Chapter XI -- So Like Her Mother
Elizabeth happened to awake the very next morning to an urgent pounding in her brain, although to her utter astonishment the noise did come from the hallway outside of the bedchamber and not from deep within her sleep benumbed mind. It was dark in the room, yet as she slid her body from beneath the warmth of the bedcovers to investigate, she did give a furtive glance toward the mantle clock to see that it was fast approaching dawn.
A quick rap resounded once again upon the door, startling her in the intense soundlessness of morning, and Elizabeth hastened to turn and look toward the bed to be assured that her husband was still peacefully sleeping. Elizabeth was positive that this was to be a long and trying day, and perhaps even more of a burden on Darcy's countenance than on anyone else in the house.
It was best not to wake him thusly, she thought--to begin his day in a manner in which he was sorely unaccustomed. It would be best not to subject the poor man to more people within his house than he had ever been easy with, not to mention lay him open to the raptures of a daughter who was growing up far faster than his own feelings could allow. Indeed this whole affair was to be an audition of Darcy's forbearance, and Elizabeth had no desire to put him to such a test before first light of day.
Disquieted by another rap, she whispered sharply, "Yes, yes," then turned on her bare heels and hurriedly unlatched the door.
"Lizzy!" came forth a nervous, matronly voice, and at once Elizabeth's mind was hurled back to the days of residing in her father's tumultuous house. "Lizzy, what do you do dawdling in bed when there is much to be done?" Mrs. Bennet inquired, standing before her daughter, wearing an overly ruffled nightgown, her hair wound up tight in pin curls and tucked beneath a droopy house cap.
"Mama..." Elizabeth began to protest, until she caught sight of her own daughter in the command of Mrs. Bennet and her brows furrowed in perplexity. "Hannah, dear--pray, why are you out of bed so early?"
Hannah shrugged her youthful shoulders in wonder and made an effort to answer her mother until her grandmother gave a little tug upon the nape of the girl's own nightgown, drawing her back to attention. Elizabeth's eyes widened, and she wisely stepped into the great hallway and closed the door to the bedchamber behind her.
"Mama, truly it is not yet a fit hour for the crow of the morning cock, let alone a time for entertaining thoughts of doing one's hair," Elizabeth dissented once again.
Mrs. Bennet appeared incredulous at best. "I shall not have my granddaughter looking common on the day of her first presentation into society, Mrs. Darcy--I shall not! These are particulars that every mother must pay great attention to! Just look at her--her hair is a tangle of cloths and knots--wisps of it in every which direction. Were it all neat and tidy beneath a muslin bonnet--like her sweet, respectable cousins--those dear girls of your own sister, Mrs. Bingley."
Hannah's eyes rolled in her darling face at such a comparison by her own flesh and blood and she uttered a whimper while trying to steady her awkward legs beneath her as Mrs. Bennet pushed and pulled her back and forth during the absent minded lecture. Elizabeth was incensed, for how could anyone find a blemish in the character of such a naîve and artless girl of twelve.
"Mother!" she interrupted, not wanting to suffer through idle and empty-headed observations any longer, and not wanting Hannah to think ill of herself, on this her day of days. Elizabeth drew Hannah away, wrapped her arms about the girl and gave her a doting kiss. "Hannah is sweet and respectable, to be sure--and very beautiful!"
"Oh, such darling girls--I do declare it," Mrs. Bennet persisted, with very little regard for the feelings of Elizabeth and her daughter, "so fair, so pretty--so well behaved--what figures of great elegance they shall be when of eligible age. Neither one of them ever soils their frock or musses a hair out of place." Mrs. Bennet waved her hands in front of a mortified Elizabeth and Hannah to stress her point, "I would be willing to wager that those girls shall have no trouble finding a husband--no trouble at all. They are very nearly perfect--I do declare it."
"I hardly think madam," Darcy's booming voice from behind caused Elizabeth and her daughter to jump on the spot, "that such a girl will have difficulty enticing a husband."
"Oh my dear," Elizabeth sighed out, looking up at the man who was her own consort, "you gave us quite a fright."
"I am sure," Darcy grimaced in the direction of his mother-in-law. The charitable father reached a hand to his daughter's delicate chin and gave her a smile and nod of support. "Hannah possesses more beauty than most girls," he declared with great authority, "for her elegance shows forth from within as well as what can be seen from the surface. Not to mention the small fact--in which you have always greatly concerned yourself, madam--that when Hannah is so eligible, as you put it, she will have at her offering well over forty thousand pounds."
Mrs. Bennet fell dumb--something she did quite often in the presence of Mr. Darcy. In the years that her daughter had been married to the man, Mrs. Bennet had never quite warmed to his austerity.
"Furthermore," Darcy continued, "more is the pity that a child cannot feel free to muss up their clothing on occasion." He looked back down at his daughter, feeling pleased by the exhibition of her broad and beholden grin. "A puddle of mud in a pleasant grove of trees must have some virtue in life--if only to keep a daughter from wanting to leave her father's house too soon. Is there any better reason not to allow it?"
"Mud!" Mrs. Bennet cried out in abhorrence.
"Hannah," Darcy said steadfastly, "go back to your bed dearest--and might I suggest, Mrs. Bennet, that you do the same."
With a fleeting catch of her breath, and a quick curtsey, Elizabeth's mother did as the Master of Pemberley suggested and scurried off to her chambers, no doubt with the thoughts of the excellence of the Bingley girls still clattering about in her brain. Hannah headed back toward her room, the wayward wisps of her hair still wafting round her beaming face, as this time, she was quite indebted for her father's interference.
Elizabeth stepped back into the bedchamber once Hannah was surely inside of hers, and Darcy let the door go behind them, having very little concern for the distinct thud that it made. "Good god," he grumbled through a pout of indignation, "has that woman no interest in decency? Has she not a care for the feelings of a young girl, or the regard and gracious hospitality of her mother and father?"
"I do not think how it came out, was exactly how it was intended, sir," Elizabeth tried her hand at peacemaker.
"One has to wonder, Elizabeth," Darcy pondered the intentions of his mother-in-law, and then fixed his attitude to fit his spiteful spirit. He repeated in repugnance, "Those girls are very nearly perfect, indeed..."
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth sighed as she followed him back through the sitting area into the bedchamber.
"Do not mistake me, my love," Darcy said, throwing back the draperies to expose first light through a window, and thus in Elizabeth's estimation, having no intention of going back to bed. "The children of my friend and your sister are very likable girls it is true, but I must say that I favor my own issue to those of anyone else. It is the only natural thing to do, by god. For their grandmother to more or less find fault with the one and not with the others ...well...well..."
Elizabeth crept up behind Darcy, as he glared persistently out of the window at the creep of the morning fog across the verdant countryside of his land. She slipped her arms about him and laid her head upon his back in a gentle-hearted embrace.
"It is simply unconscionable," he finally lamented.
"But not unexpected," Elizabeth replied. "My mother has always favored Jane over any of us girls--except perhaps for Lydia."
To this statement, Darcy could only muster a snort of repugnance, although Elizabeth was sure that his fine sense of respectability prevented him from proclaiming that, which in almost fourteen years, he longed ever so much to say on the subject. Elizabeth moved to his side though she never let go of her calming hold on him, and she too looked out into the dawn.
"She was trying to help, my love. In her own way that is," Elizabeth whispered with a grin in acknowledgement of Darcy's dubious silence.
"Dearest Elizabeth," Darcy retorted impertinently, "you shall never know how relieved I am that you are nothing like your mother."
By ten o'clock that morning the sun had burned off the mist in the crested valleys, and the day surrounding Pemberley was to be magnificent. The halls within the house itself were already in such a bustling state with servants and houseguests that Darcy was compelled to affect an escape out of doors. It had been years since he had done it, but he pocketed the key to the locked doorway to the portico, and used it to let himself out onto the formidable colonnade. From here could be seen the vast expanse of the lawn, the banks of the lake where blue pike and tench were know to spawn, and the natural grandeur of the woodlands beyond.
It was a peaceful sight in the summertime--as if it begged an artist to capture it on canvas. Darcy was partial to paintings of the times, of pacific landscapes marred only by a solitary figure and perhaps a curious dog or two. Gone were the days of the grand house party, the constant stream of humanity traipsing in and out of one's domicile, and neither was such a scene captured any longer for posterity, and this to Darcy was a good thing.
Darcy was especially fond of the panorama from the portico, and the fact that one could conceal themselves behind the impressive columns and go virtually unobserved made it all the more agreeable. No one would think of looking for the Master of Pemberley out on the solitary terrace. Darcy leaned his adamantine body against the similarity of a Palladian column and if he glanced down he could see people busying themselves about the lawns, setting up tables, lavishly serviced for an outdoor affair.
They brought on stark white tablecloths and glimmering place settings of silver, trays of fruit, and cold meats and cheese piled up high, and sweets the likes of which existed only in a child's fondest dreams, and at once the Master's serene vista metamorphosed into an expanse of elite fellowship. When he could bear to look no more, Darcy glanced to his side to view the road leading to the house, already inundated with a steady convoy of carriages carrying those guests who had been so fastidiously invited to this foray.
Hannah had done herself proud, and if it was her intention not to pass slight upon anyone, Darcy reckoned that there was not a soul for miles that she had missed. Of course, he calculated that not a one of the local populace had refused her generosity. Rarely was the neighborhood summoned to Pemberley, and if Darcy knew anything of human nature, he was positive that the innate curiosity of his neighbors for just such an occasion was not to be pass on. The children would come to meet the young Darcy girl, and their parents would come as chaperones, and to have a good look at what they seldom were allowed to see--that splendor known to all of Derbyshire as the grand Estate of Pemberley.
Mr. Sellers rapped on the glass of the doorway, and Darcy turned about to see the man motioning him to come inside. Darcy stepped through the portal, and then he turned and made sure to lock the doors once again, afterward pocketing the key in the security of his waistcoat.
"Mrs. Darcy looks for you, sir," Mr. Sellers informed the Master.
The creases around Mr. Darcy's eyes deepened, and the dimples in his cheeks appeared upon the display of his diversion. "And I am sure she was not to find me out there--was she, Sellers?" he made the inquiry.
