Mr. Darcy's Daughter
Fitzwilliam Darcy stood at his study window, his face fading from red to white before turning red again. They were just about visible through the greenish hue of new-growth that graced the grounds of Pemberley; Miss Emilia Darcy, heiress of Pemberley... and the gardener's son. Darcy scowled. He could not remember the boy's first name... Jacob, or... James, perhaps... the name did not signify in any case. His well-based sense of propriety began to prickle. It was not right that his daughter should be standing out there on the grass, leaning so easily against the fence and chatting animatedly to that boy as he tended the flowerpots. And she wasn't wearing a bonnet. Minor issue, but none the less, it added to the blow.
Darcy sighed wearily. He had been observing similar scenes for a couple of weeks now, watching sulkily from the study window and growing increasingly agitated at the sights that greeted him. Something had to be done, he thought, turning away from the window and sealing his letters inattentively. He would simply have to speak to her, calmly explain the errors in her conduct and ask her to rectify it. Yes, that was it. Problem solved. He glanced back out across the lawn.
"Stop," came his wife's voice from the doorway. "Stop staring out the window, for pity's sake!"
"I can't help it!" Darcy burst forth. "Look for yourself!" He steered her towards the window and pointed heatedly at their daughter, who was now laughing good-naturedly and pushing stray strands of hair from her face. "You see? It just isn't right, Lizzy!"
Elizabeth gaped incredulously at her husband.
"They're talking, Will! What, may I ask, "just isn't right" about talking?"
"It's the way they're talking!" Darcy shrugged irritably. "I mean, I would see no impropriety at all if it was just a case of her saying, "Hello, Mr. Martin," and him replying, "Good morning, Miss Darcy," but the truth is that she's been talking to him for the past half hour at least and she seems to have walked in that direction for the sole purpose of talking to him!"
Elizabeth sighed heavily and turned her gaze back to her daughter. Darcy watched Emilia laugh again before adjusting her shawl characteristically. Despite himself, Darcy smiled.
"She's so like you, Lizzy!" he murmured, touching his wife's hair lovingly while allowing himself to be guided away from the window which afforded such a view.
"And she has your stubbornness!" Lizzy added.
"Ah, but I overcame my stubbornness!" Darcy informed her haughtily. Elizabeth cast him a withering look.
"I thought you had overcome your pride also... but I see remnants of it lingering!" She turned on her heel slowly, her dark eyes downcast.
"I only want what's best for her, Lizzy!" Darcy called after her dismally, feeling the ache of her disappointment somewhere in the region of his chest.
Elizabeth nodded slightly, but did not reply.
"It's no good, Emilia," John Martin sighed, kissing the head of the heiress of Pemberley. "You're father would never allow it. And I can't say I'd blame him either. I mean, you're his only daughter, he adores you and his whole family line is at stake. It's hardly any wonder he wants you to marry well."
'define "well"!" Emilia muttered, lovingly returning the kiss to the lips that had bestowed it.
"You know what I mean!" John sighed wearily. "He wants you to marry someone who's fit to be the master of Pemberley!"
"Yes, indeed he does, as he should! And I want to marry someone who's fit to be my husband!"
"And you think I am?" he teased, nuzzling her neck gently.
"I don't know!" Emilia stated, sitting up in the grass and turning to face him. "Are you?"
"Emilia, please, not again! Don't start this! I've told you, it seems pointless asking him when we both know that he'll refuse! He might even laugh in my face for bothering!"
"John, my father loves me!"
"so do I, Em!"
"Then prove it! Ask him! If he refuses, I'll make him see sense. I'll persuade him... I'm serious, John!" she interjected sternly, for John had thrown himself back into the grass despairingly. "He only wants me to be happy. And besides, he married my mother!"
"What has that got to do with it? It's different for men! They can marry where they wish. But as for women... your father could disinherit you, Em. Could you cope to live on a farm labourer's wage and lose your birthright?"
"Well, that just shows how little you know about Papa if you think he would disinherit me. He wouldn't so much as dream of it!" She stood up and brushed down her dress. "And in answer to your question, I could live on a farm labourer's wage... provided I could live with you on a farm labourer's wage!" She kissed him swiftly and turned back towards the house. "Come tonight!" she called back. "Come after dinner and ask to speak to Papa!"
John watched her walk through the doors of that great house, her dark hair glinting in the sunlight. He breathed deeply. How could he ever hope to have her? He had to put himself in her father's shoes, he thought absently, ripping up blades of grass in bad temper. If he were her father, would he let her marry John Martin? His obstinate inner voice was quick to answer "no". And despite this, he stood up. He lifted his spade onto his shoulder and resolved to do as she had asked. He decided to go up to the great house and request a meeting with Mr. Darcy, thus proving to Emilia that he did love her, that he would endure humiliation for her and that he would fight for her.
