I've always loved the Shaker round, 'Simple Gifts', and while listening to it one day, and thinking of the words, I thought of this story.
Eight months of marriage had found Elizabeth Darcy to be a happy and contented wife. She could not have been more pleased with her situation as the mistress of a great estate, and she was convinced a better husband than her beloved Mr. Darcy, had never been so blissfully captured by another bride. Elizabeth's dreams of marriage to a fair and just man had been fulfilled, for Darcy gave his wife every respect and civility which a man could show a woman. Darcy's hopes of happiness with a woman he could love and cherish, had come to be, for Elizabeth never gave him cause to think her unworthy of that esteem.
This was not to say that the lovers had not had a disagreement or two during their tender union. There had been a few instances when they had each labored to find their place within their marriage. Times when one or both of them stepped beyond good reason, and slipped back to the trace of a prejudice, or the hint of pride. Elizabeth came to realize that those weaknesses were simply the fault of human nature, of which no one could boast of avoiding.
Darcy did not speak much on the subject, unless he was unfortunate enough to be caught in one of those previous annoying defects which had once been so fluently pointed out to him by his wife. It was true that if he found her argument to be valid, he affably yielded to her wisdom, but on occasion he knew his position to be the correct one, and he held his ground in no uncertain terms, until Elizabeth conceded to his sense.
Elizabeth sought to find her place as a wife, and eventually hoped for the promise of motherhood. Darcy looked to establish themselves as honorable in the eyes of their society, as his good parents had done before them. It was all going according to their plans, until one day in late summer, when the air was still, and the day quite lazy, and unforeseen particulars would cause the young couple to discover just which one of them would bow and which one of them would bend.
"Whoa, there!" the coachman called out to the team of fine horses.
"Are you certain you will not come in?" Darcy asked of Elizabeth again. "It is very hot out, especially in the sun when the top is down."
"No, dear," Elizabeth assured him with a gleam in her eyes which spoke of her mischief, "I like to watch the people go by. It is one of my favorite pastimes you know."
"I know," Darcy returned her mischief with a subtle grin. "Move the carriage off to the shade of that tree," he instructed the coachman, then he turned on his heel and entered the office of his solicitor.
The coachman did as his employer instructed, and Elizabeth settled back into the carriage seat, to watch as the world passed by. It seemed as if the heat particularly slowed things down in the small town. There was not the usual bustle in Lambton, although there were enough people milling about to make things interesting. People whom Elizabeth had become acquainted with walked by, and they greeted her, some stopping to speak a few friendly words, others simply waving as they continued on their way.
There were folks of all paths of life in the village of Lambton. One could see travelers as they migrated through the county, usually men with their families, headed from the north on their way to London to make a place for themselves in the new factories and warehouses. There were local farmers selling their produce in a makeshift market near the green, and salesmen peddling their wares not far behind. The wives of local cottagers and yeomen shopped for their daily fare, and the mistresses of country estates perused the higher class shops along the boarded walk.
Everywhere behind these people were their children. Some youngsters were dressed in fine starched clothes, with their faces washed and their hair neatly combed. Other children were clad in what seemed to be fabrics not much better than what the servants at Pemberley used for dust cloths.
It always unsettled Elizabeth to think of the manner in which she and her husband dwelled, compared to some of the people she saw in the little town. It made her grateful for what she had, and reassured her to know that any children their union would bring would never be made to suffer. The sight of little pauper children, with their soiled faces and torn clothes made Elizabeth realize what she had to give, as well.
Quite a bit of Elizabeth's pocket allowance went into the parish poor box on Sundays. She would take mostly notes, and slip them in the box so they would not clink as she dropped them. She tried to be discreet about her donations, but she knew her husband was fully aware of it. He never said nay, but he had not outwardly condoned it either, and this always made her wonder what he truly thought of the deed. Darcy was not an ungenerous man by any means, but he had a concept of decorum which Elizabeth found difficult to share at times.
Elizabeth took a fan from the seat of the carriage, opened it and fluttered it in front of her face. The air truly was still, and the heat apparent even under the shade of the trees. She wondered how long her husband would be in the solicitor's office. She had plans to coax Darcy out for a picnic that evening, up on the ridge overlooking most of the estate. Elizabeth had found the place while on a walk one day. It was not far from the house, but it was secluded, and on hot summer evenings it was the perfect place for two young lovers to escape the stuffy confines of a prudential household, and hold each other close on a blanket under the heavens.
In the midst of her daydream, Elizabeth's eyes detected movement over by a wagon which was parked near the marketplace, and her ears heard the faint weeping of a child. As the weeping continued, it caught her attention more, and she turned her head towards the commotion, for there were times when the cries of a child could be most disturbing to a woman's being.
