Chapter VI -- Let the Children Say little or much
Darcy found the tranquillity of his library, a merciful fire in the hearth, and a fairly meaningless novel to be satisfactory companions to his downtrodden spirit that evening. He had had quite an ingenuous man's fill of hurt and resentment, and fragile feelings for the length of one day, and any more of it he thought that his good disposition could not be made to suffer.
He leafed through a crisp page of the novel after settling into the commodious chair by the fire, only to feel cross, as if his every move were being watched and inspected. He cast his eyes about the room, and happened to view his youngest taking up her usual post on the arm of the great brown mohair sofa, which occupied the splendid library. Prudence had made it her employment to elude the watchful eyes of her governess and steal into another room of the house whenever it suited her fancy. The little darling preferred to be near to the good company of her parents or anywhere else in the house to which the society was by far more inimitable than a nursery. In this respect she was like most sensible children, thus Darcy found it difficult to quibble with that at least.
One would think occupying a grand sofa not so odd at all, but Prudence never sat upon its cushions in much of a well-bred manner. She was inclined to crawl up and stand on its great, broad arm, while leaning against the wall, twirling her finger through the ringlets of her hair, a fixation since she was a toddler; all the while watching in earnest the parade of passers-by before her. Prudence never cared to be down low to the ground, but up as high as she could, to survey everything, thus she was constantly imploring her father to lift her into his arms for a better prospect; and if she were allowed to vault upon the grand sofa, or even upon a bed when her father's back was well turned, well that was all the better.
"Prudence," Darcy stifled a sigh, "get yourself down and sit upon the sofa like a young lady ought."
"Must I?" she whimpered disappointedly.
"Yes," Darcy snapped shut the book, a gesture to tout his meaning without the bother of leaving his chair, although he had not figured on vexing himself further by catching his finger within the hardbound covers.
Prudence did oblige her father, but not in the manner that he had intended. Before his astonished eyes she took a great leap and landed with a tumble onto the immense cushions of the furnishing, and her father listlessly grimaced at her impish giggling when the deed was done. Darcy had never quite cottoned to such behavior in his house, although for some reason he permitted it more often than he thought he should. His mind recalled a time when he had witnessed his wife make such a performance, a long time ago when Elizabeth had been a new bride and had not known that there had been a footstool at the bottom of the master bed to use as a step in to the high platform. This flying about through the air by the females of his household Darcy surmised must be a Bennet family distinction, and he left it to that without any further speculation to crowd his weary thoughts.
Soon afterward Christian came into the library, a room that he rarely ever tread into unless he could help it. The boy was not inclined to be a great reader, and mostly what he had always liked about books were those that were graced with many illustrations. Christian's disposition bent more toward earthly things, for he preferred to be out of doors studying the habits of a busy ant hill or watching birds diligently building a nest to anything more scholarly. He was known, however, to possess a certain talent for singing at the top of his lungs when the mood struck him right, and he had a captive audience.
"Papa," he said as he plunked his body down next to Prudence, causing her little body to flounce backward upon the sofa once again, much to her great delight. "It is not fair!" Christian continued, with a tone of seriousness, as if anyone had been privy to his inner thoughts.
Darcy was speechless, wondering what it was that could be such a misfortune to a lad of Christian's situation, yet Christian quite mistook his father's reticence to denote a soundless inquiry into the boy's predicament. "I want to go to school--with Andrew!" he said quite plainly, bordering on insolent. "I do not see why he should go and I should be made to stay behind. There will be no one left here but girls when he is gone--excepting perhaps for you."
"Yours is not to go this year, son," Darcy gently replied, although he did grin somewhat at the thought of tutoring his son in the hard lesson that at most times, life was certainly not fair. "Perhaps next year, or the term after that."
Christian's face twisted up with vehemence, "But I want to go now!"
The Darcy children were by no means unenlightened to their father's austere frame of mind, for they had come to know by only his glance where they stood during any sort of discussion or incident. At most times, all it took was for Darcy to sigh, or to begin a frown, or to cast his eyes in a certain way and the answers to their questions were undeniably clear to them. There were times, however, when they chose to test their good understanding, as will any man's children, particularly when the man has very nearly run out of patience.
"That is not possible," Darcy checked his exasperation admirably well, for the bruises on his son's face from his earlier deeds in the grove served to remind the father of the boy's audacity. "When your tutor tells me that you are indeed ready to go on to school--believe me, you will go."
Christian's cheeks reddened, for he knew that he had never been the ideal student that Andrew was. He went to argue the point further, but his father silenced him with a stern inflection of his given name, and the child's good understanding returned to him immediately. The boy was very vexed indeed, and it did not serve to help matters when Master Andrew himself walked into the room and took up a seat next to Christian.
This night Andrew possessed a saturnine appearance, not his usual ostentatious air, and at once Darcy questioned what could be happening to his usually lively and more to the point, contented family. "Papa," Andrew said, almost in a whisper, "there is something I am wanting to say to you."
"Then say what you will, boy," Darcy replied, his hands gripping the unread novel in his lap, for his forbearance waned from the complaints of adolescent boys, and his eye caught the motion of Prudence crawling up to resume her perch upon the great arm of the sofa.
"It has occurred to me..." Andrew's voice trembled out of dread and warbled out of pubescence, "...it has...I have given it some thought, and I find that do not think it wise to go off to school. Not just yet, at least."
The look on Christian's face would have been priceless, had Darcy found any of this amusing at all, for the child's eyes did grow extremely round and he snorted halfway in incredulity and abomination, then looked to his father for a similar reaction of disgust.
"Come again, Andrew?" Darcy muttered. "I did not quite make out your meaning. You do not want to what?"
"Go to school, sir. I do not wish to go to school." The boy stiffened his posture, confident that his father would have no serious objection. "It occurs to me," he then said matter-of-factly, "that you need me here."
"You are not afraid to go--are you Andrew?" Christian grinned.
"What a ninny," Andrew hissed at his brother. "I am not afraid of anything!"
"Let me see if I have this correct," Darcy's face paled, and his eyes flashed from his sons to the silhouette of Prudence's cherubic little figure dangling from the sofa's edge behind them. "You want to go," Darcy said, pointing a discourteous finger at Christian, then waving it over toward Andrew, "and you do not want to go." Darcy's voice resounded with anger, "And you," he pointed to Prudence, "get yourself down from there this instant!"
Prudence gasped and abruptly slid down to the cushion next to Andrew, her little skirts nearly hiking up to her waist, and the children sat very still, before a furious Darcy. He stood up and dropped the novel onto the library table, the sound of which boomed audibly, and then silence dulled the whole room. Darcy's footsteps on the polished wooden floor were the only sound thereafter as he paced to the window, then turned about to face the three innocents sitting upon mohair.
"Since when have children thought it prudent to tell their father what it is they wish and wish not to do?" Darcy's voice rang out like the clanging of a bell, bouncing off of the library walls in earnest. "Well?" and three children did jump in their places.
"Since when do daughters plead with their fathers not to take care of their own affairs?" Darcy hastened to interject the particulars of what truly vexed him about this day. He thought to himself for a moment, then turned back to the gallery upon the sofa. "Not when I was a child, we did not! It would not have even crossed my mind to speak so to my own father, for he would not have let it go on this far--no, indeed he would not!"
Elizabeth had heard her husband's elevated voice from down the hallway, and she stepped into the room, quite exasperated by the scene before her. Darcy, in his stunned poise, placed a hand over his bilious stomach, stammering in his appall, "This one demands to go to school, that one demands not, and this one thinks she is as at liberty to whirl about our furniture like a common housefly!"
Elizabeth sighed at Darcy's quick temper. "Children," she made a fine attempt at a smile, "go and keep your sister company. Hannah is quite lonely up in her room, with no one to talk to."
"Just one moment," Darcy interceded. He sat back down on his chair, across from his sons, and leaned close to them, his face still taut and steadfast. "I will not hear any more argument on the matter of Andrew going off to school. Everything had been decided and it has all been arranged--not to be altered by anyone, and that, as they say, is that."
Not a child did dare quibble with him, and in a change of demeanor, Darcy sat back in the chair and sighed at his own harshness. It was natural for Andrew to be fearful of being the first to leave his home, and normal for Christian to resent it--and as for Prudence, well that Darcy thought, was his own fault.
Darcy reached a hand out to one boy's bruised cheek, then did the same to the other. "Have a little faith in your father, eh?" his eyes brightened and he smiled, and so did Andrew and Christian.
"Go now," Elizabeth nudged and Andrew and Christian wisely made haste from the room. Darcy stood up once again, his hand still gripping his middle, and a groan escaped his lips. "You are not ill, are you my dear?"
"No," he answered her with a grimace, "just unsettled--something akin to your mother's nerves I imagine."
Elizabeth folded her hand over his upon his stomach, and her touch was as soothing a remedy as any potion could ever be. "Why not have Mr. Stevens draw you a bath, then perhaps you should read your book in our room? You did not have any other plans for the evening, did you my dear?"
"That does sound very good," Darcy sighed, then glanced down at the sofa, feeling that same odd sensation of being spied upon.
Prudence stood on the cushion of the great, brown sofa, reaching her little arms above her head, in want of Darcy's grasp. He chuckled a bit and picked her up into his arms and she was ever so happy to clamber to him and lay her head upon his shoulder. Fitzwilliam Darcy was grateful for his daughter's complete affections, and although she could vex him with her antics in climbing about every stick of furniture he possessed, he placed a doting and loving kiss upon her rosy, little cheek.
Prudence's sweet little face turned impish, and with a batting of her long, fair lashes to melt away at her father's heart, she twittered, "One more bounce on the cushion, papa?" Darcy pursed his lips, as if he greatly disapproved; yet he gently tossed his daughter upon the large brow sofa, and she laughed to delight his soul.
Elizabeth came into the bedchamber from her dressing chambers to find Darcy sprawled out upon the bed, his legs dangling over the side, and his arms tossed over his head, as he stared blankly at the canvas above. She concealed a grin from his sight, for she did not want him to think that she could ever make light of his great troubles.
"Has this day been so very bad?" she inquired of him.
"Worse, I think" he groaned, and Elizabeth crawled upon the bed to sit next to him, and to place a thoughtful kiss upon his cheek.
