madonna holding the small infant Jesus. Robert had never known his mother, but as he looked at the image, he could not help feeling that if she had lived, she would have looked at him in that way, maybe.
He suddenly heard a small gasp in front of him, and Robert found himself staring at his father. It was then his turn to take a small breath. Philip Darcy looked so tired, frail even. He had grown thinner, and his eyes were swollen and surrounded by dark circles.
"Robert, my son! What are you doing here?"
Robert went over to embrace his father. At that moment, in front of God, he realized that his worse fears were true and that his world was totally falling apart.
Elizabeth was with Mrs. Reynolds looking at the different fabrics with which to sew the curtains of the newly redecorated nursery. Suddenly a maid entered and announced the Master's request to speak to Mrs. Darcy.
"Please tell him that I will be in his study later, Emily," said Elizabeth, absentmindedly.
"If you please, ma'am. I think it is quite urgent," said the maid, blushing furiously.
Elizabeth looked up abruptly and walked quickly in the direction of her husband's study. She found him sitting in front of his desk, drinking a glass of wine and running his hands helplessly in his dark curls.
"What is it Fitzwilliam? Is it bad news, from Georgiana or Longbourn?"
"It is bad news. I've received a letter from Robert," he replied, his voice breaking. "It's my Uncle Phillip. He's ill, Elizabeth. He is dying."
"Jeremy? Hey Philips, are you listening to any word that I've said?"
"What?" he asked, startled out of his own thoughts. "I'm sorry Gordon, you were saying?"
"Oh nothing," replied Gordon MacKay good-naturedly. He and Jeremy had been friends since they had met in Scotland ten years before and had decided to share their lodgings at Oxford. He had realized that his conversation had been nothing but a monologue in these last few minutes and was wondering what had got into his usually responsive friend. "What happened to you? You haven't been yourself since you went visiting your cousin and her husband yesterday."
Jeremy took off his reading glasses and rubbed his eyes wearily. All attempts to concentration had been in vain that day. "I'm just tired, that's all," he replied noncommittally.
"Does it have to do with that Miss Darcy who keeps on writing letters?" Gordon asked, with a wide grin.
Jeremy glared at him and his friend realized that he had hit the nail right on its head. "Gordon, do you think that a wealthy, sophisticated lady would ever marry the likes of me?'
"Philips, you would be lucky if any girl even looked at you!" Then, seeing that his friend was not amused, turned to a serious tone. "What are the likes of you Jeremy? You are a gentleman, with a brilliant future ahead of you! Why wouldn't a lady want to share your ambition?'
"What future, Gordon? A legal practice in Meryton?'
"Have you ever heard of London, you idiot? Who said that you would have to be confined to the country?" exclaimed Gordon, rather exasperated. "And anyway, there is more to a man than his wealth, you know!" Jeremy looked at him doubtfully. "And I'm sure that Miss Darcy, who seems much more intelligent than you, realizes that!"
This conversation continued for some time, until Jeremy Philips left for the Bingley townhouse hoping for forgiveness from the lady of his dreams.
As soon as the butler let him in, a pale, worried Jane came to meet him. "Jeremy, Georgiana has just received bad news from her brother..."
Miss Darcy entered the drawing room where Jeremy was waiting for her. Her eyes were red and her face was tear streaked, but that did not prevent her from glaring at her visitor. "If you have come to speak about the nonsense (she almost spat the word) you went on about last night, you can just save yourself the trouble Mr. Philips!"
Jeremy was taken aback. He had expected icy indifference, or an outburst of some sort but not this violent lashing! As he looked at her, however, he realized that sorrow and hurt, rather than anger were fuelling her flare-up. "Miss Darcy, I had the news about your uncle," he began.
Georgiana began sobbing again. "Poor Uncle Phillip, poor Robert," she whispered tearfully. "Just go away, Jeremy. I don't need any more troubles!"
Jeremy ignored her and walked slowly towards her taking her hand gently. "Is there anything I can do for you?" he asked.
At that moment, Georgiana forgot, or ignored, all teachings of demeanor and propriety she had always been taught and buried herself in Jeremy's embrace. "Just be there for me. Forget all about money, and class and social standing, and just stay with me!" Jeremy held the trembling figure tightly and stroked her hair. He would never let her go again. A sudden thought hit him. "Georgiana, would Robert mind if I told Julianne?"
The carriage was well on its way to Northinghamshire, and Robert hoped that he and his father would reach Haydon in a couple of hours' time. The journey from the Continent had been long and tiring but uneventful, except for the fact that Mr. Darcy had wanted to prolong his stay for another couple of weeks, while his son insisted on returning to England as soon as possible.
Robert gave his father a long look. He certainly did look tired, but the reunion with his son seemed to have done him a world of good. He did not look so pale, and Robert even had to face the mortification of seeing his father flirt good-naturedly with a handsome Italian widow who had, for some time, shared the trip with them. Robert could not help smiling at the recollection of it all, though the pain of finding out about his father's illness plagued him incessantly.
Phillip Darcy caught his son staring at him from the opposite seat of the carriage and folded away the newspaper he was reading. "Robert, stop gazing at me like that! It is quite unnerving to see those large brown eyes of yours fixed upon me," he said with a smile. "I am not an invalid, at least not yet." Robert frowned; he really could not see the humour in his father's words. "Come on son," Phillip continued. "Try looking at the bright side of it all after all. I am ill, and I know that, but at least I also know that my time is near and I can make the most of what I have left."
Robert glared at him. "Father that is not funny! It's morbid."
A sigh came from his companion. "I know it is not funny, Robert. I think I know that more than you believe," he said sadly and his son felt immediately ashamed of his outburst and for failing to see that his father's fear. "I was aware of my illness long before I went to see my friend Alfredo and I know now that I can only do two things, lad, either despair and curse God and the heavens for my misfortune or else put on a brave front and pass this time with the person I love most in this world, my one and only son."
Robert felt tears well in his eyes and brushed them away carelessly. "I am sorry Father, for not being there for you, for being so selfish --"
Phillip silenced him with a wave of his hand. "Now don't be ridiculous Robert. I won't have this sentimental nonsense from you. Sit down quietly now, and listen to what I have to tell you." They gave each other a lopsided, identical grin, and Robert buried himself meekly in the plush seat. "When you met me in that chapel, I wasn't praying God to send me a miraculous cure, or something of the sort. I have lived my life and I have had my fair share of mistakes, especially with you. I prayed God to help me sort out my relations with you, and to have the good fortune of living enough to see you take over my estate, hopefully with a responsible, intelligent woman by your side."
His son looked away guiltily and Phillip gave him a curious stare. "There was a chance of that a few months ago, Dad. However I managed to ruin everything with my stupid, irresponsible behaviour!"
"What are you talking about?"
Slowly and painfully, Robert told the story of his visit to Pemberley to his father, who listened attentively, his expression changing from severity, pity and understanding to pure exasperation. He finished with a gulp and angry shake of the head. "She never answered my letters, so any news of her I get from her brother. Father, I feel so bad. Sometimes I think that I just love her too much!"
Phillip looked at his son rather sadly. "Robert, I do feel responsible. My all too friendly ways with women seem to have given you a very wrong conception of love. You must understand that whatever I did in my life, I took great care never to hurt a woman. I never had a relationship with a woman that was not based on mutual agreement that nothing serious would come out of it." He paused but got no reaction from his downcast son. "I never loved a woman other than your own lovely mother, and I can assure you that there is no such thing as loving too much. Why, a wise man had once said that 'if you do not love too much, you do not love enough!'"*
"I still do not know why I acted like that with Julianne, but I do know that Molly was just a mistake and nothing else! I miss her so much Father; my greatest wish was to bring her with me to Haydon, and there she would have been Mistress."
"Have faith my son. Life can take many surprising turns, you know."
"Jeremy! What are you doing here?" cried Julianne gaily as she found her brother waiting in the drawing room in their house in Meryton.
He hugged her gently. "I was granted permission to take special leave from University," he explained. "It is only granted for extraordinary reasons."
Julianne grinned. "And what are these extraordinary reasons? Did you miss your twin sister so much that you had to escape to come back home?'
"I have very important news to give you, Ju."
"Well, speak on. I am all anticipation!" She had still not grasped the seriousness of the conversation.
"Georgiana has just received news from Robert in Tuscany “"
"Tuscany? Oh! I wonder what fun he had there!" said Julianne scornfully.
"Did you not know he has been there?"
His sister looked away. "Robert has stopped writing." There was a pause. "And what about him?"
