Chapter I - In Childhood's Garden
'The Childgrove', an English Country Dance from Playford's Dancing Master, c. 1701
The woods and groves to be found on the grounds of Pemberley were vast and magnificent. Upon first sight of them, the former Miss Elizabeth Bennet had never imagined a place for which nature had done more, or where natural beauty had been so slightly affected by the touch of any being. The landscape of Pemberley was the familiar sight of home for the woman whose lineage was now by marriage that of Darcy, and what joy the sight did give her, she never could sufficiently put into words.
Most of the grand manor's woodlands had been preserved in their genuine state, with the exception of those nearest to the majestic house. Those groves were faithfully thinned and pruned, and kept immaculately presentable by the master gardener and his under gardener staff. The stately trees however, appeared as if they had never been touched, so genuine did they look; which was the way the proud Mr. Darcy had settled upon, when he had become master.
There was a place not far within the splendid woods where the confines of one man's land coincided with another, the closest boundary between Pemberley and a neighboring estate known to all of Derbyshire as Whitlea Hall. The little spot would not have generally been a site of noteworthy importance, were it not for the fact that the masters of both manors, going as far back as several estimable generations, had held its ownership in question. Troublesome feelings had been passed down through the generations of proud gentlemen, between the families, and so it was at present betwixt Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Mr. Robert Leyton.
The only other significance to the little place in the woods was that it had always been of interest to children. Many a young lad and lass had spent time there, for nowhere else in the vicinity was there a better complement of whimsical woodland posies to sniff, trickling brooks to kick one's heels in, or finer patches of tiny wild strawberries to delight a youngsters sweet-toothed fancy. Each child knew this enchanted spot by no particular name, but progeny from either manor went there to play, and to dream, and to wish upon the petals of a plucked flower, or to bank on the outcome of a ebb-skipped stone.
"Hannah! Hannah!" a young child cried one spring day as she ran on sound little legs through the cow parsley and triangular lords-and-ladies poking up from the ground.
Pretty Hannah Darcy continued to flee as well, despite the shrieks and cries of her little sister. At almost twelve years of age, Hannah was willowy and quick of body and mind, but not so swift as to escape the pestering torment of the Leyton brothers. The two boys would hide behind the big trees at the grove, and upon seeing fair Hannah, chase her down until they caught her by the arms. The boys took turns swinging her round and round until she would tumble to the ground, then they would scamper away, snickering and taking pride in the exploits of vexing a harmless young girl.
"Blast them!" Hannah would say with that intractable resemblance of her mother to her character as she sat sprawled upon the soft earth, her skirts in disarray. Never had she been hurt by any means by the boys' boisterous play, excepting perhaps for her pride and an occasional skinned knee.
"Hannah!" Prudence exclaimed upon finally reaching her sister. "Oh, Hannah!" she sobbed, and threw her little self about her sister's lithesome frame, knocking the elder girl backward into the tender woodland marvels.
The commotion in the grove of the girl's cries and the bothered squawk of a willow warbler disturbed from its peaceful nest alerted Hannah's two brothers, whom before long had come running from where they played. "Hannah!" Andrew shouted at seeing his twin tossed to the ground in a billowy heap. "Are you hurt, are you hurt?"
"I am not," she said with a vanquished sigh, and pried her anxious sister from her person. "I am not hurt, Prudy--please."
"Those mean old boys!" flaxen-haired little Prudence whimpered, then stiffened a tender, yet determined ruby-colored lip. "I am going to tell papa this time for sure!"
"No!" wide-eyed Hannah exclaimed. "No, Prudy! You mustn't tell papa--or mama--or anyone else!"
"Why not, Hannah?" Christian puffed in annoyance. "I for one should like to see papa pound those gutter snipes to bits, once he catches them!"
"Papa will not have to," Andrew interrupted as he clenched each palm of a hand into a fist. "When I catch them, I will do it--the cowards deserve it and more!"
"NO!" Hannah interjected in her own commanding brand of finality. "None of you shall do a thing! No tattling, Prudence, no fighting, Andrew," she stopped a moment to roll her eyes, "and no pounding, Christian!" With a deep breath, Hannah settled her nerves back into calmness and tossed her long dark locks over her shoulder, as soon as she was able to remove Prudence's little hands from again clutching her skirts.
"You will be the ones getting the thrashing if papa catches you fighting with those mean old fellows. You know he does not allow it--even if he cannot tolerate the very sight of those Leyton boys. We shall get them," she said with an air of undoubted resolve as she pursed her lips and blew at the wisps of her tousled bangs lying upon her forehead, "in due time." With that said, she stood up and brushed herself off with the tender palms of her delicate hands.
Upon nearing their home, along the graveled drive, the Darcy children ceased looking over their shoulders for the reappearance of such a dreadful duo as those Leyton brothers. However the sounds of hoof beats clapping behind the four children startled them, and they spun about, grateful to see their uncle posting up on his striking mount.
"Hallo there," he clipped in his Cornish-bred timbre. "Where have you been this morning?"
"To the grove, sir," Andrew replied, as the gentleman dismounted to walk along side of his favorite nieces and nephews.
"Hannah looks as if she has been tossed about a bit," Brit Hart chuckled. "Must have been a rousing game, whatever it was. Blind man's bluff, eh?"
Andrew saw his sister shudder in distress, so he ventured to change the subject for her sake, although he rather wished someone as honorable as his uncle would find out the truth. "How is our Aunt Georgiana?"
"Very well," Mr. Hart grinned, "and she wishes to see you all this night for supper. Shall you all come with your parents to Smythdon?"
"Yes, Uncle Brit!" Hannah gaily answered the gentleman, as she shook some stray grass from her hair. "Papa says we may all come."
"Even Prudence," Christian snorted as he poked his little sister in the back with a reprimanding finger. "Papa says she may come, as long as she promises not to pitch her pudding again at our cousin, Nathan. You naughty little girl!"
"Stop it!" Prudence shrieked and turned around to swat Christian's implicating finger away, as a four-year-old child will do at the censure of any sibling.
Brit Hart chuckled at the recollection of the willful little girl flinging her supper at his young son on the last occasion that the families had dined together. Her mother's gasp of surprise had been a wonder to any bystander, not to mention the mortified look upon her father's face after he had realized what his very own issue had done. So much had ever been made of that notable Darcy propriety, although so far it did not seem to be wholly impressed upon Prudence. She was a lively creature, little Prudence, and of her own mind; and her father and mother spent a good deal of their time with their eyes glued to her, awaiting her next bewilderment with a frown and forceful shake of their heads in stern reproach.
"Prudence," Hannah turned to her sister with a flourish of an outstretched motherly finger, "that is not proper and lady-like."
"Not me! Tell him to stop Hannah..."
"Master Andrew!" the housekeeper's voice bellowed from the stoop as the jolly party stood before the house. "Master Andrew, your father is asking for you--straight away in his study!"
Master Andrew Darcy's mouth hung agape, and he cast a vivid scowl in his younger brother's direction. Christian swiftly shrugged as if he had not a clue as to why Andrew was being summoned, but Andrew was inclined not to believe the deception, solely based on the grin still encompassing the youngster's face.
"How dare you tell," Andrew breathed fury, coming nose to nose with the rosy cheeks and dark curls of Christian; and Prudence, not too fond of him either at present, jabbed Christian in the side with a tiny finger.
"But I did not!" the younger boy protested.
Brit Hart was made to intervene with a kind voice, but also a firm hand to each boy's shoulder, "I am here to speak to your father, Andrew. You can see him with me if you wish, then perhaps whatever you have done will not seem so impertinent to him, once he and I are finished with our business."
Andrew sighed and nodded, and he was grateful at least for the good humor of his uncle. "Will you put in a good word for me also, uncle?" the boy asked hopefully.
Mr. Hart did his best not to grin too broadly. "I will do what I can."
Brit Hart had become a favorite of the Darcy children since his marriage to their Aunt Georgiana four years past. He was a good and kindhearted man, much like their father; but unlike their papa, Mr. Hart's countenance was prone to lenience when it came to the capers and pranks of children. In fact, Brit Hart was something of a jokester himself, and not above teasing his brother-in-law Fitzwilliam Darcy when it suited his purpose.
"Come, come--let us go to it as a good soldier goes to battle, eh? Without trembling at what may or may not be," the good gentleman brightened, and Andrew was made to follow him, merely because of his firm grasp upon the boy's collar.
Darcy waited patiently within his study, and as Andrew stumbled into the room, he caught a sufficient enough glimpse of his father to determine that he did not look so bothered at all. "Good morning, Brit," Darcy called out to his brother-in-law quite amiably, then pointed his son to a chair with a silent waggle of a finger.
"I brought he that you seek," Brit Hart replied, raising a furtive, yet pithy eyebrow in the boy's general direction. "Shall I wait in the hallway?"
"Not at all," Darcy twisted a smile. "Have a chair, and take note," he quipped, his hand rubbing his chin for effect, "for one day you shall have to bear this sort of thing as well."
Andrew's cheeks blanched at the discourse between his uncle and his father, and the effortlessness with which such glib conversation was being delivered made the boy cringe from his toes upwards to the very top of his head. In a way, he had been awaiting this summons, although he had hoped that just this once, he would somehow escape it.
The elder son was not quite sure how to convince his father that tying Christian to that tree a few days ago had all been done in brotherly sport and good will. He thought perhaps that his father would have believed it, had he not forgotten to undo the poor rascal for well nigh an hour, and had it not been that Hannah had found poor Christian yelping in avail and taken pity on him by releasing him. Andrew had a difficult time presuming that Hannah would have been the one to snitch, for she was a right old chap, even if she was a girl.
Upon further introspection, Andrew's brows furrowed, and he thought this too much to be born. He would be made to suffer the consequence issued by his father, and live with the shame of being humiliated in front of his beloved uncle. Surely Brit Hart would tell Aunt Georgiana of such a scandal, and before long the disgrace of it all would be halfway through the neighborhood, and no doubt would make its way to the ears of those loathsome Leyton boys.