"We have been through more difficult times than this, Fitzwilliam," she finally let her gentle smile come forth.
"Surely," he grinned, more at ease with his situation, "yet sometimes I wonder at the notions of my children. Shall they all turn out well, do you think or am I doomed to spend the rest of my days in this fashion?"
"Of course they will turn out well," Elizabeth proclaimed quite soberly. "Children say little at times, then there are those times that they will say anything which pops into their heads. I know what troubles you, Fitzwilliam, and I am heartily sorry that Hannah has hurt you. She does not yet conceive of the feelings of others, she knows only how it is that she feels. Children of her age are inclined to want to test their authority."
"I suppose that I can understand it," Darcy agreed with a faded smile, "as long as her authority does not tread over mine."
Elizabeth patted his hand to relieve his fears. "She would never go beyond the boundaries of good sense, dear. It is simply not in her."
Darcy shimmied further upon the bed, then crawled beneath the fine covers, feeling contentment upon receiving the good council of his wife. Elizabeth did the same, and she nuzzled her body next to his, and caressed the line of his jaw with kisses, humming a soothing tune softly into his ear as she would perhaps for a precious child. Her design did work its magic on Darcy, and his mind finally drifted into that comfort and relaxation which he had been so desperate to find.
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth whispered after a time, and Darcy moaned sleepily in reply. "I neglected to tell you of your appointment in the morning--with the tailor."
"Tailor?" Darcy's eyes flew open and he felt that sense of gravity once again upon his nerves.
"Yes," she lowered her eyes in chagrin; "You and the boys are to be fitted for new coats and trousers, as have Prudence and I for new frocks--for Hannah's party."
Darcy's arm reached about his wife, and he drew her closer to him to ask a sensible question. "Exactly how much is this childhood event to set me back?" he whispered, one eye open and one weary eye shut.
"Oh, I do not know for certain," Elizabeth pondered, skirting her own eyes in another direction. "Perhaps thirty-five or forty pounds--by the time all the food has been procured and prepared, and the decorations brought in and set up, invitations sent out, and the servants paid further for their fine services, and..."
"Forty pounds," Darcy heaved a sigh at the clink of imaginary brass and silver in his brain. "That is nearly half of your annual income, Elizabeth."
"My income?" Elizabeth puzzled. "Fitzwilliam, does my poor father continue to pay you that small sum of an inheritance?" she changed the subject willingly. "After all this time?"
"Indeed he does," Darcy chuckled, mostly in farce to torment his wife. "He would not have it any other way. He often says that I deserve some compensation for taking you off of his hands. Just as much as his favorite son Wickham does--fair is fair after all, or at least Christian thinks it should be so."
Elizabeth was never fooled by her husband's attempts at folly, and she poked her finger into his ribs, causing him to lose his staunch composure. "Well, Mr. Darcy, you may use half of my income to pay for your daughter's party."
"No," he grinned, drawing out the word for significance. "I shall pay that pretty penny out of my own pocket, lest you all be angry with me. Besides, your one hundred pounds per annum has been endowed elsewhere."
"Where, might I ask?" Elizabeth tried her hand at impertinence.
"In an account--a trust for you, should you ever have need of it, and if you do not, in a trust to be divided between our daughters."
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth gasped, "is it true?"
Darcy nodded, "There must be four thousand pounds in there by now, with earnings, and additional profits that have been added from income in years that are good, but the major portion coming from your own inheritance."
"Four thousand pounds?" Elizabeth's eyes widened in wonder. "Mr. Darcy," she breathed out in awe as she lay her head upon his chest.
"And you thought that I did not take good care of you," he closed his eyes again and yawned.
"I have never thought such a thing, and neither should your children. You are such a man," Elizabeth sighed with love, her mind at peace for knowing that her husband was so clever as to always put something away for a rainy day, "such a fine man as was ever made."
Darcy was in finer spirits the next day than the previous day would have ordained, and he strode into the morning room, follow hastily by a servant, to see that his entire family breakfasted at their leisure. "Good morning everyone--Brit, Georgiana, children."
"Good morning to you, Darcy," Brit Hart grinned. "Have you seen the whites of the eyes of those troublesome Leyton boys lately?"
Darcy cringed, though he thought the better of making a scene by his ranting on the subject when all at the table were amused by such a comment, save for Hannah. "No, nor am I likely to--I suspect--and this is a good thing." Darcy turned to the servant, "Have Reeves saddle a horse sometime near midday, for myself, and one for Master Andrew and Master Christian."
Darcy sat down and unfurled his cloth napkin into his lap, catching a glimpse of his sons grinning to one another at the prospect of an outing with their father. "You have no objections to riding out with me this afternoon, I take it?" he asked the two boys, and both did shake their heads willingly. Darcy cast a tentative glance at his daughter, "When you are able, and have no other plans, Hannah, perhaps you will go with us as well?"
Hannah could not bring herself to look at him, so she fidgeted and twisted her own napkin in her lap, and kept her eyes upon it. Her father's manners in censuring the Leyton boys still mortified her greatly, yet she was more ashamed to say why it was so. She nodded silently in reply to Darcy's question, and Darcy did his best to let his daughter's deliberate scorn roll off of his back.
"Well," he whispered solemnly, finishing his light repast, "Do you still have your money?" Hannah nodded again. Darcy wrinkled his nose and bit down on his lip to save himself from expressing his exasperation. "Well then, 'tis off to the tailor I go. Brit, I shall trust you to look after my girl."
Brit Hart did nod in affirmation, though he spoke not a word lest he disturb a tightly drawn moment between a father and a child. Elizabeth was very wounded by Hannah's behavior, and she vowed to take her daughter aside when Darcy had gone, to get to the root of the girl's troubles. She had wondered at Hannah's forbearance with such troublesome boys, and it had occurred to Elizabeth that when a girl forgave a boy any sort of woe, it was generally because the girl possessed greater feelings than she was willing to reveal. By the look of grievous distraction on Darcy's face, Elizabeth was well aware that her husband could see none of this at all.
Chapter VII - Good and Kind in Every Way
"Hannah," Elizabeth spoke the moment Darcy had left the room, "I would speak with you above stairs before you leave for Lambton."
Elizabeth begged the pardon of all those remaining at the breakfast table, and she stood up from her seat and waited for her daughter to lead the way to her rooms. Hannah did so speechlessly, for nothing of any gravity was ever discussed while walking the halls of Pemberley. It seemed as if the grand house demanded that sort of propriety from its inhabitants, and that indeed had been its master's wish.
Darcy was a private man, and Elizabeth had always gone to great lengths to regard his seclusiveness. It was not that he lacked for friends, or did he after his marriage shirk society as much as he had been accustomed to before. It was not that he mistrusted those in his service, or that he felt discomfort when around those in his employ, for he had always had a keen insight for knowing whom he could depend on. It was simply that Darcy had always been a very particular sort of man, and he believed that his predicaments were not meant to be thrown open to just anyone, for the sake of an expedient resolution.
This he had asked of his wife and children as well, and Elizabeth had always thought him the wiser for it. Rarely, if ever, did Darcy reprimand his children before persons not immediately connected to them, and if he did happen to do so, then one was assured that the business of it must be vexing to him indeed.
Once in Hannah's room, Elizabeth deterred her daughter with her hands upon the girl's shoulders. Hannah turned about and looked up at her mother, whom she knew to always be gentle and rarely ever disparaging.
"I have everything, mama--everything I need for the muslin, and for the seamstress--see," the girl showed her mother the coins neatly tucked within a folded handkerchief, then produced a tiny swatch of frillwork. "I even have a bit of lace that your lady Frances took from one of your gowns. I hope to find some like it, for my own frock." Hannah grinned, yet noticed a slight frown on her mother's graceful lips. "I will return it to you, mama--I will, as soon as I am come back from Lambton."
"'Tis not the lace of which I mind, Hannah," Elizabeth was steady. "I do not understand why you and your father are at odds these days. You father has said nothing of it at all. Perhaps you should tell me, so that I might be able to assist you both in solving whatever troubles you."
Hannah frowned, much as she had all of that previous day. "I asked papa not to go to see Mr. Leyton, and he did," she reddened with what Elizabeth thought could be anger, and yet something even more. "Papa does not care how I feel at all!"
"Hannah," Elizabeth sat down on the edge of her daughter's bed to look the girl face to face, "You know very well that what you have said is not true. I do not see how you could expect your papa to turn a blind eye after what had happened to you in the grove. No one believes that he was in the wrong for doing what he did at all, except for you, dear."
"I am mortified mama," Hannah's voice rang out in authority. "I am sure that Papa was not very amiable to the Leytons, so angry he was when he left here; and he did not even punish Andrew and Christian for fighting--and that he says is forbidden! He must not mean the things that he says." Elizabeth raised an incredulous brow when her daughter was made to claim, "I would think that your papa had never embarrassed you!"
Elizabeth did grin, "Your father is anything but embarrassing, Hannah."
"What will he..." Hannah pouted carelessly, then caught herself before divulging more of what she would not "...what should they all think of me at Whitlea Hall? They will think that I am papa's little girl, spoiled and silly--and I might have been--though I am not a little girl anymore."
"Oh Hannah," Elizabeth sighed, "how your father would suffer if he knew what you say." Hannah lowered her sorrowful eyes to the ground, for she could not bear to think of her father's disappointment in her. She would always love him, even if he did confound her at times. Elizabeth was far from finished with her daughter, for she was convinced that there was more to Hannah's woes than what she had confessed. "What is his name, this older Leyton boy?" she inquired shrewdly.
Hannah blushed hotly and she replied, "Daniel."
"Master Daniel Leyton," Elizabeth repeated with a precise nod. "He must be quite a young man, this Daniel Leyton, for you to think so highly of him--after he thinks so little of your well being to toss you about like he has."
"I do not know," Hannah colored once again, avoiding her mother's glance. "I do not know many boys, except for Andrew and Christian, and one does not think that much of their own brothers."
"Perhaps that is true, but one should always think well of their father, especially when their father dotes on them, as does yours. Let me tell you Hannah that a boy who has been well brought up is a young gentleman, whether he is playing in a grove or dancing at a ball. As creatures of fancy we do not always think clearly, and sometimes we judge people too harshly, or in some instances, not harshly enough. Of these things I do know quite well, and I have learned my own lesson by it."