Jeremy told her all he knew, and left her to ponder the news in solitude. Julianne ran up to her room, tears blurring her vision. Poor Robert! What must he be going through and the moment! How could she have scorned him like that? She had ignored his letters, and let her anger and resentment blind her to his shame and his attempts to apologize. He needed a friend now, of that she was sure, and this time she will be there...
"Elizabeth, are you sure you won't mind if I go and spend some time at Haydon?" asked Darcy earnestly.
"Of course not, dear." replied his wife. "Robert needs you, and so does your uncle. Jane will be here with me, and so will Georgiana, so do not worry, I won't be here alone."
"I can't believe this is happening, Robert had been so carefree and happy when he first came here. Now his world seems to be tumbling down just around him. Very soon he will have to take care of all the estate on his own..." Darcy stopped there, experiencing a very painful feeling of deja vu. Robert's age was exactly the same as his when he had lost his father, and he knew how difficult a life on one's own could be.
Elizabeth sensed what her husband was thinking and gave him a reassuring kiss. "You know what he is passing through, and that is why, you have to go and help him!"
Robert was in the study, writing some business letters, after having convinced his father, after a lengthy confrontation to go and have a rest. Phillip Darcy had finally consented to leave the business side of running the estate in his son's hands, for that day, but had insisted on going on a ramble around the grounds, and could be seen talking and joking with the young son of the worthy gardener.
Merriman entered the study after his young master's acknowledgement of his knock and handed him a letter. "Where is it from?" he asked wearily.
"Hertfordshire, Sir. It is from a certain Miss Julianne Philips."
*I do not know who said that, but I came across and I liked it, though I admit that it is a bit cliched...anyway, I hope that you did enjoy this chapter. Let me know what you think!
Robert lay on his bed, Julianne's letter still clutched tightly in his hand, as he tried to make something out of it. He stared at the canopy for some time, and wrinkled his nose, as was his usual when he was puzzled. An hour before, Merriman had brought him this letter, and he had spent the time reading it over and over again, to be sure of its contents, and each reading brought in him a different emotion. He sighed, and unfolded the paper again.
The letter began coldly, or at the very least formally, as if Julianne was trying to sort out her feelings, or restrain them from flowing out. At least, that is what he was desperately hoping for. However, as the letter progressed, she seemed to write with more ease, and at one point even apologized to him for never reading his letters. Robert shook his head at that. "There is nothing to apologize for, my love. How could you ever think so?" There was a line however, that he could not take off his mind. He repeated it over and over in his mind, trying to hope, yet being terrified to do so.
Mr. Darcy, please try not to despair. My thoughts are always with you, and in my dreams my heart accompanies them.
What did she mean? What will he answer to that? God knew how much he still loved Julianne, but what about her? Was she offering comfort, friendship or --?
There was a knock at the door and his father entered, puzzled at seeing his son sprawled on his bed in the mid-afternoon. "What is the matter, Robert? Is something ailing you?"
Robert rolled over and faced his father, waving the letter. "Guess who has written to me."
Philip Darcy rolled his eyes impatiently. "How could I know? Your cousin, the Pope, the Prince?"
His father gave him a wide, wicked grin and made him sit up, to be able to favour him with some good slaps on the back. "Ah, my son. I told you that things would be better didn't I?"
Robert nodded and hugged his father. He felt the familiar twinge of pain in his heart when he thought of being separated from the person he grew to love so much, but this time he tried "not to despair".
My thoughts are always with you, and in my dreams my heart accompanies them.
Julianne was thinking pretty much about the same line as she tossed and turned restlessly that night, as she had done often since her return from Derbyshire, and as she had done ALWAYS since she sent the letter. Why had she written that stupid, sentimental line? What was she thinking? It was almost sure now that Robert would misinterpret her, and think that she was still attached to him and then ---
Misinterpret you? Are you quite sure that he will not just see through you and realize that you are still totally in love with him?
She sat up suddenly, trying to draw some comfort from hugging her knees and burying her head in them. She sobbed. This time, however, she was not crying in recollection of what happened at Pemberley, but her tears were directed towards other directions; directions that she was still too confused to figure out.
Gordon got up suddenly from his desk and stretched. "Jeremy, I'm totally bored! How long must we stay cooped in these rooms?"
Jeremy didn't even bother to look up from his books. "Examinations are approaching fast Gordon."
"Let's go out for a walk, shall we?"
"Come on Philips! We won't take long, just the time to charm a few ladies, meet some people, you know, show the world that we are not the eccentric hermits we seem to be," said his friend, trying to muster some enthusiasm in Jeremy.
"No. Gordon, why don't you go yourself? You are not really helping me concentrate."
Gordon walked towards his friend and sat on the desk, facing him squarely. "Philips, where has your concept of F.U.N. gone to?'
Jeremy met his gaze. "I think I must have left it with your concept of S.T.U.D.Y." he replied sardonically.
"Why are you doing this Jeremy? You have been with that nose of your stuck in those books for days! What are you trying to prove?"
"I'm not trying to prove anything, but it might interest you to know that our careers, depend on these books, and this university!"
"I know that!" snapped Gordon. "But you still have not answered my question. We've been here for months now, and I never saw you behave in this manner!" A sudden thought hit him. "Oh my God, don't tell me you're doing this for Miss Darcy."
Jeremy paused a moment before answering. "Yes."
"But you told me that she loved you and ‹"
"It doesn't follow that since I won her heart, I would win her brother's consent," he interrupted irritably.
"And how are you planning to do so?"
"I want to be the best lawyer there is," he answered determinedly. "I want to be great and powerful enough to be able to ask for her hand with my head held high."
For once Gordon took his words seriously. "I understand," he said simply and walked over to his desk. He gave his friend a mock glare, which was returned by a good-natured smile, and opened again his books without another word on boredom.
Darcy alighted from the carriage, and found his cousin and his father waiting for him eagerly. He inhaled deeply, and his eyes swept towards the house. He had always had wonderful memories of Haydon, because it was there that he had spent a lot of his childhood. He hadn't been there since his father had died, both because he had been caught up completely in running the estate and looking after Georgiana, and also because he had had sadly lost contact with this part of the family. However, he was there now, his cousin needed him, and it was good to back.
His uncle greeted him warmly and Darcy could not help being surprised at the reception. Phillip Darcy seemed to be in excellent spirits. He talked incessantly about the estate, the sightseeing he had done in Italy, and during dinner even scolded Robert for picking on his food, and asked for another helping. When he left to go and rest in the library, as was his usual, Darcy looked at his cousin in astonishment.
Robert quietly sipped his wine. "It's all an act, Darcy."
"I had figured that out, Robert, but it still amazes me."
"He is such a brave, great man, Fitzwilliam. I'll never forgive myself for not noticing that before," said Robert sadly.
Darcy didn't know how to answer to that. He knew that all attempts at comfort would be in vain, so he tried to change the subject. "How are you finding the task of running the estate?" he asked seriously. Robert shrugged. "I need your help, and I'm glad you came. I never thought it would take so much work to manage the land efficiently and keep the tenants satisfied."
"I will do whatever I can to help you."
"Was it like that when your own father died, Darcy?" he asked suddenly.
His cousin swallowed painfully. "Yes," he replied.
"At times, I just feel so alone in this house. There are so many servants, and yet, the loneliness is so unbearable."
Darcy knew exactly what his cousin meant. "I know the feeling Robert. I passed through so many times. I was so caught up in my own sorrow that I never even let Georgiana help me through it."
"Now you have Elizabeth," he said, rather enviously.
"Now I have Elizabeth," Darcy repeated. "But I didn't have her at the time. If it weren't for her..."
Robert sat back and sighed. "Darcy I have a secret to tell you," he announced with a small smile.
"What is it?"
"I intend to ask Julianne to marry me again, soon."
Darcy looked at him closely. "And how do you know she'll even talk to you again?"
"She sent me a letter a few days ago. And I am hoping," said Robert tersely.
"Well, if you would like a romantic setting," began Darcy, grinning, "you can wait till summer. I'd like you and Uncle Phillip to come to Pemberley for the baby's birth, and Elizabeth and I intend to ask Jeremy and Julianne to come together with the Bennets."
Robert smiled at him. "Thank you."
"Don't flatter yourself. This has been planned ages ago," he teased. "Make sure you don't mess it up this time!"
The months passed quickly, and the correspondence between Robert and Julianne, as well as the one between Georgiana and Jeremy went on unabated. While the letters of the latter were of a more friendly type, the former wrote in a somewhat bashful manner, but one that became easier with each letter that passed. Robert and Julianne never spoke about the past, but refrained also from writing about the future, both preferring to stick to the safe, comfortable present. What they both held in their hearts however, was something that they never disclosed to anyone.