It was then that Andrew resolved to make Christian suffer a little humiliation as well. All he had to do was recount to his father the way in which Christian had broken the windowpane in the music room some time back. No one had ever confessed to it, and even a boy of ten was old enough to know that last seasons conkers were formidable things when hurled at a pane of glass, especially right after he had been told of the very thing by his father.
"I...I..." Andrew sputtered audibly with the next pause between his father and uncle, "I know it was unkind to bind him up like that papa, but..."
"What?" Darcy's own brows knit together deeply. "Bind him up? Pray lad, what has this to do with going off to school?" Darcy sat down behind his desk, and unfolded an official looking post, then glanced up from the missive to inquire in queer perplexity of his son, "Bind whom up?"
Andrew perceived his uncle utter a trifling groan from behind a cupped palm, and at that very moment the boy seriously thought he could be quite ill on the spot. "School!" Brit Hart intervened fortuitously. "Good heavens Andrew, are you that old already? Off to boarding school you go then, eh?"
"Upon the next term," Darcy grinned with the deepest pride. "Your tutor tells me that you are more than qualified to go, Andrew. You have confirmation and board for the coming term and all the thrill and envy that my own countenance can possess."
"And mine," Brit Hart replied at seeing the shear satisfaction on the face of the boy's father, and remembering his own academic experiences with some delight.
"Go away to school?" Andrew whispered in awe, feeling a little queasier than beforehand.
Darcy stood up to hand the letter to his sister's husband, but he was momentarily distracted by a knock upon the study door. Brit Hart took advantage of the occasion to lean over toward his naive young nephew.
"Rule the first of manhood, boy," he stressed beneath his breath. "Never willingly divulge too much, too early when standing before he who holds the strings or the strap."
"No, sir," the youngster choked out, a wiser youth for the education.
Finished with the interruption, Darcy strolled back to his desk, giving Andrew an affectionate pat on the head along the way. "We shall announce it tonight at supper, son," he said, sitting back down in his time-honored, leather chair.
"Ho, there!" Brit Hart's eyes widened with feigned alarm. "You have not told anyone of this? Not even Elizabeth?"
"You and Andrew are the very first to know it," Darcy's deep-dimpled grin lit up his face as he played along.
"Then I shall be taking a seat in-between Prudence and Nathan this night at the supper table," replied Brit Hart with a breathy chuckle. "For once a place between two toddlers will be the safest place in the room, I think."
Darcy laughed aloud at the image and in his fair mood. "Elizabeth shall be well pleased at the accomplishments of her eldest son."
"Aye," Brit Hart snorted, "that she will--at his accomplishment, but not well pleased I would say at the prospect of her first born leaving the nest."
"Oh posh," Darcy dismissed the thought, while Andrew looked back and forth with a mirthful grin between the two bantering gentlemen whom he admired so.
Brit Hart folded his arms across his chest. "Would you care to lay a wager on it?"
Darcy's face went taut, "How much?"
The gentleman of the first rubbed his hands together and arched his brows comically, to the pleasure of his nephew. "Five guineas--yes, yes, that should do very nicely. That should make it worthwhile."
"Five guineas!" Darcy exclaimed, feigning abhorrence. "'Tis robbery and you know it."
"Too high of stakes for you to part with, Darcy?" Brit Hart taunted his brother-in-law, then pulled a small leather register from the pocket of his coat and scribbled his marker with a stubby little pencil on a tiny sheet of paper. "There is a chance she may not be so affected," he said, but disproved the claim with a cunning shake of his head and a grimace for only Andrew to see.
"A fool's bet," Darcy grumbled, then stretched a hand to his friend, sealing the stakes in a gentlemanly fashion. The master of Pemberley pulled out the desk drawer, and took out a sheet of paper to write Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart his marker. "You may go back to what you were doing if you like, Andrew," Darcy's voice was merry and compassionate, "Remember son, not a word to anyone--╬til supper."
"No papa, I shan't say a word," Andrew giggled, but stopped abruptly upon seeing his uncle motion toward the door with a quick cock of his head.
Realizing the wisdom in a timely exit without his father recalling what he had been about to divulge of his earlier wrongdoing, Andrew scrambled to his feet. The boy had barely made it to the doorway when Darcy called out without bothering to look up from his scribbling. "One last thing, boy."
"Yes, sir?" Andrew ceased in his spot and slowly turned to raise his eyes to the desk in foreboding.
Darcy bit down on his lip in an agonizingly deliberate and pointed reply. "Never reveal more than you ought to when standing before he who holds the strings or the strap."
"Never again, sir," the boy went pale, then clambered out of the room.
Darcy continued to write, and to grin, while Brit Hart chuckled heartily. "He is the spit of you, Darcy," he said. "The very likeness--always so serious, as if the weight of the world falls upon his shoulders. Do you think he will find it difficult to leave?"
Darcy sat back in his chair, his solemn nature returning to him. "Probably," he sighed with concern for his beloved child. "I did, when I was sent off to school. The first few weeks I wanted to go home desperately, and I wrote my parents so--then I met with a few friends. I think you were one," he smiled fondly at Brit Hart. "After that..." he grimaced to torment his friend "...I wanted to go home even more."
Chapter II -- Lessons Well Learned
Despite his misgivings about leaving his beloved family and his cherished home, Master Andrew Darcy was quite eager to relay his good news. Of course he said nothing to his siblings or mama, as he had promised his father, although he was as curious as any young gent to see just which one of the bettors would win that morning's wager. He could not have been happier to sit next to his father at the supper table, and await his due and praise as an accomplished youth. Andrew did look at his dear mother with a sympathetic eye on several occasions during supper, and he hoped beyond all, that she would not feel too dreadful to have to make due from now on without him.
"How are you feeling, Georgiana?" Elizabeth asked with such a delighted gleam to her countenance.
"Very well, dear Elizabeth," the new mother sighed in contentment as she gently cradled a very tiny infant in her arms. "Yet another perfect baby born to our family. We are truly blessed."
"Two fine sons," Elizabeth proclaimed, well satisfied with life in their corner of the world.
Brit Hart looked up from his meal, and noticed his brother-in-law whom he caught smiling nobly at his sister and her baby. "An heir and a spare as we say back home," he chuckled rather whimsically, then swiftly changed his mood back to the sobriety which his brother-in-law always seemed to command. "We are blessed, indeed."
The Darcys and the Harts had a custom of having supper together once each week. The women of the families had decreed it, for it indeed satisfied their social longings, and both Elizabeth and Georgiana were determined for their children to feel a certain fondness and family for one another. The children were allowed to dine at the table with their parents, however old or however young they may be. Elizabeth had always believed it gave a child a stronger character to be allowed to know what it was like to behave affably in society, and it gave them confidence that their parents extended a privilege that so many denied their children, so early.
Elizabeth had wanted her own children to be brought up well-rounded in education as well as polished in manner. The same had held true for Darcy, and thus he agreed that his daughters as well as his sons learn the fundamentals before the superfluous. He had stressed to the boys' tutor and also to the girls' governess that each child should not only know how to read and write, but to figure a mathematical problem with ease and learn something of the basics of politics and the world outside of Derbyshire. This he wished them to know well before they ever took up Latin and the classics, or knitting purses, covering screens, and speaking French and German.
Darcy wanted no idle minds in his house, but there were times when he downright cringed at having a small child at the supper table. It had taken some coaxing on Elizabeth's part for the master of Pemberley to concede to it, for smashed peas and a pint-size fist full of pulped potatoes had never been Darcy's idea of living with civility. Thus he requested that a nursemaid wait in the wings to attend to any such untidiness that should arise at any given occasion.
"Ugh," Christian tried to moan inaudibly as he witnessed his young cousin chewing his food obviously.
Darcy looked up from his plate with his fatherly grimace, and Christian's guilty eyes were made to fall swiftly upon his father's stern face, then back down to his own plate in sufferance. "If you think that is bad," Andrew leaned over to whisper to his brother, "you should have seen yourself."
With a frown, Christian consumed his pride as well as he could. Andrew had always had a habit of finding fault with him, for that was an elder brother's lot in life. However much Christian tried to please him, Andrew always scoffed, until the younger boy could take no more of the insult, and the two would end up in an adolescent brawl. This was customarily followed by an array of severe words from their father, and on the very worst of occasions, a direction to go to opposite corners, or what was more dreaded, to their respective chambers. To tell the truth, Christian wanted to be just the same as Andrew, but each boy had simply not been molded of identical stuff.
"Here Georgiana," Elizabeth laid her cloth upon the table and arose from her seat to take the baby from her sister's arms. "Let me hold him, and you may eat your supper in peace."
Darcy sighed in silent conjecture, for with every action of his wife he was convinced he was to at any moment hear her comment on how fine it would be to have yet another child padding about Pemberley. He was very well pleased with his family the way it was, and he was beginning to consider himself far too old to be up all night, playing a tune to lull a mewling infant back into slumber, however dear they were.
Satisfied that his sons were being well behaved, at least for the moment, Darcy took a glance over at his daughters. Hannah was delighted at peeking inside the cooing bundle that her mother held, and Darcy thought his eldest daughter to be the very picture of feminine amenability, although he rather wished she would curb any maternal desires she might possess for another ten or more years. Prudence however was on the verge of flinging yet more peas at her poor unsuspecting cousin; thus the dependable father decided that now was as good a time as any to make an announcement.
Darcy grasped his glass of wine and sat back in his chair, taking a deep breath to speak. "I have had some good news this morning," he confessed. "News that you should all know, for you will be very proud."
Every eye turned was focused on the master of Pemberley, for one reason or another, and Darcy grinned sheepishly as his wife proclaimed that she had always been fonder of good news than that of any other sort. Andrew sat taller in his seat in his anticipation of being lauded by his father, and when he caught Darcy's own eye, the abashed grin of the gentleman turned into an exemplary smile of exultation.
"I had a letter today, a confirmation for Andrew to attend school this coming term. Come the end of the summer he will be gone off to Eton to follow in the footsteps of every man in the Darcy line to come before him."