"Does papa dote on me? Does he mama--as much as on Andrew?" the spirit in Hannah's eyes rekindled.
"Oh my dear girl," Elizabeth caressed her daughter's virtuous face within her hands, "you are a silly thing if you cannot see how well your father cherishes you."
There were few patrons in Burnside's that morning, and Hannah was pleased to be able to see the selection of muslin and lace, at once. Brit Hart found that perusing bolts of cloth and assorted other frilly things was not much to his liking. Once he was assured that his wife and niece were satisfied to remain and caress dainty fabric betwixt their fingers most of that morning, he headed down the lane to the pub to tip a leisurely pint of ale, and lose himself in an engaging London scandal sheet.
The little bell on the door of Burnside's did ring as it was opened to receive another patron, and Hannah glanced up only to desire that she be well hidden behind a bolt of India muslin. Mrs. Leyton came into the establishment, accompanied by her eldest son. The boy was tall and slender, and fair-haired, with rosy cheeks and a smart complexion, however marred by the fading bruises of the other day. Hannah caught a good look at him before she was noticed, and she did admire his manner and his smile when the clerk behind the counter greeted them.
"Good day, Mrs. Hart," Mrs. Leyton did say upon espying Georgiana and her niece. Georgiana looked up from admiring the fabric on the counter, and when she happened to see Hannah's singular glance fixed on the boy, she was intrigued, but not surprised. Georgiana nodded quite amiably to her neighbor, a greeting meant for someone not particularly of an intimate acquaintance, yet Mrs. Leyton appeared quite beholden.
"Miss Darcy," Mrs. Leyton then acknowledged Hannah, and Darcy's dear girl extended a polite curtsey, as she had been taught to do. "Dear Miss Darcy," the lady continued. "I cannot tell you how sorry we are for the misfortunate accident that you suffered the other day. Are you feeling quite well now?"
"Yes, ma'am," Hannah managed to chirp out in her discomfiture. "I am very much recovered--I think."
"That is wonderful news!" the lady sighed. "Your father was very concerned for your well-being when he came to see us last," Mrs. Leyton said meekly, causing Hannah to cringe and grip the muslin tightly in her little fist. "One can hardly blame him for his worry, for it is obvious that you are quite a favorite with him--but why would you not be--you are so lovely a girl."
"Thank you, ma'am," Hannah blushed yet again.
Mrs. Leyton turned to her son, and Hannah could see the woman coax the boy into speaking. He looked up from his curious fixation of the toes of his leather shoes, and Mrs. Leyton diverted her conversation to Hannah's Aunt Georgiana, with a deliberate air about doing so. Hannah could hear the woman making her apologies for the behavior of her sons, and Georgiana was quite preoccupied in hearing it.
"I am sorry for what happened in the grove the other day," the boy spoke softly to Hannah, more gentlemanly than she had ever heard him do so. He appeared sincere enough, and Hannah was more than willing to allow him the courtesy of apologizing. "I never meant to hurt you," he claimed, "and I shall never do it again, lest your father come at me with buckshot, like he said he would."
Hannah's peaches and cream complexion blanched, and her mouth went dry. So that was what her father had said to them. She was mortified indeed.
"I only did it..." Daniel Leyton paused in his bashfulness; and after his cheeks flushed redder than before, he concluded his thought, "...to be near to you. I confess that I like you, Miss Darcy."
"You like me?" Hannah respired abruptly. "You have an odd way of showing it, Daniel Leyton!" Hannah's insurmountable spirit poured forth, and she gave him a smile to wrench at a young man's senses. The boy looked dumbstruck, and he exuded a grin to make a grown man laugh aloud at such absurdity. Hannah was completely caught up in admiration's first spark, and the two were quite satisfied to gawk at one another until their consciences told them to do otherwise.
Hannah wrung at the fine white muslin in her hands. At that moment, all thoughts of her beloved father were departed, and before she could ever be aware of the significance of what she were about to do, she looked back up at the boy and sighed. "I am to give a party in a fortnight--would you care to come Daniel Leyton?"
"Indeed," he said. "Most definitely."
The deed was done, and there was no taking it back. Master Leyton hurriedly told his mother of the generous invitation, and Mrs. Leyton was elated by it. Georgiana did her best to conceal her bewilderment, for she had no idea how she was to explain any of this to her brother, or to her husband for that matter.
Mrs. Leyton continued to twitter on ceaselessly. "Oh how delightful!" she exclaimed, as she grasped a hold of Georgiana's wrists nearly shaking the muslin from her hands. "I could not be more pleased! I have always desired to know you and Mrs. Darcy better. It never seemed a possibility, given the particulars between your brother and my husband. Let bygones be bygones, I say!" she giggled.
Georgiana took in a deep breath, being as she knew of such particulars, and she was convinced that Darcy was not to find any of this predicament amusing, nor was he one to believe in letting bygones be. Mrs. Leyton continued to pat her son on the back for his accomplishment as they left Burnside's Mercantile, and poor Georgiana in her shock, cast her eyes slowly and purposefully down toward her grinning niece, and for once she dreaded a visit to Pemberley house.
Darcy was contented, more comfortable than he had been in days. His ride out about the park with his sons had been uplifting and rather jolly. At the moment he lay on his back, on the ground of the grove where the children liked to play, and with the remnant of a cow parsley stem in his hand, he pondered the sky shining between the canopy of the tall trees. Andrew lay to his right and Christian to his left, and three more pleasant grins had not been seen in quite some time.
"This is a fine place," Darcy admitted with a sigh, his hands coming to rest beneath his head, and his boots crossed in a pose of relaxation. "I believe we should do this more often."
"Lets, papa," Christian imitated his father's posture. "Lets."
Andrew let his grin turn somber; "You shall have to do it without me."
"Not at all," Darcy turned to look at the boy. "Come now, Andrew--just because you are for school does not mean that you will miss anything here at home. You shall be at school during the winter months and the rainy season. We can't very well lay in the mud during those times, so we shall wait for you to come home on holiday."
"We could lie in the mud, papa," Christian laughed.
Andrew rolled his eyes at the giddiness of his brother, for his own spirit still lagged in enthusiasm. "I will miss it here at home papa. I know that I shall miss you."
Darcy slipped his hand atop the boy's head and gave him a loving pat. "Do not think that you shan't be missed, Andrew. You will. I simply meant that before long, you shall have made new friends among the other boys at school, and who knows, perhaps you will meet a pretty young lady or two to strike your fancy."
Christian sat up and leaned over his father, looking down to grimace his disapproval at such a suggestion. Darcy chuckled and gave the boy a wink, and Christian giggled once again.
"It happens to the best of us, boy," Darcy concluded. "We all fall for a lass sooner or later."
Andrew was curious. "Is that when you met mama--when you were in school?"
"No," Darcy grinned, "much later than that. I was seven and twenty when I first laid eyes on your mother--eight and twenty when we married." Darcy's eyes shifted toward Andrew. "Do not be thinking boy that I was suggesting that you marry these girls you should happen to meet. I only meant that it would serve you well not to avoid such gatherings of society."
"Did you like mama when you first saw her?" Christian asked, continuing to gaze up at the blue sky.
"She was pretty enough, but I was not in a humor to fall in love that day," Darcy replied as his own grin twisted into quandary. "Your mother, on the other hand, did not like me at all."
"Did not like you?" Andrew smiled, though in an incredulous manner. "Surely not."
"Indeed--I was not very kind to her at our first meeting, and she wanted nothing to do with me because of it, although I believed otherwise. When I saw her again, out about Meryton and at your Uncle Bingley's house, my humor did change for she was indeed beautiful and sharp-witted besides, and before I knew what was happening, I was quite besotted." Darcy's memories of that time made him smile broader, and he sighed out as if speaking to only himself, "Yes indeed--I do declare it--quite besotted in love."
Christian's brows furrowed in perplexity. "Why did she marry you then?"
"She grew to like me, I imagine," Darcy was fairly daft as he relayed that particular to his sons. "In actuality, your mother was good and kind in every way, and she found it in her heart to forgive me."
"Sort of like Hannah and that Leyton boy," speculated Christian.
Andrew sat bolt upright on hearing Christian's supposition, and Darcy felt that familiar twinge in the nerve of the back of his neck that he always got when upon the mention of his neighbor to the west. "What nonsense, Christian," Andrew complained. "Hannah could not possibly like that fellow. There are some things that you do not forgive."
"Whatever you say Andrew," Christian dismissed his elder brother's censure.
Darcy looked back up at the sky, realizing that Christian was simply teasing his brother. "Surely not, son," he heaved a sigh, "Your sister has far more sense than that."
"What?" The urgency in Brit Hart's voice made Georgiana and Hannah jump upon the seats of the phaeton. "You did what?"
"Invited the boy to her party," Georgiana whispered and reached a soothing hand to cover that of her husband's.
"Hannah, dearest," he chuckled in disbelief, trying to speak on several occasions, however each time that he did he got an odd look upon his face, and sat back against the seat without uttering a word. Finally he tugged at his whiskers, and inquired, "How do you propose that I tell your father this?"
Hannah shrugged, then smiled in her delightful way. "Papa shan't mind at all Uncle Brit. He does dote on me, you know!"
"Yes," Brit Hart replied beneath his breath with a bit of skepticism, then placed his hand over his tumultuous midsection at the thought of what lay before him at Pemberley.
Chapter VIII -- To the Innocence of All
Hannah dashed into the house from the courtyard, leaving her aunt and uncle behind in the phaeton. Neither Brit Hart nor his wife particularly wanted to leave the sanctuary of the vehicle, but they felt it their duty to inform Hannah's parents of what had transpired at Burnside's mercantile.
Hannah's willowy figure hastened past a row of servants in the hallway and her long, wispy locks of curls fluttered behind her in the wake of such a race. She scrambled into her mother's sitting room and promptly threw open a drawer of the escritoire near the window. She pulled out an engraved invitation to her party and admired it with a giggle of fancy, then wrapped the card between gossamer paper and tucked it safely into her palms to speed back through the hall.
"Mr. Sellers," Hannah said according to rule to the footman on post, "please take this to Whitlea Hall, post haste."