Mr. Sellers grinned at the Master's succinct predilection. "No, sir."
"Then it is our secret to keep--eh, man?"
"As you wish, sir," the man condescended, then added, "Mrs. Darcy is on the lower level, near the carriage entrance."
Darcy nodded, a good-natured smile for once this morning gracing his face, and he left Mr. Sellers in search of his wife. He wondered what it was that Elizabeth had summoned him for, and then he realized his obligation of having to greet each and every advancing guest. Such was the tedium and peril of a grand house party.
He had no sooner reached the lower levels of his house than Darcy heard a thunderous noise upon the slick-waxed wood of the flooring, accompanied by the shrill sounds that could only be derived in his estimation by euphoric children. He had no other recourse than to quickly back up against the wall and let the bevy of youngsters rush by him, and when he finally recognized one of them as his own, bringing up the rear of the mischievous battalion, he reached out a hand and grasped the collar of a newly tailored blue coat.
"Christian," he said, eyes wide and unbelieving; "You look done in from such a run, boy."
"Yes, papa!" the boy was desperate to catch his breath.
"Do tell me at once what this is about."
"I cannot seem to contain them, papa. Mama told me to be sure to take the children outside, but every time that I have them near to a door, they veer off in the opposite direction! I am, after all, only one man against the likes of all of them!"
"Did I see Prudence in the midst of them?" Darcy queried crossly.
Christian shrugged, "'Tis possible, sir...'tis highly possible."
"Good god," was all that Darcy could manage to say in his shock. He thought to himself for a moment, a look to his eyes as if he knew he must formulate a strategy, then to Christian's disappointment he whispered, "How shall we get them out?"
"That indeed is a poser," replied Christian, and then followed up his disrespectful rejoinder with the strict appellation of "sir."
"Where is your brother?"
To this question, Christian retorted quite dourly, "With Alice, I imagine."
"This is not an opportune moment for your brother to be making time with that girl!"
"Darcy!" a familiar voice resounded from down the hallway and a harried Brit Hart appeared before the man and his son. There was a small child tucked precariously under each of his arms, one facing this way, and the other facing that way. Darcy recognized the face of the one as being his nephew, Brit Hart's own, and he hurried around his brother-in-law to have a look at the other.
The other boy was red-haired, with freckles on the bridge of his nose, and to Darcy's knowledge the child was not any relation, Darcy or Hart, that he had ever been privileged to see. "Who pray tell is this?" he asked after a moment's study.
Brit Hart reaffirmed his grip on the wriggling tots. "I have not a clue, Darcy--not a clue, but I hoisted him up for fear that he would be trodden flat by the lot of them!"
Darcy rolled his eyes round at the mere thought of such a thing, yet he had never known Ethan Bristoe-Hart to tell a lie--a grand tale perhaps, but never a lie. He took another look at the children; both of them writhing and fussing, and kicking their little legs in their attempts to be let down to join the frenzy.
"Is this not what their parents come for?" Darcy questioned. "I thought that their parents would keep an eye on them?"
"I should not bet on it!" Brit Hart replied incredulously.
"Well man," Darcy grimaced, "let us make haste and encourage these tikes to take this up out of doors. Quickly, before the time-honored walls of this place crumble down around us!"
"I would assist you if I could, Darcy--but I am finding it difficult to keep tabs on me own progeny, let alone any of the strays."
"Oh, very well," the Master of the manor grumbled.
Brit Hart set down the two stubby-legged toddlers and they ran off in the direction of the rest of the pack of children. The poor man took in a consoling breath and gave a tug on his waistcoat to straighten it before anyone else could catch him in such a disheveled state of bearing.
"Mind you go in the same direction as the others!" he called out after the tots, although no one with any sense would believe that they would heed a word that he said.
Ethan Bristoe-Hart and Misters Darcy, junior and senior, watched after the two darlings, and yet in the distance could be heard the rumbling sounds of the stampede headed straight again for the youngsters. Brit Hart shouted out some unintelligible decree, and then took off at an all out run, to scoop each boy back up into his strong and sheltering arms, holding them up high as the rest of the rabble ran beneath them.
"Very well then, Christian," Darcy seethed, "we shall do this ourselves--much in the manner of good shepherds, I think. You go that way son, and I shall come round here, and perhaps we can drive the flock of them outside, where all things being relative, they can do far less damage."
Together, father and son combed the hallways on the prowl, and with each frenzied pass of the juvenile assembly by them, Darcy could almost hear a blaring rendition of the Huntsman's Chorus fervently performed by His Majesty's drum and bugle corps. Darcy caught a glimpse of Christian, sliding along the slick floor behind the throng, and then with a fleeting bellow for lack of anything solid to hold him back, the boy disappeared behind walls of the stilling room.
"Are you all right son?" Darcy shouted, although the sight of Christian's now lanky and clumsy body reminded Darcy of himself, when young, and he had to chuckle.
"Yes," Christian groaned. "Look sharp, papa--they are coming your way!"
Darcy stood his ground, smack in the middle of the hallway. When the group of children saw his imposing figure, hands upon his hips and face drawn up with clear, concise meaning, they came to a screeching halt and forty or so little eyes widened, and twenty little mouths gaped open in dread.
"Outside, this instant!" the Master of the house pointed a looming finger toward the doors, and the gallery before him turned about and retreated at a gallop.
It took Darcy a moment to gather his wits back into their respectable places. When Christian poked his head from around the corner from whence he was last seen, the father laughed at the sight of him.
"Incredible," Darcy said, and Christian laughed aloud at the thrill of such a chase.
Elizabeth stood at the carriage steps, waiting for Hannah, and her face brightened upon sight of her husband and son when they finally determined it safe to come outside. "Did you manage to get those children out of the house?" she asked.
"Not without a fight," Darcy confessed.
She giggled at Darcy's pert reply, and at the put-upon look on Christian's face. "Very good work, men--I knew that you could do it. But where has Andrew been during it all?"
"Out making time with Alice, no doubt!" Christian grew tired of answering the question, over and over, and over again.
"Christian Darcy!" Elizabeth gave ready censure. "You be mindful of your manners, young man. Tell me where you would learn such a vulgar phrase?"
Christian glanced toward his black leather shoes, much in the same uncomfortable manner as his esteemed father did, yet Darcy did look up at the boy with a mischievous grin to conceal, when Christian cautiously replied, "I cannot now remember, ma'am."
"Can you not?" Elizabeth was unwilling to let the iniquitous deed pass.
Darcy was quick to return the boy's good favor, giving him a little shove toward the large party on the lawn, saying, "Well then, waste no more time and go and find your brother."
Elizabeth's lips drew up into a disparaging pout. "They are learning far too many ill habits, those boys. I cannot image where they could hear these things."
Darcy grimaced readily and replied, "Nor can I."
With her hands steadily on her hips, Elizabeth turned about to look down the hallway of the house, and when Darcy felt it safe to once again look his wife in the eye, he saw that her attention now shown in generous approval. "Oh Hannah," Elizabeth sighed at the image of her daughter.
Hannah stepped out onto the terrace, and what Darcy saw that moment struck him dumb--completely mute. Hannah's lithe figure was simply matchless to any girl among her acquaintance, in her frock of white muslin. Her dark curls were pinned up upon her head and a comb with fresh white rosebuds held them in place. Her cheeks were pinked in a natural blush of modesty, and her smile could not have been more genuine. Her dark and earnest eyes looked upward for approval from those she loved--and she looked quite like an angel sent from heaven.
Everyone in her presence admired her greatly at that moment, for girls caught a glimpse of her and rushed to her side with compliments. Her mother and her aunts approved wholeheartedly. Her grandmother was beside herself with glee, and even Hannah's brothers were astonished at such a change.
Gone were the wisps of hair that always flowed about Hannah's face, causing her to sweep them away with her delicate hand. Gone were the long locks of hair, gathered behind her with a bow--the sure mark of youth. There were no drooping stockings about her ankles, no greenish stains on the hems of her skirts from tumbling in the grass, and not a lord or lady was clutched with pride within her palms. Gone was little Hannah Darcy, and her father was the only one who had cause to frown at the sight of it, for gone was Mr. Darcy's little girl.
Chapter XII -- That Which Breaks a Heart
It is a sorrowful day when a mother comprehends that her sweet baby is no longer dependent upon the nurturing and caring of her loving hands. A good mother is always aware of every little particular in her children throughout their lifetime and she bears each of their accomplishments and each of their failings with courage and dignity, and with little lament for feelings of her own. Her mind is chary on the subject of letting her children go their own way; yet she knows that she must.
By the bye, a father rarely feels the affects of any of this, for he oftentimes hears only that which is good, and is most times kindly spared the unfavorable. True, a father seldom perceives the alterations of his children, until that day when he is made to take a good look at them and the change is an unforeseen astonishment; and unlike his mate, he is apt to bemoan it. Fitzwilliam Darcy could barely conceive of the sight of the young lady standing before him, for had his wife not called out the beloved name of Hannah, he would never have settled it that she was his dear daughter.
Seldom had there been a time in his life when Darcy had truly been struck mute, save perhaps for those arbitrary discomforts while dancing in a crowded ballroom, partnered with a beautiful and intractable woman. He rarely ever allowed such lapses of reason to dull his mind, for that was the thing that could break the soul of a man--yet he had known such weakness--at least once, when he had happened to fall in love. Now he was in danger of losing his good sense to it once again. Every sort of love, whether that of suitor, husband, or father, could make a man do novel things against the grain of his character, and the proud Mr. Darcy was no exception.
Hannah's small and delicate voice asked eagerly. "What do you think of me, papa?"
Darcy shook the cobwebs of presumption from deep within his brain. In his reluctance to admit that Hannah's appearance was indeed quite extraordinary, he merely managed to purse his lips and utter a noticeable harrumph from the base of his throat.
"Is she not lovely, my dear?" Elizabeth cajoled him for her daughter's sake, yet Darcy rashly turned his attention to his wife and stared at her as if she spoke in a language quite foreign to him.
"I think you look very fine, Hannah," Andrew gave his comment, a compassionate moment for a sibling overcoming him; and Christian nodded in deferred agreement, more like his father than either of them would care to admit.
