Miss Darcy's Reel
"My dear!" Elizabeth exclaimed happily upon seeing her husband enter the front doors of the house. "I am very pleased that you are home, but we did not see the carriage approach." Elizabeth's children scrambled through the doors moments later as the footmen held them open, and they stood behind their father, well aware of his surly mood.
Darcy's face contorted, and he voiced his criticism, "Have you no notion of the whereabouts of those in your custody, Mrs. Darcy?"
Elizabeth was baffled that Darcy should speak so patronizingly to her, especially in the presence of their children and the household attendants. It was unlike her husband to do such a thing, for even in the most intimate of surroundings he had rarely ever behaved so ungentlemanly, and his method caused her to fluster.
He turned about to glimpse his youngsters, cowering in deliberate obscurity behind him. "Go and make ready for your supper--at the nursery table tonight," he commanded, then strode away to his study. Mr. Darcy's bewildered wife tempered their children's pouts with gentle caresses on the crowns of their small heads.
She smiled to the three, and told them tenderly, "Do as you father says," then chose to follow after her disgruntled husband.
"Fitzwilliam," she sighed in wonder upon entering his study, "Tell me what I have done, that you should speak to me in such a harsh manner?"
With lips pinched in disapprobation, he lectured from his stance, "From this moment on, madam, I think it prudent that you keep better intelligence of those in your household."
"Sir," Elizabeth's own mood declined further, "I have not the good fortune to know what it is that you mean?"
"Then I shall tell you plainly." Darcy picked up a stack of correspondence awaiting his attention on the desk, leafed through it, then threw it back down, watching it slide askew upon the slick mahogany surface. "My children were awaiting my return--which is not so much of a disappointment to a father's regard--however they were upon the side of the road, unsupervised by anyone who would know enough not to hasten in front of a speeding coach!"
"Unsupervised?" Elizabeth responded hastily, "but they promised me they were to walk out with their aunt Georgiana?"
"Oh, that they did, Mrs. Darcy," he groused in a curt whisper. "They followed Georgiana out past the road, toward the clearing--however you can be certain it was quite without her knowledge."
"Toward the clearing÷" Elizabeth's ire was raised, however she tried to stop herself in mid-sentence, as she realized where it was that her husband was speaking of.
Darcy frowned as he detected his wife's forgetful error, "Indeed, the clearing by the lake, as you evidently know. How long has Brit Hart been here?"
"He left this morning, not an hour after you," Elizabeth replied in defense, supposing the reason why Darcy was asking so many questions, and why his disposition had become so cross. She altered her attitude to one of great conviction and care, "Fitzwilliam, they are happy, and they are very much in love. Hear out Mr. Hart before you embark on any rash conclusions."
"Am I not still the master of this house?" Darcy's voice spouted out in some sort of presumptuous admonition.
Elizabeth lowered her eyes in acknowledgement, "Yes."
"Do you not find it odd that I am the last person in this house to know that my own sister has formed an attachment for my friend?" Darcy's face became quite red, almost as if he were to choke upon his unspoken words. "What else goes on here that am I not aware of, wife? What in these years have you concealed from me?"
Elizabeth earnestly raised her eyes to meet those of her husband. "I am not the sort of woman to keep secrets from my husband!"
"Now that is some sort of fib, it is not?" he spoke cruelly. "Was it not that long ago when you concealed Georgiana's homecoming from me?"
A redness came to Elizabeth's own cheeks and she appealed, "Fitzwilliam, please--what is it that you are trying to resolve?"
"Elizabeth," Darcy condemned through clenched teeth as he walked purposely toward his wife, coming to stand over her in a husband's authority, "Do not think that I shall be pleased, should I find that you have concealed something from me again. This is positively the last time that I will tolerate it--from you, or from anyone else living in my house!"
Darcy had never on any occasion spoken to Elizabeth quite as harshly. In as many years as they had been married, their alliance had only seen an occasional argument. When Elizabeth realized how incensed her husband truly was, even in the trivial instance of playful deception, she held her tongue and said no more. Her cheeks felt hot, as hot as if she had been sitting too close to the kitchen hearth. Her chest was heavy as she warily drew her breaths, and she could feel the sting of tears being held back from their inspiration.
In the instant that she was able to disregard her own distress, Elizabeth managed to lift her eyes to view Darcy's face. His features were rigid, and his eyes singed her heart in reproach. His own breathing was aberrant however, and Elizabeth thought that at any moment he might abandon what little restraint he had left, and resume his reprimand of her. Elizabeth's proficient will matched that of her husband, and she did not shirk away from his gaze. He finally turned away from her and walked tediously back to his desk, when she was disinclined to back down.
Darcy leaned against the stout mahogany furnishing, and his arms came to rest across his chest. Elizabeth heard him sigh out, and then with small convulsions emanating from her throat, she inquired. "Might I withdraw, to change my gown for supper?"
Darcy nodded, and his wife retreated from where she stood, and felt behind her for the door. She opened it and slipped from the room, then closed the door securely behind her. She glanced this way, then that, and when it appeared as if no one was in the hallway to witness her problems, her body began to quake in fury and she brought her hands to her face to conceal her unconstrained sobs.
Darcy barely spoke two words altogether at supper. Although the anger he had revealed earlier with Elizabeth was barely detectable, there was tension remaining in the wrinkle of his eyes, and in his chin, kept fixed and taut . His eyes traveled back and forth between his sister and her purported lover. After he had studied the food on his plate and helped himself to several glasses of wine, he looked with concern, upon the wife who had always been at the heart of his esteem.
What Elizabeth could not say with words, she endeavored to convey to her husband by the passions flashing within her worried eyes. She kept her gaze transfixed upon him, and when he felt as if he could not endure to see her pleading eyes another second, he would restlessly look away. Darcy's silence did not make the intended lovers as easy as they would have wished, and what began as tender and hopeful glances at one another across a supper table, became sighs filled with trouble and yearning.
Finally Brit Hart broke an uncomfortable silence. "Mrs. Darcy, how can I thank you again for your kind hospitality?"
Elizabeth smiled warmly, "The pleasure is always ours, and you are most sincerely welcome, at anytime, Mr. Hart." For the first time that evening, Elizabeth was able to attract Georgiana's gaze, and the smile she imparted to her sister was one of expectation and affection. "Georgiana and I shall await you in the drawing room."
Darcy and Mr. Hart stood as the ladies retreated to a place of comfort, where they themselves could talk. Darcy immediately occupied his seat again upon their departure, but Brit Hart remained on his feet, and took in a breath of self-willed composure.
"Darcy, there is something of great importance I must discuss with you."
Fitzwilliam Darcy's face was heavy with contemplation, but then he nodded and replied calmly to the gentleman before him, "Very well, Brit."
Brit Hart took his seat and placed his hands securely upon the table. His heart was full of the sentiment he felt, as he envisioned the life he would share with the beautiful woman he had grown to love so readily.
"Darcy, I will speak plainly, and I shall tell you what my heart so deeply feels. I have fallen in love with a lovely young woman--your sister--and I have avowed my devotion to her."
Brit Hart smiled expansively and he proclaimed with no lack of verve, "Last night I asked Georgiana to be my wife. I am overjoyed to say that she has made the claims of returning my affections, and that she has happily consented to such a blissful union. I cannot express to you my joy in knowing that she holds me in such high esteem, and I promise--I swear to you my friend, that I shall always cherish her love, and remain a devoted and contented husband. I have come to seek your blessing, my friend, for your sister's hand in marriage."
Upon hearing Brit Hart's pronouncement, and the request of a brother's good favor to the match, Darcy sighed, and took the last sip of wine from his glass. The gentleman who was anxious to become a bridegroom awaited a response from his friend, however his expectations had promised him more than he was to in reality receive from Georgiana's venerable guardian.
Georgiana looked to the sister she so admired, "Oh Elizabeth, did you ever believe the day would come, when I was to made a wife?"
"Of course I did, Georgiana," Elizabeth smiled brightly. "I have always believed, that fortunate would be the man who would capture your heart, for you will make the most excellent of wives."