For a moment, the room was enigmatically still. Then Georgiana gasped, "Oh Andrew, such wonderful news! It has been a very long time since a Darcy son has gone off so prestigiously."
"Not that long," Darcy befuddled a contradiction.
Hannah pouted a very little bit and worried her hands in her lap, for she was old enough to realize that she and her brother would soon be parted, but then she smiled broadly for his sake alone. "I wish I were to go with you, Andrew, but you will be the best student ever...I know."
Christian could not speak a word, so surprised was he at such news. Once again Andrew would be the first in the family to accomplish something of notoriety, something meaningful and useful, and although Christian could not help but feel some resentfulness, as any younger son will, he thought he might even miss Andrew somewhat. He thought he might even miss being picked on and maligned, in the way in which he knew delighted his brother.
Elizabeth was amazingly composed upon hearing the words of her husband. She took a moment to draw a breath and to gaze down at the infant in her arms, then study the child's tender newborn skin. When she raised her eyes to glimpse her first-born child, memories of him, new and defenseless flooded her mind, and she thought that she would sob willfully. She did not dare to do it, so prideful and grown did the boy look, and so overjoyed was his father. With a momentary quiver of her lips, she smiled as brightly as any mother can in her woe.
"How proud I am of you, Andrew," was all she managed to reply, although it was very sincerely and so affectionately meant.
"Are you mama?" the boy's heart swelled.
Elizabeth nodded her head resolutely, "Oh, yes, my love."
Darcy had never sighed so deeply as he did upon hearing Elizabeth's heartening words and he raised the glass of wine in his hand and smiled his approval. "To the heir of Pemberley," he said, and everyone else was very happy to do the same.
Elizabeth was rather grateful when Georgiana rose from her seat at the table to leave the gentlemen, for another room of the house. The overwhelmed mother felt that she needed a moment to herself, and thought perhaps she could find it in some uninhabited room, or on the terrace. The children left their chairs to follow along, but Darcy reached across to Andrew's shoulder and asked the boy if he was inclined to remain with the gentlemen.
The child's eyes told all there was to know of his wonder. "Truly papa...I may be allowed to stay with you?" he whispered ever so timidly as if expecting Darcy to change his mind.
Darcy gave a nod, and Elizabeth smiled at him, knowing how consequential it made her son feel to be allowed such a civility. She felt badly for Christian however, for she knew how it must hurt him not to be included.
He may not have had the good fortune to ever be the heir of Pemberley, but Christian was fortuitous enough to be named the heir apparent of Greywood Manor, home of Charles Bingley and Elizabeth's sister Jane. Greywood had been entailed to Christian for lack of a natural heir. As much as Elizabeth despised such a law, she had the peace of mind of knowing that her younger son would never leave her for a lonely living in a county rectory, or worse for a far away land and a sanguineous battlefield. Christian would have his chance in a few years to go off to school, and she realized those few years would come sooner than she would ever expect.
Poor Hannah, Elizabeth remembered her daughter, and Andrew's twin. Andrew's leaving must be difficult for her as well as for Christian. She would have to watch her brother go, knowing she would never receive such attentions for herself. She did deserve a place of prominence, being a firstborn child also, but her time to shine would be the day that she married...and that, Elizabeth thought, she could not even fathom at present. Elizabeth slipped her arms, one through that of Christian and one through that of Hannah, and together the three walked out of the dining room of Smythdon Manor to follow the younger children with as much dignity as they could muster at the moment.
"Well Andrew," Darcy settled comfortably in his chair and allowed Brit Hart to pour him a laudatory glass of scotch, "I would say everyone is well pleased...as they should be...and I would also say that your uncle now owes us a considerable amount of tin."
"Tin, my foot," Brit Hart grumbled, reaching hesitantly into his breast pocket for the lost wager.
Darcy held out an unaffected palm, and Brit Hart dropped five gold guineas into the gentleman's hand, clanking them one at a time deliberately for the full effect of the strain. "Rule the second of manhood, boy," he said with a frown. "Make many friends when you are at school, hopefully those tending toward more mercy than your father when it comes to a friendly wager."
Darcy laughed and dropped a golden guinea into the boy's hand, and Brit Hart strode back to the cellaret to drown his sorrow in his own glass of scotch. "Tell me more," Andrew wriggled in his chair, closely examining the relief on the gold piece and wishing to be informed of all these gentlemanly rules that were known to his father and his uncle. "Please...will you?"
With his back still turned toward his friend and nephew, Brit Hart grasped a very small glass and raised it in the air. "Aye," said Darcy, and the host poured just a touch of the spirits into the glass, then turned to set it before Andrew.
Andrew's eyes widened in astonishment, and he quickly looked to his father for a confirmation. Darcy held his own glass out and nodded, and when Andrew did the same, the father's glass came to clink against the son's. Darcy tipped back the liquor in his own glass in one fell motion, then set the glass upon the table. The son brought his to his own lips to have a tentative look and taste of what it contained.
"No, no, boy," Brit Hart said on the verge of laughing and thus destroying the lesson, "Tastes vile that way. Drink it down all at once...hasty like." With a fascinated grin, Andrew did so, and when his glass came to rest upon the table, the boy choked and sputtered, and turned a fine shade of crimson, then tinted a chalky white.
"Rule the third," Darcy's voice drew the words out distinctly for significance, "there shall always be some good-for-nothing sot wanting you to tip a few with him. No doubt you shall do it once and end up retching the whole night through and praying that if you be allowed to live to see the next day that you shall never again be so daft as to touch another drop."
Brit Hart groaned, "I can attest from experience that some fellows do not learn that lesson as promptly as is good for them."
Darcy's eyes rolled at his friend's folly, as he tried his best to remain stern and sullen. "Mind you learn the lesson son, and let the one time be the last."
With the color now back in his cheeks in abundance, Andrew induced a nod, "Is there anything else, papa?"
"Never bet five guineas on a sure thing," Brit Hart groaned, making it all the more difficult for Darcy to remain austere.
"Rule the fourth," Darcy replied in all seriousness. "Never gamble to excess. While it is jolly good sport to bet on the ponies on Derby Day, and an occasional game of ving-et-un or friendly wager between friends...do not ever let me catch you dropping a shilling on dog fights, cock fights, fisticuffs, or anything of that contemptible sort. What is all the more than that...never, never, let the provosts catch you."
"No, sir," the boy promised in his awe. "Is that all?"
"For now, the only other thing concerns fighting," Darcy replied firmly. "Nothing shall get you sent home faster than blacking out the eye of a peer on school grounds."
"Indeed," Brit Hart added with alacrity. "This does not mean that you must stand by and be ridiculed however, or bend to the follies of some other bloke because he presses you."
"Rule the fifth, Andrew," Darcy spoke up, "Never resort to your fists or any other weapon to solve a difference of opinion. Dueling and fighting is forbidden...by the school and by me." The father pointed to his temple, "Reason it out first, if you can."
Andrew's thoughts turned to those of the vicious Leyton brothers in the grove. "What if you cannot?" he pondered aloud. "What if they will not listen?"
"Then you seek out the advice of someone with more experience than yourself...someone you trust to be truthful with you. Someone who at the time, may have more influence than you." Darcy thought a moment, for he had not always followed his own counsel, "and try never to hold a grudge or go off half-cocked thinking that yours is the only voice of reason."
The father stood up and so did the son, and Darcy grasped a hold of Andrew and drew him into a fatherly embrace. "Ah, well," he sighed, relieved for the innocence of his child, "you have always been a good boy. I know you will do well and stay out of trouble. Remember it all Andrew, and I shall let you pass it on to Christian...and when he follows you to school, it will be your task to keep him out of trouble."
"That shall be quite a duty, papa," Andrew grinned, and so did his father.
"I need a breath of air," Darcy announced. "Go and join your mother, and I shall be along in a few minutes."
Andrew nodded, but remained with his uncle in the dining room to watch his father leave. "Uncle Brit," the boy uttered, "I do need some of that advice."
Brit Hart motioned to the boy's chair. "Certainly," he replied, and Andrew plopped back down in his seat.
"Do you know Mr. Leyton's sons...the Leytons of Whitlea Hall?"
"I know of them, and I have met their father. I know that he and your own papa are not on the friendliest of terms."
"No sir, and we do not get on with his sons either. They are very mean spirited, and when we go to the grove, sometimes they are there and they choose to be cruel...mostly to Hannah. They swing her by the arms and let her go, and she goes flying into the dirt in a rumpled heap. It is their sport I suppose, and it is always when Christian and I are not close by...for if we were we would certainly pound them..."
"Andrew," Brit Hart broke sternly into the boy's recount. "Your father has told you how he feels about that sort of thing, and you are not to do it. Have you or Hannah not told him of what the boys do?"
Andrew shook his head adamantly. "Hannah will not, and she made us promise that we will not tell either. I think she is ashamed that they pick on her so, and she does not like it when papa is angry."
"Then leave it to me," Brit Hart replied with the utmost compassion for the child. "I shan't say a word to your father for the time being. Shall you go to the grove tomorrow morning again?"
"Yes, sir. After our morning lessons we shall. It is a very good place, except for when those boys are there."
Brit Hart nodded. "Consider it handled, now let us go and see your mother and aunt...and boy," Brit Hart added with insistence, "do not breathe a word about the scotch to either. That is rule the sixth, never let your mama believe that you are no longer her little boy." Ethan Bristoe-Hart grinned curiously, "This I have come to believe over the years should be rule the first."
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth startled her husband.
Darcy turned about, from his place in the courtyard of Smythdon Manor. "My love," he replied, looking a little pale and tired, but then he smiled to relieve her mind. The loving wife approached him to grasp a hold of his woolen coat sleeve and lay her cheek against his shoulder.
"It smells like rain," he sighed looking off into the distance at a building storm, then he grinned tenderly. "We always do sleep best when it rains."
"Shall we go home then?" Elizabeth asked him gently.