Hannah grinned coyly and dipped an appreciative curtsey, "Thank you. I am very happy that you approve."
"Approve we do!" Mrs. Bennet interrupted with a clap of her hands before her. "So agreeable, so fine--a rendering of beauty you are my dear! I knew how it would be, if only we did something with your hair!"
At once Darcy was made to glare at his mother-in-law, wearied of her capriciousness. He gripped his own hands behind his back, a posture he always executed when he was uncertain and cross, and he appeared more annoyed with the state of affairs at present than by any means pleased. Those who knew him intimately were conscious of his unspoken turn of phrase, and his wife, upon seeing it, began to detect his taciturn feelings.
"It is true that you look very agreeable, my little love," Darcy finally spoke to Hannah, his familiar endearment for her embellish by the odd inflection to his tone. "You are deserving of much praise, even if you appear quite mature for just twelve years of age."
Hannah's overjoyed face shown bright in her well-earned triumph, for all she had ever really desired, first and foremost, was to be deserving of her father's respect. Because of her innocence in all things of a paternal nature however, she did not comprehend Darcy's point, although Elizabeth certainly did. Hannah indulged in her genteel smile as her cousins, the Bingley girls, preened over her frock and cooed at the flowers in her hair. Her mother then told her that they must stand by the statuary urns and vine trellises at the entrance to the main garden, to greet the arriving guests.
Hannah moved away, and so did the assembly gathered around her, leaving Elizabeth and Darcy standing quite removed. To Elizabeth, Darcy did not appear any more comforted by his daughter's delight in his half-hearted approval, and Elizabeth sighed out with a wife's tolerance, hoping that her husband was not to cause Hannah any discomfort by his churlishness.
"Are you to greet your neighbors Mr. Darcy?" she nudged her husband as his eye was fixed on his daughter in the center of the disappearing gathering.
"Am I to what?" he asked brusquely, uncommonly humiliated at being caught unaware.
"Your neighbors, sir," Elizabeth carefully slipped her arm through his, "come and greet your neighbors."
Darcy was simply in no position to argue with what he had been instructed to do, and he walked with his wife into the garden, his dark eyes fleetingly devoid of that monumental purpose of life. He managed to exchange a few pleasantries with the local folk as he stood on the left side of his daughter, her mother on her right, in a sort of line of reception. He found after a time that all the while he played the gentleman of hospitality that he had been contemplating nothing more artful within his brain than retreating to the solitude of the portico for a chance to think this all through. He quite forgot about the drama that he had been dreading, for the Leyton boys had been lost from his recollection.
Another faceless person went through the line, and Darcy bowed or shook a hand faithfully, until the party standing before him, jarred his indifferent opinions. His back stiffened and the line of his jaw tightened in a masculine flaunt of territorial boundary.
"Leyton," Darcy tipped his chin.
"Darcy," Robert Leyton was of a mind to do much the same.
Elizabeth dared not flinch as she watched the two gentlemen, eye-to-eye and toe-to-toe, weigh the other's consequence by the now inimical silence and stares between them. Hannah looked on with great concern also, that her father might forget his proper Darcy manners and cause her great embarrassment, until she caught the eye of Master Daniel Leyton standing by his father's side, and she blushed at the ardor of his own stare, then quickly looked away.
"It has been some time since I have been to Pemberley house," Robert Leyton proclaimed, as almost everyone present held his or her breath. "The grounds are as splendid as ever, Darcy. You are to be commended as a fine example of good taste to all in our neighborhood."
Now it was done; the first step had been made in favor of neighborly concord. Darcy pinched a smile, nearly persuaded of some sincerity on the part of his boyhood nemesis, but then he set aside what little congeniality he had managed to exhibit thus far and he grimaced toward Leyton's sons.
The boys looked up at Hannah's father, and any bystander could certainly see the singular reverence in their eyes. Darcy was not so sure who had been responsible for instilling such veneration into their little souls, had it been he with his threat of buckshot, or their own father with a vow of something equally as palpable should they happen to fall short of civility.
"There will be no trouble here, Darcy--at least no trouble brought on by my boys," Robert Leyton pledged.
Darcy let a slow and deep sigh escape from within his chest, the consequence of years of tension and discord. "Very well, I shall take you at your good word, sir," he vouchsafed, then added, "and I welcome you and your family to Pemberley."
As Fitzwilliam Darcy spoke those cordial words, his daughter giggled in release, once again holding him in the highest esteem her heart could bestow. At that moment, to Hannah, her father could not have been taller, more striking, or finer for a gentleman had he been king of all England. Mrs. Leyton greeted Elizabeth ever so kindly, and Elizabeth laughed out merrily, relieving her own distress as she began to feel as if a community rift, long unresolved, could possibly be on the mend.
The day was indeed merry, and Hannah did have the time of her young life. For once a first-born daughter was the center of all things, even if she was not her father's heir. She came to know the children of the neighborhood better, and in turn, the girl who lived in the prosperous grand manor near Lambton was not such a curiosity to them. That day she came to be known as an artless young girl who was a natural born beauty, as her father had often claimed.
Darcy did get over his shock at her appearance, somewhat--yet he still thought it foolish for her to want to be grown so quickly, and he thought it imprudent on his wife's part to have indulged the girl's fancies so willingly. He was relieved that Hannah was inclined to play the games of children still, watching her laugh with delight at a youngster's pastime of tag. Yet Darcy had noticed her whispering and giggling covertly with her giddy cousins, their coy attentions aimed in the direction of that lad whom Hannah so admired, the whole affair of which Darcy let needle under his skin much like an unwelcome sliver of wood.
The children played together on the green behind the house, beneath the pleasant sunny sky, and their parents strolled the grounds, examining Mr. Darcy's stately wood, or they struck up agreeable conversations with others near to the refreshment tables, out of the sun under a canvas canopy. Elizabeth and the cook had seen to it that there were edible delights of every kind, for child and adult alike. Cakes abounded by the dozens, plum, gingerbread, almond, lemon, and seeded tunbridge. There were sponge biscuits and candied fruits, such as apricot and pear, to satisfy the sweetest tooth; and meats and breads for those not so easily won over by the enticements of cast sugar.
Darcy partook of none of these pleasures, for he was quite engaged, vigilantly pacing near to where the children played, yet far enough removed that they should not be made to note his interference. He had not touched a bite of the bountifully laid out fare, nor had he any interest even for the manly pursuits of profound dialogue with his friends, pertaining to politics, sport, business, or the like, while quaffing down his fine wine.
As Darcy did tread a worn path about the lawns, his hands still firmly clasped behind the tails of his newly tailored promenade coat, he happened to see Prudence playing amongst the younger siblings of Hannah's friends. She was a sprite of a thing, he thought; for the pint-sized youngster kept her own amongst the fray of childhood games and her lively spirit could never be subdued even if the older children happened to pay her no heed.
Prudence made her father realize his age at times, as she never seemed to tire of running circles around him, then taking an all so brief moment to cast a furtive glance his way to see if he were to allow her mischief to continue. Indeed one could perceive that Prudence was the last of Mr. Darcy's children, for more often than not he let her impishness pass without so much as a scolding. Yet Darcy loved her dearly, for although she ran him ragged and tested his patience beyond that of his other children put together, her antics were the source of his laughter as well. He was convinced however that one day sweet Prudence and her determination would test him sorely, and far faster than Hannah would have ever dreamed of doing.
Darcy kept his eye on the Leyton boys throughout the afternoon, yet he never noticed any incivility on their part, in fact they behaved themselves quite like gentlemen. Darcy was more perplexed by their conduct than he was astonished by it, and he could not really say that their newfound excellence did not give him cause for some disappointment.
He had thought it to be a good lesson to Hannah that she should see for herself the consequences of their waywardness. If they had disgraced themselves at her party, then she would surely be done with them, and Darcy would have reason to suffer no more of her fondness for a certain boy. True, this was genuinely underhanded on his part, but far be it from him not to take comfort in the possibility of their downfall, if it happened to be offered up through no fault of his own.
"I brought you a glass of wine, and a plate of sandwiches should your stamina for pacing be depleted while keeping such a steadfast vigil," Elizabeth startled Darcy's reverie.
"One must mind the castle, dearest," he replied with a reckless grin to equal her well-intended impertinence, "during these difficult invasions."
Elizabeth grinned in consideration, as Darcy claimed an inviting sandwich from the plate she held out to him. "Can you not let down your guard for a moment to walk with me by the lake, Mr. Darcy?" she teased him with the glint in her eyes. "I am desirous of your good company--and this is a party, sir."
Darcy cast another cautious glance over his shoulder at the throng of children, before he committed to an answer. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, and the children did appear to be having a fine time of it.
"Very well, my dear," he consented to Elizabeth's request, and he motioned for her to lead the way, and then with a sorcerer's motion he reached over her shoulder to make off with another sandwich before she set aside the plate.
"It has been a splendid day," Elizabeth smiled, as they strolled together. "Hannah seems very well pleased."
"I am glad for it," Darcy replied, once he had swallowed what was left of the sandwich.
They came to a secluded place by the lake, one sheltered by the boughs of willows lightly swaying in a gentle breeze, and like the gentleman that he was known to be, Darcy moved aside the branches for Elizabeth to pass. Mr. and Mrs. Darcy had been to this spot many times, for it offered solitude and comfort from the prying eyes within the house, and in the summers it was shady and cool and quiet.
"Although it has been a fine day," Darcy continued, turning to face his wife pointedly, "it has been nothing like what I had expected when I had agreed to it."
Elizabeth arched a brow, wordlessly awaiting an explanation. She knew his conversation was leading to something, and she was sure by the archness of his voice, that what it was leading to was something she was likely to find most perturbing.
Darcy crossed his arms in front of him, standing with his weight set on one leg, a posture quite condescending, not to mention irritating to his wife. He was silent for a time, looking very astute and calculating, which only succeeded in raising Elizabeth's ire to a maximum.
"I had not thought this to have gotten so out of hand," he chuckled, almost as if he were half ways amused, yet assuredly piqued.
"Out of hand?" Elizabeth retorted with a terse laugh of her own. "How so?"
