It was the beginning of summer, and the Darcys had just returned to Pemberley from a rather chaotic trip to London. The trip had been strenuous given the fact that it had been the very first time that the Darcys' three children had accompanied them. Gone were the days of the social season for the Darcys. They did manage to attend a few social functions and parties while in town, however the time spent there on this trip was filled with sightseeing for the youngsters and business matters for their father. Darcy on the one hand had preferred this trip to London over any other he had ever made, for he favored the company of his children over that of any aristocrat or social climber. Elizabeth had thought the children still too young for London, but Darcy would not hear of leaving them behind and insisted that it would be a good experience for them educationally.
Little had Darcy realized how difficult travel was with youngsters, as they fidgeted and fought with each other while in the carriage. Once in London, it was all that Darcy could do to entertain them, and he realized that Elizabeth had been correct. A muddy pond filled with tadpoles was a grander sight to three small children than any stuffy old museum, or citified park. It was Elizabeth's experience in handling her husband, that told her it was best to let him have his way, and let him learn to regret his actions on his own.
Needless to say, the whole family was never happier to see Pemberley than they had been on the day of their return. The children were exhausted from the long trip, and had eaten their supper and gone straight to bed. Darcy was happy to eat supper, take a bath and relax in his chair in the sitting area of his bedchamber and quietly read a book. During the times he had managed to escape while in London, he had visited the book seller, and bought several new volumes which he had been interested in for some time. There was nothing that held Darcy's fascination longer than a good book, except for the times he spent with his wife, of course.
Elizabeth left her dressing room and sat by the fire to brush out her freshly washed hair. Darcy looked up from his book, and contentedly watched her actions. Elizabeth would always be Darcy's fascination. He found something sensual in the way she ran her fingers through her dark hair, and never tired of watching her do it. She felt his eyes on her and looked over at him, sighing.
"I am very happy to be home, Fitzwilliam."
"As am I, my love. I like London best, when I leave it," he smiled wryly. "I suppose I should concede to your good judgment and admit that the children are indeed too young for town."
Elizabeth gave him one of her all knowing smiles and continued to dry her hair. "Dear, I think we should have to give Mrs. White some much needed time off from her duties as governess. She was very patient with all of us on this trip."
"At what I pay her, she can afford to be patient." Commented Darcy with the raise of an eyebrow.
"Yes, dear." Elizabeth grinned. "However, I can tell the trip was exhausting for her, and I know she is anxious for a visit to her sister. She will only be gone for a fortnight."
Darcy grumbled slightly, for it seemed that every time Mrs. White took a much needed holiday, it took Darcy a fortnight to recover from the experience. It had been difficult to keep an eye on the twins while she was away. However, Andrew and Hannah were now almost six years old. To Darcy's great delight they were wonderful children, with good manners and conscientious young minds. What worried him most was the youngest boy, Christian.
Young master Christian was all boy, as they say. There was hardly a moment of the day that he was not up to some mischief. Darcy believed the boy considered it his duty to test his father's patience in every way, shape and form. Darcy was very fond of the boy, for at the tender age of four, he had very little fear of anything. If there was a vase low enough to Christian's reach, he would break it. If there was a critter to be caught, he brought it in the house and let it go. If there was an empty wall and an idle pen, the boy put them together. If there were rules to be made, Christian was there to bend them. Darcy was proud of him however, for the child was always willing to accept the consequences with his head held high. Christian was like a good soldier, performing his duties flawlessly, then disclosing only his name and rank when it came to a confession. Darcy considered him a man among boys.
"I know what you are thinking, Fitzwilliam." Elizabeth interrupted Darcy's musings on his young son. "It will be very quiet around Pemberley in the next few weeks. We are expecting no one for a visit until late July. We will all have plenty of time to keep an eye on Christian."
Darcy slid down a bit in his chair, realizing that Elizabeth possessed the uncanny knack of reading his thoughts.
"Elizabeth, I believe one day the whole house will crumble to the ground under the influence of the boy." Darcy smiled mischievously, "However, he does have spunk."
Elizabeth had to smile at Darcy's declaration. She held a special place in her heart for the little boy. He was a smart looking youngster, with rosy cheeks and a constant smile, laughing more than he ever cried. It did not matter to her that he was continually in trouble, especially with his father. More times than not, Darcy and the boy would be seen playing and laughing at some game out on the lawns in front of the house, and there were times that Christian took a moment from mischief making to sit on Darcy's lap and listen to a story. Where the twins had always been more attached to Elizabeth, Christian was his father's son and the two of them seemed to have an understanding of the other. She was convinced that the boy's mischief stemmed from a desire to have Darcy's constant and unmitigated attention.
"Tomorrow morning I shall tell Mrs. White to make her plans, Fitzwilliam." Elizabeth moved from her present location to where her husband sat, removed the book from his hands, and kissed him appreciatively. "Come to bed, dear."
The next morning, Mrs. White wasted no time in preparing to leave. She loved her job as governess to the Darcy children, however the prospect of a holiday away was entirely too tempting. As she packed her things, the family sat together in the morning room and had breakfast. Elizabeth insisted that the children learn to be in the company of adults as soon as may be. She despised the way most people isolated their children. It had never been so in her family, which was one thing she admired most about her upbringing. Darcy tended to agree, for he remembered as a boy wanting to be around his parents more than they had considered acceptable.
"What are you to do today, dear?" Elizabeth inquired of Darcy as he buttered his toast.
"After breakfast I must meet with Mr. Taylor in the village. This year we are to get a new carriage." Everyone looked at him with enthusiasm as he spoke. "After that, I need to take a look at the west pastures. If you are very good..." he eyed the children, "...you may come with me. But only if you behave yourselves while I am gone." He looked sideways at Christian who was smiling.
Hannah and Andrew looked at each other in delight. "Can we go by the frog pond, Papa?" Andrew asked.
"I suppose so." Darcy smiled. "It is on the way back."
"Mama, Christian is chewing with his mouth open," said Hannah, the informant of the group.