The twins were lying comfortable on a bench in the garden of their house. Jeremy had returned home for the summer, and was due to go back to Oxford in September. The late July sun was hot, but it was rendered pleasant by the soft cool breeze that hit their faces at the same time. They were both talking about the invitation they had received from the Darcys to go to Derbyshire with Elizabeth's family to "witness" the birth of their first child.
"So it's back to Pemberley, isn't it?" commented Jeremy, grinning happily from ear to ear.
His sister laughed. "Sometimes I think that our cousins are out of their mind! What with Uncle and Aunt Bennet, Kitty, Mary and the Bingleys, why on earth did they invite us too?"
"Well I have a theory on that," her brother chuckled.
"What is it?"
"Well, except for Jane and her husband, you and I, my dear, are the only people with good sense in the whole family!"
Julianne thought it over. "That is rather mean," she paused, as a twitter of laughter came from inside, "but most true, I'm afraid!"
Again I thank you for your responses and suggestions. I really appreciated them and I hope that you are satisfied with their outcome ... so far!
Elizabeth's and Darcy's invitation brought forward a flurry of excitement and anticipation in both the Bennet and the Philips household, though the twins were relatively unaffected by it. Jeremy, maybe, was the more eager of the two to visit Derbyshire, and, rather surprisingly, his sister still did not wonder about it. Julianne just thought that he was eager to spend some time with people whom he really liked, and at the same time make the most of the weeks he had away from University. The thought of her brother being attached in any way never did enter her mind, and the fact that the object of his affection was Georgiana Darcy would not have been even remotely contemplated.
Some days after receiving the invitation, Mrs. Bennet and her daughters visited Mrs. Philips in order to discuss their journey, and a rather interesting information that Elizabeth had perhaps recklessly given her mother in her last communication.
"Isn't it a fine prospect for my Kitty, sister dear?" asked Mrs. Bennet enthusiastically.
"Oh yes, though I wonder whether he might favour my own Julianne after all," replied Mrs. Philips thoughtfully.
The sisters gave each other a doubtful look and Mrs. Philips shook her head, while Mrs. Bennet pursed her lips. "My dear niece has to learn to give more attention to the young men. She must flirt more! Didn't I always tell her that, but would she ever listen to me?" she cried in her own melodramatic manner.
"Nay, she does not listen to anyone, except her brother. Now, there is a gentleman with good sense! He is doing so well at Oxford; my husband and I are so proud of him!"
"I think he will marry well, my dear," agreed Mrs. Bennet. "But I'm sure that if my Kitty will play her cards well, we'll be having another couple at the altar by Michaelmas!"
Julianne and Jeremy entered the room just as their aunt had ended her enthusiastic speech and gave each other an amused look, while Kitty looked at them, blushing in mortification. "Who are you marrying Kitty with, Aunt Bennet?" asked Jeremy, after giving her a polite kiss on the cheek.
"Nephew dear, haven't you heard the news? There is going to be an addition to our family party at Pemberley. Mr. Darcy has also invited his uncle and his cousin to visit!"
Julianne gave a little start. "You mean Colonel Fitzwilliam and the Earl of Matlock I guess," she said, her voice a little strained. Her brother noticed her agitation and gave her a questioning look.
"Oh no, Julianne, it's a certain Robert Darcy I'm talking about! It seems that he is younger than Lizzy's husband, a little older than my Kitty! Isn't that Providence?"
Jeremy noticed that his sister looked a little pale, and with a hurried excuse, asked her to follow him out of the room. When they were away from the prying looks of their relatives, safe in the garden, Julianne gave vent to her pent up feelings. "Oh no, he can't be there too! How will I bear it?"
Her brother was sincerely puzzled. "Don't tell me that he didn't write to you to tell you that he was to meet us in Derbyshire!"
"I haven't received a letter from him in these last days, although I am expecting one soon. If I knew I would have never accepted Elizabeth's invitation!" Julianne was almost wailing now.
As if on cue, Lane joined them outside and silently handed Julianne a letter from Robert. She skimmed it quickly to see if there was any confirmation of her fears, and there it was, clear and undeniable.
"Miss Philips, we are to meet again! My father and I are to visit Derbyshire in August and I hope you will allow me to tell you how eager I am to be able to see you once more."
Julianne gave Jeremy a dismayed look. "This does not look good, Jeremy, it does not look good at all!"
The journey was long, and almost no conversation was shared by the twins. Jeremy, was too cautious by nature, to share his anticipation and happiness with anyone, but his glee could be seen clearly by any perceptive eye in the grin that grew wider and wider with every mile that brought him nearer to Pemberley. Julianne, however, had no inclination to be perceptive and was in no mood to give anyone but herself any particular attention. Her brother had long since given up trying to understand why after so many weeks and months of correspondence, she would still feel so afraid to meet Robert and had told her so without many minced words.
Julianne herself was at a loss in trying to decipher the confused emotions she felt. The only thing she knew was that she had been absolutely foolish in renewing her acquaintance with the man she had been engaged to, and who had hurt her so much. That was it. The prospect of seeing Robert again, in the place where they had met, loved and left each other, brought back all the pain and anger she had felt for him when they had last spoken to one another. During these months, her affection had never abated, and at times she could hardly keep her feelings from flowing all over the letters she wrote him, and this made it all the more confusing. Can someone love, and yet at the same time be so angry with another person? Would she ever be able to reach a logical, rational conclusion?
They arrived at Pemberley in the afternoon, but the hot August sun was far from setting. Elizabeth and her husband ran out to meet them, accompanied by Georgiana, the Bingleys, and Robert and Phillip Darcy, who had arrived the day before. Jeremy went out of the carriage eagerly, and after greeting his hosts politely, turned his attention towards Georgiana. Julianne clambered down more slowly, and forced herself not to look at Robert, though from the corner of her eye she could just see his bright smile faltering into a look of disappointment and incomprehension.
Jeremy kissed Georgiana's hand and held it just a bit longer than was the usual custom of the time. She blushed and exhaled a happy sigh. "Welcome to Pemberley Mr. Philips. I hope you are well?"
Jeremy gave her his best smile. "I never felt better, Miss Darcy, never."
Elizabeth happened to glance at them and saw enough to suspect, and was wise enough to sense that it was not the right time for her husband to suppose such an attachment, so she went up to Jeremy, and tried to break the happy tete a tete. "It's good to have you and Julianne back, Jeremy," she began gaily.
"I agree Lizzy, it's been a long time since we saw you last."
Elizabeth's eyes gave the merest flicker towards her sister in law, and said, "I agree. Maybe too long if I may dare say so."
Darcy was introducing his uncle and cousin to Elizabeth's relatives. Mrs. Bennet seemed to like Robert very much, and wasted not time in pouring Kitty's virtues all over him and his father. Phillip Darcy looked amused, but his real attention was caught by the pretty, silent girl that was introduced to him as Julianne Philips. What really caught his attention was the way she and his son avoided looking at each other, and the pain that he saw in both their eyes. This is not going to be so easy as I thought, he said to himself, and wondered what he could ever do about it.
Robert did not know what to do. He had been so eager to meet Julianne and to show her that nothing had changed and that he still loved her! He had hoped that her eyes, so cold, steely and angry when they had last looked at him, would have held something different, concern, partiality, love maybe? But all he had seen was the same anger, but more pain, in the quick glances she had given him.
Julianne what can I ever do for you to forgive me? Will I ever be able to win you again? I'm sorry Julianne, I'M SORRY! Isn't that clear to you by now?
Julianne was unpacking her trunks, though she would have given anything to be safely packed in a carriage on her way back to Meryton. This had not been a good idea, but she cared enough for Elizabeth and Darcy to try her outmost to be herself. It will be just a few weeks, she kept saying to herself. Just a few weeks, and maybe you'll never see him again!
Why are you not happy with that prospect? I am. Oh I'm sure!
When she finished, she hurried off down the stairs to join the rest of the party, and had almost reached the drawing room before she felt a gentle but firm hand on her arm. She swirled around and found herself staring at the brown eyes that had tormented her dreams the whole winter.
Damn it! Must he always look so good?!
"Julianne, I think we need to talk."
"Good evening Mr. Darcy. I was on my way to join the others, would you care to join me? We will be able to converse there," she answered trying hard to keep her voice from quivering.
"That is not what I mean, as you are well aware! Julianne, what is the matter? I thought we were friends now, that we had put it all behind us!"
