Young Fitzwilliam Darcy
During the next four years, as Fitz matured from a boy into a young man, the only constant in his life was Pemberley and his family. Whatever changes Fitz observed in his friends at school or in himself, he knew that his holidays in Derbyshire were predictable. The only noticeable difference, each time he returned home, was in Georgiana; she grew from a baby in the summer of '96 to a toddler the following year and to a beautiful, dainty little girl by the time Fitz returned from his last year at Eton in the summer of 1800.
The August shooting parties resumed at Pemberley after a year's abeyance, but they were now confined to gentlemen only. Ladies were not encouraged to accompany their husbands since there was no hostess to ensure their comfort or entertainment. Additionally, the annual winter ball was abandoned, although the Christmas party for the servants and tenants was maintained with Mr. Darcy and Fitz in attendance. Lady Catherine, of course, before every Christmas and Easter holiday would importune Fitz to forego the long journey north and spend his weeks at Rosings; but he invariably utilized his father's and Georgiana's need of his company as an excuse and, for the first two years, avoided all visits to his aunt. Fitz was perfectly content with the quiet life at Pemberley; he had no wish for balls, parties or the excitement of holidays in town enjoyed by many other Etonians and, in fact, was happy to avoid these purported attractions.
Fitz had felt a loss of control as he grew tall and his voice deepened, although, above all, Fitz sought and valued self-control over his emotions, actions, appearance and demeanour. This temporary loss had made him very uncomfortable and confused, but he never shared his discomfiture with anyone, not even his father. His wayward voice had been especially humiliating; in the midst of a debate with friends or a report in class its low tone would suddenly emerge in a high-pitched squeak, much to his mortification and the amusement of others. At the same time, his legs had felt too long and his feet too big for his body; he had stumbled several times whilst running across the playing fields or on the stairs, which made him feel clumsy and awkward. Until he regained control and no longer exposed himself to ridicule, Fitz was happy to avoid society in general and female company in particular.
Although George Wickham must have progressed through the same adolescent stages, he appeared to suffer none of Fitz's growing pains; his easy smiles, pleasing manners and endless search for amusement continued unabated. He spent many of his holidays in town, invited by his school friends, but these invitations were never reciprocated; when he came into Derbyshire he arrived alone. When their school terms coincided, the two boys occasionally journeyed to or from Pemberley together. In the summer of 1788, when they were fourteen years old, Fitz traveled from Eton to Reading on his way north to be joined by George. The latter immediately suggested that, instead of proceeding directly north, they break their journey in London.
"Why should we do that?" Fitz asked, "We are expected at Pemberley and we have no business in town."
"We could always say trouble along the way detained us on the road," George smiled; "we could use your house in town and I could introduce you to some of my favourite places."
"And what might those be?"
"I know some very pleasing and accommodating girls and I have many friends who would be happy to invite us to their card games."
Fitz was shocked at these suggestions; how could George lie to his parents and suggest he lie to his father in order to pursue such impropriety. With an impassive face and no further discussion of the subject, Fitz ordered their coachman to proceed directly to Pemberley.
During the following two days on the road, George regaled Fitz with tales of female conquests in Reading, of the ladies' seminary close by his school and the two schools' shared dances, of his prowess at cards, and the pleasures of parading through the town with his friends. When Fitz asked about George's studies, the latter dismissed them as insignificant--not really worth discussing; George rarely opened a book for pleasure and seldom studied.
Whilst at Pemberley, George often called on Mr. Darcy; his manners were always pleasing to his benefactor and the latter delighted to see George playing with Georgiana. If, however, Mr. Darcy was out riding or busy in his study, Georgiana received little attention from George--a quick toss in the air, a pat on the head followed by curt dismissal back to her nurse. One day, invited to dinner with Fitz and his father, Mr. Darcy discussed George's future, emphasizing his hope that George would enter the Church; Fitz, more acutely observant than his father, noticed George's eyes roll before resuming his habitual smile. Fitz, however, kept his own counsel; he never told his father of George's suggestion on the journey home, of his behaviour or chief interests at school, or his facial expressions when believing himself unobserved. Fitz realized that it would only hurt his father to know the truth about George.
As Fitz proceeded through the lower fifth, upper fifth and into the lower sixth form he noticed several divisions forming among his classmates. Instead of one cohesive group either in their houses or their forms, he observed disparate cliques forming around a core group of three or four boys with a larger circle of followers; he named them for his own, private amusement. First there were the "peers", the elder sons of present peers who were due to inherit their father's titles and estates; they cared little for school and seemed only to be awaiting the time of their inheritance and their entry into the House of Lords to idle away their remaining days. Then there were the "swats", those boys who spent all their time and energy in study and found no amusement outside the classroom or their classwork; they had little curiosity to study beyond the requirements and aimed only to please their teachers. The "fops" were those boys who spent more time on their looks, tailoring, and appearance than on their studies; they were the ones who slavishly emulated Beau Brumel's dictates of fashion. There were the "sportsmen", a few boys whose torpor in the classroom was in sharp contrast to their prowess on the sports fields. On the other hand, the "men-about-town", as Fitz thought of them, were equally apathetic in their studies and all outdoor activity; they were only interested in their afternoons in Eton where they spent their time gambling in the tavern or frequenting the services of those girls who, in Fitz's mind, were no better than demi-mondes in training.
Fitz did not fit into any of these cliques nor, indeed, did he wish to join any of their circles. He was not the son of a peer, had far wider interests than the swats, gave little thought to his appearance other than that he be appropriately attired and, whilst he enjoyed sports, his interests also encompassed a wide range of indoor study and activities. As to the men-about-town, Fitz disdained their loose behaviour with the local girls and certainly had no wish to gamble recklessly. When he discussed these groups with his father, Mr. Darcy was amused by their names but happy that Fitz had not attached himself to any of them. "Never curtail your interests, Fitz, just to join a particular circle," he told his son; "never follow another's lead blindly. Your understanding is better than theirs and you need not seek their approbation."
"I have no wish to follow their lead, Father, but I do find amusement in observing their behaviour."
At North House and in his form, Fitz was recognized by everyone as an all-rounder who was generally well liked, particularly by the younger boys in the lower school who found him unfailingly helpful whenever they needed assistance, whether on the playing fields or in the classroom.
The town, the school, and North House were very quiet and empty when Darcy arrived a day before the start of the Michaelmas half in September 1799; as a Prefect, and in the upper sixth form it was his duty, along with Lawrence and Fletcher the other Prefects, to help Mr. North in greeting the returning boys and directing the newcomers the following day. After dinner that first evening the three Prefects met with Mr. North and the other tutors living in North House; they discussed the coming half, learnt the names of the new boys, and finally heard Mr. North announce the result of the tutors' election of a Head of House--Fitzwilliam Darcy. Mr. North was very pleased with this choice; he had long recognized Darcy as one of his best students and a kind, helpful assistant with the lower school.