She noticed a small boy sitting in the dirt beside the wagon. He could not have been much older than perhaps three years and he looked in his disheveled state to be the child of a poor farmer. As the child cried, people walked past him without a care in the world it seemed. Elizabeth grew more and more anxious and upset by the scene, mostly because not a soul had stopped to comfort the discontented boy.
Before the coachman knew what was happening, his mistress had let herself out of the carriage, stepping to the ground. "Ma'am, may I be of some service?" he scrambled to assist her.
"I shall be back in a moment," she said as she walked towards the unfortunate child.
She made her way across the lane, and people stopped what they were doing to look at her. It was strange how they could suddenly take notice of Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy, but they could not hear the cries of an unhappy child. Elizabeth bent down in front of the boy and reached out for his hand. He shied away from her, but she extended a comforting smile, and slowly shook her head.
"You must not be afraid, my dear. I would not hurt you, I want to help you."
The boy looked at her through his tears, and when she took his hand and tenderly patted it in comfort, he scrambled over to her side, trying to hide himself behind her skirts. Elizabeth looked up to see several people who had stopped to gawk at her and the child.
"Whose child is this?" she demanded.
"He belongs to nobody," a gruff voice called out above the building crowd. A round-shaped man made his way through, holding a walking stick in one hand, and pointing it at the child as he spoke. "He is an orphan, left here by neighbors of his departed family. He is to come with me!"
The boy cowered behind Elizabeth and whimpered. "And who are you?" Elizabeth appealed.
"I am Mr. John Sutton, from the orphanage in Doryton, ma'am. I was sent here to fetch this urchin," he pointed to the boy again with his walking stick, "and bring him back to the orphanage."
Elizabeth snatch the boy up into her arms, panic in her heart at the prospect of this man taking a baby to such a place. "You are not needed here any more," she spoke willfully. "There has been a mistake and this child is under my care. Go back to your place of employment and leave us be."
"I cannot do that ma'am," he moved closer to Elizabeth. The child began to wail again, sensing Elizabeth's fear. Mr. Sutton reached down and grasped the boy's arm, despite Elizabeth's attempts to serve as a shield.
"Be gone with you!" she raised her voice, still holding onto the boy. "Or I shall call for the constable!"
The crowd grew louder as Mr. Sutton kept his hold on the boy. Elizabeth was frantic, for she did not know what to do, and the child wailed at the top of his lungs.
"What is this about?" came a strong voice through the crowd. Elizabeth's eyes were wild, but when she saw the figure of her husband, she breathed in relief. Mr. Sutton turned around in his agitation, snarling at another hindrance. Darcy was not that bad with a walking stick himself, and he swiftly moved the blunt end of his own makeshift weapon against Mr. Sutton's chest, and held it firm.
"Sir, I am to do a job!" he insisted to Darcy. "This woman has no right to interfere with my taking this boy. It has all been arranged."
Darcy looked down to see his wife on the ground, with the soiled child enveloped in her arms. He pursed his lips in a look of disapprobation which Elizabeth had never quite seen appear on his features before. "I ask again--what is this quarrel about?"
"This meddlesome woman is preventing me from taking my ward!" Mr. Sutton yelled out.
Darcy pushed his walking stick a little harder against the man's chest as a deterrent. "I have heard from you--be still. Now I ask the lady."
"This child obviously does not intend to go with this man. He is frightened, and no one shows him any compassion, except for myself," she answered bravely.
"The boy is without a family?" Darcy inquired sternly.
"He is," Elizabeth answered, forcing her chin up in determination, even though it was her own husband to whom she spoke.
Darcy remained silent, studying his wife's frantic face, and glancing down at the boy she sheltered conspicuously behind her. He finally removed the walking stick from Mr. Sutton's chest. A gasp escaped Elizabeth as she thought her husband would certainly order her away from the child so the horrid Mr. Sutton could do his job.
"You may go," Darcy told the man. "Leave the boy here. He shall be under my protection for a time." He turned an intimidating stare towards Mr. Sutton, then reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a five pound note. "This should prove sufficient for all your trouble."
Mr. Sutton had no choice but to take Darcy's offer, muster a polite bow, and back away from the crowd. When he was far enough away, Darcy took his eyes from the man and forced his glare towards Elizabeth.
"Get the boy and yourself into the carriage," he advised shortly, as if extremely displeased.
Darcy did not say one word on the drive back to Pemberley. The boy continued to cling to Elizabeth, and she held him beneath her arm, every so often hastening a glance across the carriage at the troubled appearance of her husband. As soon as the carriage came to a halt in the courtyard of Pemberley house, Darcy disembarked, and took Elizabeth and the child out. He hurried them into the house, into the study and closed the door behind them, then went to the servants bell and rang it.
"Woman," he spun around angrily, "What do you think you are doing?"
"Fostering a poor indefensible child!" Elizabeth tried to keep her voice from raising, as the boy grasped her skirts again in fear. "Look at him--he is frightened out of his wits. He has no one to give a care for him, no one to love him, and by the looks of him no one who has even thought of feeding him for some time. I am certainly not going to stand by and watch this baby be sent away with such a horrible man!"