"You're right, we are friends, but as far as I know, you do not have anything to put behind you!"
Robert shook his head slowly. "Not again Julianne, do not reject me and my love again," he pleaded softly.
She broke her hold gently and looked away. "You can go in the drawing room if you like, I'll be joining you later."
Robert gave her a long look, but seeing that she was unmovable, he sauntered off, completely defeated. Julianne stared at the door, which he had closed in front of her, and tried to gulp down the threatening tears.
"My son loves you, you know," said a voice behind her, in a very matter-of-fact way.
Julianne turned round to face Phillip Darcy, who had accidentally witnessed the entire scene. "With all due respect, Sir, I do not think that you are totally aware of the circumstances --"
"Oh of course I am aware of them! Robert admitted to me what a total fool he made of himself, and the detestable manner in which in treated you!" He paused when he saw her looking at him defiantly. "But I am also aware of his repentance, and of the serious, mature way in which he dealt with all the blows life tormented him with in the last months. Miss Philips, believe me, my son has changed, and he deserves to be happy, and you do too. Can't you find it in your heart to forgive him?"
Julianne paced the hall nervously. "Mr. Darcy, I forgave your son long ago," she said facing him squarely. "But I can't let go of the pain. I can't forget, I'm sorry, I just cannot! All the time, all I remember is that scene in Lambton, the pain I felt when I found out about his betrayal, and the way in which I found that out!"
Phillip looked at her sadly. "Is it possible that your only recollection of the time you spent with Robert is that incident? How can it be that you cannot remember the happiness you felt a few minutes before that? Are those feelings to be forgotten so easily?"
Julianne was silent for a few minutes then she looked up at him, tears streaming down her cheeks. "I do remember them," she sobbed. "I remember them now."
Phillip Darcy looked up and breathed a silent thank you. At least, he had caught her attention.
Julianne feigned a headache and did not join her relatives in the drawing room, but she did come down to dinner some hours later, looking tolerably composed and refreshed. She smiled shyly at Robert and sat down near him, blushing slightly when she saw him returning it with a radiant beam of his own. All the others noticed this exchange, and Elizabeth and her husband shared a secret smile, confident that at last their cousins were on their fair way to find happiness.
Mrs. Bennet however, was not quite so pleased, and took it upon herself to mortify Kitty further by calling upon Robert's attention with anecdotes of her daughter's life. He listened with civil indifference, but Julianne found herself getting angrier and angrier with her aunt and her unveiled attempts at securing a new son-in-law. Jeremy noticed that, much to his amusement, his sister's countenance was heightening in colour, and the vicious way she cut her meat demonstrated her rising temper.
"Mr. Darcy, I believe that Haydon Manor must be a lovely, grand estate, isn't it not?" twittered irrepressible Mrs. Bennet.
"Yes, Ma'am. My father and I are very proud of it."
"What rich balls you must organize there!"
"Not very often, I'm afraid."
"Did I tell you that Kitty loves dancing? She is quite admired for her skill!"
Kitty murmured a reproach while Julianne banged down her cutlery noisily. All the conversation at the table stopped while the other guests watched on with amusement, and some embarrassment from the Bennet daughters.
"Yes, Mrs. Bennet, I believed you mentioned dancing as one of Miss Bennet's talents."
"Then you must certainly organize a ball and dance with my Kitty and --"
"And I should think not!" burst out Julianne as she rose and glared at her aunt. "That is enough Aunt Fanny! Will you stop making a fool of yourself?"
Everybody was staring at her, with forks posed in mid-air. Julianne suddenly recollected herself and blushed furiously in mortification. "Excuse me, I'm sorry," she muttered and ran out of the room.
Jeremy gave his sister a disapproving frown and rose to go after her, but was obstructed by Robert. "Stay where you are Jeremy," he said. "I think now is the time for me to go after her!"
Robert left the dining room, and for a moment, there was absolute silence. Jeremy was totally mortified with his sister's behaviour, though he really thought that his aunt had surpassed any limit of decency. Mr. Bennet was secretly amused, but had enough good sense not to let it show, at least not in front of a company that might even succeed in making her feel embarrassed. While Kitty was thankful that Robert had left the room in search for her cousin, Mrs., Bennet herself was bitterly disappointed.
"Isn't she a spoilt, rude girl?" she demanded, shaking her head vigorously. "And Mr. Darcy," she continued, addressing Phillip, "what does your son mean by going out after her? That's her game! She just craves for attention!"
Robert's father was grinning from ear to ear, and gave his nephew a small wink. "I know not why he ran off so hurriedly," he lied diplomatically. "Do you know Fitzwilliam?"
"I don't have a clue, Uncle," replied Darcy sardonically.
Elizabeth suddenly gave a small cry, and dropped her fork noisily.
"What is it, dear?" asked her husband, seeing her go pale all of a sudden.
"I had a sudden cramp," she replied feigning a smile. "It's nothing I can assure you."
"Are you sure?" asked Georgiana anxiously.
"Oh quite sure," was Elizabeth's reply, as she bravely sipped at a glass of water.
The baby isn't due for another week. I must have eaten too much that's all!!
Robert walked anxiously down the hall and found Mrs. Reynolds looking at the front door, puzzled. "Have you seen Miss Philips?" he asked eagerly.
Mrs. Reynolds turned her bewildered look upon him. "She just raced out of the house, sir. She did seem rather upset about something," she replied worriedly.
Robert yelled his thank you and dashed out of the house. The sun had set a couple of hours before and the violet horizon was giving way to the dark blue of dusk. Although the moon had not risen yet, the bright summer stars reflecting on the small lake and made the grounds seem not too dark; in fact he could easily discern Julianne as she walked quickly towards it.
He followed her slowly, until he saw her stop, and throw a small stone angrily in the water. "Was that directed to your Aunt Bennet?" he quipped from behind her.
Julianne turned round quickly and rewarded his small attempt at levity with a tiny smile. "That was quite a scene in there, wasn't it?" she commented ruefully.
"Quite unexpected," he agreed, then lowered his voice and walked slowly towards her. "But not wholly unwelcome." Julianne flushed and said nothing, but did not withdraw her hand when Robert caught it in his. "Did I deduct some jealousy in your outburst?" he quipped, pleased to be able to communicate a little with her at last.
"Jealousy? Of course not! I just thought that it might have been embarrassing for you to be talked to in that way by a relative of mine," she explained hastily, though rather untruthfully. "After all, if you decide to court Kitty, it shouldn't be the business of anyone!"
"Court Kitty?" he echoed. "Don't be absurd Julianne. I will never court Kitty, or Mary or anyone, [he squeezed her hand gently] while there is you in my heart."
Julianne gaped, and stared at him for some time without saying anything. Robert gulped, afraid that he had committed another faux pas, until she held her stomach with her free hand, and confessed candidly, "oh no. I feel faint!"
They both looked at each other and burst out laughing before finding themselves locked in a tight embrace. Some tears started to flow down her face and Robert offered her his handkerchief.
"No thanks. I have mine," she said referring to a crumpled piece of cloth she held in her hand. "Isn't it strange," she mused, "that almost whenever we are together I am in need of a handkerchief? I already have two of yours. Or had."
"Had? What happened to them?" asked Robert amused.
Julianne gave him a serious look and turned her gaze on the lapels of the casual coat he was wearing. "Unfortunately, they met the same fate as your cravat," she replied in a low voice.
"The fire you mean."
Painful memories rushed back to them and they sat down slowly by the lake, hands held, but both finding comfort in silence. Finally Robert could not hold himself any longer. "Julianne, we must talk about what happened. We can't keep on ignoring that incident."
Julianne looked at him sadly. "I've been trying to ignore that incident for many months, and I don't think I'll ever will." He realized that he had said an absolute absurdity and chewed his bottom lip in regret. Seeing his discomfort, she decided to go on, and gently put her hand on his cheek to guide his gaze towards her. "During this time, I thought that I could forget what happened by trying to forget you and all there was between us, and in that I failed miserably. Your father made me realize that the only way I can put it behind me is to be with you, and to build new memories for me to dwell on. I know this may sound paradoxical, but I want to try it out," she finished with a smile. "Are you willing to take me with all my tantrums, impulsiveness and my stubbornness?"
Robert kissed her softly and stroked the back of her neck tenderly. "Only if you are willing to take a spoilt, but very repentant brat to be your husband."
Julianne nodded and sobbed happily, as Robert pulled her towards him and kissed her as he had never kissed her before. When they parted, she tucked a few stray hairs self-consciously and gave him a shy smile. "I never want to have any secrets between us, Robert."