On entering the Head of House's rooms, Darcy looked around and was very well pleased; a bedroom to himself with an adjoining small, private study. He recognized that there were some definite advantages attached to his new responsibilities; he could find privacy here and would not have to spend all his evening hours with Lawrence and Fletcher in the Prefects' study. He liked Lawrence well enough, but he did not care for Fletcher; the latter had a sharp, sarcastic tongue, a meanness of spirit, and took delight in threatening or actually abusing the younger boys. Darcy was, in fact, surprised that Mr. North had named Fletcher as a Prefect, but realized that his seniority in the upper sixth had made the nomination inevitable.
As he settled into his new quarters, Darcy reflected on the past summer holiday at Pemberley which had been very cheerful indeed; the shooting party of fifteen gentlemen, gathered for the glorious twelfth, had been particularly congenial and had included his friend Ogilvie and his father, the Colonel. The sport had been excellent, the conversation lively, and even Mr. Darcy had appeared to be more relaxed and happier than in the past three years. Georgiana, a charming three and a half year old, had been much admired when she curtsied shyly to the company. Darcy, Ogilvie and even George Wickham, when he paid his occasional visit to the house, had attempted to teach her some rudimentary country dances, each one taking his turn dancing with the only young lady in attendance. They had also visited her make-believe tea parties and kept her amused when outdoors in fine weather. The past weeks had been very satisfying for Darcy; he no longer felt clumsy or awkward, his voice no longer betrayed him, and he had regained control over his own actions and in his dealings with others. His restored self-confidence would help him with his new responsibilities in the months ahead.
The following morning the carriages rolled up to school and soon North House was as filled and noisy as when Darcy had first entered the hall four years earlier. Among the many familiar faces were ten new ones; these belonged to the new entrants into the lower school. As was his custom, Mr. North greeted all the boys and introduced the Prefects. Darcy, in turn, told each newcomer that he was available every evening if they had any questions or needed guidance.
During the first week or two, Darcy selected a different boy whenever he called for a fag in order to acquaint himself with each one individually. Every evening he would call for a fag to make tea or hot chocolate in his private study; he then invited that boy to partake of the small meal--to sit and talk about himself, school, classes, sports, and any problems they were having in adjusting to their new surroundings. No more than four days had passed, however, when Darcy was disturbed by a knock on his door and Lawrence demanded he come to the Prefects' study immediately. They ran down the hall together and when Darcy opened the door he was met by a very sorry sight. Fletcher, holding a teapot, was standing over a small, huddled figure trying to stifle his sobs.
"What happened here?" asked Darcy in his most imperious tone.
"This stupid boy does not know how to make tea. This is the second time it has not been hot enough," complained Fletcher, "so I taught him a lesson; I poured it into his hands.
Darcy went to the boy, took him to the sofa, and gently straightened him out so his hands became visible. They were quite red and obviously slightly burnt by the hot tea. "You are new are you not? And what is your name?" Darcy asked in a calm, quiet tone.
"Bingley" answered the boy between stifled sobs, "Charles Bingley."
"Well, Bingley. Let us go and tend to your hands; come along, I shall go with you." Darcy put his arm around Bingley's shoulder and gently steered him downstairs to Mr. North who would know how to care for the burns. He was disgusted with Fletcher but did not want to waste time disputing his action; "Fletcher, I forbid you to call for a fag until Mr. North or I have spoken to you again on this matter," Darcy ordered as he and Bingley left the study.
Mr. North was quickly apprised of the situation; he treated Bingley's hands whilst he spoke kindly to the boy and, before they left, took Darcy aside saying quietly, "Please come to my study before breakfast tomorrow, Darcy. I believe we will have to consider what to do about Fletcher; he obviously can not be trusted with the lower school boys. I would be happy to hear your thoughts on this subject, but for the moment, let us sleep on it and discuss it tomorrow." In a louder voice Mr. North then dismissed the Head of House and his young charge with, "Good night and sleep well, both of you."
"Do you feel better?" Darcy asked Bingley as they returned upstairs.
"Yes, thank you. Much better," Bingley even managed a small smile.
"Would you like to come to my study for some refreshment before you return to your dormitory? I should like to become better acquainted with you, if you feel well enough."
"Thank you. It would give me great pleasure," Bingley replied with his broad smile firmly in place once again.
Instead of calling for a fag or asking Bingley, Darcy made hot chocolate for the two of them and put a plate of small cakes within easy reach of the two chairs on either side of the hearth. As he sat in one chair, Darcy looked across at Bingley ensconced in the other with his legs dangling a few inches from the ground. He noticed the curly blond hair, the bright blue eyes, and the enormous smile which seemed to be a fixture and remembered the face from that first day in the hall.
"Tell me about yourself, Bingley. Where are you from?
"My parents live in Ripon in Yorkshire."
"That must be wild country in Yorkshire. Is there good hunting on the moors? But tell me, how old are you and have you previously attended school or were you tutored privately?"
"I just turned eleven last month. I attended a prep school in Harrogate for the past three years. It was a good school and close to Ripon so I returned home for every holiday. But I could have stayed there only one more year and I am happy to be at Eton now."
"Even after the events of this evening?" thought Darcy as he said, "So you do not miss the north country? This part of England is perhaps unfamiliar to you."
"I have visited London before; I have two older sisters in a Lady's Seminary in Hampstead and they spend their Christmas and Easter holidays with an aunt and uncle in town. My parents and I twice traveled to town to visit at the same time as my sisters."
"I also have a sister, but she is still very young--only three and a half," Darcy smiled as he thought of Georgiana waving to him when he left Pemberley just two weeks earlier.
"Oh my sisters are quite old--Louisa is seventeen and Caroline is fifteen. Next summer they will both come out in London after they finish at school."
Darcy smiled at the thought of fifteen being quite old, but then, with a serious countenance, asked Bingley to explain what had occurred in the Prefects' study earlier.
"Well, for the second time in the past four days, Fletcher called me to make his tea, but by the time it was ready Fletcher had left the study and did not return for nearly fifteen minutes. He found the tea was not hot enough for his taste, and I offered to make a fresh pot, but instead he began shouting at me; he told me to hold out my hands and then just poured the contents of the teapot over them. That is when you came in."
"It was very wrong of Fletcher to behave like that, and I thank you for your succinct account of the event."
With the warmth of the hot chocolate, the heat of the fire and the lateness of the hour Bingley was becoming very sleepy. Darcy recognized that no more conversation would be desirable and sent Bingley off to his dormitory for a good night's rest. "Please come to my study tomorrow morning, Bingley; I want to make sure your hands have not suffered any ill effects from this evening. And do not worry about Fletcher. Mr. North and I will deal with him tomorrow."
"Good night, Darcy, and thank you very much. You rescued me and I shall never forget that," Bingley smiled as he left the room a much happier boy than the one Darcy had first seen in the Prefects' study.
Early the following morning Bingley presented himself at Darcy's rooms to announce, very cheerfully, that his hands felt much better and had suffered no lingering ill-effect. "I am very glad to hear it," Darcy told him, "but, if you will excuse me, I am awaited by Mr. North. I will see you later today, Bingley." With these words Darcy strode down the hall on his way to the Housemaster's study, still thinking about Fletcher and the action he was about to recommend.
"Good morning, Darcy," Mr. North greeted him, "have you thought about our Prefect problem?"