"I do so wish to be a good wife," Georgiana said as her gaze drifted to thought, "a wife worthy of the goodness of Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart. I shall look to you, dear sister, as my ideal."
"You are very kind, Georgiana," Elizabeth colored, picking up her needlework to hide her discomfort. "I am not convinced that I am exemplary of being the perfect wife, or worthy of instructing you in such an eminent task," she stopped momentarily to scrutinize a stitch, then whispered in an indistinct sigh, "for to this day, I do not always understand my own husband."
Darcy stared at the gentleman across the table from him. "Brit, when I saw you this morning I was off to an engagement with my attorney--the attorney who also represents the seller of Smythdon manor. He asked me, as your friend, when it was that you were to issue the final installment on that very property."
Brit Hart sat back in his chair, his happiness being tempered by provocation. "That Darcy, is a private matter, and I do not see what bearing it has on my offer to your sister, or my seeking your blessing to our marriage."
"It has everything to do with my sister," Darcy chided skeptically. "I find it curious that the balance due on the property is well within the amount of my sister's dowry. If indeed my sister's fortune is the reason for your hasty proposal, and Georgiana by some means chooses to disregard my wishes as to your engagement--I shall see to it that you do not receive a shilling of it."
Brit Hart looked at his friend blankly, then laughed heartily at such a joke, "That is very good, Darcy. There are times when you quite bowl me over with your dryness of wit."
"I do not say it in jest, Brit."
"Darcy," Brit Hart respired in disbelief, "I do not understand. You honestly think me to be after your sister's fortune?"
Darcy heaved his own breathy chuckle, "I know you, Brit. You have never committed to anything or anyone as easily as you have presumably fallen in love with my sister."
"Darcy, as I have said before, the years tend to change a man. I am not that young and reckless youth I once was."
"Yes, I suppose that could be true," Darcy sighed, "but until you are to prove to me that you are not a fortune seeker--there will be no engagement."
"Darcy," Brit Hart seethed under his breath, "you do not know what sort mistake you are making. There may have been men in Georgiana's past willing to take you on for the security of her money, but believe me when I say that I am not one of them. I do not need a marriage dower to make my way in this world, and I quite resent that you would believe such nonsense when it comes to the decency of my character."
"It is not my mistake to make, Brit--but it would be Georgiana's if she were to engage herself to you out of pity for your circumstances, and I shall never see her make such a blunder."
Brit Hart stood up abruptly, "You are resigned to reject me as a consort to your sister--for reasons which are unjust and inaccurate! I have called you my friend for many years, and have taken pride in knowing you. Would your pride allow you to relinquish your self-esteem in such a way? Would you have to prove to me, your worth, if the tables were turned?"
Darcy did not answer, nor did he show the signs of giving an inch of tolerance, when it came to believing Brit Hart's inducements. Ethan Bristoe-Hart looked to the heavens for lenity, but his frustration with his friend's ignorance was apparent by the clenching of his fists.
"I am grieved to know that our friendship shall come to an end, all because I dared to hope I could find love and happiness with a lady whom you cannot see yourself to part with--even to the most respectable gentleman next door!"
Darcy's hand slammed upon the table in anger of his friends implication of his imperfections, and Brit Hart, in an equal state of perturbation, immediately sought the solitude of the hallway. Two proud and unyielding men had been subject to a misunderstanding of a most serious nature, and neither was to beg pardon, or concede a wrong.
The ladies had heard the upraised voices of their gentlemen, and upon the sound of expeditious footsteps, came out into the hallway. Georgiana's eyes were widened in alarm when she saw the vexation upon her lover's face, and she reached out a hand to Ethan Bristoe-Hart as his tall, gallant figure quickly passed in front of her. Darcy stood in the doorway of the dining room, his protective guard settled upon his sister, and Elizabeth lingered behind Georgiana, stunned by the affliction of the arrogant pride and misapprehension of two otherwise excellent men.
Brit Hart stopped abruptly in front of the woman whom had been a wife to him in his dreams. He tried his best to conceal the desperation he felt, but his hand softly caressed the skin of Georgiana's pure and guileless cheek in regret, and he lamented to her, "I love you--but I am sorry that our lives together will never be."
With the whisking of the front doors being opened, then shut again, Ethan Bristoe-Hart was gone, and Georgiana was left a single woman. Elizabeth's eyes again came to rest upon her husband, but this time they were brimming with disappointment and mortification.
Although Elizabeth tried to prevent her from doing so, Georgiana walked toward her brother. She stopped closely before him and spoke only one word. "Why?"
"Because I shall never see you unhappy," came the reply.
The young woman, who had never had any notion to speak unkindly to her cherished sibling before, gazed at him in abhorrence. "It is far too late for that."
"Georgiana," Darcy counseled, "you do not know what you say. It is clear by his leaving that my suspicions are true."
"May I ask what it is about Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart which makes you disbelieve his love for me?"
Darcy reached out to draw his sister into a comforting embrace, however she backed away from him, awaiting her answer. "My dearest sister, Mr. Hart has apparently found himself short of ready finances--he has not made the final payment on the property he so desperately wants to obtain, and it is evident that your fortune was to make up for that deficit."
"Fitzwilliam, the debt has been paid."
"What?" Darcy inquired in wonder. "What did you say?"
"This afternoon he made the purchase final. He was so very proud of it, and had the documents in the pocket of his coat. When we were alone, he presented them to me--in loving proof of the home in which we were to share our lives."
Darcy's face went pallid, "Why would he not offer proof of it to me?"
Before Georgiana was inclined to dash to her chambers to be alone in her grief, she offered the answer, "What I have come to love the most about Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart, is how much in spirit, and in pride, he resembles you."
Darcy was silent in the appall he felt for himself. At that very moment, he loathed his own self--that very spirit and sense of duty which his sister had spoken of. He was unaware that his wife remained before him, and she startled him out of his self-served regret, by speaking.
"The home, in which they were to share their lives," she recalled in a whisper. "If he had needed the money--would it have been so very bad?"
Ethan Bristoe-Hart called for his horse to be brought around, and when the animal was before him, the gentleman's tall frame clambered atop the steed with little effort or assistance. His hasty departure from the grounds of Pemberley astonished the young stable boy that had brought out the fine horse, and caused the boy some concern.
Mr. Darcy stepped out onto the front stoop of his house, and made haste to descend the stone steps until he was set upon the dirt. "Has Mr. Hart gone?" he inquired anxiously of the boy.
"Yes, sir," the boy replied with a nod of his head, "quite reckless, he was. I hope the gentleman shall take care, sir."
Darcy looked to the horizon, fearful that a friend might put himself at risk, but the rider had already passed from sight. Soberly, the master of Pemberley could do nothing, but slowly walk back into his house.
Down the road, in the direction of the village of Lambton, Brit Hart rode a fine black, Friesian stallion, with total abandon for the hazards of traveling so dangerously on such a dark night. Curiously, he had done the very same thing, all those years before, on the night in which he had come home to his newlywed cottage to find that his young wife had left him forever.
The maturity that came with the passing of ten years finally caught a hold of Brit Hart's senses. He eased the prized animal to a halt, and slid his own body down to stand firmly upon the ground. The gentleman was out of breath, and he felt somewhat ill at having exerted himself thusly, and at having suffered such a bitter disappointment to his honorable ego.
He felt as if he could go several rounds at fisticuffs with some fearless bloke, perhaps even Darcy himself, were Brit Hart to dare to be really honest. He bent over at the waist and rested his hands upon his knees, trying to calm himself, although wanting to sob more than anything else.
He could barely believe what had occurred to him only moments before he had hastily left Pemberley house. Nothing had gone in the manner in which he had intended only a few weeks ago, when he had left his family and his boyhood home in search of something more meaningful to his sheltered and lonely life.
He had become devoted to a woman, and had never thought he would be able to do such a thing ever again. He had promised to love her with all his being, but had now been denied any such joy. He had dreamt of a home, procured for his lady's comfort and for the bliss they would come by, in each and every room, and the disappointment of losing that was acute. Mostly he had seen a future, with everything in it that he was inclined to envy about his friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy.