"Simply take a good look about you, madam. I had not thought us to have so many relatives, by god," he proclaimed with a roll of his eyes in mockery. "I had never been so relieved as I was when your mother did informed me that not all of them were our kin crawled out of the woodwork or somewhere more exotic--like Newcastle."
"Really, Mr. Darcy," Elizabeth huffed to display her displeasure.
"Was that not the promise when this whole thing began?" he reminded her. "A few close relatives, a few friends? Our daughter may be very well pleased, but she is very well spoiled besides, and if you recall the last strife we suffered on the subject, I was the one who endeavored to discourage her from inviting the whole of the neighborhood. I had thought we had come to a right understanding of that, before she was let out of her room--and now I find, Mrs. Darcy, that I was mistaken to think that you and I had been of one mind."
It was all that Elizabeth could do to restrain her noticeable annoyance at her husband's presumptuousness. "Seldom, Mr. Darcy, have we ever been of one mind. I had always considered that truth to be part of the spice of our marriage--for our union has never been dull because of it. It has however been a nuisance when raising our children."
"Indeed it has," Darcy snorted incredulously.
"Can you still not see the purpose of this whole gathering?"
"Not particularly--no. I never have," Darcy chided. "You are at liberty to enlighten me, however."
Elizabeth grimaced at Darcy's manner. "Can you not see that with Andrew leaving for school, Hannah is made to feel overlooked--slighted if you will," she explained. "She is exactly the same age as her brother, yet you seem to think it best that Hannah remain your little girl, while you insist that Andrew find the maturity to be left on his own!"
"He is certainly not to be left on his own," Darcy rolled his eyes once again, hastily finding the ridiculous in Elizabeth's statement and unwittingly changing the subject. Sometimes he wondered where on earth she came by her misguided information. "He shall be with others his age--all looked after properly by a headmaster."
"Yet at such a tender age a boy should be taken from his home and expected to live the life of one who is grown? He should be separated from his friends and family, and everything he has ever known--and expected not to pine for it? How can you be so unmoved and hardhearted about it all?"
Darcy's jaw hung agape at the slings and arrow in which they both flung at one another, and at such unfounded accusations against him. His eyes filled with the spark of fury at the wrongful slander that this wife spoke. "It is an honor," he said incredulously. "It is a duty to follow in your father's footsteps," he seethed, "and I have never made claim that the boy will not long for his home and family, but I shall not be so shameless as to remind him of it, Elizabeth!"
"No," she replied, much in a similar frame of mind. "That would be cruel, would it not--but what of your attitude, sir? You do not seem affected by his leaving us in the slightest! Is that performance part of the duty as well, Mr. Darcy--to hide your feelings from the rest of us?"
Darcy shook his head, feeling a little guilty for his trite gravity; "You simply do not understand the character of a man."
"I suppose I do not--if this is how a man behaves."
"It is not my intentions to hide away my feelings, wife," he said matter-of-factly. "There are times when I think you would accuse me of having none, and we both know that is not true."
Elizabeth did cast her own eyes to the side, not willing to concede to what certainly was true. This made Darcy bite his lower lip in his determination to show her that she did err in her assumptions.
"As much as I did pine for you, when I knew you and could not see you--I shall miss my son when he is not within my sight, but it will be easier for him if we do not show our grief. My parents did not weep for me when I was made to go away, nor did my father's parents of him. As their son I understood what was expected of me."
Elizabeth arched a brow in wonder. "Do you really think that was true? How could your father not feel a loss to see you leave his house? As for your mother--I know exactly how she must have felt and believe me sir, it is a deep sorrow, not easily overcome."
At that moment Darcy smiled, quite astutely, and his manner caught Elizabeth by surprise. Her feelings swayed, for she had been angry and upset, yet she wished to plead with Darcy to show her the way of comfort.
"My father did not feel a loss, because a boy deserves an education," Darcy said confidently. "What my father got in return for his constancy and perseverance as a parent, was a man to carry on his name; and what he did not get by indulging me, was a successor to disappoint him."
Elizabeth was at a loss as she felt her anger subside and turn to doubt. "Is that all there is to it, Fitzwilliam--duty and honor, and expectations?" Elizabeth tried to conceal her disappointment, for she had never held much conviction in laws of primogeniture. Elizabeth was different in her thinking, for to her each and every one of her children deserved the same attention.
"In my family, it has always been so," Darcy replied to her question.
"But I am sure that your father must have missed you greatly."
Darcy wrung his hands together, contemplating the memories of his past. "Whether he did or did not, I do not know--for he never did show it."
For that unfeeling reality, Elizabeth was truly sorry. "Then what of Georgiana?" she questioned hopefully, not wishing her point to be disproved. "She did go to school."
"Yes, after our father was gone," he replied. "Elizabeth," Darcy looked into his wife's aggrieved eyes, pity for her distress replacing his anger. "Elizabeth--what my father wanted for his daughter was for her to know what was necessary to make her life agreeable--always."
"And what, pray, is that?" Elizabeth's voice quivered.
"That she should know what makes a good character--and that she should find it her duty to stand with her husband and that she make it an honor to support him in those things in which he is sure, even when she must bid farewell to a child she loves. This is an allegiance, which can only be taught to you by the love of your parents. I had no choice but to send Georgiana away after our father died. I could not teach her or keep her with me always, but Hannah has the advantage of having her parents, and she shall certainly learn all that is good, and she shall learn it from you."
Elizabeth felt a grief within her heart, not only for her son, but also for herself that she had failed Darcy's expectations of her, as a good and dutiful wife. Her face did twist to prevent her eyes from filling with tears. "When I think of Andrew leaving us--it is far too painful, Fitzwilliam."
"That I do know," he whispered, bending down to kiss her cheek. "And if you find that you cannot bear it, I shall certainly take you to see him--whenever and as often as you wish it."
"Do you remember their first outing--here beneath this tree? Tiny little babies, just a few weeks old and oh so helpless, and we were so happy."
Darcy held his wife's face in the palms of his hands, and he smiled although she could not. "You must let him go, Elizabeth," he said, "just a little and you must make him think that it is what you expect." He sighed, realizing what he was saying should be true for him as well. "If you will help me to see that Hannah is now not such a little girl, then I shall help you to see that what we have done is best for Andrew."
"It is a pact, Mr. Darcy."
"Good," he smiled, and then raised a brow in suspicious query. "I wonder at Hannah's invitation to so many people. She is very much like her mother--happiest when in the company of her friends. I happen to think that perhaps some of our guests are not only here for Hannah's sake, but for sweet Lizzy's as well."
Elizabeth's eyes shown brightly yet tearfully, for Mr. Darcy had never called her that before. "You may not know of your children's tricks, sir--but after so many years you are well aware of those of your wife."
Darcy wanted ever so much to kiss Elizabeth once again, and as he did a single tear rolled from her eye onto his cheek. She laughed at both of their reluctance to see their children grow up, and she brushed the tear on his cheek dry with her fingertips. As they had shared that tear, they had shared the joys and woes of their children, and although it was true that they rarely ever agreed beforehand as to their upbringing, it always seemed to come out right in the end.
To them both, time had gone so swiftly, and it had seemed like only yesterday that the celebrated children of Mr. and Mrs. Darcy had come to make Pemberley such a grand place. Elizabeth closed her eyes as her husband held her near to him, and if she were to lose her children one by one, for whatever reasons were to take them away, she would always be grateful that she would have Darcy to be her strength and to be her reason.
She opened her eyes, and breathed deeply, realizing that they had no doubt been gone from the party for far too long. When she did, she obtained a clear image on the banks of the lake nearest the house, and she did see a tremendous gathering of bodies, enough for quite a raucous.
"Dearest," she whispered near to Darcy's ear, "what do you suppose is happening over there?"
Darcy drew her away; looking perplexed by her question. Elizabeth pointed and he quickly looked over his shoulder then gasped at what he saw. "Good god," he groaned as he began to walk faster and faster near the banks of the lake, leaving Elizabeth to try her best to keep up with him.
"I knew it--I knew it!" he bellowed, then gritted his teeth angrily. "I knew there would be trouble. A promise is a promise when spoken by most people, but it has always been for naught when spoken by a Leyton!"
It was indeed true that the woods and groves surrounding Pemberley had always been remarkable, for they had succeeded in sheltering the wickedness of life from the children of many a generation to have lived there. So it also was for the children of the present master and mistress. The Darcy youngsters were indeed good children, kind and clever like their mother, and honest and forthright as their father, yet they were till now very innocent.
Save for the random acts of tomfoolery by the boys, who lived in the neighboring manor, Mr. Darcy's children rarely if ever had been troubled or made jealous by one other or by those around them. As is true for all children, the more the Darcy children came to know of the world, the more they endeavored to understand it, and the more vulnerable the precious establishment of their beloved home did seem to them.
Darling Hannah had wanted nothing more than to be the jewel that glittered in her parents' eyes, yet she had found in the last few weeks that the opinions of those not necessarily within her family had held some significance to her. She had been enchanted when the boy who had caught her fancy had gazed at her with such a purposeful smile, and his attentions and those of her peers to her on this day had opened her own eyes to a whole new reason for existence.
For once Hannah did not feel as bewildered for being born her father's daughter instead of her father's son. Her feelings however would always remain precarious on the subject, and although this day she had been shown the joys of sociability, there were many troublesome lessons that Hannah had yet to learn.
Hannah and her brother had been at odds over the last weeks. Andrew had always been her constant companion. The two had been very close, as most twins are throughout their young lives, yet as of late Hannah had found something puzzling in Andrew, for he was as scrupulous as his father was when it came to warming to the populace.
In turn Andrew found he did not much care for Hannah's infatuation with the boy next door. To Andrew, Hannah would always be a part of the Darcy line, and therefore she was his responsibility to protect. Proud Andrew's resentfulness and concern over his sister had been diverted however, since flirty little Alice Bingley had come to stay, and Andrew was beginning to see, as his sister had, that good fellowship did have its pleasures.
It was Christian who had been made to feel the brunt of such complicated lessons in life thus far. Neither eldest, nor most proficient, nor the most uncommonly agreeable in his family, Christian struggled to find his place. He had not sought fair Alice's notice, yet when she had turned her attentions toward his elder brother, Christian had felt an enviousness the likes of which he had never known before. In his own way, Christian was dear as he could be in the eyes of his family, and he would find his duty among them, sooner than he could imagine.