"There are times, Elizabeth, when your ungovernable spirit makes me want to..." Darcy seethed, but stopped to collect himself, as he took another look at the pitiful child. The boy stared up at him, his eyes seemingly larger for the soot covering his face, and his emaciated state. "These things do happen, I would think you not so innocent as to know it," Darcy continued, still attempting to control his own vexation with the situation before him, but Elizabeth continued to shelter the child. "Are we to take in every pitiable case to happen by?"
"Oh, Fitzwilliam!" Elizabeth responded in exasperation. "What sort of honor says that we should not show compassion to those less fortunate than ourselves?"
"No honor, Elizabeth," he heaved an irritable, yet corrected sigh. "There are no rules to that effect--in any class."
A knock on the study door interrupted them, and the housekeeper entered the room. She took one look at the child and put her hand up to her mouth in utter surprise.
"Mrs. Reynolds, take this boy, give him a bath, and find him some clean clothes. Send for Mr. Graves the physician, tell him that I want the boy looked over." Darcy turned around and took a look out the window towards the courtyard, "I will not have some wretched affliction brought into this house." Elizabeth's disapprobation at Darcy's principled caution appeared upon her face in the form of a caustic frown. "Elizabeth," he continued. "You and I must continue this alone."
Mrs. Reynolds dutifully grasped the boy's hand, but the child screamed and attached himself to Elizabeth's body, quaking with fright. "It is all right, little darling. Depend upon it, Mrs. Reynolds would never harm you."
Despite Elizabeth's assurances, the boy continued to mewl. His cries made Elizabeth's insides churn, and she looked at her husband in great distress and said, "He shall not be easy unless I go with him. Can we not speak later?"
Darcy gave a frustrated nod, and Elizabeth whisked the child from the room. Every nerve in Darcy's body seemed to be sitting on the surface of his skin. He had no idea what they were going to do with this orphan who Elizabeth had befriended, however he did know that the boy could not remain with them at Pemberley. He had, however, no idea how he was to make Elizabeth see his point.
Elizabeth bathed the child herself, trying not to scrub his skin too roughly, but having some trouble with the caked on soot. She took him out of the water and wrapped a warmed towel around him, and the boy's body shook, mostly from depletion, she thought. Mrs. Reynolds had gone downstairs and secured some clothing from one of the servants who had a child near the same age as the boy.
Elizabeth dressed him in the clothing, combed his hair, and took a look at him. He really was a sweet little thing, once he was cleaned, and she smiled and cradled his face in the soft palms of her hands. For the first time she saw the poor little child smile, and she felt as if she would cry at the sight of it.
Mrs. Reynolds brought in Mr. Graves, the physician. "This man is going to take a look at you," Elizabeth told the boy, as she reassured him again with a stroke of her palm on his cheek. "Mr. Darcy wants to be sure that you do not get sick."
As long as Elizabeth remained by his side and held his hand, the boy remained quiet enough for the physician to examine him. He was so thin, for a child, and Elizabeth became restless, her anxiety apparent each time the physician made a move to poke or prod at the boy.
Mrs. Reynolds brought up a bowl of porridge and the child looked at it with all eagerness. Elizabeth fed him tiny bites with a small spoon, and Mr. Graves instructed her and Mrs. Reynolds to give him only bland foods for a time, until his stomach recovered enough to accept fruits and meats.
Although he wanted to, the child could not eat very much, and his eyes became heavy having had something in his stomach. Elizabeth sat in a rocking chair, in a darkened corner of the room, and rocked the child on her lap. Mrs. Reynolds covered him with a soft blanket, and the boy lulled to sleep in Elizabeth's arms as she sang a comforting tune,
'Tis the gift to be simple, 'Tis the gift to be free, 'Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be, And when we find ourselves in the place just right, It will be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gained, to bow and to bend, we will not be ashamed To turn, turn, will be our delight, 'Til by turning, turning, we come round right.
While Elizabeth sang, Darcy came into the room and took another look at the child. "Mr. Graves?" he spoke with a whisper to the physician.
"There is nothing wrong with him that some nourishment and proper care will not cure."
"Have you ever seen him before?"
"I have, sir," answered Mr. Graves. "I know the midwife who attended his mother at the birth. The boy's mother expired right afterward, and now I hear his father is gone as well," Mr. Graves sighed. "I believe they called him Nathaniel."
Elizabeth placed her hand on the boy's head, closing her eyes at the delicate feel of a small child slumbering against her breast. She sighed and brushed back the hair on his forehead, whispering, "Nathaniel."
"He has no other family anywhere, no guardian?" Darcy began to fret as he posed the question to the physician.
"None that I know of, sir. I had heard that they were to take him to the orphanage."