As he stood back upright, Brit Hart had to admit that he did envy Fitzwilliam Darcy. He always had in a way, for his father had been known to ask him in his youth why he could not be as consistently steady as George Darcy's son. He had always felt that there had been some sort of unspoken rivalry between the two of them, but he could never explain how it was that he came to feel it. He had seen for himself what Darcy's steadfast determination to making a living, and his duty to raising a family had brought to him, and Ethan Bristoe-Hart now wished that he had learned to take his father's advice more seriously.
Now he was to live, simply as Georgiana Darcy's neighbor, and he realized that was something he could never do. He did love her exceedingly, but the man knew he could never stand by and watch another gentleman win her favor and occupy her heart. Brit Hart was resolved to return to Cornwall, to the family who had hoped he would find what happiness he had been craving for so long.
With a downcast frown he grasped the reins of the fine, coal black horse before him. He went to climb upon the animal again, however the spirited beast snorted and moved swiftly sideways, rearing its head, densely covered with a long flowing mane.
"Why should you not be difficult as well?" Brit Hart scoffed at it. "I shall set you down to pulling a farm cart if you do not cooperate."
The gentleman rolled his eyes at his own foolishness, realizing that he was taking his frustrations out on a poor beast of burden. He shook his own head in bewilderment, then in glancing at the stormy sky above him, he was somehow disposed to think of what pride and duty could do to a man.
He had no idea what had prevented him from proving himself genuine against the false accusation made by his friend. He was sure he had thrown away a very happy future, over a matter of stubborn pride and personal arrogance. Had it been anyone else, anyone at all other than Fitzwilliam Darcy on the accusing end, Brit Hart would no doubt have laughed it off as the ignorance of one not worthy of his regret--but it had been Darcy, and the allegation had stung bitterly.
Brit Hart tried his luck again at soothing the spirited beast, but the horse snorted, nickered, and pranced about in a circle. "Very well with you then--you proud, disagreeable÷!" Brit Hart heaved a sigh of defeat, then for lack of any other viable option, he chose to walk the remainder of the five miles back to the inn at Lambton, with his proud and most stubborn steed following along behind him.
Georgiana lay on her bed, her heart obviously breaking by the sounds of her undisguised sobs. Elizabeth knocked upon the door to Georgiana's bedchamber, but there came no answer from within. The mistress of Pemberley did not care to observe propriety in her troubled state, and she quickly let herself into the chamber, and rushed toward the bed.
Georgiana looked up in hopes of seeing a dear sister's consoling face, but instead she was met by the appearance of a woman equally as miserable as she was. "Oh, Elizabeth," she wept, "what has happened to us all?"
"Each of us has been misunderstood, sister. We will hope that your brother and Mr. Hart can come to an understanding of all of this, but for now we will pray that it will all be set right!"
The two sisters sat together, holding each other and giving what little comfort they could muster, to the other. Georgiana brushed the tears from her cheeks, making an attempt to speak through the hiccups of her distress.
"When I thought myself to be in love with George Wickham," she confessed through more tears, "and Fitzwilliam became privy to it, he spoke to me in much the same manner. I can remember Mr. Wickham leaving our house, and then my brother's condolences to me, that a marriage was not to be, but that one day I would come to love a man who would truly love me."
Georgiana blankly stared out into the distance. "In my fancies, I thought Mr. Wickham would come back. That he would endure any rejection, and tell me his love for me was beyond that of the obstacles my brother had set in place."
Georgiana rested her head upon Elizabeth's shoulder, and the elder sister's hand stroked Georgiana's silken hair. Elizabeth could never believe that Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart were anything like George Wickham, but she remembered a time when she felt akin to the way Georgiana had described. It was the time when she had felt despair at the belief that she would never again see Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
"Oh, Elizabeth," Georgiana bewailed, "he never, ever came back--and neither will Mr. Hart!"
Elizabeth grasped Georgiana's innocent face, and while she herself wept unchecked, her voice raised in hope. "Oh my sweet sister--I know for certain, that a man who is very good, will always come back to the woman he loves!"
Some moments and much sobbing later came the sound of another knock upon the bedchamber door, and Elizabeth dried the tears from her face with her bare hands and went to answer it. Her husband stood on the other side, and when she recognized his prideful figure, she quickly slid to the other side of the door, and shut it behind her.
She looked up at Darcy, her eyes red and wild with agitation and the disappointment she felt, and although she was unaccustomed to speaking so brutally to her husband, she asked impatiently, "What is it?"
Darcy was beside himself with concern, and he whispered, "Tell me Elizabeth, how is my sister?"
Elizabeth cast her teary eyes to the side in demonstration of her vexation, "How would you expect her to be, Fitzwilliam--after such a disappointment?"
Darcy had no right to find fault with his wife's manner is speaking to him, for he had treated her in the very same heartless manner, not a few hours before. "Elizabeth, please--please do not cry," Darcy pleaded. "I have never been able to stand to see you weep." He reached out his hand to touch his wife's cheek and wipe away the tears he knew he had brought to her face with his unkindness, but Elizabeth was so inclined to be furious with him that she pulled herself away.
"NO! No, Mr. Darcy!" she sobbed louder. "For once you shall know the effects of your grievous actions! Your sister does not want to see you, and for that matter, neither do I!"
Elizabeth's hands flew to her face to conceal her expression of horror, as soon as she had spouted her mean-spirited outburst to a truly beloved husband. Darcy lowered his eyes to gaze at the ground in disbelief, and his face drew up taut in his misery, as the effects of his wife's angry words made an indelible impression upon his heart.
Elizabeth's hand moved away from her face, to meet her husband's sleeve in a silent expression of apology. Darcy would have none of it, and this time he turned away, repelled by all that he had done to grieve the family he was always so diligent to protect.
"Enough!" he threw his hands up into the air. "Enough! Say no more, madam! I should never again wish to hear your words of reproach on the merits of my character. Your words wound too much to be born by any man."
Darcy made haste for the staircase before he was sure to regress into a spiteful spirit. "Suffice it to say that I agree that my principles are pathetic at best, and let it be enough that you should simply think ill of me--for I have no doubt that I deserve every unhappy thought you can assemble."
"Mr. Hart, sir!" Mrs. Mattoon exclaimed upon seeing the gentleman, soaked to the breeches by a hard summer rain.
"Mrs. Mattoon, this is quite pleasant weather that you have here," Brit Hart interrupted her crossly. "If you will have someone bring me some warm towels and bottle of rum, I shall not be a nuisance to you the rest of this night."
"You are never a nuisance, sir," she replied with a chuckle. "You shall have to grow accustomed to the sudden downpours in this part of the country." The innkeeper smiled giddily, "We have heard the news that you have taken possession of Smythdon Manor, and might I say that the whole town is÷"
"Please, madam," Brit Hart broke off the woman's discourse again with an abrupt frown, "the towels and the rum are all that I require. I am for home tomorrow and you shall not be bothered with me again."
Mrs. Mattoon nodded with a smile, "Of course you would want to move into that fine house so quickly÷"
"No," the gentleman sighed as he made for the stairs, "home to Cornwall. I trust if any fine gentlemen come into your establishment inquiring of property for purchase, that you will show them to my door. I know of a very fine estate that shall soon be for sale or let."
It was not long after Brit Hart had sought the solace of his room, that there was a knock on the chamber door. Having received the towels that he had asked for, he answered the door while tousling his hair dry. He looked somewhat ridiculous, shrouded by the towel over his head, and reaching out a hand to accept the bottle of rum without looking from beneath the cloth. He pulled off the towel when he did not receive what he had been expecting, and he was quite astonished by the sight before him.
A proud, yet humbled gentleman stood in the doorway, as wet to the core as Brit Hart had been. The master of Pemberley estate held out a bottle of rum to his friend, and inquired in the most desperate of means, "Could you see yourself clear to handing over a dry towel, and a glass, for a friend?"
Brit Hart's inimical stare was enough to make even Darcy's unyielding disposition shudder. Mr. Hart reached out and took the bottle of rum, then handed Darcy a towel as he graciously allowed the gentleman to enter his room. He filled two glasses to the brim with the rum and pushed a glass across the table, toward an unoccupied chair. "A good bottle of rum shall always drown your troubles," he whispered in severity.