Hannah's cheeks glowed against the brilliance of nature as she skipped over the verdant lawns with her friends. She laughed while she maneuvered her willowy figure past the outstretched hands of her brother, as he tried to catch hold of someone at their game of tag. The two came face to face as Andrew grasped his sister's arm, calling out to her that she was to be ╬it'. Hannah giggled and Andrew smiled wide, and the two appeared once again happy to be in the company of one other, and in the society of such a carefree day.
Earlier Hannah had confided in her cousins Megan and Alice, her fondness for Master Daniel Leyton, and the girls had agreed through gales of giggles that he was indeed very handsome. At once, Alice did look upon the boy with admiration, for if he was good enough for her cousin Hannah, then he should surely be good enough for her. At such a tender age, sweet, amiable Alice Bingley did resemble the erratic youth that her father had once been, for she did very easily fall in and out of love.
"Might you have some refreshments with me, Daniel Leyton?" Alice fluttered her pretty lashes without self-consciousness at the boy who ran past her in the game. He stopped and took a good look at her, and his grin grew immense at her notice. The two began to giggle, as young Master Leyton grew quite enamored of Alice.
Christian had been inclined to lurk about the lawns, keeping his watch over all of the excitement. He had seen and heard everything thus far between that neighbor boy and his cousin. Not only did he now believe that Alice possessed very poor judgment in her choice of companions, but he was convinced that Alice did not have much of a sense of honor when it came to the feelings of others.
"You are a fickle thing," Christian said, loud enough for Alice to overhear him as he joined the game and purposely passed by her. "You choose friends as if you would pick out cakes from my mother's silver trays, then toss them away after just one taste!"
Alice turned toward Christian, redness spread across the fair complexion of her cheeks, her hands upon her hips in defiance. "What do I care for your opinion, Christian Darcy?" she proclaimed with her button nose held high in the air.
"You should care a great deal what others think--abominable cousin Alice," he said a mouthful for his years, then mimicked her stance.
The rest of the children took notice of the row brewing between Christian and Alice, and one by one they ceased their game and formed a ring about the two youngsters. Andrew stepped into the center and gave Christian a tug on the coattails.
"What are you doing?" he asked, his eyes widened at the mischief of his brother. "You had best mind yourself, Christian."
"I will not!" Christian replied, the natural glow in his cheeks heightened by his resentment. "Not only have I been replaced, but so have you Andrew--by him!" he pointed toward Daniel Leyton.
"Him--what has he got to do with anything?"
"Christian!" Hannah gasped. "You are shaming us."
Christian exuded his own mortified look. "I shall not let them make simpletons of us all!" he pouted.
"I should think you do not need anyone to help you to do that!" Daniel Leyton snickered and he and his brother and a few of the other children laughed aloud.
Hannah's rosy cheeks paled at the ruination of her fair humor. She anxiously looked about for her father, for she knew that he would know what should be done, but all she could see were the pretty frocks and smart coats of the other children.
"You stay out of this, Daniel Leyton" Andrew seethed. "It would have been better had you not come at all to our house. You are nothing but trouble."
Daniel Leyton and his little brother laughed again, galling Darcy's sons more than ever. "Come with us, Alice," Daniel blurted out hastily. "You would be much happier on the Whitlea Hall side of the hedgerows."
The boy grasped Alice's small hand and gave her a pull and pretty little Alice was obliged to go along side him as he walked in the direction of the grove. She found herself alarmed and she tried to pull away, without much success.
As insulted as he was, Christian ran up beside her and took her by the other hand, and now sweet Alice was the object of such a tug of war between those of Leyton and those of Darcy. Daniel Leyton stopped and Christian held his ground, and poor little Alice was stuck in the middle of the unflagging feud.
"Stop it!" Hannah cried. "Leave her be Daniel Leyton! Leave her be I say!"
"Make him let go, Christian!" wailed Alice. "Make him let go or I shan't ever speak to you again!"
With a dark and spiteful look in his eyes Christian stared at Alice. "You shan't speak to me again?" Christian groused upon hearing the girl's empty threat. "You cannot be bothered with the likes of me, unless I am of use to you."
"You are not a gentleman!" Alice bawled.
"I suppose not--since I have yet to go off to school!" Christian shouted, and he let go of Alice's arm, just at the moment that Daniel Leyton gave her a tug.
Before their very eyes came a spectacle the likes of which no adult or children present shall ever forget. Dear Alice, her condescending little smile, pristine frock, tidy hair, and all else that went along with the package, tumbled into the shallow water of the lake. She made quite a splash for one so petite, and when she surfaced, with reeds and water moss stuck to her drenched locks, she sat nose to snout with a large bright-green water frog. Alice was not in the practice of tolerating such vile, crawling things and she shrieked at the top of her voice, to bristle even the most composed of nerves and wailed for her mother and father.
Darcy and Elizabeth had taken notice of a skirmish from a distance beyond the lake, yet by now so had most everyone else on the grounds. Darcy made his way through the crowd the best he could while trying to remain civil, yet all he could think of as he pushed past coattails and skirts was his dear, sweet daughter and her happiness.
"Hannah!" he shouted over the cries of children's voices. The sound of it all jarred memories of Darcy's own childhood within his brain. He had vivid recollections of good times gone awry, and memories of he and Robert Leyton grappling in quarrel upon the Lambton green were all too clear.
Robert Leyton had heard the shouts of children as well, and from the other side of the crowd, he too pushed his way through. "Daniel!" he called out as he could see his son in the center of the disturbance, and he felt pressed to prevent any mishap, for the sake of his good word, and for the feelings of the young Darcy girl.
Christian's eyes flew open wide as he stared in mortification at Alice. The thought of making a hasty retreat entered his mind, for he had no doubt that like most everything else gone awry, he would be blamed for such a catastrophe. He heard someone laugh from behind him, and he spun about to see Daniel Leyton doubled over with glee. At that moment Christian did feel sorry for Alice, but mostly he felt shameful for his impropriety and for ruining his sister's fine day.
As Daniel Leyton laughed, Christian grew angrier until tears of rage welled in his eyes and he lunged toward the mean-spirited boy. He did not get far, for something held him back, and when the force of his swing twisted him about, his nose brushed against the nap of a familiar looking waistcoat. Darcy held onto him fast, and Brit Hart was fortunate to have the same grasp on Andrew, and young Master Leyton laughed even harder.
"Stop it," a fragile voice spoke out behind the lad, and he turned around to see Hannah and her grief, yet he did not heed her wish. He dared to laugh at her as well, and at her misfortune. "Stop it Daniel Leyton," she breathed out again in exasperation, but to no avail.
Before his father could show Master Leyton the error of his devilish ways, Hannah would serve the purpose. She marched her willowy figure straight up to him, and without so much as another word, her delicate hand clenched in vehemence and the force of her intended blow landed square in Daniel Leyton's middle. The boy was completely caught by surprise, as was everyone else gathered round, and as he lay on the ground, doubled over and whimpering, Hannah's delicate feelings poured out in fervor, "You are never to tease my brothers and sister again!"
Hannah's hands relaxed from the formation of tight little fists, she tilted her determined head back and she swiped her hand across her forehead, moving aside the wisps of hair fallen loose from her struggles. With that motion she seemed to remember the people standing about her, and when her eyes gazed about at all the faces in the crowd she realized exactly what it was that she had done.
She could not move her legs for they seemed frozen to the ground, and neither could she frown or breathe for that matter. Everything that Hannah had ever found undesirable in the behavior of her brothers, and in the conduct of the Leyton boys she had now done herself, and she knew that in as much as she had wanted to be a lady, what she had done guaranteed that she was far from it.
Her gaze settled one by one upon the faces of her beloved family within the gathering of people. She saw fright in the eyes of Prudence, and sadness in those of her mother and her Aunt Georgiana. She could see astonishment in Andrew and Brit Hart, mortification when she looked on the face of her grandmother, a little bit of mirth in the twinkling eyes of her grandfather, and nothing but shame in the countenance of poor Christian.
For all the faces that Hannah had looked on not one had truly moved her, until she happened to see her father. He did not wear a frown or heave a sigh of displeasure as she had seen him do many times. Nor did he appear angry or ready to scold her as he had weeks before. He looked completely calm, yet Hannah was convinced that she had done something of which her father could never be inclined to forgive; and at once she pouted and put her hands up to hide the ill appearance of her own face. Sobbing, she pushed her way through the crowd of people and ran off in the shelter of the trees.
Darcy watched Hannah go, and now he did exhibit some sign of sentiment as he raised one brow in contemplation and nodded his head as if he knew exactly what Hannah was feeling. His palm came to rest beneath Christian's chin and the boy looked up at his father.
"Go into the house," Darcy told his sons as if this were just any other day. "I would say that this amusement is now over--for us all."
Chapter XIV-Out into the World: (Conclusion)
Elizabeth caught the eye of her husband from across the assembly of humanity. The very sight of pity for their daughter, in her mother's eyes, made Darcy wonder what a sensible parent was to do. Of course he knew of Hannah's situation, for upon calling to mind the instance when he had met with his own parents, after brawling with the neighbor boy so many years ago, Darcy could say precisely how he had felt. At the time, it had not been the deed that he had so much lamented, but it had been the very presumption of his parent's humiliation, which had tormented his innocent morality.
The crowd on the lawn began to move away, the children in the direction of the house as they had been told, and most everyone else for their carriages. Charles Bingley managed to fish little Alice out of the lake, still wailing at the height of her lungs, and her parents took her into the house, to condole with her. Christian lagged back, peeping from behind the protection of his father's daunting build. The boy's troubled eyes traveled up an imposing blue day coat to see that his father's stare was fixed crossly upon him.
"I am for my room," Christian declared in a whisper, and Darcy tipped a rigid nod and thus the boy instantly vanished.
Fitzwilliam Darcy did not by chance see his neighbor Robert Leyton again that day and it somewhat amused him to think that with thirty years gone by, things had not changed all that much. Darcy grinned to himself, for he thought that if Pemberley were not his own castle, that he too would have been bent on taking his family and making a hasty retreat. Indeed, in that respect, Darcy believed Robert Leyton to be a wise enough man.