Darcy heaved a sigh, sadness and anxiety etched on his face, "They were."
The child was not very lively the rest of that day. The warm bath and the administering of something nourishing seemed to take his strength and cause him to drowse off and on. There was no one on the household staff employed as a nursemaid, and Elizabeth instructed Mrs. Reynolds to employ one as quickly as she could. Until then, Elizabeth took it upon herself to watch over and care for the boy.
Darcy relented to Elizabeth sleeping in the nursery for a time. A trundle bed was brought into the room and placed at Elizabeth's side of the bed, upon her request. Darcy felt it was the only way to keep the child and his wife happy for a time. He watched Elizabeth, as she placed the boy's limp body down into the bed and covered him.
"How can this world be so cruel?" she sighed as she stood up.
Darcy had no good answer for her question. "Elizabeth, we must decide what is to be done with the child."
"What do you mean, Fitzwilliam? Why must anything be done?"
"We cannot keep him here," Darcy tried to explain rationally, although he knew there would be some resistance from his wife.
"What?" Elizabeth frowned.
"He cannot remain here for long," Darcy insisted calmly and grasped his wife's hand in his own before she was inclined to become upset. "Elizabeth, you must be sensible and listen to my reasoning. I am only thinking of what is good for everyone. For you, for me, and for that little boy."
"What is good for this boy is to be with people who will care for him. To be with people who can give him what by rights as a child he deserves!"
"Yes, indeed. That is so, and that is my point," Darcy said firmly, but lovingly. "By birth he is the son of a farmer, it is for him to be with people of his own position. He deserves to be in a house where he will be contented, and with a family who can love him as their own."
"How could you say such things, Fitzwilliam? I had believed you had thought differently now," she huffed. "There are times when your pride seems to slip out, when you are not careful to conceal it."
"Elizabeth, you do not understand," he continued tenderly, and he reached out a hand to touch her bewildered face. "I know how much you long to be a mother, but this is not the way."
The boy in the small bed stirred, and Elizabeth knelt down to comfort him, and lull him back into sleep with her song. Her compassion towards the child did not go unnoticed by Darcy, and he indeed was proud of his wife, but he had no wish to see her grieving when it was time to let the child go.
"You are correct, Fitzwilliam. I do not understand," she whispered sadly. "I do not understand why any of this should ever be so."
Sometime during the night, the child awoke and called out. Elizabeth flew out of bed at the sound of it, and Darcy rolled over in his own bed in the next room, and quickly lit a candle. Out of fright, the boy clung to Elizabeth, and she brought him into her bed and cradled him back to contentment.
Darcy quietly entered the room, and sat down on the bed next to his wife. Elizabeth looked at him, and he reached out and stroked the boy's head gently. As he watched his wife, and her protectiveness of the child, Darcy began to feel it himself. He had been determined not to form an attachment to the boy, but Elizabeth's simple devotion to a small being who desperately needed her, touched his heart in a way he was not likely to forget.
Darcy found it difficult to go back to sleep that night, and by his own volition he sat in a chair in the nursery next to the bed and watched his wife and the child sleep, until he closed his own eyes in fatigue. He awoke some hours later to find that morning had come, and that the child lay next to Elizabeth with his eyes wide open.
"A pleasant morning to you, Nathaniel," Darcy yawned. The boy's eyes widened at the man who condescended to speak to him. "Are you hungry?"
Nathaniel nodded his head eagerly and Darcy smiled. He motioned towards Elizabeth, and told the boy, "You may wake up Mrs. Darcy, and tell her that you and I would like to have some breakfast."
The boy gingerly nudged Elizabeth with his hand, and she stirred, then sat up with a start. "Is everything well? What is the matter?"
Darcy chuckled, then coaxed the boy with an appetent nod, to tell Elizabeth his wishes. "I am hungry, Misses," the child said in a tiny voice.
Elizabeth's smile stretched from ear to ear and she gave the boy an embrace of reassurance. "Yes, yes--we shall go down directly and have something to eat," her voice sang out with happiness.
As Darcy left the room for his own dressing room, he turned back to see his wife and the child giggling together as Elizabeth washed the boy's face with a wet cloth from the basin. It did his heart good to see them both so content, but a frown soon overtook his face, for he knew now how difficult it was to be, when they would find another home for Nathaniel.
Nathaniel was allowed to sit at the breakfast table with the Darcys. A plate with an egg and toast was placed in front of him, and before it actually rested on the table, the boy had his hands into it, ready to consume it. A look of proprietary disgust overtook Darcy's face, and with his eyes wide, he grumbled out the words, "Good god!"
Elizabeth took the boy by the arms and pulled his tiny hands out of the plate. "No, no, Nathaniel. We do not eat with our hands, I will cut your food and you must use this fork to eat it."