"I think we must," he quipped. "If not for our sake, then for Brit and Georgiana's...they, after all, have an infant." Darcy wrapped his arm around Elizabeth and held her close to him. Elizabeth was still very quiet, and her silence had always been disconcerting to Darcy. "I am astonished that you are not to say more," he pressed her. "Are you not to miss your son?"
"What should I say?" Elizabeth questioned with doleful eyes that gazed into her husband's. "I knew this day would come. You have never let me believe otherwise, and although it did vex me greatly on all those occasions in which you reminded me of it, today I find myself grateful that it was not a shock."
"Vex you?" Darcy chuckled. "I certainly had no idea that I ever vexed you."
"Do be serious," Elizabeth poked a finger to his chest. "Why should you choose now to break the mold, Mr. Darcy?"
"Very well," he sighed, almost wiping the smile clean from his face. "Think of it all through Andrew's eyes, Elizabeth. He will have every opportunity to be with boys just like himself. What better way to learn who you are, to learn who you are expected to become. I, myself, am very pleased for him. Once I had felt secure at school, I have to admit that I had a fine time."
"You shall not miss your son, Mr. Darcy?" Elizabeth inquired with an arch of a brow.
Now Darcy's face looked doleful. "I never said that."
Elizabeth slowly shook her head. "In my mind, I know it all, my love...all the advantages...but in my heart I also know that I cannot protect what I cannot hold." Elizabeth exhaled a generous sigh, "What a confused state I am in, but I shall never let Andrew see how melancholy I am, for his sake and for yours."
"Not for my sake," Darcy whispered, stroking his fingers gently along her chin. "You have always been honest with me, Elizabeth. Shall you not tell me now exactly how you feel?"
Elizabeth again quivered that woeful smile, "When I can think of a way to express it, you my husband, shall be the first to hear it. For now, I have no other wish than to find what comfort I can in the assurances of your loving arms. Do tell me that Andrew will be happy."
Darcy kept his steady hold on his wife. "He will," was all the father could manage to say.
Chapter III -- Trials and Tribulations
Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart rode his fine black stallion into the courtyard of Whitlea Hall. The old manor was quite forbidding in its appearance, for it definitely did not possess the charm and grace of Smythdon Manor, nor the glory and grandeur of Pemberley. It was functional to be sure, but its surroundings were a bit unkempt for a stately country manor, and no one residing there seemed all that cordial or neighborly to any visitor, welcomed or not.
"You there!" Brit Hart called out as he slid down from atop his horse. A man looking to be a groom ambled over toward the unexpected caller, and stared at him blankly. "Is your master at home?" Brit Hart smiled in his enthusiastic bearing.
"Aye, sir," the man said soberly. "You'll find him within."
"Very good," Mr. Hart replied, and flipped the reins of his mount to the man, along with a shiny sixpence, an action which somewhat improved the groom's surly demeanor.
Brit Hart surveyed the structure as he ascended the stone entry of the manor house, and he stood before the mighty oak door and pounded on it, to be assured of being heard. An austere looking woman opened the door and glared at him silently with scrutinizing dark eyes.
"I should like to speak to the master of the manor, Mr. Robert Leyton."
The woman frowned and wrinkled her pointed nose at the gentleman's request, "Whom may I say is calling?"
"Mr. Ethan Bristoe-Hart, esquire of Smythdon Manor."
The woman grumbled something unintelligible and hesitantly allowed the gentleman into the foyer, then settled him hurriedly into a drawing room. "Is this a social call, gov'nor?" she inquired curiously, beneath a cap upon her head, which flopped about with every strict nod of her head.
"Why do you ask madam?" Brit Hart arched a novel brow. "Does the master of the manor not get many?" The woman grumbled again, and seeing that she had very little tolerance left to her humor, Brit Hart knew to acquiesce with what civility he could. "Call it a matter of business, if you must give a reason."
"Sir," she replied in a clip of brevity and another nod, and was instantly gone.
After some length of time, and much poking about on the part of Ethan Bristoe-Hart's curiosity, a gentleman entered the drawing room. "Hart," he said in not much of a mannerly greeting at all.
Brit Hart caught his breath upon being startled, and with a shiver of his shoulders to settle his nerves he took a long glimpse of the formidable looking gentleman. "Mr. Leyton," he finally dipped his chin in a circumspect salutation.
Robert Leyton was similar in age to Fitzwilliam Darcy, with Brit Hart himself not far behind in years. The gentlemen of Pemberley and Smythdon had not had the advantage of knowing Robert Leyton from school or elsewhere, for the Leyton's had always traveled in different social circles, if they traveled in them at all. Darcy knew Leyton as his neighbor and general acquaintance, although not by any means an amiable one and Brit Hart knew him not well at all, save a casual introduction and a few token words upon occasion in the village of Lambton.
"I shan't take too much of your time, Leyton, but I have come in regards to a dubious matter...concerning your sons and the Darcy children."
"The Darcy children?" Robert Leyton feigned ignorance with a twist of his lips, which caused his bushy muttonchops to quiver disturbingly, and made Brit Hart suspect that perhaps he did know something of what they spoke of. "What have my sons to do with the Darcy children?"
"It seems as if your sons are inclined to occupy the grove near the border of Whitlea Hall and Pemberley. The Darcy children are fond of playing in that grove, and on more than one occasion have been tormented to excess by your progeny. In some instances, I have heard that your boys choose to wreak havoc with Hannah Darcy, the eldest girl, taking her by the arms and hurling her about into the dirt...forcefully."
"I have never heard of such instances," Leyton replied rather smugly.
"I can imagine not," Brit Hart kept his head. "As a boy, I was not in the habit of informing my father on the occasions I chose to do something unruly. It would have been...shall we say...foolhardy to do so."
Robert Leyton grinned and mischief appeared in his eyes, "I am sure you were the picture of propriety...when a boy." The gentleman ambled to the window of the drawing room and studied the dreary prospect from it. "So now you are wedded to Darcy's sister, he sends you to do his bidding? Is that how he takes care of his own these days, eh Hart? I have always known him to be more of his own man of action...but then he must be getting old and fat, and lazy."
Brit Hart felt his jaw clench in vexation, realizing with every moment the truth to Darcy's frequent grumbling on the subject of his odious neighbor. Brit Hart forced himself to maintain his civil mien and equitable humor, however. "I beg your pardon, sir. I am and always have been my own man, as I know has Fitzwilliam Darcy."
"Ah, yes," Robert Leyton mumbled.
"You can be assured that if Mr. Darcy had an inkling of such goings on concerning his daughter, that you would be me more than aware of his presence and disapproval. That being said, the fact that I have the fine fortune to be married to an excellent woman makes no alterations to my own integrity...whether she is of the Darcy line or not."
"Does it not?"
Brit Hart sighed in discomfort, as it was obvious that a very simply resolved situation was being drawn out into a veritable contest between families. "I came here as the confidant of my nephew, who is concerned for his sister's well being. I trust sir, that you will act with honor, and instruct your children that this is not acceptable play or behavior."
"Oh, I shall speak with my sons, but you may tell your nephews and nieces that the grove is on Whitlea Hall property...and that they are not to trespass in the future."
"Mr. Leyton," Brit Hart caught an angry breath, "I have no wish to enter into an age old dispute, however I have been to this grove and the Darcy children are well within their rights to play where they do. They keep to Pemberley land, and if anyone is trespassing, it is your own issue which does the offending."
"Indeed," Robert Leyton began lose what little courtesy he had possessed, "Pemberley land...surveyed by another Darcy relation, under Darcy's direction. That arrogant popinjay is prone to having his own way of course, and if he cannot come by it honestly, he is subject to press his kin into service. I know the likes of him, just like I know the likes of you, Mr. Hart."
"Sir, what purpose it suits you to insult me and my friends...I know not. I came here with a simple request...that is all. Will you not respect it?"
Robert Leyton grimaced, almost a sneer, which Brit Hart did not care for in the slightest. "I shall do what I am able, Hart," he spoke trenchantly. "You know how children of that age are...a simple instruction...in one ear and out the other."
Brit Hart grinned, for here was an opportunity for mockery in which he could not refuse. "If that be the condition sir, then I believe as a father," he paused to muster up the guttural argot of his native land, "ye speaks the wrong tongue."
The gentleman brusquely grasped his hat and coat to leave. "Good day to you," was all Brit Hart could manage to say further, before he followed the crusty old servant woman out of the room.
"What is the matter, Hannah?" Christian asked his sister that morning in the grove, seeing that she did not possess her usual eagerness for being in the place that she so loved.
Hannah sat on the end of a felled log, glumly watching her twin brother as he ran off in the direction of the old stones where he was fond of playing soldier. "What shall we do when Andrew goes away?" she sighed.
Christian sat down next to her, and Prudence scurried up from behind and seized her sister in a hug about the neck. "I do not know," Christian matched his sister's sigh, then went on to voice his complaints. "He is very smart and smug about it though. Why can we not go to school together, is what I want to know?"
"Some of us shan't go at all," Hannah's pointed reply hushed her brother's grumbling, and Christian in his uneasiness kicked at the ground with the toe of his shoe.
"I would not want you to go away, Hannah," Prudence intervened. "Mama would miss you too."
Rare teardrops formed in Hannah's eyes as her fingers fussed with the hem of her skirts. "I know mama would miss me, but what about papa? Just once I should like to do something important, something that he should take great notice of. I should wish for papa to look at me, like he looks at Andrew...so splendid and proud. Perhaps if I did something of use, I too should get to go along in the carriage to Lambton for business, or stay in the dining room long after everyone else has gone."
"Me too," Christian frowned, then voiced his opinion on the way of life, "but it will not happen, Hannah. Neither you or I are Master Andrew Darcy, the heir of Pemberley."
The children looked up from their dismay to see and hear a rustling coming from the undergrowth on the other side of the stream. It was surely those Leyton boys, and as they ran out of the bushes, snarling and yelling, and laughing like banshees, the Darcy children wasted no time in running back toward their beloved home, where they knew they were always safe and sheltered.