"Miss?" the faithful footman contested pleasantly. "Whitlea Hall, Miss?"
"Yes!" Miss Hannah gasped for a breath for all her dashing about, and she swiped a pretty hand to her unruly bangs to be able to see the man clearer. "Hastily, hastily, pray will you!"
The man lifted a curious brow. "But, Miss Hannah," he replied, "the Master and Mistress do know of it, do they not?"
"Why of course, Mr. Sellers," Hannah replied, though her cheeks flushed pink and her upper lip caught between the clench of her teeth.
"Very well then, Miss," the good servant bowed and headed for the back doors of the house. Good Mr. Sellers had been employed at Pemberley long enough to know that the children of Mr. Darcy were indeed the most trustworthy of progeny to be found anywhere in all of England. At least, until now, it had been so.
Darcy set his sons at the front doors of the house, and both boys scurried into the building, chattering in their exuberance and feeling as though they had been favored indeed by such a grand day out with their father. Darcy gave a satisfied chuckle as he watched their merry faces, then he turned and headed for the stables. Darcy preferred to look about for himself at his fine horses residing within the stables, and he perused the carriage houses at least once or twice a week, just to make sure everything was tidy and looked after to his satisfaction.
"Mr. Darcy, sir," the stable master greeted the master of the manor with a bow. "Did you have a splendid ride out in the park?"
"Yes, I did," Darcy replied with a kindly smile while removing a kid riding glove from his hand. He held the accouterments of fine leather behind his back, as he casually strolled along the rampart of stall doors. Behind these stood some of the finest animals in Derbyshire, heavy horses and those, light of spirit, and it gave Darcy a certain measure of satisfaction to know that they belonged to Pemberley.
He stopped along the row, upon finding one of the lower stalls empty. "Where is the gray mare?" he queried of the stable master.
"Just taken out, sir," the man replied. "Mr. Sellers went on an errand, to Whitlea Hall."
"Whitlea Hall?" Darcy's brows knitted together in perplexity. "You must be mistaken--Whitlea Hall, indeed," he then chuckled to dismiss the preposterous thought of it.
"No sir," the man shook his head, "I am quite certain that he did say Whitlea Hall."
Darcy's amusement faded, "What business does Sellers have at that place?"
"Don't know, sir."
Rash thoughts crossed Darcy's mind, as he wondered if those shiftless Leyton boys had again been seen on his property. It vexed him simply to think of the possibility of it. Had Darcy not known that his sons had been with him all of that day, and that Hannah had been quite safe in Lambton under the watchful eye of Brit Hart, he would have demanded a horse from the stable master and gone off half-cocked to stand before his boorish neighbor, ready to demand some sort of satisfaction.
At once he thought of Prudence, and Darcy's heart nearly leapt from his chest at the idea of his dear little child being aggrieved in any way by those ruffians. Surely Elizabeth would not have let Prudence out of the house alone, but having others about had never prevented the ill antics of those boys before. Darcy was in a bother, half way back to Pemberley house aided by his quick and ample stride, when the sight of Mr. Sellers riding the gray mare back to the stables caught his eye.
"You there! Sellers!" Darcy called to him. The man pulled back on the reins and the animal came to a halt. "What is this all about--you going to Whitlea Hall?"
"Sir?" Mr. Sellers replied quizzically.
"Whitlea Hall, man! Did you or did you not go to that estate?"
"I did sir."
Darcy groaned audibly, "For what purposes, man?"
"To deliver the invitation, sir. The one you had Miss Hannah give to me, with instructions to deliver it to Whitlea Hall, post haste."
"Post haste?" Darcy whispered in bewilderment. "What invitation?"
"To Miss Hannah's party, sir. She had me deliver it, with good knowledge that you did wish it."
The master of Pemberley did not utter another word. He could not, for fear he would say something incorrigible, or perhaps even vulgar. Poor Mr. Sellers had thought his employer could never have looked so peculiar, for the gentleman's otherwise handsome features did harden into a visage of wrath and the lobes of his pedigreed ears did turn a brilliant shade of scarlet. Mr. Darcy did wheel about on his heel and continue in his imminent design for the house, leaving his good man no alternative but to wonder that a young girl had possibly deceived him.
Darcy burst through the doors into the hallway of his home and doggedly maneuvered about the corner, headed for the saloon. There he did find his wife, sister, and brother-in-law, and Elizabeth's nonplused figure sat on a chintz-covered chair, her hands gripping her face in hopeless wonder.
"She did what?" Elizabeth's fair voice trumpeted above Darcy's drubbing boot steps, then she moved her hands to cover her mouth upon seeing his presence in the room.
"Where is she?" the Master of Pemberley bellowed, then seeing the bewilderment on those in the room, flung open the door and shouted, "Mrs. Reynolds!"
As the housekeeper entered the room Darcy towered over her with a vengeance. "Tell Mrs. White that I want to see Miss Hannah here in the saloon, straight-away. Go to it, now!" he cowed the good woman away with a frenzied wave of his arms.
Darcy stood in the center of the room, breathing raggedly and tugging at his ever confining neckcloth, resisting all temptation to kick at his furnishings and bawl out at the top of his lungs for what he knew to be true of one of his children. "Sellers only now rode up to the house," he swallowed down the words once he had managed to say them. "He tells me that Hannah has sent an invitation to her party--to those mongrels at Whitlea Hall."
Elizabeth's eyes widened with abhorrence, for with each passing moment the circumstances of her daughter's insolence grew worse. Darcy tugged on the bottom of his waistcoat, rearranging the garment that had in his fury, worked its way into a disagreeable twist of a position.
"Not only did she send the invite, but she told the poor man on post that you and I sanctioned it!" his eyes widened in his wrath as he looked on his wife. "How long do you suppose that I can keep her in her room?"
Brit Hart sighed into the palm of his hand, "eight--perhaps ten years."
The gentleman stood up from his chair, and stepped forward to meet his friend on equal ground. He bit his lip and arched a brow, and Darcy jutted his own lip out in a dour pout yet turned an ear to hear what his brother-in-law had to say.
"Darcy, I should tell you that Hannah offered the invitation earlier, to Leyton's wife and son in person, while they were in the mercantile. Georgiana did not have an opportunity to discourage it, otherwise I am certain that she would have, for she knows how you would feel over such a thing." Brit Hart was ever serious as he relayed the event, and he dared to place a hand upon Darcy's shoulder to ease him. "You do know that Hannah does not see the wrong in it?"
Darcy hastened an incredulous grimace toward Brit Hart; "She will see it, Brit. Mark my words, Hannah is to see the wrong in it when I am through with her."
Brit Hart felt sorry for the girl, yet he sympathized with Darcy more than he realized. In their day children had no right to mettle in the politics of things, and a man's business was his own affair, not to be interfered with by anyone. It may be true that Darcy did dote on his children, but when it came to the business of being a man and a master, Darcy was a true beau ideal.
"I apologize for my share in it," Brit Hart was made to sigh out. "Thus far I am a flop at keeping adolescent slings and arrows at bay."
"Your share in it?"
"Indeed," he whispered humbly. "I did not think a young girl could cause so much grief while handling lace and muslin, so I left them alone for a time--for the more gentlemanly pursuit of a scandal rag and a stout."
Darcy grimaced, "My children have a talent for finding calamity in practically anything put before them." Darcy returned Brit Hart's gesture of good-fellowship with a shake of the gentleman's hand, leaning close enough to him to whisper in confidence. "Take Georgiana home, Brit," he ordained. "There is no good in every single one of us being unsettled by all of this."
"Georgiana," her husband turned to bid, "We are not needed here anymore this day."
Georgiana rose from her chair, yet before taking hold of her husband's arm, her look of compunction lingered upon the face of her sister. Elizabeth returned it with genuine affection and compassion, for this was all that she could do at the moment.
Elizabeth was silent as she stood up from her own chair to see her guests to the door. She closed the door securely when they had gone, then she turned toward Darcy, feeling pity for the way in which he presently appeared and for the disrespect that he had been shown by one of his offspring. She did feel some condolence for Hannah, for the girl had rarely ever been on the side of Darcy's ire, and Elizabeth wondered how her daughter would fare.
"If Leyton had any sense in his head," Darcy snarled in his crossness, "he would send back a refusal."
"I would not believe it probable, if I were you," Elizabeth heard her own voice say out of misgiving.
"There are times Elizabeth when I wish you were me," Darcy sighed heavily. "Well, at this moment at least. I cannot believe or tolerate what I have heard. Taking advantage of my good humor, lying--why would Hannah do such a thing?" he asked sorrowfully and out of his own ignorance.
Elizabeth attempted to tell him her supposition, yet before she was able there was a knock upon the door that appeared to confound Darcy. "Come in," his voice broke loudly in his expectations of seeing Hannah before him, but instead he instilled fright into the heart of a household messenger. Darcy took the note from the woman's outstretched hand and hastily opened it.
He read most of it speechlessly, then his upper lip curled and he interpreted the remainder aloud, "...to inform you that my sons will be delighted to accept your charitable invitation..." Darcy threw the paper onto a table, and as it slapped against the grain of the wood, he snarled, "Damn--that is just dandy, indeed."
Elizabeth made a small cough to rouse Darcy from his ill address. He spun about at the sound of it, to see his daughter standing in the doorway. Hannah's eyes peered up at her father, and she smiled in her free and easy manner and her smooth and graceful voice did ask, "Yes, papa?"
"Hannah," Darcy voice was brusque, "did you invite those Leyton boys to your garden party?"
Hannah lowered her eyes from her father's face, although the smile on her own face remained. "I did," she replied, then quickly looked to her mother with a reeling grin.
"And you did not bother to seek permission to do such a thing?" Darcy features hardened into indignation once again. "How dare you not," his hand gripped the back of a mahogany chair as Hannah's eyes again fell upon his face, this time in alarm. "Not only that, but you were so bold as to lie to the footman--that your mother and I knew anything about it."
Hannah stepped forward to object, "Papa, I did not..."
Darcy's loathsome appearance cut short her protest. "One falsehood is bad enough!" he shouted. "Do not make it worse by telling me another!"
"Papa," she whimpered.