The boy stared at the utensil which Elizabeth offered before him, then he grasped it and began to shovel the egg into his mouth as his lips touched the side of the plate. Elizabeth was almost afraid to look at her husband, but she did so, only to find the same appalled look on Darcy's face which he had possessed only moments before.
"You certainly have got your work cut out for you," he grimaced as he dropped his napkin back onto the table.
Nathaniel was a fast learner, and by the end of the day he had managed to use the fork, and eat without spilling much onto his lap or the table. Elizabeth taught him how to bow in the presence of his elders, and how he should address Mr. Darcy should the master of Pemberley wish to speak to him. She thought it only prudent to do at least that, for Darcy's opinion in this whole matter held quite a bit of weight.
A temporary nanny was hired to watch over Nathaniel during the day, and with considerable assurances on Elizabeth's part, the boy reluctantly went with the older woman back to the nursery for a midday rest. Elizabeth could not have been happier with the child, and she took the opportunity to seek out Darcy to inform him of the boy's immense progress.
"Fitzwilliam," she skipped over to her husband, who stood in his study, and she encircled her arms around his neck. "Nathaniel is doing extremely well, dearest! You will be so proud of him!"
"Elizabeth," Darcy replied in an admonishing tone.
Elizabeth's countenance dropped upon seeing that her husband did not seem as pleased at her news as she would have hoped. She ruefully lowered her arms back to her sides, but Darcy reached out and caught her around the waist.
"Elizabeth, I am glad the boy is doing so well. When a good family is found for him, they will no doubt be very grateful for your efforts."
"Fitzwilliam, I am not doing this for another family," she insisted brusquely.
"Elizabeth, know this now--you shall not sway my mind on this subject," Darcy declared with his own insistence. "You must realize what our neighbors will think of this, it will not be easy for you or the boy to suffer their censure and unkindness."
"What do we care of the neighbors, Fitzwilliam? They may gossip and talk as they wish, for it is all nonsense!"
"Nonsense it may be, but that does not mean that it will wound you any less. I of all people know the grief you feel from such prejudices, and believe me it will happen, if not now then a week from now. Say the boy were to remain with us--what will happen when we have children of our own?"
"What could you mean? Our children would love him like a brother."
"Perhaps," Darcy pursed his lips in his determination. "But he will be the eldest son of a wealthy family, with nothing to inherit for a future. How do you think that would make him feel? By rights and law he would be entitled to no part of Pemberley, under any particulars. What money we could bestow on him would always be inferior to that of our natural born children, and he would ceaselessly be reminded of his subordination."
Elizabeth's face drew into a scowl and her lip quivered in anger. "Sometimes I loathe your careful discretion--sometimes I wish I were the wife of a poor man, then I would not have to keep up such ridiculous appearances in front of people who do not matter to me. I wonder how you would be, if you were the one who had to bow and bend!"
Darcy allowed his wife to writhe free from his grasp and abandon the room with angered tears. He nearly despised himself for what he had been compelled to say. Had he thought it could be otherwise he would have followed Elizabeth to make amends, but in his heart he was more than aware of the cruelties their society offered and he had no wish to see Elizabeth or the boy suffer by what he was convinced would always be true.
That night, Darcy went to bed alone, for Elizabeth insisted upon remaining in the nursery with Nathaniel. She gave her reason as being that the boy would certainly awaken in the night and cry out, but Darcy could not help but feel that perhaps her anger kept her from their bed. The husband had not been prepared for such unanticipated fatherhood, and Elizabeth's willing absence from his company weighed heavily on his feelings. It was true that Darcy did not know much of what it was to bow and bend to anything but his own will, nor had he considered doing so, until he found himself without the solace of a wife.
Business called Darcy away the next day, and he and his steward went to call upon some of the cottagers who resided near the eastern borders of Pemberley land. Darcy had not been acquainted with all of the families, but there was a family that he particularly knew, for they had been trusted tenants for many years.
"Good day, Mr. Darcy!" the man called out upon seeing his employer walking towards his home.
"Good day to you, Mr. Darling," Darcy smiled. "I hope things are well with you, and your wife is in good health."
"Yes, sir--me and the misses do fittingly, and the crops continue to prosper," the man nodded, gladdened for such condescension from his landlord.
"I am happy to hear it," came Darcy's reply. "And your daughter?"
The man looked dumbstruck at Darcy's simple question, and Darcy paused in a pose of question. "Oh sir, a man of your consequence is not likely to hear of our sorrow. Our daughter was taken from us months ago, by the fever."
Darcy bowed his head in shock and sadness for the man. He could not fathom what grief a family must feel at the loss of their child. "Please accept my deepest condolences, Mr. Darling. I was not informed, and I am truly sorry for it." Then, Darcy quickly looked up at the man, for a supposition had come to his mind. Mr. Darling consented to hear out what Mr. Darcy had to say, and when Darcy left the good cottagers, it was agreed between them that Mr. And Mrs. Darling would visit Pemberley the very next day.