Darcy looked over at the boy. "Christian, do not chew with your mouth open...and do not take such big bites of food."
The boy did his best to reply, but only mumbled out something unintelligible, inhibited by the great amount of toast he had stuck in his mouth.
"Christian!" Darcy said sternly.
The boy looked wide eyed at his father and proceeded to spit out every last piece of toast back onto his plate.
Hannah groaned in disgust and Andrew looked at his brother and made a sickened face. Elizabeth tried not to show her embarrassment as Darcy pursed his lips and looked at her, then looked back at the youngster.
"That was not exactly what I had in mind. How are we to ever bring you out among others with manners like that?" The boy shrugged, and Darcy sighed his displeasure. "I shall be back about ten o'clock, and I mean what I say Christian...if you do not behave while I am gone, you will not go to the frog pond. I am sure Hannah will be only too glad to tell me if you are not good." Darcy concluded with a hint of sarcasm.
Hannah looked up from her meal with a triumphant grin. Darcy was just about to leave the table when Mrs. Reynolds came in.
"Sir, ma'am. You have a visitor." She grinned. "Your father is here Mrs. Darcy."
"What?" Elizabeth exclaimed as she stood up. Mr. Bennet entered the room and she ran to greet him. They had not seen each other in some time, and Elizabeth was more than surprised to see him. "Papa! We did not expect you...we just arrived back from London. We did not get your post."
"I did not send a post Lizzy." He said calmly.
Darcy stood up and shook hands with his father-in-law. The children sat in their places and stared at him. They had not seen Mr. Bennet often, for when Mrs. Bennet happened to visit, Mr. Bennet generally stayed at Longbourn, happy for the peace and quiet. Mr. Bennet caught sight of Christian and walked over to him.
"Hello my boy, how are you?" he gave the youngster a bow.
"Good." Christian replied. "Who are you?"
"Christian, this is your grandfather Bennet. He lives at Longbourn with grandmother Bennet." Elizabeth explained to him.
"I like grandmother Bennet!" Christian exclaimed as he smiled up at Mr. Bennet. "She has nerves!"
"Yes, indeed she does my boy." Mr. Bennet nodded in agreement as Darcy tried his best not to laugh.
"Where is Mama?" Elizabeth inquired of her father.
"She has decided to stay home. My coming here was a bit unplanned, Lizzy." Mr. Bennet's reply was extremely vague and Elizabeth wondered that everything was all right at Longbourn. She made an attempt to inquire, however Mr. Bennet disclosed his desire for a cup of tea, and nonchalantly made himself at home.
Mr. Bennet visited with his daughter that afternoon as Darcy had made good on his promise to take the children on their outing to the frog pond. Elizabeth felt uneasy with her father for some reason. He had visited Pemberley before, and it was his habit to come without so much as a warning, however he looked different to her. Every time she mentioned her mother, Mr. Bennet ceased conversing and looked angrily away. However, he would not disclose any information that made her aware that he was unhappy, or that her mother was unwell.
"How long are you to stay Papa?" she inquired.
"Would you be rid of me Lizzy?" he literally snapped at her.
"Not at all Papa! I am sure that while you are here, Mary and Jane would like to see you as well. I thought I would inform them how long you were to be here, so they may plan to come."
"I am not sure as to my plans. I hope my visit will not impose on you and the good will of your husband?" he said.
"You are always welcome to Pemberley, Papa. It will be good for the children to know you better."
Mr. Bennet silently nodded his head. Elizabeth felt the awkwardness between them, and she did not like it. There was something about her father's countenance that was strange to her, but she was not sure she really wished to know the answer to her questions. After Mr. Bennet had retired to the library in search of a good book, she quickly penned a note to her sister Mary, who lived on the other side of Lambton, and to her sister Jane, who lived some thirty miles away. She hoped that they would soon arrive and provide her with some comfort when it came to dealing with the strange circumstances surrounding her father's visit.
She had gone out to find a servant to dispatch the messages, when she saw Darcy walking up the drive, his clothes soaked with water, and a dripping wet Christian tucked under his arm. Andrew and Hannah came running ahead of him and yelled to her.
"Mama! Mama! Christian jumped into the frog pond!" Hannah yelled in excitement.
Andrew finished the tale, "Papa had to jump in after him and pull him out!"
She ran over to Darcy and grabbed Christian out of his grasp. "Is he all right, Fitzwilliam?" she cried out.
Darcy nodded angrily, "He is just fine...which is more than I can say for myself at the moment!"
Elizabeth stood Christian on the ground and looked him over carefully. "Oh Christian! Why did you jump into the frog pond?"
"I want to be a frog!" the boy blurted out.
"Dearest, frogs are frogs and people are people. You cannot be a frog!" she gave him a good-natured scolding.
She hurried the boy into the house, with the other children following close behind telling her all about it. Darcy sat down on the outside steps and pried off his wet boots, shaking the water out of them; all the while wondering how the boy was ever to make it to puberty.
Once he was dried and redressed, Christian sat on the edge of his bed swinging his feet.
"You will not jump into ponds anymore, Christian?"
"No, Mama." He shook his head.
She bent down and hugged him, "I am sure your father is displeased. You do not want him angry with you."
Elizabeth turned her attentions to the other children, as they were still telling her of the amazing way Christian had flung himself into the water in pursuit of a large green frog, as Darcy had been looking out into the middle of the pond at the sight of a jumping trout. Elizabeth walked out of the nursery for a moment to put the wet clothes in the bowl on the dry sink and the twins followed her still chattering away. When she came back, the door to the nursery was open and Christian was no where to be seen.
Christian crept around the corner of the library door, thinking that it was his father inside. As he walked up to the big leather chair he saw Mr. Bennet, sitting and reading a novel. The boy tugged on the tail of Mr. Bennet's coat and the old man looked down over his glasses to see his small grandson grinning at him.
"Yes, yes. What is it?" Mr. Bennet said.
"I want to be a frog!" Christian told him.