"Frankly, I find that scotch serves the purpose better," Darcy raised a brow at his friend's sudden lack of humor, as he toweled off his own rain-soaked locks, "but I shall not be fastidious about it, and rum will suit the purpose."
Each man took a seat, across the table from one another, neither one knowing quite how to begin at such an awkward conversation. Brit Hart was inclined to say nothing, for he still possessed a narrowness of spirit toward the man sitting before him, so Darcy was bound to raise his glass.
He sighed in profound testimony, "To the love of a good, and forgiving woman."
Brit Hart peered officiously through his glass as he held it before him in a salute less than amiable, he then let his glass come to rest hard upon the table after swiftly drinking its contents. He bolted up from his chair and went to a desk in the corner of the room.
He took out a leather cover, filled with the documents and contracts kept in a gentleman's possession. His cross and disobliging mood caused him to pitch the references onto the table in front of Darcy.
"There--there you have it," he nodded angrily. "There is your proof, Darcy. Financial records, holdings, assets and certificates, and, oh yes÷" he paused and pulled out a soggy bundle from the pocket of his wet evening coat hanging on a chair back. While leaning across the table toward this accuser, and with a tilt of his brow and a cynical bearing, he proclaimed in a low growl, "÷the deed and titles to Smythdon Manor."
Darcy grimaced at his friend's demonstration of contempt, then picked up a corner of the water soaked parchment. Without bothering to read it, he let it fall back onto the table with a splatter. "'Tis is not necessary, Brit."
"Not necessary? Why in heaven's name not?" Brit Hart protested. "It was necessary several hours ago!"
"Brit," Darcy sighed while motioning to his friend to return to his seat, "Georgiana told me of it."
Brit Hart had no idea why he was inclined to do as Darcy bid him. He sat down in the chair anyway, and began drumming his fingers upon the table top, in a blend of annoyance and nervousness.
"Darcy, believe me when I say that I do love your sister, with all my soul, but from the very beginning of my acquaintance with her, I knew I did not want to simply be her neighbor. I took my good time in making a final commitment on the property--until I was certain that she could return my affections--until she would be able to give me her assurances that she would be my wife."
"I must admit," Darcy drew in a breath, "that you acted most rationally."
"I know it. Very much like you," he grumbled in some sort of antipathy with himself.
Darcy looked down, in hesitation, "Do not hold it against me to want to shelter my sister from possible injury."
"No that I cannot, but must you also demand such compliance from her? She is a grown woman, able to know for herself what she wishes in a husband. Have you even taken the time to hear her out? Do you know what it is that she longs for, Darcy?"
Darcy had no answer for such questions, for he really had never inquired of his sister as to her desires for a future. He had supposed she had wanted what every other woman he had ever conceived of had wanted, a man to honor her and care for her.
"You shield your sister most admirably, Darcy," Brit Hart made a harsh implication, "but you shield her from herself as well."
Darcy tensely rolled his glass between his fingers, "I can see that she is in love with you, Brit."
With a shake of his head, Brit Hart took in a breath to sooth his soul, "I do not want to be Georgiana Darcy's neighbor, but I am not certain at this point that I can be Fitzwilliam Darcy's brother-in-law."
This was more of an uncalculated blow to Darcy's ego, than he had ever imagined possible. Darcy's cheeks flushed in irritation, but then he remember that this was all about Georgiana, and not his own self-respect. With the greatest restraint he inquired, "Then what shall be done?"
"I shall sell Smythdon manor to the first reasonable offer, and I shall go back to Cornwall."
Darcy leaned back in his chair, the suggestion of failure upon his face and a distant look in his eyes. He sighed in the remembrance of words spoken long ago, then he muttered beneath his breath, "Take good care of my little girl."
Brit Hart's expression sobered all the more, "What was that?"
Darcy's eyes recollected his friend. He swallowed hard, and his eyes looked troubled as he choked out, "The last words my father spoke to me were, 'Take good care of my little girl.'" Darcy stopped and took another breath of air into his own lungs. "He did not tell me what to do or how to do it, he merely gave me a task to follow, and expected it done."
Brit Hart's disposition emerged a little more lenient with Darcy for the moment. He picked up the bottle of rum and poured another glass for his friend.
Darcy exhaled a sorrowful chuckle. "I was three and twenty years old, and not prepared to be a parent to anyone, let alone a little girl who had really never known a mother. She was now to be without her beloved father, and she had no concept of why he should be the one to go away."
In discomfort Darcy then admitted, "I fear I have never made a very good model for Georgiana. By the time I was sensible enough in any sort of skill at raising a child, I was married and had my own children, and she was inclined to spend her time in London."
Darcy looked to his friend, and although he was able to smile, he relayed what his heart had so deeply felt all those years ago. "How I was envious of you, Brit--that last year of university. Envious that in your youth you did not have to be responsible for anyone other than yourself. You would be at liberty to go off to some other place, if and when it suited your fancy, and I would go home to Pemberley--to take good care of the things my parents had left behind. I would often wonder where you were at any given moment, and at night I would ponder if the stars in the sky looked any different from the places where you stood."
Brit Hart was quiet in thought for some time, then he tilted back another glass of the rum, as if to wash away a careless past. He bit down on his lip, as he was to utter a confession not yet revealed, "We are square Darcy, for at this moment I envy the place where you stand."
Elizabeth found that she could not sleep. She gazed at Georgiana, who looked like a trusting child, asleep next to her in the bed. Elizabeth knew that Georgiana was a child no longer, but that both she and Darcy had a very bad habit of thinking of her as such. It was their natural propensity to protect their sister and care for her, and now that Elizabeth had her own children, she realized the symptoms of such an inclination.
Elizabeth got out of bed and went to the window, to hear the rain gently drumming on the side of the pane. She felt dreadful for speaking to Darcy the way she had, and she remembered how it had affected her, when he had been the one to behave so unkindly earlier that day. Although Elizabeth still suffered from a bitter disappointment in failing to yet know every aspect of her husband's character, she felt compelled to offer an apology to him, at least for her own hasty words.
It was strange how a wife could tell when her husband was not in a room. Elizabeth could not hear the slightest sound of Darcy breathing, or feel his closeness in their bedchamber when she stepped inside. She had to wonder that perhaps her husband had gone to speak with Mr. Hart, and she hoped her suspicions of it were true, for his sake. She could not bear to see the ruination of the dreams of a dear sister, and she could not abide with holding such a misfortune forever against her husband.
Georgiana wanted to be a wife, but Darcy wanted her to be a girl, at least for a little time longer. She had been away for so long, that he had not really seen her grow up into the woman that she had become. Georgiana was older than Elizabeth had been when Darcy had taken her as a wife, but to her brother, Georgiana would always be a lost little soul, left on this earth for him to shelter from harm.
Elizabeth took a cloak from her dressing chamber and wrapped it around her shoulders, then made her way outdoors. The rain had slowed to barely a drizzle, but the force of the earlier downpour had disturbed the lavender sprays in the gardens, causing their scent to permeate the fresh air. Lavender had a way of uplifting one's spirits, and Elizabeth lifted her face to the sky, and breathed deeply of a remedy her conscience so desperately needed.
"I suppose," Brit Hart ventured to speculate, "that Georgiana is quite upset with me for leaving."
"No," Darcy frowned, "she is angry with me, and rightfully so. Elizabeth is angry as well, and when I left my house, there was not a dry eye to be found anywhere in it, and all the condolence belonged to you."
Although Brit Hart really had no wish to torment his friend any further, he thought Darcy could use a demonstration in humility. The man did have two daughters who would one day put him in the very same position, and perhaps it would be kinder to his character to do it straightaway, than to see him suffer time and again.
"Darcy, your sister is of age to make her own decisions, and the threat of withholding her fortune from me, really has very little effect."
Darcy extended his friend a half-hearted glare, then slowly nodded his head in acknowledgement. "You could beseech her to elope," he said dolefully, and Brit Hart thought that he could see tears form in Darcy's eyes.