"Mrs. Reynolds," Darcy called out to the housekeeper. "Please tell Mrs. Darcy to come down to the drawing room, and ask her to bring Nathaniel."
Elizabeth answered the call of her husband, with Nathaniel holding onto her hand. She was surprised to see a man and woman standing and waiting with Darcy, and she nodded politely to the modest couple, and looked to her husband for some sort of explanation.
"This is Mr. And Mrs. Darling," Darcy introduced the cottagers. "My wife, and Nathaniel."
Mrs. Darling beamed with joy as she took one look at the boy. She knelt down next to Nathaniel and greeted him kindly. "He is a fine boy, ma'am," she declared, looking up at the mistress.
"Yes, he is a very fine little boy," Elizabeth agreed, then looked again to her husband, in query.
"I have known the Darlings for many years, my dear," he replied upon seeing her expression. "They live in a fine cottage to the east, and they are very respected tenants here."
"Indeed," she whispered, forcing a smile on her lips.
"I spoke to these good people yesterday, and asked them to come and meet Nathaniel."
Elizabeth's eyes appeared to smolder with fury as she fully understood the reason for Mr. And Mrs. Darlings' visit. She pursed her lips, but remained dutifully silent as the man and woman each spoke to the child and fawned over him. Nathaniel appeared comfortable enough with them, but that was simply not good enough for Elizabeth.
"What sort of a house do you keep, Mrs. Darling?" she ventured an impertinent inquiry.
Darcy cast an expression of reproach toward his wife, but Mrs. Darling politely answered the mistress's question. "We have a fine house, it has a strong roof and good windows, and it is clean and comfortable. It was a very happy home when our daughter lived there, ma'am, but since she passed on, it seems to be a lonely house."
Elizabeth's countenance softened upon hearing of the Darlings' loss. The disclosure caused her to look back toward her husband, pronouncing her regret for her impropriety with a heavy downcast of her eyes. Darcy did not demonstrate much forgiveness through the cold pierce of his own stare.
"Might you tell me what business you have here?" she inquired, seemingly innocent.
"Ma'am," Mr. Darling stood before Elizabeth, his hat humbly placed within his hand. "We could give this boy a good home, and plenty of love and care."
Elizabeth quickly turned around towards the bareness of a wall, not wishing to exhibit the teardrops which welled up in her eyes. "I do not know. My husband and I will consider your kind offer, and you shall hear from us on the subject."
Mr. Darling bent politely to the mistress, and went to collect his wife. Elizabeth turned back just enough to witness Mrs. Darling, as she leaned over and gave Nathaniel a kind kiss on the forehead.
"A fine day to you, Mr. Darcy," Mr. Darling bowed. "Ma'am."
"Good day, Mr. Darling," Darcy said in all politeness and walked the good people to the door. He turned to Mrs. Reynolds and asked her to take Nathaniel to the nursery.
Elizabeth could barely budge as she contemplated everything which had occurred. Darcy did not force her to speak, and he sat down on a chair and patiently waited for his wife to make her sentiments known. In a few moments, Elizabeth alighted in a chair, opposite her husband. She folded her arms across herself and shrugged.
"I know what you want me to do, Fitzwilliam," her voice strained through her feelings.
"The Darlings are very good people, Elizabeth. My father was very fond of them, and he thought enough of them to attend their wedding. We could not have wished for a better situation for the boy, or a more loving household for him to grow up in. These people own their land, and they farm ours, and Nathaniel will have a living and an inheritance, and two decent people who will teach him well."
Elizabeth heaved a frustrated sigh, "I do not know!"
"What is not to know, my dear?" Darcy questioned exhibiting his impatience. "They are good for him, Elizabeth, and he is good for them. The longer he remains with us the more difficult this will be for us all."
"I do not see how this is painful to you in the slightest!" Elizabeth let her disappointment slip.
Darcy swiftly stood up from his chair, "You have no right to speak to me so unkind. We may not have been married for long, but I thought by now you would know that I am not devoid of feelings. You have not listened to a word of my counsel." Darcy bent down towards her and with a pleading wave of his hand, said, "My heart tells me that you are not doing the right thing, Elizabeth."
Elizabeth tried desperately to hold back her tears. Darcy's frustration with his wife's lack of reason began to eclipse, and he was at a loss as to what to do. He had every right to insist upon sending Nathaniel to the Darlings, and even though Elizabeth would have to live with his decision, she would certainly resent him for it. The last thing he wanted was the unhappiness which bitterness would cause in their marriage. Darcy wanted Elizabeth to see what was just, he wanted her to believe in the choices they made, and he never wanted regret to be a part of their own alliance.
Darcy made for the door, leaving his wife within the drawing room. Before he left, he turned around, mustering all the calm and clarity he possessed at that moment. "This shall be your decision to make, Elizabeth. Before you make a commitment, remember all I have said about how things will be should you decide against the Darlings. Then you shall have to live with what comes of it, and so shall Nathaniel."