"No!" Darcy pointed at her, "No--I will not hear another word. Not a word of this nonsense! You are not to be trusted!" At the moment Darcy appeared as if he could sob, and his voice wavered out the dreadful proclamation, "There is nothing you could ever say to make this right--nothing! A daughter was never born who treated her father with such contempt. You show no respect for me, Hannah, and I do not see why I should be made to indulge your wishes any farther."
"It is you who has no respect for me!" the girl cried out, not believing herself so naughty, "You do not love me as mama says! If I am a liar, so is mama!"
Elizabeth in her utter shock and the knowledge that her daughter spoke such a distortion against herself and her husband stood up to strike at Hannah with her palm. Darcy caught her wrist in his hand before Elizabeth could deliver the frustrated blow and a bewildered father and a remorseful mother gazed at one another in anguish, never having believed that such a day could ever come. Darcy's hand inched its way down to Elizabeth's palm and he clasped his fingers through hers and held her trembling hand tightly and reassuringly to his breast.
"Hannah," he sighed, glancing at the girl with regret. "If you could only know how deeply you are loved." He exhaled a laugh, though it did not resemble a happy laugh at all, and he ran his other hand across the tenseness of his chin, then inhaled a gasp. "I should assuredly lay a withe switch across your backside for your disobedience, were I not convinced that those boys and their antics will cause you grief enough. When that does happen, do not look to me to amend it for you. You made that choice all on your own; you will have to live with the result of it--all on your own."
Darcy's face reddened, much as his ears had earlier, and he clenched his jaw tight for what he felt that he had to say. "I do love you child, but I do not want to see you for a time. You will never--ever--speak to me in such a manner again! Be gone with you--go to your room and I shall tell you when you are to leave it."
Hannah began to sob, and out of natural reverence for the man who had always been her champion, her arms reached toward Darcy. "Go," he said, and although it nearly shattered his will and what was left of his broken heart to do so, he let go of his loving wife's hand, and he turned away from his darling daughter.
Darcy listened to Hannah's sobs and footsteps as she sulked through the hallway, and he closed his eyes and clasped his hand to his forehead, asking aloud again, "Why?"
"Because she likes the boy," Elizabeth answered him.
He opened his eyes and turned to glower at her. Elizabeth bowed her head and repeated her words. "Likes him?" Darcy respired. "Like, as in...she..." he paused at the word again, for lack of any other way to account for it "...likes him?
"Yes," Elizabeth whispered.
Darcy's eyes glanced up in wonder. "You cannot tell me that this is true," he said, refusing to believe a word of it.
"I am afraid it is," Elizabeth nodded and Darcy nodded to her, as if he finally had assimilated the concept. Elizabeth held her palm to her breast, her anger and regret causing it to pulse and bring tears to her eyes at the thought of what she could have done. "I was so angry, Fitzwilliam. I could surely have struck her, had you not..."
Darcy stepped toward her and he grasped her elegant hand and placed a kiss upon her tender palm. "You did not do it, Elizabeth," he said to reassure her. "You did not do it."
"I did not do it," Elizabeth repeated as her tears rolled onto Darcy's hand.
"My daughter likes a Leyton," Darcy chortled in what Elizabeth could only describe as zealous doubt. "I never thought I would see the day. I can keep her in her room for the next ten years--I can," he extended a weary nod--somewhat in jest, "just you watch me."
The Darcy children were astonished to see their sister as she walked down the hallway. Hannah rarely ever cried out of anger, for she never really had cause to, yet at this moment, she sobbed uncontrollably. "I am for a place where a father does not reprimand his daughter!" she bawled out.
"Where might that be?" Andrew queried.
"Oh, shut up!" she wailed and slammed her bedchamber door to keep her siblings from her sight.
Andrew looked at Christian. "Those Leyton boys are nothing but a nuisance," he said. "If they make any trouble here they will regret it." Prudence gasped, as if she were aware of her sister's disobedience, and now that of her brothers. "Prudence, you shan't squeal at all to mama or papa. This is our business! Do you like to see Hannah cry?"
Prudence shook her head adamantly. "Good," Andrew huffed. "Then Christian and I will take care to see that those boys behave at Hannah's party."
When the house was quiet that evening, Andrew did steal downstairs to his father's study. Darcy was sitting at his desk by the firelight alone, and he did not appear to be occupied with anything of importance. In fact, before him lay two silver crowns, and he would in his sorrowful trance, pick up one of the crowns and spin it on edge on the desktop. He would do the same with the other, then sit back in his chair and watch them until they slowed down and dropped.
"Papa," Andrew whispered, causing Darcy to startle and lay his hand onto the revolving coins, pushing them next into a drawer of the desk.
"What is it?" he asked of his son.
"What will happen when those boys are allowed to come here?"
"No doubt," Darcy confessed assuredly, "that they will make a muddle of things."
Andrew nodded solemnly. "Will we always be at odd with them? Will we never be able to be friends with the Leytons papa?"
"I do not know," Darcy sighed, "but I do know that we are above any sort of trick that they could play. Hannah is in bad enough sorts at present, we shan't be made to embarrass her at her party, even if they do." Darcy smiled at the boy though he meant what he was to say in the utmost gravity. "You and Christian are not to tussle with them--and I shall do my best to do the same. Perhaps they do want to make amends."
Andrew sighed in Darcy's same manner, and then he came around the corner of his father's desk, opened the drawer and pulled out the coins that Darcy had hidden within. Darcy was amused as he watched his son spin the silver crowns on the desktop in the same fashion that he had. He and the boy chuckled aloud, and then Andrew said as he gave one a good spin, "I do not believe that they will ever make amends."
Darcy grinned and spun the other coin in tandem to his son's. "Neither do I."
Chapter IX -- The Place within a Heart
Darcy lay awake in his bed that night, thinking of his children and what would become of each and every one of them should he not be at Pemberley to act as the voice of reason. He suffered the sleepless consequences of Elizabeth's endless tossing and turning, and as he lay, defending his covers from being wrenched away, he wondered with his own misgivings at his obdurate attitude toward his beloved daughter Hannah. It was not often that Darcy did fret over the misdeeds of his progeny, nor was it often that he lost much sleep over his regulation of them, for they had never truly been disobedient children.
It seemed as if things had gone amiss lately in his grand design, and that his children were bent on being disobliging. Darcy was not accustomed to straying from those things that he had so scrupulously and carefully laid out, and thus his eyes would not shut and he could not drift off into slumber, and he was doomed to spend the entirety of the night watching Elizabeth flail about in her own strife.
Darcy began to suffer a lack of conviction, as husbands and fathers sometimes do, and perhaps, he thought, that he could be wrong when it came to passing off his own prejudices onto his children. In the wee hours of the morning, he found it all impossible to dwell on any longer unless he should get out of his warm bed and roar at the top of his voice for his conscience to let him be. In hopelessness he reached over to summon Elizabeth closer to him, and she seemed to settle herself in the comfort that his arms brought, and she found some peace. Darcy found his own serenity as well, having her near and knowing that now she would not be likely to plunder the bedsheets from atop him; and at last he had found enough of such an accord with his scruples to finally drift off to sleep.
Darcy awoke early to a void beside him, and when he sat up to look about the room, he spied the silhouette of Elizabeth's figure standing in front of the great windows of their chambers. Darcy slipped from the bed, wrapping himself in a dressing robe to shield against the morning chill. He shivered, then pulled a lap throw from the foot of the bed, and came up behind his wife; to swathe the comfort of the blanket about her bared shoulders like a cape.
Elizabeth was grateful for the kindness and proved it to her husband by smiling up at him. She sighed, though in lament for engaging in such a quarrel with her daughter. "I find that the more I think of what has happened, the less I understand it," she whispered toward the nearness of Darcy's ear.
"Elizabeth," Darcy replied in much the same melancholy manner, "I cannot say that I understand it either, and although Hannah may like this boy well enough, that does not pardon the manner in which she did address us."
"I know, dear--yet I also know what it is like to be angry and upset because things do not work in your favor," Elizabeth pressed the issue, feeling pity for her daughter and for her own ill treatment of her.
"And did you--when things did not go your way--did you tell a lie to coerce a poor servant into doing your bidding? Did you have such disregard for your parents?"
Elizabeth stared out at the dawning landscape before she simply answered in check, "No."
"Hannah is a child," Darcy said, as he grew irritable yet again. "She has no business liking that boy at all."
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth tried her best not to criticize him too harshly, "do take care then and think of the delicate nature of a child's feelings."
"I do," he insisted.
"I wonder," she rejoined.
Elizabeth turned her body within Darcy's grasp, and she came to look at him, face to face. "Sons and daughters are different creatures, Fitzwilliam. I understand that they are not the same when it comes to their notions of love and of family," she began.
With gentleness in her heart she attempted to convey to Darcy her most genuine thoughts. "You have raised your sons to believe in honor and duty and in all the things that you hold so high. Being a daughter, Hannah cannot know that sort of fellowship, yet what she does see, everyday, is the loving connection of two people as her model. She has as her ideal a man and a woman, who are yet, very much in love. She sees two people who respect one another, and whose affections and endearments for the other make it all good. I would rather that all of our children believe that this is what makes a union strong, and that this is desirable in a marriage, over anything else."
Darcy appeared more downtrodden than ever, but Elizabeth found it difficult to pity him this time. "Your children admire you greatly husband, yet what should they learn from such ill will toward others?"
"What do you mean?" Darcy replied incredulously.
"I suppose what I am saying is that they do not comprehend the nature of your quarrel with the Leytons, and what they see is your dislike for a neighbor."
"The nature of my quarrel?"
Elizabeth demonstrated her courage along with her compassion. "All that the children know, Fitzwilliam, is that you and Mr. Leyton do not get on well at all, and I must say that I also do not understand why the breach of understanding between gentlemen over two generations ago, should affect us now."
"Because it does," Darcy was quick to chide his wife for lack of a more sensible response, "it does because people in this neighborhood change very little."
"Why should that be?" she pleaded with him.
Darcy was dumfounded, for he really did not know himself. "I suppose," he said cynically as he liberated his grasp from Elizabeth's waist, "that is comes from that great difference between sons and daughters that you were so quick to point out to me a moment ago. Had the women of our families intervened before now, no doubt none of this would be happening! Is that it?"