"Is that so?" Mr. Bennet asked.
Christian nodded. "I think Papa is angry at me. He is not fond of frogs. He is fond of books."
"Are you fond of books?" Mr. Bennet asked the boy, who nodded. "I wish to read this book at present! You may play quietly in here while I read this book."
Christian nodded and went over to the big desk in the center of the library, crawled up on the chair, opened a book and found a pen next to the inkwell. Assuming Christian to be busy, Mr. Bennet contentedly went back to his novel.
Darcy came out of his dressing room after having changed out of his wet clothes. He saw servants running this way and that and then heard Elizabeth calling out.
"Fitzwilliam! Is Christian with you?" she gasped for a breath.
"No! He is not with you?"
"No! He has wandered away!" she cried.
"You look up here, and I will go downstairs and have someone start searching outside!" Darcy yelled as he ran for the staircase.
Mr. Bennet heard a commotion in the hallway outside of the library. He stood up and opened the door, to see servants running and calling out. Darcy skidded to a stop in front of his father-in-law.
"Have you seen Christian, sir?" he tried to catch his breath as his heart raced with fear.
"The little one, so high? Dark curly hair, rosy cheeks, smiles a lot?"
"Yes, yes!" Darcy nodded furiously.
Just then Darcy saw the boy peak around the back of Mr. Bennet's legs. He heaved a tremendous sigh of relief at the sight of him and bent down, pulling the boy to him and hugging him. Darcy picked up the child and carried him back upstairs, leaving Mr. Bennet in the library to wonder what all the fuss was about.
The children were playing upstairs in the nursery until supper, under the watchful eye of two temporary governesses. Elizabeth was relieved to have a slight reprieve, for she was still exhausted from traveling. She went to her room and laid down on the bed, still thinking about the mysterious appearance of her father.
Darcy wearily walked into the library and sat down at the desk. He rubbed the back of his aching neck. He was not as young a man anymore as he had thought, for jumping into the pond had taken a toll on his body. He thought the library to be a nice quiet place to go for some solitude. He had put the new books that he had bought in London on the desk, until he had a chance to put them on the shelves. He reached over and picked up one of the leather bound volumes.
Darcy smiled as he read the gold printing on the spine and quickly opened the book and flipped a few pages. There was no bigger crime to Fitzwilliam Darcy, than the destruction of a book. He simply could not believe his eyes as he turned page after page, only to see black India ink smeared all over, and pages cut through as if someone had scratched it with the point of a quill. He quickly set down the book and grabbed another, only to see the same sad sight before his eyes.
He shook his head and simply said, "That is it!" as he took one of the volumes and headed upstairs bellowing out his wife's name.
He stormed through the bedchamber door and Elizabeth sat up at the sound of her name being called.
"What is it!" she said, holding her head.
"Elizabeth, this is the last time!" Darcy said as he paced back and forth in front of the bed waving the book in the air.
"Fitzwilliam, please! I have a headache and I am in no humor for games!"
Darcy stopped pacing and opened the book to show her. She gulped and sorrowfully looked up at him. "Is that the new book you bought in London?"
Darcy nodded without uttering a word.
"Christian?" she moaned.
Darcy nodded again, his face scrunching up in disapprobation.
"Fitzwilliam, I know you must be angry with him, but..."
"It is not as if I have never laid down the rules, Elizabeth. No going into the library unless there is an adult with you. NO WRITING IN BOOKS!" he yelled at the top of his voice.
Elizabeth felt flushed as if she had a fever, and she felt a little sick to her stomach. Indeed, Christian's mischief had gone too far today.
"Elizabeth, I am beginning to believe that we are too lenient with the children, especially with Christian. I have raced around this house looking for that boy today, watched him spit his food out today, jumped into a dirty, muddy pond after him today, and now...THIS! What can POSSIBLY be next?"
Elizabeth had never seen Darcy so furious. She thought it best to calm him down before he had an attack of apoplexy.
"Fitzwilliam..." she began.
Darcy was still pacing in front of her, ranting and raving and waving the book all around. "When I was a child I wrote in a book...once! I thought my father would never forgive me for it. He took the book and walloped me on the backside with it." He wheeled around to face Elizabeth. "I never wrote in a book again."
Darcy's jaw set in determination, as he took the book and struck it against his hand, and quickly left the room. Elizabeth hurried off the bed and straightened her clothes. She headed out the door, and down the hallway towards the nursery. When she arrived to where the children were playing, she saw Darcy bend down and show the book to Christian.
"Christian, did you do this when you were in the library today?"
The boy nodded his head and looked with a pout at his father, for he could see the displeasure on Darcy's face.
"What have I told you about writing in books?" Darcy asked him.
"Not to do it?" Christian recalled.
"Yes, that is correct. If you knew that, why did you do it?"
Christian fidgeted then said, "Grandfather Bennet said I could play."
Darcy stood up and turned around to see Elizabeth standing behind him. He dismissed the servants and spoke to Elizabeth. "Please take the children out of the nursery. Christian...you are to stay here with me."
Elizabeth took the twins out of the room and shut the door behind her. As they walked down the hallway back to their rooms, Hannah looked up at her mother, "Mama, is Papa going to punish Christian?"
"Yes, dear." Elizabeth whispered sadly.
Andrew turned around, "Good! Maybe he will behave himself now!"
"And chew with his mouth closed," insisted Hannah.
Darcy took another look at the boy. He had never been comfortable effecting punishment on his children. Christian, however had gone beyond good regulation this day, and had willingly disobeyed the rules. It was something Darcy felt as a father, he could not overlook.
"I am sorry, Papa." The boy spoke in a whisper. "I shall not write in books."
Darcy shook his head, "No, you shall not. Saying you are sorry does not change what you have done."
The boy looked down at his feet, with his lower lip jutting out as Darcy applied his father's method of discipline, which he had earlier explained to his wife. Darcy left the boy in the nursery on his bed. Christian tried desperately not to cry, and if the truth be told, so did his father. Darcy closed the door and told a servant to remain there, just in case Christian had any ideas of wandering off again.