Neither Elizabeth nor Darcy were happy that evening. The day had been quite hot, and the heat had done nothing to improve their volatile tempers. For the first time in their marriage, neither one spoke to the other during the course of supper. Darcy left the house after the meal, and through the nursery window, Elizabeth saw him walking up the path towards the ridge where they so often went together on hot summer nights such as this.
When he reached the ridge, Darcy found a place to sit, leaning against an old weathered stone. He was hot and tired, bothered and saddened, and sorry that he had placed such a burden of choice onto his young wife. In a swift move, he untied his cravat and loosened the buttons of his shirt, feeling a little comfort through the deed.
He recalled the times when he and Elizabeth had sat against the stone together, talking of their plans, and dreaming of their happiness beneath a dusky sunset. Perhaps Nathaniel could find his place in their lives, and Darcy was sure that if it came down to his own wishes or Elizabeth's happiness, he could have no choice but to choose the latter.
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth whispered as she knelt onto the grass, next to her husband. "I have treated you unkindly, and I am sorry for it. Do believe that I want to do what is best--if I were only sure of what it was."
Darcy silently nodded, his face betraying anguished feelings which he was always so conscious to conceal. Elizabeth slipped her arms about him, in an embrace complete of love and compassion. He was disposed to do the same, and Mr. And Mrs. Darcy sat together in that fashion for quite a long time, before they were willing to let go.
Elizabeth awoke, knowing that it was Sunday, a day of reverence and good will. After she dressed, and went to the household safe to tuck some of her pocket allowance into her bag, she sat with Nathaniel in the library and awaited Darcy and the carriage.
They arrived at the church much as they did each Sunday, but this time the parishioners stopped to watch as Elizabeth walked down the aisle to a pew, with Nathaniel by her side. She could hear the murmurs and whispers as she passed, and she turned around in distress, to her husband. He reached over and grasped her hand, and soothed, "It is simply chatter. Pay no heed to it."
After the service, as was her habit, Elizabeth slipped by the poor box to make her donation, while Darcy and Nathaniel waited. As she left the church, it seemed as if no one was willing to speak to her, but she could not help noticing the stares they directed toward the child. Darcy moved away to speak to the vicar, and Elizabeth saw an opportunity to speak to two of the wives of local gentlemen.
"Good day, Mrs. Poole, Mrs. Leyton."
"Good day, Mrs. Darcy," the ladies greeted in return and Elizabeth smiled in relief. "Is this child a nephew of yours?" one of the women inquired.
Elizabeth knew all too well that the woman was privy to the town gossip, and that her inquiry was her patronizing way of giving credibility to Nathaniel's presence. "Of course not, Mrs. Poole. You must have heard that this is the boy we have taken into our home."
"Oh, yes," Mrs. Poole replied coyly. "We had heard of it, but we thought it to be idle talk, for it did not seem possible."
"Why is that, Mrs. Poole?" Elizabeth questioned hastily.
"My dear, people of our station do not harbor beggar boys as if they were their own flesh and blood. Property and propriety are decided by heritage, not by charity."
Elizabeth's eyes flashed her fury, "Charity is a simple gift that we can bestow on those less fortunate than ourselves. Surely your pride and heritage could only be enriched by your generosity."
"I suppose," Mrs. Poole replied with a lift of her nose. "But everyone has their level, and everyone has their shame."
"If you will excuse us, madam," Darcy intervened and took Elizabeth firmly by the arm, moving her away from the church, towards their carriage. He helped her in, and picked up Nathaniel, placing him in the seat next to his wife, then got in and told the coachman to continue on their way.
"Did you hear that?" Elizabeth puffed. "Everyone has their level? I cannot fathom the ignorance which these antiquated families breed."
"Elizabeth, like it or not, you are now a part of that sort of heritage. Our marriage does not obligate you to agree with it, but your being a Darcy requires you to have a certain respect for those who came before you."
"Are you saying that everyone has their level?" she spoke vehemently.
"No," Darcy retorted in kind. "Everyone, no matter of their level, has their pride."
Elizabeth slowly walked Nathaniel back to the nursery as the boy playfully hid behind chairs and tables begging Elizabeth to seek him. She giggled and played his game, and as they passed down the gallery where the portraits of Darcy ancestors hung upon the walls, Nathaniel stopped and pointed to one of them. Elizabeth looked up to see the portrait which she knew to be the likeness of Darcy's great grandfather.
He looked so stiff and extremely archaic, but the expression of his eyes was nothing but genuine. Elizabeth glanced down at Nathaniel, and she wondered at her selfishness to wish to make this child something he could never be. For the first time, she could see what Darcy had meant by everyone possessing their own pride, and it was not fair to force a simple boy to live in a family who would always look to their heritage for guidance and wisdom.