"Yes, Sir, I have been thinking of little else all night. I find Fletcher's behaviour quite intolerable, Sir; my recommendation is that he no longer be a Prefect, that all his privileges are revoked, and that some other senior boy be named in his place."
"I entirely agree with you, Darcy," Mr. North replied thoughtfully; "but I think this requires more than losing his standing and privileges. Fletcher must be taught to control his temper before it leads him into serious trouble later in life."
"What other punishment would you suggest, Sir?"
"I have decided to Bill him with the recommendation that the Provost put him on the block."
"If you think that appropriate, I agree with you. I had thought of it, but hesitated to recommend anything quite so harsh," replied Darcy with a wry smile.
"Yes, it is harsh, but in this instance I believe it is deserved. It will serve as a lesson not only to the boys in North House but to all Etonians. I shall have to nominate a new Prefect to replace Fletcher. Do you have any particular name in mind, Darcy?"
"May I suggest either Langton or Davies, Sir. They are both responsible and do not follow any particular clique; Davies is a serious student, an aspiring writer, with a good sense of humour, whilst Langton is an excellent leader and more of an all-round student and sportsman."
"Thank you, Darcy. Either one would be a good choice. I will think about it and consult the tutors; we must make an immediate decision since I believe the announcement should be made at dinner today. You'd better be off to your breakfast now or you will be either hungry or late for Chapel. Oh, and send Fletcher to me immediately please, whether he has finished his breakfast or not."
"Yes, Sir, and thank you," said Darcy as he hurried off.
During morning classes, rumors and speculation on the events at North House were of much greater interest than the day's lessons. Bingley complied with repeated requests to tell his part of the story for the benefit of all the lower third and most of the upper third forms. Darcy, on the other hand, refused to make any comments or give any information to his fellow sixth formers. He only told them that Mr. North would have an announcement at dinner.
Curiosity and anticipation continued throughout dinner as eyes were constantly turned to Fletcher; instead of filling his customary position at the head of one of the boys' tables he was seated alone and apart at the tutors' table, silent and scowling. Finally, with the meal finished, Mr. North rose and called for attention. "As many of you know, there was some trouble in the house yesterday which can not and will not be tolerated. I am therefore announcing that Fletcher will no longer be a Prefect; all his rights and privileges of that honour are hereby revoked and, in addition, he has been billed and will meet with the Provost later today. In his place as Prefect the tutors and I have decided to name Davies and Langton and they have agreed to serve honorably in their duties. That is all. You are dismissed."
As the younger boys returned to their classrooms, the upper school congratulated Davies and Langton on their new positions. Darcy was happy with their nomination; there were more than sixty boys in the house, ensuring enough duties to warrant a fourth Prefect. After congratulating the two and telling them to make themselves at home in the Prefects' study, Darcy and Lawrence left to attend the Provost's meeting with Fletcher.
In the presence of all the Heads of Houses and Lawrence, the Provost heard both sides of the story, first from Lawrence and Darcy then from Fletcher; the latter waited outside whilst the jury of Prefects deliberated. He was recalled to hear his punishment--six of the Provost's best on the block to be meted out immediately in the presence of the jury. Whilst he could not deny its justice, Darcy did not enjoy watching this spectacle; he remained impassive but felt every blow as if it fell on him.
Talk of the Fletcher incident, as it became known, soon died down, and within a week the House returned to its former happy atmosphere. Whilst Fletcher boasted that it took two Prefects to replace him, no one paid him any heed. Other interests took over, especially a new sport just introduced to Eton; played with an oval ball instead of a round one, it was thrown rather than kicked and strong arms and hands were of greater benefit than quick and agile feet. With few known rules, the new game became a very rough one, indeed. Darcy soon became a skilled player; his strong arm and superior height gave him an advantage which his long legs had failed to provide in kicking the ball.
Bingley's obvious hero-worship of Darcy, however, served as a reminder of the earlier unpleasantness for the Head of House. There was nothing Bingley would not do for his idol; he was the first to answer his call for a fag, the most eager to perform any chore or run any errand, and was disappointed when Darcy chose another boy. After several days, Darcy decided to talk to Bingley before the latter exposed himself to ridicule from his classmates. "Bingley, I am flattered by your attention, "he explained, "but you must realize that, as Head of House, I have to ask all the lower-school boys to serve as fags, although some of them may wish they were never called on for these duties. I do not want to dampen your enthusiasm or your cheerful helpfulness, but I can not favor any one boy over another. I suggest that you channel your energies into your studies and on to the sports fields. I think you will soon find much success and enjoyment in such accomplishments."
"I understand, Darcy," Bingley replied, his customary smile firmly in place, "and, if you would help us, many in the lower third form are eager to learn the new game from Rugby School. Perhaps you could help teach us?"
"Of course. I would be happy to teach all the lower third," Darcy smiled as he appreciated Bingley's malleable disposition.
Darcy had much to think about as he returned to Eton for his last half, in the spring of 1800. He had spent two long, tedious weeks at Rosings over Easter; Lady Catherine had not mellowed in the six years since the death of Sir Lewis. If truth were told, indeed, she was more proud, opinionated, and insensitive than previously and had treated her nephew in the same manner as she treated her daughter--on a strict regimen of prescribed activities drawn up to suit only her own comfort with no thought for her guest's wishes. Fortunately, the visit to Kent had been alleviated by a week in London. Mr. Darcy had made one of his rare visits to town for business and the two of them had amused themselves at concerts, theaters, the art galleries, and dinners with friends. Whilst the week with his father had been very pleasant, Darcy recalled the previous Christmas holiday with yet greater happiness.
There had been much excitement and anticipation at the time of the New Year--the start of a new century and, perhaps, a new age. A big bonfire had been lit in a field on New Year's Eve and the entire neighbourhood had awaited midnight in its light, dancing, drinking, and generally wishing each other well in the century to come. Mr. Darcy had even brought Georgiana out to dance with her brother and watch the festivities. The next day they had celebrated Georgiana's fourth birthday with a private tea party where she had performed the duties of hostess, much to her father's delight. Mr. Darcy loved both his children, but he had a special fondness for his little Anna, as he alone called her; she erased his lingering sorrow, brought a smile to his lips, and a light to his eyes that were not often seen on his countenance. Darcy had been pleasantly surprised that his father had been willing to travel to town; in previous years he had been reluctant to leave Georgiana, whether or not business demanded his attendance in London.
On his return to North House, Darcy learnt, to his disappointment, that his efforts with regard to the river had come to naught. Ever since he had become a Prefect, Darcy and several of his friends had tried to convince the Provost, House Masters, and senior tutors to change the rule regarding the road to the river. He forwarded the argument that, as the river was not off limits, the road leading to it should be open for passage; he pointed out that many boys would derive greater benefit from activity by or on the river than from the drinking and gambling dens in Eton. Mr. North, who had seen the justice of this argument and been sympathetic to his cause, informed him regretfully that his efforts had been in vain and that the road remained a forbidden path.