For a time Darcy engaged himself in observing Elizabeth. She nodded cordially and smiled affably as guests came to her with their appreciation for such a fine afternoon, and with their condolences of such an unfortunate rout, all in one breath. Only her husband would have perceived the hint of irritation to her countenance, for he had made her handsome features his private study for some years. To Darcy, Elizabeth was always beautiful; and whether she be happy or melancholy, amused or vexed made no difference to him, for she was accomplished in carrying herself with dignity through every happenstance that her family ever put in place to try her.
When Elizabeth thought that she could bear her neighbor's empathy no longer, she took a fervent look about her, to see the agreeable figure of her husband. He sported a compassionate grin upon his lips, and what looked to Elizabeth to be pride at her illustrious performance was agleam in his dark eyes as he watched her. Everything she did, she did for Darcy's sake for Elizabeth loved him dearly, and she tried her best to model her conduct after his, on behalf of his position. His veneer did make her smile though, for by now she knew the meaning of his expressions, and she knew then that she was not alone in all of this.
"I find that I could use some assistance," she sighed out to him, searching for a little pity directed her way.
Darcy pinched his lips together, confirmation of his sympathy for his poor wife's benefit. "You are correct, my love--I should give you aid in this, but you do such a splendid job on your own that at times I hesitate to interfere."
"What is to be done?" she frowned. "What has become of our dear, sweet Hannah?"
Remarkably enough Darcy grinned as broad as he ever dared do. He did spoil his children, it was true, but he did so in a contrary light than most of his friends were apt to do with their own progeny. He coddled them with his clever reason and good understanding, and although on occasion he chastised them for the defects which he thought may make a difference to them when grown, he praised their accomplishments and their abilities to improve in the very same instance.
"If you are asking my opinion, I would say that our dear, sweet daughter," he let out a humble chuckle, "has quite an unprecedented right hook."
"Fitzwilliam," Elizabeth admonished him, even though she did find his repartee diverting. "You are very jolly, under such circumstances."
"Somehow I find the greatest relief in the knowledge that Hannah can hold her own among the riffraff." Darcy shrugged his shoulders, "What am I to do otherwise, Elizabeth?"
"Perhaps go after her--or shall I do that as well?"
"Oh no," he took in a breath and did his best to temper an incredulous smirk, "allow me. To be sure Elizabeth--I do know how it is you see, for I have formerly done the shameful deed of pummeling a Leyton. It provides a mortal satisfaction to an impudent heart--in a manner of speaking."
"As you say, my dear," she rolled her eyes, "but in such a fashion, and in the presence of so many people--and at her first genuine outing? Hannah did so want to be admired as a lady of good character. Dear me, here lies the difference between boys and girls. This I would have expected from our sons, but not from our..."
"Ah yes, that difference between sons and daughters," Darcy interrupted. "We have been through this before, have we not?"
Elizabeth's lips twisted and Darcy folded his arms across his waistcoat and furrowed his brows. Neither could really blame either sex for the forfeit of their composure, whether it was they or their children, for both husband and wife had been truly vexed by someone, if not each other, before.
"Elizabeth, it is at times such as these which always seem to be the most suitable for family humiliation. Whether it be sons or daughters makes no difference, but to do it in front of an assemblage of ardent admirers and friends--ha, now that I have found, is the objective. One cannot prejudice either a male or female for losing their temper--it is proved that we are all capable of that."
Elizabeth sighed and closed her eyes, at that moment weary of her life's occasional follies and knowing full well that Darcy, in this at least, was correct. "What was it?" she grinned slyly in distant recollection of her own youthful trials, and continued in a visionary whisper, "For what do we live, but to make sport of our neighbors, and laugh at them in our turn?"
Darcy took a step toward the grove of trees, but he turned about abruptly upon overhearing Elizabeth's comment. "I have never before thought of it that way," he grinned again, "but the longer I live such a happy life with you, my lovely Elizabeth--the more wholeheartedly I can see the amusement in it--even in those cases when we are the sport."
Darcy did find Hannah in the grove where the children were fond of playing. She was sitting on the ground, in the midst of the woodland marvels, her white frock conspicuous against the colors of the forest floor even though it was stained in spots with green from the grass, and her stockings were once again drooping loosely about her ankles.
He stopped and stood above her, and she looked up at him, her brown eyes filled with remorse. Her hair had been hastily taken down from its confining pins, again wisps of it flying about in every which direction and teardrops moistened the blush of her youthful cheeks. Once more Hannah was the portrait Mr. Darcy's little girl, and her father found that in his heart he could not be very angry.
"I was about to come home, papa," she sniffled. "You may scold me as you must, and I will take my punishment like a--like a..." she shook her head sorrowfully and breathed out "...Oh, I do not know what."
Darcy did roll his eyes a bit at his daughter's histrionics. "Hannah," he sighed, and knelt down beside her, "I hope that you are never so fearful that you could not come home to us. That is where you will always be loved, right or wrong."
"Even when I have been so naughty?" she asked pointedly.
He smiled patiently, "Trouble or no."
"Oh papa, I have ruined it all!" she hiccuped in her distress. "I shan't ever be trusted--by anyone, and I shall never be a proper lady."
"Nonsense," he grinned a little. "You do not disappoint us, Hannah, and as I have tried to tell you before--these things do take time. You are a good girl, and you will always be admired by your friends for being a delightful young lady," Darcy paused a moment to recollect, "though it is not seemly for a lady to strike those friends when she sees fit to."
"Daniel Leyton is not my friend," she proclaimed. "Friends do not treat others in such a disagreeable manner. Mama was right that he is not a respectable young man--and the only man a girl can truly trust is indeed her papa."
Darcy was taken aback by such a comment, yet he grinned shrewdly at the innocence of it, but replaced the grin with a patriarchal frown when Hannah did again look his way. He sat down upon the ground beside his daughter and sighed deeply.
"While I should now like to think that this is true," he said, "I know that it will not always be. You shall one-day find a man who is trustworthy and true, and you shall care for him like no other."
Hannah lowered her eyes in sadness, for she could hardly believe her father's words as the truth. She wanted to however, and she had hope, for if her father did say it, then it no doubt was true, since she was convinced by now that he indeed did know all things.
Darcy reached out and cradled his daughter's delicate chin in his palm. "You shall find a gentleman--good and true, and it will so happen that he will look across a room at you with starlight in his eyes--and at that moment he will not know what has hit him."
"Papa," Hannah admonished him through her misty eyes.
"Do promise me, my little love?"
Hannah wiped a tear from her cheek with the back of her delicate hand. "What is it that I should promise, papa?"
"That when you do find that gentleman," Darcy grinned, "you will not knock him about with those graceful knuckles--or we shall never come to have you married."
To this Hannah did giggle, and her father was glad to see it. Darcy did not contrive so much pleasure as he did when his children laughed, and the sound of Hannah's delight was worth all of the sport that any of Pemberley's neighbors could ever dish out.
"Papa," Hannah's pure voice inquired, "there is something I would ask of you."
"And what is that?"
"I do not think that I like Daniel Leyton any longer," she admitted and Darcy did puff out his cheeks in a display of great liberation, "but I did like being with all the people."
"Yes, sir," she replied, very seriously. "I want to be where the people are, papa--like Andrew will when he goes off to school."
Darcy considered his daughter's entreaty, his lips pressing together in a terse manner at the very thought of it and with the resolve of his over-protectiveness. "We do not have to send you to school, Hannah, to learn those things which will serve you best. All this you may learn from what your mother can teach you. I cannot think of a finer person from whom to learn it."
"I know, papa. I do not want to leave my home, not yet. I only want to go to Lambton when mama does go--even perhaps to London on family holidays. Now that Prudence is not so little, we could all go--could we not?"
Darcy's back stiffened, "Well--I suppose so."
"I want to see the people in town," she said with eyes widened in fanciful dreams of how it could be, "the people in the shops, and in the park and promenade, and when we go to Lambton I want to visit the cottagers that mama does call on. I want to have friends, and I want to be of use to them all--and I want to be known."
Darcy stared down at the ground, wondering what he was to say. It had never been his design as a child to be of use, as Hannah had put it. It had been his mistake to believe that his children would always be contented to stay idle at Pemberley. Still, this wisdom did not come easy to him, as he had always thought it had to his own father--but then, as if someone had whispered a word of good sense in his ear, he turned to address his daughter once again.
"Hannah, a person can be known for good things and bad. Young Master Leyton was not in the right today--but you were not either. We know how the boy is apt to behave, but as for you--one bad turn does not deserve another."
"Yes, papa," Hannah frowned.
"A person is always known by their conduct and deeds, and for how they live their life. If you desire to be of use and to be in the good company of others, then you must be accountable for what you do in that circle."
"Accountable?" she looked at him in uncertainty.
"Indeed," he replied. "It means that you can say that you have been wrong, and that you will live by the outcome of what you have done, and not shirk the responsibility. It is one of the difficult things about growing up--and it is the duty of one who is truly a lady or gentleman."
For the first time since this had all began, Darcy saw an understanding in the eyes of his daughter that he had not seen before. "I do want to be Miss Darcy of Pemberley, and I want you to be proud of me, papa."
"Then you and I will go to Whitlea Hall, and you may offer an apology to Mr. Leyton, his wife, and son for any embarrassment you might have caused them."
"Then will I be accountable? Will I be a lady then?"
"It will be a good start," Darcy replied.
Hannah nodded, "I will papa, but it will not be easy. Daniel Leyton made me very vexed and it will be difficult to be that word that you said for anything I may do if he ever tries to hurt us in the grove again!" She swabbed her hand across her brow as was her habit, and pushed out a fair, yet resolute bottom lip. "Perhaps I should like to be a girl for a while longer?"
Darcy looked toward the heavens, grateful to hear such a proclamation from his dear child. "Very good," he rejoined, "make me a happy man and be my girl for a bit longer, and when we go home we will talk to your mother and ask if she has any objections to taking you along with her to Lambton now and then."