Ethan Bristoe-Hart pushed away the bottle of rum, and although he so desperately wanted the unconditional devotion of his friend's sister, he shook his head. "I shan't do it, Darcy. I would never make Georgiana choose between loving me, and honoring you. I know that she could never bear the thought of hurting a dear brother, but I also know that your pride will never allow you to admit to her that you have had a change of heart."
Darcy stood up and grasped his hat and coat to leave. He lingered in the doorway, then took a last look at what he thought could be the ruin of a very good friendship. "You are wrong, Brit. I shall admit it to you--I was mistaken in my judgement. You would be an excellent match for Georgiana. I am heartily sorry for the manner in which I treated you, and I have only to hope that you will have a change of heart--as to whether or not, you could ever call me your brother."
Darcy rode up to his house to see the welcoming sight of his wife, waiting for him outside the front doors. Once on the ground, he ran up the stone steps to face her, swept away his hat and reverently bowed his head. He had not reached the same height to where Elizabeth stood, but he stopped a few steps short of her, to stand beneath her in dependence.
"I am so very sorry," he whispered in true words of apology, "for everything that I have done--and everything I have said."
Elizabeth smiled, "Come into the house, Mr. Darcy--your clothes are quite wet."
Darcy silently followed his wife, and carried out her instructions to change into some dry clothing. He sat down on a chair in his dressing chamber, and Elizabeth took a towel, and in standing before him, used it to dry his hair.
"I have been thinking, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth began, her hand moving to touch his face in comfort, "of how much we are reluctant to let go of our responsibilities to those in our family."
Darcy looked up at his wife from beneath the cloth, "I have always thought it a demonstration of my love, to protect them. Now I am not so sure that it is always received in that way."
"It is a show of love, but is it not also a display of our affections to allow them the freedom to discover on their own?" she replied.
Darcy closed his eyes, and tilted back his aching head, then Elizabeth saw him tremble. She knelt down onto the floor next to him, and moved his hands to within her own.
"Perhaps it is not always so bad that Andrew bosses his sisters and brother, or that Hannah interrupts a conversation. Perhaps we should look the other way at times when Christian is into mischief, or when Prudence does not want to sleep. Maybe we should let Georgiana choose her own husband, and we should demonstrate our faith in her by trusting the judgement of a sensible woman."
The pain on Darcy's face was evident by the tautness of his features. "She had chosen a husband, and done very well at it, until I was there to spoil it."
"Will Mr. Hart ever return for Georgiana?" Elizabeth whispered.
Before she enveloped him in her soothing arms and tried to kiss away the anguish that he so desperately felt, he shivered and thought of the promise to his father that he had not been able to keep. "I do not know, Elizabeth," the answer came wretchedly. "I do not know."
Georgiana Darcy awoke that morning feeling as if she had really never slept a wink at all. She sat up and let her feet dangle over the edge of the bed for a time, trying to center her tear-swollen eyes, and get her bearings in the morning light. She slipped her body out of the bed and went to the bureau looking glass. Her reflection almost frightened her, for never had she believed that she could appear so care-worn, and so very pale.
She almost wished she could have the previous day to live over again, for although she had thought it one of the most dreadful evenings of her life, at least a good part of the day had been spent in the company of her dearest love. She remembered the careful caress of his hand, so loving and heartening, but then she recalled the alarm she had felt in watching him leave her brother's house.
Ethan Bristoe-Hart was lost to her now, misunderstanding and manly pride had seen to that, and it was beyond her place in the scheme of things to have the means to do anything about it. Georgiana glared at her own reflection, angry with herself for yielding to what she considered to be her frailties. She should have acknowledged to her brother her growing attachment to his friend. Instead she had chosen to keep a love affair secret, thus hurting the two men she loved the most.
Her own wounded heart pleaded with her to seek out her beloved, but her duty belonged to her brother and to the memory of those who were her family. She was sure that Mr. Hart no doubt understood the ways of family connections, and this was why he had left her alone, without any promises of his return.
Still, her heart burned in want of him, a yearning she had felt for no other man. She had found Ethan Bristoe-Hart charming in every way, and for the first time in her life, she discovered herself occupied with passions she did not fully comprehend. How easily she had fallen in love with the gentleman, and he had never left any doubt in her heart of his sincerity and devotion.
Mr. Hart could not have spoken to her as he had, he could not have touched her lips with his tender kisses in such a way, had he not been true in his love for her. Georgiana was convinced of it, and never would she allow anyone to tell her otherwise. She could never conceive of losing her love for him and her mind was not sure of what she would ever do, without any hope of one-day being his faithful wife.
Georgiana opened the door to her dressing chamber, and saw the travelling trunk which had not yet been put away since her return to Pemberley. Were she only to pack it again, and send an express to the inn, Ethan Bristoe-Hart would surely come for her. If she wanted it, he would take her away, and they would live happily in the south of England, for his family would certainly welcome her, and come to love her--but then she would never again see the brother she loved so very dearly.
The tears of the previous evening appeared again in her eyes, although she so desperately wanted them to cease. She could never do anything to distress her brother, and the thought of leaving him, and his dear family made her feel dreadfully ill. As she looked back into the glass, Georgiana found that she did not have the courage to do any of the things she had thought of, other than succumb to the overwhelming temptation to cry again.
It had been a solemn breakfast so far that morning for the Darcys. Georgiana had not come down from her chambers, and Elizabeth found the silence her husband had chosen to shroud his own mood in, very unsettling. The children also appeared to notice their father's preoccupation, but the innocence of children in such instances always seems to bring out their curiosity, instead of eliciting their caution.
"Maybe Mr. Hart will come today," Hannah gave speculation. With a gleam in her eyes, and a bright smile akin to her mother's, she assured everyone at the table, "He is fond of Mrs. Beal's puddings."
Darcy raised his eyes from his plate, to look at his daughter. He did not smile, although he made no frown either. He simply looked ambivalent to his daughter's conversation concerning Mr. Hart, although there was a certain wearied mien to his brow.
"Hannah," Elizabeth whispered earnestly, "It may be likely that we shall not see Mr. Hart again. You must not speak of him to your aunt Georgiana."
Hannah's eyes widened and excitably she replied, "But why mama? She likes Mr. Hart very much, and so do I. He is to ask her to marry him and she is to ask me if I approve, and÷"
Andrew's puzzled gawk fell upon his sister and he interrupted, "Aunt Georgiana is going to get married? Nobody told me!"
Darcy grimaced and whispered beneath his breath, "Must there be so much chatter when we eat?" He then lifted his napkin from his lap and dropped it onto the table. Christian looked up at him, an ample grin on his cheeks for thinking that his father did not quite understand the whole process.
"You go to the church, papa--and they tell you that you got married. You do not remember it from when you got married to mama?"
Darcy reddened at his son's mindful explanation, and replied in fatherly patience, "Of course I do, Christian."
Regretfully Darcy looked to his wife, but Elizabeth appeared to be as bewildered a soul as himself. "I have some business to take care of," Darcy spoke again in a loud mumble as he stood up, then he disappeared through the morning room doors as quickly as his long legs would carry him.
Throughout most of the day, Darcy kept to his study. Elizabeth would walk by it, to listen for a moment at the door, then upon hearing nothing, she would turn away with a sigh. Her husband did indeed sit behind his desk, at times reading then at other times writing. However on each instance he heard a disturbance beyond the window of the room, he would get up and look out of it, hoping to see the configuration of the man he had once called his friend, striding up the stone steps to the house.
Not once did he behold such a sight, and it saddened him to think that Ethan Bristoe-Hart could not come round from Darcy's own foolishness. Nothing could be done to bring Darcy any relief from the mistakes that tortured his heart. He thought of leaving the house for a time, but he really had nowhere in particular to go. Perhaps he would ask Elizabeth to walk out with him, but seeing the disappointment in her eyes, which she would attempt to conceal from him, would be more than he thought he could suffer.
He longed for a place to go where he did not have to be reminded of his troubles, somewhere that people were not inclined to find fault with him, even though he admitted he was deserving of such criticism. Fitzwilliam Darcy went to the only place he knew of where such pressures of the kind did not matter. He went to the nursery to be near to his children.