There was yet another trial for Darcy during the half. As a Prefect and a senior scholar, he was forced to participate in the annual "Ad Montem" as an active participant instead of a mere spectator. A peculiar old Eton custom, "Montem" as it was commonly called, was a muster of the whole school in a sort of semi-military formation, with band and colours; they marched about a mile and half to Salt Hill where an ensign waved his flag, the boys cheered, and the ceremony was over. The real object, however, was to collect contributions of money, called salt, from the crowds of visitors who were always gathered on the occasion, to supply the head colleger with funds for his Cambridge expenses. Two salt-bearers, of which Darcy was one, were assisted by twelve runners or servitors; dressed in fancy costumes they scoured all roads leading to Windsor and Eton to levy contributions from every comer, whether nobleman in his carriage-and-four or rustic on foot. Crying "Salt! Salt!" they held out embroidered bags and anything was acceptable, whether sixpence or a fifty pound note. In return the donor received a little blue ticket with a Latin motto on it; this ticket, worn in the hat or otherwise shown, protected the bearer for the rest of the day from any further demand.
Darcy, dressed in a medieval costume, had one advantage--he was accompanied by a page, and his choice for that position was Bingley. He thought that crying "Salt! Salt" was little more than begging and felt himself quite unequal to the task; but Bingley was happy to supply the cries whilst Darcy held out the bag for donations. Between them they accumulated a good amount of salt and their donors, to their amazement, included the Prince of Wales who dropped fifty pounds into their bag. At the end of the day Bingley was still exalted over his part in the ceremonies; Darcy was merely relieved that it was over.
In July the Provost and two fellows of King's College, Cambridge, came to Eton to meet with the Provost, Vice Provost and Head Tutor of the school. With many ancient ceremonies and courtesies, this group served as electors to select the scholars to be admitted to King's College. It was a happy day for Darcy when he was informed that he had been elected as a scholar at King's College for the start of the Michaelmas Term.
Two weeks after that happy news Darcy said farewell to Mr. North, North House, and Eton. As his carriage rolled away from the school, Darcy looked at Bingley and smiled saying, "you will be back here in a few weeks; I will not see these buildings again for a longer period, but I shall try to visit from time to time." He had invited the younger boy to spend two weeks at Pemberley before journeying on to Yorkshire; Bingley, nearly overcome with delight to be traveling in such luxury in the company of his hero and mentor, merely smiled back. As they proceeded through the town, Darcy reflected that he had enjoyed his days at Eton and had fond memories to carry with him to Cambridge. In the meantime, he looked forward to a quiet summer at Pemberley with his family.
Mr. Darcy and Mr. Wickham were conferring quietly as they approached the stables, but stopped talking when a stern young voice commanded "Do not sit there like a sack of potatoes! Show him who is master, who is in command!" Entering the stable courtyard, they saw two horses crossing the path to the upper fields and smiled at each other.
"I believe Master Darcy is giving Master Bingley another riding lesson," Mr. Wickham commented, "and he is performing that task as well as any of our grooms here."
"But does he have to be quite so critical of poor Bingley's efforts?" Mr. Darcy wondered, "that young lad has not had the advantage of country living and is not an experienced horseman."
"That is why these lessons are so good for him," Mr. Wickham countered, "Master Bingley is too concerned for the horse's feelings to assert his own will. He will learn from Master Darcy's example."
"I hope you are correct; I would not wish my son to injure a guest's feelings in search of his own sense of perfection," Mr. Darcy admitted to his trusted steward.
Mr. Darcy had no need to worry for Bingley's feelings. The latter was so excessively happy to be with his hero that he cared not how sharply Darcy spoke to him or how critical he was of his horsemanship. Bingley had no high opinion of his own abilities and deferred to Darcy's more experienced pronouncements in all things, especially when they involved the various country pursuits which were new to him and in which he was trying to become proficient.
Each day of the past two weeks had dawned bright and sunny, with the promise of warmth later in the morning. The two boys had gone riding every morning; Darcy soon saw that his young friend had much to learn and had taken it upon himself to become his teacher. Within a few days, and on the first hot morning, they had finished their ride by the pond. On discovering that Bingley did not know how to swim, Darcy stripped down, dived into the pond and swam a few strokes to demonstrate the technique for his friend; the latter quickly joined him in the cold water and received his first swimming lesson in the same way that Phil had taught Darcy several years earlier. After three days of these lessons Bingley was swimming on his own; thereafter, they often finished their ride by the pond where they raced to be first into the water and first across its length. Darcy was the daily winner of these races, but Bingley did not mind and Darcy was honest enough to admit that his extra height gave him an advantage; "I dare say that in a few years' time you will be the faster of the two of us, Bingley. It will then be a challenge, indeed, to keep up with you," Darcy forecast, with a big smile to encourage his young friend.
They both enjoyed fishing in the trout stream where Darcy found that Bingley had previously had experience with fly fishing and was adept at casting. Coarse fishing, on the other hand, proved to be too slow an entertainment for Bingley who preferred more activity than merely sitting by the lake waiting for a bite at the end of his line. His favourite pastime, however, proved to be shooting. Darcy taught Bingley how to handle a gun, stressing all the safety precautions that he had had to learn before heading out to the fields in search of rabbits. Bingley proved to have a quick eye and a sure aim; he bagged a rabbit during their first day out in the fields.
On the eve of the Glorious Twelfth Darcy took Bingley aside after dinner and into the gun room. He unlocked a cabinet, took out the small, light weight gun that his parents had presented to him on his tenth birthday, and held it out to Bingley saying "this gun will fit you well tomorrow. Use it while you are here whenever you join the shooting party." Bingley, overcome with gratitude, could barely find the words to thank his host; he had heard the story of how Darcy had begged to join the annual shoot and how he had had to wait until he was old enough to handle a gun; and now, Darcy was loaning him that very gun! What joy, what an honour.
At the end of the next morning's shooting the whole party was very pleased with their sport; birds had been plentiful and many brace were brought down. Bingley received much praise by the assembled company after he had brought down a fine brace of grouse, although he demurred from such special attention whilst owning only to a share in the day's bag. He was puzzled at dinner when no grouse was served; with the number of birds brought down, why were they not eaten while fresh? Only when he asked Darcy for an explanation did he realize that he had as yet much to learn about country life.
"If grouse are cooked and served on the day they are brought down," Darcy explained, "they would be very tough to eat. They have to hang in a store room to be aged; their flesh is thus rendered tender and edible. It is the same with all game birds. Tomorrow I will take you to the store room where you can see them hanging, and I will have some packed up for you to take home with you when you leave; they will be ready to eat by the time you arrive in Ripon and your parents will, perhaps, also enjoy them."
Three days later, true to his word, Darcy put an extra box on the carriage which was to take Bingley home; "Here are the grouse for you and your family, Bingley, and I believe they include the two that you brought down."
"Thank you, Darcy, not only for the birds but for everything. I can not remember when I have enjoyed a holiday so much as these days at Pemberley. Please thank your father again, and Mrs. Reynolds and Georgiana."
"We have enjoyed your company, Bingley. Remember that you are invited to stop here on your return journey south. I hope you will be able to spend two or more days here before you start your next term at Eton. Good bye and have a safe journey."
Darcy stood framed in the archway as Bingley's carriage headed away from Pemberley. He felt very pleased with his friend's achievements during his time in the country and rather proud of his part in these accomplishments.