"Thank you papa!" Hannah squealed, throwing her lithesome frame toward her father and hugging him around the neck. "I knew you would agree--I was certain of it!
A few days passed in which Darcy did not see much of his children. When they knew they had done wrong, they did their best to avoid him for some time, and this to a child was something far more understandable than subscribing to accountability.
Christian bounded into his father's study, and Darcy looked up from his ledgers to see the boy place a box down onto the desk. "What is this?" the father asked.
"All of my money, papa," Christian replied.
"Have you come to pay the fine--perhaps for tossing your sweet little cousin in the drink?"
Christian snorted in amusement, "Not at all, though I might give a shilling to see her face again when she saw that big, nasty frog."
"Christian," Darcy scolded him, though not as earnestly as he perhaps should have. "Well then, what of these coins?"
"I have counted them--several times--and if it is not much trouble, I would like to have a guinea in exchange for it. It is all there. Go ahead and count it, papa."
"I trust you," Darcy nodded.
"No sir," Christian blurted out with pride. "I would like it if you would count it--every coin."
Darcy turned over the box and coins splayed about on the desktop with a clatter. Christian stood, grinning curiously, as his father counted every coin, the sum of which took a little doing.
"Half a crown short," Darcy said.
Christian frowned immediately upon hearing it. "That cannot be! I was sure it was enough."
"This is everything that you have?" Darcy asked his son, his curiosity getting the better of him, for he knew how much the boy valued his chinks.
"Aye," the boy replied intent on counting his coins once again. "Everything that I have ever come by--even from you. I really do need that guinea, papa-- truly I do!"
It was not beyond Darcy to wonder for what his son did need to exchange many coins for one, for up to now it had been quantity, not so much the face value that had mattered to Christian. Darcy did stealthily reach into his open desk drawer and pulled out a silver half crown, the one he had been spinning in his lonesome ruminations some weeks before.
"Here it is," he proclaimed with a grin. "Here is the coin. It must have fallen into the desk drawer."
Christian sighed, quite relieved that it had been found. "May I have that guinea now, in exchange for all of this?"
"You may," Darcy answered, and he stood up and went to the safe and pulled out his own strongbox. "There you go," he said handing the boy the golden coin, and Christian scooped up his change and deposited it into his father's strongbox. "What are you to do with it? Not spend it, surely?" Darcy chuckled. "I have not known you to part with a tuppence before this."
"No sir," Christian replied. "I am not to spend it. I simply think it would be easier to carry."
Christian had looked everywhere in his excitement for his brother that afternoon. He finally found Andrew in the grove, sitting atop the stones where Andrew was always king. Andrew did not look as smug to Christian these days, not like Master Andrew Darcy of Pemberley should, and in a manner of speaking it bothered Christian to see him so.
The two boys exchanged silent glances until Christian finally spoke out. "You are not cross because of Alice, are you?"
"No," Andrew groaned. "There is more to life than women."
"Papa is to take me to see Blenheim Palace on our way to London."
"And that is a bad thing?" Christian inquired incredulously. "I shan't ever see it. You are always the lucky one."
Andrew kicked his heel on the surface of the stone. "I would be better pleased to stay here," he replied. "I will miss this old place."
"Why do you not want go Andrew?" Christian spoke up in a bother, "Why? I would give anything to see it. Anything! I would give anything to be first."
"I do not ever want to be by myself. I have never had to do it before this. You will all forget about me, I know!"
"Never! Not in a million years, Andrew!" Christian was adamant. "Here," he fussed as he reached into his coat pocket, "here--take it! I shall not forget this!" Christian held the golden guinea in his palm, and he shoved it in Andrew's direction. "You take it," he said, "and if you should need to you may spend it--but not on something silly. It is easy to carry with you now, and then you can change it in for all the coins that I had in my bank box when you get to Eton. Take some of it and use it for the post. Write to me, and tell me what it looks like?"
"The coins?" Andrew queried.
"Blenheim, you blockhead--Blenheim!"
Christian pushed the coin into his brother's hand, and Andrew stared at it in amazement. "It is like the one's that papa and Uncle Brit trade back and forth on bets," he grinned, and having it made Andrew feel all the more important and all the more loved.
"See Andrew," Christian sighed, and then smiled in his usual way, "I will not forget you--╬cause now you owe me a guinea."
One week did go by swiftly, yet Elizabeth did dread the passing of time more and more. She found that she barely spoke to anyone, the closer that the time came for her darling boy to leave her. She barely spoke for fear of betraying her feelings; those feelings that her husband had asked her to conceal for her child's sake. Elizabeth was true to her duties as a wife, mistress, and mother, yet in the course of it, her husband felt her distance most severely.
On the eve before he and Andrew were to embark for London, Darcy sat alone in the dining room, awaiting the company of his family for supper. It had rarely happened before that he had been the first to the table, and it was a peculiar feeling to him as he waited in the soundless, vacant room, noticing things within that he had never had opportunity to see before.
Elizabeth occupied her chair in the drawing room, and she absently observed the stitching she had only moments before sewn into a cloth. Prudence slipped into the room and nuzzled her way onto her mother's lap. She buried her face against Elizabeth's breast and whimpered.
"Does Andrew have to go away?"
Elizabeth pressed her cheek to her child's soft face. "Yes, Prudence--he does. Has he finished packing his trunks?"
Prudence shrugged at the question, but replied, "He has a big gold coin to take with him, but that he can put in his pocket. He showed it to me."
"A guinea?" Elizabeth inquired and the little girl shrugged once again. "Where did he get a guinea?" Elizabeth pondered aloud.
"Christian gave it to him, mama."
"Christian?" Elizabeth whispered in wonder, then placed Prudence upon the fine wooden floor and gave her a loving kiss. "Tell everyone that supper is awaiting them."
Prudence hurried away and Elizabeth made for the dining room some moments later, and she sat down at her place across the length of the table from Darcy. She smoothed the fabric of her gown with the palms of her hands, and the two people who were in marriage at ease as lovers, friends, and parents stared blankly at one another.
"Are we to dine alone?" Darcy asked of her in a whisper. "Strange, but there have been times in the past when I have longed for it, yet this does not seem to be one of them."
"The children have been out in their woods--and they are washing and dressing to eat. It will not take them long, I am sure. It was just that Andrew wanted to see the place again before you shall leave."
"I can guarantee that it will not change much while he is gone. The trees may lose their leaves and those lords and ladies will disappear for a time, but they will be back--as surely as he will."
"Yes," Elizabeth agreed with a cheerless sigh, and then turned her face away from her husband and his painless declaration. "Did you know," she continued when she was able, "that Christian did give Andrew a guinea to take with him to school? Where do you suppose that Christian got a guinea?"
"He did what?" Darcy was astonished, but spoke no more about it as his children came into the room and took up their seats.
Barely a word was uttered during the course of the meal, for there was a sense throughout the household, from family down to servants, that things at Pemberley would be different from this time on. Andrew ate very little, but Elizabeth noticed that he was too busy looking about the room at every little detail, as if he had never seen them clearly before.
"At what time are you to leave on the morrow?" Elizabeth's voice was made husky by the restraint of her feelings.
"Early," Darcy replied concisely. "Eight o'clock--no later."
"And you sir will return--when?" her cheeks colored.
Darcy grimaced and replied, "A fortnight, there are some things to be done in London."
"I see," she sighed again, the quiet of the room making the sound of it quite clear. "Then Andrew, you had better be sure now that Mrs. White has packed everything that you wish to take, for you will not have the time to do so in the morning."
Andrew rose dutifully from his chair, and Hannah begged to go with him. Prudence could not bear to be left behind, and her mother let her go--to hopefully be of some use. Only Christian remained at his seat, a melancholy sight.
"You can see a lot in a fortnight," the boy said.
"You can," Darcy answered him. "There is a lot to see from here to there."
Color flushed in Christian's cheeks, so much like his mother, and his downcast eyes lifted to view his father's face. "There is a lot that you and Andrew will see from here to there," he dared blurt out, aware of his impertinence.
The line of Darcy's jaw tightened, and Christian straightened his posture in his chair, fully aware that he had gone too far in pressing his father's good humor. Darcy did not chastise the boy directly, and after some time of dreadful, uncomfortable silence, Christian did close his eyes in torturous anticipation of what he knew was to be inevitable reproach.
No one ever argued in such a manner with Mr. Darcy, in Mr. Darcy's house and got away with it. Christian was sure that he deserved what was forthcoming, and what was forthcoming would keep him expatriated to his room for some time. The boy had thought that if he was to remain at Pemberley to watch his brother go away, that he would rather not be able to see it at all.
"Go," Darcy's deep voice rang out in the hush, "Go and pack your things as well--enough for a fortnight, and ask Mr. Sellers to have them put on the carriage in the morning."
Christian's eyes flew open, and his mouth gaped wide in absolute surprise. He could not move, for fear that he had heard something in error.
Darcy was unable to remain straight-faced a moment longer. "Go," he smiled at a son who had learned generosity, besides only being envious. "You may see it all for yourself--and perhaps we shall take a guinea to the booksellers in London and buy you a stack of books to study, so that you will follow your brother as quickly as you think you should."
In the courtyard of Pemberley house Elizabeth hugged her youngest son before letting go of him to say, "Enjoy every opportunity to happen upon you, Christian."
"How I shall, mama!" he grinned from ear to ear, then scrambled into the awaiting carriage.
Andrew was not as eager, and one by one he said his farewells to those members of Pemberley's household who were his friends. He shook the hand of Mr. Sellers and Mr. Beal, and he gave dear old Mrs. Reynolds and Mrs. White an embrace. He bowed to his uncle, and Brit Hart gave him a proud pat on the back. He hugged his Aunt Georgiana for some time and dutifully kissed his tiny little cousins.
He grasped a hold of Prudence and patted her on the head, with an instruction to be very good in his absence. He whispered in her ear that she should not climb onto the mohair sofa in the library unless she was sure that their father was in his study, and she promised him that she would not.
Andrew came down the line to his mother, and Elizabeth brought him to her and clutched him tightly. She felt the burn in her throat from the exertion of holding back her tears, and she choked down her sorrow, for the time being. "How proud I am of you my love," her voice quivered. "If you should need anything--anything at all, you will write to me directly. Do not forget to wash your face and hands and comb your hair to look presentable, and..."