Elizabeth's lips pinched together in censure, and Darcy frowned, then let his tense jaw ease somewhat, wisely tucking his virulence into the farthest corner of his intellect. "Forgive me," he shook his head in exhibition of regret. "If you say it wife, then the fault must truly lie with me."
It was not like Darcy to give in to the condemnation of his character so easily, yet he was tired of fighting it and out of sorts, and he only sought to restore the peace to his household, and perhaps get a good night sleep. Elizabeth held a reassuring palm to his proud and determined jaw. "You are not the one at fault, my love," she insisted with the most resolute devotion, "but you can be the remedy. Perhaps we should give our children an opportunity to repair the damage for us, before they too carry on the tradition of Leyton versus Darcy."
Hannah kept to her room all of that morning. Darcy was not so severe upon his children when they happened to err that he demand that they spend a great deal of time in the solitude of their chambers, yet he could not seem to overcome his distress enough to declare that Hannah should come out of her room. It was one thing for his children to express their displeasure with himself, for he was the purveyor of most of what discipline that they received, but for them to find fault with Elizabeth was preposterous and simply not permissible.
Darcy had taken Elizabeth's words of that morning to heart, and he had promised himself that he would give her good will a try. It simply took him longer to come round to it; it took him longer to convince himself that he was ready, willing, and able to be neighborly to Robert Leyton and his kin.
Hannah was watching her brothers' sport out on the lawns from the windows of her chambers. She rested her chin on the sill, and she could hear their merry laughter and joyous shouts as they played with mallets and wickets. The sight of it did not cause her so much bother, though when she saw her father on his way back home from the stables, tarry and join them in playing the game, it troubled her greatly to know that he favored them with his kind regard while he still could not bring himself to see her.
"Hannah," a timid voice called out from behind the chamber door. Hannah darted to the door and opened it to let Prudence into her room. "Can I sit with you, Hannah?" the little girl asked.
"Sit then," Hannah replied and hoisted Prudence onto her bed, then scrambled up next to her. The two girls stared at each other for a time, Prudence sadly and Hannah contritely. Hannah found no better conversation with her little sister than to inquire with a lamentable sigh, "Papa must still be very angry with me, for he has not come, not even to tell me that I must offer an apology."
Prudence shrugged her small shoulders. "Did you mean what you said, Hannah--that mama lied?"
"How do you know what I said?" Hannah flushed pink at the lack of any sort of privacy within their household. "Were you all listening outside the saloon? You and Andrew and Christian, and the household servants as well?"
"We could not help it!" Prudence answered quickly. "We could hear papa's voice and then we could hear you too." Prudence stopped to pout and tisk. "Mrs. Reynolds and Mr. Sellers shook their heads when they heard you say it. Mrs. Reynolds said that you were a good girl but Mr. Sellers just shook his head again."
Hannah grew redder, in mortification. "Even if I had not said it, there are plenty of fathers who would not find it ill for their daughter to invite a boy to her party."
Prudence lay back on the bed with a frustrated plunk. "Papa does not like those boys, and I do not like them."
Hannah followed her sister's example, and both girls lay that way awhile, contemplating the ceiling and those other things of fleeting importance. The emotions that Hannah felt were peculiar to her. She had never been more ashamed of being amended, and she had never felt more sorry for her own self.
"Did you mean it, Hannah?" Prudence asked again in a whisper.
Hannah gave up her prejudiced battle and ran the back of her hand across her dampish eyes, then silently shook her head in reflection of her hasty and rueful words. "No," she sniffled.
"Papa does love you," little Prudence was persistent.
Hannah sat up and brought her knees to her chest, her lithesome arms hugging them ever so tightly. She pouted in such a way as to make Prudence fearful enough to scramble to her sister's side, throw her arms about her neck, and then bury her face in Hannah's long, unkempt locks of hair.
"I want him to love me," the elder girl wheezed, "I do--yet he must think me a very vile creature, indeed."
"Good heavens," Darcy's voice startled them. "I could never think that of any of you." He walked to the bed and plucked up Prudence into his arms, gave her a kiss, then set her down on the floor. "Go and find you mother, Prudence. Tell her to come to Hannah's bedchamber," he commanded of her, and sent the girl scampering away with a tender pat.
For a moment, Hannah was frightened of what her father might say. Then she asked, knowing full well what his answer would be, "Do you think that I must apologize, papa?"
"Positively," he was serious in his delivery, "and it would be best to do it directly--and when you come across Mr. Sellers, you will apologize to him as well."
Hannah took in a deep breath. "I am sorry," she whispered, and then added hastily with that sulk so unnerving to Darcy's countenance, "but do you still dote on me, papa?"
Darcy did arch a brow at the question, though he did not grin or frown. "I do not think that I would be much of a father if I did not dote on my daughter, whether she had been difficult or not."
Hannah sighed in the greatest relief. "Then might I still be allowed to have my party?" the girl's dear face held such great hope.
At that Darcy did smile and nod his head in the affirmative. "I tell you Hannah," he said as she rushed to embrace him, "do mind your good conduct from here on. There will be no more lying or stepping beyond your deserving, and no more words of disgrace directed at the family who loves you."
Hannah pulled back from him to shake her head in promises made. "I want you to think of me as deserving, papa. When shall I be grown enough for that?"
Darcy's smile was sentimental. "Do not rush to be grown, Hannah. There are a lot of things left to do yet, as a girl. I would not want to miss any of it, or you, should you be grown and not living here with us any longer." This was something that Hannah had not considered in her quest to go from childhood to maturity, and she was indeed not yet ready to leave her family.
Darcy could see that he had his daughter's undivided attention and he continued on astutely, "I should wish to see you give a recital on the pianoforte before you leave my house. I should wish to see you at your first ball, and perhaps even be the first man to ask you for a dance."
Hannah had never believed that those things had held such a place within her father's heart. Elizabeth stood silently in the doorway listening to those paternal things that her husband longed to see, and both daughter and wife came to know Darcy's feelings just a little bit better that day.
"I would wish," he sighed once more, "to be right here, in case it happens that your heart should one day break, my little love." The softness of his temper did last only a moment longer, as Darcy realized that he was as close to being maudlin as he had ever been before.
"But you said that if anything were to go wrong, that I should have to face it myself," Hannah made Darcy nearly cringe at the recollection.
"Yes, I did," he admitted, "and those were words I should never have said. For that, I ask your forgiveness."
Hannah beamed liked a lady of good breeding, "I do forgive you, papa."
Darcy leaned back comfortably against the headboard of Hannah's bed, folding his hands across his chest, and Hannah wriggled beneath the crook of his arm. Once again, both father and daughter were contented to be in each other's good company.
"I can remember a time when I thought that what my mother and father said was impertinent and vexing to my own principles, yet I never dared quibble with it." He grinned and kissed the crown of his daughter's head, then appended his statement in a crafty whisper, "Not much at least."
"I can recall it as well in myself," Elizabeth concurred from the doorway, with a smile to improve her spirit and that of her husband and daughter, " and I hasten to say that it was not all that long ago."
Darcy called on Smythdon manor later that day, and he took a proffered seat in the library next to his friend, Brit Hart. Georgiana came into the room, her infant in her arms and she gave her brother a kiss on the cheek and handed him the bundle that was his nephew.
Darcy cradled the baby, and took a look inside of the swaddling at the little pink face. "They are a lot less trouble at this age, even if they do not sleep a wink."
"I hope you are to tell us that you and Hannah are no longer at odds," Georgiana inquired in her sweet nature.
"We are no longer at odds," Darcy confirmed, then added, "until the next time that one of us happens to vex the other."
Georgiana did laugh at her brother a bit, so humbled was he, and so awkward at times with a baby in his arms. "And what about the Leyton boy?" she happened to ask.
Darcy looked up and pouted in a childish manner, "There are those in my house who think that a reconciliation between Darcy and Leyton would be best."
No sooner had he said it, did Brit Hart grimace and reply, "Tell me it is not so, Darcy!"
Looks of stouthearted significance passed between Darcy and his brother-in-law, though Georgiana was inclined to frown at them both. "What is so wrong with being the first to make amends?" she asked. "I know that you are both capable of it--we must demonstrate to them just what sort of gentlemen we truly are."
"We?" Brit Hart grinned.
Georgiana smiled, taking a page from Elizabeth's book on how to begin a noble notion, then leave it to your man to think that it was all his own doing. She stood up and took her son from Darcy's arms, and left the room saying, "I have other children to raise."
Brit Hart and Darcy gaped at each other for a moment, and then Brit Hart heaved a sigh. He reached into the pocket of his waistcoat and pulled out a paper. "I have already received my list of those staying at Smythdon for this affair," he said in more of a skeptical query than not.
Darcy rolled his eyes, and then pulled his own roster from his pocket with the names of those staying at Pemberley inscribed upon it. "Let me see yours," he said as he grasped the paper from Brit Hart's hand and read down the list. "I shall raise you a pair of Bennets for a full hand of Fitzwilliams."
"Not a chance," Brit Hart muttered.
Darcy shrugged, then his countenance turned serious, "Brit, I could sincerely use your help."
"You know that I would always offer it, Darcy."
"It occurs to me, that I cannot keep watch over all of the youngsters who shall be at this social engagement, and never take my eyes from those," Darcy paused to pinch a frown, "Leytons curs."
"I knew you had not given up the breach," Brit Hart grinned in relief.
"I have not completely given up on all of my good sense," Darcy retorted. "I gave my word to Elizabeth that I would be civil, and that I will do for her sake and Hannah's, but I have no intention of letting my guard down and looking like an absolute fool."
Andrew rounded the bend of the path leading to the grove, a fishing pole in his hand. In the last few days he had come often to the grove, for he knew he would miss it dreadfully, when he went off to school. He stopped in the distance when he saw his sister sitting on the felled log, her hands gathering the last of the lords and ladies of the season from the woodland ground below.
"What are you doing here?" Andrew asked from the distance.
"Nothing," Hannah replied. "Just waiting."
"For that boy?"
Hannah shrugged her shoulders, not wanting to lie, but not wanting to admit the truth either to her loyal brother. Andrew came upon her and stood over where she sat. His hands were ominously placed on his hips and to Hannah he almost looked like her father, ready to scold her.