At the end of September Darcy left Pemberley for his first term at Cambridge; as his carriage rolled away towards Matlock his father's words the previous evening were still ringing in his ears: "You will have much freedom at Cambridge, Fitz; you will not have discipline enforced on you as you did at Eton and there are many temptations to divert your attention from your studies. I wish you to enjoy yourself and to broaden your experiences, but I hope the many diversions will not prevent you from acquiring at least a little new knowledge." He had assured his father that he had every intention of learning as much as he could of many new subjects offered at Cambridge which had been unavailable at Eton.
A late start on the first morning brought Darcy as far as Grantham, a small market town in Lincolnshire, at day's end. After an evening and night in a comfortable hostelry, only a little over fifty miles of good road remained and late the following morning his carriage drew up before the porter's lodge of King's College. The porter greeted Darcy, informed him that his manservant had preceded him and would assist with his trunks, and directed him to the fellows' lounge where the new students to the college were gathering. Darcy thanked and dismissed the coachman for he had no need of a carriage in Cambridge; his horse would be sufficient for his transportation.
As he crossed the quad, Darcy was amazed at the impressive size of King's College Chapel, a perfect example of perpendicular architecture more like a cathedral than a college chapel but he did not stop to look inside; instead he walked directly to the fellows' lounge where he found several students, some of the younger tutors, and the Dean of Students, a Mr. Lamb.
"Your name is . . . ?" asked Mr. Lamb.
"Fitzwilliam Darcy, Sir."
"Welcome to King's, Darcy. We have been expecting you. Your rooms are in the old quad, the third staircase, on the top floor. Number 36. I hope you will be comfortable there. Your tutor will be Mr. Oldham, a classics specialist. Of course, you may wish to attend tutorials in other subjects; if so, please see me and I will assist you in whatever way I can. Now, here is Hobson, a second year student, who will show you to your rooms and inform you of some of our customs here."
"Thank you, Sir. Hello, Hobson, I am happy to make your acquaintance," said Darcy turning to the pleasant looking young man standing before him.
"Welcome, Darcy. Come along with me and I will take you to your rooms. I am on the same staircase; I will introduce you to our scout, Thomas Higgins, a good person to befriend, by the way, as is the porter. They will both help smooth your way through your time in college."
"How is that? In what way can they help smooth my path?" Darcy asked, never having thought to befriend a person of lower rank unless, perhaps, they were a personal servant to his family.
"The college gates are locked at ten o'clock each night, but if the Porter is your friend you can knock on his door and he will allow you entrance no matter what time of night; many of us find that we have frequent use of this service. As to Thomas, our scout, he has two very different methods of treating his clients; if he likes you he will be attentive and efficient, if not he is very lazy and slovenly. If you befriend him you will find him prompt in knocking you up in the mornings, your breakfast will be well prepared, and your room neat and clean when you return later in the day; on the other hand, if he disapproves of you, then you will find his services deficient in all these aspects."
"Thank you for this advice, Hobson. But how do I befriend the porter and the scout?" asked a puzzled Darcy.
"I found the easiest way to befriend them is to talk to them, get to know them a little and let them get to know you; then, whenever you see them around the college, be sure to smile and greet them. Never act like some of the noblemen around here who find it beneath them to acknowledge their existence. Oh, and it does not hurt if you pay them a small sum as an advance for their services which, you can inform them, you know will be of the highest quality!"
By this time, Hobson and Darcy had arrived at the far corner of the old quad and entered a corner doorway. "Your rooms are on the second floor, Darcy; there are two sets of rooms on each floor and mine is number three on the first floor; the number 36 denotes that you are on the third staircase, room number six." They climbed the narrow, winding stone stairs and arrived in front of a heavy, oak door with a brass number six attached. Hobson had the key, unlocked the oak door, opened it and was immediately faced with a second door, painted white, which needed no key and, in fact, had no lock. As they entered the rooms Hobson continued, "as you notice, there are two doors to each set of rooms; when you leave your rooms be sure to close both of them and lock the outer oaken door. Thomas has a key so he can enter to tidy up, but you will not be surprised by unexpected visitors on your return. When you are in your rooms and do not wish to be disturbed--when you are sleeping, or busy studying or writing--close the outer oak door but do not lock it. This signals your friends that they must knock in order to be permitted entry, although most of us realize that 'showing oak' means you are not to be disturbed and leave without knocking unless it is a matter of utmost urgency. On the other hand, when you are open to any callers, then leave the oak door open and only close the white door. This signals that you welcome visitors; they need not knock and may freely enter your rooms. We find that showing oak or not showing oak is a very useful means of communication; no student need be disturbed unnecessarily when they do not wish it, yet at other times they remain available to their friends."
"That does sound like a sensible method of communication" smiled Darcy, "thank you for all this information. May I ask, where and what time is dinner?"
"Ah yes, we do not have long to wait. Dinner is at five o'clock in the Great Hall, and we always change for dinner. Morning dress is not permitted in Hall. I will leave you now to change and call for you at fifteen minutes before five o'clock to accompany you to Hall."
"Thank you, Hobson, for all your advice and assistance. I will be ready in good time."
Hobson called for Darcy at the appointed hour and the two walked across the quad, through an arch and entered the Great Hall; paneled in dark wood, the soft candlelight reflected the high polish of the long oak tables and off the silver bowls and cutlery along their length. One table ran across the long room at its head.
"That is the head table," Hobson explained, "reserved for the Provost, the deans, tutors and fellows. The two tables on the right closest to the head table are for the 'noblemen', the sons of Dukes, Earls, and Viscounts. The next three are for the 'gentlemen scholars'. That is where you and I sit, Darcy. The remaining tables are for 'scholars', and the entire company is served by 'servitors', those students who receive tuition in return for their services."
Throughout that first dinner Darcy listened quietly to the talk at his table, only joining the conversation when he was really sure of his knowledge of the subject under discussion. He felt that he would be able to find friends amongst the 'gentlemen scholars'; at evening's end he contemplated his days at Cambridge with some complaisance.
Within a week Darcy had settled into life at Cambridge. He had become known to and befriended both the college Porter and his staircase's scout; the latter was particularly happy that Darcy had brought with him Robert, his manservant, for it would relieve Thomas of some of his duties and provide him with company at times when neither were busy. Darcy's rooms, encompassing a small bedroom, a dressing room, and a large study-cum-drawing room, became more comfortable with the addition of a few favorite paintings and prints from Pemberley, his favorite books on the book cases, and heavy maroon curtains to seal out the cold night air and create a warm environment for long winter evenings. But while his physical comfort was thus assured, Darcy found a sad lack of mental challenge in his tutorials.
He had met with Mr. Oldham, his tutor, four times during the first week; the first of these visits had merely been a courtesy call to introduce himself and to discover what books and subjects would be covered in the tutorials. Mr. Oldham, an elderly, portly man with a reddened complexion, was assigned very few students each term whilst awaiting his retirement. He evidenced surprise but little pleasure at Darcy's introductory visit or by the eager questions regarding his studies.