He stormed back to his own bedchamber, book still in hand, and once inside, angrily sat down in the chair by the fire. Elizabeth had been looking out the bedchamber window and waiting for his return. Not realizing she was in the room, Darcy took the book and ripped it apart, then angrily threw it into the fireplace. He sat in the chair with his elbow resting on the arm of the chair, his hand over his mouth.
"Blast it all!" his voice trembled.
Elizabeth walked over to him and knelt down next to the chair. She took his hand in hers and held it. "If you do not teach him right and wrong, how is he to grow into the fine young man we wish him to be? You are a good father, Fitzwilliam," she whispered.
Darcy sighed in sadness and frustration, "I do not feel like one, Elizabeth."
That night the children ate their supper without their parents, as Elizabeth's sister Mary and her husband were to dine at Pemberley. The children bathed, and Elizabeth dressed them for bed, and they waited in Christian's room for Darcy to come and read their story to them. Mrs. Reynolds knocked on the door and entered the room. "I am sorry ma'am, Mr. Darcy says that he will not be up and the children should go directly to bed."
Elizabeth nodded and told the twins to go to their rooms and that she would be in to say good night in a moment. She pointed Christian in the direction of his bed and he crawled in. He sat down on the bed, grabbed the blanket that he always slept with, and started to bawl.
"Mama!" he sobbed. "I am sorry...Papa does not have to be angry anymore!"
Elizabeth held the youngster close and stroked his head as he lay against her. "Oh Christian. Your Papa wants you to grow up to be a fine young man. You must do as he says, as must Andrew and Hannah. He loves you, dearly."
"Even when I get into trouble?" he said as he wiped his eyes.
"Even when you get into trouble." She said as she kissed the boy and tucked him under the covers. "I love you too...sleep well."
Elizabeth went to the study to tell Darcy that Mr. Wright and Mary had arrived for supper. She knocked softly on the door and heard him tell her to come in. He was sitting forward at the desk and writing a letter.
"The guests are here Fitzwilliam and supper is ready." She said.
He looked up from his letter and smiled, though she could tell that he was not happy in the slightest. He put his pen away and put the letter in the top drawer of his desk, then stood up to accompany her.
"Fitzwilliam, Christian was very distressed that you did not come to say good night."
He stopped and looked at her in an angry manner. "Do not tell me of it, Elizabeth. He does not deserve my regard at present and he must learn that repentance is not that simple."
He reached out his hand to her and she took it, although at the moment she was tempted not to. She was not sure she agreed with his methods, for the child was indeed broken hearted. However, she did not feel the need for an argument, especially since they were to entertain company.
Darcy greeted his sister and brother-in-law, and bowed to his father-in-law as he and Elizabeth entered the parlor.
"How are you, Harry?" he asked Mary's husband.
"Very well, Darcy. Thank you for your kind invitation this night."
"Do not mention it, you are always welcome." Darcy smiled at him, but it was evident to Mr. Wright that Darcy was not in fine spirits.
"Are you unwell, Darcy? If tonight is not good, we can come back another time." Mr. Wright said with concern.
"No, no, Harry. I am well. It has been a trying day with my children, is all."
Harry Wright chuckled, "Yes, children can be a trial at times." Mr. Wright knew what he was speaking of, for in the four and a half years he had been married to the former Mary Bennet, she had bore him two children, with another on the way.
The party went into the dining room for supper and Darcy and Mr. Wright each readily accepted a glass of wine. Mary informed her father of the latest happenings in her own family and then inquired as to her mother.
"When last I saw her, she was well," was all that Mr. Bennet said as he went back to eating his meal.
Mary looked over at Elizabeth, who rolled her eyes and shook her head slightly to convey that she had no idea what was going on between their parents. Mr. Bennet looked up from his meal and did his best to change the subject.
"Well, did you hear about Darcy here jumping in the pond today?" he chuckled.
Darcy looked up from his meal, a look of contempt on his face. Elizabeth tried to intervene. "Papa!" she uttered, then turned to Mary and Mr. Wright. "Christian wanted to be a frog and jumped into the frog pond today."
"Darcy had to jump in to pull him out!" Mr. Bennet said with a laugh, making sport of his family.
Mr. Wright cleared his throat and raised his cloth to his mouth, however no one caught the meaning behind the gesture. Mr. Wright could tell that Darcy was in no humor to make light of the affair.
"I hope you were firm with the boy, Darcy? You allow those children too many liberties." Mr. Bennet commented in fatherly authority.
"I beg your pardon, sir?" Darcy said, feeling his blood boil through his veins.
"You are too lenient with your children, especially the little one...what is his name?
"Christian." Darcy said through his teeth.
Mr. Bennet grinned, "Yes, yes...any how, they will walk all over you Darcy, if you are not careful."
Mary nodded her head resolutely. "The bible does tells us...to spare the rod is to spoil the child."
Harry Wright gave his wife a stern look and cleared his throat again, an action that relayed to her that it was best to refrain from any further narrative reflection.
Elizabeth could barely contain her anger, "Papa! Fitzwilliam is a wonderful father..."
"Elizabeth!" Darcy sat back in his chair and put his hand up to stop her. "Your father is entitled to his opinion. If he wishes to find fault with me as a father figure, that is his privilege."
Harry Wright looked at Darcy as if he had fallen off a horse and knocked himself senseless. Elizabeth could barely believe what she was hearing. It was not Darcy's usual manner to take criticism so calmly.
Darcy flashed a smile, "I will not argue with your father's wisdom and experience in raising children." He said sarcastically. "It is evident that his fine skills as a father are much to be admired. Your sister Lydia is a fine example."
"Fitzwilliam!" Elizabeth admonished him.
Both men sat motionless, staring at the other in determination. Mr. Bennet threw down his cloth onto the table and stood up. "If you will excuse me, I shall retire to the library."