"Good, because I have a confession to make."
Robert gave her a small frown. "What is it?"
Julianne unfolded the crumpled handkerchief she held in her hand, and showed it to him. "This was supposed to be for you," she said simply.
"For me?" he replied, grinning.
"After destroying those that you had lent me, I was caught by guilt, and I decided to make you one," she explained, rather pleased with herself. "Look, it even has your initials!"
"So it has," he laughed. "But why is it R. P.?"
"Robert, that's not a P.! That's a D.!"
Robert chuckled and gave her a small apologetic hug. "Sorry, but I can see that your embroidering skills have not improved much since January!"
"They never will, dear. You must content yourself with a wife that is a total dunce in sewing," was her cheerful reply.
He looked at the handkerchief and placed it in his pocket. "This will be my most precious treasure," he said not wholly jokingly.
They sat in silence for some more time, happy to be in each other's arms at last. Suddenly Julianne decided to break the silence. "Robert?"
Her fiance was busy nuzzling her neck but he managed a coherent, "Mmmmm?"
"Shouldn't I be your most precious treasure?"
Robert stopped his occupation for a minute. "Julianne."
"You will stop talking nonsense after we're married, won't you?"
"Of course, dear. But my mother will want to visit quite often, I'm afraid."
Robert let out a small, resigned breath. "Is she as bad as Mrs. Bennet?"
They spent a couple of hours talking and planning their future under the moonlight, and finally decided that they had better go inside to break the news to their forgotten relatives. On entering the house, however, they found all the servants bustling about, and there was no sign of the other guests. Mrs. Reynolds walked quickly towards them, issuing orders to any servants that stopped long enough to listen.
"What is happening here?" asked Robert, alarmed.
"It's Mrs. Darcy, sir. She's having her baby," replied the woman breathlessly.
"It can't be!" cried Julianne. "it's still early!"
"The baby doesn't seem to want to wait any longer, Miss. If I were you, I would go and calm the Master down. He seems to be ratherųwellųagitated, " she said ominously.
Julianne and Robert looked at each other and hurried up to the room in which Mrs. Reynolds had told them that the family had assembled. They found Mr. and Mrs. Gardiner trying to comfort Mrs. Bennet, who had chosen just that moment to feel "flutterings" in her stomach, and Mr. Bennet and Bingley trying to do the same for Darcy, who was pacing the room and stopping once in a while to give a murderous look to his mother-in-law. Kitty and Mary stood in a corner, trying to keep themselves occupied and to be as little trouble as possible. Phillip Darcy was grinning by the window, pretending to read a book.
As soon as they entered, Darcy spun round to face them. "And where have you two been?" he demanded.
Bingley mouthed from behind his friend "Do not mind him" and motioned them to humour the man as much as possible. "We were out on a walk," began Julianne.
"Oh that's damn thoughtful of you! My wife is in there having a baby and you go around scampering around the estate!" he cried, rather irrationally.
Julianne was about to retort something but Robert placed a firm hand on her arm to stop her. "I agree cousin, and I apologise," he said diplomatically. "Would you like some coffee or tea?" he asked.
Darcy seemed to have calmed down. "Yes. Yes, thank you Robert."
"Lace it with poison!" whispered Julianne loudly, still miffed at her cousin-in-law's outburst.
Darcy glared at her. "And where the hell is my sister?" he cried.
"We'll go look for her," replied Robert quickly, and grabbing Julianne's hand, he hurried out of the room.
They went down the stairs in silence, wondering where Jeremy and Georgiana might be. As they passed the library, they heard some low whispering, and they opened the door slowly to see if they were in there. As the door opened, Julianne let out a shriek while Robert gaped. Jeremy and Georgiana were standing in front of the low fire, engaged in a chaste kiss.
"Jeremy! Georgiana!" gasped Julianne. "What on earth are you doing?"
The couple, caught in flagrante sprang apart and looked guiltily at the other two.
"Isn't this an interesting way to pass the time?" Julianne exclaimed sarcastically.
Jeremy glared at his sister, but before he could utter a word in his defense, Robert burst into nervous laughter. "And what would Darcy think of this!" he cried. There was silence as that comment sank into them. "Jeremy, you are in for trouble," continued Robert. "Big trouble!"
The two couples stared at each other as Robert's words sank in. Jeremy looked away, shaking his head resolutely. "There won't be any trouble," he mumbled. "I am going to tell Darcy just what is going on. There won't be any more secrets."
Julianne gave him a long, puzzled look. "Jeremy, could you please tell me how long this has been going on?"
Her brother and Georgiana looked at each other uneasily and sighed. "Since we met in London," he finally confessed.
"All these months?" cried Julianne. "How could you keep it hidden? Jeremy, I'm your sister for crying out loud!"
"Do not take it personally," said Georgiana before Jeremy could retaliate. "No one knows, not even Elizabeth."
"Your brother doesn't know for sure," said Robert wryly.
There was an awkward pause, till Jeremy stood up and walked briskly towards the door. "He won't be kept in the dark any longer! I'll go talk to him this very minute!"
Julianne stopped her brother and warned him about the foul mood their cousin-in-law was in. This was due of course, to his fears and anxiety connected with Elizabeth's labour. Georgiana intervened as well, and the determined young man reluctantly agreed to wait until things had settled down a little. "And Jeremy, remember, it is just a matter of using the right approach!" advised Julianne.
"Yes, and I do have something in mind," she replied archly. "As usual."
After a few minutes, they entered together the room where all the family had assembled to wait for baby to be born. There was little change in the behaviour and positions of the people there, except that the sight of Robert and Julianne's held hands brought about a fresh attack of tears from Mrs. Bennet. The happy couple whispered their news to Phillip Darcy, who was overjoyed. He had liked Julianne from their very first meeting, and was glad to see that his son's suffering had come to an end. He gave her an affectionate kiss on the cheek and welcomed her to the family. Mrs. Bennet's whimpers caused Kitty to move away, and she swiftly joined the happy group by the window. She caught her cousin's hands in hers and gave her a sincere smile of congratulations.
"I'm so very happy for you, Julianne," she began rather timidly; she and Julianne had never been close. "Do not think that I had ever any designs on Mr. Darcy, it was all my mother's idea. I hope you realize that."
Her cousin grinned at her. "Of course I realize that, dear Kitty," she said sympathetically. "You must promise me one thing, though."
"What?" asked Kitty bemused.
"When you get to choose your husband, do not EVER let your mother interfere! It's just not worth the whole embarrassment," replied Julianne rather mischievously.
Kitty gave a low chuckle. "I promise," she said squeezing Julianne's hands one last time. As she turned away, however, her smile disappeared. She doubted that she would ever have that sort of dilemma to face.
Some hours later, on the dawn of a typical August day, Benjamin William Darcy was born, bringing with him all the fuss and fanfare that a truly longed for infant could afford. Before he could open his eyes, he found himself in the tender hands of an adoring mamma and in a matter of minutes, he was gawked at by a distinguished, but truly humbled and awed papa. Within a few hours, his round dark eyes had registered the presence of a vast dynasty of aunts, uncles, a rather noisy grandmamma and many other relatives. Young Ben found himself completely unprepared for such a reaction, and alternated his cries with little yawns, that in themselves brought forward proud sighs from both the new parents.
Darcy spent most of the following days in the nursery, not willing to leave Elizabeth's side. He was still completely overwhelmed by the whole experience, and at times could hardly believe that the little, wriggling bundle he held was really his son, his heir, he would think proudly.
A couple of days later, he was trying to lull the child to sleep, having relieved Elizabeth for a few hours to let her get some sleep. There was a gentle knock on the door, and the nurse announced quietly that Mr. Philips wanted to talk to him. Darcy went out and met him in the corridor, thinking it would be just a hurried affair, and carried his son with him.
Jeremy was secretly glad to see Darcy carrying his son, and his sister's words reverberated in his mind.
Just hope that he will be carrying Ben. His hands won't be free then!
He gulped and forced a smile on his face. His initial resolve had melted away with the sight of Georgiana's brother.
"Well, Jeremy, what is it?" asked Darcy amiably.
"Oh, I just came to talk to you about something," he began awkwardly. "Oh! Isn't Ben a cute little thing?"
Cute little thing?
I'm improvising for God's sake!
Darcy gave him a wide smile. "Oh, he is isn't he? And he's dark, just like any respectable Darcy!" Jeremy tried hard not to roll his eyes. "There was only one Darcy who was fair," continued the happy father. "And he was a rascal!"