"It is very kind of you to visit me, Darcy. I do not often receive visitors these days; in fact, I rarely see my students more than three or four times a term, although they are engaged to attend their tutorials three times each week."
"Oh! But you do hold the tutorials? And what subjects shall they cover? I am eager to learn at Cambridge and would like to be prepared for the lessons," Darcy asked, wondering whether this old man would be able to hold his interest.
Mr. Oldham, looking at a piece of paper on his desk, answered "Yes, you are assigned tutorials on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at eleven o'clock, along with three other first year students. Now, as to books and subjects--I had not as yet thought about that. Perhaps you should study your Homer and Virgil before the first tutorial, if you feel so inclined."
"Sir, may I remind you that I studied those authors at Eton. I have translated, discussed, and written on their works for the past five years. I do not wish to repeat the same course of study here," Darcy replied in a haughty tone. He was appalled at the thought that this tutor believed him to be so uninformed and uninterested in his studies.
"Very well, Darcy, we shall see what the others have studied. Perhaps we shall be able to move along faster than anticipated. I look forward to seeing you for the first tutorial next Monday, Darcy."
"Yes, thank you Sir," Darcy replied as he left the rooms and returned to the quad to breathe fresh air and calm his feeling of disappointment in the old man he had quitted in the musty room upstairs.
The following Monday Darcy appeared for his first tutorial at the appointed hour and was introduced to his fellow students. Wye, a gentleman scholar from Kent, had little understanding of the classic books suggested by Mr. Oldham but showed an eagerness and willingness to learn; Howe, a scholar from Norfolk, had a higher opinion of his understanding than his actual knowledge warranted; and FitzClarence, a nobleman from London, despite an amiable, smiling disposition, had no scholarly understanding or interests which would interfere with his pursuit of pleasure. The group bode ill for Darcy, particularly when, at the end of the two hour session, Mr. Oldham merely assigned the first chapters of Homer and Virgil for their next meeting. Lagging behind the others, Darcy again protested that he had already covered this material only to be told that "you will then have all the more time to amuse yourself. On the other hand, if you really wish to be helpful, you could help teach Wye, Howe, and FitzClarence what they have obviously not yet learnt."
At the end of the week Darcy sought a meeting with Mr. Lamb, but was again frustrated by the latter's lack of concern or response to requests for a change of tutor.
"Let me encourage you to remain with the present arrangement, Darcy. Mr. Oldham needs the few students he has been assigned and you would be of great benefit to him if you help teach the other students, as he has suggested," Mr. Lamb urged in all seriousness.
"But, Sir, you told me to see you if I wished to attend a different tutorial. I now find that, indeed, I do wish not only to attend others but also to be assigned another tutor," Darcy reminded the Dean.
"I have not forgotten, Darcy, and if you return to see me in four weeks' time I will see what can be done; I am sorry but for the moment I must ask you to remain with the present scheduled arrangement. Good day, Darcy."
Darcy's hopes for even a modicum of education were thus thwarted; within two weeks he found he had too much time on his hands. His early morning rides became longer every dry day until, one particularly clear, sunny Friday, he decided he would prefer to be out on his horse than listening to Mr. Oldham's tired voice in an airless room; that day he missed the first of many tutorials. In the meantime, he was slowly being drawn into the aspect of Cambridge that he had neither sought nor expected to enjoy.
He soon found friends amongst the King's men as well as others from Trinity, Queen's and Jesus Colleges; nearly every evening Darcy joined a group of these friends to spend their after-dinner hours in one of the local taverns followed by a visit to one of their rooms. Claret, port, ale and spirits flowed freely until the early hours of the morning whilst the company amused themselves with card games, good conversation, or both combined. He was glad he had befriended the Porter; he had more use of late access to the college than he had thought would be needed.
When not attending his scheduled tutorial in the mornings, Darcy often joined in whatever sport was available. He participated in ball games, fencing, and learnt to row on the river Cam; it was already too cold for the slow moving punts, but in the spring he intended to learn that technique. He spent some quiet, solitary hours listening to the King's College Choir practice in the Chapel. He considered the interior of the Chapel as beautiful as its exterior; from the Gothic style fan-vault ceiling to the sixteenth century stained glass windows, he found the setting very peaceful and perfect for the clear, high voices of the boy choristers.
Perhaps Darcy's greatest accomplishment during those first months at Cambridge was his rapidly acquired knowledge of horse racing. Many friends had urged Darcy to accompany them to the races at Newmarket, a small town only twelve miles from Cambridge. He enjoyed his first experience of this sport and, on the advice of his friends, he made modest wagers but, after he had lost on the first three races, preferred to wager no more until he knew what he was about. He found greater pleasure in watching the horses and their riders than in worrying whether his pick would win, although many of his friends placed ever larger wagers on their choice of horses no matter whether they won or lost. Darcy returned frequently to Newmarket until the season finished in mid-November. His growing knowledge and appreciation of the speed and strengths of the various horses and their riders made him a very accurate prognosticator and, although his friends teased him constantly for his abstemious nature and minimal wagers, they were not too proud to make use of his predictions for their own gain.
Voices rang out from the raised platform at the end of the Great Hall.
"O pray, Faulkland, fight to oblige Sir Lucius."
"Nay, if Mr. Acres is so bent on the matter . . ."
"No, no, Mr. Faulkland;--I'll bear my disappointment like a Christian.--Look'ee, Sir Lucius, there's no occasion at all for me to fight; and if it is the same to you, I'd as lieve let it alone."
"Stop!" a voice rang out from the darkened front of the Hall. "Darcy, you are meant to be relieved. Remember, Acres is a devout coward. Do not say those lines like you are doing Faulkland a favor--he is, in fact, giving Acres a good excuse not to fight. All right, let us try this again."
The King's College Players were rehearsing The Rivals for their pre-Christmas performances. Persuaded to be one of the company by FitzClarence, who was a talented actor and would play the role of Mrs. Malaprop, Darcy had recalled his amusement at seeing The Rivals in London and his subsequent wish to become an actor when he had been only nine years old. This was his opportunity to test his skills, but he found that acting was not as easy as it had appeared.
Following this day's rehearsal, Ware, a third-year student and director of the play, took Darcy aside, saying "Only two days remain before the actual performances. You know your lines very well, Darcy, but can you not get more into Bob Acres' character?"
"I thought I was doing so by speaking his lines. What else is required?"
"You have to forget that you are Darcy, to become Acres in manner and speech. Get some advice from FitzClarence; his mother is an actress and he seems to have inherited talent and acquaintance with the art."
After dinner, Darcy took FitzClarence aside to ask, "FitzClarence, can you help me with my acting technique? How do I become Acres, as Ware has suggested?"
FitzClarence, amused by the question but happy to help any fellow thespian, replied, "You just have to pretend, Darcy. Did you never pretend that you were some person other than yourself as a child or play make-believe games? Did you not play Roundheads and Cavaliers, or York against Lancaster and forget who you are to become the pretend person?"
"No, I never did. There were no children near Pemberley with whom I could play these games," Darcy admitted.
"Well, as you know, Acres is a rather stupid man--a fop who believes himself to be in love with Lydia, but not enough to fight for her. If you can pretend to be like that for the performances it might help you."