"What a fuddle-headed, addle-minded, tomfool of a sod..." Brit Hart spat out beneath his breath a good many of the expletives he could think of to describe such a cantankerous character as Robert Leyton. The man had made Brit Hart so vexed that he stood outside of Burnside's mercantile, his face reddened with ire, and he had quite forgotten what he had come for.
"Good day, Brit," Darcy's voice rang out in merriment from behind the gentleman, and Ethan Bristoe-Hart spun about in dismay.
"Darcy...what do you do stealing up on a gent like that!"
"I saw you from across the lane," Darcy queried with a chuckle at his friend's uncommon manner. "What do you go on about so irascibly?"
Brit Hart remembered himself and his promise to his nephew. "Not a thing, Darcy...not a thing."
"Fuddle-headed, indeed," Darcy snorted in amusement, "tomfool of a sod? These are strong complaints, all for nothing, and so unlike you. If I were to take a guess at whom it might have been to vex you so...I should venture to say you were either reading the Journal and uttering your convictions of that scoundrel Bonaparte...or perhaps you have had a run in with our good neighbor Robert Leyton."
"To be sure," Brit Hart sighed. "The latter. How on earth did you know?"
Darcy grinned, "'Tis the only time I ever think of putting the words fuddle-headed and tomfoolery in one sentence."
"The man is absolutely unwilling to see reason."
"Now you know the root of our disagreements," Darcy nodded in contemplation. "He is exactly like his father before him, and if I were to speculate, I would say the sons will not be much different." Darcy placed a hand on the shoulder of his friend. "Elizabeth says that Georgiana is to visit today. If I were to make yet another speculation, I would think there is some plotting and planning going on by our wives. Elizabeth was very quiet this morning...and it is my experience that when she is silent, something of consequence is afoot. Why not accompany me home and see what diversion they have to offer up?"
Brit Hart smiled for the first time since leaving Whitlea Hall. "Plotting and planning?" he quizzed. "You do know that I would not miss any of that for the world."
Elizabeth Darcy had noticed the distraction of her eldest daughter since supper the night before. Elizabeth could remember what it was like to be held in a father's high esteem. Her own father's opinions of her had always meant a great deal, and for some time during her girlhood her father had been her sole champion. She was convinced that this was also the case for Mr. Darcy's daughter.
It was difficult to know how to spread one's affections between one's children equitably, and Elizabeth had always been contented with the way in which Darcy had managed it all, having four so very contrary children. She knew he held no favorite, and loved each and every one of his children with all his heart, but he was disposed to place a great deal of importance on what would become of Pemberley when he was no longer its master. At times the wife felt that this was one of the husband's true obsessions, and as time went on and their lives together merged into comfort, Elizabeth understood Darcy's passions more and more.
Darcy and Brit Hart entered the saloon of Pemberley, where their wives and children had gathered, and they were much surprised to find the room in such a state of peace. Usually chaos ensued when they were all together, for the simple fact that children seemed to be everywhere at once, and the noise level at times deafening, but the children were sitting calmly playing words games, and the women were pleasantly engaged in conversation.
Darcy accepted the offer of refreshment from Elizabeth, and he let her pour him a good hot cup of tea, and hand him a plate with cold, sliced meats, cheese, and some bread. Georgiana was inclined to do the same for her own husband, and although the gentlemen's curiosities were roused by the extraordinary occurrence of such utter tranquility, their stomachs were even more motivated by what was placed before them.
Darcy took a bite of his luncheon, then glanced at Brit Hart and swiveled his eyes in the direction of Elizabeth and Georgiana. That gentleman thought for a moment, as his wife grinned complacently in his direction even more so than was usual.
"Is something the matter, Georgiana?" he inquired to ease his mind before he could eat another bite.
"Oh no, dear," she smiled sweetly, "nothing at all."
Elizabeth looked to her eldest daughter and gave her a slight nod, and Hannah blushed but marched straight up to her father, bent on a mission. "Papa," she asked very distinctly, "may...may I be allowed to give a party?"
"A party?" Darcy questioned seriously, not bothering to wait completely until he had chewed down his food.
Hannah nodded her head, and the curly locks of her long, dark hair tied back in a ribbon, bobbed up and down with verve. "Yes," she grinned and wrung her hands together anxiously, "for my birthday. A garden party would be lovely, I think...with sandwiches and punch, and games and packages, maybe some sweets...and a grand cake."
The first thing Darcy did was to appear the befuddled man, as he glanced toward the direction of Elizabeth for some sort of assistance. She was smiling rather cleverly and Darcy had been her husband long enough to know that when his wife smiled in such a silent, marked way, that she was in complete agreement with the issue at hand and in fact, was assured to have had something to do with it.
"Well," Darcy took a sip of tea, to be able to speak clearer, "a party...a party?" He heaved a sigh, "Who should you invite to this party, Hannah?"
Hannah bit her lower lip, locked in thought and deep consideration, then cheer became the vast expression upon her face. "Some of our neighbors here, I think, and all of my cousins."
"All of them?" Darcy paled categorically, and took another brief, wide-eyed glance at his wife. Elizabeth coaxed him with a covert nod and a timid nip at her own lower lip. "All of them," he exhaled, then shifted in his chair.
"Oh yes, papa. I would not wish to slight or insult a single one of them."
"That is a good girl," Georgiana smiled her infinite approval.
"You know," Darcy muttered to himself in his quandary, "I cannot ever recall having a party of the like for my own birthday."
Brit Hart shrugged in agreement. "At our house, it was all ╬yes sir', ╬no sir', rather like being in one of Wellesley's regiments...and we most times had to advise my parents how old we actually were and that we were even to have a birthday at all. Of course we were all boys to the house," his brows furrowed in perplexity.
"You do not appear to have had such an unhappy childhood, Mr. Hart," Georgiana broke into the discourse most uncharacteristically. "In fact I would have thought you a rather spoiled child." Darcy and Brit Hart were taken somewhat aback by Georgiana's assertiveness. "Besides, boys do not give parties, but young ladies do."
"You never had a garden party, sister," Darcy proclaimed on good authority.
"Of course not," she replied insistently. "I had no one to think of it...you and papa had never considered it, and mama was not here to think of the little things that a girl finds pleasing, and to make..." Georgiana stopped to glance at Elizabeth, "...the suggestion. It is not as if I had never wanted one."
At once Darcy felt completely guilty for his own conduct and for that of his father. He looked to his brother-in-law and contorted a frown to satisfy his own spirit, and ease his mind in a joking manner. "She was a timid thing until she went off to live with you."
Darcy had not realized that he might have neglected some aspect of Georgiana's upbringing, for he thought that he had always tried his utmost to be considerate of her needs and wants. Again, his eyes glanced upward at his own daughter's fair, young face, and his heart was made to melt at the longing and hopefulness expressed in her bright complexion and eager expression.
"Georgiana and I, and the household staff are prepared to do everything in preparation, Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth pressed her reserved husband just a little further. "It will also be the last time that our family is all together," she did not hesitate to point out expressly with a roll of her eyes toward Andrew, "for a while at least."
Darcy grimaced at his wife's good aim, as the arrows she usually slung at him rarely ever missed their target. It was one of the lady's great talents to be able to point out to Fitzwilliam Darcy each and every aspect of a certain point for his careful consideration, especially when their children were involved in what was to be weighed upon.
"Papa?" Hannah whispered, trying not to squeal out in her great anticipation.
Every female within the room hung on Darcy's anticipated word. "Very well," he mumbled his consent, and his daughter wasted no time in throwing her arms about his neck, and father and daughter both smiled, each in their very own way, for their very own reasons.
"I want to come to the party, Hannah!" Prudence bounded up from her floor cushion and tugged on her sister's skirts.
"Indeed, Prudy!" Hannah exclaimed in her glee. "You may come, and Miss Catherine Fry from the other side of Lambton, and Miss Willomina Baxter who comes to catechism, and, and..."
"How about us?" Christian interrupted the girls' rollicking list. "Are boys not allowed?"
Hannah and Prudence looked instantly to their mother. "You would want to included your brothers and cousin Nathan, would you not?"
"Yes," Hannah's wavering reply was not all that convincing of her sincerity however. "If they promise to mind themselves."
"Hannah," Darcy spoke his reprimand, "You did say all of your cousins, and your brothers are your foremost family, and not to be neglected."
"Yes, papa," she sighed, and placed her hands upon her hips to address her brother. "You will mind your manners...and not tip the punchbowl, or take one small bite out of each little sandwich and put them back upon the plate, or let cockchafers go on the chairs of any of the girls? You will not frighten anyone, will you?"
"Not a one, I promise!" Christian professed adamantly. "That is the best that I can do!"
"Good," Hannah sighed.
"Who else? Who else, Hannah?" Prudence insisted on knowing more of the details.
"Well," Hannah could not help but giggle, "Our Cousin Meg Bingley and of course, Cousin Alice!"
The girls looked to Christian at the mere mention of their sweet Cousin Alice Bingley. The poor boy paled upon hearing her name and both Hannah and Prudence broke into fits of laughter at the very sight of him. Andrew stood up and clapped his brother on the back.
"Not Alice," Christian moaned in a hush.
"Are you sure you want to be invited, Christian?" Andrew taunted his brother. "Can Alice find any mistletoe in the summer? Perhaps she has thought of a new reason to catch you unawares."
The youngsters did all laugh, and even their parents found it difficult not to grin at the poor misfortunes of Christian. Cousin Alice did always take a liking to him, and she was disposed to follow Christian about mercilessly whenever they were together, in an attempt to draw him into a harmless, first passion's kiss.
The only one in the room who did not laugh at the crimson-cheeked face of Christian was Brit Hart, and this was most curious. "Do not make sport of the poor fellow," he groused, and winked to his wife. "I know how he feels, being so irresistible to women myself." Georgiana did laugh even harder at her husband's proclamation, harder than anyone had ever seen her, and even Christian found it all amusing, for the moment at least.