The nursemaid handed him his infant daughter as he settled into a chair near the illumination of a window. Darcy gazed at the baby's heavenly face, in complete esteem of the artlessness she possessed as an infant. She was sincerely the most pure and guiltless creature he had ever laid eyes on, and no one shall ever know how greatly her father wished that she would stay this way forever.
Elizabeth passed by the music room, and she was surprised to see Georgiana within. Her sister stood by the window, her stare fixed onto the gardens below.
"Georgiana," Elizabeth smiled, "I am happy to see you out and about."
"Elizabeth," Georgiana startled, but returned her sister's affections with the strain of her own smile. As quickly as she could, she turned her attentions back to the courtyard and beyond.
Elizabeth sighed and placed a subtle hand upon her sister's shoulder. "What a senseless business it is to wait upon a man. Is it not peculiar how he expects his supper upon the table the minute he steps into his house, yet his wife always seems to end up waiting hours for him to come home to eat it."
Georgiana comprehended her own foolishness. If Ethan Bristoe-Hart were to come for her, she would know it, without keeping a constant vigil by the windows. "It must be the woman who owns the patience," she gave rise to speculation.
"Indeed," Elizabeth felt at liberty to laugh at it. "Remember it Georgiana--for when you are a married woman there will be times when you shall need it."
"Dear Elizabeth," Georgiana's lowered her eyes, "I know I shall be able to muster the patience--but I seem sadly lacking in a husband."
"Have patience," Elizabeth smiled. "Give him some time."
Darcy held his small daughter before him, within his loving hands, and he smiled at her. He thought he saw Prudence return the gesture, although he was not really sure if he had simply willed it. Each time he had ever disclosed to Elizabeth that one of their infants were smiling at him, she would dismiss it and tell him the child were simply too young to do such a thing, and that it had all been made up in his mind.
Darcy had never believed a word of it and in due time his children had all learned to smile back at him, and in fact he even looked to the day when they would giggle at the mere sight of him. Had anyone else in the world laughed at him upon first sight, he would have been greatly offended, but not when it came to the laughter of any of his precious children. They never laughed out of malevolence to anyone, they simply laughed out of joy, and Pemberley house was a grander place because of it.
Darcy smiled again, and so did Prudence. The father raised a brow, and attempted another ploy to gain the truth of the matter. He moved his lips as if he were to blow her a tender kiss and the baby did her best to mimic him.
"I knew it," Darcy's face beamed in triumph, then he laughed aloud with great affection.
Hannah came up from behind him, her eyes brightened by the sound of her father's unrestrained laughter. She stood next to his chair and gave him a peck on the cheek then grinned at him as if she were the keeper of a delightful secret.
"What is this mischief?" Darcy asked of her with a playful grin of his own.
"I want to marry a man like you, papa--when I am grown?"
Darcy's smile slowly withered from his face, and he reached out his fingers to meet the side of his daughter's inculpable cheek. "Surely you and Prudence will find good husbands, your mother shall see to that--but perhaps a man such as myself would not be the wisest man for you to choose."
"That," Georgiana's sweet voice was overheard to say, "is far from the truth." She walked into the nursery, and Darcy was greatly relieved to see her smiling. "A very good man once told me that it is always better to speak the truth, and now I would have to agree with him. If you were to find a husband who even resembled your father in the slightest way Hannah, you would live a very happy life."
Darcy stood up from the chair, the baby in his arms and his other pretty daughter by his side. He drew in a sigh, for a lack of anything to say, and he was sincerely grateful that his sister had always possessed such a forgiving spirit.
"Mrs. White," he finally manage to speak, then handed Prudence to the nursemaid, "Please take my girls downstairs to see their mother."
When they had been left to themselves, Georgiana went to look out of the nursery window. She looked out at the place where she had waited for the appearance of a gentleman, when he had asked it of her. Her memories of the meeting would always remain in her heart, and how contented she would be, if she could only see him there again, awaiting her once more.
"Georgiana," Darcy's softened voice had enough strength to startle her. "Georgiana, how can you ever know how truly grieved I am, for coming between you and Brit Hart."
"You do not have to say it, Fitzwilliam," Georgiana's face reddened and her voice trembled, as she tried not to weep again. "I know why you are inclined to be so protective of me. I cannot hold it against you, nor can I be angry with Mr. Hart, for I also know why he cannot come back. You are both men of honor and principals, and because of it you both shall ever be dear to me."
Darcy nodded his admiration for her gift of tolerance, and he set his hand before him. This time Georgiana placed her hand within his, and he pulled her close, holding her within his fatherly arms, as the tears rolled down her cheeks.
Thanks for all your encouragement. I had a grand time! ~ Lou
Darcy stole a glance through the nursery window, down toward the gardens and the path beyond. After a few silent moments, the burden he wore on his brow eased somewhat, and he drew in a great sigh to clear his mind. In subtlety he gently moved his sister away from their embrace to study her woeful demeanor, and brush the tears from her cheeks.
"Do you love him, Georgiana? Truly--are you devoted to the man?"
Georgiana blinked her eyes, pondering her brother's inquiry. He had never before had occasion to ask her such a question, but she could see that at this moment he spoke with the utmost consequence. "I am devoted to him, Fitzwilliam." she whispered in a meek reply. "He is everything I am convinced I should want in a husband, and what made it all the more wonderful is that I believe he loves me--but it is too late for such confessions to matter at all. Mr. Hart shall never favor me again, and I shall not be his wife."
"These confessions do matter, Georgiana," Darcy construed to her patiently. "It was our parents design to see you well settled as a wife. I think our father would have genuinely approved of Brit Hart as a husband for you, but I know he would have insisted upon being certain of your feelings."
"Papa is not here, Fitzwilliam--and it is your word that I must abide by. It is what papa asked me to do, before he died."
Darcy managed to smile at his dependable sister. "In that, Georgiana, you have been very devoted indeed. I could not have contrived a sister more generous in her love and forgiving in her manner, than you have been. You have always shown me patience, and I must confess that there was not a step of the way in acting as your guardian that I did not wonder that if what I did was right or wrong. I do not really know what papa would have done, were it his word you had been following these many years--but I have no doubt that he would have been proud of the sincere woman that you have become."
A blush of satisfaction and an indebted smile appeared on Georgiana's beautiful face, and Darcy leaned over and kissed her forehead, much as any father would do to a good and dutiful daughter. "So," Darcy exhaled patiently, "tell me truthfully, Georgiana--do you love him?"
"If it is love that makes a girl want to leave the family she cherishes, if it is love compelling her to grow into a woman sworn to remain faithful to a man's every aspiration, then I do love him so very much indeed."
"If you love him as you say," Darcy acknowledged unequivocally, "then his wife you shall certainly be."
Darcy reached out his hand to hold the drapery away from the window. He pointed to the path below and Georgiana took a glimpse. To the young woman's utter amazement, down on the path stood the familiar figure of a man. The strapping gentleman was motionless, his hat within his hands, and he seemed to be waiting for someone, as if he had made some sort of preceding engagement. Georgiana's mind whirled in delirious elation as she saw her lover awaiting her, and the glimmer of her smile divulged the effect of her devotion to him.
"I would say," Darcy concluded contritely, "that the man loves you well enough to come back, despite any objections by your troublesome brother."
Georgiana yearned to go to Ethan Bristoe-Hart. It was all she could do to keep from hastening away from her brother and his house, to make certain that the gentleman was really down on the path, awaiting her. Her duty to her brother made her stay, and she turned to him with soundless pleas, in hopes of hearing the prospect of his blessing.
"Go and set the day of your wedding," Darcy was firm in his direction. "Then you may inform Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart that he is to see the archbishop for a special license as soon as may be."
Georgiana threw her arms about her brother, laughing and weeping altogether, much as she had done on the glorious night that she and Brit Hart had conceived of such a marriage. She slipped her arms from around her brother's neck, then turned to eagerly join her lover.
"Georgiana," Darcy stopped her once more with a light touch to her arm, "let him believe that I have had nothing to do with your choice."
"That is a lie, Fitzwilliam."