Dinner was a somewhat strained affair. Emilia ate little, her mind dwelling on the meeting that was to take place that evening, so far unbeknownst to her parents. Her father was working himself up to a sort of mild confrontation. He was delicately choosing the words, saying them in his head to judge how they sounded. His wife observed, ever watchful, the tautness of their faces and the aversion of their eyes. Then, Darcy spoke in a voice of forced easiness.
"I was just thinking, Emilia, that it might be a good idea for you to be a little more... guarded towards the tenants. Just in general, you know!"
Elizabeth rolled her eyes. Artlessly done.
"How do you mean, Papa?" Emilia asked, poking at her food nonchalantly. But her mother saw the nervous glance.
"Well, I..." Darcy faltered. "I just noticed you today from the study window and..."
Now, Elizabeth saw a streak of real fear pass across her daughter's face.
"Papa, I'm sorry!" she blurted out, her eyes becoming suddenly over-bright. "I'm so sorry, I just..."
Darcy's face filled with concern.
"Oh, no, dear! I didn't mean to upset you! I know that you're just a naturally friendly person and it does you credit! I simply mean that you might be less... em... easy with the garden staff!"
Emilia's face changed from distress to confusion. So he hadn't actually seen anything except them talking to each other. Well, that was lucky... though it would make the shock somewhat later when the truth came out. Only Elizabeth read the frenzied passage of thought across her daughter's eyes. Darcy was too busy feeling appalled at himself for upsetting her to be aware of anything else. As Elizabeth sipped her wine slowly, it struck her. Of course. That would explain all the tension and all of her husband's disquietude. Perhaps he had sensed the attachment without acknowledging it, even to himself. She tensed involuntarily. Oh, poor Emilia. Poor Will. But above all, poor John Martin. Did he know the enormity of the task facing him?
Emilia lurked around her father's study as the evening wore on. She lingered by the windows. She waited on the stairs. A small, but insistent voice in her head seemed to be constantly suggesting that he was not coming, that he had decided she was not worth the risk. She sighed miserably. If she were John Martin, would she bother begging for Emilia Darcy? She was spared answering herself by the sound of footsteps on the servant's stairs. Crouching by the banister, she watched Mrs. Reynolds stride across the tiled floor, followed closely by John. Her heart leapt. His face was pale and set but his gait was one of fierce pride and passion. He did not see her.
"John Martin to see you, Sir, if you please."
Her father was silent for a moment. Emilia shivered slightly.
"Send him in!" came the taut response. The door closed with a soft click. Emilia waited, hugging her knees to her and trying desperately to steady her ragged breathing. She had never, ever meant to hurt or disappoint her father. Now, she feared, she had done both. She had not loved where she had been expected to love and she had not been truthful where she had been expected to be truthful.
"Are they in the study?"
Emilia's heart stopped at the sudden sound of her mother's voice. Elizabeth stood, majestic and reassuring, behind her. Emilia's answer was replaced by the swelling of tears in her eyes, which were momentarily soothed in the fold of her mother's arms.
"I"m sorry, Mama. I never wanted to hurt Papa. I couldn't help it, you see!"
"Oh, my dear," Elizabeth sighed, kissing her daughter's hair. "We cannot choose to whom we give our hearts."
They sat like this for several minutes, listening to the low murmur of voices behind the study door. Emilia held her breath during the long pauses. Her heart stopped beating when she sensed the voices rise. The study door swung open without warning, causing both mother and daughter to jump. Darcy appeared at the door, his frame upright, his eyes fixed where they sat.
"Emilia, would you be so good as to join us?"
His voice was distant and cold. Steeling herself, Emilia stood. If John could be brave, so could she.
"You too, Elizabeth," Darcy added. "If you would."
Elizabeth hesitated, searching her husband's eyes for revelation.
"Please," he begged her softly. Elizabeth Darcy stood and strode, ever ready, to her husband's side. Emilia, almost without realising it, imitated her mother. She crossed the floor quickly and quietly, passed her parents, into the study and straight to John's side. He seemed to tremble at the sight of her. But she smiled. She gripped his hand for an instant and drew away, turning to face her parents. Darcy's face was difficult to read at that moment, being filled with a fiery mix of love, righteousness and indecision.
"I would not force you, Emilia," he began softly, "into what would make you unhappy."
Emilia nodded. She knew this.
"And we have always strove to protect you," her father continued. His eyes dropped to the floor before fixing on her face. "Emilia, I want to protect you now! I don't want you rushing into anything. I don't want you casting your affections to the wind..."
"I am not the wind!" John broke in angrily. Darcy sighed jadedly.
"John, this is for your good as much as for hers. You're both too young and too... separate! I cannot... you know I cannot, in all good conscience, give my consent..."
"Papa!" Emilia cried. "Why not? Why can't you trust us? It isn't fair for you to... Mama, tell him!"
"Everyone sit down," Elizabeth instructed coolly. They obeyed, each too agitated to do anything else. "Now, Will. Kindly give your reasons for refusing consent to the marriage."