"I will do everything," Andrew replied, when his mother could not finish her instructions. "Everything that I know you would wish of me, mama." He found it difficult not to cry at the thought of leaving her, but it would never do to weep in front of she who had so much faith in him.
Lastly he turned to Hannah, and his sister was not yet as strong as their mother had learned to be. Hannah's large brown eyes were filled with tears, and her delicate hands worried the muslin of her frock. "I never thought that you would really go away," she sniffled, and the two children who had never before been parted clung to one another.
Darcy stood in front of his wife, and Elizabeth stared at his face, afraid she would sob if she looked directly at her first-born children. "You are proud of him, and I am proud of you," Darcy said.
"You had better go sir, before your faith in me is shattered," she replied, and Darcy did give her a kindly smile, and a faithful kiss. "Return to me safely, Mr. Darcy and take good care of my sons."
"I will," he feathered his fingers through the curls of her hair. "Always."
The door of the carriage was shut, and it rolled away, down the cobbles of the courtyard and out onto the circular drive toward the gates. Hannah's tears and the sounds of Prudence's whimpering were too difficult for Elizabeth to bear, and her hands flew to before her face and a mother's sorrow broke the hearts of her family and faithful friends.
When Elizabeth parted her fingers to again watch the moving carriage, she saw her daughter running alongside it, her lithesome frame being carried swiftly over the earth as if by the wind itself. Her hair trailed behind her, the long locks tied back in a pretty bow, and Hannah's small hands waved to her father and brothers as the carriage passed the gates.
Inside the carriage Andrew saw movement through the corner of his eye, and when he turned and saw his sister clearly, her long legs running to catch a last glimpse of him, he could not keep from weeping. Christian looked up at his father wondering what he was to do, and Darcy slowly turned his face away, whether to give Andrew his privacy or to conceal his own emotions, Christian could never really say. Christian's arm reached around what were usually his brother's proudly carried shoulders, and the two boys knew at that moment what it was to leave all that which was loved, and which could never be forgotten.
Darcy's sons had the time of their young lives traveling with their father. They explored much of what was to be seen from Pemberley to London, London to Windsor. Darcy told them what he knew of places of importance in their beloved England as they visited, and in turn Darcy perceived much of what was familiar to him, in a novel light.
When they did leave the London townhouse for Windsor and Eton College on the day that Andrew was to remain at school, the boys chattered on of all their good fortune. Darcy listened to them contentedly recalling his own joy when he had first seen it with his father. When the carriage pulled onto the slough road, the entrance to Eton that had been so familiar to him, it seemed as though he had only left the place the very school term before.
They were shown to the chambers and Andrew came before the provost to be introduced. He was fearful of the stern looking man at first, but when he turned back and saw the familiar Darcy courage draped over his father's dear features, he made certain on the outside at least, that he too possessed it. The provost sent them with an elder boy to the long chambers where Andrew was to stay with the new boys. His things were brought in from the carriage and placed upon his solitary bed, and the very sight of everything he possessed all in one tiny spot was so very different than the abundance he had been use to at Pemberley.
Boys milled about everywhere, settling themselves in. Some looked melancholy to be there, and some not, and two bright-faced boys came up to greet their new schoolmate. They bowed politely to Mr. Darcy and he in turn nodded with a kindly smile. Christian stood next to his father awed by what he thought were such well-bred fellows.
"My name is Conrad," one boy said to Andrew, and then pointed to his chum, "and this here is Thomas."
Andrew tipped his chin in greeting. He took in a breath and squared his proud shoulders and went to reply, "My name is..."
"Darcy," the elder's voice broke in, and the boy glanced up at his father then drew in a quick breath at his near error.
"Glad to know you Darcy," Conrad grinned. "Would you care to go with us to the fields? We can have a go at a game with the others before you need worry about unpacking your things."
Andrew nodded silently, still overcome by being called what until now had always been the respectable surname of his father. Darcy took a hold of Christian's arm, and he backed away from his eldest son, and addressed Andrew's friends.
"I am pleased to know you Mr. Thomas, Mr. Conrad. I will be returning in a few weeks to take Mr. Darcy into Windsor for supper. If you should speak with your parents, ask their permission and you are welcome to accompany us as our guests."
The two boys grinned at each other, at such a generous invitation and the prospect of such illustrious company and good food besides. Andrew was astonished at his father's mention of him as Mr. Darcy, and his heart beat rapidly as he struggled to comprehend it. The boys tugged on his coat as the call came through the long chambers to meet on the fields, and Andrew reeled forward to follow them, his first singular step toward the education of a gentleman.
Darcy and Christian watched him leave, and then Darcy turned round in the opposite direction and pressed his youngest son toward the door. "Come now Christian, we had best leave Andrew to his new friends."
They were out in the hallway walking toward the courtyard when Darcy entreated Christian to continue on and wait for him in their carriage. Darcy found it impossible to leave the place without having bid his son a proper goodbye. When Christian had gone, the father turned to gaze out of the windows at the quad below in hopes of catching a glimpse of his son.
Darcy was happy that Andrew had been accepted so easily among his peers, and that the boy had been able to cut his apron strings without great woe. He recalled his own childhood parting, and how it had tortured him to hear the sound of his father's voice bid him farewell and see his father's indifferent figure walking away down the hallway--how it had stung his eyes and throat to hold back his boyish misery at being left to the company of strangers.
"Papa," a voice upset the silence of Darcy's musings, "You would not leave without saying goodbye?"
"No," Darcy shook his head adamantly, "I would not, but I thought that you were for the field with your friends?"
Andrew ran to his father and Darcy knelt down and enveloped his son in his arms, finding comfort and sorrow in one embrace. "I love you, papa," the boy said and Darcy held him tighter and clenched his teeth in his struggle to keep from shedding that unprecedented tear.
He finally pulled away and brushed back the wisps of hair on Andrew's forehead to place a tender kiss upon it, the way that he had on the day that he had cradled his newborn baby and had gazed on the child in wonder of such a marvel. "I shall always love you Andrew--always," he spoke loud and clear, and that elusive teardrop rolled from the corner of his eye to the stretch of his cheek.
Andrew saw it, and instead of demonstrating any amazement by the circumstance, he rubbed it away with the tips of his fingers, as if it was no great occurrence. "You will be back in a few weeks--I think I may be able to last that long. If not I will use Christian's guinea for the post and send you an express. Would you come for me then, papa?"
Darcy did not hesitate to nod in favor of the proposal. "'Till then sir," Andrew smiled and sped away in the direction of the playing fields.
Darcy stood up, although it seemed like a struggle to do so, for perhaps he was becoming old. His shoes rapped on the shiny clay surface of the flooring as he made his way to the doorway and the echo sprang off of the stark institutional walls making him shudder. He reached for the door, and before he could grasp the handle it opened and before him stood a familiar face.
"Darcy!" Colonel Fitzwilliam demonstrated his pleasure at seeing his cousin.
"Fitzwilliam--what are you doing here?"
"I have come to list my son for next term," the good colonel replied. "I saw Christian by your carriage, and he told me that you were here to bring Andrew."
"Yes," Darcy affirmed. "We have just now said our good-byes."
The Colonel smiled knowingly, "How time goes round, eh cousin? I can remember your first day here--the day your father brought you from Derbyshire."
"My father," Darcy trembled a sighed. "I fear that I am not his equal in gallant demeanor."
"Oh cousin," Colonel Fitzwilliam laid a hand upon Darcy's shoulder. "Do you think that it was easy for him? I never did tell you, but when your father did leave us he happened upon Edward by the burning bush. My brother did stop and greet him, but Uncle Darcy could not speak, for he cried like a baby, he did--in his suffering at leaving his beloved son."
Darcy was indeed dumbfounded by this revelation, so astonished in fact that he could not speak as well. He cast his eyes away from his cousin, yet the good colonel kindly did not press the issue further, other than to claim, "How he did adore you, Darcy."
Darcy gave a quick nod and stammered out as he made haste for the door, "Forgive me, Fitzwilliam."
Colonel Fitzwilliam waited by the windows and watched from above to be sure that his dear cousin embarked his carriage, with no further distress. Perhaps he should not have told Darcy of what he had known all these years, but then such a devoted son did have a right to know it.
The leaves of the trees began to color and fall to the forest floor in the Childgrove. That is the name that it came to be known, by man and child, and neighbor alike. Soon the snow would cover the roots of lords and ladies and ice would invade the brook and bring life to an ephemeral pause.
The fine leather of a gentleman's boots rambled through the yellow and orange, and the slippers of a lady followed closely behind. Darcy sat down upon the smooth, weathered rock and Elizabeth nuzzled next to him, finding warmth for her hands against the nap of his woolen waistcoat.
"I have had a letter from your son, Mr. Darcy."
"Does he do well in school, and does he miss his dear mother?"
Elizabeth smiled. "He does, and he does miss his father most of all."
"And for him, his father does repine. I must tell you Elizabeth how melancholy and forlorn I did feel when I left him. You were correct to feel it, and yet you should have seen the delight upon his face when the other boys did address him, and call him Darcy."
"I can well imagine," she grinned at her husband's fond recollection.
"Dear me, but I felt timeworn then--to know that I was henceforth to be referred to as old Mr. Darcy."
Elizabeth cast her eyes guilefully toward him. "You were not old last night," she muttered and the gentleman did blush at ther teasing. "You are far from timeworn, sir though your children believe that you know all."
"I shall never know all," he sighed.
"No," Elizabeth agreed, reaching for his face with the softness of her gentle hand. "Yet when you speak, you do so from your soul. It has always been that way, and that will always be enough for us."
How Darcy loved Elizabeth was plain, and how Elizabeth did adore him was never in question, for in the Childgrove that day they did kiss tenderly, and the devotion in their impassioned embrace was discernible to their children perched secretly behind the trees. The tremendous smiles of impressionable youngsters betrayed their consciences, as they were convinced that no two people had ever loved each other more, and that no two people in the world ever would.
The Lower School at Eton
With fond wishes, for Holly and her baby
© 2000 Copyright held by author