"I shall try, but I do not know how well I shall be able to accomplish it. Thank you for the help, FitzClarence."
Two mornings later Darcy awoke to a sense of dread; it was the day of the two performances, when he would have to appear on stage. As he dressed he thought of the hours ahead. "Why did I ever think I would like to be an actor? Why did I agree to perform to strangers? How can I possibly pretend to be a different character? I have always been comfortable as myself--I have never thought or wished to be anybody else. And, have not I been reminded constantly that I should proudly bear the name of Darcy--that I must never bring disgrace to the name or the family?" He mulled such thoughts as he barely touched his breakfast and tried to pass the hours before the cast assembled at the back of the Great Hall which, today, would serve as the theatre.
The first performance, at two o'clock, was particularly for those students and tutors from colleges other than King's. As the hour approached and the cast gathered backstage, Darcy felt extremely unwell; his insides felt as if they were tied in a knot and his mouth was so dry he was afraid he would not be able to utter a sound. He mentioned his predicament to Watt, who was performing the role of Sir Anthony Absolute, and had become a good friend during rehearsals.
"I have just what you need, Darcy" Watt said as he poured some amber liquid into a glass, "here, drink this; it will relax your insides and relieve the dryness of your mouth."
Darcy took a good swallow of the liquid, gasped, coughed, and gasped some more as he whispered "what is it?" His insides, instead of being in a knot, were now on fire.
"That is the best medicine available, Darcy. It is the Scottish acquavitae, commonly known as whisky. It is strong, indeed, but it will help you through the performance."
"Thank you, Watt; I sincerely hope it will help; believe me, I shall be very happy indeed when this day is over," Darcy replied as he drained the remains from the glass.
When the final curtain fell and the cast had taken their bows Watt smiled at Darcy and whispered, "one down, one to go!" Darcy tried to smile back, but he felt little relief; there was yet another performance and this one would be for students and tutors familiar to him, people he saw every day and who could expose him to ridicule.
At dinner Darcy sat between Watt and Hooe, still dressed in military uniform for his role as Captain Absolute, and opposite Wenn, his nemesis throughout the play as his rival Sir Lucius O'Trigger, and Wye, who had performed admirably as Julia's suitor, Faulkland. Whilst the others discussed the afternoon's audience and anticipated their friends' reactions to the play in the evening, Darcy barely spoke; he toyed with the food on his plate, drank his wine, and again felt that his dry mouth would prevent him being heard beyond the first row. At the end of dinner whilst the hall was being rearranged as a theatre, Watt, aware of Darcy's predicament, took him aside and again offered him a glass of whisky; Darcy was happy to accept the drink, since he firmly believed that the fiery liquid was what had helped him survive the afternoon.
FitzClarence and Ware had had special dispensation to dine with their families at an inn; FitzClarence's sister had been persuaded to be Lydia Languish and had been accompanied to Cambridge by her parents and two of eight other siblings, whilst Ware's sister, who performed as Julia, had been accompanied by her mother. When they returned to the Hall FitzClarence told them how much his parents were anticipating the evening's performance, good news to most of the cast, although, to Darcy, it brought only foreboding; these were people who were connoisseurs of the theatre, accustomed to the best performances offered in town. Before the curtain rose, Darcy had one more glass of whisky to calm his nerves. When the final curtain fell to loud applause there was much cheer and laughter backstage; Darcy felt relieved and for the first time that day started to smile and laugh.
Following the final performance all the male members of the group, including the crew and director, repaired to their favorite tavern. A long and raucous evening ensued while the claret, port and brandy flowed freely, until the tavern keeper shooed them out of the door to return to the college. Darcy was, by now, feeling no pain and joined in the merriment; his arms linked with those of Hooe and Wenn, he zig-zagged back to the college where the entire group gathered in Watt's rooms. The party continued as more port, brandy, and two bottles of whiskey, which Watt had brought from Scotland at the beginning of term, were consumed. Darcy, recovering from his extremely dry mouth earlier in the day, consumed an extraordinary amount of port, followed by brandy and whiskey, quite forgetting that he had eaten nearly no food that day. It was not until just before dawn that Darcy, with the help of Hooe and Wenn, staggered to his rooms.
Late that morning Robert, whose services had not yet been required, began to worry. Perhaps his young master was ill. He knocked on the oaken door, received no reply, and fearfully entered the rooms. What a sight he beheld; there was Darcy sprawled across his bed, still dressed in the clothes he wore the evening before, fast asleep and seemingly dead to the world. Robert tried to wake him; he shook him, called his name, and finally opened the curtains to let the sunshine stream on to the bed.
Darcy slowly stirred and mumbled into his pillow, "Where am I?"
"No, Sir!" replied Robert who had only heard the first word of the query.
Opening one eye and seeing his room, Darcy mumbled, "Who brought me here?"
"Yes, Sir" Robert agreed.
"I believe so, Sir" Robert acknowledged.
Darcy, waking a little further with each question, exclaimed: "What?"
"No, Sir" Robert admitted.
"Make sense, man! Who put me to bed?" Darcy asked, now completely frustrated.
"Yes, Sir, he did!"
"He did what?"
"He helped you to your bed, Sir."
"Correct, Sir. Mr. Hooe and Mr. Wenn helped you to your rooms earlier this morning."
"No, Sir, Mr. Wye was not here, nor were Mr. Ware, Mr. Watt, or Mr. Howe."
"But why did they help me to bed? Oh, now I remember," Darcy said as he tried to sit up; he immediately slumped back on his bed and groaned loudly. "Oh, my head! I do not think I will ever be able to hold it up again. It is pounding as if a drum band were playing inside."
"Yes, Sir; that is the usual effect of such a night as yours yesterday."
"The light hurts my eyes, Robert. Please close the curtains again, and let me be until I feel better," Darcy moaned.
"Very well, Sir. I shall return in a few hours, after you have had some more sleep."
Robert left his master's rooms, carefully closing the oak door on the way, and went downstairs to find Thomas, the scout; he warned him that Mr. Darcy was not to be disturbed that day.
"Had a bit too much to drink last night, did he? Well, well, all the young'uns have to learn that lesson sooner or later," Thomas grinned at Robert.
"That's true, Thomas. I doubt whether he will take another drink for a few days, but some food in him would be helpful. I shall wait until he wakes again and see if I can get him to eat something. It may help relieve his suffering."
"Aye, you do that, Robert. You are a good and loyal servant, but no doubt your master is a kind young gentleman and deserves your services," Thomas said as he ambled away.
When Darcy awoke, shortly before the dinner hour, Robert brought him some strong tea accompanied by a plate of bread and cheese. Darcy was feeling a little better and the food helped give him the strength to rise, wash and dress in time to walk to the Great Hall for dinner; his colour was very pale, his head still hurt, and his steps were not very sure.
He struggled to recall a strange conversation with Robert--something about Hooe, Watt, Wenn, Ware, Wye and Howe; why had he been discussing his friends with Robert?
As he made his way across the quad he thought, "Never again! Never again will I agree to be on stage to perform to strangers, and never again will I celebrate with such fervour after an event is finished."