"He will not come, Hannah," Andrew stated as a matter of fact. "Papa will not allow it! Those boys are not to come to the grove any more, and I am glad for it!"
Hannah had quite had her fill of battle that day. "Daniel Leyton has just as much right to be in this grove as you do, Andrew Darcy!"
"He does not!" Andrew shouted. "This is Pemberley land--it is papa's and mine to protect, and if we say he cannot come--then he cannot come!"
Hannah stared wildly at Andrew, in wonder of his pretentiousness. "It is not yours alone--it belongs to us all!"
Andrew was incensed, "Then you may have it, for I will not be here much longer--I am for a better place, a place where you cannot go!"
"Good," Hannah replied, her willowy arms folded across herself, "Go to that better place, Andrew, and I shall not miss you! I shall not miss you a jot!"
Hannah threw the handful of lords and ladies that she had gathered at her brother. Andrew batted them away with the palm of his hand, and then angrily strode off down the path, toward the stream. Hannah could not hear the words he said; yet she could see him kick at the ground and shake his head as if speaking in vexation to someone.
Andrew came upon the spot where he so often cast his fishing line, and he sat down on the large rocks and threw down the fishing pole next to him in disgust. He thought that he might cry over what his sister had said, but then again, a boy who was bound for school was far too old for such childish displays of temper.
"I shan't miss you either!" he breathed in the words raggedly, then laid his melancholy head against the hard granite of the stones behind him, and told himself secretly that this was simply not true.
Chapter X - Where the grass is oftentimes greener
"Papa!" Christian bellowed excitedly, running up the parkway of Pemberley's gated yard as if someone was chasing him for sport. "Papa, they are here!"
Darcy stood on the cobbled drive near the courtyard, heeding the watchful signal of his youngest son, for he too could see several carriages approaching his estate. Even from a distance Darcy could make out the cinder black coach and carefully complemented team of his friend Charles Bingley in the forefront of the procession.
Darcy folded his arms about his chest in exhibit of discreet contemplation for he thought Bingley's traveling coach to be an admirable outfit. Yet Darcy himself had held with family tradition and settled upon a team of four gallant Cleveland Bays at the head of his own splendid equipage, accompanied of course by a smart looking livery. The thought of the very sight of it did do much to gratify Darcy's manly pride, and the discussion of the differences between them was often at the core of brotherly quarrel betwixt he and Bingley.
The master of Pemberley strode down the path and laughed when he met up with his son. The boy was grinning from ear to ear, and was as eager as he could ever be for the convoy to arrive, for like his mother, Christian preferred the good company of others. However, Christian's usual attitude when the Bingleys came to visit was to bemoan the steady interference of their youngest daughter Alice upon his own mode of life. The girl was inclined to follow him about incessantly, wanting to be near to the object of her admiration, for sweet Alice did dote on Christian a great deal.
Darcy presumed that Christian would not have found the girl's interference so insufferable, had Andrew not been inclined to tease him because of it. Although Christian did usually do something to vex little Alice during her stay, her admiration for him was unwavering and she stuck by his side until the bitter end. Of late, Christian seemed to take some pleasure in Alice's attentiveness, for he was no longer the child of the Darcy household. At times he pined for the singular regard from all within his circle that he had grown so accustomed to receiving before dear Prudence had taken over his standing.
Bingley's carriage rolled up the cobbled drive, followed by what Darcy now recognized as the landau belonging to his father-in-law. The master of Pemberley barely concealed a boorish grimace for he had always realized a peculiar feeling to his composure upon first sight of his wife's parents.
It had been so from the very beginning of his acquaintance with them, for Darcy rued the absurdity of the misses, and lamented the acerbity of the mister. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet had not changed much in the years that Darcy and Elizabeth had been married, much to Darcy's own regret.
Recalling several years previous, on the occasion of the anniversary of ten years wedded to Elizabeth, Darcy had finally come to grips with the understanding that Mr. and Mrs. Bennet were not likely to ever fashion their behavior in a manner to suit his comfort. He had openly made the relenting confession that night when he and Elizabeth had gone to their chambers after dining with her family in celebration of the event. Darcy's expressions during the declaration to his wife were those of humbleness and contrition, and Elizabeth in her infinite goodness was sure that this had indeed been a difficult instance for her fastidious husband. She had lovingly assured him with a caring embrace and a compassionate kiss, that marriage had been blissful, even throughout the trying moments with her family.
Christian looked to Darcy and grasped his father's hand. Darcy's recollections left him and he presently turned his attention back to the procession of carriages as they came to a halt before him. He quickly glanced down at his son, not sure whether the boy clung tightly to him out of his own foreboding at the prospect of being pestered or out of sympathy for the unnerve of his father. This however was beside the point, for although the action did indeed give both father and son some comfort and create a clandestine bond between them; it was the only reprieve either could hope for until Hannah's party was a memory.
The arrival of carriages did spark the attention of the other members of Darcy's family, and his wife and the rest of his children came scurrying out of the house to greet their favorite guests. Andrew stood behind Christian and snickered as a footman opened Bingley's carriage door and four fair, familiar, and amiable faces gazed out from within.
"Oh Christian," Andrew soughed into his brother's ear in mimicry of an impressionable young maiden resembling Alice's own countenance, "shall you be my particular companion while I am at Pemberley?"
Christian's elbow met sharply with Andrew's midsection, yet Darcy was primed and ready for such an occurrence, and he sought to tarnished the row with the stern proposition, "Shall you both accompany me to my study for a remedy to your ill manners?"
Christian looked up, red faced, "What do you mean, papa?"
"I mean-stop that nonsense this instant," Darcy spat out in an elementary reply.
Hannah made sure that Christian was between her and Andrew, and she leaned back behind her younger brother to glare and bestow a pout at her twin for his rudeness. Andrew frowned back at her, for the two youngsters who had thus far in life been inseparable, had recently had their fill of the other.
"Bingley," Darcy greeted his friend, never letting his one hand budge from the profound grasp he had placed on his eldest son's shoulder.
Charles Bingley, with his usual enthusiasm, bounded from his carriage taking Darcy's other hand in a fond clasp between friends. "It is jolly good to be in your company Darcy, jolly good indeed!"
Darcy glanced at the other carriage in line, then grinned mindfully at his friend, "Has it been a lengthy visit with our in-laws?"
"Formidable," Bingley replied in a hush, leaning closer to his brother-in-law. "Formidable."
Meg, Bingley's daughter being closest to Hannah's own age, disembarked the carriage, and looked to her dear cousin, "Hannah! Oh, Hannah!" she exclaimed, and embraced Darcy's daughter much in the manner of a long lost sister. Hannah was equally pleased to see her cousin, and the two girls giggled and squealed in the excitement of such a joyous reunion, then ran off to greet their grandmother Bennet, and to kindly hear with a youngsters good humor the trials of her travels.
Sweet Alice was the last to leave the coach after her mother was reunited with her own sister. When the footman lifted her down and placed her petite frame onto the ground, a slow and poised smiled graced her face in the direction of her beloved cousin. At once her pale beauty brightened the landscape of Christian's hallowed grounds, and the boy was agog, for the girl whom he had once considered a nuisance had within the span of six short months, nearly become a thing of wonder to him.
Darcy grinned and tried his best not to laugh upon seeing his son's daft expression. Christian straightened his posture, a stratagem he had learned from watching the physical rhetoric of his father, and then with all the distinction to make even the most slipshod Darcy proud, Christian bowed to Alice in greeting.
"Hello Christian," Alice's melodic voice echoed forth from her charming smile. Christian lent a wry grin at his good show and at his good fortune for the benevolent illustration of Alice's favor. He grinned, that is, until he caught sight of her face alight with glee upon first sight of Andrew. Sweet Alice sidled up next to Christian's elder brother, and slipped her little gloved hand through Andrew's arm. The two youngsters walked back along the path toward the house, talking and giggling, and never looking back at Christian.
Christian's young brows furrowed in confounded astonishment as he watched them go, and his proud Darcy features dimmed in indignation when he overheard sweet Alice say to his brother, "My father has told me that you are for Eton."
Christian sat at the supper table that evening, listing to the lively conversation between his parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles. It had been quite an affair, and the boy could not recall a time when Pemberley's dining room had seen more people within it. He looked to his sister, so happy was she to be surrounded by her family and friends. Hannah had always had a kind heart, and although it was rare that Christian had given her kindness much consideration, there were times when he was indeed grateful that she were there to buck him up.
He had wished, however, that he had not had clear sight of Andrew, as his brother boasted of his fortunes of late and their capricious little cousin Alice giggled in reply, for the spectacle of it vexed Christian greatly. The boy turned his attention to his mother, and then studied the familiar face of his aunt Georgiana. He was sure that both of them had never treated a gent in such a way, and then he wondered if his Aunt Bingley had ever regarded his uncle so lowly as to choose another fellow over him. He hoped not as it occurred to Christian that one was surely hurt by the practice of it, and he was dreadfully sorry that he was the one who was suffering.
Christian began to loathe the very sight of Andrew, and although he was old enough to know that it was wrong, and that what he was feeling went against every principle of family that his parents had ever instilled in him, he could not help himself. Andrew had been given everything and Christian nothing that he thought might matter, for Andrew was to go to school, and Andrew was to have the admiration of Alice, and Andrew would always be the favorite in the eyes of everyone.
A deeper frown appeared on the boy's face as he pushed the food round his plate. The only time he dared to look up, for fear of glimpsing the maddening exploits of his brother, was when he heard his Uncle Brit laugh. Brit Hart had been speaking of the races across the table with Charles Bingley, for both men were quite fond of the sport. The good gentleman glanced at the chair next to him, and had glimpsed the miserable frown upon the dear face of his nephew.
"What are you about, Christian?" he whispered near to the boy. "Why so gloomy, and at such an occasion as this?"
With great disrespect on the part of a youth toward a superior, something not tolerated in the Darcy household, Christian did not answer his uncle, yet swiftly looked the other way. Because the mood of all at the table was jolly, Brit Hart did not engage the boy in an answer. Instead he chortled and gave a doubting cast of his eyes toward the whole of the room. Bingley picked up on the folly of his favorite nephew, and sought to tease him out of his ill humor. He looked to his brother-in-law Darcy, and then nodded toward Christian with a politic grin.