Chapter IV -- A Handful of Wishes
There was not a sign of the Leyton brothers in the grove for well nigh a fortnight, and the Darcy children had happily forgotten about them and their contemptible ways. It appeared as if their uncle had succeeded in persuading Mr. Leyton to take the matter upon himself and if the man's children respected his wishes as much as Mr. Darcy's children esteemed their own father, the Leyton boys would never be seen vexing anyone henceforth again.
Hannah went on making her plans for her party, which was by now only a few weeks away. The Darcy girls anticipation of an afternoon filled with the finery and frills of purled lace, satin ribbons, and starched white gloves was completely lost upon the Darcy boys, and their father, for that matter. It did seem as if each day at the breakfast table, Hannah had one more request of Darcy that until now, the poor man had never quite imagined would befall him.
"Papa," she would say in genteel authority. "Might I have two shillings and threepence?"
Darcy would look up from his meal and make a silent and purposeful grimace in wonder. "For what do you need this two shillings and threepence?" he would inquire most profoundly.
His daughter appeared to be quite serious in all of her requests, and she was never so covetous in wanting anything that was not proper, thus the father did assume to not make light or sport of anything she happened to petition of him. If he had failed Georgiana in any way when she was a child by not realizing she would have wished for a party of her own, Darcy would make up for it by not failing his own daughter.
"Aunt Georgiana says that there is a fine choice of India muslin at Burnside's, papa. She says that she will take me there to buy some, and to have it fitted for a new frock for the party," Hannah answered her father, a look of great prospect upon her nevertheless young, and virtuous face.
Elizabeth smiled keenly at her daughter's formal, yet eager solicitation, and Hannah's eyes twinkled at the thought of procuring a crisp, snow-white frock for all to see her in. A perspicacious grin appeared at the corners of Darcy's lips and he slipped his hand beneath the breast of his coat, only to be deterred by Elizabeth.
"You shall need a little more than that, dearest," Elizabeth corrected her daughter, "the two shillings and threepence is for the material alone. You shall need to pay the seamstress as well, and have a few pennies extra for buttons and bows for trim."
"Oh," Hannah blushed at her error, then looked to her father to add distinctly, "then I shall need a few more shillings, papa."
Darcy rolled his eyes to some extent at Elizabeth's lesson and Hannah's perfunctory entreaty, and Elizabeth could barely check her laughter at her husband's noble attempts to take this all with the utmost seriousness and regard, for Hannah's sake. Darcy was so dear to his children, and he tried never to scoff at what they asked for, or at the manner, in which they did it, unless he thought their method could be improved upon. To that very day, Darcy's children were not all that spoiled for all the abundance about them, as their mother's good sense had seen to that, but when Darcy found that their reasoning was solid in asking for something, he could never seem to refuse his children anything.
"I should like to have the two shillings and threepence," Christian sighed, and Darcy's grin broadened unconsciously.
"Here, here," the father said quickly, beckoning for Hannah to come to him before he lost all his composure. He reached his fingers into the breast pocket of his waistcoat and dropped two silver crowns into her waiting hands. "Use what you must and take your Aunt Georgiana to the coffee house afterward with the rest for tea and cake."
In her absolute joy, Hannah dipped her father a curtsey and thanked him, and then she scurried out of the room in earnest to write her aunt an invitation for the afternoon. Curious, Andrew and Prudence eagerly followed their sister out of the room, leaving only Christian behind, to finish what was left on his plate.
"What would you do with two shillings and threepence?" Darcy, with a hint of mirth still upon his face, asked the boy.
"Keep it in the coin bank on my bureau," the rosy-cheeked boy replied. "You simply never know papa when an occasion should arise that you should happen to need it." Darcy nodded admirably, upon hearing such sound logic, remarkably from Christian, then set the coins next to his son.
"Much obliged, papa," Christian whispered in reverence as if he had gotten away with something plundered, and he flew out of his seat to secure his spoils away in his room, where no one else would find them.
"Do you see their faces, Fitzwilliam?" Elizabeth laughed merrily at her family when they had gone. "What joy a new frock, or a handful of coins brings to them...as long as it comes from you."
"Nonsense," Darcy laughed as well, grateful for the opportunity to do so. "Two shillings and threepence always put a smile on my face, no matter where it came from."
Elizabeth went to leave the room and go about her own duties, but not before she came to the other side of the table to give her husband a kiss of acknowledgment of his good deeds and tolerance. "What are you to do today, Mr. Darcy?" she inquired with a whisper in his ear, which made him wince and fairly chuckle at the sensation.
"I am for the reserve in Lambton," he said quite humbly, after settling himself, "for I find my pockets quite short of funds."
"Come on, come on, Hannah," Andrew impatiently called out to his sister in the grove. "We do not have all day!"
Hannah sighed, not budging, for she was happy to simply sit on the felled log in the wood, and not partake in any of the play her brothers and Prudence engaged in. Hannah's fancies had turned elsewhere these days, and she carried with her a handful of wishes, along with the coins her father had placed into her beholden palms. She secured them in a small handkerchief and tied it to her wrist, then her arms wrapped around to hug herself as she contemplated her party with such delight, that she felt her heart would abound from within her.
She wanted nothing more than for the occasion to be a great success. She hoped the event would be remembered fondly by her friends, and that her mother and Aunt Georgiana would be pleased, but mostly that her father would be proud of the fair lady that she would show him she had become. She did not give much more thought to the fact that Andrew would soon be leaving home, although as she watched him laugh and wrestle with Christian in the grove, it did happen to cross her mind with some regret.
Every good thing went Hannah's way as of late, and although she did not feel like playing with her siblings, the temptation to dance and be merry was far too great. She would never find a willing partner among her brothers, so she stood up from her perch on the log, and let her fancies wander.
In another moment, she gave a deep curtsey as she conjured up a faceless young man to stand before her. It did not matter what he looked like, as long as he had asked so politely for the favor of a dance. Hannah held out a delicate hand, much as her dancing master had instructed, and the guise of the dapper boy took her fingers within his own and he bowed most gentlemanly.
"Miss Darcy," his voice spoke.
"Sir," Hannah answered him with a smile, her romantic heart beating ever stronger.
The partners circled one another to the melody of a tune known as the Childgrove, which played solely in Hannah's pretty head. The long locks of her hair twirled round, and the ribbons in it fluttered along with her as she danced merrily, thinking of all the occasions that she had so happily watched her father dance with her mother to just such an air.
"What are you doing?" Andrew called down from the weathered rocks in the grove, chuckling at his sister's foolishness.
"What is so amusing Andrew?" Hannah groused, as she came back to her senses with a start.
Her brother folded his arms about his chest, "You are! You are so...so, puzzling these days! Is this all that girls want to do...is to dance and make daft eyes at boys, when there are so many other things of use to be done?"
"Of use?" she called back up to him, irritated at his haughtiness of late. "A girl can do anything of use that a boy can!"
"Such as what, pray?"
"Such as..." Hannah's faced reddened with vexation, "...such as make good wives and mothers, like mama and Aunt Georgiana. You cannot have a family without a wife, you know. Why do you think gentlemen get married at all? So that they shall have someone to look after them when their mothers can not, I believe!"
"Look after them!" Andrew grumbled at her answer. "Right...and until then? Girls can not defend themselves...they need us boys for that!"
Hannah did not like Andrew's manner at all. He had not been very humble since he had known he would be off to school soon, and he did remind his sisters and brother of his fortune at every available opportunity. He was very puffed up, in her opinion, and she would see to it that he was set down, if she had to poke him in the nose to do it.
In her vexation, Hannah began to stomp toward her brother, the gracefulness of a beautiful young lady gone for the moment. She did not happen to notice the shameless Leyton brothers come out from around the big trees, grinning like the little fools that they were, and heading right toward her.
"Hannah!" Andrew pointed and shouted on sight of them, but it was too late, and one boy caught her by the left hand, and the bigger one by the right.
"Leave me be!" Hannah shouted at them, trying to free herself, but they only laughed at her and spun her around until she was faint and light-headed.
This time, the boys let go of Hannah in mid-spin and her lithe body went sailing in the direction of the felled log, tumbling hard against it. The coins in the handkerchief about her wrist flew out, and the smaller Leyton boy scurried to pick them up and stuff them into his pocket.
Hannah let out a loud cry as she hit soundly against the wood, and Andrew, who had watched the whole thing happen so quickly, jumped down from the stones. Bellowing at the top of his voice, he picked up a large stick and flailed it at the boys. Christian came out of nowhere, and flung himself at the younger boy, while Andrew wrestled with the elder, and the remains of mowed down cow parsley and triangular lords-and-ladies flew up in every direction in the midst of such a melee.
Little Prudence did not know what to do so stunned was she to see such a sight, and she stood in a horrified trance, watching the brawl until the cries of distress from her sister disturbed her from her utter amazement. Tears flowed down her face and she turned and ran as fast as she could, on sound little legs toward Pemberley house.
Brit Hart had come to Pemberley with Georgiana, and he was to drive his wife and Hannah to Lambton that afternoon in the phaeton so that Hannah could pick out her muslin. He and Darcy had been out in the yard, looking at the new team of dappled gray horses, when they heard the child's screams.
All Prudence had to cry was something about ╬those boys', and Brit Hart took off at a full run in the direction of the grove. In his confusion, Darcy scooped up Prudence into his arms, then passed her to Elizabeth, still shrieking about Hannah being hurt and Andrew and Christian battling among the flowers. Darcy's heart beat soundly as he tried to catch up to Brit Hart. Once in the grove, he found his children and brother-in-law...Brit Hart pulling a bloodied Christian and a battered Andrew off of two other boys whom swiftly ran away in the direction of the neighboring estate.
Darcy could not believe the sight before him, and was far too stunned to inquire as to what had even happened, when he heard the faint whimpering of another child. He turned round to see his daughter, lying in a heap upon the tender woodland plants, near a felled tree. The fearful father scrambled to her, and knelt down, cradling her head gently in one hand and wiping the dirt from her face with his own handkerchief with the other, seeing the cow parsley and lords-and-ladies stuck to Hannah's pretty, long locks of hair.