"Well, well, I am impressed, Fitz! Only a few weeks in London and already you have achieved entree to one of the most exclusive segments of society," Mr. Darcy smiled at his son as he handed back the engraved voucher, an invitation to the following Wednesday's dance and supper at Almack's.
"It is rare to be invited so soon after arrival in town; it is due to FitzClarence's good nature and influence that I am honoured in this fashion, but it is an honour I could cheerfully forego." Fitz replied.
Young Darcy had mixed emotions on receiving this invitation to Almack's Assembly, the only private ladies' club in existence, fastidiously exclusive and strictly controlled by a group of patronesses. In one respect he was proud that he had gained admittance to this exclusive circle--that his deportment at previous dances and socials during this season had recommended him to the patronesses who controlled Almack's. At the same time, he felt himself ill-prepared for such an important evening of socializing. Long accustomed to the company of men with their serious conversations, he had little experience of conversing with the young ladies he led to the dance floor. He felt ill at ease, as if he were amongst an alien species, and became very quiet as he searched for topics of common interest.
It was the end of the first week of July, 1801, and the Darcys, father and son, were finishing breakfast in the family town house. They had arrived there the previous day from a three week visit to Rosings and were happy to relax in the quiet calm of the house without the strident, authoritative voice of Lady Catherine dominating every conversation.
"Why would you wish to forego this invitation, Fitz? I believe it is every young man's desire to be received in the first circles of society," Mr. Darcy asked his son.
"Oh, I am very happy to be honoured in this way," Fitz smiled in reply, "but I feel unable to recommend myself to the young ladies to whom I am introduced. I fear I am unaccustomed to polite female company; I have no knowledge of their interests or their occupations."
"I am to blame for your discomfort, Fitz" Mr. Darcy acknowledged, "but after your mother died I had not the heart for female company at Pemberley. Perhaps I should have accepted Lady Catherine's offer to be hostess during our August shooting parties, but I am not sure that would have alleviated your problems. You would not have had much of an opportunity to converse with young ladies whilst she held sway!
Father and son smiled at each other, each thinking of the past three weeks at Rosings. They were well accustomed to Lady Catherine's habits and found ways to avoid her for much of each day. However, Fitz had felt especially sorry for his sister, Georgiana, who, at five and a half, had accompanied them to Rosings only to be the subject of constant criticism, advice, and unfavourable comparison with her twelve year old cousin, Anne. He had tried to shield her from their Aunt's running commentary, but he noticed that each day she had become a little more withdrawn and more afraid to say anything, though she was lively enough when they were alone together in the park.
Darcy had come to town in late May after two satisfying terms at Cambridge. When he had returned to King's College after his Christmas holiday, he and Wye had been assigned to a new tutor. Mr. Carter was a younger, more interesting and intellectually stimulating specialist in modern history and current events. As they studied English and European history as well as the current political and military situations, Darcy's interest in learning had been re-awakened.
With a view to the future of Pemberley and wishing to take advantage of Cambridge's renowned science teachers, he had also attended tutorials in botany, biology, and geology. At the same time he enlarged his circle of friends and became adept at participating in their political or scientific debates. He was happy to discuss his opinions and not too proud to ask questions and to learn from his friends. Much of the information he had gathered related to Pemberley and he now wished to discuss his new knowledge and ideas with his father, but that could wait until they returned to Derbyshire.
During their days together in town, Fitz eagerly introduced his father to Mr. John Hatchard, a publisher and bookseller who had opened his shop on Piccadilly only four years earlier and was already renowned as one of the most respected London publishers as well as bookseller to the Royal Family.
Hatchard's shop had already outgrown its original site at 173 and had just relocated to number 190 Piccadilly. There the political gossip of the day was readily available in pamphlets, particularly those pertaining to the relations between Britain and Europe and the fortunes of the war with France. Regular customers were often invited into the private back room at Hatchard's for coffee and conversations with other like-minded, prosperous gentlemen.
Fitz had been honoured with such an invitation and had enjoyed his debates with the older gentlemen he had met; he now hoped to accompany his father for another session in the back room. The senior Darcy was very impressed with the shop, soon formed a firm friendship with Mr. Hatchard and his assistant George, and established an account with them. He would now be able to order new volumes by post and keep the library at Pemberley well maintained with the latest editions of pamphlets, histories, and novels.
The day of the dance at Almack's arrived and Fitz, dressed in the requisite uniform of knee breeches, dark coat and snowy white cravat, prepared to leave the house to dine with FitzClarence. Mr. Darcy approved of his looks and dress; "You look very well, Fitz. Now, I hope you will relax and enjoy yourself."
"Thank you, Father! If I can find something to say to each of the young ladies I shall meet tonight, I shall count myself very fortunate," Fitz smiled ruefully.
"Oh, I have every confidence in you, Fitz. I am sure you will soon feel more comfortable, and the more dances and dinners you attend the easier it will become. All right, go on with you; you must not be late for such an important occasion."
At nine o'clock, after a good dinner at White's Club, the two young men presented their vouchers at the doors of Almack's. They were surveyed from head to toe by the butler to ensure their proper attire before being ushered up the wide staircase to meet the patronesses at the doors to the ballroom. They were introduced to several of the young ladies around the room and each led a variety of partners to the dance floor.
Darcy noticed that he was only introduced to the youngest of the ladies, presumably because of his own tender age and this helped his confidence, since they would not expect constant conversation and would be happy to perform the dances with merely the exchange of slight pleasantries. At the end of the dance with his fifth partner of the evening it was time for supper; he found FitzClarence and the two adjourned to the next room for refreshments and lively conversation with other gentlemen.
As Darcy returned to the ballroom, passing by a very pretty young lady sitting next to a doyenne, he could not avoid overhearing their conversation. "You really should dance, you know, or you will not receive another invitation to this gathering. There is a fine looking young man, my dear! Would you care for an introduction there, perhaps?" the older lady queried of her charge.
The young lady looked at Darcy but replied in a haughty tone, "he is tolerably handsome, but too young and serious to tempt me." He smiled slightly but heard no more as he was quickly drawn away by one of his hostesses and required to lead several other young ladies to the floor.
When the evening ended, Darcy gave a quiet, inward sigh of relief. He and FitzClarence bade their farewells and compared notes on their partners as they returned to their homes. Whilst FitzClarence declared that he had had a delightful evening with bewitching partners, Fitz said that his favoured hour had been during supper and the more serious conversation; but Darcy had also found that his partners had been pretty, well spoken, and not too teasing about his serious demeanour.
Mr. Darcy and Georgiana returned to Derbyshire shortly after Fitz's evening at Almack's, whilst he was to remain in town for two more weeks and then journey to Eton to renew old acquaintances and to collect Charles Bingley, who was to spend a few weeks at Pemberley, as he had the previous year. By the day of his departure, Darcy had dined at various fashionable houses, been invited to three further dances, and had generally taken his place in the first circles of London society. The gentlemen all praised his understanding, knowledge and skillful reasoning whilst the ladies admired his handsome features, noble mien, and fine, tall figure. He was considered to be a worthy acquaintance and, when he reached his majority, would be a fine catch for one of their daughters.
Continued in Part 4
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