Elizabeth watched her father leave the room and turned back to her husband. Her cheeks were flushed with rage at his lack of propriety. Darcy threw his cloth onto the table and sat back in the chair with his arms folded across his chest. He had rather wished he had kept his tongue, but there was no taking it back. Mr. Bennet's criticism of the way he was raising his children was just too much to bear. There were times he felt Elizabeth's family took too many liberties with his good opinion, and this was one of them.
After the Wrights had left for their own home, Elizabeth went upstairs to ready herself for bed. She was fatigued by the days events, both mentally and physically. She went to look in on the children before she retired. She found Darcy standing in Christian's room, looking down at the sleeping child. He looked up to see her and frowned. She silently left the room and checked on the other children.
Once in their bedchamber, Elizabeth did her best to avoid her husband. She was tired and angry, and a little depressed by the whole day. She got into bed and pulled the covers up over herself. Darcy walked into the room and milled about for a few moments. Elizabeth could hear his restlessness, then he spoke to her.
"Elizabeth, I apologize for what I said to your father. I lost my temper, is all."
She wiped the tear from her cheek and said, "I should think you would know that repentance is not that simple."
Darcy winced as Elizabeth admonished him with his own words. "This has been a day to forget, Elizabeth. I do not want to sleep on angry words."
She sat up, "Nor, do I. My father should never have lectured you so. It was very wrong of him, and I accept your apology, Fitzwilliam. Perhaps though, we could all try to get along better tomorrow?" He nodded his agreement and reached out to stroke the side of her lovely face. "I am beginning to think that things are not what they should be at Longbourn."
Darcy made no comment. Elizabeth looked tired, and when he thought back on the day, it occurred to him that she had not seemed herself. He forgot about his own troubles and started to worry that perhaps Elizabeth was ill. The last thing he thought she should be worried about, were things that were out of her control.
The next morning brought the arrival of the Bingleys to Pemberley. They had received Elizabeth's post the day before and packed up their children to come and see Mr. Bennet. The Bingleys had been blessed with two very lovely and shy little girls. They were fair-haired and petite, and rarely ever played rough, or soiled their clothes. Elizabeth thought they were angels, Darcy thought they were too prim and proper, especially for children.
The Bingleys settled themselves in upstairs, for they would spend a few days while they visited. Bingley came downstairs and found Darcy in his study, "Well Darcy, here you have just come back from town, to find yourself with a house full."
Darcy nodded his head and smiled. Bingley always had a talent for stating the obvious, in a complaisant sort of way. "Yes, well I guess the more the merrier, Bingley."
"Ah, yes. Darcy, somehow I do not believe you?" Bingley grinned.
"Charles, excuse my impertinence. I am a bit on edge. Mr. Bennet and I had a disagreement last night at supper, and I have had the unhappy task of having to discipline Christian." He sighed wearily, "It is yet to be seen what mischief the boy will be into today."
The men went to the morning room to have breakfast. Adults and children were seated at the table, ready to eat. Darcy took a cup of tea and sat at his place. He looked over at his father-in-law, "Mr. Bennet, I hope you can forgive my impropriety last night at supper."
Mr. Bennet nodded, "We, neither of us behaved in the best of manners, Darcy. It is forgotten."
Darcy smiled and nodded back, then looked over at young Christian. He sat quietly next to his father, eating a small bite of toast with his mouth closed. Darcy smiled broadly at the boy and reached under the table and gave his little hand an appreciative squeeze. The boy's eyes lit up and the smile he usually possessed reappeared on his face. Elizabeth saw the gesture and smiled. She felt a little better this morning, however she was greatly relieved to have her dear sister Jane to comfort her.
After breakfast, Elizabeth and Jane went upstairs. As they walked along the gallery they could see Mr. Bennet standing and looking out the windows down onto the front lawns. Elizabeth came up behind her father and put her arm around him and looked out the window at the sight below. The children were playing croquet on the lawn, along with Darcy and Bingley. Bingley's daughters followed close behind him, not wanting to soil their new dresses. The Darcy children ran around, rolling in the grass and throwing handfuls of it all over each other. Darcy threw down his mallet and chased Christian in the grass. He picked up the child and tickled him as the child threw a handful of grass on him. The smiles on their faces left no doubt that father and son were again the best of friends.
Later in the day the children went to their rooms to rest. Darcy and Bingley were playing a game of billiards when they heard blood-curdling screaming coming from upstairs. They ran as fast as they could through the house, to the bedchamber where the screams and cries were coming from. Bingley raced over to his daughters. The two girls were screeching and carrying on like no one had ever seen.
"What is it? What is the matter?" Bingley cried.
"A monster Papa! It came out of the washbowl at me!" the oldest girl sobbed.
Darcy glanced over and saw his three children standing next to one another, looking rather guilty. Darcy walked over to them and bent down, as the Bingley girls continued to shriek. "Did you see what it was?" he asked.
Andrew and Christian looked at each other, not wanting to make a confession. Hannah looked at her father and sighed, "It was only a little frog, Papa."
Darcy bit his lip, and stood up. He went over to Bingley and explained the whole thing to him. He then walked over to the door and gestured to his children to come with him. They walked down the hallway back to the nursery where they encountered Elizabeth.
"What was all that screeching about?" she said nervously.
"I am not sure, but I believe we are about to find out." Darcy reported to her as they all entered the nursery. Darcy turned around and tried to look as sternly as he could.
"Who put the frog into the washbowl in the girl's room?" he asked, as Elizabeth sat down in a chair, closed her eyes and sighed.
The children all looked at each other in bewilderment, and Andrew finally spoke, "No one, Papa. It must have been the frog that escaped the other day."
"The frog that escaped..." Darcy did not even try to finish as he shook his head and looked at Elizabeth.
"Yes, Papa...you should have seen it!" Andrew and Christian looked at each other and started to laugh, even Hannah had to giggle. "She went to wash her hands in the washbowl and the thing came jumping out and landed right on her head! That was when she began screaming that a monster had attacked her." All three children started laughing and a mischievous smile lit up Darcy's face. Darcy put his hand over his mouth, trying desperately to hide his laughter, especially from Elizabeth.