"Where does it hurt, little one?" he asked her without raising his voice in vexation or fright.
"Here," Hannah pointed to her ankle, then sobbed even harder, solely for the image of her father's anxious face.
Darcy lifted her feeble body to within his arms, assuring in the tenderness of a whisper that all would be well. Hannah held fast to her father, her scraped and tender palms grasping his waistcoat, her reddened cheek against his lapel, and as he carried her back to the house she so loved, Hannah's tearful eyes beheld the gentleman who was a daughter's true champion.
The surgeon had been sent for, and Darcy let Elizabeth keep vigil over Hannah for the moment, so that he could survey his sons. Andrew was black and bruised on his nose, and he held one aching hand in the other, though he did not cry. Christian had been cut above the eye, and it was beginning to sting as Georgiana held a cold cloth to it. Brit Hart had a hold of Prudence, as she lay her head against the comfort of his chest, and he slowly paced back and forth across the room, to calm the child and himself.
"Is someone to tell me what has happened?" Darcy's voice quivered out of dismay. He looked to his eldest son for an answer.
"It was Mr. Leyton's sons, papa. They hurt her!" the boy shouted, trying his best not to weep as he spoke. "At last they have hurt her!"
"At last?" Darcy compelled the question. "What do you mean? How long has this been going on?"
Andrew and Christian paled out of fear of their father's anger for they had concealed from him what they knew they never should have, and now they had been caught brawling with the neighbors as well. Andrew's face contorted as he worked himself into a dreadful spirit, and Christian did not appear much better.
"Well, boy?" Darcy lost his patience, "Tell me what you know, this instant! Have they done this before...those rascals...and you did not bother to tell me?"
Brit Hart looked into the eyes of his friend, and saw the grief and vexation that every father dreads. He placed Prudence in the arms of Georgiana, and moved a governing hand to Darcy's heaving shoulders.
"What the devil is going on?" Darcy said vehemently. "You tell me at once, Andrew!"
"Let us talk about this sensibly, Darcy. We will reason it out," Brit Hart nodded toward Andrew, "like you told the boy to do."
Darcy's eyes flashed with fury, but Elizabeth opened the bedchamber door to summon him before he could say another word. With a growl of displeasure and reluctance at not hearing a satisfactory answer to his questions, he spun about and disappeared back into Hannah's room. Once inside the chamber, Darcy backed up to the door and leaned against it as it closed. Elizabeth had cornered him, out of concern at his appearance and the erratic heaving of his chest.
"Calm yourself, husband," she pleaded, and Darcy took in a deep breath and closed his eyes at her good advice.
"What has happened, Elizabeth?" he said in a manner which made his wife feel remarkable pity for him. "'Tis all that I want to know."
"Perhaps you should let Hannah tell you, Fitzwilliam...but remember her disposition my love, and have patience. Your daughter is never of one opinion or the other, nor does she find any confrontation easy or agreeable...and she does not like to see you upset at all."
Darcy opened his eyes, and Elizabeth thought his disposition to look vague and weary. She gently took his hand within her own, and led him to the foot of their daughter's bed. Hannah gave her father a smile, although it was evident that she was far from happy. The surgeon had bound her foot and ankle, and Darcy looked to him for some sort of reassurance.
"She will be good as new in a few days time. Very fortunate, she is, that it was not much worse," he said. "She is not to walk about during the next few days, and I shall come by for another look at her on Saturday."
"But I was to go to Lambton with Aunt Georgiana," Hannah interrupted in haste, however Darcy silenced her protest by sitting down next to her on the bed, and slowly shaking his head.
Elizabeth could see the disappointment of her daughter, but she left the room with the surgeon and for a time neither father or daughter spoke a word to one another. Darcy sensed his anger swell within his breast once again, and he frowned noticeably and struggled to prevent himself from demanding any sort of truth from Hannah.
"Not a person appears to be willing to tell me how this has happened, Hannah," he finally spoke in a low, collected voice. "I cannot imagine why that would be...can you?"
Hannah's dark, round eyes avoided her father. "It is difficult to say, papa."
"Why is that?" he continued in a whisper.
"You shall be very angry...if I do tell you."
"Perhaps," Darcy nodded in confirmation, "but I am just as agitated now, and I know not to whom or what I should be angry with. Hannah, you will tell me what has happened, and you will tell me directly, this moment...whether I be angry or not."
Hannah revealed all to Darcy, and to his credit, while he was in her company at least, he concealed his displeasure quite well. "They never really wanted to hurt me. I know they did not," she pouted, "but why should they take the coins that you gave to me for the muslin, papa?"
"You think very well of everyone, child," Darcy managed to say, although his jaw was clenched with the ire which he had half way promised Elizabeth that he would not show. "I cannot keep your faith in these two blokes next door."
"Papa," Hannah pleaded, "Please do not go to Mr. Leyton...please. I should not want anyone to think that I would tell. I would not want Andrew and Christian to think that I would tell. I am as honorable as any fellow...were I a boy, and they shan't ever say that I am silly and ignorant!"
"Silly and...?" Darcy sighed, not knowing whether to laugh or to sob at such a thought. "Good heavens no, you are not such a girl, Hannah, and no one will think ill of you at all...but there are some things that no friend should do to another, and one of those is placing a young girl in harms way. It is not done...nor will it ever be done to you again. You must believe it...and you must understand that I cannot stay here and do absolutely nothing about it. No father...no Darcy ever could."
Darcy grasped the hand of his precious child, but she gently pulled it away, and by the air of conviction upon her face, Hannah would have none of his lecture. How that one instance had wounded Darcy's very nature, no one else shall ever know, but he reached into his pocket and set down two crowns onto the bed, next to his daughter.
"I shall not entertain another word, Hannah," Darcy proclaimed resolutely as he stood up to leave her. Hannah lowered her eyes toward the coins, but all that was shown in them was dismay and grief as she heard her father say to himself as he opened the door, "No one harms a hair upon my child's head."
Chapter V -- Yet He is Such a Man
Fitzwilliam Darcy possessed a great many things for a man of his situation. He was a wealthy man, to be sure--his riches stemming not only from ancestral inheritance and property, but also from his own good sense and good fortune. At one time Darcy had been somewhat of a coddled and selfish youth, but since his fortuitous marriage to such a modest and respectable woman as his beloved Elizabeth, he had amended those thoughts and ways quite admirably.
His good temper however could not always be assured, for although he had never possessed a genuine meanness of spirit toward others, Mr. Darcy was always wary of certain aspects of human nature, of which he abhorred. Elizabeth had once heard the man proclaim his temper resentful, and she was mindful that injury to those he loved and cared for was something the gentleman would not tolerate for an instant. Elizabeth found all of this perplexing, for inasmuch as Darcy had demonstrated to her his goodness as a husband, father, master and man, his good opinion did very often suffer some setback, particularly when it came to his neighbor to the east.
Darcy had told his wife of his unsettled association with Mr. Robert Leyton of Whitlea Hall, which went as far back as when the two gentlemen had been young lads. The two were of different minds, and they had never got on at all, nor Elizabeth thought, did they now wish to. They each kept to their own side of the hedgerows, at least they had before now, and Elizabeth knew very little of Mr. Leyton, and even less of Mrs. Leyton and their children.
Elizabeth Darcy was grieved to see the angered and embittered face of her esteemed husband as he came through the door of their daughter's bedchamber, out into the view of the ancestral portraits which graced the great gallery walls of Pemberley house. However, anger was not the only emotion plagued upon Darcy's features, for Elizabeth was astonished to glimpse the pain of an insult in his eyes as well, and it was hers to wonder what had transpired between her husband and her daughter.
Darcy stood for a moment, tall and silent, while his wife, children, sister and brother waited for a word or sign from him. "I know what has happened," he finally spoke, though he did not look his family straight on. He frowned and shifted his weight from one foot to the other, and it seemed difficult for him to continue, but he finally did, directing a purposeful glance toward Andrew and Christian. "I know why my sons have disobeyed me, and done what is not allowed by virtue of reason."
Although Andrew and Christian did not quite understand what their father spoke of, they were aware that he was not pleased with their behavior. It was certainly a spot for a young man to be in--caught between the duty of their father's command, and the obligation of protecting their sister in the only way a child knew how. They felt some remorse for instigating a fight, especially Andrew who revered his father's word more than anything, but in this instance he could barely see the virtue of reason, as Darcy had deemed it.
Brit Hart's discomfort at that moment was acute, and he stepped between the disconcerted father and his children. "Darcy, you should know that I went to see Robert Leyton some weeks ago. Your sons are not so defiant as you may think for they did come to someone whom they thought they could trust, upon your good advice. It is my own failing for not telling you of it--but after I paid a call on Robert Leyton, I believed the matter to be resolved. Not only should I have behaved more in the manner of a man, but I have allowed Leyton to see me a fool as well."
Darcy was bewildered for all that he heard, and his conscience was torn between his anger for the harm that had come to his daughter, and his obligation to what his own father had always taught him. Harshly or not, the lesson from old Mr. Darcy had always been never to taint your condition in life with your resentfulness. Brit Hart understood such restraint, for it was a code of decency, which a man who called himself a gentleman followed by the bye.
Both men knew it, both could see the reason in it, and both could pass its principles on to their sons, yet there was something in the soul of a man that could not let him live peacefully with his own self, without some vindication for a wrong not corrected. It was not by far something directly apparent to a wife, sister, or daughter, and thus Darcy's next words would amaze half of the people standing before him.
"I may wound my daughter's feelings by what I shall do, and I may fail the memory of my father." Darcy sighed, then spoke out as if he found his inner will to triumph, "but I shall never gaze into the looking glass and see a man who did not defend his family and honor."
A curiously triumphant grin graced Brit Hart's face, and he hastened his pace to follow Darcy down the staircase. "Ethan, shall you stop him?" Georgiana's voice rang out in alarm.
Her husband spun about in mid-stride, the grin on his face broader than ever before, "Good god, no wife. I am to go with your brother and back him up, though I doubt under his present state of mind that he should now need any assistance from me!"