"Just this once--a little falsehood to conceal before you are married," he said humbly. "Your faithfulness and devotion shall belong to Brit Hart now, and it will be his word that shall matter the most. I am convinced that he shall never demand anything of you that will not be fair and just--but Georgiana--after this, do not think it proper to belie the truth from your husband. A man and a woman who are joined together in such a way, should have no secrets between them."
Georgiana had only to bow her head for Darcy to know that she would be true to his counsel. "Go on with you then," he said, and she dashed from the room in a flurry.
It was plainly difficult for Darcy to watch his little sister leave his house, although he had always known that one-day it would be so. He directed his gaze back to the window, toward the man he called his friend, and who he would now call a brother. If there was anything that made Darcy satisfied at that moment, it was in the knowledge that such a man had it in his heart to give pardon to a friend.
It did not take Georgiana long to reach the spot where Ethan-Bristoe Hart was waiting. Darcy watched his sister as she stopped just short of the gentleman, and the man who had promised to love and honor her for the rest of their lives, bowed his head for forgiveness. Georgiana's arms spread out before her, and the gentleman, feeling that he had been so lovingly acquitted, cast his arms about her to whirl her slight body into the air.
Such a celebration seemed like a triumphant dance to Fitzwilliam Darcy, one in which he was sure would be taken to heart by its carefree partners. A reel meant jubilantly for fair Miss Darcy, and her brother could not think of a better dance for two lovers to experience.
"Are you alone here?" Elizabeth's elegant voice uttered.
"Yes," her husband replied.
"Do you wish to be left to it?"
"No," Darcy resolutely shook his head and chuckled, and a smile illuminated Elizabeth's face. She went to stand before him at the window, and she took the liberty of looking out at the joyful sight below. She extended her own great sigh of ease, as her husband's arms slipped about her waist and his chin came to rest upon the crown of her head.
"Should you like to dance a reel with me, Mrs. Darcy--at their engagement ball?"
Darcy could see the great amusement to Elizabeth's countenance, by her reflection in the window. "Oh yes I would, Mr. Darcy," she replied in sport, but then her attitude changed. "I should very much like to dance a reel with you on such a happy occasion, but somehow it has always seemed to me as if our whole association has been a lively and eloquent dance."
"Indeed," Darcy settled the matter by his own accord. "I was enlightened very early on in our courtship, Elizabeth, as to how exceedingly you love to dance." Elizabeth turned her face toward her husband's, and as he moved to kiss her, Darcy whispered in resolve, "You thought I was not paying attention."
Brit Hart cautiously stepped into Pemberley house, on the arm of his beloved Georgiana. The couple passed by Darcy's study, and Mr. Hart paused in unease.
"My love," he said, "I am truly happy in the knowledge that I have won your devotion, but I cannot inflict anguish on your brother. He was once my friend."
Georgiana moved to within her lover's grasp. "Fitzwilliam shall always be your friend, Ethan."
"I should like to perceive it for myself," he sighed. Brit Hart cradled the side of Georgiana's face with the tenderness of his palm. "Wait for me here," he gave his instruction with a kiss to her cheek, and he turned and knocked upon the door.
Darcy looked up from the ledger on the desktop, to see the solemn figure of his friend. He pointed to a chair in front of the desk, and Brit Hart thought it prudent to accept the offer.
"Georgiana has made her choice, Darcy," the gentleman readily proclaimed. "You and I are to be neighbors, and we are to be connected--but I should like to know that we are to remain as friends."
A smile graced Darcy face, and he thoughtfully nodded his head. "There was a time I was envious of you Brit, and a time I was angry, but I have always been your friend. I could not be an adversary of the master of Smythdon Manor. It is not how my father and Sir Walter would have wanted it to be."
With an assenting nod of his head, Brit Hart stood up to leave. Before he could open the door, Darcy stood up and reach out his hand in a benevolent show of regard. "You are most welcome, Brit," Darcy said as the two clasped hands, "to the Darcy family."
Georgiana's relations heartily approved of the charming and dignified Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart. It was evident to them all that he was completely devoted to Miss Darcy, for at their party at Smythdon Manor the night before the wedding, it was plain to see that the new master's heart only fancied the company of his fiancee. He was apt to remain by her side, to guide her through any difficulty her shy countenance imposed on her by such a crowd of people. He only left Georgiana once, in the capable hands of her sister Elizabeth, when the inducement to tease her brother was far too tempting to be ignored.
The Hart family simply adored their daughter-to-be. Georgiana got along famously with the only other person to call the gentleman Ethan. His esteemed mother told her, most slyly, that if her son were ever to regard her in a manner unbecoming of his noble status, that Georgiana was to call upon her immediately, and Mrs. Hart would take no hidden measure to set him straight again. Upon hearing his mother's needless declaration, the gentleman merely grinned, and bowed his head in mirthful condescension.
The day that Georgiana Darcy left her family's home to become the wife of a proud and honorable gentleman was indeed a glorious day. Although the weather was inclined to be cool and dreary in the late autumn months, that particular morning was warm and bright, and perfect for a wedding. Darcys and Fitzwilliams, Bennets and Bingleys, and Bristoes and Harts all gathered in the small Derbyshire parish.
Brit Hart stood outside the church, tapping his foot on the ground, as impatient as any bridegroom could ever be. "Ethan!" his mother called out to him, and he startled at the resonance of her voice.
He turned toward the matronly figure and smiled, as her petite frame moved toward him. From her size and appearance one would believe that Mrs. Hart was a humble gentlewoman. She was not a woman to be thwarted however, and she governed her household and her sons with a weighty, yet ever-loving hand.
"Ethan, I should speak with you before your young bride arrives," she said to him, pointing an outstretched finger directly at the expanse of his waistcoat, to be sure she had his undivided attention.
"Yes, mother--what do you have to say?"
She clasped her compassionate hands together, and her face beamed. "You have done well my boy--such a lovely young lady. She speaks very little however."
"Yes, mother," Brit Hart affirmed, trying to conceal his amusement. "She is very shy, but I believe the adage goes that opposites do attract, therefore can you not see how we are to make a perfect couple?"
"Ah, I can certainly see why Derbyshire held so many inducements for you," Mrs. Hart chuckled and winked an eye. Her playful countenance changed, and she sighed in regret. "It grieves me however, to know that your father and I will reside so far away from you and your bride."
Brit Hart struggled to conceal the bewildered roll of his eyes, and he whispered quite stealthily beneath his breath, "Frankly, that was one of the many inducements."
"What was that my dear?" Mrs. Hart inquired with an arch of her brow.
"I shall send Georgiana to visit as often as possible, ma'am," the gentleman smiled, and bent to give his venerable mother a loving and dutiful kiss of affection.
"You do that, Ethan," she tapped his shoulder with her same outstretched finger. "I want to see my lovely daughter-in-law as often as may be," she nodded then looked at him with a sideways grin, "and if you soon present me with a grandchild, you my boy shall be welcome too."
"Elizabeth!" Darcy bellowed out, in front of a sturdy door of mahogany. "Georgiana! If you do not make haste you shall be late for your own wedding!"
Sporting his very finest togs, Darcy could do nothing but keep pace in the great hall in front of the door. His sons, dressed in a similar fashion, were inclined to follow in their father's footsteps, and keep a vigil over him. They watched him curiously as he insisted upon grasping at the fob that he wore, to check the time quite often.
"Papa, what is taking so long?" Andrew puffed as he tugged on a seldom worn neckerchief.
Darcy spun around toward the boys. He shrugged, as he helplessly watched Christian pulling on a string of a button, now barely attached to the sleeve of his coat.
"I am convinced that we shall never know for certain what it is that takes a woman so long to attire herself." Darcy heaved a frustrated sigh, "From this day on I shall stop asking the question entirely, for I do not think I really want to know."
The door to the chamber finally opened and Hannah stood before the men of the house, her grin as wide as she could possibly ever make it. "Aunt Georgiana wants to see you, papa."
Darcy slipped through the door, followed closely by his two ever-curious sons. Georgiana stood in the center of the room, an elegant sight in a gown of white satin, completely adorned with the finest white lace--not to make trifling of the slippers, which matched the fabric of her gown precisely.