She sat forward in the chair, and bit her lip in disapprobation of the children's behavior. Andrew spoke up again. "One would think they would know what a frog was? They are such ninnies!"
"Andrew! Do not speak of your cousins in such a way. Where did you hear such a phrase?" Elizabeth chastised him.
"That is what Papa called them the other day!" he blurted out.
Elizabeth looked at Darcy, who looked back at her with his eyes wide in incredulity.
"Fitzwilliam!" she exclaimed in abhorrence.
Darcy pointed to himself, shaking his head as if to imply that it was all an incredible falsehood, but he could not speak it, for that would have been a lie. Elizabeth stood up and looked sternly at the children. Darcy stole a quick glance at Andrew, and made a face. Andrew gave him a timid shrug and Christian stood watching the whole exchange and giggled.
"When will you all learn to show some decorum? You had best tread lightly around me, for I am in no humor for any more of your jokes!" Elizabeth huffed, speaking to Darcy as much as to the children. Darcy sighed as he watched her leave the room, then turned back at his children.
"Andrew, sometimes it is best not to repeat everything I happen to say...especially to your mother," he said in bewilderment. "That is called 'keeping one's confidence'."
Hannah poked Andrew in the side and he nodded his understanding. Christian kept giggling, for it was his brother and not himself this time who was under scrutiny.
Darcy laughed along with Christian, "And do try not to bring anymore frogs into the house."
That afternoon a carriage pulled up to the front gates. Darcy and Bingley had been walking back from the stables with Harry Wright, who had come to look at the older carriage that Darcy had promised to sell him at a very reasonable price. None of them recognized the approaching livery. It pulled up to the house and out stepped Aaron Moore followed by Mrs. Moore, the former Miss Kitty Bennet, and their young son.
"Mr. Moore! What brings you to Derbyshire?" Darcy exclaimed.
"Darcy! How good it is to see you...and Bingley and Harry B. All of you in one convenient spot!" the inexhaustible Mr. Moore greeted them. "Kitty my dear, why not go into the house and find your sisters?"
Darcy showed her the way inside and left her and the child with a servant. Darcy found his way back to the gentlemen and impatiently waited for an explanation from his brother-in-law.
"Darcy I hope our little visit does not inconvenience you?" Moore smiled with enthusiasm.
Darcy smiled back, "Not at all...everyone else is here!"
Moore nodded, "Ah, then I take it our father-in-law is still here?"
"Yes, and he shows no signs of going elsewhere," Darcy quipped.
"Indeed! Well, unbeknownst to my dear wife, I have been commissioned to find dear Mr. Bennet and expedite him back to Longbourn and back to our mother-in-law."
"What?" Bingley asked somewhat astounded.
"It appears that our in-laws have had a falling out of sorts, and Mr. Bennet has up and left poor Mrs. Bennet, vowing never to return." Moore stopped to reflect. "The poor woman is besides herself with grief." He raised his eyebrow.
Bingley and Harry Wright looked at each other in astonishment, however Darcy was not all that surprised by Aaron Moore's revelation. "Well Mr. Moore, I believe we should seek out Mr. Bennet, post haste."
The four men found Mr. Bennet contentedly reading a book in the library. They walked in, and Darcy took a seat next to his father-in-law. Bingley leaned against the desk as did Aaron Moore. Harry Wright leaned against a wall with his arms folded. Mr. Bennet looked up at the sight.
"Well, Mr. Moore! What a pleasure it is to see you, but I am not surprised. You four look like a lynch mob! All we need is that Wickham fellow to complete the look."
"Mr. Bennet, sir." Darcy began. "Mr. Moore says that Mrs. Bennet has sent him here to fetch you back to Longbourn."
"That is all well and good Darcy, however, I am not inclined to go back."
Darcy sighed, "May I ask why not?"
"Well Darcy, since I am dependent upon your gracious hospitality, and the four of you look like you mean business, I shall tell you."
Mr. Bennet's sons waited patiently for the explanation forthcoming from their father-in-law.
"I have decided that I do not wish to put up with the constant nagging and insupportable tirades of Mrs. Bennet anymore. After thirty some years of it, I am quite done in," he looked over at Darcy, "I should think Darcy that you would not blame me?"
Darcy had a moment of discomfort as he realized that Mrs. Bennet's character probably had more of an adverse affect on himself, than anyone else in the room.
"Besides there is no one at Longbourn to bear the brunt of it anymore, save myself. I miss the company of my daughters."
Darcy finally spoke, "Mr. Bennet, do you realize how this news will affect your daughters? How do you think Elizabeth will feel when she finds out about this?"
Mr. Bennet gave no reply, for he knew that his daughters would not take the news well.
"Your wife is very despondent over your leaving, sir." Moore added.
Mr. Bennet still gave no reply, however he looked a bit regretful.
The ladies were gathered in the parlor, having tea and talking. They had not all been together in some time, and the subject on their minds most was the strange behavior of their father.
"I wish I knew what to make of it? You have no information Kitty?" Elizabeth asked as she sat down on a sofa.
"No Lizzy, all I know is that Aaron insisted we pack our things and come directly here for a visit...no warning or prior plans. It is very curious."
"Perhaps everyone needed a holiday?" Jane said sweetly attending to her needlework.
The other ladies in the room looked at her, somewhat disbelieving of her goodness. Mary waddled over to a chair and plopped down. She was finding it hard to remain on her feet much, for she was rather great with child.
"Please help yourselves to some refreshments," Elizabeth said, pointing to the tea tray. "With all the stress of late, I am finding it difficult to look at food at the moment."
"Lizzy, you have not looked well since we arrived?" Jane said tenderly, as the other women looked at her to assess her condition. "Do you think you may be with child?"