Elizabeth did believe in the simple gifts she had spoken of earlier, and it was in her power to bestow the most generous gift of all upon a grieving family like the Darlings, and upon a lost little soul like Nathaniel. She hurried the boy to the nursery, before she lost her resolve, and packed a small bag with the clothes the boy now owned.
She knelt down next to him, and the boy obliged her with a happy smile. "Come little one, we shall take a walk through the woods."
They left the house, the bag in one of Elizabeth's hands and the boy holding onto the other. They walked east, towards the border of Pemberley, until they came to a clearing where there stood a clean cottage, with a heavy thatched roof, and windows in the front. Elizabeth found a place to kneel on the ground, and she put down the bag and looked at Nathaniel. He smiled happily at her, and she patted his tiny cheek.
"Do you remember the man and woman who came to the house the other day?" The boy nodded, and grinned broadly. "Then you liked them? Do you like that house down there?"
The boy looked at the house, and gleefully nodded again. A woman came out of the house to shake a rug clean, and she began to call out to the yard hens, which gathered around her, scratching for their meal. Elizabeth placed the bag in the boy's hand, gently closing his tiny fist around the handle, then she gave him a lingering kiss on what was once a soiled little forehead, and pointed him in the direction of the woman.
Nathaniel took off running, delighted by the sight of such a matronly figure, and plenty of animals in which to play with. Mrs. Darling could not believe her eyes when she saw the child before her and she stooped down, picked up the boy into her arms, and whirled him about, laughing with joy. When she looked up, she saw the Mistress of Pemberley standing some distance away, watching them.
"You will take good care of him?"
"Oh yes, ma'am. He will have the very best of what we have to give," the woman replied. "Bless you, ma'am--and Mr. Darcy." Elizabeth nodded and turned away to leave. "You will come to visit often, Mrs. Darcy?"
"I shall try," Elizabeth replied without looking back, knowing her heart would only break if she ever did convince herself to visit. She continued walking and when she reached the edge of the woods she stopped in her tracks and covered her mouth with her tender palm. Her whole body quaked, as she tried desperately not to cry aloud.
"You did the right thing, Elizabeth."
With an unfettered sob, Elizabeth ran into the arms of her husband, and he held her close to his heart and looked back towards the cottage to see Mr. And Mrs. Darling accept their son inside. He could not help but feel sadness to see the boy go, but no melancholy could ever hinder the pride he felt at the good sense of his young wife.
"Mrs. Darcy, there is a young man to see you," spoke a servant.
"A young man?" Elizabeth questioned. "To see me?" The servant nodded, and Elizabeth told her to show the man inside.
Elizabeth could not believe her eyes when she saw the proud figure of a young farmer in front of her. Her face beamed in every sort of maternal delight at the very sight of him.
"Ma'am," the young man bowed. "My name is Nathaniel Darling."
"Yes," she replied with a deep breath. "I know. What brings you to Pemberley house, Mr. Darling?"
"Ma'am, I am to be married on Saturday..." he stuttered, "...I...well...my parent told me not long ago of what you and Mr. Darcy did for me when I was a child, and I wanted to express my gratitude. Even though I do not remember anything of it."
"You were very young..." Elizabeth admitted, "...and it was our joy to see you become the son of such excellent people." She took better look at him, "You have grown into such a fine man, and now you are to be married."
The young man nodded sheepishly and grinned, "Yes, ma'am."
"Is she a good woman? Will she make you a proper wife?"
"The very best ma'am. She is loving and true, and she has a very lively spirit."
Elizabeth laughed favorably, "I have been told that this is the very best kind of wife to have."
"Mother?" A noble young man's voice was heard by the doorway. "I beg your pardon, but Father is looking for you."
"Mr. Darling, this is my son, Andrew."
"Yes, I know Nathaniel," Andrew replied extending an amiable hand toward an old friend. "We played together on the green when we were young. I hear you are to be married. My warmest congratulations to you and your bride."
"Thank you, Andr..." Nathaniel stammered, stopping to remember his place, "...forgive me...Mr. Darcy."
"Please, do call me Andrew," Elizabeth's son replied with a dimpled smile, ever so genuine to a Darcy. At that moment Elizabeth could not have been more proud of either young man standing before her.
Mr. And Mrs. Darcy and all of their children attended the wedding of Mr. Nathaniel Darling to a lively young woman named Lottie Mott. Everyone ran outside the church after the service to send the young couple on their way with wishes of joy, and humble adornments of rosemary sprigs. Elizabeth Darcy did not see her husband in the crowd, so she turned back after waving good bye to the felicitous bride and groom, and peered back into the church.
She did see the fine figure of the man whom she had loved and respected for all those years. Words could never substitute for the smile which graced her face when she saw him reach into his coat pocket, take out an envelope, and drop it ever so quietly into the parish poor box.
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