The younger man was pleased to notice Darcy's good humour. "How did you come up with the name Benjamin?"
The other shrugged. "It was the nearest to Bennet Elizabeth and I could allow. I didn't want my son to have a last name for a first name, if you know what I mean." Darcy grinned again and Jeremy cringed.
Another sickly sweet smile like that and I'll throw him out of the window.
However, he managed to nod his head vigorously. Darcy looked at him curiously and asked, "Wasn't there something you wanted to tell me?"
It's now or never, he thought and after taking a deep breath, he let it all out. "Mr. Darcy, I'd like to marry Georgiana."
For what seemed like eternity, Darcy just stared at him, emotionless. The he opened the nursery door quickly and handed the baby to the bewildered nurse. Without a word, he grabbed Jeremy's arm and led him to his study where he pushed him down firmly into the chair and stood towering over him. "My hands are free," he said tersely. "And now talk!"
Jeremy tried not to let himself be intimidated by the tall form of his cousin-in-law. "You heard me Darcy," he said stiffly. "I am in love with Georgiana, and we have already talked about it. All we need is your blessing."
"Oh so this has been going on for some time, right?" Darcy remarked incensed. "In love! Don't be silly! Georgiana is just a child!"
"Georgiana is nineteen years old! And anyway, we won't get married now, obviously. Years have to pass before I can secure a decent living for ourselves!"
Darcy leant down and looked at him straight in the eyes. "Of that you can rest assured young man. So if you were hoping for my sister's dowry you can just forget it!"
Jeremy stood up angrily. "How dare you say that Darcy! I'm not after Georgiana's money, as you have not so subtly hinted! Why the hell must you be so suspicious about things that concern her?"
Darcy glared at him. "You do not understand. Georgiana has had a very “ unpleasant experience in her life and --"
"With Mr. Wickham." Darcy looked at Jeremy in surprise, while the other man looked at him triumphantly. "Yes, she told me all about it Darcy. Because, she trusts me."
"Like she trusted Mr. Wickham," the older man snapped in retaliation.
"Oh my God. I can't believe you said that! Lord, Darcy! You are married to my cousin, your cousin is to marry my sister “ I'm family now!" he cried, very much offended. "How can you compare me with that villain?"
Darcy walked slowly to the window, and turned his back on him. "Tell me Jeremy, what exactly do you want from me? You told me yourself that you are not able to marry Georgiana now."
"Yes, but he will be able to do so in a few years," said a voice from behind him. He turned around and found himself facing his sister. She was not the shivering, scared child he had embraced after a similar meeting with Wickham. She stood straight and determined, like a woman who had found what she wanted, and had no intention of letting it go. "And when that happens," she added sadly, "you will not be able to do anything about it."
Darcy stared at them; his expression changing suddenly from anger to sadness, and Jeremy could not help pitying him. "Darcy, we do not want your money, or your influence for our own purposes. Georgiana and I have talked all about this and I can assure it is not a lark. All we would like to have from you is your support, and your permission to keep on dreaming, and planning a future for ourselves."
Georgiana looked earnestly at her brother, suddenly sorry for her outburst. She would never be capable of disappointing him, but he had to realize that the time for her to drift away from him was approaching. Darcy must have been thinking much about the same thing because he turned to Jeremy and asked him rather gently to leave him for a few minutes with his sister.
Some minutes later, Georgiana came out of the study and buried herself in the expectant arms of her beau. "What did he tell you?" he asked anxiously.
Georgiana sobbed quietly and gave him a kiss before giving him a watery smile. "He said that he will help us in any way possible, and that if we ever meet in London by chance, he will discreetly look in another direction."
Jeremy embraced her again and glanced at Darcy, who was had quietly come out of the room and who stood watching them sadly. "Thank you," he mouthed gratefully, while the other gave him a noncommittal look and hurried off.
The only comfort that Fitzwilliam Darcy could ever find was in the warm embrace of his wife. Seeing that his young son had taken his place, -- for this time only, his father thought--as Elizabeth nursed him, he contented himself by sitting on the bed beside her, and putting his arm around her bonny form.
"What is it my dear?" asked Elizabeth softly, after giving him a welcoming kiss.
"What is it with your family, Elizabeth?" asked her husband tersely. "I love you, Robert loves your cousin, and my sister seems to have made up her mind to love your other cousin! What is it that makes your family bewitch mine?"
Elizabeth smiled, pleased that Jeremy had finally come clean with her husband. "Fitzwilliam, love, maybe the problem is with your family, not mine. It's you who can't resist us!" Darcy looked so forlorn that she nestled closer to him, an action that was made difficult by the presence of a suckling infant. "Georgiana will soon be grown enough to leave this nest, Fitzwilliam, and you have to get used to it," she said wisely. "You seem to have forgotten, however, that you have a little boy here for you to take care of," she added.
Darcy touched his son's face gently, and looked at him lovingly, before turning his adoring gaze to his wife. "You know what Mrs. Darcy?"
"What Mr. Darcy?"
"You managed to console me."
Two months had passed since Ben's birth, and the Bennets, Julianne, Robert and Phillip Darcy left Derbyshire for Hertfordshire. Julianne and Robert had sent a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Philips to ask for their consent and blessing, and much to their chagrin, on their arrival in Meryton, they were greeted by the happy villagers who were actually quoting some parts of their missives. Mrs. Philips was overwhelmed with happiness and pride for the coming nuptials of her "dear dear daughter" and pure enthusiasm flourished among the neighbours, who had not prepared for such a wedding since the bride's cousin had married the groom's kinsman.
Mrs. Bennet was still not quite reconciled to the fact that the young Darcy had preferred her niece to her own dear Kitty, and was always perfectly civil to Robert and his father. Her sister chose to use the same tactics and poured upon them the most charming of courtesies. So what with the expectation of his wedding and the nearness of his fiancee, and the attention bestowed by her mother and aunt, it could be said that Robert was having a very jolly time in Meryton.
After some weeks, however, he had to leave for Haydon to settle some pressing business with his tenants. His father usually took care of that responsibility, but he had not been quite up to undertaking such a long journey to and from Hertfordshire, and had opted to lodge in a comfortable inn until after the wedding, and then go back to the estate and welcome the newlyweds after the honeymoon.
The evening before the wedding, the Darcys were spending a quiet evening at the Philips' house. Robert's father was being entertained by Mrs. Philips, while her husband amiably contributed to the conversation on the rare occasions when he could get a word in. Robert and Julianne sat at the piano, the only place in the room where they could spend some time in limited privacy. Julianne was trying hard to play some easy tune on the instrument, though her musical prowess was not really laudable. Try as she might, she could never manage to create some sort of harmony between her fingers and the white keys of the pianoforte. Her fiance was not really very keen on music either, except to dance to its rhythm, and it was known among his acquaintances, that he had managed to sleep throughout the last two acts of the first opera he had ever gone to see.
"The people in Meryton thought that you had deserted me when they did not see you coming in the last days," Julianne was saying, with a small pout.
Robert grinned. "Run off and desert you?" he scoffed. "I wouldn't dare to anger my father in that way!"
Julianne beamed, happy that Phillip Darcy held her in such high esteem. "Really?" she asked happily.
"Why yes, he really thinks your mother is charming, and would never forgive me for missing the opportunity of being her son-in-law," he replied in mock seriousness.
His fiancee's eyebrows shot up in disbelief. "What?"
Robert lowered his voice and leaned towards her as if disclosing a big secret. "He told me so himself," he whispered, unable to control his mirth.
Julianne laughed and muttered "Unbelievable" but then wisely changed the subject. "Thank you for agreeing to go to Scotland after the wedding," she said shyly. "I really appreciate it. I'll be happy to see Aunt Betsy again."
"Dear Aunt Betsy!" replied Robert. "I've heard so much about her and how she brought you up that I'm really eager to meet her! I have to tell her quite a few things about this woman I'm marrying," he added jokingly.
Seeing his father stand up to take their leave, Robert caught Julianne's hand and turned it round so that he could kiss her palm. She left her hand for a minute on his cheek and sighed happily in anticipation of the following day. Robert bent down to kiss her cheeks chastely before he left, but also managed to whisper something in her ear. "Sleep well tonight dearest," he said. "I doubt you will get much of it tomorrow!"
Julianne blushed bright red and gave him a playful slap on his arm. "Mr. Darcy, I am seriously questioning my motives for marrying you!"
"The answer to that is simple my love," he quipped. "I am the only one that can make you laugh, and besides I'm almost unbearably handsome!"