Elizabeth sighed and placed a hand over her abdomen. "It is beginning to seem very likely," she smiled even though she felt ill. "I would be very happy to have it so. It is just that I dislike feeling so ill and tired all the time." Jane and Kitty nodded their agreement as to the state of pregnancy.
"I have never felt better, than when I am with child," Mary offered. "I was never ill once, and I feel more vibrant and alive than I do at any other time. Pregnancy is also a state of mind."
Jane and Kitty looked at her not only in a state of disbelief, but also one of envy. Elizabeth tried her best to keep from turning a pale shade of green as her nausea took a turn for the worse.
"Well, I would be most grateful if you would keep this news to yourselves. I do not want to tell Fitzwilliam until I am absolutely positive of its truth." She shifted positions and placed her hand on her side, for she had a twitching pain there.
Everyone remained for supper that evening, and the conversation remained light, even though the men had recently become privy to the dreaded details of Mr. Bennet's estrangement from his wife. Darcy had no intentions of informing Elizabeth of her parent's troubles. He still thought she was not looking at all well, and he intended to speak to her about calling the doctor in the morning. Until he found out for himself that she was well, he would make no move to disclose circumstances which might upset her in any way.
Darcy heard Moore and Bingley speaking of the merits of education and the best schools. Mr. Bennet thought this a worthy subject and ventured to join in.
"There is nothing more important for a young man than a fine education." He announced.
"Yes, sir." Bingley agreed. "I should say, Darcy and I received the very best education at Eton."
Mr. Bennet guffawed at the comment, and Darcy looked over at him curiously. "Eton! A group of the very best collection of spoiled children on the face of the earth."
Darcy sat back in his chair, trying his best not to let his temper rise at the ridiculous statements of his father-in-law.
"Where would you propose we send our sons, sir?" Moore chuckled.
"I attended Westminster, and a very fine education I had too." Mr. Bennet nodded his satisfaction. "I hope you will be sending your sons there Darcy?"
Elizabeth looked up from her meal and tried to stop her father from any further speculation on the subject.
"No sir, I shall not be sending my sons there. They already have a confirmation at Eton, when they are ready to go."
"Then you are a fool, Darcy!" Mr. Bennet laughed.
Elizabeth could see every muscle in Darcy's body tighten, as he tried to refrain from comment.
Mr. Bennet continued, "I shall have to talk some sense into you...before it is too late."
Harry Wright quickly took another sip of wine, as he feared the inevitable. Charles Bingley's cheeks flushed as he knew Fitzwilliam Darcy all too well. Aaron Moore simply sat upright in anticipation of the fireworks he assumed would ensue.
"Is it your mission, sir...to wait until we sit down to supper each night and proceed to annoy and entice me into an argument? You must take great delight in the spectacle."
Elizabeth reached over and let her hand rest on Darcy's knee. He looked at her, bewildered and indignant at her father's lack of decorum.
"Not at all Darcy! You have always been entirely too sensitive for your own good." Mr. Bennet snapped.
"I should think you would do best to attend to your own affairs...perhaps it is high time you went home, whether you wish to or not!" Darcy snapped back.
"What?" Elizabeth said, looking at her father. "Papa, I want to know this minute what is going on. You have acted very strangely since your arrival, and I think you owe us an explanation!"
In haste Mr. Bennet blurted out, "Lizzy, I have left your mother. I told her she may remain at Longbourn for as long as I am alive...but I will not be returning there!"
Everyone looked down the table at Mr. Bennet. Tears welled up in Elizabeth's eyes and she quickly stood up and began to walk out. Darcy was frozen in his seat, until he saw Elizabeth turn around and grab her abdomen. He saw her body give way and he bolted from his chair, scooping her up before she tumbled to the floor.
Darcy stood and looked out the gallery window, as everyone, except Jane, waited with him. The doctor had been called and was in the bedchamber with Elizabeth, and her sister. No one dared to speak with Darcy. He would not move away from the window, and was most comfortable with his back to the crowd so they could not see his extreme torment. Mr. Bennet was besides himself with worry over the condition of his daughter, it appeared that the confrontation between himself and her husband had caused her great distress.
Darcy turned around at the sound of the door opening, to see the doctor walk up to him. "Mr. Darcy, if I may speak with you a moment, sir? In private?"
Darcy stood motionless, not wanting to take a breath for fear the doctor would tell him something he did not want to hear. "Mr. Graves, these people are my family. What you have to say can be said in their presence."
"Very well sir." The doctor looked concerned. "Let me assure you that Mrs. Darcy will be fine."
Darcy could not help but close his eyes and let out the breath he had been holding, at the doctor's declaration.
"Sir...your wife informed me that she believed she was with child."
Darcy stared at the man, as he played the last words over and over in his mind. "Was...sir?"
The doctor nodded his head, "Yes sir, she has lost the child."
"I see." Darcy whispered. He put his hand up to his face to conceal his momentary shock and grief, then brushed back the hair from his brow. He could only turn his eyes towards the wall, for fear of encountering a sympathetic face.
"Mr. Darcy, these things do happen. There is generally no explanation and your wife is in excellent health, other than being tired and somewhat melancholy. I assured her that she will be able to conceive again."
This time Darcy encountered the doctor directly in the eye. He frowned his displeasure at the man's rehearsed answer and the ease which he delivered it. "I would like to see her," he halfway demanded. The doctor gave his permission and Darcy entered the room. Jane stood up from the chair where she had been sitting next to Elizabeth and she quietly left without encountering Darcy's gaze.
Darcy took a place in the chair and looked at Elizabeth. She was laying in the bed with her head turned away from him. He tried to speak, but each time he only swallowed the words before they left his mouth. He finally whispered, "Elizabeth" and she turned her head towards him. When her eyes met his, he could see she had been weeping. He had never seen such torment on her face.
"I am sorry, Fitzwilliam."
Mr. Bennet paced outside the chamber door, working himself up into a frenzy as he was convinced that he was the cause of his daughter's misfortune. He started for the bedchamber door and Bingley stopped him. "Sir! Where do you think you are going?"