"Is she not beautiful, papa?" Hannah tittered.
Darcy smiled at such a sight, "Very beautiful."
Elizabeth was overcome by the mingling of happiness and sadness created by such a day, and she brought a gloved hand to her pinkish nose, and sniffled. Hannah's sweet face was the next to crease in affliction, and she ran to her mother and the two dear hearts embraced and began to sob indiscreetly.
The demonstration was more than poor Georgiana could tolerate, and she took a last look about the bedchamber she had always called her own, and the loving family surrounding her, before she was inclined to cry. Before anyone could prevent it, Andrew and Christian had joined in the tearful fray, and even the steadfast Mrs. Reynolds wiped the tears from her cheeks with a clean, starched cloth.
"For goodness sake," Darcy bemoaned, although not misunderstanding the sentiments pouring forth. "She shall be all of three miles down the road. What could be a more fortunate circumstance than that, I ask you?"
"Fitzwilliam, please," Elizabeth hiccuped. "How is it that your character is so bold that you will not shed a tear at the melancholy things in life?"
"Georgiana, we shall all miss you greatly," he sighed in bewilderment, "but shall you not come to visit on occasion? You might even come tomorrow, if you are so inclined."
"Not tomorrow, Fitzwilliam," the bride replied through her consistent weeping. "I am sure I shall be very busy."
"That settles it," Darcy gathered all of his forbearance, "she shall come the day after that then--but can we now get ourselves to the church, before Brit Hart is inclined to lose his formidable patience?"
Darcy was amazingly quiescent on that day, and Elizabeth was proud of him when at the front of the church he freely released his sister's arm, to give her over to the man she loved. Elizabeth could not make out the ready words Darcy imparted to his friend at that instance, but she was later informed by her sister that he said quite definitively, "Take good care of my father's little girl."
The newly married couple was blissful, and the wedding breakfast joyful, as children and adults alike partook of the finest fare ever to be set forth at Pemberley. When it was time, the newlyweds made ready to leave for their own good house. Mr. Hart's excellent carriage awaited them outside the courtyard, and as they got into it everyone else gathered to shower them with well wishes.
Before she took her place next to her husband, Georgiana searched the crowd for the one person whom she so wanted to bid a fond farewell to. She could not find her brother anywhere amongst the gathering of people, but after a few anxious moments she caught sight of him. Darcy stood high up on the stoop of the house, his tiny daughter nestled within the grasp of his fatherly arm. Prudence was now old enough to hold herself upright and she smiled and squealed, and cuffed her father's cheeks as he held her before him.
Georgiana's expression brightened, although teardrops pooled in her eyes, and she waved her hand before her. With his grasp still firmly a hold of his daughter, Darcy lifted his own hand, in a forlorn farewell to the first of his beloved family to leave him, in many a year. As the carriage moved along its way, Darcy obscured his face well behind the custody of his daughter's tiny hands. Mrs. White drew on his sleeve, and he turned to hand her the child.
"Oh, sir," the good nurse soothed upon seeing the master's tearfully sentimental eyes, "it is a woman's fate to leave the nest--she is truly happy, and she is but three miles away."
Georgiana was utterly content to look through her new house, the house in which she and her husband were now to share their lives. Brit Hart was satisfied to stroll behind her, his hands clasped in leisure behind him. This was not to say that the gentleman was eager to look about the house, for the only interest he had at that point in time was to gaze at the happy figure of his wife. He was as patient as any new husband could be with his bride, and his delight was contrived by the joy upon her face at the familiar memories evoked as they strolled within each and every room of the grand house.
"You are very quiet, Ethan," Georgiana blushed, as her eyes met his, before a hearth's fire in the drawing room.
"I find myself occupied," he replied. "We will have many years to talk of this and that, Mrs. Hart--for now I should simply like to gaze at you, and convince myself that you are truly mine."
Georgiana thought that surely Elizabeth would have had a keen reply to a husband's whimsical fancies, but that sort of teasing was not in Georgiana's nature. It was her choice to allow him the freedom of sitting beside her at the pianoforte her brother had sent from his own house. She played him a tune, one not quite as lively as a reel, but soft and sweet, and pleasing.
Brit Hart's thoughts drifted as the sound of the music reached his ears. He thought of his new wife's youth, for compared to him, she was very young and innocent. He however was also very inexperienced in some ways, for he had only just begun to realize that even a losing man could win. His long wait for the comfort and love of a companion was now over, and as he closed his eyes and let the music fill his mind, he silently murmured a last goodbye to the first woman he had loved, and gave thanks to her memory for letting him go.
Eventually, the early darkness of the autumn season overtook the land, and the newly wedded couple ascended the staircase, to the one room they had not yet engaged. Before Brit Hart opened the great mahogany door, he fixed his gaze upon his wife's face, and his candid sea-green eyes explored her features for a sign of her willingness.
"We are neighbors no longer, Mr. Hart," Georgiana spoke with a clandestine smile, but then she gave a slight twist of her lips in embarrassment, "pray, I meant to say Ethan."
The new bride was bent on bestowing a kiss upon her husband's lips, and her hand moved to the lapel of his coat, to steady herself as she did so. In a fell swoop, Ethan Bristoe-Hart gathered his wife's petite frame into his sturdy arms, and with the gallant smile upon his face which Georgiana had grown so accustomed to seeing, he had absolutely no desire to refute her claim, or linger on that side of the chamber door any longer.
"What do you do out here, Fitzwilliam?" Elizabeth inquired as she stepped from her house, into the courtyard. "Why are you not raising the roof with your cousins and Mr. Hart's brothers?"
Darcy grinned at his wife's ridicule, then his mood again went solemn. Elizabeth smiled in tender understanding of her husband's attitude, and she sidled up beside him. "After our wedding," she breathed, "do you recall how very good it was to finally be left to ourselves?"
"I do," Darcy sighed in reply, then removed his coat to place upon his wife's bare shoulders. "You were the only thing I wanted to see that evening--you still are."
"We have stolen out of our house, sir--without being noticed. Do you think we would be missed if we were to remain out here beneath the stars."
Darcy looked at his wife, tempted by her generous offer, but she shivered from the chill of the night air, and her husband thought the better of it. "Perhaps we could try our hand at stealing back into the house, to our chambers--although from there we shall not be able to see the stars."
Elizabeth smiled most passionately, "I can always see the stars, husband--when I am alone with you."
Over time Smythdon Manor did prosper again, and Pemberley gained as well, by the influence of such a tight-knit family. A well-worn path was established between the two grand houses, and children traveled to and fro to visit their beloved aunts and ask advice of their esteemed uncles. When one gentleman was away on business, the other served the purpose as guardian, and the sons and daughters of Mr. Darcy and Mr. Hart grew into fine and honest young men and women.
Barely a year had passed since Miss Darcy's wedding, when Ethan Bristoe-Hart was seen riding his spirited black stallion to the top of a hill. The hill overlooked Smythdon Manor and the grand estate of Pemberley, and as he reached the crest he noticed another rider pensively looking over the land, astride a fine dappled steed.
"Hello, Darcy!" he called out, then brought his horse to a halt next to his friend.
"Brit," the gentleman replied. "How does your wife do?"
"Your sister does very well," Brit Hart confirmed with a grin. "Better and better everyday."
Darcy nodded in brotherly satisfaction. "And the child?"
"Your new nephew is a splendid child--if I should say so myself." Brit Hart laughed aloud, although a yawn escaped as well.
Darcy cast his eyes sideways at his good brother, with a wile grin, "I thought those were dark circles under your eyes."
Brit Hart took the ribbing well, for he was completely contented to be a sleepless new father. Before he turned the stallion back toward his house he took a moment to look out over his lands. "Is it as it should be, Darcy?" he asked confidentially.
His brother-in-law looked at him, unenlightened by such a question. "As it should be?"
"Yes," Ethan Bristoe-Hart nodded, "Is it as your father and Sir Walter would have wanted it?"
Darcy's countenance beamed with pride, realizing what a grand fate the future had brought to the memory of a friend, and to his father's descendants. "Indeed it is, Brit," he replied emphatically. "Indeed it is."
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