She shook her head and looked at him in sympathy. "Hang on to that delusion my dear boy," she teased. "At least till I'm am there to destroy it!" Robert turned around to give her a serious look that went for once above all their playful bantering. That look showed her that he loved her deeply, and made her wonder how she could have ever conceived a life without him.
Meanwhile at Longbourn...
"Fitzwilliam, remind me to thank Kitty when we go back into the house," said Elizabeth softly as she snuggled deeply into her husbands strong arms. She and Darcy were sitting leisurely on a bench in what Lady Catherine had once dubbed as "some sort of wilderness". They had left Ben in the care of his doting, but capable aunt and had reserved a whole hour to themselves, something that had happened quite rarely since the birth of their son.
"This was a wonderful idea of yours, Elizabeth," he murmured as he kissed his wife deeply. "It's been a long time since we spent time together alone. I was quite beginning to forget what it felt like!"
Elizabeth frowned a little. "It's all my fault, I think," she began. "But at times I am so tired that I just drop off to sleep in the middle of a sentence! It's not that I don't want to spend time with you and tell you things any longer, but it is just that sometimes I do not have the strength to do so!"
"Don't blame yourself, my love," Darcy replied gently. "Taking care of an infant is exhausting, and I think it's about time that I start taking a more active part in helping you out," he added sheepishly. Fitzwilliam Darcy's idea of taking care of an infant was to lay him on the soft carpet of the nursery and letting him do whatever he pleases.
"I do hope that he is not giving Kitty any trouble."
"Our Benjamin could never give anyone trouble!" replied her husband dismissively. "He is much to well brought up to do so!"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. When their son was involved, Darcy could never be impartial. "Dearest, Ben is two months old. No one is well brought up at that age!" There was a pause as Darcy shrugged disbelievingly, and she could not resist the temptation to tease him. "Fitzwilliam, when Ben gets into trouble for the first time and completely devastates you with his behaviour, call me. I want to be there to witness it!"
Her husband had to laugh at that one. "Mrs. Darcy, I think that you have quite a misconception of the "in joy and sorrow" part of our marriage vows," he replied grinning.
Elizabeth's eyes turned wistful as she averted her gaze to the sky above. "Do you remember the night before our wedding?" she asked. "I remember it was as clear and lit as tonight, and we had passed most of it right here on this bench."
Darcy pulled her close and kissed her lovingly. "Of course I remember," he replied softly.
"That night I had thought that I could never love you more than I did at the time," said Elizabeth, looking straight into his eyes. "But I was so wrong. I love you more than I could have ever thought possible."
Darcy was touched. Although Elizabeth showed her love and respect for him in many ways, it was not very often that she would confess it so openly. He held her close to him and wondered what ever he had done in his life to be rewarded with such a treasure that was his wife.
Georgiana Darcy smiled at her reflection happily as she once again held up her hand to admire the ring that Jeremy had given her that morning. It was his first gift and, although she had to admit that it was very simple in comparison to the rings people like Caroline Bingley and other "important" people in society wore, she loved it most of all her other jewels, because its simplicity reminded her of the openness and simplicity of the character of the young man she so loved.
The day that they had passed together had been unforgettable. While they were careful to appear as common acquaintances to the people in Meryton, in their long walks in the woods they expressed their feelings for each other in ways that made her blush. The warmth in her face was not caused by shame however, because she could never be ashamed of her love for young Jeremy Philips, but by happiness and the anticipation of a shared life in a future that was not too far away.
Kitty handed the sleepy infant in the hands of his father who happily expressed his gratitude for having taken care of him for the past hours.
"It's been a pleasure, Mr. Darcy," she replied. "Ben was no trouble at all."
Darcy turned to his wife and gave her a triumphant grin. "You see?" he asked rhetorically.
Elizabeth grinned at her sister before saying good night. Kitty caught the look that passed between her and her husband before they turned to walk hand in hand to their chamber. She felt a lump in her throat as she looked at their happy, undisguised look of love. She never thought that such a happy marriage could exist, and sadly wondered if she could ever find such happiness herself.
"Julianne? Are you awake?"
"Of course Jeremy, come in," replied his sister behind the closed door.
Jeremy entered his sister's room cautiously and found her looking at her wedding dress critically, while at the same time helping herself to a plateful of fruitcake. "So sister, are you excited?" he asked cheerfully.
"Is 'terrified' synonymous?"
"Yes," her brother laughed. "So what on earth are you looking at?"
"I don't know Jeremy. It suddenly seems as if my wedding dress has shrunk! I'm seriously wondering if it will fit tomorrow!" cried Julianne rather irrationally.
"Well for one thing, stop eating that cake," replied Jeremy slyly, and took a big slice from under her nose, ignoring her glare. "And stop worrying! Everything will go well!"
"I hope so," she replied wearily. "Oh by the way, has Gordon arrived yet in Meryton?" She was referring to their long-term friend from Scotland. "He did promise me that he would be there!"
"Yes of course, I met him in Meryton this morning. He gave you his love," Jeremy informed.
"Is he still infatuated with Isabella Martin?" asked Julianne casually.
"Oh no. The lady informed him of her engagement just some weeks ago. The poor fellow is heartbroken!"
His sister laughed. It was cruel, but the picture of carefree, jolly Gordon MacKay as "heartbroken" was too funny. And anyway, she did have a little plan of her own. "I'm sure he'll find a nice girl in Meryton to cheer him up," she said.
"Anyone in mind?" asked Jeremy suspiciously.
"Of course not," was the quick reply.
Her brother grinned. "I don't believe you, but I'm too tired to argue. You know, I hope that your future children will torment you in the same way when they grow up!"
Julianne gave him a careless toss of the head. "I'm not even thinking about becoming a parent at the moment!" she cried.
"Well, you may not, but from the way Robert looks at you, I think becoming a parent, or at least the process of what leads to it, is uppermost in his mind," Jeremy teased maliciously.
Julianne threw him a pillow. "Oh you rogue! Don't men ever think of anything else?"
He grinned sheepishly. "Of course they do," he replied. "Just not in the presence of their fiancees!"
After some time, Jeremy left the room and Julianne went up to the window, blowing a kiss to the lit up room that hosted Robert. She could just glimpse it at the end of the street, and dreamily wondered what he was doing.
Phillip entered the room of his son, and found him intent in writing some letters. Looking over his shoulder, he found out that they were addressed to the steward at Haydon, dealing with business that was usually his own. "Robert, you shouldn't be doing my work on the eve of your wedding," he said softly.
Robert smiled at him. "It is no trouble Father," he replied. "And anyway, they have to be done sometime."
"I'm sorry to be giving you so much trouble, son." Phillip said suddenly.
Robert stood up and looked at him incredulously. "Trouble? Dad what are you saying? You are the most considerate person there is! I know that you are not feeling well, I'm not so dumb, but yet you still hide your pain behind that jolly facade you created. You have done all that was in your power to make this days the happiest of my life, and for that I'll never be able to thank you properly."
Phillip hugged his son tightly, hardly able to overcome to tears that threatened to flow from his eyes. Robert looked seriously at him. "Father, if you want me and Julianne to come straight home after the wedding, we will do so. I'm sure she will understand."
"No, Robert. You and your wife must spend some time on your own, even if there will be an Aunt Betsy in the background," he said, reverting to his usual humour. "Do not worry. Come hell and high-water, I will be there to welcome you to Haydon!"
After his father left the room, Robert found some solace in looking out of the window and was surprised to see that there was a light in Julianne's room. He prayed the Lord to help him in the new life he was creating for himself and to give courage to his father till the very end. Then Robert looked at the moon, and breathed a thank you, to Whoever it was that resided in the sky, for giving him a chance to forge a happy future with a wife that he would love, hold and cherish for the rest of his life.
Chapter 22 (conclusion)
Julianne looked at herself incredulously as her young maid covered her hair with the lace veil her mother had given her the day before. Mrs. Philips had told her that it was the veil that she herself had used and although Julianne had never been overly proud of her family name, she felt satisfied and strangely fulfilled when she saw it on herself. The sardonic part of her character, however, could not be stifled even on such an important day and she gave a wry smile, and hoped that using her mother's veil would not mean having her parents' marriage.
However, Julianne felt as if nothing could ever ruin this happy day for her. She knew she was happy, though she also felt frightened and confused. This was her last hour as Miss Julianne Philips, before resigning her name and fortune to become Mrs. Robert Darcy. She stared at her reflection again thoughtfully, and wondered whether she was really the right person for Robert, whether she was absolutely capable of shouldering the responsibilities of a wife, a Mistress of an estate, and maybe some time even those of motherhood. At that moment, she realized what Jane and Elizabeth, and what many other brides-to-be, felt before starting a new life, and prayed silently that she would fulfill everyone's expectations of her.