"I must see Lizzy! I must!" he ranted.
"Mr. Bennet...give them some time alone. This is something only a husband and a wife can resolve together," Bingley advised him.
"Nonsense!" Mr. Bennet drew his arm away and quietly entered the chamber. Once inside he stayed in the sitting area, behind a hall tree that bore a gown on it. He could see Darcy sitting next to the bed and saw his daughter looking silently at her husband. He made no further effort to come any closer to them. He just looked on the sight with sadness.
"What have you to be sorry for, Elizabeth?" Darcy asked her. She closed her eyes but did not answer him. "It is I who am sorry. Sorry that I did not take better care of you." Tears welled up in Darcy's eyes as he began to lose charge of his disposition and let his sorrow take over. "I am sorry that I hurt you so, by losing my temper with your father."
She reached over to his face and wiped the tear from his cheek, "No one takes better care of me than you, my love. It is a promise that you have never broken." She smiled at him and he held her hand to his cheek and cried.
When Darcy was sure Elizabeth was sleeping soundly, he left the room and walked back out into the hallway. Everyone had gone to bed except for Bingley. Darcy stopped and looked at his friend. "Darcy, I know you are not one to confide in others. I want to know that all is right with you, for my own piece of mind; and let you know that I am here should you need me."
"Bingley, you are the very best of friends...but damned if all is right with me!" Darcy's voice broke. "I do not know how to comfort her, Charles...I cannot even comfort myself!"
"You cannot know everything, Darcy. There are some things beyond even your control. This is not the fault of anyone or anything. It is simply life." Bingley astonished Darcy with his good sense. Darcy knew that what his friend had said was true, but he still could not accept the loss.
It was late, but Darcy could not sleep. He went to the chapel and sat alone, as he always did when he was overcome by things he did not understand. Mr. Bennet quietly walked in and took a seat next to his son-in-law.
"Darcy?" Mr. Bennet interrupted the silence.
"Mr. Bennet...I am not in a position to accept any fatherly advice at present." Darcy said as he continued to stare at the altar.
"Then I shall venture none." Mr. Bennet cleared his throat. "My daughter tells me you are an excellent husband and father, I wish to tell you that I concur with her assessment."
Darcy gave a doubting laugh at the observation. "Mr. Bennet, if I may be so bold...do you love your wife?"
Mr. Bennet was astonished at the inquiry, but gave a slight shrug.
Darcy continued, "How can you have lived with a woman for thirty some years and not know your own feelings?"
Mr. Bennet had never really thought about it before. He had always lived for today, and generally did not spend much time in reflection.
Darcy went on with his inquest. "I realize people marry for many reasons...but to have spent every day of those thirty years with a woman; spoken to her every day, slept with her, allowed her to give you the gift of a child...how can you not know of your affections for her?" Darcy shook his head in utter amazement. "Sir...I did not want Elizabeth as my wife for the sole purpose of providing me with an heir, or because she struck my fancy during a moment of weakness. I want to be with her for all time, for reasons that defy explanation...and I know that I love her."
"I suppose I do...love...Mrs. Bennet, Darcy. However, I wonder whether or not she loves me?" Mr. Bennet wavered.
Darcy turned to his father-in-law for the first time during the conversation. "Why not go home and ask her? After thirty some years, I believe you deserve an answer."
Mr. Bennet smiled slowly. He was man enough to know he had been put in his place, and he could see that Darcy wished to go on with his own life as well.
Elizabeth was up and around a few days later, after Darcy made sure she took the advice of physician and family and rested. Elizabeth's grief was healing with the love of her husband and children, but Darcy tucked his grief away, not willing to completely let it go.
Mr. Bennet found his daughter resting on a chaise on the lawn and bid her good bye. "Lizzy, my dear...Mr. and Mrs. Moore are so good as to escort me back to Longbourn, insuring my prompt return," he jested.
"Good bye, Papa." She sighed. "I hope you and Mama may find peace."
"I am convinced we can come to a compromise, my child. I shall ask her a question upon my return, then we shall get on with the rest of our lives." He kissed her on the forehead and smiled. "I envy you, Lizzy."
She looked at him in question, but he stood up and quickly made for the carriage. The children came running up to her. "Mama, mama! Will you and Papa walk with us down to the lake?" Hannah asked her. Elizabeth smiled and nodded her head and the children ran off to find their father.
Darcy waved good-bye to his in-laws as the carriage pulled away, and the children excitedly told him of their plans for a walk. They led him over to where Elizabeth sat and he held out his hand to help her off the chaise. They walked slowly along in silence as the children scurried ahead. When they arrived at the lake, Darcy found a suitable spot for Elizabeth to sit and he sat behind her, cradling her in his arms. The children played near the mouth of the stream that emptied into the lake and their parents kept a watchful eye on them, delighting in their enthusiasm.
Christian crept up on a small green frog sitting by the bank. He reached out and put his hands around the poor creature. "I shall take you home." He smiled. "You will like it in the washbowl, and grandmother Bennet will come and keep you company!"
Elizabeth sighed as she laid back onto her husband, feeling secure and happy. "Dear, what did my father mean when he said he was to ask my mother a question?"
"I believe he wishes to ask your mother...how much she loves him."
Elizabeth giggled and looked back at her husband to share in the amusement, but he was not laughing. "Fitzwilliam, my love. You must let go of your grief."
Darcy sighed in evidence of his pain, "Oh Elizabeth, on our wedding day I thought that there could never again be any sorrow in my life."
"That is not possible, my dear. There is not always a happy ending to every good book. This was only one chapter in ours." She stroked the side of his face and he held her tighter and kissed her, thanking God for everything he had been given, even those gifts which had been lost.
"Papa!" came a little voice "Mama!" Darcy and Elizabeth parted from their intimate embrace to see the figure of a child, covered in mud, with only the whites of his eyes and the constancy of his grin to tell them that it was Christian, the mischievous little gift.
© 1998 Copyright held by author