"Methinks the boy sports a green-eyed grudge, Darcy."
Darcy took a long look at Christian, and being his father, he was fully aware of the boy's tender temperament. He smiled guardedly, and nodded in response to Bingley, though he did not care to join in the reverie of teasing a naive young man.
Brit Hart grinned in his good-natured manner, replying to his comrade, "No more so than any of us have ever been, Bingley. Why should Christian here, not have the experience of every young man to come before him?"
"No reason at all," Bingley replied, giving the boy a wink, "no reason at all."
Christian turned red, as red as red can be, for he thought the gentlemen whom he admired were teasing him excessively. He wanted to shout at them to stop, but the presence of his venerable father and his own good conscience prevented any such performance.
Instead, he held his chin as high as he dared and asked of Darcy, "May I please go to my chambers, father?"
The terseness of his words caught the full attention of both of his parents, and Elizabeth looked suspiciously at Darcy and whispered to herself, "Father?"
Darcy heaved a judicious sigh and somberly nodded his head in consent. He watched Christian leave his seat and walk from the room with as much dignity as a begrudging boy of ten was ever made to do. Careful looks of conjecture were exchanged between Christian's parents after he was gone, yet there was not a thing to be done, by either Darcy or Elizabeth.
After a time, Darcy begged the pardon of his guests, and left the supper table in search of his impressionable child. He went directly up to Christian's bedchamber, but the boy was nowhere to be found within. Darcy inquired of the upstairs attendants, yet none had seen Christian since early that evening.
Not since the boy had been very little had Darcy been given a reason to search for him so diligently. He thought perhaps that Christian had left the house, and if that were so, Darcy would indeed have some difficulty holding his temper in check. Christian knew every path and every nook of Pemberley as well as he knew anything else, but it had always been a father's worst fear that his child would wander too near to the many waterways and crags located about, and slip and fall when his guiding hands were not there to prevent it.
Darcy was practically through the back doors of Pemberley house when he passed good Mr. Sellers on duty. He stopped and looked at the man, and as if the two of them knew full well what the other was about, the trusted servant nodded silently toward the doors of the library, and Darcy sighed in grateful relief.
A candelabra gave off sufficient light for the comfort of one within the library, and there Darcy found Christian, sitting in the large leather chair, a book within his hands. When the boy saw his father enter the room, he went to scramble from his father's chair, but Darcy shook his head to assure the youngster that it was all very well to remain.
Darcy sat down in a chair across from his son, and he leaned forward in a gesture of compassion and laid a hand upon the boy's knee. "What do you do here, Christian?" he inquired carefully.
"I am reading, papa."
"Really?" Darcy queried before he could prevent himself. "What, may I ask, are you reading son?"
"Poetry?" Darcy was very nearly astonished, for Christian had never been known to be a great reader of prose, let alone anything more discriminating in taste. Darcy's hand moved from the comforting gesture upon the boy's knee to gently take the book from Christian's grasp. "It is poetry," Darcy arched his brow and then paused to collect his thoughts, upon further inspection of the book. "Why, may I ask, have you chosen this particular moment to read poetry?"
Christian's cheeks colored pink and he leaned closer to his father, to take back the book. "So that you will let me go to school," he whispered timidly. "I would think that if I took the time to practice more of what it takes to be a good pupil, that you might let me go as well."
Darcy slowly shook his head to let the boy know that this would not be the case. He smiled however, a medley of amusement and pride upon his face at the clever deductions of his young son, then with a love so undivided between a father and a son, Darcy let his forehead come to rest upon Christian's.
"No," he said gently, "It is not your time to go, Christian. How do you think your mother and I should feel if we were to have both of our sons leave our house on the very same day? Very low, I would think. Besides, someone must remain here and look after things while I am gone to take Andrew to school. I was hoping that it would be you."
"Truly?" Christian's nose came to press against his father's, then he pulled away in wonder. "You would want me to look after mama and my sisters-and Pemberley?"
"Yes," the father grinned at his son's revelation.
"And I could see callers, and give instructions to your steward?"
Darcy sat back in his chair, grinning still. "Let us not go too far with it, Christian."
The boy giggled, for he had not really thought this was to be the situation. "Then I shall do it, papa-since you need it from me so very much."
"Good," replied Darcy, "although if you continue to apply yourself to your studies-perhaps then you might be considered to go upon the next year."
This was more than acceptable to Christian, and he sat back in his father's honored chair and nodded happily. His smile lasted only another moment before he was to ask in all seriousness, "Why did they laugh at me-at the supper table?"
Darcy pondered an answer for a time, for the more his children posed such questions, the more it disturbed him that he lacked the answers. He extended his own question, "Brit Hart, and Mr. Bingley?" Christian nodded in the affirmative.
"They did not laugh at you, Christian-but they were laughing at the memories of themselves when young. Every young man since the beginning has been made to feel slighted over the indifference of a girl."
"Why do they do it?" the flustered boy asked.
"I do not know," Darcy replied, his cheeks reddened as well, as he was caught up in it all. "Some of them are fickle I suppose-some of them-but not all."
"Is it so, that you have felt it?"
"Well, yes," Darcy's face became hotter at his recollections of just such a sensibility. "I have liked a girl or two who did not feel the same about me. You can not make everyone like you all of the time-however much you try." It was odd how discomforted Darcy felt at present. "Then there are those instances when it does not take another fellow to drive away a girl's regard-those are the times when it can be accomplished all on your own."
"I hope not," Christian gasped.
"Yes-well," Darcy stuttered, then let the disconcerting theme go. "At any rate, it is not worth your regret, nor is it worth wishing ill upon your brother, if that is the case."
"Here you both are," Elizabeth interrupted the conversation of her husband and son. "Christian dear, the other children are making ready for bed. It is time for you to do so as well."
Christian did grumble a bit, for it was indeed difficult to go from child to man in the span of one enlightened evening. Upon further thought he stood up, handed the book to his father, and kissed Darcy's cheek, saying in a very principled manner, "Good night, father."
When the boy had gone, Darcy asked, "Where is everyone?"
"The Harts have taken home their children, and everyone else is for bed."
"That is the advantage of a holiday," Darcy proclaimed, "for your guests may find the excuse of retiring early when traveling to your house, and you may in turn use such a pretense to your benefit when traveling to theirs."
Elizabeth grinned, yet more in puzzlement of her son's behavior. "What is it this evening-Christian hiding himself from all the others and calling you father so formally?" Darcy handed her the book. "William Blake!" she exclaimed. "Good heavens! Speaking of the songs of innocence-is this what becomes of our dear Christian?"
Darcy shrugged, "I find that very little amazes me anymore-between the four of them."
Elizabeth sat down in the chair that Christian had occupied. She teased Darcy playfully, "They were easier when infants. But really-what is the matter with him?"
"It is complicated."
"Do try me."
"Well," Darcy sighed, "first off he feels slighted that all of a sudden Alice seems to prefer Andrew over him. It seems to have something to do with Andrew going off to school and Christian not-for some females are very fickle you know."
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth reproached him.
Darcy grinned momentarily, then went back to his sober mien. "I have not an inkling what to do about any of their predicaments, Elizabeth-Andrew, Hannah, or Christian. Prudence I find easier still, for all I have to do to cheer her is to toss her on the sofa. I do not know what to say nor do to comfort them and if I think that I do-most times I come up wrong. When I was a child I thought that there was nothing my father did not know for certain. Is it that he truly did know the answers, or is it that he contrived them-exactly like I find myself doing of late?"
"I do not know," Elizabeth tried not to find too much folly in Darcy's dilemma.
Darcy sighed wearily; "There are times that I wish the spirit of my father would whisper the solutions into my ear. Would that not be of great assistance? But then, for all I know, perhaps that he does. They simply do not sound as convincing coming from my mouth as they did from his."
As Darcy admitted that he had no answers for his children, Elizabeth in turn had not the right answers for him. She simply sat and listened to what her husband said, and found that in this instance, her duty was to agree with him. Darcy was at times prone to dwell upon his recollections. He found that even though some bygone memories had woefully been incomplete, it helped to ease his troubles, and Elizabeth found that it helped her to know him better.
"I was a little older than Andrew and Hannah when my mother died," he said. "I believe that was the first instance when I had found my father to be erroneous. Here was the thing, you see, for this was something that Mr. Darcy could do nothing about. If I had a choice, I should wish that my children thought of me..." his voice trailed off to nothing without the civility of completing his intention.
"They do, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth assured him most tenderly. "How could they not, for even I think of you in such a vein."
"Do you?" his eyes brightened at the question, and hers did twinkle with the answer. "I promise to be civil tomorrow-in the presence of those boys."
Elizabeth smiled happily. "I trust you, Mr. Darcy."
Darcy sat forward in his chair to be nearer to Elizabeth, as she did the same, for here was to be found a man of truth, and no fickle woman. His lips brushed against hers and his hand grazed the candor of her cheek, as hers did find a place upon the strength of his shoulder.
Hannah did come silently around the corner of the library, barefoot and already in her nightdress. Her hair was done up in plaits, held in place by strips of rags so as to make curls about her face in the morning when the maid would do up her hair. She was far too eager at the prospect of the party on the morrow to sleep and she wished to inquire of her mother, whether or not everyone had replied with favor to her invitations.
She stopped abruptly upon witnessing the show of affection between her parents. It was not unusual for them to bestow warmth upon one another before the eyes of their children, yet this was different to Hannah, for she had never seen such an impassioned display as this. She was fully aware that what she was doing was an intrusion upon their privacy, yet she could not take her eyes away, or catch a breath for the fascination of it.
At once her young ideals of bliss filled with substance, for the way in which her father touched her mother's face, as if he handled the most delicate object of glass, was to Hannah a gesture to be esteemed. Her mother did return his devotion with kisses more expressive than a young girl's fancy could have ever contrived, and together two people created the most flawless portrait of what love should be.
Hannah could not interrupt it, and she silently backed away toward the door. Before she left the room however, she turned around to once again take a look. The broad smile of an impressionable young girl betrayed her conscience, as she was convinced that no one's parents had ever loved each other more.
Continued in Part 3
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