The two gentlemen from Pemberley arrived in the courtyard of the worn stone and faded whitewashed structure known as Whitlea Hall, not surprisingly to very little ceremony and circumstance. Fitzwilliam Darcy was exceedingly unaffected by the lack of attention, for it was his aim to see the master of the manor as soon, as may be, and he did not consider the visit a call of any convivial consequence.
Darcy's quick and ample stride served to place him before the large carved oak entry door with great haste, and he rapped upon the formidable wooden plank with the blunt end of a riding crop, which he held in his right hand. The sullen servant-woman opened the door, but before she could say a word or ask whether the gentlemen were there on business or pleasure, Darcy had stepped across the threshold, directly past her, and into the antechamber.
"You know who I am?" Darcy turned and inquired of her concisely, with an intensity aglow to his demeanor bordering on churlishness, and the woman nodded respectfully. "Then tell your master that I wish a word with him, forthwith."
Brit Hart was astonished by Darcy's manners or lack thereof, and ever more so with the servant's earnestness to comply immediately with the gentleman's demands. Ethan Bristoe-Hart found a new regard in this likeness of his friend, and any temptation he had to alleviate the mood with an impudent comment, as he was known to do upon occasion, he promptly dismissed. He did check his timepiece when the servant woman left the room, if only to see whether Mr. Robert Leyton would acknowledge Darcy's summons for an audience in a more propitious manner than when he, himself had called upon the gent.
It was only a matter of moments until Robert Leyton was upon them in the drawing room, thus causing a smirk of complacency to fall across the face of Darcy's gratified brother-in-law. Mr. Leyton nodded to Brit Hart, but the gesture was returned in dreadful and ghastly silence with all the strength Brit Hart could muster for maintaining a prim facade.
"Darcy," Leyton then acknowledged, a pass of his tongue across his lips to moisten them.
It was a moment before Fitzwilliam Darcy spoke, and Brit Hart supposed his brother-in-law's silence to be a result of his ever-rising anger and the need to make some attempt to repress it. Darcy had no look of indifference about him nevertheless, for he appeared more to Brit Hart as if steam might at any moment expel from his ears and fire breathe from his splayed nostrils.
"Do you know what your sons have done this day, Leyton?" Darcy finally pronounced much in the same manner that he had to the servant woman.
"I..." the man sputtered, "...I do not quite make you out, Darcy?"
"Have you seen your sons, Leyton--within the last two hours?"
"I confess, I have not seen them," Robert Leyton chuckled, although to Brit Hart's calculation the man did not find any of Darcy's line of questioning amusing.
"Then I would suggest that you call them in, for I have something to say to them."
Robert Leyton's face exhibited the signs of his anxiety, noticeable by a tremor in his brow, and his crimson cheeks peeking through the bushy muttonchops. He nodded to the housekeeper to fetch his sons, then turned back to his caller.
"Has there been some trouble, Darcy?"
Fitzwilliam Darcy simply crossed his arms across his chest and frowned, obviously appalled with the charade. Brit Hart thought that perhaps Robert Leyton honestly had not known of any troubling consequences produced by his children, and his suspicions were confirmed when the two boys scrambled into the room, and their father gasped upon first sight of them.
"Good god," the man respired, for his sons had not fared any better than Darcy's boys had, from the tussle in the grove. "Well I am deuced--truly!"
Darcy looked at the man in wonder, as if he simply could not believe what he was hearing. He then pursed his lips and gave them a twist to the side. "Should you like to tell your father what has happened, or shall I?" his voice rang out crystal clear and to the point, reminding Brit Hart of what awaking to reveille at pre-dawn must be like for a drunken soldier.
The eldest boy cringed at the resonance of Mr. Darcy's voice, and he turned his bruised and battered face toward his father and offered, "We had a bit of a brawl with the Darcy boys, father."
"They had more than a bit of a brawl, Leyton," Darcy interrupted, never intending for the boy to continue. "They had a merry little war, by the looks of them--all over a girl--my girl. The surgeon had to be called, for she was injured when these two..." Darcy stopped to check his mounting impertinence, "...blustering browbeaters decided to toss her about."
"Is she gravely injured, man?" Robert Leyton's anxious voice betrayed his fear.
"No," Darcy sighed, and the boys both extended relieved breaths as well, to which Darcy growled at them, "but injured enough to matter, no thanks to any clemency on your addle-brained part."
Brit Hart had never seen Robert Leyton look so pale. The bewildered father gave a slight shrug of his shoulders, and said, "I do hope that something can be done, Darcy."
"I should tell you what will be done," Darcy retorted with a hiss between clenched teeth, "if and when these two are ever spotted on Pemberley grounds again!"
Darcy bent down slightly, coming face to face with the two terrified boys, continuing to address them with his seething resonance. "Every soul under my employ will know your likenesses. When you are seen near my daughter--or any of my children ever again, the good people of Pemberley shall have been instructed to blast your breeches with blackpowder and buckshot, a cannonade the likes of which you have never seen, the very moment you head for home."
"And you..." Darcy stood up to acknowledge the father, "...I shall see you before the magistrate, should you not keep these dirty little mongrels at bay on your own side of the hedgerow."
Mr. Darcy turned to leave as swiftly as he had arrived, but with one last design crossing his mind, a clench of his jaw, and a fist wrapped tight about the riding crop, he spun back around and held out a kid-gloved palm before the younger boy. The child's eyes widened with awe, and he reached into his little pocket and swiftly dropped two silver coins into Mr. Darcy's awaiting hand, without so much as a hesitation.
The servant woman could not make her way to the front door of Whitlea Hall quick enough for her own liking, but as soon as Mr. Darcy came upon the threshold she pulled the formidable obstacle of the oak door wide open for him, and he went through it, much as a blustering breeze. Brit Hart followed hard upon Darcy's heels, but he paused a moment and smugly grinned to the woman, saying, "I tried to tell your master, but he would not listen." She sighed, and rubbed the back of her hand across her forehead, then peered through a window in the entry, and watched the two gentlemen as they swiftly rode out of sight.
"Blast!" Darcy bellowed out to no one, once he was far enough away from the confines of the odious Whitlea Hall. His nerves were in knots, and he huffed and puffed a moment trying to calm himself, yet he could not prevent the reddened spread of color upon his cheeks at his vexation with Robert Leyton and his sons. "Why can I not master my temper around that man?" he questioned aloud. "Why do I allow him to get the better of me--always? Always!"
"The better of you?" Brit Hart exclaimed as he rode up beside his brother-in-law. "Darcy," he sighed in compassion for his friend. "Do not let it trouble you--it was necessary, and frankly I found your method to be quite cunning." Ethan Bristoe-Hart was made to chuckle aloud, "There are those who understand only one manner of address and only one method of conformity. You did what you had to."
"I did what my temper bade me," Darcy groused.
In his amusement and awe, Brit Hart placed a hand over his heart, a demonstration of his reverence. "Indeed, and I now know Darcy that I have much to learn before I am as worthy a chap as you in the inventiveness of being an affected father, and any sort of stalwart man at all."
In his bad temper, Darcy glanced sideways at his friend, then as his dulled mood changed to that of liveliness, he laughed aloud at the picture of incivility he most certainly had posed before his neighbor. "Do you think they believed it?" he grinned wryly and arched his brow in genuine curiosity.
Brit Hart laughed louder. "I am your friend and a member of your family, Darcy--and even I do not know when it is that you are bluffing!"
Both men seemed somewhat tickled at the scene they had left behind at dreary Whitlea Hall. As they rode back toward home, along the road from one grand house to the other, they each laughed wholeheartedly, and Brit Hart was overheard to chuckle in skeptical amusement, "Blackpowder and buckshot, indeed!"
Hannah was very quiet during supper that evening. Darcy had carried her downstairs so that she was able to have her meal with her family. Her ankle throbbed a bit, making her by far and away in a dreadful spirit, and when her father gently set her down at her chair, she swiped the loose hair from her forehead with her delicate hand, and pouted more than he had ever known her to do.
As Darcy took his seat, he looked to his wife with a concerned and uneasy sigh. Elizabeth surveyed the sight before her--Hannah miserable and hurting, Andrew and Christian bruised and bewildered, and Prudence weepy and frightened. Darcy was not even a better sight, for his discomfort at the misery of his children was keen. He ate his meal in silence, for this night there was not one child willing interrupt him to ask a question, or appeal to his generosity for a tuppence for this or for that. He laid his napkin onto the table when he was finished and attempted to find a more comfortable spot within his chair.
"Oh come now," Elizabeth appealed hastily, then expressed her thoughts, "What a gloomy bunch of faces, I have never seen. Your father says that all has been amended and you are not to fear those boys again."
Four pairs of eyes turned toward her, yet four little mouths said nothing. Darcy heaved a shrug of wonder, grinning a bit as he said, "'Tis difficult to remember a time when this house was so quiet. This is an occasion to be marked."
"Hannah," he then said quite amiably to alter the lack of conversation. "If you feel yourself able, I shall gladly take you to Lambton for your muslin tomorrow. I shall be happy to carry you into Burnside's and your mother can help you to find what you need."
Hannah again lowered her eyes to her lap, to mumble in grim reply, "I should rather go with Uncle Brit and Aunt Georgiana."
Hannah's inscrutable rudeness was felt by everyone in the room, but no more so than by her father, himself. Elizabeth was astonished, and when she dared to look at Darcy, again she was privy to see that same look of insult as before.
"Very well," he whispered, then stood up to leave, "you have your money and I have other duties that I can attend to."
Elizabeth's eyes followed Darcy from the room, and then she turned to her daughter, confounded by what she had witnessed. "Hannah Darcy!" she exclaimed. "What is it that you do to a father so loving and caring?"
Hannah frowned and her face drew up so that her feelings poured forth. She raised her delicate hands to her face and sobbed, for she still maintained that her father had been every cause for her embarrassment, and that she would never recover from the demonstration of the ill manners and resentfulness of Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy.
Continued in Part 2
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