Her musing was interrupted by a knock on the door. "Who is it?" She asked.
"It's Jeremy, can I come in?"
"No! You can't see me in my wedding gown!" was her quick reply.
"I'm the brother, not the groom!" replied Jeremy. "That rule doesn't apply to me!" He rolled his eyes from behind the closed door at his sister's reply.
"Well! I don't want you to describe it to Robert either, so there!"
Her brother finally gave in. "Whatever you want, Ju," he sighed. "But I've got a surprise for you!"
The door opened and Elizabeth and Jane entered, going straight to hug their favourite cousin. Julianne could hardly believe her eyes when she saw the subjects of her musing standing right there in front of her. She felt as if she never needed them more! "Jane! Elizabeth!" she cried. "What are you doing here? I thought you were at Longbourn!"
Elizabeth grinned when she saw the girl's happy face. "Well, we finished our preparations very early, and we decided to use the carriage and visit a very nervous bride-to-be," she explained.
"But what about your husbands? And Ben?" asked Julianne.
"Well, Ben is in the care of a very reliable nanny," replied Elizabeth. "And our husbands are to meet us at the church."
"We knew that at this time you might have needed someone to talk to," added Jane. "Lizzy and I had each other for comfort while you have only a bachelor brother to turn to."
The ladies sat down on Julianne's bed and Elizabeth clasped her cousin's hands tightly. "So, tell me dear, how are you feeling?"
Julianne felt a lump in her throat and swallowed it down painfully before she replied. "I'm scared," she said softly. "Terrified."
Jane smiled kindly at her. "It's normal to feel strange and confused before one's wedding," she said. "But I'm sure that you and Robert are doing the right thing."
Elizabeth stroked Julianne's cheek gently. "Ju, you and Robert passed through so much, and your love has withstood it all! You shouldn't be too afraid of what will happen in the future. You will grow up together, and learn through mistakes and incomprehension," she said wisely. "There will be times that you will disagree with what your husband says and wants, and he will do the same. However, never stop respecting or loving him Julianne, and in this way you'll be sure that he will always respect and cherish you."
Her cousin nodded in understanding before embracing them both tightly. "I will miss you both so much!" she sobbed. "Please do come and visit me often in the North," she pleaded.
"Of course we will, Julianne," said Jane. "We will always be there when you need us."
On the way to the church in the Bennet carriage, Jane noticed that her sister looked rather forlorn and subdued. "What is it Lizzy?" she asked cautiously.
Elizabeth shook her head slowly. "It's nothing to be concerned about, Jane," she replied dismissively.
"Tell me, Lizzy," Jane prodded gently. "Is it something to do with Julianne and her fiance?"
Elizabeth sighed loudly and looked rather sadly at her sister. "I'm rather scared for her, Jane," she finally admitted. "The first years of marriage are never easy, and Julianne will find herself having to adapt to a completely new style of life."
"But that happens to every bride," replied Jane. "We've passed through that and I must say that we have both succeeded well. What is it that is really troubling you, Elizabeth?"
"In these last days, I noticed that Robert's father is not really looking very well," she began. "Fitzwilliam and I are very concerned about him, and of course, so is Robert. I fear that he won't be with us for long, and I dread to think what the young newly-weds will have to face on his death." Jane didn't answer and Elizabeth continued. "Robert will have to face his grief, while Julianne will have the arduous task of comforting him. What I'm really afraid of is that our cousin will have to pour comfort on a stubborn young man who will not accept it."
"But Lizzy," her sister finally said. "Why do you think it's going to be so hard? Although Robert will obviously feel the loss of his father, he will also have a future with Julianne to look forward to. I prefer to look at the other perspective of this situation, and I am absolutely certain that more than dividing them, Phillip Darcy's death will unite Julianne and Robert all the more."
Elizabeth smiled. "Oh Jane, your perspective of life is so much better than mine," she admitted. "I just hope that it is also more realistic!"
Gordon MacKay sat down quickly on the pew next to Mrs. Philips. She knew that he was a friend of the twins and gave him a wide smile. His handsome features broke into a grin, not only in answer to the greeting, but also because he was remembering the conversation he just had had with the bride. If it weren't her wedding day, he wouldn't have minded giving Julianne a good-natured shake. Trust her to try and set him up with a girl even on such an important occasion for her! He had absolutely no intention to entertain this Kitty or Catherine or whatever her name is just because Isabella Martin got engaged!
His large blue eyes skimmed the church superficially, until they came to rest on a pretty young lady sitting in the pew on the opposite side of the church. She was sitting next to a rather sour-looking plain girl, and from the very slight resemblance he guessed that they might be sisters. Who was she? Probably Jeremy would know her, and he was determined to ask him for an introduction immediately after the ceremony. At the moment, he satisfied himself by bestowing upon her a large, friendly grin.
Kitty caught the handsome young man smiling at her and blushed, before rewarding him with a shy, tentative smile of her own. Was he the friend of her cousins from Scotland? She immediately made up her mind to ask Jeremy about him as soon as she got the chance.
There was no man prouder than Jeremy Philips as he saw his sister solemnly exchanging vows with the equally serious young man standing in front of her. He remembered in a flash all the happy days they had spent together, their pranks and their frequent quarrels, as well as the times when his twin sister would weep bitter tears on his shoulder. He could hardly believe that his careless, scatterbrained sister was this same beautiful, confident young woman that had just become the consort of the fine, upstanding Robert Darcy. "I hope you have found your happiness, dear sister" he breathed silently, and suddenly felt a hand taking hold of his own gently. He turned his head slowly and found himself staring at the lovely eyes of Georgiana Darcy. They were brimming with tears, and Jeremy realized that his beloved had read right through him. "She is happy now, Jeremy," she whispered softly in comfort. "And so will we be, when our turn comes," she added, while giving his hand a loving squeeze.
"I can't wait Georgiana," he whispered softly. "I can't wait."
Phillip looked at his son proudly. Young Robert had grown so much; he was a fine gentleman now, not only wealthy in power and but also in sense, because he had chosen an equally intelligent, emotional and beautiful lady to share his responsibilities with. They were both very young, of course, and equally stubborn and hard-headed, but they had married for love, just as he had done many years before and thus he was sure that in time they will be able to knock the sharp corners off their personalities and blend them together through compromise and understanding. He looked closely at Julianne's happy face and smiled. She was such a strong girl, and when he was ... well he was sure that she would be able to take care of his son and help him out of his grief.
The ceremony ended and Robert Darcy and Julianne Philips were finally declared man and wife. A healthy friendship had turned into something much more substantial and the negative experiences that had separated them for many months had helped them grow, and had strengthened their determination to spend the rest of their life together. Fitzwilliam and Elizabeth Darcy looked at the happy couple as they left in their carriage, both reliving their own wedding day two years before. Darcy was happy for his cousin, and when he looked at Georgiana, he also realized that very soon, he would have to attend another wedding that would have been partly brought about by him and his wife.
He said so to Elizabeth as they walked towards their carriage. "Are you aware Elizabeth, that if we had not got married, none of this would have taken place?" he remarked, grinning good-naturedly.
Elizabeth could not help being caught by her husband's enthusiasm. "Well, my dear, it must be said that our union was not only advantageous for us, but also for many other members of our family," she remarked happily.
Darcy smiled. 'Except for Lady Catherine," he mused.
His wife nodded unashamedly. "Except for Lady Catherine," she echoed determinedly. With that, they both turned to catch a last glimpse of the carriage that was taking Robert and Julianne Darcy to the first stop of their long trip together.
Well, That's it! I hope you like it!
When I started Family Affairs on a rough piece of paper in class some months ago, I would have never thought that it would have been so wonderful writing it! I really enjoyed posting it chapter by chapter on the BoI and especially reading all your encouraging comments and suggestions. Thank you all!
I left the story open ended in some ways because I do have a sequel in mind, but more than anything it is just an idea, nothing definite...till now!
I would also like to thank Carolyn for managing the BoI board so well and to all the "founders" of RoP for giving me, and all the amateur writers around, this wonderful opportunity. Without this site I would have never realized how great writing actually is. To end with (this is getting rather long) I think I also have to thank Jane Austen for giving us such amazing characters to muse and write about!
Grazzi hafna! (thank you in Maltese :P)
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