"Now, it's only fair! Explain to them!"
"You're both too young!" Darcy burst out. "You don't know enough about the world or even about each other! You're too different! Your backgrounds... surely you understand that?"
John nodded begrudgingly. Even from where she stood, Elizabeth felt the tremor, the fall of the world. It was written all over his face when he opened his mouth to speak.
"I should not have troubled you," he spoke grimly, his voice calm and collected.
"John?" Emilia gasped, her dark eyes filling with tears.
"No, Emilia. It was wrong for me to allow this to happen!"
"To allow what to happen?!"
"To lead you to believe that it would all work out. It won't, darling." He got steadily to his feet, instantly followed by Emilia. He took her hand.
"I wish you joy," he whispered softly, fighting back his own tears. "Joy, and all the love you could wish for!"
And he was gone. Darcy's mind was reeling. He didn't know what he should do, what he should say, whether he should just stop everything. His first comprehensive thought was for his daughter, who now stood, white and shaking in the doorway.
"No, Papa. I want to be alone." He watched her once more from the window. She rushed across the lawn and collapsed, her whole body shaking with sobs, in the very place where he had seen her stroll that same day, with sunshine on her features and light in her eyes. Oh, his poor Emilia! His poor, heartbroken daughter.
"It was badly done, wasn't it, Lizzy!" he thought aloud.
"It was, Will!"
"What should I do?"
"Consent to the marriage!"
"I can't!" he cried. "I can't let him marry her!"
A heavy silence hung momentarily between a couple whose hearts never tired of each other's talk.
"It's him, isn't it!" Elizabeth sighed. "No, Will, if he's the problem, then say so!" she added to her husband's hurried protestations. Darcy sighed.
"Yes," he murmured. "Yes, he's the problem."
"I thought I'd cured you of all of that!" Elizabeth groaned, her temper rising for the first time that day. "Will, you married me! Remember? My dowry was hardly worth mentioning! I was not part of the high society you kept! But still, you married me! Why?"
Darcy stared at her incredulously.
"Because I love you!" he cried. And Elizabeth's eyes glittered. He gazed at his wife, so much like his daughter, so much like his savior... What did he not owe her?
"I"ll see to our daughter," she began, business-like once more. "And you venture over to the Martins" and grant young John his heart's sole desire."
Darcy positively winced at the thought of approaching John Martin after what had just happened, to take back his words and beg forgiveness. The old Darcy pride was still brewing stubbornly under his beloved wife's liberalizing influence.
"Now, Will," she warned, reading his thoughts as usual. "It's perfectly acceptable for you to be wrong once in a while and no one will think any worse of you for admitting it!" Her face broke into a smile and she kissed his mouth tenderly. "Quite the contrary, I love you all the more for it!"
And so, Darcy set off towards the tenants" houses, thanking God for creating Elizabeth Bennet and for so graciously allowing her to become Elizabeth Darcy. As for the task at hand, he would simply have to stand before Martin and apologise. It sounded so simple, when put like that.
Darcy did not have to walk all the way to the houses to find what he sought. He caught sight of John Martin on the bridge. Even from the distance, Darcy could recognise him, for his stance was that of a fallen man, whose heart had been ripped out and dashed underfoot. As he walked, Darcy wondered what to say. But his feet carried him all too fast.
John looked up in surprise at the sound of Darcy's footsteps. He stared. Darcy admitted inwardly that he had never seen a face so white and grave... so lost and hopeless.
"John," Darcy began, steeling himself. "I... I have to warn you that she's exactly like her mother, she's right about everything and she'll have her say regardless! So be prepared! You need not think you'll be the head of the house!"
John simply gaped. His face crumpled and shaded as though he dared not believe what he heard.
"John," Darcy sighed heavily. "I apologise for what happened up at the house. I was too hasty in my words. If you love her, which you do, and if she loves you, which she does, how could I not agree to the marriage! It was a pointless, inbred formality which I hope we can forgive and forget." Biting his tongue, Darcy extended his hand.
"sir..." John uttered weakly. "I..."
"You adore my daughter! Yes, I know! Now let's be done with this ceremonial business and you reiterate that once again to her. I doubt she'll ever tire of hearing it!"
His face trembling and flushed with joy, John reached out and jubilantly took Darcy's hand.
"I love you, I love you, I love you!" Elizabeth sighed, wrapping herself in her husband's arms as they stood by the study window.
"I was an idiot today!" Darcy muttered in sulky protest, allowing himself to be kissed once more.
"I know you were!" Elizabeth giggled. "And I love you even better because of it!"
"These violent young lovers carry everything their own way," he mused, gazing out at the newly-engaged couple where they sat on the lawn, bathed in the glow of love and evening sunlight. "You were right, Lizzy... but then, you are always right!"
Elizabeth grinned, her spirits soon rising to playfulness once more.
Pemberley was much graced that night with the light of joyous lovers.